What you don’t Know.

Here is a rant I stumbled upon that I wrote some time ago but never felt safe enough to actually publish. It is a rant coming from a place of pure frustration in trying to navigate this world as a depressed person. I couldn’t say when I originally wrote it because I had already hit edit before I checked, but I can see that there are 25 revisions on it, which is a testament to the subject matter. Today, I just finished a sentence and then added the last two. I am grateful that I am not feeling like this today, but recognize the sentiments as ones I have felt time and again. I publish this now with angst about how it will be received, but I hope it will serve as an insight into the inner workings of someone who is experiencing a depressive episode and that it will garner further understanding into the madness that lay within (at least me), and perhaps it will also help someone else out there who knows the struggle feel less alone today.

Merci.

I don’t want to be disabled. I don’t want to tell people that I can’t get through a day. I don’t want people to know exactly how bad it really is. Sometimes I hate the life I’ve created. I don’t know how to problem solve anymore or how to fix it most days. And on the days I do I write down greats lists, and then I lose them, or I forget them. I don’t want to be one of those people that by my own terms isn’t “normal.” I don’t want to depend on people, not for stuff like this. I don’t want to have this damn illness. I don’t want to feel like I don’t have control over my mood, my emotions, my mind, my thoughts, or my energy. I don’t want to feel like I have to monitor myself all the time and be extra careful. And I’m sick to death of always doubting myself and second guessing myself. I don’t want to not trust myself but at the same time I don’t know if I can. It’s so incredibly hard not to trust your own judgement, especially when you need to be able to do that to get better. I just want to have a meal or a drink without worrying that it may have an adverse or undesirable effect – I mean a cup of coffee shouldn’t be something I need to put that much thought into. I don’t like watching how my relationships have become strained or damaged. I don’t like feeling dysfunctional. I hate remembering the person I was some days, because it such a stark contrast from how I am today. I hate that nobody knows how bad I really feel about myself. I walk around every day feeling so ashamed when I can’t do the things that other people think I should be doing, but also I have news for you, I think I should be doing them too, and I’m super frustrated that I can’t. And I feel like such a failure. I also hate how afraid I am to share anything with anyone. I’m so afraid of what people will say, the look on their face, how I will cope with their absence if they go away, their well meaning but ignorant suggestions to get better. In truth I am afraid of everything now. And I hate that. I used to be fearless. I don’t like not being able to remember things I did twenty minutes ago, or not knowing what the day of the week is, and yet being able to remember things that happened twenty years ago like it’s right now. I don’t like the changes that have happened to my body, to my skin, my hair, my teeth, my ability to move. I hate the word neurotic and I don’t think it’s a nice thing to say about people. I wish that when I stepped out my door people could see that I am actually sick and that they would be okay with that. I wish that when people found out about my illness that they would accept it for what it is and not look at me in a way that suggests it’s my fault or the result of some kind of inherent defect in my makeup. I wish that people wouldn’t start talking to me like my IQ just dropped by 50 points because I say the word mental before illness. I wish there were more organizations out there that really knew what people like myself need or were at least willing to listen. I wish people understood that medication doesn’t always work for everyone, it isn’t as simple as popping a magic pill, sometimes it takes a really long time, and even when it works it’s not enough. People need more support then that. I would like to see people truly grasp the struggle and rally behind us. Besides, if all I had to do was take a little pill to resume life as I want it, don’t you think I would do it? In a heartbeat, yes.

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Incognito

Today was a bloody wigged out I’m in a horror movie kind of day. The problem is the horror movie that is playing is only showing in my head, on a continuous loop, and there are no intermissions. I’m all jittery and shaky on the inside. Every breeze that moves the hair on my arm causes alarm because it must be a spider. Every noise sounds like it is hooked up to an amp and causes me to either jump or analyze the level of danger associated with it, (was that a gun or a car back firing? are they fighting?). I keep to the shadows so I am not easily spotted, and I walk softly not only so I cannot be heard but so I don’t miss hearing anything either. I get annoyed and irritable if something or someone happens to attract attention to me, you know because they are breaking my cover.

Does this sound familiar to any one of you?

The good news is I know exactly what is going on, and I know it is going to pass. There was a time when it wasn’t so. A time when I not only didn’t understand what was happening to me physically, the light and noise sensitivity, the shaking, the racing heart, the shortness of breath and the sweating, but a time when I also totally bought into the paranoid thoughts I was having. I drank the Kool-Aid so to speak.

I did not realize that I had an illness and that I was experiencing the symptoms of that illness. I didn’t know I could do something about it, or that I could feel better and worst of all I personalized it. I thought there was something seriously wrong with me, and because my paranoid thoughts were causing me to isolate myself from the world there was nobody around to tell me otherwise. Of course there was something wrong with me, I was in the clutches of an illness, but what I thought and believed was that either I was a flawed and defective person, or that the world was an evil dastardly place and everyone in it was out to get me.

One of the most important things we can do for ourselves when we are diagnosed with a mental illness is to make sure we clearly separate our illness from both ourselves personally, and also from the symptoms of the illness. I once heard a quote on TV that was a eureka moment for me. A mother said to her daughter who had cancer, “Are you a diseased person or a person living with a disease?” I don’t know who that woman was or even if she was a real person or an actress, but I do know those words gave me pause to think, and I stopped blaming myself for being ill and started doing something about it.

Part of doing something about it was learning about it, and I also discovered something else along the way. It seems there are a lot of people out there walking around with these mental illness diagnoses thinking that the symptoms ARE the illness and so they just put up with the symptoms as though this is all life has to offer them now. I was one of those people. But this is so untrue.

If you have the flu what happens? The bug attacks your body causing your body to do things (manifest symptoms) while it is fighting it off. You may get symptoms like a fever, headache, cough, runny nose, and ache from head to toe. You know that at some point you are going to feel better when the symptoms go away, and you are also aware somewhere in the back of your mind that you may get the flu again one day. In the mean time you deal with the symptoms. Perhaps you treat and manage them by calling in sick, and visiting your doctor or maybe you take pain and fever medication, drink plenty of fluids and get plenty of rest. Maybe you’ll even take time to reflect on how you need to eat more fruits and veggies and take better care of yourself, or consider getting the flu shot next year.

So what happens if you ignore your symptoms, or you don’t take take care of your symptoms? Maybe you forget to finish all your prescription, stay up all night partying, or don’t take time to rest? It is possible that you will get better on your own but it will take a lot longer. However it is far more likely that you will become much more ill and require more serious treatment and management before you feel better.

The same mentality can be applied to a mental illness. It is an illness that manifests symptoms. The symptoms can be managed and treated. When we make bad choices about managing and treating our symptoms they get worse in most cases, and when we take good care of ourselves and manage our symptoms well then the opposite is also true.

I think sometimes we get it in our heads that the formula for fixing what ails us must be very complex and complicated if the illness itself is a complex and complicated one. But consider this reality; a mental illness is indeed a serious lifelong condition like many of the other more serious conditions someone may be diagnosed with, such as Alzheimer’s, MS, or Cancer but with a very important distinction.

A mental illness is 100% treatable, manageable, and survivable.

I am not suggesting that you will feel better overnight, or that you will not need to take time to develop the best treatment plan that works for you, but I am saying that you do not have to suffer endlessly with your symptoms. It may take some work but then most things worth having do. So what do you think? Are you worth the work?

Mentally Me – C/P

The Labels we Keep

Chances are either you or someone you know has been diagnosed with a mental illness. It is estimated that 1 in 5 people will be diagnosed with one at some point in their lifetime. When this first happened to me it felt like a death sentence. Why? Because I, like the rest of society had a lot of preconceived notions about what exactly that meant. I did not want to be a nut, crazy, psycho, whack job, head case, screw ball, messed up, or f**ked up…etc., etc., ad nauseam.

I had been living with a mental illness most of my life, unbeknownst to me, when something finally tipped the iceberg and I was no longer able to function at my optimal level. I was terrified when I felt myself losing control of my life and sometimes my grip on reality. When I finally took myself to a doctor it was because I knew something was not right and that I could not continue for another day, another hour, not another minute in the state I was in. I couldn’t explain it in any other way except to say “I don’t feel right.”, and how I was feeling was like something was wrong. Very, very wrong indeed.

It was the end of May, in 2006. A beautiful sunny day. I walked out of the doctor’s office with my daughter, and a note in hand which I was to take to my employer indicating I needed a week to rest. I had no idea that by the end of the week I would not be feeling right as rain and still not fit to return to work. I had no idea I would find myself in another doctors office talking about things like depression, and psychiatry. I left the office with a prescription for a medication which would later give me horrible hallucinations and rob me of my memory for the entire time I was on it.

I met with a psychiatrist who began the painstaking task of diagnosing my illness, and treating it.

I did not know what it all meant, and I was very, very scared, and felt very, very alone. It was clear I would not be returning to work, to my old life, or even to myself any time soon.

I was absolutely devastated.

If I hadn’t been depressed before, which of course I was, then I would have been depressed by the idea that I had just lost everything I had worked for since 1990, including, as I told myself, the respect and admiration of my daughter.

As it stands it just made me feel a whole lot worse, and I don’t think I have come to terms with that loss yet.

I was not prepared to have people in my life suddenly doing whatever they could to avoid me, while at the same time others were doubting my abilities and trying to control me. I was not prepared to have people start talking to me as though I were a person of only marginal intelligence, and I certainly was not prepared to have my entire life under the microscope and every minute detail looked at through abnormality glasses.

Throughout our lives we wear many hats, some are the same, or similar to the ones worn by others, sister, brother, teacher, plumber, and some are more unique, first man on the moon, skittles inventor, judge. Some we wear proudly, parent, doctor, fireman. Some not so much, convict, nose picker, slowest runner. There are some that elicit great fear and wrap themselves around us when we least expect it, cancer patient, and some that evoke feelings of great shame, murderer.

We use these hats like labels to both define who we are, and who we think other people are. It’s like reading the label on a can of corn, you know what to expect when you open the can, corn. Good or bad, we develop expectations based on these labels, we use them to predict behaviour, and we come to rely on them.

Sometimes our labels are wrong and what we get is not what we expected. When this happens we may be happily surprised and accept what we get, there was supposed to be corn in the can but I got peas and carrots, oh well I love peas and carrots. We may have a very opposite negative reaction and reject it, there was supposed to be corn in the can, but I got peas and carrots and I hate damn peas and nasty carrots. Or we may become obsessed with the corn that was supposed to be in the can, rather than accepting the peas and carrots we got. It doesn’t matter if there is or isn’t something wrong with the peas and carrots, or if we like the peas and carrots or not, all that matters is the missing corn.

At other times the label becomes a one size fits all label and suddenly the only thing we can see is the label. In this case we may deny that there are peas and carrots in the can and insist that it is corn because the label says it is corn. When that doesn’t work we may try to get the label to fit by trying to convince the peas and carrots that they really are corn because they are the same size as corn and isn’t that too light a shade and too yellowish to be a carrot anyway?

We generalize, we make blanket statements. This is where stigma and biases come into play. Our thinking becomes flawed, rigid and inflexible. This is when theories become more important than the patients being treated. This is when people are written off. This is when our need to please others becomes more important than pleasing ourselves.

When labels are applied to people they can be damaging, even when the label itself is a good one, like being a mom or dad. That is a great label, but it is a fully loaded one. It is ripe with expectations. And if our own or other people’s expectations are too high, it can become nearly impossible to meet them, which can lead to a sense of failure and guilt.  “What a lousy parent I am.”

Likewise a mental illness label is also fully loaded, and unfortunately, it is usually loaded with those biases, assumptions, and stigmas we all hold about the things we do not fully understand.

Stigma is lightly defined as shame, or embarrassment over something perceived as wrong. I think it is much, much deeper than that, given the impact it has on our society. At its worst stigma is hatred and eradication, at its best it is ignorance and lack of education, but it is always a battle.

I have a mental illness. It is a part of me as sure as my heart is a part of me. Over the years I have been battling against the stigma that exists within myself. I have had to learn to accept myself and love myself even though what I saw was a lesser person. I have struggled to not let my diagnosis define who I am, nor paint my entire life with the colour of abnormality. (A very shitty colour by the way.)

I choose to enter the ring and fight the stigma that exists in society because I have a place in this society and because I helped to perpetuate that stigma, even if only in myself in my ignorance. Not just for me, but for the people like me who perhaps have not yet found their own voice, and for the people who have yet to be diagnosed with a mental illness, and for the people who have lost their lives to it, and for our families, and our friends, and everyone else affected by it. Because it is a fight worth fighting because people are always worth fighting for.

Just as we are mindful of the company we keep so too should we be ever mindful of the labels we keep.

Does a person with cancer want to be seen as a cancer patient, or do they want to be supported as a person battling cancer? Does a man in a wheelchair want to be seen as a man in a wheelchair or does he simply just want to be seen as a man?

Mentally Me – C/P

This is ME..ntal illness…

My earliest memory of depression is a spotted one that happened one morning when I was approximately eight or nine years old while I was getting dressed for school, or I should say I was dreading getting dressed for school. I could not stand up. At least that is what it felt like. I sat on the edge of my bed looking at the clothes I had to put on, my beloved undershirt, white with the pink bow and trim at the top, hideous, those leotards, ribbed and also white, disgusting. The feeling that washed over me was akin to putting on a wet blanket. Not necessarily cold, just slick, and clingy, and causing you to take extra effort to move.

My limbs felt heavy, like they weighed one thousand pounds, my arms would flop back down at my sides when I no longer needed to use them, and I dragged my feet behind me. (I can hear an echo in my mind now from different times, “don’t drag your feet”, “pick up your feet when you walk”, “you’re going to scuff your shoes”, “what happened to your shoes?”) I made my way through the snow to school, head down, staring at the ground, I did not call on my one friend along the way, and for the first time I arrived at school late.

Now some might read this and think oh well the kid didn’t like school. Wrong. I loved school. I had a thirst for knowledge that to this day cannot be satisfied. I hated missing it. Neither was I sick, well, at least not physically. I was depressed.

Somehow I did not care, and cared at the same time. It was as if someone had taken my wet blanket wrapped self and threw me down a well on a bright sunny day. I was in some deep, dark pit, looking up at myself standing in the sun under a blue cloudless sky and a canopy of the greenest variety of leaves. How am I going to get back up there? My distant self, the one up top in my old life was the one who cared about being late, about grades, about animals, about every damn thing. The one in the well did not. I knew I wasn’t getting back up there. The me looking down was smiling, waiting to go laugh and play and wondering why I didn’t climb up in the same manner as I had climbed trees, it wasn’t so far down. Her smile was sickening. Look away now. Look back. Her hope was both nauseating and annoying. Look away. Focus on the dim, grey surroundings. Look up. Is that confusion on her face? Judgement? Look away, and NEVER LOOK UP AGAIN! It’s easier to focus on the dark, take a step to the left or right and she’ll no longer see me. Take a step back and I’ll no longer see her. Tentatively look up? Stop, NO! She would probably hate what she saw anyway, and who needs to be reminded of that life. So long ago, so foreign. Better to forget, let the black overtake me. And after a time my wet blanket is a cozy black cocoon, my own private club where no one else is invited. I can no longer hear the beautiful sounds of birds, and I don’t care. I cannot move, and I don’t want to. I’m cold and I cannot breath, but I do not notice. I am suffering and suffocating, and it feels like a warm embrace.

I was even younger when, to my knowledge, I had my first dance with anxiety. It took place when I was approximately four or five years old. Of course I had no idea at the time that what I was experiencing was the result of an illness. No, what I thought and believed was that there was something wrong with me. It is only now some thirty years later, give or take, that I have the language to understand what it was and the capacity to come to terms with it.

I was in daycare. We children were sitting in a circle cross legged as children that age often did, and we were engaging in a game of duck, duck, goose. For those of you unfamiliar with the game it involves a lot of sitting, racing, and name calling. A game I was familiar with and had enjoyed on a few occasions before. This day was different however. I had at some point become acutely alert to my surroundings, myself and the other people in the room. In the same way that a gazelle becomes aware of the pride in the distance though they have not yet seen her. A total me versus them moment. A complete don’t make any sudden moves moment.

And the mind started whirring.

Suddenly I could not enjoy the game. I was simultaneously hoping I would not be picked for fear of having to run, and hoping I would be picked as it would mean that the person doing the picking didn’t actually dislike me. When the inevitable happened and I did get picked I was hyper aware of my body, and how it moved. I believed that all eyes were on me, and I was wondering if they thought I looked funny when I ran. I was worried that everyone would think I wasn’t a fast runner, and I was worried that maybe I wasn’t a fast runner.

When it was my turn to pick a goose I was overcome with indecision, worrying that whomever I did pick might be upset because maybe they didn’t want to be picked, and worrying about how upset all the people who I didn’t pick would be. So I walked around and around desperately trying to read their faces and pick up any subtle clue that would tell me what they wanted, until I heard what sounded like a moan of impatience, and then I began to see it in their faces. Worrying that I was now taking too long I made a random decision and picked the next head. Only I hadn’t thought it through and in my haste I picked a boy who was a little bigger and older than the rest of us and I knew I would lose and have to be the goose again, and of course nobody would want me to be the goose because of how long I took to decide last time, and because I was such a slow runner. They might even laugh at me because I look funny when I run. But maybe nobody would blame me and think terribly of me for losing to a boy who was bigger and older. Would they?

To my surprise I did not lose. I took my place in the same spot the boy had been sitting and as the cycle of thoughts continued I devised a plan. I had to get out of that circle. Naughty children were not allowed to play and had to stand against the wall at the other end of the room and watch. Far removed from the action, and ignored. That is where I wanted to be, and that is where I found myself.

Although I do not recall the transgression I chose to enact that got me there, I do remember the sweet, sweet blissful sigh of relief. Breath returning to normal. Standing there against the wall, smiling at the kids who were there with me, feeling a sense of pride, and camaraderie, we had made it, the ordeal was over. A feeling of elation over my accomplishment, high fives all around if it wouldn’t get me in more trouble. I had survived duck, duck goose. It would be the last time I would ever play it. Two years later at summer camp when I was six I also added red rover to my list of games I would never play again. I did not deliberately get myself into trouble that time, but after believing I had been established as a weakling I did learn to strategically place myself in the chain in spots I thought the other team would not try to break through.

And this has been a major part of my life ever since. Falling. Embracing. Climbing. Whirring. Cycling. Strategizing.

In case it isn’t obvious by now, I was diagnosed with a mental illness. Depression and anxiety to be more precise. Officially I was first diagnosed with a mental illness in 2006, which changed many times over the years, and finally rested on my current diagnosis, which also happens to be the right one, in late 2011 or early 2012.

I used to wonder whether the depression or anxiety came first, or if one triggered the other, but I came to the conclusion that this is a chicken and egg question. In the end it doesn’t matter which came first, it only matters that they’re here to stay.

This is me, Mentally Me, and my 43 cents. Welcome to my blog.