I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. ~ Henry David Thoreau
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. ~ Henry David Thoreau
Which brings us to now. I’m 43 years old, and I’d never been alone.
Earlier this year, I decided that it was really important that I get away. Just for a couple of days, all by myself. It was almost painfully difficult to describe why I needed to do it, but I just knew it was something that had to be done. And it specifically had to be done around April or May, as the pièce de ré·sis·tance to my year of self-care and self-discovery.
I had to be alone.
I had to give myself total space… to think, to feel, to grieve, to celebrate. I had to know, beneath the mom and the wife and the homemaker and the blogger, I WAS ALSO STILL ME.
I went into it with no expectations, other than to let it teach me what I needed to learn. I brought books (but it was okay if I didn’t read). I brought my laptop (but it was okay if I didn’t write). I brought journals and crafty things and sketch books (but it was okay if it all remained untouched.) I brought hiking shoes (but it was okay if they never made it out of my suitcase.) If I needed to cry, that was okay. If I needed to sit outside and drink coffee and watch the squirrels, that was okay.
As it turned out, I needed all of the above. I had no phone, no internet, and no outward distractions. It was just me… alone with nature and alone with myself. It was intense, and it was scary, and it was important.
From my journal, on the first night:
I’m sitting alone, in my little cabin. I feel… I don’t even know what I feel. I feel overwhelmed, and yet relieved at the same time. Broken, but so strong. Lonely, but empowered. I am crying, and don’t remember when I started. Crying for the girl that so badly needed this, crying for the girl that was so, so broken for so long. Crying for the woman, who needs to know, perhaps more than she’s ever known anything, that she is enough. Not enough as a mom, or a wife, or a daughter, or a sister, or a friend, but just ENOUGH. As a person. Stripped of all those other labels. I’m enough and I’m crying and uncomfortable and I needed this.
I’m not sure what made me think to do it, but I decided that first night (in the midst of a rather severe mental health crisis) to make a little video diary to chronicle the experience.
The rest of my story will be told through those short videos. They’re self-explanatory, but a couple of notes on the first one: It’s real and raw and not especially pretty. Also, notice how I have trouble catching my breath? That’s what the end of a panic attack sounds like. Or the beginning. I don’t even remember. To be honest, most of the first evening was one long panic attack.
Did I learn something new? Am I a new person because of my little 48 hour excursion? Well, no. The thing with life is that it keeps going, no matter how much we’d like to stop it sometimes. No sooner had I arrived back home, I was thrust back into responsibility and errands and obligations. Real life called. But I lost myself in those woods, and then I found myself again. And what I did realize is that that momentary peace I felt, that brief grasp of ataraxia (look it up) is something that I can work on feeling in the midst of the busy. In the midst of the chaos. In the midst of LIFE. And if I’ve learned anything in the past year – anything at all – it’s that life and relationships, even (or especially) relationships with yourself are not something that you can just anoint with a 48 hour balm and expect to be successful. They need constant, mindful, attentive care if you expect them to thrive, and expect them to be healthy and rich and fulfilling and worthwhile.
And as for myself? My little trip reminded me, more than I’ve ever been reminded before, that no matter how much I fight it, no matter how many times and how many ways I keep having to tell myself… no matter what society says or anyone says:
I am me.
And that’s enough.
One of the things I love doing on my Facebook page is asking a basic question of the group, one that I know will elicit a lot of responses, and hopefully starting a (often important, and needed) conversation. Even before I read through all the responses – and please know that I do, very carefully, read through all of the responses – your enthusiasm in joining the conversation tells me two things: 1) That we all want to be heard… that we all have questions, and struggles, and things to share, and that platforms like blogs and Facebook groups still serve a real purpose, and 2) That we’re all in this together. I think that one of the most helpful things to know (not just with parenting, but with life) is that we are not alone. That someone, somewhere, is out there who gets it. Who understands how we feel. Who knows what it’s like to be facing what we face. It’s a powerful thing, and one I don’t take for granted.
Most recently, I asked,
What is one thing that you struggle with as a parent? Something that you know you want to do differently (such as less yelling, more patience, etc) but that you are having trouble implementing?
I got an overwhelming response, both in numbers and in sheer honesty and vulnerability. So thank you. I very quickly realized that what was meant to be a one-off blog post really needed to become a regular series. Because I don’t care how good of a mom you are: We all struggle with something.
The thing that stood out to me the most in my first read-through of the comments was the one that’s been my own personal struggle since… well, forever: Being present. Being in the moment. It’s something that I’ve thought about, and learned about, and written about, many many times in the 20 years that I’ve been a parent. Tegan (who’s 9 at the time of this writing, and is teaching me a whole new set of parenting truths after her three brothers) has been instrumental in showing me of the importance of living in the moment.
But still, I have to remind myself. Still, I have to practice.
And I’m not alone.
Just a few of my fellow like-minded parents:
Stopping, breathing, and taking in the moment. Appreciating their age, abilities and achievements without being frustrated by lesser things. ~ Bea L
Really struggling with patience these days. ~ Jess F
Being more present with my kids and not giving in to frustration. ~ Rebecca P
Slowing down and enjoying the moments. I always seem to be going and trying to clean, get dishes or laundry done and I tend to e short with my kids and not fully engage in play or conversation. ~ Stefanie S
Being impatient and not being able to just be present with them. Working on it. Getting better, but it is hard. ~ Karen E
I have spent the entire last year working on my mental health, and a huge, huge part of that work was learning to live in the moment. Our brains (or at least my brain) always want to be solving problems, and thinking about the next thing, or the last thing, or the thing that’s coming up next week, or the thing that happened 6 months ago. When you’re not truly living in the moment, you’re either living in the past, or in the future. And in the past and in the future, there’s always a problem to solve. It’s exhausting.
So all the typical “live in the moment” advice – Breathe; Count to ten.; Look around and ground yourself by appreciating the sights and sounds and smells; Don’t sweat the small stuff – While it’s all well and good, it wasn’t until I learned the problem-solving piece that I felt like I really understood what I needed to do, and what I needed to remember.
In the moment, in this moment, there is no problem to solve.
And it sounds simplistic, and easy to argue: Of course there are problems. We don’t have enough money. The car’s in the shop. The kids are always fighting. The 2 year old’s sick. The 4 year old’s having a tantrum. I have to make dinner and make lunches for tomorrow and get my son to football and my daughter to karate and there’s the thing at church and it’s all just SO MUCH.
Yes. Sure. I get it. I get it.
But right now, right now as you read these words, there are no problems to solve. It’s okay to give yourself (and your brain! Your poor, overworked brain) a break. It’s okay to breathe and NOT WORRY about how you handled that last problem, or how you’re going to handle the next one. It’s okay to truly and deeply and fully live right now, and give yourself permission to rest…. to rest in the moment, to rest in the presence of your child, to rest in the presence of yourself.
Right now, in the moment, there is no problem to solve.
That one piece of truth, heard in the right place and the right time, was probably one of the single best bits of wisdom I’ve ever received… not just for life in general, but for my parenting as well. And I still have to remind myself – often – but I’m getting better.
Right now, there is no problem to solve.
And my shoulders relax, and I’m able to exhale, and my weary soul feels a welcome sense of relief. I don’t have to figure it all out right now. And then, in that moment, I can be the mom I know I can be. The mom I know I should be. And when I miss the mark (and I do sometimes miss the mark, because I’m human)? Then I have the next moment. And then the one after that.
One day, one moment, at a time.
And it sounds kinda hokey, and a little woo-woo (and I hate woo-woo) … but it helps. So much.
You have permission to rest.
Hug your kid, smell the flowers, jump in the mud puddle. Right now, there is no problem to solve.
When I’m in the midst of a deep depression, or grappling with a bout of anxiety – both of which often come together – very few external things help me. I never want someone to try to help me fix it (I have a therapist for that), and it’s extremely rare that I want to talk about it, if I even can talk about it (I have a therapist for that, too). More often than not, even the best of intentions and attempts to make me feel better only serve to make me feel worse. I feel like it’s important to clarify that I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, and I don’t mean to lay blame. I blame nothing other than ignorance, inexperience, and a stigma surrounding mental health that means it’s not talked about nearly as often, or as openly, as it should be. How could anyone possibly know what to do – and what not to do – if no one’s ever told them? The irony of course is that the times I need support the most are the times when I’m least able to articulate, or even identify for myself, what may or may not be helpful. When I’m depressed, I’m not rational. I’m never “with it.” I’m not always nice.
Still, there *are* a few things that help, none more than simply being there. Not trying to fix, not judging. Just seeing me, and loving me, right where I’m at. When I asked my readers to share their own experience on my Facebook page, the response was overwhelming in its solidarity. People with depression and anxiety just want to know they are loved. While that might look slightly different for everyone, the sentiment remains the same. Far and away the most common response was some version of, “Just be there. Just love me.”
A selection of those responses, plus several others, are what follow. A few times the responses directly contradicted one another, which I loved (we’re humans, not robots). I tried to group those together. I added a bit of commentary a couple of times, but mostly let them stand on their own.
Listen – and really hear – what helps these brave individuals when they are struggling:
“Just listening and not trying to fix things. I usually just need a sounding board, not answers.” ~ Kelsey S
“Validation helps, not necessarily trying to find you a solution.” ~ Ladasha M
“When they reach out and just offer support or when they let me just “be” until I’m ready to talk. It’s super helpful when they don’t try to “fix” things. I think that helps me more than anything. Just to know that they are there for me and don’t see me as broken and unuseful.” ~ Laura L
“Letting me talk about it without offering an “answer.”” ~ Valerie S
“The most helpful thing is when a friend/loved one just sits next to me (literally or metaphorically) and says “I’m here”. No false promises that things will get better soon, no attempts to cheer me up, just sitting with me and letting me feel what I need to feel” ~ Chelsea S
“The most helpful for me is for my friends/family to just be there.” ~ Katie C
“”I’m here if you need me”. You have to truly mean it, because you might get a call in the middle of the night.” ~ Alisha T
“Nothing they really say helps because when I am in deep, I can turn anything into a negative. Just being there, never giving up on me, and loving me helps.” ~ Ashley A
“Just being listened to. Having someone just witness my experience. Believing my experience is real and not just “in my head.” ~ Patty M
“”I’m here if you need to talk.”” ~ Jay T
“Giving me some space to just be with how I’m feeling, and letting me know they’re there when I’m ready to talk.” ~ Jessica M
“Just simply saying they are here for me but also reminding me that I’m strong and brave.” ~ Kellie M
“Empathy: ‘That sounds really hard. Do you want to talk about it?'” ~ Catherine D
“It’s not anything said; it’s simply being near me. Even if the company is silent, having somebody sit with me and be willing to listen, watch a movie, or just exist for a moment makes me feel supported, more supported than any words.” ~ Reggie R
“I have anxiety and panic attacks so it’s very helpful if my family can remind me when I have a panic attack that I’m okay and that I only have to get through the next few minutes. Asking why or what I’m upset about or trying to “fix” it does not help. Also, being understanding when I need to leave the room to have a few minutes to breathe and let the anxiety wash over me.” ~ Ursula D
“Mostly just NOT saying, “What’s wrong?” There doesn’t have to be anything wrong, and there usually isn’t. Expecting me to be able to give some reason makes me feel guilty, like I have no business feeling awful when everything is going well in my life.” ~ Elizabeth S
“Being a compassionate, non-judgemental ear helps me a lot. Being able to talk it out or cry it out works for me.” ~ Michelle J
“Believing me. No second guessing, no hedging.” ~ Julia J
“The best thing ever was when I was having a bad day and I felt like I was causing so many problems for my husband. I was crying and promising him I would try harder to change. It was such a relief when he told me that I didn’t need to change, that I was fine just the way I was, and we just needed to find ways to cope. I had never felt so accepted and loved and it helped give me a solid base from which to blossom.” ~ Alicia R
A lot of people pointed to physical affection, along with physical presence:
“For me what is most helpful is when a friend is there for me letting me know they are there to listen. When they make time to just come over and be present. When they try to get me out of the house and out of my own head. Another big one for me is a hug. Hugs really help me.” ~ Tamarah C
“Holding me tightly until the storm passes- that feeling of someone seeing you at your ugliest and not running away, not trying to make it better either.” ~ Crystal M
“It’s not so much what my loved ones say, it’s what they do (and don’t do). My partner gives me massages. He does my head, neck, back, shoulders, arms, and hands. Tension melts away. My family all knows the special treats I like, so they’ll bring me truffles or a bottle of sparkling cider or spicy hot V8 or chile rellenos from my favorite restaurant. Then they leave me alone. They don’t try to talk to me unless it’s essential. They know I’ll eventually be okay, and time alone to sleep or read or snuggle my cats helps immensely.” ~ Jenny R
“”Are you having a hard day? Do you need a hug?”” ~ Naomi R
“Hugs. And not all hugs are created equal. Also, encouraging me to take a break, because I get stuck in the “I need to finish this,” mindset and have trouble seeing the solution.” ~ Rob T
“It depends on how close I am to the person. With my house humans, I definitely like hugs, back rubs, and someone just sitting quietly with me. Hugs from acquaintances… nope. A sincere compliment from anyone goes a long way, though.” ~ Joan C
For some of us, tangible, practical help with the necessities of life goes a long way:
“Cleaning or cooking. Taking over administrative household things would be a tremendous help.” ~ Renee M
“When someone notices I’m down or very anxious and instead of asking me what’s wrong they simply do something kind. Another question to ask instead of “what’s wrong” is “What can I do for you?” Or “What do you need right now?” I don’t really get asked these but wish I do more often as they are the most helpful words at the time.” ~ Rebecca B
“Taking something off my plate or doing something kind for me helps a lot.” ~ V Sue H
“What can I do to help out? What can I take off your plate for you? What would make you feel better that I could do for you. Feeling overburdened (by my own rules and expectations, mostly) was a huge part of my depression and anxiety.” ~ Sue S
“When they ask me what they can do to help. That’s the best help. Instead of assuming what I need, it’s nice for them to ask.” ~ Stephanie J
“Dear Lord, not the open ended, “How can I help?” That question is so overwhelming to me when I’m depressed. “Can I do X for you?” is much more helpful. Trust me, if an alternative is better, I’ll let you know.” Mariellen M. I could really relate to this, and it took me a long time to realize it. I’d often just wonder what the heck is wrong with me. (That’s something I wonder a lot, especially when I’m depressed.) Here I have this well-meaning, loving friend who wants to help me, and the offer only makes me more frustrated. It’s not because I don’t appreciate it, and it’s (usually) not that I don’t want help. It’s that I DON’T KNOW what kind of help I need. The question feels overwhelming and impossible to answer. A specific offer would be much easier to respond to. I still might decline it!, but it’s far more likely to help.
“I would say whatever they think would help me out, just do it. When I’m overwhelmed by depression and anxiety, someone asking me a question is incredibly stressful. But if they just go ahead and hug me, call me, clean something, etc, it’s definitely appreciated.” ~ Issa W
“Can I bring you a cup of soup or a Coke? Or can I watch the kids for you for an hour or two? Just these simple things remind me that I can get through the darkness and I am not alone.” ~ Jennifer E
“Would you like to have a cup of tea with me?” It just helps to fill the empty hours more pleasantly.” ~ Margaret B
“Basically treat me like I have stomach flu! I’m sick at the moment, let me act like it, and treat me like it. Tuck me in and bring me tea. The show of understanding and love will give me the strength to rise up.” ~ Seana R
“Not trying to whisk me away to my bedroom for alone time, and then taking over all the household things with the family. That would be helpful. I like knowing I can be present and included even if I am depressed. I don’t need to be quarantined.” ~ Shelly C
And sometimes, what we need is a little bit of gentle pressure from the right person:
“Want to take a walk? No? I’d like to take you for a walk. I know it helps.” ~ Heather Y
“”Have you taken a shower today? Text me after you get out of the shower.”” ~ Roya D. Self care, even something as seemingly simple as a shower, can be incredibly hard when you’re depressed. Gentle encouragement from a trusted friend can go a long way.
“Make me food. Offer to get me out of the house. Gently ask if I’ve showered/eaten something/taken my medication/stepped outside.” ~ Idzie D
“My husband helps me by giving me alone time or encouraging me to go to yoga. I often give up yoga when I’m overwhelmed, and it’s one of the things that helps me the most. He also gently helps me get to bed, as sleep always helps. He just kind of takes over and says, “Why don’t you get in bed and I”ll put the kids to bed.” No judgement.” ~ Audrey B
One of the biggest reasons that I continue to write about this is that it has helped me SO MUCH to hear from others who get it. Commiseration from someone who’s been there is a powerful thing, and I’m not alone in that belief:
“When I went through a four-year struggle with depression and anxiety, what helped me the most was 1) knowing other people had been there. I loved it when people were willing to share their experiences. 2) Learning to seize the day. That is, I had to learn to live life to the fullest. I had to learn to do things I enjoy.” ~ Kandy C
“Personally, hearing someone say, “I’ve struggled with that too” has helped me the most. That hardly EVER comes from my spouse or family. It has to come from someone outside my current situation like a close friend.” ~ Mandi P
Depression is an incredibly isolating illness. It’s about us, and no one else, so it’s important not to take it personally. Here are just a couple of examples:
“Not take it personally and keep getting angry because I won’t say what exactly is wrong. Most of the time I don’t even know what’s wrong, but everyone is so quick to think I’m upset with them” ~ Kelly J
“Don’t take it personally when I cancel plans to go out at the last minute”. ~ Jenica M
One of the things that helped me a lot when I first started talking about this was simple honesty.
“”I don’t even know what to say right now, I’m just glad you told me.”” ~ Jessika B
And finally, when all else fails, there is this:
“Saying that no matter what, you love me.” ~ Rebecca R
46 different people in different places, with different struggles, and different stories. But one common plea that unites us all:
Just be there.
*Fair warning: The end of the year always makes me crazy introspective, even under the best of circumstances.*
I went to an open mic night a couple weeks ago. We’ve been checking them out for Paxton (16 at the time of this writing), because he’s looking for local places to play his music. This one place we went, at an old church-turned-theater downtown, was really interesting. And I don’t mean “interesting” as a polite yet sarcastic way of saying it blew. I mean it really was interesting. All ages. All walks of life. All kinds of talents. There were poems and music, originals and covers. There was a little boy who sang a Bruno Mars song. There was a young woman who performed a rap that she’d written for a friend who’d died by suicide. There was a 75 year old comedian who I didn’t find particularly funny but respected like crazy for getting up there and doing his thing. There was a young girl who forgot the lyrics to her song, got swept up in her nerves, and stood there frozen and crying until two of her friends jumped onstage to help her finish. There was a room full of people giving nothing but massive amounts of love and support and encouragement for their fellow artists.
And the whole thing made my fragile little creative heart break and swell at the same exact time.
It was just like …. life. This being-a-human thing is so complex. The heartbreaking and the beautiful. The deepest of sorrow and the sweetest of elation. All captured and bottled and either tentatively eked out bit by bit, or forced out through a cataclysmic explosion. While friends stand by offering hugs, and encouragement, and “If you’re having trouble finishing your song, then dammit, I’m coming onto that stage and holding you up and singing for you until you’ve regained your own voice.”
Too. Many. Feelings.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who regularly reads my blog, but I’ve had a hard year. I’ve actually had one of the hardest years of my life. And it was one of those years where just when I thought I had some forward momentum going, something or someone else would completely kick out my footing, and I’d be once again scrambling for air. Hope. Despair. Serenity. Anguish. I don’t think I’ve left a single emotion untouched in 2016.
And now there are 10 days left in the year, and I’m reviewing, and I’m reflecting, and… I wanna say breathing, but really I’m gulping… and remembering. My heart wants to make a list of the big lessons I’ve learned this year (and I still just might) but my brain tells me there may be bandwidth issues if I even try. I’ve learned a lifetime’s worth of painful, messy truths about myself and my life and why I work the way I work. But no one wants to hear that. Besides, while personal growth sounds all nice and everything, my final takeaway from 2016 is much more simple yet more profound:
I’m still here.
Still running. Still trying. Still fighting. Still loving.
I was here to see the 12 year old score his first touchdown. I was here to see the 8 year old play Alice in Alice in Wonderland. I was here to see the 16 year old sing his first solo song on stage. I was here. And more than that, I am glad I was here.
I’m glad I’m here… right here, right now. (And if you are reading this, wherever and whoever you are, I’m glad you’re here too.)
2016 didn’t take us down. We’re still here. And given the alternative, that’s a whole hell of a lot to be thankful for as we round out the year.
It’s been nearly seven months since I first walked into the behavioral health clinic and basically said, “I need help.” I wasn’t surprised to hear the words, bipolar disorder, that day (I knew. You can read my story from the beginning here), but I was surprised by much of what followed. Treatment has been both harder – so, so much harder – and more rewarding than I thought. I’ve found unexpected encouragement from some people in my life, and unexpected absence from others. I’ve found a lot of support and information… and even more misunderstanding and judgment.
Ever since that day, I’ve been devouring every related article, website, and social media account that I could get my hands on. The relief of knowing that someone else gets it, and the feeling of validation and comfort that comes with, “Oh my gosh, this is describing ME!” is immeasurable. At the same time, there is so much information out there, much of it repetitive and/or of dubious quality, that it’s hard to know where to begin if you’re a loved one wanting to understand.
Here then are ten of the top things I want people to know, and misconceptions I’d like to dispel. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, but merely a place to start.
1. It doesn’t look the way it looks in the movies.
A quick Google search will yield you a nice little list of a handful of movies with characters with bipolar (or characters with unnamed mental health issues that present a lot like bipolar.) I think I’ve watched them all. And while some are of course better and more accurate than others, in general they’re full of stereotypes, and/or appear as if someone was just going down a checklist of symptoms, trying to hit them all. Also, what movies tend to portray the most is unmanaged bipolar, not the day-in, day-out, un-sexy business of taking meds, going to therapy, and making a concerted effort to get enough sleep. Movies are meant to entertain and shock and awe, so it only stands that they’re going to emphasize the wildest and the craziest extremes. It’s important to remember though that the face of bipolar may also be the guy minding his own business next to you on the train. Your doctor. Your neighbor. Your mild-mannered mail man. It won’t sell movie tickets, but it’s also me… cross-legged on my couch in my furry pajama pants, drinking tea, and watching the Cardinals lose (again.)
2. It is different for every person.
Like any illness, mental or otherwise, bipolar is not one-size-fits-all, and can manifest itself in many different ways. Just because your brother is prone to violent and angry outbursts when manic, it doesn’t mean that that same symptom applies to every other person with bipolar. Yes, there are common symptoms used for diagnosis (more on that in later points), but the intricacies and variations are infinite. It is both unfair and inaccurate to presume to know exactly how bipolar presents for any one individual, unless you are intimately involved in the day-to-day life of said individual. Even then, so much of bipolar is intrinsically wrapped up in a person’s inner psyche, and not something you can see anyway. Don’t assume.
3. Depression doesn’t necessarily mean not leaving your bed all day.
Depression, the first half of a bipolar diagnosis, is often portrayed (again, think of the movies) as a person who is nearly catatonic. Unable to leave bed, unable to eat, unable to really do anything but exist in a haze of sleep and crying jags. And yes, absolutely, this version of depression is very real. But equally concerning, and equally real, is something called “functional depression.” I am intimately familiar with this form of depression, as it’s the type of depression in which I most often find myself. With functional depression, the person is able to go through the motions, albeit in a fashion that is greatly hindered. Depending on how brave of a face this person can muster, you may not even know anything is wrong. People who are functionally depressed may still go to work, take their kids to dance class, and show up at church every Sunday. Outwardly, they may be doing everything they need to do, while inwardly they are completely withdrawn, immobilized, disconnected, despondent. They might have lost all pleasure, and all interest, in life. Last spring, just before I’d bottomed out and finally decided to seek help, I was in the middle of taking my daughter to lengthy dress rehearsals several times a week for a theater production she was a part of. I was contemplating suicide, and no one had any idea. Even now, seven months later, seeing that sentence terrifies me.
4. Mania doesn’t necessarily mean wild flights of out-of-control fancy.
There’s a scene in the movie Mr Jones where Richard Gere’s character dances on a 2×4 (sans harness), high above the ground, in the midst of an manic episode. I think this is the sort of thing that people think of most often when they think of mania (the second major piece of a bipolar diagnosis): extreme, dangerous, and devil-may care. And it happens, to be sure. People experience euphoria. They may have hallucinations. They may become sexually promiscuous. They may engage in any number of risky behaviors. A lot of times someone’s manic episode will be the thing that lands them in the ER for the first time, leading to a proper diagnosis. But mania doesn’t always equal danger. It doesn’t have to mean amazing and exciting. It doesn’t have to mean wild and out of control. For me (and for a lot of people) it’s somewhere in between all of the above. It’s staying up all night to write, or create, or plan, because sleep suddenly isn’t really needed. It’s feeling like you can be anything, or do anything, or experience anything. It’s feeling that the world is at your fingertips. It’s bursting with great ideas and big plans, and spending lots – and lots – of money to make them happen. It’s talking too fast, because you’re just too excited, and your mouth won’t keep up. It’s motivation; motivation to do more projects than most people do in a decade. It’s a whirling and swirling and unending rush of adrenaline. It’s crying every time you go for a walk because the trees and the sky and the cracks in the sidewalk are just so. damn. beautiful. So is it a good feeling then, some might ask? I’ll be honest: it does sometimes feel like a positive in that it does bring euphoria. It does bring such a rush of ideas. It does bring so much creative energy. The problem is that along with that creative energy comes restlessness, and racing thoughts, and a feeling of wanting to crawl out of your own skin. And through it all, no matter how good it may feel in the moment, it’s all happening with the knowledge that the crash is coming. Like a tidal wave it’s coming, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.
5. It’s not just about depression and mania.
Depression and mania of course get the most air time, but the symptoms don’t end there. There are actually a lot of different symptoms, many often occurring at the same time. There is something called a “mixed episode”, which as the name implies means that elation and depression are present at the same time. There’s the propensity for addiction. All or nothing thinking. Irritability. Impulsiveness. Sleep disturbances. Memory issues. Racing thoughts. Agitation. Sexual symptoms. Anxiety (this is currently the most debilitating piece for me, particularly in the “bridge” phase between depression and mania). There is lack of – or too much – energy. There’s fatigue, both mental and physical. There’s physical pain. Symptoms can last for weeks or months at a time, or they can be rapid cycling, meaning that you’re never quite sure what may be coming when.
6. It is more than just “ups and downs.”
“We all have ups and downs. Why would you feel the need to label it as bipolar?” Well first, I didn’t label it bipolar, medical professionals labeled it bipolar. Second, yes, absolutely… we all have ups and downs. When I’m doing really really well, I have ups and downs. Bipolar is a very different thing than “ups and downs” though. It is completely, 100% normal to have ups and downs. It is NOT normal to have “downs” so low that you no longer see the point in living, and to have “ups” so high that you no longer feel the need to sleep, or to make prudent decisions. When I first heard this comment, several months ago, I felt frustrated and insulted. Today I recognize that it just comes from genuine ignorance, and I feel happy (really) for this woman who does not have to experience the actual and extreme “ups and downs” that bipolar brings.
7. In order to be managed, it first requires treatment.
Bipolar treatment may include any combination of: medication, natural therapies, lifestyle changes, psychotherapy, etc. I carry no shame in saying that my treatment currently includes medication (a cocktail of three different meds at the time of this writing), though many people certainly try to shame me. Some comments are overt, and others are more subtle about it, but the judgment is still there. I won’t defend or excuse my own choices, but I will simply say that for me, I have absolutely zero doubts about the path that I’m on. I tried all the supplements, the herbs, the oils, changing my diet, getting enough exercise… and for me, it wasn’t enough. Taking the right medications at the right time quite literally saved my life. As did therapy – which I fought tooth and freaking nail at the beginning, but that ended up becoming one of the most important things I’ve ever done. Without appropriate treatment – no matter what that treatment ends up looking like – people tend to either self-medicate (with things like alcohol, drugs, compulsive behaviors) OR they continue to cycle through the elation and the depression, going through lengthy periods of dysfunction. I have done both, and I recommend neither. Bipolar doesn’t go away on its own. It doesn’t go away by force of sheer will power. It doesn’t go away by talking about it with a friend, no matter how understanding that friend might be. One of the most insensitive things someone said to me in the early days of diagnosis came in response to my confiding in her that I’d had to admit to the psych doctor that I’d been suicidal. “But didn’t the feeling go away once you said it out loud?”, she asked me. It doesn’t really work like that. Saying things out loud was what served as my impetus for getting help, but it for sure didn’t help in and of itself. Admitting you need help is hard. Doing the actual work needed to help yourself is even harder. If your friend/family member/loved one is seeking professional help, support them. Support them like crazy.
8. Managing bipolar is a full-time job.
There’s no “cure” for bipolar. It can be managed, but it doesn’t go away. Dealing with bipolar is a lifelong, 24 hours-a-day job. There are good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks. At the time of this writing, I’ve been in a dip for the past couple of weeks, and am trying to give myself lots of gentleness and grace as I work my way through it. Medication helps. Therapy helps. But they’re just the beginning. The day-to-day management, the will-I or won’t-I make the commitment to stay as well as possible is all on me. And it’s hard. And it’s tiring. And it would be SO EASY to let myself slide back into the safety of the darkness of depression, or into the numbness of a strong Captain and Coke (or five). I know I can’t skimp on sleep. I know I need to regularly take my meds and my supplements. I know I can’t skip appointments. I know I need to keep up with exercise and eating right and doing all the effing hard inner work that I complain to my therapist about every week. And
sometimes a lot of the time, it pisses me off that it’s all so much work right now, but I do it. Because I owe it to my kids. I owe it to my husband. I owe it to MYSELF.
9. You don’t understand it… unless you do.
I think a lot of the time we so badly want to be supportive that we say things with the best of intentions that just aren’t truthful. Or helpful. Or kind. At the top of this list is “I understand.” Please, please don’t say this if you don’t in fact have personal experience. Having a bad fight with your husband or going through a funk because you can’t lose those last 10 pounds sucks, and I’m really sorry you’re experiencing that. Truly. But it’s not the same thing as living with a mental illness. It’s just not. Like so many other things, you can’t understand it unless you live it. I’m living it myself, and I’m still figuring it all out. Being supportive doesn’t need to (and shouldn’t) include words like, “I know how you feel.” To this day, the best thing anyone’s said to me about it all was this: “That sounds really hard. I’ll be thinking of you and sending you love while you work through this.”
10. It doesn’t define who a person is.
It always makes me cringe a little every time I hear the word bipolar used as a major descriptor. Especially since it’s so often used in a negative way. Ie: “My bipolar brother just went to jail again.” “My stepfather is such a jerk. He’s bipolar.” People with bipolar can go to jail, sure. And yup, they can also be jerks. But so can anyone else. Having bipolar doesn’t need to be a negative, nor does it excuse negative behavior. It is one piece of a very big, very complicated, very intricate whole. I’m not a “bipolar person.” I’m still ME. I’m creative and dorky and love my pets more than I love most people. I like coffee and movies and office supplies. I love the smell of the desert when it rains, and laughing till I cry around the dinner table, and getting new tattoos. I get excited when there’s a new episode of my favorite TV show. I’m me. I’m you. I’m all of us. A unique, imperfect, multi-faceted human. Not a diagnosis.
Bipolar (and mental illness in general) still very much comes with a stigma, largely due to misunderstanding and/or fear. It’s why I continue to talk about it, and write about it, despite the people who tell me not to, or are uncomfortable with hearing about it. I’m here to ask you to get comfortable with your discomfort. It’s not just that I think it’s okay to talk about it… I think that we need to talk about it. So many people are afraid to mention it, afraid to ask questions. But I’ll tell you what: when I know that you know, and the topic is deliberately avoided? It is so much more awkward than even the most awkward of questions. It’s an illness, not an elephant.
I have learned so much in the past seven months. So, so much. Bipolar has forced me to learn, and to grow, and to do all those hard and adult things that productive people are supposed to do. Calling it a blessing doesn’t seem quite right, but there is a greater good to be found, and I think that’s okay.
But some days? Some days it just really, really sucks. And I think that’s okay too.
I recently whined to a good friend about having to go to therapy. It was the morning of my appointment, and I wanted – with every little fiber of my being – to stay home. “I know it’s hard,” she said. “But don’t you feel better afterwards?”
“No,” I told her. “Most of the time, I feel worse.”
Having no basis for comparison, I have no idea if it’s it normal or not, but I dread it. I do. I sort of leave one appointment, and immediately start stressing out about the following one.
And I mean, there are positives. I like my therapist… he is warm and good at what he does. There are those rare times I leave feeling good, having made some big breakthrough or something. Sometimes I gain a deeper appreciation of the absurdity of it all. Sometimes we laugh. Sometimes I leave with a helpful new tool for dealing with worry or anxiety or any of the other perks that come with being me. Sometimes I go home having learned something really huge about myself, or about life, or about how the mind works.
But… yeah, it’s still pretty much breaking me. And even on the good days, it’s all just so MUCH. So exhausting. So emotionally and mentally draining.
The other day, I realized something (In the shower, because that’s where I do my best thinking. I also tend to do a lot of thinking in my car, but there are so many things to distract me when I’m driving. There’s not much to distract me in the shower, unless I’m running out of conditioner, and have to keep reminding myself for the rest of my shower – conditioner, conditioner, conditioner – so I won’t forget to write it on the shopping list when I get out.) I realized that my brokenness, my feeling raw and ripped open and vulnerable, no matter how unpleasant it is, serves a real purpose. It’s a precursor – a necessary precursor – to healing. Sort of like how doctors sometimes have to re-break a bone in order to set it so that it can heal correctly. I’m the broken bone.
And I hate it. I hate everything about it. I hate uncovering more broken bits that need attention. I hate talking about myself. I hate worrying that I’m being too ______ (fill in the blank). Too annoying, too crazy, too whiny, too narcissistic. I console myself with the fact that maybe to a therapist it’s like I was when I was teaching yoga. All the new people worry that they’re not flexible enough, or that they’re doing the poses wrong, or that they’re being judged. And I – and every other teacher I’ve ever known – think they’re rock stars just for showing up. Every single one. Every single time. It would make me feel a lot better if I could think of myself as a rock star, just for showing up.
But I’m not a rock star. I’m a human. A human who’s working and fighting but raw and bruised and bloody from the battle. A human who’s broken. And sweet baby Jesus, I didn’t think I could get more broken than I was when I first walked into his office three months ago. I was wrong.
It’s a weird thing, therapy. Did you ever think about it? It’s just an odd, odd thing. Baring the most shameful, embarrassing, painful parts of your psyche to … a stranger? And there’s a professional rapport there I guess, and a certain amount of trust, but … you know NOTHING about this person. And for all the sharing you do, for all the emotional gut-wrenching stripping, you might as well be completely naked. Now that I think about it, because I’ve really never looked at it in that way before, I’m pretty sure that I’d find being physically naked preferable. I’m not even kidding.
So this is me, naked. Barenaked (anyone remember that song by Jennifer Love Hewitt in the early 2000’s??). I’ll be okay. I will. I WILL. But right now, I’m not too okay. I’m naked and afraid and vulnerable and would legitimately be contemplating drinking right now – at nine in the morning – if I hadn’t given up drinking, one of my favorite things, in my quest to face my issues and finally be well.
This is hard you guys.
A dear friend recently, and aptly, described it like this:
It’s like cleaning my damn house
Every time I think “surely I’m almost there”
Some new closet of junk appears
The closets are killing me. So very many closets.
I know my online presence has been a little scarce lately, but I’m still here. Still plugging. Still learning. Still broken. And naked and…. in a closet, apparently? (Sorry, way too many metaphors for one blog post.) But I’m here. And after all the hard work and time and tears I’ve invested in myself over the last three months, I feel confident in saying that I’ve no plans to go anywhere.
June 2, 2016
Yay, you made it to the end! If you’re confused by that, and you’re coming here for the first time, you might want to go back to the beginning.
I started writing these last several posts for two reasons (and I realize that it would have made much more sense to mention this at the beginning of the story, instead of the end. But I’m doing it at the end. Let’s just make peace with it.)
I started writing them for two reasons:
To process. This part was entirely selfish (a healthy kind of selfish, I believe). I was dealing with a lot of new information, thoughts, and feelings, and once enough time had passed that those thoughts and feelings starting cohering themselves into words, I needed to start putting them down and getting them out of my head so I could move through them, and
To connect with others. A lot of people don’t understand the need/desire to open up about stuff like this. There’s a definite segment of society with an attitude of “We’ve all got issues, so what? Doesn’t mean you need to blab about them all over the internet.” Or “Why would you want to share something so private?” Or “Why do you think anyone would care about your problems?” And this is why: First, I think it’s important to stand up and say – again and again – that there is no shame in mental illness, and no shame in seeking help. Second, no one wants to feel alone, especially when they are struggling. When all of this peaked for me, it helped me in ways I can’t even express to see others telling their stories, being open with their struggles, and giving hope about recovery. Hope!! And so, whether this is shared with 10 people or 10,000, if ONE is helped in some way, if ONE feels a little less alone, if ONE finds a new sense of solidarity, if ONE feels a little more hope…. it’s worth the vulnerability it took to share it.
Having said all that, I have no intentions of turning this into a mental health blog (and the people cried, “Amen!”) I don’t want to start writing about bipolar all the time, and I don’t think anyone wants to read that. I know I’ll write about it from time to time as it’s part of my life, but …. I want to get back to talking about parenting, and unschooling, and the current
mess state of American Christianity, and current events, and all the other things that tick people off on a daily basis.
This was just something I had to write about until I felt done. And as of last night, for now, I feel done.
Because last night, my husband made a joke. Aimed at me. And bipolar. I feel like I shouldn’t actually repeat the joke, out of respect for the people who are raw and sensitive (and/or who don’t use wildly inappropriate humor as a coping mechanism like we do in my family), but to set the scene: we were all eating dinner, talking about what we perceived must be the pros and cons of long term RV travel as a family. I said something about nobody wanting to be in that close proximity with me for too long because I’m crazy, he made his joke…. and there was Dead. Silence.
It was only a fraction of a second, but I felt it. I felt the silence, I felt all four kids look at me, and I felt the unspoken question of, “Wait, is this okay to joke about???”
And then I laughed, because it was funny. And then the kids laughed.
And then we all breathed.
It’s now been two weeks since I wrote this last installment (and over 5 weeks since I started treatment), and I didn’t feel right posting it without giving one final little update on where I am today. The problem is that I don’t really know how to explain where I am today. I’m…. working on it. I’m making strides. I’m celebrating small victories. I’m taking my medication faithfully, and building routines, and getting exercise and forcing myself to go to therapy even when I don’t feel like it.
Therapy by the way, is very different than I thought it’d be. I thought I’d hate it, and it turns out that I DO sort of hate it, just for different reasons than I anticipated. I like my therapist. He is kind and knowledgeable and really good at what he does. But therapy is REALLY FREAKING HARD. Facing your issues and figuring out your shit when you’ve had the lies of bipolar yelling in your ear for 20 years is excruciatingly painful (especially when you’ve taken looking for answers in the bottom of a bottle of Captain Morgan off the table). Like, one of the most painful things I’ve ever done kind of painful. I told my therapist last week that for every issue I’m learning to manage, I unveil another 50 issues that I’ve been avoiding. A veritable Pandora’s Box of dysfunction. But I’m doing it. And I’m learning. And I’m taking baby steps. I have some tools now, rudimentary though they may be, and I’m adding to them every week.
I had a rough couple of days earlier this week, the worst I’ve had since I started treatment. I panicked. I braced myself for the downward slide. And I did slide. But I didn’t slide all the way. Instead I stopped, and I looked around and I clawed my way back up. Today is Friday, and today I’m smiling. And I’ll tell you what. Depression that lasts for three days is a hell of a long way from depression that lasts for six months. I will take it. I will celebrate the heck out of it. I have no doubt that there’ll be more bad days, but I also have hope that I’ll be increasingly equipped to handle them when they come. Good days are out there somewhere, too. And they’re so, so close.
I’ll be okay. We’ll be okay.
Thank you, for reading, and for being so awesome.
June 1, 2016
In case anyone ever opens up to you about a mental illness (and please believe me when I say that it takes an ENORMOUS amount of trust in you to do so), here are some of the perfect, and encouraging, and loving responses that my friends gave me when I told them. Some knew that I’d been struggling, and for others it was completely out of the blue.
“That sounds really, really hard. Please let me know how I can best support you.”
“I am holding you in my heart.”
“I am happy you were able to get help. Take it one day at a time. I’m here if you ever need to talk.”
“I am so glad that you have something to work with. Onward and upward toward sunshinier days. This is the start of a brand new chapter for you.”
“Thank you for trusting me to tell me.”
“I’ll be thinking of you. Please keep me posted.”
“I’m so sorry that you’ve been having such a hard time, and I’m really glad that you were able to seek out help. I’m so proud of you for taking care of yourself.”
“Oh my goodness, that is a lot. A blessing to know what you’re dealing with, and to be able to start treating it. I’m here for you if you ever want to talk.”
“I love you.”
*I could add to this list greatly from all the kind and wonderful messages I’ve gotten since I published my first post about this, but I won’t. These were the earliest ones, so I want them to stand. The only thing I’ll add came from just one single person, and I thought it was the greatest thing ever. She’d written me a very sweet message of encouragement, let me know she was thinking of me, and closed it with “No response needed.” I responded anyway, but it was so appreciated, and was a very, very cool way to take the pressure off at a time when responding to emails, even kind and wonderful ones, took a lot.*
My personal favorite came from my 8 year old daughter (who is mature beyond her years, and has one of the biggest hearts of anyone I know) Being the youngest, her level of understanding isn’t quite that of the boys, both because of her age, and because I’m of course a little more selective about what is shared in her presence. But there’s only so much you can shield. She walked in on me crying one day, and set about making me this:
It’s tempting to close with a list of well-meaning things that absolutely did NOT help (that list is longer) but to just touch on the biggest and most frequent categories of offenders: Please don’t try to diagnose, treat, or fix. Don’t minimize what is a serious issue with things like, “Cheer up,” or “You just need a glass of wine, a long walk, a good cry.” Etc. And DO NOT say you understand if you haven’t been through it yourself. If all else fails, trust that your friend is doing what he/she needs to get well – whatever that path may be – leave the questioning/counseling/advising/treating to their professionals, and just see them, hear them …. and be there.
(Continue to Part Six)
May 31, 2016
Music has played an integral part of my life since I was a little girl. Whether I was down, or up, or somewhere in between, music moved me. It inspired me. It encouraged me. No matter what I felt, music was there to bring it to the next level. It brought me joy when I was happy. It gave me bravery when I was scared. It comforted me when I was sad.
And if I didn’t want to be comforted, and instead just needed to wallow? Music was good for that too.
And now, at 42, it still does all of the above. Whenever I connect with a band or a song or an album I devour it … listening over and over and over until I’ve had my fill. I crave music. My soul needs music, the way a man in the desert needs water. Music is like breathing. It keeps me alive. So it should come as no surprise that music has been hugely instrumental (ha, see what I did there?) in seeing me through the last few difficult months.
I would hear a song that spoke to me, and it would become my anthem.
First, it was “Rise Up”, by Andra Day.
After that, and for the longest time, it was “Bird Set Free” by Sia (who, it should be noted, also has bipolar) The first time I actually heard it was when Dalton Rappattoni (who also has bipolar) sang it on American Idol, and the lyrics just took my breath away. I listened to her version, and his, on repeat for weeks on end.
On a related note, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Dalton and Sia’s bravery in talking publicly about their disorders were more helpful and inspiring and important to me than I can even say.
Most recently, the band A Great Big World – Ian Axel and Chad King – released a new single called “Won’t Stop Running”. As soon as I heard it, I knew that that was going to be my new song.
I have adored A Great Big World since they first came out with Say Something in 2013. Their songs are beautiful and catchy – the kind that just reach deep down into your soul, their voices compliment each other perfectly, and they just seem like positive and lovely and genuine guys. Their songs have been a part of my daily soundtrack for the past three years, and when I taught yoga, I included a GBW song on my playlist every time I could. Getting to hear them live this year, at a tiny little venue downtown, was one of the highlights of what had been a pretty horrible year. They are one of my all-time favorite bands, and their concert became one of my all-time favorite concerts.
The song, “Won’t Stop Running” was written about Chad’s journey with MS, but the theme of not giving up was one that is relatable to all of us… no matter what stories or struggles or obstacles we face. When they realized the overwhelming response they were getting to the song, they started a #wontstoprunning campaign, and invited people to share their own stories on social media. I was a little bit sad because I wanted to share my story…. but wasn’t sure I wanted to be “out” with it yet. So I watched while others shared their stories, and Chad and Ian responded here and there, and there were beautiful words of support and encouragement. I even briefly thought about starting an anonymous Instagram account, just so I could join in the collective group hug. But then, a couple of days later, they announced that they’d opened an email just for people who wanted to share their stories with them anonymously, and that they’d pick a couple to share.
And so I did.
The next day, I received a lovely and short and sweet and encouraging reply from Chad and Ian (that just happened to come on a really bad day when it was so sorely needed) And then, scrolling through Facebook, I saw that they’d reposted my story. They posted it on Facebook and Instagram both, where hundreds of people “liked” it and offered encouragement and kind words and support. MY STORY!
I was in awe 1) that they did such an awesome campaign for their fans in the first place, 2) that they chose to share my story, and 3) that it felt SO, SO GOOD to be honest about it, even – or especially? – if it was to a bunch of strangers. I received nothing but support, at a time when I was greatly struggling with the idea of telling even those closest to me, precisely because I didn’t know that I’d receive that same support.
It was huge for me, and it was healing, and it will forever earn Chad King and Ian Axel a special place in my heart.
If you’re struggling with something – anything – I’d definitely encourage you to find the song that speaks to you, too. If you’re at a loss, feel free to borrow one of “mine” till you’ve found one of your own. 🙂
(Continue to Part Five)
May 30, 2016
Here’s the positive thing about hitting rock bottom: You’ve got nowhere to go but up. That thought actually comforted me a lot in the beginning. I can get better now! It’ll get easier and easier! And it’s a nice sentiment for sure, and in some ways it is of course true. But….. it doesn’t really work like that, despite the people who upon hearing that I had bipolar responded with a chipper – and what felt at the time incredibly dismissive and condescending – “Oh, that can be treated.” (I realize intellectually that they intended neither of those things.)
And yes it can be treated – although I think “managed” is a better word – but it’s not exactly what you’d call straight-forward.
If you have a minor medical illness, say strep throat, you have a fairly predictable course of symptoms, followed by a fairly predictable recovery. Barring any complications or special circumstances, you start taking an antibiotic. Two days later you’ve started to feel quite a bit better. By five days, you feel almost like your normal self. By eight days you feel so much better that you start to forget you were even sick, and you have to keep reminding yourself to finish out your course of antibiotics. At day 10, you’ve finished your medication, you feel fine, and your strep throat is a thing of the past.
Mental illness is more complicated than that.
The main medication I’m on will be slowly titrated up to a maintenance dose over the course of about 6 weeks (assuming it’s the right one for me. So much is trial and error). What I’m on now in comparison is barely above a placebo. Other medications may need to be added or substituted or removed as we go. And what I’m currently learning from my therapist are strategies. Things that I have no doubt are going to help me in the long run, but that are things that I need to practice. Routines I need to build. Habits I need to form. Tools I need to use. There is much I need to learn, and many things I need to understand. There is work – continual, ongoing work – that I’ll need to do if I want to be well. This is a chronic illness that can’t be cured. Learning to manage it is a process, and progress won’t always be linear. It will zig-zag, and it will spiral.
I won’t get better overnight. One recent article I read said that it took the author a solid four years until he felt that he was really stable…. the thought of which is… daunting. But even if it doesn’t take four years, it will take time. Patience is going to be my friend, and I have to learn not to freak out when I have a bad day. I have to learn to focus on the big picture.
It’s sort of like the worried parents of a selective-eating toddler. You never want to judge the situation on what they did/did not eat at one meal, because you’ll get a much clearer picture of what’s going on if you look at what they ate during a whole week. In one meal, there might be five noodles. Over the course of the week though, you can see, “Hey, he ate an apple! And an entire yogurt! And some broccoli dipped in ranch!”
I cannot – cannot – compare myself to where I was yesterday, because it’s only a lesson in frustration. But I can compare myself to a month ago. I can compare myself to the broken girl who was gutturally sobbing all over the place, begging for…. something, anything, that would take the pain away.
There will be good days and bad days, and that needs to be okay. I have to say it again:
There will be good days and bad days, and that’s okay!
I had two pretty lousy days this week, mood-wise, that stood out more than the others.
The first was because I was just really pissed off about how hard it all felt. I don’t want to go to bed at the same time every night. I don’t want to exercise. I don’t want to meditate. I don’t want to chart my feelings. I don’t want to take any pills. I don’t want to go outside if I don’t feel like it. I don’t want to take another supplement. It shouldn’t be so hard. It’s just not fair that it’s so hard. I want to live like a normal person and not have to think about any of those things if I don’t want to. I want to stay up till 11:00 and drink a glass or three of wine. I want to spend my Tuesday afternoons curled up with a good book, not in a therapist’s office, 30 minutes from home, talking about my feelings.
In short, I needed a day to feel sorry for myself.
The second one was set off because frankly, I did something really stupid. There’s a meme that’s been going around Facebook. It’s a comparison of two photos. The top photo is a serene, forest scene with the caption, “This is an antidepressant”, and the bottom photo is a Prozac pill, with the caption, “This is shit.” Now what I’m personally taking is not even an antidepressant – it’s not appropriate for my specific situation – but damn if it didn’t piss me off to see anyone else getting shamed for whatever it is they need to take. I shared the photo on my blog’s Facebook page, NOT for the photo itself, but for a really lovely commentary refuting it…. from a woman who believes in both nature AND pharmaceuticals when necessary. (I will share it down below, because I really do love what she had to say) Anyway, I shared this post and in the course of conversation I used the word, “disgusting.” I said that I thought it was disgusting to call something “shit” that could (and has!) literally played a life-saving role in someone’s recovery. I concede that it could have been a poor word choice. A woman commented who’d had a very bad experience with psychotropic drugs – and absolutely, those experiences are out there. I’m not refuting this. And there are risks. And there are unethical doctors. And there are things to consider. And my heart goes out to anyone who has had such a bad experience … whether it’s with drugs, alternative treatments, or something else altogether. She was really offended/hurt/ticked off by my words and told me so. Not wanting to make things worse, I very, very carefully chose my next words and told her simply that I was glad that she ultimately found what she needed to do to get well. But that pissed her off even more, because she’d wanted a different response. She bit back harder, wanting to hurt me (OR, feeling hurt herself, just used me as a convenient outlet in the right place at the right time). It worked. I bawled. And a couple of hours later I pulled down both my Facebook page and my blog itself. I realized that while I had actually started to enjoy interacting with friends on Facebook again, I was not yet ready for the masses. My blog/its Facebook page were not going to currently play a part in my getting well.
Fact: Posting controversial things about mental health treatment when you’re TEN DAYS into your own mental health treatment (and, obviously, still raw and fragile) is not a good idea.
Really though, that woman did me a favor. The more distractions I could shed to focus on what I really needed to focus on, the better. One step forward at a time.
Here’s the meme:
And here is Jenny Chiu’s beautiful commentary:
I’m Jenni Chiu and this image pisses me off.
May is Mental health Awareness month and I can’t think of a worse way to raise awareness than with this irresponsible image (recently posted by the page Earth. We are one.)
I find the top part of this image to be absolutely true. Meditating outside, breathing fresh air, taking a break from the blue light of my electronics – that all helps my brain and body tremendously.
I find the bottom part of this image to be stigmatizing, and extremely harmful to those who struggle with mental illness. It is irresponsible and IT IS FALSE.
Disclosure: I’m a damn tree hugger. I’ve hugged the hell out of trees. I’ve felt their energy. I’ve sat beneath a redwood and exhaled up into it’s branches, asking it to lift some of the weight off my shoulders. I believe that our modern lifestyles have disconnected some of us from Mother Earth and that by spending time outdoors we are reminded of the balance between us and nature.
Disclosure: There were several years of my life where I was on a cocktail of meds (prozac was one of them) and they literally kept. me. alive.
Depression and anxiety are mental ILLNESSES. Not all illness can be cured with fresh air and sunshine. Sometimes chemical imbalances in the brain need to be supplemented. It may not be the answer for everybody, but it is definitely a life saver for some.
Are meds overprescribed? Possibly.
Can simple lifestyle changes improve our mental and physical health? Certainly.
Should a drug that could keep someone from wanting to die be described as “shit”? Never.
If you manage your mental illness by taking medication, I AM PROUD OF YOU. If you are considering talking to your doctor about medication, I AM PROUD OF YOU.
If you are able to manage a mood disorder naturally, I AM PROUD OF YOU. If you are considering talking to your doctor about weaning off of or changing medications, I AM PROUD OF YOU.
If you have an entire arsenal of mental health tools that include a combination of prescriptions, meditation, art therapy, exercise, sunshine, multiple yoga poses, and several flavors of gelato, I AM PROUD OF YOU.
If you wake up to live another day… If you open your eyes and face those same demons that left you so exhausted the day before… If you continue to grace us all with your existence, I AM PROUD OF YOU…
and I thank you.
When you are drowning and someone throws you a life preserver, you take it. Pay no mind to the people off to the side judging and telling you it’s not the right size or color… or that it couldn’t possibly work. You take it. You grab it and hold on like nobody’s business.
When you get to shore and dry off… then you can take a breath and figure out a plan. Change things up if you need to. Ask for help if you need to…
Anyone telling you not to grab that life preserver is a dick…
and if you accidentally kick them in the face while you’re paddling your way out of the stormy waters, no big deal…
Tell them to go stop the bleeding with the warm breeze outside.
I love you.
Do whatever you need to stay with us.
(Continue to Part Four)