I didn’t make this video, but I could have.
“I am becoming well. I am fighting. I am slowly winning the war against my own mind.”
“I’m not fine. But I will be.”
We talk about boobs a lot in our house (and before I go any further, I’m using the word “boobs” only because it’s my preferred euphemism. I’m not a fan of most of the others, and the word “breasts”, while of course anatomically correct, feels strangely formal. And we’re all friends here, right? So boobs it is. But if you don’t like that word, feel free to substitute your favorite alternative as you go.)
Anyway, as I said, we talk about boobs a lot. Not in a creepy or weird or crass way, but just because we have an eight year old who is extremely open when it comes to talking about… well, everything… and a favorite topic at the moment happens to be puberty. Side note: She also talks about farts way more often than the boys ever did, combined. I always laugh when people equate potty humor with mostly boys, because they obviously haven’t met Tegan yet. But I digress.
She knows – at least in basic concept – about sex, she understands what happens during puberty, and while not necessarily excited about it, she accepts that she’s going to have boobs one day. She knows that they make milk should she become a mother. She knows that they come in different sizes. She knows that you don’t get to pick your size unless you have surgery of some sort. She knows about bras, and sports bra, and as of recently, she knows about these too:
These are the greatest things ever if you don’t wish to wear a bra, or if the cut of your top or dress means that straps would show, or if you’re like me (a 34A to be… lying. An AA, with zero reason to wear a bra for support) and want to be comfortable, but don’t want to worry about any nipple issues.
They’re also similar to what Kaitlyn Juvik says she was wearing under her (completely modest and appropriate and loose-fitting) black top the day that her teacher reported her for not wearing a bra, because it made him “uncomfortable.” Juvik – rightly – protested, it instantly became a whole big internet thing, and people are quickly jumping to one side or the other. I read one article that had a little survey at the end about whether or not girls should be required to wear bras to school, and the response was rather disturbingly divided down the middle: something like 54% to 46% in favor of yes.
There are so many things wrong with this, I don’t even know where to start.
1. No teacher should be looking at an underage girl’s chest long enough or closely enough to even be able to discern if she is or is not wearing a bra. Let’s just start there. Her shirt was not see-through, it was not sheer, it was not tight. It was a black t-shirt; nothing that demanded special attention. Why was he looking at her breasts long enough to determine that there was no bra in the first place? That to me is a larger issue that I wish more people were talking about.
2. Schools shouldn’t be in the business of policing undergarments. If Juvik had violated the school’s dress code, this would be a slightly different conversation. But she didn’t. She wasn’t showing cleavage, and she wasn’t wearing anything revealing. I’m not a fan – to put it politely – of the idea of dress codes in the first place, but I understand why they exist, and can even get behind them if they are fair to both male and females… which, let’s just be honest, they so very rarely are. But the school’s dress code said nothing about bras (as it shouldn’t, because HELLO they are undergarments!) What sort of underwear someone does or does not choose to wear should be nobody’s business but the owner of said underwear. The fact that I even need to say that out loud is so disgusting that I feel like I need to immediately take a shower to wash off some of the ick.
3. It encourages misogyny and rape culture. We find ourselves, again, with another situation where a woman’s body is deemed responsible for someone else’s discomfort. THIS IS NOT OKAY! Women are not responsible for men’s thoughts. Women’s bodies are not responsible for men’s comfort. Women’s boobs are not responsible for men’s actions. My body, and my daughter’s body, and Kaitlyn Juvik’s body have just as much right to take up space in this world as my husband’s, and as my son’s. If someone is uncomfortable due to what someone else is or is not wearing, that is on him, and him alone.
4. They’re just boobs. Let’s just take a minute here for some perspective. Males and females both have nipples. We’re basically talking about a matter of a little bit more (in my case, a very little bit more) fatty tissue beneath them. That’s it. It’s nothing to get freaked out about. Seriously, they’re just breasts. Yes, I understand that they’re often viewed and used in a sexual context, but these are not genitals. And you know what? Even if we were talking about genitals… I might not be “comfortable” if I were eye-level with the graphic end of a Speedo, but I would defend till my last breath the wearer’s right to wear it.
It makes me angry, and to be completely honest, a little bit scared, that this is the world in which my daughter will grow up…. a world that wants to tell her that she needs to wear a bra, whether she wants to or not, lest she offend the delicate sensibilities of the men around her. A world that wants to tell her that she is nothing more than a body. A world that wants to tell her that she is somehow less than exactly as she is, and that she doesn’t deserve to be here, exactly as she is, as much as her male counterparts.
My daughter? I’m going to tell her to be strong, and to hold her head high. I’m going to tell her that she matters, not because some man told her she mattered, but just because she is her. I’m going to tell her that she can be anything, and do anything that she puts her mind to.
And that it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference whether or not she’s wearing a bra while she does it.
My husband and I have had sort of a tricky year.
I remember after one particularly heated argument, I put on my shoes and left the house. I just went for a long walk to clear my head, and when I returned we’d both cooled down and were ready to apologize and put it behind us. But wouldn’t it have been funny if I’d packed a whole suitcase, told him I was leaving him, and stayed at a hotel for a week to teach him a lesson?
Or if I showed up at his office in the middle of the workday, for no other purpose than to humiliate him and air our dirty laundry in front of all his coworkers?
Or kicked him out of the car and made him walk home when I didn’t like his tone?
Or spent hours – or days – purposely ignoring him, not speaking to him, and acting as if he didn’t exist until he apologized?
Or made him stand on a street corner, holding up a sign detailing everything he’d done wrong, while wearing something ridiculous of course? Hundreds of people would pass him. They’d laugh, and point. Funny, right?
Or changed the password on his computer, and wouldn’t give it to him until a certain number of days had passed, as penance?
Or put his car up for sale on Craigslist, along with a long and rambling and embarrassing description… not of the car (that would defeat the whole purpose) but of my husband, and how he’d misbehaved, and why I had to sell his beloved car, and what a great lesson it would be, and hahahahaha what a freaking hoot I thought I was.
Or took away all his clothes, and tools, and personal items, and made him earn them back one by one?
The best part would be how humiliated he would feel, how embarrassed, how ashamed. He would eventually beg me to stop punishing him. He might even cry!
Seriously, comedy GOLD, right there.
I guess I’m not that funny though, because I’ve never done any of the above to my husband. And even though it’s not what’s popular, it’s not what sells, and it’s not what gets likes and shares and accolades on social media…. I’ve never done any of the above to my children either.
And I know, I know, I’m in the minority on this, a fact I’m reminded of daily. Lest I forget, tonight I was faced with a Facebook post by a popular blogger that has been shared over 32,000 times, received over 67,000 likes, and – at the time of this writing – had almost 8,000 comments. Comments filled with story after story similar to what I wrote above, of parents purposely punishing, humiliating, embarrassing (and I’ll just say it: in some instances, abusing) their kids. The content wasn’t actually even the most disturbing part though. The disturbing part was the absolute GLEE that everyone took in the conversation. They were absolutely reveling in it. If we’re to believe this thread, making your kids feel badly about themselves is REALLY REALLY FUNNY.
The last time I wrote about a similar topic, I received some confused replies from people who just didn’t understand where I saw people celebrating cruelty to children. Facebook is where. Twitter is where. Church is where. School is where. SOCIETY is where. It is all around us. It’s cool to mistreat our children.
I don’t understand why everyone not only thinks this is okay, but thinks it is something to be celebrated.
And I’m an honest person… I’ll be the first to admit that I’m certainly not a perfect parent any more than I am a perfect wife.
I just have this crazy notion that we should be sort of… I don’t know… nice to the people we love. Sometimes I miss the mark and I have to apologize (that whole being human thing trips me up sometimes), but the overall general goal is kindness. And I get it, kindness isn’t sexy. It’s not funny. It’s not the kind of thing that garners billions of likes on a single Facebook post. But seriously, if we don’t have kindness, what do we have?
I’ll tell you what we have: We have 8,000 people congratulating each other for purposely tormenting their kids.
Being a parent is hard sometimes. Keeping our cool is hard sometimes. Dealing with stressful or disappointing or frustrating situations is hard sometimes. But you know what’s even harder? Dealing with difficult situations when you’re still a child. When you’re still learning about yourself. When you’re still learning how the world works. When you’re still maturing. When you’re still growing. Our kids need our help and our guidance and our compassion, not our scorn. They need us to reach out our hands for assistance and reassurance, not for punishment.
And if we want our children to grow up to be adults who live passionately and love freely and trust deeply, we first have to show them that they can trust us, as their parents. Punishing them and delighting in their humiliation isn’t really the best way to do that. A little bit of grace goes a really long way.
I hear people lamenting this generation and its “coddled” children. They worry about kids being spoiled, and entitled, and selfish. But I’m worried about something else entirely. I’m worried about the vast number of people who think it’s not only okay, but preferable to treat your children like second-class citizens, to parent through fear and intimidation, to use humiliation and shame as “teaching” tools.
I worry because these kids are going to grow up and become adults who think that it’s normal. Adults who believe that children should not have the same basic human rights as all our other loved ones. Adults who think that children don’t deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Adults who perpetuate the same negative and damaging cycle on their own children, and on the next generation.
This is what is being passed down. This is what we need to be concerned about. And until or unless enough people stand up and make another choice, the cycle is never going to stop.
God help us all.
I could have been the Disney mom.
My now 19 year old almost drowned once. I almost watched it happen. We were at a friend’s party at a lake, and I was there with him and his little brother, who was tiny at the time, and spent most of the party asleep in the baby carrier on my chest. Spencer must have been about five, and wasn’t yet a strong swimmer. But the water was shallow (wading-level) for a long distance, and he was happily running around and playing with his friends while I watched with the other moms from the shore, dipping our flip-flopped toes into the cool water. It was happy, and it was carefree… and then it wasn’t. And the worst part of the day, and the memory, is that I wasn’t even the one who saw it happen. I’d been watching him! The whole time! But I, his mother, did not see it happen. He’d had some sort of toy in his hand, and he dropped it in the water. When he bent down into the water to pick it up, he’d either swallowed some water, or got disoriented and lost his footing (he was still in water that was not anywhere close to over his head, but he didn’t realize he could stand up) When another mom questioned what was going on, I looked more closely and saw him floating, his head under water. I ran out through the water, clothes and baby and all, and pulled him up out of the water. His eyes were wide and terrified, but aside from an initial cough of water he was physically fine. He would later tell me that he knew to hold his breath, and that he was just waiting for me to come and rescue him. I will never, for the rest of my life, forget the fear and terror of what could have happened, of how that moment could have gone instead. That one second when I wasn’t looking.
I could have been the mom at the zoo.
My now 15 year old slipped away at a gift shop once. We were there with my sister and my nephew, and we were looking at books and trinkets and insignificant doo-dads, while the kids played at our feet. I picked something up to look at it, and when I put it back down, Paxton was just…. gone. I called his name. I looked down the next aisle, and the next one, as panic started to rise. I saw the front door to the shop (set on a not terribly busy, but not exactly quiet street) left open to take advantage of the beautiful spring breeze, and my heart sunk. I bolted out the door, frantically scanning everything as quickly as my brain would allow. Seeing no sign of him outside, I went back in, where – after what felt like an hour but was in reality about 2 minutes – we found him, happily playing with some trains in the toy section. I will never, for the rest of my life, forget the fear and terror of what could have happened, of how that moment could have gone instead. That one second when I wasn’t looking.
I could even have been one of those parents whose routine was thrown off, and who horrifically and tragically forgot that their child was in the car.
You know the ones. The ones who, whenever it’s talked about in the media, or on Facebook, or anywhere, are met with the people with the pitchforks; the ones who are screaming, “YOU DON’T DESERVE TO BE A PARENT!!!”
I was teaching yoga at the time; Private classes at a student’s house. It was a fun class, with about 5 to 10 people every week, and I always looked forward to it. My daughter, who was probably around four at the time, was having trouble separating with me one night, so I decided to bring her along. I knew that the host would not mind, and that she would have fun with her own daughter. It was 8:00 at night, so not exactly early, and Tegan (who’d been chatting my ear off for the first several minutes of the ride) went to sleep in her car seat and fell silent. I turned on some music, started running through my class in my mind, and drove the rest of the way lost inside my own head. When I got there, I started unloading all my stuff from the car… my extra mats, my water bottle, my bluetooth speaker, my essential oils. It was hot out – in Phoenix during the summer it’s still often 95 at 8:00 at night – and it was more arduous work than usual. It wasn’t until I reached to get something in the back seat and I saw that face. That angelic, sleeping face, and the mop of wild curls that framed it. I’d completely forgotten that she was in the car with me. And it wasn’t because I was a horrible parent, and it wasn’t because I didn’t deserve to be a mother…. it was because I’m a HUMAN who’d never taken her child to yoga before, and had gone into autopilot in the silence of the car. I will never, for the rest of my life, forget the fear and terror of what could have happened, of how that moment could have gone instead. That one second when I wasn’t thinking.
You know the only difference between the rest of those parents and me? The only one? They experienced tragedy, and I – for whatever reason – was spared.
We’ve all had those moments when we’ve looked away.
We’ve all had those moments, even when we did not look away!, when something unexpected or tragic or scary befell us or our kids in some way.
No one expects that an alligator is going to snatch away their baby on a family vacation.
No one expects that their toddler is going to climb into a gorilla’s cage.
And if you’re telling yourself, “Well it wouldn’t happen to me,” you’re being blinded by your own fear of the unthinkable. The unimaginable horror that yes, it could happen to you. It could happen to any of us. No one is immune. And the more we protest, and the more we point fingers, and the more we lay blame, the less energy we’re able to put where it really belongs: on support, on kindness, on compassion. On overwhelming love for these parents who’ve endured these unspeakable tragedies; tragedies that could have happened to any one of us.
So much love and sympathy to the parents who so horrifically lost their little boy this week.
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.
(to be continued)
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)
(Did you miss part one? You can read it here.)
May 29, 2016
Here’s a question. Why would someone with admitted mental health issues spend her entire adult life actively avoiding seeking out a mental health professional? It seems foolish and well, frankly, really stupid doesn’t it? But there were reasons that, at the time, seemed to be very sensible.
Here are just a few of them, in no particular order:
Alas, despite all of the above…. I knew it was time. So I sucked it up, I made some phone calls, and I found a place that could get me in right away. I knew that 1) I needed to start with a proper diagnosis, so I went straight to a psychiatrist, and 2) a multi-faceted approach was important, so I chose a facility that offered psychiatric care, therapy, lifestyle support, and an overall holistic view on treatment.
And to make a long story short(er), May 10th ended up being one of the most important days of my life. It was weird and uncomfortable and scary… but important. Both people I saw (a psychiatrist and a licensed counselor) were professional and kind and reassuring and thorough – without veering into the overly caring/condescending behavior that drives me so absolutely batshit crazy. The bipolar diagnosis was a fairly straightforward one, and I do not mean in any way that it was rushed, or one that they came to quickly. They asked a lot (a LOT) of questions, they sought clarity, they asked me to word things in different ways when they needed more information. But what it ultimately comes down to is symptoms, and I read like a text book.
As for my own personal views on the experience? It was HUGELY powerful. The simple act of being able to answer questions like “Have you ever tried to hurt yourself?” with honesty… in a non-judgemental environment where no one is shocked, or horrified or phased in any way…. a place where they’ve heard it all before, and are trained to simply listen, and ultimately to help you… It was freeing, and it was healing, all by itself. And to have a diagnosis? There were other emotions, that I’m sure will continue to come and go, but in the moment it was pure relief.
And I mean, I knew. I’ve known it was bipolar for a long time. But to HEAR it; to be able to begin treating it; to be able to create a specific plan to get well; to finally move FORWARD… It gave me more hope than I’ve had in a long, long time. I cried the whole way home that day, which is far from an unusual practice for me, but this time they were largely tears of relief.
The immediate plan was – and is – just to get me stable. I was prescribed some appropriate medications for my specific situation (a brief word about medications, if I may: They were, for me, absolutely the right answer for this phase of my treatment. Will they always be a part of my treatment? Possibly. Maybe even likely. Bipolar is tricky. I feel no shame in taking them, and no shame in evaluating – and continuing to evaluate – the role they may or may not play in keeping me well.) I was also given a lengthy – but somehow not overwhelming – list of homework: practical things I can do to supplement my medication, and help me work towards getting better. Which is exactly what I was wanting, and needing. I’ll see my psychiatrist monthly for now, and my therapist (who is wonderful) weekly.
Eventually I’ll be living my life, learning to control it instead of letting it control ME. But for right now, this IS my life. Getting well, getting stronger, learning to live NOT as a “bipolar person”, but as the same complicated, multifaceted, creative, perfectly imperfect person I’ve always been, who also happens to have bipolar.
(Continue to Part Three)
Early this morning, a man named Omar Mateen, 29, entered Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, and started shooting. He ultimately murdered 50 people and wounded at least 50 more, in what was the deadliest mass shooting in the United States, and the worst terror attack on American soil since 9/11.
I, like the rest of my fellow Americans, am horrified and heartbroken at this devastating loss. I am sending love to the victims, their families, and all their loved ones, as well as to all the people who experienced the terror of the attack first-hand, and those who now live in even more fear (people who live in far more fear than anyone should ever have to live in to begin with.)
It is senseless and devastating and scary, and it is a time to mourn. It is NOT a time to add to the culture of violence by perpetuating more hate. I’ve already seen it, spreading through Facebook like a cancer. Hate towards religions. Hate towards certain political leanings. Hate towards people who disagree with our policies… policies about guns, and immigrants, and things that have nothing to do with the fact that one person chose to do a horrible, horrible thing for horrible, horrible reasons. So much hate, and at time when love and kindness and compassion are more important than they’ve ever been.
I think about it as a parent, about the helpless feeling of living in a world that’s gone sort of mad. And I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t. What I do know is that if change is ever going to happen, it needs to start with us. It needs to start in our own homes.
We need to show our kids what love and inclusion and tolerance actually look like.
We need to teach our kids to stand up to hatred and bigotry.
We need to explain to our kids the damage that phrases like, “Love the sinner, hate the sin”, and “I disagree with the ‘lifestyle’ but…” really do to this already maligned segment of society.
We need to teach our kids about respect. Respect for self, respect for people around them, respect for personal choices… even choices that may seem strange or weird or different.
We need to talk openly with our kids about differences in gender, in gender identity, in sexual orientation, in sexual expression… even if it makes us uncomfortable.
We need to talk to our kids about appropriate and inappropriate terms, respecting individuals’ chosen terminology, and making a conscious effort to honor preferred pronouns.
We need to teach our children to love deeply, love without conditions, and love without agenda.
We need to teach our children that redirected hatred is still hatred, and that hatred is never the answer.
Sending so much love to all the victims, and to everyone affected by the tragedy in Orlando.
If you would like to donate money to help the victims and families of this shooting, you can contribute financially on their GoFundMe page here.