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My March Break Adventure

Decided to create a blog as writing is my best attempt at talking; it’s also my mental health ‘risky behaviour’. It also seems to be escalating; first I sent some friends some crazy emails, earlier this week I joined Twitter (it was pretty easy to figure out) but now egad I’ve decided to attempt creating a blog, primarily to update all of my other friends whom may or may not even know I am not at work and may or may not have heard of my March Break Adventures…

To summarize; the medical community will tell you I suffer from a mental health disorder or multiple ones, it’s still TBD pending other higher priority issues such as other psych assessments & other more critical issues such as H1N1 outbreaks perhaps?

But in my opinion I’m not like anyone else, I just have some health issues. Right now, but subject to change (perhaps owing to still being in a bit of a heightened state?) I believe I have a mental health benefit; it’s not unlike my physical health benefits of pain in the form of a cold/flu or feet that start killing me. It’s my body & minds way of telling me I need to either slow down and de-stress or I need to speed up and expedite management of my emotional health & well being. I’m different; I’m just not that different from anyone else. I just have a different life experience, different genetics and other factors that make up my personality. I do have a personality disorder or two for sure but then again so do you.

A ‘brief’ history of events leading up to my version of a National Lampoon’s March break vacation.

In 2008 I had my first episode of to me relatively major depression, it lasted ~9-months and I went to an ER for help; they redirected me to CAMH where I was given a diagnosis of ‘mild depression’ and told to get me some antidepressants. I believe antidepressants helped me but I’m not inclined to say it wasn’t just a result of the ‘placebo’ effect; someone let me know I wasn’t insane or all that different or special because I was miserable, and they offered something that might help. That helped and I took them on and off until 2010. A good prescription druggie knows that you should just stay on them and not go on and off, but I also had a physician who gave me the message I was just a selfish pill popper who was strongly against prescribing me anything to help. To be fair I don’t tend to ask for help until it’s a bit too late but his message combined with additional attempts at therapy and more conflicting messages ‘there’s nothing I can do, you just need to be on drugs’ from one, and another who told me ‘I don’t like just suggesting drugs but it’s something we’ll talk about’ in the first session and ‘why didn’t you get a prescription from your physician’ in the second session the following week gave me more than enough evidence to decide there wasn’t much help or support available to me via the mental health system. I believe I still have a few bottles of antidepressants stockpiled upstairs just in case I ever get depressed again and happen to have a physician who wants to call me a selfish pill popper; but I think I’ll throw those out now as I’ve already found my non-drug solution to managing depression (more in a later blog perhaps?).

Anyway depression for me has been at worst of the ‘nuisance’ variety level of life issues since 2010, so since that’s not much of an issue anymore I decided to go get me some hypomania and a Bi-polar II disorder diagnosis with a doctor’s indication that antidepressants were terrible for me, I could never take them again and I needed to be on Lithium for the rest of my life.

I didn’t know this also meant I’d be subject to quarterly lectures that left me feeling like I was also mentally incompetent as well (yes I smoke, but I actually do not do so because I think it’s in the best interest of my health! I can read the messages on the cigarette packages, I’m aware of the Internet and I believe the general consensus that smoking is unhealthy was largely agreed upon before I was even born. I’m up to speed on the smoking issue, but thanks for the lectures…). So after ~2-years of deteriorating self confidence, self worth and zero benefits to lithium that I could tell I quit my lithium drug habit and ended the lectures in March 2012. I am a bit concerned that following my 2014 assessments my medical records will indicate that I am not willing and/or ready to address my mental health issues because I stopped drugging myself and I started saving myself from the degrading quarterly lectures that left me feeling hopeless & helpless.

In December 2014 I had a Mirena IUD inserted in order to (hopefully) regulate my monthly mood swings and physical pain associated with being female. I believe that significantly escalated my mood swings to a rather spectacular, very interesting and fascinating but also a little terrifying level which I’d best self assess as Acute Psychosis; except I didn’t hallucinate I wasn’t delusional and it made me see the thought disorders I’ve been living with for decades along with some of the explanations and ‘evidence’. If a psychiatrist wants to label me with any of these symptoms I will be fine with that assessment as long as he’s willing to sort through all of my evidence and provide just as strong counter evidence to help me better understand my condition. I can explain almost everything I said and I have written documentation and evidence for all of it but I might not be able to gather and/or summarize all of it before May. I’d also like to review with him or her all of the existing Mental health disorder labels and understand why I’m best categorized via the label he/she decides to stick me with for the next 50 years of my life.

Mental health label rant aside, there was a lot of stress in my life, work, a potential promotion, life, tragedies, Winter Olympics and Curling Bonspiels to play in. I’m not being silly and/or stupid ‘stress’ is not a negative thing, excitement is stress and worry is stress. Life without stress would be too boring for me but going forward I’ll avoid having quite that much fun as I’d rather not scare my friends/family so much and I’d really, really, really not like to have my independence, freedom & rights taken from me ever again.

So back to my wild March Break Adventure! I hadn’t slept properly for at least two months prior and sleep kept getting more and more difficult to come by, so I took a week off at the beginning of Feb for some R&R in Cuba. It helped a bit but didn’t help me sleep in past 3am and too much heat & sun while generally good in the Winter (owing to depression); are very detrimental to me in a heighted state so this likely made things a lot worse too. My bad. Work was pretty stressful following my return; but owing to my heightened state this was super fun, I was taking on all sorts of additional responsibilities and I think I did a half decent job. But I also have and had a lot of other additional ‘negative’ stressors in my life at the time and work was ultimately just providing a distraction for my real stress.

I had planned to have my mental health breakdown the weekend after the curling bonspiel I helped organize teams for and after my VP was back in the Country and in the office. I had also planned to crash and be better in time for work on Monday. Opps! It seems this wasn’t one of my better plans -:). So I stressed myself out more extensively by figuring out how to explain I would not be in on Monday but I’ve also been experiencing some rapid cycling which is also net new and kinda crazy so while I was coming down and ultimately ‘crashing’ (crashing to me in this state means distressing enough so I can feel exhausted and just curl up and sleep for 15 hours or so & ‘normalize’ my sleep schedule in order so that my mental health will ‘normalize’ very soon afterwards.

But on Monday March 3rd my laptop and ipad stopped working; and as technology was my one last link to the outside world until normalizing (as I was afraid I would ‘harm’ people by stressing them out by being all crazy and shit and also by putting unnecessary additional strain on our health care system and myself as I believe it’s just going to ‘harm’ me and do far more additional damage than good. I wasn’t disappointed, I think it did but I didn’t have a clue how much additional information, insights and benefits I would get from the experience. I also didn’t know how much fun it is on the inside! Someone tell our Mayor it can actually be a pretty good time but you should probably also tell him to leave the crack at home otherwise you wont be allowed outside or alternatively you’ll be kicked back out and onto the streets… I think Jail is also an alternative solution for people in our society who aren’t ready for help. I believe our mental health care system & polices encourage jail as an alternative to psych wards for those who are not quite ready to get help yet. Any bets as to which option our Mayor choses first?

I went in to see my physician on Monday March 3rd and booked a hotel room for the evening so I didn’t have to come back to my house of weekend isolation. On Tuesday March 4th I scared my friends a bit too much with my crazy emails and crazy thoughts so I told them I would go to the ER if that’s what they & my physician thought was necessary to do. I’d already been seeing my physician regularly in Feb so she knew I was having significant sleep issues (she prescribed me the least risky sleeping pills as this was my decision but sleeping pills just make me feel terrible the next day and they only allow me an extra ~30-90 min of sleeping in time so not really a solution). She had already set up therapists and psychiatry appointments for me and was trying to expidite them but they decided on Tuesday that I should go to the ER. My doctor sent me to the ER where at the same hospital where she had set up my psych consult for; I believe she thought I could get in to the main floor ER and my 9th floor appointment could be expedited even quicker than she had hoped if she followed up my detest and distain but willingness for one more ER visit with a form 1. I’ve never heard of this before but practically speaking it essentially means you are being police escorted to the ER against your will. Which also in practice at least in my perception most people within the healthcare system and all of those who consider themselves ‘unqualified’ did and/or will believe to mean I posed a risk to society; either self-harm or other harm. Not untrue if you consider the harm I’ve done to my body owing to no sleep and forgetting to eat enough and equally not untrue if you consider the additional stress and anxiety I’ve caused for those who I did let know what was going on in the past three weeks. But I really, really hope I don’t have to work so hard to convince the rest of the people in my life that There is Nothing Wrong with Me & this was actually a pretty spectacular adventure! It had everything; the drama factor, the fear factor the excitement and elation. But most of all it taught me that I’ve got a lot more worth fighting for than just my work problem solving skills and the paycheck that allows me to maintain my independence, rights & freedoms that damn it I deserve because I am Canadian!!

ps – my sister flew in and helped planned my escape from Alcatraz (by this point I was considered voluntary and allowed outside for some fresh air for brief periods of relief and feeling human time). The 2-ER visit day was hell; getting locked up in a psych ward and stripped of my ability to make choices for myself has probably been my biggest life’s fear so it wasn’t all fun but I’m flexible, I adjusted and survived and had a great deal of fun doing so but I wasn’t prepared to wait another week and a half for the doctors to come back from their march skiing vacation so I could get assessed and released. But I’ll be going back (in May?) to find out if/what new mental health stigma they want to give me in my medical records but work wants me back and doesn’t feel the need to wait for this assessment and has indicated that I wont be punished for not complying with their ‘action plan’ of some more stupid drugs that will harm me. And as long as my current physician sticks around and keeps seeing me I’m totally fine with what ever net new negative stigma they want to give me; but I’d prefer to get them all (I think it’s just fair to assume I’d totally rock the post partum thing too but I just don’t think I can do it before May so how about we just have a little faith?).

FYI #1 – my physician has set me up with a really good therapist already and yesterday we talked about chiropractic, natopathic, massage and physiotherapy; an overall health & wellbeing approach that will work for me because it will also work with me & I’ll get a voice in matters related to my health & well being.

FYI #2 – I got the Mirena IUD out last Wednesday, got my period on Saturday and felt completely back to normal. That only lasted so long though, but that’s ok I’m still dealing with a lot of unresolved stress and anxiety but I’ve already resolved a heck of a lot of it & I won’t be back to a ‘normal’ life that requires ‘normal’ sleep for a while so I’ll just be a terrible, terrible sleeper and take naps, go to sleep when I am tired and not adhere to the action plan you might want to tell me I should because that’s what you’ll find when you Google sleep disorders. Trust me, I’ve probably already read that article anyway!

Anyway there’s a lot more to my ow personal version of One Who Flew Over the Cukoo’s nest during March Break but that’s enough for today; I’m trying to balance things better so I am going to go paint and clean and I have an orthodics appointment before my grand return to volleyball tonight; enough excitement & stress distractions already planned for the day (but I suspect I’ll have to check my new twitter addiction a few times too :).

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To bring back the fire in her eyes

"It's not what I asked for
Sometimes life just slips in through a back door
And carves out a person and makes you believe it's all true
And now I've got you
And you're not what I asked for
If I'm honest, I know I would give it all back
For a chance to start over and rewrite an ending or two
For the girl that I knew


And then she'll get stuck
And be scared of the life that's inside her
Growing stronger each day 'til it finally reminds her
To fight just a little, to bring back the fire in her eyes
That's been gone, but used to be mine"

- Sarah Bareilles, She Used to Be Mine

I’ve been caught up in this cycle of mania (or hypomania – don’t know that each year it would have been enough to classify as mania but going forward for simplicity I’ll just use mania) and depression/anxiety with little relief for the last five years, maybe longer.  Last year I finally had some relief, the mania that comes usually in March/April wasn’t full-fledged mania, it was mild and didn’t last long, only 2 months or so, and then I found myself just genuinely happy, like a huge weight had lifted.  A freedom I hadn’t felt in… well maybe I’d never felt that free.  And I thought I had broken the cycle, I really thought I was free, I can’t even hardly remember it let alone describe it, the feeling of just living, not fighting so damn hard just to survive the season, the day, the hour.  Believing I could have dreams and aspirations again, that I could move forward with my life.  That resulted in a new house and a new job, neither of which turned out and the stress of the move did a number on me, it took me down.

It took me down in more ways than one, the stress and accompanying paralyzing fear and sense of worthlessness that I’m all too familiar with and it some ways have learned to live with, (not live well, not live fully but live with) it just felt like it was too much.  Too disappointing after how hard I’ve worked to get better to know that one stressful event is all it’s going to take to bring me down?  Some of the habits stuck, I’m still exercising every day and I didn’t start smoking again (although I have to say I was very tempted) but my eating when to shit and I found myself back on the couch staring at the TV for most of the winter, not because I want to watch TV but because the fear, the terror is too much, it paralyzes me, everything becomes too much.  I’m still struggling with this, how to pick myself back up, how not to feel overwhelmingly discouraged.  I had to work so hard to clean up my diet and if I’m just going to continue to be hit with this paralyzing fear, where or how do I find the courage to continue to fight for myself, to fight the nasty thoughts that make me believe I’m not worth taking care of or that I’ll never be able to sustain it anyway.

This March, as usual the mania started to come back there were about two weeks that were a bit sketchy where the hyperactivity started to set in and I knew I could be in trouble and I had this moment where I thought, maybe I don’t need this anymore.  Maybe I don’t need to swing so far the other way to pull myself out of this paralyzing anxiety/depression, and maybe, just maybe I can find a way to believe in myself without the assistant of the grandiose thoughts that accompany mania.  And just like that it passed but now I’m not entirely sure that was the right choice because I feel like what I’m left with is depression, a lower grade and not accompanied by the paralyzing fear but depression all the same.

I’m really struggling to believe in myself, to believe that I can do this or that life will ever be anything but a gigantic struggle and to try so hard to get things back on track if I’m just going to be derailed again in winter.  I’m not entirely sure I can do it, but I also haven’t given up, and on days where it feels like too much but I manage to do something for myself anyway (e.g. wash the floors) then space opens up, while maybe I can’t reach the true version of me I can feel the spark and the next thing (e.g. cooking a healthy dinner) becomes a little easier and if I’m not paying attention I often catch myself feeling content.

They say happiness is a choice, I do believe this, but I don’t think I believe it’s always a choice that’s available, that if you don’t work on it when it is available to you that it might no longer be available, at least for a period such as the case in depression.  Happiness is a choice one must make very consciously and deliberately before the situation becomes desperate, we must choose happiness when things are going well, or ok, we must choose not to focus on that one thing that goes wrong and let it get to you.  It’s a muscle that needs exercise or it won’t have the strength to do the heavy lifting.  It’s not a choice I felt I had available to me this winter, but while I am still struggling, space is opening, and I am finding that I have a choice.

It’s not always easy, when I wake up feeling worthless, helpless and hopeless and kind of pissed off that I woke up at all, like was the case this morning.  It wasn’t easy, and I can’t just decide I feel great or even ok, but I can decide what I am going to do about it.  So I went for a long walk, because it’s hard to be horribly miserable when in motion (especially so when it’s beautiful out), and because this is already engrained as a habit (which makes it soooo much easier), cooking myself a good breakfast (not yet a habit) and going to the mental health march, not because I want to and not because it was uplifting (honestly it felt a little sad that there are so few people, a bit skewed by my attitude) but because it was something and I did it.  I’m not sure what will come, I’m not sure I’ll be able to heal, to find peace, happiness but now I know it’s available to me, I know I deserve it and I know that there’s a whole lot of fire left in me, it’s worth fighting for.

Mental Health Week

Tomorrow marks the start of Mental Health Week, I’m a bit conflicted as to what I should, or even how I do feel about Mental Health Week.  Last year I was speaking so mostly I just felt anxious (although surprisingly so much less than one would think for someone who suffers from anxiety!).  The year before that I wore a green ribbon (everyone did) and went to the mental health march but nervously so, afraid of seeing someone I might know, I avoided the cameras and in the end after some internal debate, ‘bravely’ decided to sign my name (my real one!) to the sign at the end of the march.  Lol, what a difference a year or two can make.  Something worth remembering and pulling up when I next get discouraged that change isn’t happening as quickly or as completely as I’d like.

I don’t have any notable memories of mental health week prior to that, presumably the organizations I was working with either didn’t recognize it or just paid it lip service.  Anyway, this year I’m not involved and have found myself wondering what I think of the whole thing.  One on hand I’m inclined to believe that anything that gets people talking about mental health is a good thing.  On the other hand, I’m really not a fan of a week-long marketing campaign for the pharmaceutical industry, and I have to wonder where all the diversity is when it comes to these sorts of events because the message seems to always be reach out for help, help is out there and it comes in the form of a pill, the last part isn’t always explicit but often it is.

There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of #BellLetsTalkAbout the very real fact that you might reach out for help only to find help often isn’t out there, I expect most anyone whose had any interaction with the mental health care system has encountered this.  And what about when ‘help’ comes with being stripped of your dignity, having your human rights violated and legal rights ignored?  Or that the drugs that are expected to help you might end up causing much more damage than good?  That the oppression and marginalization of a group of people might actually be a cause of mental distress and at best is a really shitty way of ‘helping’.  Haven’t seen any posters on these topics.

And these aren’t even radical beliefs held by a minority of extremists or psychiatric survivors that have caught on that their lives do matter and the message that they are ‘less than’ or ‘other’ is perhaps just fear or profit based.  The United Nations Human Rights Council issued a report that more or less says the same thing albeit slightly more eloquently and absent any sarcastic remarks about posters.

In the report they call out the power the pharmaceutical industry has over how mental health is treated globally, and how radical change is needed.  Here is a sampling of a few of my favs from the report:

  • “We have been sold a myth that the best solutions for addressing mental health challenges are medications and other biomedical interventions”
  • “At the clinical level, power imbalances reinforce paternalism and even patriarchal approaches, which dominate the relationship between psychiatric profession and users of mental health services.”.
  • “While many people find diagnostic categories beneficial in allowing them to access services and better understand their mental health, others find them unhelpful and stigmatizing.
  • “Mental health diagnoses have been misused to pathologize identities and other diversities, including tendencies to medicalize human misery.”
  • “Critics warn that the overexpansion of diagnostic categories encroaches upon human experiences in a way that could lead to a narrowing acceptance of human diversity.”

There are so many more… one should really read the whole document in it’s entirety, I’ve included a link below.  This is encouraging, that the United Nations recognizes and is trying to do something about it but also somewhat disheartening that the message that seems to be prevalent in all Mental Health Awareness campaigns is counter to this and doesn’t seem to have much room for experiences that don’t involve success stories that align with the existing reductionist biomedical model.

So how do I feel about Mental Health Week?  Not great, not super excited.  What will I do about it?  Probably not much of anything, I will wear a green ribbon, I might even like a few mental health blogs.  Maybe if I’m feeling particularly rebellious I’ll post some non-standard ‘Mental Health Week’ thoughts or on social media, maybe I won’t.  Who knows?  I’m a bit of a wild card or so that’s what they tell me.

https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G17/076/04/PDF/G1707604.pdf?OpenElement

PS – I’m not meaning to disparaging of anyone who takes medication and I’m not anti-medication.  I do think we have a right to understand what the risks are and the right to consent, to say no without fear of retribution or being labelled non-compliant because the last thing we need is more labels.

And while I believe the industry tries it’s best to stigmatize those who don’t, who wont or who quit taking their meds, I understand that there is also a lot of stigma for those who chose to use medication, for those who medication has helped.  This isn’t ok either, people should have the right to chose and no one should have the right to shame them either way.

 

More on Compassion

When I started writing this, I didn’t mean for it to be another blog on self-compassion but that’s where it ended going.

Two weeks ago, starting pretty much immediately after I wrote and posted my last blog was the best week I’ve had in a very, very long time.  Writing, I have found very helpful to me to my journey to maybe someday get to a better place.  Writing allows me to be with my emotions, it forces me to examine and try to understand them, enough anyway to be able to articulate them (if not always gracefully so).  It eases the constant rumination, slows down the thinking a bit and allows me to let go, to the extent I am able.  And I’ve already digressed, anyway….

I had fun that weekend.  Fun, genuine laughter that’s not forced, such basic simple things, human needs we often take for granted but there just hasn’t been space for it for a while.  There isn’t space for much beyond survival when the anxiety or depression is so strong, or at least I haven’t been able to find it.  Feeling light enough to allow for play and fun, I feel so grateful for that experience, so relieved that these experiences are still available to me.  When the depression/anxiety gets bad, like it seems to every winter, it becomes hard to believe that I will ever be happy or have fun again, laugh or just feel free.  But things have lifted significantly enough now that I don’t have to just hope, I can once again believe that happiness and joy are still experiences that are available to me.  I am so grateful for that and so relieved.

That week I also started to sleep through the night.  Finally giving into the urge to check the clock and realizing it’s already 4:30 and that I’ve slept straight through the night, very exciting. Sleep as it turns out, is also a very essential and not-surprisingly-so, makes a huge difference to the effort required to manage my emotions.  So with all these positive signs, when I’m starting to feel better about myself, my life, why then do I still slip back into bad habits, choices that go against my values and will, or at minimum are at least flirting with, sabotaging my ability to change, to try and build the life I want to live and not one I feel so desperate to escape from.  I’m not sure how much longer I can use the excuse that fear/bad habits/ego will fight back with a vengeance when you try to stand up to them, when you try to make different choices for your life and how you react.

How many times can I really expect to forgive myself for making the same mistakes over and over again?  At what point do I just realize it’s a lost cause and finally give up?  Don’t they say to break ties with those that bring you down, from people who make it difficult for you to grow, that keep making the same detrimental choices or that tempt you to keep making the same bad choices?  So if that is the ‘expert advice’ how can it not apply to myself aside from the simple fact that there isn’t really anyway to do so.  But it makes it easy to slip back into what is probably my worst bad habit and root cause of many others, shame and negative thinking.  The ego believing it’s doing what is in my best interest to shame me, to make me feel horrible when I do mess up because somehow that might prevent me from making the same mistake again in the future.  I’m so familiar with this, and sadly more familiar with how poor of a strategy this is.  No one ever shamed anyone into change, ever.  The only thing shame does is make us crawl further back into the closet, to stay small, to not try, because not trying means not failing or so ego wants us to believe.

And I already know the answer, compassion is the answer and compassion would say there is no limit to the number of times you forgive yourself, compassion says it doesn’t matter how many times you fall, you keep getting up.  You are worth it.  Self-hate, depression, anxiety, ego (whatever you want to call it) has this innate ability to convince us of the severity of our mistakes, where mistakes can be as mundane as the things we all do every day such as saying the wrong thing, even saying the right thing but in the wrong way, someone misinterpreting what I’ve said (or even just feeling as though they have been) or misinterpreting what someone else has said to me.  These are all ‘failures’ on my part, evidence that I’m either a poor communicator or not capable of connection, anything that provides support to the belief that I am not ok.

There are instances of success with applying compassion, awareness but it often feels like it takes every ounce of presence.  That when I do something ‘wrong’, something goes wrong or doesn’t turn out how I want it to that I can respond differently but that I have to be so diligent, on guard, watching every thought, breathing deep, going for a walk or to the gym for a workout.  Anything I can think to do to not let myself give into the thoughts that everything is wrong, which so quickly turn into I am something wrong.  It feels like it takes so much work, so much presence that I can’t help but wonder how can I possibly keep at this?  Can it possibly be worth the effort?  And then when I’m not paying so much attention a few hours after the gym yesterday I catch myself being perfectly content, effortlessly so.  And I wake up this morning and it’s a beautiful day, I walk down to the boardwalk as the sun is rising and I can’t help but wonder what could ever make me think it might not be worth the effort?

Self-Compassion

“Go full circle round
Catch a breeze
Take a spill
But ending up where I started again
Makes me want to stand still”

– Indigo Girls, Watershed

Ending up where I started… well at least that would mean I hadn’t moved backwards.  I concur, it makes me want to stand still, to go back to just trying to be as small as possible.  To stop pretending maybe I can become someone else, someone I like.  To stop this self-examination acceptance bullshit because IT’s NOT FUCKING WORKING.  It makes me see the wisdom in numbing, in avoidance through whatever means, be it work, TV, internet, sugar, cigarettes or alcohol, I don’t care what, I just want a break.  Standing still, moving backwards, it’s not so painful if I don’t have to look it straight in the eye.  Failing at life because I’m not trying well that at least makes rational sense to me.  It hurts less.

But that’s not true either, it doesn’t hurt less it just allows me not to feel it momentarily and I know I’d hurt much less right now if I hadn’t avoided my feelings to begin with.  If I had found a way to make space for them, to accept the pain of being human.  In the same light, perhaps it will hurt less tomorrow if I try to find space for all of these damn feelings today.  I kinda still hate feelings though, well not all of them just the tough ones.  But one cannot selectively numb, in order to feel joy there must be space for pain.  I just wish there wasn’t so much pain, I wish I didn’t feel so bad.  I wish I could sleep.

They say when you try to face your fear (or ego, or bad habits whatever you want to call it), fear will fight back with a vengeance.  It, they are fighting for survival – it’s only natural that there will be backlash for trying to change, for questioning the thoughts that tell you that you don’t deserve any better, for standing up to your oppressors, even or perhaps especially so when you are own greatest enemy.   I want to, maybe I have to believe that this is true, this is why when I took some risks that depression/anxiety would have never let me take in the past decade or so, that they fought back and that’s why they hit with such a vicious vengeance this winter.  Maybe I’m not moving backwards after all.

I read this morning that self-compassion is about picking yourself up 101 times if you fall 100 times, the number should have been exponentially higher, but whatever the point is not about how many times you fall it’s about being willing to pick yourself back up no matter how high that number is.  But self-compassion is also about not ripping apart every little thing you say and interpreting it as failure simply because perhaps you could have said it better, you could done better, you could have been kinder.  Not being perfect, not having things go exactly how you’d like them to be or not feeling happy or fully satisfied all of the time… this isn’t failure, this is life.  I need to keep reminding myself of that.

Another thing I read recently that really hit home is that change generally isn’t heroic and it’s not exciting.  More often than not it’s slow, it’s painful, it takes one small step at a time, and there will be setbacks, there will be steps backwards along the way.  Change is not a monotonically increasing function.  Damn.

After this past winter I am again, more so than in many years feeling rather discouraged and disappointed.  Disappointed with my ability to show up to life, to respond to my thoughts and feelings in a way that I want.  Discouraged that I can’t seem to be the person I want to be, the person I think I should be by now.  But acceptance is showing up as the person that I am, and l will never be able to show up as the person I want to be unless I make space for the person that I am today.  Allow her to show up, tears, anxiety, ineffective communicator with foot-in-mouth disease and all.  I need to keep working to accept and love her exactly as she is or there I will never give myself permission to grow into that person I want to be.

The overwhelming heaviness of depression and anxiety has now lifted and I’m feeling more choice, more space returning.  And while discouragement is still sitting heavy with me, I can see evidence of changes taking place within me.  Actually, I could see this through the depression and it returned with some sort of viciousness this winter that I haven’t experienced in a long time.  Just before that, before I fell into old patterns (maybe out of fear?) I felt genuine joy, a lightness and freedom last spring that I don’t recall ever feeling.  It’s incredibly infuriating to me to think that I would resist change, healing, that I would resist freedom but it’s true, I am struggling with a lot of resistance to let this go.  But I’ll leave that for another post…

I’m discouraged, disappointed and frustrated, but I’m not disgusted with myself.  Now I recognize that probably doesn’t sound like anything to write home about but for me to feel that even in the midst of depression, that’s a massive change in mindset.  I took some ‘risks’ last spring, I bought a new house, I took a new job (with much declaration as to how I was changing my career trajectory).  The job didn’t end up working out and I’m back in a role much similar to what I’ve done in the past.  The house, well still to be seen but at the moment it feels overwhelming and like much more of a burden and a bad decision.

And here’s the thing that’s really surprising to me, I seem to have forgotten that I should be incredibly humiliated and shamed about all of this.  I’m pretty happy with the role I have moved into, I am enjoying it.  And the house well honestly there really isn’t anything wrong with it, it just doesn’t feel like a home.  I don’t feel settled and at the moment don’t feel I have the decision-making capacity for design, furniture purchase and other such things I’m not all that interested in or ‘good at’.

There is acceptance, that it’s just a bit too much for me at the moment, and that maybe that is ok.   I’m not feeling the need to berate myself, to punish myself for ending up where I started out, for being foolish to think I could do something different.  I don’t even think I need to view this as failure (at least in the bad sense of the word), these weren’t terrible, foolish decisions, they were just decisions, period.  And not even ‘bad’ ones, they don’t need to be labeled as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ they just are and there’s a lot that I am reflecting upon and learning from.  Where’s the failure in that?

I wish change wasn’t slow and painful.  I wish I was so much further ahead than I am. And most of all I wish it didn’t feel like such an impossible task to take all the little, incremental steps necessary simply just to maybe, possibly, one day get me to a place where I can start living a life I don’t feel I need to escape from.

But I’m also so grateful for the changes that I am observing, the good habits I have introduced, the bad habits I’ve broken and how far I have come.  This whole being human thing is tricky business and it feels like shit some of the time but it can also feel pretty amazing and I’m really grateful that I am still here, still learning how to navigate it.

The Roller Coaster continues

I’ve got two existing blog posts well underway, started a few weeks ago in addition to the one I did post.  I’m guessing there was more than a little unconscious desperation at play, feeling myself starting the decent from the top of this roller coaster ride anticipating the bottom but not knowing how far down it goes or being able to see the subsequent assent.  After all it’s only July- it’s way too early to be spiraling down, some part of me has resigned myself to losing my winters, I’m not prepared to give up summer, or fall I love these seasons.

While I preach the value of mindfulness and self-acceptance as essential, I don’t live it, not when it comes to overwhelm, anxiety and/or depression (and a whole other host of things, like forgetting commas in emails and so forth).  All the ‘work’ I’m doing still tends to be focused on doing this work so I will be ‘fixed’, so I wont be subject to debilitating anxiety anymore, so I will be completely self-confident, insecurities will be gone and I will be able to thrive, peruse my dreams, not let anything stand in my way.

This week has been incredibly difficult, the anxiety is so high and is having significant physical and mental effects.  There are times I thought for sure I am going down in some blaze of glory, at the moment I’m much less convinced that has to be the outcome.  There have been full conversations I’ve been a part of but haven’t heard anything, my body is on fire and I’d crawl out of my skin if there was a way to do that, my digestive system has shut down, falling asleep and eating have both been fairly challenging.  The negative thoughts, the ‘you’re life isn’t worthwhile, isn’t worth living’, the certainty that I am a failure, have already failed in my role that I’ll never get my house packed, the movers I booked wont show up and the individuals who signed a lease to rent my current house are certain to be fraudsters.

What I find interesting is the thoughts about my life not being worth living, these  are of the nuisance variety, and yeah they still get to me, they do bother me but I also find it super irritating when the streetcar short turns, if forced to rank irritants I’m not certain I could say which I find more upsetting.  But the thoughts of failure, the ‘not good enough’, the anxiety that paralyzes me with fear and renders me fairly unproductive (adding evidence as fuel to the fire of thoughts of my usefulness or chance of success in life or work), these are still extremely upsetting to me.  Practicing acceptance here is a struggle, but I’m seeing optimistic signs, I am seeing an impact.

I haven’t had much ability to change my thoughts, feelings or physical reactions but I’ve been able to distance myself somewhat, while I was highly unproductive and not performing I still showed up and managed maybe what might just be the bare minimum but it was something.

I really ramped up my gratitude practice, and started writing down my gratitude for things that I could find to be grateful for.  That I did ok at a meeting, that another meeting I had (and one I organized) didn’t go ok, but I can see that perhaps that’s not the end of the world, that my anxiety relaxed enough to allow me to eat a full lunch.  That I survived the day, that I made it until I got home before I started crying, and the next day that I made it through work, that I didn’t start crying until I was on the streetcar (And now I’m adding some gratitude that I can see the humor in the ridiculousness of all of this!).  Gratefulness for the people who have reached out to offer assistance to help pack/move, and while it’s uncomfortable for me that I’ve been able to say yes to some of those offers.

So much gratitude that there are people I can share this with, that I don’t have to wear a mask with (or those that can simply see through any mask I try to wear at this stage), for the individuals who have had or do still have related struggles or similar (acceptance/gratitude/mindfulness) practices that I can discuss this with.  Gratefulness that I have so many more tools to deal with these thoughts & feelings, that while it takes an incredible amount of energy and effort to stay present, there are moments I am able to do just that and can genuinely believe that maybe it is ok, to not be ok.

And maybe, just maybe if continue to practice, that if instead of believing the thoughts or fears that I am a failure, and if I’m able to give myself a break for not handling something in the best way, or for an unproductive day, or week that the highs and lows of the roller coaster ride I feel I’ve been stuck on may continue to decrease in magnitude over time.  The belief that the decrease in magnitude  has to be monotonically decreasing or I’ve failed is a limiting belief has and continues to have detrimental impacts to my ability to manage my life and emotions.  It’s one I need to be diligent about continuing to challenge.

While the 2 half written blog posts I have underway were motivated by desperation to speak (or more accurately, write) my experiences while I still have a voice left, this one isn’t.  This is motivated by the question, can I still participate in life when I feel like this?  Can I not take my thoughts, feelings and physical reactions and translate them into impending doom ahead? Can I still find my voice, my soul, myself when I’m on this side of the roller coaster?

I think maybe I can.

 

 

 

 

This last year

This has been an interesting year.  More interesting than 2014?  Maybe… perhaps not quite as spectacular, or not as spectacularly disastrous anyway.  Actually this last year wasn’t disastrous at all and it certainly could have been, for good chunk of it  I felt I was walking a thin line, one false step, one small gust of wind, that’s all it would have taken it to end in disaster but I held on, hopeful and determined and it’s really been the most amazing year.  I can hardly write that without a huge sigh of relief, because quite honestly I don’t think I could have handled another disaster, I’m exhausted.

Every year for at least the last decade, maybe longer I’ve started the year off and said to myself, with as much hope as I can muster, maybe, just maybe this will be the year things turn around for me.  I’ve never quite believed it before this year but I’ve always said it, mustering up what hope I could find so that maybe if I said it every year, maybe some day, some year it would be true.  Honesty though, I was starting to lose hope, I was starting to give up.  But giving up isn’t really in my true nature and I’ve always been scrappy, perhaps it was that last bit of hope starting to slip away, not much left to lose, may as well give it all I’ve got while I still have got something left to give.

But the beginning this year, this year when I said maybe this will be the year, this time it was the ‘maybe’ I doubted.  I really just thought yeah, this is the year, things are going to turn around.  The protector, my ego, added the maybe.  Confidence is still a struggle and giving myself permission to believe in myself, or life, that it can be anything other than miserable… well what would happen if I let myself believe that and then it ended up being miserable?  It would be devastating, heartbreaking and heartbreak doesn’t bring out the version of myself that I want to be, I generally don’t handle disappointment with grace.  So as long as I don’t believe life can be good,  as long as I don’t believe I am good enough, I am worthy then I can’t be let down when life throws me evidence to the contrary.  And if you are looking for it, there will always be evidence to the contrary, because life isn’t all rainbows and unicorns, and life isn’t fair.  It’s quite easy for my mind to translate all sorts of ordinary day events and interactions into evidence why I am not enough, or sometimes why no one else is.

This feeling, of true optimism for my future was foreign to me (or rather the permission to allow myself to be optimistic) and really strange too because this year really didn’t start well.  As per usual, and somewhat expected after a period of what they call mania, not sleeping for months anxiety and depression set in late last fall.  And I struggled, I was frustrated and not particularly accepting.  I was particularly frustrated this time around the anxiety/depression block because I really felt I’d had some success in managing my mood and my mind, that all my mindfulness practice was kicking in, that I’d had my TSN turning point.  But life will never be a straight line trajectory in any direction and it’s going to take me a lot longer to let go of the ”I need fixing, there is something wrong with me” mindset.  And when I say a lot longer, I recognize that likely means ‘until death do us part’, that I’ve spent 40-years (unconsciously) tensing against so called ‘negative’ emotions, training my brain to reject them, my emotions to go to shame when ever I feel them.  So breakthrough or not, it’s unlikely I’m magically going to wake up one day miraculously’ full of the perfect amount of completely justified confidence balanced with the perfect amount of humility and ‘cured’ from all insecurities, anxieties and feelings of worthlessness.

And if I’m going to allow myself to be completely vulnerable (ugh) , completely honest (double ugh), the other fear underlying the return of anxiety/depression was the part of the TSN turning point that had someone else believing in me, a belief that succumbing to anxiety/depression and the associated paralysis and inability to move forward, to accomplish, to produce, that generally accompanies high anxiety would disappoint, would make them realize they had made a horrible mistake in judgment about me.  Or maybe it wasn’t that so much the fear of disappointing them as it was the fear that they’d realize the truth, that really I was just a fuck up could never be anything more, that I was not worth of being believed in and certainly not worth their time or energy.  And just now as I type that, I’ve realized that again, this isn’t my real truth, this is just a defense mechanism masking the true fear that’s maybe too scary to look at, that what I was truly terrified about is not that they’d give up on me but rather that I might give up on me, for good this time.  Eleanor Roosevelt was spot on when she said “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”, but she didn’t tell the whole story, that on the flip side it’s also true that no one can make you feel loved, no one can make you feel good enough without your permission.  That you need to do the work yourself, that you need to give yourself permission to believe you are good enough, just as you are.  No one, and certainly no pill is ever going to make you feel worthy, to save you, this is work we need to do for ourselves.

So with all my preaching on the value and need for acceptance, not resisting I still have a long way (again, I suspect another ’till death do us part’ long journey) to go, especially when it pertains to health challenges.  But despite the resistance and great frustration, there was something so fundamentally different in this last year’s round in the ring with depression.  While I felt miserable and frustrated the permission to be optimistic stayed with me, maybe not right with me but beyond the subconscious, perhaps best described as some sort of mid state between the conscious and subconscious.  I didn’t feel optimistic, I felt frustrated but at the same time the belief in myself, optimism for a future, for thriving rather than just surviving was somehow also right with me.  I’m not articulating this very well and I don’t expect to, I’m not sure I really understand it.

The dreams and goals I had determined were truly mine didn’t go away, they stayed with me and I still believed in them.  I didn’t make any progress on any of them during this period, I didn’t move them forward or take any even minimal action but I’m ok with that, I think that’s life.  While goals, meaning and purpose are essential for thriving, and getting out of one’s comfort zone, being comfortable with being uncomfortable are all very important and things I agree in, I don’t agree we should be pursuing them all full force ahead.  There is time for all seasons and similarly while we need to spend time actively stretching ourselves, expanding our comfort zones and chasing goals, just as much we need to set aside time for quiet reflection, to relax and restore so we have the energy to go at it again, and the stamina to be resilient when we no longer have a choice because life has given us such a large kick in the ass, it’s less like stretch and more like being catapulted into a comfort zone in another dimension.

However, the rollercoaster I’m on between contraction and stretch and have been on for a long time isn’t healthy, it’s not balanced.  But it’s where I’m at and what I’ve learned to be true for myself is that until you can accept yourself where you are at, you’ll never accept yourself no matter where you get.  And not accepting yourself, it’s a detriment to getting anywhere because shame never motivated anyone to do anything, it just forced us to deeper in the closet.

My intent when I started writing and original title of this blog was to talk about the themes of this past year; being fear -> shame -> grief.  I touched on the first two but let go of expectations and ended up on a tangent so I guess I’ll need to circle back sooner than later with the my next blog and tie in how those themes played out over this past year.  For now I’m debating whether or not I want to properly edit this or just post?  I think I’ll just post, I can always come back to proof read and edit later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter to My Depression

Dear Depression,

Actually scratch that, there’s nothing ‘dear’ about you, I hate you. How could I not?  You have stolen so much from me; time, confidence, self-worth… the list is long.  I feel like I could have had a better life, a meaningful life, actually made something of myself, had an impact, had a family of my own, been happy, been ”normal”… whatever that means.   I don’t understand what is fundamentally so bad about me that I don’t deserve happiness, why you have been so determined to convince me I don’t, that I’m just taking up space here in this world, that I’m a waste of a life.  You tell me I’m stupid and useless that I’ll never be good enough, you keep me small, telling me to get over myself and suck it up, so I pretend I’m ok.  Maybe if I just don’t let on, let anyone in, no one has to know that there is something wrong with me.

If I had anyone in my life who was even a small fraction of how emotionally abusive to me as you are, I would have gotten rid of them a long time ago. But you are a part of me, you are in my head or you are my head – I’m not really sure, I just know you have the ability to bring me down to a place so dark I fear I’ll never see the light again.  After all the time we’ve spent together you’d think by now I would have confidence to know that you’ll eventually leave, for a while anyway.  But I really hate it when you come to visit, I’m terrified you’ll never leave and when you do I’m always on edge wondering when you’ll come back.  I can’t even have a regular bad day anymore without at least a little paranoia creeping in, is this it?  Are you back?  How long are you going to stay this time?  6-months, a year, longer???   Am I strong enough to withstand another visit?  Am I strong enough to scrape myself off the floor and dust myself back off once you’re done with me this time?  Somedays I think I am, other days I simply can’t fathom how I can live through that again.

And I do feel like this is a weakness, a failing on my part, an epic failing that I’ve let you do this to me, that I haven’t been able to get rid of you, that I haven’t ‘fixed me’. I am well aware that’s precisely what one is not supposed to say, or even think about anyone with depression. I know it’s not the truth, but it’s my truth, a conditioned belief, another lie depression repeatedly tells me is true, about me. I am trying really hard to change my mindset; I know how very harmful this belief is to my own wellbeing, my potential to heal, but it’s engrained pretty deep and I fear I won’t be able to, that I won’t be able to accept you.  That I will never be able to truly accept myself.

You’ve brought me a lot of pain and suffering, but they say it’s life’s challenges that present the largest opportunities for growth and you have also taught me so much. You have made me a better person.  Depression is still so hard for me to wrap my head around, it’s not something I could have comprehended and I have strong doubts I even could have empathized with someone suffering from depression without the firsthand experiences I’ve had.  You forced me to slow down, to take stock, to realize I needed to start looking at my life, caring for myself, caring about myself rather than the perception of me and how my life looks on the outside.  I never would have done all this work; I wouldn’t have found mindfulness without you.  You’ve taught me about compassion, empathy and acceptance but I still have a lot of learning to do and a long journey ahead.  I know just how critical and powerful self-acceptance can be but I still haven’t been able to accept you and the impact you’ve had on my life.  I expect you will continue to return until I do learn to accept all of myself and maybe you’ll never leave me but with acceptance I believe we could learn to get along, I could make peace with you.

I’m sorry I have been and still am so angry at you. If I look a little deeper I know it’s not really anger I’m feeling but a mountain of shame and grief.  I’m not confident I’m strong enough yet to face all that pain and I need to protect myself from it, so for now I’ll continue to be a bit angry with you.

Yours truly,

Tamira