Category Archives: Helpful Thoughts about Mental Health

Personal experiences in the murky world of mental health.

My Water Bottle Won’t Email Me


 

“I wish my water bottle would email me when the battery is low like my watch does,” is the exact phrase that I said today while getting out of my car to go running.  I wasn’t thinking about the oddness of these words as they came out of my mouth.  I was disappointed and very serious about the problem, which my friend pointed out was really ridiculous.

“Five years ago, that would have sounded very strange,” she told me as we walked to the track to stretch.  I agreed and stated that even two years ago it would have sounded odd.  To which she replied that she wanted to “travel back in time and tell my slightly younger self that these words would come out of my mouth at some point.”  I laughed.  She is not a fan of my water bottle, and despite her heavy use of technology she is not a huge fan of all of the tracking which all of our devices are doing these days.

We both use the GPS on our phones to track our miles while we run, but I also use my awesome new Fitbit Blaze to track my running, walking, sleep, and heart rate.  She wants one for all of those things, but she doesn’t take the next step I have with my daily tracking of my life.  I track my food, my fluid intake, my mood, and anything I can find a free app to use with my phone track my daily everything.  I don’t do this because I think it is fun to input my calorie intake or because I am in desperate need to lose weight.  I do this because of gastro paresis.

I decided last month, after taking control of almost every part of my life again that my health was the last step I needed to get under control.  For my anxiety and short bouts of depression I found an app that actually got me interested in running.  (“Exercise releases endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.  And happy people just don’t kill their husbands.”) It is the Zombies Run app and I have been recommending it to everyone I know who is both game oriented and wants to start getting active.  I also tell my gym rat friends if they are into Zombies—which means all of my friends have been told to get this app.  If it gets my friend to run, then it can get anybody to start running.  It is super fun, especially if you are a gamer and in any way into Zombies.

I started with the other tracking apps because I wanted to see what foods might be triggering my stomach flare ups, as well as noting whether it was food or anxiety that might be contributing more to them.  So far I have only had one really sick morning since I started tracking, and that was today.  I also forgot to put in what I ate yesterday, so I am not sure of the exact causes of this morning, but I recovered by third period and just kept going.  If there was an app that would remind me to record what I ate as well as the app to put it in I would probably use that too.  I just don’t think they can create an app to know when I am eating in order for my phone to yell at me to scan the barcode.

With all of the crazy in my life right now, the tracking of my everything seems pretty mundane, but I have health reasons I use to justify it.  If I didn’t have my stomach problems I would have to monitor my food.  If I wasn’t prone to kidney stones, I wouldn’t need a water bottle to tell me to remember to hydrate and keep drinking.  You would think that after 16 years of having to monitor my fluid intake I would be better at it now, and I was until I started teaching.

While I love my job most of the time, I am drinking less during the day than I used to before I started teaching, and this is something I can’t have.  Kidney stones suck and if I have to buy a fifty dollar Thermos to remind me to drink more while teaching Greek mythology this makes sense to me.  Fifty dollars to save me pain and the expense of doctor’s visits as well as potential hospitalization, this is a reasonable expense for my life.  It isn’t like I need more than one.  I just need it to email me when it’s battery is low, just like my watch does.

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The Heart of Depression


 

Depression is not a state of being sad. It is not caused by loss or difficult times. Some of the people who seem to be the happiest people you know are in fact depressed. There is no quick fix for the disease and there is absolutely no cure. It is an ebb and flow which follows the depressed person throughout their life.

Often outsiders assume that they can fix the problem. They have already taken the first step in the wrong direction when assuming this approach as valid. There have been studies done which show that positivity given to a depressed person only serves to make them angry and hostile towards the person presenting to the un-thought-out cure. There isn’t a magic rainbow sprinkling of positivity that helps the depressed person. Also, the problem with understanding them lies in the way the outsider sees them.

The outsider sees depression as being sad. They then think that if the person in question is just sad that they can cheer them up. You cannot cheer up a depressed person. It is often assumed that if a depressed person smiles or laughs that a great breakthrough has been reached in their mental state. The reality is just that, depressed people can find things funny too. Also, sometimes we laugh because it is the socially acceptable thing to do. When those around you laugh, something is funny, you are supposed to laugh as well. This is how young children learn what is and isn’t funny, from the social clues of those around them. Surprise, depressed people use those same social cues to fit in.

Not all depressed people want to fit in. Sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t want to waste the energy on making everyone around us feel okay, because guess what… We don’t feel okay. No we are not sad, we are depressed it is different. Depression is so much more complicated than sadness. To simplify the disease to something so base as one emotion alone is to rob the depressed person of their right to feel as they do. It then makes depression a choice, which it is largely not. I have never met a depressed person who when asked if they would prefer to not be depressed said “no.”

There is not a one size fits all cure for depression, just as there is not one way to be happy, only one job in the world, or even one religion. We might believe that there are only one of these things which work for each of us individually, and this is true of depression as well. Just because it worked for your cousins-sisters-friend Sally however doesn’t mean that it will work for me, or the next person down the list of depressives which you will encounter in your life.

While depression is not about being sad, at times it can feel like sadness. Depression for me, and many others, is more about the lack of emotion. Where I was once a passionate person eager to change all the wrongs and injustices in the world, since depression came to live with me, I just try to remember to shower and eat some days.

Also, depression isn’t all the time every day. We don’t walk around with the intent of being or acting depressed. We occasionally feel emotions just like we did before the depression and instead of catching us off guard we just go with it, those are things we are supposed to feel and so there is no reason to stop and analyze or rejoice in the fact that we are smiling or laughing or not worried about something. I don’t believe that non-depressed people put any extra emphasis on these feelings, and neither do we. Every once in a while we will stop later and think about the fact that we felt something akin to happiness. It isn’t false happiness, just something slightly different, our brains process these feelings and emotions differently because our brains process everything differently.

Depression is like the ocean. It flows like water and with the tides it changes its effect on the depressed person. When we are in a low tide place in our depression we feel mostly normal. The chemicals in our brain are receiving almost normal signals, we are like we were before, and this causes those around us to feel like there is hope to this disease coming to an end. Then the tides change and again we are under water with our brains unable to process the chemical signals sent to us in a proper way. It feels like we are swimming just under the surface, watching the world around us but unable to completely hear or translate what we are seeing and hearing. We are separated. We have a sense of what is happening but it cannot reach us.

While depression can make it difficult for us to feel happiness at times it can cause an equal difficulty in feeling anger and sadness. A depressive may not respond as others think they should to the death of a loved one. They may not get angry at the loss of a job. We may in fact just stay inside out emotionless bubble floating along the ocean where emotions live. We are kept outside this ocean at times, but always subject to the way its tides change. Only later after the fact might we be able to process the emotions of loss and sadness or even anger. At other times those emotions overwhelm us. They become the anxieties which often accompany the depressed person. It is rare to have one without some aspect of the other. So the disease becomes two fold, depressed and anxious.

Because of this two fold aspect of the disorders which a depressed person can live with it can make diagnoses of depression and anxiety difficult. Due to the ebb and flow nature of most mental health disorders a depressive with bad anxiety can often be misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder. This leads to the person being put on the wrong medication, a break-down of communication with their families and a total lack of understanding as to why the meds aren’t working if the doctor prescribed them. Not all medications work for all people and all symptoms. There is a lot of science as to why, but I will just start out with the basics.

Bipolar disorder is considered a type of psychosis, as it treated with anti-psychotics this is generally how the medical profession treats the disorder. While bipolar disorders may not actually be a type of psychoses it certainly acts enough like one for the medication to work. Depression and anxiety are not the same type of disorder and so the chemical reactions in the brain do not respond to the medication the way they are expected to with someone suffering from bipolar disorder. Once the doctor sees no change in the depressives’ problems often they will change to a different medication and approach, which can lead to a separate diagnosis.

Even if you have a great doctor it can take months or even years to find the right balance of medication for you. Once that is determined then it is ideal if the person taking the medication is not on them forever. While this may be the goal, it is not always what happens in practice. While doctors ideally want their patients to get better if they do not include an aspect of therapy into their practice then their patients end up staying on medication past the point where it continues to have the desired effect. That is where you get the new depression medications which come out as supplements to the medications which a depressed person is probably already on.

Beyond this the medications are created using out of date understanding of the nature of depression and how it works in the brain. So why the medications work at all remains a mystery to the scientists who invent them and the doctors who prescribe them seem to have missed this new scientific information. Then past this you get the outliers like me. Those are the people who cannot take depression medication at all because it has extreme effects on the personality which do not help the person on the medication at all.

When I take depression medication one of three things happens: First it has no effect on me what so ever. While this is not a big deal it does cut out a large amount of medications which I could take and have anything useful happen. Second it causes me to be insanely happy with no regard to anyone else. In essence it throws me into a complete manic phase where I cannot eat, sleep, or remember much of anything that is happening in my life. Third it causes massive suicidal tendencies, thoughts, and actions. This is the most common result when I take depression medication. Being that these are the three options I have when taking a medication for depression, I am sure that most people would not be surprised as to my aversion to the medications for myself. They work well for many people, for me not at all.

In daily life it is difficult to navigate depression on its own. Most people do not understand that it is a disease and the scientists and doctors working to cure it do not understand enough about how the brain works to have consistent results that carry the long term effect of a cure. If one has to take medication for the rest of their life then they are in fact not cured, but are just managing a disease. While depression doesn’t kill you it does make you feel often like it would be better if you weren’t around.

Since people do not understand you and you cannot understand or navigate the complex world of emotions with consistent accuracy it is easy to get into a state where you just want it to stop. This does not mean you are suicidal. Although the expression of this thought often is misinterpreted as a suicidal thought it is just the honest reaction of a person who cannot feel the things which they are told they should. There we add guilt to the depressed person, who is already carrying enough guilt of their own for being in the state to begin with. Why wouldn’t we want to get away? The idea is to disappear because it is easier to be surrounded by people who you do not know when you feel like you are alone.

That is often the state which the depressed person spends their life. They are alone and there is nobody outside other depressives who they can speak to with a relative level of understanding. It is not that we want to be alone, in fact it is quite the opposite. We want to be around people, but we want them to understand us, and we want to again join in real life outside our bubble. Trying to force the depressive to be happy so that you can spend time with them is counterproductive and will often lead to the ending of that relationship. We understand that people who are not depressed cannot understand our depression. We know that you don’t want to be around someone who you perceive as being sad, or negative. We don’t want to be around someone who is shoving rainbows down our throats. So we all get angry and defensive and it leads to the total breakdown in communication between the two parties.

Understand enough about yourself to know if you can handle being around a depressive. If you can’t don’t try to form a new friendship with someone who has depression. On the other hand if you leave a friendship which is already established because the friend becomes depressed that is negative as well, and probably more so. We understand new people don’t have time to navigate our tidal patterns, but our old friends should already have a general idea of them. The reality is that depression, outside of post-partum, does not just happen overnight. You or your friend will have symptoms possibly for years before the understanding of actual depression is known. Therefore it is unfair both to you and your friend if you just cut and run because “negativity brings me down, man.”

If you don’t like negative actions and words, then don’t use them by abandoning the depressed person. You don’t have to check in with them every day, or even see them often. Just maintain a state with them where they will understand that you are there, and you do care. Because it is all too common for the depressed person to become abandoned by their loved ones, feel as if they are not wanted, and become suicidal. The feeling that “nobody will miss me when I’m gone,” comes from the fact that the friends and family who used to be present and active in a depressed person’s life are no longer there. You can’t miss a person who you don’t interact with. So how could you miss me if I’m not here at all? This for me has been the mindset I have had when I want to run away and leave it all behind. Alone in a room of a hundred people I know. I prefer to be alone in a room of a thousand people who don’t know me, because I don’t expect them to care.

 

The face of depression


When every smile is a lie– just something you put on because something you intellectually understand as good or funny but you can’t feel it emotionally. This is the face. 

Every expression a lie.

The outside showing what everyone wants to see– what they expect.

Well guess what, I’m sad. I feel like I have no reason to be. You cannot fix that. In fact the harder you try, the worse I will feel. Because what I really want is to quietly and slowly disappear. I am already invisible you don’t see me, not really. And it’s laughable that even now you think you do.

Everything I do is to try to make myself feel again. Feel deserving of the life given to me. Feel deserving of my child. The truth is that in this space, I cannot feel. Don’t try to fix me. You cannot fix the problem which you cannot see. You cannot see a problem you don’t understand. If you don’t understand just admit it and respect how I feel in this moment. It could pass. 

Just let me see that I actually matter. Don’t tell me because in this space words like that do not matter, they cannot be heard. 

Don’t hug me. It hurts. Just help me in the way that I ask. Do not try to fix me.

Do not try to fix me. Just be there for me. Understand that I need support and that I need to vent and that I need to feel this way. I don’t know why any more than you do. Just let it be what it is.

Hurricane Shutters


There are times in our lives where we have a million options in front of us. We have all of the windows and doors of our lives open to see the possibilities. Then slowly things get tough and we start to close windows and doors. Then we take the next step and nail the wood on the outside of the windows in order to easily weather the storm. The problem comes when we forget to take down the shutters once the storm has passed, and if we do another one comes along and we have to board up again.

That’s where I am at. I have been living in a box of my own creation for so long that I didn’t think I would ever be able to see through to the light of day again. Then I got one job that started to open some windows. After that I got sick and the shutters were closed again. Then again I got a new job, and for the first time since I start college many years ago, that ii saw all the possibilities that life had for me.

Now, again my shutters are going up. Problems with work, not my students even when they are crazy I still love teaching, but other problems have begun to have me closing windows. The shutters started closing this weekend when I realized that while I want to get my MFA more than anything, I am terrified of the GRE and there is no way my job will let me take 10 days off at a time for a low residency program.

I am feeling like even though I can see options, I can’t get to them. The windows are closed letting me see all the things in my life that I could do, but I am too scared to. I am pretty sure that it is only a short time before I put back up my storm shutters and hide away from the world. I don’t want this to happen, but this is the path that I have started walking down.

I tell my students all the time that they have to be positive and that attitude is everything. I know this because I know that my own attitude and self-confidence is too low to go the distance that I want to take my life to. I don’t know if I am afraid to succeed or afraid to fail. I just know I’m terrified of everything most of the time, and that I have still not found a way to get past that.

I want to write, and refuse to sit down and do it. I want to date, but I refuse to take a chance with anyone who actually likes me. I self-sabotage all the time, and it is time for me to break that pattern. I just need to find a place to start. I need someone to help me take down the shutters, because I can’t do that alone (I am truly afraid of hammers). I just want to live a day without fear, full of options. Full of hope. Full of anything positive.

So while I am willing to embrace my crazy, I need to refocus it.

Where Do We Start… and End?


It has been a long time since I felt comfortable to be myself around someone new. I finally found that person, but things got strained and difficult really quickly. I will not lay the blame on him, I believe that this is mostly my fault, however I will say that it usually takes more than one person for conflict to arise.

He was super sweet and waited almost a month to finally meet me in person because I have been sick, and well I still am. That is one of the problems. I was having a good week when we met and our first date was fun and our second date lasted 40 hours. Then it was back to work, stress, and then my stomach problems came back.

Now I haven’t been talking much about my recent sickness. That is maybe because it isn’t a recent illness, just the most recent flare up. I am in the process of getting a confirmed diagnosis for gastro-paresis. If you don’t know what it is, it sucks. I am sick to my stomach all of the time, I can hardly eat and all kinds of social and environmental factors play a part. Basically to not have a flare up I have to never be under any stress, ever, at all. Now having my diagnosis currently of and anxiety disorder with OCD personality traits, this is a flat out impossibility. I can’t go through a day without something stressing me out, and it is usually little things. Like my computer not working right, or traffic being bad. Normal everyday stress that for a normal person is a minor irritation, takes medication to control not just for my brain, but also for my stomach.

When I get stressed, I get sick. This causes more anxiety, which causes more sick, and the cycle continues. The only way out is to get away from my stressors. Sometimes that means I can’t drive. Other times, well it is impossible. People have to work, but for someone like me the simple act of walking into a job where I might get stressed, so I might get sick puts me on guard, makes me nervous, and eventually leads to where I am now. Trying desperately to prove to my employers that I realy have a disease, and that I’m not making it up.

Now where does the boy come into all this, well we had so much fun the first two weeks we hung out that y stress went down and I started to get better. Then I got stressed out at work, and I vented to him, and we had a couple bad nights and things got awkward, and now we don’t know how to talk to one another, and he wants to be just friends. While there is much more to this, and will get its own post, I will say that it was bad timing. Today I needed desperately to distress after being confronted with the very real possibility that I may soon be unemployed, and I thought he would be the perfect fun relaxed person to distress with. Instead he tried to help me in another way. Which caused me to get upset again and I was ultimately unable to explain things the way I wanted, which again leads me here.

I truly appreciate it when people try to give me advice about things I struggle with. However, let me get through the emotional moment first. Now this could be a moment or a few hours, depending on my percentage of bad brains that day. And this is changing too. I never thought that someone could recover from mental illness, just learn how to live with it. Now I believe that for someone us it changes over time. Which makes sense why my greatest shrink refused to give me a diagnosis. But I got one anyway, and it has changed. I have gotten both better in some things and worse in others. Which equals a whole new diagnosis, and while I know it’s not bi-polar, I’m pretty sure I know what it is, and it isn’t one that I want to fully embrace yet.

I do know that I have been sick, and alone and this makes me depressed. I stress out to the point where I have dissociative anxiety attacks, something I haven’t done in years, and this scares me too. It is scary to know that you live with something that can only be controlled to a point. Something within you that you fight every day, just to make the rational choice and not the impulse that will just make things worse. I don’t always win, but I feel that on the ones I used to lose I’m gaining decent control. Others I am still working on.

I don’t know if I can save my job. I’m going to go to the doctor and try to get into a specialist ASAP for my tummy problems. I am going to consider increasing my anxiety medication for a short time to help with the stomach problem as well. It is very convenient that I’m prescribed something which is given for both disorders. And I’m going to talk to my crazy doctor about my depression problems and the disassociation and see if there is anything that can be done there. I’m not keeping my hopes up that the boy will come around, but I hope he keeps reading this, and will see that I am taking his advice to heart, that I’m reaching for the bootstraps, and I’m doing the best I can. I hope everyone else sees that too.

I don’t want to go through this alone, and I know there are a few of you out there who are there for me both in my personal life and in your comments, and I thank you. This is another long journey, and I can’t do it without support.

So embrace the crazy you have today, even if it is different than it was yesterday, and especially if it rambles along as much as this post.

Mental Health Awareness


May is mental health awareness month, and it has taken me this long in the month to do a post about it for several reasons.

  1. Every year when I hear that it is mental health awareness month, I suddenly become overly aware of my own mental health.  I begin to take stalk of if I am in fact still crazy.  I wonder if I still have anxiety, over and over to the point that I give myself anxiety.  So towards the end of the month I realize that my diagnoses is still true.   I am still the wonderful bearer of and Axis 1 Anxiety Disorder, with Obsessive Compulsive Personality Traits. (that is mainly my circular thoughts that drive me and everyone around me nuts)
  2. This year I have started a new relationship with a boy.  While we have only known each other for one week, officially today.  We have been spending a lot of time together, which I actually enjoy.  He makes me laugh and I am able to relax around him.  Although, when I come home, like tonight, I am suddenly filled with free roaming anxiety, which in turn causes me to question everything about myself and why I like this person.  I am sure there is something deeply wrong with him, because he just seems too good for me.  Don’t misunderstand, this is part of my crazy.  I am hopeful I am wrong, but I never expect to be, which might be a major contributing factor to my eternally single state.
  3. I have been really sick.  I have gastro paresis and this month I have been having a flare up.  Which basically means my stomach refuses to digest food as it should, and I have to go to the doctor for never ending tests, which I can’t finish because I keep throwing up.  I have missed a lot of work, which really sucks, and I am scared to eat at all most days.  This causes a never ending cycle of me being starving, and me getting even more sick because I feel better and then over eat.  However, I think that this flare is coming to an end, just in time to coincide with my monthly round of female hormones which make me angry and anxious for a whole different set of reasons.

However, it is May still, and that means that it is the time of year when we are all supposed to be aware of mental health. I think that should be every day and not just an allotment of 30 some odd days at the end of the school year. We should always care about our friends, family, and strangers who suffer from mental health disorders.

So because it’s May, we should embrace the crazy in public. Have an outburst at work, you’re crazy right, then explain that you are protesting the fact that craziness is not accepted in our society. Well, maybe that’s not the best way to go about things. However, I do encourage you to start conversations with people about the importance of mental health acceptance, and what we can do to change the stigma about those of us who live we these problems every day of our lives, for the rest of our lives.

Also, embrace, and I do mean hug, the crazy. It’s mental health awareness in its kindest and most in your personal space kind of way. Hugs for crazy people, especially the ones who need drugs so they don’t punch you for the hug.

Insomnia and Anxiety create a Mix of Regret


I can’t sleep, though I am tired. I can’t focus on anything, because I’ve got free floating anxiety. I don’t know why I’m writing right now, except that I’m hoping that it will make me feel better when nothing else has today.

It is after midnight so it is mother’s day. I’m not feeling excited about celebrating motherhood. I don’t know why. I think maybe it’s because I don’t get to spend as much time with my son as I feel that I should. I try to do the best I can for him, and right now that means that he goes to school where someone can be home for him when he gets off the bus. I can’t. I have to work, and I don’t make enough for after school child care, and that’s not what I want for him anyway. This however, isn’t what I want either.

I want to see the things he does every day. I want to hear him laugh, watch him grow, and help him with his homework. I want to be the person the school calls when he needs to go home sick, and I want to be the one who tucks him in at night, and teaches him his nightly prayers. I want to read his bedtime story and sing him his song. I want to hold him and cuddle him and show him how much I love him every day.

For the first part of his life I wasn’t capable of feeling these things. It got easier for me to let him be with family that could give him the love he deserved. That’s the problem with post partum depression. You can’t feel what you want to toward your child, and you hate yourself for it. I tried medication, and therapy, but nothing helped. Now I lost the chance to create the bond with him that I should have had.

There is no way to change the past. And while I can try to forgive myself for things which were out of my control, I don’t think I have the right. Not yet. Not until I again have the chance to be a family, be his mother.

I don’t deserve a happy mother’s day, because I haven’t been a happy mother. I’ve hardly been a mother. Others stepped in to fill that role, and I feel that now it is too late. I will never have my baby back, and I will never get to know what it’s like to hold my new born child with awe and wonder at the beauty that he is. I might not deserve it, but I wish I had it.

So now I’m exhausted, sad, anxious, and lost. I feel alone all the time, and I don’t see things getting better in that department. I have let down the one person I should never have let down. I’m not a terrible person, and I hope that I’m not a terrible mother. I’m just not mother of the year.

I want to grow, and watch my son grow. I want to love, and be loved. I don’t want to be alone, but I want my time with myself. I want more time with my son, because he is the world. The most special and spectacular thing I will ever create. No piece of art, music, or writing will ever compare to what my son is.

I’m not sure this is the type of crazy to embrace. So instead I say embrace the love. If you are angry with your mothers, or you children for not being able to be the best versions of themselves, especially if it is due to mental illness, please take today to forgive. Maybe if we all forgive each other, it will become easier to forgive ourselves.