Tag Archives: mental health

Just can’t seem to get it right today*

18 Aug

*Or, more specifically, these past three days. Today, Monday, makes the third failure in three days. Doubled up with two on Saturday, had none Sunday, and had a face-slapping one today. As I’ve said before, if I didn’t have bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all.

Failure #1: Don’t Trust Mental Patients

The back story for this one goes back quite a while. About 8 weeks ago, to be precise. In the second, better hospital. I was talking with one of the fellow patients one evening, and telling her about our infertility struggles and how they really deepen my depression. Somehow the conversation led to her telling me not to worry, that I would get pregnant. She gave an exact date, too – six weeks from my release. I filed it away at the time as “Ok, that was weird,” especially since I didn’t know when I would be getting out. Once I was sprung, on a whim, I looked up the dates. Six weeks from that day would be two weeks from my next expected period. Sure enough, that period came right on time, and so two weeks later, we put some John Legend on and lit some candles. Just in case.

About a week later, I started feeling really, really sick. I was constantly dizzy and light headed. The thought of food disgusted me. If I did eat, the nausea would become so overpowering I would have to lie down. Either that or gag fruitlessly in the toilet. Not wanting to get our hopes up too much, we started referring to it as “the prophecy.” It was easier to make light of it that way, but that candle of hope started burning really, really brightly. Smells started bothering me. My lower belly felt full, but not cramping. I started really believing the prophecy and started getting really excited.

And then the fullness feeling stopped. The constant nausea and dizziness continued, but the bad cramping started up. And I knew that the “prophecy” was just cruelly and futilely getting my hopes up, but I held onto it.

Until Saturday morning, when my period came. Lesson learned: don’t trust fellow mental patients and their prophecies. 

Failure #2: I Am Not An Athlete, and Sunscreen Is Important.

For some reason, I have this delusion that I am a fairly decent athlete. So when the younger kids came around and asked people to sign up for the office softball tournament, I joined. I somehow had it in my head that I would be an asset to the team. This despite the fact that the last real softball game I played was an intramural game in college where my friend Mark was completely drunk but managed to hit the ball – and promptly ran straight to 3rd base. I conveniently forgot all the times I was chosen dead last in softball tournaments as a child. I overlooked the fact that I am horribly accident prone.

And I completely forgot about wearing sunscreen.

So I looked like this.

So I looked like this.

I was assigned to second base and could only stop the ball with my legs, resulting in a huge bruise on my right shin. My batting average was dismal, helped by the rule that if you walked a guy, the next girl in the batting lineup automatically got to walk. I did get one base hit. But other than that, I was terrible. I kept apologizing to my teammates, but they took it in stride. They even let Daniel play left field. So, despite being a technical failure, we still managed to have a good time.

World's Cutest Little Left Fielder

World’s Cutest Little Left Fielder

My (very patient) team

My (very patient) team

And now, today, Failure #3: Always Double Check Your Groupons.

About a month ago, I booked a Groupon for a storytelling class. I was really excited about it, and wrote down the date on my monthly calendar and put a reminder in my phone. August 18th, I can remember that. I can do that. I am really excited about that.

It was August 11th.

And Groupon won’t refund my money or even give me credit for another Groupon. To be fair, this is completely my own fault. But I was really looking forward to going tonight and now I’m super bummed.

The good news after all this? I’ve always been told that bad things come in threes. So I’m due for some really awesome stuff to happen. Overdue, even. Send suggestions on how to cheer myself up, and also some aloe because my arms really hurt from this damn sunburn.

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Depression and Suicide- My Two Cents

13 Aug

Man, this has been a rough week and it’s only Wednesday. I’ve been meaning to post an update for a while. I had a post planned about the two vacations I took in July and how different they were from each other and how awesome they both were. I was going to post a whole bunch of pictures from both, too. But composing a photo/travel post takes time, something that’s always a precious commodity around here.

And now there’s this week with lots of shitty things happening around the world. I debated for a while whether to post about one in particular. I feel like there isn’t much more to add to the conversation at this point that hasn’t already been said. And I hesitate to post because I don’t want to cash in on something public and make it about me. It had nothing to do with me.

And yet, it did. The news about Robin Williams knocked me flat, made me cry, upset me, got me angry, and deeply affected me.

My first reaction was ‘How could Mr. Keating do that?’ Because that’s the first role I always think of him in – and my favorite. O captain, my captain. Carpe diem, boys. Seize the day. Make your lives extraordinary. (And, this desk set wants to fly. ❤ you too, RSL.) It wasn’t rational, at all, but my first thought was ‘How could Mr. Keating do that when he was so devastated when Neil died?’

It’s hard to separate a public personality from the personas they portray, especially when they put so much of themselves into every performance. And I know that Robin Williams wasn’t Mr. Keating, any more than he was an alien, a genie, a robot, Peter Pan, Armand Goldman (Col-man? Or Gold-man?), Sean McGuire, Adrian Cronauer, or Patch Adams.

Even when I reconciled myself to it, I still grieved. The same way I grieve when anyone commits suicide. And this is where the getting angry part comes in. Because someone inevitably says “Oh, if only they knew how much they were loved,” or some variation. “If only they loved themselves as much as everyone else did.” Both statements seem to imply that a person who commits suicide after suffering from depression was incapable of either giving or receiving love.

This statement makes me angry on two levels. It makes me angry for the person who committed suicide. Even though you suffer from depression, you can still give and receive love. You don’t lose the knowledge that other people love you when you’re depressed. It’s that, at your deepest, darkest times, when you’re stuck in the bottom of a dark hole, or at the bottom of the ocean, one of two things happens.

1) You rationalize that love away. You tell yourself, “That person only loves me because they have to. They’re my parent/sibling/second cousin once removed. If they really knew me, the real me, the deep dark parts of me, they wouldn’t love me.” Or you tell yourself, “Yes, I know that person loves me. But I suffer from depression, and I don’t deserve that love.” You are afraid, terribly afraid, of dragging that person down with you, and you think they would be better off without you.

Or 2) You don’t lose the knowledge, but you can’t hear it. You’ve been suffering from chronic depression, on and on, all your life. Or most of your life. Or some of your life. But you’ve had at least one clinical depression. With each episode of serious depression, your chance of experiencing another episode of depression increases by 16%. (I don’t know how to add a footnote, but I can provide a citation for this if necessary.) As Winston Churchill famously described it, it’s a black dog that follows you. For life. And every time you manage to crawl out of a deep dark depression hole, it’s with the knowledge that there’s a big chance you’ll end up there again at some point in your life. 

This, to put it mildly, gets exhausting. You get so sick of seeing that black dog. You think, “Didn’t I just get rid of you?” Or you fall into the hole, and think, “Again?! How long am I going to be stuck down here this time?!” 

For many people, at some point, enough is enough. They are tired of holes, of black dogs. They know that people love them. They love the people in their lives. But it’s just too painful to keep fighting the same battle over and over again.

This is not to say that this is the right choice. I am just trying to explain why it’s insulting to blame it on not knowing how much people love you.

There’s a second reason that statement is insulting. It’s when you carry it out to its logical conclusion that it becomes a real slap in the face to other people – the survivors. The family members, the friends. I have had the anguish of going to the wake of a mentor and friend who committed suicide. If someone had said “If only he knew how much people loved him” to me, what message does that imply to me? Simple: that it’s my fault for not telling him that I loved him. He didn’t know how much he meant to me! If I had only told him, maybe he’d still be here, cracking jokes and announcing “This is Fight Club!” to a new generation of law students! It’s bullshit. And it’s hurtful bullshit. Please, if you’re ever at the wake or funeral of someone who committed suicide, please stop yourself from saying “If only he/she knew how much people loved him.” Whether you mean to or not, you’re putting the blame on the surviving family and friends, and that’s just not fair.

Depression and suicide are not caused by a lack of love. Depression is caused by a combination of chemical imbalances in the brain, genetics, and just plain shitty life experiences. And it comes in lots of different flavors and varieties, too! Manic depression, chronic depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder… it’s different for everyone who experiences it, and everyone needs a slightly different approach.

Meds can help. Therapy can help. Love can help. But remember, before you judge someone who committed suicide too harshly, the 16% statistic. They’ve been battling this a long time, over and over. They might have masked it with humor, or tried to drown it in alcohol and/or drugs. But they were warriors who fought a hard battle, and they deserve respect for fighting it as long as they did, and as well as they did.

And that’s why, when Mr. Keating died, I fell apart. Because I’m fighting that battle too. And he was, and will always be, my captain.

Whew, that was a heavy load off my chest. Here’s a picture from each vacation, to cheer you up.

Vacation One

Vacation One

Vacation Two

Vacation Two

Swimming with the Sharks

21 Jun

As you may or may not have noticed, depending on how often you tried to get a hold of me, I have been gone, off the grid, since June… 2nd? 3rd? Time is playing strange tricks on me. I’m still not sure what day it is, or when everything happened, or what I’m supposed to do next. I debated a long time about opening up because this is really, really tricky stuff. But every time I’ve opened up before, I’ve been surprised and overwhelmed with gratitude for the support that flows in, sometimes from the least expected corners.

That being said, I am going to try to turn off comments for this post. If you have something hurtful to say, to me or to Ken, I’m sure you’ll still find a way to do it, people always seem to be able to, but I’d prefer to not hear it or deal with it. If you have something supportive to say, I’m actually not ready for that yet either.

Deep breath – dive in.

Well, first, some analogies. (This is me, after all). Three times in my life now I’ve had what I would term ‘shark experiences.’ I can’t say ‘shark diving’ or ‘swimming with sharks’ because each one was different. But each one involved me in close proximity to a shark, and I loved each one.

#1: In late December of 2000/early January of 2001. Our winter, but New Zealand’s summer. My mom, my sister, and I went down for two weeks to visit family. We went to a tourist town on the South Island – Kaikoura – along with my cousin Carsten. We debated what we wanted to do there. Whale watching? Swim with dolphins? Courtney, my sister, found a brochure for a shark dive. The kind that is, incidentally, the most ecologically harmful, but hey, we were 19 and 20 and did not know about those things. You got in full scuba gear, you were taken out to a smaller boat, from there you were lowered into a cage two at a time. Then the boat workers would throw out some chum to make the sharks come. They came very close to the cage, gnawed at the bars, delightfully terrified us.Image

That’s me in the foreground, with my best “I can’t believe you talked me into this” expression. It was scary, it was exhilarating, and I was hooked on sharks.

#2: On our honeymoon, my husband and I randomly ended up going to Mazatlan in Mexico. If you’re there in the off season (which we were), there is not a lot to do. You can snorkel, but it’s not much fun if your husband is more interested in staying behind on the beach getting wasted on rum. You can walk around town, but there’s not a lot to see and there might be a terrifying moment where you think you’re about to get kidnapped. Or you can go to the Aquarium, “an experience you’ll never forget!” It was a sad, sad aquarium. But there was one highlight. The brochures showed people going into the feeding cages for the shark tanks with the aquarium staff. I speak no Spanish, so I kept pointing to the picture, saying “Yo quieres.” They kept asking something that sounded like, “Umm, are you sure?” They let me change into a swimsuit, gave me a snorkel mask, and gave rapid instructions in Spanish. I asked Ken, who is bilingual, to translate, but he couldn’t keep up. “Something about a mechanical arm, honey. Have fun, don’t die.” I tried to assure him, saying, “If it wasn’t safe, they wouldn’t let you do it.” His response was, “Yeah, AT HOME. We’re in MEXICO. They lose tourists all the time here!” So I went into the cage, speaking no Spanish, with a guy who spoke absolutely no English. Even better, he couldn’t pronounce my name to save his life, so I told him to call me Cecilia to make it easier. Problem was, I kept forgetting that my name was now Cecilia and he would shout instructions and I would be all “Who is he yelling at?” Anyway, I got to feed some fish, and see some sharks swim by.

 

Image

That’s me on the right, trying to tell him “I guess the sharks aren’t hungry” but actually saying something like “I want eat shark.”

#3 was last year, in Australia. I was perusing my credit card rewards points to see what I could cash them in for. One of them was a shark dive at the Aquarium at the town I would be staying in. My rewards points were the exact amount of the ‘experience.’ I took it as a sign and booked it. I thought it would be like the experience in New Zealand, where we were out in the ocean, since the aquarium is right on the ocean. Or I thought it would at least be like the experience in Mazatlan, where there is something between the sharks.

Noooope.

Image

Notice the lack of any protective barrier between me and the shark on my head. We suited up, went in to the giant shark tank with lots of other fishes, and walked around for a while. I don’t know, in retrospect, if I still would have signed up for it if I had known how close the sharks would be. But it was also the most amazing – ecologically okay, I understood all the instructions, and the sharks were so beautiful up close.

So now you’re probably thinking that my disappearance for the last few weeks can be ascribed to some wonderful, meaningful shark experience. Alas, that is only true metaphorically. And here is where the hard stuff comes in.

I have been hospitalized for a major depressive episode. I went to one hospital, and was there for a few days, but it was like the Mazatlan sharks – no one could help me understand what was going on, no one seemed to understand what I said, and like the non-hungry sharks, my depression did not seem to respond to my efforts to fix it. And the rules and regulations were making my anxiety and depression so much worse. Nothing comforting from home. NO PEPSI. (Those of you who know me well know that I did not deal with that very well – I resorted to trying to bribe the social worker). And, worst of all, NO BOOKS. No one was allowed to even bring any in from outside for me. There was no individual therapy, no individual therapist even assigned. You got a psychiatrist for 5 minutes a day – if you were lucky – and a social worker to work on getting you out. I went to the groups, I did the best I could, but I started telling them I was feeling better just so I could go home, drink a Pepsi, and read a book again.

I was out for one day. I lasted almost a full twenty four hours. I had a massive panic attack in Barnes and Noble when I thought my wallet had been stolen. I was still a wreck. And then I had my follow up appointment with the therapist. First question: Do you have suicidal thoughts? Well, yes. They come and go, all the time, have always done that. Second question: Do you have a plan? And this is where honesty may not have been the best policy. Well, yes. They sent me home from the last hospital with a prescription for sleeping pills. I’m not planning on committing suicide right now, or this week, or this month, but I do know how I would do it if I had to.

The poor therapist was then in a really rough position. This was only my first time meeting her and she had to make a judgment call as to how serious I was. I genuinely feel sorry for the position that my honesty must have put her in. But I do think she made the right call – she called 911, and I ended up in a different hospital.

For nine days. But it was different this time – more like Australia. I did not know what to expect it, and I thought it would be awful, like Mazatlan/first hospital. But this hospital was not as strict, much more accommodating, AND HAD A SODA FOUNTAIN WITH PEPSI IN THE CAFETERIA. I could do so many things I couldn’t at the first hospital – not just the little things like actually being allowed outside for recreation, and being allowed to wear my own socks, and have books, and DRINK PEPSI, but the bigger things too – I actually benefited from the groups, I had a therapist and a psychiatrist that both really cared about me and advocated really hard on my behalf.

So that’s where I’ve been these past few weeks, and why you haven’t been able to get a hold of me, if you tried. I was stuck swimming with the sharks again. First in Mazatlan, where nothing made sense and everything was frustrating, and then in Australia and New Zealand, where it wasn’t perfect or what I expected, but where I was brave enough to step into the cage and face the sharks up close. There’s still a lot of swimming ahead – a lot of sharks to face -and I don’t know how the next few weeks are going to look. I feel almost as if I surfaced too quickly and have to readjust to the atmospheric pressure, like a real scuba diver. We were in the AT&T store today and the weather sirens went off and I started crying. My short term memory seems to have big gaps, like a block of swiss cheese, my energy levels are pretty depleted, and my ability to concentrate and focus seems to be affected as well. I don’t know what I’ll be ready for, or when I’ll be ready for it.

I do know that I am scheduled to do an intermediary step in the meantime – an outpatient program – more like snorkeling in the cove than diving straight into the shark tank. And I do know I have a lot of tools with me – not oxygen tanks and diving belts, but a loving support network, a great therapist, and the best family and friends a girl could ever ask for.

So thank you for being patient with me, if you made it this far in the post. And I pre-emptively thank you for your understanding. Any negative comments – even those that can be remotely construed as negative – will be deleted. I am taking a huge risk, putting this out here.

But I am putting it out here anyway, for a few reasons. I don’t want people to think that depression is uncommon, or that it should be a source of shame. I saw a wide variety of people in both hospitals, from all walks of life. Good people, smart people, people that in any other location would be considered ‘normal.’ The first person to react to these news by calling me ‘crazy’ or thinking less of me gets the privilege of being the first person kicked out of my life.

Second reason: I want people to be gentle with me for a while, if possible. I am still recovering from my deep dives, and, like I said before, my equilibrium is a little off. I apologize in advance for any weirdness that results.

Third reason: I want anyone else suffering from depression to know that they are not alone, that there are resources out there, and that going to the hospital is not a failure, not a sign of weakness, but sometimes can be the best thing that ever happened to you. Australia and the second hospital were both not what I expected, but they both changed my life for the better.

Wishing you all love and peace,

Sheilah

 

 

Recovering

1 May

So… I’m not sure the best way, or of even a good way, to preface this. A lot of water metaphors are coming up, so I’ll pick the cliche and apologize: I’m going to dive right in and talk about my depression.

I first remember noticing the black cloud when I was about 11 years old. I was in seventh grade, I was constantly teased, and I thought about suicide. Not in a concrete, I’m going to do it, kind of way, but in an abstract vague sort of knowing. Knowing that other people had done it, that it was an option, and that sometimes it looked like a pretty attractive option.

The black cloud never really went away. It hovered at the edge of the horizon, ready to rain down a bunch of bad thoughts at the slightest provocation. You’re a bad person. You’re not good enough. You will never be happy. It stalked me throughout my teens, always hanging there, making me miserable.

In college it was worse. I let the cloud open and flood over me. The friends I did have I drove away, conveniently reinforcing the ‘nobody likes you’ thoughts.

20130501-210316.jpg

This guy knows what I’m talking about.

Over the years, I tried lots of things to make it go away. Therapy. Meds. And, sometimes, it works. I will go a full day without hating myself. I will enjoy life.

It will be quiet for a while, but it always comes back. And, for some reason, the months of February and March are always the worst. Maybe leftover traces of my Viking DNA are just preconditioned to be miserable those months. In Scandinavia, it feels like winter will never end.

20130501-210424.jpg
And then this guy wants to play chess and it’s really awkward.

So, anyway, the main point. These past few months – February, March, and even April – I’ve been drowning. The black clouds have been raining furiously. I’ve been sick – ear infection, upper respiratory infection, sinus infection. I’ve been sad about the no-baby situation, the mother-in-law situation, and still the father-in-law situation. I’ve had a hard time focusing. I’ve been grumpy and miserable.

I knew the clouds were coming, though. I saw them on the horizon, clear as could be. And so I did storm preparation. I talked to my doctor. I tried to take care of myself. I did things that made me happy.

And, the reason I’m writing this now, is to remind myself – it worked. I was still a good mother, spending lots of quality time with Danny. I worked really hard at both of my jobs and got lots of praise and high marks at the one. I am leaving for Australia two weeks from tomorrow. I made it! I have surfaced!

So, I want to remind myself, and anyone else who struggles with the same storms I do: you can do it. You can keep your head above water. You have people who care about you. You are still a good parent. Spring will come.

Now I’m going to sit on my porch with some lemonade and my dog. It’s going to be all right. And if you’re having any trouble with the black clouds, come sit with me and we’ll fight them. Together.

Edited To Add: shortly after I published this, a friend shared the following on Facebook. Coincidence, but a really relevant one. Thanks, Joe.
http://i.imgur.com/l7JquYD.jpg

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