Mental Health

Managing Mental Illness – Will I ever truly be well?

Mental illness is a shit-show. To combat it, one must always be on the look out, watching for signs and symptoms of recurrence. When detected, one must pull out the big guns, as it were – the weapons of learned coping skills , methodologies, medications, and support team – with the constant hope that thusly armed, the event will pass with minimal damage left in its wake.

Grateful as I always am when the event does pass, I am often left wondering. Will I ever truly be well? Or, is this how things will be for the rest of my life?

I’ve been asking this last question for over two decades and counting and, as much as I want to believe that the last event was THE last event, so far, it has not been so.

Mental illness is real. It’s not imagined. It’s not something one can simply will away. I know. I tried – twenty years ago before I took my first antidepressant. The shame I felt then… the defeat… when swallowing that first pill. If someone had told me twenty years ago that I’d be sitting here today, on guard, constantly at-the-ready to fight this ongoing fight, I wonder what I would have said – or done?

I’ve had many ups and downs over the years. I hit rock bottom in 2012 when I came close to suicide. That’s how far and deep I’d fallen. It was the hardest fight of my life, getting out of that hole. But I did it – and I’m grateful every day that I’m still alive to tell about it. And, while seven years have passed since that dark day, I’m still fighting – like today’s seemingly for-no-reason symptoms of anxiety sneaking up on my psyche, ready to pounce.

Out comes the weaponry. I’m always on alert, remember?

As much as I don’t want to admit it, I will battle mental illness until the day I die. I will have to be vigilant. Because, the truth is, wellness ebbs and flows – a recovery/remission/recurrence, as it were. I must practice my skills while I am well so that they are well oiled and ready for battle when the next one comes. As I’m sure it will.

If you are reading this and you need support, please reach out. Get help! Don’t wait to hit rock bottom. Do it now. I’ve provided some links below.

CAMH
Crisis Services Canada
US Suicide Prevention Lifeline
healthyplace.com

Anxiety, Depression, Mental Health

The holidays are hard – especially for those with #mentalillness

I come from a long line of people with mental illness. From OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) to schizophrenia to GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) to maybe even PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). It stands to reason then, that some of this landed on me and even my kids.

If you’ve read one or two of my blogs, you know I suffer from Anxiety and Depression, both of which make enjoying the holidays very challenging.

I live in Southern Ontario, near Toronto, where this time of year can be very, very bleak – weather-wise. Yes, we’ve made it through the shortest day of the year (Dec 21) and are on the slow journey to spring, but add the holidays to that – with all the (sometimes) harrowing acts of buying and wrapping gifts, the well-intentioned visits, the obligations of faith, and the – let’s face it – unreasonable expectation to have fun and be joyful – and it can be a veritable vortex sucking you down into a pit of woe.

I’m here to tell you that it’s okay if you’re overwhelmed… or even underwhelmed for that matter.

The holidays are hard enough for normal people but even harder for those having to deal with #mentalillness. Sometimes, we just want to crawl (or stay) under the covers and not have to fight the (bad) fight. Sometimes, we just want to cry, or scream, or just sit quietly without having to explain why.

To all those suffering, like me, know this. You are not alone. Know that the holidays are finite and soon you’ll be on the other side. If you can, reach out to someone – a friend or family member, a pastor, a coworker, or even someone on social media.

And, from me to you – may your heart and mind be chaos free and may you feel some peace. Joy and merriment too, if you can manage it. But mostly, I wish you peace.

Mental Health

It’s #MentalIllnessAwarenessWeek in Canada – Many still suffer in silence.

MHAWThe difference in awareness of mental illness now as compared to even three years ago is astounding. Social media helps a great deal in spreading awareness. I follow several mental health-related handles on Twitter including CAMH, Elephant in the Room, and Mental Health Platform, to name a few. They have been and continue to be great sources of not only information, but comfort as well.

Why comfort? Because there is nothing like knowing that you’re not alone – that others are suffering, just like you.

Many of us who suffer with mental illness suffer in silence.

I was no different. While I have been writing about mental illness for several years (though few people knew about it), taking the step to vocalizing it was a whole new nest of bees. Of course, I had told my immediate family and some very close friends, but I had never gone beyond that – specifically, I had never told a colleague.

Several years ago, one particular colleague and I struck up a rather good work friendship. We would bitch about, and purge our work-related woes to each other (as work friends often do), finding that we had a lot in common. I keenly recognized her to be a high-functioning depressive, like me. I had begun to trust her but still, I just wasn’t sure how she would react and even more concerning, if she would keep my confidence.

One day, while walking back from getting an afternoon coffee, and in reference to some of the things we had been discussing, I took a deep breath and calmly stated, “I suffer from chronic depression.” We stopped walking and she looked at me. This was it: the moment of truth.

We stood for another ten minutes while I shared with her my history with mental illness, both depression and anxiety. And then something remarkable happened. My work friend shared some of her journey too. Not as much as I had, but that was okay. It was a start.

When we got back to our desks, she thanked me for opening up to her. I took a big step that day and in some small way, I believe I helped her. It made us closer and while she has since gone her way and I’ve gone mine, I still think ever so fondly of her and that indelible moment.

It was a risk. I understood it then and I understand it to this day. You have to read the situation and trust your gut. Since that day, I have shared my mental illness journey with quite a few people and it becomes easier each time.

Let’s keep the conversation going!

Depression

Surviving Depression – Managing your New Year’s expectations

Oh, the promise of a new year. It can be intoxicating. That thought of putting all the crap from the prior year behind you and beginning anew. You make resolutions, promises to self and those around you. You raise a fist in the air. “This is MY year!” “This year is going to be awesome!” “This year I’m going to be happy!”

By FrameAngel, courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
By FrameAngel, courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

All good. Definitely things to work towards. But for the depressed person, despite the daily wellness we wish and strive for, the daily wellness that others take for granted, we are at the mercy of our illness. To steal a quote from a movie, we are “at the whim of a madman!”

For some of us, our resolutions sound quite different. “This year, my depression won’t own me.” “This year, I’ll try to be happy… I really will try.” “This year, I’ll try not to hurt myself.”

I implore you to reach out for support. It can be as simple as following a depression support handle on Twitter to reading a depression blog online to joining a support group at your local church or community centre. If you haven’t already, seek medical advice and while lacking motivation is a key and often debilitating symptom of depression – be your own wellness advocate. If one doctor doesn’t work, find another. Insist on the appropriate referrals. Read up on your illness and take charge. Take it from someone who knows, someone who has been on the proverbial ledge deciding whether to die or live, depression can be managed. There is light in your seemingly pitch black tunnel.

Here are a few coping tips for managing your New Year’s expectations:

  1. Do NOT make resolutions! Make small, daily goals that are realistic and attainable for you.
  2. Understand that you are sick, not weak! Seek support. Be your own wellness advocate.
  3. Laughter is cathartic! Watch funny movies, television and funny animal videos on YouTube.
  4. Get some exercise (I am really bad at this one). Exercise is proven to help every kind of ailment.
  5. Know yourself and your triggers. A depressive cycle may be avoided by steering clear of those situations that trigger them.

New Year’s eve can be especially difficult for a lot of people, especially those with depression. Reach out. You are not alone.

Depression, Menopause, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Surviving Depression – The Dark Months Begin

It’s been about 4 weeks now since the clocks were changed for daylight savings. It’s dark in the morning when I leave my house for work and it’s dark in the evening when I leave work to go home. For a person with depression, knowing that this is just the start of the dark months, is a truly daunting prospect.

I’ve lived a great many Canadian winters. Having just turned 50, I’m facing my 50th winter. As a person with chronic depression, I’ve also been diagnosed with SAD (seasonal affective disorder). It’s all part of the same chronic disorder, if you ask me. Chronic depression is merely heightened during the dark months. I’m also perimenopausal so I’m at an even greater risk of letting the darkness swallow me up. I must be cautious, and very aware of my symptoms. Depression symptoms can come on very quickly. I’ll be doing fine (well, “fine” for me) and then BAM, ignored symptoms will knock me off my feet.

So, I have a dark months checklist:

  1. Take vitamin D.
  2. Use my SAD lamp (see video below).
  3. Avoid oversleeping.
  4. Try (try) to get some exercise.
  5. Practice gratitude at least once a day.
  6. Go easy on myself.

It’s a short list. But so important. Especially that last one.

My husband laughed at me today because when I come downstairs in the morning, I open all the window blinds. He prefers to keep them shut. His reasoning – it’s so grey and ugly outside, why would I want to see that? My response? Simple. I need to see the daylight.