Monday, September 18, 2017
I’ve been putting this post off for some time now because I haven’t felt strong enough. I’m still not entirely sure I’ve got the strength, but if it takes me a few tries, I think that will be just fine. If you have bipolar disorder, sometimes you’ll feel so down that it naturally feels like you’re grieving. In my case, sometimes I am. I’m grieving the loss of who I used to be. In the last several weeks, I’ve found something truly heart-breaking to grieve about, and there’s no mistaking these emotions for anything else.
On May 10, 2017, my father passed away. I’ve said it out loud a thousand times, and it still doesn’t seem real. He went to the hospital for a stomach ache, and two weeks later, he was dead. He died at the same hospital as my mother. In his final hours, he was having trouble breathing, so there was a tube down his throat, and he was strapped to the bed. Very similar to what they did to my mom. When it got closer to the inevitable, I was sitting alongside him, and rubbing his arm, telling him how much I loved him. Suddenly, one of the nurses felt his pulse and said he couldn’t find a pulse. So, they ushered my us out, but the room had a very large picture window. I almost collapsed in the hallway as I watched my 87-year-old father receive thrust after thrust into his chest to bring him back to life. They were successful, but it was one of the most God awful things I’ve ever seen, and I’ll never forget it.
We went around the corner to the waiting room where some other family members were, and we decided to sign the paper to let him go. It wasn’t fair to him. It was his time, and as much as my heart breaks as I write this, my father is gone. After losing my mom, I knew some of what to expect, but this has been a different grieving process. Somehow, it’s become not only grieving for him but both of them. One night I suddenly came to the stark conclusion that I was an orphan. I have no parents anymore. It sucks all of the air right out of you when you come to that conclusion. There’s no fixing this situation, it just is.
I was already going through a pretty heavy duty depressive episode when my dad got sick. Suddenly, I had to find a way to clean up that mess, stuff it in a closet, and focus on the fact that I may be losing my father. Every time we opened the closet, a little more creeped out. It left me feeling completely helpless and downright selfish. I couldn’t handle even the tiniest details or tasks. It felt as is bathing and eating were things the old me did. I was a different person now. My father was all I had left in my family. I have siblings, but all of the relationships are strained at best.
We managed to pull it together to have a memorial service for him. My father had been a petty officer in the Navy, so they had the flag folding ceremony at the service. I’ll never forget it. I cried my eyes out the whole time. They gave the flag to me. I was grateful to my siblings for deciding that I could have it.
Honestly, I didn’t do a lot of thinking about my depression versus my grief. I know I flew off the handle in a flash if something didn’t go right, or I was expected to make a difficult decision. I knew I wasn’t sleeping and if I did, I had nightmares. I was chained to my bed, and nobody bothered to tell me where the key was.
Some time has passed, and I’m doing a little better. There are still things days that I cry for hours. There are still days when I see something on TV about a father dying, or if a certain song is playing, I can’t control the grief. It’s getting somewhat better, but it’s still taken over my life and my bad days far outweigh the good. I had a doctor appointment, and she was able to refer us to a therapist that works on weekends. Perfect for us. This past Saturday, I saw her. The good news is, I like her and she didn’t fall asleep while I was talking.
This is a huge step for me. Deciding to go to therapy did not come easy for me, but when it suddenly occurs to you that you aren’t even living life, you’re just existing, well, something has to give. I miss my dad; we were so alike. I am like my mom too, but on the other hand, there are some ways we couldn’t be more different, but I was Daddy’s Little Girl. He got me a necklace with a charm that said that in my early 20’s. I still cherish it to this day.
They say that you go through five stages of grief when you lose someone. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. However, not everyone follows these exact steps, and people with bipolar disorder have the potential for feeling these emotions ever deeper than the average person. (I am not saying that anyone has it easier if they aren’t bipolar, believe me) We just feel everything deeper; it’s the curse of bipolar disorder. Most people can progress through these steps naturally and begin to heal. I’ve noticed that I might go through two or three steps in one day, and then spend the entire next day in denial.
“Someone with a mental illness, specifically a mood disorder such as bipolar (or unipolar depression), may experience certain stages more intensely or much longer than average, causing triggers, which lead to an episode or bipolar symptoms. Severe depression, irritability, irrational thinking/behavior, drug/alcohol abuse, and suicidal tendencies are some common symptoms triggered by death”. – Source - http://ow.ly/VADK30cUpMU
So, when you read something like that, it doesn’t take a degree in Quantum Physics to figure out why I decided to start talk therapy. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get passed the concept that all the family I had left that to rely on are gone. My mom died in 2008, and I’ve still never gotten over that, and when you add my father’s death, I have no hope for my future ability to process grief. I’m trying to remain optimistic, as hard as that is sometimes. Father’s Day was horrific and Mother’s Day never gets any better.
I am putting zero expectations on my recovery, and I’m not allowing anyone else to either. Nobody has any right to tell you what you should or shouldn’t be doing in this instance. Thank them for their suggestion and move on. Only you can make the decision to push forward, and you will. It’s going to take time, and it doesn’t matter how much as long as you’re trying.
Remember your track record for surviving devastation is 100%.
Friday, September 1, 2017
MENtal Health – A Guy’s perspective
Rebecca and I were chatting on Twitter about mental health issues and the idea to write a guest piece for each other’s blog came up. This isn’t uncommon practice in the blogging world and I’m delighted that my first ‘guest post’ could be for someone like Rebecca. (you should check out her book by the way!)
So, what could I write that would be of value to Rebecca’s audience?
Although they share commonalities with my own readers, they may look for different content or are simply used to hearing Rebecca’s ‘voice’. Then Rebecca noted that she didn’t have much in the way of a male opinion (nor I female) on mental health in her work, and the answer was obvious; I would write a piece about being a guy living with mental illness.
So here we are! This post will look at the unique barriers that guys face when dealing with mental health issues and some of the reasons as to why these problems occur. This list will be far from extensive as I have no experience to pull on apart from my own, so please carry on the conversation in the comments we’d love to hear from you!
Why is it different?
So why do men seemingly have such a hard time dealing with mental illness? Why does the same situation posed to a male and a female mental health consumer, often create stark differences in the way that the situation is dealt with? I’m no behavioral psychologist, but to me the answer seems straightforward, gender bias.
Now before everyone gets all up in arms, hear me out …
Traditionally the way boys are raised varies than that of girls. There are different expectations of males growing up. From a young age, we’re told that ‘Boys don’t cry’ and to ‘stop being a little girl’ if we get upset or are frustrated. The older we get this expectation only intensifies, guys are expected to ‘tough it out’, ‘man up’ or ‘suck it up’ when faced with adversity rather than discussing the way they feel about a situation. As harmless as it may seem and no matter how well intentioned these comments may be (I believe most people don’t realize the negative connotation behind what they are saying) they have lasting effects on the recipient and can have serious repercussions on the way they deal with their emotions in day to day life.
Dealing with emotion
Quite frankly, we don’t deal with emotions on the most part. As a guy, we seem to be hardwired to take emotions and turn them into something else. Embarrassment becomes shame, shame becomes frustration, frustration becomes anger
The shame of having a mental illness and the perceived weakness that comes along with it is quite literally killing Men across the globe.
Failure isn't something that we are taught to deal with and is frequently admonished when guys mess something up. Failing is a direct attack on our own masculinity in some cases and again comes back to the feelings of weakness, that we try so hard to run away from.
That is why failure isn't an option for many of us. So, we ignore it and actively stuff any feelings that come from not being perfect, being wrong or less ‘manly’ than we believe we should be down into the farthest reaches of our psyche, where we don’t have to think about it anymore.
Some men, myself included, turn to other substances to mask the way we feel about ourselves. Addiction is much more prevalent in males than in females; we are twice as likely to become alcoholics and three times as likely to become addicted to illicit drugs than our female counterparts (FACT CHECK) This abuse only worsens the problem and as we are less likely to seek help than women (FACT CHECK) guys often don’t see a way out. The next step is for them to end up a statistic on a report and you can be damn sure that they won’t ‘fail’ at that too…
This tragic loss of life is largely down to the societal pressures that are imposed on men by those around them, or more often than not, by themselves.
Man up, get over it, don’t be soft, snap out of it, you’re being stupid, the list goes on…
Not worthy of help
I didn’t seek help for my depression and did my best to drink it away for a long time. I thought I was worthless, a drain on those I loved, I felt like less than nothing because I wasn’t living up to my own version of these societal standards. These pressures and the ‘box’ I built myself that I was desperately trying to fit into nearly cost me my life.
Thankfully I had good people around me that helped me through, but I was close, very close to becoming a statistic simply because I couldn’t see any other option at the time.
Men’s health is being spoken about and taken much more seriously than ever before, thanks to groups like Movember, blogs like this one and of course all the brave men and women that have shared their own stories.
Personally, I don’t think mental illness affects Men and Women differently. I think we feel the same things and share many similar experiences on our journeys, possibly more than we know. What is apparent is the differences in the way we deal with our issues.
Now don’t get me wrong I’m not saying that every guy feels and deals with mental illness in the same way, nor am I saying that every girl talks about her problems and seeks help, but generally that seems to be the way it goes.
A message to those who are struggling
So, if you are a guy reading this and struggling right now remember this for me;
Your feelings are valid and they are yours alone. No one else is feeling what you are, so they can’t understand unless you tell them. The strongest thing you can do right now is talk to those closest to you about how you are feeling. They love you and they want to help.
From one guy to another, I’ve been there It is horrible and I’m so sorry that you are feeling that way. Trust me when I say you are worth it, you are not a failure and you most certainly are not on your own.
And to everyone;
We are making progress. Breaking down the stigma walls ‘one brick at a time’ thank you for being part of that. But until we as a society address the root cause of this issue, by educating the next generation that feelings are OK and by supporting boys to be whoever they want to be, without the stereotypes of ‘what men should be’ you need to look out for the guys in your life.
If you are worried about them bring it up, no matter how uncomfortable it makes them or you feel. Odds are they aint gonna tell ya about it otherwise!
Peace and love guys, thanks for reading
Friday, August 18, 2017
I had my first alcoholic drink when I was fifteen. It was a Friday. We sat on the back porch of my girlfriend’s cousin’s house, looking out at a yard that gradually filled with the raindrops that had been falling for about an hour now, lifting the smell of wet grass and the heat of a Florida summer. It was the first time I had been invited over; Heidi and I had been dating for just a few months, but I was convinced that she was the one. Her cousin was significantly older; a twenty-year-old-something man that had gotten married to a girl he met in Massachusetts, and now they were beginning to build a home. It was obvious that he saw his entire future with her. In her, it wasn’t obvious at all.
As the rain continued to precipitate, the pitcher of sangria came out, and everyone had a delighted smile on their faces, everyone but me. There was never much alcohol in my house, not after my grandfather suddenly passed from a heart attack at the age of forty-eight. He was a functioning alcoholic that couldn’t go a day without, and because he wasn’t one of those drunks that would get belligerent or violent, no one seemed to notice much, not until that night when Grandma’s screams woke up the entire neighborhood, and Grandpa didn’t make it to the hospital alive. I now faced a difficult choice; would I be the social pariah given the high stakes of the circumstance? Was it really wrong if I had one drink this early in the game?
Before I could make a sound decision, there was a cup full of red stuff in front of me. The choice had been made for me and I couldn’t say no. I apprehensively grabbed it off the tray and took a quick whiff. The fruity smell was attractive, its color dark and deep, like blood. I put the cup to my lips and chugged it all, thinking it was just like any other juice I had before; the faster you drink it the most refreshing it is. But the surprised hollers in the background quickly told me that I had done something that maybe wasn’t up to par with the protocol. By that time, it no longer mattered. I was about to experience my first buzz.
I had always been an anxious kid, not very social, shy and quiet. Being an only child with overprotective parents ensured that I didn’t develop the needed skills to handle the real world, out there, far from home. School was an everyday torture; the quiet kid has always been an easy target for bullies and other children that want to feel better with themselves, because they know that there will be no retaliation. Every morning I woke up in tears and panic, and mom had to give me a stern, yet loving pep talk about how I needed to get over it. My life was filled with the dreaded expectation that the worst was always coming immediately after waking up.
It was a miracle that I had the strength to ask Heidi out, even then, it took a few months for her to say yes. That was one of the reasons that I knew she was the one; I was convinced that I couldn’t go through that again with another girl. And now here I was, with a girlfriend, hanging out with people, older people, drinking alcohol, like an outlaw. Oh, how things had changed! They indeed had changed, I just didn’t know how much.
As I looked through the screen of the porch at the blades of grass, I noticed the violence with which the raindrops fell on them, bending them down with force as the drops shattered in a million pieces. I could hear every single one of them, thousands; a concert of water like I’d never heard before. The greens of the landscape became brighter, the blues of the crying sky became vibrant, and inside of me, something I had never felt before, not like this;
I knew right there and then that alcohol would play a crucial part in my life, that I would resort to it to fix some of my biggest problems, and that it would help me get through things that otherwise I would not have been able to get through. What I didn’t know, of course, was the damage it would cause, and the high price I would pay for the continued buzz. At the time, everything seemed perfect; I had all the answers I needed to successfully get through life. Twenty years later, I chuckle when I think about how wrong I was.
Parents, please talk to your children early about the dangers of alcohol and drugs. Most importantly, do not alienate your children or overprotect them; they need to know how to handle the real world. Talk to them and communicate, let them know that they are not alone. Your input will go a long way at not letting their first buzz become a life-long struggle.