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.
I’ve been having difficulty maintaining relationships for some time now. My marriage is the only thing I haven’t screwed up, and believe me, I’ve given my husband plenty of reasons to turn and walk away. I’m truly blessed to have found someone that can tolerate my ups, downs, and everything in between.
For some reason, however, friendships are a foreign concept to me. I’ve stopped getting too close to people because it seems as if it’s inevitable that we’ll end up in an argument that ends the friendship.
Once the dust settles and I have some time to think it out, I can be honest and claim my part in the demise of the relationship, but some people have walked out of my life when I’ve done absolutely nothing to deserve it. It’s painful, and it’s damn lonely to find yourself without close friends.
I’m realistic enough that when I catch myself playing the scene out in my head on repeat, I can see where it may have gone wrong. The thing that I struggle with the most is that all of these failed relationships are with a variety of different people, but there is one common denominator…ME.
What a slap in the face when you come to that stark realization. Have I been deliberately sabotaging friendships because I want to get out before I get hurt?
Or are people just taking advantage of my kindness?
I’ve come to the conclusion that not every situation warrants a response. I think I’ve been doing better with it lately, but that could be because I’m holding everyone at arm’s length.
I’ve had to cut ties with people that I once trusted, loved, and respected because I felt their presence in my life was toxic. However again I have to ask, is it because I’m the one constant in all of these disagreements?
Maybe I don’t let people love me because I don’t love me.
I know I’ve got a lot of work to do. I know I have to manage my temper and learn to think things through before I react. I think the deck may be stacked against me on this issue; I have borderline personality disorder. Let me fill you in on a few symptoms of that diagnosis.
Requires a medical diagnosis
Symptoms include emotional instability, feelings of worthlessness, insecurity, impulsivity, and impaired social relationships.
People may experience:
Behavioral: antisocial behavior, compulsive behavior, hostility, impulsivity, irritability, self-destructive behavior, self-harm, social isolation, or lack of restraint
Mood: anger, anxiety, general discontent, guilt, loneliness, mood swings, or sadness
Psychological: depression, distorted self-image, grandiosity, or narcissism
Also common: risky behavior or thoughts of suicide
Source: Mayo Clinic
See what I mean? Not all of this applies to me, but quite a bit of it does.
So, where do I go from here? I’m going to keep working on myself. I’m 44 years old, and I have to go back to the start in the hopes that I can learn to control these symptoms. I think I can do it. It’s not going to be easy, but in my life, things rarely are.
I’m pretty nervous about what is ahead for me, but I know I have work to do and I know if I don’t get moving, I’ll regret it for the rest of my life.
Here’s to the first day of the rest of my life.
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
I remember the feeling of complete defeat as I stood at the corner of the road, standing at the bus stop, wishing I was already at home. I felt ashamed that I had made such a fuss, I felt as though I had made a grave mistake making a cry for help. I was drowning in my own thoughts, thoughts that I had encountered before years ago, thoughts that nearly ruined me. I caved –flickering brown eyes tracking my subtle facial cues and he said it was time to seek help elsewhere. Maybe I chose the wrong place to dump my woes, I thought, maybe I should have went to a different hospital. But quickly my thoughts went elsewhere: Why would people care about my problems? My problems are really just worthless. I’m worthless…
I was eleven when I first attempted suicide. It was a half-hearted attempt, something easily ignored. I was nine when I was first introduced to the concept of death. My grandmother rode the train down to our little piece of isolation and revealed to me the family trauma that followed my father for decades: my uncle, age ten, was hit by a car and was killed. I remember looking out the window, a snowy graveyard began to engrave itself in my psyche, dead voices whispering their anxieties of a possible empty void.
There’s a strange tug-of-war that occurs when I look at a subway car. I calculate the speed at which a train comes in and figure it won’t hurt very much. And then, on the other hand, I worry that the train will stop over my mangled legs, that it will cause too many delays for the patrons, that I will cease to exist. That I will cease to exist. I don’t want to be forgotten, as selfish as it is, I want to be remembered. I enter an existential crisis, contemplate the ending of myself, unsure of whether I will exist beyond the potential void.
It doesn’t stop though, the thoughts. Obsessive in nature, the thoughts roll around as a sort of coping mechanism. It creeps in every misery, every manic joy, every quiet moment, every loud scream… When I walked into my psychiatrist’s office, my mind overrun by obsessive thoughts controlled by deep rooted delusions, I was a complete mess. He knew that I needed help, help he couldn’t give. I left for a hospital I knew that had a psychiatric ward. The physician working the floor came in, looked me up and down, and assessed my calm, somewhat bubbly demeanor as malingering. I demanded for my clothes and proceeded to leave. No one takes me seriously. No one will, until it’s too late, I feel. I always felt unheard. Perhaps suicide was a selfish cry for attention?
Tuesday, August 15, 2017
The first time I stayed in a psychiatric hospital I was twenty years old. Almost twenty-one. I’d overdosed on about sixty pills of ibuprofen, my whole bottle of Celexa, and twenty tablets of Seroquel. For good measure. And then I chickened out and called 911. I really didn’t want to die – I just didn’t want to – what…to be me anymore? To be in my own skin, my own mind. It was like a war zone in there. No man’s land. Don’t even think of crossing.
Parts of that night come back to me, like frames on an old movie reel. They are mostly silent and they flicker with each frame. I remember bright lights. I remember feeling cold. Cold right through my entire body. I could smell vomit, iodine, hospital smells of both sterilization and sickness. I felt the stiffness of the pillow under my head. I felt week in the bed, could see a silver bedpan filled to the brim with thick, black muck. I felt nausea. Not able to control my muscles. I tried to raise my arm. I could see Mom in the corner of the room, Dad just outside, and I tried to signal to them. But my muscles wouldn’t obey my command. My arm trembled, the muscles twitched. Help, where am I? I felt more vomit rising. More black mess into another silver bedpan which was suddenly thrust under my heaving mouth. A thick, soft hand held the bedpan. I vomited more, the taste metallic and gritty in my mouth. My teeth.
“Get it out.” The voice was not kind. Almost a bark. “Get it out girl. You have to drink more charcoal.”
I shook my head – more of a swivel on my neck. Looked up to the nurse, the woman holding the bedpan I rapidly filled with my black barf. Her eyes were blank. No compassion or empathy on her face. She didn’t like me. Didn’t like what I’d done. She placed the bedpan on the table beside her. Passed me a cup filled with more black goo. I could hear Mom off in the corner – does she really need to drink more? She’s vomited so much already. The cup was trust into my mouth.
“If you don’t drink this, I’ll have no choice but to get the doctor to shove a tube down your throat. Do you want that?”
I felt the tears sliding down my cheeks. They dropped into the cup. The doctor emerged behind the nurse. He was tall. Wore glasses.
“We need to take your arterial blood. What you ingested has a dangerous effect on blood pH.” I know. I’m not stupid. “This will hurt.”
I have a name.
My mouth gurgled words perfectly formed in my head. I felt the nurse’s hand grab mine from under the sheets. She pulled it out, hard. I felt a prick in my wrist. A tugging sensation up my arm. Then, like a thousand spikes being shoved up my arm and into my heart.
I screamed. It came out more as a choking moan as more vomit piled into the back of my throat. I heard Mom crying in the corner. Could hear Dad’s voice. I kept thinking this was going to rip my arteries out through my wrist, all the way up to my heart. Then rip my heart out too. My arm burned, every bone felt like it was breaking. I pleaded, pleaded, stop, stop, please stop. I could see the nurse behind him. She looked at me, disappointment masking any kindness she may have had.
Then she shoved the covers back, ripped my nightgown down, exposing my bare chest unceremoniously. I didn’t care. She placed patches, stickers with cords attached, on my bare chest. Beeping machines were pulled up to my bed. Worried about your heart – the doctor mumbled.
My heart is dead – why do you think I’m here, you dick. I could hear Dad asking for specifics about my heart condition. The doctor’s hushed reply. Then everything went dark.
When I woke again, I was in a different room. A brightly lit room. It smelled different, the sounds were different. Not the hurried noises of the ER. No overhead speakers, no announcements paging doctors. I couldn’t hear the rhythmic beeping of the machines anymore. My belly hurt but I no longer felt the urgency to barf although my mouth tasted like I’d been sucking on a rusted tail pipe for the better part of a week. The sense of panic, of franticness around me was gone.
I turned my head to look to the side, down to the floor. I could see sunlight spreading its fingers across the linoleum floor. I looked to my feet and saw I was covered in a blue blanket. Felt the hospital gown around my body. I pressed my hands to my chest, sore, but no stickers, no wires. I looked at my arm. Bruises upon bruises all the way to my wrist which had the worst bruise. Deep shades of blue and purple. Pretty colours if they weren’t covering my skin.
I opened my mouth – hello? – a croak comes out and pain radiates through my throat, my mouth gritty. I looked up again to the source of the sunlight, the window. I was horrified to see bars, two-inch squares of wire, covering the entire small window.
No, no, no, no.
“Hello, sleepy-head,” a voice came from the doorway with no door. I turned and saw a small, dark-haired woman. “May I come in?” Her face was kind. Wrinkles creased her eyes as she smiled at me. She’s spent her life smiling. Calming troubled minds. Which made sense to me as I realized roughly where I was.
I looked back up at the window, the bars, and nodded.
“I need to take more blood, sweetie.” She started to unearth my arm again from the gown. I looked down and watched her small fingers work as she slapped on latex gloves. I saw a splotch of dried blood at the crux of my elbow layering over the pretty purple colour.
“From where?” I mumbled. Swallowed. Another shot of pain.
“Oh honey, I’m really good at this.” She smiled at me again. Skin pulled up to her brown eyes. I wanted to like her, like her smile, but I felt like she was smiling at a child. But maybe that was okay. Maybe she would take care of me. Maybe she would make all the pain go away.
“How are you feeling this afternoon?” Afternoon? I just looked at her. “Pretty rotten no doubt,” she answered for me. She undid the rubber tourniquet and it sprang back with a slap, the needle still in my arm guzzling my polluted blood.
I shake my head at her, no. No, I don’t fucking know, although I can make a pretty good guess. And why are there goddamn bars on my window?
“Honey, you tried to hurt yourself. Do you remember that?”
I turned my head away from her face, the pillow sheet rustling under my greasy hair. Looked up to the ceiling.
“You’re in Homewood. You’ll be spending a few days here, honey.”
That’s when I heard the girl in the room next to me, shouting. I looked through the doorless doorway and see the uniformed men rushing into the room. The small woman beside me smiled, but she shook her head, back and forth. No crinkles around her eyes.
Another nurse came to the doorway, leaned against it. Gestured to the small woman who was finishing up with my blood, replaced caps and dropped the labelled tubes in her little cart. She removed her gloves as she walked over to the other nurse who said something to her. The small woman nodded, looked back to me. “Kelly, you have some visitors. Your parents want to see you. Are you feeling up to company right now?” I nodded, feeling my hair scratch on the pillow. The small woman turned to nod to the other nurse, who gestured to someone out of my line of view. I heard footsteps then saw Mom’s face, then Dad’s in the doorway. They both looked a little pale. Mom had a shopping bag in one hand.
“I’ll have to look after that for you,” the small woman said to Mom, reaching out for the shopping bag. Mom looked at her, concern flickered over her face.
“Okay. It’s just some overnight things for her. We also bought some nice body wash – Stress Relief – we thought she might like that,” Mom’s face turns to me as she says that, a question in her eyes. “And a paperback novel. She likes to read.”
The small woman smiled at Mom, pulling the shopping bag out of her hands. “That’s really nice of you. I’m sure she will enjoy that.” She turned to me. “I’ll just keep this for you at the Nurse’s Pod.” I looked out of my room to a reinforced glass enclosure with a door locked by a keypad. I saw two other nurses sitting in there, leaning back in their chairs. One laughed at something the other said. I couldn’t hear the laugh but I saw the gesture.
“Okay,” I said quietly. The small woman left with my shopping bag of things. Mom took one step into the room. Dad still stayed hovering in the doorway. I shuffled my bum back into the bed, sitting up and leaning back on the metal railing. My body ached all over and stabbing pains shot through my belly. Mom took another step into the room.
“It’s okay,” I said. “You can come in.” Mom stepped up to my bed, looked down at me, and lowered herself onto the bed beside me, looking at me. Dad came in to stand behind her. Both looking at me. Waiting. “I’m okay guys.” Liar. “It’s okay, don’t look so worried.” I laughed an uncomfortable laugh. I saw Dad purse his lips. I could see he was angry. Mom’s face was set into a perpetual wide-eyed stare. I could understand. They’d just watched their daughter almost die. I got that.
“So,” Mom smiled. “This seems like an okay place.” Her eyes roved to the barred window then back to me. “You can get some well-needed rest.”
“I’ve been in bed for three weeks,” I said but immediately regretted it.
“Oh,” she said. Pause. “Well, you must have been tired.” She reached out her hand, brushed it along my cheek. Like she did when I was a little girl. My little Ducky. My girl, all pink and golden sunshine. I liked the gesture. Her hand withdrew. “We don’t have to talk about it.” Dad nodded behind her. He still looked angry.
“Okay,” I wanted to change the subject. Whatever subject we were talking about. Talking to avoid awkwardness but way past that point. “You brought me a book?”
Mom nodded. “Yeah, one by Pauline Gedge. Ancient Egypt story. You like those.” A statement.
“You always liked to read when you were little,” Dad said.
I nodded, “Yeah, that’s really nice. I’m sure I’ll need it in here. Saves me having to make small talk with the psychopaths and schizophrenics.” I laughed nervously. Mom just smiled. Dad continued to look at me, his face was impassive though. The anger gone. Mom placed her hands flat on the bed, each hand on either side of her wide bottom. She took a deep breath, sighed.
“Well, I guess we should probably be going. You need your rest,” she patted my foot under the covers. I could feel the warmth of her hand on my feet. “Do let the nurses take care of you, Ducky.”
“Sure Mom, yeah I will,” I smiled weakly at her. Dad smiled as well. Mom heaved her weight off the bed and I felt the thin mattress spring back, free of her weight. She walked over to the doorway.
Dad remained at the foot of the bed, looking at me. Then he turned his head to Mom, “Give us a sec will you, honey?” Mom just nodded then shuffled out of the room. Dad came over to the side of the bed Mom had just occupied, the sheets still warm from her body. He sat down, hands clasped in his lap. Dad never did this. He’d never really spent time, real time with me, like he needed to say something important to me. Have a real conversation with me. Dad didn’t have many conversations outside of the ones he had with Mom. He looked directly at me and I watched his face soften a bit. He looked tired, worn out. He looked much older than my Dad, barely fifty years old. He looked like an old man.
“Your Mom,” he started. “This has been really hard on your Mom. You know she’s not really equipped to deal with this kind of stress.”
I tilted my head. “Yeah, I know. She goes all weird.”
He nodded. “But, listen, Kid, this really has to stop. This behaviour. Sleeping all day, moody, angry outbursts, cries for attention, all of this,” he raised his hand, scanned it down my body, “This has to stop. Last night can’t happen again, okay? Your Mom can’t handle it.” He smiled at me. Warmly. But his words snaked into me, more poisonous than the pills the doctors had worked so hard to save me from. Dad’s eyes squinted. “Think about your Mother.”
I think I should have felt boiling rage, absolute fury at his myopic sight of me. At his singlemindedness. I should have leaped from that bed, placed both my hands squarely on his chest and shoved him with all my strength. I should have punched him, slapped his face, scratched at his eyes. Ripped his hair, his ears, his shirt. I should have told him over and over, See me! See me! Hear me! Believe me you son of a bitch! Look what is happening to me! I should have. I really, really should have. But what would have come from that?
So, I didn’t. I just nodded. “Okay Dad. I will.” He patted my feet buried under the covers, just as Mom had done. Stood. Then he leaned over, his face close to mine. And in an uncharacteristic moment I will never forget, he bent down and kissed me on the forehead. Slow, soft. When he raised his head back up, I could see tears rimmed in his blue eyes.
“I love you, kid.”
“I love you too, Dad.”
He left, quietly and without looking back.
Sunday, August 13, 2017
I once read somewhere that when you can tell your story without crying, you have healed. I’d like to think that’s true; I think I might be getting there. When I look back on the events that led up to my suicide attempt in 2013, my memory has started to get foggy. I often wonder if revisiting those days will only lead to more pain. Should I leave it where it stands now, a distant memory?
There are some events that I can recall quite clearly. I know I had been in a dark place for quite some time leading up to that day. I was faking it; I plastered that smile on my face and pretended to be excited at the appropriate times. Nobody else knew that there was darkness there.
When I got out of the hospital at the end of June, I knew things had to change for me. Never again did I want to see the look on my husband’s face while the doctors swarmed around me. I knew I was done with suicide. I just reached a point where it wasn’t even on the radar anymore. Many of us with mental illness will keep suicide in our pocket to fall back on, just in case life gets bad enough. I wasn’t keeping it inside of me anymore. I can’t tell you exactly how I came to that place. I just had this overwhelming feeling of confidence that I didn’t need it anymore.
It wasn’t that long after that I began to write again. It had been years. Although I felt a little rusty, it was good to be able to purge some of the negativity swimming around in my brain.
I officially started a blog and actually kept up with it! I was writing more and more and I was thrilled. I was still shy about letting others read it, but the first few people gave me nothing but praise. My husband and I talked about putting my story out there for the world to read.
It was terrifying but at times so rewarding! When I would get comments about how my writing had helped someone, I was blown away. So, I kept going. Eventually, I started to share it with more people and even had some guest blogging opportunities on other sites.
It was an exciting time and it was just what I needed.
The whole process got me to thinking about whether I could accomplish a dream of mine and write a book. I did some research, and people did turn blogs into books.
I kept writing my blog, all the while submitting queries to publishers. It was at times, an incredibly frustrating experience. I ended up writing for 2 years before my book was finally published. It came out in August of 2015 and is on sale today! It was both scary and amazing. There were great reviews and there were a few mean, nasty, and ugly reviews. I wasn’t the least bit prepared for the horrible ones. You’ve got to develop a thick skin when you put your story out there for the world to see.
I took to social media more than I ever had before. I finally learned how to use Twitter. We’ve become a family, those of us with mental illness. Whether we’re authors, bloggers, speakers, or just your average person, you can garner support. That’s an amazing thing.
From there, I continued to blog for anyone and everyone. I eventually achieved two of my dreams; writing for the Huff Post and the Mighty. It wasn’t long after that my husband and I started a podcast. We’re now on an amazing network and we get many requests to appear on the show.
All that sounds wonderful, but I bet you’re wondering how I’m doing it. I’ll be honest with you, there’s nothing easy about it. I still get migraines that have me sick for days. I still go through all the highs and lows that come with bipolar disorder. I still become overwhelmed by sadness, especially when my father passed away in May.
The difference is, this time around there’s no pretending. If I feel like the darkness is creeping in, I immediately tell my husband and we talk about what needs to be done. He asks me how he can help, and we evaluate our lives and see if there are some tasks I can put off for a while, to focus on me and me alone.
Self-care doesn’t come easy for me, so sometimes, I struggle longer than most, because I feel myself being engulfed in this dark cloud of guilt. I beat myself up for not doing more or getting things done.
Even with all of that, I’m still doing pretty well. I know what my limits are, now. I know when to back away from a toxic person or environment. I can focus on truly feeling the emotions so that I can move on from them. I’m incredibly grateful for my husband and our lives despite the pitfalls.
I’ve met some great people via social media, which is wonderful for me, because I’m not what you would call a social butterfly. I don’t think I’ll ever change that. Even the bad patches that knock me on my butt don’t last as long. I’m more self-aware and realistic about my symptoms.
I found a new doctor that I love and have even recently started working with a therapist. Life is improving for me in many ways, but I know that I’ll never be cured of this disease. I am ok with that, my husband is ok with that, and that’s all that matters.
Friday, August 11, 2017
Story #3 - National Suicide Prevention Week - #StopSuicide - by Terry of Giving Voice to Mental Illness
ASK A DIFFERENT QUESTION: ADVICE FROM BEHIND THE MASK
Life continues to teach me that you only get the answers to the questions you ask. I‘ve learned that lesson that in familiar ways, like raising teens. I’ve learned it as a news reporter and interviewer.
And I’ve learned it in a deeply-painful way, married to man who kept many secrets.
You can be a breath away from truth, from deeper understanding or a major shift -- but you never think of, or voice That One Question. And you move on making judgements and reaching conclusions based on the information you’ve gathered, blissfully unaware that it is limited. Very. Always.
I was reminded of that lesson recently as read one of those self-administered depression diagnostic tests. As I glanced over the questions I came across the critical one, the question I was trained to ask when I volunteered at a crisis hotline: Are you suicidal? And I immediately answered it in my head the way I always have; No. No, I am not suicidal. And even when discussing the issue with trained professionals, that 2-letter answer pretty much ends the discussion. That box is checked. Liability is limited. Next question, please.
But if you want a revealing peak behind the mask of someone who hides depression, try asking it another way.
Ask your friend or relative or client or self: “Do you find yourself thinking of death as a welcome relief?” It’s a very different question which, for me and I suspect many others with depression, has a very different answer.
I first remember thinking I wouldn’t mind dying (painlessly and in my sleep, of course) in high school. Those are tough years for lots of people, and they certainly were for me. While my friends with (what looked like) more-normal, secure and carefree lives skied and partied and vacationed, I was wearing a full-body brace, working several jobs to pay for school and navigating a volatile home environment, all while pretending everything was well, as was clearly expected of me.
Adult life has brought its own painful challenges, as it tends to do. I’ll spare you the gory details. But due to environmental, biochemical, hormonal and/or hereditary reason(s), my brain can grab hold of the negative emotion I am feeling (betrayal, grief, fear, etc.) and blow on it like an ember until a full fire rages, convincing me that death would be far easier than soldiering through more, seemingly-unending pain. I know it’s not a popular or a comfortable thing to say or even read, but I would bet the ranch that other people who house the uninvited guest-that-is-depression know exactly what I mean.
Don’t get me wrong, I have experienced extreme joy, deep love and a true sense of purpose in my life, too. My children alone make every breath work taking. It is absolutely not by choice that I have such dark thoughts! You see, in addition to being prone to depression, I am an optimistic, easy-going, loving, funny, independent, resourcesful, creative, intelligent woman with a big heart and easy laugh. That is how people know me. And it is also a primary reason why I have gotten so little support through The Dark Times.
Now, I feel I must repeat; I do not, nor have I ever planned or even seriously contemplated taking my own life. But. If a life-switch existed that allowed me to walk over and flip it to “off” with the assurance that the people I love the most in the world would be in no way negatively affected, I’d have done it. No doubt.
And that is why, if you are trying to diagnose an immediate threat of suicide, by all means ask the questions on the questionnaire. Be blunt and ask if someone has a plan and the means. I posed those very questions more than a few times to callers on the hotline. But if your intent is getting inside someone’s head enough to have even a chance of understanding what they’re struggling with, ask a question that could start a conversation vs. one that solely assesses risk. If they’re willing to share, it could help them lighten an unbearable load, while giving you valuable, hidden information that would help you better diagnose, support and understand a person who desperately needs and wants to feel understood and supported.
Terry is the founder and president of Giving Voice to Mental Illness, Inc. which produces the Giving Voice to Depression podcast. She and her sister Bridget, who both live with depression, are the co-hosts. The podcast is available on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud and their website GivingVoiceToDepression.com
I’m an expert on suicide. I’m not a doctor or a nurse or a mental health practitioner, still I’m an expert. I don’t conduct research or employ clinical language or obsess over “best practices.” I am an expert on suicide because I’ve been thinking of ways to kill myself since 1987. I’ll let you do the math.
I’m not here to get into specific history. If you’re inclined to find out what makes a child suicidal you can visit my page, eddiekedge.com. I’m here to discuss suicidal thinking in all its glorious forms. People have a misimpression that the suicidal people are the girls who cut or the boy who overdoses. They see big, tangible displays of grief and ah! suicide ideation. Women are better at expressing their hurt. Females attempt suicide three times as often as males in the US. However, males are four times as likely to die by suicide, meaning men attempt suicides that do not fail. I think this has to do with the social stigma around suicide and men’s inability to bear that stigma. It’s why I didn’t ever admit, even to myself, that I felt suicidal until I had the rope around my neck.
Looking back, I can see all the signs. I lay in bed at night wishing I would never wake up again. As a young person I hated myself and I hated my thoughts. I knew I stopped breathing I’d stop thinking. So I exhaled and exhaled some more and refused to inhale until the involuntary respiration that’s controlled by the brain stem took over on autopilot. I was in seventh grade and actively trying to die.
But, there is also passive suicidal behavior and that’s what I’m most expert in. This passive suicide is the reason I write, so we can understand it in ourselves and in others. These attempts at death are the result of intentional negligence for one’s safety.
I would get drunk and walk the city at midnight, hitchhiking. I entered into any car that stopped and I didn’t care what happened to me. That’s a passive suicidal behavior. Some people die of accidental overdoses and sometimes it not clear. I did my fair share of drinking and smoking and dropping acid and eating mushrooms and snorting lines but that was a party. I felt great and when I got high with my friends, I didn’t want to die. I wanted to rage all night! My therapist says it’s probably the drugs that kept me alive while I was a teen. This is not an endorsement of drug abuse, it’s an observation about how individual behaviors might be interpreted.
So me doing as many drugs as I possibly could at age 17 was more self-preserving than an attempt at self-harm. But me driving down two lane roads at age 37 and wondering to myself, why don’t I just drift into the opposite lane? is a red flag for self harm. Drinking, taking pills, then deciding to get into a hot tub? Yeah, I did that and it’s another indicator of my passive suicidal behavior. Writing a note, making a plan is an active behavior. But the point is, both types of behavior can land someone in the same grave.
I spent the majority of my life dealing with suicide ideation. There was no education and no dialogue and no support for most of that time. Now, I realize how dangerous and suicidal my behavior truly was. At the time I was unwilling to admit my suicidal thinking was severe. After ten or twenty years you sort of get used to it. Today, with blogs like this and with great outreach on social media these issues are finally being illuminated. If you recognize yourself in these paragraphs, you’re not alone. You can get help and although it’s the toughest work there is, recovery is totally worth it!
Thursday, August 10, 2017
My name is a Chris, and I’m a recovering opioid addict and alcoholic. With 5 years sober, I now have the honor of working at a drug and alcohol rehab center helping people who were in the position that I once was. I’ve seen many, many success stories, and I can’t stress that enough, but with the good also comes the bad.
A few months ago, I received extremely sad news. One of my clients who I thought was doing well had passed away from an overdose. I’ve had more people pass away than I’d like to admit, but sometimes it hits a little harder. I was speaking with a friend about the grief I was experiencing and how I didn’t understand, and my friend said, “Maybe this is what he wanted.”
Right then and there, a flood of memories came back from the final months of my addiction, and I remember that feeling. I remember it far too well because that’s where I was. I don’t think we talk about addiction enough when we talk about mental health, and we need to.
Much like many others who turn to drugs and alcohol, I suffer from mental illness. My symptoms of anxiety and depression grew and grew during my high school years, and then it got to a point where I decided to try alcohol as a way of numbing the pain I was feeling. It didn’t take long for me to completely lose control, and the solution to my problems quickly became one of the primary sources of my problems.
In early 2012, I was deep in my addiction, and this was after multiple attempts at getting sober. Many of my friends and family members stopped talking to me because I couldn’t stop lying to them, stealing from them and letting them down. The worst part was when I was no longer allowed to see my son because I couldn’t stay sober, and I was putting him at risk.
I eventually reached a point where I was so disgusted with myself that I didn’t dare turn on the lights in my filthy apartment because I didn’t want to see myself in the mirror. My depression was out of control, and I was miserable. I wanted to stop using, but I couldn’t. I felt that this was my fate, and there was no helping me. Each night, I went to sleep with a handful of pills and a bottle of rum hoping that I wouldn’t wake up the next morning, and I was angry that I did.
This is something that MANY addicts deal with. We don’t want to be alive anymore, but we want the drugs or alcohol to be what takes us out.
My body was shutting down, and I was going to the emergency room regularly just to sucker them into giving more pills. Luckily, they realized something was very wrong with me, and they admitted me. They called my mom because she was my emergency contact and told her to come to Las Vegas as soon as possible because I may not live through the night. At 26 years old, I had congestive heart failure, and I was alright with that.
The next morning, with my family begging me to get help, I told them to just give up on me because there was no hope for me. My depression had such a dark hold on me that it told me that my son would be better off without me.
Fortunately, my family didn’t give up on me.
My mom took me back to California with her and helped me get sober. Early sobriety was extremely difficult though because I felt as though I had lost everything and I would never regain a normal life. Now, without the alcohol and drugs, I was depressed with no way to numb the pain.
In my experience, I find this is one of the most difficult things for people when they get sober. Without the drugs and alcohol, they don’t see a point in living without getting drunk or high, so they either relapse or worse.
Something happened though. I don’t know how or when, but I found hope by listening to other people share their stories about how they had been where I had been and through a lot of work, they now had amazing lives. I clung onto that hope with everything I could, and I stayed sober one day at a time. Each day, as I continued to work on my mental health and friendships with people who loved me, the depression slowly went away. I started to see that a better life may be waiting for me, and it definitely was.
They say that if we never experienced pain, we’d never truly know pleasure, and this is my experience. I’m grateful for what I went through because now, I wake up every day excited for what life has to offer me. I have my son back in my life, and he’s my biggest fan. I’ve been able to rebuild my relationships with my friends and family, and I’ve also been able to make many new friendships.
I found my purpose in life through helping others, and that’s what gives me the strength to keep going when my depression blindsides me. It’s still there, but it’s manageable. Now, I take my experience and use it to help others. This year, I decided that only helping the people in my rehab wasn’t enough, so now I do a lot of work online to spread the message of hope to anyone out there struggling with mental illness.
Feel free to follow me on social media:
You can also learn more about my story in my book HOPE: http://amzn.to/2rEXiWi