Psychiatric Medication Saved My Life

Image credit: CDC via Wikimedia Commons

Image credit: CDC via Wikimedia Commons

I get a little concerned when I become aware of the news of a tragic death being used as a means to increase publicity to a particular movement or way of thinking.  I recognise that many people don’t have a problem with this, and therefore it is important that I state this is my opinion only.  What I say in this post is not fact, and I respect the right of others to have differing opinions.  I know that some of those opinions are based on tragic circumstances and I have no wish to minimise the effect of those circumstances on the people who have and still live them.

If my viewing over the past few days is anything to go by, and I accept that the internet is a large space, it seems to be a growing movement of people against the use of psychiatric medication (and other treatments) to treat mental illness.  I know this is not new.  I’m not saying it’s wrong.  It’s just that there is another side of the story and for some people psychiatric medication is the only life-saving treatment appropriate.

Since Robin Williams’ wife came out and publicly said that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease before his death, there seems to have been a swell in people saying that his death was a result of the medications he was taking for this illness.  The reality is that at this stage no one knows the exact cause of his death.  I don’t believe it is fair on anyone, including above all Robin Williams’ memory, to be making assumptions and statements like this.

I don’t mean to take on the whole Anti-Psychiatry movement with this post, but rather because I have seen so many statements about the dangers of psychiatric medication in the past few days, I simply want to be clear that I have another opinion.

Psychiatric medication saved my life.  I have no doubt of that.  In the nearly 21 years of my mental illness I have been on a vast range of drugs, mostly prescribed by psychiatrists.  I am very aware that most of those drugs were of little or no use to me.  Also many were changed too quickly and therefore didn’t allow time for it to work.  I know they were desperate to find a quick solution.

I experienced a whole heap of side effects, which I could have done without.  One of the side effects I ‘possibly‘ experienced was suicidal ideation.  I say ‘possibly‘ because I have no means of telling whether the severe suicidal thoughts I experienced for around 10 years, from before the medication was started, were caused by the medication I was on, symptoms of my specific illness, or the life situation I was in.

It makes no sense to me (as a lay person) to have psychiatric medication that can cause side affects of suicidal thinking.  What are pharmaceutical companies  thinking?  On that I totally agree with anti-psychiatry, but I also don’t believe anyone could point the finger at any aspect of my life and say that was specifically causing the suicidal behaviour.  They would only be guessing.

Around 12 years ago my psychiatrist at the time made what would be one last change to my medication regime.  I’m purposely not going into details of the actual medications prescribed because I don’t believe that is helpful.  We know that responses to medication are different for everyone.  What has worked for me won’t necessarily work for anyone else.

Since that change I haven’t had any more hospital admissions (and I was stacking up admissions before then) and my suicidal behaviour has largely gone.  Yes, I admit there are still thoughts at times, but I can manage them without hospital admissions or crisis intervention.  I have been able to stop self harming.  I have begun to find hope in living.  These are huge changes for me and they literally saved my life.  I continue to take that medication today and will probably stay on it for my lifetime.  That’s okay with me,and yes, even in spite of what it may be doing to my body.

All that said, I don’t believe that all people who suffer from mental illness need to be on medication.  I read a blog post recently that advised sufferers of Depression to eliminate sugar and alcohol from their diet, get out walking and learn to meditate.  That’s pretty standard and I am sure that for some people, that would go a significant way in curing the problem.  But I know that this instruction wasn’t sufficient for me.  I needed more.  I believe that I needed to change the chemicals going on in my brain, and that prescribed medication was the only way to do that.

With Depression I believe that there are different levels of severity(sometimes it would be good if there were different names for those different levels).   Therefore I accept that medication is not always necessary.  If depression can be cured without medication, I think that is great.  But nothing can sway me from believing that for some people medication is the only answer.  I am sure that I would have been dead today had a psychiatrist not taken the time to find the right medication for me, and had I not committed myself to taking it daily.

I also believe that psychotherapy went a long way to contributing to my improvement, but that it is the right medication that really sealed the deal from changing what I will call a suicidal pit to some chance of living.  The medication made the therapy possible.  Without it I wasn’t well enough to undergo that process.  Of course, you probably didn’t know me 12 years ago, but those who do will attest to the fact that my life has significantly changed.

I am not cured and I expect that with the type of mental illness I have, I will continue to have symptoms, but I know that continuing to take the prescribed medication will go a long way to keeping my illness managed and hopefully keep suicide from being an option.

I totally respect people’s right to determine what is right for them.  This was right for me but I understand that it won’t be right for everyone.  But I also believe it is wrong to write off a particular type of treatment which may not be right for one but can be a lifesaver for another.  From all the range of treatments and options available hopefully there is hope.

“Others imply that they know what it is like to be depressed because they have gone through a divorce, lost a job, or broken up with someone. But these experiences carry with them feelings. Depression, instead, is flat, hollow, and unendurable. It is also tiresome. People cannot abide being around you when you are depressed. They might think that they ought to, and they might even try, but you know and they know that you are tedious beyond belief: you are irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding and no reassurance is ever enough.

You’re frightened, and you’re frightening, and you’re “not at all like yourself but will be soon,” but you know you won’t.”

— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)

Love Doesn’t Cure Mental Illness

This week, not surprisingly, there has been a whole lot of talk on our screens about mental illness and suicide.  Having those subjects ‘out there‘ is a good thing, but I can’t deny that unwise words and ill-formed arguments have not helped anyone, most especially those personally affected by the tragic death of Robin Williams, and also importantly, those people struggling with their own mental illness battles and suicidal thoughts.

I read a lot that I really wish I hadn’t read, but one article I came across perhaps summed up the issues for me more than ever.  I have shared that article in several places but if you haven’t seen it I urge you to read the wise writings of Molly Pohlig:

When the Illness You Live With Becomes Breaking News
(I Bet Robin Williams Knew He Was Loved. Unfortunately, Love Doesn’t Cure Mental Illness)
http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2014/08/12/robin_williams_and_mental_illness_when_depression_is_breaking_news.html?wpsrc=sh_all_dt_tw_bot

One thing we perhaps know from this week, is that fame, fortune, a great sense of humour, laughter, family and perhaps above all, love does not cure mental illness.  Robin Williams appeared to have all these things.  Depression is not magically spirited away by the possession of such things, and the struggle with suicidal thoughts is not relieved.  Oh, that it could be.  Wouldn’t it be great if mental illness was so easy?

If love were enough, my depression would have been cured years ago.

If love were enough, along with maybe a plate of my favourite food of course,  then perhaps my Anorexia would never have got the dangerous point it did, not to mention halting the permanent damage it did to my body.

If love were enough, I wouldn’t have struggled with chronic suicidal ideation for so long, several times plunging my body close to death.

If love were enough just maybe Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) would never have become the major stumbling block in my life that it is.

And perhaps finally, if love were enough then Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) would have been cured.  But then for me PTSD was triggered into a perhaps worse state by the presence of love in my life.  Now that’s confusing if you believe love will solve all.

Love certainly made the last 20 years of my life better than it would have been without it, but only because in spite of the pain I was in, I knew someone cared and perhaps I wasn’t quite as alone as I felt.

But love didn’t fix the pain for me.  It didn’t cure my mental illness.  I had a family surrounding me who loved me.   It was hard for them to know that their love couldn’t fix me.  I guess that hurt like hell.

As I have said before (An Apple Never Falls Far From The Tree), I tried very hard to prove for myself that my family didn’t really love me.  They did.  I can’t deny that.  Some of them (at least) probably thought they could help me if they could just love me a bit more and provide for the needs I had.  Maybe to sit down with me and watch a Robin Williams’ movie to make me laugh for a while.  I should say that just because I might laugh, doesn’t mean I am cured either.

I had friends who loved me, and though I tried very hard to push them away, some of those people are still my friends today.  No, they didn’t cure me, but they’ve stayed in for the long haul.  Mostly they simply kept being there.  But that didn’t cure me.

And then there was my marriage where for years a dedicated and caring husband tried harder than you could imagine to love my suffering away.  No one could fault him for the effort he made during what were the worst years of my suffering.  Strangely, the more he loved me, the more I kicked up my heels and pushed him away.  He loved me so much yet it wasn’t enough to save or cure me.  In the end was a broken marriage and still a mentally ill woman.

Why?  Obviously this is just my opinion but I think the reason my ex-husband’s and others’ love, weren’t enough to cure my mental illness was because:

I knew that I was unlovable

It wasn’t that I felt unlovable, but that I knew I was unlovable.  It is that certain.  I knew in my heart.  From my earliest days I knew I was unlovable, and actually I would go so far as to say that I knew this before I was born.  That might seem extreme and you’ll have to do without the reasons this time.  Some things are too private.

All the love around me meant nothing to me because I knew that it couldn’t be real, and I knew that eventually I would prove it to be false.  There was no way (in my mind) that those people really could love me like they said.  It just wasn’t possible.  I knew.

It’s certainly not the fault of the people who tried to love my mental illness away.  They didn’t understand that their love meant little because I was unlovable.  I couldn’t have explained it if I tried and so instead, the more they loved me the more of a fake I felt.  The more guilty I felt for not getting well.  This was not something any of them could fix.  It just was.

While I needed the love they were offering,  it was never going to be enough to cure my mental illness.  I can’t speak for others and I don’t pretend to.  This post is about me, and not the thousands who suffer from mental illness.  I can’t say if more love would have saved Robin Williams’ life.  In spite of many contrary opinions voiced this week, I believe that only he could have said what, if anything, could save his life.  And I suspect that he, like me, didn’t know if anything could cure us.

Mental illness affects different people differently.  And what is needed to cure it, if indeed that is possible, varies. To generalize simply isn’t fair on anyone.  I simply know that love was never going to cure me.

Thank you to those who tried to make love enough.  I am lucky to have you on my side and I’m sorry if I disappointed you.  There was nothing wrong with your love, it just was never going to be enough.

I saw a meme yesterday which said that love can cure everything.  I don’t believe that.  If only it were so easy.

“That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.”

― Elizabeth Wurtzel

 

Going Around In Circles

For a while now this song has been going around in my head.  My head has been going around in circles.  It’s getting tiring.  I just want it to stop.  I just want some clarity about what do I do now.

 

“Oh, Delilah Blue, what do we do now? What do we do now?
Magnolia memories fill my eyes and the sweet bird of youth done flown away
But don’t let anybody ever say
This old dancer never had her day
’cause this old dancer always knew we’d make it through, Delilah Blue.”

There is a growing amount of stress in my mind.  It’s caused by a number of things.  Health, wealth (or absence of it), family, oh and let’s not forget life in general.  Admittedly the first three are perhaps giving the biggest stress, and then because the stress grows inside my head, it eventually becomes a case of everything.  Everything has my head turning in circles, and it don’t feel too good.  It’s time to take some action on the things that I still have a little control over.  Maybe that will make the uncontrollable things seem less daunting.

Some of you might know that I started another blog recently.  If you didn’t know, it’s just that I hadn’t got to you yet.  For those that did know, the blog no longer exists.  I quickly realised that it wasn’t going to serve the needs I had.  Everything is now gone, so if you missed my most recent posts there, then you’ve missed.  Apologies if you think I messed you around.  That wasn’t my intention.  It’s just sometimes it’s easy to see that “this ain’t going to work“.  It didn’t.

For those of you who didn’t know I started a new blog, life goes on as it was.  In time, I may (or then again, may not) publish the material from there on here.  Meanwhile I’m still answering my question “what do we do now?“.

Back to the real purpose of this post though.  There’s one thing I really hate and that’s not being in control.  I spent years with an eating disorder all about that issue.  I couldn’t control aspects of my life so I chose to control how little food I put in my mouth and how many hours exercise I did each day.  So I know control has the potential to bite me (excuse the pun).  Not just on food though, I know it has the potential to destroy me… if I let it.

I seem to have little control over my physical health right now.  I have got into a pattern of going from (fibromyalgia) flare to flare, with nothing in between.  Where are the good days?  They don’t happen and still having not resolved the issue of pain medication, it isn’t fun and it’s doing my head in.

Wealth?  Well most of us have that issue don’t we?  Especially if having to rely on government welfare.  Especially having to face medical costs.  I guess I find winter even harder for the wealth issue, thanks for power bills.  A house that constantly leaks warm air (thanks for earthquake damage) is not helping.  I seriously considered this week shifting myself entirely into just one room of the house.  Impractical as it was, I was reminded of a children’s story I loved when growing up.  The main character broke her back and was shifted, bed and all, into the family lounge so that she could be part of the family.  Considering this for myself left me unsure whether I wanted to laugh or cry.  Anyway, I didn’t do it.

And as for family?  Sometimes, and more often than not right now, I feel exceptionally helpless.  I can watch but can do so little.  This week I have felt incredibly alone with this burden.  Loving someone but not being able to make it better, hurts like hell. And it seems like when I’m not there because of my own health, their health suffers too.   It’s a lonely road, and I know there are few answers that I can actually make happen.  I just have to be there, and often that’s harder than anything.  I guess my family had to watch me fade from their eyes for what was a very long time (thankfully I eventually came back).  I think what I feel now is a little like that.  Watching someone fade.

It hurts.

“Are the days of winter sunshine just as sad for you, too? When it is misty, in the evenings, and I am out walking by myself, it seems to me that the rain is falling through my heart and causing it to crumble into ruins.”

— Gustave Flaubert

 

Shifting The Goal Posts Is Okay

 

Recently I have seen a  number of statements and general topics on social media formats which show what I see as a resignation by sufferers of mental illnesses to a belief that the point at which they are now is where they’re going to be for life.  Examples of statements include:

“It’s beyond happiness now, I just have to exist”

“Getting better is no longer an option”

“I will be depressed for the rest of my life.”

 

I am the first to say that I have been at that point myself.  Ten years ago I simply believed that happiness was not an option for me, and that yes, how my life was then would be how it always would be.

Nothing took away any sense of hope more than these statements.  Actually there was no hope (in my mind) , and I was simply existing.  If I had read a post like this at all, I would have said “it’s easy for you to say” and probably “you just don’t understand my reality“.

But I honestly believe that it doesn’t have to be this way.  Instead, this is what I believe:

“At any given moment, you have the power to say that this is NOT how the story is going to END”

― M.H.S. Pourri

 Frankly I have as much reason as anyone else to close the book, shut up shop and say “this is how it’s going to be“.  I have two decades of diagnosed mental illnesses.  I have been told repeatedly by doctors, who were ready to give up, that this is just how it’s going to be for me.  I know what it feels like to have no hope.  My family knows too how it is to have no hope for me.

25 years ago I was healthy, relatively happy and quickly climbing my way to the top of the corporate ladder.  My goal was to be Chief Executive.  It’s almost funny to think of that now, because that corporate world I was a part of (and loved) seems so foreign to what my life became just a few years later.  One unexpected bout of ill-health, followed by post-viral depression, and my life just spiralled down from there.

I know now that I’m never going to achieve that career goal.  Actually it’s not what I want anymore either.  But I’m not prepared to settle for nothing.  I don’t want to accept that there is no cure, so that my life will be as it is forever.  And I strongly believe that if I accepted that fate, then I would simply be fulfilling a very bleak prophecy.

Credit: Wikipedia.com

Credit: Wikipedia.com

As you may know, I am a Kiwi.  We New Zealanders take a fair bit of pride in thinking we know more about our national sport, rugby, than we actually do.  I admit from the outset that I’m not a rugby fan (there are a couple of us in the country!) but I know enough to know that sometimes it’s okay to shift the goal posts.

One end of a rugby pitch to the other is a long way, especially if you’re being chased by the entire opposing team.  Just watching them, I know it’s a fair workout from one goal post to the other.  I think it’s 100 metres.

Now think about rugby for school children.  We know that full distance is too far, and so young children play ruby across the field (70 metres).  It just makes sense and it’s realistic.  It’s something they can work at to achieve.

Do you need another example?  Try wheelchair rugby.  It’s one of the toughest team sports I’ve seen.  They play on a basketball court.

It’s the same when you’re learning to swim.  I remember my big goal was to be able to swim the whole length of the pool.  But that was unrealistic for this six year old, and so my first aim was to swim across the width of the pool.  And I was so proud when I did.

I can look back at my life 25 years ago and think I’ll never get to my goal and so I may as well stop right here.  Or I can shift my goal posts and work at something that is achievable, in spite of both my chronic mental and physical illnesses.  That has to be better than sitting feeling feeling I’m doomed… and getting more depressed by the minute.

I know that it’s hard to see beyond mental illness, especially those illnesses that are technically with us for life.  I’ve been pretty sick (thanks fibro!) over the past few weeks and yes, I would find it easy to give up and accept an invalid life.

But I don’t want to.  I don’t know exactly what is ahead of me, or even what is possible, but I have hope for better than I’ve got now.  It’s why I use the blog title I do. Infinite Sadness… or hope? is my expression of choosing  hope over what I have lived with through illness.

I don’t know what ‘getting better‘ looks like.  I don’t know what it is going to involve to get there.  I know that my ‘being better‘ won’t look like the life I had 25 years ago.  That’s just not possible now.  There are so many unknowns and obstacles right now, that it would be so easy to settle for never ‘getting better‘.  While it wouldn’t be comfortable, it would be the easy option.  But I simply can not accept that.  I have to hope that it will be better.

One last thing.  Mental Health Awareness Month begins today (on NZ time zone anyway).  Wouldn’t it be great to have it focussed on hope?  Mental Illness is a terrible thing but I believe that no matter what diagnosis we have, there is hope for all of us.

I strongly believe that this following statement applies as much to the mind as to the heart.

If your heart is broken, make art with the pieces.


― Shane Koyczan (2013)

 

The Novelty Had Worn Off

I guess we like to think that every baby born is welcomed with a great deal of happiness.  I admit that I have never had a baby myself, so could be accused of being out of my depth… except that I was a baby once.  I know it from that angle, even if I have never had my own child.

I’m pretty sure that my birth was not welcomed with happiness, let alone joy.  There is only one photo of me as a baby.  You see, the novelty had worn off.  I was number three child, and I certainly wasn’t planned.  I came just ten and a half months after my next brother, and my mother will openly admit that my presence was an embarrassment to her.  Two babies in the pram was more than she wanted.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my childhood and wondering just how happy I was as a young child.  My first diagnosis of a mental illness didn’t come until I was 28 years old, but at that time everyone was pretty amazed nothing had shown before then.  I’m inclined to think that maybe there were signs but no one looked, or knew what they were looking for.  When I think about some of the (slightly) unusual things I did as a child, and then as a teenager, I am amazed that no one said “Wait a minute.  What’s going on here?”

But then this is the 1960/70’s I’m talking about and who went looking for signs of mental illness in their kids?

Deborah Serani, psychologist has written a book last year entitled ‘Depression And Your Child‘.  I think I’d like to read it, although the focus of it being about the reader’s child is not what I’m after.  She wrote a blog post, What Adults Need to Know about Pediatric Depression and I found that interesting, although I admit it also made me sad.  She reported that

“In the United States alone, evidence suggests that up to 1% of babies, 4 percent of preschool-aged children, 5 percent of school-aged children, and 11 percent of adolescents meet the criteria for major depression.”(1.)

Wow!  Even one in a hundred babies having major depression is huge, without stopping to think about the older age-groups.  She continues to list ten myths relating to childhood depression, which all parents should know.  It makes worthwhile reading, even for this non-parent here.

I don’t know whether I had depression as a baby or a child, but the odd things I started doing go back as far as I can remember, which suggests to me now that something was up at a young age.  I’m sorry but I’m not going to tell you what those odd things were.  Just know they were a little different from normal, and seem to me like a coping mechanism I used from a very young age.

I’m not saying this to in any way accuse my parents of anything, but I suspect there was something going on that they didn’t realise might give clues to my state of mind.  This is more about my own journey to work out what has made me who I am.  I’m not interested in blame, just in being able to understand myself.

Phew! It makes me sad for that little girl who was me.  There’s no denying that because if my theory is right, then it has had an enormous impact on my whole life.

I need music to finish.  As you will see the lyrics don’t go with the music.  Purposely.  I just had two tunes in my mind, for the child in me.

You with the sad eyes
Don’t be discouraged
Oh I realize
It’s hard to take courage
In a world full of people
You can lose sight of it all
And the darkness inside you
Can make you feel so small

But I see your true colors
Shining through
I see your true colors
And that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful,
Like a rainbow

 - Cyndi Lauper, True Colors

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It’s Been A While…

It’s been a while since I lasted posted.  Much longer than I had intended, but as you know, that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.  There has been a hard time of depression, which unfortunately still continues.  It’s difficult then to motivate myself into anything, and time has just passed without me being really aware of it.  It seems that when depression isn’t winning the war, then fibromyalgia is.  I seem to swing from one to the other, without as much as a break.

There have been two dilemmas pressing down on my desire to blog right at the moment.  The first is a simple case of needing to protect the privacy of those around me.  Mostly it is simple to disguise identity, but sometimes it is not so easy, especially when I write under my own name and people in my ‘real‘ life read my blog.  The result is that some issues just don’t get written about.  The people around me do not get a choice in whether I blog, so I must appreciate that, and leave them out of the equation as much as possible.  Sometimes it means no posts, and I avoid those topics completely.  It’s far easier than causing offence unnecessarily.  But often anonymity has its attractions.

The second dilemma has been a more difficult and painful one.  From the experience of being lied to, abused and manipulated, I find myself reluctant to ‘put myself out there‘.  While in the past I was willing to write pretty freely of my experiences and feelings, once I got slapped in the face (hard!) I am not quite so willing to be open.  Because the pain came initially through my blog, I think it’s natural that I need time to reassess.

What is it that I am willing to ‘put out there’?  What is it that I am able to share openly, while protecting my own need for safety?  How can I achieve my goal of wanting to write about mental illness recovery, without putting myself at risk of abuse?  These are the questions that I need to answer for myself, and if you have thoughts I’d love to hear them.  They’re difficult questions, especially once someone has broken the trust, and I might take a while yet to work out exactly what I want now.

Ultimately there is always risk when writing openly.  I know that, it’s just that I need to decide for myself how much risk I take.

So meantime…

Do I start posting recipes?

I don’t think so somehow.  While that might have been me 20 years ago (in my days as a foodie… I could afford to be one then), it’s not me now and I think I would die of shock if I found myself posting recipes.  All power to those who do, it’s just not me.

So…

How about I post pictures of my pets?  That usually goes down well, and personally I love seeing photos of pets.  So try this…

Meet my dog, Dixon.

Dixon

Dixon is 34 years old, and has yet to need to be taken for a walk, yet to need to be taken outside to ‘do his business‘.  He hasn’t even needed a trip to the vet.  Oh, except I think an eyebrow needing re-gluing but actually the vet wasn’t required for such a procedure.

While he gives excellent cuddles with a bit of encouragement, he will never wake me up with sloppy, wet kisses to my face.  While there are a few drawbacks to this kind of dog, you have to admit that 34 years for a dog is ‘going the distance‘.

My best friend at high school gave me Dixon, and he is named after her.  She had a similar dog (different colouring).  My friend died tragically in a car accident about 15 years ago, so still having Dixon now is very special to me.

Actually I’d love to have what you might call a ‘real dog’ but Council By-Laws in my city rule that out as an option right now, as it is a requirement to have your property completely fenced if you have a (real) dog.  That’s not something I can do, because of shared property ownership, but no one can object to Dixon.  My neighbours don’t even know he’s here. ;-)

Stay tuned for more pictures of pets, meanwhile I’ll get back to trying to work out just what is right for me in terms of blogging.

One final point.  I love you, my blogging friends.  Please don’t think I don’t.  It’s simply when one person spoils something, it takes work to find the will to trust again.  But I will find it, eventually.  And if you haven’t seen me on Facebook lately, I’ve been taking a break from there too.

“Laugh, even when you feel too sick or too worn out or tired. 
Smile, even when you’re trying not to cry and the tears are blurring your vision. 
Sing, even when people stare at you and tell you your voice is crappy. 
Trust, even when your heart begs you not to. 
Twirl, even when your mind makes no sense of what you see. 
Frolic, even when you are made fun of.
Kiss, even when others are watching.
Sleep, even when you’re afraid of what the dreams might bring. 

Run, even when it feels like you can’t run any more.
And, always, remember, even when the memories pinch your heart. Because the pain of all your experience is what makes you the person you are now. And without your experience—you are an empty page, a blank notebook, a missing lyric. What makes you brave is your willingness to live through your terrible life and hold your head up high the next day. So don’t live life in fear. Because you are stronger now, after all the crap has happened, than you ever were back before it started.” 

― Alysha Speer

Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight…

My mood had been steadily declining as the week went on.  I had made a bargain with myself to get to Wednesday.  The fact that I had to make that deal with myself indicated in itself that things weren’t going well.  I got to Wednesday.  There was never any doubt that I would.  It was my niece L’s third birthday and I was hanging out for some ‘L-time’ and I admit it, I didn’t want to create a family crisis around her birthday.

L-time was perfect.  L, her father, her grandmother and I went out for coffee (and fluffy for L).  In a bit of a daze, having taken some extra meds to get through the day, L and I played with the toys she had with her… teddy, little monkey and Sally, not to mention the cafe’s range of toys available.  We were at a local cafe that had its buildings collapse in the 2011 Earthquakes, and now runs primarily outside (it’s spring here but they provide blankets for warmth in the winter and sun hats in summer).  There’s nothing unusual about that in post-quake Christchurch and it’s good when you have kids (and adults) who need a bit of space.  Oh, and delicious cake.  For local readers, visit Under the Red Verandah Cafe (a shameless piece of advertising).

Spending a few hours with L made a significant difference to my state of mind.  I mean it went from ‘I’m not coping‘ as I (strangely for me) posted on Twitter a few days before, to ‘I can do this‘.  I concluded once again that I must get myself into the presence of L when I feel that bad.  Do not stop, do not pass go… go directly to L’s home and have some quality time with my favourite person.

The thing is I came home feeling better but I still somehow posted this picture on my Facebook timeline that night (with no explanation):

sad_teddy_bear

Image credit: The DawgPoundFreeWeb
I have been unable to find more detail of image credit but would appreciate being advised accordingly if known.

I am not sure exactly why I posted it, but usually I am very careful about posting pictures or comments that could be disturbing and/or worrying to others.  I wasn’t thinking.  I posted it with a sense of being flushed down a toilet, or maybe jumping, and turned off the computer and went to bed.

By morning I could tell that a few friends were concerned about what I posted, but perhaps more so, I realised that for me, what I had posted was concerning.  Time with L hadn’t quite improved my state of mind as I thought it might.  I was still very depressed and struggling for hope.  Living one day at a time, although it had cut down to one hour at a time.  Time to admit there was a problem and get some help.  And time to apologise to to friends.

I guess the thing for me is that earlier in the week I had tried to ask for some help (twice)  from someone close to me, but they didn’t pick up on it.  Perhaps I wasn’t direct enough.  Perhaps there were just other things on their mind, but I had to accept responsibility for the need to keep asking until I got the help needed.  That’s something that is really hard to do with you’re depressed, hopeless and you’ve already tried without success.  You probably know that feeling too.

Yesterday I saw my doctor.  Actually he wasn’t my doctor (who was away) but a very good locum who I have seen on a number of times before, and trust more than my own doctor.  The first thing he picked up on was that last month’s lithium blood tests showed that I was only just in the therapeutic range.  He felt my meds should have been increased at that time the tests came back, considering that I was already showing as depressed at that time.

What worked for me was that I was heard.  The doctor heard that my mood was dropping by the week and that I needed some help.  I am terrified of returning to my years of hospital admissions, suicide attempts and self harm.  It was a never-ending cycle in one hospital door and out another.  I will do anything to avoid going back to that lifestyle (if I can call it that).  My mood might have dropped dramatically but I still had enough life in me to do anything I needed to do to avoid that.  My doctor acknowledged that, as he increased my medication.

I have also now been given six therapy sessions (free) which may help me deal with some of the family issues going on for me right now, and affecting my state of mind.  Meanwhile, today I am going out to see L.  ‘Therapy‘ of a kind for me, and her chance to show me her new scooter and balance bike (birthday presents).

Someone said ‘fall down seven times, get up eight‘.  I don’t know who but I know it’s true.  I just have to keep getting back up.  I know this is a recurrent illness and every time I get back up is another claim of hope that tomorrow will be better.

“Needing help doesn’t make you weak, in fact quite the opposite. It makes you strong, smart, resourceful, and realistic. Being prideful is a weakness. Asking for help when you know you’re in over your head is STRENGTH. Don’t ever forget that!”

 – Unknown

Back To Music (Therapy)

Today I turned back to music, because I was losing my grip and I know (when I remember) that when that’s happening the best thing for me is to turn back to music, my favourite kind of therapy.

In many years past, back in what must have been another life, music was my world and playing in an orchestra or singing in a choir was a way to guarantee that feel good factor.  It was a long time ago, but music still works if I give it a chance.  And so today I pulled out a movie soundtrack from the 1980’s.  It’s one that others have told me they find depressing, but for me it’s the opposite.  It lifts my spirits every time… and gives me some peace.  I don’t imagine that you’ll click on it, and that’s ok.  The music is for me, and if anyone else gets something from it, then that is a bonus.

It has been a really hard week, and while many times, I have sat down to write, the part of me that withdraws when I’m struggling pulled me back from writing.  I realise at the other end of the week that while friends tell me to reach out and ask for help, I simply don’t know how.  Does that sound crazy?

Logically I know it’s three words “I need help” but actually those words are so hard to say, especially when you’re used to being independent.  I’ve attempted it in different places a number of times but have come away silenced by my fears and insecurities.  I need to be very clear that I silenced myself, rather than anyone doing or saying anything to silence me.

For a number of reasons, right now I am struggling to know who to trust, even to know who is real.  I’ve experienced the good, the bad and the ugly lately, and while the good still outweighs the rest, the worst of it colours my picture of the world and leaves me scared, even paranoid of who is really there for me.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have some wonderful friends who have done their best to be here for me, but it’s me that keeps pushing them away because I simply don’t know who, if anyone, is trustworthy now.

I want to trust people again.  I want to know that people are good.  I want to believe that I’m not alone.  I need to know that the world is a good place, and that the good and pure-hearted will win out against the bad and the ugly.

This week I have been rapidly running out of hope.  That’s right, I’ve been running out of hope.  It’s been hard to see the point anymore.  Yesterday a dear friend offered to hold onto my hope for me, and that is exactly what I needed.  We agreed to hold onto hope for each other, and somehow that seems so much easier than doing it alone.  I am very lucky to have her gift.

So I keep going.  The overwhelming urge is to run to under  the covers of my bed.  There it feels safe.  There it feels that the bad and the ugly can’t get to me there.  There I have no need for the paranoia and the anxiety.  There is peace.  I know I can’t stay there 24/7 but just sometimes it’s the best place to be.

“There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’  No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.” 

― Dalai Lama XIV

An Anniversary I’m Not Celebrating

Twenty years ago this weekend, I dived off the platform into the murky waters of mental illness.  Twenty years!  It does seem like a long time ago, but twenty years?  That is a good chunk of my life down in those muddy waters, trying to hold my breath and not drown.  I celebrate that I didn’t drown, but twenty years?

I had won a weekend holiday in Queenstown (a tourist trap for kiwis and plenty of overseas tourists).  My boyfriend, D and I chose this particular weekend to take the trip because it had been my birthday during the past week, we had just got engaged the weekend before, and we both needed a break.  Over the past couple of months I had Glandular Fever (mononucleosis) and was still feeling pretty fatigued.  A weekend away (from Auckland where we were living then) was just what was needed.

The weekend started okay.  We flew to Queenstown and picked up a rental car.  We were feeling pretty lucky to have won this weekend because money was tight and it’s not something we could have afforded.  I had been off work for about six weeks and was only back part-time.

But life was pretty good.  I was a career girl in a job I loved, I had shifted to Auckland the year before and so had finally escaped the stalkers who had plagued my life.  I had good friends.  I owned my own home,  I was a committed Christian who was at church twice on Sundays, and most of all I loved the lifestyle I had.  But wow!  How life can change?  Twenty years on and I am a completely different person.

Back to our weekend away, I wasn’t really aware of anything but at one point D said to me that I had been really negative all day.  It wasn’t about anything specific, just everything.  I hadn’t realised but now that he mentioned it, I started to realise he was right.  So I stopped talking.  That seemed like the best way (at the time) to fix the problem but by the end of the day everything had got too much and we were back in our hotel room, me bawling on the bed.  For hours.  Once I started, I couldn’t stop.

D had no idea what was wrong, or even why I was crying.  Neither did I, really.  I just knew my life had crashed somehow and I couldn’t stop crying.  The glass in the mirror had shattered, and somehow I knew I couldn’t put it back together again.

And so began 20 years of mental illness.  It seemed my mental health had got on a plane to Queenstown, but didn’t come back.  First, I was diagnosed with Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Next, those two triggered Anorexia and that became a whole different ball game as not only my mental health but my physical health was under fire.  Much later came the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Adult Attachment Disorder.  It seemed like once it started, there was no stopping it.

As I said earlier, up until that weekend it seemed like I had life together.  Sure, bad things had happened in my life but I had held myself together and survived.  The thought that I would dive into the mental illness pond was the furthest thing from my mind.  It wasn’t anything anyone else seemed to expect for me either. My parents had only recently given me a birthday card which said “for the woman who has everything“.  I never thought of myself that way, but life was pretty good at that stage.  I assumed it would just go on that way.

But life has a way of surprising us, doesn’t it?  Really, I had a lot of things go wrong in my life and my strategy was to hold it all together, rather than deal with it.  The years of stalking had a price to pay, and now I know that when the trauma ends, that is the time the effects of it really hit.  Until then you’re just fighting for survival.  But I could finally relax.  Perhaps it was finally safe to let go and cry. But then I couldn’t stop.

I remember in the early days reading a book about a woman who had depression for two years.  I was appalled by the idea of two years of this hell.  I couldn’t consider I might be depressed for months, let alone years.

Contrary to popular opinion I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason.  I also don’t believe that, as I was taught as a child, I should be thankful for all things.  What I do believe though is that I can learn from all things.  I have learnt many things across that twenty years.  I have learnt that kindness and compassion extend to all people, regardless of who or what they are.

I’ve learnt a lot of things I’d rather not have learnt too.  But that’s how life goes.  We don’t always get to pick and choose.  I’ve seen a lot of things I’d rather not have seen.  I wouldn’t choose this route.  I would never choose mental illness over health and life, but having gone down that route I choose to let it be.

I finish with this thought.  For a (very) long time I wished for my life back.  I wished for a return to the ‘old days’.  I know that’s not going to happen now.  This is my life as it is.  That old life is gone and wouldn’t be relevant to me now anyway.  I went to Queenstown as one person, and came back as another.  If twenty years of mental illness has taught me one thing it’s to live one day at a time and accept what I have.  I won’t always have the answers to why, but I can just let it be.

“An infinite question is often destroyed by finite answers…To define everything is to annihilate much that gives us laughter and joy…If I try self consciously to become a person, I will never be one. The most real people, those who are able to forget their selfish selves, who have true compassion, are usually the most distinct individuals” 

― Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet

I’ve Joined Canvas

I’m really happy to tell you that I have joined a great group of writers at A Canvas Of The Minds, a site used to write about  mental health, through different voices and different perspectives.  I’m going to use my voice to share one more perspective.

I will be writing different material for my Canvas posts, but will share with you the link when I do, so that you have the opportunity to read it too.

My first post (posted today), is about why I choose to blog using my real name rather than a pseudonym.  I know that’s quite different than a lot of bloggers.  I’m sure you’ll find it interesting and…  You’ll find it here.

“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.’ 
I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!” 

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit