Mental Health

Let’s talk about something a little dark and frustrating, today; something that usually goes along with chronic illness, but is its own chronic thing too, not to be outdone: mental illness. Because, don’t get me wrong, you can be drug down, without accompanying physical pain, by mental illness alone. You can be knocked right the fuck down, right where you stand, and thrown to the carpet, never to get up again…well, at least for several days, weeks, or even months. Oh, and mental illness can be physically painful too. Exhaustion, aches, pains and the whole nine yards, of course.

 

When I’m depressed, I take my perch on the corner of the couch. I usually don’t move much, so I tend to get a lot of super cute pics of my cats…like this one.

When I’m depressed, I take my perch on the corner of the couch. I usually don’t move much, so I tend to get a lot of super cute pics of my cats…like this one.

I have a picture-perfect life. It’s the same thing we say to celebrities who claim mental illness, exhaustion, or other mental health issues. How can they feel bad, when they have it so good, right? That’s the point. It doesn’t matter how good you have it. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter what you have around you; it’s what’s going on inside you, that matters.

 

This is hard for me to confess, or talk about, and it’s hard for most people with mental health issues to talk about. But, it’s important for people to talk about! It’s time to be aware of these things, instead of pretending that it’s not a “thing,” or that I just get a little down sometimes. Yeah, I do; but it’s a lot more than that. Let’s get real with what it really is.

 

Here’s what I didn’t know: I’m sick in the head, too. I’ve been sick in the head for longer than I’ve been sick in the body. I thought that being sick in the head was a thing that I’d acquired from being sick in the body, that my swings into depression, and my anxiety, were caused by my failing body, and the frustrations that it brought me. Sure, those things help bring on a cloud of depression. Sometimes, the heavy weighted blanket that it throws onto my body make it impossible to get up off the couch, even when I have to pee so badly that it feels like I may die if I don’t move.

 

But, I’ve learned that I have had these issues all along. I’ve stifled every real emotion that I’ve ever had, except for anger. I’ve refused to feel hurt. I’ve refused to feel love. I’ve refused to feel anything. I got really good at keeping feelings locked away, and pretending they don’t exist. I’m a good robot. So now, I fall into fits of depression and anxiety, almost at random, rather than to deal with feelings. It’s unbearable. It’s deeply painful, and it’s frustrating for me. I can never predict these sojourns into darkness, and I feel like a terrible burden to those I love.

 

For those who’ve never experienced depression, for me it’s as if the world stops, but just for you. There’s literally no reason to do anything. Nothing makes you want to move from the spot you are in. It’s as if you are almost paralyzed by immobility. I could be dying of thirst, but not go to the kitchen to get a beverage. It feels as if I’ve atrophied all my useful muscles. It’s as if my mind works, but my body won’t do what it’s supposed to do, and I don’t care about that problem, not enough to solve it. Worse, I can look around and see things I would like to do, like dust, vacuum, or otherwise take on tasks, but can’t be bothered to do them. Thus, I begin to feel guilty for leaving them to others. The same is true for tasks I should do for myself, like getting dressed, exercising, or even brushing my hair. The guilt compounds the depression, which makes the whole situation worse, and the cycle compounds. It’s a terrible cyclical situation. It’s as if the Puritans are there with the stones, slowly crushing you to death, but you are doing it to yourself.

 

As if that’s not enough though, you throw anxiety into the mix, which jumps in at random times. For anxiety, you just feel like you are dying. Suddenly, there isn’t enough air in the room, then in the world, for you to breathe. Sometimes, I get dizzy first, or my legs start shaking uncontrollably, but that’s just “mild” anxiety. I don’t take medication for my anxiety because it doesn’t mix well with my pain medication. It can cause side effects like death, so it’s generally not considered a good idea. So, I get to suffer through anxiety attacks by just waiting for them to pass. I can try to talk myself through them by gently reminding myself that there is enough air, and I’m having an anxiety attack. This usually doesn’t help. A person having an anxiety attack knows they are having an anxiety attack, and intellectually knows there is enough air. It doesn’t help them feel like they are breathing it. Alas, I just have to wait until it’s over and I can breathe normally, again, leaving me exhausted and numb.

 

My last visit to the land of darkness has been the worst that I’ve ever experienced. I can always feel it coming on, and I do everything I can to keep it at bay. I try to bury myself in routine, exercise more, take on a project, pretend that I can’t hear the little voice in my head that says, “why bother, everything is useless.” Nothing helps.

 

This time, the darkness overtook me to the point that I imagined what it would be like to forget suffering through it any longer. I’ve always seen through to the other side. I’ve always kept my son in my sights, even when the voice in my head says, “you don’t matter to him, to anything, to anyone.” I’ve always said to myself that my loss would destroy him. This time, I was able to rationalize that I didn’t care because I’d be gone. It was a horrible time. The moment I realized that I’d put my son aside, I knew that I had to tell Bryon that this wasn’t just a typical dark patch.

 

Around the same time, I had a panic attack, in my bed, at random, in the middle of the night. I haven’t been able to sleep in my bed, since. I can barely go near my bed. I’ve been sleeping on the couch. That is mental illness. My husband, tucking me in at night, kissing my forehead, and asking me what he can do to help me feel comfortable, and helping me think of strategies to get me back to bed, is awareness that we don’t have to be in this alone.

 

Not a super flattering picture of me, but Bryon took it. He said he just missed the moment when all three cats were sleeping on me. Told you, I don’t move much when I am on my depression-spot!

Not a super flattering picture of me, but Bryon took it. He said he just missed the moment when all three cats were sleeping on me. Told you, I don’t move much when I am on my depression-spot!

But, more importantly, we need to be aware of just how hard it is to find appropriate help. Finding a new therapist out here has been an uphill battle. I’ve been white-knuckling my depression and anxiety since we got here, which was a terrible idea, obviously. So, I promised to find a new doctor, especially since this last bad patch has been so rough.

 

I had only one requirement: I wanted a woman. I had a preference for a close drive. Anyone with severe depression, which I’d recently sunken into, knows that sometimes, even brushing your teeth can seem like climbing Mt. Everest. Alas, I couldn’t picture getting myself motivated to make a 30-minute trek. Five minutes seemed more reasonable. But, I’d compromise if I had to.

 

Eight phone calls later, I’d realized that I’d have to make a concession to accept any doctor with a pulse. That’s right, there are NO female therapists within a 30-minute drive who were accepting new patients. None. Zero. How is that possible? Let alone therapists that take my insurance. With local hourly rates at up to $200, how are we still shouting at people to “get help,” when they feel helpless, or to “reach out?” Where? To who?

 

I’m lucky to have a support system at home to help feed me, and make sure I’m meeting basic life-sustaining needs when I’m in the throes of a rough patch. I’m also lucky to have someone to talk to about nonsense when I just feel like babbling. I’m lucky that when I confessed to feeling like I was afraid of myself, my support system held my hand and guided me over the hump. Even more, I’m lucky that, even without insurance support, we can shoulder the burden of the bill for mental health care. But, I’m frustrated at how difficult it is to find.  

 

Everyone, and I do mean everyone, has their demons. There’s a little crazy in all of us. All of us has a tale to tell, and a little weird to let out. We’re all messed up in our own way, and we all manage our weirdness. We all have coping techniques, and they all work for us; mine were working just great, until one day, they just didn’t, anymore. I was a driven, successful woman, with an education, career, spouse and a child. Then, I got sick. My life slowed down, and I lost control. Everything fell apart. Everything came unraveled and my marble sack spilled. I haven’t been able to put it all back together, ever since. It was always in there. I just need new coping strategies and some more therapy.

 

Don’t be ashamed to ask for help, or to confess your crazy. It’s always okay. Pulling yourself together, no matter how much, is a victory. Being aware of one another and being kind is how we heal wounds. Go out there, be aware, and be nice!

Oh…and PS: No matter how dark it gets, KEEP LOOKING FOR THE LIGHT AT THE OTHER SIDE! Don’t give up fighting!

Scatter-Brained

I have so much to talk about! I can’t even decide what to say, or what to say first. I could write a zillion individual posts, in detail, but it’s too much. It’s why there’s not been one in a few days; because, I keep writing them, and they are too long and boring. So, here’s a paragraph on random things, not connected, that are all going on at once, right now!

Cats

Soap + Box = Soap Box Alert

Soap + Box = Soap Box Alert

Mittens had to go back to her “owners,” who it turns out, live in our neighborhood. I was so devastated that I cried for a full day, not entirely because I missed her (I do, of course); but, because I feel like I failed her. Cat owners who insist on allowing their cats to roam, under the misguided idea that they are allowing them to follow their natural instincts, are doing them a disservice. A domesticated cat’s natural habitat is the domestic living space. They don’t deserve to follow their “instincts” to prey on diseased pigeons and rats, and to fall to predators like angry gardeners with antifreeze, cars, teenagers with pellet guns, or even “natural” predators like hawks or coyotes. Cats that live, exclusively, indoors live up to twice as long as cats who are allowed to roam, and they have fewer health problems, or injuries from predators or other cats. So, I cried for Mittens.

P.S. Mittens cried too. For days. Outside my kitchen window, begging to be let back in.

My cats are happy indoors :) See. This is them greeting me when I came home from dropping Collin off at school.

My cats are happy indoors :) See. This is them greeting me when I came home from dropping Collin off at school.

Best Friend’s (Temporary) Return

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My return to myself has been, and will be, forever slow. I’ve learned that half of the reason that I don’t go forward, is that I’m afraid. I’m afraid of pain. I’m afraid that the next thing I do will be the thing that tears the plate from my skull, and ruins everything. I’m afraid that the next thing I try will be the thing that I can’t achieve, and it will be the thing that I learn is my limit. I’m afraid to push. I do it anyway. Slowly, steadily. Inch by inch. I am climbing my way back. And, sometimes that inch feels like it’s only a centimeter of progress because my body reminds me that even though I’m trying, I have to respect its new barriers.

Alas, I’ve had to wear my c-collar again, lately. There’s nothing more defeating to progress than Velcro-ing those straps. Nothing feels worse than the relief of that collar. I hate how much better it feels when it’s on. I hate that I need it. I hate that I want to wear it, right now. I know that I will be able to throw it back in the closet again….soon. Why? Because I didn’t need it randomly. I needed it because I strained my neck by working out a little too hard. I strained t by pushing. Pushing. Not being afraid. I strained it by becoming me again. God damn, I’m going to come back. 

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The Shoulder

I’ve mentioned on FB that I am having shoulder surgery. It’s tomorrow. Holy crap, right? Literally, I keep forgetting about it. That’s how, off-the-radar, surgery has become to me. I have had a shitty shoulder, for years. It’s not terrible. I could probably live with it forever, if I didn’t want to lift heavy weights again. I can’t even carry the backpack at Disneyland, or my purse on that shoulder, anymore, as it is now. So, I want to lift, and I want to do it with good form. I’m done being broken.

Turns out, I randomly picked some awesome doc at USC. He’s a sports med guy who has worked with some really awesome teams; and he is a shoulder specialist. He’s also Benjamin Button, or something because he looks 19, but has a resume that makes him sound like he’s 140. His resident, I shit you not, looks like a GQ model, and also 19. USC puts something in their water, I think. I’m excited to try their IV’s.The best part about this whole thing, is that Tricare, covers everything, except the sling. I have to go out tonight and buy a damn shoulder sling.

Tricare: Here’s $20K (or however much shoulder surgery costs) for the surgery but $19.99 for a sling is a bridge too far! The patient should pay for that!

Crop Tops Over 40

Bryon, bless his little heart, is not great at picking gifts for me, on his own. It’s not his fault, I buy so much shit, that by the time a gift-giving occasion comes up, I just point at whatever I’ve most recently bought, and say, “that can count as my birthday/anniversary/Mother’s Day present,” and it does. No shopping required. But, last year, for my birthday, Bryon tried to pick out a present for me. He started at my favorite store (Anthropologie), got my size right, got my general sense of style. He was on track. But, somehow, he missed. He bought me a…crop top. I was a bell-sleeved, loose-fitting, bohemian-looking crop top, with a lace up front. Don’t get me wrong, if I were twenty, and going to Coachella, maybe? It is “me,” but young “me,” maybe.

I didn’t have the heart to take it back. Plus, I didn’t hate it. So, it sat in my closet, unopened, until we started cleaning out the closets this weekend to get ready to move. Thus, the debate: can a woman, over 40, wear a crop top? I said, “if she wants to,” but I’m not going to, unless I’m at the beach. He said that I pulled it off. But, his opinion is not to be trusted, based on times his spontaneous compliments are uttered (when I’m brushing my teeth, for example). I am on the fence. Ignore the no makeup and horrid hair. It was a house-cleaning day; thus, you can excuse the pants pairing too. Not sure it “goes.” Hmmm.

Hideous picture! Also, I'm really looking forward to getting out of this "master" bathroom. What a joke for a bathroom! I look like a gypsy.

Hideous picture! Also, I'm really looking forward to getting out of this "master" bathroom. What a joke for a bathroom! I look like a gypsy.

Moving Scatter

My brain is doing this right now: we don’t know where we are going to live and we are leaving in about a month; I forgot to take my Comic Con costumes to the dry cleaner; what about my plants when we move; I have to wash my curtains before we pack them; I’m a horrible person, but, I wish that damn hamster would die before we move; if the movers break my WW kiss statue, I’m going to lose my shit; I forgot to call USAA to up my jewelry rider; I have to go to the post office; should we fly to San Diego or LA when we come back in July?; I need a car wash; what if Collin can’t handle public school?; I hate June gloom in LA; why do the stupid movers have to be here on my birthday?; I’ve been eating so many pickles that when I work out, I smell like pickles; I can’t believe I have to wait another whole year for more Riverdale; why do all my FB ads target me for Dia & Co, when I’ve just busted my ass to give up soda and chips?;what if the movers break the glass in our antique furniture?; what if the movers tear our giant painting?; what about the dollhouse?; dry cleaning; alterations; whoops; I forgot to send my summer contract. Oh. And WHERE ARE WE GOING TO LIVE????

Anyone want to live in my brain right now?

This is why I can’t focus up and write anything decent or stay on topic. I am losing my mind, at the moment. And, tomorrow, I won’t be able to type very well. I will only have a left hand! Agh! And, I have a great idea for a painting. Maybe, I will learn to paint with my feet, or my mouth, and become a you-tube sensation. See where my mind is at right now! I need a drink, or something.

Are YOU Chronically Ill?

I’m not gonna lie, this post is inspired by some nasty words that I exchanged with someone recently. Someone I know experienced an injury that has severely hindered her quality of life. This is still, of course, temporary, as it’s an injury, like all injuries.

The worst of injuries come with surgery, physical therapy, years of pain, arthritis, and debilitating pain. They come with giving up activities that you love, and they come with alterations to your life. I do not deny this. But, this is not all injuries; and most injuries reach a point of improvement, rather than a steady decline.

The debate arose about whether or not an injury was thus similar to invisible illness, or even chronic illness. There is no argument that chronic pain sucks. But, I argue that it’s in the same category of invisible illness, nor to chronic illness. And furthermore, I argue that chronic pain from an injury, while not diminishing it all, is almost a gift. It goes away; and it leaves behind an important memory that allows the patient to appreciate both their previous and post-pain body. It also allows people to appreciate the experience of sick people in a way that others may not.

It smacked me hard to hear someone with an injury categorize themselves as an invisible illness or chronic illness patient. I’m not sure why. Perhaps I’m still buried in my own grief; perhaps it’s still my own jagged little pill; and I am protective of it. But really, I’m not sure why anyone would want it, frankly.

Regardless, for someone to grab onto it, for the sake of sympathy, attention, or anything akin to that, seemed so silly. This, in turn, got me thinking about how you can tell if you really do have an invisible illness, or if you are full of attention-seeking bullshit.

So, if you aren’t sure, answer these three questions:  

 

Do You Willingly Accept, Seek Out, or Try Any Insane Advice?

Does the next “big” cure like essential oils, vitamins, shakes, or any other random palliative sound like a panacea? Or, ask yourself, honestly, does it sound, like something you can use as a subject starter? In other words, you can legitimately bring your “ailment” up, with a friend, in a mutually beneficial conversation. Hey, you get to talk, and she (let’s be honest, it’s hardly ever men that sell MLM crap) gets to sell you shit. Guess what? You aren’t fucking sick. You are using your illness to talk bullshit, around more bullshit. Know how I know this? Because thieves oil (whatever the fuck that is) won’t change the shape of my skull, anymore than it will clean up cartilage in a bad knee. So, if you are hitting up your local Young Living (or DoTerra, or Isagenix, or fill-in-the-blank) rep, you are pandering for attention.

 

Are You Willing to Quietly Listen to ANYONE Else with “Similar” Woes?

When your Great Aunt Betty tells you that her neighbor’s sister’s mailman also used to once have a headache, are you all ears? Do you want to hear all about your baby-sitter’s menstrual headaches, anxiously awaiting your “turn,” to talk, just so someone will validate you? Guess what? You aren’t sick. Here’s the secret: the real people in your life are getting sick of hearing your bullshit stories over and over again, and the reason you are stuck in the position of listening to these windbags, waiting for your turn to talk, is because you have exhausted your loved ones with crappy, exhausting complaints.

 

Do You Sound Like a Hallmark Card?

Do you refer to your illness or ailment as a journey? Or, do you call failed doctor’s appointments, where they tell you nothing’s wrong, as “just another step in the road?” Are you writing your own “book of life?” Sweetie, this isn’t Eat, Pray, Love. If you are sick, truly sick, you’ll know it. It’s not a fucking journey. You’ll realize that once you know you are sick, it’s the end of the God Damn road. Know what that means, for real? It means that you grieve. You, no shit, grieve. A part of you dies. Remember what you know about the grieving process, with the real stages (sadness, denial, the whole she-bang?), real sick people are doing that. They aren’t on some hokey journey. They wake up angry on Monday, and hopefully accepting Tuesday. They aren’t, as a friend of mine said, fucking handsome men in Italy and eating their way through Europe, hoping to come to an epiphany about life. The "epiphany," is that their former life is over, and they have to find a new way to accept the shitty new one they've been handed. How's that for a fucking journey?

 

So, if you find yourself in one of these three questions, you are probably “fake” sick. It’s okay. Really. Being sick, from the outside, looks like a lot of fun. People pay a lot of attention to you. Well, it looks like they pay a lot of attention to you. So, that looks like a pretty sweet deal. For someone with a deeply empty life, that might seem like the best thing ever. But, let me suggest exploring why you think you want this, instead

Because, let me be the first to tell you, I wish that I could slap some DoTerra on my forehead, tell my mailman that I just have a headache, and that my journey is beautiful. Really. If being truly ill were that simple, and my life were my own again, perhaps I’d think it’d be a good gig. But being sick is about losing everything you ever knew. It’s about forgetting everything you ever dreamt. Forgetting your dreams. Forgetting hope. Finding a new soul. It’s the worst thing that can happen to a person, short of dying.