Showing posts with label mental health. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mental health. Show all posts

Saturday, September 22, 2012

I feel like Humpty Dumpty with nothing but a gluestick.

Lately it feels like every day comes with a new insight into just how broken I am. I’ve known since I was fifteen that I have clinical depression.  For more than twenty years I have cycled between dysthemia (low level but constant depression that dulls your senses and affects every part of your life) and major depressive episodes.  There have been periods where I was depression free – most of university for example and most of the time since I’ve been on my meds – but most of my life has been lived in varying degrees of depression.  The first time I spoke to someone about it I was fifteen, ever since then every conversation I’ve had with anyone about my mental health has been about depression.

No one has ever asked me about anxiety, no one has asked me about flashbacks, no one has asked me about anything that would have helped them to see what I believe is the bigger picture.

The first time it occurred to me that I might have PTSD was over ten years ago.  But the images we are given of PTSD are of soldiers returned from war hitting the deck when a car backfires. We are led to believe that anyone with it can barely function and has vivid full-blown flashbacks where they lose touch with reality and relive their trauma. So I never spoke to anyone about it because I didn’t think anyone would take me seriously, I’d never been to war after all and I never hallucinated or lost touch with reality.

It’s the same with anxiety, I’ve only ever had two anxiety attacks in my life. When I was about ten I had an attack that left me rocking back and forth, crying, convinced that “they were coming to get me”, I’m still not sure who “they” were.  Last year I had a mild anxiety attack with a racing heart and shaking hands. They were very different experiences but I call them both anxiety attacks, the first because of the intense fear and paranoia, the second because of the physiological symptoms. I had always thought that having an anxiety disorder meant having panic attacks all the time so I figured that while I had some anxiety it obviously wasn’t bad enough to talk to anyone about.

A lot of the time if someone had asked me about anxiety I would have said, “No, I don’t have a lot of anxiety” when what I really meant was that I don’t feel anxious all the time. What I failed to acknowledge was that the reason I didn’t feel anxious was because I had circumscribed my life to avoid those things that made me anxious.  But living a life of avoidance is not the same as being anxiety free.

Part of the problem too is that I honestly don’t know what “normal” feels like. I don’t know how non-anxious people respond to things so I don’t know if my responses are anxious or normal.  I find myself asking things like, “Is it normal to get shaky and feel butterflies in my chest when I mildly disagree with someone on Twitter?”  I’m guessing no.

So maybe I could just say that I have the dual diagnosis of depression and anxiety but I still don’t think that’s the whole picture.

When I went in for my mood disorder assessment the psychiatrist told me that I needed to treat my trauma before I got any CBT or MBCT.  Which got me thinking about PTSD again.  So I Googled it, and there was one symptom that really jumped out at me: The sense of a limited future (you don’t expect to live a normal life span, get married, have a career).  Did I ever tell you that I used to believe that I would never live past the age of twenty-five? True story.

Another significant symptom for me was “persistent feelings of helplessness, shame, guilt, or being completely different from others” (  Although, to be fair, I’ve felt completely different since I was a child, the feeling has only grown more intense as I’ve gotten older.

So, last night I started looking at online assessments.  After three tests the consensus is that I do likely have PTSD.

So I guess that’s how broken I am.

This whole journey has consistently shown me how wholly inadequate the mental health care system is.  Not once in the last twenty years has anyone given me a comprehensive mental health evaluation.  I said I was depressed, they asked depression related questions and then they agreed with my assessment.  This is not how diagnosis should work.

Depression is known to co-occur with, or be a symptom of, other mental illnesses but everyone I ever talked to took for granted that depression was the extent of my problem.  A friend of mine recently had the same kind of experience.  He’d spent most of his life trying to get treatment for depression only to find out upon proper assessment that he has BPD (you should check out his blog, he’s writing great stuff about his own process).

It’s hard enough to get any kind of treatment or assessment for mental health issues – especially when you have no money – but to have a diagnosis based on tunnel vision can severely prolong how long you go untreated or inadequately treated.  How might things have been different for my and my friend had we been properly diagnosed ten or fifteen years ago? Nobody knows.  All we really know is that our lives have been put on hold for way too long, and to think that we could have had treatment and perhaps moved forward with our lives decades earlier is saddening and infuriating.

And even now that I feel pretty sure of this diagnosis I have a sinking feeling that there will still be no treatment in sight.  And of course that awareness that I may continue to be insufficiently treated only solidifies my fears that I have gotten as far as I can in my professional life, because without some kind of healing I can’t begin to imagine how to do what I need to do to move forward.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Borderline Personality Disorder

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Room

There is a part of my mind that is still in that room.  I can see it so clearly, two single beds, one by the window, one with its head against the wall.  Black out curtains on the window so no sunlight could sneak in.  As I remember it there wasn’t much else in there, no posters on the wall, maybe a dresser? I’m not sure.

But it's not just the room.

The bed, the shorts I was wearing (since shredded ceremonially), his face, his hands. His hands, where they had no right to be.  Where they had trespassed. My face turning to the side, looking away unable to stop it, unable to say no or to move his hand yet again.  And I remember how it felt, physically. I remember that my body first betrayed me, and then it hurt.  I remember feeling defeated.

The house is still there, the house where part of me died a slow death.  I try to not look at it but I can’t stop myself, every time we drive by.

But that room, that room has moved. That room has found a new home in my head.

And there is part of my heart and my mind locked in there, crying on the bed, wishing he would just get the fuck off of me.

Song of the day: Long way to happy by P!nk

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

I never called it rape...

*Trigger Warning*

I’ve been thinking a lot about rape lately.  It seems like I can’t go online without someone somewhere talking about rape.  Even though I know it puts me at risk of being triggered I can’t seem to stop myself from looking.  It shouldn’t surprise me really.  When I was a teen trying to come to terms with my own assault I collected articles and research on sexual assault in a big fat folder.  My best way of dealing at that time was to understand the big picture and make it political.  My big project for OAC (grade 13) drama was a play about a girl getting raped by her best friend and killing herself.  In retrospect the two predominant themes in my adolescence were sexual assault and suicide.

And yet, with all the of the processing I’ve tried to do over the last twenty three years I am still unearthing new and surprising aspects of my own trauma, and today is no different.  Over the last two decades I have called what happened to me sexual assault or sexual coercion. I have said he did something I didn’t want him to do. I have told myself that what happened to me was bad and it messed me up but women who’d been raped had it worse.

And then I was reading the comments on this post and I felt like I’d been punched in the gut.

Because rape is not only non-consensual intercourse, it is non-consensual sexual intrusion.  That means that if the perpetrator puts anything inside of you against your will it is rape.  I knew this.  I’ve always known this but I didn’t somehow take the next logical leap.

I wrote a post a few years ago and published it on someone else’s blog.  In it I wrote about not only my sexual trauma but about the physiological anomalies that have complicated my relationship with my sexuality in oh so many ways.  In short I had what is called an imperforate hymen.  I couldn’t get a pelvic exam, I couldn’t wear a tampon, and there was no way in hell anyone’s fingers could have gotten past that particular barrier.

I guess that’s why it hurt so much when he tried.

Immediately after he finished I said to him , “You said you’d never finger me” and he said, “I didn’t.” And I guess in his mind he didn’t, because my body wouldn’t let him in.

But in reality he tried, he really tried. And the question I’m forced to ask myself is this: Is it any less rape because my physiology kept him from “going the distance”?

Between the nature of the assault and my own physiological weirdness I have been invalidating myself for more than twenty years.  I have told myself that my trauma was lesser than that of rape victims.  Despite all the evidence of what it did to me I have been gas-lighting myself, feeling like I was crazy, like I was blowing it out of proportion, that I didn’t know what it was like to be raped, I “only” knew the pain of a lesser sexual assault.

But today I finally understand.  I get it.  Because what happened to me was indisputably rape.

And I don’t know how to incorporate that into my understanding.

It makes me angry, it makes me sad, and it makes sense of so many things.

But please, let there be no more surprises.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Life as it should be

I once had a therapist tell me that I’m living life as it should be in the world as it is.  It was probably one of the most powerful things a therapist has ever said to me.  I find myself living with a constant narrative in my head telling me that I don’t measure up to others, that I’ve missed the boat on growing up, that I have and am destined to fail.  So here’s my dirty secret: the closest I’ve come to a “real job” is a three month contract about a year before I had M.  That came after completing a psychology degree with honours, one year of grad school, a diploma in web design and administration and a certificate in arts administration.  All that edumacation and I never managed to get beyond one short-term contract.

When I had M and started connecting with other moms they were all on mat leave, coming from a wide variety of professions. While they were trying to decide how long to stay home before returning to work I was filled with anxiety and insecurity because I had nothing to return to. When I became pregnant I was engaged in a long and fruitless job search in arts admin and the thought of trying to return to that with an additional few years of being out with my kid seemed impossible. For about a year I operated under the delusion that I wanted to be an electrician until on the last night of my electrical theory class I realized there was no part of me that really wanted that.

So I went home, sat down with H and said, “I don’t want to do this, I really don’t” and he said, “Okay, let’s figure out what you do want to do” (have I mentioned how much I love that man?). I picked up the continuing ed course catalogue for a local college and started to flip through it for inspiration, and I found it.  One of their courses was in “life skills coaching”, not the same thing as life coaching but it reminded me that I had actually thought about becoming a life coach before but had dismissed it because I figured I couldn’t afford the time or money to train for it.  I did my research, picked a school and dipped into the money given to me by my grandfather.  Two years later I had a certificate in hand, a website up and running and even a couple of clients.  I love coaching.  It feels like a perfect fit.  If I could afford to I would do it for free but of course I can’t afford to do that.  And therein lies the rub. Whenever I think of how little I contribute financially to my household I get overwhelmed with guilt, insecurity and a diminished sense of worth.  It’s like my ability to make money overshadows everything else in my life.

I love where my life is at right now. I have a great partner and a solid marriage, an incredible child, a home that I love (despite the old roof and bizarre DIY work of the previous owners), some great friends and I’m doing work that I love.  But when I start to think about money and my perception of what others see as valuable or important it eclipses all of that. It casts a pall over my otherwise thoroughly fulfilling life.

I also know that I was not just twiddling my thumbs while everyone else was pursuing their careers and “getting things done”.  But the work in which I was engaged was of a deeper more personal kind.  While others were building their external lives and engaging with the outside world I was doing the hard but invisible work of healing, of trying to learn how to be okay.  It boggles my mind now to think of how many years I went, knowing that I needed some kind of treatment, some kind of professional support in my quest for mental health, and got none.  Ironically, university was the one time in my life when I could have gotten free therapy but I never availed myself of it because university was also the longest stretch I went un-medicated with no significant episodes of depression.  Until a month or two before graduation when I started to slip into a nearly paralysing depression that waxed and waned for more than a year.  At a time when I should have been jumping into the working world I was barely able to leave the house, just struggling to keep my head above water.

I know all of this. I know, intellectually how important the work of healing has been and how much energy and time it has taken and still takes.

But despite knowing all of that, I just can’t seem to shut down that voice that tells me that I can’t and will never measure up. That failure is inevitable. That I’m going through the motions, pretending that I haven’t already failed.  That there’s nowhere left to go because if I can’t make a success of this I don’t know what else to do.  That even if I decided to give up and go to work for someone else, no one would have me.

And right now I just want to “live my life as it should be” and “the world as it is” can go fuck itself.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sigh. Here we go again.

So the ugly beast rears its head again.
I am so tired of this
This being crazy
This being broken
This roller coaster ride that is my mental health.

I spoke to a friend about my insecurities when I hear other mothers talking about how tired they are after they run off a list of the fifty things they did that day.
I told her that when I hear this I think, “How did you do all of that? I barely clean and I’m still exhausted.”
The reality is that with every day I am doing the invisible work.
Not the invisible work of motherhood or marriage but the invisible work of being and staying okay.
The invisible work of holding myself together.

We talk a lot about the importance of being true to yourself and forging your own path. We talk about the value of the outliers and those who see the world differently.
We talk about not caring about social expectations or conventional norms.

What we fail to talk about is that just because you are different, just because you follow your own path, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t hard as hell.

I don’t want to be anyone else.
I don’t want to fit in.
But I do want to have somewhere that I feel I belong.
I try to imagine what it must feel like to not feel so profoundly set a part from those around me.

I want to know what it feels like to not feel profoundly, inexorably broken.

I want to know what it feels like to not have lost a parent.
I want to know what it feels like to have a clear and well-defined path.
I want to know what it feels like to have a cohesive extended family.
I want to know what it feels like to assume that things will work out.
I want to know what it feels like to have a consistent group of long time friends.
I want to know what it feels like to feel comfortable in social situations.
I want to know what it feels like to not always be wondering if I should expose this or that part of my life and my history.

And sometimes, when things get bad I want to know what it feels like to drink myself into oblivion.
Sometimes I want to know what it feels like to make the pain real with a razor.
Sometimes I want to know what it feels like to smash everything in sight.

For whatever reason, something stops me. I can’t bring myself to cross these lines.
I know that I have to find a way to push through.
And then sometimes I feel trapped.
I feel trapped by the knowledge that not living isn’t an option.

And so, I’m tired. Tired to the marrow of doing what I need to do to be okay.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

It gets better, but is that the point?

Lately it feels like every day on Facebook there’s a new post about a queer (or presumed queer) teen killing themselves as a result of homophobic bullying. My reaction to this has not been the predictable shock or sadness. Not because I don’t care and not because this isn’t appalling and tragic. No, the reality is that there is nothing about this that surprises me. This is not new. Queer teens have always had a significantly higher rate of suicide. Queer teens have always faced merciless bullying. Even teens who are not queer face homophobic bullying if they are deemed somehow unacceptable by their peers. The only thing I see here that is new is that the media is actually talking about it.

In response to these tragic stories Dan Savage has started a YouTube campaign aimed at giving queer teens some hope. Hundreds of people have posted videos to the “It Gets Better” campaign including the likes of Ann Hathaway and Kathy Griffin. I admire the intent behind this and I believe that it will provide some glimmer of light for some teens but I guess I’m also a little cynical. I imagine myself at 15 struggling to muddle on through the fog of my depression and I know what I would have been thinking watching all these videos telling me it would get better. I would have thought, “You don’t know me, you don’t know my life. Just because it got better for you that has nothing to do with me.”

And this is really what it comes down to. What is the line that divides the bullied kids who do try or succeed at killing themselves from those who don’t? The most likely answer is that those who take their own lives are suffering from depression. And the mind under the influence of depression has its own dark logic. Man, when I was in a depression I could ‘reason’ away anyone’s message of hope or sound advice. If someone said, “You’re a wonderful person, so intelligent and compassionate” I would just tell myself that they didn’t really know me and I wasn’t who they thought I was. If someone said, “I promise it will get better, this is just high school” I would just tell myself that it was a meaningless platitude and they didn’t understand just how bad it was. But beyond all of that there is the simple fact that at that moment when you’re standing on the edge of that cliff, it doesn’t matter if it will be better in five or even two years. What matters is that it’s unbearable right now and you can’t imagine how to live with this pain until that magic grown-up time when “it get’s better.”

When I tried to kill myself it wasn’t when I was in the thick of being bullied. It wasn’t when I couldn’t bear to face another day of school. No, when I reached my breaking point with the bullying I talked to my parents and we found a way for me to move away and go to another school. The suicide attempt came several months after I’d escaped that hellhole. It came when I realized that while I’d left the circumstances behind, all of the incumbent misery was still right there with me. The bullies may have been removed but the depression remained. When I realized that leaving the bullies behind was not enough, that was when I truly despaired.

So yes, give your message of hope. But lets talk about what’s really killing these kids. Homophobia and bullying are the circumstances that absolutely need to be changed but if you don’t address the depression in a way that’s more meaningful than simply pulling out a prescription pad, those kids who are at most risk will remain at risk.

I don’t have any answers, at least none that don’t require some massive cultural and policy shifts. All I can say is that the one and only thing that stopped me from trying again was that after my first attempt I finally understood what it would do to my friends and family.

To my mother, my sister and everyone else who was there for me, I am deeply sorry. And for all of your love and acceptance, thank you.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Stress? What stress?

Sometimes stress can just creep the fuck up on you (kind of like the cat that is currently licking the back of my head and tickling me with her tail).  Last week I went to a new chiropractor and we started talking about stress and I said something like, "I don't have anything to be stressed out about right now, life is good."  Three days later an old lady accosted me on the street to criticize my parenting and I wound up yelling at her and bawling on a bench with a confused three year old.  Later that same day I was trying to work on a research paper and I started hyperventilating.  Naah, I ain't got nothin' stressin' me.

So what the hell is wrong with me that after 34 years I still get surprised by my stress?  So here's the run down: My kid just started school, it's only in the afternoons so while I do get 4 hours a day out of it, my weekdays consist of keeping the mornings interesting for the both of us, scrambling to feed her lunch and get her to school on time and then seeing how much productivity I can cram into the next 4 hours (minus travel time). And let me tell you I need those four hours.  Graduation is looming and I'm under a deadline to write my research paper, while at the same time seeing three clients, taking 4 hours of classes a week, cooking, shopping, trying not to let my house become a contender for "How Clean is Your House?" and all the while waiting to go under the knife to get my hooha cut.

Stress? What stress, life is good.  I have this blind spot that keeps me from acknowledging that life can be good and still be stressful.  So I sit here and I wonder why do I keep craving pastries and chocolate?  Why does my back hurt so much?  Why am I watching so much damn TV? And where the fuck is that cup of tea I  ordered?!!

Fine, I accept it.  I am stressed.  But one cup of tea, some screaming along with Rage Against the Machine and a self-indulgent blog post later, and I'm starting to feel a little relief.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Crying jags, a "strong" woman's best friend

I am supposed to be together.  I am supposed to be strong.  I am supposed to have overcome my struggles and beaten depression.  Most of the time I feel like this is true.  But every once in awhile I get kicked in the gut by by those gut wrenching tears in the middle of the night.  You either know what I mean or you have no idea what I'm talking about.  I can have a dozen  people who would be there for me in a heartbeat but it's almost 2 in the morning and we're not teenagers anymore.  Calling people in the middle of the night just doesn't apply anymore.  I have a partner soundly sleeping upstairs who would want me to wake him up and let him hold me, but I don't want him to know that I'm not okay.

I feel like I've taken the people who love me around this little theme park one too many times.  If I talk to someone about it then I have to admit to what I'm feeling and thinking.  I know that there is nothing new about these doubts and fears.  They've heard it all before.  And I'm supposed to be okay now.  I'm supposed to be better and stronger and free of self-doubt.  And yes, I know how ridiculous it all sounds.  I know that I would feel better if I could talk about it, but I just feel so damn stupid.  I feel like I should know better and that no one who's been there for me over the years should have to listen to anymore of it.  They've done their time.

Ninety five percent of the time I feel fine.  Fuck, I spend a significant amount of time thinking about all the things for which I'm grateful.  But at two in the morning when everyone else is sleeping and all the lonely feelings and niggling self-doubts start to bubble to the surface I may as well be thirteen again for all the tears and sobs and hyperventilating.  So I curl up on the couch with my go-to sad songs and curl up into myself.  And I know that the only way to get through this, short of crying myself to sleep, is to get out of my head.  And since there's nobody to talk to at this ungodly hour, I write.  And since I know that I can't just keep it all to myself, I blog.  Because if this blog is about honestly putting myself out there then this is it.  Because depression isn't just something you go through, get better and leave behind.

Before I went on antidepressants I knew that, even when I wasn't in a depression, it would inevitably return with little warning to suck the life out of me for another year or two.  Now that I'm medicated it hits me on the occasional lonely night.  If it's really bad it sticks around as a low level numbness for a few days.  But even when I know that the feelings are temporary they are so real and so intense that I just get swept away on the tide for a few hours until I finally come back to the surface.  And I don't really want anyone to know.  And that's not okay.  Because once you start hiding it, whatever it is, you're already losing the battle and letting it control you.  So for now I blog and in the morning I'll tell H.  And just for good measure I'll make sure to get a great big hug from the girl.  Because God knows that's all the love I need.