mental health

My Constant Companion

Dear D

When I don’t feel you pressing down on me, it seems as if you do not exist at all. It makes me wonder why I’m taking medication, not to mention everything else I do to accommodate you. It makes me wonder if I’m really making a big deal out of nothing.

So today I write to you not because you are particularly oppressive, but because whether I am having a ‘good’ day or a ‘bad’ day, you are still here with me. After all, a person who has arthritis or diabetes does not cease to have this condition if they have a series of days that go well.

It’s hard to know what to say to you on days like today. I tend to either want to forget you exist, or stop myself from being happy because maybe that will make the down times less of a fall. I know that’s not true, of course. There’s nothing I can do to make them less painful. The best I can do is enjoy days with little to no pain.

I keep remembering that final scene from the movie A Beautiful Mind where John Nash is accepting his award. When he looks out over the audience, he sees what he now knows are his hallucinations. But instead of their presence being derailing, they are presented as a kind of friend. Of course, I do not have schizophrenia and I have no idea how accurate the movie is related to those aspects of mental health, but it gives me a picture of what I think you could become. The doctors tell me that because you have visited me multiple times, it is unlikely that I will be free of you, so I see the final scene of the movie as a hope that my relationship with you can change. I imagine maybe one day in the future I will be able to observe you without being overwhelmed by you…maybe you’ll even be a bit kinder to me than you are now. I can hope, can’t I?

Until then,

Tami

This post is part of an ongoing series called ‘Dear D’. Click here to view all posts in the series.

Little white pill.

Dear D

I thought we were well acquainted, but even after all these years it seems that you are still somewhat of a mystery to me. The things that worked before do not seem to be working to the same degree now. Sometimes it makes me think I’m crazy.

So the doctor has suggested I try a new medication. New medications seem simple on the surface, but if I’m honest, I always have some fear when I try a new one. They give you this pamphlet filled with information about what this medication could do to you. Yes, it’s supposed to help, but it can also do all of these things that are the opposite of what you want it to do. Potentially hurt or potentially harm. And even though they give you this big list and you should feel so well informed, at the same time you wonder – what is this medication going to do to me? They can put together this list of all the potential effects, but they don’t know exactly how my body, my mind is going to react. And if it reacts badly, is it worth the side effects just to be free of you?

I make my decision. The little white pill looks so small and unassuming, but there is so much more there. I slip it into my mouth, hoping, hoping that it’s going to do what the doctor wants it to do, what I want it to do, what the pharmacist says it could do. But not knowing at the same time. All I can do is wait and see.

I’m thrust into a new level of hyper-vigilance with the entirety of my body and mind. Is that pain new? Is that because of the medication? Am I feeling a new body ache or is that something that was always there? What’s happening in my mind? I try to pray and have peace, knowing that God is in control and that it’s going to be okay. Yet I’m here, with this little pill now inside of me, wondering what it’s going to do, and only time will tell.

Tami

 

This post is part of an ongoing series called ‘Dear D’. Click here to view all posts in the series.

Seeing my blindness

Dear D

You’ve made my life hard this week. I’ve been trying to be aware that what I feel in times like these is not ‘normal’. That is, there are times when I do think clearly and have motivation. I am not always blinded to reality, exhausted, and feeling alone. I know this time will pass, but that does not make it easier, it only gives a thin ray of hope that this is not the end. In the meantime, I try to be gracious with myself and facilitate many distractions to make things more bearable. I have an insatiable drive to achieve, yet inadequate resources to even attempt satisfaction.

I still don’t know how to make friends with you when you make the mundane aspects of life like walking through quicksand. I don’t even know how to figure it out. You move cloaked in mystery, but I feel you pressing me down. I am, at best, an ambivalent acquaintance, and at worst, a sworn enemy. Logic tells me there is a way forward, but my eyes fail me as to where it is.

Walking by faith,

Tami

 

This post is part of an ongoing series called ‘Dear D’. Click here to view all posts in the series.

A beginning

This is the first post in what will be an ongoing series where I write to D, which stands for Depression, in an effort to turn an enemy into a friend. To see all posts, visit the Series page for Dear D.

Dear D,

How do you turn an enemy into a friend? That’s the question I find myself asking these days. I was taught to love my enemies, but I have hated you. Maybe that’s the place I should start – with repentance.

I forgot again today. I’m sorry.
I know you told me so.
Actually, you told me over and over again.
Begging me.
My to-do list was too long.
My drive to succeed too strong.
My disbelief too loud.
My heart too proud.
I’m sorry, but.

You told me I only succeeded in creating a possibility,
not a guarantee.
I thought I had done enough.
I’m tired of doing. Forcing.
Yet I continue,
fearful that in stopping I would be undone.
I’m sorry.

Please convince me again.
Show me the wisdom of your ways.
Integrate my scattered mind, my weary body, my fragile spirit.
I long to be whole, but.
I betray myself.
Too much longer and I’ll lose you completely.
Then in the silence there will be nothing left to say.
I hope you see that I am trying.
Do you?
I’m sorry.

Shhh…Speak Up! On Silencing the Reality of Mental Illness

Suppose I were to tell you that I had a bad heart or a broken leg. My guess is you would probably respond with a sympathetic ear and an offer to help.

But suppose I told you I was hearing voices, had debilitating panic attacks, or repeated suicidal thoughts. I would probably watch as you avoided my gaze and shifted uncomfortably in your seat. Or, I’d hear you say something like, “Don’t be silly. Stop talking about those things.” “Just think positively.” Or even, “Snap out of it.”

The truth is, there’s a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness, even amongst those who are otherwise well informed and intelligent. An even greater truth is that even those who are otherwise well informed and intelligent can be struck by a debilitating mental illness. Mental illness does not discriminate. It can strike anyone, anywhere. Even those who feel impervious to its reality. I think I was one of those people.

I always thought I was a strong and ‘in control’ person. I avoided the so-called ‘messy emotions’ and put forth an image of someone who was consistently put together. I would have responded like the hypothetical person above if someone had told me about their mental illness. I never believed it could happen to me. But it did.

I had just come back to Canada after a year overseas, and I wasn’t prepared for the reality of the transition. I struggled immensely, and I never really came out of it. After a few months, I went to university and the darkness followed. There were good times, but inevitably, I would end up feeling swallowed by a deep sadness. I remember a friend saying to me on different occasions, “I think you have depre—”. But each time she couldn’t finish, because I cut her off with an emphatic “No! That couldn’t happen to me!”

Months and months went by, but nothing changed. I was getting more and more desperate as hope slipped through my fingers. As much as I hated to admit it, I began to consider the thought that she may be right. Finally, with much agonizing, I went to the doctor. My worst fears were confirmed. I had depression.

For some time I couldn’t even say the word, because the reality was too painful to bear. Besides, I believed I could figure out a way to ‘kick it’ on my own. If I tried hard enough, prayed long enough, trusted God enough, then somehow it would disappear like a bad dream.

It was an extremely lonely and isolating place to be. I was terrified of others, especially those in my church, finding out about my ‘condition.’ I thought that if they knew, they would see me as weak and reject me. It’s not that anyone said these things outright, but mental illness was never a topic of discussion, so by virtue of omission, it became a breeding ground for assumption and fear. So, while I wasted away inside, I put on a good face and pretended I was fine.

But nothing seemed to help. I fell further into what I was starting to think was hell on earth, and I lost hope that my life could change. Maybe that’s part of the reason why I decided to try medication. It sounds like an easy decision, but to me it confirmed the fact that I was weak and a failure. My fear increased because of what might happen when I would have to disclose these things on applications or such things in the future.

Medication was a long road full of changing doses and types to try to figure out what worked for me. I was very blessed to have doctors that cared, supportive family and friends, and a good counsellor. After four long years of being on and off different medications, I was able to come off slowly with the advice of my doctor. Words can’t properly express the joy I experience when I say that, by God’s grace, I have been off medication for just over one year, and depression free ever since. I never believed that this could happen, but it has, and I am so grateful.

Now, having lived through mental illness myself, I’m no longer the seat-shifting, gaze-avoiding, stigma-enforcer. I know what it can be like, and that’s why I’m speaking up. When we speak about it, we command the fog of misunderstanding, stigma, assumptions, and fear to flee. We clear the air and make space for truth. We’ve learned to accept and help those with bad hearts and broken legs, so why not those with depression, schizophrenia, or anxiety?

Let’s ‘shhhh’ those people who tell us to be silent, and speak up about mental illness.

If you’re reading this and you are suffering from some sort of mental illness, be it depression or something else, please know that you’re not alone, you’re not weak, and you’re not a failure. Actually, to make it to where you are now means you’re quite strong. But please don’t make the mistake I did and keep silent, trying to fix things on your own. Find somebody you trust and get the help you need.