Trying to Help Others Understand Anxiety

Whenever I start to explain that part of my mental illness diagnosis includes severe anxiety, I always receive confused looks.  They are usually followed by judgmental comments about how “everyone has problems and stress in their lives”, telling me that I need to “learn to cope and work through it all”.  I get told that I “shouldn’t let every little thing get to me” and that I’d be so much happier if I “stopped stressing over everything and just mellowed out”.

I have others that have gone so far as to make accusations about whether my anxiety is even real or just in my head.  They’ll question how I could claim I’m “too anxious” to go somewhere to fill out paperwork yet am “perfectly comfortable attending things like farmer’s markets or street fairs”.  I’ve tried to explain that it isn’t the same thing.  I don’t have social anxiety.  People and crowds are not my issue.  My anxiety is situational and builds upon itself, making it harder to function in some situations than others.

I’ve tried to explain my anxiety again and again until I was blue in the face, yet I’ve been met with blank stares or judgments more often than not.  I finally sat down and made an overly simplified chart, similar to the pain level chart used in doctor’s offices,  in hope that it might be more  relatable and help others understand.

anxietychart

The average happy and well-balanced person starts an average day with 0 anxiety.  The sun is shining, the birds are singing, their rent and car payments have been paid, their family is healthy and happy.  Life is good.

Little daily stresses might raise things to a 1 or a 2, but it’s nothing they can’t handle.  Every now and then, there’s a 3, 4 or 5.  Life happens.  It isn’t always easy but it’s nothing that can’t be smoothed out and they know it won’t be long until they’re back down to a 1 or two again, or even enjoying one of those blessed days with 0 anxiety.

People struggling with an anxiety diagnosis never see a 1 or a 2, let alone a day with 0 anxiety.  Their good days start around a 3, their average days around a 4 or 5.  It isn’t even that any major crisis may be going on in their lives causing their heightened anxiety.  It is that their body and their mind are reacting and responding as if it was.  And, being already frazzled, every little added thing that goes wrong just adds to their anxiety until inside their heads they are in a complete panic, running around with arms flailing, screaming that the sky is falling, Chicken Little-style.  Or even worse, they just wrap themselves in a blanket and shut down completely.

Now to get back to explaining the situational anxiety I mentioned earlier.  High stress situations already start off at a higher anxiety level than normal for us because our minds are already considering every single thing that could go wrong.  Every time there is a bump in the road and things don’t work out like they should, it adds more anxiety to the pile for next time.  All it takes is a couple times where things go wrong before our bodies and minds start to panic when it comes to anything associated with that person, place or thing.

Managing our anxiety is not as simple as taking a deep breath, learning to think positive or not sweating the small stuff.  We are not intentionally causing our anxiety.  Our anxiety fires off somewhere in our subconscious.  We have no control over it.  Our mind starts sending out warnings and our body responds.  We find ourselves on edge, our chests tightened, our thoughts muddled, our mouths dry, our palms sweaty.  There are times we’re not even sure what we are anxious about, only that the anxiety is there.

Once our anxiety has reached a certain level, we begin to have anxiety attacks.  Our body goes into auto-pilot in a full blown panic.  Anxiety attacks present themselves differently for different people, but in every case it is our body’s way of saying that it cannot take any more.  Beyond the anxiety attack is the shut down, that numbness where you’re mentally, emotionally and physically too exhausted to think or function.  I have not included a level 10 anxiety level because, though I have experienced many anxiety attacks and shut downs, I have never personally experienced anything beyond that.  I do imagine there is something worse, though I am not sure what could possibly be worse than everything I have already been enduring.

That is not to say that conscious breathing exercises, meditation or other such exercises do not help.  They can help pull us back into a state of self-awareness that can stave off a full blown anxiety attack.  But they are not a panacea.  They will not magically cure an anxiety disorder, just facilitate in pulling some people some times back into the here and now.

That is because an anxiety disorder is a mental illness.  It is not something we are doing to ourselves because we are easily panicked or excitable.  It is not something we’ve made up in our heads.  Much like a diabetic can help regulate their highs and lows by eating at regular times and monitoring their sugar intake, someone with an anxiety disorder can use tools such as conscious breathing to help moderate their anxiety.  But getting exercise or not eating that candy bar won’t cure diabetes any more than meditation will cure anxiety.  It is our medical diagnosis.

I know the chart I made is extremely simplified – anyone suffering with anxiety can testify that it is so much worse, but I wanted to give examples that the average person could relate to, as well as providing a build up they might be able to imagine in their own lives.

I know that it can be hard for those who have never experienced a mental illness such as anxiety to truly understand what we are going through.  Please try to keep in mind, though, that it is not something we are intentionally doing to make our lives, or yours, harder.  Our brains are always reacting and responding to the world around us at a heightened state.  We have no control over it and are trying our best to manage our anxiety to the best of our ability.  But it is a medical diagnosis that needs treatment.  It is not something we can magically cure on our own.

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Stop Blaming the Entire Mental Health Community Whenever a Senseless Tragedy Happens

Mass shootings are commonplace in the United States these days.  One community has barely had a chance to mourn and bury their dead before another incident appears somewhere else on the map.  After the school shooting yesterday, a jaw-dropping statistic began to appear across the internet: In the U.S., there has been a gun incident at a school every 60 hours so far in 2018.  That is one every two and a half days.

Everyone is so quick to point fingers and lay blame.  One of the biggest scapegoats is the mentally ill.  Mental illness has become a dirty word.

When someone does something senseless and tragic, one of the first things you hear is that it wouldn’t have happened if not for better mental health treatment.  When there is a shooting, people question how someone who was mentally ill had access to guns.  When someone drives a vehicle into a crowded area or a parent kills their children, people question why someone who was that mentally ill was even allowed out on the street.  People clamor for more laws restricting the rights of the mentally ill for the protection of communities at large.  Politicians respond by shouting promises that there will be change in lieu of this mental health epidemic.

As someone who has struggled with mental illness my entire life, what I see are torches and pitchforks, what I am hearing is one step away from “lock all the crazies up for the safety of everyone else!”  It is a slippery slope.

Please know that I am in no way disputing that those people who commit senseless atrocities like mass shootings are severely mentally ill and desperately in need of help.  What I am saying is that mental illness exists on a broad spectrum.  Mental illness is  term to describe a wide variety of conditions that originate in the brain.  The scope of mental illness extends from diseases of the brain to diseases of the mind.

Everyone suffering from a mental illness is not the same.  The Diagnostic and Statistical manual, or DSM, is published by the American Psychiatric Association and is used to diagnose mental illnesses.  The current APA list has around 400 different diagnosis, covering a wide range of mental, emotional or behavioral disorders.*

Yes, there are people that are mentally ill that are violent and commit unspeakable acts.  It might even be fair to say that someone has to have something wrong in their head to even be able to carry out anything as heinous as a mass shooting.  But the majority of people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness are non-violent.

According to recent statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI**, 18.5% of adults in the United States, over 43 million people, experience mental illness every year.  If a mental illness diagnosis alone was enough to determine a person was dangerous and likely to commit violent acts, with 43 million people suffering from mental illness every year, the numbers of violent crimes would be astronomical.

With millions of people in prisons across the United States and over a million more being sentenced each year to incarceration***, you would assume that prisons would be a hotbed of mental illness.  However, again according to NAMI statistics**, only 24%, not even one quarter of inmates, have had any recent mental health diagnosis.

The fact is that a recent study published in the American Journal of  Public Health shows that a person with mental illness is far more likely to be a victim of violence than the perpetrator****.  Based on this study’s statistics, almost one-third of adults who have been diagnosed with mental illness had been victimized in some way during the previous 6 month period, with over 40% being victimized multiple times.  Of the 23% of mentally ill persons in the study who had committed any sort of violent act in the previous 6 months, roughly 2/3 of the violence had occurred in a home or other residential setting.  A meager 2.6% of violence occurred outside the home in a school or workplace environment.  The most startling fact to come to light in this study, however, is that the victims of violence were 11 times more likely to commit violent acts themselves afterwards.

Yes, something has to be done in regards to mental health treatment in the United States.  But it is NOT because the mentally ill population is inherently violent and unsafe to wander the streets unrestricted and unregulated.  Mental illness and the way it is regarded in this country is a societal epidemic.  Those who have been diagnosed with mental illness must deal with constant stigma.  We are ostracized as being crazy and unbalanced, simultaneously a joke to be mocked and a dangerous monster who needs to be locked up for their own safety and the safety of others.  We often hide our diagnosis for fear of judgment or minimize our struggles to reassure others they have nothing to fear or worry about.

The way a mentally ill diagnosis is handled in this country has to change.  We need to be able to speak up, speak out and receive the treatment we need.  Though NAMI statistics show over 43 million people struggle with mental illness each year, only 41% have received treatment for their condition**.  Roughly one-fourth of the disability applications for Social Security list mental illness as their primary impairment.  Though NAMI statistics** show that 9.8 million people annually experience a severe mental illness that drastically impairs their ability to function, statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health show that only roughly 2.7 million people are deemed eligible for SSI or SSDI*****.  As I can attest, anyone who is applying for disability due to mental illness is advised to get a lawyer and to expect to be denied at least once, if not multiple times, regardless of how much documentation you have for your diagnosis.  Though my mental illness is due in large part to a verifiable genetic mutation I was born with, combined with well-documented trauma, I, myself, have been denied multiple times and still am deemed ineligible by government standards.  For years, I have struggled with red tape, jumping through hoop after hoop, hoping to get the help I need, only to hit brick wall after brick wall, having to begin the process all over again.

The lack of adequate treatment for mental illness in this country has grown rampant.  Suicide is currently the 10th highest cause of death in this country, 3rd highest among 10-14 year olds and 2nd highest for 15-24 year olds, according to NAMI statistics**.  Recently, a video of a disoriented mentally ill woman being cast out on the street by a hospital staff has gone viral.  According to the National Coalition for Homelessness, between 20-25% of the homeless population suffers from “a severe form of mental illness”********.  Mental illness is listed as the 3rd highest cause of homelessness.  People are falling through the cracks, wandering the streets untreated, people are dying, our children are dying, and yet nothing is being done.  The lives of the mentally ill are one by one becoming nothing more than statistics.

It should not be so hard to get help in this country.

There are others who are afraid to reach out for help due to government restrictions on the mentally ill.  There is an epidemic of mental illness and substance abuse among our military.  According to the APA, almost one-fourth of our soldiers, up to 24.4%, are struggling with mental illnesses such as PTSD******.  A recent study published in Science Daily from The University at Buffalo observing the mental and physical effects of law enforcement determined that not only was PTSD and depression a substantial issue, but nearly one quarter of police officers admitted to suicidal thoughts, much higher than the 13.5% of the general population*******.  And these are only the statistics of those who have willingly come forward seeking treatment.  Due to the push for politicians to pass laws regulating gun ownership, a mental illness diagnosis could result in losing the right to even own a gun.  How do we encourage our soldiers and police officers to get the help they need when it could mean giving up their livelihood in the process?

I personally know many people who are afraid to have a record on file about their struggles with mental illness.  They are people who hunt for recreation and are legitimately afraid that a diagnosis would take away their 2nd amendment rights and their ability to feed their families.  They are people who fear a diagnosis would negatively impact their career or their ability to advance due to the stigma attached.  They are people who have seen firsthand how poorly the mentally ill are treated in this country and do not want to be labeled as crazy and unbalanced, as well.  So instead, they suffer in silence, without treatment, until something cracks and breaks.

Yes, there is a mental illness epidemic in this country that is leading to horrifically tragic events.  But it is NOT due to people with mental illness having access to guns nor is it due to mentally ill people wandering around free and unfettered.  It is a direct result of society’s treatment, and lack of treatment thereof, of the mentally ill population.  Please take a second again and consider the facts.

Fact: Over 43 million people every single year struggle with mental illness**.

Fact: Only 41% of those with a mental health condition have received medical help for their condition in the last year **.

Fact: One third of people with a mental illness are victimized and abused every six months and those who are victims of abuse are eleven times more likely to commit a violent act themselves****.

We desperately need to change how mental illness is viewed and treated in this country.  The mentally ill population does not need more restrictions and regulations.  We need more access to health care, better support and protections.  We need assurances that it is okay to seek help and guarantees that the millions of us with a mental illness diagnosis will not all become vilified due to the actions of a minute few.

We need the stigma and persecution to end and the help and healing to begin.

That is the only way that things can change.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 2/20/18.

* AMA literature with the DSM codes for the broad spectrum of mental illnesses can be found at:  https://dsm.psychiatryonline.org/doi/book/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596

** NAMI’s Mental Health by the Numbers statistics can be found at:  https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers

*** Bureau of Justice Statistics page that provides incarceration numbers can be found at:  https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=11

**** Study entitled “Community Violence Perpetration and Victimization Among Adults With Mental Illnesses” can be found at:  http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2013.301680

***** Statistics from National Institute of Mental Health can be found at:  https://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/directors/thomas-insel/blog/2015/mental-health-awareness-month-by-the-numbers.shtml

****** APA Statistics on Veterans can be found at:  http://www.apa.org/advocacy/military-veterans/mental-health-needs.pdf

*******Study on Law Enforcement done by the University of Buffalo, published by Science Daily can be found at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080926105029.htm

******** The National Coalition for Homelessness report on Homelessness and Mental Illness can be found at:  http://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/Mental_Illness.pdf

The Frustration of Explaining Mental Illness to Those Who Have Never Experienced it Themselves

I would not wish mental illness on anyone else.  Having a mental illness is like waging a continuous war within yourself where half the time you are not even sure what is being fought over, only that the battle rages on.  There is never a true moment of peace.  You may have good days, yes, but even on those blessed days there is never peace because you can feel its presence, always looming, weighing down on your soul, preparing to strike again.  There might be small periods of respite here and there, the calm before the storm, but anyone fighting their own battle with mental illness knows it is only a matter of time before another downward spiral or another period of numbness, appears.  One of the worst things about having a mental illness is that we don’t even fully understand what is going on within our own minds and bodies, let alone have the words to adequately explain it to others.  Even more frustrating is when someone else puts us on the defensive because they do not fully understand what we are going through but assume they do because they have been exposed to it from a sideline view.

Someone who has never been in a car crash cannot reasonably say “I know what it is like because one of my family members has been in one” or “because I’ve taken care of someone who has had one”.

Someone who has never had cancer cannot reasonably say “I know what it is like because one of my family members has had cancer” or “because I’ve helped to take care of people who have had cancer”.

Likewise, someone who has never had a mental illness cannot truly understand what it is like to live with one, regardless of whether they worked with people who had one or had a family member diagnosed with one.

You can sympathize with someone else who is struggling but you cannot truly understand what it is like to live with mental illness merely by being exposed to it second-hand in others.  Witnessing others being traumatized is not the same as experiencing the trauma yourself.  It is not something you can experience vicariously and fully understand the suffering.  As much as we might try to explain what it is like in order to help others somewhat understand, there are no words we possess that would adequately explain all that we are going through.  And anything we say is usually just the tip of the iceberg, minimized for the benefit of others because we don’t want to overwhelm or scare anyone else with the horrors of our reality.   Mental illness is something that you truly have to experience firsthand to fully understand.

Nothing is more frustrating than having someone verbally attack the core of our illness as “making no sense”, expecting us to fully explain something that we ourselves have trouble understanding.  Or to be called out, as if we are somehow inherently wrong for even being mentally ill at all.

I have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, major depression and P.T.S.D.

Due to severe anxiety attacks during periods of high stress, one of the agencies I work with recently arranged a home visit as an alternative to my having an office visit.  I had someone interject that their mother is bipolar and has done the same thing, claiming that it is ridiculous that her mother can attend highly populated events such as street fairs but cannot go to a downtown office to complete some paperwork.  She then demanded to know whether I was equally unreasonable, attending random public events while claiming I was incapable of going out to an appointment.

I tried to explain that it isn’t how generalized anxiety works.  I am not anxious being around people.  I do not have social anxiety.  With generalized anxiety, I live in a constant state of heightened anxiety that is worsened by stressful situations.  On a scale of 1-10, most people start off an average day around a one or a two.  If there is nothing to worry about, there’s no reason for an average person to be anxious.  If someone’s rent is coming due and money is tight, their anxiety level might be raised to a two or three.  If, on top of that, they’re worried about being laid off, their anxiety might be raised to a three or four.  Not getting enough time with your kids, needing unplanned repairs on a home or vehicle that you cannot afford, unexpected illnesses and deaths all increase anxiety.  With each newly added stress, anxiety continues to compound and raise.

Now imagine starting every day at a 4 or a 5.  Even worse, most of the time you’re not even sure why exactly you’re anxious.  You just know that feeling is there.  You’re notably on edge, you’re distracted, you’re hyper-vigilant.  Your body is physically reacting to the stress.  You are visibly flustered, your chest is tightened, you find yourself shaking or bouncing your limbs or no reason, you have trouble focusing your thoughts and forming coherent words.  Each new added stress only raises everything higher.  It doesn’t take much until you find yourself at a 7 or 8, in a full blown anxiety attack.

Consider going to an office to do paperwork, starting at the 4 or 5 those with anxiety might begin each day with.  If a previous visit there did not go well, your mind relates the two and it adheres the past to the present situation.  If there were subsequent visits that did not go well, each of them is an added stress, as well.  Your mind is hyper-vigilant, constantly reviewing situations and drawing connections, trying to protect you from duplicating a previous bad experience.  After a few bad experiences somewhere or with someone, that compounded anxiety becomes too much to bear.   Your mind begins firing off danger warnings and your body reacts accordingly.  Your fight or flight response kicks in.  You want to run away, to scream, to avoid it at all costs.  You freeze like a deer caught in the headlights or you become agitated and aggressive because you feel an overwhelming need to protect and defend yourself.  It all occurs subconsciously in the brain.  Your anxiety rises on its own without any conscious decision on your part.  You are not intentionally overreacting or being melodramatic.  Your mind and body are just reacting to the situation at hand based on the data it has compiled.  It is the truth of living with anxiety.

Attending a populated event is another situation entirely.  In all honesty, each situation is different depending on our previous experiences with the location, the people involved and many other contributing factors.  We cannot even reasonably predict ahead of time whether a situation will feel safe or not because literally anything could trigger a raise in anxiety.  It never takes long before that heightened anxiety reaches dangerous levels and an anxiety attack ensues.  We have very limited control over situations.  Our mind and body are steering the car and we are just along for the ride.

My explanation fell on deaf ears.

Perhaps even worse than trying to help others understand anxiety is trying to explain depression.  Too many people who have either never experienced depression or who have only experienced a temporary or situational, mild bout, have a habit of aggressively attacking those suffering from more severe, debilitating depression for not being able to “bounce back” quickly enough to meet their standards.

We are accused of being lazy and having pity parties.  We are told that they “know what it’s like but..” you have to stop feeling sorry for yourself, you have to be more positive and at least try, you have to pull your shit together and do what has to be done.  We are accused of not trying hard enough, of not even trying at all.  We are asked why we are not even working part time and told of a myriad of other people who were able to magically pull themselves together, shamed into feeling like we are horrible people for being unable to function as well as they or someone else they know did.

I have tried explaining the realities of severe depression, only to have it fall on deaf ears, as well.

Those of us suffering from depression are not having pity parties.  Depression is far more than just being sad or feeling negative about our circumstances in life.  There are days when the world feels bleak and hopeless, where you are convinced you are completely alone and become trapped in an empty numbness that renders you virtually immobile.  It isn’t that you are not aware of everything that needs to be done or that you don’t want to do it – you are trapped within yourself, unable to pull yourself up to do even the simplest of tasks.  You might lay there for hours, beating yourself up as your inner dialogue drums into your consciousness everything you could be doing, should be doing, and how broken, worthless and useless you are for being incapable of doing anything at all.  There are days you spiral down into negativity, tearing yourself apart viciously for being garbage because some part of your brain believes that is what you deserve.  You tear yourself apart for being broken, damaged, and flawed worse than anyone else could ever do.  There are days when the tears keep flowing even though you cannot pinpoint exactly why, beyond “life itself” and days you’ll sit in a fog, doing nothing or randomly puttering, losing hours at a time.

Whether we’re trapped in numbness or spiraling down, our minds are constantly whirling, reminding us of all we should be doing and how much of a failure we are for not accomplishing everything we believe we should.  We desperately want to do more, to do better, to do anything at all.  We hate ourselves for not being able to do everything we believe we should be able to do.  We feel like a failure that has let everyone down.  But our minds have betrayed us.  We are in a constant battle within our own heads.  We have so many emotions, so much hurt, pain, anger, self-loathing, sadness and confusion swirling within our heads that it is hard to sort it all out and think straight.  Though we can pinpoint the cause of some of it, the majority is so broad and vague that we don’t even understand where it is coming from let alone know how to begin explaining or addressing it all.

Any job, even part-time, is difficult when we cannot plan from one hour to the next, let alone one day to the next, whether we will be spiraling down into that abyss or frozen in numbness.  Yes, e may have good, functional days, but they do not appear on any set schedule.  We have no idea how or when our depression will strike next or how long it will last. We are not being lazy or just not trying hard enough.  We just cannot reasonably commit ourselves to a schedule when we don’t know how well we’ll be able to function an hour from now, let alone a week from Tuesday from 8am to 4pm.

Perhaps the most asinine assertion I have ever heard from people who did not understand and had never experienced what I was struggling with was the claim I hve heard numerous times that “only soldiers suffer from P.T.S.D.”, as if I was somehow disparaging the armed forces with my diagnosis.  Post traumatic stress disorder is more broad-reaching than the military.  It is fairly common with those who have suffered from years of abuse, especially during their childhood as I have, or have experienced traumatic or violent events in their lives such as rape, as I have.  Flashbacks, nightmares and night terrors are not exclusive to those in a uniform.  Do not minimize my trauma because I fought a different kind of war on a different type of battlefield.

I truly appreciate when people acknowledge my diagnosis and attempt to empathize with all that I am struggling with because it really is a daily battle.  It is heart-wrenching and honestly makes me want to cry whenever someone has been through something so similar that they can truly relate to what I am going through because I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.  My heart goes out to everyone fighting a battle within themselves that they cannot seem to fully explain and constantly feel judged for having because I have been there and understand how exhausting it is to have to defend yourself for your diagnosis.  But please don’t ever use the second-hand experiences you’ve witnessed others having to minimize what I am going through.  Knowing someone who has mental illness or even working around people that have been diagnosed with a mental illness is not the same thing as living with one yourself.  Even individual diagnosis can differ greatly, as well, so you cannot measure two personal experiences by the same bar.  You cannot truly understand what a person is going through before walking a mile in their shoes so please stop judging me for my diagnosis when you have no idea of the battles I am fighting inside.  I truly appreciate compassion and empathy but please leave your judgment at the door.

What Suicidal Ideation Looks Like

I am not suicidal.  I have no active plans to kill myself.  I just honestly don’t want to live right now either.

Most people don’t understand there is a distinct difference between being suicidal and suffering from suicidal ideation.

When someone is suicidal, they actively want to die.  People who are suicidal rarely talk about how they are feeling because they have already given up.  They see no point in bothering anyone with their decision and aren’t looking for anyone trying to talk them out of it.  They’ve already made up their mind.  They spend their days taking a mental inventory of accessible means to follow through with their decision and planning their departure from this world.

I have been suicidal in the past.  Before each attempt, I had a mental tally of all the medication I had access to, I knew which knives in my house were the sharpest, and had pinpointed where in my house I could string up a rope that would hold my weight.  Thoughts of death consumed me.

Suicidal ideation is different.  I am not actively looking to die or making plans to end my life rather I am struggling with wanting to live.  To anyone from the outside looking in, they might think it is the same thing.  I can assure you it is not.  There is a big difference.

People struggling with suicidal ideation are usually vocal about their exasperation with life.  However, they are usually afraid to fully open up about it because whenever many people hear the word “suicidal”, they panic, assuming that if they don’t intervene right away, the person might harm themselves.  Others respond cruelly, claiming the person is having a pity party or just looking for attention, that they would have just killed themselves if they were truly serious.  Either way, the moment anything involving suicide is mentioned, most people stop listening altogether and just react and respond out of fear or judgment.

I spend a good portion of my days feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted.  I feel almost constantly overwhelmed and weighed down by the pressures of life.  My mind is filled with repetitive thoughts about how I can’t keep living like this anymore.  I am not looking to kill myself or making any plans to do so.  I’m just so tired of struggling.

Not too long ago, I had a very bad bout of suicidal ideation.  I laid in bed for hours crying because I just could not handle my life anymore.  Curled up in a fetal position, I sobbed about how I could not take feeling like nothing ever works out no matter how hard I tried, that I was so tired of fighting, so tired of being stepped on, so tired of not being heard.  Again and again, I cried out that I can’t keep going like this, can’t keep feeling like this, that I’m just not strong enough, that I’m broken beyond repair.  I sobbed and I shook, coughing as mucus poured both out my nose and down my throat.  I rocked and I cried, feeling so lost, so hopeless, more of a mess than anyone should be saddled with.

I cried and I cried until I eventually wore myself out and went numb.  Never once did I start to coordinate a plan to kill myself because I was not suicidal.  I just had the overwhelming feeling that I just could not take living any longer.  I was suffering from suicidal ideation.

After my tears subsided, I laid in bed shaking and shivering.  Eventually, I wandered out into the living room, curling up on the couch with my knees pulled to my chest and a blanket wrapped around me.  I sat there in a fog for hours, mechanically sipping from a cup in my hands.  I didn’t watch anything, do anything, think anything.  I just sat there.  I felt empty, numb, exhausted, worn out.  Never once that day did killing myself cross my mind.  I just was overwhelmed by the feelings of not wanting to live.

I won’t lie.  Suicidal ideation can eventually lead to suicide if gone unchecked for too long.  There is only so long that a person can struggle through life feeling like everything is pointless and all hope is lost before they eventually break.  But if someone is talking about not being able to take living their life any longer, what they need more than anything is for someone to be there, to listen.  They don’t need panic and to be locked up against their will and they don’t need to be called out for “just wanting attention”.  They just need to know they are heard and they are not alone.

Suicidal ideation is a common part of depression.  When life begins feeling like it is too much to bear, it doesn’t take much to trigger that downward spiral into hopelessness and despair.  If someone is talking about feeling this way, they are trying to help you understand just how bad things are inside their head.  No one struggling from suicidal ideation wants to scare anyone else nor are they looking to have some sort of pity party.  They are overwhelmed with life itself and desperately need someone to understand.  Even though there is nothing anyone can say or do to make things better, those suffering do take solace in knowing that others care enough to be there and to listen.

Suicide Without Dying

Suicide without dying.  It happens more often than you might think when someone is suffering from depression.

I have suffered from depression my entire life.  I was born with it.  Due to a genetic mutation, my liver was never able to metabolize a usable amount of a simple substance my brain needed to function properly.  The chemical my body could not metabolize is needed for the manufacture and transportation of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Because my body could not make the substance my brain needed, my own body struggled to make the neurotransmitters it required and the paltry amount my body was able to make had no way to get where they were needed.  Even antidepressants did not work because my brain lacked the substance required to transport them where they were needed.

The discovery of my genetic mutation is fairly recent.  For most of my life, I struggled with a depression that appeared untreatable without ever knowing why.  Over the years, I have seen multiple doctors for the treatment of my depression.  I have rotated through a myriad of combinations and dosages of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications.  Nothing worked.  I was labelled treatment resistant.

I have never experienced a single day without depression looming over me.

Nothing any of my doctors did seemed to help.  They would increase dosages until the side effects were unbearable or until I was a nonfunctional zombie.  Then the process would begin anew with different doctors, different medications, different combinations, different dosages.  It was a living nightmare.

No one around me understood.  They were all confused by the fact that I had been in treatment for years and had taken all types of medications without any results.  Their questions were hounding and relentless.  How was I not better yet?  Was I even trying to get better?  Was it really THAT bad that I was struggling to function and needed help?  Was I even being honest about how I felt or was I exaggerating or faking it?  What did I even have to be depressed about anyway?  So many people in my life who I tried to turn to for assistance were unsupportive and quickly became tired of dealing with my depression.  The nightmare just kept going and going.

Life felt unbearable.  Nothing my doctors did helped.  I had very little support system or assistance.  Every single day, it felt like I was not only fighting against myself and my own brain, but the rest of the world as well.

I couldn’t keep living like I was.

So I gave up.

I didn’t kill myself.  Instead of ending my life, I just stopped living it.

I stopped going to see doctors because nothing they did helped anyway.  I stopped turning in or following up on paperwork for assistance for my depression because it all felt futile.

I was too tired to fight anymore so I just gave up.  I began shutting down and isolating myself.  I put off responding whenever anyone reached out, tossing out apologies for not seeing their messages sooner and making endless excuses to friends about being busy or being sick.  I kept everyone away so they could not see how bad things had become.  Avoidance was easier than explanations.

I stopped talking about how I was doing and feeling because there was nothing anyone could do to change things anyway.  I’d mutter something about being fine then clam back up or changed the subject.  In truth, I was the farthest from fine a person could get.  I had given up.  I didn’t have the energy to explain how I felt or to defend myself from their judgments.  I didn’t want to burden anyone.  I didn’t think anyone would want to be there anyway if they knew how much of a mess I had become.

As I spiraled farther down into the dark abyss of depression, I began avoiding things that used to spark even the slightest happiness.  Why bother partaking in anything that used to give me joy when my numbness would only serve as a painful reminder of how bad things have become?  I cleaned up less often around the house, hiding dirty dishes, clothes and clutter if anyone was coming by.  I put off even basic self-care, showering once or twice a week instead of daily and keeping my hair pulled back so I wouldn’t have to tend to it.  I’d stay in pajamas for days because it wasn’t like I had anywhere to go, anything to do or anyone to see.  After all, my friends all thought I was sick or busy and going to my doctors was a waste of time.

I spent whole days laying in bed crying.  Even more days, I sat or laid around feeling completely numb, bingewatching shows I barely paid attention to or remember, puttering around the house doing nothing in particular and just napping on and off, letting the days pass me by.  I often didn’t bother eating because it felt like too much effort to even move.  I would ignore the growls of my stomach for hours much like the cramps in my bladder until the pain became too much to bear.  What I did eat was usually chosen for ease and convenience not desire.

Days and weeks blended together in nothingness.

I tried to put on a brave face, a smiling face for my children on the portion of the week they were with me, but it was just going through the motions.  Instead of fun outings, we had more and more family movie nights at home.  Instead of the bigger meals I used to make, I would throw together quick and easy cheater meals.  I made endless excuses to them for the funk I was in.  I was tired.  I just wasn’t feeling well.  But I was fine.  But I wasn’t fine.  I had given up.  As much as I tried to shield them from it, looking back, I have no doubt that on some level they knew.  That my depression had such an impact on their childhood will always be one of my biggest regrets.

I have gone through this cycle where I have pulled away from everyone, isolated myself and stopped living numerous times over the years.  It always seemed to happen the same way.  Treatment wasn’t working, getting assistance began feeling impossible, nothing felt like it was ever going to get better and no one else seemed to understand or truly care.  I felt completely broken and all alone in the world.  It was not a world I wanted to live in so I just gave up and stopped living altogether.

Finding out about my genetic mutation and its role in my depression has changed my perspective on many things and has sparked a new journey in self-reflection and self-improvement.  It has also forced me to accept many hard truths.  Perhaps one of the biggest is the fact that every time I gave up, every time I pulled away and isolated myself, every time I stopped living my life, I was committing suicide without dying.

Yes, I was still technically alive but I was barely doing anything more than existing, going through the bare minimum of motions to get from one day to the next.  I had stopped living my life, stopped finding reasons to enjoy life, stopped taking care of myself and shut myself off from the rest of the world.  I may have been breathing and had a pulse, but I was not living.  I had given up just as surely as if I had taken my own life.

I was also putting those I cared about in the position of having to mourn me again and again, to deal with the loss of who I used to be and the bonds we used to have.  I was removing myself from their lives, forcing them to face that loss again and again.  Every time I would resurface and reenter their lives, I considered it a victory that I had climbed back out of that hole, never stopping to consider how much they must have struggled to reconcile with the endless roller coaster I had put them on, being slingshot repeatedly between mourning my loss and having me back to varying degrees.

I know there are some who will question my comparison of severe depression to suicide without dying.  There will be others who will angrily declare they are nothing at all alike, swearing that they know because they have lost loved ones to suicide and I am still here, still breathing, that it is not at all the same.  Please know that I am in no way diminishing the tremendous loss that comes with suicide.  I have been on both sides of that fence, having been both suicidal myself and having lost people I loved to suicide so I would never trivialize it in any way.

People ask so many questions after someone commits suicide.  Why would they do this?  How did this even happen?  How did their life get so bad that they felt giving up was the only option?

As someone who has struggled with suicide myself, I can tell you – it all starts with giving up.  It starts with that feeling that you just can’t go on anymore like you are, that everything is hopeless and that nothing is ever going to change.  It starts with that feeling that you just don’t want to live anymore so you don’t.  You pull away from everyone, you stop taking care of yourself or seeking out help or treatment, you turn your back on anything that used to bring you joy.  You sink so deeply into depression that you just don’t see the point of doing anything anymore.  From that low point, it isn’t a far leap to physically ending your life because you have already stopped living it anyway.  After you’ve already mentally and emotionally committed suicide, you can rationalize physically letting go, as well, because you believe you have nothing left to live for.

I can also tell you that it is a slippery slope.  At first, it’s easy to consider withdrawing and isolation as a kindness to others because you’re still around in some way.  But isolation often leads to thoughts of others being better off if you were completely gone, if perhaps you never existed at all.  While not everyone who pulls away due to depression is actively planning to physically kill themselves, that isolation makes it easier to rationalize taking that final step.  When someone has reached the point of wanting to give up and stop living, it’s not a far stretch to decide to stop breathing, too.

What starts as feelings of hopelessness and despair transitions easily into suicidal ideation, where you don’t want to die but you don’t want to keep living like this anymore either.  Many people suffering from depression experience suicidal ideation from time to time, sometimes frequently.  When thoughts of suicidal ideation turn to action or inaction, and someone stops living altogether, it is not a hard transition from not going through the motions of living anymore to deciding to stop living anymore altogether.

Even consciously knowing and acknowledging the cycle, I still find myself pulled down towards it again whenever my depression gets bad.  When things in my life aren’t going as planned or they begin to fall apart, everything starts to feel hopeless again and I struggle to pull myself up, keep myself going, to not give up.  It is a dangerous edge to walk on and one I fight daily to distance myself from.  I fight a constant battle to stay vigilant and self-aware, to catch myself whenever I start to spiral down and begin to withdraw from life.  Whenever someone is struggling with depression, it’s important to watch for those markers of isolation and giving up because once someone has decided life is no longer worth living, it becomes so much harder to justify continuing to live it at all.

If you see someone in your life start to withdraw, talk to them.  If you notice they are lessening their self-care or beginning to cut everything they enjoy out of their lives, talk to them.  Don’t buy into their excuses and allow them to isolate and pull away.  Be there.  Be persistent.  Listen even if you don’t have any resolutions to offer.  Listen just so they’re heard.  Chances are their feelings might feel uncomfortable or overwhelming to you at first, but know that they need to get them out.  Better out than in.  Encourage them to get help and stay positive but don’t judge them for their struggles to do so.  They need support and encouragement not judgment.  Be a consistent presence in their lives, a counter to the negativity trying to pull them down.  Just be there because them being alone and isolating themselves is the worst place they can be.

If you’re struggling to find reasons to keep going yourself, let those feelings out.  Don’t hold them in.  Talk about them even if they don’t make sense to you just to get them out.  Talk to someone whether it’s a friend, a doctor, a clergyman – anyone.  Just don’t sit home alone in the dark and let those feelings fester because they will only continue to grow and get worse over time if you never let them out.  Don’t push away people that care enough to ask whether you’re okay or lie to them that you’re fine if you’re not.  Don’t worry about scaring them with everything you are going through – if they truly care about you, they would rather deal with some discomfort and worry now than to lose you entirely down the line.  Don’t give up things that make you happy.  If anything, keep seeking out other things to make you smile, even if you have to force yourself to multiple times a day.  Surround yourself with positive things, good things, things that remind you that the world is not completely dark, ugly and hopeless.  Take care of yourself the best that you can.  Eat.  Go to the bathroom.  Shower.  Even if the only thing you manage to do today is take care of yourself, that is enough.

When someone commits suicide, it is permanent.  There is no bringing them back, no changing anything.  It is final.  When someone takes those first steps and decides to stop living, it is often a precursor to suicide.  We need to be more vigilant, with ourselves and with others, when we see those signs of withdrawal and isolation, when we see ourselves or someone else starting to give up and stop living their lives.  We still have the power to change things before they reach that point of no return, before that loss becomes permanent.  I have stopped living a few times before and am still alive to tell the tale.  It is possible to die inside, to give up on life, while still breathing.  It is also possible to come back and live again even after you’ve mentally and emotionally given up.  It is not an easy task but it can be done.

Please know that I understand how hard, lonely and hopeless life can feel.  I know how low depression can pull you.  I know all too well that feeling of not being able to take anything anymore, of just wanting all the pain, all the stress, all the struggling to stop.  I know how unbearable it can all feel.  I understand how someone can reach a point where giving up feels like the best option, the only option.

But it doesn’t have to be.  Please stay strong.  Choose to live.  Choose to keep going.  Even if you can’t do as much as you’d like or as much as you feel you should be able to do, do whatever you can do.  Just don’t give up.  Don’t give in.  Don’t stop living.  Don’t allow any part of yourself to die.

“..Must Be Nice..”

Whenever my ex and I used to fight, one of his favorite go to mudslings was always that “it must be nice to..”, usually followed by something like “sit home and do nothing but wallow in your own misery” or “sit on your ass feeling sorry for yourself while others actually work for a living” or a hundred other potshots that minimized my struggles with mental illness.

Sadly, it’s not an uncommon sentiment when it comes to mental illness.

“Boo hoo.  You’re sad?  Lots of people have problems. Guess what? Everyone does.  You know what everyone else does when they have problems? They get off their ass, deal with them and keep going.”

“You think you have it bad? What do you even have to be depressed about?  Plenty of people have it worse than you do.  You need to stop making excuses and get your shit together.”

“Everyone has shit they’re dealing with.  What makes your problems and your feelings so special that you should get to sit home while everyone else has to bust their ass?”

I have heard those words, and many other sentiments like them, for years.

I have struggled with mental illness, more specifically depression, anxiety and ptsd,  my entire life.  A good portion of my diagnosis is based upon a genetic mutation which has, in essence, been starving my brain for the chemicals it needs to moderate my moods.  I cannot remember a time when I didn’t struggle, didn’t suffer from severe bouts of anxiety and depression.  My mental illness does not come and go.  It is a battle every single day.

I fought for years to be semi-functional, collapsing again and again into mental breakdowns as the compounding stress of trying to keep myself together proved time and again to be too much to bear.  I became a pro at wearing a smiling mask so that everyone else wouldn’t worry even though I felt like I was dying inside.

“..Must be nice..”

I can tell you, without a doubt, that no it is not.  I would not wish this on anyone.

I spend my life smiling through the tears, lying to everyone I love that I’m okay because I don’t want anyone to worry because I know there’s nothing they could do even if they wanted to.  I’ve learned it’s just easier to pretend I’m okay than try to explain things I know they could never understand.

I spend my life going through cycles of numbness where I feel immobilized, incapable of functioning at all, and downward spirals where my own brain urges me to destroy myself, to tear myself apart, because it says I am useless, worthless, a good-for-nothing waste of space.

I spend my life struggling to find joy in anything.  Food often tastes bland, music nothing more than background noise.  Things that make others smile and laugh are often met with apathy because I am so mentally and emotionally drained just from existing that the pleasure centers in my brain often don’t even respond to happy stimuli.  I am not being a Debbie Downer – I honestly often am so numb I feel nothing at all.

I spend my life fighting with myself, with my own brain, because when even the slightest thing goes wrong, I blame myself and my brain begins another tirade about how worthless I am, how I am a burden to everyone in my life and the world would be better without me in it.  No matter how many times I’ve told myself that it’s all lies, that voice never shuts up, never goes away.  It began as other people’s voices but over the years, it has become my own.

I spend my life teetering on the edge of not wanting to die but not exactly wanting to keep living like this, either.  Everything feels too hard, too much, too overwhelming, too agonizing.  All I want most days is just for the pain, the pressure, to just stop long enough for me to catch my breath.  I often curl up in a ball and cry because I just can’t take anymore.  Through my tears, I beg “no more”.

I spend my life worrying constantly about everything that has gone wrong and every scenario in the future that might go wrong because they all feel not only plausible and possible but probable.  My mind is always racing, always thinking, always calculating, always warning me of everything bad that could ever happen.  It never shuts off, never shuts up, going on and on for hours.  It’s the reason I have so much trouble sleeping.

I spend my life taking everything personally because I honestly believe it all must somehow be my fault.  Somewhere deep in my subconscious, I believe I am fundamentally broken so I always seek out my blame in everything, even when my common sense reassures me that I am blameless.  I apologize constantly, even when I’m unsure what I may have done wrong, or if I know it was something I had no control over, because there always has to be something or someone to blame and it might as well be me.

I spend my life in fear of every dark corner, every raised voice or hand, because my past has shown me that nothing is safe so I wander through life like a deer caught in the headlights, jumping at every little thing and withdrawing at the first sign of danger, real or imaginary.  I’m obsessive about many things like locking doors and keeping my shower curtain slightly open because I never feel safe, not even in my own home where nothing bad has ever happened.

I spend my life struggling to love myself enough to do basic things like eating and showering because there’s a constant booming voice in my head that asks “why bother?” and tells me I’m not even worth the effort.  Though I would bend over backwards for others or give them the shirt off my back if they needed it, I have trouble some days even justifying “wasting food on myself” because someone else might enjoy it more.

I spend my life feeling alone no matter how many other people are around.  My illness isolates me, convincing me that no one else could possibly understand, nor would they even truly care.  I feel like a constant burden, a bother, that it would be better for everyone if I just stayed away.  Even in a room full of people, I feel alone in all the world.

I spend my life afraid to open up to anyone I care about about all I am going through because I do not want to scare them away.  I do not want them to see me as too broken or too damaged, not worthy of their time or their love.  Whenever any of my mental illness surfaces around others, I am sure it will be the straw that broke the camel’s back, the reason that they, too, go away.  The worst part is that I wouldn’t blame them if they did.

I spend my life going through cycles of physical ailments like severe chest pains and throwing up blood because my mental illness keeps presenting itself in physical ways.  I’m not honestly sure whether I might have other digestive or heart issues because they’ve been so often linked to my anxiety in the past that I don’t even bring them up to the doctor anymore.

I spend every single day of my life in a constant battle with my own mind, a battle nobody else can even see that I am fighting.

..and I can thoroughly assure you, it is NOT nice at all.

There is a reason my doctors have listed me as disabled.  There is a reason they say I cannot work.  They are among a very few people who I have been completely honest with about my struggles because I opened up to them knowing that they were trained to deal with cases such as mine.  Admittedly, though, there have been times I have minimized some of my struggles even with them because seeing their eyes water at my pain is heart-wrenching for me.

No, I do not have a physical disability that you can see.  I am not in a wheelchair nor am I hooked up to machinery to keep me alive.  No, I am not wearing a cast, a brace nor have lost my hair to chemo.  I have no physical signs to point to that would illustrate my disability for those around me.  But that doesn’t mean that I am not disabled.  It doesn’t mean that I am not suffering, not struggling, not in need of help.

I am not being lazy nor am I sitting home taking it easy.  I wish I didn’t have a mental illness.  I wish I could do more, contribute more.  I wish I could even take better care of myself.  I wish a lot of things.  But I would not wish this diagnosis or this struggle on anyone.  I am trying my best to take care of myself, trying to keep living, trying to make it to each new day.  I am fighting to survive, whether anyone else can see it or not.

I am not looking for anyone to feel sorry for me because of my diagnosis.  It is what it is.  Pity won’t take away mental illness any more than it will cure cancer.  All I truly hope for is compassion and understanding.  Acknowledgment that, even though you might not be able to see it, it still exists and deserves treatment just as much as a physical ailment would.

..and please don’t say “it must be nice..” that I am at home dealing with my mental illness because I can assure you, it isn’t nice at all.

Living on the Corner of Functionality and Falling Apart

For years, I was a barely functioning depressive.  I struggled to at least appear like I had myself together, living panic attack to panic attack behind the scenes.  When my facade of togetherness would begin to crack and show wear, I would pull away and isolate as I slapped on layers of concrete to hide all my breaking points.  I lived in a land of make believe, pretending I was okay while I fought against my own mind to keep functioning.

Over time, however, as is usually the case with anyone residing on that precarious perch of functional depression, the cracks continued to grow and expand.  What I once was able to find ways to get through with a manageable amount of struggle began to feel more like insurmountable obstacles.  Bit by bit, it became harder and harder to continue to function.

It is not that I wasn’t trying as hard anymore.  If anything, I was trying harder and harder to hold things together.  The weight of each added stress, each added emotional pain just kept building up over time.  You often hear people describe the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.  I never had a camel.  I carried my mental illness on my own shoulders and eventually found myself broken under the weight of my own problems.

One of the hardest things I ever had to do was admit that I needed help, that I could no longer manage to do many things on my own.  Even harder still was trying to explain to others why I was no longer capable of working through things like I had somehow managed to do for years.  Many people seem to believe that once you have done something, you’ve set a precedent and you should then always be able to complete that task again.

It is easy for people to accept that, over time, a person’s body cannot physically do as much as it once did.  On average, a physically fit person in their forties cannot lift as much as they could in peak fit condition in their twenties.  They cannot run as fast or as long and they tire much faster.  It just makes sense.  Bodies get older and wear down over time.  Aging takes a toll.

The same is widely accepted with other physical attributes.  A person’s metabolism slows over time so it becomes harder to maintain a healthy weight when eating the same diet.  Eyesight and hearing are both dulled over age and often need extra aids in order to perform as well as they did in our youth.  Added stresses on our bodies build up over time, compounded with age-related issues such as arthritis.  These are all accepted facts.  Bodies physically wear down over the years.

Yet very few people seem to grasp that mental and emotional health might decline over time, as well.  Many people assume that a mental illness is a temporary thing that will fade away over time as people just “learn to cope better” and “try a little harder to get over it and be happy”.  If I had a nickel for every time someone looked at me, befuddled and bewildered by the fact that I can no longer function even as well as I did five or ten years ago and that my mental health has instead deteriorated in many aspects, I’d be able to take a very nice extended vacation somewhere sunny and warm.

I have days where my depression leaves me in a thick mental fog, struggling to remember basic facts and information that I know is in my head somewhere.  I have days where my anxiety has reached such heights that I cannot reasonably verbalize simple or complex thoughts or information, stumbling over my words like a child learning to speak a foreign language.  I have days where my PTSD has flared up, all my senses become heightened and everything around me feels unsafe and dangerous.  There are days I cannot stop crying and days I feel like more of a mess than anyone deserves to be saddled with.  There are days when life itself weighs down so heavily on me that I pull away from the world and isolate, all the while assuring everyone that I’m fine, that they don’t have to worry, because I just don’t have the words, or the energy to adequately explain everything I am feeling.  My mind and my emotions are often all over the place.

The worst part of those feelings and many others I experience due to my mental illness, though, is that I cannot plan for any of them.  I could wake up one day numb, feeling nothing at all, or wake up completely frazzled as one or more conflicting emotions battle themselves out inside my head.  There’s no knowing, either, whether any state of mind will last an hour or a day or a week, whether it will exist on its own or build upon other emotions already wreaking havoc.  Every single one of those feelings has increased both in potency and frequency as I have gotten older. Every day feels like a game of Russian Roulette in my brain where the game is fixed and, no matter what the outcome is, I know I am going to lose.

Over the past year or so, I have begrudgingly accepted that I’m struggling more than I used to and that I need extra help, that I sometimes need others to intervene on my behalf and to work with me to get the care I need.  I’ve begun building a safety network, a support system of people who can advocate with me, for me and speak on my behalf if I find myself struggling too badly to adequately do it on my own.

I had a home visit recently to go over some paperwork.  Instead of being proud of myself for holding myself somewhat together that day, though, I found myself stressing that I might have seemed too together.  You see – that day was a good day for the most part.  I was able to think of important and relevant questions to ask, I was able to constructively contribute to the meeting and didn’t collapse into tears over all the stress hanging over my head.  I really should have been proud of myself.  Yet, after they left, all I could do was worry that I might have appeared more together than I actually am on a regular basis, leaving them to determine I no longer need the assistance I have had to fight so hard to receive.

I panic and I worry about having even a somewhat functional and manageable day because society automatically puts people with mental illness on the defensive.  It isn’t enough to say that you simply cannot manage to function on a reliable schedule anymore or function on some days in particular at all.  You’re always put on the spot.  Why can’t you do it?  Why some days but not others? Are you even trying?  What do you even have to be depressed about? That’s especially true if you used to be able to function better in the past or if your level of functionality varies day by day.  Physically, the body can deteriorate and nobody questions it but mentally, it apparently is a different story.  And heaven forbid you have a good day where you’re able to contribute more than expected.  If you’re semi-functional today, people will demand to know why you might not be able to function as well, or even at all, tomorrow.  Your diagnosis is often irrelevant, not even taken into consideration.  If you’re able to do something today, you must always be able to do it.

I live on the corner of being able to somewhat function and falling completely apart.  Sometimes I go slightly down one direction before boomeranging back to my corner again.  I have good days and bad days.  I have days that I might genuinely smile and laugh when, even though my depression is present, I still feel like I am running the show.  I have moderate days where I’m still able to pretend I’m okay and do enough for myself that others don’t readily worry.  And I have days where I desperately need help if I have any hope of getting anything constructive done, otherwise I would just sit there in an agonizing numbness, staring blankly into the abyss.  But to be fair, I’ve seen people who struggle with painful afflictions such as arthritis that have good days where they are able to get out, go for a walk and run errands, powering through the pain, and other days where it is difficult to even pull themselves out of bed.  The difference is that mental illness presents itself in the mind instead of the body and is not as easily seen.

Over time as I get older, my completely functional days are becoming less frequent.  I find myself struggling more and more as my mental illness compounds upon itself.  I honestly need to give myself a break on my functional days and learn to count them as blessings instead of worrying what others might think or how they might judge me.  Being able to function again, albeit for a short unexpected period here and there, should always be celebrated as a good thing.  After all, I’m right on that corner and could go either way.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 2/7/18.

I’m Sorry But It Doesn’t Work That Way…

Not too long ago, someone who used to mean a lot to me tried unsuccessfully to re-enter my life.  Though they wholly admitted to treating me horribly for the last year or so that they were previously in my life, they then tried to minimalize the pain they had caused, claiming that all the good they had done for years before that should outweigh the bad of that last year.

We talked briefly for that one night that they dropped that bombshell.  I was beside myself with shock and honestly wasn’t sure even what to say to that sentiment.  I knew, however, that they had become a toxic presence in my life so I chose to pull away completely, blocking them and ceasing all contact.  I had begun my journey towards a healthier and happier life and refused to let them derail me.  What they said, though, took up residence in my head, a little kernel bouncing around, waiting to pop and expand into something more.

As is often the case, that kernel got pushed aside to a back burner.  Life happened.  Family happened.  Love happened.  Holidays happened.  But I knew that eventually, no matter how much was happening around me, that kernel would reappear.  And just as expected, late this evening, it finally did, fully formed and realized.

As I sat there considering it all, that one line from that commercial with the old lady posting pictures onto the wall in her living room came to mind.

“That’s not how this works! That’s not how any of this works!”

There was just no way that a prior decade of good times and happy memories could erase, overwrite or minimize that one final year of cruelty.

That is not to say that I was not grateful for all the good times that I shared with this person or that I didn’t value all the times they were there for me when I had no one else to lean on.  I will always cherish all those memories and will truly appreciate all that they gave of themselves over the years.

That is not to say, also, that relationships aren’t comprised of ups and downs, highs and lows, good and bad.  People don’t always get along.  Conflicts happen.  People disagree and argue.  When someone truly matters, you try to take the good with the bad, for better or worse.  There is a fair amount of forgive and forget in friendships and relationships.  It all comes with the territory.

However..

There are some actions that rise above and beyond the normal wear and tear of relationships, actions that exist outside the realm of random daily disagreements and headbutting. When someone, in an essence, declares war on another person’s heart, emotions and trust, disregarding their feelings and intentionally going out of their way to repeatedly, without qualms or remorse, lash out and hurt someone else, it is no longer a matter of forgive and forget, for better or worse.

All the good does not negate or erase the bad in those cases.  When he made it his mission to hurt me repeatedly over the course of that last year, it forever changed things between us.  There is never an excuse for intentionally lashing out, trying to damage and break someone that you supposedly love.  All the good he may have done previously does not take away all the heartache in those final months.  All the prior good does not excuse all the times I was ignored and mistreated, all the cruel words and actions hurled my way, and all the times I was ghosted and discarded at the end.

Though with his words he swore I meant the world to him for years, his actions over the last year spoke volumes in the opposite direction.  No matter how good he used to be to me and how sweetly he used to spin his words, none of it can erase the fact that he treated me like garbage for that last year.

That’s not how it works.

If a person lays their hands on another person, they cannot then say “what about all the years before I beat you?  Don’t they count for anything?”

If a person cheats on another person, they cannot then say “what about all the years I didn’t sleep around?  Why aren’t you taking them into consideration?”

If a person tears you down again and again, discards you repeatedly and treats you like you’re worthless, they cannot then say “what about all those years before I showed you what you truly meant to me, before I treated you like you were nothing? Shouldn’t that balance everything out?”

If someone who claims to love you is repeatedly and systematically cruel and uncaring towards you, it does not matter whether or not they used to be sweet and loving once upon a time.  A broken heart is still a broken heart just as much as a broken bone is still a broken bone and a split lip is still a split lip.  Once you abuse that trust and break my heart, I cannot push it aside and pretend it did not happen.  Though it does not erase all the good, it changes things irreparably.

A decade of kindness and love, no matter how wonderful, cannot erase that final year of heartache and heartbreak.

Many people preach forgiveness.  I’m sure that will come in time.  I can honestly say I do not hate him, nor do I wish him any ill will.  But all the trust is gone.  I cannot have him in my life to any extent.  Walls are up.  The place he used to have in my heart has been boarded up and is closed for good.  I’ve reached the point of no return.  There is no going back to how things used to be.

Broken trust and a shattered heart, much like a fractured bone, is not easily mended.  And even when everything does eventually fuse back together, that damage beneath never disappears.  It is always there, just under the surface, forever evidence to the damage that was done.

Perhaps if the order had been reversed, things might have been different.  If the years of kindness had followed after the year of cruelty as a sincere attempt to make amends for prior bad acts, it probably would have counted for more.  That way, at least, there would be an act of contrition and penance for being unnecessarily cruel.  But to expect to be given a free pass for a year of wanton and reckless heartbreak on the basis that you used to be better to me is beyond ludicrous and unreasonable.

Actions speak louder than words and his actions over that final year he was a part of my life spoke volumes about just how low I ranked in his life and heart.  Having an “Oops my bad” moment of admission, especially without any real action of remorse to back it up right after the fact, could not even come close to touching or resolving any of the pain he caused over the last couple years.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am grateful for all those years of friendship and love that were given.  I’ll always cherish the times that he was there for me.  It just doesn’t erase or negate any of the hurt of that final year.  It doesn’t work that way, at least not for me.

Christmas – Not Always the Most Wonderful Time of the Year When You Suffer from Depression

Most people assume that the holiday season is the happiest time of the year for me.  My tree is always up and my house decorated by the day after Thanksgiving, sometimes even a week or two before.  From Thanksgiving straight through to New Year’s Day, there’s often Christmas carols or movies playing in the background in my home.  Every year, I can be found building snowmen and making snow angels out in the cold.  I’m quick to point out all the holiday displays we pass and to like all the festive pictures friends post and share online.  I always try to put a lot of thought into meaningful gifts for loved ones and dedicate half a week every year into making scores of cookies, fudge, caramels and popcorn balls to share with family and friends.

I would be lying, though, if I said I was happiest during the holidays.  Please don’t get me wrong.  I’m not secretly a Grinch or Scrooge in disguise who hates the whole Christmas season.  I don’t go around Bah Humbugging the festive cheer of others.  In truth, it is the favorite part of my year.  This season is just also very hard for me.

I struggle with depression.  It is not that I’m being an eternal Debbie Downer, trying to ruin everyone’s holiday and rain on their parade.  It’s not that I’m just not trying hard enough to be positive or look on the bright side of things.  It is a medical diagnosis.  I often have no control over my moods.  Despite whatever wonderful things might be happening around me, my mind often betrays me, pulling me down into that dark abyss of hopelessness and despair.

There is a lot of pressure for everyone to always be happy around Christmas.  Most people seem to expect others to be jolly throughout the holidays and to take part in all the seasonal fun.  My depression often gets in the way of that.  Many days, it is a constant struggle to not break down and cry or go in the other room, crawl back into bed and isolate.  Even on regular days, I carry within myself that ever-present fear that my diagnosis will ruin other people’s days.  That fear is doubled, if not tripled, around the holidays.  The last thing I ever want to do is ruin anyone else’s Christmas with my depression.

So I decorate early to prepare myself for the upcoming festivities and to try to get myself into a Christmassy mood.  I fill the air with the sounds of carols and the scents of the season.  I watch hours of Christmas movies while sitting under the glow of lights on the tree.  I try to continuously remind myself of all the reasons to be joyful during the holiday season and to refill my cup of Christmas cheer to overflowing.  I do my best to distract myself as much as humanly possible from the depression dragging me down inside.  I want everyone around me to continue enjoying the overabundance of festivity, even if I am unable to feel the warmth of Christmas spirit at the current moment.

Over the years, some people have teased me that I do far too much and try way too hard,  that everything I do around Christmas is excessive and over the top.  That is in many ways the truth but it is also how I manage to survive through to the New Year.  I am extra festive because that is how I cope with the holidays.  I surround myself with as much happiness and festivity as I can, hoping some of it might sink into my subconscious and that it might ward off my depression just a little bit more.  My depression constantly surrounds me with so much negativity that I need holiday joyfulness in droves just to balance it out and feel remotely cheerful throughout the season.

But that festive happiness is not always possible.  When my depression rears its ugly head, as hard as I might try to power through, painting on that smiling mask for the benefit of others, there are times it will crack under pressure.  As much as I hate disappointing family and friends, there will be days I just cannot bring myself to feel jolly no matter how hard I try.  There will be moments when tears well up in my eyes and I need to sneak away for a little while to let it all out and recompose myself.  More likely than not, it isn’t that anyone has done anything wrong to upset me.  I’ve done nothing wrong either.  My depression has a tight grip on me that even the happiest of holidays cannot break.

It honestly isn’t even that my depression is terribly worse during the holidays.  Yes, things like the loss of both my parents weighs on me around Christmas, but I feel those pangs of grief throughout the entire year, not just at Christmastime.  It’s that it is the season of togetherness, where family and friends want to get together to celebrate.  It’s the season of holiday shopping and running into each other at crowded stores and malls, chatting and catching up.  It’s the season where there’s so much going on that it is hard to participate in it all without my depression seeping in.  It isn’t that my depression is worse during the holidays as much as others expect me to be more present and involved, more jolly and festive.  My depression is always with me throughout the year, however I usually have more down time to cope privately the other eleven months of the year that aren’t as chock full of festivities.  The more holiday events that are going on, the more likely my depression is going to come along for the ride, whether I want it to or not.

I do enjoy the holidays as much as I can, as much as my depression allows me to enjoy them.  I do love the carols and movies, the soft glow of lights on the tree, fresh baked Christmas cookies and fresh fallen snow.  I just also have depression, which sometimes does not allow me to enjoy the holidays as much as I’d like.  I’m not being a Grinch or a Scrooge if I momentarily lose my Christmas spirit and need to step away.  I am managing my mental illness the best that I can and trying my hardest not to let my depression ruin anyone else’s holiday or my own.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 12/7/17.

Some People Just Don’t Get It..

For almost a decade, I had someone in my life I considered my best friend.  We had bonded over similar experiences and shared pain.  I thought they understood me better than anyone else ever had.  Then, right when I needed them most, they disappeared from my life.

I did what I do best.  I continued on and I survived.  Miraculously, this time I even managed to go above and beyond that.  I rose above it all.  I began to grow and flourish.  And in the midst of all the rubble of my life, I found love.

The love I found was a thing of fairy tales.  A flame from childhood rekindled and a bond beyond anything I ever imagined possible.  We connect on every level and communicate with an openness and honesty I’ve always dreamed about but had always believed was beyond my grasp.  It took me completely by surprise because, though I am a hopeless romantic at heart, I had begun questioning whether a love like this even existed outside of storybooks.

After almost a year of ghosting, that supposed best friend decided recently to touch base, attempting to talk as if no time had passed and all was still well between us.  Though still hurt by their abandonment, for the sake of a decade-long friendship, I tried to have a civil conversation, catching them up on all that has happened and filling them in on how I had been.  After all, I was proud of myself pulling myself back up, holding myself together despite facing so many difficulties alone.  I was proud for all I had accomplished in such a short time and amazed at the love I had managed to find for myself.

To my astonishment, instead of being thrilled for me, he declared that I had “won”.  Apparently, I had, in his eyes, done better in life in some way than he had done.  Even more apparent, he resented it.  He made numerous passive-aggressively snide comments and even attempted to guilt-trip me over my newfound love because he and his partner, though together longer than I had been with mine, were not at all in love.  It saddened me to hear him describe his relationship as an arrangement and a convenience, devoid of emotion altogether.  The more he talked, the more it felt like he was probing, searching for a kernel of misery within my relationship, hoping to reconnect and bond again over a shared unhappiness.

In that moment, it was as if a switch had been flipped.  A light came on and I saw things so much clearer.  He and I had “bonded” for years because we were both residing in a shared misery.  It was not some magical connection.  We did not even have a friendship.  We had a codependency that revolved around leaning on someone else who understood our pain.  He had no problem discarding me when his situation began to improve because he fully expected me to still be there, brooding in the darkness alone, waiting for him to eventually need me again.  My love and happiness was an inconvenience that did not fit into his life so it was met with hostility.

He just doesn’t get it.  That is not friendship.  Friends don’t disappear or abandon each other when times get tough.  Friends also don’t resent each other’s accomplishments or happiness.  They give a shoulder to cry on when times get rough and celebrate each other’s successes as if they were their own.  Though what we had may have been friendship at one time, it had since warped into something unrecognizably negative and self-serving for him.  It had been a long time not only since he had treated me as a friend but also since he had considered my feelings, my well-being or my happiness at all.  Everything was completely on his terms and always all about him.  That is not friendship.

He really does not get it.  There was no reason to attempt guilt-tripping me because I had found happiness.  It isn’t that I somehow magically “won” anything because I’m currently in a better place than he is at the moment.  It isn’t a competition with him.  It never has been.  The only person I am ever competing with is myself, hoping to improve my life whenever I can.  I was not living my life trying to “one up” anyone else, least of all him.  I was living my life just like everyone else, trying to find my own happiness and purpose.  I wasn’t striving to “beat” him.  I had always hoped for his happiness and well-being, as well as my own.

He just didn’t get it.  Finding a genuine love was a very big deal for me.  I’ve spent the majority of my life believing I was inherently unlovable, wandering in and out of abusive and dysfunctional relationships. Again and again, I allowed others to treat me poorly because I believed I didn’t deserve any better.  Having someone finally treat me with love, admiration and respect was an enormous thing for me.  I had always been made to feel like I was either not good enough, never measuring up, or as too much, too needy, too clingy, too much to handle.  This was the first time in my life anyone had made me feel not only like I was enough, but that I was perfect just the way I was.

I finally get it.  I am unapologetic in my happiness.  Though it saddens me that his life has not been turning out as well as he had hoped since we parted ways, I owe him no apologies because I have done nothing wrong.  I was not the one who walked away from our “friendship” or discarded him.  I deserve happiness in my life.  I am not going to downplay the good in my life or reject it altogether, either, just to wallow in misery with him so he has someone else to bond with in shared negativity.

I finally got it.  I had to walk away from the conversation and block him.  It had not been a true friendship.  I haven’t been able to count on him to be there.  He was there only when it was convenient to his life and when he needed someone as equally low as he was feeling to help lift himself back up.  My newfound happiness was met with pettiness, anger and spite by him because I was no longer capable of being what he needed me to be.  My happiness was not allowed in his life.  It did not fit.  He made me feel like I had to choose between having him in my life or having happiness and love.  It was an easy choice.

I am okay with it.  I don’t need any more dysfunctional relationships in my life.  I need to surround myself with people who not only offer support when I’m struggling but who also cheer me on when I succeed.  I need people I can trust to be there consistently instead of discarding and abandoning me periodically on a whim.  I need more love and happiness in my life and less negativity.  After far too many years, I finally get it now.