#WhyIWrite

Admittedly, I’m not the most up-to-date person when it comes to my Twitter account.  I don’t usually follow all the trending hashtags.  Some days, I barely log in.  Today, however, one hashtag caught my eye. #WhyIWrite.

Without much thought, I began pumping out responses, one right after another.

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It was such an easy, simple statement, yet I found myself with so much to say.  For someone who had gone so long without a voice, I think I had taken for granted how vocal I had become.

When I began writing, I was suicidal.  My life had fallen apart yet again and I was honestly on the verge of giving up.  In order to keep going, things HAD to change.  I had suffered in silence for far too long.  I knew the only way I could move forward, the only way I was going to survive, is if I began to talk.

The floodgates opened.  I spoke out about my past.  Abuse.  Assault.  Rape.  Mental Illness.  Infidelity.  Suicide.  All those topics you’re not supposed to bring up in polite conversation because it might make others uncomfortable.  All those topics that were so ingrained and interwoven into my life that I held inside for far too long.  All those topics that were systematically killing me.

A miraculous thing happened.  I began to heal, to work through trauma that had been plaguing me my entire life.  Even more amazingly, my focus began to shift.  Suddenly, surviving was no longer enough.  I wanted to live, to grow, to change and to flourish.

People began reaching out about my writing.  Thanking me for putting into words how they were thinking and feeling, for letting them know they were not alone.  Just as suddenly, my focus shifted again.  I realized my voice was a gift.  There were so many people in this world, struggling like I had been, without a voice.  I had before me the opportunity to make a difference, to speak out about mental illness, to be a voice for change.

#WhyIWrite seemed like such an easy premise, with multiple answers that flowed from me seamlessly.  I could go on for days with tweet after tweet about all the reasons I write.  All those answers can be summed up into one, though:

I write because writing saved my life and I hope to pay it forward, writing to save other lives, as well.

My voice may be starting out small, but my heart is big and my intentions heartfelt.  I believe that, by speaking out openly and honestly about mental illness, we can add to the collective and together be the voice of change.

 

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Are We To Blame For Our Depression?

Someone in a group I belong to recently posed the question “Is it my fault I’m depressed?”.

People immediately began chiming in on both sides of the fence, with the overwhelming majority stating a firm and clear “absolutely not”.  I hesitated to answer because I don’t think there is such a clear cut yes or no answer.  Life is rarely simply black and white.  There are many shades of gray.

I spent many years struggling with my own mental illness.  I saw many doctors, took a multitude of medications in all different dosages and combinations.  I tried changing my diet, exercising more, busying myself with arts and crafts, talking long nature-filled walks, everything anyone had suggested might work.  In my case, nothing helped.

Last year, my newest doctor sent me for a genetic test and we discovered that I had a genetic mutation that prevented my body from breaking down a specific vitamin my brain needed to function properly.  That broken-down vitamin is used by the brain to transport the chemicals, whether made naturally or in the form of antidepressants, where they are needed. Because my brain never received that substance, nothing my body made, no pill I took, even had a chance to work.

There is a pill version of that broken-down vitamin on the market.  My doctor prescribed it.  It took almost a year of fighting my insurance company to get it covered.  Now that I have it, there is a noticeable difference.  It is not a panacea, my depression is still here, but it is a start.  I have a long road ahead of me but at least I am finally on the right track.

It brings to mind a quote from Maya Angelou:

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

For years, I tried again and again to get help even though nothing worked.  I cannot blame myself for not knowing that, on a genetic level, my body was incapable of making what it needed in order for any treatment to work.  But now that I know better, I am doing better.

I do not believe we can blame ourselves when our bodies malfunction.  When someone is diabetic, their pancreas is not making the proper amounts of insulin and glucose.  People go to a doctor and get treatment so they can live a healthier life.  They are not to blame for their organ ceasing to work.  With mental illness, the only difference is the organ involved.  No one has any control over their brain not working properly.

But everyone does have control over whether or not they get the treatment they need.

I know some people will play devil’s advocate and say a diabetic wouldn’t have gotten diabetes if they hadn’t eaten so much sugar and likewise, someone who is mentally ill may have made poor life choices that put them in their predicament, as well.  However, that is not how it works.  Millions of people drink soda and other sugary drinks every day, yet not all of them have become diabetics.  Likewise, many people struggle with everything from drinking, drugs, bad relationships and dead-end jobs without experiencing depression.

There are many known hereditary and biological causes for mental illness.  Many people are predisposed to depression, having been passed through their family line.  For others, it can be caused on a genetic level from mutations.  In some cases, the onset is caused by an unforeseen tragedy or event that shakes a person to the core.  With me, it is a combination of them all.

Living a rough life does not guarantee depression any more than drinking a soda guarantees diabetes.  On the contrary, people from all walks of life, all socio-economic backgrounds, different races, religions, sexual orientations, upbringings all struggle with their mental health.  A hard life might contribute to a person’s mental illness but it does not cause it, much like drinking sugary drinks are a contributing factor to diabetes.  There is a big difference between causation, though, and a contributing factor.

Though we have no control over whether any of our organs are working properly, I believe there is a clear line here where we need to accept personal responsibility.  As Maya Angelou said “..when you know better, do better”.  Once we realize something is not working correctly in our bodies, it is our responsibility to take steps to fix the problem.  We need to do what we can to be healthier, live healthier.

Once a person has realized they are struggling with a mental illness, they need to at least attempt to get help.  I understand the frustration all too well when nothing seems to work, but we need to at least try.  Again, to quote Maya, “Do the best you can until you know better”.  Try therapy, meditation, medication, homeopathic remedies.  Something.  Anything.  Embrace whatever works for you.  But at least DO something.  Don’t suffer needlessly.  Take care of yourself the best you can. Then “..when you know better, do better”.

Nobody asks to be depressed.  No one has any control over whether or not they are diagnosed with a mental illness.  But you do have control over whether or not you treat your illness and you ARE to blame if you knowingly neglect yourself and your well-being.

Please take care of yourself the best that you can.  Get help when you need it.  Don’t let the judgment or stigma from anyone else prevent you from taking care of your mental health.  It is okay to need help, especially when your body is not working like it should be.  There is no shame in having a mental illness.  The only shame is in not getting the treatment you need.

Anxiety and Insecurity Go Hand in Hand

A couple days ago, the man I’m with came home angry and upset.  His truck wasn’t running right and different things during his work day didn’t go particularly well.

His feelings were completely understandable considering the day he had.  None of his frustration was taken out on me.  He would never do such a thing.  I knew none of it was about me and that I had done nothing wrong.  Yet, as the night progressed and he processed his horrible day, venting his feelings and trying to distract himself to take his mind off it all, my anxiety began running rampant.  Though the logical side of me knew none of it had anything to do with me, my mind began racing, panicking, searching for signs and making connections that weren’t really there.

I began thinking and overthinking.  My anxiety skyrocketed and I started to worry.  Was he upset with me, too?  Had I done something to upset him without realizing it?  Was there something I should have done but didn’t do that has made matters worse?  Was he even happy being with me?  By the time we went to bed, I was fighting off tears, afraid that our relationship was doomed and everything was falling apart.

That is how anxiety works.  It takes the worst case scenario and shoves it downhill like a snowball in a snowstorm.  It takes no time at all for it to amass into a giant boulder that thunders and booms as it smashes into the unsuspecting below.  It builds and picks up momentum as it goes, crashing with such force that you find yourself out of breath, shell-shocked, hurt and bewildered by how you did not see it coming.  And the worst part is that whole boulder is usually a mirage. It is your mind playing tricks on you.  Yet, before you can even get back on your feet, another snowball begins to roll and the process begins all over again.

When we are struggling with anxiety disorders, we do it in every aspect of our lives.  We overthink and over-analyze everything.  We create scenarios in our head and play over every possible devastating end.  Over time, they begin to feel more and more plausible until they become a truth to us.

We take our failures personally.  Over time, we begin to feel like we can do nothing right, that everything we touch turns to crap.  We find ourselves worried that we’re somehow cursed and cannot blame anyone that wants to jump ship and distance themselves from our mess.

We sabotage friendships and relationships without meaning to do so.  We question whether we’re talking too much or being too affectionate, convinced we’re being annoying or clingy.  We wonder about the sincerity of feelings and interest from others because we couldn’t imagine anyone tolerating us for long.  We always feel like we’re being judged.  We’re afraid to let people in too close, convinced if they knew the real us, they’d leave.  If we don’t hear from someone for a while or if they don’t respond when we reach out, we convince ourselves that we just don’t matter.  If we cancel plans, we have trouble contacting to reschedule because we feel we’ve let others down and figure they wouldn’t want to talk to us anyway.  We’re horrible at maintaining regular contact because we always worry that we’re bothering everyone or interrupting something more important.

We internalize everything.  We try to look for reasons we’re at fault even if we have done nothing wrong.  Our anxiety has been telling us that we’re broken, we’re a mistake, we’re a hindrance for so long that we always assume somehow we’re to blame.  We then isolate ourselves because we feel we mess up everything we touch.  We’ve convinced ourselves it’s better to stay away.

We are so busy trying to prepare ourselves for every possible bad outcome that we have trouble seeing the good.  We worry all the time.  It isn’t that we’re not trying to be happy, positive or upbeat.  We have no control over it.  Our mind starts running and we can barely keep up.

On his way home from work the next day, I sent him a long, rambling message, spewing out all my feelings, all my fears from the night before that had been festering all night well into the following day.  I threw out there all the things that had me worried.  I told him I knew I had done nothing wrong and appreciated that he never takes any of his frustration out on me, but that I really just needed reassurance from him that we were okay.

I was panicked as I hit send, sure that my neediness, my clinginess, my need for validation would be the straw that broke the camel’s back.  I worried I was pushing him away.

The first thing he did when he came through the door was wrap his arms around me and hold me tightly, reassuring me that he loves me and promising me that we are fine.  There were little kernels in my head, though, that kept bouncing around, worrying.

Throughout the night, he continued, periodically reminding me that he loves me and I have nothing to worry about, that he loves me and our relationship.  Each time, each reminder, felt like him catching a kernel mid-flight until he eventually set my mind at ease.

He understands my struggles with anxiety because we have talked about them in length.  I still find myself feeling like a handful, a burden, more of a problem than anyone deserves.  Whenever my mind starts travelling down that path, though, and I start feeling insecure, I try to remind myself that it is not reality.  It is my anxiety talking.

Why, As Someone Who Speaks Out About Mental Illness, Donald Trump Scares Me

These are scary times we live in.

We are literally waking up every single day not sure if we will find ourselves in the midst of a nuclear war, a race war, or one of many other possible tragedies caused by the hasty words, actions and decisions of our nation’s “leader”.  Beyond all of that, as if that is not enough on its own, I have numerous mental health-related reasons why Donald Trump scares me.

Mental illness has become an epidemic of global proportions.  According to recent statistics released by NAMI, an estimated one in five people in this country, over 43 million people, struggle with it every single year.  Currently, only 41% of people struggling with mental illness are receiving mental health services.  Watching Trump whittle away at health coverage means that even less people will be able to afford to get the mental health treatment they need.

My fears regarding Trump extend far beyond the medical coverage he is systematically and vengefully stripping away from our citizens that need it most.  There are many other reasons I am sincerely afraid of our current president.

The fact that he openly mocked a disabled reporter for his condition in front of the press corp is mortifying.  Looking through his list of tweets provided by The New York Times, he has repeatedly taken jabs at his opponents and adversaries, hurling insults commonly used to mock the mentally ill like “crazy”, “wacko”, and “a real nut job”, acting as if mental  illness is a joke.  Mental illness is a bonafide disability that has been battling stigma and fighting to be taken seriously for far too long.  Trump has made it clear that he has no respect for those with disabilities.  We do not need nor deserve to become another one of his punchlines.

I have personal experience with narcissists in my past and have spent a great deal of time reading about and researching narcissistic personality disorder.  Many of the actions and behaviors he exhibits are commonly known and widely accepted markers for this mental disorder.

In one breath, Trump proudly declares that it is perfectly fine to grab a woman inappropriately and that he has done so in the past, suggesting that, as a man of power, he can get away with it.  He admitted to it in his own words in an interview with Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush:

“I’m automatically attracted to beautiful [women]—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

To forcefully touch a woman without her consent is sexual assault.

The next moment, he is touting that any accusations of sexual assault made against him are complete lies and fabrications, claiming the allegations are “totally phoney”“100% made up”“already proven false”, and “made up events THAT NEVER HAPPENED”.  That is classic gaslighting.  When someone is gaslighting, they repeatedly insist past events never happened or minimize their actions, trying to make the victims appear crazy even when clear evidence exists to the contrary.

His narcissistic entitlement goes beyond women.  During his campaign trail, he happily declared that “I could stand in the middle of 5th Ave. and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”  Though Trump paid $25 million dollars to settle the case out of court, he continued to dispute allegations made against Trump University and did so “without an acknowledgment of fault or liability.”  People with narcissistic personality disorder believe themselves to be above other people, sometimes even above the law.

The narcissistic personality traits do not end there.  He actively “love bombs” those who support him, only to discard them and replace them with a new supply when they are of no further use.  He has repeatedly used triangulation to play opposing sides against each other, a common narcissistic tool.  He appears incapable of accepting any responsibility for his own actions or words.  He is overly arrogant and self-inflated, has an inherent need for approval and a lack of empathy for anyone else.

Perhaps the biggest thing that scares me about Trump, though, is that there is no question in my mind that he himself needs serious mental health treatment yet is highly unlikely to seek it out.  Narcissists are incapable of accepting that there is anything wrong with them.  The problem always lies with everyone else.  Yet, everyone who has dealt with someone with an untreated or undertreated mental illness can spot the signs.  I know I can.

I grew up with a mother who struggled with often untreated, always undertreated bipolar disorder.  I lived through the ups, the downs, the irrational, delusional behaviors and potentially dangerous choices with no consideration for their consequences.  I suffered through the relentless lashing out and honing in on one specific target until the horse was beaten well past death.

I see so many of those behaviors mirrored in Trump and it terrifies me.  Whether he is going after Hillary Clinton, the NFL, the media, Obamacare, or Kim Jong Un, once he sets his sights on a target, he is incapable of stopping himself.  He keeps going back with an unfettered and illogical, unwarranted rage, intent on obliterating his target by any and all means necessary.

I’ve seen that rage before.  I grew up with that rage.  I grew up watching untreated mental illness that is fueled by that rage.  I know how it ends and it is not pretty.

With my mother, it ended with her showing up at my father’s work and shooting him twice in the head.

It isn’t a pistol, however, that Donald Trump is armed with.  As our president, he has the ability to deal damage and wreak havoc on not only a national but a global scale.  Among other things, he has the ability to both take affordable health care away from millions of people struggling with mental illness and the ability to start World War III.  His potential devastation is only limited by whatever his mind has honed in on at that particular moment as a target worthy of annihilation.

Nobody realized how dangerous my mother was until she had her pistol in hand.

I know the signs.  I’ve already lived through this story once on a smaller scale.

I don’t need a bomb to drop to accept how badly all of this could end if he is left unchecked and untreated.

It is a terrifying world out there.

And I am justifiably scared.

 

Is There Such a Thing as a Healthy Relationship when You’re Mentally Ill?

Someone who was once a friend used to tell me that two unhealthy people could not have a healthy relationship.  That honestly ate at me because my mental illness is based, to a large degree, on a genetic mutation.  I was born with it.  I’ll always have it.  It is a part of who I am.  Did that mean I would never be able to have a healthy relationship?

From my earliest memories, I’ve always been surrounded by examples of dysfunctional relationships.  I’ve had many unhealthy and abusive relationships in the past as well.  Until recently, I wasn’t exactly sure even what a healthy relationship even was, let alone even believed I might experience one myself.  When my last relationship crashed and burned after eleven painful years together, I honestly thought that I was done in the relationship department.

That is, until the fateful day that I received the unlikeliest message from one of my older brother’s childhood best friends.  He had been my first crush ever.  He was the sweetest, kindest, albeit a bit nerdy, boy I had ever met.  He was always so nice to me, the bratty kid sister of his best friend, and had always made me feel like it was okay to be myself – something I’ve rarely experienced both back then and all the years since.  We were too young to really have a “thing” back then, though admittedly I did once playfully tie him to the headboard of my bed, declaring that since I caught him, he was now mine.  I was nine or ten, he was a few years older.  It had been a brief moment in time, a pleasant faded memory amidst my rocky childhood.

He found me again, over twenty five years since I had left behind my childhood and the town we had grown up in, on Facebook of all places, listed as a friend of a friend he might know.  My last name had changed, a remnant of a failed marriage, but my face apparently still held enough of the little girl he remembered.  It was honestly the first time I was ever grateful that my chipmunk cheeks had never faded away.

He reached out with a short message, not sure I would even remember him.  My heart skipped a beat when his message appeared.  How could he ever assume I would have possibly forgotten him?  He had been my first crush and had inadvertently influenced my taste in men my entire life.  I was forever a sucker for the sweet, boy next door, nerdy type because of him.

We friended each other and began talking nonstop.  I admittedly went full force Facebook stalkerish, scouring through his pictures and posts, wanting a better feel of who he had become over the years.  His sweet smile and warm eyes that had captured my heart all those years ago were still the same, as was his love for Transformers and rc cars.  He was still very much himself in so many ways, but all grown up.

We made plans to meet up, to sit, talk and catch up more.  I don’t ever remember being so nervous meeting anyone.  When he picked me up at the train station, my heart was pounding so loudly I was sure everyone around us could hear it.  My first thought was that his pictures did not do him justice.  Our hug hello left my stomach all a flutter.

We sat down by the river in the town we had grown up in, talking while we watched the sun set over the water.  It was a city I had avoided for decades for the most part, a place plagued with bad memories of a traumatic childhood.  It was a place he had left behind, as well.  It was where we had once known each other all those years ago and the familiarity brought us back.  I usually dreaded being anywhere that had ties to my past.  Yet for the first time, I felt at peace being back home.  Being there with him gave me a comfort I had never known.

We talked for hours and bonded.  We had both unknowingly walked very similar paths, were both working through very similar issues.  We had both struggled with abuse, mental illness and failed relationships.  He understood me in a way no one else ever had and there was no judgment in his eyes or his words.  As he shared much of what he had been through over the years, I found myself reaching out to take his hand to comfort him and let him know I was there, that I understood.  As we began to kiss, he pulled back and asked “Are we really doing this?”  It was honestly the sweetest thing I had ever heard.

For a couple months, we seemed inseparable, spending every minute we could together, talking and texting in between.  On days he traveled and worked out of town, he’d often rush over when he returned to the area later that night, even if it was just to spend an hour or two walking through the park together, hand in hand, talking.  It didn’t take long for us to begin sharing our feelings.  We were both hesitant at first, afraid the other one would think we were nuts for feeling so much so soon.  But we were both right there, on the same page, just as we were with everything else.  We began to see the possibility of a future together and slowly started easing our children into it all, hoping they could see even a portion of what we saw in each other and how happy we both were.  Everything was coming together beautifully.

We began looking for a place together because living almost an hour apart felt too far.  While filling out an application with a rental agent, she asked him about our relationship status.  Without a second thought, he smiled at me, squeezed my hand and responded “Fiance”.  I did not question it.  Everything felt so perfect when we were together.  As crazy as it sounded, I already could not imagine my life without him at my side.  To know he felt the same way was heavenly.

As is often the case when things seem to be going too perfectly, tragedy hit.  His father had a bad fall.  In a matter of days, he went from bed rest to ICU to hospice.  I watched the man I had fallen in love with crumble into despair.  The loss of his father only a few short years after losing his mother was too much to bear.  The world felt too overwhelming to face.  He had a breakdown and needed to take some time off from work to recover.

From the time his father went into hospice, we had been inseparable.  I understood all too well what he was going through because my father had gone into hospice and passed away less than a decade prior.  Though every moment in the hospital with him was a painful reminder of losing my own father, I could not leave his side.  In the midst of this tragedy, we transitioned into living together because we could not stand to be apart.  I had never felt closer to anyone.  We not only wanted to be with each other, but seemed to need each other, as well.

He was home on a temporary disability for almost four months.  In that time, we honestly did not spend more than a few hours apart at a clip.  You’d assume being constantly together would wear on us after some time, but we seemed to soak it all in, craving all the time together we could get.  There was a peace, a solace, we found in each other’s presence unlike anything either of us had ever felt before.  For the first time ever, we both felt like we could completely be ourselves with someone else and that, no matter what we were feeling, it was okay.

It is a relationship unlike anything I have ever experienced.  We have moved very fast but it all feels very natural.  I never have felt so comfortable or so sure of anything else in my life.  We have been through some very rough times together and it has only brought us closer.  It feels like we have been together forever, like we had been meant for each other all along.  I often find myself looking at him, amazed that this is my life.  As much as I have so many other struggles to face, he has become my safe place, my happy spot, my calm in the storm.

We have yet to have a single fight.  It is not that either of us is being disregarded or is swallowing any slight, or that that we are passive-aggressively lashing out at each other instead of addressing problems.  We are not avoiding issues or pretending our relationship is okay when it’s not.  Our relationship is one of the few truly wonderful things we both have in our life.  We see eye to eye on almost everything and we talk.  We talk a lot.  Neither one of us has a stomach for yelling, screaming or lashing out.  If something is on our mind or bothering us, we bring it up.  We say how we feel calmly without anger or personal attacks.  Whenever we’ve had a misunderstanding or hurt feelings, which has happened very rarely, we have talked it out and have spent more time apologizing to one another for not realizing it was an issue or for hurting each other’s feelings than we have discussing the topic on hand.  We’ve both been hurt so much in the past that the last thing either one of us ever wants to do is hurt each other any more.

I have heard many people say every couple fights.  The internet is full of articles about how healthy and normal it is to argue.  I’ve found myself wondering more than once if what we have is normal or healthy, as well.  Neither of us is holding back feelings or being disregarded or feels unheard.  We have both had our fill of arguments in our pasts where the goal seemed to be trying to lash out and hurt each other instead of resolving issues.  We simply decided we were not going to live like that any longer.  We both prefer to talk.

I have also heard many people say that time apart is healthy.  He’s back to work now so we are no longer together 24/7 like we had been in the beginning of our relationship, but we still very much enjoy our time together.  We are both homebodies.  We both enjoy spending time with our kids and curling up watching movies together.  When we do go out and do things, we enjoy doing them together.  We never feel crowded by each other and enjoy having each other tag along even when out with friends.  We can deal with time apart but honestly enjoy being together more.  Neither of us have that nagging feeling that we just need time away from one another.  We genuinely miss each other when we are apart.

We are very openly affectionate all the time.  If we are feeling love, we say it.  More importantly, we show it.  If one of us is sore, the other is massaging the aches away.  We are forever fetching things and doing things for one another to make each other’s lives easier or to make each other feel cherished and loved.  We are always considerate, always sharing, always mindful of each other.  We are both very touchy feely and revel in the closeness we both have been lacking for far too long.  He makes me feel beautiful and I am always telling him how adorable I find him.  But our love for each other is more than skin deep.  We seem to be forever talking about all we love in each other and how lucky we are to have found one another again.  Perhaps most importantly, we are both very appreciative of everything we both do.  We acknowledge and thank each other for all we do because we both understand that none of it is a requirement or a job but rather is done out of love.

Is all the time we spend together and the fact that we never fight healthy?  Honestly I don’t know.  What I do know, however, is that this is the healthiest and happiest relationship I have ever been in.  For the first time, I feel completely accepted for who I am, loved and cherished for all my quirks.  For the first time, I don’t feel like I’m walking on eggshells, afraid of a blow up if I say or do the wrong thing.  For the first time, I can be as lovey or snuggly as I want without being accused of being clingy or needy.  I can be me.  He feels the same way.  Like everything else, we are on the same page.

I am not sure whether our relationship would be considered healthy or normal by anyone else’s standards.  I just know that I’ve never been happier, never felt more loved, cherished or appreciated.  I have stopped dwelling on what my once friend said about unhealthy people not being able to have a healthy relationship.  I no longer wonder whether love is possible when struggling with a mental illness.  The truth is that, healthy or not by anyone else’s definition, he is exactly what I want and need in my life.

To the Last Person Who Abused Me..

I have suffered many types of abuse at the hands of many people in my lifetime.  I have been raped, beaten, mentally and emotionally battered.  I have been lied to, cheated on, had my heart torn in two.

There is no doubt in my mind that the abuse I have endured has a direct correlation to my struggles with mental illness.  Over the years, my depression has convinced me that I was worthless and broken, that nobody will ever truly love me, that I will never be good enough.  When someone walks through life weighed down by so much negativity, any attention, any affection, feels like a miracle.  I found myself settling for less than I deserved just to have someone there.

When I was a child, I suffered through abuse because I was too little, too afraid, felt too weak to do anything or change anything.  As an adult, I’ve accepted so much abuse at the hands of people who swore they loved me, minimalizing it with such ridiculous justifications as “it isn’t that bad – it could be worse”, “it’s not like he hit me – I would never put up with that!” or “he didn’t really mean it – he’s just upset or having a bad day”.

The fact is, abuse is abuse.  And all abuse is wrong.  It doesn’t matter if they have laid their hands on me yet or not.  And abuse tends to escalate.  It starts out small.  The more someone forgives, the more they are condoning.  If an abuser believes they can hurt someone without consequence, they will not stop.  I can tell you from experience that, over time, it only gets worse.

You said to me “I hate that you make me hurt you”.  You pulled me in repeatedly, swearing you loved me and wanted to be with me, only to hurt me, shove me away and discard me again and again.  You accused me of pushing you into hurting me by loving you back, by being confused by your actions, by not understanding what was going on whenever you threw me away.

Since you walked out of my life, I’ve seen this one saying appear again and again:

“Normal people don’t go around trying to destroy other people.”

There is so much truth in that statement.  Normal people don’t.  When someone intentionally tries to hurt someone else for no other reason than that they can, they are being abusive, whether or not they lay their hands on anyone else.  Lashing out and trying to destroy a person, whether mentally, emotionally or physically, is abuse.

It is also abusive to blame the victim for the damage you inflict.  Nobody asks to be hurt or have their heart broken.  Nobody asks to be manipulated or mistreated.  When you abuse someone else, you and you alone are to blame for your actions.

I write to the “last” person to abuse me because I have drawn my line in the sand. No more.  No more abuse, no more lies, no more pain.

For years, I tolerated abuse because I didn’t believe I deserved any better.  I accepted abuse because I thought any love, even a warped and unhealthy love, was better than nothing at all.

Things have changed. I have changed.  I know now that my depression has been lying to me all these years.  I have always believed that nobody deserves to be abused but somehow never added myself to the collective.  I have since learned that I have just as much right to be treated well as everyone else.

I will no longer let anyone talk down to me or demean me.  I will never again tolerate someone lying to me or cheating on me.  I will no longer let anyone manipulate me with threats to withhold their affection if I do not comply with their demands.  Most importantly, I will not take the blame for anyone else’s cruelty nor will I apologize ever again when I have done nothing wrong.

I have finally found someone who treats me well.  He doesn’t mistreat or manipulate me.  He is considerate with my feelings and gentle with my heart.  Now that I have experienced what it is like to be loved and accepted unconditionally, to be treated with kindness and respect, I will never again settle for anything less.

I may struggle with my self-worth from time to time because of my depression.  However, I will never again mistake attention for affection or accept abuse in lieu of love.

When Tragedy Hits the Slippery Slope: Mental Health & Gun Control

With the hysteria following the mass shooting in Las Vegas on everyone’s minds and in their hearts, two topics seem to be on everyone’s tongues: gun control and mental health.  Whenever there is such a senseless tragedy, our knee jerk reaction is to stomp out whatever we believe the problem to be so that nothing like this ever happens again.  But it is a slippery slope.

So many people are shouting for firmer gun control, stating that if the shooter hadn’t had so many guns, there wouldn’t be so many dead.  However, it is important to recognize that gun legislation would only affect law abiding citizens purchasing guns for hunting, recreation and protection.  Gun regulation would not affect people who commit mass shootings because they do not go through legal channels to build their arsenal.  Doing so would set off red flags and thwart their plans.

Likewise, anyone looking to commit mass homicide would not be stopped by taking away their legal access to guns.  A person looking to commit a crime rarely goes through legal channels because they are hoping to remain undetected and anonymous.  Furthermore, guns being removed completely from the equation would not prevent homicides.  Periodically in the news there are stories about mentally unbalanced individuals attacking people with knives or driving their vehicles into crowds or planting bombs or adding poison to food or water supplies.  Taking away access to guns will not stop someone intent on harming others.  Restricting access to guns only affects the ability of law abiding citizens to own guns.

Whenever that argument is presented, someone always inevitably counters with the fact that a person would not feel that way if they had ever been a victim of, or been close to anyone who has been a victim of, gun violence.

As a person whose life has been completely devastated by gun violence, I can tell you firsthand that is not the case.  When I was sixteen, my mother went to SUNY Albany where my father worked and shot him twice.  I sat in my high school on lock down for hours because the authorities did not know where she went after the shooting or whether she would be coming for me, as well.  I know all too well what it is like to sit in the ICU watching a loved one fighting to live, seen the damage a bullet has caused by ripping through their flesh.  I know all too well the widespread panic that follows a shooting, not knowing if anywhere is safe or what might happen next until the shooter is apprehended.  I know all too well the life-changing impact guns can have on a person’s life.

But I also know that responsibility for that shooting does not rest with that gun my mother used.  Nor does it rest with the guns used by the shooter in Las Vegas.  They are inanimate objects used by someone who was not mentally stable to commit a horrific crime.  You can not even blame shop owners or the ease in obtaining guns because large arsenals like what was used in Las Vegas are usually acquired illegally as not to arouse suspicion.

Unfortunately, untreated and undertreated mental illness play a large part in situations like this because quite frankly nobody who is mentally stable and well would consider committing such an act.  Mental illness makes the perfect scapegoat because there is so much stigma already attached.  Mental illness cannot be seen by the naked eye.  Mental illness is widely misunderstood.  People suffering from mental illness are seen simultaneously both as dangerous monsters likely to snap at any given moment or slightest provocation or as jokes and punchlines, easy to ridicule and mock.  When someone who is mentally unstable commits such a horrific act, it is an easy leap for people to declare that something needs to be done with the mentally ill to stop the violence before it gets out of hand.  As scary as it may sound, you can almost imagine throngs of villagers, armed with pitchforks and torches, rounding up all the “crazies” for their own safety and the safety of others.  Yet there are people actively questioning why someone who was mentally ill was even out on the streets, as if someone needs to lock them all up before a tragedy like this happens again.

Again, the argument about not fully understanding the situation unless you have been in it comes into play.  There are people who will say someone cannot fully understand the impact of mental illness on a person’s life unless they have been there themselves.

Once again, I can say without a doubt that I understand all too well.  Not only did my mother suffer from untreated and undertreated bipolar disorder for years leading up to the shooting, but I have struggled my entire life with mental illness, as well.  I have been diagnosed with major depression, anxiety disorder and ptsd.  I know all too well the stigma attached to mental illness and have dealt personally with people assuming my mental illness meant I was either unbalanced, unhinged and crazy or treated my illness like a joke.  I’ve listened as others, not realizing I suffered from mental illness myself, declare that the world would be safer if they just put all the “crazies” back in mental institutions like they used to do.  I understand all too well juggling the fear of judgment with the need to receive help for my condition.

But I can also tell you firsthand that I have never even remotely considered doing anything like the shooter in Las Vegas has done.  I’ve met many, many people over the years struggling with mental illness, as well, and could not fathom any of them doing such a thing, either.  In the mad flurry to lay blame somewhere, few people stop to consider that statistics show that the mentally ill are many times more likely to be victims of a crime than perpetrators.  Millions of people struggle with mental illness every single day without ever harming others or going on a homicidal rampage.  People such as the shooter in Las Vegas are an extreme rarity in the very large pool of mentally ill people.  Locking up all the mentally ill for the safety of others or their own personal safety would be punishing millions of people for the actions of a small handful.

What is a person to do if removing legal access to guns or locking up the mentally ill are both out of the question?  Everyone wants to find a solution because we never want a tragedy like this to happen again.  We can all agree that something has to be done.

As far as gun control, it isn’t legal gun ownership that needs to be targeted.  Gun manufacturers should be held accountable when they cut corners that allow their weapons to be easily modified by purchasing kits online.  There also needs to be more programs for getting illegal guns off the streets.  Perhaps even institute programs where people caught with illegal firearms must attend a certain number of funerals of gun victims and grief counselling groups to see the impact their actions may have caused.

There are also laws on the books regarding guns and mental illness that need to be revisited and reconstructed.  Currently in my state, for example, there are laws stating that if a person has been treated for mental health issues, the government can seize their guns at any time.  While on its face, that law might appear to be in the interest of the safety of all, what it has resulted in is many people struggling with mental illness who avoid getting the treatment they need because they fear having their rights stripped away.  This extends beyond people who own guns for hunting and protection.  Members of law enforcement and the military who are struggling with job-related mental illness have a legitimate fear that disclosing their mental health will result in the loss of their livelihood.  Laws like this need to be reconsidered and restructured so that no one has to choose between their mental health and their right to bear arms.  It is better to have a gun owner receiving ongoing treatment for their mental illness than to have their condition exist unchecked because they do not want their rights stripped away.

When it comes to mental illness, there needs to be more access to mental health treatment and better screening.  Usually when tragedies occur involving someone who is mentally ill, there is a mention in the news story about “a history of mental illness”.  Each time such a history is mentioned, I must question how that person fell through the cracks.  If a person is openly struggling with mental illness and is under treatment, that treatment should be ongoing for as long as it is needed and should not lapse.  People suffering the symptoms of mental illness should be able to reach out for treatment, as well, without fear of the shame or ridicule of the stigma attached.  Whenever a celebrity commits suicide, everyone clamors that this is the perfect time to open up a dialogue about mental health.  Tragedies like this work equally as well.  Too many people are struggling in silence or aren’t receiving the treatment they need.  Mental illness has become a global epidemic.  Enough people have died, both at their own hands and the hands of others.  The silence has to end so that the treatment can begin.

We must be careful in our response to tragedies like the shooting in Las Vegas.  Our first knee jerk reaction is to lay blame and eradicate the cause to prevent it ever being repeated.  We must be careful, though, when we start talking about stripping away rights, whether it be the right to bear arms or the rights of the mentally ill because it is a slippery slope.  When you start taking away rights, it isn’t long until you find yourself with no rights at all.  We need to take a deep breath and look not at what rights we can take away to possibly make everyone safer but what we can implement in the future to prevent others from falling through the cracks and creating another senseless tragedy.

Victory is Mine! Fighting for & Winning Coverage is Possible!

I was recently contacted by someone from My Patient Rights. They are a nonprofit helping patients learn their rights, navigate their health plan and ultimately how to become their own advocate.  They had read my story about fighting for coverage when it had been republished on The Mighty and contacted me, interested in hearing how my battle was going.  When I informed them that I had won my fight against the insurance for coverage, they asked me to write a piece, sharing my story.  The following piece was written exclusively for My Patient Rights in hope that sharing my story might give others the courage and strength to fight for the coverage they need, as well.

I’ve spent my entire life struggling with severe depression.  I felt broken.  Others treated me like I was unbalanced, unhinged and crazy.  No treatment or medication I had tried worked.  While the majority of people suffering from depression could pinpoint the event or period in their lives that was the catalyst for their illness, mine had always been there and nothing seemed to help.

Everything changed for me when my doctor discovered that I was born with a genetic mutation.  This mutation renders my liver incapable of breaking down folic acid to any usable degree.  Though this genetic mutation exists in varying degrees, mine is an extreme case, where my liver is working at approximately 20% of its potential.  Broken down folic acid is what the brain uses to help transport the chemicals needed for functions such as balancing moods.  Without it, no amount of chemicals, whether naturally made or taken in the form of an antidepressant, could get where they were needed.  At best, my brain was receiving 20% of what it required.  My lifelong depression was a result of my brain being literally starved of the nutrients it needed.

This changed everything for me.  I wasn’t crazy after all.  My mental illness had a definitive biological cause.  Even more importantly, there was a treatment available, capsules of broken down folic acid, called l-methylfolate.  There was a company that manufactured capsules of already broken down folic acid under the name Deplin.  For the first time in my life, there was actual hope.  With this medication, my brain could finally get what it has been missing.  While the medication I needed wasn’t extremely expensive, it was beyond my financial means.  It was a medication I would need for the rest of my life and it would cost thousands of dollars every year.  The only way I would be able to afford the continued medication I needed would be for my health insurance to cover the majority of the cost.

My doctor started me on some samples of Deplin while we waited to hear back from the insurance company that my medication would be covered.  While it was not a panacea, I could feel a distinct difference inside almost immediately.  While my condition would not be cured by taking this prescription, it would be greatly improved and would open the door for other treatments to be used successfully for the first time ever.  With Deplin, my depression was feeling more manageable, my moods higher and more stable than they had ever been.

It seemed like a simple fix, cut and dry.  The brain needs broken down folic acid in order to balance moods and combat depression.  My body, on a genetic level, was incapable of breaking down folic acid in any usable amount.  A pharmaceutical company made a capsule of broken down folic acid that would provide my brain with what my body could not make on its own.  You can imagine my surprise when the insurance company denied my coverage.  Positive that it was an error, my doctor and I resubmitted my claim.  Again, it was denied.

The reasons for the denials were ludicrous.  The first denial stated there was a “less expensive, alternative treatment”.  More specifically, folic acid tablets.  The folic acid tablets that my body was incapable of metabolizing due to my genetic mutation.  The second denial was even more ridiculous.  CDPHP denied coverage of the medication deemed necessary by my genetic test because they questioned the validity of the test itself.  The insurance company had covered the genetic testing because they believed it to be necessary to my treatment, yet refused to acknowledge the results of the test or the treatment deemed necessary based on the test results.

My first appeal was rather informal.  Speaking on the phone to an in-house doctor, explaining why I felt they had made an error.  During the conversation, the doctor I was speaking to seemed both sympathetic and understanding.  They understood why the folic acid tablets suggested would not be a viable option.  Once again, I thought it was cut and dry, easily resolved.  After all, the doctor seemed to not only understand, but to agree with all I was saying, as well.  When the second denial came back questioning the validity of my genetic testing itself, I knew I had to step up my game.

I contacted the lab that did the genetic testing and spoke directly to technicians, gathering information about the testing itself.  They provided me with case studies showing the benefits of their testing in mental health treatment, as well.  I also contacted the pharmaceutical company that manufactures the broken down folic acid tablets.  With their help, I gathered multiple articles discussing not only my specific diagnosis but the use of their product in treating it, as well.  Altogether, I submitted over one hundred pages of research to CDPHP for my second appeal.  It took less than three hours from the point that the last paper was faxed to their office for me to get the phone call from CDPHP.  Denied again.

I was beside myself.  There was no way that anyone at CDPHP could have reviewed even a portion of the material I had faxed in before issuing their denial.  There was no alternative treatment available.  My depression would not go away on its own.  No antidepressant could work because, without the broken down folic acid, there was no way it could get where it was needed.  Meanwhile, my doctor’s supply of samples was quickly running out.

I was in an absolute panic.  My last ditch effort was a final appeal with the state.  Turns out, health insurance companies are monitored by the government.  A final no by the insurance company is NOT the final no.  You can go above the heads of the insurance company and have your state review their decision.  And that is precisely what I did.

Once again, I faxed out all the research I had compiled, both on my own and with the assistance of both the lab and pharmaceutical companies involved with my case, over one hundred pages.  In addition, my doctor found medical journals that addressed my specific condition and treatment in detail to submit on my behalf.  I was cautiously optimistic.  After all, I had submitted the majority of this before, believing it was all cut and dry,  only to have it denied.

It took weeks to hear the result because it was not considered a life or death situation so the appeal could not be expedited.  My supply of samples had run out.  I could feel my depression spiraling back down into the darkness that had succumbed me for years.  This final appeal was my last and only hope.

After what felt like an eternity, I received a huge packet in the mail from New York State Department of Financial Services, the government agency that oversees external appeals.  My appeal had been sent out to Maryland for review.  An independent doctor, with a long list of credentials and no affiliation with either my insurance company or my state, had deemed inequitably that my prescription for Deplin was not only medically necessary but the only treatment currently available for my condition.  CDPHP’s denial was overruled.  They would have to cover my medication.

It felt like a miracle.  All in all, it took approximately one year’s time from the discovery of my genetic mutation to the results of my final appeal arrived in my mailbox.  It took almost three months longer before CDPHP began finally actually paying for my medication.  In the grand scheme of things, my entire fight took a little under a year and a half.  In reality, it should never have happened.  It should have been a cut and dry case of my receiving the only treatment available on the market for my condition.  It is devastating to think that our insurance coverage often comes down to keeping their costs down and not what is best for our health.  But if I have learned one thing from this experience, it is that we do still have power.  The story does not end when our insurance company tells us no, that they will not provide necessary treatments.  Insurance companies have to answer to outside government agencies with more power and the authority to overrule their decisions.

We can fight.  And we can win.

Don’t lose hope.  Don’t take no for an answer.  If you need treatment and your insurance company refuses to cover it, that is not the end.

Fight for your health.  Fight for your right to have the treatments you need covered.

It may just be the most important fight of your life.

Previous pieces written about my fight for coverage include: Fighting for My Mental HealthThe Meds Crash.. and The New York State Appeals Process: Apparently Not Everyone Who The State Certifies To Prescribe Medication Is Considered ‘Educated Enough’ To Defend Their Patients’ Prescriptions During An Appeal.

The Purrfect Medicine: Separating The Myths From The Truth About Having An Emotional Support Animal

I have a pair of sugar gliders.  They’ve been with me for over six years, since they were eight weeks out of pouch.  For those who do not know what sugar gliders are – they are small marsupials that can live twelve to fifteen years and bond closely with their owners.  I have brought them many places in their bonding pouch, from stores to museums to farmers markets and parks.  They have helped me through many mental and emotional hurdles over the years.  Having them with me gives me a sense of peace of mind and security, helps lower my stress levels when my anxiety rises and makes it easier to recenter myself when my depression begins to spiral down out of control.  Having my furbabies with me makes my mental illness more manageable.

When my life fell apart and I had to move last year, I had a very genuine fear that whatever place I found might reject my sugar gliders because they did not know what they were or did not allow animals.  I had heard that having your animals registered as emotional support animals would help protect against that, so I began researching what I needed to do.  What I discovered along the way is that there is a ton of misinformation out there.

Myth: For a nominal fee, anyone in the United States can go to one of a handful of sites and pay to have their pet legally registered as an emotional support animal, even receiving a specially printed certificate.

Emotional support animal registration sites are a scam!  The certificates are literally not worth the paper they are printed on.  Registering an animal as an emotional support animal does not cost anything.  The only way in which you legally register your animal is by having your primary care physician, psychologist or psychiatrist write a letter deeming that your animal is needed for your emotional and mental well-being.  They do not even have to include your specific diagnosis – just that you are under their care and they believe having the pet is beneficial to your health and losing the animal would be detrimental to your health.  It is THAT simple.

A sample letter for your doctor to write, registering your emotional support animal, can be found HERE.

Myth: Only certain animals can be emotional support animals and they must be specially trained in some way.

Unlike service animals which have rigid guidelines as to what animals can be considered one, virtually any pet can be an emotional support animal.  They do not need any type of training because they are there as companions to help with your emotional and mental state.  Once again, the ONLY thing you need for your pet to become an emotional support animal is a letter from your doctor deeming they are necessary for your well-being.  It does not matter if they are a cat, a snake, a hedgehog, a lizard or a horse.

Myth: Emotional support animals can legally go anywhere that other service animals can go.

Laws regarding emotional support animals vary by state.  Some states, such as New York where I live, don’t even recognize them in state laws and refer to federal guidelines with regard to housing.  Emotional support animals are NOT the same thing as a service animal such as a seeing eye dog that has been specially trained to perform specific tasks for their owner.  As such, they are not always awarded the same rights as service animals.  Don’t assume you can bring them out everywhere with you because your doctor has deemed them necessary for your mental and emotional well-being.  Do your research to find out what your state allows.

For example, New York guidelines on emotional support animals can be found HERE.  As stated in the brochure, New York differentiates between service animals and emotional support animals, deferring to federal fair housing guidelines in regards to emotional support animals.

Myth: A landlord has the right to deny me if they do not allow pets in their buildings or if my emotional support animal has not received any formal training classes.

Federal HUD guidelines include emotional support animals with service animals with regard to housing and state that a landlord cannot deny housing for an emotional support animal.  It further states that an emotional support animal is NOT considered a pet and does not require any training.  Furthermore, breed and size limitations do not apply to emotional support animals.  The landlord can request to see documentation from your doctor specifying your animal is an emotional support animal but is not entitled to access to your medical records or specific diagnosis.  Regardless of whatever your individual state laws might be on emotional support animals, federal law surpasses state laws on the matter, meaning that because housing cannot be denied due to the presence of emotional support animals on a federal level, no state can override that right.

Further information on the federal HUD statute regarding emotional support animals can be found HERE.

There are only two situations where a landlord can legally deny your emotional support animal. They are:

  • If the landlord lives in the unit, and they or a member of their immediate family have an allergy to the animal.
  • If the animal has aggressively threatened someone. (This must be the specific animal in question, and not based on beliefs about their breed or weight.)

The resources that explain these exceptions and your rights if you believe your landlord has discriminated against you based on your need for an emotional support animal can be found  HERE on the tenant resources page.

Myth: Once an animal is considered an emotional support animal, that trumps all other laws.  I can live anywhere I want with them and nothing can be said or done to stop it.

Common sense applies here.  If horses are not allowed within city limits, you cannot get yourself a horse and bring it into your city flat, stating it is an emotional support animal so you are entitled to keep it there.  If your state deems the pet you own is illegal to own in your state or requires a special permit to own, you must abide by those laws just like everyone else.  For instance, there are a handful of states in which sugar gliders are illegal to own.  Regardless of their status as emotional support animals, I cannot move to one of those states and expect to reside there with them.  Please keep in mind that there are also a handful of places you may not be able to reside with your emotional support animal, such as a hotel or motel because they are not considered traditional places of residence.  However, according to federal HUD guidelines, you cannot be denied housing with your emotional support animal in “public housing agencies and some places of public accommodation, such as rental offices, shelters, residential homes, some types of multifamily housing, assisted living facilities, and housing at places of education”.  Please keep in mind, though, that you must take proper care of your animal and clean up after them just like you would any other animal.

Myth: My landlord says that in order to have my emotional support animal on the premises, I must pay a pet deposit or pay a little extra each month and must prove that my animal has been properly trained.

The federal HUD guidelines prohibit landlords from charging a pet fee for any service animal or emotional support animal.  Nor can a landlord demand any sort of training certificate or place restrictions on the type of animal owned as long as the animal is considered legal in your municipality.  The situation is addressed specifically on HUD’s Q&A page on the matter, labelled situation one, which can be found HERE.

Truth: An emotional support animal can be a very helpful tool in treating many mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety and PTSD.

I can state this, without a doubt, based on my own personal experiences and the experiences of others I have known who have turned to animals as a coping mechanism for their mental illness.  The benefits of having a furry, feathered or scaly companion are numerous.  Having an emotional support animal if your doctor deems it necessary for your emotional and mental well-being is your legal right in this country.  Registering your animal as an emotional support animal in the United States is not hard or time-consuming and does not cost a thing.  However, both having your animal there with you and having the peace of mind knowing that no one can deny you housing for owning your emotional support animal is priceless.

selfgrowth

Republished on SelfGrowth.com on 10/17/17.

 

Logged In: Video Games & Mental Illness

Video games have become a large part of society today. While once considered a past-time for nerds, in recent years they have become mainstream, incorporating popular culture, movies, tv shows and sports in a way that appeals to the masses. From computers to consoles to games and apps on phones and tablets, video games are now seen as a widely accepted way for people to relax, unwind and pass the time.

Many people who struggle with mental illness have come to fully embrace the world of video games.  Though gaming is seen as an acceptable past-time for others, unfortunately the stigma surrounding mental illness makes people assume that anyone struggling with a diagnosis such as depression is just being lazy when they play video games.  The fact that someone is able to play, or even excel, at a game is seen as some sort of undeniable proof that a person is just “faking” or “exaggerating” their illness and that they would be fully capable of working and functioning to their full potential if they just “applied themselves”.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Playing video games as a tool for coping does not make a person lazy.  Excelling at a game does not automatically mean a person would be able to excel at all other aspects of their lives equally.  Playing a game does not negate or minimize a diagnosis.  Gaming, however, can make some of the symptoms of mental illness more bearable and can be a healthy addition to our lives.

Video games can be very beneficial to someone struggling with mental illness.  The focus needed to complete tasks in games can provide a much-needed distraction from aggressively looping negative thoughts.  The repetition of many games can be soothing, helping to lower and lessen anxiety.  When the world feels completely overwhelming and unbearable, video games can give a temporary escape so that someone on the verge of a meltdown or anxiety attack can catch their breath.

Though many are quick to counter with the fact that both meditation and exercise can do the same thing, they often don’t understand how the mentally ill mind works.  I personally have taken classes for meditation, yoga and tai chi.  While they are beneficial in their own way during times when I am already relatively calm, none have managed to silence the inner turmoil when my brain is already caught in the throes of an anxiety attack. While focused breathing might calm me long enough to stave off the panic attack for the moment, I often need to find some seemingly mindless task to distract my mind until the dust fully settles.  When my mind is in an over-active loop, I usually need some type of busy work to pull my attention away before I can even begin to consider calming techniques.  Video games provide those menial tasks to help distract my brain long enough to re-center myself.

Though exercise might be seen as a healthier alternative, as well, most do not consider the fact that, for many struggling with mental illness, it is hard some days to even pull ourselves out of bed.  There are days we lay there for hours having to pee, not out of laziness but because, mentally and emotionally, the world feels so overwhelming, so unbearable, that we cannot bring ourselves to face it.  Though simple exercises like going for a walk might seem like an ideal low-impact workout to others, when we are struggling with our illness, we tend to isolate, terrified of others seeing how much of a mess we truly are.  It is not that we don’t want to get out there, exercise and be healthier.  Some days, it takes everything we have to just go through the basic motions of life.  Video games give us a way to virtually “get out there” on our terms and at our own pace even when we do not feel capable of physically facing the world.

Video games also give us a temporary escape from a world in which we feel broken.  Instead of being that “crazy, unbalanced person” who “is lazy” and “can’t seem to pull their life together”, we can for a few moments in time be something more: a brave knight, a fierce jedi, a wise wizard, a pro athlete or an ingenious arch-villain.  We can solve puzzles, reach goals, and build things, all on our terms at our own pace.  We can achieve a sense of accomplishment at something, which is greatly needed at times when we feel we mess up everything we touch.

Many people struggling with mental illness feel like outcasts.  Much like any other social platform, multiplayer games also give those who feel isolated and alone a way to socialize with other people with similar interests without the stress and anxiety of face-to-face interactions.  Over the years and a variety of video games, I have chatted with many wonderful people and forged numerous lasting friendships.  One thing I have discovered over many late night discussions with others is that there are many other people struggling with mental illness who are using gaming, as well, as a coping mechanism.  None of us are alone when we log in.  More people understand our struggles than many realize.  We are a growing group within the gaming community.

There are people who ask why we can’t apply the same effort and energy to other aspects of our lives as we do to gaming.  The answer is absurdly simple. Gaming does not run on a set schedule.  Mental illness makes it difficult to function on a schedule because we are at the mercy of the chemicals in our brain.  We do not know if from one day to the next, one hour to the next, we will crash, spiraling down uncontrollably.  There is no way to predict our highs and lows.  Most people cannot set their own work or school schedule, calling in to say “today’s looking like a good day – I’m going to work for ten hours straight” one day and then call in unable to function at all for the next three days.  Most jobs expect a consistent level of productivity and won’t accept a person showing up, chatting and puttering around for a few hours because they don’t want to be alone.  Most people cannot pop into work for a couple hours on a random Thursday night at 2 am because their anxiety won’t allow them to sleep or they keep having nightmares and need a distraction.  Video games give us a virtual universe of vastly different worlds we can visit any hour of the day or night as needed without expectations beyond those we set for ourselves.

Video games have become a safe haven for those struggling with mental illness.  Gaming is an outlet we can embrace any time, day or night.  When our minds are caught in a negative loop or our anxiety is through the roof, we can distract ourselves from the safety of our own home.  We can be anyone we want to be and achieve some sense of accomplishment, even when we feel otherwise broken.  We can socialize and surround ourselves with others so we do not feel completely isolated and alone in the world, but on our own terms.  We can build friendships and be a part of a community without the pressures of face-to-face interactions during times we do not feel capable of facing the world in person.  Perhaps most importantly, we can log in and out at our own discretion.  If we begin to feel overwhelmed at any time, we can leave the game or play something else.  In a world that often feels like it is spinning wildly out of control, it gives us a sense of control.

I personally have used gaming for years as a coping mechanism and an outlet to work through overwhelming feelings such as depression, anxiety and anger.  While video games have many benefits for those struggling with mental illness, they should never be used as a constant and continual escape.  There needs to be balance and we must stay grounded in reality.  We should never become so caught up in our gaming worlds that our actual lives suffer.  Like any other illness, we need treatment to manage our symptoms and help us function to the best of our ability.  We can, however, embrace video games as another tool in our arsenal to help us get through those overwhelming rough patches and to further enrich our lives.  It’s a brave new world out there where we can log in and be whoever we want to be.  Gaming has become a socially acceptable past-time these days and we have just as much right to enjoy and embrace it as everyone else. Many of us are already logged in and playing.

selfgrowth

Republished on SelfGrowth.com on 10/17/17.