The Downward Spiral of Depression

The hardest thing to cope with for anyone that suffers from depression is the downward spiral.  It could be triggered by something big and life-changing or a series of small things.  What begins the spiral is irrelevant.  It is the feelings associated with the spiraling down that makes it so devastating.

The feelings of hopelessness and despair become overwhelming.  Depression will strike out at all those weak spots, targeting them with a barrage of absolute negatives, reminding me that I have no one and that nothing will ever get better, nothing will ever work out.  My rational side that usually fights to keep those feelings at bay is cast aside, nowhere to be found.

Mentally, I feel like I’m flailing, free-falling, with nothing to grab onto, nothing to catch myself on or to break my fall.  The world feels like it is slipping through my fingers though I keep desperately reaching out, hoping to find something, someone to cling to so I am not alone in this darkness.  My head is spinning, dizzy from my spiraling fall down.

Again and again my brain will tell me of course this has happened and ask what else could I have expected?  My mind is flooded with all I’ve gone through, all that’s gone wrong in my life.  I try not to listen and to push all those feelings, thoughts and memories aside but I feel like a failure, a loser, a waste of space.  I feel guilty for burdening everyone with my problems and my mess of a life.  I beat myself up terribly as I spiral downward because I can see nothing of value, nothing worth loving in myself. I have trouble understanding how anyone could love me, like me or even want me around.  It is not a pity party.   I honestly hate who I am as I spiral down.

The tears flow and my body quakes.  I try desperately to hold it in, to not make a sound.  I don’t want to burden anyone else with my issues or my pain.  My leg is bouncing a mile a minute as I desperately try to stave off a panic attack induced by these endless waves of hopelessness.  I can’t even close my mouth because I’m shaking so badly that my teeth chatter when I do.  I clench my eyes closed tightly to push out the tears as they continue to pour.  When I open my eyes, I see the world through the blur of watery dots.

Again and again I blow my nose.  I have no idea how I make so much mucus.  I am slumped over, wracked with sobs, clinging tightly to my blanket, wishing it was somebody, anybody, that could hold me back, hold me tightly, make these feelings go away.  My entire body aches, not just from my sobbing but from how lost and alone I feel.  My chest is tight like a weight has been placed there.  I have trouble catching my breath in between sobs.  I feel raw and full of despair.

Times like this honestly frighten me more than anything else.  Though I am not currently suicidal, when I spiral down that ledge comes clearly into view.  It always seems to beckon me when I can see it, tempting me, promising me peace, a way out, a way for the pain to end.  I can feel its presence in the back of my head, that little kernel, calling to me, beckoning me, promising its own sickly sweet release from my torment.

I have walked that ledge before.  I have been tempted by its charms.  I have listened to its siren song and wanted to give up, give in, be free.  I can’t let it have me again, though.  I can’t give up.  I must stay strong.  As much as I am tired, so very tired, of feeling this way, I need to keep fighting.  I can never give in.

The hardest part of spiraling down is that desperate climb back up.  Climbing away from the promise of a peaceful end back up into the viper’s den, back into the torment that I call my life with depression.  Digging in my fingers and my heels and climbing back up, telling myself lies that things will get better, trying to convince myself that others need me and that I have to hold on and be strong.

I feel like such a liar telling myself things will be better because the struggle feels like it never ends.  Life is a series of numb days where I have trouble functioning and agonizing days where I spiral down and have to fight for my life to pull myself back up, peppered here and there with days that aren’t too bad but that I know are fleeting because I always end up back at one extreme or another.  I desperately want to remain hopeful and to believe in better days, better health, a better life but this has always been all that I’ve ever known.

I’d love to tell you that these agonizing, hopeless days are few and far in between, but I strive to tell the ugly truth about my struggles with mental illness, not spin beautiful fairy tales with happily ever afters.  The truth is that this is a regular occurrence when suffering from depression.  Sometimes these feelings last hours, other times days.  The spiral could appear once a week or again and again, for days on end.  I never know what will trigger it, how long it will last or when it will rear its head again.  Eventually, I cry all I can cry, the agonizing pain throughout my body begins to turn into a dull ache and I find myself numb again as my mind and body shut down to recuperate.

Those who have never experienced depression assume that we just feel sad sometimes, maybe cry a little more than average, that it’s something in our heads and we’re just not trying hard enough to be happy.  I wish more than anything they could understand that depression is so much more than some extra tears.  It is a constant fight with my own brain to not give up, not give in and continue living even though the world around me feels completely hopeless and not worth the effort.  When my depression begins to spiral down, it is an agonizing, terrifying ordeal.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 11/14/16.

Advertisements

[External Blog] Inspirational Advocate: B.L. Acker – Surviving Depression No Longer Was a Enough For Me. I Wanted to Live and Flourish

Recently, I was approached by the gentleman behind a website called Inspirational Souls to write an original piece for his site.  His premise was beautiful in its simplicity – to highlight the stories of people who are touching the world in some way, whether through their art or their advocacy.  I found myself both thrilled and honored, as well as truly humbled by his request.

I found myself at a loss for words, though, which is rare for me, because I have truly never thought myself to be inspirational.  He began with a simple question:

“When did I first realize I was suffering from depression?”

Admittedly, I laughed.  But then the floodgates opened and my words began to flow.

The full piece, published on 10/28/16, can be found exclusively at Inspirational Souls, by clicking the picture below:

laptoptype1.png

If you find yourself visiting his site to read my piece, please take a moment to read some of the other stories on there.  It is a great honor to be included among so many truly inspirational souls.

The Blah Days of Depression

Today is a blah day.

It isn’t that there is anything terribly wrong today.  There are issues looming, yes, but there are always issues of late.  There is nothing pressing, though.

It is just a blah day.

A day where I lay in bed, struggling to find a reason to get up.  I have had to pee for a couple hours now yet the dull ache in my bladder is not enough to pull me from under my covers.  I should probably get a drink, too, and brush my teeth, maybe get dressed and get a bite to eat.  I have been awake for over 5 hours now, since even before the sun rose, yet here I still lay.

I feel blah.  While the world around me continues with it’s hustle and bustle, I have no motivation, no desire to do anything.  Nothing seems interesting or important, nothing is pressing enough to pull me from this funk.  I would go back to sleep if I could, call in sick from life itself.  I feel like nothing myself.  I feel numb.

Days like this are common with depression.  Those who have never suffered themselves assume that depression is all bouts of random sadness and tears.  Yes, I have those days, too, and it is draining when everything and anything feels heart-wrenching and makes me want to cry.  But even worse, perhaps, than the days when I feel everything too strongly are those days I feel nothing at all.

On these days, I have trouble pulling myself up or doing anything.  I’m not being lazy.  I just don’t see the point.  I am pulled into this gray abyss where there is no purpose, no joy, no motivation, no will to live.  It isn’t that I’m suicidal and actively want to die, either.  I just have no will to live today.  The emptiness is all-consuming.

People suggest I should just *try* to be happy or to be positive.  If only it were that simple.  Again and again, the ‘should be’ and ‘could be’ options roll around in my mind, but I am numb to them all.  Deep down, I know I should be getting up, doing something, living life.  Yet my brain has me in a death lock.   “What’s the sense?” and “Why bother?”, it parrots to me again and again.  It’s voice is booming and deafening.  I can hear nothing else.  I would love to just smile, think a happy thought and have it vanish away like a puff of smoke but it is very solid and very real to me.  It takes the form of four solid walls, caging me in, holding me hostage, refusing to budge or listen to reason.

Those blah days are the worst because I feel trapped in this numbness from which I cannot escape.  I never know whether it will last one day or one week.  There is never an end in sight, never a scheduled sweet release.  Blah days drag on and on until at some point I begin to feel everything too strongly again.  On blah days, I would welcome the tears, the anguish, the pain and the suffering just to feel anything at all.

It has been over 6 hours now and I’ve barely managed to write a few paragraphs, yet those feel like a tremendous accomplishment.  I call it a victory.  I have done SOMETHING which is more than I am able to achieve on most blah days.  I still have to pee, though the dull ache has grown into a steady cramp.  Breakfast time has come and gone and lunch time has arrived, yet I still don’t have any desire to eat anything, let alone get up.  There are calls I should make, things I should be doing, yet my depression is still echoing in my head that I shouldn’t bother, that nothing is worth the effort.  It tells me to stay in bed, just let this day drift on by, that it doesn’t matter.  Nothing matters.  It is all I can hear.  It is deafening.  I am adrift in a sea of hopelessness and emptiness.  I feel paralyzed.

I swear I am not being lazy.   I’m just trapped in a battle with my own mind.  I feel lost and alone.  I feel trapped in this emptiness.  I feel nothing.  I feel numb.  I feel blah.

mightylogo

Republished on The Mighty on 10/31/16.

tsal-logo-150x80

Republished on To Save A Life on 11/1/16.

helpmindsheal

Republished via The Mighty on Help Minds Heal on 10/31/16.

dailyamerican

Republished on Daily American News on 11/1/16.

 yourtango

Republished on Your Tango on 12/1/16.

cropped-logo_title_beige-2

Republished on Clear Mind Group on 11/7/16.

howtipz

Republished on HowTipz on 11/19/16.

When the Levy Breaks

All my life, I have tried to be nice to everyone, whether or not they truly deserved it.  I have bitten my tongue and not revealed abuses others have done to me because I didn’t want anyone else’s opinions of others to be clouded by my experiences with them.  I’ve always played the role of being too nice, staying above slinging mud even when others were coating me with it from every angle.

There comes a time, though, when enough is enough.  When you just can’t take another lie, another misrepresentation, another twisted truth, another manipulation being thrown your way.  Enough with the bullshit.  The levy has officially broken.

This morning, I was faced with an influx of second-hand bullshit that my ex had passed along, painted all pretty and tied with a bow as is it were the truth.  Try as you might, though, you cannot polish a turd.  If it looks like bullshit and smells like it, too, chances are that is what it is.

I found myself fed up.  Thoroughly fed up.  I am tired of people walking all over me, bullying and abusing me, and manipulating situations to always make me appear to be the bad guy.  They have faith in the fact that I will always walk that moral high ground and not reveal the truth.  They count on the fact that I’m too nice to say anything so they can get away with whatever they choose without consequence or retaliation.

No more.  No more letting anyone abuse me or manipulate situations.  No more biting my tongue and letting others spew bullshit masquerading as the truth.  I am no longer a pushover.  I will no longer let anyone walk all over me.

The truth shall all come out.  I am not concerned about the parts where I come across as less than wholesome or pure because I have no qualms about owning my own actions and decisions.  I am far from perfect and I own that.  But no longer will I cover up the actions of others and let them tarnish me with their lies.

I have become a force to be reckoned with.  I deserve better and I will accept nothing less.  The levy has broken.  A new era has begun.

The Mental Illness Epidemic

Mental illness is the gorilla in the room that nobody wants to talk about.  It is that dirty secret that everyone knows but never openly acknowledges, instead whispering about it in dark corners where others cannot hear.  It has become an epidemic of catastrophic proportions, yet it is still regarded with fear because those who have never been there do not understand it and those who are suffering have been beaten down so badly by their inner demons that they often no longer have the will to speak up.

The mentally ill are stigmatized by society and the media to believe there is a great indignity and shame in our diagnosis.  Those with mental illnesses are looked upon as broken, damaged, looney, flawed, crazy and mental.  We have become a joke.  Worse yet, we are seen as dangerous, to ourselves and others.  Regardless of the broad range of mental illnesses, we are all painted with the same broad brush.

It doesn’t matter that mental illness has bona fide physical and genetic causations.  It is an invisible illness.  Since the pain cannot be seen, it is doubted.  We are treated like it must be all in our head.  We are told we should just try to be happy.  We are made out to be drama kings and queens, just looking for attention.  Though no one would dare to accuse a cancer patient of faking their pain or suggest someone with a broken leg just try walking, we’re left afraid to speak out because we don’t want to be judged or be forced to justify our pain worthy of validation.

It does not matter that millions of people suffer from some type of mental illness in their lifetime, with depression and anxiety being at the top of the list.  It doesn’t matter that it affects people all over the world from all walks of life.  Mental illness does not discriminate.  It affects the rich and the poor, people of all races, religions, ages, sexes and sexual orientations.  Even though mental illness is a global crisis, talking about it is still often taboo.

Anyone who doubts the far-reaching impact of mental illness today need only spend five minutes doing internet searches.  Take a look at larger sites that share stories of people faced with mental illness like The Mighty.  Every single day, dozens of new stories are posted by people whose lives have been impacted by mental illness.  Those are just the people who were brave enough to speak out that day and whose stories were chosen to be published.  A drop in the bucket.  Pick any large blogging site, such as this one WordPress, and do a search for “mental illness” or “depression”.  You could spend hours reading page upon page of personal stories and blogs written from the last couple weeks alone by people suffering themselves.  Celebrities are even beginning to come out more and more to say that they, too, are struggling and suffering from their own battles with mental illness.

And yet, those of us suffering still cling to that shame and that fear.  It has become so ingrained into our psyche that we pause each time we go to speak out, weighing the consequences.  Often we minimalize our suffering to avoid judgment or pity.  We don’t want pity.  We want, no we DESERVE applause for living through all that we have, struggling to get up, live and function each day while battling our own minds.

I have been called brave and inspirational for speaking out about my own journey and battles with mental illness.  I honestly feel neither brave nor inspirational.  Those of us who are speaking up are honestly fed up.  We are tired of suffering and struggling every single day.  Even more so, we are tired of seeing others walking that path, as well.  We can spot our own kind.  We know that empty, pained look hidden behind that too tight smile and those encouraging lies that you’re “hanging in there” and are alright.  Our heart goes out to each and every one of our kind we see because we’ve all walked that path and wouldn’t wish it on our worst enemies.

We speak up not thinking that we can change the world but because we are exasperated by it.  We cannot believe that anyone could stand in a field surrounded by landmines, denying their existence even as explosions ring out around them on all sides.  People are dying from this illness.  Lives are lost every single day.  Families are destroyed.  Millions of people are not faking this, hoping for attention.  It is an epidemic of global proportions.

I see stories and comments every day on social media that turn my stomach.  Stories of mothers losing children because they fell through the cracks of the mental healthcare system and died.  The truth is that the mental healthcare system as a whole in this country is broken and flawed.  There are so many people suffering that facilities and agencies do not have the manpower to handle it all.  The laws and regulations surrounding many aspects of mental healthcare are outdated and archaic.  Mental hospitals are overcrowded, understaffed and have become corrals and waystations in many cases, where people are held until other options can be found.  Drugs are being pushed in many cases above therapy and treatment.  People are falling through the cracks.

I see stories about violent crimes being committed by people with a history of mental illness, followed by an outcry about the need to lock up the mentally ill for the safety of all others, and to take away some of our basic rights because of the actions of a select few.  It does not matter that studies have shown that those suffering from mental illness are more likely to be victims of a crime than perpetrators.  The fact that some mentally ill people have been violent apparently means that we are all dangerous, loaded guns just waiting to go off.

I see stories about celebrities killing themselves after losing a lifelong battle with their own minds.  There’s such compassion in those brief moments after a beloved icon has died.  Yet it is fleeting.  It leaves me bewildered because when the average person shares their own struggles, they are faced with judgment and stigma.  If a larger than life entity has suffered, it must be true and it is heartbreaking.  The rest of the populace, however, must be faking it.

I see ignorant comments suggesting that the rise in mental health diagnosis has to do with it’s increased presence in the media, as if people are choosing to be mentally ill because it is trendy.  The truth is that people are hearing more and more about mental illness in the media because more and more people are getting fed up of being lost in the system, fed up of being treated like they are crazy and broken, fed up of struggling and suffering every single day.  We need help.  Society says the squeaky wheel gets the grease so we’re ready to squeak, scream and yell if that’s what it takes to get help.

There is hope, though.  More and more people are speaking up, adding their voices to the collective.  Some celebrities are braving the stigma, as well, hoping their faces and names might bring added attention to the cause.  We are beginning to get organized, to create a unified front and to stand together and fight.  We have a very real chance to make a difference together and to see real change.  We must be diligent, though, and keep speaking out.  Do not fall silent.  Do not give in or give up.  This is a battle worth fighting and one we can win if we maintain our united front.

Enough with the stigma.  Enough with the judgment.  We are tired of suffering, of struggling, of crying out and receiving little to no help.  We are tired of fighting the system and society.  We are your mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, children, co-workers, bosses, teachers, classmates and friends.  We are millions strong.  We deserve to be heard.  We deserve to be helped.  We deserve to be healthy.

Whenever there is an epidemic facing even a portion of the world, people rise up in droves to help resolve the situation and help those suffering regain their lives with dignity and compassion.  Mental illness has become an epidemic on a global scale.  Stop pretending it doesn’t exist because you cannot see it.  Look around you.  Truly look.  Look at the tears in our eyes.  Look at the gravestones in our cemeteries.  Mental illness is real.  It needs to be addressed.  We all cannot keep living this way.

selfgrowth

Republished on SelfGrowth on 10/17/16.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 10/25/16.

helpmindsheal

Republished via The Mighty on Help Minds Heal on 10/26/16.

inner_battle_logo

Republished via The Mighty at The Inner Battle on 11/13/16.

Stranger at my Window. PTSD at my Door

I struggle with PTSD.   The sexual abuse I endured has changed me undeniably.  Though the intensity of everything ebbs and flows, the undercurrent of my past trauma is ever-present, threatening to pull me under every minute of every day.  I have this constant feeling that I am not safe, never safe.  I hate the dark.  I must sleep with the light on so I can see if someone is ever there.  I cannot close the curtain completely when I shower because someone might be able to catch me off-guard.   I like to know that doors and windows are always locked because there is safety in security.  I am a self-induced insomniac.  I am prone to nightmares so I have trained myself to stay up over the years until I am so exhausted that I know I’ll sleep heavily, without dreams, out of exhaustion.

There are certain sights, smells and sounds that I avoid like the plague because they remind me of past assaults.  In the least, being around them makes me uneasy, uncomfortable and on edge.  At worst, they trigger my memories of those events and I get pulled, whether partially or fully, back to that time.  The feelings themselves begin to emerge. NOT SAFE.  NEED TO GO. NEED TO RUN. I feel like I’m caught back in a loop of a Groundhog’s Day of nightmarish proportion.

I feel I have no control over my thoughts, my feelings, my body, so I try to control everything else.  I micromanage.  I need to have important things in my life outlined and know where everything stands in every moment.  I never want to be caught unaware again.  I do not want to be vulnerable in any way ever again.

My flight response is very high.  Growing up, there was a lot of abuse in my home.  If you wanted to be heard, you yelled louder than the next person.  If you wanted to shut someone up, you would say the meanest, cruelest thing you could muster.  I hated that side of everyone and loathed it more in myself.  I swore I would never live that way again and pushed that side of me down.  During times of stress when I am feeling irrationally vulnerable, that side rears its ugly head.  Part of me wants to lash out viciously, to yell, rant and unleash outwardly all the pain I feel inside.  I refuse to let this monster out to create damage that can never be undone, so instead I run.  More appropriately, I walk.  I walk and walk, miles at a clip, until the feelings subside and reality returns.  I’ve been running, and walking, away from my past my entire life.  That is my life with PTSD in a nutshell.

I have been staying with friends recently.  Thankfully, they hadn’t questioned why my bedroom light is always on or why I keep such odd sleeping hours.  Or why most nights I am awake until two or three in the morning.  Or why I occasionally need mini naps because I’m always exhausted.  They know about my history of sexual abuse and my diagnosis so they have been wonderfully patient with my many quirks and thankfully have not inquired too deeply about them.  I am admittedly very self-conscious about my mental health and have lived persistently in fear of the stigma of the mentally ill being damaged and crazy.  Nothing makes me feel more like I fall into that stigma mold than my irrational feelings and behaviors caused by my PTSD.  I am grateful beyond belief that they accept my peculiar behaviors at face-value and have never drawn attention to them or made me feel unhinged or broken because they are there.

A couple nights ago, noises from outside woke me from a dead sleep.  I heard some banging and clanging at my bedroom window.  We are out in the middle of nowhere, on the outskirts of where the country meets the woods.  All around us are farms and forests.  Being used to the city myself, initially I tried to chalk the sounds up to nature and wildlife, to convince myself I was just being silly.  The noises continued.  As they persisted, I became more on edge.  I crept to the window to peek through the blinds just in time to see a dark figure bolt away.

Trying to harness my paranoia and rein it back in, I hopped online.  My friend’s cousin had messaged a short while earlier, asking if we were still awake over here.  I lightheartedly asked if he had been outside my window because I knew he lived a short distance away.  I didn’t want him to know how anxious I truly felt.  When he laughed and said he hadn’t been, that he was still at home, I entered full-blown panic mode.  Though it was after 1 am, I went out to speak to my friend.

My friend and his dog took a lap around the house, a ranch-style home with only one story.  The outer storm windows of both my bedroom and his son’s bedroom had been forced up a couple inches into the first locked position, as if someone had tried to get in.  The dog reacted to the area around both bedroom windows, sniffing and looking around alertly.  The next morning, my friend heard from a neighbor that there are “gypsies in the area”.  I am not quite sure what constitutes gypsies in this day and age because I envision wagons, brightly colored clothing and a strange mysticism of stories from years ago when I hear the term, but the fact remains that there are strangers in the area that the locals neither know nor trust.

There went any possibility that I had imagined anything.  Admittedly, part of me hoped I had just been paranoid because of being in unfamiliar surroundings.  I hoped that maybe I was hearing things, seeing things, and making mountains out of molehills.  Confirmation has sent me into a hyper-alert state.  In my head, I have taken stock of every weapon I know is in the house so I can protect myself if the need arises.  I am sleeping in small bursts of an hour or two, bolting awake at the slightest sound.  I am checking to make sure windows are locked each time I pass them and trying my best not to appear an unhinged mess.  Inside, my anxiety has begun pulsating steadily in a loop. NOT SAFE. NOT SAFE. NOT SAFE.  I find myself hiding in my bedroom more and more because I am agitated and scared and don’t want to subject anyone else to the mess I am until I can find a way to rein it back in and get it back under control.

It may have been area kids pulling a prank, trying to be funny.  It may have been my friend’s cousin, after all, his denial being prompted by feeling foolish about trying to get our attention in an absurd way instead of coming to the door.  Or perhaps it was the strangers in the area the neighbors had mentioned and referred to as gypsies, checking houses for whatever reason.  It was most likely a one time occurrence, unlikely to happen again.  Regardless of who it was, though, or what their intentions may have been, having someone at my window has brought my PTSD knocking at my door.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 10/28/16.

The Importance of Speaking Out about Mental Illness

When I began writing, it was for myself, for self-healing and to remind myself of my strength.  When I first put my writing out there, I honestly did not think anyone would read it or relate.  Admittedly, EVERY SINGLE TIME someone reaches out to me to thank me for sharing my story, it is humbling beyond belief.  I find myself moved to tears by their comments and letters.

People have called me brave for sharing what I have been through in life.  I don’t see myself as brave.  I have survived.  I have endured.  I am still alive.  I don’t see the bravery in that.  They have commended my strength.  I honestly don’t feel very strong most days.  I remind myself to stay strong because I forever feel like I am hanging on by a thread, ready to fall.  They have thanked me for being an inspiration and giving them hope.  I myself cling to hope but I am still struggling every day.

I don’t write for praise or gratitude or accolades.  I don’t write to paint a picture of a beautiful lie that someone might wake up one day miraculously cured because depression doesn’t work that way.  I write about the ugly truth about living day to day  with mental illness because it has been the monster on my back for far too long and I am determined to pull this beast out into the light.

I write about hope because I need to remain hopeful in order to keep going.  For me, it is honestly either fight or give up. Be hopeful or surrender.  Live or die.  I sometimes wonder if I’m the most positive depressed person in existence because I am forever reaching out, encouraging others to keep fighting, keep holding on, even when I feel like I am dying myself inside.  I hold onto the hope that life will get easier or better over time because I need something to hold onto in order to pull myself up every day.

Why do I continue to write, to reach out and to encourage others even though I’m struggling myself?  I do it because so many other people are struggling, too.  So many people are sitting where I was months ago, feeling utterly hopeless and alone.  They haven’t found their voices yet.  They haven’t found their tribe.  They feel no one could possibly understand.  Nobody cares.  I know that feeling.  I have been there.  I want to be that voice in the wind, whispering to them that they are not alone, not forgotten, not unlovable, not unwanted.  I want to be the muse that inspires them to find their own voice and speak out.

There is so much stigma surrounding mental illness.  People are afraid if they talk about their struggles, they will be labeled as broken, damaged or crazy.  Society treats those suffering with mental illness differently.  We have become pariahs.  People keep the mentally ill at arms length as if our “crazy” was contagious, joking about hiding all the weapons for everyone’s safety as if we’re likely to melt down and go on a killing spree at any moment. People who have hidden their diagnosis stand uncomfortably as friends, family and co-workers joke about people that are “unhinged” or “looney”, afraid to speak out and be painted with that same broad brush.

There is an inherent shame society places on the mentally ill.  People suggest we should just try to be positive or happy.  If only it were that simple.  We get told that we “don’t look sick” and are expected to justify that our pain is worthy of acknowledgement.  We get accused of wanting attention and pity.  No one would look at a cancer patient and ask them for proof of their pain or suggest someone with a broken leg try to walk.  No one questions their emotions.  There’s sympathy and validation when you can see the suffering.  When it is an invisible illness, you’re faced with ignorance and doubt.

There are people out there who have never experienced mental illness themselves who honestly have no idea what living with depression is like.  They know the stigma and the jokes.  They have seen the over the top portrayals in movies and on television.  They have seen random headlines about violent crimes that are loosely linked to a person with a history of mental illness.  They do not understand it.  They are afraid of it.  They need to put a face to it.  They need to humanize it.  They need to understand that we are not some boogeyman lurking in the shadows, waiting to strike.  We are everyday, average people who just happen to be struggling in life.  We are their parents, siblings, children, co-workers and friends.  They have known the faces of mental illness for years.  We just hid it in the shadows out of fear of their reaction.

I honestly write and speak out because somebody has to do it.  If not me, who?  If not now, when?  Nothing is ever going to change until people rise up as a united force to change it.  I do not expect my voice alone to move mountains or change the world, but I will add it to the collective, hoping that together, we will be heard.  Enough with the shame, the stigma and the fear.  We need to begin to talk openly about mental illness so we can seek treatment and begin to heal.

I write because it has become my lifeblood and healing has become my mission.  Healing not only for myself but for everyone who has been suffering in silence.  I write because I have seen that it makes a difference.  I don’t have much to offer the world, but if I can turn the worst moments of my life into something positive that helps others, it is worth doing.  While it may not be on a global scale, if my words move one person today, convincing them that someone else understands and encouraging them to stay strong and keep fighting, then I have made the world a better place.

empowher
Republished on EmpowHER on 10/15/16.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 10/18/16.

helpmindsheal

Republished via The Mighty on Help Minds Heal on 10/19/16.

inner_battle_logo

Republished via The Mighty at The Inner Battle on 11/13/16.

A Plea from My Mentally Ill Heart

Please understand that, while I may seem strong in many ways, I am fragile when it comes to my heart.  I have been struggling to survive and have been battling myself and my mental illness my entire life.  My heart is my one safe haven and I do not let people in easily.  Love and vulnerability honestly scare me.

Please be patient with me because I do not trust easily.  If I have trusted you enough to let you in, you truly mean a lot to me.  I have been hurt and abused so often that I keep most people at a distance.  While I do not trust easily, if I have welcomed you into my heart, I trust you enough to be vulnerable around you.  Please don’t take advantage of that trust or that love.  It may take time to pull all those walls down for you and for that I am sorry.  Vulnerability scares me.

Please be compassionate with me.  I know I am a mess in many ways but I am sincerely trying my hardest to be the best version of myself that I can be.  I will have down days, bad days, days when I barely have the strength to get out of bed.  I will have emotional days when all I want to do is cry and days where I am convinced I deserve no place on this planet and nothing you say or do will be able to convince me otherwise.  Please know that it doesn’t mean I don’t love you.  Depression is just physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting and is always trying to consume me, day and night, every single day.

Please don’t accuse me of being needy for loving you with all of my heart or needing to be reassured of your love from time to time.  My life has been full of dysfunctional, unhealthy relationships so I’m not entirely sure how to love.  I love fully and deeply because my heart is raw, my emotions strong.  I often operate in only too modes – either I feel deeply or I feel nothing at all.  I put all of myself in because I believe you deserve it.  Please don’t react to my love with criticism and negativity.  It is scary enough putting myself out there without you making me feel like my love is fundamentally broken or flawed.

Please don’t say you’re going to be there if you don’t intend to follow through.  Please don’t make promises or plans you have no intention of keeping.  Please don’t spend years telling me you want to spend a lifetime with me only to cast me aside on the drop of a hat.  Please don’t tell me that I’m your everything or your dream and promise me happily ever afters you never intend to share with me.  I take your promises seriously because I need to trust and believe in you in order to keep you close to my heart.  Violating my trust makes me want to pull away and shut down.

Please be consistent in your love.  You cannot love me one day then treat me like I do not exist the next.  Either you always love me or you never did.  Please don’t treat love as something that can be shut off if it is inconvenient, only to be picked back up at a later time.  Please never treat love as a reward to only be given upon your decree or as a punishment to be taken away if you feel cross.  Love should never be given or withdrawn on a whim.  Love should be for better or worse, in good times and bad.  If there is love, there is ALWAYS love.

Please never tell me you love me, truly love me, if you do not mean it wholeheartedly.  Don’t just say words you do not mean in order to appease me.  I would rather face an ugly truth than a beautiful lie.  Having you profess your love only to negate it by your words and actions tears my heart out and shatters it.  Please never say anything you don’t truly mean. A large part of my love for you resides upon the fact that, in my heart, you are different than the others who have hurt me before.   When your words and your actions do not line up, you begin to feel like a stranger to me, like one huge lie.  Please don’t make my love for you and faith in you into a lie.

Most importantly, please do not expect me to wait around if you are unable or unwilling to give me the love I need and, more importantly, that every person deserves.  While I may love you wholeheartedly, I must love myself, as well.  Please never expect me to allow you to hurt or abuse me as others have done because I can never allow that again.  Please know that if you are unable to love me unconditionally in return then I must move on.  I deserve to be loved with the same fervor that I give to you.  I cannot settle for anything less.  If you truly love me, you shouldn’t want to give me anything less.

I have been let down, hurt, abused and been abandoned and discarded by so many people in my life that the thought of suffering through it even one more time is terrifying.  If you are not truly sincere in your words and your actions, please just move along and let me be.  Please do not treat my love as a game.  My heart has been through enough.  Please don’t add to my pain and suffering.

I want to believe in love and in you but I am terrified of having my heart shattered again.  I want to love again and build something real.  Putting trust in someone else makes me feel very vulnerable, though.  Vulnerability terrifies me.  Please never offer me lip service without intention or speak about love without a commitment to my heart.  Please show me compassion and patience, knowing that I must love you deeply to welcome you into my heart.  I may have been through a lot in life, but I have so much love yet to give if only you would hear my plea and love me back in return.

~ Dedicated to those who wish to love us, damaged broken hearts and all.  Please do not let our past or current struggles intimidate you.  We know that loving us isn’t easy but love that is true and unyielding can conquer anything.  We have so much love to give that person who is able to look past our scars and love us back unconditionally.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 11/7/16.

 yourtango

Republished on Your Tango on 11/22/16.

helpmindsheal

Republished via The Mighty on Help Minds Heal on 11/7/16.

Honoring the One that Got Away

Everyone has at least one person they remember fondly as “the one that got away”.  Looking back, I honestly think I have a few.  However, it is that very first one that got away that will forever stick with me and haunt me.

I knew him back in high school.  We met during my junior year when I was moved downstate to live with my sister.  When we met, we both were with other people, but we clicked instantly.  He was that larger than life, walks to the beat of his own drum type of guy that just seemed perfect in every way.  I admittedly had the biggest crush on him.  We seemed forever drawn together, walking that fine line of innocent flirtation while staying loyal to the people we were with at the time.  It was a puppy love level of infatuation for me, the likes of which teenage rom-coms are made from.

One fateful weekend, I had gotten in a fight with my then-boyfriend and he had ended the relationship.  Likewise, my crush had just split from his on-again, off-again girlfriend.  Our window had been opened, albeit very briefly.  Our group of friends hung out that weekend but we gravitated directly towards one another.  We found ourselves leaning on each other in our shared heartache.  We talked and talked and eventually we kissed.  That night felt like perfection to my teenage self.

Within a few days, we both ended up back with our respective exes.  Our window had closed and would never reopen for us again.  I cannot regret it because my high school sweetheart and I would have our daughter a couple years later.  Yet, part of me always held tightly to that night and pondered the what ifs.  If I had to only choose one person to hold the title of the one that got away, it would be him.

What lingered even moreso than the kiss were his words that night.  I had never had anyone be so sweetly kind, compassionate and encouraging towards me before.  He had gone on and on, telling me what a fool my ex was for ever letting me go.  He assured me I was smart, funny, beautiful, creative, wonderful in every way.  He told me I deserved so much better in life and that I should never settle, that I deserved to be happy and be with someone who cherished me and treated me right.  By the time he was done, I felt as if I was perched precariously on a pedestal I did not deserve.

He had said every single thing every woman longs to hear, yet at the time I could not believe any of it because I had already begun my spiral into depression and self-loathing.  I was convinced he had only said those things to be nice, out of some strange obligation to make me feel better.  Yet for years I clung tightly to those words, cherishing them as something I longed to be true, that one day I might be worthy of his words.

As years passed, we talked less and less and eventually lost touch.  I was trying my damnedest to escape my past and, regrettably, that meant losing anyone connected to it, as well.  The last time we spoke, we shared pictures of our children and stories about our lives.  We laughed and joked like no time had passed because that was always our way.  We never talked about our one night, not then, not ever.  He talked so passionately about teaching and fatherhood.  He seemed honestly happy.  My life was far from there but I painted on a smile and wore that mask to reassure him that I was doing peachy, as well.

We never had a chance to speak again.  A little over a year later, he killed himself.  Apparently, he was an expert at wearing a mask, as well.  He had been struggling with depression himself for years.  We were more alike than I had ever realized.

I didn’t even find out until almost two years after his death.  It tore me apart in so many ways.  I had an irrational guilt I could not shake because I kept feeling like I should have been there, been a better friend.  I got drunk for the first time ever because I needed so badly to escape myself and my feelings, even if just for a night.  I couldn’t stop crying.  I kept wondering why, when I had walked that edge myself so many times, he was the one dead while I was still alive.  It felt so unfair.

My mind kept going back to that one beautiful, fateful night and all those amazingly wonderful things he had said.  He saw so much in me even when I could not see it myself.  I had always cherished those words and prayed that one day I would be able to be that person, to find some truth in them.

There are no words or actions that could ever bring him back.  You cannot change the past.  I found myself longing to do something, anything, in remembrance of him, something that would honor his memory.  I will continue to write and to reach out to others struggling with depression, but that is a mission I began even before feeling the pain of his loss.  While he will forever be on my mind now whenever I talk anyone off that ledge, he deserves something more personal and meaningful than that.

Again, I find myself back at his words that night.  I have decided I shall embrace them fully, repeat them all daily as my mantra until they become my reality.  I will learn to love myself and to see myself as the woman he believed me to be all those years ago.  I will fight harder than I have ever fought to overcome my demons because he once saw a beautiful light in me and I refuse to snuff that light out.

I will embrace myself and love myself fully.  I will see the intelligence, beauty and worth in myself.  I will no longer settle nor will I let anyone ever again treat me like I am less than a person.  I will learn to treat myself with as much kindness and compassion as I have always shown others and I will learn to forgive myself for not being perfect.

I used to think I wanted more than anything for his words to be true.  Truthfully, what I want more than anything is to have him back and to make things right.  Unfortunately, I cannot unring that bell so I shall settle for making his words into reality so a little piece of him will forever live on in me.

To that place where beautiful dreams go to die, I send lovingly to Matt: A piece of my heart will always be yours and will always love you.  It is that piece that I shall use to love myself, as well, for you saw it all in me before I could ever see it in myself.

 yourtango

Republished on Your Tango on 12/1/16.

Depression & Genetics

Please note: I don’t often write about the technical side of my treatment because I know that it is a very personal thing and what works for one person may not work for another.  I do not want to appear to be endorsing a specific path for anyone else because I am not a medical professional by any means.  What I am sharing is not a recommendation for anyone else but rather my own personal experiences.  Please talk to your doctor before making any changes in your mental health routine.

——————————

I have had a lifelong struggle with depression, anxiety and ptsd.  Not too long ago, I was asked to write a piece about when I first realized I was suffering from a mental illness.  I honestly just laughed because I cannot remember a time I have not.  Throughout the years, I have tried prescription medications on and off to help balance my moods and alleviate the symptoms.  Again and again, it felt like the doctors were playing whack a mole with my health, randomly trying different drugs in varying strengths and combinations until I was a drugged up mess.  I had pills to wake myself up, pills to drag me throughout the day and pills to put me to sleep.  Each time, I felt like I was becoming a mindless zombie.  Each time, I would take myself off the medications because I would rather endure all my pain than to lose myself completely.

When I recently reached out for help again, I was adamant about my stance on drugs.  I never again wanted to return to that state with horrible side effects and a comatose-type demeanor where every day blended into the next in a drug-induced stupor.  Looking over my medical history, my new doctor could find no rhyme or reason to my long list of past medications prescribed by others.  Instead of prescribing something purely on a hit or miss basis, he opted to send me out for genetic testing.

Apparently, there are genetic tests now that can determine which drugs your body will be able to metabolize based on your genes.  This test can also determine which medications are likely to cause side effects and even rank the severity from mild to moderate to severe.  When the test results came back, ironically the majority of the medications previous doctors have put me on were listed under moderate to severe side effects.  No matter how much they increased the dose, they were never going to help me because my body had always been unable to break them down.  My new doctor had done a full panel so now I knew what medications would and would not work in my body.

The most exciting result, however, was not among the medication listings, but on the cover of the packet itself.  According to the lab:

This individual is homozygous for the T allele of the C677T polymorphism in the MTHFR gene.  This genotype is associated with significantly reduced folic acid metabolism, significantly decreased serum folate levels, and significantly increased homocysteine levels.

In layman’s terms, it means I have a gene abnormality that makes my liver almost completely incapable of breaking down folic acid.  In normal, healthy livers, folic acid is broken down into a compound called L-methylfolate.  L-methylfolate is used by the brain to regulate the hormones associated with emotions.  Without that compound present in my brain, it would be near impossible to treat my depression and my own body was incapable of producing it in any meaningful quantity.

It turns out that genetic test was a godsend.  Normal lab tests would not pick this up.  A blood test would show the levels of folic acid in my blood and doctors would infer my levels must be fine, not realizing that my liver was incapable of processing it.  Only by looking at the genetic level could they see that my liver was not able to convert any of that folic acid into anything useful.

What makes this an even bigger deal is that a pharmaceutical company has found a way to break down folic acid into L-methylfolate and put it in pill form.  Getting what my brain needs and my body has never been able to provide will be as simple as having a prescription written.  I honestly felt excited.

My doctor was very clear that this is just a big first step, not a cure-all.  This prescription is by no means a panacea.  It, however, is a stepping stone.  It means that antidepressants will finally be able to work because the L-methylfolate will be able to help get them where they are needed.  It means that if my brain actually attempts to regulate my own moods, there is at least a very real possibility of success where previously there was absolutely none.

I took my first pill yesterday and admittedly felt a noticeable difference right out of the gate.  I had more energy and a greater sense of calm.  The depression is by no means gone or even diminished but the fact that I felt anything noteworthy at all on the very first day was enormous for me.  For the first time in a long time, I truthfully am hopeful when it comes to my medication.