My Fiance Reached Out For Help

My fiance set up a GoFundMe today.

While crowdfunding is commonplace today, and I know that everyone needs help sometimes, it eats at me because I cannot help but feel that it is, at least in part, my fault.

We are struggling because my depression is too bad to work. We are struggling because the tumors in my brain have me off kilter, forgetting things, losing my balance, struggling to take care of myself. We are struggling because I’m too much of a mess to help him.

I know on some level that is my depression talking.

I know that I have a bad tendency to blame myself for everything.

I know that I, myself, have trouble asking for help even when it is desperately needed, that I still delude myself into believing that asking for help shows weakness and loathe the feeling that his being with me has somehow sapped the strength from him to the point where he needs to ask for help.

I am struggling not to blame myself.

I feel the constant need to apologize. To apologize for letting him down, for being too much of a mess, for putting him in this position at all. I feel I need to apologize for not being enough, to apologize for being a burden, to apologize simply for being me.

He has not placed any blame on me himself.

He quietly listed things he loves for sale and somberly set up a GoFundMe.

All because he loves me and is trying to keep things afloat.

He might not blame me but I cannot help but blame myself.

I blame myself because part of me can’t help but feel like I should be stronger, better, more able to help.

I can’t help but be afraid, terrified that this might be the death of us, that one day he’ll wake up and decide he can do better, that he deserves better, that he wants more than I can give.

I know that’s my depression and anxiety, too, but it’s a fear that eats at my heart and chips away at my self-esteem. I love him more than words could ever express yet I can’t help but feel useless, worthless, no good for him, no good for anyone, even myself. I wouldn’t blame him for wanting more than me or just not wanting me for that matter.

Usually when people reach out for help, they are hopeful for the future. There may be fear and dread driving them, yet the underlying hope remains.

I cannot seem to find any hope though.

On some level, I know it’s not fair to blame myself. I had no control over his parents passing away, yet I blame myself for not being there for him more, for not being able to help him heal more. His back injury predates our reconnection, yet I beat myself up that no amount of massage seems to make it better.  Realistically, even my mental illness is not my fault. I didn’t ask to be sick. I didn’t ask to struggle so badly to function at all.

My fiance reached out for help today and my depression has me convinced it is all my fault.  I desperately want to believe, to hope. I yearn for that feeling that things might turn out okay. Unfortunately, my depression has left me with nothing but hopelessness and dread.

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I Have Depression.. But I am Happy..

I have struggled with depression my entire life, in part due to a genetic mutation passed down to me from my parents that affects the way my body metabolizes specific chemicals my brain needs to moderate my moods.  I regularly go through horrendous downward spirals where I feel completely broken and worthless, where life feels utterly hopeless.  I struggle with long periods of numbness where I have difficulty functioning or even finding the motivation to get out of bed.  On bad days, I will cry until my face is sore and my voice is hoarse, and it is unlikely I will be able to accomplish much more than basic self-care.  I am battling an illness that warps my very perceptions of life and continuously exhausts and pains me both physically and mentally.

But I am happy.

I have an amazing fiance who is very supportive of me and my diagnosis.  I have healthy, kind, smart and all-around wonderful children who have grown into incredible adults.  My fiance’s children are both amazing, as well. Together we have all formed a beautiful, blended family that I love with all my heart and am proud to call my own.  I have a team of doctors who actually listen to me and a treatment plan that is slowly but surely helping improve my quality of life.  And I have a blossoming writing career that has given me a true sense of purpose and an ability to help others in need.  I have many wonderful blessings in my life to be grateful for, many reasons to be happy.

Yet I have been diagnosed with depression.

That is because a mental illness like depression has nothing to do with happiness.  Depression is not caused by being in the wrong frame of mind or just not trying hard enough to be happy.  Having a depression diagnosis has nothing to do with feeling sad, a little blue or under the weather.  People with depression aren’t being Negative Nancys or Debbie Downers who just need to learn to lighten up and look on the bright side.  My diagnosis wouldn’t just disappear if I just tried to smile a little harder or maintained a more positive outlook on life.  My depression has nothing to do with whether or not I am happy.

I have trained myself to find reasons to smile everyday.  I am usually the first to look for something positive in even the roughest of situations.  No matter how hard my own day might feel, I always try to show compassion and kindness to others.  If nothing else, I am grateful each day I wake up and thankful of all the loving and supportive people in my life and share that sentiment regularly.  I am hopeful for the possibilities the future may have in store for me, as well.  Some of my friends lovingly joke that I am the happiest, most positive little depressed person they know.

Yet I continue to struggle with my depression diagnosis.

My brain does not care whether or not I am happy or grateful, whether I am hopeful, compassionate or kind.  My mental illness is caused by my brain not working properly, much like a diabetic’s pancreas malfunctioning causes their condition.  I have no more control over having a mental illness than someone else having diabetes, heart disease or another medical condition they may have been passed genetically.  Yes, events in my life may have further exasperated my mental illness, much like having excessive sugar might worsen a person’s diabetes or having foods high in cholesterol might affect the severity of heart disease, but my condition preceded any of the traumas and abuses I have endured over the years.  I have even sought treatment to help resolve those issues to the best of my ability, yet my depression has remained.

Because depression is an illness, a medical diagnosis with both mental and physical causations.

It is not all in my head.

It is not a state of mind or an emotion.

Depression isn’t about being sad.

The cure for depression is not happiness.

Like any other illness, depression needs ongoing medical treatment.  Doctors need to not only diagnose the condition, but also to isolate and treat both the mental and physical reasons for the illness, as well. Though doctors often utilize psychological treatments like therapy, meditation and mindfulness, they usually also include psychiatric methods and medications to help treat the physical causation.  That is because doctors recognize mental illnesses such as depression as a verifiable disability that deserves a comprehensive, multi-pronged treatment.

In cases like mine where my depression has a genetic causation, my diagnosis is permanent.  I was born with it much like some children are born diabetic.  You would not blame a child for being born with a pancreas that was incapable of functioning properly so please don’t blame me for the fact that I was born with organs that malfunctioned, as well.  The only difference in my case are the organs affected.  No matter how happy I am or how positive my outlook is on life, my liver will never be able to metabolize the substances my brain needs in order to function properly.  I will have this medical diagnosis and need ongoing treatment until the day I die.

If I confide in you that I am struggling with depression, please don’t try to encourage me to try to be happier and more positive, or point out all the blessings I have in my life.  I am happy and grateful already.  You do not need to remind me to be hopeful for the future because I already am.  Please don’t blame me for my diagnosis either, insinuating that I wouldn’t be ill if I just tried a little harder.  I did not ask for this diagnosis, nor did I cause it.  What I need from you is the same compassion, understanding and support you would give anyone else with any other medical diagnosis.

Because, though I am already happy, knowing you were doing your best to be supportive and treat me with the same respect you would someone struggling with other illnesses would make me even happier.

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Republished on the Mighty on 4/4/19.

Fear of the Unknown – Wedding Planning Anxiety

As a young girl, I dreamt of my wedding day many times over.  My friends and I had mock weddings in our backyards and on the playground, pretending our dandelions were expensive bouquets and using whatever we could find as makeshift veils.  We would practice walking down the aisle, improvising imaginary heartfelt vows that professed undying love.  It was thrilling to imagine that one day, when we found our real life prince charming, he would sweep us off our feet and we would get to plan our wedding for real.

I have never planned an actual wedding before.  I was married once before but I never did get the fairy tale wedding of my dreams.

My ex-husband and I got married more out of obligation than any deep-seated desire to be wed.  After struggling to find his way in life, he stopped in at a recruiting station on the way home from work one day and decided on the spot that he wanted to go into the Air Force.  We had a young son together at the time.  The Air Force had a steadfast rule against recruiting single parents.  Upon learning this fact, he came home from the recruiter’s office that afternoon to explain his dilemma.

It was followed by a simple “..so do you wanna get married or what?”

I was not one to stand in the way of his future or his happiness so I agreed.

Not a very heartfelt proposal followed fairly closely by an equally eloquent wedding a few days later, a simple hand-fasting in his mother’s living room, followed a store bought sheet cake.

I had a wedding gown that I had previously purchased when my ex and I had casually tossed around the idea of possibly getting married one day.  I had found it on sale, a virtual steal, already altered for another bride with a similar frame who changed her mind at the last moment.  The dress originally retailed for a few thousand but had been marked down to just over a hundred because it sat in the store, unpurchased, for so long.  It seemed like kismet to find a gown already tailored to my exact proportions.  It was beautiful and elegant, everything a young girl would imagine her wedding dress to be.  Yet it sat in the closet on my first wedding day, never even made it out of the box.  It seemed silly, bordering on asinine, to even put it on when the rest of the few people in attendance were not dressed up at all.  I have since gotten rid of that gown because it stood as a painful reminder of everything my wedding should have been but wasn’t.

This time around, I want to do it right.

By right, I don’t mean some over-the-top fancy gathering where everyone is dressed to the nines and I’m paraded around in a dress that costs nearly as much as a new car.  I honestly don’t even need another fancy wedding gown, though I do want to wear something simple yet beautiful to mark the occasion.

I don’t need an expensive bouquet.  Nor do I need a fancy big cake with multiple tiers and arches.  I’m actually partial to wildflowers.  And we both love cheesecake.  I’m open to compromises as long as I am not compromised right out of my wedding day altogether.  I refuse to ever do that again.

By right, I mean a wedding that’s planned out, on my terms, incorporating things that mean something to both Marty and me.  I want to be surrounded by our family and friends.  I want to have music we’ll both happily sing along to and food we’ll both enjoy.  I want it to be a day full of love, laughter and happy tears.  I want it to be a day that I will cherish forever, look back upon years from now and smile.  I don’t want some rushed, generic ceremony with no heart done out of obligation.  I want a real wedding.

That being said, I have no idea how or where to begin.  I have a vague idea of some concepts I would like to incorporate but I have yet to weigh which are realistic and which are not, not to mention what will be affordable.

We don’t have a lot of money to dedicate to the day, but even that is fine by me.  We will manage.  After all, a marriage is supposed to be a celebration of love, not of wealth.  But I don’t want to disregard the day as unimportant, either.  It marks an important milestone in our lives and should be treated as such.

I’m thrifty by nature and crafty at heart.  I love to save wherever I can, whether by hitting sales or doing things myself.  I even find all these bridal giveaways fun in their own “probably never going to happen but it’s nice to dream” sort of way. However, the field ahead of me is largely unexplored and I fear it may be full of landmines I am not expecting.

I fear cutting corners like George Castanza in Seinfeld, opting for cheaper envelopes with toxic glue.

I fear taking on a project that turns out to be more than I can handle, of wasting time, resources and money that would have been better spent somewhere else or done by a professional.

I fear forgetting something critical to the ceremony, or even worse, someone important.

I even fear having everyone object at the ceremony, telling him to run while he still can.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of planning this wedding.  I still have over 9 months to go and an entire wedding to plan.  Yet in my head I have failed miserably at it many times over in a thousand different ways.

I know deep down that it is just my anxiety and not reality.

My anxiety has a knack for making mountains out of mole hills, of making even the simplest of tasks feel overwhelmingly impossible.  My anxiety holds me on the verge of sheer panic, racing through my mind everything and anything that could possibly go wrong.  And that is on an average day.  Throw a once in a lifetime milestone like marrying the love of my life into the mix and my anxiety goes into permanent overdrive.  I only have one shot at this and I cannot let my anxiety get the better of me, pushing me to give up before I have even begun.

I know I am capable of doing this.  I’m more than competent at planning and organization, even meticulous when I need to be.  I am creative and artistic.  I have a good eye.  I am overly sentimental, bordering on downright sappiness, so I would never intentionally leave anything or anyone meaningful out.  Most importantly, I know Marty as well as I know myself so I know better than anyone else how to create a day that would mean the world to both of us on multiple levels.

Yet my anxiety rages on.

My plan at this point is simple.

I have to take things one step at a time, one task at a time.

Focus on what matters.

I am not striving for perfection.  I don’t need everything to be perfect.  I just need more than a rushed wedding in a living room with a generic sheet cake so my new spouse can ship off to basic training.

I need a wedding that will mean something to both Marty and to me.

I know I can do this if I set my mind to it, take my time and work it out one piece at a time.

The problem is that I honestly have no idea how to do it quite yet.  And not knowing where to even begin is probably the scariest feeling of all.

Except perhaps letting him down.

That scares me even more.

But that’s when I hear his voice, calming me, soothing me.  Telling me whatever I do will be perfect.  That he will love me no matter what.  That all he wants is for me to be happy.  That all he wants is to spend the rest of his life with me.  He has that miraculous power over me to bring me back from that edge, to lull me back to reality, to give me the peace of mind I so desperately need.

I know in my heart that no matter what happens on our wedding day, what truly matters is that it marks the first day of the rest of our lives together.  I know that no matter what happens, it will be perfect because we will be together.  Everything else is just details that I will iron out along the way.

I just wish my anxiety would stop trying to convince me otherwise.

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This Piece Was Originally Written For The Anxious Bride on 8/11/18.

Changing My Perspective On My Mental Illness Saved My Life

I have struggled my entire life with mental illness.  Unlike some people whose mental illness has an origin that can be pinpointed to a specific life event, mine is caused in part by a genetic mutation.  It has always been there to varying degrees.  I have always struggled.

Thanks to that same genetic mutation, I have always been considered treatment-resistant, as well.  No medication I ever took seemed to even touch the darkness I carried inside me.  This mutation affected the way the neurotransmitters in my brain worked so I never received the chemicals that I desperately needed, whether made naturally or prescribed,  in any useful amount.

For over forty years of my life, I struggled to function while feeling inherently broken and flawed without ever understanding why.  Discovering the existence of my genetic mutation helped me see my mental illness in a new light and put me on a new path of self-love and acceptance.  There were ways to treat my mutation.  I no longer had to be classified as “treatment resistant” and pushed aside as a hopeless case.  I no longer had to stagnate through life, a broken shell going through the motions while barely existing.

Please know that I am not touting any magical cure for mental illness.  I am also not trying to push that stigma-fueled misconception that if you just try harder, you can somehow vanquish your mental illness by force of will alone.  My mental illness is still very much present and ongoing treatment is still needed.  But the way I have come to view my mental illness has drastically changed and, in many ways, it has been both a world-changer and life-saver for me.

I no longer blame myself for my mental illness.  I used to believe I was damaged and broken, that I was crazy on some core level, unbalanced and just not right in the head.  I had downed gallons of that stigma kool-aid, poisoning myself with the idea that I must just not be trying hard enough, that I was somehow doing this to myself.

I now accept that it is a verifiable illness and one that is largely treatable.  I have accepted that I am no more responsible for my illness than a cancer patient would be for their condition.  It is a medical diagnosis that affects people of all walks of life regardless of their race, religion, gender identity, age or socio-economic status.  I did not ask for my illness nor was it thrust upon me as some punishment or retribution.  People just sometimes get sick and when they do, they need treatment.

For years, I was suicidal on and off.  Because none of my treatment ever seemed to work, my world felt hopeless.  Because I felt damaged and useless, I surrounded myself with people who treated me like I was as worthless as I felt.  Even on my best days, I was only a few steps away from giving up.

Being able to finally accept that I was not responsible for my illness removed all the blame from the equation.  Since I was no longer to blame, I could stop hating myself, stop punishing myself for being so broken.  If it was a medical condition, it was treatable.  And if it was treatable, there was hope.

Hope was a new concept for me.

I was not used to the idea of looking forward to the future.  Previously, I went through the motions of merely existing day by day.  I did not look forward to what tomorrow might bring because it had always brought the same despair as told held and all the days before.  Nothing had ever changed.  But now, there was finally a very real possibility for change.  For the first time, I found myself looking forward to the future.

I also received some semblance of control over my own life.  For years, it felt like my world had been spinning out of control and I had no say in the matter, that I was just along for the ride.  But if there is treatment available that can work, that means I have control over my life again.  Though it might take time to find a balance that works for me, my life and my health are in my hands.  The only way my life will never get better is if I choose to not get treatment.

Regaining control over my own life in turn made me more proactive about my treatment.  I was willing to try anything that might help.  Meditation. Yoga. Tai Chi. Writing.  Art.  Anything that might make a difference and give me a better fighting chance.  It all added new tools to my mental wellness toolbox and made me stronger.

It also made me more open to letting others back into my life.  For years I had isolated myself from many people, believing they were better off without me.  I worried that somehow the mess in my head might spill over into their lives and firmly believed that nobody deserved that.  Being able to see my mental illness as a treatable condition allowed me to take those walls down and let people back in.  I wasn’t dangerous, unbalanced or crazy.  Nobody needed to be protected or shielded from me.  I had a fairly common condition that was treatable.

My new strength also helped me to see that everything my mental illness had been telling me all along was a lie.  I was not weak.  I was not broken beyond repair.  I was not useless, unlovable, unwanted, unworthy.  I was strong.  I was fierce.  I was brave.  I was a fighter, a survivor, a force to be reckoned with.  My future was in my hands.

My new fighting spirit gave birth to an inner advocate that I never knew was within me.  Not only was I fighting for my own mental health, but I began writing advocating for others, as well.  And the more I talked about my own mental illness, the more I let others know they were not alone and encouraged them to never give up, the stronger I got.  Within my illness, I found a purpose, a reason to keep going and to fight that was much larger than my own survival.  The same illness that for years had me pinned on death’s door had breathed new life into me and given me a true calling.

That does not mean that my mental illness is gone.  It is still there raging strong.  The only difference is that now when that inner dialogue begins, I can fight back.  I can call it out for the liar it is.  I can use the tools I have acquired in my mental wellness toolbox and stave off the worst of it.  Instead of succumbing to its cruelty like a lamb being led to slaughter, I now have the will to fight back, to call it out and to refuse to let it beat me.

And I have hope.

I want to get treatment.  Because I have a sincere hope that one day things could be better, that one day my mental illness will not have such a death grip on me.

Having hope has made all the difference.

If you are struggling right now with mental illness, please take my words to heart.  You are not to blame.  You have done nothing wrong.  You are not broken, flawed, or damaged beyond repair. You are not useless, unwanted, unloved, unworthy.  You have a medical condition that could happen to anybody.  There is treatment available.  Things can get better.

And there is hope.

You just have to open yourself up to that possibility.

Trust me.  It will change your world and might just save your life.

You’re stronger than you realize.  You’d have to be strong to fight the monsters you’ve been fighting all along.

You’ve got this.

I have hope for you.  Now all you need is hope for yourself.

Something To Think About Before You Consider Killing Yourself..

There are many quotes that resonate strongly with me on a very personal level.  One of my favorites is by William Goldman:

“Life isn’t fair.  It’s just fairer than death, that’s all.”

What makes life more fair?  I believe it is the fact that you still have possibilities and options.  No matter how bleak and hopeless today might feel, there’s no way to know what tomorrow or next week, next month, next year might bring.  Life is fairer than death because death takes away all your options, all your possibilities.

I won’t ever throw out empty promises that tomorrow will be better if you just hang in there because none of us knows exactly what tomorrow may bring and whether it will be good or bad.  But one thing I can guarantee you is that it will bring possibilities.  The possibility of action and of change.  The possibility of a future beyond today.

I would be lying if I said I hadn’t been there myself, if I hadn’t tried myself in the past.  I understand how it feels to feel lost and all alone in the world, to believe that you have no more options.  I know exactly how scary it is up on that ledge.  I know all too well that siren’s call, promising an end to the pain if you just give up, just give in.

Unfortunately, that’s all suicide gives you.  An end.  It doesn’t remove any of the problems that existed.  It just robs you of the ability to do anything to fix them.  And it’s final.  There are no do overs, no second chances, no tomorrows.  It is emptiness.  Nothingness.

Yes there would be no more sadness, heartache or pain.  But there’s no more happiness, either.  You’re robbing yourself of the chance to heal, to overcome, to see better days again.  You’re allowing the worst days in your life to steal the possibility of all future happiness from you.  You’re depriving yourself of a future that is completely within your power to transform into anything you wish.

Giving up means giving up your future and giving up the chance to make your life better.  It is final.  When you give up, there are no more possibilities.

There are also no more hugs.  No more drippy ice cream cones or licks from cute, fuzzy puppies.  No more bad puns that make you chuckle and no more all you can eat taco bars.  No more sunny days or breezes blowing through your hair.  No more singing songs loudly and off key and no more cups of cocoa with too many marshmallows.  There are no more bonfires or camping trips.  No more joyrides with friends or late night pizza runs.  There’s no more movie marathons or teaching your children to ride a bike.

There’s no second chances to fix things and no way to say you’re sorry or make amends.  There’s no new friends or new jobs.  No new children or new pets.  There’s no new hope and no second wind.

There’s nothing.

I could go on and on, listing all the things you could be giving up, but the possibilities are endless.  By choosing to live, you have millions of doors available to open, millions of lives you could live.

There’s only one thing you get from suicide.  Nothing.

I won’t guilt you by saying you should keep living so you don’t hurt others because I believe you should be living for yourself, not someone else.  Don’t get me wrong – it would devastate everyone in your life and change who they are forever but it isn’t fair to ask you to live your life for someone else.  You ultimately need to choose to live for yourself.

But please know that I have been right where you are now.  I was sixteen the first time I tried to kill myself.  I can tell you without a doubt that I am grateful I did not succeed.  I won’t lie to you and tell you that my life has been a bowl of cherries since then, but I still have been blessed beyond anything I ever imagined for myself.

I have wonderful children I would not trade for the world.  I have reconnected with my first childhood crush and found a lasting love.  I am a published author of a handful of books and with blogs that have been republished and shared world-wide.  My life has not been perfect by any means, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the alternative which is nothing.

I know others who have survived suicide attempts, as well.  Years later, we’ve talked about all that has happened since their attempts.  Children.  Marriages.  Careers.  Vacations.  Celebrations.  Memories.  Life.

I have never heard a single one of them say they wish they had been successful.  No matter how many highs and lows they have gone through since then, every single one has been glad they are still here.  I’ve heard stories on television, as well, from people who have survived suicide attempts like jumping off bridges.  They all share the same narrative about regretting that one moment of weakness and being grateful that they did not succeed.

Because you know what they would have had if they had been successful?

Nothing.

“Life isn’t fair.  It’s just fairer than death, that’s all.”

Life is fairer than death because life is full of possibilities.  Death takes every last possibility away.

Don’t keep living for anyone else.  Choose to live for yourself because living means that you still have a chance to be happy, a chance to make amends, a chance to find love, a chance to be a parent or to pursue your dream job.  Keep living because by living, you still have a chance.  With death, you have nothing.

An Honest Dialogue About the Realities of Mental Illness

I woke up this morning to a message in my inbox on my Twitter author account.  Admittedly, I rarely open up messages on that site these days because the majority of them are either bots or phishing scams.  But, even by the small preview pane, I could see this one was different.  They began by explaining they had been reading through some of my writing.  I immediately opened it up to read through it and respond.

I won’t divulge any of what they wrote about because it is not my place to share their story, but as I read over my responses, I couldn’t help but believe that I needed to share my own words further.  To them, I wrote:

…Good morning. No need to apologize at all. I’ve written so very much that unless you’ve stumbled onto certain pieces, it’s unlikely a specific question would be answered. Honestly, it took me hitting a horrible low before I could find my voice. I had to reach a point where something desperately had to change or I knew I was not going to survive..

…As for overcoming my depression, I honestly don’t think there is such a thing, at least in my case.. It was more a matter of accepting my diagnosis for what it was and recognizing my limitations instead of letting the stigma surrounding mental illness control my perception of myself. I still very much have good days and bad days, but at the same time, I’ve gotten better at identifying when it is my depression versus when it is reality.. I’ve also filled my coping toolbox with so many different things so that I have different tools to help me cope with bouts of depression and anxiety.. I’ve learned to look at my mental illness much like diabetes – it’s an illness that causes one of the organs in my body to not function properly – there is currently no cure and it needs regular monitoring and care – but it is possible to exist and live with mental illness just like it is possible with diabetes.. I find myself still struggling, as well, to find a combination of medication that works right for me but I have sincere high hopes that in the future, when that combination is discovered, things will be much better and it will become easier for me to function..

…I apologize if you were hoping for some sort of secret cure all, or some way to make it go away on it’s own.. I don’t think something like that exists at this point, at least in cases such as mine.. I think, for me, it was a matter of changing how I viewed my illness and changing how I viewed myself.. Accepting that I am not broken or crazy but that I have an illness that affects my brain and that I deserve not only treatment but compassion and understanding, as well. I speak out and write a lot about what it is like living with mental illness because I want others to know, as well, that they’re not alone.. that others are struggling to fight similar battles and that we cannot buy into the stigma surrounding our illness, that we are not to blame for our illness, that our illness does not define us and that there is no shame in being mentally ill.

…I apologize for all the typos.. I was typing in the dark on my laptop.. I wanted to answer your questions right away and found my fingers struggling to keep up with my mind as I threw my answer out there.. I hope some or all of that helped.. I thank you for taking the time to read so much of my story and I sincerely wish you the best.. Please stay strong and don’t lose hope.. A mental illness diagnosis does not define you and it doesn’t have to be the end of anything. I truly love that the mental health community has embraced the semicolon ( ; ) as a symbol because it is used when a sentence could have ended but the author chose, instead to keep going. None of our stories are over either. We just have to keep fighting. If you are able, have a wonderful day. If that isn’t possible, please at least have a day. Keep going, keep powering through. And know that you’re not alone.

…Reading over all of this, part of me honestly feels horrible if anything I had written gave the impression that I had in any way found a path beyond my illness. As you can tell by much of my writing, I still struggle with horrible lows and have days where I consider getting out of bed, eating and doing my dishes as a victory. I’ve learned to differentiate between my illness and reality but that in itself does not change the physical things going on within my mind and body. My mind and body still go haywire regularly – I am working with my doctors to find a way to get them under control much like a diabetic manages their illness with insulin and glucose.. I know talking about looking at my illness differently doesn’t sound like much but it has been a huge stepping stone for me because it has allowed me to stop beating myself up for being ill, to stop hating myself and treating myself as if I am broken or crazy. By recognizing it as an illness and not something messed up inside myself, I was able to take back some control and begin working towards getting my illness under control. Things may be rough right now but this illness can be treated.. It just takes time. I’m not sure there ever will be a point where I’ll be fully functional, but I’d happily settle for being more functional than I currently am.

I honestly felt I needed to put this out there, to make sure everyone reading my writing understood that I am in no way touting any magical cure all for mental illness, nor am I implying in any way that mental illness is anything that a person can overcome by sheer willpower alone.  Mental illness is just that – an illness – and it needs treatment.  It won’t go away on its own.

I do believe, however, that we can destigmatize our illness and take back control over our lives.  We cannot will away how our symptoms present themselves but we can change how we view them and how we treat ourselves.

Please know that I’m a realist.  I’m not going to throw out those tired cliches about trying harder to be happy or how life will somehow magically be better if you let go of your past because I’ve been there myself and I know how infuriatingly useless they are.  I’ve worked through issues from my past and my mental illness still remained – because it is an illness that needs treatment.  I know firsthand how rough this illness can be and I won’t sugarcoat it because it does none of us any good to minimize our symptoms for the comfort of others.  I speak openly and honestly about what it is like to live with mental illness because I know holding it in and pretending things are okay doesn’t work.  Those of us suffering can barely wrap our own heads around our illness – how can we expect those who have never experienced it themselves to understand unless we throw it all out there and tell them?

I apologize if anyone who has been following my journey feels misled, hoping for some panacea, some advice or trick that will help their mental illness magically go away.  As far as I know, no such thing exists.

I may be a realist, but I’m also an optimist.  Since I have changed how I view my own illness, I have newfound hope for the future.  I have seen marked changes and improvements in the last couple years alone.  Though my fight is far from over, I truly believe that further advancements are possible and that things can and will continue to improve over time with continued treatment.

I write about mental illness not because I have all the answers but because I know it is a problem we cannot solve by pretending it isn’t there.  We need to talk about mental illness.  We need to fight the stigma.  We need to share our journey with others who are struggling so that they know they are not alone.  We need to stop blaming ourselves, stop hating ourselves, and accept our condition for what it is – an illness that needs medical treatment.

For everyone else out there fighting their own battles with mental illness, please stay strong, keep fighting, don’t give up hope.  See a doctor.  Talk about everything you’re going through without minimizing or sugar coating it.  Stop blaming yourself and hating yourself for your condition.  Please know that you’re not alone.  And most importantly, even if you cannot have a good day, at least still have a day.  None of our stories are over and we can get through this together.

Mourning Ghosts & Fairy Tales

They say everyone has a type of person they find themselves drawn to in life.  For some, it’s hair or eye color, for others it is height or build.  For me, it seems to be wounded souls with a ton of unresolved baggage and commitment issues.  I’ve always seen them as kindred spirits, assuming that, because they had so many issues themselves, they would be better equipped to handle mine.  On some level, as well, I think I’ve always hoped that if I could help them to find a better place in life, they would somehow return the favor – that by some miracle we would find a way to heal and grow together.

I have a history of unhealthy, dysfunctional relationships.  Every single serious relationship I have had has been with someone who has been surrounded by addiction, whether their own or their family’s.  I, myself, am the child of a compulsive gambler.  My father’s family was riddled with alcoholism and drug addiction, as well.  Dysfunction breeds dysfunction.  Though I never developed an addiction myself, I inherited all the bad behaviors.  Again and again, I found myself in co-dependent, destructive relationships with others who walked similar paths.  Instead of healing together, we created toxic bonds that slowly destroyed themselves from within.

I admittedly hold onto some warped version of positive ideals more than I embrace the ugly reality of people and situations.  It is easier for me to embrace the good than to dwell on the bad.  My mind longs to hold onto the happiness and discard all the pain and misery.  At the end of  each relationship, as I lay there heartbroken and emotionally shattered, again and again I would cry and mourn what I felt I had lost, blind to the truth of the situation.  I would think back to all those good times and cherished memories, unable to grasp how things could have ended so horribly.

The truth is that none of those relationships were healthy or loving, at least not for the majority of the relationship and definitely not at the end.  When someone genuinely cares for another person, they do not go out of their way to hurt them or make them feel worthless.  That is not love.  I cannot keep putting people on pedestals that do not belong there.  Too often, I have held so tightly to the concept of the person I fell in love with that I was unable to accept that they hadn’t been that person for a long time.  While the initial love may have felt pure and beautiful, the warped monstrosity that tore my heart out was anything but and does not deserve to be mourned.

I need to be honest with myself and call things out for what they are.  I cannot cling to the happily ever afters of fairy tales and attempt to forcefully align my own stories to match.  I cannot glorify the good while ignoring the bad.  I cannot cry myself to sleep because again and again my Prince has turned out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  I cannot shed even one more tear for someone who does not even truly exist outside my mind, because that is exactly what I have done repeatedly.  I have built up and fabricated ideal personas of my partners that did not truly reflect who they were or how they treated me.  Each time, when things fell apart, I was heartbroken, not for the man I had lost but for who I had build him up to be in my heart, mind and soul.

Recently, when yet another relationship imploded, I found myself heartbroken and confused.  I could not understand how someone who had claimed to love me so enormously and completely could turn around and hurt me as badly as he had.  My image and memories of him conflicted with his words, actions and treatment of me.  I was at a loss.  It made no sense.  Until I realized that all of my hurt and anger stemmed not only from their actions themselves but from that conflicted state, as well.  In truth, he was not that man I embraced so fully in my heart and believed had loved me unconditionally, at least not anymore.  There is no way anyone could truly love someone and lash out the way he kept doing, repeatedly hurting me.  While he may have loved me at some point, early on, before everything began to warp and change, there was truthfully no love for me anymore.  Love is not heartless, indifferent or cruel.  In the end, he might as well have been a stranger.  Once again, I was mourning the ghost of who they used to be or perhaps who I built them up to be in my mind.  I was holding onto a fairy tale that did not exist.  I needed to let go of it all and embrace the reality of the situation.

I am not without fault.  I have many unhealthy behavior patterns I need to address and to change.  I have made poor choices and caused my share of destruction.  As I have said before, dysfunction breeds dysfunction and it is hard for unhealthy people to make healthy decisions.  However, I have always consciously tried not to intentionally hurt those I love and therein lies the difference.  But attempting to never intentionally cause pain to those I love has never been enough, nor would it ever be enough on it’s own in the future.   I also must begin to be more proactive about how I allow myself to be treated.  I do not deserve to be anyone’s doormat.  I do not deserve to be discarded and made to feel worthless until I am convenient.  You do not tell someone that you truly love that they are not a priority, in your words or your actions.  Love isn’t something you push aside and say maybe next week, next month or next year if life is more convenient then.  If you love someone, you always love them, for better or worse, in good times and bad.  You do not intentionally hurt the people you love.  Showing love doesn’t make you weak or needy or clingy.  Love should always be appreciated and cherished.  I deserve no less than a genuine, complete love because that is what I always give out wholeheartedly.

As I begin to look at myself retrospectively, to talk and to heal, I am seeing these patterns of dysfunction rear their ugly head again and again.  I need to be more aware of my choices and not fall into another unhealthy relationship again.  Much like two wrongs do not make a right, two dysfunctional people cannot make a healthy relationship, at least not while they are both stagnating in their own unhealthy messes.  That does not mean I cannot connect with another tortured soul and bond over our similar paths in life.  I just need to find someone as invested in healing and moving forward as I am, who can treat me with the compassion and understanding I deserve and love me with as much tenderness and passion as I give to him.  I need to keep walking down this path to becoming a healthier person and I deserve to have someone who will love me enough to stay at my side unwavering throughout my journey.

Hopeful

When I talk about my depression, I always describe it as drowning – being pulled down into those endless dark depths.  I want to scream but I know nobody would hear me.  I want to reach out and grab something to pull myself to the surface but there is nothing and no one there except the darkness that surrounds me.  Everything feels cold and alone.  It’s like I’m anchored to the bottom and no matter how much I struggle to swim, the shore is always out of reach.

I’ve spent so much of my life alternating between treading water, fighting  to stay afloat and being yanked underwater, drowning in depression.  I never manage to make it ashore, never get a moment to rest.  There’s days I barely catch my breath before being dragged under again.  Even when I’m treading water, the demons of my depression tear at me, like sharks in a feeding frenzy, forever starving and wanting to devour me whole.  I’ve spent my life lost at sea.

I am so tired of crying, of feeling unwanted and unloved.  I am so tired of hurting, of having the demons of my past tormenting me daily.  I am so tired of being afraid of the future, terrified that I might not be strong enough to keep going.  I am so tired of feeling alone, unheard, forgotten and discarded.  Every day, every moment is a struggle.  I am so very tired.

However, I refuse to give up hope.  I refuse to believe that this is all there is to life.  I refuse to let my depression beat me.  I refuse to let those people who used, abused and callously hurt me win.  I have fought my whole life to keep going.  I am a survivor.  I cannot surrender.  I have come too far to give up now.  I don’t want to drown.

More than anything, I just want to be okay.  I want to learn to smile, not the fake ones I paint on for the peace of mind of others but a GENUINE smile.  I want to be happy.  To learn to like myself – I’m not entirely sure that loving myself is possible but I’d be satisfied just waking up not hating myself and the mess that I am everyday.  I want to laugh and enjoy life.  I want to actually live.  I want to flourish.  I want to leave my mark and make a difference in this world.

I know it sounds asinine to be so hopeful when I’ve had no reason to ever believe in happily ever afters.  I hold tightly to my hopes and dreams, though, because I need to believe there’s something more, something better, something worth fighting for in life.  The moment I stop believing, stop hoping, is the moment I surrender and sink under and lose my battle.  I have to be hopeful in order to survive.