Having a Family Isn’t Exhausting – My Depression Is

My youngest just started college.  He took a train upstate for a weekend visit after his last class this past Friday.  I spent the two days prior trying to build up my energy preserves before his arrival.  We didn’t have a particularly eventful weekend, yet I was worn out by the time he left.  It isn’t that he is exhausting.  My depression is.

Even when my children were younger, I found myself building up reserves of whatever energy I could muster, saving whatever I could for them.  It seemed like I was eternally exhausted, forever worn out and hanging by a thread, trying to scrounge up whatever motivation I could manage in a feeble attempt to be the mother I felt they deserved.

We took frequent long walks to parks throughout the city, many day trips to area museums and festivals.  Yet I always felt like I fell short, like I never was able to do even a portion of what I wanted to do with them.  More than anything else, we had quiet family movie nights or game nights at home, days spent home playing in the backyard or drawing with chalk on the sidewalk out in front of the house because I was too exhausted to do anything else.

The fact is that my depression is both physically and mentally exhausting.  I am engaged in a never-ending battle with my own brain.  I begin most days already feeling like I am running on empty.  Even my sleep is restless so I never fully recharge.

On the average weekday morning these days, I am up when my fiance’s alarm goes off.  I scurry around for an hour or so, helping him get ready for work.  It gives us a little extra time to spend together on days when he’ll be gone most of the day.  When he leaves, I collapse on the couch, where I spend a good chunk of my day.  It isn’t that helping him get ready is exhausting.  My depression is.

An hour before he is due home, I muster up what little energy I have left to somewhat straighten the house and start dinner.  There’s always easily a dozen things I wish I had done throughout any given day that will get put off to another day.  I truly wish I had the energy to do more.  Most days, I’m amazed I managed to do as much as I have.

The truth is that I spend most of my time alone in a fog of depression.  I often use up what little energy I do have on my family so by the time they leave I am tired, exhausted, worn out.  Some days, I am caught in a funk, immobile and numb.  On other days, I wait until I have the house to myself to break down and cry, sobbing throughout the day.  Either way, I find myself crumbling and falling apart moments after my family is out the door.

Shortly before they’re due home, I dry my eyes and paint on a smile.  I straighten my hair and tidy the house.  I try my best to hold everything together for them even though I usually feel like I am falling apart inside.  By the time they come through the door, I am already wishing I could climb into bed.  It is exhausting.

I often do my best to keep the true extent of my struggles to myself because I don’t want my family to worry about me or to suffer over my pain.  I don’t want them to question whether they are doing enough for me or whether they have been supportive enough.  They know about my struggles with depression yet I still try to shield them to the best of my ability.  My mental illness is not their fault.  I always feel like I must protect them from it, shield them from it, save them from the worst of it.

I conserve my energy for my family in part because I want to be strong for them.  It is bad enough that I feel weak and helpless – I don’t want them to see me that way, as well.  My family brings out the best in me so I want to give them the best of me in return.  A large part of me is also honestly terrified of letting my family down, of being too broken, too much of a mess to be the person they need me to be, the person they deserve to have in their lives.

Please know that they have never said or done anything to make me feel this way.  I know that these feelings, too, are products of my depression.  I prioritize others over myself because my depression makes me devalue myself.  I internalize everything, blaming and beating myself up far worse than anyone else ever could.  My depression makes me feel like a failure, tells me that no matter how much I do, it will never be good enough, never be enough in any way.

Unfortunately, though, recognizing that it is my depression is not enough to stop these feelings or the behaviors that result from them.  Depression is an illness.  Calling a duck a duck will not make it disappear.  A diabetic labeling their illness will not magically balance their sugar levels any more than someone with a mental illness acknowledging their symptoms will instantly change how they feel inside.  It is good to acknowledge the illness so you understand why you feel the way you do, but comprehending an illness will not make it go away.

Perhaps, in time, I will acquire more self-care and coping skills so that I do not always feel like I am running on empty.  Perhaps, as well, I will heal more and become somewhat more functional again.  But in the meantime, I only have just so much energy to give and I choose to give the majority of it to those who reside in my heart.

I do not resent my family for soaking up the majority of my energy each day.  It is my own choice to do this.  I do this not because I feel that I have to but rather because I want to do so.  My family means the world to me.  I would do anything for them – even give them the last little bits of myself that I have left for the day.

Because on a lot of days, that is exactly what it is.  Those little stores of energy I have managed to reserve for them are the only true sparks of myself I am able to muster.  When they are used up, there is nothing left of myself for myself.  All that remains is my depression.

I know many people will say that I must take care of myself as well.  I’ve been reminded often that “you can’t fill from an empty cup”, implying that I cannot truly be there for anyone else until I have tended to myself first.  But, for me, taking care of my family *IS* taking care of myself.  It is an all too common sacrifice for those of us living with depression.  We give the best of ourselves to our children, our partners, our family and friends because in our hearts we believe that they bring out the best in us so they deserve nothing less than our best in return.

Depression is exhausting.  Most days, I have very little of myself to give the world.  I give all I can to my family, even if it leaves little to nothing for myself.  I do this because I am my best self when I am with my family.  I am more myself when I am with them than I ever am when I am alone.  If I only have a little of myself to go around, I want to share it with those who love and accept me, depression and all.

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Republished on The Mighty on 11/2/18.

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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.

Four Days on Suicide Watch

Everything had been building up for months, years.

It was not that I didn’t have wonderful things in my life to be grateful for. I had healthy, compassionate, intelligent children that were growing into incredible adults before my eyes; I had reconnected with my first crush ever who has turned out to be the love of my life and we have a wedding to plan; I had finally found my calling as a mental health advocate and had the start of a promising writing career; I finally understood my struggles with my mental illness, having found a clinic that not only helped me to find the answers I needed, but also actually gave me hope for the future. In so many ways, my life was finally looking up.

However, it was overshadowed by a lifetime of struggling. I had been battling my own brain my entire life. And in recent years, the government and my insurance company, as well. It felt like all I ever did anymore was fight everyone, again and again. It seemed never-ending. I was so exhausted from fighting all the time, never getting to catch my breath, never getting a break.

Add to that discovering not one but two meningioma tumors on my brain. I had survived years of abuses that left deep scars that would never fully heal. My fiance and I were facing a possible pending eviction caused directly by the government’s prolonged inaction in my case and direct refusal to comply with a judge’s previous fair hearing decision in my favor.

The straw that broke the camel’s back, however, was the fairly consistent presence of someone toxic in my fiance and my lives under the guise of one of his  childhood friends who was hell-bent on causing problems in our relationship, repeatedly trying to split us up.

To give a little background on the situation, she had known him since she was thirteen and had a crush on him for close to thirty years, bordering on stalkerish. When he was staying with his parents following the end of his marriage, she would intentionally show up hours before he was due home from work and say she would wait in his bedroom for him as an excuse to sleep in his bed. Though they never had any type of a relationship because he never saw her THAT way, for years, she regularly borrowed hats and shirts from him and kept them, much like a girlfriend would normally do. Despite having a crumbling relationship at home she should have been devoting her attention to, she tried repeatedly over the years to supplant herself into my fiance and his family’s lives in any way she could whenever she could, often causing drama in the process.  Though he later forgave her to an extent, she even played a crucial part in the break up of his first marriage.

From the time we got together, she had been trying to cause problems between us and split us up. The first time I met her was a month into our relationship, shortly after his father went into hospice. She pulled me aside and tried to convince me that I had no idea what I had gotten myself into or the mess he was going to be so I should just walk away before I got in over my head. She told me he was mentally unstable, that she knew him well enough to know I could not handle what was in store. She seemed thrown aback when I told her I had known him longer than her and I was in it for the long haul.

When she could see I was not going anywhere, she switched tactics. Over the course of the next year, every single time she came over she would make negative comments about me and my mental illness, lecturing me that I needed to stop being lazy and do something with myself and my life. Whenever my fiance and I would both jump in to defend me and attempt to explain the disability diagnosis my doctors had given me, she would interject that she worked in mental health, too, and she “knew what she was talking about”. She worked in a mental health care adjacent position, as a glorified overnight babysitter at a facility that housed mentally or physically disabled adults, a job you didn’t even need a high school diploma or any certification to get, yet she swore repeatedly that she knew better than all my doctors over the years. She frequently trivialized my mental health writing as a waste of time and criticized everything from the cleanliness of my apartment to my cooking, as if nothing I did even remotely met her standards.

As if the constant attacks were not enough, she also was constantly attempting, albeit admittedly very poorly, to  blatantly flirt with my fiance in front of me. She would try to run her fingers through his hair and insist he let her cut it, to which he would pull away and say I will cut his hair when he needs it done. When he stopped shaving for no shave November and the couple months afterwards, she commented repeatedly that he should shave because he looks so much better clean shaven, that she prefers him that way, even offering to do that for him, as well. She was forever reaching out to touch him, swat at him or rub him with her hand while she talked, trying to take sips out of his drinks like a girlfriend might do and regularly found excuses to lift her shirt or drop her pants in front of him under the pretense of showing off numerous bug bites and bruises. She would often announce wildly inappropriate things that people wouldn’t normally discuss with friends, like she had just shaved her nether regions or talk about having sex, watching porn or masturbation when she came over.

We tolerated much more than we should have because honestly we felt sorry for her. She was always desperate for attention and, according to her, her problems were always ten times worse than everyone else’s.  For example, when we attempted to explain about my doctors finding my brain tumors, she cut us off by saying, “That’s nothing! Did I tell you I had to bring my car back to the shop again?!” as if car problems were somehow worse than brain tumors. She was loud, obnoxious, crass and crude with no concept of respect or boundaries, always saying or doing whatever she could think of to get all eyes on her. She was always talking badly about someone when she came over, usually my fiance’s ex-wife, even though she was supposedly still good friends with her, to the point where we began watching everything we said around her to avoid becoming part of her gossip. She also had severe substance abuse issues. In a year and a half of seeing her once to twice a week on average, I never once saw her even remotely sober regardless of the time of day – she was always drunk, high or both. We knew from everything she had talked about that things were bad for her at home, that her relationship was in shambles.  A lot of people had written her off already over the years for her behavior but we understood that she had a lot of issues so we tried to cut her some extra slack.

I had tried my best to be kind to her. On more than one occasion, I took the time to show her sons my sugar gliders and explain more about them. I even watched her youngest once for over an hour while she ran an errand. If we had leftovers when she stopped by on her way to work, I would send her with a plate or bowl. She would regularly fill her purse from treats I had put out in snack bowls. I baked her family Christmas cookies and sent her with extra for both home and work. I once even lent her an old pair of pants that were too big on me so she had something clean for work when she stained her own. I listened sympathetically when she complained of relationship issues, health problems or other stresses, trying to extend an olive branch of friendship. I even did my best to overlook her steady barrage of flirtation with my fiance because I realized it must have been hard to see someone you crushed on for decades happily with someone else.

But despite all my attempts at kindness, both her attacks on me and her inappropriate flirtation with my fiance not only continued but steadily increased. What originally may have been one off-handed comment about her believing my disability was nonsense became full-fledged rants. She began making snippy and snide remarks and telling us to stop whenever my fiance and I were affectionate to each other as if she resented anyone else showing him attention or love.  Over time, it had all became too much to bear. When my fiance and I began contemplating marriage, she declared we were not ALLOWED to both get married a second time because she had never even been married a first. When we officially announced our engagement, she responded by referring to me as (please excuse my language) his “fuck buddy”, saying outright that the only thing I did for him was give him my “roast beef curtains” and insist that he deserves better than me. That was the last straw and we agreed she was no longer welcome in our house or our lives.

For two weeks afterwards, she did not come around. Then late one night, well after one in the morning when we were already in bed, we heard a drunken knock at our kitchen window. We both knew exactly who it was because she was the only one we knew with the audacity to think that would be acceptable. I was livid and wanted him to tell her to leave immediately. He wanted to quietly let her in to avoid her making a drunken scene in our apartment building, to wait to tell her she was no longer welcome here another time, during more reasonable hours when she might be somewhat more sober and perhaps slightly more reasonable. Everything quickly escalated.

We were both beyond stressed at the time, not at all with each other but rather with life circumstances in general, topped off by our unwelcome, uninvited guest. Beyond all my own issues, he had been struggling terribly, as well. He had a lifelong battle with his own mental illness. In the last year, he had lost first his father then his job. The family dog that had been his parents’ for well over a decade had to be put down and he was struggling to keep his truck, one of his last physical connections to his deceased parents, on the road and in working order. We were both well beyond our breaking points on many fronts and the culmination of everything with her pushed us right over the edge. We fought terribly, something we don’t often do even in a mild sense.  It may have been the worst fight of our entire relationship. Afterwards, I retreated to the bedroom to cry, locking the door so I could be alone.

I did not have any plans to commit suicide. The thought honestly had not even crossed my mind.  I was not trying to hurt myself in any way. I loved my fiance and my children more than I could ever put into words and would never have wanted to hurt them in any way, either. I was hurt, angry and distraught over our fight, disgusted that we had tolerated someone so blatantly toxic for so long, and I was exhausted and overwhelmed with life in general.  I just wanted to be alone, wanted to try to calm down, to catch my breath, to stop feeling like I was free-falling through a world where I was never allowed to just be happy, never allowed to just rest and be at peace.

I dumped the basket of pills out on the bed and fished out various bottles of my take-as-needed anti-anxiety medications. In between sobs, I took a few. Then I vomited.

Seeing the pills floating there on top, I took a few more to replace the ones I had lost. I continued to sob and to vomit. To vomit and to take more pills to replace the others.

At this point, I was no longer thinking clearly, caught in a nightmarish loop, wanting desperately just to calm down, to stop feeling like this, and to get some much needed rest.

Eventually, sleep came. I started to feel dizzy and thought to myself, “..finally.. they are starting to kick in..”  It is the last thing I remember for almost two days.

I woke up a day and a half later in the hospital. He was seated at my bedside, looking ragged, like he hadn’t slept in days.

Baby! You’re awake! Oh my god I love you. I am so sorry about everything. How are you feeling? What do you remember?

I was confused and disoriented. On oxygen. Had a bunch of tubes and wires all over my body.  It took me a few minutes to realize where I was and what was going on. I could not remember anything since taking the pills, crying and throwing up repeatedly. I was not even sure what day it was.

I can’t believe you don’t remember any of it. I had to kick down the door, to call the police.

My chest hurts.

I can only imagine. One of the cops did a sternum check, pushing really hard on your chest, hoping for a reaction to the pain. You were completely unresponsive.

My throat hurts.

You had tubes down your throat. They had to restrain you for a bit because you started to flail and grab at the tubes. You have no idea how much you scared me baby. What you looked like, laying there hooked up to all those machines, all those wires and tubes. I thought I was going to lose you. Please don’t ever scare me like that ever again.

I wanted to talk about it all, to explain, but my voice was raspy, my throat raw. It hurt to talk. I couldn’t stop coughing. I wanted to insist I hadn’t meant for any of this to happen, to swear I wasn’t suicidal like I had been all those years ago before we were even together. I wanted to apologize for scaring him, for fighting over stupid things like people who were inconsequential and irrelevant. All I could do though was cry as he held me close, my tears flowing freely with his.

I had lost a day and a half.

But more importantly, I tarnished our relationship in a way I can never take back. The sight of me laying there unresponsive, of being carted out on a stretcher, of my laying there as the doctors frantically worked to revive me, will forever haunt his nightmares.

I spent the next day in intensive care as they closely monitored my heart, followed by three days on a secure floor on suicide watch. Again and again, I tried to explain it all to whoever would listen, to insist I was not suicidal.  However, protocol required a few days of observation no matter what was said.

My heart was constantly monitored, my vitals taken every few hours. My IV was moved numerous times as my veins collapsed and fresh bruises appeared up and down my arms. I was stuck in bed for the first couple days upstairs while I waited for nurses to find me clothes other than hospital gowns. The clothes I had arrived in had been cut off me in the emergency room when I arrived. I could not wear other clothes from home until after I was cleared for discharge.

I was not allowed many other items often taken for granted such as a phone charger or silverware. Well-intentioned staff reached out repeatedly to try to convince me life was worth living. Meanwhile, they rushed to confiscate any cans or other sharp items from meal trays and to take endless notes on everything I said and did to assist with my psychological evaluation. I had a constant companion, a nurse or aide to sit with me at all times to prevent me from possibly further harming myself. Though I was never by myself during those four days, I had a lot of time to lay in bed alone and think.

I was not suicidal but I have been in the past. I did not intent to harm myself, but I had in the past. Intentional this time or not, I found myself in the same place and, like my previous attempts in the past, it had not solved anything. On the contrary, it made everything much worse. It hurt the people I love, scared my fiance and my children to death.

I didn’t get any time to calm down, didn’t get that moment of peace I had desired so badly. The majority of the problems had not gone anywhere. I lost a day and a half, woke up in pain and discomfort only to face new problems created by my own actions.

I was extremely lucky just for the fact that I am still here to tell my story. I could have just as easily become a statistic that day. My story could have just as easily ended with my obituary, the words and questions of others left unanswered, adrift in the wind.

I cannot apologize enough for what I put everyone through. I feel stupid, ashamed, that I should have known better. There are no words that could adequately express my remorse. I would do anything to take back that night but there is nothing I could ever say or do that would erase the past.

I would love to say there is no excuse for my actions but when my depression and anxiety reach certain levels, I no longer always think clearly. I become increasingly overwhelmed, the world feels largely hopeless and I am no longer able to cope. Even when I am not actively suicidal, which I have not been for years now, I struggle regularly with suicidal ideation, not exactly wanting to die but no longer wanting to continue living my life the way it is, either. Though I never meant to fall apart like I had that day, unfortunately once I reach a certain point, I react before rationalizing the repercussions of my actions.

I would love to say there is an easy solution to this, that I could take a magic pill or think some happy thoughts and my mental illness would just fade away and disappear. I wish I could say it was a temporary phase even that I would eventually get over. My mental illness is caused in part by a genetic mutation. I was born with it and I will have it until the day I die. There is no cure for me. It is permanently hardwired into my genetics. I can receive therapy for past traumas and current issues, I can take medication to provide my brain with the chemicals my body cannot make itself, I can fill my coping toolbox with techniques and strategies for dealing with harder days and attend things like tai chi and yoga classes until the day I die. Yet I will always have a mental illness. It is a lifelong, permanent diagnosis for me.

Mental illness is my cross to bear. Though I truly appreciate that my loved ones are willing to stand by me and support me through my struggles with my mental health, it is not fair or right for them to suffer like they have for my diagnosis. Although I never intended to do so, I severely hurt everyone that matters to me. They all have tried to be compassionate and understanding, to forgive me for an illness that often wreaks havoc in my life, for a condition frequently beyond my control.

However, I am not sure I will ever be able to forgive myself.

Since getting out of the hospital, my fiance and I have not talked much about the incident beyond him being thankful that I am okay and asking me to please never scare him like that again. I have reassured my children that I am okay, as well, trying to minimalize the severity of it all to lessen their fears. Again, I wish there were some magic words I could say to take away the pain and panic in their eyes. I fear no apology will ever be enough.

It took almost a week before we could even sleep in our bedroom again. While I was in the hospital, he slept on the couch when he could sleep at all, the spilled pill bottles, vomit and towels still sitting where they were when the ambulance carted me away. I insisted on cleaning it up myself when I came home, my mess, my problem, but going into that room felt like crossing into an alternate nightmare dimension. Nevertheless, I fought my way through a bevy of anxiety attacks and breakdowns to clean it all up. Even after everything was cleared away, no trace remaining, we opted to sleep in the living room for the next week on our air mattress. We knew what had happened in there, we had lived through it, yet we were still not quite ready to fully face it.

The first couple nights that we returned to the bedroom, I couldn’t sleep at all. He continued to cling tightly to me all night while he slept, as he had done every single night since we returned home from the hospital, as if he was terrified that I would disappear forever if he let go for even a moment. I laid awake both nights, silently crying for the pain and fear I had placed in his heart. A month later, my anxiety still rises whenever I enter that room, my sleep restless and plagued by nightmares old and new.

I know I need to change many things, to put safeguards in place to prevent something like this from ever happening again. I cannot change the fact that I have a mental illness, but there are other things I can address, precautions I can take. I never want to hurt my loved ones like that ever again. For instance, no more locking myself away when I am upset. No more taking extra dosages of medication early, even if I have thrown up the dose I just took. No more tempting fate when I might be too emotionally irrational to think clearly.

I have a constant pressing need now to reassure him that I am okay, that he doesn’t have to worry. I catch him looking at me, watching me, more frequently now, and checking in on how I am feeling. We are trying to heal from this, to move forward, though I’m not sure we can ever completely move past it. He almost lost me that day. He is always going to worry just a little bit more now.

We have also agreed to remove certain toxic people completely from our lives, those who prefer to add drama and conflict rather than happiness and support. We learned the hard way that some people will take advantage of our kindness and tolerance, repaying us tenfold with cruelty and drama. The nail in the coffin of that childhood friendship was hearing from mutual friends that she had been going around laughing and bragging about “putting me in the hospital”, proud of the part she played in my breakdown. We will never again allow anyone like that into our lives. Whatever it takes to never find ourselves in that situation again.

Some people say that suicide is selfish because all it does is pass the pain onto others. Other people attempt to explain that those who make attempts just don’t want to hurt anymore themselves. Many nowadays recognize that suicide is often a tragic byproduct of mental illness. I have been suicidal. I have been in those moments of desperately wanting the pain to stop. I have had suicidal attempts in my past and now an unintentional attempt because I was upset, irrational and not thinking clearly. I have lost loved ones to suicide, and known others who have lost people they loved deeply, as well, so I understand all too well how devastating it can be from the outside looking in. Regardless of where you fit in the equation, suicide is always heart-wrenching and tragic.

One thing I can tell you, whether you are suicidal or not, whether your attempt is intentional or not, the result is always the same. Pain. Pain for everyone you love, everyone who loves you. Pain for yourself should you survive. And not just physical pain from tubes and tests and IVs. Emotional pain as you see that haunted look in their eyes, that kernel of doubt that appears every time afterwards that you insist you’re okay. Pain that will continue for years, that will likely never go away, whether you’re around to see it or not.

Pain and overwhelming loss for everyone who has ever cared for you. They will never be the same. You might carry physical scars from your attempt, but theirs will run much deeper and never fully heal. Those close to you will retrace all your interactions, looking for signs, real or imaginary, to explain what happened. They will question whether they should have said this or should not have said that. People who you have not seen in ages will question if they should have reached out, as if they could have magically known things were bad and somehow made a difference. They will all blame themselves for your actions and choices. Whether you die or not, they will be forever haunted by that one choice you made, something completely beyond their control. Yet, in their pain, they will embrace that blame, caught in a cycle of imagining every scenario that could have prevented it.

To those contemplating suicide or just on that edge of not being able to cope with life anymore, please know that I understand completely how hard it can feel, especially when you’re struggling with mental illness. You are not alone. But I wouldn’t wish the kind of pain I caused on anyone, not my worst enemy, not my loved ones or yours. Once it has happened, though, you cannot ever take it back. Even if they don’t lose you, your relationships will never be the same. I cannot change the pain I’ve caused, but perhaps, by sharing my story, you can spare your loved ones from the same fate.

Please be careful. Be careful with yourself and be careful with your loved ones. Life is a fragile thing, a light that can be snuffed out in a moment.  It may be hard sometimes, downright unfair. But life is also precious. As is love. Don’t take either for granted.

I know all too well that mental illnesses are rarely rational. When we are upset, we often react based on pure emotion. So take precautions now, during the calm before the next storm. Do not leave ways to harm yourself readily accessible when you might find yourself too emotional to think rationally. Don’t set yourself up to fail or to hurt yourself or those you love.

I thankfully am very lucky to still be sitting here, able to share my story. Many others have tragically lost their battles with mental illness without ever having a chance to tell their tale. Their stories are told in yearly mental health statistics and on memorial pages created by those they left behind.  We’re all in this boat together and we only have two choices. We can either become a statistic or we can keep going, keep fighting, and find some way to make a difference in this world, even if only to show others that it is possible to survive our diagnosis. There are too many mental health statistics and enough pain already in this world. If we have to choose anything, let’s choose life and love.

Much love, compassion, hope and faith that even if this does not find you well, it finds you strong enough to keep living. ❤

To the Mother I Never Knew..

As Mother’s Day came and went this past year, I once again found myself with conflicting feelings.  Part of me wanted desperately to join in with friends who were fondly honoring their moms or mourning the mothers they had lost over the years.  Another part of me, however, felt numb and empty, because I never had that type of cherished bond with my mother.  I honestly never knew her.

No, my mother didn’t die when I was born.  She passed away 8 years ago this Thanksgiving Day.  No, she didn’t give me up for adoption nor did she abandon me.  The truth is that my mother was there throughout the majority of my childhood and sporadically at best throughout my adult years.  I just never really knew her because the woman she truly was was buried deep beneath often untreated, always undertreated, mental illness.

Growing up, my mother was one of my biggest abusers, both mentally and physically.  She was prone to severe mood swings that would shift into bouts of rage at the drop of a dime.  She had bipolar disorder.

We were estranged for the last few years of her life.  I could no longer handle the abuse nor did I want my children subjected to it.  It seemed that her medication was never quite balanced nor were her moods.  It always felt like what little treatment she did receive was not helping, was not working, and she was doing very little to proactively work towards correcting anything.  She felt to me like a ticking time bomb, one I was afraid would go off at any moment and I did not want my children caught in the crossfire.

Over the years as I have struggled with my own mental illnesses, I have come to deeply regret those feelings.  I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety disorder and PTSD, labelled treatment resistant for years.  No medication ever seemed to work.  It wasn’t until the last year or two that I discovered via genetic testing that my resistance was caused in great part to a genetic mutation.  I’ve often wondered since then if my mother suffered from the same mutation.

The truth is that mental illness changes a person, or perhaps more appropriately it snuffs that person out, dimming their light and dulling their soul.  The person that you are is trapped underneath, desperately needing to come out, wanting to shine.  But there is this dark hopelessness that oozes over everything, making it impossible to fully be the person you truly are.

I think about my own children and how my diagnosis has affected them.  They have only seen glimpses of the real me over the years.  The creative me who would spend half the day drawing huge murals with sidewalk chalk on the tennis courts at the park with them on summer days.  The silly me who would make paper pirate hats and eye patches, transforming our dining room chairs into a pirate ship to celebrate Talk Like A Pirate Day with them.  The nurturing and educational me who would catch tadpoles in buckets with them to show them how they turned into frogs.

More than anything, though, they saw my mental illness.  They saw the mom who was too exhausted just from going through the daily motions of life to do anything fun.  They saw the mom who opted for quiet family days indoors watching movies or playing board games because I was physically and mentally unable to do anything more.  They saw the mom who often emerged from the bathroom drying my eyes as I attempted to hide the tears I could never seem to stop from flowing.

They were vaguely aware of the person I truly was but they knew my mental illness well.

I remember when I first started taking the medication I needed for my genetic mutation and I had my first truly happy moment.  It was the first time in my life I ever felt that sludge of mental illness be lifted off of me, albeit for a short period of time.  The medication is not a panacea.  It in no way cures or stops my mental illness.  However, it does give my mind the ability to fight back in a way that it never could before.

That moment of happiness was beyond blissful.  I laughed, cried and hugged my boys, asking them again and again if that was truly what happiness felt like.  I had never experienced anything else like it.  That sludge continues to lift here and there sporadically and I have a genuine hope for the future now, that there might be a day when there’s more periods of happiness than illness.  But for now, more days than not, I still struggle.

I have heard from people that knew my mother at the end of her life, in those last couple years, that she had finally gotten the treatment she needed.  Her medication was finally balanced.  She was happy and more herself than she had ever been before.  She was doing crafts with the neighborhood children and even developed a fondness for Harry Potter.

Part of me envies them because I never knew that woman.  I never had the pleasure of meeting her.  All I ever knew was the sludge and taint of her illness.  On Mother’s Day, I mourned the ghost of a woman I never even met, a woman I would have loved more than anything to know.

Please keep in mind that when you’re dealing with people who are struggling with mental illness that they are not completely themselves.  The person they truly are is in there somewhere, beneath their diagnosis, fighting to get out.  Please don’t ever assume that we’re just not trying hard enough, that we’ve already given up or that we’ve lost who we are along the way.  It is a daily battle, a constant fight, against your own mind.  It is a never-ending struggle to push your way through a thick layer of darkness just to come up for air.

Looking back, I truly regret becoming estranged with my mother.  I had done what I thought was best at the time, trying to shield my children and myself from an illness that was not her fault.  She had no more control over her bipolar disorder than I do over my own mental illness.  I am sure she was trying harder, fighting more, than I ever realized.

To the mother I never knew – I’m sorry I was not there when you needed me.  I’m sorry that I allowed my fear to dictate my actions and choices and that I abandoned you when you needed me most.  I’m sorry I was not more compassionate and understanding of all that you were going through.  Most importantly, I am sorry I never had the pleasure to truly meet you.  Happy belated Mother’s Day.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 9/14/18.

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Republished on MSN on 9/14/18.

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Republished on Yahoo on 9/14/18.

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Republished on Yahoo Lifestyle on 9/14/18.

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.

Fighting Suicide From A New Perspective

I’m not going to lie.  I’ve been suicidal a handful of times in my past and have had a couple serious attempts.  I also struggle with suicidal ideation – those abstract thoughts not about wanting to die as much as just being so exhausted from struggling to live.  There have been so many times I have laid in bed sobbing, convinced I could not make it one more day.

These days, though I am still struggling with my mental health, I try to keep both active suicidal thoughts and suicidal ideation at bay.  Someone very dear to me almost lost one of their parents to suicide when they were a teenager.  They were the one who found them, who had to try to revive them and call 911.  Over a decade later, though their parent survived, they are still dealing with the aftermath.  Whenever thoughts of suicide or suicidal ideation creep into my mind, I think of all that they went through and tell myself that I could never do that to my own children, that I could not break their hearts like that.

For a while now, whenever someone has asked what keeps me going or why I haven’t given up, that has been my answer.  My children.  I love them more than I could even put into words and I would never want to hurt them like that.  There have been many times that my life has felt so hopeless, so horrible, that they were my only reason to keep going, my only reason to hold on.  I loved them too much to hurt them by giving up.

However, I saw something recently that threw everything on its side and turned my world upside down.  It was one of hundreds of little images that scroll along my social media feeds everyday.  Normally, while sitting online chatting with friends, I scroll by dozens of images like it, half-reading them as my attention strays elsewhere.  This one, however, not only grabbed my attention but shook me to the core. It said:

Suicidal people deserve better than to be told the main reason they shouldn’t kill themselves is because of how it might affect others. Suicidal people deserve love and help, not guilt trips.  Suicidal people deserve to feel like their life is worth living, for their own sake..  for their own happiness, their own experiences, their own possibilities, their own future.

I’ve been chalking my own battles with suicide as a victory merely because I have managed to push them aside and keep them at bay because I don’t want to hurt my own children.  Somehow that no longer feels like enough.  What if, heaven forbid, something ever happened to my children and I didn’t have them anymore as my reason to keep going?  Was I just going to throw in the towel, give up, lay down and die?  As much as I love my children, they cannot be my only reason to keep living, to keep fighting, to keep going on.  I deserve better than that.  They deserve better than that, too.

Right now, I am struggling in many aspects of my life.  I am dealing with a lot of personal issues above and beyond the ongoing battle of living with mental illness.  There are many days that I feel like I’m hanging on by a thread as my world continues to crumble at my feet.  I’m not going to lie and say that everything is peachy in my life because nothing could be farther from the truth.  I’ve spent too many years lying and convincing everyone that everything was okay as I was falling apart inside.  I cannot live like that anymore.  My life is a mess right now, but I own it.  It is MY mess.

But within the jumbled mess I call my life, I must find my own reasons to hold on, my own reasons to keep living, my own reasons to keep fighting, keep going and not give up.  I must learn to love myself enough that I do not want to hurt MYSELF the way that I’ve kept saying I don’t want to hurt my children.  I must learn to appreciate myself and all I have to offer.  I must plan for a future that I’ll be proud to live and aim for goals that will give me a sense of fulfillment for my own sake.  I need to get to a place where I am living for MYSELF and not because I don’t want to hurt someone else.

That is easier said than done.  It is easier for me to keep living for my children than to keep living for myself because in all honesty I love them more than I ever loved myself.  I have a long way to go.  I am just learning to like myself.  But it is a journey I must take and a goal I must meet.  One day, when I talk about all those times when life felt so horrible that I wanted to give up and someone asks me what kept me going, I want to be able to say “I kept going because I loved myself too much to hurt myself like that” and truly mean it with all my heart.

Until then, I’ll hold on however I have to and keep going, keep fighting because I can’t give up.

But one day, I WILL get there.

Because I owe it to myself to live for myself.

 

The Meltdown

I grew up with a mother who emphasized repeatedly that appearances mattered above all else.  As a child, behind all my decisions, my mother’s voice was ever-present, asking, “What would the neighbors think?”  The household was a dysfunctional battle-zone, but only behind closed doors.  From an early age, my mother implanted in my head the belief that neighbors gossip and the worst sin of all was giving them any fuel to add to their fire.

So I learned to carry myself a particular way, to walk tall, shoulders back, and smile like everything in the world was just peachy.  I built walls to hold in my pain and bolted on a mask to hide my tears.  I put on the performance of a lifetime for years, doing multiple shows a day.

On extremely stressful days or periods when my depression is weighing heavily on my soul, I try to push myself to go out in public because that is my last line of defense.  Though I might break down and crawl into bed for the day in the privacy of my own home, when I am surrounded by people, my mother’s voice is ever-present with me.  Somehow, though I want to curl up in a ball and cry, that little voice continuously harps to “hold it in, hold it together, don’t fall apart“.  After all, what would those strangers think if I had a meltdown and became a crying, sniveling mess?

Every now and then, however, the cracks in my veneer begin to show.  As much as I try to hold everything together, my walls crumble around me and I become a quivering, sobbing mess as all the depression and anxiety that has built up inside me comes pouring out.

Usually it is in response to something someone has said or done to me, especially if they are unnecessarily hostile or aggressive towards me.  It pierces through my artificial calm and triggers my flight response.  Alarms sound within my mind to flee, to find somewhere safe before the fragile walls I’m hiding behind begin to shatter.

I honestly hate that I am so fragile, especially when it comes to conflict.  For me, hardwired somewhere in my brain is a connection between conflict and abuse.  When I was a child and my mother became upset, some sort of harsh and irrational punishment was guaranteed, whether or not it was warranted.  When my older brother saw red, I quickly learned to get away before fists began to fly.  Though that little kernel of logic in my brain might reassure me that not everyone who acts aggressively means to inflict physical harm, my mind and my body react impulsively as if imminent danger lies ahead.

When I can neither flee nor quiet that alarm sounding in my mind, panic sets in and a meltdown occurs.  The artificial calm demeanor I have created begins to collapse and it feels like the floor has dropped from beneath me.  I feel as if I’m tumbling down a never-ending hole with nothing to grab onto, no way to prevent myself from falling apart.

I begin to feel unsafe, unheard.  I am transported back to a time when I was a little child with a little voice that went unheard.  Instead of reacting rationally, the floodgates open and a river of emotions cascade out.

My hands begin to shake.  My mouth struggles to find anything coherent to say.  I want to cry out and run away, yet I feel frozen in place, my feet cemented to the floor.  I find myself sobbing, melting down, babbling this endless stream of verbal diarrhea trying to simultaneously explain and defend myself.  My thoughts and statements ricochet all over the place, from one topic to the next, following no pattern, rhyme or reason.

Inside, that young child is screaming that it is all too much, that I can’t take any of this, that it needs to stop!  She is in a complete panic, scrambling for the right words to say to make it all go away, to make herself feel safe again.  An endless stream of “No more! No mas!” echoes within every word she manages to squeak out between sobs.

Meanwhile, the older, wiser, more rational part of myself seems to be standing to the side, witnessing it all in disbelief.  That logical fragment passes judgment, demanding to know what on earth I am doing, insisting I stop making a spectacle of myself.

Back and forth they battle in the background as the meltdown continues.  The small, injured childlike facet of myself falling to pieces while the other more logical facet scoffs and demands I pull myself together.  Little by little, my body and mind exhausts itself and the river of sobs transitions into a slow trickle of tears. I find myself mortified that I allowed it to happen again because I know I should be stronger than this.  I’ve had a lifetime of building walls and bolting on masks.  They should be strong enough to withstand anything by this point.

I wipe away my tears, take a deep breath and take my walk of shame out the door because I know this won’t be the last time I fall apart or meltdown.  It is all part of the burden of the functional depressive.  Though we may put on a brave face and act like our world is full of sunshine and peaches, our walls are made of dirt bricks that cannot withstand the waves of aggression from others or our own flood of tears that follows.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 4/26/17.

…So Tired Of Being Judged For My Depression

I recently had someone ask me why I was depressed.  Mind you, this was not a doctor or trained mental health worker but rather a coordinated care provider of sorts.  I met with her as one of many hoops required when dealing with the bureaucratic red tape sometimes needed in order to get treatment and not fall through the cracks.

I was honestly surprised at the question but began to explain the technicalities of my depression from a scientific point of view.  Since my genetic mutation was discovered, I’ve done a good deal of research and have a much better understanding of why I suffer from depression from a physiological aspect.  She interrupted me a couple times, stating that wasn’t what she meant.  I began again multiple times trying to explain from a physiological standpoint why I was depressed, trying to explain everything from different angles.

After my third attempt to explain, she cut me off brusquely, telling me she didn’t want to hear any medical explanations.  She wanted to know “specifically what I had to be depressed about”.

I was beside myself with shock.  Here was this woman with no medical or psychological training, assigned to help me with other issues and paperwork, demanding to know why I felt somehow “entitled”, for lack of a better word, to “claim” I was so depressed that I was struggling to function.

I felt judged, like I was being put on trial, that I had to justify myself and my diagnosis to this woman who had no mental health training whatsoever because she was unable to wrap her head around the idea that anyone could be able to fade in and out of functionality, being able to “deal” with life one moment only to collapse the next.

I found myself bursting into tears in her office, spewing out a long list of what I could only imagine were reasons she might find “acceptable” for why I was suffering from depression, beyond the physiological reason that my brain is missing a key substance needed to moderate my moods due to a genetic mutation.  I threw out how, as a child, I had suffered from physical, mental, emotional and sexual abuse, how I was gang-raped at eleven, how my world was turned upside-down at sixteen when my mother shot my father and how I found myself on my own at seventeen.  I listed a myriad of abusive relationships and losses in my life.  Sobbing, I continued, highlighting one reason after another that I felt my depression was “justified”.

Even after my outpouring of pain and trauma, this woman was still unable to wrap her head around why I am struggling to function.  She continued to push and probe for answers.  She saw the large stack of paperwork in front of me that I had collected for my insurance coverage appeal and could not understand how I could put so much time and energy into that but still insist I was incapable of doing other things.  She insisted if I put even a fraction of the work I had put into my appeal into other aspects of my life, I should have no issues at all functioning.  She had seen me smile and laugh with my children at times and commented how I didn’t “seem all that depressed”.

I tried my best to explain.  For every one hour, one day I am able to function and be productive, I have four times as many hours and days where I just collapse, having trouble to even pull myself out of bed to eat or to pee.  I have no control over any of it.  It comes and goes at it pleases, regardless of what might be scheduled for that day.  And there are so many more bad days than good.  On some bad days, I am able to bolt on a smiling mask, pretend to be okay and manage to go through the motions.  Other days, I struggle to do anything at all.  There are days I just can’t stop crying, when my world feels like it is spiraling down beneath me and days I’m completely numb and cannot function at all.  I tried to explain how I do have good days, too, but they’re as unpredictable as the bad and that, especially when it comes to my children, I hold myself together as best as I am able and paint on smiles because I don’t want my illness affecting them any more than it has to do so.

Contrary to what some people might assume, I don’t happily skip around, enjoying a life of leisure.  I have not made up some imaginary illness to use as a scapegoat to escape any responsibilities.  I struggle every single day to simply function.  I am not complacent with my diagnosis, either.  I am in treatment, working very hard to try to heal, hoping that I can one day somehow function better than I am today.  I take my illness very seriously.  I wish others would, too, and be more respectful of my diagnosis instead of passing judgment.

I’m faced by that kind of judgment all the time by people that just do not understand depression.  They assume I just need to try harder to be more positive, that thinking happy thoughts will magically cure me, carrying me off like a dusting of pixie dust to Neverland.  People assume I’m either lazy or faking it, that nobody could possibly be “that sad” that I’m unable to function.

Even worse than those that make me feel like I have to justify my illness are the ones that either look at me with pity like I’m some poor, broken, fragile creature or those who back away from me like I’m dangerous or contagious.  Perhaps, worst of all are those that feel inclined to throw random motivational sayings my way, as if their reminder to stay positive is all I’ll need to chase the blues away forever.  Trust me, if all I needed to cure my depression was to smile more or think positive more often, I wouldn’t be struggling with mental illness.  It’s NOT that easy.

No matter what the judgment is, though, I always prepare myself for one because more times than not, there is one and it rarely is anything positive.  Seldom does anyone truly understand and empathize.  Again and again, I’m put on the spot, forced to justify what I’m feeling, usually while being reminded that someone has it worse or that they, themselves, have managed to get through rough times so I should be able to, too.  I’m told I should “suck it up” and “get over it”.

Though this may be the first time that specific person has inquired about my condition, no one ever takes into account how many others have intruded on my mental health and demanded answers even when they had no right to do so.  While some might mean well and ask out of concern, very few use tact or compassion in their inquiries.  I’m almost always put on the defensive, made to feel like I have to justify how I feel.

Even after I do my best to explain everything, though I don’t quite understand it all myself, I am met with doubt, suspicion and accusations.  I am treated like I’m lying or lazy, exaggerating or broken beyond repair.  I’m looked at as a monster or unbalanced and crazy.

I beat myself up already more than enough for not being able to do as much as I feel I should be able to do.  I already feel every single day that I am failing everyone around me, failing my children and myself because I honestly want to do more, feel I should be able to do more and cannot understand why I cannot seem to be able to do it.  I hate that I crumble and fall apart so easily and am not able to do all the things I feel I should be able to do.  I have judged myself far more harshly than I should ever have done and have been trying to be kinder and gentler with myself.  I don’t need anyone else’s judgments on top of my own.

Everyone says they want to understand and demands answers, yet very few are supportive when I try to give any.  It is exhausting to have to explain everything again and again, mentally preparing myself each time for the responses and judgments to come.  I often isolate because it means less people to put me on the spot, less people I have to defend my diagnosis to in the long run.  I paint on a smile and reassure people that I’m fine, pretending everything is okay even as I’m sobbing inside because it is easier to lie than it is to have to defend myself for having an illness that I have no control over.

In the last year, I have begun talking more and more about my own struggles with mental illness not because it is in any way easier or takes a weight off my chest, but because I am completely exhausted from having to justify and defend myself.  I am tired of the stigma that is attached to my diagnosis.  Nobody would suggest someone with cancer should just try harder to be well or accuse someone with a broken leg of being lazy because they are unable to walk.  I am mentally ill.  Doctors have diagnosed my condition.  I should NEVER have to justify my diagnosis or defend myself over how my symptoms present themselves. I am tired of being made to feel like I should be ashamed of my diagnosis or that I have done something wrong in some way because I am ill.

I am speaking out because things need to change.  I am tired of being judged.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 03/09/17.

Responding to Voices from My Past

In the last month or so, I have received a handful of messages and emails from people from my childhood: old friends, neighbors and classmates I haven’t spoken to since I was a teenager almost twenty five years ago.  They had seen my t.v. interview, read my book and my blog and all felt the desire to reach out to me.

I haven’t been able to bring myself to reply to any of them yet.  It isn’t that I doubted their sincerity or that I didn’t appreciate their compassion or empathy.  Truthfully, each letter brought me to tears and meant more than any of them could imagine.  It’s that honestly I do not yet possess the words to respond.

For almost twenty five years now, I’ve been running from my past.  When I was a child, I was trapped in a hell I never thought I would never escape.  When my mother shot my father and my world turned upside down, I saw it as an opening, my one chance to get away and free myself from my past.  I began to run, pushing everything behind me, hoping if I ran long enough, fast enough, far enough, I might one day finally be free.

I still carry with me an odd mixture of unresolved feelings from those years.  Beyond the hurt and the anger that others might feel is only logical, there resides other emotions that are not as easily explained and even harder to process and move beyond.

I carry with me shame for some of the things that happened, because I allowed them to happen, though I know deep down that I was just a child who had her will crushed and had lost her ability to say no.

I carry with me guilt for not being stronger, not being able to fight harder, to be braver, to make it through more intact instead of the crumbling mess I often feel I become when I allow myself to return to that time and place.

I carry with me regret that I distanced myself over the years from so many people, due to no fault of their own, simply because their place in my life existed in close proximity to traumas I was trying to escape.

I carry with me an irrational fear of reopening doors from my past because my past is where all the most terrifying monsters I’ve known reside and part of me worries that reopening one door might open the floodgates, allowing everything to rush back at once.

Beneath it all resides a jumble of other feelings I have yet to even unearth or decipher.  Just when the waters surrounding me appear to calm, they wash over me unexpectedly like waves in a storm, threatening to throw me overboard again.  For years now, I’ve been fighting to stay afloat while I work my way through each wave as it appears.

I’m slowly letting down walls, reaching out and trying to let people back in but it is not easy.  It is a painfully slow process, untangling those threads of my past from the jumble of razor wires that had cut me so deeply all those years ago.  I am truly grateful beyond the words I currently possess for every kind and gentle word they have extended my way and do not intend to leave their letters unanswered.  I just need to first find the strength to delve back into my past, the courage to face my fears and find the words to help rebuild bridges I burned long ago in my haste to flee from the nightmares I feared I would never escape.

 

The Evolution from Dysfunctional to Healthy Love

From the beginning, my views on love and relationships were dysfunctional. I was surrounded by people who were supposed to love each other, though in so many ways what was between them was anything but. At six years old, I had a mock wedding with a young boy down the street that I couldn’t stand because we both believed people got married to argue and couldn’t think of anyone else either of us hated more. That speaks volumes about my earliest views on love.

Yet strangely I grew up to be in many ways a hopeless romantic. I believed in the presence of love, at least in theory. I believed in the happily ever after of fairy tales and the foot pop that occured with true love’s kiss. I believed with all my heart that there was someone out there for everyone, that one beautifully wonderful love that would remain strong and endure even through the roughest of times, a love that could stand the test of time. Though I had never personally seen such a love, I believed wholeheartedly that it was out there. I just honestly had no idea how to find it or where to even begin to look.

When I was a teenager and began to date, love was about fulfilling expectations. Identities seemed to be linked to pairing with others. Everyone strived to date because to be single meant something was wrong with you. Being with someone reaffirmed your worth somehow to others. It was never about how I felt, what I wanted or how I was treated. Being in a relationship, being in ‘love’, meant fitting in, being somebody. When I found what I thought might be love, I held on for dear life. I believed it was him and me against the world and love could conquer anything. I had been prepared to face anything with him at my side, never realizing that I was fighting a losing battle because you cannot keep someone there who wishes to be elsewhere. After years together, he blessed me with a child and then he ran. Despite all the faith I had in love, I found myself alone again. Yet at the same time, I would never be completely alone again.

On the verge of my twenties, I became a young mother. Everything in my life changed, love most of all. When I began looking to open my heart again, love became about family. When I searched for love again, it was ultimately to create a strong family, to find someone who would be good for my daughter, someone I could build upon my family with, growing it into something more. Love wasn’t about me at all. Love was about building a marriage, a family, trying to hold on and make everything work despite how I was feeling or hurting. Love was about being the best mother I could be and about trying to be what I believed a wife should be. Love was about playing roles and going through the motions. We were young. What did we even know about love? In hindsight, I’ve often said that what two kids in puppy love think they want turns out to be much different than what two adults in the real world need. In the end, we were just too different. We were never meant to last.  But I was blessed with beautiful sons that made it all worth it.

When my marriage fell apart, I felt so unlovable, unwanted, like such a failure for being unable to somehow hold everything together. Love was something I was terrified of finding again. I had never been more vulnerable, more scared of letting anyone in. An unlikely and unusual love still managed to push its way in, a love surrounded by safety and bonding over similarities and shared loneliness. My heart didn’t stop to consider longevity or practicality, it was just grateful to finally matter to someone. For the first time, albeit briefly, I didn’t feel invisible or inconsequential. Somehow, for the first time ever, I fit into the equation. Love became about holding tightly to someone who I could trust, could talk to, someone who I knew wouldn’t hurt me, was incapable of hurting me. It didn’t last long, burning hot and bright before fading to ashes swept away in the wind, but it was enough to open my heart back up, make me believe in the possibility of love again.

While rebuilding after the ashes, I stumbled onto a narcissist with a gift for playing the victim. He had supposedly been through so much and I found myself desperately wanting to take care of him, to somehow make his life better. My heart had been opened wide and he took full advantage of my empathy and vulnerability. For over a decade, throughout all of my thirties, love became about trying to take care of him, to help heal his wounds, trying to be enough for him, wishing that at some point I would begin to matter, too. For eleven years, I hoped that if I was just there enough, loved him enough, he would be able to heal, to change and we would finally be able to build something real and lasting. I had so much faith in the power of love that I was unprepared for someone who was incapable of letting anyone else in or loving anyone else in return. Love became very codependent, with my accepting abuse and making excuses for his transgressions instead of holding him accountable for all the hurt he kept causing. When he finally left me for someone else, the last in a long line of infidelities throughout our relationship, it was a blessing because my heart and soul had become so battered and broken by years of trying to give all the love within myself while receiving nothing in return. I had become an empty vessel. Yet somehow, I still believed in love.

Overlapping the pain from loving a man incapable of ever loving me back sprouted a new and unexpected type of love, one born out of a close friendship. It was much like the ill-fated love I had stumbled onto over a decade earlier when my marriage had collapsed, but at the same time, it was so different and so much more. He became my best friend, my confidante, the one person who truly saw me, knew me, accepted and loved me completely for who I was without judgment. If not for his presence during most of the eleven years of narcissistic abuse by my ex, I would not have survived the ordeal. I loved him for it, loved him more than I probably ever should have. Over the years, it grew into more than friendship for us both, though it was always suppressed by our obligations and commitments to others. When we were finally set free from the nightmare of our relationships with others, however, free to finally possibly explore what was between us, everything had already irreparably changed. The damage was already done. Though I still believed in love, believed in him and the vision we had carried for years of an ‘us’, he had given up on himself, on his future, on me, on love itself. Love needs to be fed and nurtured to flourish and grow. Love cannot be sustained by only one person. If both aren’t willing to put in the effort, it will wither and die. Though the foundation was strong, the walls still crumbled because there was only so long I could hold on by myself, only so long I could be the only one trying to make things work before I had to give up in order to save myself from dying along with our love. It was never that I didn’t love him or want to be with him. I just ultimately needed more than he was capable or willing to give.

In my journey through life, my search for love, my perceptions on love itself have changed again and again. Both my first views and my first experiences with love were highly dysfunctional. Over the years, with each new relationship, a different facet of love presented itself, each a piece to the puzzle, a fragment of the whole. With each new facet, a new perception of love emerged for me, as well. Though each love seemed to have so much possibility in the beginning, looking back, I can understand why each failed in time because love must be whole in order to work. Both partners need to matter, to fit into the equation. Both partners must be willing to put in their all, as well. Over the years, I have found fragments of love, each different, though none could stand the test of time. Though strangely, out of the rubble of all these failed relationships, a new love I had never expected has taken root and begun to grow.

As a child of abuse and dysfunction, over the years I’ve struggled to even like myself, drawing my worth from the warped views of others around me instead of from within. I never expected to ever truly love myself. Yet somehow that love crept in, took root and began to grow, like a daisy sprouting through the cracks in the concrete, refusing to give up or give in, fighting to survive. Though it was never nurtured, it managed to grow just the same. I once saw a simplistically beautiful motivational saying that stated “The moment you start wondering whether you deserve better, You do”. And the truth of the matter is that I do deserve better. I will no longer accept fragments when I deserve a whole. I will no longer settle for loving anyone who isn’t willing or capable of loving me back just as much in return. I love myself too much to set myself up to be hurt again.

Though I’m still honestly not sure where to find that fairy tale love, the hopeless romantic in me still wholeheartedly believes it exists. I will learn from my past, from my failed relationships and heartbreaks, and move forward in a healthier way. I will no longer settle for less than I deserve nor will I ever allow myself again to be abused or to become inconsequential. As much as I crave love in my life, I would rather be alone than mistreated, rather be single than be fed empty words or false hope. I believe, in time, love will once again present itself and this time I will be ready for it. I am willing to fight for love, to put all of myself into a relationship, though this time around, I will settle for nothing less than that in return.