Why Tess Holliday Was Right About Abusive Relationships and Responsibility

*** This Piece Was Originally Written For The Mighty on 8/7/20 ***

I’m admittedly a hopeless romantic at heart with a strong Florence Nightingale effect. I’ve always been drawn to the misunderstood, wounded soul with the tragic backstory, ultimately wanting to help save them from both their hard lives and themselves. I stayed in a dysfunctional relationship for 11 years, tolerating both repeated abuse and infidelity, because I firmly yet mistakenly believed it was my responsibility to stay the course and make things work. I desperately wanted to help him heal from the hardships of his past. I believed if I just loved him enough and was supportive enough, somehow we could make it work.

I spent years giving of myself and chipping away at my own self-worth until I completely lost myself in the process. In the end, no matter how much love or support I gave, no matter how many times I forgave his transgressions, the relationship ultimately failed. And even though it was his cheating and his abuse that destroyed everything, I was left with the overwhelming feeling that I had somehow failed, that if I had tried harder or loved more, maybe things would have changed; maybe he would have changed.

It took extensive therapy to accept that I was not at fault. In my desire to save everyone else, I had forgotten to bother trying to save myself. In wanting to help fix him, I had broken myself almost to a point beyond repair. In loving him despite all the abuse, I had stopped loving myself.

That’s why I know model Tess Holliday was completely spot-on when she recently said, “women shouldn’t be responsible for rehabilitating men,” and that, “women often get blamed for not doing ‘enough’ to ‘save’ their relationships. Guess what? We don’t have to carry that. We are only responsible for ourselves and our actions.”

And that goes for all people, not just women toward men.

We can love someone to the moon and back but it doesn’t change the fact that abuse is present. Abuse is never acceptable, nor is it a fee anyone has to endure and pay in order to eventually be worthy of love. It is not anyone else’s responsibility to love someone else enough that they eventually decide to change for the better. Nobody deserves to be abused and nobody has the right to subject anyone else to abuse.

Change has to come from within and the person doing the changing is solely responsible for both their actions and their choice to change. Nobody is required to endure abuse in order to be loved or save anyone else from themselves. The only person each of us is responsible for, the only person each of us has an obligation to save, is ourselves.

These days, I have found myself with another tortured soul who has had a relatively hard life. There are quite a few distinct differences, however, between my last relationship and this one. For starters, I will no longer tolerate anyone being abusive or otherwise treating me poorly because I understand now that abuse is not love. Secondly, I am no longer trying to save him, nor am I asking him to save me, but rather we are loving and standing by each other as we both attempt to save ourselves. Last, and perhaps most importantly, I have learned both to accept responsibility for my own actions and to refuse ownership of his or anyone else’s. I also know now that it is not solely my responsibility, nor his, to make this relationship work. Make it or break it, we both must be all-in and committed. Relationships are a partnership, not a rehab.

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Originally Published on The Mighty on 8/7/20.

Love.. When You Both Have A Mental Illness

Everywhere you look nowadays, you see stories about Ariana Grande’s whirlwind romance with Pete Davidson.  And almost everyone seems to want to put in their two cents on the matter, claiming everything from the fact that they’re too young to they’re moving too fast.  So many opinions abound.

More than anything, though, I keep seeing people chiming in about the fact that they both have mental illnesses that they have spoken publicly about, as if their illnesses play a large part in their relationship in some negative way.  Ariana Grande has spoken out about her struggles with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.  Pete Davidson has shared his experiences with borderline personality disorder.  Yes, they both have mental illnesses but they also have found love.  And two people loving each other is not a bad thing.

There are many people that buy into the stigma surrounding mental illness, assuming that everyone struggling with one is crazy, unbalanced or even dangerous.  Some assume that nobody can have a healthy relationship while they have an unhealthy mind and that two mentally ill people coming together is a recipe for disaster.

I once even had a friend tell me specifically that “two unhealthy people cannot have a healthy relationship”.  Based on their premise, because I have a lifelong mental illness diagnosis that has its roots in my genetics, I have no hope of having a healthy relationship, especially if I fall in love with someone else who is struggling with an illness, as well.  If he were to be believed, I was destined to be alone.

As someone who struggles with mental illness who is in a relationship with someone else who is mentally ill, as well, I can tell you from my own personal experience that is not the case.

I have depression, anxiety and PTSD.  He has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and PTSD.  We have both struggled with our illnesses for years, even being hospitalized for breakdowns at different points in our lives.  Yet, in each other we have found a love unlike anything either of us had ever experienced before.

We knew each other years ago as children.  He was my older brother’s best friend for a time and my first crush.  In our teens, life sent us in different directions and we lost touch for many years.  We found each other again a year and a half ago, after twenty five years apart, and sparks flew.

Like Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson, we’ve had people look at our relationship with judgment because we moved so fast.  He found me online again, listed as a friend of a friend he might know and we reconnected.  For two days, we talked non-stop whenever we had a moment to spare.  On the third day, we arranged to get together in person.  We’ve been together ever since.  As they often say “the rest is history”.

A month and a half later, we found ourselves living together.  We hadn’t planned it that way honestly.  His father had inoperable end-stage cancer and was placed in hospice.  There was no way I was going to leave his side for even a moment and make him endure that alone.  I had lost my own father to cancer a few years earlier, following his own brief stay in hospice.  Going through that together brought us even closer.

All the people from the outside looking in saw were two people who jumped ridiculously fast into a relationship.  They don’t realize that we knew each other as children and had a pre-existing familiarity and closeness that was brought back to the surface again.  The don’t accept that facing hardships together as we had done brings people closer.  They don’t consider that we have physically spent more time together in the last year and a half together than some couples have after dating for years.  They don’t see how we are with each other behind closed doors and how close we’ve continued to grow with each passing day.  Some people come directly from a place of judgment and automatically think it’s irrational to be so serious after such a short time.  Or worse, they label our choices as “crazy”, as if our love was just another way our mental illnesses have presented themselves.

Because of our mental illnesses, we’ve both always felt different, broken, damaged.  We both never felt we quite fit in or that anyone else could truly understand what we’re going through.  We’ve both felt so lost and that life should not be this hard.  We both have struggled for years to stay positive when it felt like our world was spiraling down into a dark abyss.  We both had numerous people in our lives who just couldn’t understand, who told us it was all in our heads, that we just needed to get over it and suck it up.

The difference now is that we both have someone we can talk to about everything we’ve been through.  Someone who truly gets it because they have been there themselves.  Someone who listens without judgment because they understand all too well how much that judgment hurts.  Someone who sees us not as damaged and broken, but for the big hearts and beautiful souls we have inside.

With that level of love and acceptance comes an incredibly strong bond.

We’re able to open up to one another and talk on a level that we never had before, to share experiences and traumas we’ve kept to ourselves for years.  In each other, we’ve found the one person we can completely be ourselves with, say anything to, without fear of rejection.

We both have a portion of our mental illness that is unique to us.  I have a generalized anxiety disorder and he has bipolar disorder.  Though I have not struggled with his disorder myself, my mother had bipolar disorder so I had some experience with his illness, at least from the outside looking in.  We have patiently explained to one another everything the other didn’t understand and offered tips to one another for how to support us when we are struggling.  We listen intently to each other and are supportive to each other because we both know very well how it feels to have nobody there who understands.

The depression side of his disorder I understand all too well.  The manic side not so much, though I had learned early on in life to spot the shifts in my mother because she shared his diagnosis.  When he has a manic episode, I am always there to offer support and encouragement.  He often becomes hyper-focused on one task or another and I intervene to make sure he does not lose himself, putting off self-care and disregarding his basic needs like eating.  On the rare occasion that his mania presents itself as rage, I do my best to deescalate the situation in a non-confrontational way.  No matter how his mania presents itself, I offer a calming presence to soothe him and bring him back down again, often rubbing his back, head and shoulders to help him relax.

When my anxiety makes me think irrationally, he is there to talk me down, to help me see reason.  Following anxiety attacks, when I desperately just need the quiet presence of someone else, he holds me closely without judgment and reassures me everything is okay.

Depression hits us both pretty hard.  In the past, we’ve both dealt with people who never understood and who insisted it was all in our heads.  But we both know the signs.  We can see in each other when our depression is raging strong.  And we are both there for each other how we always wished someone would have been there for us for all those years.  We are gentle, kind and compassionate with each other because we’ve been there ourselves and we understand how hard it can be.

We both are plagued by PTSD, as well.  Nightmares of past trauma are especially hard for us both.  When either of us is battling the demons of our past, the other can see the signs, intervene and offer comfort and support.  When our pasts are haunting us, we can talk openly about it on a level that we never were able to with anyone else.

On days either or both of us are struggling particularly hard, we have learned to lean on each other without judgment.  We each pick up where the other leaves off.  We have developed an ever-shifting balance in our relationship.  On days we both are struggling, we curl up together and lean on each other for comfort.

We cheer each other on for our successes and support each other in our struggles.  We encourage each other to stay strong, to keep fighting and to get the treatment we each need.  Neither one of us judges the other for the ways our illnesses present themselves because we understand all too well and empathize with each other on every level.  We not only offer each other support but we’ve become proactive in each other’s treatment, as well.  We’ve attended doctors appointments with each other and helped bring up concerns the other may not have noticed or may have been too uncomfortable to discuss.  We love and support each other in every way.

Yes, we jumped into a relationship that became serious relatively quickly.  But it was not because our mental illnesses had us thinking irrationally.  In each other, we saw someone who finally understood everything we had been battling our entire lives.  In each other, we found that one person who could accept us completely for who we were, loving us not despite our mental illnesses but because of every single thing, mental illnesses included, that made us who we were.  In each other, we discovered what we had been needing, what we had been missing, our entire lives.  Pure unconditional love.

When you find something like that you don’t question it.  You don’t hold back, think on it or weigh options.  You thank the heavens for placing someone in your life and in your path that makes you finally feel not just that it’s okay to be you but that there’s not a single other person in this world you’d rather be.  You run with it and you love them back completely because life is short.  We have to make the most of it.  And a love like this is too good to pass up.

Yes, we may lean on each other more than others do because of our conditions, but that doesn’t make our relationship unhealthy.  We give each other exactly what we each need.  We might both have mental illnesses, but we both are so much more than our diagnosis.  And now we are both blessed to have found someone who can truly see that.

After all, mental illness is just another medical diagnosis and one that is largely treatable.  The only thing that makes mental illness different from other illnesses is that it presents itself in the brain instead of the body so it’s not as easily visible.  People with different medical conditions live their lives and find love every single day.  Those with a mental illness are no different.  People who have a mental illness are just as worthy and deserving of love as anyone else.

So please don’t judge others, or their relationships, based on the fact that one or both of them have a mental illness.  Don’t let the overwhelming stigma surrounding mental illness turn you into a naysayer that pronounces doom and gloom on two people in love just because they both happen to share a similar medical condition.  Instead, celebrate that, despite the fact that there are millions of people walking this earth, they were able to find that one person who loves them completely for who they are.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 6/28/18.

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Republished on Yahoo Lifestyle on 6/28/18.

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Republished on Yahoo News – Canada on 6/28/18.

Republished on Yahoo News – India on 6/28/18.

Why Removing Toxic People From Your Life Is An Act Of Self-Love & Self-Care

Some people preach forgiveness and giving second, third, fourth, even unlimited chances.  They claim forgiving others is more about your own peace of mind than theirs and that the heart should always be open to it.  Some even claim that you should never remove anyone from your life because everyone is there for a reason.  They emphasize blood relationships and length of friendships as the sole reason you should forgive and forget.

I am not one of those people.

I believe that you should surround yourself with people who are good for your heart and soul, not based on dna links or length of familiarity.  I believe we must not only be kind to ourselves but surround ourselves with kindness, as well.  You cannot heal and work towards being healthier again if you continue to reside in the sick ward, continuously being bombarded by things that contributed to your illness in the first place.

Some people hold tightly to friendships or relationships for no other reason than “they’ve known them forever” or “things used to be different, used to be great”.  You can have a drinking glass that has served you well for years and has even played an important part in your life for some time.  But if that glass shatters, it fundamentally changes so drastically that it can never go back to what it once was, you do not keep that glass.  You do not leave those shattered shards on the ground where they fell so that every time you come in close proximity to it, you risk cutting yourself open again, creating new wounds and reopening old.  You accept that it no longer has any place or purpose in your life, you clean up the remnants of the glass and you discard them, protecting yourself from any further harm.  No matter how long you’ve had that glass or how much it previously fit into your life or daily routine, once it has shattered beyond repair, we accept it cannot be fixed and we discard it for our own safety.

If we are willing to do this to protect our body from being hurt, why wouldn’t we do the same for our heart and our mind?  If a relationship has broken down and deteriorated so badly that the only remaining possibility is the infliction of more pain, why would we subject ourselves to that continued hurt?

I also believe there are some people who no longer fit into our life or belong on our path.  It is akin to a recovering alcoholic no longer spending time with his old drinking buddies, people whose only connection to his life was encouraging his continued drinking.  If you are trying to live a healthier, more positive life, you cannot surround yourself with negative people.  If you are working towards trying to love yourself, you cannot surround yourself with people who make you feel worthless and broken.  If you are trying to get treatment and take care of yourself, you cannot surround yourself with people who minimize or trivialize your struggle and your efforts, who tell you to “suck it up”, “just get over it” and treat you  poorly instead of offering encouragement and support.  You cannot change your mindset and your situation if you remain in the same environment that allowed that negativity to flourish in the first place.  The urge to relapse is too strong.  Recovering alcoholics don’t spend every night sitting on their old bar stools, surrounded by everyone who kept pushing for them to have one more drink, sliding shot after shot their way.  They accept that is not healthy for them, that it no longer has a place in their life and they find other, more positive people and places to occupy their time.

Why wouldn’t we do the same thing when it comes to poisonous people in our lives?

Removing toxic people from our lives is not about hating them or punishing them.  It honestly isn’t about them at all.  It is about taking care of ourselves and loving ourselves.  It is about identifying everything that is unhealthy in our lives and removing whatever is detrimental to our health.  Removing someone who is toxic does not mean you don’t love them or that they never meant anything to you.  It means you love yourself more.  A newly diagnosed diabetic might absolutely love cupcakes, but they know that those cupcakes no longer fit in their life.  Having those cupcakes around will only continue to make them sick and slowly kill them.  They might have loved those cupcakes for years, but no cupcake is worth losing your life over.  They will miss those cupcakes for the place they once held in their past but deep down, they know now that they are no longer healthy for them and they need to go.

Why wouldn’t we remove people from our lives, as well, that are no longer healthy for us and are slowly breaking our heart and our spirit, killing a vital part of ourselves?

One of the best things I ever did for myself was to remove toxic people from my life, the ones who treated my mental illness like a joke and responded with judgment instead of compassion.  It is hard enough to battle those voices in my own head telling me I am broken, worthless and unlovable, without those sentiments being echoed by people I had allowed into my life.  It was difficult letting go of some of those relationships, especially when it was all I had known for years, but it was honestly for the best.  In the end, I had to put myself and my health first and remove anything that stood as a roadblock to my wellness.

I also had to accept that some people never had my best interest at heart.  There were some people in my life that found some strange sort of pleasure in my pain, people that raised themselves up higher by systematically knocking down those around them.  There were people that kept others around solely because seeing others struggle made them feel better about their own lives.  People like that were so threatened by the happiness or success of others that they minimized or sabotaged the successes of others so that they could maintain their air of superiority.  I had to accept that some relationships in my life were dysfunctional at their core, that they had never been and never would be healthy for me.

These days, I’ve surrounded myself with people who generally care about my health and well-being, people who cheer on my successes and offer comfort when I am struggling.  I’ve chosen to surround myself with people who celebrate my strengths instead of highlighting my weaknesses, who encourage me to keep fighting and to never give up.  I’ve surrounded myself with people who see my beauty and my strength and who make me feel better about myself even on days I am struggling to see that light shining from within.

I have found that it is easier, as well, to give freely of myself when I feel cherished and appreciated in return.  It is easier to extend myself to those who I know would be there for me if ever I needed.  My own capacity for kindness and compassion has grown exponentially because it is being continuously replenished by others.  There is an old saying that you cannot pour from an empty pot, suggesting that you must take time to care for yourself before you can extend yourself to others.  By surrounding myself with only love and acceptance, kindness and compassion, it is always flowing between us and no pot seems to ever run empty.

Flowers need the warm glow of sunlight, water to quench their thirst and the nutrients in the soil to feed them in order to flourish and grow.  You cannot leave a flower in the darkness, starving them of nourishment and expect them to thrive.  Much like that flower, we need that light and nourishment if we have any hope of blossoming into a healthier version of ourselves.  We need love and acceptance to warm our hearts, kindness and compassion to nourish our souls.  If we allow toxic people to hold us in the darkness, to deny us what we need, our hearts and souls will slowly wither and die.  By removing people who are toxic from our life and replacing them with others who truly care about us and our well-being, we are pulling ourselves out of the darkness and giving ourselves a very real fighting chance to flourish and grow, to truly live.

I believe forgiving others is more about making them feel better than it is about our own well-being.  I think not everyone deserves multiple chances, especially if they have proven time and again that they do not have your best interest at heart.  If I am going to forgive anyone, I am going to forgive myself for letting some people abuse my trust and repeatedly injure my heart.  In the end, it isn’t my job to console those who have repeatedly hurt me, offering them the kindness they have never shown me.  I have a greater obligation to myself and to my own well-being.  If I have to choose someone to show kindness and compassion to, it will be myself and those who have shown me kindness and compassion in return.

Having A Positive Mindset Will Not Cure Depression

Many people assume that those who are suffering from depression are just caught in the wrong mindset, that we’re being Debbie Downers and Negative Nancys, wandering through life with a Trelawney*-sized penchant for doom and gloom.  They assume a great deal, if not all, of our mental illness could be solved simply by trying a little harder and adopting a more positive mindset.  I can tell you firsthand that is not the case.

I have been told by multiple people over the years that I am the most positive, cheerful, upbeat little depressed person that they have ever met.  I refuse to be a victim.  I am a fighter.  A Survivor.  Even in the roughest of circumstances, I still search for something positive to cling to like a life preserver in rough waters after being thrown overboard during a raging storm.  I am a firm believer that there is always something positive to be found if you look hard enough.  Even on the worst days, I am that one person you can count on to offer an encouraging smile and to point out something good to be grateful for in life.

I do not intentionally surround myself with negativity.  Over the years, I have systematically removed many so-called friends and family from my life who found more pleasure in knocking others down rather than helping each other up.  I’ve chosen instead to surround myself with people who believe in kindness and compassion, those who prefer to cheer openly for the success of others rather than privately snickering over their defeat.

I don’t carry within myself an undue amount of anger, hurt or resentment.  If someone has grievously injured me, I have learned to just remove them from my life as a doctor might amputate a gangrenous limb.  I do not allow their cruelty to continue to fester and grow but rather I accept that they do not deserve a place in my life and I continue onward without them.  I have accepted that not everyone belongs in my life and that some people were merely meant to play the passing role of a teacher of harsh realities.  I refuse to waste undue amounts of energy dwelling on the cruelty of anyone who would not give me a second thought.  I choose to focus the majority of my energy on improving myself and my future rather than dwelling on other people or a past I cannot change.

I have trained myself to consciously focus on happiness and positivity every single day.  Every day I strive to accomplish three goals.

  1. Every day, no matter how rough the day might feel, I look for at least one reason to smile, one thing to be grateful for in my life.
  2. Every day, I try to reach out and do something kind for someone else without expecting anything in return.  This could be as simple as holding open a door or reaching out to someone else to see how they are doing.
  3. Every day, I make sure to tell at least one person in my life that I love and appreciate them.

At my core, I have a very positive mindset.  I have a fundamental belief in the strength and resilience of the human spirit, that we as a species are stronger than we realize and are survivors at heart.  I carry within myself a genuine hope that one day things will get better and I am proactive in working towards that goal.  I encourage not only myself to power through and not give up on a daily basis, but I reach out to others, as well, through my writing.

I also have friends and family that I have opened up to about my illness.  I do my best to be honest with where I am at mentally and emotionally at all times.  I have constructed a support network of people I can reach out to if I need help so I am not facing everything alone.

I have not given up on myself.  I not only see my doctors regularly, but I push myself as much as possible to attend wellness activities such as yoga, tai chi, meditation and art classes.  I take my treatment seriously.  My wellness and emotional toolbox is chock full of useful techniques to use when I am struggling.

I make sure to eat regularly even if I am not feeling particularly hungry so that my body receives the nutrients it needs.  I do not smoke or use drugs and very, very rarely do I drink any alcohol, let alone have more than one drink.  I practice self-care and engage in hobbies such as writing, sketching and painting so I have positive outlets to focus my attention upon so I do not lose myself along the way.  Over the years, I have learned to love myself and to treat myself gently, with the same kindness and compassion I would show others.

I have not surrendered to my mental illness or turned a blind eye to it, pretending it is not there.  I read up on the latest studies on a regular basis.  I belong to multiple online support groups that share not only encouragement but share information, as well.  I want to remain knowledgeable about my illness so I can make educated decisions about my ongoing and future treatment.

My mindset is not an issue.

I am fighting every single day.  I am like the cancer patient who pushes herself to eat even though her chemotherapy has left her feeling nauseous because she knows it is what her body needs or to go for a short jog because she is determined to not let her illness defeat her.  I am like the woman with rheumatoid arthritis so bad that every step wracks her body with pain who still goes out to work in her garden because she doesn’t want to lose herself to her illness.  I am no different than many other people with hundreds of different debilitating diseases, illnesses and ailments who are fighting the good fight every single day not only to survive but to find some way to truly live despite their diagnosis.

Again, my mindset is not the issue.

All the positivity in the world will not negate my illness.  A wellness toolbox full of handy tricks will not fix it.  It is a medical condition that needs medical treatment.  As good as things like having a support system, a positive attitude, eating well, exercise and engaging in healthy hobbies might be for someone’s emotional well-being, they will not cure mental illness any more than they would cure cancer or arthritis.  I have learned to cope with my illness to the best of my ability but I still need ongoing treatment.

The main difference between other more widely accepted ailments and mental illness is that my condition stems not in my body but in my brain. That, and the stigma attached to mental illness that prevents others from viewing it as a legitimate, treatment-worthy condition.  Because it cannot readily be seen by the naked eye, it is often doubted, minimized and trivialized, treated largely as a joke.  Though it may be considered an invisible illness, I am fighting it every single day.

From the time I wake up every day, I am fighting my own mind.  As much as I struggle to stay positive and focused, a very real part of me is trying to convince me that the world is hopeless.  Whenever I attempt to reach out to friends and loved ones, it tells me that I am a burden to them, that I shouldn’t bother, that I should leave them in peace.  It pushes for me to isolate, to hide my pain, to succumb and surrender to it.

There are days I am overwhelmed with emotions.  I feel everything so deeply and there appears to be no way to turn it off.  I have this intense need to cry, to weep not only for myself but for everyone else struggling, for everyone who’s lives have been made harder by my illness and for everyone else who has lost their battles along the way.  On those days, my world is overflowing with so much pain that it is overwhelming.

On other days, I feel nothing at all.  I find myself trapped in a dark void where nothing feels like it matters, least of all me.  There is no joy in that darkness, no light, no hope.  I struggle to even move because I feel swallowed up within its depths.  Everything on those days feels like an insurmountable obstacle.  Even simple tasks like eating make no sense because everything tastes bland, like nothingness.  That voice within my head echos through the darkness, asking what’s the point.

No mater how much the sun is shining, my world always feels dark, cold, hopeless and full of despair.  No matter how many times I tell myself that it isn’t truly the case, it still feels that way.  It is like my mind has constructed its own alternate reality and has taken me hostage within its walls.  I feel helpless like I have no control over my own life, let alone my body or my mind.

Every single day, I have to fight myself to even get out of bed.  It isn’t a case of laziness or just not wanting to get up.  The weight of everything I want to do and need to do rests so heavily on my shoulders that I often find myself immobile, incapable of action.  Every single day I am beating myself up for everything I know I should be doing but cannot manage to bring myself to do.  I desperately want to get up, do things and be productive, but the weight of my illness pins me down.  It then uses my inability to function against me as evidence that I am worthless and a waste of space.

Every single day, my mental illness presents itself in very real and physical ways as well.  My body is always as exhausted as my mind.  I ache all over.  My anxiety frequently has my head spinning and my heart pounding.  When confronted with stress, my chest tightens and my thoughts race.  My stomach is always in knots.  I regularly experience nausea and vomiting and have a recurring bleeding ulcer.  I have absolutely no desire to eat most days or to even do anything at all for that matter.  Every night, I struggle to get to sleep and to stay asleep.  I am plagued by horrible nightmares on a regular basis.  No matter how much rest I might get, I always feel sluggish, like I am running on empty.  It is like my own body has betrayed me.

My world feels hopeless.  I feel helpless.  I feel lost and alone.  I feel broken beyond repair.  There is not a single day that I do not have to remind myself multiple times that this is not reality.  This is my mental illness.  There is not a single day that I am not fighting with myself, pushing myself to do something, anything, even if it is just to pull myself out of bed and eat something.

I am not consumed by negativity, nor am I lazy or weak.  I have not given up on myself or the world.  I have hope for my future and a strong will to fight.  I am doing my best.  I refuse to let my mental illness beat me.

My mindset is not the issue.

My mental illness is.

I struggle every single day not because I am not trying hard enough to have a positive mindset but because I am ill.

 

*For those unacquainted with Sybill Trelawney, she is one of many wondrous creations from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter universe, the Divination professor who at one time or another had foreseen the death of every student at Hogwart’s.  Whenever I imagine anyone embracing hopelessness and envisioning a world full of nothing but doom and gloom, I think of Trelawney.

 

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.

Minimizing Our Illness Only Hurts Ourselves

We have all been there. We are having a rough day, feeling under the weather. Our mental illness is wreaking havoc, making it difficult to even function. Yet when someone asks if we’re okay, we force ourselves to smile and reassure them that we’re fine.

Our eyes are puffy from crying and our world feels like it is collapsing beneath our feet. Yet, instead of being honest about how we are feeling, we force ourselves to smile and we make a half-hearted joke about allergies and it being that time of year.

We laid in bed for hours the night before, unable to sleep because our anxiety had our mind racing for over half the night. When we finally managed to pass out from exhaustion, our sleep was spotty, restless and riddled with anxiety-laden nightmares. Yet when someone points out we look tired, we force ourselves to smile and remark about how there’s never enough hours in the day to sleep as much as we would like.

Our stomach rumbles reflexively because we haven’t eaten in a day and a half because we have no appetite or desire to eat. When someone notices the sound, we force ourselves to smile and make an offhanded comment about it being a busy day, too busy to find time to eat yet. We reassure them we’ll eat plenty to make up for it later, even if we have no intention of following through.

We spend three days mostly curled up in bed, barely able to function. When someone checks in to see whether we’re okay, we run our fingers through our disheveled hair, force a smile and mutter something about just getting over a cold or the flu because somewhere in our mind we rationalize that a fake physical ailment sounds more believable and justifiable than a real mental one.

Someone remarks on the fact that we were wearing the same outfit when they saw us last a few days ago. We force a smile and reply that it’s our favorite or most comfortable one and joke about it being laundry day.

We force smiles and ask people who stop by for a visit to please excuse the clutter and the mess as if we have just been too busy to clean instead of being honest that we just haven’t had the physical or mental energy to do much of anything around the house in days.

We know when things are bad. We can see when our functionality begins to slip. Yet, instead of being honest with those around us, more often than not we minimize our struggles or even outright lie about their existence.

We isolate and make excuses about being busy with life. We avoid friends and family so they don’t see how bad things truly are. Again and again, we make excuses and downplay the severity of our condition as if we’re doing other people, or ourselves, an enormous favor by shielding them from the truth.

Many times every day, in virtually every interaction we have with others, we minimize our illness and the effect it has on our life supposedly for the comfort of others. We have so many excuses for doing this. We don’t want to put our drama on anyone else. We don’t want others to worry. We don’t want to be a burden. We don’t want to be accused of being an attention-seeker or throwing a pity party. We don’t have the words to adequately explain what is going on inside us or just plain don’t want to talk about it. We’re embarrassed of our diagnosis and don’t want to be judged or treated like a joke. Whatever our reasoning, we press our lips into a pained smile, pretending things aren’t all that bad and we lie.

We press our lips together in fake, forced smiles. We say we’re okay even when we know without a doubt that we’re not. We claim that we’re hanging in there, doing our best to stay positive and keep going, acting as if there’s nothing to worry about even as our world feels like it is crumbling around us.

What good does lying or minimizing our struggles really do?

Time and again, we wish others understood exactly what we are going through. In rare moments of unfettered honesty, we tell others they could not possibly understand how bad it is unless they experienced it for themselves.

But how is anyone supposed to ever understand or empathize if we keep hiding the harsh reality of the situation from them? We cannot simultaneously spare them the agony of the truth and accuse them of just not understanding how bad things really are. If we want others to understand how bad things truly are, we have to be completely  honest about it. Not partial truths, not sugary sweet versions of the truth but the whole unadulterated, ugly truth.

Because in reality, their comfort is not our responsibility. Our responsibility is our own well-being. We are doing ourselves no favors by hiding how we are doing from those who care about us. Likewise, we are doing them an injustice by hiding the truth from them. If someone is checking in about our well-being, they obviously care. If they care and are trying to be there, they deserve the truth. Not some watered down version of it but the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Will our honesty make others uncomfortable? Most likely. But let’s be honest here. Mental illness is not pretty. It is dark and scary. It torments us to our very soul. Being honest about the effects of our diagnosis is not going to be pretty. But it is real. And reality can sometimes be very disconcerting. It can be a hard pill to swallow. But the truth is the truth and, as the saying goes, the truth can set you free.

Time and again, we complain about the stigma surrounding mental illness and how so many people do not take our diagnosis seriously. Perhaps we hold part of the blame ourselves. If we want others to truly understand what it is like living with mental illness, we need to start being completely honest about it.

I know it can be scary putting everything out there. There’s a great deal of vulnerability in sharing the whole, unfettered truth of the situation with others. But unless you’re completely honest about how you truly are, you cannot ever expect anyone else to understand exactly what you are going through.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 6/25/18.

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Republished on Yahoo Lifestyle on 6/25/18.

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.

Anxiety & Jumping to Conclusions

When someone suffers from an anxiety disorder, our minds are always in overdrive, racing at top speeds trying to figure everything out. For each and every problem that presents itself, our brains reason out hundreds of possible reasons why, usually settling on the worst possible scenario or the one that bears the most personal responsibility. We see ourselves as broken and flawed so we naturally assume the fault ultimately must always rest with us.
When a friend does not acknowledge our messages or respond back right away, our mind races to decipher what we must have done to upset them without realizing it. We ponder whether we’ve been such awful friends, caught up within our own misery and personal problems, that we must have devalued their friendship, damaging it irreparably, causing them to give up on us and walk away. Somehow, the worst possible probability always seems more likely to us than the sheer possibility that they might just be busy, distracted by their own lives at the moment.
When our boyfriends or girlfriends, husbands or wives do not respond to us with absolute elation or passion, we start to wonder whether they are falling out of love with us. We dwell over how much of a handful we have always been in the relationship, whether real or imaginary. We wonder whether they’ve stumbled onto someone else they mesh with better and we honestly could not blame them if it were to happen because we know how horrible we can be. No matter how much or how often they tell us they love us and they cannot imagine their lives without us, our anxiety leaves us with an overwhelming sense of insecurity that convinces us that anyone else in the world would be a better choice than we are for them.
If something goes wrong at school or at work, we automatically assume we must be to blame and seek out how we must be ultimately responsible. Even if we know for a fact we had nothing to do with a situation happening, we look for areas where our intervention may have prevented the mishap and blame ourselves for our inaction. We feel as if we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t, but either way, we’re still to blame.
If something breaks or stops working, we trace back to our last time using it, considering every irresponsible action we have done that may have contributed to its demise. Somewhere in our heads, we rationalize that forgetting to shut off a machine when we were done using it once 6 months ago must have ultimately caused a chain reaction that led to its deterioration and destruction. It doesn’t matter if a dozen other people have each done a dozen different things since then to contribute to the situation at hand. In our minds, our mistakes are so glaringly horrendous that we cannot fathom any other explanation being more likely. It doesn’t matter if an item was past its prime or threadbare and past due to be replaced. Our anxiety tells us it would still be usable if not for us.
We internalize everything. We assume that the chaos within ourselves is constantly leaking out into the world around us, seeping into everything we come in contact with, making everything ultimately worse. Our minds race straight for the absolute worst possible scenario, making a pit stop at every other negative possibility along the way. Our anxiety tends to blind us to the positive possibilities or even to the simple likelihood of coincidences or happenstance. It discards any randomness, always looking for a definitive answer and cause. There must ALWAYS be a reason why, must ALWAYS be someone to blame, and our minds have designated us to be the sacrificial lamb.
We do not do this intentionally. It isn’t that we’re just being a Negative Nancy, refusing to listen to reason or see the positive side of things. When we blame ourselves, we are not having a pity party, expecting others to feel bad for us, too.  We genuinely feel responsible whenever anything goes wrong.  Part of having an anxiety disorder is having a brain that is constantly, consistently, working in overdrive, looking to connect and explain everything around us, whether those connections are real or imaginary. Even if those links seem ludicrous to others looking in, when our minds make those connections, they feel genuine to us. Our brains are often on autopilot, with us just along for the ride. Whenever the rational side of our mind tries to speak up, speak out, to even suggest we might be overreacting or making something out of nothing, that voice is drowned out by a hundred other voices, a thousand other possibilities, of ways and reasons that we might be, must be, wrong.
If we have ever had a friend in the past who have distanced themselves because they felt we were too much of a handful, part of us assume other friends will follow suit and discard us, as well. If we’ve ever had a partner fall out of love with us or cheat with someone else, part of us braces ourselves for the next time it will happen, leaving us abandoned and alone. Because of this, we have trouble letting people in, trouble trusting others and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable.  We are terrified of being hurt, of putting ourselves in that position again.  As much as part of us knows that our current friends and partners are not those people who hurt us in our past, our brains keep pushing to link everything together, to make connections even where none truly exist. Even worse, when we are faced with pain or abandonment from others, we still question ourselves, looking to take personal responsibility for the choices and actions of everyone else.
Perhaps even worse than the initial blame game we play with ourselves is the way our minds will keep building and compounding our theories upon themselves, escalating them to unfathomable proportions. We build these fragile houses of cards in our minds, adding new card after card until we’ve created a precarious tower of self-loathing and blame. We tear into ourselves with a never-ending monologue that continuously harps that if we had just tried harder, just been better, not been so broken, been more responsible, none of would have happened. Our minds taunt us, telling us we should have known better than to even try, reminding us that everything we do, everything else we try, will fail, too, in time. We tell ourselves the lie that we are destined to be alone, that sooner or later everyone always leaves, then push everyone away, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.  We allow our anxiety to convince us that failure and loneliness is an inevitable part of our lives and that we don’t deserve any better. We sincerely believe that it’s just what we do, just how our lives go, that you cannot fight the inevitable.
Even if it eventually comes to light that we were not to blame, even if the situation had a simple explanation that has nothing to do with us, it does not quell our anxiety. Instead, we tell ourselves, “it might not have been us THIS TIME..” as we begin to mentally brace ourselves for the next time we actually will be at fault. We chalk it up to sheer luck and we don’t see ourselves as ever truly lucky so we consider it a rare free pass, unlikely to ever happen again.
I often catch myself travelling down that anxiety-ridden path, needlessly panicking before I even know all the facts. I find myself looking to rest all the blame on myself even before I fully understand the situation or its underlying cause. I often find myself taking any distance from family and friends personally, without considering that their lives are busy, too and that life happens to us all.  I feel like I have to be ever-vigilant, ever self-aware, so I have even the slightest chance to rationalize with myself before the inevitable self-blame-game begins. Even then, it is a struggle within myself because my body automatically reacts to the anxiety festering in my mind. Even if the logical part of my brain is able to determine I am not at fault, there’s always that kernel of doubt bouncing around in my head, asking “..but how do you know for sure?”
Years ago, I had a friend that used to jokingly tell me, “Beth.. get off the cross. We need the wood”. It’s a sentiment I’ve come to relate heavily to my own anxiety. After all, I have been needlessly carrying the burden, real or imaginary, of everything going on around me for my entire life. I am slowly learning to differentiate between the rational and irrational, taking ownership of my own actions and decisions without carrying the weight of the rest of the world on my shoulders. While I cannot will away my anxiety disorder with mind over matter, being able to catch myself and separate what is probable from what is unlikely is a good start.  I may have to live with this anxiety monster on my back, but I don’t need to keep feeding it.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 6/22/18.

We Should Not Be Afraid To Embrace Our Happiness

I have been struggling a lot this past year, mostly fighting bureaucracy and red tape.  Unfortunately, the more heavily the battle weighs down on me, the more it bleeds into and invades every aspect of my life, particularly my writing.  The more anxious I feel about the possibility of losing my battle, the more I find myself writing about how harshly anxiety affects my life. The more depressed I feel about the struggles I am having getting my disability case fixed and open, the more I write about the negative impact of depression.  That is because I write what I feel and unfortunately, when someone has struggled with mental illness their entire life as I have, my words often emulate the negativity and hopelessness felt inside.

But please know that DOES NOT mean I never experience any happiness or that I am not allowed to be happy because I have a mental illness.  Having depression doesn’t mean you’re forbidden from ever experiencing happiness.  Finding a reason to smile or to laugh when you can DOES NOT take away or in any way minimize your struggles or your diagnosis.

I honestly don’t know why so many people expect mental illness to be an absolute, all or nothing diagnosis.

Someone can have arthritis so horrible that they often stay home because it hurts too badly to move, yet still have days between flare ups where they might go for a walk around the block in the sunshine or plant a few flowers in their garden.  People applaud them for their strength for being able to still do things that they enjoy.

Someone can be fighting cancer and lie in bed for weeks, too exhausted to do anything in between their chemo treatments.  When they manage to pull themselves up to sit, talk and laugh with a friend while catching up over a cup of coffee, people cheer them on.  People applaud them for being able to set aside their pain and their struggles for even a few moments to enjoy the world again.

For any other visibly debilitating illness or health struggle, people receive overwhelming support and accolades for managing to embrace even a momentary slice of happiness in the midst of their battle.  They’re commended for their great strength just for still being able to smile.

Yet, for anyone struggling with mental illness, anything even remotely resembling even momentary happiness is met with accusations.  If someone smiles, laughs or talks about having a pleasant time or a good day, people swarm in to attack, assuming we must have been exaggerating or outright faking our illness because in that specific moment we “look just fine”.

They post rude comments on pictures we share where we’re smiling that we “don’t look very depressed to them”.  When we talk about enjoying a few hours out with family or friends, they throw out snide remarks about how they thought we “had too much anxiety to do anything” or that our “depression made it too hard to function” yet they saw us out and about, having fun.

Their barrage of comments often makes us feel even more trapped and isolated by our illness.  We are left feeling like we have to hide or make excuses for even momentary happiness, as if it is a forbidden luxury not extended to the mentally ill.  We worry about even having a more functional than normal day, too, because others assume if we can manage something one day, we can do it every day.  We debate with ourselves whether to even mention those sweet few happy moments to family and friends because we want to avoid those “I thought you were past that whole depression thing” conversations that inevitably emerge later on when we mention our illness has flared up again.

We’re supposed to “get help” and “get better”, to “get over everything” and “just be normal again”, but we’re not allowed to experience anything in between that horrible low and that “back to normal” state we’re pushed toward and expected to achieve.  It is even worse if it is a long-term or life-long struggle.  Many of those on the outside looking in can’t understand the ups and downs, highs and lows, the forward progress and backslides we go through, assuming we should be on a straight track from sick back to healthy again.  They claim we seemed “just fine, even smiling” when they bumped into us at the grocery store last month so they figured we were “over that whole depression thing” as if it is some fad we were doing for fun, something they believed we would be over by now.

People can be in physical pain or be struggling with health conditions that make it harder to function and it’s okay.  Even not being able to work is considered acceptable because others can see the pain.  Those momentary bits of happiness are seen as a wonderful treasure for someone who needs and deserves it after the battle they’ve been fighting.

Just because you can’t see my mental illness does not mean I am not struggling with it.  It does not mean that I am not fighting just as hard to function and to be as healthy as possible just like others with illnesses you can see.  And I refuse to relinquish the little pieces of happiness that I experience just because others assume that, in order for my depression to be genuine, I must be miserable and suffering every hour of every day without break or end.

The truth is that, no matter how bad I am struggling on any given day, no matter how hopeless my world feels, I try to seek out at least one reason to smile every day.  I have been told that I am the sweetest, most upbeat depressed person many people have ever met because I fight very hard to be optimistic and not give up hope.  I refuse to drown in my mental illness.  I have waged war on it and every single day I strike, reminding myself that there is still good in the world, beauty all around me, that there are still reasons to wake up in the morning and things to be grateful for in my life.

I strive to create good moments and memories whenever I can, to find reasons smile and laugh.  We have family movie and game nights.  I snuggle up with my partner and  watch movies together or laugh at silly animal videos online.  Though I struggle most days to socialize outside my house because my mental illness causes me to naturally isolate myself, I manage to joke here and there with friends online and share funny stories and memes.  I even occasionally go out, whether to enjoy some time out while the weather is nice or to spend a little time with family and friends.

None of that negates my diagnosis.  None of that minimizes my struggles.

It is no different than what someone with one of hundreds of different visible illness does to try and bring some joy into their lives to distract themselves from the pain.

It does not change the fact that the majority of the time I struggle to even pull myself out of bed or to eat.  It doesn’t change the fact that I spend most of my life struggling to even function, overwhelmed and crying.  It doesn’t change the fact that my illness is still always there, right under the surface, beneath that smile, silently eating away at me, trying to drag me back down.

I won’t apologize for my little bits of happiness and I won’t stop seeking them out.  I need them for morale and for my own self-care and sanity.  I need to seek out happiness in this world wherever I can find it so I have a reason to keep going and not give up even when my mental illness makes the world feels hopeless.

Being able to sometimes smile and laugh or enjoy part of your day when you’re struggling with mental illness shouldn’t be treated as a cardinal sin.  It should be applauded as a sign of strength and self-care.  Having a mental illness should not mean that you are never allowed to be happy again.  It is not an absolute, all or nothing, you either have depression or happiness, choice.

If we manage to find a reason to smile or laugh for even a brief period in our day, please cheer us on for our ability to do so.  Don’t rain on our parade just because you cannot see our pain or understand our illness.  Any smile, any momentary happiness is a victory against an illness that is intent on dragging us downward into misery and despair.  Don’t try to take that victory away from us.

To those who managed to smile or laugh today, good for you!  Keep fighting the good fight and don’t ever let anyone else make you feel like you’ve done anything wrong by being happy because you haven’t.  Embrace your happiness.  Cherish it.  You deserve it!

Suicide Without Dying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I couldn’t keep living like I was.

So I gave up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Days and weeks blended together in nothingness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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