Mental Health Awareness Month

Today is Friday, not Thursday., when I usually update, because I have been living in a fog all week, trying to adapt to my new schedule.  The day got away from me yesterday, and almost did today, as well.  I have a few moments now, though, so here we are.

May is Mental Health Awareness month.  Since we are smack dab in the middle of it, I thought I would take this time to discuss my own personal journey with mental health…but then the illness piece kicked in and blanked out my brain. 

See, I first came down with depression when I was about 9 years old.  Anxiety shortly followed, then trichotillomania, further manifesting into some vicious obsessive-compulsive disorder.  I went untreated until I was eighteen.  Throw a pile of PTSD on that, and you have yourself a whopping case of mental illness.

Since my adolescence, I have also had diabetes.  But I tell you what, I have yet to have someone tell me to “get over” being diabetic, or that if I “think positive,” or “try yoga,” or “get some more sleep,” then my Hemoglobin A1C will go down.  Yet all these things have fallen from the mouths of those who were trying to “help” me with my mental health.  It’s just further proof of the stigma.

So many people hide their mental illness because they are afraid of what others will think of it, and I want you to know that anyone who doesn’t treat your mental health on the same playing field as your physical health is an idiot.  Yes, I can absolutely die from diabetes.  And yes, I can absolutely die from depression, as well.

Every year I walk in the Out of the Darkness walk for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  I do this so I don’t die, guys.  I do this so that every year I can celebrate the fact that I made it ANOTHER YEAR.  It’s not unlike other walks, where you have supporters, those who have lost loved ones, and those who are still fighting.  I am one of those people still fighting, and I’m always going to be, because Major Depressive Disorder is a bitch.

People are a lot more open today then they were 20 years ago when I first started therapy.  At least this much is true, but still I feel that we as a society judge mental illness far more harshly than physical illnesses.  It’s almost like we are blamed for it, as if we have done something to deserve it, or we are seen as “less-than.”  You’ll notice that no one ever feels that way about a cancer patient.  No one says they must’ve brought that cancer on themselves, or it’s in their power to control that cancer.  Listen, if I knew how to control my serotonin levels on my own with some superpower, don’t you think I’d be doing it?

I’ve been depressed this week, because I haven’t been very active since surgery and also, it’s been a little lonely without Mark around…our schedule is still not meshing.  I am, of course, looking for my silver linings, which come in the form of the ability to start hiking again next week with Kevin, and…drumroll…SAHAR IS HERE!!  My nearest and dearest drove up from Ohio to see me and I am thrilled.  In fact, I’m going to wrap this up now because she is on her way over.  But my point here is that despite being depressed, I am finding things to look forward to, thus making myself happier.  It’s one of the many items in the emotional toolbox that I have been constructing for the past 20 years.

Also, break a stigma!  Don’t let anyone tell you you’re lesser because you have a mental illness!  You are a strong and special warrior and you should be treated as such!

Still on Fire

Remember in years past when we would say things like “well, that was a crappy year, can’t wait to see it go?” 

How quaint.

This year stated out rough.  I became very sick in late January, which killed early February.  Then, in March, my grandpa died and five days later, the world locked down. 

Bright spot in May, when my collection came out, but darkness, too, as I wasn’t able to have a proper release of any sort.  Bright spot during summer, when Dad’s tests came back negative and he could happily say he was cancer-free.  Bright spot in September, when it appeared cases were going down in our area.  But, darkness again in November when Erie County slid into an orange zone and life became confining again. 

Overall, for everyone, a crap year.

I am focusing on the good today, though.  Like that book I dropped.  Or my healthy Dad.  Or the fact cases are going down again, and we have a vaccine now. 

So, it wasn’t all garbage, at least to me. 

This year, I am making a singular resolution.  Don’t eat any phonebooks.  No, seriously, I intend to read more.  I have fallen off reading so hard because of my eye troubles, and I need to get my butt back on that train.  I intend to keep a list of all the books I read this year, to hold myself accountable.  I’m almost certain it will be dismal.  One year I read 100 books.  Now I can barely get though two.  Damn these eyes.

But there have been great improvements in them this year, so I am hoping that pushes me to pursue reading even more than before.  I have a few King’s just languishing on my shelf, desperate to be finished. I asked my cousin Sarah to toss me a few books she was done with.  And I am intent on consuming as much poetry as possible (particularly from local and indie authors, so if you know any good ones, hit me up.)  The first book I intend to read is Courtney Changes the Game, the first in the new line of American Girl Doll books. 

I’m trying to ease myself in.

Anyway, tonight is New Year’s Eve.  Hubs and I don’t do much for the holiday.  One year we went to the ball drop and it was crazy and expensive and we swore that was going straight on the Murtagh list (a list of shit we’re too old for.)  Now out NYE consists of pizza and booze and a televised ball drop.  So, our plans did not change this year amidst a pandemic.  Except maybe the pizza will take longer to arrive.

Tonight, I am thankful for my family’s health and my own successes.  I am thankful for a hardworking and loving husband and four beautiful and clever step-kids.  I am thankful for a sister turned friend and a friend turned sister.  I am thankful for my grandmother, who is still kicking after her hardest year.

And I am proud, of everyone.

I wrote in the beginning about how to me, the world has always been on fire.  Then I wrote a poem about that observation.  Then I won a contest with that poem.  Then it was published in the Buffalo News.  It has become my motto of the year: the world has always been on fire.  I wrote about how my “healthy” people were experiencing moments of a depression and anxiety, while I was dancing among the flames that I have grown used to.  I am so proud of those people…people unfamiliar with mental health problems, who are experiencing this painful time but pushing though.  You are so strong.  I am so proud. 

And those of us dancing in the fire as usual?  Well, I’m always proud that we don’t just let ourselves burn. 

Anyway, Happy New Year to you and yours.

Sure was a crappy year.  Can’t wait to see it go.

Dancing in the Dark

Last night, as I was dancing with depression, she said that I had no blog topic for today and that I should just take the day off and stay in bed.  She said a lot of things yesterday, and they all sounded pretty good.  By the end, I found myself huddled under a blanket doing worst-case-scenarios and having a literal screaming match in my head between Sane Brain and Crazy Brain.  After about an hour or so, I took my sleeping pills.  Sane Brain was getting quieter, and tired.  Crazy Brain was raring to go, and needed medical intervention.

When I woke up, I felt a lot better.  I sat down to write, and briefly considered ignoring last night’s darkness, until I realized that it is Mental Health Month.  Two years ago, I wrote a series of blogs about breaking the stigma of mental health, using one of my diagnoses as a jumping off point each week.  I received some lovely feedback from family and friends.  I hope I broke a couple of stigmas for someone.  One can dream.

Anyway, it’s two years later and I write about my mental health all the time, and not just in my blog anymore.  I have had three articles published at Mental Health Crisis Angels, which is a peer support group, mental health blog, and all-around stigma bashing organization.  The first was about my struggles with Severe Anxiety Disorder.  The second, about tips to deal with anxieties, big and small.  And the last was about Trichotillomania, which I developed when I was eleven. 

And then there is my chapbook.  The whole thing is about chronic illness and, by default, depression.  Now, I have had symptoms of depression since I was around 8 years old, but it didn’t go full-blown until I was sixteen and diagnosed with diabetes, which is where my chapbook begins.  Some of the poems in it are new.  Some I wrote 15-20 years ago.  All of them are about battling the depression caused by illness and trauma. 

Then my blog, where I write about mental health on a personal basis.  When I was first diagnosed, I was scared to share my experiences because of what other people would think of me.  I’ve had people call me a liar.  I’ve had people tell me I’m making up symptoms.  I’ve lost friends because I’m “too complicated.”  I’ve had to regain the trust of people I love.  I’ve worried about employers not wanting to hire me.  It seemed for a while that telling people about my illness made me lose them, so why share?

But then one day, about fifteen years ago, I posted something about Trichotillomania.  Just a logo or something from the TLC Learning Center, which was the only resource for TTM at the time.  A friend emailed me: she saw the logo, and decided to take the leap and tell me that she, too, had Trich.  I had known her for years, and had no clue.  She asked me not to tell anyone, as we had many mutual friends, and she was embarrassed.  I understood.  I, too, had been so ashamed of it, once.  However, it was that day that I realized we should not be ashamed-how much easier would my life have been, had I been able to confide in her?  How much less lonely would she have felt, knowing there was not only another person who was going though this, but someone who was already a friend?  Youth could have been a little different for us.  A little less lonely, at least.

Anyway, from that point on, I started sharing my experiences, opinions be damned.  I didn’t want to feel how I felt anymore.  I didn’t want to feel how my friend felt.  I wanted to stand up: for her, for myself, for everyone that was too scared. 

The stigma of mental health is, thankfully, changing rapidly.  Especially in our current climate, when people are getting whacked in the face with anxiety and depression on levels they have never known.  I still find solace in my professional-cynic status; I was anxious and depressed way before this whole shebang.  I will be when it’s over.  Right now, I’m kind of doing well because as I’ve said before, to me, the world has always been on fire.

So happy Mental Health Month to all of you.  It isn’t just those of us who live with mental illness that need to be celebrated and lifted up right now.  It’s all of us, because we are having a worldwide mental health crisis, whether we acknowledge it or not.   

Please please please, stay safe, stay sane, stay healthy.

World Mental Health Day

I’ve got a few prepared blogs ready to go, and I should definitely be using one today as I spent yesterday at Mercy hospital puking my guts out.  However, I also had a special topic to post about today, as it is World Mental Health Day, and while my physical health is kicking my butt I will try to expound on the other side of wellness.

I started my journey with mental illness at a young age, but wasn’t diagnosed with anything until I was nineteen.  Then they decided that I was Bipolar and loaded me up with medications.  Never mind that I was NOT Bipolar, and did NOT need those meds.  I became a zombie.  Everything somehow got worse instead of better, and I lost whole chunks of time from being so heavily medicated.  Eventually, my mother got me to a clinic where a doctor told me I did not have Bipolar Disorder, and gave me one pill.  One little miracle pill that lasted me very well for a very long time, until my insurance pulled it out from under me.  I went on its sister drug, Celexa, and yes, I do have a couple of backup singers now, but it is nowhere near the fourteen pill a day diet I used to be on.

My diagnoses have changed many times as well.  Now I am diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Severe Anxiety, Trichotillomania, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  These feel the most accurate, I must say, and are much better than calling it all Bipolar and moving along.  It took the time and energy of many medical professionals to figure out what was really going on with me, and I am forever grateful to them.

I tell you these things in the same way I talk about diabetes or gastroparesis, because to me they are no different.  Yes, my pancreas is sick and therefore I have diabetes.  Well, my brain is also sick and therefore I have depression.  I do not believe in the stigma of mental health, so I treat its discussion no differently than that of my physical health.  Sometimes this really surprises people.  There have been many moments when I have received messages from both friends and strangers telling me that they are proud of what I have done, just talking about mental health.  I don’t know that it’s something to feel proud about, because it’s just a piece of myself that I express to the world, just like the other pieces.  I’ve had people write me with “me too.”  This is when they realize that they have the same condition, but couldn’t put a name to it.  Or when they’ve been diagnosed as well, but afraid to tell anyone.  These little messages make me feel special, because my words on mental health are breaking a stigma for them.

It’s the stigma that is the worst bit, in my opinion.  It’s the fear that we have, that someone else might think we’re wrong in some way.  We’re scared of the reactions of other people, and that forces mental illness into hiding.  It shouldn’t be hiding.  It should be worn loud and proud.  If you have a mental illness, you battle with that monster daily, and no one sees it.  You fight wars against your demons constantly, even when you’re wearing a smile on your face.  You know pain in a sense where physical pain would almost be a relief.  And still, we hide this debilitating bastard behind so many veils of self-doubt that we become another person, almost.  There’s the person you present to the world, and the person you are on the inside.  I say no.  I refuse to be two people, living half my life in shadow.  I would rather throw it in your face and if you don’t like it, the problem lies with your own fears and neuroses.  Mental illness is not contagious.  In my experience, it really only scares those that already have it, and are doing nothing to help themselves.  So, shout it out!  Scare those people into getting help.  Scare the people who think mental illness isn’t real-be their proof!  Stop letting stigma hold you back.  Other people do not dictate the course of your healing, you do.  Talk about it.  Laugh about it.  Just don’t let others tell you your experience.  As my father would say, “Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.”

So, on World Mental Health Day, I will be taking care of my physical health, by lying on the sofa and watching Parks and Rec and drinking a smoothie.  It’s not what I had planned, but it’s what needs to be done, so that my mental health can realign as well.  The two are very connected for me.  When I’m in the hospital I become instantly depressed, and it takes time for that feeling to fade away.  So today, I will do all I can to make myself feel better, inside and out.  I will also, as always, continue my fight against the stigma of mental illness and tell you, my reader, that if you ever need an ally in this battle, you have one right here.

Stay safe, stay sane, and have a good Thursday.

The Ghosts in the Machine

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about poetry.  As previously mentioned, I just completed a chapbook of poems about chronic illness, and I am now awaiting feedback from my trusted sources.  In the meantime, I am looking into different publishing options and considering leaving my house to go to a poetry reading.  That might not seem like anything, but trust me when I tell you it would be a big leap for me.

I have also been reading and rereading my chapbook, and I found that I have a common theme in many of my poems, and that is ghosts.  I’d like to expand on that.

There are many kinds of ghosts in my life, ranging from those I create to those that are real.  As far as real ghosts go, I have always believed in them, likely because of my imaginary community that was a little too specific for even a child’s make-believe games.  Then there was the time K saw the faceless man in my attic, and I later learned that a guy shot himself up there.  So yes, I believe in ghosts.  You may think that’s ridiculous…whatever.

But I’m not here to write about real ghosts.  Instead I am thinking of the ghosts from my poems, the ones that nip at my heels and haunt my mind.  These ghosts are much scarier than the real thing, in my opinion.  A real ghost can’t hurt you.  The ghosts in your brain can do damage.

I have bad feelings related to certain times in my life.  Once, when my grandmother died, and I found her in her last moments, and watched as my mother desperately tried to save her.  This broke my small self, and according to my psychiatrist caused my first instance of PTSD.  Later, came high school.  I loved high school as much as I hated it.  It reminds me of smoking cigarettes.  I love smoking, but I hate my addiction to it.  While high school was by no means an addiction, it is where I was at my worst, emotionally.  I was undiagnosed and unmedicated, and I was a train wreck human being.

In my twenties, I suffered another setback.  Through a series of events, I lost faith in many things I had once believed in.  My response was to act out in small ways-drinking too much, smoking weed, staying out all night.  I wanted to forget that I was in pain.  I felt like I didn’t deserve to feel my feelings.  That I couldn’t be angry, because who was I?  In the grand scheme of things, in Gods great universe that I believed in at the time, who the hell was I?

So, there’s the ghosts.  There’s the Gram ghost, the high school ghost, and the faith ghost.  Now, the Gram thing doesn’t affect me on a day to day basis anymore, which is an absolute delight.  From her death stems my anxities, however.  For instance, if I care about you, you can guarantee I’m worried about you.  So, I suppose in that way it has affected my life, but I feel like that’s a benefit more than a burden, really.  Yes, I worry about you, but that’s how I express my love.

The high school thing likes to sneak up on me.  I’ll be minding my own business, acting like a normal 36-year-old, and then something will happen or come up in conversation and I will be hurdled back twenty years.  I particularly identify this time with my budding Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.  I slid into my obsessions easily and frequently-sometimes it would be so bad I would actually wish I had the hand-washing kind of OCD, just so I could focus on something outside of my fantasy world.  It took a lot of time for me to come to terms with my high school experience.  I like to focus on the good things, though, when this particular ghost comes calling.  Specifically, my friends.  They were really the only good part.  Well, and the building was nice, I suppose.

Finally, there’s the ghost of mid-20s past.  This is the tricky one.  This is the one that my therapist likes to bring up every so often to blindside me with: “So Brigid, let’s talk about the year you spent questioning everything you believed in…”  This one is still a battle.  This is the ghost that features most prominently in my chapbook, though all of them reside there.

Poetry is personal, in my opinion.  You are sharing your observations and feelings, through the lens of your own perception.  When I read poetry, I do the same thing; I look at it though my own frame of context.  Sometimes, it will touch my soul, and she will scream out “Me, too!” and I will feel like I just made a new friend between the pages of a book.

I carry these ghosts around in my head, and I know I will never let them go, but that’s okay. They make up little parts of me, the parts that feel the deepest.  They are the wellsprings from which I draw my words.  My chapbook would not exist without them.  My writing would not exist.  So, I live with this haunted mind in hopes that one day someone will read my words and say, hey…me too.

Hell’s Waiting Room

I’m a little all over the place today.

I started my day at the Erie County Medical Center, a horrible place full of sick people and chaos. I have been here once before and it was a harrowing experience. Fortunately, they have since moved their Behavioral Health clinic to the building next door, and it was a much more pleasant experience, despite the fact that I’ve been waiting two hours for a five-minute appointment.
I recently left Horizons Health Services, my mental health provider for the past ten years. It was a long time coming, our breakup. For about a year or so I was being ignored when I tried to give input on my treatment plan. I was used to Horizons and I loved my counselors, but I could not stay there as they refused to listen to my concerns. I went from being an individual to being a statistic, and they made that very clear. So screw ‘em
This resulted in me making an appointment at ECMC’s MAPP clinic, a facet of their behavioral health program. They bridge the gap when you run out of meds, which I did a few days back. I have been surprisingly good, though, not even suffering from the usual off-your-pills side effects. Typically, these include fatigue, angry outbursts, and brain zaps, a truly weird feeling in the head, as though your brain is shaking. Not fun. Alas, I have had none of these.
I was anxious about going to the MAPP clinic after the last time I was there.  I remember watching folks crying and shaking in the waiting room, and being shoved in the hallways by the throngs of people. This time was a lot easier, even though one needs to arrive an hour before their appointment. I sat and sipped my coffee and waited in peace, not like last time when I was two weeks without meds. I remember clutching my bag in fear in the corner of a crowded waiting room. I remember watching people that even I, a mental health survivor who knows better than to use such language, would still classify as “batshit crazy.” I remember being scared, nervous, and out of place. Fortunately, things have changed, and now the MAPP clinic resembles any other waiting room full of unmedicated people who have been waiting for 2 hours.
Ok, so it’s still a little chaotic.
I wonder how many of these people are in-between therapists, like me. I wonder how many come here monthly to get their pills. I wonder how many are clutching their bags in fear right now, a nervousness you can’t notice until you look closely. I wonder how many of us are really struggling today.
I have seen folks demand to be seen. I have seen people throw fits because they didn’t make the list (only 8 appointments a day, after that it’s walk-ins.)  I saw a man ask five times when he would be seen. I saw one lady flip out because she thought this was Spectrum Health Services and was mad that she was in the wrong place. No one in this waiting room is completely chill. Everyone is waiting on something they need to function.

I hate sitting here, working on hour number three of waiting, typing my blog via phone and worrying that I’ll be here all afternoon. Still, here I sit, not throwing a hissy-fit like some people in this room, because my illness is not an excuse for me to behave badly. If I behaved how some of these people do, I would fully expect to get kicked out on my butt. Instead, I see folks demanding that which they are privileged to receive. We are the lucky ones! We have meds! We have services! How many people out there need what we have, and still people act like it’s not a gift that you have health insurance, that you can afford your copays, that you’ve found the meds that work for you?

I guess in the end sitting in this waiting room had just given me a perspective that I can’t ignore. Mental illness is a serious problem in our society, one that is never discussed enough, or even properly when it is. Example: I was expressly told not to say that I was looking to harm myself or others. I’m not, but if I were, I would be immediately committed. We are constantly told to talk about suicidal thoughts, but the reality is that when you talk about it with a professional, they commit you. I can’t even speak abstractly about suicide without this fear. I would never tell a medical professional if I was suicidal even if I was, because of this result.  I have had to choose my words carefully when speaking to a professional about suicide, and one should not have to choose words carefully with one’s therapist. In the end, they are silencing those that need help the most by not letting them talk about it. Mental health, all mental health, not just suicidal ideation, needs to be discussed.

Like I said, I’m a little all over the place.  There are many thoughts and opinions that I have about mental health, and most of them are complaints, if I’m honest. Sometimes the day-to-day of living with mental illness is exhausting. Sometimes it’s annoying, like right now. Some beautiful blessed days it’s even bearable. But overall, I would say that it is a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. Everyday can get a little better. Every moment could be a little easier.

In every waiting room, someone eventually calls your name.

Breaking the Stigma, Part 4

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and so I am doing a series of posts about my own mental health, to help break the stigma of mental illness.  Part 4 is about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

It’s not the kind where you wash your hands all the time.  It’s not the neat-freak kind either.  I mean, I kind of wish it was, but it’s not.

It’s the counting every step, obsessing over something tiny, having intense phobias kind.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts and feelings.  This, combined with my previously touched on Trichotillomania, are two of the disorders that make up my Anxiety.  Trich is actually connected to the OCD as both illustrate compulsive behaviors.  So, it’s like OCD’s baby.

As with previous disorders I have discussed, many people claim to have OCD.  Many people are lying.  What they have are quirks: “I can’t go to bed without doing the dishes,” or “I always have to double check that I turned off the coffee pot.”  That’s lovely, but how many times did you check it?  Seven?  Fifteen?  Just the once?  Cute.  I’m pretty understanding, but I cannot suffer that crap.  So, the stigma of OCD is tainted, because everyone walks around claiming they have it, and when I say something about having it, they assume I just have a few quirks, not an obsessive need to do something over and over, or an inability to stop thinking an unwanted thought.

I don’t remember how old I was when I started with the counting, but it was in my adolescence.  I know that by seventeen I was sure that my thoughts were obsessive, and I have always known that my fears are mostly invalid.  When I was twenty I was diagnosed with OCD, and it made all sorts of sense to me.  When they put me on meds, I saw immediate improvements.  For one thing, the bout of Trich I was suffering passed.  I stopped counting everything: cars, steps, stoplights, houses.  I overcame some silly fears, though I will say some are yet to be conquered (one day I hope to do a full load of dirty dishes.  As of now the only dishes I wash are for other people’s children, and it is agonizing.)  Some things I still work on, like said dishes and my fear of fireworks.  They no longer leaves me paralyzed, but I still don’t like them.

The only time OCD was really a problem for me was 16-21, and that was because of obsession.  Let’s use M as an example here.  M loves Godzilla, hardcore.  He doesn’t care what it is, if it features Godzilla, it’s right in his wheelhouse.  He knows everything he can about Godzilla and keeps an eye out for new movies or memorabilia.  This was my life, but with everything, every day.  The world was my Godzilla, the people in my life my Mothras, and everything was Tokyo under fire.

After a while with therapy and meds, most things straightened out.  I still count, but only my steps, and I have like 50 tricks to stop doing it in my emotional toolbox.  I still can’t do those dishes, but I can clean the toilet, so some improvement is obvious.  Mostly, I try to control my thoughts, so that I don’t hover on a topic for too long, and I find that nine times out of ten, I am in control of what I think.  As with my other disorders, OCD is not who I am, just a fragment of my personality that needs to be ironed out.

So finally, if you, my reader, have any questions about life with OCD, please comment.  It is important to me to connect with others who have suffered similar issues, as well as those who have questions and want answers.  I am thankful to have had the chance to share my experiences with you, and I encourage you to share them with others.  If you have read all of my Breaking the Stigma series, or just some of it, I thank you for taking the time to understand mental illness and help me break the stigma.

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Breaking the Stigma, Part 3

I am nervous to write this post.

Maybe someone will read it that I’m trying to get a job from and they’ll think I’m crazy and can’t take care of their kid.  Maybe someone will read it and think it’s garbage and leave a mean comment.  Maybe no one will read it at all.

And that is how the brain of a person with anxiety works.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and so I am doing a series of posts about my own mental health, to help break the stigma of mental illness.  Part 3 is about Anxiety.

Do you every get anxious?  Of course, you do.  It’s a totally natural human emotion that we all have.  Do you ever get so anxious that you are physically paralyzed?  No?  Lucky.

For years my doctors thought I had bipolar disorder, despite my virtual lack of mania.  Then they changed it to Intermittent Explosive Disorder, which is a disorder where one can explode in rage or sadness at anytime for any reason. This also didn’t fit me.  Finally, my current doc diagnosed me with Severe Anxiety.

I don’t like the word “severe,” but I guess it does apply.  I really have been so upset I couldn’t move my muscles.  I have had a panic attack that resembled a heart attack.  I have had disproportionate reactions to small problems, and I have obsessed about everything, always (Pt.4, OCD, coming soon.)  I have spent a lot of my life bathed in worry and fear, and a lot of it has to do with losing my grandma.  I have found, through therapy, that many of my problems trace back to this time.  I have spent years working through it, and I believe I have.  However, I am left with the residual anxiety and depression, and that makes things difficult at times.  I have many irrational fears, I have many worries, and am always thinking of the worst-case scenario.  I would say my anxiety is probably the most annoying of my issues, because despite taking my meds regularly, it can still get out and mess up your day.  Once I had a panic attack on the way to a cousin’s baby shower and threw up all over my dress.  I don’t know why.  Just because my nerves felt like acting up a little.  Another time I was out with some friends and suddenly became so overwhelmed I made my friend pull the car over to let me out, because I couldn’t breathe.  These things happen every once in a while, but leave their mark when they do.

A lot of people seem to claim they have anxiety these days, which I’m wary of, because I wonder if they have anxiety like me, or if they have normal everyday anxiety.  However, the amount of people who claim to suffer from it is so high that the stigma associated with it is changing rapidly.  For instance, despite the second line of this post, I would not worry about a potential employer finding out I have anxiety.  If you think about it, that can be beneficial in a job position.  I will constantly be worrying that your kid is well taken care of, thus providing my utmost in care, that’s a guarantee.  I think a lot of people identify with anxiety because it is a normal emotion.  Most seem to understand that those diagnosed with it just live in an anxious state more than others, and that is true.  I am always worried, and yes, it is exhausting, but I no longer have terrible panic attacks every few days.  I see constant improvement in myself, and that makes me proud.  Every day is a new one with new challenges, and I try my hardest to face them all head on.

As always, if you, my reader, have any questions about life with anxiety, please comment.  It is important to me to connect with others who have suffered similar issues, as well as those who have questions and want answers.

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Breaking the Stigma, Part 2

Because May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I am doing a series of posts about my own mental health, to help break the stigma of mental illness.  Part 2 is about Major Depressive Disorder.

When I was eight, my grandmother died.  I was the one that found her as she took her last breath, and to say it messed me up a little is an understatement.  I don’t remember much of the year after she died, though I have vague memories of my mother having me see the school shrink.  I don’t know what the results of that were, but at the end she gave me some stickers and a pencil, so I was satiated.  I don’t feel that talking to that woman helped me at all.  I don’t think it was anything but time, really.

Lots and lots of time.

If you asked my friends growing up, they would tell you that I was a pessimist.  This was true.  They would also say I was a cynic.  Also, true.  These things I took as personality traits, however, were something else.  They were the grips of a depression I did not understand.  For a long time, I thought the way I saw the world was normal for a child.  Every eleven-year-old thinks graphically about the death of their family and peers, right?  Every fifteen-year-old spends morbid amounts of time lamenting over injustices both big and small.  Absolutely fine to obsess about death. Totally ok to avoid people and activities I enjoy because alone time is good for you.  It’s perfectly normal not to smile, because what is there to smile about?  What, exactly, does happy even feel like?

I was seventeen when I realized that the thoughts in my head were not normal, nor was my outlook on the world.   It was still two years before I got help, and I was originally diagnosed with Dysthymia, a long term mild depression.  It was some time before I was finally diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, which is a persistent feeling of sadness or a lack of interest in outside stimuli.  My meds take care of this problem most days, though sometimes I find those sad thoughts creeping in, and it makes life difficult.  Particularly on days when I have prior engagements.  There are somethings I see that have changed exponentially.   I no longer think of tragic scenarios, and if they tiptoe in my head I can usually push them away.  I force myself to participate in things I enjoy doing, even when I don’t feel like it, and I find myself always pleased that I put forth the effort.  I try to control my worries and concerns (a topic for another entry, Break the Stigma Pt. 3.)  In desperate situations, I review a list I made of people, places, and things I love that I read to remind myself of all the good there is in the world, because sometimes there are bad days.

But I soldier on.  Sure, it still takes a lot to get me excited, and I am the queen of jumping to the worst possible conclusion, but I work each day to battle my depression, and most days I succeed.  Most days I kick its ass.

Depression is understood much better than Trichotillomania, which I wrote about previously, but still comes with its own stigma.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone say something like “well I get depressed sometimes but I don’t need medication for it.”  That’s because getting depressed and having depression are two different things.  You get depressed when you lose your job, or your cat dies.  Depression is a pattern of these depressed feelings over a period of time.  In my case, I’ve been mostly depressed since I was eight years old.  After a while that depressed feeling can cause a whole host of issues in your mind and body.  It stays inside you, not healing, the way it would for someone who does not suffer from it.  That is why your depression passes, and mine sticks around.  Being depressed is a natural reaction to upsetting stimuli.  Depression is a misfire in the brain that causes one to be unable to shake with that depressed feeling.

But, as said, I soldier on, because that’s what it feels like sometimes, that I am a solider in a war for my mind.  I fight daily, and I will continue to fight, because I am not my depression.

Again, as before, if you, my reader, have any questions about life with MDD, please feel free to drop a line.  It is important to me to connect with others who have suffered similar issues, as well as those who have questions and want answers.

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Breaking the Stigma

Did you know that May is Mental Health Awareness month?

Well, now you do.

I was 19 the first time I saw a counselor.  I was going through some stuff and having a really hard time, and my two friends dragged me to our colleges mental health department and made me talk to someone.  That was the beginning of a long and amazing journey to wellness for me (not that I consider myself well; I consider myself well-managed.) At first, I was ashamed.  I think we all feel that way a little when we admit there’s something wrong in our minds. We think we are less than, that we have something unfixable in us that others will judge and misunderstand.  I despise this idea.

Eventually, I started to think of my mental health in the same way I think about my physical health.  I have diabetes, which I manage, and when people hear that they don’t think of me as a lesser person. Ergo, I do not expect people to respond that way about my mental health.  If they do, they are telling me two things about themselves: they are uninformed, and they are scared. So many of our bad reactions are done out of fear, and that is probably the biggest problem that people with mental health issues face.  I might cry at weird times, and I might have days where it’s hard to get myself out of bed, but I’m not going to go crazy and murder you with an ax. That’s not how this works.

The only way I can think of to combat this fear is with information, and since May is mental Health Awareness Month, I am going to use it as an opportunity to talk about mental health, mine specifically.  I want to be that person you know who has that thing you heard of, and who explained it to you.

Today I’d like to talk about Trichotillomania.

My friend Sahar always called it “trickatillawhatnow,” but most people refer to it as Trich, or TTM.  Trich is a compulsive hair pulling disorder. I mention this first for two reasons. One, it’s an often misunderstood disorder, and two, it’s still considered to be a mostly unknown disorder.  When I was 20 I saw a doctor that flat out did not believe it was a thing. When I was 12 and was first afflicted by it, my doctor thought I was suffering from alopecia. Of course, I didn’t come out and tell her I was doing it.  I still didn’t know at the time.

See, it starts young.  I was in maybe second grade when I started pulling out eyebrows during Math class.   At the end of class I would have a neat little pile of hairs on my desk and wonder how they got there.  In fourth grade, it was eyelashes. In sixth grade, it was hair from my head. Each time I would observe the growing pile of hair, unsure how it came to be.

My mom took me to the aforementioned doctor, and I was instructed not to pull my hair back as my penchant for ponytails must be the root cause of the problem.  Of course it was not. I remember one day in sixth grade when I pulled my hair back and my teacher yelled at me, telling the whole class that I wasn’t supposed to wear ponytails because my hair was falling out.  

Adolescence was garbage.  But I digress…

My Fortress of Solitude as a child was the local library, so I spent some time researching what was up with me.  Then in high school, when internet access became a thing, I found the Trichotillomania Learning Center, which helped me understand what was happening.  Which also led me into the office of the doctor who knew nothing, and then off to greener pastures with a clinic that knew EXACTLY what I was talking about.  

New doc put me on one pill (I had been on 14 at that time) and symptoms stopped almost immediately.  I am still very self-conscious about my hair, and I still pluck my eyebrows almost daily, but otherwise I leave it be, and am thrilled to never find tiny piles of hair lying around.  

In my life I have encountered many people who have had Trich.  I have had friends confide in me, I have had others who didn’t know what it was be so grateful to put a name to the weird thing they were doing. In fact, this is the rarest of my disorders, but it is the one I have identified the most with other people.  

I refuse to give into the fear of misinformation.  If you read this and you have questions about Trich, feel free to ask them.  I am an open book on my mental health, and I do that to help inform others, All I really want is to take away that fear.  Fear is what motivates us to hate, and judge what we do not understand. So if I can do my part to remove that fear, I’m doing what is needed, in my mind.  I hope that this, and future blogs on mental health, open someones eyes to the fact that we are no worse, just a little different. At least, that’s what I believe.

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