Hello darlings…4 Things on this Mental Health Monday on a Tuesday, (almost a Wednesday). It’s an epic but it’s full of Really Important Stuff. These are some of the most important posts I have ever written and it is my hope that these are the ones that will get passed along to others. Please consider doing so.
1. Wanted to update on how I'm doing since my first Mental Health post last week.
Thank you so sincerely for your kindness, I am deeply moved by it. I am happy to report that I am feeling so much better. Last Sunday (as in the one not 3 days ago but the one before that) had me leaving church early because I could not stop crying. Like the sobbing, shoulder shaking ugly crying. I rarely do this. Like hardly ever. Sure I get teary and schmaltzy and sentimental but when I’m really depressed, I am not prone to crying. I am infinitely more likely to rant and get mean and cold and hard than to cry, so it was the weirdest. I literally could not stop. I could tell it was a physical/chemical thing. It did not take long to make the connection between my despair and the fact that Saturday was the first day I had weaned all the way off my meds (in preparation for going on a new one). This was clearly a big mistake and so I went back onto a half dose of my original meds, intending to take those until the new meds reach therapeutic levels in a couple of weeks.
Last Monday marked the first day of the new meds, I took it on Sunday night before bed and woke up in the middle of the night feeling incredibly sick. The next day I was so dizzy that I couldn’t even sit upright, definitely no driving. It was awful. I felt emotionally stable that day (coincidentally) but considering trading my mental health for physical health for even a couple of weeks while I adjusted was a tough dilemma. I was almost completely dysfunctional physically. A friend of mine (who ironically I had helped to make the decision to take medication a while ago) had experienced the same when she started these particular meds, and suggested that I halve the dose for now and work up to a full dose. I followed her advice and it has worked beautifully. (Isn’t it great when the student becomes the teacher?) I am still struggling mightily with insomnia and I don’t feel 100% myself nor do I expect to for a few weeks, but the decrease in my feelings of anxiety, depression, anger and tension was almost immediate.
(Note: Not everyone would see results this quickly. I do seem to respond to medication-both the addition and subtraction thereof-unusually fast. One should always give a new antidepressant at least 2 weeks to begin to see effects.)
By this past weekend I was happy, smiling, productive and social. It was so wonderful. I started to remember who I really am. For instance I remembered that..
2. one of the things which makes me happiest when I am healthy is helping people. I really do love to help other people. I love to cheer up sad people, I love to give gifts, I love to surprise people, I love to serve. When I am serving I am happiest, service gives me the sense that my life has meaning and purpose. It gives me a sense of identity. It fills me with true joy and peace. But I had forgotten that about myself. My identity had changed in my mind. I had started to see myself as a selfish, unwilling cold soul. When you are mired down with the depression, just keeping yourself and your family alive are overwhelming burdens. I am an introvert and depression makes me extra introverted and need of quiet, recharging time. The idea of additional demands or drains on my time or doing things that require me to be with other people more than usual makes me resentful and that in turn makes me feel guilty, worthless, mean and small.
So! Here’s an important PSA for those who are not depressed or for those who do not understand depression yet:
I know that service is often suggested as a remedy for depression and there is no doubt that service can indeed help you when you are feeling down or sad or flat or discontented, but please, know this. Depression is not the same as being down or sad or flat or discontented. Depression a physical illness. Ergo: Service is not a remedy or cure for clinical depression. You cannot serve your way out of an illness. I wish you could, I really do, but you can’t. Please don’t tell depressed people that they'd feel better if they would just serve other people. They are barely holding it together just getting out of bed every day, just breathing in and out, just fighting with the demons raging inside of their head, and if you then well-meaningly suggest that “they go out and do something for someone else” they will probably feel judged and even more overwhelmed and inadequate.
Let me put it this way, you would never tell someone with the stomach flu to get out and do something for someone else. Depression can be equally draining and exhausting. Please don’t add to the cycle of exhaustion, guilt and self loathing. It’s very destructive. Instead ask how you can serve them. Offer to take a walk with them or bring a meal or some pretty flowers. Do the dishes, a load of laundry or clean a bathroom. Offer to help them to make a Dr.'s appointment and drive them to it. Depression often goes untreated because the idea of finding a dr. and the logistics of making an appointment is completely overwhelming. The same nurturing gestures you would extend to a friend who is sick with any other ailment are perfectly appropriate here. Just the fact that you have acknowledged and validated the reality of what they are going through will be so appreciated.
This certainly does not mean that I advocate that those who are depressed should just give up the fight. I don’t recommend this even a little bit. Please do fight with all the strength you can muster. Do whatever you possibly can to help yourself. Just as you would if you were sick with any other illness. Go to the Dr. Follow their treatment plan for you. Try your best to do the things that you cognitively know might make you feel better even if you don't feel like it. Things like exercise, getting out of the house, watching funny movies, eating well, getting enough sleep. Accept that some days you just won't be able to do anything. Sometimes you won't even want to do the things you know will help you. And that's ok too. It's a part of the illness, it is not because you are a lazy or self-indulgent person.
When I am suffering through a depressive episode, I try to continue to do what I can service-wise because I know it's something that makes me happy and I do find a small amount of satisfaction in the knowledge that I am at least trying to contribute to the world. Usually the most I can manage is to do is to try to say a kind word to someone else, I try hard to reach out to someone who is having a tough time every day. I have an old habit of running the song, “Have I done any good in the world today?” through my head when I brush my teeth before bed, and if I can’t say that I have “helped anyone in need” or “cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad” , then to be sure “I have failed indeed”. And so I plod along this way when I am depressed. But to say I find any joy in it would be a stretch and there are those awful dark soul days when I can’t even do that.
But this past week, that service loving part of me came alive again. I started to think about ways I could serve and to feel excited contemplating them. I was energized when I was able to carry out service and I felt joy when I did it which inspired me to do more. It's a little things but I feel really blessed that I was able to get on this new med in time for the Christmas season. Service is my favourite part of this season and it is a gift to be able to do more than go through the motions.
Speaking of service and love:
3. My dear friend Joan read last week’s post and felt that she wanted to do something for me. Her beautiful comment on last week’s post had been so meaningful to me and I was so touched by the fact that she wanted to reach out even more. She kindly agreed to let me post it here.
The Shadow - Robert Louis Stevenson/ revised by Joan Moon
honoring her friends who suffer from depression...
I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of her is more than I can see.
She is very, very like me from the heels up to the head,
And I see her jump before me, when I jump into my bed.
The hardest part about her is the way she likes to grow…
When troubles loom like giants instead of staying low
Beneath the surface trying not to stray
To the depths of my soul throughout the long hard day.
Oh how I wish I could have my shadow as a friend
I could grow from her and know that my fears would end.
I would know that light is not far from here
It illuminates my life on the other side of fear.
Ah to know my shadow has THAT other side
Where LOVE, CREATIVITY, and INTELLIGENCE abide.
If I could only know this to the very being of my soul
Then my shadow could be my friend and not fill my life with woe.
But it’s not all bad. I feel that every trial gives us an opportunity for triumph and growth and
4. I truly believe that depression is something that can make us a better person when it is properly treated.
With every bout of depression I endure, my natural bent toward being quick to judge is a little more chastened. I realize in a fresh way each time I go through this that we just don’t know what other people are dealing with . We can’t say “they should be doing this or that” in any situation because we aren’t them. We don’t know what is holding them back from “doing this or doing that”. We just don’t know.
And may I also take this opportunity to add that if I ever hear/read anyone making any kind of negative judgment or supposition of the fate of someone who has taken their own life, I cannot be held responsible for what I might do. There is a shimmering rage that gets stirred up within me at the thought that anyone would negatively judge a person who was clearly been living in a hell that we can only imagine in our worst nightmares. No. Just don't. DON'T.
Speaking of shimmering rage and not being responsible for what I might do....
During this last bout of depression. I had been particularly angry and irritable. And I couldn’t stop swearing. It was almost compulsive. I’m not hung up on language and I tend to be a bit of a potty mouth at the best of times but it was ridiculously excessive and just nasty.
This week I said to Aaron, “wow have you noticed that I have stopped swearing? I don’t even feel tempted to swear anymore.” He agreed that it had been a refreshing change.
I had also been incredibly impatient. My rants were so frequent that Ella started to recognize the signs of one coming on. When I get mad I fold my lips together very tightly. The other day I had my lips pursed when she looked over and saw me. She sidled up to me and said in a sweet and soothing voice, “Hiiiii mommy” while reaching up to push on my lips with her pudgy little finger until they unfolded. I couldn’t help but laugh but it also broke my heart and made me feel ashamed. My two year old should not have to be in the position of talking me down. She also knows my introductory phrases to a rant. “Seriously?! Seriously??????” or “Are you FREAKING KIDDING ME??” whereupon she would say very sternly, “Mommy! NO!! You don’t make a SOUND. You QUIET. You go LIE DOWN” “You go WOOM!”. This is all very humbling stuff. It’s actually heartbreaking stuff. It makes you see yourself as a terrible mother, an out of control, pathetic, childish, selfish worm of a person.
But this week since starting the new medication, I have been totally patient. I had two hours of sleep on Sunday night (school and insomnia deadly cocktail) and was exhausted on Monday morning. Ella was a little more needy than usual. Lately this combination would have thrown me into a fit of outrage at how hard my life is and made me short and testy with her. But this time I was tired but patient. I played with her nicely all morning even when she refused to go down for her nap which I had been counting down the hours to (which she goes down for. every.other.day). Basically the change in the last week has been miraculous. What a relief to be reminded that the sweary, selfish, intolerant, mean person is not who I am. Those are symptoms of an illness which seems to be getting under control again.
Last night I was recounting all these observations to Aaron and said, "you know, I still have frequent moments of annoyance, I still have to make the decision whether I am going to be mean and irritable or patient and kind but the choice is now mine! I get to take a deep breath and choose now. Before it just happened to me." Then it suddenly struck me…what if everyone who is habitually mean or cranky or angry is in fact struggling with some sort of mental illness? Maybe there are people who are just mean and cranky but maybe not. We just don’t know. We just don’t know. We can’t judge. We must be kind. Because we.just.don't. know. Look, I’m not trying to take away personal responsibility here at all or excuse and justify bad and undisciplined behavior. Like I said, being mean or kind is still a choice I need to make many, many times a day and sometimes I make the wrong choice. But the choice is mine now, I just don’t feel like it was before.
Thanks for reading this far if you did. If you are struggling, I hope something here has helped a little bit. If you aren’t struggling but are trying to understand this illness better, I commend and thank you from the bottom of my heart. We need more people like you. We need to be talking about this and learning and passing it on.
I was just looking for this cute TED talk I saw a few days ago to wrap this up. A fun lighthearted take on depression. But I found this instead and I knew it was what I was meant to post. This amazing kid echoes everything I have been saying in my last two posts, and says it so much better. Every 30 seconds somebody takes their life because of mental illness. This is an epidemic. We can do more to stop this. We must do more to stop this. Please watch this. Pass it on. I also wanted to close with a comment Joan's friend made to her poem when she posted it on facebook. I thought it was brilliant. She agreed to me posting it here.
Lovely and spot-on. And to those who recognize themselves in this verse, I will share that I frequently remind myself that depression likes to build itself a cozy house that is insulated by silence - and the best way to rid your inner house of this unwelcome visitor is to kick it out through your mouth-- just getting a few words out can help shrink it immensely.-Martha Slater