Mental Illness is Still Here

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that this new virus spreads throughout the world and no one is afraid to talk about it. People don’t feel uncomfortable when the words “Covid-19” or “coronavirus” are mentioned. No one is denying that it’s real. And yet people are still afraid to talk about mental illness. People still get uncomfortable when someone uses the words “depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar disorder” or “schizophrenia”. So many still don’t believe mental illness is real. Or if they do, they seem to have forgotten or shoved it aside because apparently Covid-19 is the only thing in the world that matters anymore. No, no it’s not. Other illnesses are still raging and actually worsening because of the virus. Not because people are contracting it, but because of being being shut in and shut out.

Similarly, people have had no problem voicing their outrage about not enough tests being ready to administer. Where is this same outrage and concern for people who may not be able to get the help they need during this time? Hell, where is this outrage and concern for people like me who constantly struggle to get the help we need with our medical conditions that never go away and are also life-threatening? That’s right. Mental illness takes lives, too, but nobody seems to care about that right now. Nobody seems to care that their guilting and shaming on social media may be having a dire, destructive effect on people with the pre-existing condition of a mental illness.

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Being shut up in my house so much of the time the last couple of weeks have definitely done a number on my depression and anxiety, and I know I’m not the only one. This is hard enough without having to feel like I’m a terrible person if I go for a walk around the block—because that’s what so many people are passively-aggressively saying on social media. I find it rather hypocritical that these people don’t have a problem with people who may have been confirmed to have the coronavirus getting medicine, but they don’t think I should be able to get my medicine for my health problems. Getting outside is my medicine. Going birding is my therapy. And yes, it is needed. In order to continue functioning as a person, and especially a mother, I need my medicine, I need my therapy. So do others.

So I beg you—please, please—think about your words and your posts. You are giving people with OCD yet another thing to obsess over, to feel bad about. You are giving people with anxiety yet another thing to have panic attacks over, to feel bad about. You are shoving people with depression even farther into that bottomless, black hole they are already in, giving them something else to feel bad about. There is already so much negativity and judging going on right now, without shaming and guilting. Why not show understanding and love? Why not encourage and build up and show kindness instead? Make a positive difference, not a negative one. Please.

Helpless

girl-3422711_1920Have you ever had one of those moments of helplessness where time seemed to stand still? I had one several years ago when my son and his friend were running across the street. I was watching them from the front window, saw how neither of them stopped to look for cars before taking off, saw the huge pickup truck barreling toward them, as intense panic flooded through me, but there was nothing I could do. I felt frozen in time, able to see what was happening, but not able to move a single muscle myself to stop it. Luckily the driver of the truck saw the boys and was able to slow down before hitting them. Once they got to the other side of the street and the truck had moved on, you better believe I ran out the door and yelled at them across the street!

I’ve had another of those moments—more than one recently, as I’ve watched my twelve-year-old daughter struggling with depression and anxiety. Severe depression. Severe anxiety. Do you know what that’s like? Do you know what it feels like to watch your child suffer that way? I’ve done what I can, what I think is right. She started anti-depressants a couple of weeks ago, and I got her into a therapist who I think will be able to help her, but as I watch her living in this darkness that I know all too well, I feel frozen, helpless . . . lost, like I never have before.

Sure, I know what depression and anxiety are, but I don’t know what it’s like to experience it that young. And as much as I try to love her, comfort her, be there for her a teenager that age needs other kids her own age to turn to, to just . . . be a kid with. But she feels like she has no friends, that the ones she thought she could count on have turned away from her. I’m sure it scared them hearing her talk about just how depressed she is. That’s a lot of responsibility to be placed on one so young. But maybe it wouldn’t be so scary, maybe it wouldn’t seem so heavy if we, as parents, did more to talk to our kids about mental illness. If we let them know that it’s normal, that it’s not someone’s fault to have this illness. I know—I know—there are more kids like her that are also struggling. They shouldn’t have to live in silence, they shouldn’t have to wear a mask, they shouldn’t have to fear being different. They should be able to talk about it and not be turned away from, not be abandoned. As the mother of a child who is suffering, I beg you—I beg you—educate your kids. Help them. Because they can make all the difference in the world of another child who is living the cold, lonely darkness of mental illness. Please.

Teach Your Children About Mental Illness

I believe it’s important to educate children about mental illness. “Cancer” and “diabetes” and “autism” are common words children know. We don’t shield them from what they mean or the effects they can have. At least I never have. So I’ve also never put my kids in a bubble that excludes mental illness. They both knew from a young age what it was and that I have it. I believe it helps them understand others. It helps them learn to see things from more than their own perspective. It helps them learn compassion. And it has helped them learn how to cope when my depression or anxiety gets bad.

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Take the other night. We went out to eat. I was really hungry, which makes me cranky anyway, but also heightens my anxiety. They sat us near the door, which I hate, it’s a small space and was crowded and noisy as well—all things that get my heart rate up, my head spinning and make my breathing more difficult. The kids were asking about menu items, what to order, trying to show me things, all while I was trying to figure out what I wanted, but couldn’t as I was bombarded with everything else. I started shaking and getting very irritated. Did I mention I was hungry? I finally told my kids, as patiently as I could, that my anxiety was getting bad, and I needed them to be quiet, to stop talking to me for just a little while, so I could figure out what I was going to order. So they stopped talking. They were quiet. Because they got it. They understand what anxiety is. They understand that I need time to get it under control. I’ve done the same for my daughter when she has had panic attacks. I try not to get mad when she starts freaking out. Instead I give her time. I let her cry. I rub her back. She’s learned to do the same for me.

Teach your children. Help them understand. Maybe, if we’re lucky, they will be the ones to finally bring mental illness completely out of the shadows. Maybe they will be the ones to more openly seek treatment. Maybe they will be the ones to provide more treatment. But it starts with us teaching them.

Anxiety VS Nervousness

I’ve been thinking about anxiety a lot. Probably because mine has been bad lately and partly from conversations I’ve had with others.

So what exactly is anxiety? According to anxiety.org it is “the mind and body’s reaction to stressful, dangerous or unfamiliar situations. It’s the sense of uneasiness, distress, or dread you feel before a significant event.” It doesn’t sound that bad, but real, actual anxiety disorder can be debilitating.

Anxiety isn’t just being nervous. I get nervous when I play my flute in front of people. I get that tickle in my stomach, I get a little shaky, but it doesn’t trigger my anxiety.

praying-25596_1280Saying prayers at church or in front of people—that triggers my anxiety. I had to pray at church this past Sunday. I started feeling sick to my stomach before even getting to church. Then sitting there, waiting for church to begin, singing the opening hymn, I felt like I was going to throw up. I could barely breathe. It felt like someone had stacked weights on top of my chest, and I started shaking. But I said the prayer. It was nice and short, because that’s just what I do. Then I sat down and continued to shake—wanted to cry—but held on until the panic finally, eventually passed and I was mildly okay again.

I think it’s important to recognize the difference between anxiety and nervousness so as not to minimize what people with anxiety disorder actually go through.

Now, does that mean I should avoid all anxiety-inducing activities? No. That would be impossible. There have been times my anxiety has been so bad, so overwhelming, that I physically couldn’t bring myself to do something like go to church, engage in conversation at a party or make a phone call. But I’m grateful for the times I can push through and do something despite my anxiety because it shows me that I can have this terrible illness and still live in the world—as hard as it is sometimes. I can do hard things. You can do hard things.

Bouncing Back

The last few weeks have been really rough. On top of dealing with some difficult things in my personal life, my depression and anxiety have been worse than they usually are at this time of year. I’ve felt myself slowly sliding down this rough and rocky slope towards the bottom. Then Wednesday night I finally hit rock bottom again. But this time, I decided I wasn’t going to stay there.

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Emotions are real. All emotions. There’s nothing we can do about initial emotions we have as reactions to things that happen to us, things we might witness or hear or things that are said or done to us. No one ever tells you to stop feeling happy after you’ve just witnessed your child do something silly. No one ever tells you to stop feeling excitement after you’ve won a prize vacation. No one ever tells you to stop feeling peace after you’ve had a spiritual experience. So no one should tell you to stop feeling hurt, pain, anger, frustration, disappointment after something bad, sad, frustrating, hurtful or disappointing has happened. It’s okay to have those feelings. But it’s also your choice how you’re going to proceed and react after the initial feeling has happened. With mental illness, it is extremely difficult to let go of those feelings and not let them sink in and consume you. But there are things you can do to help.

I’ve often stated how there’s no one set cure, or even help, for mental illness. What works for one person may not work for someone else. We’re all different and we all need different things. It’s also frustrating that what worked for you a few years ago may not work for you now. Or maybe something that didn’t work for you before is something you should try now, as hard as it is to realize that. Each day, each time, can be different. Hitting rock bottom for me this time was different than last time.

trammpolin-2635260_1920Last time I stayed down. I moved forward, but it felt like I was inching along hard, rough ground the whole time, and it took a certain experience with a certain person to really pull me up. This time it was like I hit a trampoline. I landed hard enough to hit the ground, and it hurt! It really hurt, but then the trampoline bounced me back up. And it’s because I decided I didn’t want to stay down. I decided I was sick of feeling depressed and confused and in turmoil, and I was going to do something about it. I decided I wasn’t going to let initial feelings of hurt stew inside of me. I decided I wasn’t going to let someone else determine my emotions for me. I’m a fighter. I’m not weak, I’m strong. And I’m stubborn. And this time I needed to prove to myself, and others out there, that I am all of those things, that I know what I’m doing and that I can do it!

So, despite still having a lot of unresolved conflict, despite uncertainty, despite unfulfilled hope, yesterday was a good day. I was happy! There were times I started thinking of what has hurt me, what I have done wrong, and I’d start getting that sinking feeling in my stomach, but I’d move past it. I didn’t let it overtake me, I didn’t let myself drown in it. I pushed it aside, knowing it was still there, but also telling myself I was okay. And I was okay. I am okay. And I know I will be. You will be, too. You can be. Whether it’s by your own sheer will power or medication or therapy or coping mechanisms or help from another person and whether it’s the same as it was last time, or different, you can do it. You can come back from rock bottom. I know you can. And I know I can.

Sweating the . . . Anxiety Stuff

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You’ve heard the phrase “sweat like a pig” right? I like to say, “sweat like a boy.” I sweat like a boy. When I go to the gym I have to make sure one of their big floor fans is blowing on me, and I take my own little, personal fan that I can clip to the elliptical. I know, I’m a nerd. But I get hot, and I sweat, and it’s uncomfortable and gross and disgusting.

One thing that makes me sweat profusely is my social anxiety. Take this morning, for example. I went to a neighbor’s house to help clean. This sweet, sweet family has gone through so many trials and tough times lately, so some other women in my church and I went over to do some cleaning for them. I was really grateful for the opportunity to give service when I’ve had so much given to me the last couple of years. That didn’t stop the sweat.

The cleaning made me hot, anyway, and even though I was with these amazing, wonderful, friendly women my anxiety was bad. I’m so awkward around groups of people and my anxiety always takes over, making me feel so insecure and stupid and worthless—and it makes me sweat. So not only was I feeling more self-conscious than usual because of my anxiety, but it became a million times worse knowing my brow was sweating, my hair was sticking to my neck with sweat, and even though I’d showered that morning I wondered if I smelled bad. I wanted to dig myself a hole to crawl into and die. Why? Why sweat? And as soon as my anxiety dies down, I stop sweating and am totally fine.

It isn’t some earth-shattering thing that I have to go through with my anxiety—the sweat. But it is annoying and does add to the anxiety I’m already feeling and dealing with. So just know, if I’m sweating like crazy—even in a nice, cool house—it could be my anxiety, and maybe try not to be too disgusted. We’ve all got our things, right? Mine just happens to be uncomfortable, gross, disgusting sweat.

How Far I’ve Come

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I just wrote about how hopeless things can be. Then I started thinking about how far I’ve come in regards to my mental health. If people could see where I was at twelve years ago, eleven years ago, ten, five, two—hell, even less than two years ago—I can say with confidence that they would be impressed! I have learned so much—from therapists, from books, from friends, from other bloggers. I have a better handle on my depression, anxiety and OCD because of what I have learned. I have grown so much, especially in the last two years. I have become myself again, and that is huge! I deserve to be proud of myself. I deserve to give myself credit for what I have accomplished. For those of you out there who are struggling, remember the good you have done, remember the good you have accomplished. Remember that and cling onto it with every ounce of strength you’ve got left!