No Respecter of Persons

Today I write in honor of Chris Cornell—three years to the day after his suicide.

I first heard Soundgarden, Cornell’s band, when I was in high school. Black Hole Sun and Spoonman. Instantly I loved them. And then a couple of years after high school I heard Show Me How to Live and I Am the Highway on the radio. The two singles from the first album of Cornell’s new band, Audioslave. I was hooked! The fact that they could write something as powerful and rockin’ as Show Me How to Live and as powerful, yet soft and beautiful as I Am the Highway was amazing to me. I went out and bought the album on CD as soon as it came out. I listened to it over and over and over again.

Many years later, after Audioslave had disbanded, I heard rumors that they were going to get back together to go on tour. I was so psyched! And then, I’ll never forget the day I heard the news that Chris Cornell was gone. It was early in the morning, I was in the car, pulling up to the gym. The DJ on the radio announced that Chris Cornell had hung himself. I was devastated. My heart ached that such a talented person had been in such a dark place that he had felt the only option was to take his own life. And I finally, really came to understand why people made such a big deal about celebrity suicides—because it shows that mental illness is no respecter of persons. So often, we think people have it made—celebrities, CEO’s, the wealthy, even our neighbors, family or friends. It’s easy to think we know what’s going on by seeing the outside, when really, on the inside, that person is struggling, suffering, dying.

Too often, I think the signs of depression get ignored. Too often, I think depression is minimized because it’s easier that way. It’s easier to ignore or give simple answers. Sometimes it’s because of the stigma still attached to depression. Sometimes it’s because of lack of education. And sometimes it’s because, simply put, depression is hard. It can be hard to understand or to know what to do, as is the case with any mental illness. And it can be hard because it’s different for everyone. And that is totally normal.

But when it comes to helping others, what’s right may be more important than what’s easy. The Mayo clinic has an amazing page about how you can recognize depression in others and ways you can help and encourage them. I can testify that even a simple smile can make a difference. I still remember a couple of girls I went to high school with who made a difference in my life. One of them always said hi to me, always gave me a smile. Another one brought me flowers because she had noticed I was sad the day before. I have a friend who easily could have given up on me because, as I stated, depression is hard. But she didn’t. Even when it scared her, she kept being my friend, and that made a huge difference. My boyfriend is a good example, too. Little things like asking questions and trying to understand what I’m going through helps so much. These things truly do matter.

Chris Cornell made a difference to me. There were so many times I was off at college that I would take off for a long drive in my car when I was feeling sad or frustrated about something, and I would crank that Audioslave CD! It always managed to either help release my frustration or remind me that I wasn’t alone. It still saddens me that I’ll never get to see him in concert. It saddens me that such a talented person struggled for so long with depression—until he couldn’t struggle anymore. But I believe we can do something about the alarming number of people who take their own lives. It starts at an individual level. Learn to know the signs of depression and learn what you may be able to do to help. And remember, a simple “hi” or a smile may be just the thing someone needs.

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Safe

“Stay home. Stay safe.” It’s plastered all over—well, everywhere right now. The thing is, “safe” has a different meaning to everyone. For some, staying home isn’t safe. For some of us with mental illness, for those in abusive relationships, home may be the least safe place of all.

I knew it wouldn’t be safe for me over spring break. My kids were with their dad, which would have left me home, completely alone, for an entire week. I’d already bought a plane ticket to go see my boyfriend months earlier. I thought a lot about whether I should still go see him or not. But I knew—I knew—that staying home would take me to a very dark place, a place I couldn’t afford to go to. For the sake of my mental health (possibly my life) and the sake of the children I have and love, to look after, I got on a plane and flew to another state.

Staying home also wasn’t safe for the family member of a friend. The pressure and darkness of isolation took a toll on her depression until she took her own life, leaving behind a spouse, children and others who loved her. And she’s not the only one. The Scientific American has some of these stories. And US News also shares expert’s concerns about suicide during this time, while also encouraging mental health to be emphasized right alongside news of COVID-19. Sometimes staying home is the most dangerous thing a person can do, and yet we’re being told, we’re being shamed into doing it. Aren’t our lives important too? Aren’t our lives of worth too?

So, to those of you urging others to think of the elderly and those at risk, I kindly urge you to think of those with mental illness, and others, who are not safe at home. Be kind. Be understanding—of everyone.

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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.

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.

Coping Vs. Managing

THIS IS ONE OF THE BEST ARTICLES I’ve read on how to manage depression. I really loved the distinction she made between coping and things that actually help. It’s made me think of how I can make my coping mechanisms work better for me.

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One thing I thought of was playing my flute. I have been playing the flute for almost 25 years now. It is something I love and that always makes me happy. Just a couple of days ago I was feeling pretty depressed so I took my flute out and played for ten to fifteen minutes. It helped a little, and it’s always nice to play. But I think I can and need to use it as more than just coping. I need to take time every day to play—even if it’s just for five minutes. Doing that one thing that makes me happy every day might help me manage my depression more than just cope with it.

I encourage any of you that have depression to think of something you use to cope and how it can become more than that—how it can transform into something that helps you manage your depression and helps you get more fulfillment out of your life, despite your illness.

 

Self Reflection on Depression

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I realized something just today. Another one of the most horrible things that mental illness does is that it steals your identity. I already knew this about postpartum depression. I experienced it in the worst way. But I had never thought about it in terms of any other mental illness.

For over a month I was struggling severely with my depression. I feel like I’m just starting to come out of it, and looking back now I see all these things I did, said, thought, felt that just weren’t me—that weren’t the real me. It’s almost like someone inserted another person’s memories into my brain—because the real me would never do, say, think or feel those things.

Living with depression is already darkness, stumbling around with no light, dragging more and more weight behind you and on top of you every day. But it’s also doing it with no real identity—like you are nothing, nobody. Just some . . . lifeless thing.

I’m not trying to use any of this as an excuse. It’s more just self reflection and the hope that next time I will be more aware and try harder to hold onto who I am. I will try harder not to let the depression steal away who I am. Sometimes who I am is all I have.

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!