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.

metaphor-1209691_1280

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.

Another Failed Medication Attempt

pill-1884775_1920

It seems everyone has an opinion about medication when it comes to mental illness. I suppose, as a passionate and opinionated person myself, I get it. When you find something you really believe in or find something that works out so well for you, you want to share it. The thing I’ve come to realize, in recent years, is that everything in life is a matter of perspective. We are all different, and, as I’ve stated before, what works for one person doesn’t mean it will work for everyone.

I think people who are so vehemently and adamantly against medication for mental illness are ones who have had bad experiences themselves, so they assume it will be bad for everyone. Or they are the kinds who have given into the stigma of medication and don’t truly understand just how real—both mentally and physically—things like depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar and schizophrenia are. These are people who think medication for thyroid or heart disease is okay, but not when it comes to mental illness. It’s a double standard some people just can’t see past. Anyway, my experience with medication was good. I started taking Zoloft a month after my son was born for my horrible postpartum depression. Within a few weeks I felt so much better! It didn’t “cure” me or make me exuberantly happy, but it did take away the utter darkness and sense of defeat I had been living with. It helped me become functional again.

After about six months I slowly weaned myself off of the medication, hoping I could survive without it, but it didn’t take long for me to crash again. That’s when I realized I would likely have to be on medication the rest of my life. I started taking it again—until it stopped working two or three years later.

This was the second time my body had adapted or adjusted to an anti-depressant. I went in to see my nurse practitioner, who put me on Lexapro. It turned me into an insomniac, which was just as depressing and debilitating as . . . well, being depressed. So I went back in and she told me she thought I would do better on Prozac. The stuff worked! It got me back to functioning—other than in the winter. My seasonal affective disorder always outweighs medication, but before and after winter, it helped so much. It literally was a life saver.

A year or two after I started the Prozac, I went off of it. It was stupid, really. Something I was trying to prove to my then-husband. And guess what? I was fine! I went off of the medication, and I didn’t crash. I didn’t go back to the horrible, awful place of darkness and despair. It was amazing! Not only was I functioning, I was actually happy! It lasted for awhile—until my marriage collapsed. Going through a divorce was the most devastating hell I’d ever been through. I tried to stay strong, tried to remain happy. And while I knew getting divorced was the right thing to do, it was just so damn hard. So I went into my NP again and told her the Prozac had worked great so it seemed like a good thing to go back on. Unfortunately, it ended up having the same side-effect as the Lexapro. I stuck with it for a few weeks, hoping something might change, but only getting two to three hours of sleep every night wore me down, and I just couldn’t do it.

Luckily, life went well for awhile. Then all sorts of . . . stuff happened, I’ll say, and I went downhill again. And again I ended up in my NP’s office. This time she wanted me to try Wellbutrin. No surprise here, no twist in the story, it turned me into an insomniac zombie AGAIN! Another failed medication. Okay, so my NP also prescribed me a sleep aid, but that’s one thing I refuse to become dependent on.

Here’s where all sorts of people tell me about other ways I can get help with my mental illness—from changing my diet to using natural or homeopathic remedies to getting therapy. All of those things sound great, and maybe I could get results from them, but some of them are way too expensive for a struggling single mom who pretty much lives paycheck to paycheck and some of them are just too complicated for someone who’s anxiety-filled mind turns molehills into mountains. I like the idea of medication because it is simple and easy, and just once in my life I want a simple, easy answer. But that’s never how my life has gone. Everything has been complicated, everything has been hard. Nothing comes easy, never has.

I feel stuck, trapped, not knowing how to move forward. Will I eventually get over it? Can I get out of this slump, out of this hurt, this darkness, this anxiety, this circling hole of OCD all on my own? Will I ever be able to find some sort of “alternative” solution? Right now, I have no idea. I guess I just keep on surviving one day at a time and see what happens.

A Day in the Life…of Mental Illness

blur

Originally I had planned on writing something else for my next post, but decided to focus on a recent experience I had instead.

One of the reasons I wanted to start this blog was to educate people about mental illness. It is real, and it can be debilitating.

I have depression, anxiety and OCD. They tend to feed off of each other, worsen the symptoms attached to each. As stated in my last couple of posts, I’m not doing very well right now. When my OCD goes haywire, I get really depressed. When I’m really depressed, my anxiety skyrockets. It becomes a monumental task to leave my house. It’s not that I want to be alone. I think that’s something people don’t realize. They think that people with mental illness want to be alone. Believe me, the last thing in the world I want is to be alone. I want to have friends, I want to go out, I want to socialize. I’m sure there are people with multiple sclerosis who want to go for a jog, who want to run a marathon. But they can’t. Just like there are things I can’t do when my depression and anxiety are so bad.

Thursday night I was supposed to go to this class/meeting with some other members of my church. I’d already been to one meeting, and the other people there were so great. I felt like they truly cared about me. I had been looking forward to this next meeting, yet at the same time I was ridiculously anxious about leaving my house and being around other people. I told myself it would be okay, reminded myself that they were great people who cared and wanted to help me. It did no good. Reason usually doesn’t when you suffer from mental illness.

Less than an hour before the meeting I had a panic attack—the worst one I’ve ever had. I thought I was going to end up in the hospital. I started hyperventilating so bad, each breath I barely sucked in strangled and labored. Then the world began to spin, and it felt as if my head was floating above my body. I knew I was going to pass out.

I thought about calling my ex-husband, who was supposed to be coming over soon to watch the kids while I went to my meeting, then I thought about calling 911. Then I thought about my crappy insurance and how much it might cost me to do that, so instead I got myself to the couch, rationalizing it would be a better place to pass out than standing in the hallway. I sat down and told myself to breathe—or breathe normally. But I couldn’t. It was terrifying—having my mind tell my body to do something and my body refusing to do it. I again thought about calling 911—it would be better than passing out and having one of my kids find me. I’d never been so scared in my life. Then, somehow, my breathing finally slowed, became easier, and I didn’t pass out. After a few minutes the light-headedness passed, and I was no longer dizzy or shaking. Just writing about what happened, having to think about it, is so damn hard. But this is what it’s like to live with mental illness.

I have different theories as to why I’m in such a bad place right now. One of those theories stems from something a friend said when I was talking to her about what was going on in my life. I think it warrants further research first, but maybe I’ll write about it later. As for now, I’m going to see if I can get on some medication that will work without turning me into an insomniac zombie—as some other medications have done. I’m going to look into other options/therapies that may help as well. I want to get out of this dark place. But it can take time—just like it would take time for someone, anyone, to find a light switch in a large, pitch-black room full of obstacles. But I’m going to try. It’s the best I have right now.

Help and Hope

sunrise-1983740_1920

In my last post, I said there was hope. There is hope because there is help. There is no one set “cure” for mental illness, but there are things that can help improve quality of life, things that can help make it a little easier to get through life. First, we have to break through the stigma within the stigma. I know, you are going to get so sick of that word, but it is attached to mental illness, so there’s no going around it.

One of those stigmas is medication. Medication is something that can help. It has helped me. It does not “cure” my depression, anxiety or OCD, but it has improved my quality of life. It has made the big things that seem impossible, a little bit smaller and the smaller things more achievable. Yet there is a stigma attached to taking medication. For some reason, people don’t want to take it or others don’t want you to take it. They think it means there is something wrong with you, and you should be able to take care of it yourself. Yet, no one has a problem with someone taking medication for their thyroid disease or a diabetic taking insulin. Medication for mental illness is no different. It is an illness that can help be combatted by medication. Maybe the way to fight it is through medication.

Counseling is another thing that can help—and another one of those things with a stigma. There will never be an end to psychiatrist and therapy jokes, but if getting therapy helps, it is a good thing! I’ve been amazed in the last ten years or so to learn just how many people have seen therapists—not just for mental illness. People see therapists for all sorts of things. And there are different kinds of therapists and therapy. You just have to find the one that is right for you. I have been to three different counselors since I was sixteen. Sometimes just having someone to talk to really helps. Sometimes the advice they offer works. Sometimes their perspective gives you understanding. All of these are things that can lift up someone with mental illness.

Light can also help. I have seasonal affective disorder. Even when taking medication, winter where I live is hard. It’s cold, dark, gray and depressing. I always struggle in winter. So sometimes, I would go to a tanning salon—just for the light and the warmth. Steam rooms, saunas, hot tubs or a warm bath also help. It may sound silly, or even stupid, but it really can help!

Other things that have made a difference to me are exercise and yoga. I really believe keeping your body in shape helps keep your mind in shape as well. When I exercise, I feel good about myself. Yoga is meditative for me. Meditation—another thing that can help. As a parent it can be hard to find time to yourself, but you have to do it. Even if it’s only for five or ten minutes, find a time and place where you can be alone without crazy, noisy distractions.

Depression steals the joy from your life. It’s hard finding joy in anything—even thingsflute-2047943_1920 that once did bring you happiness, but it’s important to try, anyway. Go back to the things that brought you joy, develop interests and hobbies. This one day, not long before my divorce was final, I was feeling really down. Going through a divorce is the hardest thing I’ve faced in my life. I ran upstairs, away from my kids, because I could tell I was about to break down. Then I saw my flute sitting there. Before I could fall on my bed and start crying, I picked it up and started playing. I only played for a few minutes, but it relieved the stress, tension and sadness in me, and I came out feeling happier than I was before. Other things that do that for me are reading, writing, being outside, talking to a friend. I understand how hard it is to motivate yourself when you have mental illness, but if you can find even one little thing that helps bring some bit of light back into your life, it is worth it.

I hope some of what I’ve shared helps. If anyone out there has their own story of things that have helped them through mental illness, please contact me. I would love to share your story here. Let’s inspire each other!