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.

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!

Sometimes It’s Best to Ignore Your First Instinct

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My daughter had a panic attack today. My first thought was to tell her to calm down, that she didn’t need to cry, that she could be tough. Then I remembered how I react to others telling me those things when I’m struggling with my own depression, anxiety or OCD. It doesn’t help. Period. So instead, I sat next to her, put my arm around her, let her lay her head on my shoulder and my lap. I rubbed her arm and told her it was okay to cry and to feel sad sometimes. Eventually she stopped crying and was able to breathe normally again. I even had her laughing at one point.

So here’s the deal. If someone with mental illness trusts you enough to be honest in what they are going through or how they are feeling, just be there for them. Acknowledge what they’ve told you, give them a hug or a shoulder to cry on and tell them it’s okay for them to feel the way they do. I think our first instinct is usually to give advice or try to correct. Or worse yet, ignore. But those things don’t work. They only harm. Be kind. Be educated. Just be there. That is what helps, and sometimes that is all we need.

Marionette

I wrote a poem this morning. It’s how I’ve been feeling.

Marionette

I am a marionette
with chipped paint and scarred wood.

I come to life like Pinocchio,
but strings are still attached.

So many strings.

One string my own choices,
one my obsessive thoughts,
one my anxiety,
one my depression,
one or two—or a million—other people—
their words,
their expectations,
their choices.

Pulled, yanked, shoved, beaten,
doing a dance I don’t know how to stop
until I’m a tangled, mangled mess . . .

of chipped paint . . .

and scarred wood . . .

and strings I just want to cut.

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Supposed to . . .

I know what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to be a good mom. I’m supposed to be strong. I’m supposed to be stable. I’m supposed to do what’s right for my kids; what’s best for them. I’m supposed to serve. I’m supposed to help. I’m supposed to teach my kids. I’m supposed to be a good example to the world. I’m supposed to always know. I’m supposed to put aside my own issues. I’m supposed to pretend everything is fine. I’m supposed to be happy. I’m supposed to be more. Sometimes . . . sometimes I am some of those things, when I’m feeling really good and strong and confident. Most of the time I am none of them. I am weak. I am scared. I’m unstable. I do what I can to simply survive moment to moment. I don’t do enough for my kids. I am anxious. I am depressed. I can’t stop my mind from turning, from obsessing. I am selfish. I cry at work in front of my boss. I hurt people I love. I make mistakes. I’m unsure. I am not enough. I am alone. And I hate how I don’t know what to do. So much of the time, I feel stuck, and I don’t know how to get out of it.

I Miss Writing

I miss writing. I miss my books, my characters, the worlds I’ve created. We writers are a strange bunch, aren’t we?

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I’m the kind of writer who edits and revises as I go—over and over and over again. I know, I know, you’re not supposed to. I’ve heard fellow writers and published authors at writing conferences say not to go back over your work until you completely finish it. But I can’t. My OCD doesn’t allow it. I have to revise as I go along. Sometimes I get sick of my books, my characters, my worlds because of it, and I end up having to take a break. Now, I miss them because they have long been absent. I have long been absent. I have no time. My day starts at 4:00 in the morning and usually ends between 9-9:30 at night when I collapse into bed. I’m going all the time. I miss writing. I miss my creations. I miss having time.

I don’t mean to whine, I don’t mean to complain. I am blessed, so very, very blessed. I’m just overwhelmed and missing the thing that has been such a part of my life for such a long time. I had a panic attack last week, the first one I’d had in quite awhile. Even though I am blessed and doing better, mental illness is still a part of me, too.

Coming Back to Hope

There are so many thoughts racing through my brain right now. I hope I can get it all out in at least a semi-coherent way.

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I spent the evening looking for new cars. I came home to an empty house (my kids are with their dad), and I hate the feeling of being here all alone all evening and night, so I went to a movie. It was almost midnight by the time the movie got over, but I just couldn’t bring myself to go home. Instead, I drove around the streets of my home town with the windows down and the music cranked. Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden are some of the bands that came on the radio. Music from my youth. It was so nice just cruising around, belting out my tunes. The only thing that would have made it better would have been to have someone there with me. I tried not to dwell on that, knowing the loneliness that would ensue could overtake me, and I didn’t want that. Dating/relationships are hard. I think it’s harder now than the last time I was doing it, before I got married. Add mental illness on top of that, and it adds even more stress to the equation. Maybe I’ll talk about that later. It’s one of the things I’ve been wanting to write about, but right now, before my tired mind unravels (like the sweater in that song by Weezer—yeah that came on, too!) I’d like to focus on the idea of hope—again.

Last night I was talking to a friend, who has also been divorced. I told him it had been a year now. I’ve been divorced/a single parent for a year. He told me the first year is always the hardest. “That’s good to know,” I said. “That means I can make it.”

I have hit some of the lowest points of my life this last year, but I have also had some incredible highs. Overall, I think I’ve grown more this last year than I ever have before in my whole life. I was thinking about a saying—the one where you pick yourself up and dust yourself off. I do believe in picking yourself up and continuing on. Sometimes I’ve had to lay in the mud and the muck for awhile before I could do it, and even when I did get up, I had to trudge through with pain, like dirt, still clinging to my clothes. I’ve dealt with some anxiety and OCD again recently, but for the most part I’m still doing really well. I don’t know what the future holds. Right now I can’t try to look too far into it or I’ll go mad. I’m having to live each day as it comes, but I’m doing my best to keep each of these days good.

I guess what I want everyone to know is that you can keep going. Even through the most bitter of trials, the most painful of experiences you can learn and grow and find peace. You can even find happiness. It’s never completely gone. It’s never completely out of reach. Despite my often-times love/hate relationship I have with hope, I always come back to it. I can never completely let go of it. And I’m glad of that right now.

My OCD Triggered

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Life definitely isn’t consistent. It can be for awhile, but the bumps and potholes and twists and turns inevitably return. My OCD, which had been completely absent for quite some time, was triggered again, and I’m really struggling with it. The hard part is that it was triggered by someone I thought was a friend, someone I greatly valued. Turns out she was the fair-weather kind, or maybe never one at all. Maybe the facade was always there, and I chose not to see it because of how much the person I thought she was meant to me.

After my last post this friend unfriended me on Facebook and messaged me telling me how much it hurt her, that she couldn’t be my friend and how she was really doing it for me, or for my benefit. Indeed, she was one of several people who prompted me to write what I did. I saw dozens of her own brazen posts, and each one felt like a punch to the gut. Whether she meant it or not, they all left me feeling like I was stupid, uncaring and pathetic. I did unfollow her because I knew it was best for me, just like I unfollowed several other people, some of which I share the same point of view with. Their posts left me feeling just as sick. I, however, didn’t stoop to unfriending her because, as I’ve stated, I cared about her and valued her friendship so much. I also, in part, understood where she was coming from because I was her once, many years ago. And the reason I changed was because I saw how it was driving away people who meant something to me.

I even have a recent example. Since getting back on Facebook about a year ago I have tried to stay away from controversial topics that will insight anger and hurt. But I recently reposted something of a friend’s that I thought was funny. It was political, and I posted it light-heartedly because it made me laugh, and I thought it was true. A good friend called me out on it, though. She read it as being mean and intolerant. Even though that was the furthest thing from my intention, and not what I meant or felt at all, I deleted the post because her friendship was more important to me than some stupid post on stupid Facebook.

Now, going back to my other friend, as soon as she saw one single post of mine that she didn’t like she told me she couldn’t be my friend anymore. (Sounds ridiculously Jr. Highish, right?!) Her cause was more important to her than a friendship that had lasted almost twenty years. And it hurt. It hurt so much to know that politics was more important to her than a person, than a friend who had been very loyal to her for almost twenty years.

I think the thing that really triggered my OCD, though, was her statement of saying she was doing it for me—like I’m some poor little girl who’s too incompetent to possibly know for myself what’s best for me. I’ve had other friends, family members and an ex-boyfriend who used those same words/tactics on me. It brought all of those past experiences rushing to the surface, and I can’t stop thinking about them. I can’t stop thinking about whether I replied to her the right way. I keep going over and over and over what I wish I could tell her, make her see. And then I keep wondering if maybe they’re all right. Am I stupid? Am I pathetic? Am I incompetent? Deep down, I know I’m not. I have been through so much the last year, and I have learned and grown and accomplished so much. I have had amazing support and help along the way from family, friends and neighbors who truly do care about me. But it’s also because I am strong, because I am capable, because I am smart and I do care. Because I am competent, and no one knows what’s best for me better than I do myself. Yet the thoughts circle. The hurt persists. I had made such strides, and now I feel like I’m back to step one again. Well, maybe not that far, but close.

Luckily, the difference between now and when I really was at step one is that I know I can move forward. My anxiety at driving a car again after my accident evaporated after that very first drive. Now I have no problem driving. Easy-peasy, as my kids would say! I think dealing with the OCD will take a little longer, but I’m not going to let someone who devalues others so much stamp out all of the progress I have made, and any of you out there dealing with the same thing shouldn’t either. I will rise up, and I will recover, even if it takes a little time. You can rise up and recover, even if it takes time.

Conquering My Anxiety

As stated in a recent post, I’m doing really well. I haven’t noticed any of my OCD tendencies in 5-6 months, and my depression has been completely gone since the weather got warmer/nicer a few months ago. My anxiety has been very minimal since then as well. It has been absolutely amazing!

Yesterday, my kids and I were in a car accident. I was sitting at a red light fairly close to my house when I noticed a truck in my rear-view mirror barreling toward me. A second later he tried to swerve, but slammed into the corner of my car anyway.

It wasn’t super bad. All three of us had seat belts on and my kids were sitting in the back where they were supposed to be. I did feel some pain in my neck and back. My daughter got the brunt of it because it was her side that was hit into. Her head and neck hurt as well as her knee which hit into the seat in front of her. It wasn’t too bad, though—just a tiny scrape. However, as the hours wore on the pain intensified until I decided to go to the Urgent Care. They took x-rays which came out looking fine, but the doctor prescribed some ibuprofen and muscle relaxers and said I should get some physical therapy. I definitely feel blessed that it wasn’t worse.

I knew I needed to take my car into a repair shop to get an estimate on the damage. All day I put it off, anxiety beating its way back into my life. Even though the accident wasn’t that bad, every time I thought about getting in my car, driving my car, the anxiety would hit, making me sick to my stomach, making it harder and harder to breathe.

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Last night I talked to a friend about how I was grateful, in a way, to be going through this as a single person because it’s teaching me to be independent, to learn and do things I never had to do before. She told me that it was nice because it was empowering. So, despite my anxiety, I got in my car and drove. I again felt incredibly sick and nauseous, breathing was laborious, but I put on some music I like from Audiomachine and Two Steps From Hell, and it got slightly easier. I became less anxious as I continued to drive. And you know what? I did it. I made it. I conquered my anxiety and my fear.

I don’t know if that means it’s over. It has been so nice not dealing with any mental illness the last few months. It was definitely easier driving home, but even as I write this, I feel the anxiety simmering on the surface of my emotions. Of course that could have something to do with waiting for the insurance adjuster to call me back—after having left 3-4 messages and a couple of emails. It’s just a stressful situation, but I know I can do it. I know I can fight through and make it to the other side. I’m strong, and I can do hard things.

What Does Mental Illness Look Like?

A couple of weeks ago I hit an extremely low point—one of the lowest of my life. The next morning I woke up early to make sure I had enough time to curl my hair and put on makeup. I think part of it was wanting to feel like I still had control over something in my life, even if it was just the way I looked. However, even though I looked like this:

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inside I felt like this: hopeless, depressed, sad, alone, empty, hollow, sick, dead.

Several times in my life I’ve been surprised to learn someone has mental illness because on the outside they appear fine, put together, happy even. We live in this society of fronts. For some reason we are raised to believe we have to put up a front for people no matter how we really feel or what we’re going through. It often becomes automatic to smile and tell people you are good even when you are not. That’s one of the most difficult parts of mental illness. It’s a disease you can’t see.

The other thing people should know is that there are moments of good and happiness. Sometimes my smile is real because I’m happy to be around you or I laugh because I really do find what you said to be funny. But those are moments in the midst of the whole story. And the whole story is that I still have mental illness. Depression, anxiety and OCD are still my constant companions. It isn’t like a broken arm that can be casted and healed in a few weeks.

Of course there are things that can help. I’ve written about those things a lot already so I’m not going to go into it again right now. I guess I just wanted to make people aware that mental illness isn’t always something you can see. That doesn’t mean it’s not real or that it’s not there. It is.