Inside Out: Jump starting the Dialog about Depression in Kids

I’ve been gone for a while. A long while. And I am sorry. It wasn’t a good several months for me and I needed to focus on surviving. I felt overwhelmed when I thought about writing, and the anxiety was just too much. So I took a break, but I’ve missed it. This is my first post back, but I hope that I will be able to continue, uninterrupted, from now on. Breathing every day, and being gentle with myself as I keep the lines of communication open. I thank you for bearing with me.

A while ago, I considered writing about Frozen. I freaking loved that movie and the subtle nod to mental health struggles really made me happy. When Elsa just “let it go” and accepted herself? Yeah, man. I belted that song out with her. Because I had been there, hiding everything about myself away and letting go of that was effing amazing. I never did write that blog, though. Plenty of other people have, though. If you’re interested in reading about the links people made to depression and anxiety, you can read this, this, and this. They were all really good.

Inside-Out

Recently, I saw the new movie Inside Out and I knew I had to write about it. (Spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen it yet. Just FYI.) I’ve seen it twice with both of my kids and my husband and it blew me away both times. On the one hand, it is a really interesting, cerebral journey into how our minds and personalities are formed. It features strong characters who talk about deep issues: trust, honesty, and individuality, without getting super preachy.

Even more than that? Inside Out perfectly encapsulates a major depressive episode and puts it on a level that even kids as young as 6 can understand (that’s my frame of reference as my youngest is currently 6; I saw younger kids in the theatre as well). Do you have any idea how freaking amazing that is? How important it is? God … I cried just because finally, finally someone had made a film that opened the door for dialog about and with children who are suffering with depression.

A CDC graph of some mental health issues children face.

A CDC graph of some mental health issues children face.

Let’s look at some statistics, shall we? There are not a lot of hard stats on how many children suffer from Major Depressive Disorder in the US, but here is a sobering number: suicide is the third leading cause of death for kids 15-19. If you happen to identify as LBGT, that number skyrockets. And it is likely that kids who suffer from suicidal ideation at 15 didn’t develop it out of the blue; these kids likely suffered with some form of depression or anxiety through much of their adolescent years.

Now imagine that your child is moody. Not moody like she won’t go to bed when you want her to; moody like she fanaticizes about dying on the regular and talks about herself like she is worthless. And your child is nine. How in the world do you start up a discussion with a young child about such a huge topic like depression?

Enter Inside Out. In the movie, a young girl of eleven moves from her beloved home in Minnesota to San Francisco. She goes through culture shock, the loss of all of her close friends, the trauma of leaving the home she grew up in, and the fear of starting a new school all at once. It is a lot for a young kid. And Riley, unsurprisingly, goes through some pretty huge personality changes.

In the movie, we see the major driving emotions in Riley’s head anthropomorphized into walking, talking characters: Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger all have lots to say about how Riley interacts with her family and friends on a daily basis. The memories that Riley makes are color coded to show which emotion had the “steering wheel” in Riley’s mind while she made them. And the big moments, or core memories, are what make the “Islands of Personality” that make up who Riley is.

In the very beginning of the movie, we see Riley dealing with the move pretty well. Joy is doing most of the driving and she brings up happy memories to help Riley deal with the trauma of moving into an old, “smelly” house. Suddenly, when Riley is asked to introduce herself at school, she begins to talk about her time in Minnesota playing hockey. The talk recalls one of her core memories that had built one of her Islands of Personality. As she talks, Sadness touches the memory and it colors it blue. Riley gets choked up and starts crying and another core memory is formed: the memory of crying in front of her classmates.

This one memory causes some hijinks in “headquarters” and Joy and Sadness get expelled from headquarters, leaving Riley without the ability to feel joy or sadness. She’s left with only fear, disgust, and anger. Think about that for a minute.

The story that Pixar tells here, on the surface, works as an adventure story of Joy and Sadness journeying back to headquarters to save Riley. It’s fun and exciting and a good story all around. But just below the surface, all of the things that begin to happen as Riley experiences a life without joy mirror what someone going through a major depressive episode might experience, right up to the point where the remaining emotions in Riley’s head lose the ability to make Riley feel anything.

In the movie, Riley attempts to fire up parts of her personality, like Goofiness. It doesn’t work and we see “Goofball Island” crumble and disappear into Riley’s memory dump. It’s a shocking scene in the movie because it looks like an earthquake, but watching it, I got chills.

Goofball Island, before the fall.

Goofball Island, before the fall.

I can think back to times when I was in a deep depression and I tried to do things I’d done my whole life: I’d try to write, or joke around with my kids, or sing along with some music. And nothing would happen. I’d feel … nothing.

That nothingness felt so final at the time. I worried that I’d never be myself again, at least not the way I remembered myself. I thought I lost a whole aspect of my personality. In the end, it wasn’t lost; it was just kind of offline or something. It just didn’t trigger the emotional response I was used to. But that vision of the island crumbling was so very apt, in my opinion. When depression colors our world, parts of ourselves that we imagine as permanent and unchanging can fail us in our time of need. It is scary for an adult, let alone a child who might not even recognize what is happening.

Another thing that we see Riley struggle with is an idea that Anger places in her mind: the plan to run away back to Minnesota in order to regain the parts of her personality she’s lost. When we first meet Riley, she seems like an average eleven year old, fun-loving, happy, and perhaps more honest than average. After she gets the idea to run away however, Riley sneaks down to her mother’s purse and steals a credit card. It becomes very clear that this is completely out of character for Riley and another Island of Personality crumbles into dust, this time Honesty Island.

When we’re depressed, our moral barometers sometimes change a great deal. What once might have been completely out of the question might seem totally plausible when you’re fighting to survive. We see Riley struggling against a tide of change so deep that she doesn’t see a way out: she hates her new house, she can’t find new friends, her parents are both overly stressed, and she can’t feel happiness any more. She’s desperate. Her choice is shocking: my nine year old audibly gasped when Riley reached into her mother’s purse to take the credit card. But from the standpoint of someone struggling to keep her head above the water, we can see how she got to that conclusion.

Memory orb.

Memory orb.

In the end, Joy and Sadness do make it back to headquarters. When they arrive, they find the control panel shorted out and Riley unable to feel anything. Joy realizes that Riley needs Sadness more than ever and pushes her to take the controls. When Sadness touches the controls, Riley is able to cry and express to her parents why she has been acting strange. She talks about her core memories and how remembering their times in Minnesota is sad for her now, because she misses it.

The family cries together and finally, Joy touches the controls again and Riley smiles for the first time in days. Another core memory is made, but this time is a mixture of blue and yellow, sadness and joy mixed together.

The implication is that as we age, our emotions are never cut and dry anymore. Sad things can bring joy as easily as happy things can have a touch of pain. We need all of our emotions to live a well-rounded life.

Deeper still, we can see that Riley had a short-lived brush with depression, something that everyone experiences sometimes in their lives. She wasn’t experiencing full on Major Depression, but she could have. The movies gives us a glimpse at the beginning stages of depression and shows a supportive family unit that helps their daughter move past the all-encompassing sadness. It gives us a window into what some children feel at the start of depression and more importantly, it gives them a vocabulary to talk about their feelings.

Talking leads to action. It leads to getting help for a child who desperately needs it. I’m so grateful to Pixar for producing this film, because it gave a voice to so many children who might never have had the words to ask for help. Hell, it gave a voice to adults who might not know what they were going through. And in a world where so many people experience depression? That can only lead to better care and a more open, less stigmatized conversation. Bravo, Pixar. The Mental Health community is incredibly grateful for your help.

hope in the darkness

Scars — **Trigger Warning : Self-harm, cutting, suicide**

**Trigger warning: Self-harm, cutting, suicide.**

scars1

Scars.

Everyone has them.

The one above your eyebrow from when you walked into the coffee table, age 2. The one on your knee from when you skidded across the gravel-laden driveway on your way to the perfect street hockey save, age 13. The one on your heart from the first boy who broke it, age 17.

Some people say scars give you character; others, that they give you lessons.

I think scars are whatever you make of them. But some are a little harder to live with than others.

I have my fair share of scars. The knee one from above is one of mine; still have some of the gravel embedded in that m-effer to prove how dedicated I was to the save. I have one on my lip from a baseball injury. I have a few from practicing karate.

I have more than a few on my hands and wrists and arms and thighs that I don’t ever want to talk about.

The thing about self-harm is that it is really misunderstood. It is vastly and horrifyingly misclassified over and over again. And along with leaving scars, it leaves a sense of overwhelming shame that doesn’t ever go away.

I’m breaking my silence today and it scares the shit out of me. Bear with me, please.

My scars stare up at me every day. As I type, the crescent moon patterns on the meaty part of my right hand wink at me like eyes with a dirty secret. My hands know how deep the pain goes. They know so well because I’ve bled the pain out of them.

This is my favorite Stephen King quote. So damn true.

This is my favorite Stephen King quote. So damn true.

I have fake stories for all of them, ingrained in my memory to save me from the awkward pause as I try to think of an excuse. Part of me hates myself for the lies. But what other choice do I even have?

“Oh, that? Yeah … totally scratched myself until I bled.”

*cue awkward silence*

I vacillate between wanting to educate people and needing to hide. Even as I write this, I’m cringing at the spotlight I’m shining on myself with these words.

When you talk about cutting, there are a lot of gut reactions. People do it for attention. People do it because they are suicidal. It’s a fad. It’s fake. They’re just crazy.

There is very little empathy or compassion in the general public for cutters. It is a misunderstood side-effect of depression and anxiety. Lots of people talk about cutting, but very few people actually understand what it is.

And it’s not surprising. There are a glut of romanticized images of cutting out there. If you go on Tumblr or Pinterest you can find thousands of images of delicate wrists bleeding, of intricate white lines up and down an arm. They’re triggering and they only show either the act or the consequence. They don’t deal with the cause or what leads a person to cut. And they certainly don’t deal with the aftermath.

I think that is really dangerous.

Like any mental health issue, self-harm is unique in each person. I can only talk for myself here. I don’t cut because I want to die. Or to get noticed. On the contrary, I hide those scars from everyone.

myself

I cut because I cannot take the internal pain anymore. Because the inner hurt is so great, so unbearable, that it needs a physical outlet.

The internal scars that lead to a cutting episode are so much more pervasive than any scars I have on the outside. And that is what is so hard to explain. I ache inside for so long. I push it down and let it build until the black, smoking pile of hurt takes up almost all of me. I feel like I might burst from being full of pain.

And it comes out at the worst times. It’s not A + B + C = D. It rarely ever happens at the moment of pain.

Have you ever read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom? It’s a kids’ book where the entire alphabet piles on top of the poor coconut tree until it literally bends in half from all of the weight. It’s kind of like that. An entire alphabet of circumstances pile on top of me until I break from the pressure. The cuts are the fissures in my brokenness.

I guess that sounds a little romanticized. I assure you there is nothing romantic about locking yourself in a bathroom and digging your nails into your own skin so that you no longer feel like you’ll explode from the pressure. There’s nothing romantic about watching yourself bleed and knowing that you did it to yourself. There’s nothing romantic about looking down at scabs that bleed again and again and knowing that they will scar and knowing that you fucking did it again.

There’s nothing romantic about it; it’s just sad and painful and full of personal shame.

I’ve been self-harm clean for over six months now. I wish I could tell you that it is getting easier, that I’ve found something else to release the pressure and get me through those tough times. I wish I could tell you that, but I don’t like lying.

The thought is there in the back of my head all the time. I sometimes have to use all of my energy to fight that impetus to excise my pain. There are times when the scars help: I see them and I remember “no more.” There are times when they call out like a siren tempting me to let it out again. Because it’s so easy in that moment to think that cutting will ease the pain. I have to tell myself on loop that it isn’t that simple.

my reminder ring: I am enough

my reminder ring: I am enough

I have a few talismans that help. The first one is this aluminum ring I wear on my left thumb. It wraps around just tight enough that it leaves a ring indent, but not so tight that it is uncomfortable. When things get bad, I look down at it and read the fading inscription on it: “I am enough.” I can turn it around on my thumb and feel the metal move against my skin. All of that helps.

There are other things that sometimes help, but my biggest talisman is actually hidden from most people’s view. In August, I got my largest tattoo finished. It takes up my entire right side, from just below my breast all the way to my hip. It’s a gorgeous color piece of a phoenix rising from its own ashes and bursting into a bright explosion. In the swirling smoke, the words “Still I Rise” are written.

IMG_3559

You can’t get a more poignant reminder that you need to rise above the hurt than looking at almost nine hours’ worth of intricate artwork forever etched on your side. The bumps of the line work have long since faded, but I still often run my finger over the area and remember. There was a ton a pain involved in getting that ink. It covers my ribs and the very sensitive side area; not an area I would recommend getting inked unless you were really committed to having artwork there.

I knew exactly what I was getting into pain-wise when I chose it, but that was where I pictured my phoenix rising. The time it took to get it and the recovery from it were really hard, but that image is always with me now. I look at it before and after every shower, every time I get changed … I see the words and I remember. Still, I rise. I can do this.

It’s the most powerful reminder I have and I’m grateful that I was able to do that for myself.

Posting about this subject is really difficult for me. Thinking about it and ruminating over how to talk about it puts cutting foremost in my mind. I know that isn’t great for me. It makes staying clean harder. But … I can do it.

My other, and perhaps worst, fear is that something I say may trigger others. It is really, really hard to be in a situation where self-harm is part of your self-care. It is twisted and seems so foreign to those who do not engage in it, but for many cutters, it is actually a way we care for ourselves when the pain gets too much. If you find yourself hurting yourself in any way (cutting, scratching, hair pulling, hitting….), please, talk to a good therapist.

It was the best thing I ever did for myself. I found it hard to admit my habits, even to a therapist. But when I did and I wasn’t met with disdain or anger or misunderstanding, I began to forgive myself.

enough

I really believe that forgiving yourself for the impulse is half the battle in getting better. Letting go of some of the shame I feel for my impulses has helped me stay clean. I no longer have that huge, dark cloud hanging over me. Or, at least, not as prominent. It’s still there, but it’s dissipating.

Talk to a therapist. Confide in a trusted friend. Find someone you can call at any time and say, “I’m in danger.” They’ll know what you mean by that and they’ll show you the compassion you maybe can’t show yourself.

Compassion, my friends, is where the healing needs to begin. Compassion for yourself, for your pain, for the impulses that you try to control but cannot always fight. Compassion.

Try it with me.

Awkward Questions and the Panic Attack Express

“Yeah, but why are you anxious?”

Dude, fuck if I know…

^^ Yes, I’ve been asked that question multiple times. And yes, I’ve even answered that way a few times. It’s frustrating to be asked repeatedly why you are anxious (or sad, or angry, or unsettled, or … you get the picture) and not have an answer. It can make you downright stabby.

wall

I try not to get upset with people who ask. They are genuinely trying to help most of the time. But everyone has a few people in their lives who ask repeatedly. And those same people often get upset when you don’t have a logical response. They think if they keep asking, you’ll dig deeper and you’ll see that if you don’t have a logical answer you must not have a logical reason to be panicked. So you’ll stop.

It doesn’t fucking work that way; you’re just making me more anxious because I can’t please you with a good answer. So stop.

I don’t care if it is generalized anxiety or depression, they both often cause symptoms without logical cause. They often don’t need a “reason” to make you feel shitty; you just do. And whether you pinpoint a cause or not, you still feel shitty. I’m here to tell you that doesn’t make you a bad person.

ball of anxiety

My Hubby is a chemical engineer. He is super smart and extremely logical. And he really likes solving problems. I think nothing would make him happier than if he could solve my depression and anxiety issues with logic. Unfortunately for both of us, it doesn’t work like that. But it doesn’t stop him from trying. And when he tries? It sometimes makes it worse. Which isn’t logical and it confounds him.

When I say it makes it worse, I don’t mean that he himself makes my anxiety worse. In fact, he’s learned over the years many tricks to help me remember how to breathe and get through the tough patches. He, the person, is one of the things that can make it better. What I mean is that the logical questions he often throws at me can make it worse.

I don’t know about everyone, but my brain functions weird in the middle of a panic attack. It runs on loop through various things, depending on the type of attack I’m having. It could be the mountainous list of things I need to accomplish the next day. Or it could be the mountainous list of things I think I did wrong during that day. It could be a list of scenarios in which people I love leave me. Or get hurt.

You get the idea. My thoughts loop through things that make me uncomfortable. And I very often find it hard to get off of the merry-go-round of anxious thoughts.

Sometimes, someone can throw up a blockade big enough to halt my thoughts in their tracks. If they succeed in that, sometimes the panic attack will end. Sometimes. Other times, my thoughts hit the blockade, see something else to loop around, and it all begins again.

The latter is often what happens when my Hubby begins to question me about why I’m anxious. It’s really not his fault. He is genuinely trying to help me get to the bottom of my panic. The problem arises in that that particular blockade immediately turns my thoughts to two really awful panic triggers: 1) I panic for no reason and that is stupid so I am stupid and 2) I can’t give a good answer to this perfectly reasonable question and I am letting him down and oh my god I’m such a failure.

When I’m out of that anxious state, I can see that my thoughts are unhelpful and I’m causing all of this pain for myself. But to paraphrase Dumbledore, it doesn’t really matter if it is all happening in my head; it’s real to me and it is just as painful as if it was happening to my body instead of my mind.

Anxiety attacks suck. I’ve been on a panic bender the past three days. Sometime on Sunday I boarded the Panic Attack Express (it’s this really shitty roller coaster; I do not recommend it, for the record) and I haven’t been able to get off. I’ve tried everything I know: meditation, music and a brisk walk, power breathing, hitting a punching bag, therapy…. No dice. I’m still on the damn roller coaster.

And it is beginning to wear on me physically. Last night the acute attacks were getting so bad I had begun to feel chest pain when they began. My stomach gets nauseous through the attacks and my heart races painfully.

symptoms of anxiety disorder

The actual attack lasts for about twenty to thirty minutes. But there is the pre-attack revving and the post-attack hangover. I can’t seem to get myself out of the up and down cycle. I’ll get an hour or so of calm and then it all begins again.

Three days of that. I just want to curl up in a ball and cry. Can’t do that, though. I have commitments and people who need me. It’s just that by the end of the day, I feel like I’ve been running a marathon all day and I almost can’t function.

So when someone tries to help me figure out why it is so bad right now, I don’t have the mental defenses to see that they’re trying to help. My mind just immediately hops back on the roller coaster and I go for another ride.

I wish I had the presence of mind to explain myself when asked those questions. To be able to say, thank you so much for wanting to help, but right now I just need you to hold my hand.

Right now, I’m kind of in survival mode. Question asked; must answer…. Can’t answer….. God, I fucking suck.

During one of my “down” times, I spoke with Hubby about how him asking why I’m panicked wasn’t working. Why it was actually making it worse. He didn’t really understand. To his credit, though, he didn’t argue with me. He said that he would try to avoid asking me those questions and instead just try to redirect my mind.

It won’t always work. He’s too logical to not ask again. And I won’t always be able to remind him, hey … you’re trying to help but it’s not working. But for now, he heard me and I spoke up for myself.

Win-win.

I’ll take any win-win I can get right now.

Holiday Overload

Raise your hand if you’re ready for the holiday break to be over!

ME!!!!!!

Our family has been home together for a record twelve days. Of those twelve days, six of them have been sick days for two out of the four of us. Momma needs her house back. Pronto.

I do love the holidays. We celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas in our household, so our holiday season lasts extra long. I love the kids’ excitement, the traditions, and all of that food. I really enjoy entertaining, so cooking for Christmas day at our house is always something fun to look forward to.

I made ALL the cookies.

I made ALL the cookies.

But now? I’m done. I want my quiet mornings back, where Hubby is at work and both kids are in school and I can breathe over a cup of coffee before getting errands and cleaning done. The lack of that routine is starting to wear on my patience and I’m really starting to feel it. My anxiety has been higher than normal the past few days and I’m starting to notice daily headaches creeping up on me.

Can it be Monday morning, please?

I can’t lie. I feel badly when I say I’m overloaded and ready for the break to end. They are my kids and husband; they’re my favorite people in the world. But, man, can they be exhausting….

Truthfully, I don’t handle these long stretches of forced interaction well. I know that I don’t, but I don’t have a good coping mechanism in place to keep it from getting out of hand.

We live in a small twin home, so when the four of us (plus two animals) are home all together, there are very few rooms available to be alone. Even the bathroom isn’t guaranteed to be a no fly zone. Can I get an amen, moms out there? It’s just hard to find quiet, and if you’re an introvert like me, that can end up being sandpaper to your psyche if you’re not careful.

Hubby and I tried to break the pattern this year. We planned an adventure in the middle of our staycation to get the kids out of the house. We trekked to Washington D.C. with the plan being that we’d explore the free museums for two days. Great plan. Sucky timing.

Me, Amelia, and her Little Red Bus. Personal hero...

Me, Amelia, and her Little Red Bus. Personal hero…

Oldest and Hubby both came down with nasty colds while we were away. We made it to two and a half museums that first day and then no one slept. Oh my god…. It was horrific. Woke up the next day and everyone was crabby. No one wanted to do anything except go home. Except we were all sleep deprived. The drive back to PA was truly magical. Not.

I had also failed to factor in how much I really despise crowded museums. Answer? A lot. It was a hard trip all around, but …. we tried. ‘A’ for effort?

I spent some much needed time contemplating quietly this morning and realized that much of the stress from this break came from your’s truly. I look around at my family and they are fine with the mild chaos. I know that I’m not, but I didn’t do a whole hell of a lot to avoid it. It got me thinking… How much ownership do we as anxious people need to take for our own anxiety?

It’s a really hard question to answer. On the one hand, some anxiety is out of our control. The looping thoughts are part and parcel of the mental illness we call our own. Mindfulness can help, but at the heart of anxiety, we all deal with those recurrent thoughts. We try not to let them control us, but we can’t always control them, if you catch my drift.

But what about the rest of what made my holiday stressful? A lot of that was poor planning on my part. I struggle with the need to stay home and chill and the knowledge that my two active kids can’t handle too many days in a row of that kind of inactivity. They go stir crazy, and with good reason.

okay.... maybe not this stir crazy. The poor mom who took this picture. >.<

okay…. maybe not this stir crazy. The poor mom who took this picture. >.<

The holidays provide their own activity on many occasions. Visits to grandma and grandpa’s house, playing with new toys, and visiting with friends help to ease the monotony. But the days where we have no plans can easily melt into each other. When that happens, we easily start to get on each other’s nerves. No matter how close your family is, I bet this happens to you.

I didn’t really plan well for that this year, even though my anxiety has been bad lately. I should have done better with that. I think those kind of things are areas in which I can take charge of my anxiety disorder and get hold of those reins before it gets out of control.

It’s not easy by any means. I always worry that I’m going to over-plan us and wear everyone out. Well, I worry I’ll wear myself out and then I’ll make everyone crazy. It’s a legit worry… When I get overstimulated, I’m a super-bitch.

Of course, under-planning hasn’t exactly worked out for us in the past. I think, maybe, instead of trying to plan a bunch of stuff, I need to plan some quiet time each day of vacation for myself. Even if I need to schedule my freaking showers, I need to make sure my family realizes that those times are mommy time. No one is to come in and talk to me. No can come in to ask where something is. No one can interrupt the silence by screaming until I notice.

Even if it is just a half hour each day, those quiet times will balance out the noise of the rest of the day. I think that it will go a long way to making sure that I’m not so tapped out at the end of holiday time.

introvert

My fellow sensitive introverts, what do you do to ensure your sanity amidst forced interaction? As much as I love spending time with my crew, I have my limits even when it comes to them. Do you have any tricks to make that time go smoother? I’d be interested to find out what you do and how it works for you. It’d be good to know that I’m not alone in feeling overloaded at this time of year.

Ringing in the New Year

Happy 2015!

Seems crazy that it is already a new year. So much has happened this year. The family and I traveled to Disney World at the beginning of last year. My youngest started Kindergarten. I tested for my black belt. My oldest delivered her first in-class science presentation and nailed it. I started a little blog called Serotonin Junkie….

It really was magical. ;)

It really was magical. 😉

And here we are: ringing in 2015 on that little blog.

2014 wasn’t always the sweetest year. There were a lot of times that kind of sucked, actually. But all in all, I look back with happiness at a year of accomplishments and hard work.

Probably the hardest thing I did this year wasn’t on the karate mat. It wasn’t that four hour black belt test. It was starting this blog and coming “out” to family and friends about the struggles I’ve faced in dealing with depression and anxiety. It’s been a bumpy road, but I haven’t regretted one moment of it.

this is hard for a lot of people. but it is very true. i am the same person.

this is hard for a lot of people. but it is very true. i am the same person.

I started this blog right around the time of Robin Williams’ unfortunate suicide because I found that I had a lot to say about mental health. I’m not a mental health professional; I just have a lot to say about my own battle with mental illness and how the stigma surrounding it has affected me.

Apparently, what I have to say makes a tiny bit of difference. This blog receives more traffic than I ever envisioned and for that I am profoundly grateful. I never expected more than a couple of people to stop by. But now that I’ve connected with people from around the world, I realize that I want this little blog to succeed. I enjoy reaching out to people, hearing their stories, and sharing their struggles with them. It gives this often difficult journey a purpose and meaning that I find exhilarating.

So, one of my New Year’s Resolutions is to post here every three to four days. I wrote up a calendar for January, complete with blog titles for the month. I also sent the calendar to my best friend and asked her to ride my ass to make sure I stick to it. And stick to it I shall, with her keeping me honest.

So what do you want from this new year? Either from me, here on the blog, or out of life in general? Any good goals or dreams you want to share? Any hopes for your year, either mental health wise or other? Feel free to share here in the comments or on Facebook if you so choose.

See you soon and many thanks for taking this journey with me.

no, but we are. seriously. we. are. fabulous.

no, but we are. seriously. we. are. fabulous.

Healing Hard

Running a mental health blog is a dicey prospect, especially when you do it the way I have. I pull no punches here; to me, it seems pointless to write my posts with anything less than total honesty. That said the content can get pretty damn raw. It’s been hard for me to balance the raw truth with my desire to hide behind a mask.

Papa knows what's what.

Papa knows what’s what.

My most recent post scared a lot of people close to me, and for that I’m sorry. It was extra rough and showed a very vulnerable side of me. It’s just the nature of loss, and that is exactly what I am going through. Loss.

I lost a position that I had held for a very long time and that had become part of who I am. It was a sudden, unexpected loss; it felt almost like the loss of a limb.

I’m healing, moving through the stages of grief as it were. With the help of my friends and my husband, I’m even laughing about some of it. Some…. It still stings like a motherfucker.

I don’t regret that last post. I know that for some, it was shockingly bitter. Many people reached out, worried about my mental state and what might have caused such a heartbreakingly honest post. For those who reached out, thank you … from the bottom of my heart. It meant so much to know that you were there.

Let me be very clear: I have a mental illness. I can laugh and joke about it with the best of them, but that is actually a defense mechanism. The hard truth about depression and anxiety is that it isn’t fucking funny. It sucks. It is as draining as that last post made it out to be. When I get down, really down, I’m not funny. I can’t laugh about it. Because it sucks the life out of me. Most people don’t see that side of me because I hide it away.

See? Funny ha ha. That's how I hide... ;)

See? Funny ha ha. That’s how I hide… 😉

Look, I don’t like that vulnerable side of me. It’s so much easier to laugh at the crazy triggers and make a self-deprecating game of all of the self-doubt. But the reality is still there; I live with it every day. My husband lives with it every day, and I know it is no picnic for him. Somehow, he loves me anyway and I’m damn lucky for that. He’s one of the main reasons that despite the pain of the last week-and-a-half I remain self-harm clean. I really couldn’t have done it without him and my friends.

I’m going to get through all of this. It sucks and there are still moments when I’m bogged down in sadness, but I’m going to pull through. I’ll be stronger for having faced it head on. I’ll be steadier for having accepted help and relied on good friends. And I’ll be wiser next time.

word.

word.

Still I Rise

My heart is bruised, broken, and so very sore. Over the past week, I have lost things that defined who I am: my character, my very essence and the core of my being, and my most basic purpose. All of those things have been ripped away, leaving this empty shell that I don’t even know what do with. Friendships have been called into question; ties that I thought were unbreakable are showing rust and evidence of cracking. I feel as though I have been caught, unaware, in a vicious rip tide of changes, a cycle that keeps knocking me down every time I think I can stand up for air.

knocked down

I want to throw my hands up and just give in, let that tide carry me out and just give up. But I can’t. No, I won’t. With every fiber in my being I want to break down, but somehow I’m still walking. Still smiling, even though it burns.

People say it’ll get easier, the smile will begin to feel real. But the losses that I’ve accrued this past week will haunt me forever. I feel as though my smile might never be the same. I feel as though I might never be the same.

And is that a good thing? Honestly, I don’t know. I had a home, a place and purpose there that defined who I was striving to become. It was a purpose that had pulled me out of the darkness so many times. There, I was surrounded by people who saw in me all the good, the spark of potential that I needed to come out of the other side slaying the demons in my own head. And for all of that, I was better.

It’s gone now, that shelter. It was ripped away in that current of change and I am left standing here amid the ruins. I keep looking around, waiting to wake up from the stupid nightmare. Waiting to know that the shelter and home I’d relied on hasn’t really been taken away.

I’m not going to wake up. The nightmare of it all is so real and I have to begin again. Suddenly and without so many of the tools I’d used to get where I was.

broken heart

Rock bottom. I thought I’d found it before, but I realize now its transient. With every wave that hits me I realize that I can always go lower. Those angry waves seem hell-bent on proving that point.

My heart is broken, shattered into a million pieces and I don’t know that it’ll ever be whole again. But I’m choosing to move on. I’m choosing not to make myself available to further insults. As hard as it will be to let go of the ties that I thought I had, I need to remember that if they were real, they never would have been so easily severed. I need to define my self-worth outside of that former home and remember that the people who love me, love me for the person I am and there are no strings attached to that love. And I need to know that I will begin again.

The truth is, I’m not okay. No matter how many times people I love ask me that question, and no matter how many times I give a false smile and say I’m fine, the fact that I am not okay hasn’t changed. And the people who really love me, know the truth. They call me a liar to my face and hug me tighter because they know. Truthfully, I don’t even know what okay looks like anymore. The face of it has changed so drastically, I might not even recognize it when I see it again.

But that? That is okay. It is fucking hard to admit, but it is going to be okay that “okay” has changed. I can redefine okay. I can take in the changes, breathe, and come out the other side a stronger, better person. Some of the things I thought were permanent may be gone, but I am still intact. I may be shattered inside, but the shell is still there waiting for me to put the pieces back together in a new and wonderful order.

I will rise, just like that phoenix tattooed on my side, and nothing is going to stop me or hold me down. People will catch me, hold me while I need it, and then they’ll be there on the other side waiting to say, “See, we told you you could do it.”

I’ll make it through. And those have to be my last words on the subject.

best for me