Second, this is a time for me of great stress, sorrow, anger and a few feelings I didn’t know I felt. It is a healing time of my life. I have been on a medical leave from work for many months now, after a year of loss and struggle that would challenge anyone. I’m not looking for pity when I say that – just telling you, because I don’t feel special about this. I feel lucky that I am in a position to receive the help and support I need. I have become a psychiatric outpatient during my leave, and I have the great fortune to be in full time group therapy, and to have close review of the medications I take to help me with depression and anxiety. I am lucky. Many are not.
Third, I want to sort out, as I put it in my posts about “being a Phoenix”, the “plot lines” or “middle” parts of my life, especially over the last two years or so. I want to do it with an honesty and humour that is entertaining and inspirational for me and for those who follow my posts.
After years and years of suffering and inadequate access to mental health care, I moved across the country to a place where my family and I could get some help. I also needed to put a couple thousand miles between me and some particular people–I needed to feel free to be honest about the mental health issues my children and I face. As a single mother of four, the majority of us suffering major depression, severe anxiety, OCD, and/or PTSD, I felt like the poster girl for STIGMA. Stigma shames and isolates and it’s not OK.
But here, in our new state on the West Coast, we have access to quality care. So back to yesterday: I was formally diagnosed with PTSD and finally found validation for what I’ve been trying so hard to hide for so long. It has taken way too much energy trying to pretend I’m fine, so I’m “coming out” for myself, my children, and for others who suffer in silence and shame. There should be no shame in what amounts to brilliant survival and coping mechanisms, nor in mucked-up brains whose chemicals careen wildly like derailed trains. We are among the most courageous people you’ll ever have the good fortune to meet.
So you probably noticed that last week Monday was the only day posts were shared from this site. I can (and will) explain, but first I want to say one thing.
I am really sorry about that.
Lots of little factors came into play, like me thinking I had Tuesday scheduled out when I did not, but all the little factors tie into two big factors that have eaten my life whole for more than a week now: travel and severe back pain — more specifically, sciatica. Continue reading
“All you need to do is pray; God will work it out.”
“You come from a strong line of people, we’ve survived slavery, Jim Crow and years of racism; you can get through this problem.”
To someone suffering with depression, these statements can be hurtful, angering and very isolating. Depression is far from slavery, genocide, or the institution of racism, but to some it can be very frightening with very real pain.
Someone you love is in trouble, and you are desperately seeking a way to help this person. You need answers and direction, fast. Perhaps your loved one exhibits signs of addiction, or his behavior is erratic. Maybe your once sensitive and loving child (spouse, parent, sibling) cruelly slices your sense of self with his words. Maybe your loved one is alone and lonely, abandoned by his friends who do not understand why he has changed. For whatever reason, you are searching and you found this page.
Are you really ready to do everything you can to help your loved one? If so, the first step is to let go of the shame and the pride that has you anonymously searching the internet for help. You will have to admit that your loved one has a debilitating illness. Cancer is an illness. Diabetes is an illness. Addiction, bipolar, schizophrenia, et al, are all illnesses. Being an ostrich doesn’t make these illnesses go away. Sooner or later, to access the help that is available, you will have to get past your pride. Your choice is simple really. You can keep your healthy pride, or you can help your loved one find a healthy life.
As a professional in human services it is the most difficult thing in the world to watch people suffer when there is help out there. This feeling is even worse when you have a personal relationship with this person. For the last few years that is exactly what I have been dealing with in my own life. I’ve watched this person have extreme mood swings, going from manic to depressive in what feels like the blink of an eye. Over time, this person’s extreme ups and downs have pushed people away and literally damaged some very important relationships for them. Like many African-Americans, this person is spending their life suffering (aware or unaware of diagnosis) and not seeking the help they need. In the case of the person I’m talking about there is no official diagnoses; however they have been told by myself and others to seek help and displayed many of the symptoms of Bipolar Type II.
Remember Bipolar disorder is far from easy to understand and in many cases the symptoms can look like separate issues. This reality makes Bipolar difficult to diagnose in general and as a result has led to it being even worse in the Black community due to our lack of seeking treatment. For this reason, many people and those who love them may suffer for years before ever being treated, making this a frustrating and debilitating illness. If you or anyone you love is suffering please seek help.
I jumped right in while I had an hour between conference calls and started outlining the talk. This was an easy one for me as I have endless reinvention material. I decided to make my story about all of the short term, highly diverse jobs I had before I found my intended career. To be fair, I work in web-based software interface design and that wasn’t even close to being a mainstream career choice when I was starting out. so I made do with what opportunities came along.
The title of this talk is “Dr Strangejob….or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Accept (Career) Change” It helps if you’ve seen the movie and some of my audience is much younger than me, so some of the joke will be lost on them, but I hope the overall theme is universal enough to speak to them. What I was forced to hold back in this talk was the mental struggles that made this journey all the more challenging, especially previously undiagnosed ones.
Here’s a sneak peek: I will have 4 lessons learned for each job and how they can apply those lessons in their day to day work lives. I am now realizing this applies far beyond the professional realm into the fabric of how we all live, so I thought I’d share some tidbits from the presentation with all of you. I won’t bore you with the whole outline, just a few highlights.
There are mornings when you wake up and you are too tired to get out of bed. There are nights when you are so tired, you cannot go to bed. The television is a balm to your exhaustion. It saves you from thinking, from worrying, from obsessing.
I need to work to pay the bills; I need to work to maintain insurance. But I cannot work today; I’m needed at home. What if I’m fired?
You care for your aging parent, your young child with a disability, your spouse battling mental illness. Love, anger, resentment, anxiety, exhaustion swirl until the vortex has you gasping for breath.
On top of all that, I’m stressed out… and as my Doc pointed out to me…NO amount of meds, sleep, therapy or denial will take that away. I just have to smile, manage it as
best as possible and endure it…somehow someway.
What does help me are people who are kind, caring and understanding. People who will listen without judgement, without being accusatory, without calling me “crazy” or “is there something wrong with you”? The answer is emphatically Yes, yes there is. And now that you know this fact, please just accept who I am. I need to feel loved, no matter how I am feeling or acting. At least I’m trying to change for the better…
Most people don’t realise that I learned to play classical guitar.
Most people don’t realise that I wore built-up shoes as a child due to knock-knees.
Most people don’t realise that I am genuinely ambivalent about Marmite.
Most people don’t realise that I don’t recognise faces easily.
Most people don’t realise that I have wanted to kill myself.
We hide, intentionally or not, many facets of our lives. Sharing everything would be information overload of the most intense variety. However, depression and mental illness are too often hidden because of stigma.
Combined with the turbulence of mixed bipolar disorder, mental illness became the driver and I its unwilling passenger. I closed my eyes during those early months, refusing to see the cliff we were headed for. If I were to open my eyes, I would have lost control and be as weak as I had always feared. Once I did open my eyes, it was too late.
I am intelligent and capable, qualities I couldn’t reconcile with anxiety. A strong person wouldn’t take fifty consecutive pregnancy tests or make everyday decisions through self-torment and sleepless nights. They wouldn’t be repeatedly admitted to a psychiatric hospital, colouring in mandalas and making paper mobiles. They wouldn’t be consumed with suicide, punching themselves as punishment for their weakness. They would be able to get out of bed, shower, work and keep a clean house. They could achieve.
It’s time to talk about this stuff. It is time to accept the reality of these disorders. They are complex and difficult to cope with. For people living with one it is a daily struggle, their loved ones overwhelmed and unsure of how to help.
I know personally about the daily fight. Coping with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety is a constant battle. A battle usually being quietly fought on the inside, often with others blissfully unaware. I try very hard to ensure that people don’t know I am having a down day, but sometimes there is no hiding it. Sometimes it is simply beyond me. Even with medications that are definitely of great help, there is no cure. There is no magic pill that makes it go away completely. I have had several people assume that because I am on some meds I should therefore no longer have symptoms, and are perplexed when I say that I most definitely still do. I wish they worked that way….