One tiny tip for tackling mental illness

There is something about starting your day (particularly your Monday) fumbling with a plastic pill bottle.

Or four.

One morning I walked into the bathroom and looked at the pill bottles lined up like soldiers going to war. Instead of being on my side, battling mental illness and hormonal imbalance the army seemed to be working against me. With each turn of the cap I was taunted by miserable messages.

Healthy people don’t need pills.

You are not healthy.

It is your fault you are not healthy.

I started every day thinking these things. The sun could be pouring through the bathroom skylight (and often was- it is Denver after all), my son could have woken me with a snuggle and still these condemning thoughts persisted above or below my consciousness. You are not well. It is your fault. Welcome to your day.

I noticed that I was holding my breath as I rushed though my routine so that I could get out of the bathroom away from the judgmental pills. I would brush my teeth with vigor, slap on sunscreen, stab myself with deodorant and gulp down the pills so quickly that they often became chalky lumps in my throat.

I decided to toss the pill bottles.

Not the pills. I needed them. But the bottles.

I stole one of the IKEA spice canisters from Steve’s masterpiece and poured all four pills together. I took time to notice the blue and brown and white and think that they looked like the very best local eggs.

I  threw the bottles into the sap bucket that we use as a bathroom trash can with a satisfying clunk as each hit the bottom of the bucket.

Now each morning I carefully pick through the pills lining them up on the counter and take them one at a time sipping water from a mug my friend made that coordinates with the color of the pills. It felt a little ridiculous. Yet it made a big impact. This slight aesthetic change brought on a big mental shift. I was taking charge, I was taking care of myself.

I was not just a patient but a person.The pills were put in their place. It wasn’t their judgment after all.


 

 

If you want to make your life a little better go ahead and visit Jeremy online (or if you are super lucky in Waterbury) we enjoy his pottery in every room of our house. But none more than my bathroom.

Have you made any small changes to make daily struggles easier. Is their anything that you do to make yourself more of a person than a patient?

 

Drowning from the inside out- what depression feels like

I am trying to hold onto the words but they are as weightless as I am. In this moment all of my physical mass has left me. My ability to stand firmly on the earth is gone and I am aware of the slippery tiles beneath me. I am not sure I will stay upright. I am in the shower with Steve, a practice we began when the boys were so little that the only way to get through the day was to literally double dip, grabbing a moment together before we were back out on the battlefield of parenting young children. I spent almost five years raising them while I was still in a pit. A combination of therapy and medication and sunshine have helped me

Today the boys are middle aged kids, just like I am a middle aged woman and I can hear the clear tone of my older son saying goodbye as he leaves for school.  I call out to him through the foggy shower glass to have a great day “lovebug”.  I have lost the word. It is gone. Do I call him that? Have I called him that before? I whisper it again to myself, this term of endearment that has suddenly lost all meaning and it feels squashed like the bug it is. Now I am flattened. It feels like I have an exoskeleton that can’t do its job because I have asked too much of it. The water slices down me through the cracks in my armor and finds its way in. I wonder if I can drown from the inside out.

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-3-24-28-pmSteve reaches out with the fancy soap that he bought for the holidays to celebrate a special memory. We first found it on a spontaneous holiday in Mexico, where amongst piles of dirt and unfinished landscaping we showered in opulence in our casita and were introduced to l’occitane. I remember that trip for so many reasons. Oliver learned to swim, Leo wore his winter hat with his flip flops, and Steve planned the whole thing in response to my mounting misery that January in Vermont. In this shower the soap brings back the feeling of the resort. How it was unfinished. How we lived in a lovely little space amongst construction in an almost empty resort. How we rattled around grand dining rooms and the boys collected tiles and screws and cigarette butts and lined them up as armies. How much that is like our life overall. We polish up the little bit that we can see and the rest is untended, unfinished, until it is just done.

These thoughts must have continued for a bit because Steve is using the soap to gently wash me and I stiffen and pull back. “Don’t do that” I tell him. He hands me the soap in silence and I let it slide in my fingers. Before I can do anything I notice the water cooling. First a tiny bit of the temperature is gone then more and it has fallen off a cliff into freezing. I don’t have time to wash. The reality that the hot water tank can’t meet our needs is horrifying. The cold water seeps in.

Steve hands me a towel. I know I could be appreciating my husband, his hand helping through the next step of showering but instead my attention is on the towel. It is part of a beach set that I spent too much money on, imagining that the perfect bold stripes would turn us into the kind of family who hit the pool in the summer with bathing suits that fit and healthy chilled snacks filling sturdy tote bags. The towels failed at their job and have ended up the towels in our modern monochrome bathroom. Like too much blush and lipstick they mar the picture of elegance I have tried to create. I realize I am cold and Steve is waiting so I take my towel and try to avoid the spot where it is coming undone. For the millionth time I am thinking about Wally Lamb’s “She’s come undone.” I find the phrase comforting in its finality. The undoing is over. She simply needs to be undone now. I think I could handle that.

I studied archaeology as an undergrad but these days I only excavate myself. Even though it has been almost three years since I had a prolonged depressive episode I continue to examine the shards of individual events, trying to determine whether I am passing through the era of stability back into a time of tumult. I know from study of myself and the earth that strata can have inversions. We do not proceed through the time periods in a strictly linear fashion. We can have previews of what is to come. And for me we can have reviews. I have been collecting evidence for a while now. I am rooting through the dirt of the past month. There was the time I didn’t let Steve touch my wet hair. There was the time I wanted to weep over the blog post because I thought I could no longer see what was OK to share about my friends. There was the time that I felt as thought there was nothing in life today or tomorrow. There was the time that I cut my walk short because I couldn’t lift my legs anymore. There was the time that I watched a mother dog reunite with her puppies and became convinced that one was missing. That she could never feel complete. That her wagging tail belied an emptiness that she would never feel. While the screen filled with happy emoticons as other viewers rejoiced in the reunion I became more anxious. I watched the video several times seeking signs of the fifth dog. Which never showed up. That time was this morning.

After the shower I got back into my Pajamas and back into bed. I should log that evidence.

Steve brought me tea and banana bread and looked into my eyes. “Are you crying?” He asked me. “No.” I was surprised to hear that. “It must be allergies to the cat.” As he walked out the door into a life that has a today and tomorrow, I felt my face with my finger.

There were so many tears.

Here is what I say to my evidence. I can still measure you and collect you, but I am not buried by you. Facebook tells me I am not alone with my raging response to the stroking of my wet hair. Facebook, for all of its shit, also tells me that I am not alone. My upset over the blog post is in the past. Clear eyes read it and reassured me. I was able to listen. My judgment was not on tilt. At least not any more so than a typical day in my stable era. There are things to do today. An architect to meet, medications to refill, yoga to practice. It is quite possible I will do all three. In ten days my family heads to Italy for the first time. There will be ruins but I will not be one of then. Even though my walk was short there was still a walk. And there will be another one. As for the puppy. Maybe four was the number. Maybe the family was complete right there and I took her joy for anxiety.

I have a husband who celebrates our family and loves the bold colors of the towels without seeing the dangling strings that could make them unravel, and he brings me tea.

Maybe the tears coming down my face are the water leaving, so I don’t drown from the inside out.

——

Apologies to my mother who reads this blog and will be so so upset to hear these words. Lets take that for what it is…a mother’s worry is never done but it comes from love and connection. And lets look at the real evidence. I am writing this instead of keeping it in. If there is any sign to hold up to the light it is that one. See you in Rome. I am so looking forward to the trip. Almost totally.

For one of the most readable and relatable books on depression I have ever seen please try this one.

boat to keep from drowning in depression

Snow-Kissed…Managing anger in a fairy tale life.

snow kissed couple I remember the bulbs, squirrel eaten and buried upside down. They will have to fight their way through human error and forces of nature to open their faces to the sun. We planted them together my boys and I, looking ahead. Today the ground is snow-kissed..the bulbs blanketed in their sleep.

Inside the boys are bundled in their own blankets, the plastic fleece gone from soft to pointed peaks with lots of laundering. I wonder what happened to cotton, why is it not the fabric of OUR lives. It washes without creating fabric dreadlocks.

In the midst of this peace I feel the anger swirling up. It starts so small it surprises me. I am caught on the thread of the fabric and soon I am in a fog. I can’t believe there are blankets made out of plastic. It goes against the very nature of blankets. I can’t believe they are in my house. I think of the poison from the production process and it poisons my mood. Every. Little. Thing. Makes me want to SCREAM.

I walk away from my snuggling boys to work on my wrath. I am never sure which way it will go. I might nurse it into a frenzy, boiling with self righteousness over unmade beds, and the fact that a large portion of my country supports Donald Trump. Or I may talk myself down slowly slowly noticing and letting go of the waves of rage, running my fingers along smooth fabrics, thinking about everything until it becomes nothing at all.

It has been 12 years since I physically acted out in anger. A combination of therapy, medication, mindfulness and motherhood has changed me. I used to slam things, hit pillows and once even a person. I used to chase the dog around the table, scaring her until we both settled down, my rage receding, her big head in my lap while I stroked her and we both calmed down. It is horrible to remember. It is also important to remember.

In my room I stop fighting.  I allow the thoughts to come. Why am I broken? What if I have passed this on to my kids? Why can’t anyone else clean the toilet? My thoughts stutter with my breathing. My lungs feel small and my breathe hitches as I try to slow down. In. Hold. Out. Hold. Here it is again.There is goes again. Almost as quickly as it comes it recedes and I can see outside of myself again. Fresh snow falls on the skylight above my head.  Downstairs my boys are shedding their blankets and donning their boots. The kiss of the white snow has awakened them from their sleep. They are ready to head outdoors.

I offer myself forgiveness, just as the dog did so many years ago. I head outside to watch my boys play beside the bulbs which silently and slowly prepare for spring.

 

Giving In to Depression

I have been reading the local and international stories with sadness over recent suicides after long battles with depression.

I haven’t been writing or talking much about it. Ok I give.

Then I read this on a friends facebook wall:

Robin Williams was a great man. His death was disturbing. As We all grew up adoring his movies. The one thing he is not is a role model. A self inflicted death is selfish and cowardly. R I P mrs. Doubt fire

To which I quickly responded:

I think everyone can agree that suicide is not an end we would wish for. I’m glad to be able to interpret from your post that you have never suffered from mental illness. I have. Suicide is a choice made from the darkest most desperate place, and the individual should not be judged. Perhaps the society that keeps us from asking for and receiving the right kind of help. But not the person suffering. Great sympathy to an amazing man, and even more to the people he left behind.

But of course there is more.

I have been writing and talking about my depression for years. More years than this blog shows. I am in therapy, and have been medicated and re-medicated since 1998. For the entire calendar year of 2014 I have been stable. Good, even.

I know this will be temporary. I grow used to meds. I need to find new ones. This is a painful process that can take years. In retrospect I can tell that I spent 2011-2013 in a state of clinical depression. But it takes perspective. The kind of perspective I didn’t have then. It is a battle.

Here is one of the very best visual and literal descriptions of depression I have read. And here is her book if you want to support her and you should.

This is what I sound like when I am mildly depressed.

And this when I am coming out of a major patch.

But I cant link to a period of real despair. Because my fingers don’t work to type. And my brain doesn’t work to form words. And I go one breath at a time. Fuck the day hour or minute. I just need to take this next breath. And worry about the next one following. You know that commercial about “Where does depression hurt?” “Everywhere” Who does depression hurt? “Everyone” And you see a small child’s hand trying to comfort a mother who cant get off her stoop. That slays me every time. It hurts in my belly and my chest. My lungs dont open wide enough for a full breath, my diaphragm collapses with deoxygenation. My arms feel like flu noodles and my legs are too stiff to operate. Light hurts my eyes like a migraine.

My kids come visit me in the bed as if I were Debra whatever her name is who played Shirley Mclaine’s daughter in that cancer movie.

Depression is as insidious as cancer. But we don’t see it that way. We are pressured to hide the fact of depression. And that sends people away from treatment and care. Towards suffering. And sometimes directly to the thought that the only way to end this misery is to actually end it all.

And this brings me to the point that I want to make. That I feel obligated to make.

I have been writing about depression for years. Because I CAN.

I don’t have a job that I need to get to every day.
I don’t have a boss at a job from whom I need to hide my stigmatized condition.
I won’t sit in front of a hiring committee and hide a regular part of my life.
I don’t have future in laws who will talk their son out of marrying me.
I am out of the public eye. Very few people will judge my backslides.
I don’t have a fiance who will rethink blending his DNA with mine.
I don’t have parents who are afraid of me.
I don’t have to try to get into the USA on a visa.
I won’t have to wait for a public hospital bed in underfunded mental health wards.
I won’t get turned down for the best depression medication because I CAN prove that I have been treated with everything else.

I have money. I can pay for a private hospital. I can choose not to work. I am already married to someone who has taken this on in the “sickness and health” portion of our vows. I am an American citizen, so I don’t need to worry about crossing the border.

Does this make depression easy? No. It just makes me lucky. Really lucky that I get to talk about this and ask for help. I can be honest, because there is not much in my life that I need to be delicate about. That is not true for most people. Many people have school boards, employers, or family members that they try to shield from the reality of their condition. Which means at the time they are going down, when they still can exercise judgement, they let the opinions and needs of other people factor into their choices for asking for help and care. This is the most critical time, and it is when they are most alone.

Because I am outspoken about my disease I have heard the prejudice first hand. Here are some of the things I have heard:

-You are just bored. If you had anything to keep you busy you would not be depressed.
-You are fat. If you exercised you would not be depressed.
-It is self indulgent to be depressed. If you had to get up you would.
-I couldn’t hire you. You are so smart and have great ideas but I know you would never be able to follow through full time.

These are things that people look me in the eye and tell me. It is easy to imagine the sorts of things they think but don’t say. So this is why most of us hide it. Perhaps underneath we feel weak and fat and lazy too, that depression is a symptom of some fatal flaw. At its worst literally so.

aft

I have not stopped the battle. I am here to write this. I am well medicated and in regular therapy. I consider working at therapy something to be proud of for anyone, depressed or not. Trying to understand ourselves and our patterns to become better partners or parents or co-workers should be lauded, not looked down upon.

Being depressed is not something that can be cured by taking a jog. A complex pattern of treatment and behavioral change can minimize the symptoms. But biochemically I will always be depressed and I will be on guard against its effects.

If you consider suicide cowardly then you are lucky enough not to have experienced the depression that can lead to it. We need it to lead other places first. To supportive workplaces and friends who speak out for us, and borders that allow us to cross into other countries. We need to have sponsors with stories that you can come out the other end. That darkness is not forever. We need survivors to speak out, and our society to listen without judgment.

Then maybe we will not give in.

giving in- thinking about suicide and depression