Category: mental health (page 1 of 2)

Why “Don’t Worry” Doesn’t Work For the Anxious Heart

Most of us have seen them. They’re ubiquitous on Pinterest, Facebook, and elsewhere on the internet. If you claim to be spiritual, they’re aimed at you: those “encouraging” mantras like “Give it to God and Go to Sleep!” and “Let Go and Let God!” Some people take it a step further and assert that worrying is a form of arrogance, since it seems to assume that we know better than God how to run our lives.
The real question is, do these kinds of comments help? How many of us who struggle with anxiety and depression have felt uplifted after reading such soundbites? If I can use myself as a gauge, I can say with certainty: not many. In fact, they usually cause the opposite result, making me more anxious than ever before. Now I’m worried about how much I’m worrying! I’m not a good Christian, obviously, and I am offending God every time I stress out about anything.
The fact is, the worrier is not doing anything wrong in worrying. The depressive is not doing anything wrong in being depressed. Rather, an imbalance of chemicals in the brain is almost always to blame. Implying that they are committing a sin every time they feel anxious of depressed or worried is useless at best and downright cruel at worst.
Instead of pointing fingers and exhorting those who are struggling to simply cease and desist, how about we come alongside to comfort and console? How about we offer to pray with them when they are at a loss for words? How about we ask “What can I do to help?” instead of browbeating them for not being a strong spiritual example?
Next time you feel tempted to post an “encouraging” exhortation to the anxious/depressed community, ask yourself “Is this truly beneficial?” and if in doubt, don’t. Try to put yourself in their shoes, and remember that there is no magical “switch” that people can flip to change their brain chemistry. If you are lucky enough to never struggle with anxiety or depression, don’t preach. Say no to platitudes. Rather, be proactive and reach out with real concern. Your struggling friend(s) will thank you.

Melancholy

What do Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Allen Poe, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Mozart, Michelangelo, Hans Christian Anderson, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Paul Gauguin, Emily Dickinson, Leo Tolstoy and Ernest Hemingway all have in common?

These are people who literally changed the world, who blasted the status quo apart with works of art or music or writing or political acumen. Their contributions stand today as some of the most progressive, startling, and beautiful on earth, and the list above is far from complete.

But there’s something else that unites them, can you guess?

They were all severely depressed through most of their lives.

Some of the greatest artists, writers, musicians and leaders became great not in spite of but because of their ability to plumb the darkest depths of the human soul and emerge with fists full of fodder for their art.

Are you sanguine, happy-go-lucky, and generally cheerful? You may think depressed people are real bummers, but let me tell you something: you need us. The world needs the melancholic, the depressive, the dark thinker. And why? We keep you honest. We keep you grounded. When you want to skip through the daisies and click your heels together, we remind you that life is finite, that mortality is certain, and that death is a guarantee. We open your eyes to the knowledge that you are merely a vapor’s breath upon this earth, and thus you are urged to act accordingly.

The sanguine who has no melancholy friend to balance them lacks substance and runs the risk of being indifferent to human suffering. One study showed that happy people tend to be less able to empathize with others than sad people are. I maintain that this is because perpetually happy people live in a protective bubble of happiness; a bubble that sad people do not have, and a bubble that tends to keep one from seeing clearly.

Most happy people seem to believe that hanging on to a depressed friend is an act of generosity towards that person, but the truth is, that sad friend has much to offer. Their gloom may make you uncomfortable, but discomfort is often what is needed for growth to occur.

Stick around the depressive for long enough, and you may find yourself gaining valuable perspective that you did not have before. You may find, in the end, that you need your depressed friend even more than they need you.

A Glimpse

Sometimes, this weird thing happens in my heart, and it feels like the machine, which heretofore was chugging along the rails clickity-clack, just flies completely off the track.

Sometimes it’s going through a tunnel when it just stops with a groan and leaves me there, suspended in the black.

Joy flees. Hope evaporates. The truth dies down to a whisper; the doubts and fears shriek and gibber.

Inside my head, it’s a tornado of thoughts. They fly back and forth faster than I can even process them. I find it hard to move; like my limbs have weights attached. Just getting into the shower requires monumental effort.

Everybody thinks I’m stupid. I am stupid. People are sick and tired of my bullshit. I’m sick and tired of my bullshit. Nobody cares, nobody understands. Nobody wants to get close. Nobody should get close. It’s dark in here. Really, really dark. People prefer the light. I have none to offer.

I grasp for medication. Not just the bottles of pills that are prescribed, but other, illicit, unapproved medication. I wish I had access to LSD to stop the blackness, even just temporarily, from consuming. I would do it if I could. I would do a lot of things. Instead, I punch walls, punch myself, sleep, retreat, pull away, dream about ropes and knives and the sleep that never ends in miserable awakening.

Despair.

I want to run away. Far, far away, so I stop hurting the people I love. They would be better off without me, this is the truth.

This is my truth.

This is life in my head.

 

Words That Hurt

I was just a week out of the mental hospital for suicidal ideation when you said it. 
“No mother who truly loves her children would ever think of killing herself.”
I’m sure you meant well…maybe you were thinking you were the first one to ever voice such a thought, that perhaps such a radical idea might shake me out of my destructive pathways.
You were wrong.
Instead, your words destroyed my newly-burgeoning sense of well-being. My optimism, already fragile, quavered and began to crumble.
You see, I respect you. I love you. I have nothing but good will towards you. I only wish I could convey to you the depth of how wrong you are.
I love my children with all the power of my fractured heart. I would gladly throw myself in front of a bullet or fight a bear with my bare hands for any one of them. They usually keep my feet firmly grounded to the earth, my reason for being and my all in all.
But sometimes, you see, the thoughts in my head begin to spiral. They’d all be better off without you they whisper. You are only screwing up their lives. Soon, they no longer whisper. They scream and shout, day and night. I begin to believe them. They’ll be stronger without you! They’ll move on and be happier!
The most recent time this began to happen, and I began to contemplate the best way to make it happen, I recognized it as a very dangerous sign. I knew the voices were false, I just didn’t know how to make them stop. So I committed myself to the hospital in the hopes that I could be safe and feel better.
Fortunately, it worked. I do feel better. I am moving forward.
Until your comment.
It took a supreme amount of willpower to prevent myself from going to a very dark place after your words, but I managed to do it. For this I thank a stellar support group and proper medication.
Mental illness is not a choice. No one makes the decision to have 
Major Depressive Disorder, to be Psychotic or Schizophrenic. These are diseases, the same as diabetes or congestive heart failure.
I recognize that I have the disease called Bipolar Disorder. This makes me susceptible to drastic mood swings and irrational thinking.
Maybe you’re one of those who has the luxury of believing such a diagnosis is bunk, that psychology is a farcical science. If you are, then we haven’t much more to say to each other.
For both of our sakes and the sakes of our precious families, let’s strive to understand one another instead. I only want to educate and inform.
I hope you can find it in your heart to listen.

 

Crazy. Real.

So I was in the mental hospital. Again. For suicidal ideation. Again. I wanted to be done with this life, wanted it so badly I could taste it. A strong beam and a belt is all I needed.

I’m feeling much better now. Something about focused time alone, group therapy, meeting other people with the same struggles and feeling less alone, medication adjustments, and one-on-ones with counselors and doctors, makes all the difference.

I met many fantastic people. People with so many various sorrows. So many diverse difficulties. People heartbreakingly young and heartbreakingly old. I was truly humbled to be in their presence. They taught me a lot about being human, about being real, about being me.

There are no walls in the mental asylum. “What are you in for?” is a normal, even expected, question, and one that is almost always answered with brutal honesty. Compassion overflows. It’s a (hopefully) safe space.

Some people talk to themselves, and to invisible entities. Some are volatile and noisy. Some are withdrawn and quiet. Some become friends. All have something to teach. All are worthy of grace.

How do I carry what I have learned into my daily life?

It is a legitimate question, and perhaps one with numerous answers. For me, it is to focus on each day and its daily issues, and not to dwell on the past and what I cannot change. It means to examine each thought and emotion and ask “Is this true? Is this beneficial?” and if it is not, to toss it away. It means not living in the future either, where nothing is certain and fears have fertile soil in which to grow.

Some of the best people in the world have struggled with mental illness. Mine is bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder. Yours may be called something else. The most important thing to remember is: you are not alone.

As a Christian, I look to the Bible for some semblance of comfort in my illness. I didn’t think the word had much to say about it until I looked closely at the story of Nebuchadnezzar. Did you know that this pagan king actually wrote an entire chapter in a book of the Old Testament? He ruled Babylon, and went mad towards the end of his life. As the Bible puts it, he ate grass like a cow and grew his fingernails out like claws. In the end, however, he was restored to health by miraculous means, and he praised the Lord as a result (Daniel chapter 4).

Can I do the same? Can I see the Lord’s hand in my healing, even if it comes via pharmaceuticals and therapy and modern medicine?

Yes. I can.

I can bless the Lord’s name in the thick of it, in spite of everything, and with the comforting knowledge that I am in the company of kings. Even when I don’t understand what’s going on, even when my sanity is tenuous, I can speak God’s name, for it is the very sound of my breathing.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted

That’s me. I freely admit it.

Is my God big enough for me to throw myself in his lap and pound on his chest in frustration and fury?

Is my God big enough to cover me while I thrash and wallow and gnash my teeth? In the ashes? In my brokenness and anguish?

Can I admit that I am broken? And be okay with that?

Can I open my lips and thank him for all this life offers?

I can. And I will. My very life depends upon it.

 

 

The Worst Thing

What’s the worst thing you can say to someone who suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)?
Nothing at all.
Let me clarify: Say you’ve been having an argument. You think it would be best to just go to sleep and leave things to cool off until morning. So you roll over in bed, turn your back to me, and say nothing. 
Or you’re texting, and things have become heated. You leave the last text from me just hanging there because you’re tired of the discussion and you don’t think there’s anything left to say.
Terrible move. 
Nothing is the worst thing you can “say” to me, as someone who suffers from BPD.
You see, when you have BPD, you don’t just “let things go” in a disagreement. You don’t just “get over it” when things go wrong. Seemingly insignificant things can start a spiral of self-loathing and despair that is impossible to overcome without excruciating amounts of effort. While you may think that just saying nothing is better than saying something “wrong”, it is actually the worst thing you can do. 
Without closure, the mind of a person with BPD goes into overdrive. First, there’s the anger. We have all kinds of things we NEED to say, to get them out of our heads so they stop circling endlessly in there. But you’ve made it clear that you’re done, so we can’t. We’re stuck obsessing over them for the next 24 hours or more.
Then there’s the self-recrimination. You hate us. Obviously, you simply can’t stand us anymore. We’re worthless. Not worth the time of day. Let’s face it, we’re sh*t. 
After that comes the bitterness and fatigue. We become so exhausted from the inner monologue that we shut down and spiral into depression. Nobody cares. What’s the use in trying anyway?
I understand that sometimes you walk away because you just can’t handle the drama anymore. Sometimes you have to walk away so that you don’t lose what little temper you have left. But maybe reading this will help you understand the effect it has on me. Walking away, turning away, not returning a text, giving me no closure, is saying, to my mind, I don’t care about you. I don’t care what you have to say. You’re not worth my time anymore. This relationship/friendship is over.
So the next time you’re finding yourself tempted to just let the sun go down on your anger, reconsider. Let us have closure. Please. It means the world to us. 

The Dog

Sometimes it’s hard to explain just what having mental illness means. Sometimes there just aren’t the right words.
Sometimes it’s hard to know just where the illness ends and the real person begins. I have been diagnosed as Bipolar I, and as having Borderline Personality Disorder. These terms do not define me, but they do explain me.
I am not my illness, but I am responsible for keeping tabs on it, for self-monitoring, and for being aware of its place in my life.
I think of it as a dog. A feral, mastiff-type animal with a strong body and an even stronger will. If I don’t keep it in line each day, it will easily overpower me. I medicate it. And I learn how to dominate it, to keep it submissive. 
But it doesn’t like it. 
It longs to take advantage.
Sometimes I get weary of controlling it and it leaps at the opportunity to run rampant. I lose focus. I crave excitement. I act foolishly. The dog grabs me by the scruff of my neck and shakes me until my teeth rattle. 
On some level, I enjoy it. I get a thrill from being between the monster’s jaws, not knowing where it will take me or where I will wind up. 
All too soon, however, the highs end. Reality hits. And I’ve done it again. I’ve hurt those around me, those I care about, those I love dearly. They are dealing with the fallout, wondering if they can ever trust me again, wondering if I even care at all. 
I do care. 
I want to be trusted.
Medication will be adjusted. Therapies tried. The dog will be fitted for a new collar, though it will whine and scratch and struggle to get loose. 
I will never be free of the dog. It is a part of me, and I a part of it, just as my heart and lungs are a part of me. Hopefully, those who love me can see that, and can extend grace for the times that are overwhelming. If not, perhaps they are not the people who need to be in my life at all. 

The Other Girl

There is a girl I know, a girl who is closer to me than anyone else in the whole world. She talks to me all day long, in a familiar and cajoling voice.

She never fails to respond when I feel rejected or alone; she encourages me and puts her arm around my shoulder.

“You really shouldn’t be friends with that person anymore,” she whispers. “They will only hurt you again and again. Better off without them.”

“Rejection is too painful to risk,” she says. “And you’re sure to be rejected if you put yourself out there. I mean, really, look at you. You’re far too crazy to be accepted. Let’s retreat and stay safe.”

She especially likes it when I’m feeling manic. 

“Let’s have a great time!” she urges. “Forget everybody else, let loose a little and be free!”
“You only live once!” she cries. 

The thing about the Other Girl, however, is that she is always, inevitably, dead wrong. 

She got me into trouble, this Other Girl. She caused me to question people’s motives, to mistrust even the closest of friends, to push my husband far away. She tempted me to commit reckless acts that would leave a wake of devastation in my path.

In order to contain her, I found within my psyche a secret place, a sort of sewer deep within the recesses of my being, where I could shove her, along with all my disappointments and fears and worries and anguish. 

She didn’t like it in there. It was dark, and she raged to get free. I could always feel her there, pushing and straining at the manhole cover. I stood on it with all my strength to keep her contained.

One day, she overpowered me. 

She exploded out of the sewer, scattering the accumulated shit of a lifetime as she went.
She screamed at me that I was worthless, that I would never be whole, that the world would be a better place without me.

I believed her. She was so strong, and so convinced, and so angry. I could not withstand her onslaught. 

I tried to take my life. 

The Other Girl told me it was my only option, and I listened.

In the hospital later, The Other Girl told me to wait, and when we got out, we’d do it again, but properly this time, so no one could intervene.

She was so emphatic, and I was too weary to stuff her back into the sewer. I looked around and the mess we had made together, and felt utterly defeated.

Fortunately, there were people in the hospital who knew how to help me. They knew about the Other Girl, and they weren’t afraid of her. They knew how to quiet her voice, how to render her impotent. They helped me clean up the mess; they let me know that now that it was out in the open, it could be dealt with.

They taught me not to stuff my emotions into the sewer, they taught me how to deal with them in healthy ways.

The Other Girl still exists. She is a part of me and always will be. But I know the feeling of her hand on my shoulder, and I know how to escape its grip.

Perhaps you know the Other Girl too. Perhaps she is even now telling you that the world would be better off without you. 

I am here to tell you that she is a liar. Don’t let her get the best of you.

 

If you or someone you know needs help, visit The Mighty’s suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

 

A Mother to Multiples

So, at some point, the game of odds just doesn’t matter anymore.

The game that says, hey! Ten out of thirteen, man, that’s great odds!

The game that says hey! Be happy with the majority! Be happy that the majority outweighs the minority!

But this is not a game. This is not a bargaining chip. This is not a race, in which the second, and third, and fourth winner win a prize, a ribbon to rival the first’s. This is real life.

This is real life.

Where nobody cares that one small victory might add up to several large ones in the broad scheme of things. Where it doesn’t matter that someone got a job when they are twenty-something because most people get jobs at 18-something…or 16-something…

Where no one gives a shit that it cost many a late-night conversation just to get a loved one to the place where they could even see their way clear to apply for a job stocking shelves, or less, because the depression and the overwhelming anxiety precluded it up to that point.

This is real life, where every life counts, and every soul that you think is dispensable winds up belonging to someone that you love.

So think twice before you think that the odds are in somebody’s favor.

We aren’t thinking in terms of odds. We are thinking in terms of souls. Every single soul that means something infinite to us, the mothers and fathers of those statistics. We can never be happier than our saddest child, in the grand scheme of things, in the great ultimatum that is dished out to everyone, no matter how arbitrary.

All my children matter to me. All of them. Not one of them matters more than the others. That is the truth. No matter how odd it seems. It is the final word.

No matter how many children you have, the least of them will hold the highest place in your heart. That’s just the way of it. The most troubled lingers in the psyche as the most in need of compassion and care. So how can we do any less? We lavish the love where it is most longed-for.  And hope for the best.

Always.

 

True Confessions of a Bipolar Mama

Here’s a new post I submitted to The Mighty. Thought I’d post it here too, in case it helps someone in my small circle.

I was diagnosed late in life–just three years ago, at age 44–with Bipolar Disorder. I had suspected for most of my adulthood that something was greatly amiss in my mind, and Bipolar often seemed to fit, but I was under the mistaken impression that I could overcome the wiring in my brain by sheer tenacity. After a major manic episode followed by a spectacular spiral that ended with a suicide attempt, I began to seek much-needed treatment.

What follows is a list of things that may or may not be revelations to those who do not suffer from mental illness. It is my fond hope that it may help those who want to understand better the inner machinations of the Bipolar brain.

1. I won’t always know what I need. Do I need to be left alone? Or do I need company? More talking? Less talking? A therapy session? Medication adjustment? Time? Chocolate? Although most people might know exactly what they need and when, it is not the case when you are Bipolar. Often it is trial and error to find out what will work during a particular depressive or manic episode. Patience is key.

2. I am a really, really good actor. So good, in fact, that I fool myself sometimes into thinking I am not as sick as I am. My suicide attempt was an almost out-of-body experience. The days leading up to it I was faking happiness and well-being, so well that I fooled myself into denying I needed help, and quick. The whole time I was carrying out my plan it was as though I was standing aside and watching from a distance. Encourage frequent and deep self-examination and regular psychiatric visits.

3. It’s a whole different world inside my brain from what I let on. Sometimes the struggle to maintain a semblance of normalcy requires every bit of energy I have. I don’t always have much left over for cooking and cleaning. Your patience and help is, as ever, appreciated more than you know.

4. I worry constantly that I passed my faulty genetics onto my beloved children. My eye is always on the lookout for symptoms in my own children that signal any dangerous mental aberrations. I grieve deeply that they are at an increased risk for inheriting Bipolar Disorder, and depression, because of me.

5. I worry that I may neglect my own loved ones by my need to check out occasionally, and that they will wind up resenting me.

6. I worry that people will think I’m a fake. Do I *really* have Bipolar Disorder, or is it just an excuse for acting crazy and getting away with it? Can I *really* not control some of my actions when I have a manic or depressive episode? Surely this is all just a ruse. These thoughts cause heaping loads of self-inflicted guilt, which nobody needs or wants. Reassurance is extremely important, and regular visits with a psychiatrist will help reinforce the truth that this is a disease that warrants careful management.

7. My heart is not bipolar, only my brain. If you stick with me, I will love you passionately and eternally. My appreciation for you will increase exponentially when you bear with me during the difficult moments as I wrestle mightily with my disease, I am capable of deep and abiding affection. When I tell you I love you, don’t question my motives or sincerity, and I long to be accepted and loved in return, flaws and all.

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