When The Bad Thoughts Win

Trigger Warning: Suicide, Suicidal Ideation
Please note that this blog was written last week and I am no longer experiencing suicidal ideation.

I was told not to write this blog but I’ve always had trouble being compliant. You see, the past week has been extremely difficult. My depression became unexpectedly worse and I’ve been suicidal. Please know that I have a safety plan and am not a danger to myself or others.

Depression can leave you feeling suicidal, please seek help if that’s the case.

But I feel the need to describe this pain because I know others experience it but few talk about it. It’s too lonely, heavy and dangerous to keep to yourself, no matter how uncomfortable it makes others. Sharing and normalizing these feelings could be life saving, though.

Right now I’m exhausted. I feel completely empty but so full of anxiety, fear and sadness all at once. I just put down the kids and as I walked down the stairs I realized I’m not going to be distracted by them for the next few hours. There’s nothing but pain to feel now. I immediately thought, “What pill can I take to not feel this way?” But the answer is always nothing, no matter what meds you have.

Tomorrow I plan on getting another ECT treatment, the one a couple of weeks ago just didn’t take. I’ll take my meds as prescribed. I’ll go to therapy. I’ll do what I need to do, even though it feels so futile sometimes. I’m holding out for hope and I’m so fortunate to have the support and therapies in place to give me that hope. Some don’t ever find it. There are those who die by suicide, and I would never judge them for that. You can’t judge others for the choices they make when you don’t know the options they had to choose from. You might even think it’s the “easier choice” to let go but you would be wrong. Nothing about mental illness, especially depression, is easy.

This past week hasn’t just been a heaviness on my chest. It’s intrusive thoughts telling myself I’m not good enough. That my family doesn’t need me around to fuck them up. That I should literally kill myself and do everyone a favor. During depressive episodes, these thoughts, sometimes worse, are on repeat in my head. And it is so, so hard to say, “Stop!” You get to the point where you think, “Which voice is right??”

But I do know. I’ve been through enough to know that my lying ass brain is just that — a liar. If you are in that headspace where you don’t have the clarity to see what’s a lie and what’s the truth, seek outside counsel. Ask your friends, (maybe) your family, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. No matter what crisis looms, you will be OK. It may hurt some more and get uncomfortable but that just means growth is coming. You are valuable and loved and needed on this Earth. I turned to my beloved mom’s group to hear this myself, and I’m so glad I did because their words helped me push through.

I can’t promise your pain will ever go away — mine hasn’t yet — but leaving this world before God calls you home will only bring pain to your loved ones. I’d like to hope all depression sufferers can tolerate the pain just long enough to find a support system, resources such as a good psychiatrist, therapist, medications and develop self-care practices. It’s also good to have a safety plan, in case you “come off the rails” and if that does happen, go easy on yourself.

Again, I’m not saying any of this is easy and I definitely don’t have all the answers. I probably won’t ever but maybe we need to ask ourself different questions…?

This shit is hard and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone but it has made me stronger (sometimes annoyingly so). I have to let go of the fact that my brain isn’t “normal,” that I’ll have a life-long struggle with this disease and that sometimes I might feel like dying. That’s OK, because most of the time I want to live, and what a sweet life I lead.

I’ll leave you with something one of my mom friends said to me when I admitted I was suicidal. I hope it helps you as much as it did me.

“You are so loved. So valued. I know your heart hurts. I know your mind lies to you. Trust me when I say you are worthy, loved and freaking amazing. You are needed here.”

And I am. Thank you for everyone helping me out when I was so low.

If you or someone you know is struggling, please direct them to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their site here.

Edit: Please read this article about what to do if someone you love is suicidal and in immediate need of help.

The Other Side

Depression and anxiety are at an all-time high right now.

I’ve been dealing with depression for almost my entire adult life, so I know what healthy behaviors I should be practicing in order to have some sort of control over my illness. For instance, someone with severe depression benefits from having a routine, exercising, eating healthy, etc.

I know to stay diligent when it comes to taking my meds. To keep appointments with my psychiatrist and therapist. Last year, I spent six weeks at an inpatient psychiatric facility, so I’m also equipped with healthy coping mechanisms, as well as a safety plan if I get suicidal. 

I know what to do. So, why is it so hard to do it? Why is there a part of me that doesn’t want to be healthy? There’s another side of me that I constantly battle and no matter how many positive blogs I write about fighting depression, that other side fights to be in control. There have been times where I have let it.

No too long ago before going inpatient at the Menninger Clinic, I let the unhealthy side take over. For some reason, I stopped taking my medication. It seems so stupid; taking pills is not hard but it became an impossible task. Obviously, my mood suffered from not getting my regular meds, but I just didn’t care.

That’s how it happens — you let the unhealthy part of you in just a little and soon the pull of not caring, not having to fight to be happy, commandeers you and you start to suffer in other aspects of your life. It’s easy, so easy, to succumb to this and while there are temporary moments of pleasure, there are permanent actions that are painful. Not just for you but your family, too.

Overeating or bingeing on unhealthy foods became an almost daily occurrence. I abused my anxiety medication. I wanted to escape and those actions gave me that escape, but again, it was all temporary.

Why did I want to escape? I mean, I have an amazing life — a loving family and supportive friends. I’m very fortunate and privileged. I have everything I’ve ever needed. I’m grateful for all that, but I have a very hard time lowering the volume of the voices in my head woh tell me nonstop that I’m not worthy. That I’m an unproductive loser. That there’s no point in being healthy, because I don’t deserve good things. It’s too much work.

I know that’s my depression and anxiety talking. And I know that they’re liars. I know it all, but there’s a big difference in knowing what to do and actually doing it. Therein lies the struggle everyone with depression deals with.

I’ve been inpatient, I’ve done therapy, I’ve done ECT treatments, I’ve taken dozens of medications. I’m much better than I was but that doesn’t mean it’s not a daily fight. I’ll always be saddled with this disease and I’ll always fight that darker “other side.” I pray that I’ll always win but there is a part of me that thinks I won’t.

It’s hard fighting my own brain. Believe me when I say that my brain is an adept fighter. One of its tricks is to tell me I’m amazing one minute and then next that I should kill myself. It doesn’t fight fair. None of this is fair, not that it matters.

This blog feels like some long rant, but that’s all I got today.

Everybody struggles with depression differently. If you’d like to read more about depression and mental illness, please visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

If you or a loved one is struggling with suicidal ideation, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. It’s available 24/7.

Back to School, back to school….

I know I’m not the only writing about this but I need to get it all out — I’m worried about my kids starting school tomorrow (Aug. 12).

They go to a private preschool and are starting earlier than the public schools, which are doing virtual learning until September. My daughter will be in Kindergarten and my son will be in the Pre K-3 class.

The school has a list of safety protocols that they started for summer camp from June to July. They’ll continue these, plus they are asking kids in the 3s, 4s and Kinder classes to wear face shields.

I trust the school to do every thing they can to protect the kids, but I’m still scared to send them back. Corpus Christi is being hit very hard right now with hundreds of new Covid cases and a handful of deaths every day. This past Sunday, we had more than 1,000 cases.

Having the kids at home has been nice in some ways but it’s taken a toll on my mental health. That and not having a routine or access to my usual self-care practices has stressed me out, increased my anxiety levels and forced me to turn to unhealthy coping skills at times.

I need a break from the kids, even if it’s just a few hours while they’re at school. I need to recharge, go to therapy and have some “me time.” I would be lying if I said all that didn’t go into the decision to send my kids to school. While I feel guilty about that, I know I’m not alone in feeling what I’m feeling. Every parent is battling this.

But the kids are suffering, too. Isla and Eli miss their friends. I’m sure they miss socializing at school and having contact with someone besides each other and their parents. I’ve also noticed that Eli has regressed a little with writing his name and other words. At the beginning of the quarantine, I had elaborate lesson plans for the kids but that has deteriorated into more screen time and outdoor play.

Eli’s only 4 so I’m not worried so much about him but I’m a bit concerned with Isla. We work on her reading daily but I want her to improve and be in an environment that cultivates academic growth. And I’m also worried about her testing into the gifted and talented school. She’ll take the test in January and I want her to be prepared. It’s something that David really wants (because he attended the same school), so I support that — as long as she’s good with it, too. 

This all might sound selfish and maybe it is. Of course I do not want my kids or the rest of the family to get sick. It’s a hard decision to make and I pray every night that it’s the right one. I just want what’s best for my family; I know we all do.

I support every parents’ decision, whether it’s keeping kids at home, virtual learning or in-person learning. I pray for us all during this uncertain and scary time. 

I know we’ll get through this somehow, I’m just hoping it’ll be with as little damage as possible. No doubt this pandemic will leave scares on us all, especially children.

I’m also praying for teachers, administrators, parents and students. We are all in this together, no matter what decision we make.

Disorderly Eating, Disorderly Depression

I’m probably the worst person to write a blog on body positivity, but perhaps that makes me qualified to.

I’ve never liked my body. Well, maybe a couple of times I have but I’ve never been consistent in liking my body or taking proper care of it.

On top of depression, I also have an eating disorder — Binge Eating Disorder — that has made it impossible to stay at a healthy weight. And to be honest, I still struggle even though I’ve had weight-loss surgery (Gastric Sleeve). Turns out if you don’t fix your disorderly eating problems before surgery, you’ll still have them after. Go figure.

I can still remember when someone first called me fat. I was in 5th grade and a boy who I liked said to me, “I know what your phone number is: 1-800-95-JENNY,” which was a number for JENNY CRAIG back then. The following year I was at my parents’ house with friends when two of my girlfriends pulled up their shirt and tied it into a knot, making a halter top. I then went to the bathroom and tried the same but a boy said, “Hey, we don’t need to see that!” Even though he was fine with seeing my skinny friends do it. I was not fat, just shaped differently than my friends but that didn’t matter to me — only what those boys told me did.

It wasn’t their fault I struggled with my weight afterward but damage had been done. Add that to this country’s obsession with being thin and you get an eating disorder and body dysmorphia.

I’m not alone. At least 30 million people of all ages and gender suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S. That’s huge. Every 62 minutes at least one person dies as a direct result from an eating disorder. And eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, according to the ANAD (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders).

Twenty-eight percent of American adults suffer from my eating disorder. Approximately, half of the risk for Binge Eating Disorder is genetic and nearly half of BED patients have a comorbid mood disorder. More than half also have comorbid anxiety disorders.

I’m no expert, so I can’t tell you why people binge and overeat. For me, it happens when I’m bored or emotional. Or when I just have a void to fill. Sometimes I think I do it to punish myself, like I’m not good enough to be thin or healthy. Somewhere along the way I related being thin to being happy and successful, and I’ve never been able to convince myself that’s not the case. So when my depression got very bad, so did my eating and my weight went up. I was tired of all the ups and downs with my weight so I saw a weight-loss surgeon, the same doctor that my husband had seen. I had the surgery November 2019. Let me say that is has NOT been any easier to control cravings or eat healthy foods. That void I can’t ever seem to fill is mental and my surgeon can’t fix that. It’s not his job to, it’s mine. I just happen to be a terrible “employee.”

The weight loss surgery wasn’t my first attempt to “fix” my weight. After my two babies were born, I decided to undergo a “mommy makeover,” wherein I had a tummy tuck, breast reduction and some liposuction. I was obviously thinner but I just couldn’t maintain that flat stomach, or number on the scale.

What bothers and frustrates me the most is that I try really hard to be body positive for Isla’s sake but how can I tell her to love herself and that she’s beautiful when I couldn’t subscribe to those beliefs about me? She knows that I don’t like the word “fat” when referring to others and to embrace intelligence over looks but how much is she really going to learn with such a flawed teacher?

I’m a firm believer that when you face challenges, you cultivate growth and maybe having an eating disorder along with depression and anxiety, this is just another opportunity to grow. I’ve had a lot of “growing opportunities” in the past few years and I’m actually a little sick of it. But I guess I’d be even sicker if I let another generation struggle with this mentality. I can’t just stand helplessly by. I honestly don’t know if this is a trivial matter to be concerned with or if my neurotic mom brain just doesn’t want Isla to make the same mistakes. Regardless, I’m committed to ensuring that Isla remembers a few things:

  • She is beautiful, no matter her size or who tells her she’s not
  • But…beauty isn’t everything. Kindness and intelligence are more important
  • Ideally, you shouldn’t care about others think
  • To find friends who support her and celebrate you successes. And who will call you on your bullshit
  • That no matter who she becomes or what she does, I will always love and support her
  • Being different isn’t a bad thing
  • When you hurt someone, always apologize
  • Be healthy, not thin

That’s obviously not a comprehensive list but it’ll do for now; after all, she’s not even 6 years old but it’s never too early to teach kindness and self love.

As I wrap this up I can’t help but think about all the times I was embarrassed or felt shame about my body. What a waste of all those years. But I too deserve love, even self love. Real change sometimes comes in baby steps. It’s not too late to eat healthy, to feel good in my clothes, to reconcile the thought that I’m amazing with what I see in the mirror. I’m no stranger to conflict, so there’s no reason to shy away from it now.

Maybe while Isla’s growing up, I will too.

To learn more about eating disorders and how to support a loved one who has one, go here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anxiety and Depression

I talk a lot about depression, and while that’s important, my anxiety can be just as debilitating, if not more. And if you’re (un)lucky like me, they go hand-in-hand.

When I think back, I can remember having anxiety as young as 12 years old. I can remember having intrusive thoughts about my family dying and I would be obsessively praying they wouldn’t. I also watched The Weather Channel around the clock because I had developed a phobia of storms. I’d watch even if it was good weather. When it would storm, I would get a stomachache and pray over and over.

My anxiety went largely untreated until after I had kids. After my first child, my anxiety manifested itself in weird ways, and if you would’ve asked my then if I had anxiety, I would’ve told you it was just fine. But I wasn’t. When Isla was born I freaked out about the temperature of every room in the house. I had read an article about the “ideal temperature” for babies and couldn’t help but worry about it. I bought little thermometers for each room the baby would be in at any point in the day and adjusted the air/heat accordingly.

I also obsessed over breastfeeding. I kept a detailed log on when I fed Isla and which breast I used and for how long. I kept it for the entire eight months I breastfed. I logged her diapers, too whether it was wet or poopy and how many times throughout the day. I did that for an entire year. That embarrasses me now but anxiety will do what anxiety does — makes you obsessed, worrying about things that aren’t always worth worrying about. But the thing is you can’t stop.

I obsessed over the baby monitor, watching it until I couldn’t stay away any longer. I worried about how loud or quiet the sound machine was and if David and I were too loud downstairs. You’d think as my kids got older I would relax a little but you’d be wrong.

Loud noises would freak me out and it’s still a trigger to this day. I don’t really obsess about those little things anymore but my anxiety is still here and at an all-time high because of the coronavirus. I have panic attacks, some that work me into a complete frenzy. I still feel panic and dread on Sunday nights, like when I was a kid. Sometimes I create problems in my head that aren’t real problems — like someone is mad at me and I worry about thinks I did or said to make them feel that way. My imagination runs away from me and I usually let it.

My anxiety gets really bad around the time of an ECT treatment. It stresses me out to think about going under general anesthesia and I have to talk myself down beforehand. My anxiety hasn’t gotten any better, even after having about 20 treatments.

I take meds for my anxiety and I try to employ coping skills that I’ve picked up in therapy but sometimes it still gets to me. Little things like taking a shower stress me out but I have no idea why. I think that’s what bothers me most — there’s no rhyme or reason to it and it’s hard to control.

A couple of weeks ago I had an anxiety attack at the dentist (which has never happened before). I was supposed to get some fillings replaced but before they could get started I panicked as they put the nitrous gas mask over my nose. It was embarrassing how much I cried but I couldn’t do anything about it.

A lot of people experience anxiety. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than 40 million Americans have an anxiety disorder. There are different types, such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder and Phobias. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. Half of people with depression are also diagnosed with anxiety.

I’m lucky to have a great therapist and psychiatrist who help me deal but only one-third of those suffering with anxiety are treated. Medication and talk therapy can help manage anxiety. I depend a lot on my medication but they only do so much. I have a list of coping skills I use, read more about that here. It’s also important for me to keep a schedule/routine. Interruptions can be a huge trigger, which is why it’s so hard right now with coronavirus. It’s also crucial that I question my thinking when I get caught in a cycle of negative thinking. I ask myself if my thoughts are true and if I’m being realistic or catastrophizing.

Aside from that my other triggers include interrupted/not enough sleep, socializing, traveling and loud noises. When I’m triggered by these things, an attack can feel like someone sitting on my chest. I sweat, shake and can even work myself up to being hysterical if it’s really bad. At times, I feel like throwing up and that I have a million butterflies in my stomach.

Sometimes anxiety attacks can feel like something else, so here’s a list of symptoms you could possibly experience:

  • a feeling of impending doom
  • a feeling you are in danger
  • dizziness
  • heart palpitations
  • trembling/shaking
  • chest pressure

Anxiety is so difficult to manage. I’ve been dealing with it since I was a kid, so I get that it’s not easy. Nothing is easy when it comes to mental illness. But I think the best thing to do is talk about it. I mean, 40 million Americans have it but it’s not widely understood and doctors don’t always screen for it and some don’t even accurately diagnose it. We need to keep the conversation going until it’s normalized — and that goes for all mental illness.

Misconceptions About Depression

A few years ago I posted an Instagram photo with me crying and a caption that said, “This is the face of depression. Be kind to others because you don’t know what they’re going through.” That photo upset some of my friends because I hadn’t really discussed my depression before in such an open way. To them I was happy and a goof ball. What most didn’t see was I was moody, miserable and even suicidal at times.

Though I was diagnosed with depression 17 years ago, it was after my babies were born that it really got bad — and scary. I had dealt with postpartum and post-weaning depression but had inadequate psychiatric care.

On the outside I was posting pics of my kids in cute outfits and everything online told a completely different story.

Many people mask their pain for different reasons. I had the idea that depression wasn’t talked about, that having depression makes you weak. That it was a matter of willpower. I didn’t want to be the depressed mom, I wanted to be the mom that does it all, which is a dangerous and unrealistic expectation for anyone. That stigma that I was buying into keeps a lot of people silent about their struggle. It can be especially hard in certain cultures, such as Asian cultures (read more about that here.)

There are definitely common misconceptions about what depression looks like. In my case, I’m not sad every minute of everyday. There are good and bad days, just like anyone else. Sometimes my depression manifests in other ways, such as overeating or binge eating; sleeping too much; having a short fuse; or partaking in other unhealthy behavior.

I was freed of the heavy weight depression holds when I admitted to all my friends and family that I went to a psychiatric hospital in 2019. I even wrote a forum piece about my experience for the local paper. It was not easy, in fact it was a little terrifying knowing that essentially the whole city knew my secret, but like I said, it set me free. I just didn’t care about anyone’s opinion anymore. I know it can be annoying when I plug my blogs or pieces in the paper but I’m hoping they will reach someone who needs to hear what I’m saying — that it’s OK having depression and there is no shame in it. Those who I’ve met who struggle with depression are the strongest people I know. We are fighters. We are survivors.

Ideally, everyone should be able to talk about their mental illness but I understand why people don’t. It’s terrifying being vulnerable, especially when there’s a chance someone will react negatively. But I urge everyone to reach out, even if it’s to one person. You’d be surprised how free it makes you feel, and by telling a friend or family member, you’re lightening your load. Your support system can help you carry that load, and you should take help where you can get it.

If you can’t reach out to someone, please know there are several online resources that can help. To learn more about depression or find resources visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. They have a 24-hour helpline.

Other Misconceptions About Depression:

  1. “It’s all in your head.” – Depression is a psychological and biological disease. You have no control over it, so if someone tells you to “buck up” just know that the problem is not with you — it’s with them and their lack of understanding. You don’t have to pretend or fake it, just do you.
  2. Depression = being really sad. – Sure, you get sad when you’re depressed but someone equating it to “just being sad” is trivializing your feelings and your disease.
  3. Depression means you’re weak – I already touched on this but it’s worth repeating — I think people with depression are so strong. Depression can wreak havoc in all areas of your life. Some people deal with suicidal ideation daily and others have to tap into a reserve of strength and energy just to take a shower (me!) or go to work. Often that reserve is depleted.
  4. Depression is not treatable – There are a variety of medications that are safe and effective in treating depression. There might be side effects and it might take a while before finding the right combination, but (most of) patients feel better. There are also therapies you can try, such as talk therapy, TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation), ketamine infusion therapy, and my favorite, ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). Please consult your doctor before trying any medication or other treatments.

These myths are damaging, but again, please reach out if you are struggling. It gets better.

If you are suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their site for chat support.

Mental Illness on the Front Lines

A dear friend texted me the other day, and after chatting a bit, I asked how she was doing. She’s an ER nurse in Florida, so I was concerned. Florida, if you don’t already know, is a hotspot for coronavirus and the governor is incompetent, in my opinion. This was her reply: 

It’s bizarre and sad. The first wave was mainly elderly folks from nursing homes mixed with regular people; some very sick, some not. In the beginning we had a tent outside where we tested people with minor symptoms, when it declined they took it down. The numbers we saw in the beginning don’t even compare to now. Every room with a door has a COVID patient. Four units have been converted and they’re full. Our governor was actually at the hospital today talking about how everything is fine. It’s not fine. This new wave is younger, mainly Hispanic; people who are low income and work either illegally or in cramped factories, they live in multi generation homes, so they all get sick. I feel relatively safe though, we have enough PPE. It’s just crazy. The saddest part is nursing home patients; they literally haven’t seen their families for months, even if they don’t have it, if they come from somewhere that has people who are positive, no visitors. I try to find beauty and love in tragedy when I can. 

Her response broke my heart. I’ve read that it’s bad but to have my sweet friend recount the chaos and horror just shook me. Can you imagine what first responders, nurses and doctors feel being bombarded with sick patients who can’t see their family and those who die? A local friend who is a doctor said her friends cry in their cars after working a shift because there are so many codes. 

Unfortunately, there is no where you can go to escape the pandemic, the divisiveness that’s occurring or the uncertainty. Corpus Christi is especially bad and has made national news, for all the wrong reasons. We have more cases than the larger cities (Dallas, Houston, Austin) per capita. Since March, 85 babies have tested positive for COVID-19. 

My Florida friend also told me that she had to start taking antidepressants because of stress and trauma of it all. Thankfully, the meds are helping and I’m so glad she reached out for help, but I couldn’t help but think of Dr. Lorna Breen, the ER doctor in New York who killed herself. She had no history of depression, other mental illness or suicidal ideation, according to her father. I can’t say for sure why she killed herself but I imagine the weight of so many people getting sick and dying was too heavy. Not only were people dying, but at that time, medical providers in New York struggled with a shortage of personal protective equipment. Dr. Breen also contracted the coronavirus before her death. 

The trauma of everything she faced every day could’ve changed her brain. Trauma has a way of doing that – just think about our vets who suffer with PTSD and depression. Trauma can also cause feelings of despair, and right now, who isn’t in despair? A 2013 study done by researchers at the University of Liverpool showed that traumatic life events are the single biggest cause of anxiety and depression, followed by a family history of mental illness and income and education levels.

It’s enough that our front lines workers have to worry about contracting coronavirus, but it can be just as bad developing depression (or other mental illness). Both diseases are ravaging and both can kill. I don’t really know what I can do to help these heroes other than bring awareness to mental health and the consequences of untreated mental illness. It’s overwhelming and I hope lawmakers will keep all of this in mind, because make no mistake, this will be a real problem — one that can’t be ignored. America’s supposed to be the greatest country in the world — so what does it say if we don’t take care of those who take care of us? It’s happened before.

After texting me about the chaos and death that surrounded my friend, she left me with this: “It’s so unfair that what should be an exciting time is tainted by all this but find the joy in it, too.” 

My friend is so strong and has such a good heart. She’s doing God’s work and she is more than worth protecting and taking care of.

G, if you’re reading, I love you and cherish our friendship. I’m so proud of you. Just keep swimming, my love.

If you know somebody struggling with mental illness or suicidal ideation, please direct them to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

To learn more about depression, please visit the National Institute of Mental Health.

Coping with Anxiety and Depression

Yesterday, I went to the dentist to replace some old fillings. No big deal — except that it was. I got in the chair and the dental assistant put the nitrous mask over my nose. I started to feel intense anxiety. I think it reminded me of my ECT treatments, which give me a ton of anxiety. I grabbed the mask off my nose and tried to calm down but I had lost control. My heart was pounding and I started to shake. I lay back down and the dentist started to numb my mouth but as soon as he put instruments in my mouth, I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was in danger, as silly as that sounds. By then, it was decided I would come back another day and I left with my numb mouth and all.

I am prone to panic attacks, so I have a lot of coping mechanisms I use – not just for acute incidences like at the dentist but also for times I can’t go to therapy every week and now for a pandemic!

It’s hard to distract yourself when you’re in the throes of an attack or in a depressive episode, and I’m not perfect. For almost every healthy coping skill I have on file, I also have an unhealthy one. When I don’t use the healthy mechanisms, I definitely pay the price emotionally, and even physically.

Here’s what works for me, whether I’m stressed or having an attack:

  • Practice deep breathing – When you do deep breathing exercises you increase the supply of oxygen to your brain and it stimulates the parasympathetic system, which promotes a state of calmness, according to Stress.org
  • Watch Friends bloopers on YouTube – This is one of my fave ways to relax because as soon as I start watching, I’m cracking up and my brain has managed to think about something else. I highly recommend laughing your stress and anxiety away
  • Sing my favorite songs – I sing a lot. The kids are constantly telling me to stop but it makes me feel good. It’s something that I do regularly to improve my mood but probably not something that can stop a panic attack in its tracks
  • Take VERY hot baths – I like to turn the heat up as much as possible to where the only thing I can feel is the hot water. It’s also therapeutic for me to have a good cry while the water is running
  • Write – Again, blogging really helps maintain my mood but it isn’t something I would be inclined to do when I’m panicking
  • Get a massage – This is my favorite thing to do to keep me de-stressed but unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get one because of the coronavirus
  • Get under a weighted blanket – Healthline.com says the weighted blankets help ground your body by pushing it downwards and has a deeply calming effect. The blankets also stimulate deep pressure touch, a type of therapy that uses hands-on pressure to reduce chronic stress and high levels of anxiety
  • Sew – I really have to concentrate to sew, so I tend to leave my troubles behind while working on a project
  • Read – Reading is awesome and you can get lost in a completely different world
  • Pray – It helps me to pray, especially when I’m feeling completely out of control
  • Go to therapy – This probably should go at the top of this list. Talking to my therapist helps me sort my thoughts and she provides practical solutions to some of my often-illogical behavior
  • Get my nails done or do them myself – My friend Meredith and I have a saying — “Everything is always better with painted nails.” Solid philosophy

Those aren’t all the coping skills I’ve employed but my favorite ones that have proven beneficial. Now, for the unhealthy mechanisms. I DO NOT recommend you try to deal with panic, stress, anxiety or depression with these but I know they are very common. While I aspire to nix those from my list some day, I understand that it’s hard to break these habits and behaviors.

  • Overeat or binge on healthy foods – Depending on the situation, I purposely overeat until I’m uncomfortable or in pain. More rarely, I binge on unhealthy foods like candy and LOTS of carbs. I do love my carbs but I had gastric sleeve surgery last year, so it’s REALLY not in my best interest to eat them. (If you have unhealthy eating habits, check out my cousin’s Facebook page. She’s a licensed nutritionist and has great ideas about intuitive eating)
  • Compulsively shop – Sometimes, I just feel the need to shop. It’s fine if I need something and need to buy it for the house or kids, but I’ve had times where I’ll spend hundreds of dollars on stuff we don’t necessarily need. And it makes me feel terribly guilty. That’s the thing with unhealthy coping skills, they only feel good for a little while
  • Blow off appointments – When I’m dealing with a lot I feel like I need to retreat into my home and be alone, which is fine some of the time but at other times, I really need to go to therapy or my doctor. There have even been times I blow off the not-so-important appointments like getting my hair done or a massage appointment but I’m still being inconsiderate but not going and wasting others’ time. I feel guilty about this, as well
  • Abuse my medications – I don’t do this anymore but there was a time that I would take too many of my anxiety pills because I just didn’t want to feel, well…anything. I would also take too many pain pills, pushing the limits of what was safe. This is a serious problem, and for some people, it’s a deadly problem. If you abuse your medication and need help stopping, please contact your doctor

Having depression and anxiety is hard. They both can take over almost every aspect of your life and make it even harder. While I implore you to find coping mechanisms that work for you, I think I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t mention that things such as talk therapy, medication and a good doctor can drastically improve your life. Sometimes we need to arm ourselves with more than coping skills, and that’s OK. Whatever your plight, I hope you find peace with it and thrive.

If you are suicidal, please call the Suicidal Lifeline Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their website at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org to use the chat function. Stay in the light.

 

Shame, Shame, Shame

Me with my Going to Therapy is Cool shirt

“You need to think positively.”

“You need fresh air and sunshine.”

“You’re lazy.”

I’ve heard all three of these statements in regards to my depression, and even though they are NOT TRUE, they make me feel such a sense of shame.

Shame (for me) is that awful feeling I get in the pit of my belly; it’s surrounded by humiliation and I feel less than. Unloved. Like something is seriously wrong with me. And really, there’s not a single thing to be ashamed of when you’re mentally ill. I didn’t give myself depression, or anxiety, or even avoidant personality disorder. But here I am 20-plus years into my diagnosis still feeling the occasional prong of shame and guilt.

When I was first diagnosed, I kept it a secret. I was embarrassed and didn’t want to admit to my family and most friends that I was flawed. I didn’t see anyone in my family struggling, so it felt like I was the only one suffering. And when I went to a psychiatric facility last year? Holy shit, was I embarrassed. But if going to the “mental hospital” is the worst thing people can say about me, then let them say it, scream it if they want.

There’s nothing wrong with seeking help, whether it be for a mental illness or diabetes. Taking care of myself enables me to take care of my two young children and husband, and to be there for my friends. To live a life I’m proud of. Ain’t no shame in that.

Far too many people suffer in silence and that’s so dangerous. There needs to be a shift — a societal shift of acceptance, understanding and no judgement. Why there is still a stigma surrounding depression and other mental illness is beyond me. The stigma that people perpetuate is what’s flawed. Not me. Not anyone else.

Depression is not a matter of smart and dumb, weak or strong. But it is a matter of life and death sometimes. And the silence surrounding mental illness only widens the gap between those suffering and the help they need. Shame about it feeds anxiety and low esteem. Anxiety feeds depression and depression feeds risky behaviors, drug/alcohol abuse or suicidal ideation. It’s an awful cycle and it’s very hard to break, especially if you can’t afford psychotherapy, medication or doctors’ visits.

It’s overwhelming to have depression, to say the least. It’s OK to stay in bed all day (to an extent), it’s OK to cry. Being angry about it is OK. Whatever emotion you choose, just know that depression can be treatable. You can live with depression. You can be happy. Some of us will work harder than others at it — also OK. Be proud that you are a fighter, I know I am.

I will continue to fight my disease until I die. I will be a voice for those who can’t speak. I will help normalize depression and there sure as hell no shame in that.

The Exhaustion of Barely Surviving

Warning: This post mentions suicide and suicidal ideation. If you will be triggered, please go back to the homepage. 

Me, playing with the kids

 

There are days where each of my limbs feels like I’m dragging 50 pounds. All I want to do is stay in bed or on the couch, which proves difficult when the kids are home, which is all day, every day these days.

Showering seems like an impossible task and honestly, I can go days without one. It takes me that long to get the energy to take one and then it’s an exhausting ordeal.

With the kids home, I don’t have the luxury of lying around and mustering the strength for a shower. The kids have needs and those needs have to be met. Don’t get me wrong, I love taking care of the kids but at the end of the day it feels like I’ve run a marathon or I’ve been hit by a truck. Not only is there zero time for self care but also I have zero energy or desire to take care of myself. There’s just nothing left – no reserves to tap into. And that’s ok, for a little while, but it’s not sustainable and almost always leads to total exhaustion or a breakdown.

How I combat these feelings is with medication and ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). But guess what? When you’re depressed, you don’t want to take your meds, even though it’s so simple. Another impossible task. Taking care of yourself while depressed is a full-time job, one that my brain prevents me from showing up to. And what’s dangerous is the belief you’re not good enough to take care of. That it’s easier to make bad decisions. Bad decisions can make you feel so good – like overeating or bingeing on terrible foods.

In the past, I’ve also abused some of my meds, like benzodiazepines and sleep meds. These self-destructive behaviors are just my experience. Other risky behaviors include excessive drinking, drug abuse, unsafe sex and cutting. I don’t condone it but I certainly don’t judge – I understand it all too well. What’s scary is that people who do these things are more likely to attempt suicide or die by suicide. I can’t speak for everyone but when I have engaged in self-harm or risky behaviors, it’s all about stopping the incessant pain that’s felt everyday. And even though it might be there, it’s hard for depressed individuals to see the light at the end of the ever-elusive tunnel.

I get why people attempt suicide. I have thought about it many times, unfortunately, but each time I just wanted to numb the pain, drown out the mental and physical pain. Before I went to the Menninger Clinic, I felt there was no hope with my depression. I was labeled treatment-resistant, meaning none of the meds available would help. I won’t go on a tirade now but I was lucky to go to Menninger. Not everybody has the funds or time to be inpatient at a facility like that. Hell, no everyone can afford medicine, therapy or psychologists. My therapist and psychologist are cash only – they do not accept any type of insurance. I guess my point is that there are many obstacles that people with depression face, internal and external.

Even if I take my medicine perfectly, get regular ECTs, go to therapy and avoid risky behavior, I’m still going to struggle. Those things definitely help stay on track but during a depressive episode, every day – and everything I have to do to life – is exhausting. I have to do all those little things to barely survive and I’m not the only one who feels that way. Mental health care in this country sucks – not everyone with depression is treated and those who are aren’t treated well or efficiently. Some people still wrestle with reaching out for care because of the stigma.

It’s easy to abandon a treatment plan. It’s easy to fall by the wayside, and it’s so unbelievingly hard to fight through the pain and fight the stigma on a daily basis. The exhaustion of living can wear you out. It does me, anyway.

Many people are fighting this invisible illness, some fighting just to get through each day. I certainly relate. I’ve been through hell and back and even though I’m doing much better now, I still feel the weight of depression (and everybody’s expectations), not to mention my sometimes crippling anxiety. I don’t know if that weight will ever lift but at least now I’m strong enough to carry it. I pray that others suffering will feel the same.