Make Hay While the Sun Shines

Me cheesing after a workout.
This is my happy face
.

A week ago I was in bad shape — severely depressed, anxious and suicidal. I went for an ECT treatment and my psychiatrist altered my medications. This week has been unbelievably better. I expected to feel a bit better because of how low I was, anything is an improvement when all you can think about is dying. What I didn’t expect was how good I’m feeling. I have energy, motivation, mental toughness and this fire in my belly that I haven’t felt in oh so long. I almost didn’t recognize it. Is this what it’s like to be happy?

Let me walk that back. I’m always happy with my life and everything I have. I’m so fortunate and grateful, even in times of deep depression. But this is something else — this is me acknowledging the “inner me,” my utmost self and she is fierce. She radiates happiness. She loves every inch of herself. She advocates for those who struggle with mental health. Her mission is to help and heal this world through whatever means possible (Tikkun Olam). She relishes in spending time with her family (for more the most part) and laughing loudly with her friends. She has grit.

I’ve been cleaning, planning and getting those annoying tasks on my to-do list checked off. That might not sound very fun but I’m doing it with joy because I just can’t do much when I’m so sad and fatigued.

This is what I aspire to and how I want to feel all the time but there are days where the only thing I can aspire to is getting dressed and taking care of the kids. But that’s OK. Not every day will be a good one but that’s exactly why I need to write this blog. I must remember this feeling when I’m down deep in the black pits of darkness and depression. I need to tell myself that happiness and wellness are attainable. That it’s possible to feel so good that your cheeks hurt from smiling and you can’t stop singing, despite complaints from your family. I just want to sing, for my heart to sing. I want to reach my potential. I want people to assume I’m manic (or on drugs, LOL) because I’m so productive and happy.

And maybe I am manic right now but I’m going to make sweet, sweet hay while the sun shines.

It’s a great day to be alive and not in bed. I cherish this day, this feeling and all of you who support me when I’m utterly depressed, manically happy and everything in between.

To learn more about depression and you can help others suffering, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

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.

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.