Monday, November 30, 2015

The Mental Health Advocate's Gratitude List

Lists of gratitude are almost obligatory at this time of year. And naturally, I am thankful for family, friends, pets, roof over my head, my job, and all these standard things like the majority of the population. But as a mental health advocate, I have a few "gratitude items" that may be a bit unconventional, and I'm guessing a good number of chronic/invisible illness advocates can relate.

I am thankful for...

  • Supportive friends and family, who have not given up on me, even in those moments when I want to give up on myself. 
  • Grace, and Cinn, despite the fact that Cinn's no longer with me in body. Pets are some of the best (and most cuddly) form of therapy. Truly. They listen non-judgementally and love unconditionally and sometimes, that's exactly what I need. 
  • Meds. These are lifesavers, literally. They have their downsides, but man am I grateful to found ones that work for me. 
  • My therapist. She's priceless (not really she charges $175 per session, but it feels like she's priceless because she's worth every penny). 
  • The spoonie community. You rock. You are the strongest bunch of badasses I have ever met, personally or virtually, in my life. Each and every one of you. Whether it's mental health or another chronic illness, I'm inspired to know you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for wecloming me into your community. (If unfamiliar with the term spoonie...).
  • My mood disorders support group on FB: I can often talk to you when I can talk to nobody else. You show me that I am not "crazy", as I sometimes feel, that I am human, and lovable, and worth it. 
  • AFSP: Not only have I been able to participate in the Out Of Darkness Overnight Walk the past two years, but it has given me the opportunity to become involved in the local chapter, and to meet some amazing people in the region who are also dedicated AFSP and their mission of suicide prevention. It has, on my toughest days, reminded me why I persevere and keep going. 
  • Life and hope: Every 12.8 minutes someone in the U.S. dies from suicide. So many people have lost their battle with mental health, and anyone who says depression or mood cycling is not fatal could not be more wrong. No matter how awful a time I might be going through, I am alive. 
To all of you who get me through the days, weeks, months, years, who stand by me in the worst of times, and celebrate with me in the best of times, I am so thankful for you all! Keep doing what you're doing. You are truly amazing. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Hell Yes I Changed My Profile Picture To Paris

I never write about anything remotely political or religious, especially if it doesn't directly mental health. But I'm fed up with people. Fed. Up. And let me clarify that before I go any further, that the "you" here is generic, not at any specific person, and the "I" is representing myself, but also those who are kind of in the same boat.

Here's the thing: what happened in Paris is awful. What happened in Lebanon is awful. What's happening in Syria is awful. What's happening in Burma awful (I'm not calling it this for political reasons, FYI, it's just early and the morning and it's easier to spell). The too many genocides to name in Africa that have happened are awful. What's been happening in Israel/Palestine is awful - and yes I'm intentionally leaving that vague because where I personally stand isn't the point. I'm sure I forgot some because the world is mighty fucked up right now, and I can't possibly name them all - it's not a political statement, so don't get your panties in a knot, please.

But let me explain: I was just in Paris last year - literally a year ago last week. I stood where those people are standing, I have pictures of them, pictures of me standing there. I got to know a few people over there. I fell in love with the city years ago and it was only confirmed when I visited last year. I always said I'd move there if I could. I have a trip to Belgium this spring in which I was toying with dipping into Paris just for a day, because not going would pretty much like seeing the love of your life standing a few blocks away and not walking the two blocks to see him/her when it might be the last opportunity for a long time.

So guess what? Hell yes I changed my Facebook profile picture to Paris. Does that mean I'm anti-muslim?  Let me put it this way. Last year, I was in Morocco. Two years ago, I spent two weeks in Dubai, Jordan, and Turkey. They're some of my favorite places in the world. I have a recording of the call to prayer in Turkey on my phone because of how beautiful it sounded. I tell everyone they should visit these places. So, um, no, it does not. Does it mean I don't care what's going on in Syria, Burma, Lebanon, the rest of the world? Absolutely not. But here's the thing - I've never been to Syria, or Burma, or Lebanon, or many of these other places. SO I CAN'T CHANGE MY PROFILE PICTURE TO THEM! Nor can I reminisce about all the great times I've had there. BECAUSE I'VE NEVER BEEN THERE!

When my dog died, she was my profile picture. When my friend passed away last month, a picture of her was my profile picture. When my Great Aunt Lucy passed away last year, she was NOT my profile picture.  Because I don't have a picture (that I can find at least) of my me and my Great Aunt Lucy. This doesn't mean that I hated my aunt. I didn't at all. I loved her. But she was 80 and living in a nursing facility in Buffalo and I hadn't seen her in a few years.  I don't have the same recent memories to reminisce about on my social media. I don't have a picture of us from... ever, I don't think. But I mourned her. I was saddened. I wished I'd gone up to visit her more recently. I told close friends about it. I may have put it on social media but I can't recall. It wasn't a statement of who I love more or not. It was simply because of the pictures and memories I had. Simple. As. That.

My Facebook feed is filled with political and religion-related posts one way or another due to the upcoming elections and recent events around the world. Do I sit there make negative comments all over the posts I don't agree with? I do not. Maybe silently, in my head. But I don't spew hatred at them because if we've not realized it yet, hatred and not understanding people who are different from us is pretty much the world's number one problem. If it gets too offensive, I might mute their feed for a bit so that I am not tempted to go off on them when I'm having a particularly bad day (feisty Sicilian over here, it takes a lot to keep my opinions to myself but I'm proud of myself up until this point). But I let people have their opinions, because who am I to say that I'm right and everyone else is wrong. Isn't that exactly what we're fighting against with terrorism, and basically every genocide in history - one person/group/etc believing that everyone should be like them and eliminating those who aren't? And now, seriously, you're upset because I changed my Facebook picture to Paris.  You think it means I don't care about the rest of the world? Well let me tell you something - you probably shouldn't be my Facebook friend after all. Because clearly, if you're going to judge me on that one thing, you don't know me at all. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Fighting Depression: It's Not About Perspective

We all know how it goes. Someone's having a bad day and you say something like "well, there are starving children in Africa". Ok maybe not that extreme, but I've learned that people tend to reply one of two ways. They may try one-up you by sharing something that they're going through that's even worse, with obnoxious sayings like, "welcome to my world" (this works well if you want me to slap you) or "I'll trade with you" (sure, you have no idea what you have coming).  Or they might attempt to make you feel better by giving you perspective - perspective that we know we are supposed to have and try, as we might, cannot manage.  Quite honestly, when you're dealing with depression, both of these responses are infuriating, because they diminish what you're going through. To be fair, the road to diminishing is often paved with good intentions. People think that if they share with you that you're not alone, that others have it worse, that you'll feel better.  But it often has the reverse effect, in which our depression is not lessened at all, and now we feel guilty about it.

Depression carries a ridiculous amount of unnecessary and inaccurate stigma. Among this is that we're drama kings/queens, we blow everything out of proportion, we can't handle anything, etc etc. We KNOW what you think of us. We knew it before you pointed it out because guess what - sometimes we feel the same way about ourselves and desperately try to stop it. We feel like shit about it. We feel like shit about ourselves, which only further adds to the depression.  We do not want to be this way - we didn't choose it, it "chose" us. We KNOW we "aren't supposed to feel this way". We know it's "not that big of a deal", that others have it worse - perhaps even you. We also know we shouldn't complain about it. It only perpetuates the "glass half empty, no perspective" stigma. But to us, the options are the following: 1.) let it sit inside of us until it slowly rots away and eats us from the inside out. 2.) get it out of our system so that it doesn't do that. And yes, we try to write or talk to a therapist, or join a support group. But when we need to do something right then, because it feels overwhelming, we're panicking, our anxiety and depression feels like it has reached maximum capacity, we may not be able to whip out our journal or get our therapist on the phone. So we do the only think we think will save us: we talk about it, we freak out, we ball ourselves up in a corner and hope not too many people notice. We know what the end result is likely to be when the storm passes. We know we're going to feel upset, embarrassed, ashamed, possibly a combination of all three of these. And yet we still feel like we have no other option.

The best way I can explain to those who don't experience it is this: Say a friend and I are running a race. To me, because I'm always cold, the temperature is fine. I finish the race, I drink some water, no problem. To my friend, it's horribly hot. She is flushed and feeling dizzy and nauseous and like she's suffering from heat exhaustion even though it's only 70 degrees. Just because nobody else thinks it's too hot does not mean my friend isn't legitimately ill, or at least doesn't feel that way. For whatever reason, to her body this feels extreme, regardless of anyone else's opinion. Are there precautions she can take before, during, after the race? Sure. Are they foolproof? Of course not. Nothing is. Even if she does everything everyone's telling her, her body might still react this way. And her options are to sit there and suffer internally because she feels like she "shouldn't be so hot" and risk getting sicker or let others see her symptoms and hope they understand.

I know this isn't the best example, but it's the best I can think of. With depression, it's not that we don't want to prioritize, that we don't want perspective. It's that our brain alters how things feel to us, so that sometimes we can't, at least not in that initial few moments. I know this sounds like an excuse. I realize that. And the fact that others can't understand it unless they've gone through it - which I wouldn't wish on anyone - only makes us feel worse. We already feel terrible about "how we are".  Now we feel like we're not trying hard enough to change. One more thing we aren't doing right. One more fault of ours. One more reason we're isolated and feel alone no matter how many people tell us we aren't. Because our brain distorts that too.

I don't expect it to be ok. I don't expect everyone to put up with it. But I would ask, not just for myself, but for everyone battling with this:  please, stop blaming us. It makes nothing better. Not for us and in the long run, not for you. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

If You Want Me To Love You

Love is a funny thing. We chase it. We run from it. We find it only to then be afraid to love too much for fear of being hurt. We think it will make everything better. We don't let it make everything better. We sabotage it out of fear at times. If you don't care enough, you can't get hurt. They say it's better to have loved and lost, but then, when we find love or it finds us, do we really open up with all of our heart? Love is eye opening, but confusing. To be honest, I think we often don't know what to when we truly find love. I can't speak for anyone else, but I can for myself.  Perhaps it'll help others to open up about what they need, what they want. Perhaps it'll help others understand hearts and minds that it's sometimes tough to grasp. Or perhaps it will do nothing, but at least I've put it out there, which I believe is all you can do with love - lay all your cards on the table, go for broke, and love with all you have. Because everything else in life is just frosting. 

If you want me to love you....
I want to be your first good morning and your last goodnight
I want to be your I Miss You's and I Love You's at any time, for no reason, except that you feel it
I want to be the first person you think of when you wake, the last person you think of before sleeping 
I want to be a random delivery of flowers to work, just because you love me
I want to be the first person you want to tell everything to - everything
I want complete honesty and openness, instead of the cliff notes version
I want to be the one you can't wait to come home to
I want to be the phone call every night because you hate being away
I want to be the person you initiate plans with, instead of waiting for me to
I want to be the person you want to show off to everyone because you are so proud of me
I want to be the first person you want to invite
I want to be the person that, even after a fight, you want to wrap your arms around
I want to be your confidant, your best friend, your partner
I want to be the person worth giving 101 chances to, even when you've already given 100
I want to be the person who is worth all the bad times, because the good are amazing
I want to be the person who you forgive because you can't stand to see upset
I want to be the person you ask for forgiveness from because you can't stand for me to be mad
I want to be the person you cry for when I cry, because it hurts you to see me in pain
I want to be the person who you understand will not always be ok, and you love even in those times
I want to be the person that you share your joy, sadness, fears, and dreams with
I want to be un-perfect, messy, weird, and for you to love me even more for all of it

I do not want you to be perfect. Because you would be inhuman, and humanness is what I love most. I am far from perfect. But if you want me to love you, you will love that about me. You will know that the 1000 bads are worth the 100 goods. If you want me to love you, you will love me. Without reservation, without limitation, without walls, without letting fear stop you. And I will do the same. And I promise you, that it will be worth whatever we have to go through. Together.