Mental Illness Storm Of The Century

In the past week, a storm of unprecedented dark blew into town, one so intense it threatened to untangle all the therapeutic work that I have worked so hard to establish. Perhaps what is most frightening is I haven’t a clue as to its origins and because I was caught off guard, I was hit by all its might.

Being ill-equipped to handle its ferocity made the pain it inflicted ten times worse than normal. Everything I tried to do to minimize its effects was in vain, and its tragic consequence was the damage it left in its wake. 
I don’t recall ever feeling a depressive episode to the degree in which I have the last few days, its day number three and even as I write this; I am feeling waves of sadness wash over me from the inside. When I am left in this state I secretly fear that this is the one, the episode where my persistent depressive disorder takes hold of me, suppresses all my happy and like a dictator, it forces me to do whatever it is it wants me to do.
This episode was different somehow, I can’t put my finger on why all I do know is that the behaviours that resulted from the intensity of the depressive symptoms were very uncharacteristic for me. I had gotten it in my head that I was going to travel some distance to visit a friend that I seldom see. I know, what’s so out of the norm for that? Well, I hate driving to places where I am unfamiliar, my anxiety hates that particular form of unpredictability and conjures up its own mental GPS map, one that sees me getting lost and stranded by myself.
What made this behaviour new for me was that it was spontaneous and without explanation. I just found myself turning onto the highway that led me in my friend’s direction. I drove for an hour then in the blink of an eye I changed my mind and headed for home. What made me decide to act so impulsively? I have never been to my friends for a visit much less to the area in which he lives. 
Perhaps it was because I was so despondent, so racketed with sadness that I was looking for a way to rid myself of its heavy burden. I also spent the day ignoring the buzzing notifications of my cell phone which I admit is a very not like me thing to do. I didn’t care and hated everything around me.
These days were the ones I should have spent at home.

Although this depressive episode was among the most intense I had ever experienced, I choose to see it much like weather patterns in the real world. Every now and then we are walloped with one hell of a storm, one that is rarely seen but causes unprecedented damage. But like any other storm, they pass and so too will this unrepresented sad. Knowing this as a fact I simply hunker down and wait for it to pass. I am always aware of how lucky I am, I have a great support network and so much to be grateful for. It is in the hardest of mental moments where I run through my inventory of all the things I am grateful for. This does two things for me, It boots my moods by remembering that I have so many great people in my life who genuinely love and show concern for me, and it also distracts my mind from all the massively unpleasant thoughts and feelings. I find this calms the storms to the degree where I am adequately able to weather its effects. 

So if you, like me, end up facing the mental storm of the century, remember as the weather around you, it too shall pass. Just hang on and be mindful of the fact that we all have a reason to keep carrying on.

Learn about Major Depressive Disorder here: WebMD

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Are You Friends With Your Enemy?

To nail down when the scourge of mental illness first sought me out as its prey is a near-impossible task.

Nonetheless, I have devoted a good amount of time and mental energy trying to discern an approximate time in my life where I first met this beast.

It seems clear that when I dig into my past that my dance with this devil started in childhood. It is difficult to determine my exact age but I do know that it was in late childhood. I recall it being my later childhood years because that’s when I had my first experience with therapy. When I think back on it, I have nothing but thanks and gratitude for the therapist who helps me work through my troubles.

The challenges I encountered back in those days was centred around anger issues and outbursts. I was a very angry child, was it really anger at the centre of it all? I didn’t know it then, but I would later on in life come to realize it was most likely sadness. I have always, in the deepest part of my being been attached to an inexplicable heavy feeling of despair. Who is this friend who invited themselves to accompany me along my life’s path?

Being young at the time I was not aware of what it was that was plaguing me, but over time and as I got older I came to learn that this “friend” had a name. Its name was Depression and Depression would be my buddy for life. Oddly enough, my depressive disorder was the last of my three illnesses to reveal itself despite the fact that it had a lifelong say in everything I did, and every decision I had ever made.

My anxiety disorder reared its ugly head when I was a teen and has had the biggest influence on my internal script than even my depression. It became my constantly chatty friend; that is my ever negative, scared of everything kind of friend whose toxic negatively is communicated through me like a spirit from the afterlife. Like my friend Depression, I would come to learn the name of my tag-along pal. The name you ask? Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

The day I learned the names of these so-called “friends” was like learning that those “great buddies” who I thought were loyal allies, were, in fact, such a negative force that all they did was convinced me to do what they wanted and made me feel like shit in the process.

Why do I refer to them as my friends? Well, I use this analogy to describe the period when I was oblivious to what my mental illnesses were; their voices and influences on me were just a part of me and my life. I was not able to recognize that their influence on me wasn’t normal, and they actually held power over me. Like great friends, I felt that they were an essential part of me.

When I was diagnosed with my mental illnesses I came to understand that they were not an integral part of me at all. In other words, through professional help, I was able to discover their true colours, their true intentions.

Like losing who I thought we’re good friends, it was difficult to discover this new revelation. But it ended up being for the best, not cool at first but eventually, I accepted that I was ill and now that I am on my way to wellness, I feel liberated and free to rediscover me, the real me.

So, are you friends with your enemy? If you are having continual difficulties in many areas of your life, are always negative, find yourself in conflict with others frequently or find it hard to navigate through the world and everyday life; the voice in your head may actually be your mental illness enemy and not an essential part of what makes you, you. Just like the friends you thought you knew.

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What More Can We Do?

(If the topic of suicide is a sensitive one for you, this may not be the post for you…)

I have had the great honour of meeting and talking to so many great people about mental health. The topics ranged from anxiety to depression, to the very sensitive and difficult topic of suicide. Although I am really struggling with my own personal demons, I love each and every meeting I have had with all these folks. I am honoured to listen and help the best I can. My philosophy on mental illness is that we are all in this together.

I have learned so much about how people as a collective feel about mental illness. The similarities that I noted while listening to their individual stories were interesting. In many cases, I was from hearing the same story being told but with different voices. It is striking to me just how many people conceal their mental anguish from the world around them, so much so, that some even revealed to me that they have never spoken about their suffering with another human being and some explained that they had only revealed what they are going through to one family member. It’s not too hard for me to see why mental illness is a silent killer.

Today, I wanted to touch on the very sensitive subject of suicide so if you are not in a space to handle the subject matter, I would stop reading here. I understand as I type this I am experiencing a rise in my anxiety, and I am even finding it a bit traumatizing. So how about we get through it together? I promise I will be as gentle as I can be.

This subject is the rarest one to come up when in discussion with people. (disclaimer, I will never discuss a person’s individual story in a public forum; their stories are their own, and I am honoured to have been selected to listen). Although the rarest of all the mental health subjects, it is my experience that it is most painful and understandably most tragic. It is a subject that I approach with the utmost sensitivity; in part because of my skills as a counsellor but mostly because of my built-in compassion I have for the plight of others. Most importantly I understand the vulnerable state that it places one in, and I am all too aware of the huge amount of courage it takes to reach out.

Since mental illness is a subject matter ruled by its pervasive stigma and knowing that the perception of suicide tops the list, I feel it’s only fair for me to be brave and discuss my own dance with suicide. I have never once attempted to take my own life, but my mind has been dominated by its constant but passive visitation. I have and still have from time to time, thoughts of it travel through my head at lightning speed, just as quickly as they enter, they exit and are gone. There is no warning, no rhyme nor reason other than they appear to correlate with my saddest moments. I am grateful for the help and medication I have received because these passive thoughts have all but retreated. Its dark chatter was like a mental roadblock, one that I was ill-equipped to break through without the meds. Now, with this obstacle nearly eliminated because of the pills, I am free to go down my road to wellness.

My own encounter with suicidal ideation has provided me with the experience to ponder the difficulties that make talking about it taboo and thus causing many not to seek help. Is it really all stigma? Of course, that plays a huge role but are there other reasons why people give in to its power? What if suicidal ideation is kept within the individual sufferer because of the agonizing pain itself? Are some held captive by their pain to such a degree that they are unable to reach out? My own experience with it had altered my way of thinking. It did so in such a way that made me not know quite where to turn like I’m helpless by default. I don’t think about help when I am invaded by thoughts of suicide, rather it’s very similar to the pain you feel when you hit your chin or funny bone, so intense that feeling, that all logic goes out the window.

It’s difficult for me to blame it all on our fears of what the outside world thinks when a great many of us have a tenancy to not want to bother anyone with our problems. I have heard people say “sorry for venting all my problems on you” more than I can count. This to me seems like an internal roadblock that may simply be in the nature of many. Everyone feels like a burden to everyone else and whether it’s internal or perpetuated by stigma, it is all too common of a response.

I am saddened to see the people of this world suffering so intensely because they feel they must hide. I am equally saddened to see people pass up the many opportunities they have to connect with those whom they care most for, family or friends. Isolation is, as far as I am concerned, one of the central reasons why we as a society are getting sicker and sicker. It would go a long way to commit to seeing people that you hold dear and check-in while there, be present and actually listen. The skills that people find so hard to find in times when others are bearing their souls and offloading their deepest mental pain is the skill of listening, that’s it, hear them, let them feel safe. Each mental disorder I have comes with the inability to think with any amount of clarity I suspect this is the case for a lot of people in similar circumstances. Therefore, what’s more, essential is that one provides logistical support, not try to be the solver of their problems.  An example of this is offering them a ride to doctor’s appointments if needed, things of that nature. If someone is trying to take their own life find out the plan and get help right away!

For people like me, finding the courage to find help is essential, and we must find the strength to reach out. For those who didn’t see it coming, as so many of us fail to, make commitments to loved ones, establish a close rapport with them. Many people will confess when they can count on you to be there, when they learn they can trust you, and when they feel that you care.

If you are thinking about or know someone who is thinking of hurting themselves please contact the resources located at the bottom of our main page or dial 911… There is help out there and there is hope!

You may also enjoy: I am vulnerable: I’m good with that.

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