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Christopher Sikkenga

Staying off FB & Twit 4 my mental health. Besides my depression, the outrage porn is 2 much. Then, I post things like this to Mastodon. :(

Christopher Sikkenga

Positively Pessimistic

5 min read

 

A telemarketing company calls you for the 3rd time this week and you think to yourself, “They’re annoyingly persistent.” That evening you’re staying up past your bed time to finish the laundry. There’s nothing in there that you need tomorrow for work. No, you want to finish the laundry because you set a goal to have it done today and “I’m being stubborn!”

It’s curious, right? Telemarketers are slime and yet we had the courtesy to call them “persistent.” For ourselves, we use a word with a negative undertone, “stubborn.” Why is it so difficult to be kind to one’s self?

Thanks to the province and city I live in, I am able to get help to find some answers. Specifically, I’m learning why it is so hard to be positive. It turns out that I don’t particularly care for me. As such, if you were to call me persistent for seeking help instead of ending my life, I wouldn’t accept the compliment. “It’s nothing. Anyone can do it. It was easy.” On top of not taking credit for persistence, I would further strengthen my self-hate by thinking the fact that I need help is proof that I’m a failure. Every mental illness, every treatment, therapy and medication has a stigma. Why would I see “getting help” as a positive thing?

Stigma of Mental Illness

In the group sessions I attend there are a wide range of mental health issues. Each of them have their own stigmas and they vary by gender. I was discussing the power of The Mask You Live In, a documentary on how men are brought up, with someone at the centre recently. My new friend pointed out that Hollywood has a big influence. For example we may have compassion for women with schizophrenia, but all the men are depicted as violent killers. Pregnant women with addiction issues are blamed or judged in our culture. Since the perceived role of women in society involves bearing & raising children, we charge them with maintaining the moral values of our communities as well. Meanwhile, my depression is viewed as nothing more than a stumbling block. The idea that this is a temporary setback for me is related to the stigma of mental illness.

A 2015 study in Canada reported that 40% of people said they “experienced feelings of anxiety or depression but never sought medical help for it.” Plus, 39% of workers surveyed shared that they would not inform their bosses if they had a mental health issue. Seven years before that study, a whopping “46% of Canadians thought people use the term mental illness as an excuse for bad behaviour.” Remaining positive as I try to heal is very difficult when the world sees me this way. Remember, how supportive you are to friends that break limbs. We’re even compassionate to people who lose limbs. Yes, their lives will change, but at least they’re still living, right? Many of us have mental health problems, but we’re still here. Support us, don’t shun us.

Sikk Is Sick

In order to help with my depression & anxiety I take medication and I work hard each day to quiet my pessimistic inner self. These are facts. Next year, I won’t be off the meds or working less hard. This is reality. It’s the goal going forward. The idea that I can drop the meds or the hard work is not the aim. People have come forward to my partner sharing stories of friends & family who have gone through similar episodes. Sometimes, they share their own stories of mental health. I appreciate those willing to openly communicate about mental wellness. The support is always helpful, but each case is individual. Be careful not to stigmatize those of us with mental health problems while trying to show support. It’s perfectly fine to be on medication, to go to group sessions and see a therapist.

The groups & therapist have challenged me to journal about my happiness. What are my talents or skills? What positive characteristics do I have? Well, I’m great at beating myself up. Does that count? Sorry, my negative self core is persistent when it comes to his job. Hey, look at that! I wrote “persistent” instead of stubborn. That’s positive right?

Yeah, so I have some work to do. I wanted to sit down and write about how difficult it can be to come up with positives at the moment. Yet, I typed a lecture about the mental health stigma in our society. Perhaps, composing a note on the perplex idea of being kind to myself would have challenged my negative outlook. In the process, I could have stumbled onto something positive. Today's blog seems to be some avoidance.

Alright, here’s something positive. I am not my mental illness. You are not your sexual preference. Your boss is not her political opinions. Your neighbor is not his race. That girl on the bus with the speaker blaring is not her choice in music. Your uncle is not his religion. We are humans. Let’s treat each other with respect and love with that in mind. Go hug someone. If you know my partner, start with her. She’s received lots of well-wishing for me, but she can use support and love as well. I have not always been an attentive spouse and my mental health is not an excuse. She can always use a coffee, a hug or safe space away from my recovery.

Thanks for reading. Much love to you.

Christopher Sikkenga

A Direct Result of Our Sexist Societial Norms- The Born Sexy Yesterday Trope

2 min read

The following video from Pop Culture Detective Agency looks at a cliché in films that I never took notice of before. I'm ashamed that I didn't see it. Furthermore, there's some movies that I thoroughly enjoy in the examples. Sure these are fiction stories that typically play up the comedy, but the underlying trope is troubling when we think of how women struggle in our world.  For example, salaries between male and females have a considerable gap. Big Brother, Google, is refusing to collect wage data and turn it over to the department of Labor in the U.S. How attrocious is that? They know how many hours & dollars it would cost to get the information, but they don't know the salary of their 21,000 employees? Hmm. Before I go off on that tangent, I also wanted to mention that this trope discussed in the video is concerning when it comes to male masculinity. The idea that men have to be smarter or more capable than their partners is slowly changing, but not fast enough. Once again, I just want to drop those sex organs as a classification all together. We're humans. Let's just stick with that.

Yes, it's a long video. It's well done though. Search it on your Youtube app on your smart TV or something. Please, give it a go.

 

Christopher Sikkenga

Replied to a post on jeena.net :

Google's quest for data is very scary, IMO. https://www.wired.com/2017/04/wholl-really-benefit-verilys-exhaustive-health-study/

It's interesting to know so many developers who are concerned with this type of data collection, yet work for companies building similar systems. A job is a job, though.

Christopher Sikkenga

Depressed Me Coping With The Black & White World of Social Networks

6 min read

 

The last couple of months I’ve exiled myself from Twitter and Facebook. I do miss many individuals, but overall I don’t think those sites have been good for me. I felt like shouting my troubles into the void would be wasting time that I could be using to do something about them.

The thing that has turned so many off from social networks is the current state of the world, the bad news. For me, it was the good news that made coping difficult. Two possibilities occur when I read a positive post- I compare myself to those people sharing the good vibes and get depressed. Or, I believe those people are simply selling a vision to their friends & followers that depicts them in a good light. Now, I realize that both of these interpretations are negative. Yet, I can’t help shaking the feeling that social networks have become less helpful.

In the beginning Twitter was full of early adopters, people trying new things and sharing ideas. Someone would post a status looking for a good resource for teaching pattern recognition to a 6 year old and people on Twitter would pass it along until a teacher from miles away would answer. I don’t doubt these interactions still happen thanks to social media. However, the systems of Twitter and Facebook don’t reward helpfulness. These companies are after profit. Your request for math patterns may get 8–10 retweets or likes before you get the answer you need, but what if a celebrity posts a picture of themselves in a costume for an upcoming superhero film? That’s going to get millions of likes and views. That celebrity is featured in the “people you should follow or friend” lists and becomes an influencer on the network itself. Which of the status posts below do you enjoy?

or

There’s a culture of comedy on social media, everyone trying to one-up each other with jokes because they’re entertaining. Furthermore, a status post containing controversy is going to get a lot more traction than me describing my continental breakfast. Eventually, we can find ourselves in a race for likes, instead of sharing openly about ourselves. While I don't use Reddit that much, it is interesting that it is organized in categories, or communities. Thus, groups of people with similar ideas can share together without the cloud of other topics and internet memes. The decentralized Mastodon, is also fascinating because people are forming their own communities. Is there hope for the future?

So far, I've shared a very black and white view of social networks. Obviously, there are those people who are genuinely engaging friends within the service. Though, it is hard not to get caught up in the popularity contest because Google, Facebook and Twitter promote and reward that type of content. It was the same back in the early blog days. People shared a part of themselves online and found it freeing. Then, everybody used this bit of code to put a counter on the blog. "Look at all the visitors!" As the hits increased when something funny was shared, bloggers began to gravitate to those kinds of posts. The blogosphere was full of these who-can-post-that-funny-video-first web sites. The original content began to fade away as people wanted more hits.

Content on social networks is increasingly filled with retweets or shared posts from another source. While there’s nothing wrong with sharing, we seem to be burying ourselves behind these black and white issues, causes and internet memes. “I agree, Trump is bad. I will post this funny joke about him.” The thing that gets me, we live in a grey world, not a black and white one. You may despise the funding of Planned Parenthood, but be against the Keystone XL pipeline. Thanks to Trump, states no longer have to fund Planned Parenthood, but he did pass the pipeline. Do you post the meme supporting him or do you post the one against him? Perhaps, you could simply share your own thoughts?

I once saw a speaker who was discussing Hallmark cards. The company has a card for each and every event. It’s downright magic! Except, those cards aren’t for each and every occasion. The speaker said that they have a rule in their family, no store bought cards. The point is to tell someone how you feel using your own words. He and his family make their own cards for birthdays, anniversaries and all the other holidays.

I guess my point is that I can’t live up to a standard that isn’t real. I can’t choose to be black or white. (Look at my hair, it’s grey.) I wasn’t honest with myself and others and it sent me down a dark path. Now, I’m an open book and I need that from the world around me. I don’t expect Twitter or Facebook to change, but I may have to start anew or cull my followers & friends. Honestly, I’m not sure what to do. All I know is that I have been feeling less anxiety and much more healthy since I took my break from social networks. As I work on my mental health, perhaps I will be able to be happy for those sharing positive posts in the future. Maybe I’ll even share some of my own? Until then, my social networks will remain mostly quiet. Since everything is now based on those “popularity” algorithms, you may actually have to visit my social network pages to see if I’ve been around. If you really need me, I’m sure you can find me. In fact, I’d very much like that. Depression is lonely.

Christopher Sikkenga

A Breakdown, An Emergency Room, Two Clinics, A Therapist & The Struggle of Finding Mental Health Help

10 min read

glitch_sky

It happened last month. I broke.

See, I used to be tortured by thoughts of my mortality. My impending death would keep me up with insomnia for weeks at a time. Occasionally, the topic would get me so worked up that I would physically tremor. Therefore, I did everything I could to ignore the topic. That is, until last month.

I came apart in a grotesque way. I did my best to push everyone away because I wanted to leave this world. When that seemingly dramatic thought entered into my goals and I started looking for ways to make my exit, I knew something was wrong. That unnerving fear of death was completely gone. It was a strange sort of peace. For once, I was living without that anxiety. The downside was that I spent 2 days fixated on ways that I could end my existence. Somewhere buried beneath all my self-hate was that passing thought, something was wrong. “Do I want to die? Yes. That’s not the problem. It’s weird though, a few days ago I wouldn’t think about this at all.” This was my “alarm.” What I’m trying to say is that I went to the emergency room not because I was afraid of harming myself, but because I wasn’t.

In the U.S. May is Mental Health Month, and here in Canada Mental Health Week is the first week of May. I don’t know if I’m really ready to share my story, but I feel compelled to do it now because it is May. Help is out there for those that need it. The first thing we can all do is take the issues of mental health seriously. There’s a stigma around mental health, it’s the second sentence of this post. The idea that I’m “broke,” wrong, damaged, odd, abnormal or disabled by my condition is what we need to correct. Statistics on suicides are frightening. According to the 2 year old documentary The Mask You Live In, from ages 20–24, men are 7 times more likely to commit suicide than women. The numbers appear to rise as we get older. As men, society tells us to “toughen up and be a man.” So the last thing we want to do is admit we’re abnormal or, science forbid, weak.

My Saturday trip to the emergency room was eye opening. Once my number came up, I was taken to a special section of ER for mental health cases. Looking back, that’s sort of shocking isn’t it? So many people are coming in that there’s a different section and I’m not just a curtain away from a guy with a broken nose or something? I was in the ER for a couple hours and discharged. The doctors told me that I didn’t need to be in a psychiatric ward. I felt like I failed again. “I didn’t communicate my feelings well or something? Do they think I’m a faker? A joke?” I was given a suicide hotline number if I needed to talk to someone, and the name of a clinic at the hospital that could help me on a weekday.

It’s tough to describe where I was at after that. Simultaneously, I wanted to be alone, buried in a pit where no one could find me and also I was frightened to be by myself, with my thoughts. When the weekday finally arrived and I made my way to the clinic, I spent 15 minutes filling out a questionnaire about my mental health. Writing it down put me in tears again. It was real. The doctor at the clinic looked over my paperwork and saw that I had seen a therapist before. “Go talk to your therapist. Have a nice day.” Okay, it wasn’t that bad. That’s how it felt, though. I had seen a therapist once every 2 months to talk about anxiety. Sometimes I could visit monthly, if it was possible. The clinic was supposed to be a daily program for 14 weeks. That really sounded like what I needed. Of course, the doctor was basically doing triage. There were other potential patients who were a higher priority than me. So, there I was, outside the clinic in absolute shock. There’s no help for me.

I sat there for nearly 2 hours, lost.

“Should I have told the admitting doctor that my therapist was not someone I was seeing through insurance coverage or paying out of pocket for? My therapist is part of my doctor’s network. I can’t see her as much as I like!”

“Do I really have to attempt suicide to get help?”

As the shock wore off, I realized that the clinic had presented me with more options. I could get my doctor to refer me to their program at the clinic or attend a night program that is open to all. I left a message with my doctor who called me within minutes. She put me on the cancellation list for the therapist and encouraged me to talk to the therapist before joining a program. In the meantime, I was given another suicide hotline number (or probably the same one). Is that the way to get help? While that is not the route I went, the answer is yes. Any suicide hotline has people who will listen to you, if that’s all you need. Plus, they have information to get you to the nearest location where you can find help. Don’t discount them as I did, if you or someone you know needs help, call.

Mental health is a growing concern in today’s world. The calculator made memorizing tables and formulas obsolete. People only have to learn the how and why of math now. The internet connected smart phone in our pockets also makes memorization of facts and knowledge less important as well. Therefore, we have all this space free in our brains to fill with anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and other issues. Perhaps this is why the mental health field continues to grow. Sometimes, it just seems that it isn’t growing fast enough to meet the need. However, there is help out there. If not in your town, you’ll find it in the next city over, I swear. Search for “walk-in counselling” near you. Even living in Canada, there are people who think that there’s no help because they don’t have insurance. There may be groups started by concerned individuals or professionals. Reach out to a medical clinic for advice on where to go. If you have access to the internet, you can visit this great site from Australia, the Centre for Clinical Intervention which has workbooks that could help you as you navigate the support systems in your area. As I found out, getting help will take some work by you, or those supporting you, but help is out there.

As for me, I was referred to a program by my therapist. With so many people suffering, it took some time before a space opened for me. I only went through the intake program last week. Now, I have to find the courage to get out of bed, leave the home and face a group of people like me. It will be difficult. My self-sabotaging brain doesn’t like the idea that others suffer as I do. That might mean that I’m not abnormal. Being face to face with those struggling with similar issues and trained professionals also makes my problems real and not something I can hide from in isolation.

The mental wellness battle is trying because it really feels like a lose-lose situation. Working through the modules on the Centre for Clinical Intervention site by yourself can be arduous. I’m reading things about myself that are hard truths and that fuels my low self-esteem. Of course if I’m having a good day, I feel as if I don’t need to read it or work on myself. I think this is why it is so important to get help. Even with the assistance of a therapist, I agonized over the homework I was supposed to be doing alone. However, the ability to visit that person a week or two later for a progress update was incredibly beneficial.

Here in town, The walk-in counselling place is trying to fill the gap by offering free help for those that need it. In cases where you need more than a chat or two, they will work with your financial situation. Many municipal areas in the U.S. have organizations that provide similar resources and offer a sliding scale based on your income. Reach out and keep reaching until you find what you need. It was an uphill journey for me, one that sent me further into depression and even shock. Yet, depression, anxiety and many of the other mental issues are based in emotions. Our emotions and feelings change from moment to moment. Hold on in those low times, and take advantage of the moderate and better days to search for assistance. It’s out there.

I’m still very much finding my way through the fog that is my unhealthy self-image, but I believe my next step is setting a realistic recovery goal. When I was asked what I wanted from treatment, I came to a stark realization, there is no miracle cure. My inner voice that is filled with self-loathing will never stop. The doctors and medication will not silence it completely. Instead, it’s up to me in how I react. I will have to learn ways to quiet the voice, test its assumptions and prove it wrong to gain control. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel or magic beans to save me. Realistically, I will have to learn to live with this dark passenger, not ignore or eliminate it. That goal is achievable and practical.

Thanks for taking the time to read my musings on mental health. I’m not going to lie, in my fragile state, I am scared to face this challenge. I just have to take things one day at a time. So be kind to each other out there. Treat people with respect and care because you don’t know what they’re going through. Those of us struggling aren’t broke, sick or abnormal. We’re human. And, one more resource for those in crisis and having trouble finding local resources, try IMALIVE. It’s an online chat for immediate help. Much love to you.

Christopher Sikkenga

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Christopher Sikkenga

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Christopher Sikkenga

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Christopher Sikkenga

the struggle