4 min read
To consider the question, put yourself in the following scenario:
You’re going to spend a month in Mexico. Thus, you decide to take a class in Spanish to make your time there easier, and learn a new language. At the end of the first class the teacher gives you homework.
How do you feel about homework? Did your mind internally groan. Perhaps, old ghosts from your past rose from the dark recesses of your memory to haunt you each day before the next class. Finally an hour before class, you sat down to do the homework. Or, you wrote the homework assignment off in frustration or shame.
Homework is a dirty word to many of us. It’s more than anxiety, it is a cultural perception carried over from grade school. Kids don’t want homework. Even some teachers don’t want to assign homework because that means “homework” for them in the form of grading.
This stigma has resulted in patterns of behavior like the one described above. In the hypothetical situation you decided to take Spanish for your personal benefit. This was not forced on you. Thus, homework is only going to improve your experience. Yet, this old phantom of the dread associated with homework clouds your mind from the truth. In this case, homework is good and our minds refuse to believe it because of years of learned behavior.
Thankfully, I haven’t gotten a lot of people telling me to “just be happy.” There’s definitely still a stigma around depression and mental illness, but these things are becoming more prominent. Unfortunately, I am often the person telling myself to “just be happy.” I know many of my patterns of behavior. Sadly, I’ve spent years building them just as society has about homework. Therefore, changing them is not so easy.
The Chris Show is brought to you, and me, by Depression Inc. Like with Facebook and Twitter, I signed up without reading the Terms of Service. I wake up with the knowledge that I am programmed to despise myself. During breakfast, the loathing begins.
I have strategies to help. I can fill my schedule with tasks, meditate, exercise, and eat healthy. Even if I achieve success with these tools my pattern emerges. Good job. Of course, the reason you did all this today is because you’re broken. Winnie-the-Pooh’s friend Eeyore wouldn’t hesitate to block depression from his social networks. Knowing of my mental distortions help, but that information is held within the very hard drive I’m trying to repair.
People can learn to live with mental illnesses. I have friends, who I hope to feature on an upcoming podcast idea, that are doing just that. I believe the path to a better life lies in creating new patterns. On my reading list is a book focusing on neuroplasticity. It is possible to change our brains, but it requires practice and time. The real tricky part? Time is a construct of the mind. Thus, depression distorts time and therefore my healing.
This is why learning to live with my mental illness, making change is difficult. It’s homework that I don’t want to do because it means graduating into a world far bigger than my school. My mind, in this negative state, is predictable. Expecting sadness, fear, failure, disappointment, and shame is certain. Rolling the dice to possibly get joy, happiness, or success is unpredictable. I just can’t afford another failure, I have to be perfect. That’s the mental illness weighing in. Even the observational thought, “What do I have left to lose if I roll the dice?” has a negative connotation in my mind. It goes back to “The reason you have to try so hard is because you’re broken.”
Changing the mind is like following the instructions to set up your first VCR in the 80s using the video tape instructions it came with. That means there’s hope for me. People figured out their VCRs sooner or later. Or, they asked for help from friends. I just have to hope that my mind isn’t Betamax and eventually I’ll get there.
10 min read
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.