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"A new approach couldn’t come at a better time for a field that is 'broken,' as Tom Insel, head of the National Institute of Mental Health until 2015, told me bluntly. Rates of depression (now the leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the W.H.O.) and suicide are climbing; addictive behavior is rampant. Little has changed, meanwhile, in psychopharmacology since the introduction of SSRI antidepressants in the late 1980s." https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/05/15/magazine/health-issue-my-adventures-with-hallucinogenic-drugs-medicine.html

Fear and Butterflies

4 min read

For most, suicide is not option D. This bit of wisdom was shared by Ana Marie Cox in an interview on mental health. A doctor gave her this insight after she was institutionalized after attempting suicide. I was as shocked to hear that first sentence, just as she stated she was in the interview. Really? Everybody doesn’t think about suicide?

In my teens, I thought about suicide in excess. If options A, B, or C did not work out I always had D. It wasn’t a ploy for attention on my part because I felt I was alone. That may not have been true, my family may have been there for me, but I felt alone. The loneliness a sign that my depression has been hanging around for much longer than I thought. I never made an attempt at suicide in my youth, but looking back I can see the inclination to do self-harm. There was an uneasy voice in my head when I was near danger, “what if I just leaned over this railing even more?”

Even with self-harm and suicide lurking in my younger years, I had a stupendous fear of death. Having never been convinced of any sort of afterlife, thoughts of my own demise were paralyzing, even into my forties. To me, death is not like falling asleep or a vision of walking toward the light. Death is like abruptly ending this observation midway through the third sentence above. The thought of my death would result in a panic attack, insomnia, and the occasional bad poetry.

Last year, I went to the hospital because that fear of death was gone. I had a break down. Guilt from my behavior, shame from addiction, and fear of showing my weakness to the world overwhelmed my native dread of death. I wanted to give up. I believe that fear is still missing. Though, I’ve started to wonder if it is the big bad behind my low self-worth.

There’s a colossal belief within me that a key to “getting better” is finding my own self-worth. As it is now, I live off of the acceptance and approval from others. I am desperate to be needed because I don’t believe I have a right to be in the same room with you. The emotion behind that is fear. It is a fear that I have no worth. Could it be that I’m afraid of dying without having proved my worth? Am I that cliché male of the species who distresses that he has nothing to leave behind when he is gone? That’s an ugly thought. It feels petty and pathetic to be worried about my legacy.

As I share my mental health story, occasionally I wonder if it is manipulative. Since I don’t feel as if I am accepted by others, perhaps I can get them to have simpathy for me. You can see how questioning my own motivations is driven by the fear that I am not behaving as I should be. I judge myself rather than accept who I am, grey hairs and all. I desire to be received by others because inside I don’t believe in me.

The urge for validation from the people around me ties nicely with the toxic idea of leaving a legacy. I am attempting to measure self-worth with money and things. Comparing myself to others only continues the depression and low self-worth. Even looking at what I’ve done in this world, my deeds are never enough.

That feeling may be a product of the competitive nature of our world. Even so, many of us look at our accomplishments in a very warped way. We want forward progress we can see. That’s not always the case though, is it? Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder gives us the idea that the simple act of stepping on a butterfly in the past can affect the future. Rather than fearing that my wages are a disgrace to my spouse and family, I might hope that the simple act of saying “thank you” to the bus driver yesterday helped her get through another tough day, week, or year of work.

I’m not sure if that’s blue-sky thinking or a valid concept. My depression and fear carry considerable weight in my thought process. Still, making generous assumptions about my simplest of acts could be something to work towards, a way to find some worth within. What are your thoughts?

A Journey Inside My Depression

9 min read

Last week I spent 2 days trying to productivity my way out of feeling. This is old hat for me. Where does that phrase come from? Yuck, that’s my mind’s way of finding more avoidance, I start searching for that answer instead of sitting here and dealing with my emotions. I’ve been suppressing tears. Why? I wish I knew.

It goes like this, I woke up one morning to a note from my spouse. Regardless of the content, I felt shame and guilt. Even before reading it. I assumed it was bad news. I assumed I’d done something wrong. I stayed up late the night before, trying to keep the tears away. I promised not to stay up too long and I did. I was guilty. I didn’t share my battle against the tears. I was ashamed. Sharing my vulnerability would have made it real. Guilt and shame fit. What did the note say? Doesn’t matter. In the past I’ve stayed up late avoiding my issues with unhealthy distractions and destructive consequences. Another reason to guilt myself. It didn’t matter that the late evening was spent problem solving website issues. I was judging myself on the past. I was not at all focused on the now, on the content of the note.

I believe depression is an awakening of sorts. Those of us who reach this stage realize something isn’t right in our lives. It is acknowledging that the problem isn’t with the outside world, but within us. Nobody in the history of the world has said, “This was the best day of my life! It will never get better than this. Well, I guess I’ll jump off a bridge. I might as well leave a success.” People who have suicidal thoughts have lost self-worth. That loss is very difficult to live with. How do you correct this problem in your own mind? If it was something on the outside of the body, a cut, a rash, or a bad haircut we know what to do.

What makes depression worse is that we are creatures of habit. The truth is that we want the pain of depression. The predictability is a comfort. Depression becomes standard operating procedures. We can’t make sense of success. We write it off as luck because personal success would challenge our assumption that we have no worth. We take our meds, see therapists, and tell people we want to be free of the dark corners of our minds. Yet, if I wake up tomorrow free of depression, what will happen? Predictability will be gone! Without a logical pattern to understand how will I know what to say and do? In this state of mind, in the depression, my low self-esteem won’t let me see that I can function in a world without comfortable predictability.

Damned If You Do

There it is. Please help me, but I don’t want help. I project this can’t win attitude on others when they try to listen and help. My morning letter from my spouse was a positive one, but I assumed it was bad.

I cannot imagine living with me. Of course I can’t because I have lost self-worth and contemplated suicide. Before sitting down to write this I was outside and chose to cross the road at an intersection without a stop sign or a traffic light. “Maybe I’ll get hit by a bus,” I thought. As I walked on, an older woman limping down the sidewalk passed and I wished I could donate my somewhat healthier legs to her. Let’s give her a better life with this donation and also end my pain. How do my loved ones deal with that? It seems hopeless.

I couldn’t live with someone’s depression myself. In the past, my ex-wife was depressed and I ran. I asked my father how he stayed with my mother as she suffered through depression. Conveniently, I don’t remember if he had an answer. I only remember my mother telling me that he was hurt by the question. I wish my father was here to help my spouse. Of course, that wish is me avoiding responsibility. If I just got better, my spouse wouldn’t suffer. Even worrying about my partner is avoiding my own issue of depression.

Nonetheless, it cannot be easy to live with me. As I explained, sometimes I don’t want to help myself. I have tools from therapies, group sessions, and classes. I didn’t use those resources last week. Instead, depression and the stereotype of the suffering artist had me writing this. Even admitting that fuelled my depression. “Idiot, why aren’t you using your tools? Come on, Chris!”

Stigmale

The other option was to let the tears come. A difficult task for a male in our toxic Western society. We often talk about the social influence has on the development of girls to women, but rarely talk about “boys being boys.” We’re told to “man up,” instead of emote. Crying is a weakness. I knew for days that what I needed was a cry, and yet, I couldn’t do it until the pain became unbearable. Should I listen to a sad song or watch an emotional movie to bring the tears? No. I just needed to let them come.

I needed to feel safe to allow them to happen. Though, repressing them for so long had my eyes watering in a public cafe as I reflected on my week. What are you feeling as you read that last sentence? Are you feeling empathy for me because you can relate to sadness or because you’re embarrassed for me having this emotion in a public space? You could argue there isn’t much of a difference, but it may illustrate how much we’ve tried to distance ourselves from emotions in society. The fact that we feel shame or awkward having emotions in a public space is troubling, in my opinion.

Coming Out The Other Side

At the end of the day, I reached for my mental health tools. It’s very tough because even these helpful tools can affect me negatively. Chet(me) was quick to make me feel bad for waiting days to get the tools out. That’s the loop, the depression feeding itself, once again.

I confessed to my partner how I perceived her morning letter. Once again, revisiting the idea that I project the “can’t win” attitude on her. She held me and I cried. The release wasn’t as cathartic as I had hoped it would be. Perhaps, this is because of that male stigma that I am fighting against. There’s a part of me that believes crying serves no purpose. It doesn’t solve the issue. I feel the same way about anger. Getting angry never seems to fix anything, so why bother crying or getting angry?

These emotions are natural that is, we all feel them as humans. Repressing the tears for days resulted in a number of issues for me that I could have avoided if I simply let them happen when I first felt the need for tears. Supposedly, the trick is to feel our emotions, without getting caught up in the story. In other words, figuring out what is behind the emotions instead of getting carried away with thoughts of fixing the future or past events that led to the feeling. Initially, I was feeling bad because it is the season. I haven’t worked regularly in a year and much of my identity is my work. What do I have to be proud of? That question is going the wrong direction, it is heading towards the story. Beneath my identity issue, under the idea of having no work is the common theme that I have no self-worth. It’s possible that this is what my tears are trying to tell me.

This is why depression is called a mental illness. The perception of reality is distorted with many of us. While many mental disorders may present themselves in behaviors, depression can sometimes remain within. This is why suicides of loved ones can affect us so deeply. Sometimes it is the only sign that there is a problem.

How To Get Help or Help Others

  • There’s this great Wikipedia page with a list of suicide crisis lines for a ton of different countries. Talk to someone it can help. Even if you haven’t attempted suicide, thinking it is a distant option is not healthy. It has been option D for for me since junior high. I recently learned that not everyone thinks this way. Reach out using one of those lines above or find someone you trust to share your emotional struggles.
  • Make It Ok has a number of resources to help you talk to friends with mental wellness issues. They want to abolish the stigmas around mental illness in society, so take a few minutes to check the site out.
  • Reach out to each other. Those of us dealing with mental illness will not come to you. My self-worth is nonexistent. I am not going to email, text, or call you after I write this. I don’t want to burden you. I don’t even want to be with me! There’s even an urge to apologize for recommending that you to reach out to me and others with mental illness. After all, “it takes two to tango.” Sometimes friendships feel unequal when you have to be the one always making contact. Well, my spouse had a sign in her grade school classroom that fits, “Fair isn’t everybody getting the same thing. Fair is everybody getting what they need in order to be successful.” Help your friends be successful, reach out and engage each other.

The Suicide I've Already Committed

8 min read

Victims of violence live in dread and despair, fearing the event(s) could occur again. Depending on the trauma and the individual, I imagine the process of letting go of the fear, to not have to look over your shoulder and be on high alert, takes time. Yet, how does one process a fear that is completely self-imagined?

From the moment I wake up, I am in fear. I get out of bed at a decent time so that no one will think I am a loser. I workout in my building’s small gym because I am afraid my appearance will be mocked by others. I don’t go to the YMCA or another gym with lots of people because I am distressed by the thought that someone may see me working out wrong. After my shower, I take an inventory of the people I may see on the day, from the cashier at the grocery store to friends and family. What did I wear last time I saw these people? I can’t put the same shirt on today, they may think I’m unclean, or worse.

Looking at the email and messages in the morning continues to deliver horror. All of us have internet connected devices in our pockets. What if you sent me a message and I didn’t respond right away? You’ll think I’m ignoring you! Worse, how should I respond? If I say the wrong thing, you may not like me. Speaking of messages, I better send my spouse a nice text before lunch or she could possibly leave me.

Continuing the unhealthy diet of fear, I have to work now. Unfortunately, my effort will not be good enough for my clients. Today, will probably be the day that they let me go. If only I worked faster. If only I was smarter. If I was more charismatic, maybe I’d be better at my job. By lunch, I’m exhausted. The fear of not being accepted for who I am has drained me. My facade crumbles and I run to junk food. That is, as long as no one is around to see me indulge.

Powered by carbs and sugar, I can now get back to worrying that the world hates me. Of course they do. I’ve just eaten a whole bag of chips or pint of ice cream for lunch, like a sad character in a movie. Why would anyone like me? Damn. A message comes through complimenting some work I did. I tremble a bit, uncomfortable. Thankfully, the fear reminds me that the message is a fluke. I got lucky. It was an easy assignment. Great, this client will now expect more of me henceforth. When they learn the truth about me, it will be an incredibly epic failure.

My spouse messages me asking me how I am doing. Since I’ve shared how fragile I am with her, she’s checking in on me. I’m uneasy and scared that it is simply pity. Why would she love someone like this? The thought is distracting and I’m fulfilling the earlier, fear inspired prophecy that I won’t get enough work done today. Another reason for her to leave me, I reflect still consumed by fear.

Perhaps, I better go to the grocery store and buy something she loves for dinner. Who am I kidding? She eats what I make because it is easier than cooking for herself. Surely, I’m not good at baking or cooking. As you can see, at this point in the day the fear is near paralyzing. Everyone at the grocery store is looking my way, judging me. Is my hair messed up? Could I be holding the basket awkwardly? Are my reusable grocery bags old and ugly? No, they recognize that I’m worthless. I must be in this person’s way. I’m in everybody’s way. The cashier silently considers my purchases which are disgusting and pathetic, since I’m restocking on junk food for tomorrow.

Dinner isn’t done soon enough. I spent too much time worrying about what to make and got to the store late. My partner wants me to tell her about my day, but we both know that I don’t work hard enough so there can’t be much to talk about. I take my medication and eat the food, all of which she provides. My job doesn’t pay enough, fear reminds me. She offers to do the dishes, but I’m feeling so guilty because I’m a failure that I keep trying to help. I want to prove value somehow, but inside I’ll never believe I’m useful.

Like so many other couples, we decompress from the day with some TV. While it is a chance to lose myself and the fear in a fictional world, I must choose something she will like. Otherwise, she’ll realize that we’re too different to stay together as a couple. She’ll believe we have nothing in common and choose to leave. I’m horrified that the one person who has accepted me will finally discern that she made a mistake.

While we get ready for bed, she tells me how much she likes the show we watched. I understand that she knows I am scared. Therefore, fear tells me that she is overcompensating with the comments about the TV show. I don’t have long before she comes to her senses and comprehends this is no way to live.

Life

The one thing that the fear has right is that this is no way to live. Avoiding the world around me to protect myself from being judged, from expectations, from not being accepted is slowly killing me. Unlocking this fear of acceptance seems to be key to getting a life for me. At the moment, I knock on the door and get the angry rebuttal of a teenager. Emotions of anger, fear, sadness and shame rumble through the gap like a subway train as I peek through the door. When a train thunders through a doorway, instincts take over. As we know from above, my instinct is fear. So, I close the door.

The only person who can open this door is me, but at this time I cannot. What’s next? Well, I don’t have to do this alone. Truly, I must open this door. I need to accept myself. However, nobody bursts through doors like they do in television and movies. Service men and women, military or civil, use a tactical response. They try to learn as much as they can about the situation they’re getting into before kicking the door down. Therefore, I am getting help to learn about the other side of the door. It’s a difficult and long process. It feels very arduous in a world where we get solutions and gratification so quickly. Progress is slow and not in a straight line.

At the beginning of this journal entry, I may have compared myself to a victim of violence. I feel as if I should apologize for that because I have never experienced a situation like that. In my experience, someone who loves me abuses me mentally. I wish for escape from the situation, it is within my power. The abuser in question is me. I would not be here if I didn’t care about myself in some way. Yet, I cannot quit the fear.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, you have to grasp the fact that you don’t have to do it alone. Understand that there is no quick fix. Just like getting a healthy body takes many hours at the gym, you have to remember the brain is no different. How do I process all this fear that is completely imagined? Gradually, I stumble through with agony and the occasional helping hand from each of you.

“There's a difference between fear and paralysis. And I've learned that I don't have to "grow up" to be open to opportunity, to be willing to step through doors without being pushed. I just have to be brave. I just have to be slightly braver than I am scared.”

Victoria Schwab

 

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.