Everyone has been asking me when I’m going to answer the questions that were submitted in regards to my last blog post, and you’ll all be happy to know that’s what this post is about! Okay, so literally TWO people asked me, but still. The time is now.
I’ve been procrastinating, which is actually one of my particularly special skills, because as most of you know this has been a particularly hard couple of weeks for me. I’ve been trying to stay busy and moving, because too much stillness gets the brain churning, and nobody wants that. Also, I’m running out of tissues. From the crying. Oh, you got that? Okay, moving on.
There were only 8 questions, but they were good ones, so I will answer them all. I’d like to once again reiterate that my answers are based on my own opinions and experiences, I am not a medical professional (unless you count the ability to Google ailments as “professional”), and my answers should only be used as a way to perhaps get insight, relate, or just find out why I’m so weird on Twitter.
So, here we go:
1. Do you ever feel guilty that your anxiety isn’t as bad as other people’s?
I had a few reactions to this questions, and I’m still wavering back and forth about it. Initially, I thought, “Fuck no!”, because as anyone who has it knows, anxiety really, really sucks. My second reaction was, “How do you know it isn’t?”, but then I gave my head a shake and remembered that I’m able to leave my house every day, maintain a full time job, full time friendships, and a million other things that people with major anxiety disorders are unable to do. I even, occasionally, make eye contact with strangers. I know, right?! And that moved me into my third reaction, which was “Okay, yeah, kinda.” But I still don’t know. I mean, it’s not a competition. We don’t go around comparing levels of anxiety and expressing jealousy at one another’s disorders. “Oh, you only have panic attacks THREE times a week? You’re so lucky!”. It just doesn’t happen. An anxiety disorder sucks no matter how you slice it. We all have varying levels of functionality, and I am obviously high-functioning, but there are people who are higher functioning than me, and it still sucks for them. We’re all in this together, and in some way, we all know what it feels like to be debilitated by anxiety. So yes, I feel grateful that I’ve managed to overcome a lot, but I don’t feel guilty. I worked hard to get to where I am, and I still have a ways to go. Do I feel bad about my “success” (so to speak)? No. I’m damn proud. And I’m proud of everyone else, too.
2. How would you help someone who is already diagnosed having a panic attack?
I wish I could have my friend Andrew answer this question, because he seems to be the Anxiety Attack Whisperer (I refer to anxiety attacks, because I don’t really have “panic” attacks, but I imagine the situations are similar). In fact, just the other day he managed to diffuse the Kristi bomb with just a few text messages. I was at work, and I suddenly started feeling really weird and anxious. I knew an anxiety attack was imminent, and I wasn’t entirely sure I could stop it. Andrew and I were already texting at the time anyway, so I simply told him what I was feeling. His advice was basically the advice I would give to anyone else: Change the scenery. Breathe. Get some fresh air. Go for a walk and try to think of something else. Remember how fantastic you are. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
A lot of times, there isn’t much you can do to help someone in that situation. Some people require the use of medication (like Ativan, for example) to regain control during a panic or anxiety attack. Some people need to just let it ride and hope it sorts itself out. But there are some people who need help from a friend. My advice is to be a good friend. Hug them, hold their hand, say encouraging things (“suck it up” is not an encouraging thing), tell them you’re there for them if they need you (and they may not, but knowing is nice), and if you can, try to distract them. Don’t minimize what they’re going through, but help them talk it out, or ask them if there’s anything you can do. Andrew didn’t completely stop my anxiety attack, but knowing he cared, was concerned, didn’t minimize my feelings, and had some suggestions helped a lot, and gave me more ideas on what I could do to help myself. So, basically, what you can do to help is to ask THEM what you can do to help. Everyone is different, and they’ll let you know. And if you’re the one having the anxiety attack, you have to tell people what you need. We can’t read your mind.
And, for the curious, it took about 3 glasses of water, a trip to the cafeteria, a funny cat photo, and about 6 Josh Groban songs to make me forget I even felt bad in the first place.
3. If you recognize signs of depression in a friend who doesn’t seem to recognize it in themselves,what’s the best way to raise the topic?
This one is tricky. Mental health is a sensitive (no pun intended) topic, and though a lot of strides have been made lately, there are still a lot of people who either aren’t aware they have a mental illness, are in denial about it, or just simply think it’s none of your business.
Is this friend a really good friend, or maybe just someone you know from work? If it’s someone you’re close to, and you feel like it’s your place to say something, then…well, you still have to tread carefully. There’s no real science to it, and there’s a good chance you could lose your friendship. However, if you’re truly concerned for your friend, maybe that’s a risk you should take. My suggestion would be to educate yourself first. Read books, blogs, articles, etc on depression. Learn the signs, think about how they apply to your friend, and maybe even compile some resources for your friend in case he or she needs them. Your friend may get angry. Your friend may blow you off. Your friend may say “I’m not depressed, I’m just sad”, and that may even be true. If you really think your friend needs help, though, you’ll take the risk. You asked the best way to raise the topic. I’d start with “How are you?”.
4. I would like to hear more about your PTSD. We hear about it from soldiers in the battlefield but not from civilians in day to day life.
I have a very mild form of PTSD. At least, that’s what the multiple mental health professionals I’ve seen have told me. I haven’t gone into detail about it with very many people, because frankly, it’s a tough topic for people to hear about. My PTSD comes from an abusive childhood. It’s not an illness I have to deal with every day (although, there was obviously a time when I did), especially since it has been years since the offending party(s) have been a part of my life. However, it still affects my life in a very real way. I have nightmares very often; sometimes for many nights in a row. I also have night terrors most nights (yes, there’s a difference). I get very vivid flashbacks, too, but can usually shake them off quite quickly. Occasionally they get triggered, though, and that becomes a challenge I usually have to suffer silently. Sometimes something a friend says to their kids can trigger a memory, or reading an article in the news, or even something someone says on Twitter. The word “bitch” can be a trigger. There was an incident between a friend and his son last winter, that to anyone would be absolutely ordinary and unmentionable, but to me it caused me to remember something very vividly to the point that I started shaking and crying. My friend didn’t notice, and I never mentioned it to him. I didn’t know how to bring it up, and it never happened again.
My PTSD can be a jerk to me sometimes, and I really wish it would just let me get a good night’s sleep for a change, but I feel like it’s something I’ve dealt with my entire life. It’s just something I have to deal with and that nobody can help me with. I’ve accepted I’ll probably have some issues with it for the rest of my life. So, if I ever have a boyfriend again, he’s going to have to be okay with being woken up in the middle night when I have a nightmare and want a hug. Fellas?
5. I’d like to hear your description of an anxiety attack. Have you ever tried going cold turkey off medication?
Well, first, I don’t take medication for anxiety (I do for depression, but you didn’t ask about that). I have a prescription for Ativan, but I never take it. I keep it around for emergencies, but I can count the number of times I’ve used it on one hand. However, the fact that it’s there if I need it is comforting to me. Even if I never take it, knowing I can helps. It’s like a weird kind of placebo effect, accept not at all…or something.
So, what does an anxiety attack feel like? I’m going to do my best to try to describe it here, but feel free to jump in if I don’t make any sense at all. Although, when you’re having an anxiety attack, it usually feels like it doesn’t make any sense either.
I get short of breath. My heart speeds up. My hands start to shake and my legs feel wobbly. I get sweaty in weird places. I start to cry. I can’t focus, even though I really, really want to. I get a burst of energy, either because I want to run or because I just want to run away. I cry some more. Then I laugh at myself for crying. I get a headache. I sniffle a lot. I fidget A LOT. You know in the movies when the camera is in close on someone and then it zooms out really quickly to reveal the field, mountains (I just watched the Sound of Music), city, vast universe, whatever, that they’re in, to give perspective of how very alone they feel? It’s like that. Or that scene in Jurassic Park where the water glass shakes, and it’s really fucking scary, but also really quiet? THAT, too. Basically, you can’t tell if you should hold still and hope it goes away, or if you should run like hell. Also, my stomach does flip-flops, but I also crave comfort food. The body is weird. Brains are weird. Am I just weird?
Plus, when I feel an anxiety attack coming on, my mind goes in a million places trying to figure out the cause, and if I can’t, it is so, so, so, so frustrating. In fact, I’m pretty sure the Incredible Hulk isn’t angry; he’s just having an anxiety attack.
6. How many different ways have people tried to tell you depression can be conquered if you just “suck it up”, you know what I mean?
Thankfully, I haven’t heard this at all, lately. I think it’s because I’ve surrounded myself with open-minded, smart, sensitive people. I’ve left behind the people who would say something like that, and I don’t miss them one bit. Hey, shout-out to my friends for being so awesome. Hi, guys.
7. What mechanisms do you use to control your anxiety?
Music. Music is therapy to me. Nothing calms me down better than singing, or if I’m somewhere I can’t sing, then to just listen. Music holds the world together. Music calms me.
If you had asked me this question 3 weeks ago, I would also have said my cat, but, well….I’m not ready to talk about that yet.
My friends. My friends love me, and they accept me, and they let me know that it’s okay to be afraid, but that I don’t have to be. My friends are great communicators, which is very important to me.
I also push myself a lot. I force myself out of my comfort zone, although if you have an anxiety disorder, you’re ALWAYS out of your comfort zone. But still. I realized a while ago that if I continue to let my fears and anxiety hold me back, I’m going to miss out on a lot of things. I want to have a fun, fulfilling, exciting life, and if I don’t work hard and push myself, I won’t get that.
But sometimes, I push, and the anxiety pushes back. This is where my friends come in. Like the Beatles song says, I get by with a little help from my friends. Okay, a lot of help from my friends. The Beatles forgot that part.
But, if all of that fails, a blanket, some tea, and about 50 BuzzFeed posts, or a Tumblr of funny pictures should do the trick. Sometimes, the anxiety wins. Or does it?
8. Does jogging help your depression? Like not only with self esteem but with the other aspects of depression too such as chemically?
It amuses me that this question was asked by my high school best friend Gloria, who has known me since the 9th Grade, and is perfectly aware that I spent more time coming up with excuses to avoid gym class than I actually did IN gym class. However, high school was a while ago, and people change.
I’m not sure about the whole chemical thing, but there is that whole endorphin thing that people talk about, so it’s probably true. Someone else would answer that better than I can. However, yes, exercise does help with my depression. It makes me feel empowered, in control, and like I can do anything and run anywhere. For a few minutes anyway. Then I usually just want to lay on the ground and pray to a God I don’t believe in, while begging for water. However, I believe in the healing power of nature, and of wind. I love wind. Wind makes me a dreamer. So, while working out in a gym surrounded by machines and people with way better balance and fashion sense than me wouldn’t help my depression much, running outside on a trail does wonders. I love running. But I also hate it. But I love it, too. Our relationship is complicated.
As for my self-esteem, well, that’s a work in progress.
Well, that’s all the questions that were asked! I hope you found it helpful, or informative, or at least mildly entertaining. Thanks to Stephen, Joan, Gloria, Jennifer, Kate, and someone I know only as ‘R’, for submitting them. I did my best.
Please share this with your friends, or strangers, or anyone, really. We need to keep talking about mental illness. Seriously, it’s important.
And if you have more questions, I’ll answer them. Unless they’re weird. Don’t ask weird questions.
I’m far from being an expert on mental illness. In fact, some days I feel like I know nothing about my own brain, let alone anyone else’s. However, it’s something I love talking about and love learning more about, especially when it helps me discover something new about myself.
There are a fair amount of people who read this blog, or follow me on Twitter, and they often ask me questions about mental health that involve a lot more explaining than I can fit into 140 characters. Since they are important questions about an important subject, I’d like to give them the care and thought they deserve, so here we are.
Is there anything you want to know about mental illness? Do you wonder what an anxiety attack feels like? Are you curious about what I consider the best coping mechanisms? Do you have a loved one with mental illness and would like to know more about it? Would you like to know more about PTSD, or how I happened to acquire it (I don’t have a lot of experience with it, but I’ll do my best)? Would you like to talk about your own experiences with depression? Would you just like to know my favourite colour? (It’s purple. That one’s free.)
I will answer anything, to the best of my ability, but keep in mind that I will be using only my own experiences, opinions, my friends’ opinions, and whatever stuff I can find on Google. You can ask anonymously, if that makes you more comfortable, or not, if you don’t care.
You can leave a comment here (I believe the anonymous option is on, but if it’s not, let me know), or ask me on Twitter (send me a DM, if we follow each other and you wish to remain anonymous). I’ll take the questions, if there are any (and don’t leave me hanging, guys, or that’d be really embarrassing), and compile them into their own blog post.
Don’t be shy. This is something we should be able to talk freely about, so go ahead, ask me anything! Also, I’ve been having a pretty rough time lately (see my last blog post), so this will be a welcome distraction!
And if you know someone who might have a question, share this post. Let’s talk!
2 days ago I realized I hadn’t cried in over 3 weeks. For most people, that’s not anything remarkable, but with the year I’ve had, that is a pretty big milestone. I was proud. I felt strong. I felt like I had overcome a big obstacle. There have been periods of time where I’ve cried every day for 3 weeks, and here I was having gone that long without shedding a single tear. I felt like I should have one of those signs they have at factories and warehouses that say “IT HAS BEEN ____ DAYS SINCE OUR LAST INCIDENT”, only this one would be for keeping track of my anxiety attacks or depressive episodes.
Last night I had a terrible dream. It was about my stepfather, the man who raised me, but whom I haven’t had any contact with since 2005. In my dream he was sick. He was dying, and the doctors believed he only had one more day left. He was alone, so I went to see him. I sat on his bed for hours, talking to him, telling stories, laughing, and pretending like he hadn’t made my life hell for 17 years. The next day, I left to go to the store for orange juice (why orange juice? I have no idea. Dreams rarely make sense) and the car broke down on the way back (it was my friends Andrew and Gwynedd’s car, which I’m always afraid I’m going to break when I drive it). By the time I made it back to my father’s place, they were taking his body away. I lost it. I started weeping and repeatedly calling out “you can’t go away!”. Then I woke up. My face and pillow were wet, and there were tears still rolling down my cheeks. I had not just been crying in my dream.
My room was still dark, even though it was about 9 AM. I have recently been given a pair of curtains for my bedroom that are basically like blackout curtains, but are purple. They’re amazing, if you never, ever want to know what time it is or what the weather is like outside. “Holy shit”, I said to the ceiling, while smearing last night’s mascara all over the back of my hands. Then I picked up my phone and tweeted about it, not because it was particularly clever or relatable, but because in distressing moments such as that, I tend to seek human interaction of some kind.
Once I put my phone down, I laid back on the pillow and realized I had broken the 3 week streak. I had cried. “It doesn’t count”, I told myself. “It wasn’t real, and I didn’t know I was doing it”. That logic made sense in my head, so I decided the streak was still going.
Then I got out of bed.
I groggily walked to the kitchen, still wiping my eyes, thinking about the cocoa I was going to add to my morning coffee because I felt I had earned it (and because shovelling handfuls of chocolate chips into your mouth is unseemly. At least, for breakfast). The plan changed, however, when I turned the corner and saw the sink. It was full of water. Overflowing, in fact. There was a layer of water completely covering the countertop, and flowing out on to the floor. There was water under and around the microwave. The coffee maker was practically floating.
“Fuck”, I said.
Now, I’m not the best at housekeeping. I don’t live in squalor or anything, but my kitchen is usually in a state that requires at least a few hours notice if you’re going to be coming over for a visit. It’s not that I’m lazy, it’s just that I usually don’t think of cleaning, because my brain is occupied by a bazillion other things (this is also why plants rarely stay alive when left in my care, and why I often burn food). Also, due to this fabulous mental illness I have, I need to mentally prepare myself for people invading my space and touching my things. I love when my friends come to visit, but they know me well enough to know they need to call first.
I knew I needed to call my landlord, but the idea of him coming in my apartment, seeing me not showered, seeing that I haven’t washed dishes since…well, since a while, and touching my things, invading my space, judging me, all while making small talk? That made my heart start to race.
I started moving things around. I grabbed towels to start cleaning up the water. I stacked dishes to make it seem like there were fewer of them. I put the larger dishes in the oven. Yes, I did that. I grabbed the plunger from my bathroom and tried to drain the sink, but it did nothing but bring up more, darker water. Hard to believe a $2 pink floral plunger would be so ineffective, right?
While waiting for my landlord to arrive, I decided there really was nothing I could do but make coffee. I boiled some water, but when I opened a drawer to get a spoon, a waterfall came flowing out. The drawer had over an inch of water in it. The next 2 drawers below it were in the same boat (sorry). Just as I was about to say “Motherfucker!” out loud, my landlord knocked on the door.
My landlord is actually a really great guy. He’s one of the best landlords I’ve had, and he’s always on top of any issues that arise, is friendly, generous, and it seems like he really likes his tenants. I have no complaints about him.
But he’s still relatively a stranger to me. And now he was in my space when I hadn’t had time to mentally prepare. He was touching my things. He broke a dish. He knocked a magnet off the fridge. He wouldn’t stop talking to me. He kept apologizing. He offered to replace everything that was damaged. He started cleaning. He cleaned everything. I wanted him to stop. He was doing too much, and he was taking things out of my control. He was in my home, and he was taking over. I started to panic. Every time he got close to the oven, my heart started racing, and I pictured him opening it and seeing the dirty dishes. “Sal, please stop. I will do that later. It’s okay.”, I said, over and over. But he didn’t stop. He wanted to make sure there was no damage to the wood or tile, which made sense, but my brain was still not okay with it. I wanted him to fix the problem and leave.
I don’t want to give you the impression that I’m not cool in a crisis. I am. If you have a real problem, like a clogged sink, or a flat tire, or you have an emergency, or any number of REAL issues, I can handle them all. I’m clever, and I’m a quick, logical thinker.
It’s the fake problems my brain makes up and then adds dramatic music to that are harder for me to deal with.
After a while, Sal left to go pick up some supplies and said he would be back in about 30 minutes. I had been on the verge of tears and panic for the past 20 minutes, so I couldn’t wait until he closed the door behind him. As soon as he did, I started to cry. I started to breathe heavy. My heart started beating fast. I sat down on the couch and tried to stop crying. I knew I was being ridiculous, and I knew I was having an anxiety attack. I squeezed my eyes shut tightly to stop the tears, and I pounded my fists on the coffee table. “Stop it”, I said. “There’s no reason for this. It’s not a big deal.” It helped. I stopped crying, and I got up and started pacing. I got control of my breathing, and my heart rate started going down. I was left with a feeling that I can only really describe as “fluttery”. If you’ve felt it, you know what I mean.
Sal came back not much later, and he could tell something was wrong, and he asked me about it. I decided to be honest with him. “I have an anxiety disorder, and I sometimes get upset about things I can’t explain. I understand that you need to be here, and I appreciate that you are, but I just wasn’t mentally prepared for it”. He accepted that, and started asking me questions. As we talked, I felt embarrassed by how much of a basket-case I sounded like. “Stop talking, Kristi. You sound like an idiot”, my inner voice kept saying. I wondered if this was one of the reasons other people find it so hard to talk about mental illness.
Sal stayed for 4 hours. Once I explained to him that I was upset, it got easier. He seemed to understand that his cleaning was making me uneasy, so he asked permission before every new thing he did. I had no problem letting him do it, because hey, it meant I didn’t have to, but I just needed to know what he was doing. I needed my brain to be prepared.
He wasn’t able to fix the sink problem, and a plumber will have to come in on Monday or Tuesday, when plumbers start plumbing again, or whatever it is plumbers do when it isn’t the weekend. That’ll be another anxiety-filled situation, but with any luck, I’ll be at work and won’t have to deal with it.
After he left, I made coffee and curled up on the couch. I was disappointed in myself. Maybe I hadn’t broken the 3 week streak earlier that morning, but it was definitely broken now. I was back at the beginning again. But then the logic part of my brain spoke up. 3 weeks is a long time. It’s the longest I have gone in a while. So what if I had a bad day? So what if had a misstep? It happens to a lot of people. It’s normal, right?
I picked up my phone and opened up the calendar app. I opened up a new entry for today and typed “I cried today”. Tomorrow will be Day 1. I’m going to keep track. Maybe this time I’ll go 4 weeks. Or even longer.
I’ll have other bad days. Some of them will be because of legitimate reasons, and some of them may be anxiety attacks triggered by something completely insignificant. But I need to stop being so hard on myself. I need to be more patient.
Because you know what?
For someone with depression, anxiety, and PTSD, one bad day every 3 weeks is pretty fucking good.
Today is World Mental Health Day, and on Twitter I’ve been sharing a few comments throughout the day of what it’s like to have mental health issues. The purpose of this day is to get people talking, to help them understand, and to remove the stigma behind mental illness.
I want to tell you a little bit about how my mind works. The ups and the downs.
I have depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I’ve had them most of my life, but it’s only been the past few years that I’ve been able to understand, accept, and begin to deal.
My brain is what you would consider “active”. It’s constantly going, even while I sleep (which isn’t often enough). I’ve suffered from nightmares since I was 4 (that’s as far back as I can remember), and have had night terrors for at least the past 10 years, though they have gotten worse in the past 3 or 4 years. That is, of course, when I can actually fall asleep. I average about 5 hours of sleep a night, due to the fact that I usually lie awake in the dark overthinking things. Not necessarily bad things, but just thinking about everything. Work, life, my cat, love (or lack thereof), a TV show I like, a celebrity I have a crush on, and yes, sometimes even sex. Sometimes my mind will cover all the topics in rapid succession. I also worry a lot. Especially when I think someone is mad at me, or that I might have upset someone. In the middle of the night, there’s nothing I can do about it other than worry, because the other person is likely sound asleep, like I wish I could be. The later it gets, the quieter it gets, the harder it gets. If I do manage to fall asleep, I will wake up throughout the night to check my phone to see if anyone tried to contact me, because maybe they can’t sleep either.
One of the good things about having an active brain is my imagination. I am never bored. I can sit in a waiting room, on a bus, or even alone on my couch, and just think. Physically, I appear to be doing nothing, but mentally, I am elsewhere. I could be on a beach in the Hamptons, walking down the Champs-Élysées, or lost in LA. I even think of scenarios, like “What if I was in a plane that crashed in the wilderness and I survived? What would be my plan?”, and then I’ll come up with a plan. I think about what it would be like to write a successful novel, go on book tours, and possibly be interviewed by Jon Stewart. Sometimes I think about people who have hurt me, and what I would say to them if I had the chance, or the courage.
Sometimes I think about what I’m going to do when my cat dies. And then I cry.
I cry often. Not an embarrassing amount, but enough that I’m basically sick of it. People say a cry can be good for you. I say those people are lying. Crying makes me tired, it makes me look like I’m drunk or high (or both), and it makes my nose all stuffy. I cry at strange things, too. Obviously, when thinking of losing my cat, or when feeling lonely or thinking about my lack of family, but also during songs that are only a little bit sad, or during the Amazing Race when something emotional happens, or sometimes for no reason at all.
The “no reason at all” feelings are the worst part of depression and anxiety. For me, being able to pinpoint what is bothering me makes it so much easier to get over it, or move past it. Not knowing makes me more anxious, more frustrated, and often it can make me angry. Whenever I’m upset about something, I have to ask myself if I’m legitimately upset at something that is real, or if it’s just the mental illness. Usually, it’s a combination of both; one exasperating the other. The problem with that is that it also makes my friends wonder the same thing. I fear that they’ll take advantage of me and think that they can hurt me and just blame my getting upset on mental illness.
This next part is going to sound weird, so bear with me. There are positives to having depression. I know, right? How can I say that? For many people with depression, just getting out of bed is a struggle. It’s hard to make yourself get up, get dressed, and leave the house. I’m the opposite. I need to get out, to do stuff, to be around people. I need to be active. I need to not stand still. Because of this, I exercise a lot, whether it’s walking, hiking, or running. I get outside. I’m getting healthier and fitter by the day. I get fresh air. Both exercise and being outside have been proven to be highly beneficial to your mental health. I was thinking about this the other day, and it occurred to me that if I was happy, and content to relax, sleep all day, or have “lazy Sundays”, I’d probably gain back the 50 pounds I’ve already lost. Running, literally, from my depression is helping me get fit.
Depression also makes my feelings stronger and more intense. I’m very sensitive, and I don’t trust very easily. I often feel like I’m walking on eggshells around people, and that I can’t be myself, because if I upset anyone, they’ll want nothing more to do with me. I apologize for things I don’t even think are my fault, just because I can’t stand people being mad at me. It scares me. Losing people is my biggest fear (right above dentists and spiders).
I don’t say the word “love” very easily. I can count on one hand the number of people I love, and even though I’m confident of my feelings, it’s still difficult each time I say it. What if they don’t say it back? What if they don’t feel the same? What if they ignore me? What if they’ve changed their mind? When I tell someone I love them, I don’t say it lightly, and it’s always with great fear and trepidation. However, when I do love someone, and I know they love me, I literally feel warm and tingly. It’s the greatest feeling in the world, and it’s something I’ll probably never get used to. It’s like a treasure to me. I wish it was something I could put in a glass case and stare at. I wish it was something I could put in a bag and take with me wherever I go. I wish I could pull it out and show it to people and say “Look at what I have. Isn’t it amazing?”.
I wanted to talk to you a little about my PTSD, and some more about my anxiety, but I’ve gotten all emotional, and I’m also convinced most of you have stopped reading by now, so I’ll keep that for another day.
Keep talking about mental health. Support your loved ones who deal with mental illness every day. Be patient with them. Recognize that they’re trying. Be proud of them. Hug them (if they don’t mind being touched). Give them space, if they ask. Be supportive. Don’t make them question your feelings for them, because they have too many other things to worry about as it is. Help them, if they ask for it. Be proud of them when they do something that scares them (and probably a lot of things do). Take their problems and their fears seriously, even if you think they’re ridiculous. Be encouraging. Don’t let them use their mental illness as a crutch. Let them see how strong you think they are, and eventually they’ll begin to feel it, too.
For my fellow members of the Mental Illness Club, be patient with your loved ones. It’s hard for them, too. We can be exhausting, high maintenance, and often a buzzkill. Don’t take people for granted. Appreciate them, and accept that they may never understand, but it doesn’t mean they love you less. Communicate with them. Be honest with them, and yourself, about what you need. Don’t expect too much of them. Don’t drain them.
I won’t stop talking about mental health, and neither should you. I hate to use the word “normal”, but in this case it’s okay: mental illness is normal. It’s nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about. It’s an illness, and it is nobody’s fault. But it doesn’t have to rule our lives and I’m not letting it rule mine.
Growing up in northern British Columbia, it was hard to not be aware of the spell of the Yukon, and the works of Robert Service. I’ve never been a fan of poetry, and most inspirational quotes make me roll my eyes, but to me, Robert Service has always been different. He’s a storyteller, and his poems always gave me such a fascination with the Klondike Gold Rush and what life was like in that time, way up there in the cold north.
Today, sitting on a rock ledge overlooking the Atlantic ocean, far, far away from the Yukon territory, my friend Denton and I somehow got on the topic of Robert Service’s poetry, and ended up reciting The Cremation of Sam McGee, both from memory and the help of our trusty friend Google. We talked about how fun his poetry was, how we couldn’t believe our parents had allowed us to read it as children, and how excited we had both been when we went (separately) to Whitehorse, YT, and saw the places he had lived and worked.
When I got home, I decided to look up some more of his poetry, because I realized I could only recall 3 or 4 of them. Below is a poem written by Robert Service called The Quitter. By the time I had finished reading it, I had tears in my eyes. He (probably) wasn’t writing about mental health, but he was definitely writing about suicide, and even a poem published in 1912 can still hit close to home today. I’ll let it speak for itself, because he writes far better than I ever could. I just wanted to share it with you, because maybe it’ll hit you in the same spot it hit me.
When you’re lost in the Wild, and you’re scared as a child,
And Death looks you bang in the eye,
And you’re sore as a boil, it’s according to Hoyle
To cock your revolver and . . . die.
But the Code of a Man says: “Fight all you can,”
And self-dissolution is barred.
In hunger and woe, oh, it’s easy to blow . . .
It’s the hell-served-for-breakfast that’s hard.
“You’re sick of the game!” Well, now, that’s a shame.
You’re young and you’re brave and you’re bright.
“You’ve had a raw deal!” I know-but don’t squeal,
Buck up, do your damnedest, and fight.
It’s the plugging away that will win you the day,
So don’t be a piker, old pard!
Just draw on your grit; it’s so easy to quit:
It’s the keeping-your-chin-up that’s hard.
It’s easy to cry that you’re beaten-and die;
It’s easy to crawfish and crawl;
But to fight and to fight when hope’s out of sight-
Why, that’s the best game of them all!
And though you come out of each gruelling bout,
All broken and beaten and scarred,
Just have one more try-it’s dead easy to die,
It’s the keeping-on-living that’s hard.
You can explain something to someone repeatedly and in many different ways, and they won’t understand it. However, if you show them a picture of what you mean, they’ll probably get it right away. I know whenever I’m trying to put together a particularly complicated piece of IKEA furniture (and they’re all complicated), I don’t know what to do with half the little screw-like things until I look at the diagram a thousand times. Pictures make the pieces fall into place in the gaps of our minds.
I came across this post on Buzzfeed last night of various comics and illustrations that depict the frustrations of depression. While all of them don’t apply to me particularly, I found myself saying “YES!”, and “Oh, absolutely” to a few of them. I thought I’d share some of them with you, so that maybe you might just understand me, and perhaps someone else you know, a bit better.
I’ve mentioned this many times, especially the part about locking up people with mental illness because they’re dangerous. Sigh.
I don’t have this problem myself, because of the fact that staying in bed all day just makes me think, and think, and think, and that is bad and you should never ever ever ever allow me too much time to think. Besides, that’s what all the sleepless nights are for.
I’ve learned in the past few months that when someone asks how you are, 9 times out of 10, the answer they want to hear is “fine”, or some variation thereof. It’s not because they don’t care, it’s because they just can’t do anything for you, and that frustrates them, too. And for those of us who give the simple “I’m fine” as an answer, often it’s because explaining how we really feel can make us feel worse. We’re trying to convince ourselves. And sometimes, we actually really are fine. If you really do want to know, though, look at our faces when we say we’re fine. If there’s doubt, ask again.
But when we tell you the truth, don’t respond like this. Please.
I consider myself a really smart person. In fact, as a young adult, I was told I was “gifted”. And yet, I did pretty terrible in high school. This is why. I skipped half my classes and rarely did homework. I wasn’t goofing off, though. I was simply hiding by myself. It was the only time I knew I could have alone without worrying my stepfather was going to find me and be angry about something.
Andrew, this is why I always tell you I don’t want to do things. I know you’ll be the other voice that tells me to do them anyway.
In the words of Captain Hammer, “everyone’s a hero in their own way”.
I wish people would ask to come over more often. It’s pretty much the only thing that gets me motivated to do any housework, and nobody has been in my apartment for months. I mean, my apartment isn’t that messy, because I work hard at being a responsible adult, but getting myself to clean it always feels so much harder when I know I’m the only one who will even see it, and I’d rather just compartmentalize it with the rest of my problems. So yeah, when I vacuum, or wash dishes, or even simply take out the recycling, that’s a victory.
There are more here, along with credit for the images. I hope you find them helpful, or at the very least, entertaining.
Now, here’s a picture of my cat being cute. She always makes me feel better.