Suicide is never a blessing: A response to Amanda Lauren

Please note: Since publication of this post XOJane has apologized for publishing an article that “perpetuated stigma and diminished the lives of people with mental illness.”

In a list of top ten fucked up things I have recently read the article, “My Former Friend’s Death Was a Blessing,” is definitely number one. XOJane published this piece of shit that simultaneously perpetuates stigma towards people who suffer from a mental illness while promoting suicide.

The author, Amanda Lauren, talks about her former friend, Leah, who suffered from Schizoaffective Disorder. She spends an inordinate amount of time talking about how Leah was a filthy, boyfriend stealing, good-for-nothing parasite whose “mental illness took demonic possession over her.” Lauren writes: “there was always something about her that wasn’t quite right.” She then goes on a rant about all the petty things that Leah did wrong and why the author eventually ended their friendship.

The description of Leah as “filthy” and her inability to keep a job are essentially a caricature of people suffering from a mental illness. We’re all incapable of holding a job or keeping a tidy house because our illnesses “possess us.” The reality is that those of us who suffer from a mental illness lead full and productive lives.  And although the Lauren writes: “I realize there are plenty of seriously mentally ill people who take meds and get better. I don’t think the prognosis for all people diagnosed with severe mental illness is death. There are people who learn to manage and live happy and productive lives,” I don’t believe her.

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If she truly believed this I think she would have extended a hand to help her friend rather than watch Leah’s deteriorating state via Facebook in a Mean Girl’s kind of way.” Unlike what the author believes, it wasn’t the Schizoaffective Disorder that “robbed [Leah] of reaching her full potential.” It was the fact that she didn’t receive help.

People suffering from a mental illness can lead full and productive lives, but only if they receive effective treatment.  Unfortunately only 43% of adults with a mental illness receive help and the main factor in preventing people from seeking help is stigma. It’s bullshit articles like this one that stigmatize those of us who suffer from a mental illness and stop us from asking for help. Lauren, Leah and by extension other people suffering from a mental illness, are “beyond help” and therefore shouldn’t be given a fucking ounce of consideration. We’re not some fucking train wreck to be watched from afar and then held up as some sort of karmic tragedy.

But it’s not just the stigma that this article perpetuates and the insensitivity of Lauren that I find appalling. It’s the fact that a media outlet like XOJane thought it was smart to publish a piece of writing that essentially argues that people with a mental illness are better off dead.

Lesley KnoppAnd this isn’t hyperbole. Lauren literally writes that her former friend is better off dead: “It sounds horrible to say, but her death wasn’t a tragedy, her life was.” This is a fucking horrible thing to say and she is a horrible fucking person for saying it. The piece is essentially an encouragement to an extremely vulnerable population that suicide is an acceptable means to end their suffering. The article promotes the idea that people with a mental illness shouldn’t be alive and that our lives are a “tragedy.”

In the ten years or so that I have suffered from Bipolar Disorder, I have had a few depressions that resulted in my hospitalization because of suicidal thoughts. Most recently, in February, I was seriously considering jumping off the top floor of my apartment building because I couldn’t deal with the pain of my disease any longer.

Lauren and XOJane, in a very public space, vocalized all of the thoughts that were already tumbling through my head. “I’m worthless.” “My life is pointless.” “I’m a waste of space.” “I’m better off dead.” Had I read this article in February, on the edge of that precipice between ending my life or continuing to fight, this article may have been the push I needed.  

It’s completely irresponsible to publish writing like this and XOJane should be ashamed of themselves. Suicide is never a blessing. 

All I want to say to anyone who will listen is to not give up hope and never think that you are beyond help. You just keep fighting and there are always people out there who care if you live or die.

For more on this topic I suggest reading this open letter by Sam Dylan Finch.

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Negative self-talk & becoming your own Cheerleader

I recently started swimming in an attempt to get more active. I hate working out and going to the gym, but I used to be a competitive swimmer and thought I’d try and do something I used to love to do. It turns out muscle memory is an incredible thing and I feel like I never left the pool.

On one of the days that I swim I have a coach that runs me through drills. She also cheers me on while I swim. As I swim laps, she yells encouraging things like: “super,” “you’re doing great,” and”good job.” This week, while I was swimming with her voice was echoing in my ears, I thought, wouldn’t it be great if someone encouraged you through life like that? Wouldn’t it be great if you had a little cheerleader on the sidelines as you went to work or school reminding you how awesome you are? And then I thought, why don’t I cheer myself on?

The idea of speaking positively to myself is a foreign concept. My self-talk is almost exclusively negative. My thoughts are a constant barrage of “you’re not good enough,” “you’re not thin enough,” and “you’re not smart enough.” Nothing I ever do is enough. I’m never enough. Even as I write this, my negative self-talk is spinning:

“This blog post is shit.”

“I’m an awful writer.”

“Why do I even try? Everything I do fucking sucks.”

If someone else talked to me the way I talk to myself they would be the meanest and cruellest person on the face of the planet. I wouldn’t be friends with them. I wouldn’t even remotely tolerate them in my life. They would be considered abusive and toxic. And I wouldn’t hesitate to tell them to go fuck themselves (or I’d at the very least think it). This sort of negative self-talk is a form of abuse that we tolerate and to some extent, encourage. We think talking ourselves up or speaking highly of ourselves is conceited — a negative quality. But it’s not. Acknowledging you’re good at something or have a good quality is a form of self-love.

The adage goes, “treat others the way you would want to be treated.” And I think that’s a good rule to live by. But, I think most human beings walk around with a basic sense of decency towards other people. Sure assholes exist and I’m not completely naive to the fact that some people are really out for themselves. But for the most part, people are genuinely good. Generally, some random guy on the street isn’t going to hurl insults at me for no reason. They’re more likely to say hello and thank you. So what if we turned the adage on its head.  What if we said: “Treat yourself the way you treat others.”

For example, the other day I tried driving my car with the emergency brake on. When I realized what I was doing, I immediately called myself an “idiot” and smacked myself in the head. Now let’s turn it around. If I treated myself the way I treat other people I would have never called myself an idiot. What would I have said to a friend? I probably would have just laughed it off because in the grand scheme of things, it’s really no big fucking deal. So why am I an idiot? Why does kindness extend to everyone else except for me?

So I’m vowing to you, my mad lovelies, to be nicer to myself. And I encourage you to do the same thing. Be your own cheerleader.

What if I treated my mental health like my physical health?

Hello my mad lovelies. It has been over a month since my last post and I apologize for that. I just really didn’t have the motivation to write anything, but I’m here now and that has to count for something. Right?!

Mental-Health-ComicBy now I’m sure most of you have heard the line: “What if we treated physical illnesses the way we treat mental illness?” That is, what if we told someone with cancer that they’re “only doing it for attention.” Or, what if we told someone with the flu to “just get over it.” These scenarios seem completely absurd because they don’t make sense. But everyday people with mental illnesses are treated this way by family, friends, and coworkers. I’ve definitely been blessed by the fact that my immediate circle is extremely understanding about my mental illness and I’ve only ever experienced support, sympathy, and respect for my struggle. But so many of us out there aren’t so lucky.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I take care of physical ailments versus how I take care of my mental health.

I have a bad back. I have two herniated disks in my lower back and sometimes my back just likes to act up. Last Sunday I woke up and my entire lower back was in spasms. I could barely walk and when I did there was searing pain down my left leg. Immediately I knew that I needed to lay down, ice my back, and stretch or else I would risk further pain. I knew that if I didn’t stay still I would only aggravate my back and make my pain last even longer. I was perfectly content to spend the day watching TV as I rested up. That’s what I needed. On Monday I still had some back pain, but my situation had significantly improved. Knowing that I wasn’t 100 percent, I took it easy on Monday and by Tuesday my back pain had completely disappeared.

The moral of the story is that I recognized I was in pain, took immediate steps to take care of it, and didn’t push myself through the pain.

Now let’s compare that to how I take care of my mental health. Let’s say I’ve had a really stressful week. I ignore the fact that I’m feeling worn out and frazzled. I ignore the racing thoughts and irritability. Instead of pulling back and asking for help, I keep saying yes and piling more responsibilities onto my plate. I pretend like everything is just hunky dory and push through it. This often leads to me falling into a depression.

BensonAll of those steps that I take to reduce my back pain, all of those self-care things, I don’t do when my mental health is involved. When I’ve had an extra stressful week I feel guilty for spending an afternoon on the couch binge watching Law & Order: SVU. If my back was spasming, like it was the other day, it was totally cool to take it easy. For some reason when my mental health is involved I have to keep pushing myself beyond my breaking point.

If I treated my mental health the same way I treated my back pain, I would never have had to be on disability for almost a year. If I spotted the warning signs, addressed them with a little self-care, and took it easy on myself I would have never fallen so deep.

Now that I’m feeling better and will be returning to work in the near future I will be on the look out for the warning signs and treating them early rather than pushing myself until it’s too late. And I recommend you do the same thing.

 

I need my antidepressant

In my last post, I talked about being admitted into the hospital. For all of you out there wondering if I’m home, I am and I couldn’t be happier being in the comfort of my stuff. But you may also be wondering what brought me to the desperate point of admitting myself in the first place. And the short answer is, I went off my antidepressant.

Now before anyone thinks I’m an idiot who went off my meds, hold up! This was a change in medication that was being done with my doctor’s permission and supervision. The ultimate goal was to clean up my medication regimen. I was on two medications (Zoloft, an antidepressant and Seroquel, an antipsychotic) that weren’t stabilizing my mood the way they should. The plan was to start me on two other medications (Lamictal, an anticonvulsant used to treat Bipolar Disorder and Saphris, an antipsychotic) that would stabilize my mood. Once I was stable, we would then ween me off of the Zoloft and Seroquel because they would no longer be necessary.

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I was all, hey doc that’s cool!

It was a process that made sense to me. As someone with a love/hate relationship with medication, I’m the first one to praise a plan of taking less pills. My doctor felt confident this would allow me to be on the least amount of medication possible while still maintaining my stability.

So, I prepared myself for the roller coaster ride of coming off of medication.Even when slowly weening off meds there are inevitably withdrawal symptoms. My moods became more unpredictable. I was crying at the drop of a hat. My body felt worn out, like I was constantly on the verge of getting the flu. I even went through a week with vertigo and nausea that wouldn’t quit. But, I held on and white knuckled the ride because it was for the greater good. If I could just get through this rough patch of instability it was for the better. Because, less pills = better.

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I was so focused on the equation of less pills = better that I forgot to assess how I was feeling. I forgot to question whether or not I maybe also needed those other pills to be stable. I didn’t question my doctor’s plan because less pills = better. He said so himself.

And so, as I was holding on for dear life just praying for this rough patch to be over I was sent over the edge and spiraled into a deep depression. But because I still had the equation: less pills = better in my head, I kept my head down and thought I could wait it out.

Until I couldn’t.

Until the dark thoughts got too scary and threatening to continue on anymore.

Until I found myself in the ER waiting to be transferred to the psych ward.

The psychiatrist who was overseeing my care in the psych ward didn’t want to undo the work that my primary psychiatrist had done. So, despite the fact that I was utterly depressed, she didn’t immediately start me on an antidepressant. It wasn’t until it was evident that I wasn’t getting any better that she made the decision to try an antidepressant. And within a few days of taking that little white pill, I could feel my mood lifting. I was less tearful. I felt less heavy. I could see a light at the end of the tunnel. And the longer I took the antidepressant the more I could see the positive aspects of my life again.

 

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I wish this was me

And that’s not to say that now that I’m on an antidepressant I’m happy all the time. That’s not how they work. They’re not happy pills. An antidepressant just sort of lifts the veil on the darkness that clouds your perspective.

What this experience has taught me is that the equation: less pills = better isn’t always true. And I’m coming to terms with the fact that I will probably be on an antidepressant my entire life. And that’s okay.

Admitted

“Do you think you need to be admitted?” My psychiatrist asks, looking at me very seriously.

“Yes.” My reply is fast.

Too fast.

Faster than I had time to think of the repercussions of my words.

Things were bad, but were they admission bad? A few thoughts about tossing myself off of my 6th floor balcony made things bad, right? I mean, non-mentally ill people don’t have those thoughts. I don’t even know why I have them. For all intents and purposes I have a happy life and I wish I could just rise above it all, but I can’t. I’m drowning in the depression that up until 3 days ago I didn’t even want to admit that I had. So I agreed to once again be locked up because I could no longer trust myself.

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But now that I’m here I regret my decision. Unlike on TV there is nothing glamorous or relaxing about the psych ward. There is no nurse played by Whoopi Goldberg offering you tough but sage advice about getting better. There are no arts and crafts. No group therapy. There is nothing but meals to punctuate the long hours of the day. To be honest, I’m mostly ignored. The only time you get any attention is if you’re a problem. I mostly bide my time by keeping to myself and wondering what I did in a past life to deserve this broken brain that I’ve been handed.

I try and I try to get better but it seems like every time I take a step forward I’m falling 10 steps behind. It feels like I’m forever mired in the gunk that clogs up my neurotransmitters and makes me the way I am.

My psychiatrist sent me directly to the psychiatric ER at the mental health hospital. My legs shook as a security guard rifled through my bag and waved his metal detector over me. I had to even give my scarf to my husband to put in the car. I guess because I could hang myself with it? Or maybe someone else could hang themselves? Whatever the reason, my shit was confiscated and that thing that I use to hide myself with was taken leaving me feeling naked and vulnerable.

I approached the admission window handed over my health card and said, “My doctor told me to come here for admission.”

“I receive nothing,” the nurse’s reply was curt in her broken English. She rifled through some papers to make it appear as though she cared. I didn’t have the energy to speak let alone argue with her, so I let my husband take over as I just stared at the wall. The incompetence of the mental health system always baffles me. People come to the ER in crisis and are met with questions about paperwork, health cards, and catchment areas. Like, I have this broken brain can’t you just fix me up without giving me the third degree? But they’re doing their job, so whatever. There was some confusion over fax numbers and the documents that my psychiatrist sent over were inadequate.

I was then ushered into the ER and left to wait, and wait, and wait. I waited 3 hours without anyone acknowledging my existence. As I waited, the realization that I was being admitted (again) were slowly starting to sink in. Maybe this wasn’t the best idea. Maybe I had made a mistake. Maybe things weren’t as bad as they seemed. Maybe if I kept trying harder, kept pushing through then maybe I wouldn’t have to be in here with people much sicker than myself. People who saw things, heard things, had no concept of time or where they were. People who are so overly medicated that their heads bob up and down like they’re on a boat. Their shuffling feet echoing down the hallway as they try and walk off the side effects of the drugs that they’re on.

These are the people who belong inside. Not me. Not the sad girl with the fleeting thoughts of flinging herself off of her balcony. And that’s not to say that I’m better than the others because I’m not. I simply mean that their conditions are worse than mine. My depression is taking up space for someone else who could really use a bed.

I’m just really depressed. I don’t belong inside just because of that. But apparently I do. And I had agreed to it. That was the worst part of it all. So many people are court mandated into treatment facilities because of their behaviour and here I am, signing away my own freedom like it was no big deal.