Hold on: Find your depression life preserver

It’s been a hell of a week. Despite all of the wonderful things happening around me: my Facebook Page has reached just over 300 likes, I’m going to be in a documentary about Clara’s Big Ride, I had a journalist from Elle Canada contact me about a post I wrote on self-harm, my depression was so bad that I thought I was going to have to admit myself into the hospital.

On Monday, I spent three hours sobbing in bed without any explanation. I woke up in the morning and I felt off kilter but I figured it was because I hadn’t had a full night’s sleep in over a week. I had been experiencing terrifying nightmares. Not just nightmares where you’re late for work or you show up to your presentation naked, but the kind of nightmares that make you question your brain. Nightmares where I was gang raped, nightmares where I watched my husband’s throat get slit before they did my own. These nightmares woke me up, panting and sweating and unable to go back to sleep. I was afraid to sleep because I was afraid of the nightmares that might happen.

It's Okay to CrySo Monday was day five of this sleeplessness and in hindsight I should have contacted my doctor earlier, but I thought it was just anxiety. By Monday afternoon I was in full blown crisis. My husband came home for lunch and he could read it on my body that I was in a bad way. He decided to stay home because he was afraid. There’s nothing that can quite make you feel as guilty as someone telling you, “I can’t go back to work because I’m afraid I might find you dead when I come home.” That’s when he asked me, in between my sobs and screams of frustration, if he should bring me to the hospital. And that’s when we both realized, we had no idea where to go.

We have been living in Montreal for about four years now and my mental health issues haven’t been prominent enough for us to think about this. It’s not that I haven’t been struggling because I have been. If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I have had to take time off of work because of my mental health, I have been experiencing daily panic attacks that have only recently abated, and I had a full blown hypomanic episode.

But, there’s a fine line between anxiety, depression, and hypomania that is manageable from home and that place that makes you and everyone around you so completely helpless that you resort to checking yourself into a psychiatric ward. My husband and I have been there before and it’s never an easy decision.

Finally, I decided to take a Clonazepam just to calm myself and I took a nap. I napped to hang on a little while longer. Two hours later, I woke up and felt I didn’t need to go to the hospital and I could hang on until I could speak to my therapist on Tuesday. Tuesday came and I felt worse than I did on Monday, but at least I couldn’t cry anymore. I couldn’t do anything. I sat in front of my computer and watched my Twitter feed until I could speak with my therapist.

I just want to say that I have the most amazing therapist in the world because she is out of the country and still responds to my e-mails that are written mid-panic. She called me from wherever in the world she is and calmly explained that she felt it was simply lack of sleep that was making me feel so despairing. She reminded me how when I lack sleep, I feel like a totally different human being. She told me to get off the phone and make an emergency appointment with my doctor.

Depression problemsWhen i saw my doctor on Wednesday, my husband accompanied me because he didn’t want me playing down or intellectualizing how badly I felt (I have a bad history of that). However, I think my doctor was able to read me well enough to know that I was not doing well. I was a mess. I was unshowered, greasy haired, dressed in leggings and an oversized sweater, and on the verge of tears. She increased my dose of Seroquel to essentially tranquilize me into sleep and a referral to the local psychiatric hospital, just in case, since she wouldn’t be working over the weekend.

Now for any of you who have taken Seroquel before, you know what this is like. If you’ve never taken Seroquel well it hits you like a truck. The sedation is intense. This is not a drug to be fucked with. It knocked me out but I could barely function. Extreme dizziness accompanied every small movement. I had skull crushing headaches. My brain felt like it was wrapped in cotton. My concentration was so bad that I couldn’t even watch daytime TV. I couldn’t speak in full sentences and my husband had to guess the words that I was trying to speak so that he could finish my half-started sentences.

Finally on Saturday, I felt good. I felt rested. I felt happy. I also felt like I was having a mild hypomanic episode. My husband noted I was rambling and talking really fast. I was having thoughts that didn’t connect with anything and blurting them out loud. But compared with Monday, this was a vast improvement. I actually willingly left the house. I was hopeful. The came Sunday and my mood had crashed again. I was anxious and agitated and felt like there were ants crawling on my brain. It is so frustrating to have these fleeting moments of good moods and you try and cling to them, but they slip through your fingers like water.

It’s now Monday again and I feel a million miles away from where I was last Monday. The dizziness has largely dissipated, except when I stand up too fast and when I wake up in the middle of the night. I can concentrate for larger chunks of time (hence the blog post). But it’s still slow going. My words still feel stuck between my brain and my lips. My headaches are constant and Advil only mildly touches them. But at least I don’t feel like I need to be in the psychiatric hospital, so that’s a win!

I don’t really have an overarching message for this blog post other than to hold on. Find something to hold on to – whether it’s to see your doctor or therapist – and cling to that like a life preserver when you’re drowning in the despair of depression. Just keep holding on.

Clara’s Big Ride: Sneak Peek

Hey peeps!

On Monday I announced that I would be part of an incredible documentary that was filmed last year. Now I’m providing you with a sneak peek (check me out at the 1 minute mark!).

Check it out here or click on the image below.

Part catalyst for change and part epic road movie, CLARA’S BIG RIDE is an inspiring new film that tackles the profound conversation about mental health and the stigma that surrounds it.

Capture

On January 28th, a.k.a. Bell Let’s Talk Day the film will be available on demand all day on CraveTV and CTV.ca. Also available on CTV, CTV Two and live-streamed on CTV Go at 7p.m.

Mood music

When I’m struggling, I have always clung to music like it was a life raft. Music blaring through my headphones allows me to block out the world and my own thoughts, the lyrics and melodies buoying me up and keeping my head above water. So, I have put together a compilation of some mood music – some mood boosting, some for wallowing, and some for when you’re down right pissed off at the world.

Let’s start with some mood boosting melodies:

Shake it Off – Taylor Swift

So, I have a guilty pleasure and her name is Taylor Swift. I was so ashamed when she initially disavowed feminism, but then was REALLY happy when she admitted she was a feminist. (Yes, people, these things DO matter!) Her track, Shake it Off, just makes me want to dance out my bad mood. (Also, if you’re on Twitter, follow Feminist Taylor Swift).

Shake it Out – Florence + The Machine

I love, love, love Florence Welch. Her red hair, zany fashion, powerful voice, and the fact that she’s as tall as me just have me sold. The song, Shake it Out, from her Ceremonials album makes me want to do just that.

Happy – Pharrell

This song pretty much says it all. It makes me happy and so does Pharrell.

Little Mix – Wings

Okay, I don’t know much about Little Mix but this song came on one day when I was streaming music from Songza and I was hooked. My feet, feet can’t touch the ground…

Jill Scott – Golden

What can you say about Jill Scott? She is an amazing multi-talented artist and is simply incredible.

So happy, dance music is okay some of the time but other times you just want to wallow and I am the queen of wallowing. So here are my favourite tunes when I’m feeling down in the dumps.

The Smiths – There is a Light that Never Goes Out

Nobody can make you wallow in self-pity better than Morrissey and frankly, There is a Light, is among my favourite Smiths tunes.

Because I love The Smiths so much, you get TWO pity party picks.

The Smiths – Please, Please, Please Let me Get What I Want.

The National – Conversation 16

Based in Brooklyn, The National is one of my favourite bands right now. These guys really vocalize what it’s like to feel depressed. Conversation 16 is a top pick for feeling sorry for yourself because of lyrics like: “I tell you miserable things after you are asleep” “You’d never believe the shitty thoughts I think” and “Had my head in the oven so you’d know where I’ll be.”

Belle and Sebastian – She’s Losing It

This song doesn’t really have the melody for your pity party, but there’s something awesomely contradictory about the music and the lyrics. Plus, when you feel like you’re losing it – why not dance?

Bob Dylan – Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright

This song needs no explanation. It’s Dylan. It’s sad. It’s beautiful. That’s enough.

Bob Dylan – It’s Alright Ma (I’m only Bleeding)

Again, it’s Dylan and one of my favourite songs. I can just get lost in his complex words and simple melody. I also think it’s among one of his most lyrically impressive songs. I mean, it opens with this beautiful verse and just gets better: “Darkness at the break of noon / Shadows even the silver spoon / The handmade blade, the child’s balloon / Eclipses both the sun and moon / To understand you know too soon / There is no sense in trying.”

Once you’re done wallowing in self-doubt and self-pity, it’s time to take on the world that’s got you down! Here are my favourite songs for when you’re ready to fight back:

X-Ray Spex – Oh Bondage, Up Yours!

Poly Styrene is just awesome, so is the band, and so is this song. This song is like a premonition for what Bikini Kill was going to do in the 90s.

Bikini Kill – Rebel Girl

A band widely known for pioneering the Riot grrrl movement in the 1990s, Bikini Kill is an American punk rock feminist band. This is just my jam because who doesn’t want to be a rebel girl?

Ani DiFranco – I Am Not A Pretty Girl

‘Cause I’m not a pretty girl…

The Runaways – Dead end Justice

My favourite song by The Runaways and how can you not feel like kicking ass when you’re listening to Joan Jett?

Bob Dylan – Ballad of a Thin Man

And I end my list with another one of my favourite Dylan tunes (because I can’t just pick one). There’s just so much contempt when he sings, “Mr. Jones.”

I hope you enjoyed my very first listicle and my music selection! What songs have gotten you through those tough moments? What songs stick with you?

Surviving the holidays with a mental illness

Keep CalmThis post was supposed to offer self-care and survival tips for the holidays, but then I realized that I have none. I’m still struggling to find strategies to cope when my world is moving at warp speed and my chest feels like it’s about to explode, so who am I to offer solutions?

I read other mental health articles about how to survive the holiday season with a mental illness and I could just rattle off their information, but that seems disingenuous.

When I started the sharing my mental health story, I promised myself that I was going to be extremely candid about what has happened and what is happening in my life. I never wanted to give my readers the impression that I have everything figured out because the reality is, I don’t. Not even close.

So this is more like my, what’s making me stress out this holiday season post.

For most people, going home for the holidays is already stressful with travelling, pushy relatives, over eating, and over spending. But for someone struggling with their mental health, the holidays are laden with triggers that you try and avoid, but they’re hidden like landmines. They’re unseen and unsuspected, until it’s too late and you’re blown to pieces.

In the lottery of parents and inlaws, I have sort of hit the jackpot. Horrible parenting stories are are a dime a dozen and even more common is the trope of the out-law in-laws. I’m extremely lucky to have none of that. I know I am well loved by both sets. My husband and I are also lucky because we have hometown friends that we still get together with. Despite our luck, we still feel the pressure, self-inflicted for the most part, of balancing our time. It’s like a dance of when to stay where and for how long and when to see which friend without our families feeling jilted. We are continually caught in a cycle of trying to please everyone and ensure no one feels neglected or slighted. Except this year, on top of the usual balancing act, I need to carve out enough time for me to stay sane. And I don’t mean that in a flip, hyperbolic way. Finding time and space for me is integral to my recovery.

Depression ball and chainI, and everyone around me, needs to recognize that I am not functioning at 100 per cent. My moods are like a roller coaster and I’m just along for the ride. I’ve been off work since October  and despite the reprieve, I still have that shell shocked feeling of being over stressed. I still bolt upright in the middle of the night, sweating and panting, wondering what I have forgotten to do. I’m on a new medication regimen and it has caused major agitation that is sometimes unmanageable. My anger is sometimes so intense that I feel like my body may spontaneously combust. When the rage is at its apex, I’m afraid of even opening my mouth for fear of what might come out. This is why I haven’t been at work. This type of behaviour often leads to unemployment sooner rather than later.

Beyond the terrifying anger, my ability to perform day-to-day tasks has decreased dramatically. I get tired and frustrated very easily. A simple task, like grocery shopping, has become the bane of my existence. Not only do I have to interact with people in a confined space, but I become exasperated when our store runs out of products. A few weeks ago, I almost had a meltdown in the middle of the store because I couldn’t I was cooking french onion soup and our store didn’t have gruyere cheese. If it hadn’t been for my husband offering to check the store across the street, I would have deserted the cart and fled the store in tears. This is my reality – I have meltdowns (pardon the pun) over cheese.

But it isn’t always like this, these are only the most difficult days. Most of the time, I just want to be alone and quiet. My current situation allows me to have a lot of time by myself.  My husband leaves to school during the day and comes home only for lunch and dinner. This leaves me alone to go for a walk, write, maybe run an errand or two, workout, and watch A LOT of daytime TV.

Other than my husband, therapist, and doctor,  I don’t really talk to that many people and that’s fine by me. Right now, in person social interactions are exhausting. For every one day that I socialize, it’s like I need two days to recuperate. So what am I going to do over the holidays? How do you explain that to people without their feelings getting hurt?

You're not a burden

Image source: Emm’s positivity blog.

It’s not that I don’t love my friends and family because I do. They’re everything to me. But, despite my physical body being strong and healthy, I’m unwell. I haven’t been around people in a constant way in three months and that makes me incredibly nervous. I’ve learned now that when I start to emotionally unravel at the seams, I have to crawl into bed with a book and be quiet for an hour or two before I feel like myself again. But that’s hard to do during in the middle of Christmas dinner or New Year’s Eve festivities. My two best friends have had major life events happen – one recently got engaged and another just bought a house – how do I explain to them that getting together to have a glass of wine or a coffee can seem daunting? How do I explain to my sister that Christmas shopping for mom and dad seems terrifying? How do I tell my in laws that despite the fact that I love their company and am so happy they are letting us stay with them throughout the holidays, I just really need to be alone right now? How do I say to my mom, please just don’t ask questions about my mental health or work because I just can’t handle that conversation?

There’s not a single mental health blog out there offering tips for these holiday problems and that’s because no one can answer these questions for me, not even my therapist. She and I have, undoubtedly, come up with coping strategies but how do I deal with hurt feelings?  It’s not that I don’t want to stay with my in-laws or have that glass of wine or go shopping, it’s just that simply getting out of bed in the morning can sometimes be difficult.

I need a wide berth by people right now, but I think it’s difficult for people to recognize this when you’re physically healthy. I look the same and may appear functional, but it’s important to remember that I’m not. I’m raw, on edge, and my brain is broken.

How do you survive the holidays when you’re struggling with your mental health?

If you need help coping, here are some of the articles that I read:

Are you better yet? The long road of mental health recovery

Are you better yet?

No one has actually asked me this question because my friends and family are more considerate than that, but I know it’s a question that’s itching in their minds and if they weren’t sensitive to my illness they may actually ask it. I’m extremely lucky to have colleagues who have become good friends and despite my absence from work, we still manage to get together once in a while. When I met with them last week, they asked about my health in a kind and unobtrusive way. They asked how I was feeling, never asking when I would return to work. Still, I felt like the question of, “are you better yet?”, was hanging in the air, just waiting to be given voice.

DSC01266_edited-1_thumb[15]Or maybe it’s all in my head. Maybe I only think other people want to ask that question  because I’m wondering, am I better yet? Could I return to work? And what happens when I eventually do return? Will I be treated any differently than before? Will I be perceived as broken and damaged, or worse, weak?

Despite being absent from work for three months, I’m still feeling embarrassed and guilty that I had to take time off to tend to my mental health. I know I shouldn’t feel this way because it’s just as legitimate as taking a leave because you are physically sick. But reality doesn’t  change the way I feel.

When I met with my friends/colleagues (frolleagues?) I found out that my favourite project has been passed off to someone else. I assume it’s because I’m not there to take care of it, and that is disappointing, but also understandable. It’s a massive undertaking and requires a lot of planning that I’m not there to do. There’s always next year, I guess.

This is the reality of having a mental illness. The world doesn’t, and can’t, stop just because your brain breaks. It doesn’t matter if you’re hospitalized, catatonic with depression, or losing touch with reality because of mania; the world keeps moving without you and I think that’s the hardest part for me to come to grips with. It irks me knowing that someone else is working on this project and that if I could have survived just a little longer it could be me working on it.  Or if I could have just returned to work already, maybe they would have held out a little longer before replacing me. But it’s this type of thinking that got me into this mess in the first place.

Mental healthy recovery is a long journey.

Mental healthy recovery is a long journey.

Of course, I already had the existing condition of bipolar disorder, but it was my inability to disengage with work, share the load, and ask for help when I was floundering that pushed me over the edge. I wanted (and still want) to please everyone and show them (and myself) that I’m strong enough to do it all, despite my mental illness. Except even those without mental health issues can’t do it all without eventually breaking.

Also, if I’m 100 per cent honest with myself I know I couldn’t return to work full-time tomorrow. My body is still getting used to a new medication regimen, which means my moods are still up and down. I still struggle with simple tasks and become easily overwhelmed (writing this blog has been a chore rather than something I enjoy). I cry very easily and can’t manage stress. I wouldn’t last a week at work before I was back at square one, or worse. Now that I have three months distance from where I started, I can recognize that I was skating on thin ice for a long time. As I persevered through the stress, taking on more and more projects, the ice was cracking beneath me as I skated along, pretending that nothing was wrong. I was just lucky that I caught myself before the ice broke and I ended up in the hospital.

So, I guess if anyone is wondering if I’m better yet – no, not yet. But I’m getting there.