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Care in Tough Times…

October 15th, 2009

To be frank, my life has been rather awful the past six weeks.  My grandmother, to whom I am very close, was diagnosed with E. Coli poisoning, had kidney failure and nearly died.  My father was diagnosed with cancer, and is starting treatment.  Combine this with the fact that I am a teacher whose students need a lot of extra help this year, and the regular ups and downs of a long-term relationship, the past six weeks have left me sad, anxious and worried about what’s to come.

For someone like me who already struggles with chronic depression and anxiety, circumstances like these can easily trigger an episode of sadness or severe anxiety.  Self-care, and care from friends and family during this time are absolutely imperative.  The truth is that difficult times can be navigated with a little bit of extra help, without falling into a well of sadness.

Self-care tips:

  • Take good physical care of yourself.  Any crisis is easier with enough sleep.  Exercise, get outside, eat well, and don’t overdose on caffeine or alcohol.  Avoid drug use.  Keep meds regular—avoid adding new medication or getting off of medication during stressful time.
  • Talk about it.  Keep talk therapy appointments, and ask a few friends or family members who you know you can trust to support you.  Remember, no matter what’s going on, you’re not alone—ask for help.
  • Know thyself.  If you feel yourself getting anxious, sad or depressed, take action before it gets to a point of danger.  Call your therapist, psychiatrist, closest friend or all three.
  • Get into a routine.  Get up for work, meet up with friends, include time alone.  Staying on a regular schedule, complete with things to look forward to, will help the craziness of life seem much more manageable.
  • Take the long view.  This too shall pass, and no matter how terrible the circumstances, it’s not worth harming yourself.

Tips for caring for a friend or family member:

  • ASK.  Don’t avoid talking about what’s going on.  Ask good questions, and above all, LISTEN to the answers.
  • Show up.  Try not to cancel plans unless it’s an emergency, and don’t be afraid to just be there.  Hang out, invite them out and try to be available as much as possible.
  • Be aware.  If you notice your friend or family member showing telltale signs of concern, such as isolating, giving away valuable possessions, a new calm after weeks of crying or anxiousness, than be aware that they may be preparing to harm themselves.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help in supporting them.

No matter how tough the circumstances, things will be okay.  Take care of yourself, and remember to take care of those you know who may be struggling the best you can.

You’d Never Guess

September 15th, 2009

Please welcome Amy from Just A Titch. We’re so happy to have her as a new member of our community!

My name is Amy, and I’m one of the newbies here at RealMental.

If you met me, you’d probably realize a few things: I’m short (5″1), I have seriously curly hair, I’m a teacher and I’m a bit shy until I warm up.  I’m stubborn and sarcastic and sweet and silly, and I really love life, despite it’s crap.

But I bet you’d never, ever guess that I have suffered from mental illness for most of my life—nearly 20 of my 26 years, actually.

I realize it sounds near-impossible for such a young child to be aware of her own illness, but I’m one of those weirdos who has kept a journal since I could write.  The first few years are sprinkled with information that is horribly boring, such as my dad’s denist appointments, or what my mom is making for dinner, or the perils of having a new baby brother.  But one entry, dated when I was just seven, reads, “I am VERY DEPRESSED.”

I cried my eyes out when I read that.  To be so young, and to be aware of how sad I felt inside seems heartbreaking.

My journey began at age seven, with four written words.

It continued on, haunting me through the years.  I never thought anything of my teenage issues.  Growing up is hard, right?  You’re supposed to cry yourself to sleep, right?  Every single night?  I confessed once, to an older friend from church that I thought I might be depressed, that I was so, so, so sad inside.  Her response?  So is everyone.  Pray.  Pray more.  And I did.  But I was still achingly, painfully sad.

One question I get often when I tell my story is about my family.  Did my parents know?  Did they ignore it?  The truth is that my parents have never been anything but wonderful.  I had friends.  I was surrounded by love in my life.  I’ve never wanted for love or support, ever.  Inside, I knew that being sad wasn’t okay.  I had a great life, a great family: in short, I had nothing to be sad about.  Part of the depth of my sadness was because I felt, instinctively, that there was something wrong with my being sad.

So, instead of being sad, I became ultra, sickeningly, perky.  Smiley faces on everything!  Bright colors!  Sunflowers!  HAPPY!  All the time.  Except when I wasn’t.  And there were many days when I wasn’t.  I wasn’t anything but blank on the inside.  I cried, I ate, I existed, but there was no joy.

At 21, I was married to someone who was not a good fit for me.  Not even a little bit.  Suddenly, along with being sad, I was anxious.  I would stop breathing when I’d drive to the college I had been attending, and arrive at class breathless and teary.  I would come home to the apartment I shared with my new husband and would bleach down the surfaces excessively, multiple times, until I could be sure everything was okay.  I was sick, physically: migraines, nausea, pain.  My days became a cycle of dragging myself out of bed to go to work, to coming home and waiting for darkness in a bathtub trying to relieve the nausea and headache.  I ate tiny soup pasta, piece by piece, counting them as I ate, sure to never land on an even number, all while fighting daily with my husband, who didn’t understand and didn’t try to.

One day, I’d had enough.  Suicide seemed like the only alternative.  I didn’t say a word, to anyone.  I waited until my new husband was gone, assembled my supplies.  I wrote a brief note, reading only, “It’s not your fault.”

And that day, I planned to end my life.  Until my husband came home in the middle of my plan.  He saw what I was up to, and told me to fuck off and that I deserved to die.

That?  That was enough for me to want to live.  What can I say?  I’m a spiteful bitch.  And at that moment, I realized that I was bigger than him, bigger than the situation, and big enough to want to live.

I got help that day.  I called my health care, and spoke to a therapist who I honestly credit to saving my life that day, and keeping me alive during the years to come.  I still see her regularly, and I’m thankful for her everyday.  Slowly, I found my way on to meds, into talk therapy and OUT of the marriage that was slowly but surely killing me.

Today, most people who know me still seemed shocked when it comes up that I’m in therapy, or that I take meds to keep myself in check.  Most people would never guess that behind my smile and sarcastic tongue lies a girl who still has bad days, filled with tears and pain, who can’t breathe for seemingly invisible reasons.

I think that’s why I’m so excited to be contributing here.  You see, you don’t always know the pain of others.  The girl who seems happy-go-lucky, the man who always has a kind word—they may be suffering, too.  So, if you take anything from my story, I hope it’s this: say hi.  Get to know people.  Ask the hard questions.  Be brave.  Make connections.

You’d never guess what might be beneath the surface.