Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Bump in the Road

It's hard for me to say I'm not doing okay.  But that's where I was much of today.  My depression and anxiety are lying to me.  I don't believe them, but it's still been a hard day.  I've been having negative thoughts about myself, overreacting to things, and I just wanted to hide in a corner somewhere.  And truthfully, sometimes in these moments hiding in a corner for a while is the best thing I can do.

I was already feeling a bit off when I woke up this morning, it seems it's been building up for a week or so with the stress and just feeling not quite right.  Being overly busy, which I have been for over a month, can trigger a mood like this.  Especially once I have a bit of down time like I have had this weekend.  Today at church was youth Sunday, which meant both of my sons would be participating in the service in one way or another.  One was leading the prayer and the other was playing his electric bass with the band and reading scripture.  It "should" have been a happy and proud moment for me, but when I'm feeling bad it doesn't really matter what's happening on the outside.  I am proud of my sons and they did a great job, but my actual experience at church was mostly one of self-judgment and social anxiety.

One of my sons was also having a difficult time before church and I didn't handle it very well at all.  I was reactive instead of trying to be understanding.  I felt the wrath of his anger for that one, which sent me a bit deeper.  During church I was thinking a lot about what a bad father I was, though my thoughts attacked me in other ways as well.   I know I'm not a bad father, but those thoughts are very real and powerful.  There were moments throughout the service, which I can objectively say was beautifully done, where I escaped the fog and enjoyed it.  The music was great and the teen who gave the sermon was inspiring.  But the negative thoughts kept coming back and after the service they kicked back in completely.  I've learned that, at these moments, it is best for me to just get away.  Of course, this isn't always an option.  So I stuck it out and then headed home once I was able..

Now that I'm home and some time has passed I can already look at the experience with a little bit of perspective.  It is very hard to be out in public and interact when I'm not thinking straight.  Battling negative thoughts and feelings while I'm surrounded by people connecting with each other is hard.  So is having conversations with people while my head is filled with negativity and heaviness.  One thing I've improved on in these moments is being less judgmental of myself.  I had the awareness today, even in the moment, that the thoughts aren't reality and they will pass.  I was able to get myself home and start getting myself back together.  I took a nap, went to yoga, and tonight I'm feeling a little bit better.

I still don't fully understand my depression and anxiety.  It has a mind of its own, comes and goes when it pleases, and I can't always predict when and where it will emerge.  Today was definitely a ride it out day.  I went through the motions, I did the tiring work of challenging my negative thoughts, and I made it through the day.  I don't like it, but it's part of living with depression.  Oddly enough, I'd call it a successful day.  Hopefully tomorrow will be better.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Why we Have to Speak Up

Around the fall of 2011 I decided I didn't want to keep my mental illness a secret anymore.  I wanted to be open, I wanted the people in my life to know, and I was tired of living in the darkness.  But I was afraid.  I worried what others would think about me.  I was still living in my own self-stigma.  I lived on the fence for a couple of years and had opened up to people in my life,  yet in many ways I was still keeping my mental illness hiding in the corner where I felt it belonged.

It's not in the corner anymore.  I'm completely out in the open now about the fact that I live with depression and anxiety.  It culminated two weeks ago when I spoke candidly in church about my experiences and the need to break the stigma.  I know my talking and posting about it makes some people uncomfortable, but I really just don't care anymore.  Not having to keep my two lives separate any longer has been a blessing for me, and I feel more than ever that I can be who I really am.  And for a while that was enough. It's already not anymore.

I have a new feeling emerging as I go through this process.  Anger.  I'm angry about the stigma, about how we don't talk about mental illness, and how this leads to a world where shame and secrecy still surround issues of mental illness and suicide.  A world where every year a million people worldwide take their own lives instead of seeking and receiving treatment, in large part because of this stigma.  We should all be outraged! And yet we're not.  Mental illness is treatable after all, and treatment saves lives.  It's not enough anymore to just be comfortable in my own skin, I need to keep pushing to bring mental illness fully into the light and break the stigma. 

I think about the fact that in the U.S., where I live, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 15-24.  I also think about the effect not talking about mental illness and suicide as a society has on our suicide rate, especially for our young people.  By not talking about it we are giving our youth the message that it is a shameful thing not to be spoken of.  I know there are other factors, but no wonder so many don't choose to seek treatment.  No wonder so many choose to take their own lives.   This is an illness, like cancer, that does not discriminate.  It could happen to any of us.  And for those of us who are parents, it could happen to our kids.  We need to let them know that if they do begin to have symptoms that it is okay to talk about it and seek help. 

Not too long ago I was approached by a youth who was struggling with depression.  She knew she was depressed and wanted me to tell her how she can get help.  What a wonderful thing that this youth would take the risk to talk to me and take steps to get help. However, their parents have pushed the issue aside when she has tried to bring it up.  They have also made comments like, "nobody in this family is depressed" since she has been struggling.  That's shame, that's stigma!  And sadly, it intensifies this person's feeling that there is something wrong with them.  It's an awful message to give a youth, and it's not true.  What is this person supposed to do now?  They are dependent upon their parents to get help.  How can they get help if their parents won't even acknowledge a problem exists?  This is why we have to speak up.  This is why I will continue to push awareness of mental illness.   This is why I will not stop talking about it!  I implore you to do the same.  There are many lives at stake, and we can no longer stay silent.