I turned on the Today Show on November 1st and I caught the segment where Matt, Al and Carson talked about the Movember Program and how they would be participating. It’s also known as the no-shave November campaign for men’s cancers like testicular and prostate and NOW there would be an additional emphasis on men’s mental health issues, like depression and suicide.
What Began as a Joke, Became My Personal NightmareWhen my husband and I first moved to Brown County, we jokingly called our beloved acreage “Edelen Acres” after Green Acres. Green Acres was an American sitcom starring Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor. A couple from New York City move to a country farm. Recently relocated back to Ohio from Silicon Valley, I did so tongue-in-cheek. Both being high technology professionals, I was in earnest that we could turn our hand at organic farming. But as life would have it, my dream home became the set for my own personal nightmare.
My Mental Health Journey
Why does it seem like just when I have my life figured out, it changes?
One of my first part-time jobs, after my children were all in school, was as a Library Aide at the public library working in the Children’s Division. As an avid reader, I hoped that bringing books home for the kids would propel them into reading even more. During my four-plus years there, many books were read, however not everything in my work was that easy. In my second year, our library went digital and started using PC’s. For those of you like me that grew up without computers, this was scary. My own children were right on the cusp of the internet. One of my responsibilities was a daily shift on the circulation desk. When I first started, we were still using “dumb terminals.” The transition to an Internet-based program and using new tools to do all of the work of the library was met with mixed responses. Boy, did some people resist. To some degree, the age of the employee was directly correlated to the response, as the older workers showed much more resistance. Several of the women I worked with in my department were basically computer illiterate and were okay with that. One of the techniques used by the administration was to hold several seminars and workshops on change. The one that stuck with me was the “Who Moved My Cheese” mindset, based on the book of the same name. There are six steps to move through on your way to acceptance of the changes you are facing.
We always prepare a first aid kit for our physical injuries when we go on a camping trip. What if those of us who have experienced symptoms of mental illness had a way to prepare a first aid kit or safety plan to meet those needs?
There are many different types of safety plans but one for my depression and anxiety was the one I never imagined I would need and I wish was explained to me. The plan I probably put the most thought into was the birth plan for my first child. Specifics such as what music to have on, what to have as a focus object, not to have drugs if possible were thought about and discussed with both my husband and my doctor. I will say, the plan was mostly followed although, I did take a little something for the pain.
The other type of plan that comes to mind is a fire safety plan for your house and family members. What do you do if the fire comes near you? What are the alternate ways out of the house: windows, doors? And where to meet up once you are out?
Dear Outpatient Clinic,
I won’t be coming to my next appointment; please transfer my medical records to the address below. Judith Lewis Herman, who first characterized complex PTSD, calls it a “shame disorder” . The inability to act when the self is at stake causes a person to doubt, even to loathe, herself. Trauma is shame; complex trauma is shame that lasts long enough that there is very little ‘self’ left by the end. Trauma is one type of loss of self. Depression, anxiety, and many others – often in tandem – also chip away at the self-worth of your clients.
Recently, I submitted a story of my own struggles with anxiety and depression to makeitok.org in hopes of having my story shared with another outlet. I’m proud to say that they accepted the story and it is now published here. But for your convenience, here is my story.
What kind of stigma did you experience/observe?
Mental illness is no joke. It sucks. Suffering with anxiety, depression, and ADHD has made “adult life” rather challenging. Not to say it was easy as a child either. For me, an always-busy childhood helped keep everything in check. I would spend the school year going 100 miles per hour between school, sports, and other extracurricular activities. Then the summer, I would work six days a week, work out seven days a week, and do all of the AP class preparations and college preparations needed to continue the high octane life I had built. Then when I had the opportunity, I would utterly crash. Zero miles per hour, clutch disengaged, rolling wherever gravity would take me.
After college, I joined a high octane consulting firm to keep up the heat. 15 hour days? On the road 250 days a year? You bet! I still didn’t realize what was going on. Work became my outlet for two years, affecting nobody but myself (or so I thought). Marriage changed that quite quickly. It became very apparent (very quickly) that my all-over-the-place-ness, which I regularly combated with bouts of extreme cleaning and organization or full-on, days long “me” time, was not just affecting me. It affected my wife. And I couldn’t stand to see her hurting like she was. It is easy to have your dress shirts hanging the “right” way, ordered by color, immediately removed from the dry-cleaning plastic when you are alone. It is easy to not have a single dirty dish in the sink when you live alone. No one else is affected by this.
It is so easy to be blinded by naivety when you are only looking at yourself. When others are affected, especially other who you love, that’s when the light of reality shines the brightest. The pain in their eyes is the most haunting sight anyone can envision. When I saw that pain, I knew it was time to act. She kindly and lovingly supported me throughout the process of finding a doctor (even booking me appointments when I was resistant).
She owed (and still owes) me nothing. Her help getting me help saved me. Her undying, and unyielding love saved me.
Years later, she remains my rock. We’ve hit bumps along the way, but she has never doubted what we have, she had never doubted my love for her, and she has never doubted the future we are committed to sharing together. Even through the most challenging of times, she reminds me who I am. She helps me understand who I am. She never lets me forget who I truly am.
Anxiety, depression, and ADHD: they are a part of who I am. I live day in and day out with these illnesses. But they do not define me. I am me. And while they occasionally have more say over my life than I prefer, I will not let them win. Even if I fail today, there is always tomorrow. There is always tomorrow.
How did you overcome this experience?
To overcome is to completely extinguish. I am, and will forever be overcoming mental illness, every single day. Share your story and do not be ashamed that you have a mental illness. There are more of us out there than we know, but who are afraid to talk about it. Your words make a bigger impact than you think. You never know who may be reading, and whose life you may save.
Help others by sharing a brief, positive message.
No matter what happens in this crazy world, there is always a brighter day ahead. There is always tomorrow.
The sunlight shines –
Shines so bright.
After the darkest –
Darkest of nights.
Your tired or fighting –
Fighting this fight.
But tomorrow brings hope –
Hope of new light.