There Is Nothing Wrong With Having Mental Health Issues

This past weekend brought up the conversation of mental health issues in a number of ways for me; from hearing about Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Roberto Osuna speaking publicly about struggling with anxiety, and not feeling himself, to conversations I’ve had with family and friends. I feel like it needs to be said again, and again, that there is nothing wrong with having mental health issues. I’m going to be repeating this often throughout this post, THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH HAVING MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES.

I think Roberto Osuna’s decision for opening up about what he is struggling with, which is no doubt much more common in baseball, and sports in general, than is reported, was exceptionally brave. It isn’t easy to open up about something so personal and something that can be subject to judgement, criticism, and misinterpretation.

Mental health is absolutely vital to our well-being. Without it, we are open to literally falling apart. Mental health is just as important to our being able to function and cope as physical health is. In fact, there are a number of situations where mental health may be even more important than physical health.

The dozens of disorders and diagnosis that encompass mental health are never something to be taken lightly, no matter how, where, when, or why, a person finds themselves struggling with them. Whether it’s a disorder that has been a part of your life since childhood, or whether it’s something that pops into your life in later years, it is always, repeat always, something to be taken seriously. And at no time is it ever a reflection on what kind of person you are, nor does it ever mean that something is wrong with you.

Admittedly, you may need treatment, you may even need medication, but that does not mean you are broken, or flawed, or weak, or a bad person. It doesn’t mean you should be treated differently nor does it mean you should be shunned, judged, ostracized, or criticized. It means that you need help and support, encouragement and compassion, and understanding and patience for a difficult situation or period in your life. That’s really all it means, that you need help. And there is nothing, NOTHING, wrong with that.

I can understand that there are people who have not struggled with mental health issues and may not be able to fully grasp what it means but that is no excuse to treat someone with mental health issues any differently than had they been struggling with something physical that can be seen or quantified. People struggling with mental health issues are still people.

You don’t have to have mental health issues to be compassionate.

I think it’s great that the conversation of mental health is fast becoming more mainstream, and less a “closeted” discussion, saved only for professionals. With places like CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health), here in Canada, CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association), also here in Canada, the annual Bell Let’s Talk campaign, and several sports and television personalities opening up about their own mental health struggles has made a HUGE impact in people starting to realize and understand that mental health is something that can affect anyone, in any capacity, or social standing, and that it is NOT something to be ashamed of.

I firmly believe that places like CAMH and CMHA are leading the fight in bringing awareness to mental health, bringing the discussion to the masses, and especially with bringing help to those in need. Addressing mental health openly has come a long way in starting to lose the stigma that has been attached to it for so long. But there is still more work to do. And it starts with us, talking to someone when we need help, and not feeling ashamed about what we are going through.

I’m not saying that you need to speak about what you might be struggling with to everyone you know and everyone you meet. It may mean only sharing it with one person, it may mean sharing it with a group of strangers at a support group, it may mean sharing it only with a professional. It isn’t about who you choose to share it with, it’s about owning that you are struggling right now with mental health issues, and that is nothing to hide or be ashamed of. I’m going to repeat that, “struggling with mental health issues is NOTHING to be ashamed of.

Life is hard. Very hard. This is not new information for anyone. Sometimes trying to handle all that life throws at us, and coping with difficult situations, emotions, and difficult people can be more than just a challenge at times. It can be something that permeates your whole being, and for some, it may also mean using more destructive than constructive methods to cope. It can be something that filters down into your relationships, your work, your interests, your family and friends, and even your ability to function at a basic level. Mental illness can grip you like a vise and twist itself around you so that you feel like you can’t breathe. It doesn’t care if you have the time, or the space, or whether you’re ready or not, it can come on without warning and take you over, or take you down. Regardless of who you are, where you’re from, what you do, where you work etc, you could be someone who finds themselves struggling with mental health issues just as easily as anyone else.

Mental health isn’t selective in who it affects. No exemptions or discrimination here. Mental health is an equal opportunity assailant.

I don’t want to compare mental health to physical health because I don’t think they really can be compared. The each have their own struggles, symptoms, treatments, and perspectives. But I will say that with as many differences that lie between physical/medical issues and mental health issues, there are also a number of similarities between them too. There a lot of physical illnesses or disorders that can often strike at will to whomever, whenever, without warning or cause, and mental health issues can be just as arbitrary and random in who becomes affected too. There are a number of physical/medical issues that cannot be seen just by looking at someone, and that cannot be measured with a blood test or x-ray, just like not being able to tell just by looking that someone is struggling with mental health issues.

Someone struggling with a physical/medical issue is as important to address as someone struggling with a mental health issue. One issue is not necessarily any more urgent to address than the other. Of course I understand that there are some serious medical issues that can be life-threatening and are important to treat as soon as possible, and that there are some mental health issues that are not as urgent in the moment to treat, but they are still important enough to treat, regardless.

Someone struggling with mental health issues may be able to wait a few more days for help than someone requiring urgent medical assistance, but it doesn’t mean that the person struggling with mental health issues should be dismissed or indefinitely delayed in getting treatment.

All issues that can befall us, whether physical, emotional, or mental, each have their own urgencies or not, in how and when they are addressed, but the important thing to remember is that they ALL deserve addressing.

Repeat: THEY ALL DESERVE TO BE ADDRESSED.

I would like to close this by saying to all those struggling with mental health issues, please seek help if you need it, don’t wait. And please don’t be ashamed or feel less than because you need help. Talk to someone. Share with those you trust in your own time. You don’t have anything to be ashamed of, nor do you owe anyone an explanation. You are struggling and you need help. Please remember that. You are struggling and you need help.

For those who have a loved one struggling with mental health issues I would encourage and hope that you give as much time and space to your loved one as you can for them to deal with things as they need. Be compassionate and patient. You don’t need to understand someone to be kind to them. You don’t need to have experienced it to have patience for it.

Your loved one may be struggling to live at some point, and this is NOT a weakness, nor is this something to be taken lightly. Anyone feeling like life isn’t worth living anymore should ALWAYS be taken seriously and at their word. They need help. Please do what you can to help them get help.

Most importantly, for all, please remember that there is nothing wrong with having mental health issues.

 

Do I Want to Get Better?

The last couple of months have been very hard for me. In part because I’ve struggled to find and use the DBT skills that would help me through this, but mostly because I’ve just been plain old struggling.

I’m not sure what’s wrong exactly. I’ve tried to think on it but admittedly I haven’t stayed on the thoughts for long because they scare me. The feelings have been overwhelming; in no particular order: fear, shame, disgust, anger, and guilt; have all popped up and in to take me over.

For the most part fear is the big one. Although I can’t say exactly what is scaring me because so far I have avoided looking at it. I have suppressed looking at the fear so well that several times over the last couple of weeks or so I didn’t even give myself a chance to recognize that I was feeling afraid I put the emotion down so fast.

I don’t want to think about what scares me. Hello? It scares me. The reason is right there in the sentence. Why would I purposely look at something that scares me? That seems counter-productive and counter-intuitive. To me at least. When the professionals claim that exposure works to minimize it, logically I agree with them but emotionally I think hell no.

I don’t know how to handle the emotions and I feel very helpless. What should I do? How do I get through this? What skills do I apply? I feel lost and hopeless. I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. I do want to get better, I think. I’m sure I do. I mean the choice of staying in this misery is not all that appealing although it is familiar. And it sometimes feels like better the devil you know right? But as my mood spirals lower and lower I know that this is where bad things can happen.

In the moment the bad things feel good, and like a super-great idea, or at least that’s what I tell myself. And the bad things successfully squash whatever I’m feeling or thinking, so they also feel successful. In the moment, anyway. They feel like they help me cope but my Wise Mind knows better, my Wise Mind knows that they may help me ride out the emotion and squash it down enough not to feel it or think it longer than I have to, but they don’t actually help me. My Wise Mind knows that it’s at best a band aid and at worst an excuse to numb myself to all feelings and thoughts.

And where has doing the bad things gotten me so far? Well, nowhere good. So I sit and think, on one hand wanting to do the bad stuff and move away from my thoughts and emotions, but on the other hand, I know I will regret it. I know deep down this really wasn’t what I wanted. I don’t like how it feels to be laying on the bottom of life looking up and hoping things would get better.

It’s an internal, eternal, tug of war. Do the bad things and have instant relief from myself? Or do the skills and maybe feel better in the moment? But I still have to come back and deal with my emotions. It was a tough call. And for the past couple of months I’ve chosen the bad stuff.

Things are getting out of hand and I want to at least try. I know once I slip down this slope, the wanting to get better may not be there. It may be sedated and suppressed by then to the point of silence, and all the bad things will take me over and take me down until I feel that I am better off dead. And maybe, maybe, I’ll get help before I do anything I can’t take back and I will, again, start the slow process to get back to where things weren’t this bad. I’d at least like to try and get to the vicinity of a better place because right now I’m just barely functioning, and compared to a couple of months ago, it’s A LOT lower than where I was before.

You know that point where you feel like you’re drowning, and you’ve got a life preserver, or a branch or something, and it’s holding your head above water but only barely. It’s on the brink of breaking down and you going under and you know it’s only a matter of time. That’s how I feel right now. I’m holding on, but barely.

I know I hate how this feels. I know that I hate the ways I do cope and what they do to me, emotionally, mentally, and physically. I hate myself when I’m in this place. I hate how I feel. I hate who I am. I hate what I do. And yet…

I just continue to keep a sliver of hope that it will work out.

 

Waiting For My Head to Fall Off

When I’m feeling anxiety and it starts to permeate into physical symptoms like lightheadedness, heart palpitations, and a sense of numbness or tingling throughout my body, I panic. I realize that panicking is the fastest way to have a panic attack and does nothing to make me feel better but I panic nonetheless. 

I panic because I’m genuinely worried that I am going to die. I’m sure this is familiar to anyone who has struggled with anxiety and panic attacks. It’s a hard feeling to explain. Especially since the physical symptoms can be so fluid where one minute it’s my heart racing and I hold my breath and then in the next minute I don’t feel palpitations or that I’m holding my breath but now I feel sweaty yet cold and my body is tingling. 

The fluidity of symptoms can vary widely over the course of seconds, minutes, or even hours, as my body struggles to cope and regulate itself. 

The perceived threat I am feeling is pervasive that my mind goes to worst-case scenario. And that is death. Or rather dying. My mind has gone to place where any twinge or tickle throughout my body suddenly becomes the ominous sign that the end is near. 

It’s a paralyzingly feeling. And scary as hell. The odds of it being anything fatal are extremely low and, if present, most likely totally unrelated to my anxiety. It would be a coincidence that something truly tragic happens and due to an unrelated medical issue. 

But it takes me over regardless. I know logically that it’s anxiety-related but try telling my emotional mind that. My emotional mind has gone from trying to cope with anxiety and possibly an impending panic attack to absolute terror that that twinge I just felt means I am moments from a heart attack or stroke or aneurysm. That is, if I’m not already having it. 

As I await my tragic fate I try to hold it together but the anxiety is so crippling that I actually feel in my body like my head is going to fall off. I don’t know if it’s just the way my body responds to the anxiety, and I hope it’s not just me, but I actually become super-aware of my neck and shoulders and I wonder if they will be able to continue supporting my head. It’s an odd feeling to just think of your neck and wonder “is my head going to roll off?”  Believe it or not this is a genuine fear for me when I’m feeling this anxiety. “Will my head just roll off my neck and into the ground?” Will this be how I die? So on top of my anxiety I now have to watch that my head doesn’t fall off. 

One issue feeds the other until I am totally convinced that today I will die. It grips me so tight that sometimes I’m afraid to move or even breathe for fear I will push it over the threshold and into death myself. 

I absolutely HATE this feeling and all the fear it causes. I try to talk myself down and do some tips to calm myself down, and sometimes it works. But sometimes I can’t seem to get a hold of my logical mind to be able to realize that I’m okay. Sometimes my logical mind is nowhere to be found and I am left in the unforgiving grip of my emotional mind who is currently freaking out. 

For anyone who has gone through this and felt this I sympathize with you how tough and scary it is. I’m hoping that it’s not just me because that would really freak me out. 

For now I just do my best to get through it and hope like hell I’m not dying. 

Working My Way Back

Struggling with relapse is hard. Even when you’re on your way out of it. It’s a fine balance between getting back to functioning and going back into the dark hole of depression. They both hold something good. The hole is familiar and easy to hide in. But getting back to functioning means not feeling so low I can reach up and touch the bottom. It’s between darkness and familiarity and feeling better with work. It may seem like a no-brainer but it’s not. It’s actually a hard choice. 

Working back to functioning is hard work and it means a lot of effort and awareness to things I’d rather stay numb and oblivious to. I know that the greater good is what I’m working towards. Having fun, living life, laughing, and participating, instead of burying, hiding, avoiding, and dissociating. It means having purpose and feeling better, thinking more clearly, and maybe even having some fun. 

It’s a worthwhile journey. But this time I am unsure. I am not feeling as confident about things. I have started this journey before. I have worked my way back several times already. I have somehow managed to find my way back. Whereas I can say it was worth it, with each time I find myself having to work my way back, it gets harder and harder and takes longer. And I can’t help but wonder if it really is worth it. If I most likely will find myself in relapse again then why try to come back in the first place? Why not stay in this darker place? At least this way the fall back the next time won’t be as far. 

It feels like a destiny of punishment. It feels like being knocked back down just when I finally managed to stand. Do I try again? Do I put myself again through the hard work and hard moments to come back? I’m honestly not sure. I feel jaded and cynical. I feel like I’ll just find myself back down in the darkness again and everything I did to come out of the darkness will be for nothing. 

Finding hope right now is hard. Whatever happens I just hope I’ll be okay. I’m really tired of feeling kicked while I’m down. 

The (Well) Mean(ing) Psychiatrist 

So last Thursday, a regular Thursday by most standards of late. Where I am feeling exceptionally low and trying to find interest in something, anything, besides the dark hole I’m sitting in. It is this Thursday where I also have an appointment with my psychiatrist. For a few weeks now I have been telling her that I am sinking lower and lower every week, and basically everything feels numb and holds zero interest for me. She suggested around then that maybe I come back into the hospital for a few days, so that she can change my meds and monitor me, and so I don’t find myself thinking, doing or attempting something with serious consequences that I can’t undo once it’s done. 

At that visit I agreed with her that, yes, it was something to consider but I wanted to give myself some time to try and come out of this on my own first. 

Over the next couple of weeks and appointments things got worse, and with every update I gave her that things weren’t looking good, she suggested again to come back into the hospital, “just for a few days”. Every time I agreed with her it wasn’t a bad idea but I was still holding out. For what, I have no idea. 

The truth was, I was afraid. I was afraid to go back into the hospital. It felt like I was a failure and I chastised myself that I had been doing so well and now had managed to relapse. I felt like I had screwed up. I put my psychiatrist off for those few weeks telling her that I was still thinking about considering it, and that I wanted to wait. (I have no idea what I was waiting for because the depression was not getting better. In fact, it was getting worse.) 

So I managed to put it off, and dodge her inquiries until this past Thursday when she asked me again, “why don’t you come back into hospital for a bit. (Again) Just for a few days, to help you and so I can monitor you while we re-work your meds.” This is what she told me. And despite my best efforts of trying to put it off for at least one more week, she asked me “what was wrong with coming back in today”, and I was stumped for an answer. She pointed out to me, “the depression is only getting worse, and if we wait, if I wait, I most likely will sink even lower and my thoughts will only get darker.” She was right. And I knew she was right. I knew she was right three weeks ago. And because I couldn’t give her, or me, a good reason not to, I agreed to the re-admisssion. 

Almost immediately though I regretted it. I panicked. I started crying and freaking out as they handed me an admission form.  It was too soon. Not yet. Slow down. Give me a minute, no, a day. Let me think about this. But too late I was filling out the paperwork and a room was ready. 

Damn it. 

For the next two days I sulked and pouted and wallowed in self-pity. I mean I wallowed. I felt like I had been abandoned. I felt like I was alone. And I felt betrayed, blaming my psychiatrist for preying on my weak mind, viciously ripping me from my home and my hole and putting me somewhere that can help me and most likely save my life. How dare she? 

But then, as I stubbornly laid in my assigned room, staring at the familiar dotted ceiling, I stopped crying and I really thought about why I was in hospital and why she felt it was so important for me to be there. I stopped acting like a child and realized, really realized, that she was right. She really was. I was in a bad way, and a part of me knew I would need help to get out of it. Professional, clinical, hospital help. My relapse wasn’t a failure. It didn’t mean I had screwed up. It didn’t mean I was a failure. All it meant was that I had relapsed. On my journey to wellness this is an obstacle, or a bump in the road, nothing that proper support and treatment can’t help me pull through. 

When all is said and done, I trust her. I trust her to have my best intentions at heart, and that her goal, no matter how stubborn and wilful I get, is for me and my well-being to be in a good place. I asked her during one of our recent sessions if it really mattered if I wasn’t here, and her response, without hesitation was “of course it matters.” At the time I felt like maybe she had to say that but now, I’m not so sure. I think…she may have actually meant it. 

I’ve said before that I feel like my psychiatrist is the leader of my support team, and this past Thursday I felt that more than ever. (Well, technically it was Sunday before I realized it because up until then I was the sulky child stuck in hospital by the mean psychiatrist. Note that I don’t mention how she asked me, and I responded yes. But no in my great wallowing I was not happy with her). She saw what was coming, and she knew that it could get bad. She knew I needed help, and since I wasn’t asking, she was. She knew that this was what I needed. To be honest, this may very well be the second time she has saved my life. 

I feel truly lucky to have her as my team leader, guiding me, supporting me, and encouraging me, on this long, hard, tested and trialled journey to wellness. With her at the helm, I feel like I have a chance. 

To my psychiatrist, I thank you for everything you have done for me. Thank you for helping. Thank you for supporting. Thank you for caring. I am so glad you decided to become a psychiatrist, so that you would one day be my psychiatrist. 

And for the record, it was my sulky, pouty, inner child who thought you were mean. I think you’re awesome. 🙂 

Losing Interest

The things I normally love to do are of zero interest to me right now. At first, I didn’t really notice because the one thing I was still showing interest in, my favourite thing to do, writing, hadn’t really disinterested me. It had waned, for sure, because I was nowhere near the level of writing output, or even idea output, as usual, but I knew that it was still there. Just subdued.

No matter how disinterested I get in things, somehow the writing always squirms its way in. It may come in the form of journalling instead of other projects but there is usually a sliver there. I hold onto that when the times grow dark.

But right now, even writing, even writing this, feels detached. I’m sorry if it comes across harsh that I’ve lost interest and don’t care. I never want my writing to be such a chore, in any capacity. But it has. I enrolled in a writing course at the university thinking, “if anything will get spark me back into at least having my sliver of interest in writing, nothing could do it like a writing course”. Weekly writing assignments, in class writing, discussing writing, and workshop writing, were all potential for that spark to come back. There wouldn’t be much that would excite me the way a course like that would. Except it didn’t.

I enrolled, and still no interest. I didn’t dread going to the first class but I wasn’t excited for sure. I was very meh about it. Whatever. I hoped that once I did the class it would stir something, but no. The first class was alright. I expected to come away with that sliver of excitement, talking about the course, the people, the writing, but nothing. And when in the following six days I not only didn’t complete the homework writing assignment, I completely forgot about it until the night before the next class.

I. Forgot. A. Writing. Assignment.

What the crap?

Me?

Something is not right here.

This was new. This is new. And I’m somewhere between not caring and being a little surprised. I’m now completely disinterested in ALL that formerly made me happy, or gave me pleasure. ALL OF IT.

I see my psychiatrist this week, and I think she will be surprised to learn of this as well. Either way, the course is out. Instead of wasting my time, I’m withdrawing from the course.

Wherever my interest has gone, I hope it comes back.

No Relief

Right now I am stuck. I dread the day and I dread the night. I’m used to one or the other offering me some reprieve but right now I have none. 

I hate what the day offers. This wide open expanse to produce and accomplish and I don’t really do either. I have yet to produce or accomplish more than becoming vertical. I do try so I give myself credit for that. I am close to camping out on my couch and leaving the world behind but I haven’t gone to the dark side yet. 

Typically the night is bittersweet for me because if I can’t get to sleep then I will lie awake while the demons of my mind crawl out and take me over until, if it does happen, I fall asleep. 

The night demons are relentless bastards who tell me everything I don’t want to hear, and convince of all the bad stuff that I am and then they just leave me like a dying carcass waiting to return to the earth. The reprieve from the demons either comes with daybreak or sleep. 

But even my sleep is messing with me. I can fall asleep for the most part but I don’t stay asleep. My dreams disturb me awake or for whatever reason I just wake up, once, twice, maybe three times a night. 

The dawn of a new day fills me with dread that I will fail and crash and burn before the day is out. And the creep of night fills me with dread that some demon or Dream will take me over and take me down before I have a chance. 

The downside to this? I only have two choices, day or night, and neither are working for me right now. I’m enlisting the support of my DBT therapist, “Grace”, because I’m tired. And before this gets bad I need help. 

Wish me luck.