Death by Depression, Not Suicide

Death by Depression, Not Suicide

It can be difficult to explain mental illness to those who might have little or no experience with it. Part of my goal as an advocate is to help society to understand the gravity of mental illness and abate the stigma, especially when it comes to depression and suicide. There’s still so much stigma and mystery around both topics that when the following email landed in my inbox after last week’s tragedies of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, I felt I should pass it along. It’s by two members of bringchange2mind.org and it not only hit home with its title “Death by Depression, Not Suicide”, but it does a great job of helping to unravel the difference between the two in accessible terms. Suicide is an unthinkable act to most, and this email helps explain death via depression, with compassion, rather than propagate the stigma by labeling it as suicide…

“Recent shocking news has reported on the deaths of celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Many have speculated about how such successful, beloved people can “kill themselves.” While the news is horrible, the story line misses critical points. First and tragically, Spade and Bourdain join a growing number of more than 100, mostly less famous, Americans having similar deaths “by suicide,” each and every day.  More importantly, the notion that Spade, Bourdain, and the others, decided to end their own lives is, in a deep sense, not true. These individuals are the victims of the pernicious illness of the brain, Depression.

Depression is a horrific illness that affects as many as 10% of Americans at any one time. Depression is a brain disease that can cause confusion and distortions in thinking, as well as interference with basic physiologic functions, including:  sleep, energy, appetite, motor function and more. It is neither self-inflicted nor a moral failure. Depression interferes with cognition (or thinking), making it impossible for the individual to perceive and accurately interpret the environment with a consequent inability to experience pleasure and anticipate the future. The brain’s failure to undertake accurate self-assessment of risks is intrinsic to Depression, with a disruption in sense of self and loss of the basic evolutionary drive for survival; this leads to dangerous behaviors and even death. Death during Depression is not a “self-inflicted” death (suicide) because the sense of self is gone; it is Death by Depression.

In the face of overwhelming evidence that Depression and other psychiatric disorders are serious illnesses that can disrupt brain function, including the will to survive, why do we still use the term “suicide?” “Suicide” is associated with the stigmatizing concept that those with psychiatric illness are intrinsically flawed or weak and want to die. Stigma and antiquated understandings about Depression and brain disease foster ignorance about the fact that Depression is just as life threatening an illness as are cancer and heart disease.

It important to accurately understand Depression and Death by Depression. Depression is a treatable brain disease and, Death by Depression is preventable. Depression is a medical emergency! It requires the immediate attention of medical professionals, friends, and family. The victim of Depression should not be left unattended any more than should someone bleeding profusely or having a heart attack – even if they insist that they are “OK.” Along with the immediate protection of the person with Depression, it is essential to rapidly apply evidence-based treatments. This will not only prevent death and debility but it will also help those with Depression save their lives so they can have much wanted, productive futures to share with friends and family.

Protection and prevention of complications (including injury and death) are the important first steps in treating Depression. But, this can’t be done if Depression is not identified early. Look for depression! When you find it, act promptly. If you are the victim of Depression, immediately tell someone (friend, family member, and / or professional) and let them help you get treatment. If you know someone with Depression, ask how you can help and make sure that they receive urgently needed professional care.

No one wants to die from Depression, or any other illness. To suggest otherwise is diminishing the value of life and the individual affected by Depression. Unfortunately, the concept of “suicide” interferes with our shared responsibility and opportunity to effectively prevent Death by Depression.”

Bennett L. Leventhal, MD
BC2M Scientific Advisory Council + BC2M HS Research Co-Lead
Professor of Psychiatry, University of California San Francisco

Neal D. Ryan, MD
Professor of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh

++++++++++IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE NEEDS HELP, PLEASE REACH OUT+++++++++++

❤️National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1.800.273.8255

❤️National Alliance on Mental Illness: 1.800.950.6264

❤️Text: HOME to 741741

❤️Text: ANSWER to 839863

Peace, love, and wellness.

Update: I Missed Mental Health Awareness Month…Oops

Update: I Missed Mental Health Awareness Month…Oops

Hi there, how have you been?

It would only make sense that I would do at least one post last month given that it was Mental Health Awareness Month. I had every intention of doing so, I was just a bit too consumed by life and my own mental health awareness, so I thought I’d catch up with an update. The big news, I was accepted last month to the bachelors of social work program at SFSU, I’m over the moon!! But I was also rejected at first. Ok, I was wait-listed. I was devastated, so I let myself feel sorry for myself for a day or two and then I moved immediately into figuring out a backup plan. While I was in the midst of my self-pity an old poem from my childhood popped into my head called Harlem, by Langston Hughes. It graphically challenges your answer the question, “What happens to a dream deferred?”, and then suggests that maybe the dream just explodes. Well, my answer to that was a resounding– hell no my dream does not explode, it absolutely lives, albeit deferred. And so I began planning what I would do should I not make it off the wait list this year and have to wait another year to reapply.

Given that I want to go into mental health in the LGBT community, I began looking at a minor curriculum in LGBT studies, I was actually pretty excited about the idea of it. While I was busy making these alternative plans, and being a total pain in the ass squeaky wheel to the entire social work department, I was notified that I’d been moved from the wait list into the program. There’s 25 seats, about 50 people applied, I’m happy as a clam on my new path! But it was hard earned. This whole process of totally uprooting my life in my mid-thirties, working only part time and going back to school has launched a serious platform for forced growth, and it seems in my years of experience that when it comes to growth and healing, it gets worse before it gets better.

I’m immensely grateful to be able to say that after a lifetime of depression symptoms and about 12 years of actively battling clinical depression, I feel I’m finally free of its daily grips (that’s not to say I don’t still get down from time to time, and I can’t say at this point in time that I or anyone can fully be cured of depression from a clinical standpoint. I am hopeful though). But what has come along in full effect in its place, and is the topic of many of my posts this year, anxiety. More specifically morning anxiety.

It’s a horrible way to wake up (often after a night of minimal sleep) and start off the day with that wad of tension in my chest, my mind racing, extremities tingling. Feeling out of control and scared my heart starts racing, my breath gets hyper, the noise in my head gets louder and louder and before I’ve reached 30 minutes into my day I’m broken down mentally, physically and emotionally, and in tears. There’s so much nervous energy in my body combined with the cacophony in my head, it creates so much resistance toward the whole day, and I’ve lost control before I even had the chance to try and hold onto it. It disrupts my sleep, it steals my cognitive ability, it makes me sad. And I can’t say it’s because I’m forever stuck in the future, I just wake up this way first thing with a full mind/body effect. I’ve done loads of research on morning anxiety and the only real biological factor that plays into it is that the stress hormone cortisol is highest in the morning. Otherwise everything else steadfast suggested a good morning routine.

The good thing about anxiety is that with all this nervous energy, it’s become a great motivator. I took the advice of a morning routine despite wanting to hide under my blankets in bed from the world where it used to feel so safe during depression. Now with anxiety, I genuinely fear that if I stop moving I’m going to self destruct. So the first thing I do is wake up early. It works out because usually now once I wake up I can’t go back to sleep anyway, and it allows me the time to 1. engage in my morning routine, and 2. not feel rushed to get ready and out the door for the day. Both have proven to be quite helpful in maintaining my morning chill vibe. What’s also helped is not just the morning routine, but self-care throughout the day. If I’m feeling tense or worked up by nervous energy or stuck in my head, I do something about it instead of resisting it and allowing it to fester.

Here’s what I’ve been doing and the general frequency, in any combination throughout the morning, afternoon, or evening:

  • Morning pages, most days. I do 1-2 pages
  • Meditation 1-2 x a day or as needed, no less than 10 minutes
  • Yoga 1-2 x a day, 10-20 mins
  • Stretching throughout the day
  • Walking 4-8 x a week, whether its 10 mins around the block or meandering 3 miles through the city
  • Jogging 3-5 x a week for at least 15 mins. I was never a jogger but for whatever reason the higher impact seems to help clear the nervous energy better
  • Smaller interval exercises like crunches, pushups, squats, wall sits 1-2 x a day
  • Breath work as needed throughout the day
  • No alcohol during the week
  • No caffeine (I get my jollies from a cup of decaf a few days a week)
  • Cleaner diet– I’m mostly vegetarian but I default to carbs. I’ve tried replacing  more of those with fruits and veggies, seriously limiting sugar, and avoiding anything that will make me feel heavy
  • Ashwaganda and CBD oil to help calm my nervous system
  • Acupuncture 1 x a week
  • Reaching out to my community and loved ones for support as needed

One other thing I’ve learned to do that’s been really helpful is to not resist the anxiety. I know that sounds totally counter-intuitive– like um, ok I’ll just let the anxiety have me until it grinds me down into a panic attack and they my whole day is shot? Yes and no.  This took a bit for me to understand, too. I realize it’s fully instinctual for us to resist that which causes us harm, but maybe anxiety isn’t there to try and harm us. Maybe its trying to tell us something, like a child crying out for help but who has no words to express himself. Maybe whatever it is that’s in us that crying out for help just needs to be loved and cared for instead of turning a cold shoulder to it, so that it may ultimately heal and release on it’s own. It’s almost like Murphy’s Law in that the more you resist something, the more you’re feeding it your power through the resistance, giving it reason to stick around, and therefore it’s going to be further destructive. If it can go wrong, it will go wrong.

So when I feel it start to rise up, or when I’m fully in the throes of it, I try and remind myself to not be upset over the way I’m feeling because it’s more than likely a part of me that needs healing, and it’s going to be a process. If tears need to flow I let them, if I need to let off nervous energy then I move, if I need to quiet my mind and calm my body I meditate and breathe and allow myself to be present with my feelings, no intellectualization needed. Not only that but it all helps to keep things in perspective and it helps me keep the faith in myself that I can and will make it to the other side of the daily struggle with anxiety, just as I have with depression.

I’m sorry I missed you last month. Things in life are falling into place, and anxiety has been actively trying to displace all these things I’m working so hard to maintain. But with love and compassion for myself and my challenges, I will keep a place for everything and everything in its place.

Peace, love, and wellness.

 

Against Stigma

Against Stigma

I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately. It’s something new for me, it seems to help keep me focused, in my body and out of my head. They’ve generally been on topics like emotions, communication, philosophy, love, mental health, social work, and stigma. The latter is a massively burgeoning topic right now, thankfully, as it absolutely needs to be discussed everywhere possible all the time if we’re going to have any chance at cracking down on it and getting it the hell out of the mental health community where it does nothing but harm. The dictionary definition of stigma: “A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.” Living with mental illness is tough enough as it is, no one who is suffering needs or deserves that shit.

If there’s been one overarching theme I’ve noticed behind a majority of the topics I’ve been listening to, it’s bringing forth real measurable change and progress through banding together, talking, loving our fellow man, being open and equanimous; what can best be described as community: “A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of having a particular characteristic in common, sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” Everyone needs this in one way or another. To be human is to commune. People need other people, more specifically people with whom we share common ground. Especially when it’s a highly stigmatized ground we stand on. I say let’s stand together!

I’m probably going to wind up hyping up the value of community in future posts til I’m blue in the face. To be honest I could always sense that something integral was missing from the fight against stigma but couldn’t articulate exactly what it was so perfectly summed up in one encompassing word. All the podcasts I’ve let into my head lately have done a wonderful job of really cementing upstairs for me how fundamental community is as a huge catalyst for change and progress on any facet of life. Good thing is that it’s a pretty simple notion; it’s all about coming together, loving, celebrating and accepting each other as we are, lending a hand or an ear or a resource, letting go of the pretense. Rather than an individualistic, shame-ridden silent suffering, it’s about a collectively proud, boisterous effort to bring forth change for the better.

I personally take pride in my ability to stand up in front of 1 or 100 people and say I have depression, anxiety and ADHD because the fact is, I’m still standing. I’m a survivor, I beat the odds. I’m proof positive people can live with mental illness and actually thrive under the right care and support. But those are exactly what’s missing from the fight against stigma– proper care and support. As well as community, acceptance, and the freedom from stigma. Love is missing. Let’s call mental health stigma what it really is: discrimination. When was the last time you saw a person who felt too stigmatized to admit they are afflicted with something like cancer or diabetes? Why is it any different for those battling mental illness? How do we change that landscape? We build community around it; there’s power, strength, and resolve in numbers!

We not only need to rally together around the topic of mental illness, need to talk about it. Your actions could make someone’s day and your story could save someone’s life. Having feelings is not wrong, it’s not a sign of weakness. Just as the need to commune is human, so is the need to emote. I don’t care who you are, what you come from, or how hard you’ve become, you’re still human. Shining a light on the topic is the entry to the path of healing. It creates much needed hope that there is a solution to a problem that’s been rampant yet stifled for too long. Untreated mental illness kills people. I’d be willing to bet you know someone who’s been adversely affected by it, or you at least know someone who knows someone who has. 1 in 4 Americans deals with some form of mental illness, it’s all around us every day. Yet 56% of those people go untreated. It’s time to get real about this and stop treating it like the black sheep of the litany of illnesses that humans endure.

It’s time to officially throw out the old ideals of “it can’t happen to me, mentally ill are those on the street corner talking to themselves, just get over it, it’s only the blues, not in my family, not in my culture, what about my pride, my image, no no no not me”. It can happen to you, it quite frequently happens to those around you as well, and there’s no shame in it. Simply stated– we want to stay in good physical health so we regularly see the doctor for checkups and as needed for symptoms. Why wouldn’t you treat your mental and emotional bodies with the same respect? That’s really all it should boil down to but we’ve baked it into this monster of a thing that people are too afraid to cop to and continue to treat it as such.

Mental disorders are not adjectives. The stigmatizing words need to go, their heyday is over. “Crazy”, “mental”, “insane”, “psycho”, “nuts”, etc., they’re all total pejoratives when applied to those facing mental health issues and wholeheartedly perpetuate the stigma. We need a shift in the context of the language we use. Instead of appropriating these words and casually throwing them around when referring to those with mental illness, much like we don’t use the word “retard” anymore (beside the fact that it’s totally inappropriate and offensive), we need to be more aware of and sensitive toward the words we use. The best, most instantaneous thing you can do right now is to lead by example.

Years ago when I was unknowingly a little too forthcoming about my challenges with people who weren’t ready, willing or able to be kindly receptive, I remember telling a guy I’d been seeing for a while that I dealt with depression. His response “oh, does that mean you’re going to lose it and go crazy on me?”. Whether he meant it as a joke or was genuinely curious what that meant for him, to me it was rife with ignorance and stigma and I quietly released him from my social life. Comments like his made me realize exactly how much work there was and still is to be done in the effort to overcome stigma. I’ll never forget that instance though, and who knows where he was coming from, maybe he’d previously had a bad experience with a girl in regards to mental health. However, just because he judged me didn’t mean I was going to return it.

I’ve been called all sorts of things along my path to wellness. When you’re too afraid to open up about what you’re facing, people are free to draw their own conclusions and as such I’ve been labeled lazy or self-involved or maladjusted. Even when I did come out to those I thought I could trust, for example when I fessed up to my boss at work many years ago I was called a burden, or admitted my struggles to people who I thought were friends I was deemed as misguided or flaky. Surely I’ve been called crazy behind my back plenty of times over the years I struggled the most. But these are all views that are again, riddled with ignorance and stigma. When we watch how we speak about and regard one another, each individual choice of words can be a drop in the bucket of breaking down the stigma on mental health.

When I look at someone who is visibly struggling with any sort of mental illness in any sense, I don’t see “crazy” or “nuts”. I see pain, or PTSD, or what has probably been a really rough and harrowing ride in life for them trying to work its way out. I see an intense, acute need for healing, care, love, acceptance and safety. We all want and need those things. I personally think the only reason behind someone stigmatizing another is because they’re simply unfamiliar with the other person’s experience and it makes them feel safer to distance themselves from that person by stigmatizing them. If only we could reprogram society to think and act oppositely of that, it would by default create more cohesiveness and community, one non-judgmental, kind action at a time.

We need to make this a priority, everyone needs to be an advocate. If you hear someone saying something crass or stigmatizing, or acting out of judgement or ignorance toward someone with mental health challenges, say something. If you see someone acting out of character, or strange, instead of viewing them through the lens of judgement and shame and casting them off, try and see through their behavior to what is more than likely underlying pain, trauma and a need for healing. If you saw someone trip and fall on the street you wouldn’t automatically assume they were drunk, in fact you’d probably try and help them up and make sure they’re ok. Don’t assume that because someone’s behavior doesn’t fall within the spectrum of what’s perceived as “normal”, that they deserve to be judged. More often than not it’s a cry for help.

If you’re curious as to how you can do your part, check out this article from the National Alliance on Mental Illness on 9 ways to fight mental health stigma, and keep on fighting the good fight one word, action, or thought at a time. We’ve got a long way to go.

Peace, love, and wellness.

The Daily Struggle

The Daily Struggle

Given mental health challenges, my reality is that most days, at least to start, are a struggle for me. I wake up, I’d rather not get out of bed, I’m not overly excited to start my day, I’m not exactly looking forward to whatever greets me or what challenges may lie ahead. I either have to work myself up to, or relax myself into the idea of the day before I even get out of bed. I call this process waking up slowly– it involves a lot of meditative-style breath work, clearing of my mind and energy, sometimes an emotional purge in the form of tears, and a promise to myself to start my day on the best foot possible. If I wake up, immediately get out of bed and start my day without acknowledging whatever I’m feeling, it’s usually a bad start to the day.

That said, I personally for whatever reason tend to wake up feeling anxious. This is something I’m very much working on but have yet to find my answer. There isn’t much concept of “waking up fresh” daily for me. I’m moreso in a constant loop, I just get breaks of unconsciousness and rest in the loop. I have a lot of resistance in me toward life and it’s obstacles, and I fully acknowledge it. I know it’s via both nature and nurture, and it’s also something I’m actively working on. I genuinely want to rewire my point of view so that I no longer see daily life as being loaded with obstacles facilitating this built-in resistance. It’s easier said than done.

It’s not that I have no lust for life, or no excitement for anything or just a really shitty outlook. I definitely do have passion for certain aspects of life and I do at times get breaks from feeling this way. It’s that given mental health challenges, even when well managed, still make every single day challenging in one way or another and my fervor can easily get buried underneath it all.

It’s like every day I wake up wondering– how am I going to stand tall today, find my happiness, balance, productivity, and so on? How am I going to only let in what I need and keep out what I don’t? Every day is this simultaneously new but old navigation of how to make it from start to finish. How to deal with the daily build-up to break-down, then finally levelling out. Consistency is few and far in between for me, albeit I try my best to maintain in the ways I know how.

But it’s also like being in a constant state of distress in one way or another. I’m forever saving face, feeling disruption, or suspended in fight or flight. It’s an “invisible illness”, so most don’t have any idea I’m even in this state, but it does show itself sometimes in things like my posture, my tone of voice, choice of words and communication, or the look on my face. It can appear in my lack of patience with the people and stimuli around me, my responses and reactions. I see and feel it on the inside all the time, but the above is how it tends to manifest itself on the outside.

I know anyone can be subject to a bad day or waking up in an off mood but I often wonder if most people have any idea what it’s like to wake up many days only wanting to get to the other side of the day so they can stop going before they’ve even started. Hoping and praying to just make it through the day and feel ok because feeling “good” is a bit too ambitious and at times just unrealistic. Wishing to feel ok enough to be productive and with-it enough to actually accomplish what you’ve set out to do for the day. I’ll reference the spoon theory here; every day how many spoons am I going to be lucky enough to start off with? And if I don’t have what I need, how am I going to manage and then also make up for lost time/productivity? I feel like I’m generally running to catch up. It doesn’t exactly help the anxiety.

This isn’t every day for me, thankfully. But so many factors weigh into it when most everything hits you really hard all the time. I’m a very sensitive being, and I seem to keep getting moreso as time goes on. Most things are too much for me most of the time. I don’t sleep well, I have some emotional or personal challenge, I’ve not taken good enough care of myself, I’m overloaded by my schedule or stimuli, then I shut down and there goes my mood, energy and productivity. There’s always this delicate balance to be struck, this homeostasis to maintain. It takes on an absolute physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual effect. Some days I can hardly maintain and regulate something as simple as my body temperature, let alone my mood, energy, appetite, reactions, sleep, productivity level, etc.

On the worst days daily life can end up boiling down to just getting done what was absolutely necessary, even if that’s only showering and feeding myself. There have been days where it’s been reduced to simply continuing breathing and existing and all my effort goes to just maintaining a state of what I’d call existential purgatory; it’s not good, but it’s not hell in a hand basket either. I can’t function, but I’m still here and tomorrow is a new day. I failed today but I get to try again. For the day I’m forced to set the bar lower and it ends up becoming a total reorganization of daily priorities based on whatever I’m processing and my capacity for handling what’s in front of me.

That said, I’m always finding my process. I’ve got my usual tools in my kit but every day I’m learning what may or may not help me get out of these spots and into where I want and need to be, and how to stay there. Clearly tears are a big one for me. I let emotionally at least a few times a week when I’m struggling, if not once a day, just to get stuff out of me. I’ve had to work hard to be ok with that because of my own emotional cognitive dissonance; it’s not cool to be overly emotional, but, I honestly don’t have a choice. Sometimes it’s my only outlet, it’s going to come out of me no matter what, and frankly it’s a damn effective one for me. I meditate A LOT. It often leads to crying. Self care is HUGE, listening to my body, being kind to myself when it comes to my feelings and emotional needs as opposed to viewing myself as high maintenance and beating myself up over it. I find myself constantly checking in with myself in an attempt to stay grounded and continue getting to know myself and my process. I’m always trying to stay objective about it and step outside of myself to not get too caught up in what’s going on inside. It’s a weird duality to exist under, honestly. At the same time I often wonder if I am really dealing with myself in the right way, which brings me to my next topic of self-care, medication and substance.

It adds another level when you bring substance into the picture. As much as I personally prefer to naturally dig myself out of any hole I’m in, I don’t always get to do it my way and so at times the need to medicate can be hard to avoid. Example: I’m experiencing so much anxiety I’m having to Xanax myself to sleep then coffee my way out of it in the morning. If I don’t sleep I can’t function the next day, I can’t get anything done. But if I take something to sleep I wake up feeling like a zombie and I can’t fully function. But if I drink too much coffee I get edgy and anxious. It becomes this viscous cycle of maintenance that’s hard to get out of and I’m really sensitive to substance– benzos, caffeine, alcohol, cannabis, you name it I’m a lightweight. It helps and at the same time throws a real wrench into my program to be simultaneously tired and wired.

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, so I hope that every day I’m garnering a little more strength and lesson learned out of my struggle. I hope I can pass that onto others and help by sharing my struggle. It’s the only silver lining to it really, because this kind of existence is a whole other level of being a “constant work in progress”. So many days of just maintaining and not truly enjoying life and being able to live it to the fullest.

Every day I’m always curious if all these other people existing around me have any idea what this experience is like. I can’t help but wonder how much more naturally simple and blithe and unadulterated others’ daily lives might be. Maybe they’re not, I don’t know. I only know my own daily struggle. Either way it doesn’t make me feel sorry for myself, it only makes me try harder and play the hand I was dealt to win.

Peace, love, and wellness.

Meditation Medication Mediation

Meditation Medication Mediation

It’s kind of funny how all 3 of those words are just one letter off from one another. On my journey over the last 5 years or so in search of alternative methods to dealing with mental health issues, aside from plant medicine, meditation was one of the first ones I landed on. It took me a while to sort out what it was or what it meant. I learned that a lot of people go through that, the notion of exactly what mediation is can be elusive. Like anything else I want to unravel and apply, I’d begun by simply researching it via articles and discovering all the different types. Then I began trying to understand what it meant to me and how I could apply it in the way that worked best for me. Know now that there is no one way to meditate.

What I really wanted when I’d originally set out on this path was a rehab of sorts; an escape from life, the real world, mental illness, and some way to begin to work out the remainder of the trauma knots and triggers I had left in me that medication and therapy couldn’t seem to touch. Mental health rehab centers are essentially financially out of the question for the lot of us and I’d already tried voluntarily committing myself to an inpatient ward. I was rejected because I wasn’t actively trying to physically harm myself or anyone else, despite how deeply I’d been mentally and emotionally hurting myself. I knew through and through that I was in need of somewhere to go physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

I started off with basically trying to see if I could just sit still and shut myself off from my biggest enemy at the time- my mind. To say it was challenging is an understatement. But I didn’t feel like I had a whole lot of other options and frankly I wanted to see if I even had the discipline to make a practice out of it. I also thought I’d better start somewhere and discover what was right for me. Then I found the method of closing my eyes and focusing on my breath. It still wasn’t enough, I didn’t feel like I was getting it. I needed guidance and was still looking for that sweet escape. I found it in Vipassana Meditation. 10 whole days of silent self-observation in a residential course, following a prescribed code of discipline, led by teachers appointed by the now deceased S. N. Goenka. It was either a cult or the immensely difficult beginning of an incredibly massive journey I was about to embark upon. I did my due diligence of lots and lots of research and, spoiler alert: it was the latter. I sent a group email to those closest to me letting them know I’d be incommunicado for a while working on myself, and off I went.

I stepped foot onto the beautiful Dhamma Manda grounds, 12 days before my 31st birthday. They were some of the most challenging days of my life but also the most rewarding. If I’m totally honest, it kind of felt like voluntary Buddhist internment camp, and I don’t know if I came out of it fully understanding what meditation meant to me but I knew I’d gotten a great start. Not only that, I was pretty damn proud of myself for not quitting. The attrition rate of that course, as you might imagine, is fairly high.

It was almost 4 years ago that I took what I was given from those 10 days, slowly but surely adapted meditation into what I needed, and begun to turn it into a regular practice, using multiple techniques based on whatever my needs are at the time. These days I’m honestly no good without it. I do it at least twice a day, whether it’s 30 seconds or 30 minutes. Sometimes I can sit for over an hour, easy. I get lost, I absolutely love it, I crave it, I consider it my mental defragmentation. Mental health issues, anxiety specifically, and a very acute sensitivity to daily life get me worked up pretty easily. I’ve learned over time and trial that if I don’t self-care through meditation I will work myself right into a panic attack and/or depression and life will become a real bitch very quickly. I’m on a slippery slope here, meditation has become like an insurance policy, and it’s become contagious. I’ve got my dad doing it now, my boyfriend, my best girl friend and her kids. Who’s next?!

My friend Danni said it best, “meditation is the best drug there is”. He would know, his story is pretty incredible, and he himself is powerfully inspiring. He started this group based on a meditation/journaling journey he did last year called 108 Days of Meditation. Oddly enough, akin to my Vipassana journey in 2015, it ends on my birthday. As soon as I heard he’d put it out there, there was no question for me. I do it every day anyway, and we also know I love to write to get things out of me, why the hell not? It felt very serendipitous actually, given those circumstances and the fact I’ve recently up-ended my life’s path.

All that being said, it’s not the ultimate answer to everything, but it has done wonders for me, my general sanity and well-being, and keeping my shit together on the daily. I’ve found that silence is loaded with answers, and that meditation is one of the safest places on this earth. I wake up in the morning with anxiety, I meditate and choose to start my day that way instead of clenching my jaw teetering on the verge of an episode. I come home from work or school wound up super tight and tired as hell, I put myself on a meditation time out and all of a sudden I can think straight again, have my calm back, and actually have more energy. I don’t always win at meditation, but I’m always better for having tried. It’s taken a lot of practice, hard work, focus, effort, and really honestly wanting it, and here I am using it as one of my most effective tools at managing my mental health. I hope that you can, too.

Peace, love, and wellness.

The Mean Reds — Anxiety

The Mean Reds — Anxiety

I’ve seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s about a million times. And there’s this one line Holly Golightly says to her future lover, Paul, that speaks to me every time still:

Holly Golightly: You know those days when you get the mean reds?

Paul Varjak: The mean reds, you mean like the blues?

Holly Golightly: No. The blues are because you’re getting fat and maybe it’s been raining too long, you’re just sad that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?

I’ve said it about a million times, upheaval in life is a trigger for me. Some people, things just bounce right off them, they’re able to roll with the punches and weather the storms. Then there’s me, surely like a lot of you, who is an absolute sponge and feels everything to the nth degree. At first it all just kind of blurs together and I think I’m managing alright, but then it hits me, the weight of it all. I step outside of myself and am able to realize the extent of exactly what I’m dealing with and how it’s becomes the mean reds.

That was my week last week and it took me down hard. I haven’t experienced a breakdown like that in over a year. I was truly afraid and I didn’t know what exactly I was afraid of. I woke up last Monday morning hysterical, out of nowhere. Hyperventilating, inconsolable, out of control, hiding in my bed, screaming into my sheets, with no answer to my hysteria. I’d totally lost myself, and over what? I realize I’ve flipped my life on it’s head changing jobs, working only part-time because I’ve made the decision to go back to school for my degree in social work, the addition of the newness of certain relationships, the old toxicity of others, fresh hell greeting me on what seemed like a daily basis at that point in one way or another, stress, grief, struggle. But sometimes that’s just life.

I had to do something, anything. So I did one of the things I feel I do best to get me out of these pickles: I wrote. I couldn’t meditate my way out of this, I’d been stuck in it for two days already, I had attitude about medicating when a friend came to me with all the love, Thai food, and Klonopin he had to offer (although I ended up backing down and taking his advice and medication by the middle of the week, and was utterly grateful for it), and I had by that point ceased to be functional. I can’t remember what day it was last week (As I’ve mentioned I have that natural mental protective mechanism that blocks out painful events and it’s details), but I just verbally vomited in pencil all over 3 pages of my school notebook (instead of doing my homework), and I’d like to share it with you in hopes that maybe some of it will speak to you, or maybe help you not feel so alone when the anxiety monster strikes. It came out of me in bullet-point fashion so I’m going to translate it here as such, in order.

  • Anyone who doesn’t believe in anxiety has never truly experienced it.
  • It’s crippling/all-consuming- A hurricane-like internal unstoppable shit-storm living in your mind, body, and spirit.
  • Nothing matters.
  • The mean reds, you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of.
  • Meditation is the best drug there is.
  • I’ve been to the ER twice for anxiety, with no insurance, absolutely worried for my safety, feeling my world crashing down on me.
  • I often wake up with anxiety for no reason, it can strike out of nowhere, and I often go to bed that way, too.
  • I have to work really hard to keep anxiety at bay. I meditate my way out of anxiousness at least 2x a day- I don’t always win but I can at least regain enough composure to carry on.
  • It’s often a buildup, then a breakdown that sometimes just shows up out of nowhere and sometimes it’s because I know something before I actually know it (intuiting things).
  • Do I accept it and give it love to quell it or do I fight it? Do I let it run its course, or medicate?
  • You lose your grounding entirely. It feels like falling off a cliff and being stuck in mid-air waiting for the ground to come at you at full speed.
  • You lose yourself, your self-control, and control of your mind. You think you’re dying and there’s no answer.
  • Feelings of wanting to hide in bed, crying, shaking, wanting to jump out of my skin, coming unglued.
  • I looked up the definition of panic: “sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing wildly unthinking behavior”.
  • There’s a difference between a regular cry and an anxiety cry which involved uncontrollable hyperventilation, as well as the physical symptoms. There is no way to anticipate them.
  • Why is severe anxiety a thing and what even is it?
  • Do I learn anything from it? What?
  • It’s so real when you’re in it, your mind and body have no idea it’s not.
  • With depression you don’t just “get over it”, with anxiety you don’t just “calm down”. It’s impossible to get a grip.
  • Pain and fear are often at the root in my experience, as well as stress, both mental and physical. Feeling overwhelmed with pain, fear, and stress, being caught in a negative feedback loop or full of unresolved emotion.
  • Every day I get to start over, fresh.
  • I try to remember I may not always win the battle but be mindful of what really matters in spite of the struggle- love, loving myself, all that I am, and blessing myself.
  • What good can come from it? A reminder to slow down, to be kinder to myself, to love myself, to have gratitude for what is right in my life, to work through my issues, and not try to stifle them?
  • Can anxiety be a call to action? A call to go deeper? To look inward and connect with myself? To listen and respond to things I might not have known I needed? A chance to sort myself out?
  • A quote I reminded myself of- “If you’re depressed you’re living in the past, if you’re anxious you’re living in the future, if you’re at peace you’re living in the present”.
  • Keep trying everything I know: The Ho’oponopono Meditation, the Mental Health Check-in Check List, The Serenity Prayer, go outside and let nature cleanse the filth, pick up your favorite hobby, surround yourself with positive people, express yourself through words, art, exercise. Anything to get you out of your head and distract you, but still be able to come back and deal with the anxiety at some point.
  • The last thing I wrote down, because I’m forever a proponent of natural remedies is “Lithium Orotate“. It’s a naturally occurring element that can help relieve symptoms of anxiety without the side-effects of Benzodiazepines.

I have been able to slowly but surely see my way out of this episode and even have a revelation or two. Hopefully you can relate to some or any of this, and know that you’re not the only one who feels this way, and that there are solutions whether you deal with anxiety daily or occasionally.

Peace, love, and wellness.

Thankful for Remembering Depression

Thankful for Remembering Depression

The following is from yesterday, it’s not eloquent. As I’m sure most of you know, mental health challenges don’t exactly lend themselves to fully functional cognitive abilities. I’ve been riding this massive wave of transition lately in all aspects of my life and it came to a head this week. I’m learning that major upheavals on fundamental levels in my life be they good or bad, are big triggers for me. So instead of waking up yesterday feeling grateful for seeing my family, feeling the love, and having a killer dinner together, I woke up with a big fat cloud over me.

I was grateful for it anyway because as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I have a built-in protective mechanism that blocks out a good majority of my past mental illness experiences and their accompanying symptoms. I quite literally can’t remember on a granular level most of the time what it truly feels like to be depressed.

It all comes back to me in tsunami-like form however when I’m in the thick of it, so I’m thankful for the reminder because my intent here and in my work is to be able to relate to those dealing with mental health issues so I can be of help. It’s hard to help when I can’t fully relate because I’ve subconsciously blocked most of it out, so the reminders really helpful. What else is helpful is documenting it, for myself, and for you. And so, I’m grateful for my episode yesterday, even more grateful for having been able to process it and enjoy the holiday, and grateful I put my feelings into words. Here they are:

“It starts with waking up to the feeling of my body being really heavy and letharged, not wanting to get out of bed physically or mentally. The world outside is cold and complex, it’s almost holding me down where I lie. It’s alright, It’s safer here. The world is all going to be sensory overload anyway. The lack of motivation and will are far too familiar. The dread of the day ahead, even when it’s an easy day ahead filled with family, food, and love. Body aches and a dull, unforgiving headache. A wash of slight sadness over my being but for reasons I can’t fathom. A cynicism toward whatever lies ahead of me, none of it feels worth any effort. My body is slow and defunct, so is my outlook. My brain is foggy and still, and at the same time busy in the background full of useless noise. All I feel like doing is achieving unconsciousness again, I feel like I could sleep for a hundred years. The thought of that gives me a little relief. I don’t wonder what’s going on out in the rest of the world around me because I don’t care. There must be a storm cloud above me because I can feel it weighing me down, it might even be sitting right on my chest because it feels heavy there and kind of hard to breathe. I pay attention to the expression on my face and notice a natural frown. I have no appetite and realize I’m parched but with no plans to do anything about it. I could really use a shower, it would probably help. No plans for that either, and no will or energy for any of it. What can I do? Staring at the ceiling, my old friend. Checking out. Why that does so much for me when I feel this way? I believe it’s because I’m fried and my brain really appreciates the blank white space rather than the cluttered dark noisy mess that otherwise exists. My vital energy has been robbed, my mental sharpness and clarity are gone, too. I can’t even access the more descriptive words I’d normally be using to describe this experience because I haven’t got them right now. Everything is so tired. And this is a mild day, a mild experience. One where if I really try, I can begrudgingly drag myself slowly out of bed and start my day one chore at a time. Everything is a chore when I feel this way, and I slog through my day just waiting for it to be over so I can either maybe start feeling better, or just let it be over and eek a little joy out of going back to bed. My shinyness is dulled, my vibrance buried under this heavy existence that I will endure for the day. The hardest part is having no rhyme or reason behind it. Maybe if I knew what was causing it I could do something about it. All I can really do is acknowledge it and try to press on taking as good of care of myself as I can. But even that’s too much work for me right now, I haven’t got the energy or motivation to take care of myself and so I fall deeper down into whatever’s got it’s hold on me today. I hope it will fade away and I will get myself back. My head hurts and I hope so much deep inside that this will last just one day that it makes me a little emotional. This is no place for me to be and I don’t deserve this, it’s not fair. It’s not who I am. I want it to go away. It’s like a vicious monster from the closet that I have to fight for my life and my only defense is to feebly throw feathers from my torn pillow at it as I watch it creep closer and closer toward me, threatening to eat me alive. I feel so weak. So I take a deep breath, wipe a tear from my face and make the decision to start somewhere, anywhere, by getting up and brushing my teeth. The simplest thing, but the absolute last thing I have the energy for or want to do. I remind myself that I love myself and I deserve to be here and to be happy, then I put my feet on the floor, I feel my lower back ache, and go from there. I look forward to the notion of this just being one day, hopefully, and not continuous. I remember exactly how easy it is to forget this feeling when I’m not feeling it every single day anymore and I wish myself luck.”

Peace, love, and wellness.