Archive | Depression RSS feed for this section

Mental Illness: Don’t Be Ashamed

3 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Today’s post is written in observance of Mental Health Awareness Month, which runs through May.

Several years ago, as I sat nursing my newborn baby, I watched a talk show in which Tom Cruise said something to the effect of post-partum depression not being a real condition. All these moms needed, he said, was to follow good exercise and nutrition plans, and they wouldn’t have a problem. He was convinced, he said, because he had done research.

The timing of this talk show, with its rantings by someone who by definition will never know what post-partum depression is like, could not have been worse. I was in the thick of post-partum depression myself at the time, and although my particular brand of it never included a desire to hurt my child, fantasies of my own death were a very real part of my life.

I did not seek help for my condition, and in fact I would never have been treated for it had my family doctor not noticed that something was amiss during a visit for something completely unrelated. I had a whole set of issues with that particular doctor, but I fully credit him for saving my life. That’s how close I was to the edge of the cliff.

The fact that I suffered from post-partum depression at all was no surprise to me. If anything, I had been surprised when it hadn’t struck after the birth of my first son.

Even as a teenager, I was prone to bouts of depression. My parents were not really aware of it, and on the few occasions when someone actually noticed that I was not OK, it was always put down to adolescent hormones.

“You’ll grow out of it,” people told me.

Except I didn’t. My depression continued into adulthood, coming in waves that sometimes threatened to drown me completely. It would hit completely without warning, hang around for weeks or months or even years, and then disappear just as suddenly.

During my teens I blamed hormones. For two decades after that, I blamed myself. I blamed the fact that some unwise choices I made during my college years led to trauma that had a lasting effect.

I didn’t seek help. Of course I didn’t. My depression and everything that went with it was my own fault, right? I didn’t deserve to be helped.

When it came down to it, the mental health issues that I have experienced throughout most of my life – be it post-partum depression, good old garden-variety depression, anxiety, and everything else – have been a source of shame to me.

And that, my friends, is a big problem in our society. Too many lives are destroyed and lost because people suffering from mental illnesses feel too ashamed or embarrassed to seek help. Feelings of unworthiness and self-blame act as barriers to the pursuit of inner peace and happiness.

Tom Cruise sitting on his high horse effectively blaming mothers for a debilitating and often life-threatening condition did not help the cause of the mental health community one little bit.

Eventually, just over a year ago, I finally made the very difficult decision to seek professional help. The road since then has not been smooth. With the guidance of my therapist, I am reliving past traumas and undergoing oft-uncomfortable introspection in search of the roots of the conditions that plague me. But I at least know that I am heading somewhere other than a dead end.

My quest for mental health is by far the hardest thing for me to write about.  Because in spite of the steps that I have taken to get help, I have not quite managed to shake the decades-old conviction that this is something for me to be ashamed and embarrassed about.

If I stay silent, though, I remain a part of the problem of the stigma associated with mental illness.

In starting to speak out, however tentatively, I hope to become a part of the solution.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/militaryhealth/3485865665/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

Advertisements

Finding The Path Of Healing

18 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 18 – Open a book: Choose a book and open it to a random page and point to a phrase. Use that phrase to get you writing today. Free write for 15-20 minutes without stopping.

My random phrase comes from a book called Watermelon, written my Marian Keyes – one of my favourite chick-lit authors. The sentence I pointed to with my eyes closed was strangely appropriate. “I was no longer carrying my humiliation like a weapon.”

I am a natural-born late bloomer. I have done many things in life after most people: I was 24 before I selected a career, my first child was born when I was 33, and I finally got married at the ripe old age of 41.

Now that I am old and wise, it doesn’t bother me that I tend to lag behind other people in some respects, but when I was in high school it was a great source of embarrassment for me. Socially speaking, I was streets behind most of my classmates. I was not exactly ostracized by my peers, but I was definitely not one of the “cool kids” either.

I got invited to parties from time to time, but I always felt so awkward when I got there. While my peers were laughing and chatting effortlessly, or retreating to private corners to snog their boyfriends, I was sitting by myself trying, and failing, to look as if I belonged. I could only really enjoy social gatherings if my best friend was there too. My best friend was the one who stopped me from drowning completely, and bless her heart, she is still my best friend today.

I had a couple of half-hearted boyfriends as a teenager, but compared to my classmates, I was geeky and socially inept. At an age where people are desperate to fit in and be accepted by their peers, it was painful. I was an unhappy teenager, although I never really admitted that to anyone.

When I graduated from high school, I went to a university 1400km away from my hometown. I figured that being among people I didn’t know would allow me to turn myself into the person I thought I wanted to be. I had always felt slightly inadequate and I didn’t like myself very much, and I wanted more than anything to reinvent myself.

Even though I made friends at university and had some kind of reasonable social life, the truth was that I was lonely. Never really a party girl, I tried to shoehorn myself into a party lifestyle because that’s what college students did, and I wanted so badly to fit in. And so I found myself immersed in a social group who were a laugh to be around, but I yearned meaningful contact. In those days before the Internet made the world a smaller place, I was not able to confide in my best friend. When waves of depression hit me, I had to get through them alone, with no-one to talk to.

And so, when a man started paying attention to me in my second year, I was flattered enough to fall for him. I do not want to share the details, but I will say that the whole thing was an absolute disaster from beginning to end. I was immersed in a situation that I had no ability to deal with.

The effect on my life was catastrophic. It was as if my future had been mapped out for me, and then a tsunami had come along and wiped everything away, changing the landscape of my life.

I floundered in the wake of this personal disaster. I completely lost all sense of who I was and what I wanted. I vacillated between depression and anger, and I blamed myself for having allowed my life to veer so far off the course I had planned. I drifted for a while, literally and metaphorically, and eventually washed up in a career, albeit one far away from what I had originally wanted.

One day, after having carried around the baggage of my past experiences for twenty years, I looked around me at all I have today. I have a solid job and my dream to be a paid writer is starting, in small but definite increments, to come true. I can run half-marathons in spite of not having a “typical” runner’s body. I managed to move halfway across the world and establish myself in a place I had never been to. I have a husband and two miraculous children. Although I make my mistakes, I think I’m doing well as the parent of a child with autism.

That tsunami that had swept so much away also created a new landscape with new paths for me to follow and new goals to shoot for.

This realization, when it hit me, was like a breath of fresh air. Although some scarred remained, I was no longer carrying the humiliation like a weapon.

For the first time, I felt that I owed it to myself to try to heal.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kudumomo/3140538425/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

Time In A Bubble

1 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 1 – Health Time Capsule: Pretend you’re making a time capsule of you and your health focus that won’t be opened until 2112. What’s in it? What would people think of it when they found it?

timecapsule

Sometimes, usually when I’m reminiscing about one of my grandparents, I wonder what the world was like a hundred years ago. In 1912, my maternal grandmother was nine years old. Cars were just starting to change the way people lived, and people were starting to realize that planes might be more than just a passing fad.

In 1912, the Republic of China was formed and the Titanic sank. Gene Kelly and Pope John Paul I were born, and the members of the Scott expedition to the South Pole died.

One hundred years ago, telephone communications happened over a party line and computers had not even been dreamed up. There was no such thing as a TV dinner. Indeed, there was no such thing as a TV.

It is very clear that the world was a completely different place back then. If you were to take my nine-year-old grandmother from that time and plunk her down in the middle of 2012, she wouldn’t have a clue what to do.

Now I cast my mind to the future, to the year 2112. What thoughts will the people then have about the way the world is today? What would I want them to think? What would I, the 42-year-old me who lives in 2012, want them to know about me and my life?

Maybe I should put together a time capsule, something that some random stranger can dig up a hundred years from now to get a glimpse into my life and the things that are important to me.

There would be photos, of course, a visual record of me and my family. Maybe a flash drive of family videos that the finder could watch – assuming, of course, that flash drive technology isn’t totally redundant by then.

I would include a pair of running shoes, and maybe one of my half-marathon finisher’s medals. I would print out a copy of my training plan, so whoever found the time capsule would know that I took my running seriously and tried to be healthy about it. They would know that I cared enough about my feet to use orthotics, that I ramped up my training in a way to avoid injury, and that running was my biggest stress-relieving tool.

There would, of course, be a lot of stuff about autism. A copy of George’s developmental assessment report and the autism awareness magnet that’s on my car. I would put in a copy of the very first “real” picture that George drew depicting a recognizable scene from a TV show. I would have to include one of George’s Mr. Potato Heads, along with a description of how this little character helped George’s development in so many ways. And what about a program from the biannual autism symposium? I could include one of my fundraising appeal letters for my autism runs.

Out of respect for my younger son, I would include a book about raising a child who is the sibling of a child with autism. I would throw in some of James’ artwork depicting him and George, and a leaflet about the autism centre’s sibling support program. I would want whoever found this to know that George’s autism didn’t only affect George, that we also had to make special consideration for his little brother.

And because James is an individual in his own right, I would include some stuff that’s just about him. A Lightning McQueen car. His soccer shoes. One of the T-shirts my mom has sent him from South Africa, that he always loves wearing.

Mental health is a big issue in my life. I would include some of the antidepressants I took a few years ago before the side effects scared me into stopping. I would print off some stats and information about post-partum depression – something that I suffered terribly from and that I still don’t think there’s enough awareness of. And maybe, just for fun, I would include one of my therapists’ bills. Whoever finds it can then gasp in astonishment and say, “Wow, they only paid that for therapy in 2012?”

Family is an important element in my life as well. My family, by their mere presence, enhance my physical and mental health. My husband’s support of my endeavours has an unquestionable affect on my stress levels and sense of wellbeing. So I would have to include a copy of my marriage certificate.

This time capsule is starting to get kind of full, and I haven’t even touched on some people in my life who would have to be represented, like my mom and my brother, and my best friend Jenny, and some other folks who form the fabric of my life.

I’m off to find a bigger box.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/carbonnyc/2563369930/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

Out Of The Wasteland

9 Nov

Once upon a time, life was normal. I was a regular young woman with regular ambitions. I had a few friends, and although I was never a party-animal, I had a reasonable social life. I kind-of-but-not-really knew what I wanted to do with my future. Nothing was cast in concrete, but I did have something loosely resembling a plan.

One day, all of that fell apart. The events that led to the undoing of my life as I then knew it are not important. Let’s just say that things changed. I went through some experiences that completely changed the direction of my life. Although the events themselves were not always positive, they did ultimately lead me down a path to becoming a stronger, more resilient person than I might otherwise have been.

These events did, however, leave me emotionally raw. I ended up with a propensity to depression that has plagued me several times over the years. Sometimes the depression hits abruptly, as if someone has thrown a switch in my head. Sometimes it creeps up so gradually that I don’t even notice it until I wake up one morning to realize that it’s there.

The depression is always bleak and frightening. When it’s there, I feel as if I am trapped by myself in an emotional wasteland. I have this sense of having to travel over inhospitable terrain where no-one is able to reach me. Outwardly, I go through the motions of existence. I get up and go to work, I parent my children, I keep in touch with people enough to avoid letting on that something is wrong. But on the inside, I am barely making it from one day to the next.

In the end, though, I have a natural optimism that gets me through. Even when I am in the midst of my darkest hours, I operate under the belief that no matter how bad things might be, they have the potential to get better. And somehow – after a few days, a few weeks or a few months – I emerge from my emotional wasteland. I start to feel the sunshine on my face again. I notice the colours around me, and I hear the laughter of my children.

This week’s Indie Ink Challenge came from Sir, who gave me this prompt: Write about the character trait of your that’s the most frightening.
I challenged  Michael Webb with the prompt:You are walking in the forest and you trip over a wooden box. You open the box and find…