Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Best I Can Do

Coming to terms with all of the changes in my life after a roller coaster of the past 5 years is in constant motion. Just when I think I can accept that I can only handle working part-time in retail as opposed to running a program full-time as a social worker, I get hit with such sadness and loss. I have to grieve, yet again. I don't think people understand how mental illness can drastically alter a person's professional, medical, personal and financial life. I've written about it before and I will probably continue to write about it. So many see me out in public, at the mall where I work or in the supermarket and I smile and make small talk and they tell me over and over again how glad they are that I am doing so well. Even when this is true, I am always confused as I haven't disclosed this to them. Just because someone presents as "put together," it certainly is no indication he/she is doing so well. Think of running into a friend who has completed chemotherapy for her breast cancer and has color in her cheeks and a wide smile: think of telling her how glad you are that she is doing so well. It's an assumption, unless your friend has told you otherwise. I find too many people make assumptions about me. Now, they will not know all of the details of my struggles even though I am rather open about them. Currently, I am doing better and at the same time I am working so very hard in therapy, working on such painful issues three sessions, sometimes four sessions per week. Working through these intense issues brings me two steps forward and sometimes one step back. The process is not a straight line forward, unfortunately. I often leave sessions closed up, in deep thought, sometimes sobbing. It is a process, painful, difficult, fulfilling and based on incredible trust in my therapist. If you notice my weight gain when you see me, which you may be glad to see, (it has put me in a healthier place), I may be ruminating about the session I just came from, feeling overwhelmed simply being at the supermarket, thoughts of folding laundry and making dinner completely distracting me. I am a bundle of nerves and stress but you wouldn't know. Why would I disclose this to you? Why would I unburden myself? The answer is two-fold: sometimes I should unburden, especially when it is a close friend, but other times, when it is an acquaintance, I would never release it.

I am not severely depressed right now but there is always a level of depression that I live with. I live my life day to day, sometimes hour by hour. I don't make many plans ahead of time, feeling completely overwhelmed by the pressure of it. Evening meetings or events are almost impossible for me to attend as that is not the best time of day for me. Not everyone understands this. I have to look out for my own health and well-being and consistency and routine makes my life more easily livable. Of course, there are alterations that can't be changed and when they occur, I do my best to get through. That usually involves extra support from my husband and friends, a lot of deep breaths and my anti-anxiety medication. Even when I am not severely depressed, there are still behaviors that I can't always leave behind. I do my best and as my therapist keeps telling me, "you have always done your best, 20 years ago and today. That is all you can do." For me, my best sometimes involves tolerating incredibly intense feelings, constant questioning of my thoughts and feelings and doing the best I can, in terms of self-harm behaviors.

I am in a good place, a much better place and it is something to be noted and noticed after everything I have been through over the past 5 years. Just remember this caveat: feeling better is not a cure for depression, anxiety, OCD or PTSD. There is NO cure (yet). I live with many of the symptoms every single day. Each day can be different as can each hour.

I fight every single day. My family fights every single day. My husband and daughter are with me, willing to live our family life in a way where modifications are always being made to support me and my needs. Our existence is not what it was 5 years ago and for my husband and myself, this is not what we ever wished our life would be, but we have, for the most part, found our groove and even if that leaves out others at times or lets people down, it is the best we can do. What more could be asked of us?

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Having Depression is NOT a Choice - This is Why

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I saw this on Twitter and read it about a dozen times. I thought, "this is me, this is what it's been like during too many major depressive episodes over the past 5 years." I shared it on Facebook and realized that simply sharing it only reaches a very small group of people. This scares people. This is honest and open. This is scary. But the part that is missing are the answers. I want to share my answers, my experience, my reality. Personal experiences are the missing link in order to gain understanding about those suffering with what can be a debilitating illness.

1. How would it feel to wake up and not having the emotional strength to face people?
I'll tell you how it feels. I have felt it on and off over the past 5 years. It is daunting, sometimes an insurmountable goal that you know you can't reach. I would get myself going on certain days, like days I would see my therapist and the days I work. It is not easy. I have worked in retail for the past 2 1/2 years and people is what it's about. My mask is sometimes put up and while it has slid off at times, I have always done my best. At times, I choose not to go to synagogue with my husband and our daughter. It's sometimes been too scary to bring my daughter to a friend's birthday party. It can be exhausting.

2. To think that time is passing by with no reason?
I felt that strongly today. I had a session with my therapist where I felt misunderstood. While she meant well, it felt as if she were trying to convince me to see things realistically in order to not beat up on myself. I felt my feelings were not being heard. After that, the rest of the day felt odd and I am not even sure how time has actually passed.

3. To feel so alone even when you are sitting in a room full of people?

This is why I have stayed away from people when I have been depressed. Feeling alone when you are alone is one thing, but feeling alone while in a room full of people, even close friends, does not always make a difference. It is a terrible feeling.

4. To have to put on a face and hide your feelings because in your mind you think no one would care anyway?

This is almost automatic for me when I am in a depressive episode, unfortunately. I think to myself that I don't want to burden my friends any more than I already have. There have been times I have asked my past 2 therapists over these past years, why do people care about me? Their responses were the same: a list of my attributes, reasons why people like me, love me, care about me. Sometimes I believed them, but others I didn't.

5. To lose friends because you can't find the strength to go out and you can't physically be 'happy'?

Fortunately, I have not lost one friend due to my illness. I don't know what the odds are of that, but I am aware that it is not necessarily usual. I have heard from others, very sad stories of dear friends who literally disappeared on them because of their mental illness. 

6. To cry yourself to sleep, hoping that tomorrow will be a better day, then when you do try you are exhausted from the night before, and it all starts again?

This may sadden many, but there have been many nights I have cried just as I fall asleep over the past 5 years at the times I have been depressed. I pray for a better day, that I will wake up a bit refreshed and feel better able to tackle whatever the new day brings. The fatigue that my depression causes is the enemy of this hope on some days. It has taunted and paralyzed me. This cycle is more than exhausting, in terms of physically feeling tired, it is emotionally draining as well. This combination can be depleting and debilitating.

7. You try to hide your feelings hoping no one would notice, and more.

This is also a challenge, yet something I can do well, at times. When I am anxious, I can talk a lot. People then believe I am feeling better or well, when what is really happening is that I am not feeling great but masking it with my anxiety. I am actually not always aware I am doing it until I feel my heart beating a bit faster than usual.

8. Now tell me why someone would choose that?

This is truly the million dollar question. Would any of you choose any of this, as well as all of the treatments I have endure(d): therapy 3x per week, medication trials, ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy), TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation), ketamine infusions and psychiatric hospitalizations? Any aspect of my experience mentioned above? I can't imagine so.

Depression is an illness, not a choice.

Saying it is a choice is the largest form of stigma I can think of. It's cruel. I would move mountains and do anything possible to be rid of my depression, anxiety and OCD. I have tried and will continue to try. To say I would choose to have these illnesses is shortsighted and ludicrous.

I have said this before:

My mental illness is treatment resistant, but erasing stigma doesn't have to be.




Wednesday, October 3, 2018

A Guiding Light in the Darkness of Chronic Mental Illness

Two days in New York City, one of my favorite places, not just because I lived there for 8 years as a student, then a professional, but because there's nowhere like it. Lucky for me, my 8 1/2 years old daughter loves it, too. My husband hates cities, so he was not invited to our girls' weekend away visiting my brother and his boyfriend. No matter, my daughter and I needed this time to maintain and strengthen our connection as I know she is very aware and senses my ongoing struggle with depression, a lot of anxiety and never-ending OCD. I am usually at my best in NYC. It feels like home.
The first part of the first day went very well, seeing my niece at Barnard and spending some time with her. I had more difficulty with my irritability later in the day and snapped at my daughter a lot. For some reason, she is very forgiving, in an unspoken way. I redeemed myself on day two though and we had a wonderful time. We took a lovely walk in the morning, talking and laughing. We then went down to 42nd Street, not my favorite place in NYC, but she was in heaven. She loved it all. We then went and saw the play, School of Rock, her first Broadway play. I watched her face as she took it all in, and the smiles, laughs and her intention were only part of what continually brought tears to my eyes for over 2 hours.
Going to a Broadway play is not on a list of "needs" for my husband and myself. This was a treat, courtesy of being paid from another piece I wrote about my experience with mental illness. This was very special as I never would have even thought of this as an option now. Seeing a Broadway play is a “want” not a “need” for our family.
When you are sick with a chronic illness, you may be able to recognize those special times in life and not take them for granted. This was one of those times. This was perfection. Being with my light (her middle name is Liora, which means “my light,” so it is fitting) and sharing a great experience. Most importantly, being here on earth to be a part of it. This is why I cry at every one of her performances and school presentations. It's not simply about me feeling proud of her, it's me reflecting on the times when this all could have slipped away because of a relentless illness. I was and am here, doing the best I can, which is not following a linear path right now, but here I am.
While she may not understand the significance of Andrew Lloyd Webber coming onstage at the end of the play and why I cried at that moment, she hopefully will one day. It wasn't just that I was in awe of this extremely gifted and talented man, it was, again, something so special I shared with my light.
When we left the theater, we were in sync, holding hands, talking about the play. She repeatedly told me to "calm down" as I tried to explain the significance of Andrew Lloyd Webber's appearance. I told her I couldn't calm down because I was amazed. I had to express how I felt. She said she understood, then made fun of me, which was fine. We held hands walking to the subway. We were together in many ways and at least for one day, it was consistent. I was consistent.
I got a day. I had a day where I was (mostly) with my light, not just in body but in soul. It may not seem like a lot, especially for those who experience more days like these than not, but for me, it was as close to perfect as life could be. I will be honest and say this didn't continue into the next day when we went home. This didn't surprise me. It can be the everyday activities that bring about my intense anxiety and most definitely my OCD, so coming back to the “reality” of being home only triggered the increase of my symptoms. I know I have a chronic illness that will not magically disappear although not everyone understands this. Some see me smile and think I'm all better. I wish.
Two days in New York City, living with my mental illness and being “present” with my daughter. This filled a hole that sometimes has too much open space. For me, I know I will hold this and try to use it when I have a tough time with my symptoms and when I have difficulty feeling present with my daughter, her bright light guiding me along.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

One Day: A Daughter's Questions and Answers to the Terrifying World We Live In


One day, my daughter is going to want to know more about how women got the right to vote.
One day, my daughter is going to want to know about the Holocaust.
One day, my daughter is going to want to know more about the civil rights movement.
One day, my daughter is going to want to know why swastikas were spray painted on a synagogue the week prior.
One day, my daughter is going to want to know why a black man was shot by a white police officer for simply walking down the street and suffers no legal consequences.
One day, my daughter is going to want to know more about why people are upset about men creating families together and women creating families together.
One day, my daughter is going to want to know why a man with the same job title and experience is making twice as much as she is.
One day, my daughter is going to want to know why women are targets of ridicule and disbelief when they bravely come forward revealing a history/current sexual abuse by men.
One day, my daughter is going to want to know why women are not believed.
One day, my daughter is going to want to know more about why people with mental illness are discriminated against.
One day, my daughter will want to know why people’s differences are a negative and not a positive.
One day, my daughter will stop asking questions and develop the answers that promote a positive society:

  *Where women feel safe
  *Earn equal pay compared to men
  *Talk openly about the Holocaust
  *Refer to when women gained the right to vote
  *Discuss the reality and struggle of the Civil Rights Movement
  *Talk honestly about Anti-Semitism
  *Discuss the racism rampant in our society
  *Talk of those who suffer repeated discrimination by others

One day, we need to decide to raise our daughters to develop the answers to these questions. It’s already begun, but the urgency continues to increase with each passing s-e-c-o-n-d. It started and should never stop.
One day is NOW.