Featured

The Gun Debate, Absent the Voice of Mental Illness

TW: suicide reference, last paragraph

I never wished to speak on this subject.  I imagine that most would have hoped to never need to speak on this subject.  After all, this country is supposed to be the beacon on a hill – something to aspire to.

The discourse in this country following a mass shooting promptly digresses into what the conservative punditry likes to refer to as a “mental health reform” issue.  They even have their very own hashtag.  Much to my dismay the leaders of my party for whom I have great respect, do next to nothing to push back.  Gun control advocates use us as their punchline in calling for common sense regulation. “Surely, someone with a mental illness shouldn’t be able to buy a gun so easily” they say sanctimoniously.  Comedians like Jimmy Kimmel go on national television to proclaim that Donald Trump is “obviously mentally ill” because he doesn’t “think we need to do anything about it”.  Happy to oblige your writers in their search for the perfect insult, Jimmy.  The call to action on gun control is lost in the same dialogue, every time.  The definition of insanity is to repeat the same action expecting a different result, and yet here we are.  Ironic, isn’t it?  The people who want to throw us under the bus are by very definition, insane themselves.

Mass shootings in America are first and foremost a result of the number of guns we allow to be in the hands of those untrained and without a need for them.  Yes, mental illness is a part of the problem but only so far as it pertains to the fundamental issue of access.  I would argue that healthy adolescents experiencing hormonal changes are just as ill equipped to safely handle a firearm which once again points to access as the primary concern.  The misplaced dialogue is only a drop in the bucket when it comes to what is so wrong about our approach to curbing gun violence.  What I find most troubling is the missing seat at the table for the mental illness community.

I am passionate about this issue and would be happy to lend my voice as I am sure many of us would.  Have you been asked to do so?  I haven’t.  We see family members of those lost speaking, first hand, to the pain they experience.  These very same advocates are also charged with speaking to mental illness.  In what world does this make sense?  Imagine if we took random parents and asked them to speak about the anguish of losing a child in a mass shooting, having never experienced it themselves.  Not only would this be offensive, it would be entirely ignorant to think that the country would be moved by what they had to say.

Then we have the National Rifle Association speaking “on our behalf” in protecting our Second Amendment Rights, though not really.  They don’t want “wackos” out there with guns.  If they have made anything clear it is that they want “good guys with guns” in our communities. Newsflash, “good guys” don’t necessarily remain “good guys” and accidental shootings don’t discriminate based on one’s moral character.

The NRA finds itself in a bit of a conundrum.  To advocate for the removal of our rights means opening themselves up to questions about why other populations shouldn’t be limited in their access to weapons (i.e. law enforcement officers fired from the job for excessive force complaints or those with a history of domestic violence).  Can you imagine!

Mental illness isn’t a punchline.  It is a devastating disease felt by people all over the world.  Our community isn’t mute, and we deserve better.  It is about damn time that our voice is heard more loudly on this issue.  I can’t speak for all of us but as far as I am concerned not only do I not need a firearm, I don’t want one.  I mean honestly, owning a firearm poses the greatest risk to me and me alone.  I want to live a meaningful life, I want to give back to others, I want to thrive.  Why in the world would I want an easy way out sitting in my dresser drawer knowing full well that another low could be around the corner at any moment.  I am all for my Second Amendment Rights being taken away, the powers that be can have them!  This is what I would add to the conversation, not as a bystander but as someone who survives day in and day out with a mental illness.  This is what I would add to the conversation as a concerned citizen, tired of families being torn apart due to a lack of moral courage and leadership.

We can do better.  We must do better!

pexels-photo-54512


Note from the author: please comment, share your experiences, and provide feedback if you’re inclined to do so. All input is welcome!

Advertisements

Pain

Debilitating pain, pain so profound that it is felt deeply in the chest.  Unless one has experienced emotional pain, the concept is foreign.  For those of us who have, however, the anguish is all too real.  “Broken hearted” is no longer just an adjective, it is a noun.  For us, to be broken hearted is a very real thing.

pexels-photo-128597

The last two and a half years have been a journey of discovery and acceptance, and a chance to reflect.  If I am to be honest with myself, I have felt systemic pain as far back as the 7th grade due to my ever changing emotions – only I didn’t know how to ask for help or how to describe what was wrong.  I often wonder what my life would look like today had I known how to help myself or how to be honest about what I was experiencing.  Would I be a part of my family the way my siblings are?  Would I have done better in school?  Would I have made better career choices?  Would I have a family of my own, a home of my own?  I wish I knew.  I have to think that life could have been a whole lot better had I made different choices.

Choices.  What if it made more sense to make healthy choices for those of us with mental illnesses?  This is another question I often ask myself and admittedly, dissect from time to time.  What is often misunderstood about the campaign to #endstigma is that it is not solely a matter of respecting us and not discriminating against us. While these objectives are critically important, often underreported is the importance of being accepting and open minded when it comes to getting treatment for the ones we love.  Would I have asked for help sooner had there been no reason to think that my family, my friends, my teachers, or my employers would think less of me?  I wish I knew, but I suspect that my twelve-year-old self would have gone into my parent’s room and unapologetically told them that I felt sick as I had done so many times before when I had the flu or a common cold.  Can you imagine freely sharing with your friends that you can’t come over because you are afraid to leave home?  Can you imagine telling your employer or your teachers that you need to take some time off because you can’t stand without shaking or because you are sick to your stomach?  I can’t either.

We are taught as children, to treat others the way we want to be treated.  We are taught to show compassion when others are hurting.  We are taught to be human, unless of course someone is different than us.  If this is the case, we are taught self-preservation whether that means not associating with these individuals or even joining in with our fellow sheep to put them down.  If not by our parents then by our society, it is drilled into us that normalcy, popularity, and superiority all breed success and that to be vulnerable is to be weak.  What if we knew what this mentality does to our children, what if we knew that a better community was just a change in perspective away?  What if we could see that?

See me.  I am different from you and you are different from me.  I was routinely put down, were you?  I was not normal, not popular and only projected superiority to try to fit in or to hide my pain.  Did you fit in?  I am vulnerable.  Are you?  It’s about time we start having more conversations like this because who knows, we may be able to prevent our children from suffering.  It’s too late for me, it is not too late for them.  Finally, self-aware, my life is just getting started – albeit a painful start.  Please, love your children, support your friends and colleagues.  We only get one shot at this life, it is our responsibility to teach compassion. 


Note from the author: please comment, share your experiences, and provide feedback if you’re inclined to do so. All input is welcome!

Gravely Exhausted

TW: suicide/death

I intended to write about purpose this week.  I planned to explore the realization that for the first time in many years, I have found purpose in my writing.  However, as the days went on it became clear that what I am most qualified to talk about is what it feels like to be this damn tired!  I imagine that it feels very similar to the sensation felt by the terminally ill when they near the end.  I am the walking dead.

I do my absolute best to remain grateful each and every day, but reality is reality:

My reality is that without a Hail Mary plea to my family, I (along with my dog) will be homeless in the next month (still waiting to hear back from them).

My reality is that despite submitting nearly 100 job applications over the last month, I am apparently unemployable.

My reality is that I am trapped in a city that I don’t want to live in, in an apartment that I don’t want to live in – both of which are frankly unhealthy and yet, I can’t afford to make the necessary changes to thrive (even if I knew what that would look like).

My reality is that should the opportunity present itself, moving “home” would be unhealthy.  I miss the community, I miss the natural terrain and I miss the rain.  That said, my life there was one of self-destruction.

My reality is that I am in physical decline and despite knowing that and knowing what I need to do to correct it, I don’t have the desire or energy to get meaningful exercise.

This is what my mental illness looks like.  Imagine having dreams, goals…hell, a simple to-do list.  Now imagine being at the bottom of a 50 foot well and through a small hole at the surface, watching everyone else pursue their dreams, accomplish their goals, and tend to their day-to-day life.  This is what my mental illness looks like.  Imagine watching life go by knowing that your main purpose in life is to continue breathing for those that “care about you”, as you anticipate dying from natural causes.  This is what my mental illness looks like.  Now, add to that a fear and an inability to put an end to things yourself – even if society were to give you permission.  This is what my mental illness looks like.

I am tired.  I am out of fight.  I am going through the motions.

I am trapped.  This is what my mental illness looks like.

pexels-photo-287229


Note from the author: please comment, share your experiences, and provide feedback if you’re inclined to do so. All input is welcome!

Money, The Real Roadblock to a Sigma Free Society

Money, or lack thereof, is the ultimate dissuader in the campaign to #endstigma.  For those without financial security, whether earned independently or with the help of family, going public with their diagnosis poses great risk.

Putting aside the “old money” factor, a job plays an inescapable role in any good treatment plan – and not just because of the good it does in reducing isolation.  Simply put, the degree to which one can “live well” is entirely dependent on their socioeconomic status.  This is where going public becomes perilous.  If we lose our job or if we can’t get a job because an employer does a simple Google search, then what?

Now, consider this: what if the individuals who have the financial means (not to mention an audience) to do so were to be as candid about their experiences as the outspoken advocates who, while not nearly as financially stable, are blazing the trail in the awareness campaign?

I often ask myself these questions when I hear about celebrities glamourizing their mental health journey.  It’s ugly!  We know that, why shouldn’t the rest of the public?  Take Demi Lovato’s documentary, “Simply Complicated”.  Regardless of intention, the takeaway was that Demi’s brand is doing well and she is touring (insert link to purchase merchandise and concert tickets here).  Her purposefully vague remarks about what life looked like for her during the darker periods were lost in the promotional aspects of the film.

Please don’t misunderstand, I value Demi’s story and admire her recovery.  I also applaud her work to increase awareness around the journey of others (the Be Vocal Documentary is awesome).  However, the jet setting lifestyle she puts on display in “Simply Complicated” is not the face of mental illness for the vast majority of us.  Demi’s story is an anomaly made possible solely because of her wealth.

For most of us, our reality does not include a staff of assistants to attend to the day to day tasks that often pose such an inexplicable challenge.  For most of us, our reality does not include a luxury recovery center and the continued care of travelling wellness coaches.  For most of us, the basics are not affordable, let alone holistic care.

If we are to be serious about increasing awareness around what it means to live with mental illness, we need not paint with a rose-colored brush.  In order for society to truly understand and appreciate us for who we are, we need to show them who we are!  I would like to see those without fear of economic devastation lead the charge so that the rest of us can come out of the shadows.

pexels-photo-764880


Tell me what you think!  Would you like to see the most privileged members of our mental health community do better?  How do finances impact your ability to “live well”?

Survival of the Fittest

When envisioning myself blogging, I pictured a quiet environment at my desk – like the pictures I see online (moleskin notebook and a nice pen, cup of coffee or tea, laptop on a nice oak wood desk).  Unfortunately, I find that I can’t accomplish anything in a quiet environment anymore.  Ironically, I can’t focus on more than one thing at a time either.  This leads to a lot of binge watching T.V. regardless of whether I have more productive intentions.  So, much like anything else in life, writing can be an uphill battle as a result of Bipolar Disorder (type II).

pexels-photo-66090

This won’t come as a surprise to my fellow survivors but less than a week after my first blog entry wherein I described myself as being “stable”, I am now in the throes of depression.  I am exhausted, my body feels weak, I tire easily (physically and mentally).

Rest is so important for people who are fighting to survive with Bipolar Disorder, or so I’m told.  It is in this category that I am my own worst enemy (granted, there are others).  Day after day, I stay up too late – not because of insomnia but because I dread waking up again.  This is not to be confused with suicidal ideation.  It’s not that I don’t want to wake up, it’s that I dread another day because I know the misery that lies ahead.  I strongly object to the impending inner struggle.  This turmoil is self-inflicted, I know that.  Stemming from my inability to properly react to and prioritize big picture goals versus basic day-to-day tasks, I live my life between my ears.  Here are a few examples of some of the broader concepts that have set up camp inside my head:

I eat nothing but fast-food and typically only once a day (adding a bowl of cereal in the morning, occasionally).  Utter crap.  I fear dying at times, as this has been the case for nearly two years and my lab work indicates that my diet is negatively impacting my health.  However, the truth is that I see death due to natural causes as the likely outcome sooner rather than later.  I just can’t imagine myself being lucky enough to “live a long and happy life”.  Acceptance of this reality pairs perfectly with my already low energy level, yielding to a continuation of my poor eating habits.

The amount of exercise I get is negligible – nothing beyond taking my dog out for a few short walks a day.  I used to get more exercise before they built a dog park near where I live, now my walks only go so far as the park to make sure that she gets the exercise she needs.  Much like the feelings I have associated with my diet, this unhealthy lifestyle is self-perpetuating.

I am not happy where I’m living, but feel that it may be premature to leave the area given that I have only seen two towns beyond my ten-mile radius for doctors’ appointments, recovery meetings, and an occasional dinner with the few friends I have here.  I should also mention that I am broke which makes moving unrealistic (not to mention the impact that has on the level of security I feel in my current living situation).

I obsess so much about the goals above, that I neglect the basics – leading to poor personal hygiene, leaving my house a mess, my mail left unopened, and my finances (what’s left of them) unattended.  Those with a healthy brain would point to the obvious action steps in these very statements (i.e. learn to cook something! -OR- go for a walk! -OR- get a job! -OR- take a drive, check out your surroundings!).  It’s never too late, I know.  These statements are all things I berate myself with throughout the day as I lie on my side, paralyzed by my thoughts.  How is it possible to have so little to do but to feel as though you have too much to do and too little time?

As I lay my head down on the pillow each night, I fall asleep knowing full well that what comes next is nothing more than existence.  When I wake up, I am not surprised.  There is no thriving, only surviving.


Note from the author: please comment, share your experiences, and provide feedback if you’re inclined to do so. All input is welcome!

First Blog Post

Simply to try has been the motivation behind all of my actions for as long as I can remember, even down to the simplest of tasks such as maintaining the cleanliness of my home and adhering to a daily routine. The phrase ‘to try’ points to a lack of confidence, doesn’t it? It does to me. It is in this spirit that I have decided to make an attempt at writing for others’ consumption.

From the time I took my first college level writing class, I dreamt of being a writer. Specifically, I’ve been attracted to non-fiction and investigative reporting. For a myriad of reasons (many of which I now understand to be as a result of my mental illness), I made the decision to only enroll in the general education courses required under the curriculum. So, while I may not be living my dream, writing about my personal experiences is something I can do.

I don’t have a complete vision for this project yet, but I know that I don’t want it to be a self-inflicted pity party and I certainly know that I am not in a position to offer expert advice beyond my own experiences. Honestly, my motivation for pursuing writing right now is a selfish one. I crave purpose!

post

The most logical place to begin is with my recent diagnosis. I am told I have Bipolar II and I couldn’t agree more (still working on the acceptance part). This is the fourth time I have been formerly diagnosed, but the first time I have accepted treatment. In the past, I have accepted treatments (i.e. benzodiazepines and SSRIs) for anxiety and depression which have proven ineffective at best. For the past six months, I have worked with my doctor to find the right combination of medications (Lithium, Sertraline, and Quetiapine as needed). I finally feel stable, for the first time ever!

My only complaint is that I find it very challenging to adjust to the so-called “new normal”, one where I am not motivated (or less motivated) by mania/heightened anxiety and one where I feel significantly less emotional (which at times, was another source of motivation). I almost feel detached and perpetually exhausted. I also struggle with prioritizing the things I need to do (or the things I think I need to do). I have so many thoughts flying around in my brain, none of which are necessarily unwanted but all of which are overwhelming and prohibitive to productivity!

As it stands today, my focus needs to be on finding an income (ideally in a job that is fulfilling) and to learn how to live a healthier lifestyle – both of which would be of great help to my desire to spend less time inside my apartment. Unfortunately, I have little to no confidence in myself which could easily be described as a requirement for the aforementioned goals. This brings me back to my mantra, to try. I must continue to put one foot in front of the other!


Note from the author: please comment, share your experiences, and provide feedback if you’re inclined to do so. All input is welcome!