Deja Vu/Vuja De

It was a year ago, around this time on the calendar when I finally admitted to myself and to my psychiatrist that everything was most definitely NOT fine and a change of venue was in order. My doctor, being the good doctor that he is, referred me for psych evaluation and an IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) to deal with the immediate concerns and to eventually get my mood rightened and myself back to the land of brilliant Technicolor, instead of the shades of black in the world I was living in. Well, fast forward a little over a year and guess what? I’m back in the same place, with the same therapists and doctors, cafeteria style lunches and rooms with uncomfortable chairs, lots of Kleenex boxes and people with stories, like me and very much unlike me. My immediate thought upon having to tell my doctor YET AGAIN that I was losing my s**t was not one of “Atta Girl!” but more like, “Seriously? Didn’t we JUST do this?? WTF is wrong with you, loser??” because my first thoughts are always from a place of extreme judgment and an unrealistic goal of perfection, no matter the circumstance.

Now, I wouldn’t say that to my worst enemy anymore than I would say it to someone who was doing another round of chemo or radiation in an effort to destroy that which is trying to destroy them. Treatment is treatment; the disease may differ, the course of treatment may differ but the goal is the same, to provide relief of symptoms and improve the health of the individual, thus improving the quality of life. Mental health is really no different, although much less one size fits all. Mental illness and those who battle depression, mania and other disorders are as different and varied as any selection of human beings can be; one person’s burden is another’s blessing. There is no absolute 100% guaranteed course of treatment and whatever course is selected, the patient must be able and willing to follow subscribed course of treatment, which often if not always includes eliminating substance (pick a poison, alcohol included) abuse and implementing a medication program that includes a cocktail (pardon the pun) of anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, mood stabilizers and perhaps a little Antabuse thrown in for the hard core alcoholics. The patient must be willing to give up those self-medicating methods and switch to the psych meds, which usually come with a hefty side of side effects, weight gain being at the top of the list and covering all manner of ailments including, but not limited to: psychosis, permanent facial and/or body tics, blindness, headaches and possibly (of course) death by suicide, because some of these drugs have induced suicidal tendencies in certain groups, such as adolescents and the elderly. Go figure. Seems kind of counter-intuitive, but every rose has its thorn, as we learned from Guns ‘n Roses/Poison.

If you’re still reading and still awake, I commend you. 

Back to the present time – I am back in the land of black and bleh, trying to find my way to the light and a coherent, relatively calm mind so that I can make some decisions that will hopefully keep me from having to return again at this time next year. I have a great many decisions to make at some point in time and I want to choose wisely and make choices that are good for me and my health. It’s easy for me to say that (I’ve said it over and over again) but the execution is where I falter. I guess if I’m thinking about what I SHOULD do instead of what I NEED to do, that could lead me to an unwise choice.

For all of you who have sent happy thoughts, well wishes and in reached out to me in general, I want you to know I feel the love. Seriously. Those of you who are thinking about me but haven’t reached out, I assure you, I still feel the love. You are the difference between me giving up or carrying on; your belief in me is my sword of truth, fighting against the lies and untruths that hold my spirit hostage, trapped in a dark and dismal mind. Your love and support brings a light to the darkness, a trail of breadcrumbs for me to follow to come back to the land of the living and love. I have talked to many people who have no family, no friends and oftentimes it is because their mental illness/addiction issues have exhausted the supply of people willing to lend a hand or support that person. Some people have a limited time only offer of assistance and once that window is closed, there are no more. I understand the reasoning behind this; if you are trying to save a drowning person, but don’t know how to swim yourself, you will both most certainly drown. Dealing with mental illness is neither pretty, Facebook post-worthy or fun. It tests  your limits, your love and your own mental stability. It’s like a fire you can’t get too close to or you end up with some pretty serious burns. It’s a rollercoaster ride you don’t remember buying a ticket to ride, a storm that was born of sunny skies and fluffy clouds; sunny and bright one minute, dark and destructive the next. It can tear apart the closest family, take away your best friend and leave a wake of destruction miles wide and years long. Knowing this makes you and your continued support all the more precious and appreciated.

Shooting thoughts of love and gratitude to you. Wish we were there (Half Moon Bay)

IMG_0711

 

Swim

“Promise me you will not spend so much time treading water and trying to keep your head above the waves that you forget, truly forget, how much you have always loved to swim”Tyler Knott Gregson

My big little brother sent me this quote via Pinterest and as always, it couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time, as if in answer to the questions I’ve been yelling at the Universe lately. I had forgotten how much I used to enjoy many things because I have been solely focused on trying to cope using ways that (obviously) have lost a degree of effectiveness. I have been so focused on just “keeping it together” that I have turned blind to simple things that I had once remembered to seek out; tiny moments of everyday miracles happening all around me. A caterpillar becomes a butterfly, a baby is born far too early and fights to draw each breath, yet he fights, and he lives. People die, yet their spirit and the essence of who they were live on; the deaf can hear, the wounded heal and rise to fight another day. A mother does the impossible everyday, bringing food to the table, keeping her children safe yet aware of the dangers in this world. A father works himself into an early grave so that his children can have a better life than he did. So many miracles, unnoticed when I’m so deep into myself, my “troubles” and my rollercoaster of emotions that are as much a part of me as my curly hair and my tattoos. Living with mental illness, addiction and temptation are my trifecta of Troubles. But there is so much more to the world, to me, to what I want to accomplish and who I wish to become. As with anything, I must adjust, adapt and/or accept what is happens to me, around me and within me, but that doesn’t mean that I should disregard the beautiful insanity that is my world. A world where people are still my friends, even after I have proven myself to be less than perfect and wholly human, a world where a man knows me, good and bad, happy and sad, sane and mad and still loves me. Where I have a son who has every reason to begrudge me happiness, yet wishes it for me abundantly and repeatedly; where a friend sees the crisis and helps in the the best way possible, giving me sanctuary from stress, mental exhaustion and emotional bankruptcy….next stop Complete Shutdown. I was able to avoid that next stop and it’s due solely to my friend’s generosity, which I will try to repay, but can’t imagine how I will be able to.

These last few days have been an effort to get back into the River that is Life and swim, just for the sheer joy of it. Spending time being creative, whether it’s writing, coloring with crayons or just seeking out beauty and capturing it in a photo, stealing a moment in time and keeping it forever, unchanged and unspoiled. Just walking through a park, on a trail, really looking at the trees, majestic and tall, decorated in Autumn’s colors and waving to me with the crisp morning wind shaking their leaves. This brings me back; this slowly cleanses away the grime and dust of depression, that black dog who creeps in and lies on your chest until you know you will never rise again. Nature fights that, gives you light and beauty and life, but we need to be aware, to reach out to it and let its goodness in.

Oh – and swim. Just for the love and the sheer joy of it.

 

A Walk to Remember

Yesterday I participated in the Out of Darkness walk sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). This is the second year I have walked and both years I have been overwhelmed by the emotions that accompany me on it. There is so much love in the crowd, not just for the loved ones they have lost but for those they wish to keep alive and protect against such a destructive, secretive and shameful act. I say shameful because that is how society (in general) sees it; a coward’s way out, not thinking of those who are left behind, selfish. What they don’t understand and should thank God they don’t, is the pain. The unrelenting pain of simply being alive; the thoughts that drive one to believe it IS hopeless and NO ONE cares, there is no other way and this is THE ANSWER. Depression to me is a magnifying glass to the tiny imperfections and doubts every person has; those who do not suffer from it can put those doubts into perspective, focus on the positive and realize it’s all pretty much good. When under the influence of depression, there is no perspective, no light, no tunnel, no nothing but blackness and sense of doom. This is why it’s so important to be vigilant with our loved ones, family members, friends and even people we just know. Our society seems to encourage independence and if you know me at all, you know I’m all about independence but there is a time and a place for everything and when dealing with depression, independence should take a back seat to seeking help and triage. Get talking with someone, whether in a phone call, Skype, tin cans attached by string, smoke signals, Morse code or Ham radio; the way in which communication takes place is not important, only that it happens.

The men and women of our military are coming home and the numbers of suicides by service members is growing and that is a number we cannot afford to rise any further; these men and women have put themselves in harms way for their country, for us. We need to be there for them. I’m not speaking of the government, although that is the obvious choice, if our world was fair and just and if their priorities didn’t begin and end with their benefit, the stroking of their egos and caring for their own personal agendas. I’m speaking of you and me, Joe Citizen. We can donate to causes that we know support them, we can spend time volunteering, writing letters, sending care packages and being a thorn in the side of the government until they do the right thing, recognize they have a mental health epidemic and get off their fat, entitled asses and take some action.

Sorry – bit of a rant there, but it is something that I have witnessed first hand; the devastation resulting from lack of action and heads deeply buried in sand or up their collective asses. The damage to families, friends, fellow service members and society in general is impossible to grade or measure, as the ripple effect will continue through lifetimes yet to come. Children who will be born without a father to raise them, a father will never get the chance to walk his daughter down the aisle, a mother will have to bury her child, a son will know mother only from stories and photos; this all doesn’t have to happen. We can get OUR heads out into the sunshine, take a deep breath and try in whatever way we are able to fight the good fight against not only suicide, but mental illness left untreated, people suffering because they are afraid of the shame and ridicule associated with mental illness STILL. For God’s sake, it’s almost 2016 and although we can clone sheep, genetically modify food and update our Facebook status every 3 seconds, we still cannot come to the place where we treat mental illness like it is – an illness. Not a personal choice, a personality flaw or a bad strand of DNA, it is an illness just like any other. Cancer used to have the same sort of stigma attached to it but we’ve gotten past that. I would like to write someday that we have gotten past all the negativity surrounding those who suffer with depression, anxiety, mania and all the other flavors of mental illness. We are not to blame and we cannot simply think happy thoughts, suck it up and put on my big girl panties or just get over it. Tell someone who is suicidal to “Get over it” and they will, just not in the way you had in mind.

This walk is a walk to remember; to remember those we have lost, to remember that it effects people of all walks of life, races, religions, social and economic classes and levels of intelligence. This is what its name implies, bringing the issue and those who suffer out of the darkness and into the light.

For more information on mental health in general please visit NAMI.

For more information on our service men and women, please check out the Wounded Warrior Project. Sorry – I tried to add links but couldn’t make it happen.

Thanks for stopping by!

Moving On and Stepping Up

Let him that would move the world first move himself.
Socrates

I started this blog with the intention of documenting my recovery, my issues with mental health and with the hope that my experiences might be of some benefit to others. I think I have accomplished what I set out to do, even though the scope of this blog has gone into more areas than just the two mentioned. I have been neglecting it as of late and certainly haven’t been a faithful blogger, posting regularly and keeping my promise to myself that the content would be positive, but I have enjoyed hearing from others about how my posts resonated with them and have felt incredibly humbled by the number of people who have followed and encouraged me from the very beginning. I feel this is a good time to say good-bye to this blog and instead reach out to people in person, in the physical world. It’s very easy for me to write about my daily struggles and successes most of the time but I feel as though the direction of my writing is moving away from its original intent and perhaps as a natural progression of things, I no longer feel driven to pour my thoughts and feelings out to the world via the internet. I have a great deal more to learn, many more challenges to overcome and my education to continue and ultimately finish. So it is with great love and appreciation to all who have visited my page and encouraged me that I write this final post. Ultimately, I would love to write a book, but for now, writing in my journal so that my Future Self can celebrate how far we’ve come sounds appealing. I will continue to educate people who truly want to understand mental illness and/or addiction in loved ones, co-workers and people that cross their paths every day. There may not be a cure for mental illness or addiction, but knowledge is power and the more knowledge we share, the more empowered we are as a society.
Thank you all for your support. I will think of you often and with great fondness.
Sincerely,
Michelle

2015/01/img_03321.jpg

Heavy Heart & Prayerful Soul

It is with a heavy heart that I wrote this post; yesterday I heard the news that Robin Williams had taken his life. I cannot imagine the pain he must have endured all the 63 years he lived. I cannot claim to know him, to diagnose his condition (if one existed) but I do know that with great brilliance and talent there is often a heavy price that is part and parcel of those gifts. Whether it’s mental illness, loss of privacy due to fame, addiction, or simply the demons that all mankind must bear, each as one different as the person who carries them. What the public sees and what the individual experiences are usually two completely different things. If we were able to see the demons, snarling and snapping hateful, vile things in our ears, then perhaps we would be able to know that no matter how pretty, how rich, how handsome, talented, or morally just a person is, they are not immune to suffering, be it mental, emotional or simply a haunting memory of regret. All too often, we see what we want to see and believe what serves our purpose. People with mental illness know this and it is as if we all have a script of how we are to behave, so as to not appear different or worse, UNWELL. That’s the word that means a trip to the Not So Funny Farm, a series of new medications that make you fat, flat, and absent. Absent of passion, of creative thoughts, pleasant dreams and restful nights. Robin Williams was a genius in making people not only laugh, but FEEL. He was a Live Wire of energy, emotion, humanity and love. I have yet to watch one of his movies or hear an interview of his and not feel moved either by laughter, sadness, hope or just plain love. He delivered, Big Time. It is said that we treat other people the way that we want to be treated and I believe that he loved us as much as we loved him, but the pain was greater than all of us. I cannot condone nor critique his choice, only pray that he has truly found peace and can feel all our love reaching out to him, like a Live Wire.
You have fought the good fight and now I pray for you Eternal Peace, Ever Lasting Love and a return of one thousand fold the kindness and compassion you’ve shown others. God Bless You, Robin Williams. You will live on in our hearts forever.

Note: Please join me in the Out of the Darkness walk if you are in the Sacramento area. For more information, please click on the link below:

http://www.afsp.org/

(Reality) Check Please!

If you’ve been reading this blog for very long (or at all) you have probably gotten a fairly good grasp of how my little brain works. Sometimes it tends to get stuck on a particular thought or something (some would call this an obsession or fixation, I just call it serious thought) and I just can’t shake it. Thank God for my best friend in times such as these. This woman should get the Purple Heart, Medal of Honor and a host of other symbols in recognition of her friendship and for walking beside me through the minefield that is my world. For someone who is blessedly free of mental health issues, she is unfailingly supportive of my “special wiring” and even though I’m certain she’d love nothing more than me to be free of such burdens, she has never made me feel like less of a person because of it. I can’t use it as a get-out-of-jail-free card, though. She will call me on my shit faster than anyone I know and always with good reason. I seriously don’t think I would be here today if it wasn’t for her friendship and her bravery in the face of Manic Michelle – something no one should have to endure. I know there are things that some people feel that a mental health disorders are deal-breakers, usual somewhere in the Top Five. To find a friend that accepts you, warts and all, is a wonderful thing and a rarity, from what I’ve experienced.

Today I had something happen that really “got my Irish up” and before I opened my mouth or let my fingers fly in a flurry of e-mails and insults, I had the foresight (thank God) to check in with my friend. She didn’t say I was being stupid or blowing stuff out of proportion, but she did give me what she always gives me when I ask; an ear to bend, a shoulder to cry on and some really good, sensible advice. It may seem like a really small thing to do, but when I’m feeling like tearing the walls down with my bare hands to get to someone’s neck, it’s a big deal to get some perspective from someone who is walking more on the sane side of the street. My friend is usually on that side of the street, even though she’s got a full life, complete with kids, sporting events, practices, proms, a hubby & the whole career thing going on. She manages to do all the things her life demands and still have time to listen to my cries for help, heartfelt tears because someone has (in my mind) been mean or hurtful, pick me up off the floor when I’ve given up and administer a serious dose of tough love when all else fails. I admire her more than I could ever say and I wish to have her in my world as long as humanly possible. At least long enough for me to return the favor of being a real and true friend all these years…..decades actually, but who’s counting?

So, I asked for and recieved my reality check and while my day is still not fluttering butterflies and serenading knights, I feel like I’m closer to joining my friend on the sane side of the street. That, my friends, is truly priceless.

Happy Friday!!

Victim vs. Victor

The more honest I am with myself, the more I realize that I’ve had a tendency to play the role of The Victim. It was always someone else’s fault that I was angry, someone else’s rejection that caused me to turn bitter, or cynical. I held other people responsible for my fate, my status in the world and in society, in general. It was God’s fault that my brain was all messed up, I was destined to be broken, forever. It was that sort of victimology (I doubt that’s a real word, but it’s certainly a real condition) that allowed me to spiral downward in addiction, depression, rage and apathy. I was on a one-way express ride to a very Bad Place; I was just a helpless victim carried along a raging river of helplessness and irresponsibility. I fell pretty hard, pretty fast into that Bad Place and through some miracle that I have yet to explain, I was able to ask for and receive help. I was able to put aside my childish tendency to blame everyone else and finally accepted that I was in this place because of all the choices that I had made. No one held a gun to my head and told me to drink myself into oblivion or to numb myself to the unpleasant feelings that are a part of life. Disappointment, hurt, rejection, depression and even a little bit of childhood terrors. These are the fires that forge our soul, strengthen our faith in ourselves and test the limits of our endurance. To avoid them is to avoid growing, conquering and discovering who we really are and who we wish to become. Once these feelings have been felt, the healing can begin and the progression to our True Self is possible.

So, I asked for help and my request was answered and then some. I met some incredible people who I would call my Life Teachers because they not only helped to educate me about addiction, alcoholism, and mental illness, they educated me about Life and myself. Taking responsibility for myself, my actions and turning that critical eye inward instead of trying to change the world to fit my expectations. One of my teachers gave me the most simple, yet effective tool for controlling my anger at the world and I’m going to share it with you now. Put your arms in front of you, fingertips touching (like you’re making a big circle in front of you) This is your Hula Hoop; everything that is within this Hula Hoop you have control over. Everything outside of this Hula Hoop is not your concern and you have no control over. So, whenever you find yourself getting angry, look to see where it falls in relation to your Hula Hoop. If it is outside, let it go. If it falls inside, decide what you need to do to make that change and then do it. 

I am now able to catch myself when I start thinking like a victim and I make a conscious decision to stop that thought  and take full responsibility for my actions and to avoid judging others for theirs. I am frequently looking at my Hula Hoop to remind me where my focus needs to be and where I shouldn’t be looking. 

I’m looking forward to meeting my True Self and celebrating the death of the Victim and the birth of the Victor. I hope you’ll travel with me on this journey.