Live like the uphills were mountains and the downhills were cliffs….as if depression is something that could be remedied by any of the contents found in a first aid kit. – Shane Koyczan
I apologize for not posting yesterday. The day just escaped me. You know those days, the days when you’re getting into bed and all of a sudden you realize the day is over and you have no idea how you get there.
My whole weekend was like that and it bled right into Monday. Today was headed that way until I decided about two minutes ago that I was going to stop the day right in its tracks and catch up.
Luckily, I found out earlier today that I will be uncharacteristically home on Thursday and so that means I don’t have to sit here at the computer banging my head against the wall trying to get this project to work while technology refuses to cooperate. I have the luxury of just stopping. I will come back to it tomorrow. I have time. And maybe, just maybe, by taking the time to let myself catch up with the events of the last few days I will also be able to stop the anxiety that has been snowballing and threatening to build until it crumbles me like a tsunami.
I am going to log off now. Go sit in a comfortable spot and try to catch up without letting the vicious cycle above spiral out of control. In the mean time, here’s an interesting series the NY Times is doing on anxiety. Check it out.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 26.2 percent of Americans over 18 suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year. One in seventeen Americans suffers from a severe mental illness.
As of 2012, among veterans, there are more suicide deaths among active duty soldiers than combat deaths. According to a new report issues by the Department of Veterans Affairs, every 65 minutes a military veteran commits suicide. Thirty one percent of these were committed by veterans under the age of 50. (Suicide Rate Among Military Jumps)
Today, I went to a doctor’s appointment. This appointment was made for me by the powers that be over a month and a half ago, after many phone calls and much grief, so I could get established with a new psychiatrist since Erik and I moved back to New Mexico. I arrived at the appointment today to find out that the doctor was a psychologist (therapy) and not a psychiatrist (medication). I already have a counselor. I need my medications managed.
When a person is in a mental health crisis and tries to get help, they frequently get put on hold, stuck in a waiting room, or otherwise thrown into a holding pattern. In case it’s not obvious, a holding pattern is exactly the opposite of what a person in crisis needs.
I am sure that I am preaching to the choir here, so I won’t go on much more. But just in case my point isn’t clear yet, our mental health care system is even worse off than our medical care system. If behavioral health is covered (and this is a big if), it takes weeks, if not months to receive proper care. Once care is received, the medications are frequently not covered by insurance companies, and we are not talking about inexpensive meds. And then there is the continued management necessary to properly care for people with mental health issues, counseling, regular medical check-ups and check-ins. Sometimes this includes blood tests and other exams. If all of this is not completed on a regular schedule, patients get thrown off their schedule’s of therapy and medication, symptoms worsen and this is where we start to lose people. They drop out of care, fed up with a system that doesn’t work, or they give up on life all together.
I understand. I didn’t ask for help until I was in college. I didn’t want to admit that I felt like my life wasn’t worth living, even though I was otherwise healthy, well-fed, warm, and had people who loved me. We all hide our sadness or fear or anger, because somewhere along the way we learned that it makes us less than. But the truth is, something we all share cannot divide us, no matter how hard we try.
Mental health issues have been all over the public sphere in the last couple of years with the prevalence of gun violence. But when we talk about gun violence, we are talking about the 1 in 17 adults that suffer from a severe and often psychotic form of mental illness. This statistic is scary enough and certainly significant and important, but we must also consider the 26.2 percent of Americans over 18 that suffer from a mental disorder in any given year. (NIMH)
So let’s stop talking about “mental illness”, “depression”, “anxiety.” And let’s start talking about the problems we all face, about what we have in common. One in four adults in America suffer from a diagnosable mental illness, but we all have been sad, scared, lonely, overwhelmed, angry, ashamed, deeply disappointed, among other things.
Getting mental health issues out into the open isn’t about labels and distinctions. I know that depression and sadness, nervousness and anxiety, are not the same thing, but it is important that we remove the stigma from mental suffering. I have never met a person who hasn’t suffered internally in some way. So why are we so afraid?
If you know someone who has felt any of these things, please share, comment, or like this post on facebook. Let’s see how connected we are.
Nook is a great word. I started seeking out nooks in my world when I was very young. When I was little, my dad, the wood worker, built my sister and I these beds. They were the height of bunk beds, but instead of a bed on the bottom, there were drawers, three on the left, three on the right, and in the center a door that doubled as a ladder. Behind the door, there was a T-shaped storage space. Like most younger siblings, I was excited about finally getting to sleep up high, having my own room (though I think this happened a few years earlier), but more than anything, I was excited about the nook under my bed.
When my parents built an addition and I moved into a completely new room, with a new bed and no nooks to speak of, I asked my dad to build me a door that was also a bookcase on the inside. When I closed the door to my room, it looked like there was no door. I didn’t have a small, dark space, but I had the illusion of being away, enclosed. Later, when my sister went to college and I moved rooms again, I had an L-shaped desk that was build into the wall. It wasn’t ideal, but I carved out a nook in one corner hidden by the desk chair.
After we sold that house, I moved into a giant room that had a closet without shelves. The doors slid side-to-side, and one half became my nook. By this time, I had a few specific things that always transferred from one hide-a-way to the next: a stuff animal, a blanket, a great big pillow. I was sixteen when we moved into this house and I soon realized it wasn’t “normal” to have a nook like mine. So after a while, I stopped using it and turned to other comforts.
A couple of years ago when I was at the bottom of a depression cycle, my husband, having heard about my nooks, took a big stuffed elephant, a pillow, and some blankets and carved out a nook in one corner of our walk-in closet. It felt silly at first, but when I finally acquiesced and crawled into the small, dark space I felt safer than I had in a very long time.
We all have coping tools, some more healthy than others. Many of us have coping mechanisms we would be embarrassed to talk about. “Hi, My name is Terryn Rutford and I like to hide in closets.”
If you would like to share your coping mechanism, but you don’t want to tell us who you are, feel free to post as Anonymous and use a fake email address. Sometimes it feels good to tell the truth, even under the cover of darkness.
I looked back through old journals and poetry written over the last ten plus years. Entries popped up again and again questioning who I am, questioning my purpose, my personality. I’ve wondered over and over how to define myself, what is truly me and what I steal from the people I spend the most time with.
“She’s afraid to think, afraid to be at rest. She must occupy her mind with stories and games and schedules she can’t possibly keep up with. If she stops she’s afraid she’ll lose her sanity and that she won’t. She’s afraid she’ll actually have to deal and the reality of her isolation makes that unbearable.”
“She’s missing pieces inside.”
“I expected to fit somewhere, to be something instead of nowhere and nothing.”
“I am almost always quick to anger. When people say things I don’t want to hear for any number of reasons, when they ask questions but then can’t understand the answers, when they ask questions to which I don’t know the answers, when they ask questions to which I don’t have the energy to explain, etc. I am short-tempered, easily agitated, quickly frustrated. I feel invaded, unable to express what I’m feeling, disjointed, disconnected, deeply misunderstood. Things I have no right to feel. And so, when I act out on these things by becoming angry, silent or frustrated I create a problem where none exists and in turn make the other person equally upset. It is my fault.” December 2003
“My chest feels like it’s closing up, it’s difficult to breathe. My head is pounding not a headache but something different, something harder to place, elusive like a fog. I feel helpless, more hopeless and pointless than I ever could’ve imagined. I feel constricted, like the room is closing in on me, like I’ll be swallowed up by it and no one will notice.” October 2003
“I have nothing that defines me. When asked what words best describe me I am stumped. There is nothing, therefore I am nothing. All I know of who I am is who I am when I am with other people.” July 2003
“I am shaking from the inside out. You don’t find me here. You don’t know me here. I am not clean. i am not lucid. I am not safe from myself from you fro anyone. I am not hiding. I am not seen. My eyes are not open. My voice is not heard. I don’t know myself. I don’t know who I am and as soon as I figure that out this will all get better. This is who I am, but who is this. Is this midnight writing to no one for nothing? Is this all i am. It can’t be. There i so much more, but no words, no place to stay, no life of my own. I have been following, pretending, moving on whims. I am not sure what is mine and what is everyone else’s. I am not sure what it is I am doing here.” April 2005
And so more themes, not knowing myself, not knowing who I am. And the sadness and confusion that goes along with that. Then there is the desire to feel physical pain, to bring the internal outward. It comes up over and over again.
So I put this to you: Ask someone. If there is someone in your life you know struggles with mental illness, ask them what it’s like and be ready for the answer. Because it’s not pretty or romantic; it’s not melancholy or artistic. And no matter what you know about them, no matter how simple, easy, or uncomplicated their life may seem, do not judge them. Simply listen. And maybe, just maybe, if the person is ready, describing it might help just a little. Or perhaps, if he or she isn’t ready, they will know that if they ever do want to talk about it, you’ll be there ready to listen.
In 400 B.C. mentally ill people were treated scientifically and taken care of at home by their families. The Middle Ages brought the belief in demons as the logical explanation for mental abnormality. Exorcism was the course of treatment.
Beyond the statistics and realities of what we do with people who suffer from mental illness, there is the underlying issue of how we react to mental illness in our society. For hundreds of years we have rejected what is different from us, what we do not understand: different races, cultures, religions, lifestyles, sexual orientation. Instead of focusing on our similarities, we have divided each other based on any differences we see, assume, or even simply suspect.
My husband and I just recently bought a house in a new neighborhood. My husband goes out to visit with anyone he sees. I avoid my neighbors because I have a hard time imagining what we could possibly have in common. I am afraid of rejection, of not being understand, of finding no common ground. I limit my chances for making new friends, new connections, learning new things by cutting myself off from these potential relationships.
Even though I know what I’m missing out on, I still keep to myself because opening up to new people is too risky. There are many people who don’t understand or know what to say when I tell them that I have a mental illness. Mental Illness is misunderstood because it is taboo and as a result remains shrouded in confusion, misinformation, and missing facts.
I have helped perpetuate the problem by remaining silent. Fear is always what stops us from revealing ourselves. Well, I will speak through my fear because opening up about myself is the only tool I have to help overcome the mental illness taboo.
Listen up. I will not hide in the darkness any more.