Posts Tagged ‘mental health’

Have you ever watched the TV series “Homeland”?

I’m binge-watching Season 7 right now. It’s speaking to me in a way I never expected.

I’m not bi-polar like Carrie, the show’s protagonist. Yet her character speaks to me, particularly now, more than ever.

Claire Danes – the gifted and talented actor who portrays Carrie – is doing an outstanding job showing us what it’s like being manic at times. If she isn’t like that in real life, then she’s done her homework, and perhaps has someone well acquainted with the mental illness coaching her.

The thing is, I’ve felt many of the emotions and thoughts she so painfully paints. Particularly the hopelessness and trapped feeling that shakes Carrie to her core.

Up until now, I’ve been an observer. I know people who are bi-polar, and they have described what it’s like not knowing from one day to the next what’s in store. But I haven’t been able to relate to the frustration they feel until now.

You can probably appreciate what it’s like when you’ve made a decision to be more active, to go the gym regularly and to work hard at improving your overall fitness.

Or maybe you’ve been in great shape all of your life, and you regularly participate in sports, just enjoying the good feeling you get from being able to be mobile and flexible; to be able to run up a set of stairs without getting out of breath at the top.

Yet, there comes a day when you make a misstep on those stairs. Or you get hit by a car. Or twist your ankle, or your shoulder starts to act up and you find one or more of your limbs just won’t do what it’s told. And now you can’t do any of those physical activities. Your injury is a speed bump keeping you from doing what you want to do.

Frustrating, isn’t it?

Imagine depending upon your intelligence and logic day after day. You take it for granted, and you’ve appreciated how you’ve been able to plan, to work out logistics and problems and you enjoy the good feeling of having surmounted a seemingly impossible task.

Suddenly one day you find you can’t do any of those things. Instead, your thoughts horrify you. Your stomach clenches up without apparent reason, and you find you can’t even leave your house. You sit in front of your computer, prepared to log into your workplace, only to find your whole body rebelling with fear.

So you push yourself away from the keyboard, frustrated that this is the sixteenth day you’ve been unable to log in.

You don’t know where to turn or what to do. You look outside at your balcony, and you wonder how likely it would be that you would die if you jump. Or would you merely be maimed?

Then you realize what you’re thinking, and you resolve yourselves not to even look, knowing that just doing that might endanger you. You’re aware that it’s possible that curiosity might turn into impulse.

You need to work, you need the money. But you can’t work.

You’re in a trap with no way out. And all of your decisions center around resolving this deadly dichotomy. So you make a series of bad choices, all based upon your catastrophic thinking.

As mentioned in my last blog, my meds are working. Yet, these feelings came back, just for a fleeting second this week.

Somehow, watching Carrie go through her nightmares on Homeland feels cathartic somehow. I’m having trouble articulating just why that is. Maybe it’s that this fictional character is a kindred spirit of sorts.

My meds are working but I’m not out of the woods. Not by a long shot.

It’s a funny thing. When you hear the words “mental illness” the first image that pops into your head is someone’s head. Yours, or the stranger on the street, gabbing away incessantly to no one.

Yet, when you experience it yourself, the symptoms often don’t occur in your head. (Or in my case, at all)

It hits you like a cold. You don’t go looking to catch a cold, and you sure AF don’t go looking to become mentally ill either, despite all of the innocent phrases that start with “I must be going out of my mind!”

Mine came right out of the blue. My boss had asked me to take over for him for a week – something I’ve done countless times. The work is easy, even though it’s more high profile and you get the big bosses asking you things. It was what I’ve always done, but at a lower level: boss asks you for something, you go looking to your subordinates to provide answers. The people working for you are the real experts, so you learn to depend upon them, and you promote the hell out of them whenever you can, because you know how valuable they are to pretty much everything.

It’s no different when you’re a higher level boss. Like I said, I’ve done it many times before. There just was no reason for this time to be any different. Yet it was.

I made a comment in a Facebook discussion group about how I was having trouble sleeping because I found it hard to breathe.

One guy, a retired doctor, responded “dude, I’m not going to try and diagnose you here or anything but if I were you, I’d check with my doctor.”

I appreciated his concern but didn’t take it seriously until the following afternoon, when I found I was having trouble breathing during my waking moments. The more I thought about it, the worse it seemed, so I hastened down to the emergency department of the hospital. After a day of testing and prodding and poking and ultrasound, the emergency doctor said “Are you feeling anxious about anything?”

I had to wrack my brain. It took me a while to figure out it was the upcoming acting manager gig that triggered the anxiety. Which frankly, I thought was stupid. There really wasn’t anything to worry about. But there we were, and that’s when it all started, last summer.

The last time I wrote about anxiety (Looking for Sunrise), I hadn’t yet started any meds. I went about six weeks suffering multiple panic attacks, as the meds took their time kicking in. The days were so dark, I was afraid of everything. I was housebound, and even within my apartment I refused to open my balcony door. I knew if I did, there was a good chance I would look over the railing, and thought would become action.

There was darkness everywhere. I couldn’t escape it. I couldn’t talk about it and I didn’t know how to handle it. I prayed for death and at times thought about how to do it.

The first med I tried – Zoloft – only made things much worse. The second one was better but it took about six weeks – all of which was spent away from work – before it finally began working.

My team noticed immediately. “Wolf, you’re sounding like you’re back to your regular self. Do you feel better?”  I said “Yeah, I really do.” And I did.

Gone was the darkness. Gone were the suicidal thoughts. I was back to normal, with one important difference: I knew this was because of the meds.

Also, I didn’t realize how resilient I’d considered myself to be, until this all happened. And now that confident sense of resilience is gone. I’m aware of how fragile I am.

So there you have it: my mental illness showed up as an inability to breathe properly and as a very warm hollow feeling in my stomach. There was no cerebral symptoms at all. The mental illness showed up everywhere except in my head. Weird.

There’s a lifetime of valleys and drama and death that I know have contributed to this newfound fragility. I have to address them, which is why I’m now seeing a psychologist. And it’s why I’m now looking hard at retiring as soon as I possibly can.

One other thing. You know how all of those commercials and PSA announcements about mental health involve telling sufferers to reach out to various people, phone lines and the like – all in an effort to avoid suicide?

Yeah, that doesn’t work. People like me who suffer from this stuff have zero ability to reach out to anyone. All we’re looking for is a way to get the darkness to stop as quickly as possible.

The thing that worked for me was that my loved ones reached out to me. They could do that. I couldn’t do the opposite. I couldn’t reach out to them. My brain just wasn’t in a place to allow me to do that.

Instead, all I could do was turn inward and curl up mentally, buffeted by the winds of my nightmare.

fetal

Pink is Cool

Posted: April 1, 2018 in anxiety, humor, Life, mental health
Tags:
“I want you all to close your eyes. Now. And no peeking.”
 
She waited, as all of us in the anxiety disorder group obeyed her instructions.
 
“Now, for the next 60 seconds I want you all to think of nothing except a pink bunny rabbit.”
 
I knew where this was going. She would shortly tell us to now think of anything *except* a pink bunny rabbit, thereby proving to us that telling anyone to stop thinking about things that make them anxious almost never works.
 
But for now we were in the first part of the exercise, thinking about a pink bunny rabbit.
 
I was bored.
 
So I added some details to my pink bunny rabbit.
 
My pink bunny rabbit was a little bigger than bunny rabbits. Not much, just a little bigger. And it sat there, munching away on something, its nose twitching back and forth (as they do).
pink
Suddenly, a large snake appeared. It slithered toward the pink bunny rabbit, its tongue flickering in and out, testing the air. Smelling the pink bunny rabbit.
 
The pink bunny rabbit appeared to not notice it. It didn’t move, didn’t start in alarm. It just sat there with its nose twitching, always twitching.
 
The snake slithered and stopped. Then it raised up and reared its head back. And just when it was about to shoot forward, the pink bunny rabbit’s jaw opened up, wide, wide WIDE and it lunged at the snake and captured it in its maw, swallowing the entire snake whole.
 
I smiled, pleased and proud at my mind’s juvenile creation.
 
Sometimes, it’s the little things that make a difference. The opposite of anxiety, right over here.
 
Happy Easter everyone!

The realization came so slowly.   Like a particularly vivid LSD trip, the awareness of the truth threatened to overwhelm him.  A visual so all-encompassing he couldn’t see the sides of it.

As a small child, he was aware of his limits.  Though he wasn’t conscious of it,  those limits made him feel safe.  He would always have food, always have a place to sleep.  He had parents who saw to his every need.  He expected them to look after him.  It was his right.  He knew nothing else.  That’s just the way it was.

About ten years later, he began to realize how precarious his existence was.  His mother, filled with fear and foreboding, simply had to tell someone, so she told him.  Their home might be repossessed.  They had received a Sheriff’s letter, stating as much.

In the week dark hours of the late night/early morning, his mother had stared out of their large living room window, frowning.  He had been there to see the worry.  The glowing golden ember at the end of her cigarette provided the only illumination in the living room, as she confessed her fears.

They would lose the house.  Maybe their large family would have to be split up.  She didn’t know where they would get the money, as her husband (his dad) had squandered it all away on booze and the racetrack.

Somehow, a few months later, he learned that they had retreated from their fiscal cliff, somehow.  Maybe an angel had intervened, he didn’t know.

He just knew that somehow, despite his bad credit, his father had secured a second mortgage.  They would have to move, this time to an older house.  The difference in equity would bring a small measure of relief.

A number of years later, the boy had finally grown up.   He found a girl, got engaged, got a job at  a factory, and had finally moved out of his fear-ridden home.

The pursuit of that elusive safety he craved looked like it was coming to an end.  The factory paid well, and he could afford to get a modest apartment with his young bride.

He remembered a hand-drawn sign he had seen during the first week of his job at the factory. It read “ya wanna eat, ya gotta work”.

That thought had stayed with him during his years working at the factory.  Its truth was depressing, mostly because of how he interpreted it:  “you have to live in hell, if you want to live at all.”    At the time, he had no awareness that work could be something about which he could feel passion.  No one gets passionate about working at a factory.  Especially not a factory that was as oppressive, demanding and as soul-killing as this one.

The search for safety took on a different hue.  Years of marriage to someone with whom he could not relate began to poison him.  Toward the end of that relationship, he had begun researching methods for committing suicide.  He didn’t think he could go through with it for the same reason he couldn’t separate from his wife:  his religion forbade it.  He knew that tension would end somewhere: it was impossible to keep pulling at both sides without something popping.

One night, on a dark road, he drove towards his home.  The small highway was empty, with nothing on either side of the road to see except trees.  For just a moment, he had a visual of turning the steering wheel abruptly and crashing into one of them.  Everything would be over.  It could happen so fast, and he’d find relief.  He thought “I could do it.  I could just do it now.”   The thought was so compelling he found himself frightened.  He knew he really could do it.

The next day he saw his doctor and told her about it.  After first checking him to see if the impulse was still there, she referred him to another GP – one who specialized in cognitive therapy.

Talking really helped.  He was always cheerful with his therapy doctor, seemingly bright and unconcerned about anything.  She wasn’t fooled though.  She kept asking leading questions.

One day he arrived at her office, anything but cheerful.  This was the moment she had waited for.  He finally opened up, revealing the torturous angst he had harboured for so long.

“What’s it like when you arrive home from work?” she asked.

“It’s like a living hell” he replied, honestly.

“So” she said, “you realize what you’re doing, right?”

He looked at her.  “What?”

“Every time you go home to that living hell, you’re making a choice to go home to a living hell.”

At first, he was confused, then slightly offended.  Then he realized the truth about what she said.

She was right.  There was no safety at home.  There was only hell.  And no one was holding a gun to his head.  That hell wasn’t being enforced on him.  He was making a choice to go into it, every day.

He turned that truth over in his head, several times.  He looked at all angles of it, tested it for accuracy.  It was deadly accurate, and his ignorance of it had almost killed him.

It took a while but then he decided that he need to start making other, better decisions.

So he did.  They did.  His wife agreed that they shouldn’t be together anymore.

When he picked up the keys to his bachelor apartment, he felt a measure of excitement.   Then, when he opened the door and looked around the small one-bedroom place with the shag carpeting, he breathed in the peace of it.

He was surprised by his own tears.

(end of part 1) (part 2 is here at Swimming in the Uncertain Ocean – Part 2)

“You are so cold”

I was thus informed, at the end of a heated discussion.   The topic wasn’t worth remembering, which is why I can’t tell you what it was. 

What she meant though was “you’re not taking my side; you’re not offering me comfort.”

Also: “you’re not willing to spend your time listening to me complain without offering suggestions.  I don’t want your suggestions, I want you to listen.  And I’m quite okay with staying miserable – I’ve been this way for months.  Why can’t you understand that?”

For all of our wealth, it seems our society is filled with pockets of the pity-people: folk who are miserable, and have no intention of doing anything about it.

Part of the problem, for some, comes from their mental illness: there is absolutely zero to be gained by telling a clinically depressed person to cheer up.  It’s like asking a banana to peel itself. 

Or like telling a diver, in mid-dive “please don’t get wet”.

Shit’s gon’ get wet, yo.

I think everyone handles such unfortunate people differently.  My preference – and this is not a perfected process yet – is to mention some ideas they should consider so that they won’t be miserable anymore, and then vacate the area.

I’m not talking about the person who just lost his job, or the woman whose husband just left her.  Offering helpful “next steps” to either – especially immediately after the moment of crisis – borders on insane, not to mention cruel.  I truly think that you need to feel the pain and the hurt before you can carry on.  Before you should carry on, in most cases.

And to be fair, the “I just want you to listen” complaint mentioned above is often fair.   It seems to be a male-female thing.  A lot of women seem to want us guys to listen without offering suggestions.  Many of us guys just see a problem that needs fixing.  This issue isn’t about that.

The bedraggled person I’m talking about has been miserable for months, and seems unable or unwilling to extricate himself from his pain.  My experience – based upon years of trying to help various people – is:  he or she needs professional help.

I’m not equipped.  I haven’t had the training.  Even if I did, I would imagine that being close to such a person (related or friend) would preclude my ability to provide any kind of effective help. 

doctor

If one is a warm, inviting person, one becomes a target for the marginalized and hurting person.  This is acceptable.  What’s not okay is the person who wants to bend one’s ear, for days and weeks on end, about the same topic, and with the same result.  Which is: nothing.  Stasis.

It’s a hard thing, saying “no” to such a person.  I’ve employed a technique similar to the ones used on me, when being rejected as a date companion. 

“I like you, just not in the way you like me.”
“We can certainly meet.  I’ll get back to you when I can figure out a date that’ll work.”
“Sorry.  I’m at work right now. Can we talk later?”
“Listen, it’s been great chatting, but I’m late for an appointment/work/washing my hair.”
“Can I get back to you on that?”

(Just kidding about the first one)

Coming right out and saying “I agree that what happened to you was unfair and wrong, but you need to get help”, might be the right answer, but I’ve never known it to work. The minute you say something like that, you get:

“So…you think I’m crazy!”
“No, I don’t think you’re crazy.  I—”
“Only crazy people need counselling!”
“Um, I’ve gone for counselling.  Am I crazy?  Also – did I say you were crazy?”

I’m frankly amazed that there’s still such a stigma about mental illness.  Some people are honestly in need of help, and would benefit so greatly from it – whether that helps comes in the form of chemical balancing (drugs) or cognitive therapy. 

Have you noticed – there are still some adults walking around who have no idea who they are.  Some are quite okay and are functioning well in their ignorance.  Some may go their graves that way, and that’s fine. 

Others will experience just one thing going wonky in their carefully constructed utopia, and their world will crash.  They have no idea what happened, or what to do, or why they became such a target for pain.  They just know something isn’t right, and that someone else should pay.  And, not seeing that person/company receive justice, they become embittered and enraged and inconsolable.

And they want to talk about it.  At high volume.

They have no idea they’re broadcasting at such a high volume, and so when you decide you’ve heard enough, and you want to help them, what they see is you coming along, offering a Pollyanna answer, sure that what you’ve told them will bring sunlight and butterflies to their miserable existence.  How dare you. 

In effect, offering such a response means you’ve become their mortal enemy.  Just like the company/person whose offended them, you are against them.

They’ll continue to vent to you (if you let them) but they will watch you with a now jaundiced eye, expecting you to continue offering advice – because it’ll prove to them that you’re still against them.  This time they’re ready, and they will lash out.

You’ve now got a toxic friend.

The only thing left – at least when I face such a person – is to cut him off.  Regretfully.

It’s necessary to do so, I think, if you want to maintain your own sanity. 

I wish I had hope for such people, but I frankly don’t.  I get the sense that many of these folk will go their graves, still toxic.  Their gravestones will read “I died alone, you bastards.”

I still see a lot of people dealing with toxic folk by continuing to be their sounding board, day after day, year after year.  You can see the lines of stress on their face, as they’re sure they’re not doing enough for their friend.  How could they be, since their friend is still miserable?

I wonder at these long-suffering and patient friends.  On occasion I’ve asked them “what’s the point?”

They shrug, resignedly.  There is no point.  Not really.  They’re building after-life credits, I suppose.  They prefer to see themselves as helpful and kind, and are worried that others will see them as cruel if they’re not there for their friend.

What they are not doing, from where I stand, is living.

I could be wrong though.