Tuesday, 25 June 2013

"A Fork Stuck in the Road"

Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test, and don't ask why
It's not a question, but a lesson learned in time
"Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)" ~ Greenday

I have recently attended two graduation ceremonies - one was the high school graduation of a family friend and the second was my niece's graduation from seventh grade. Of course, the focus for both events was reflecting on the past but looking toward the future. It's a significant time for a student, a fork in the road of life.

Listening to the various speeches during these ceremonies and thinking of the lives yet to be lived, and dreams yet to be achieved, I couldn't help but reflect on my own life. It's a natural time for me to do this as I am at my own personal crossroads. That's what a depressive episode is to me - a time to reflect on where I am, what I have achieved and what I still want to do with my life, how I want to live it.

I am often asked what causes my depression. It's a natural question - we want to be able to put the blame somewhere and to explain 'why' in order to understand. Sometimes I can answer the question and sometimes I can't. At this point in my life I have endured three major depressive episodes. I have a genetic disposition to the illness of depression (lots of family history of the disease) and that has certainly explained the fairly persistent melancholy that I have experienced throughout most of my life - my mom has called me her 'melancholy baby' many times over the years. So sometimes there has not been a specific incident that I can point to, the 'why'. Other times there have been triggers in my life that have brought about a depressive episode.

In a weird way perhaps, I view a depressive episode as an opportunity. OK wait, don't get me wrong - being depressed is awful and if I could get hold of a 'get out of jail free' card, I would grab it! But since this seems to be my cross to bear in life, then I am going to try and get something out of it, dammit.

So what's the opportunity? It's a chance to take stock of my life. In the instances where there has been a trigger for my illness, that's surely a sign that something isn't working, something needs to change. Sometimes the signs are big and sometimes they are subtle and not so easy to read.

But here's the thing: you are never too old or too long out of school to make changes to your life, to create that bucket list or take up a new hobby, start a new relationship or maybe end one. Life is full of opportunities, it's just whether we choose to recognize them as such that makes all the difference.

As I begin what I hope to be the journey out of my depression, I am going to embrace all those graduation cliches that I have heard lately and apply them to my own life. I may be at a fork in the road, but I am not stuck here. Soon I'll be motoring along on my way to the next chapter of my life story. In the end I want to be able to say that I had the time of my life.

KB xo

P.S. Want to know what a 'depressive episode' is? Here's the definition: a manifestation of a major mood disorder involving an enduring period of some or all of the following signs: significant sadness, tearfulness, decreased appetite, weight loss, sleep and energy disturbance, psychomotor agitation or retardation, feelings of worthlessness, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, decreased concentration, thoughts of death, and suicidal ideation

If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, please seek help. You can learn more about mental illness through the Canadian Mental Health Association and Partners for Mental Health





Tuesday, 18 June 2013

"Help"

Help me if you can, I'm feeling down
And I do appreciate you being 'round
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won't you, please, please help me?
Help by Lennon & McCartney

Asking for and receiving help when you are fighting mental illness is crucial. You simply can't win the battle on your own. Well, maybe you can but it will be a heck of a lot more painful and arduous a journey. And besides, if you had a broken leg would you set it and place it in a cast on your own?

That first call for help, perhaps to a loved one, friend or your family doctor, is often the hardest step to take. Personally, I have often hesitated. I may know that I am moving towards another depressive episode and that I can't do it alone. But I hesitate. Even after all these years and the numerous episodes that I have weathered I hesitate because I don't want to burden anyone. And sometimes I just don't want to admit that my devil is back.

But then I remember that I can't do this alone - I need help and so I ask for it. That first call is what puts the wheels in motion and brings me to the first step on the path to wellness.

I have been lucky overall when it comes to receiving help and treatment. As I have written before, I have a loving and supportive network that includes my wonderful family and friends, my colleagues, my doctor, and former psychiatrist. Aside from a poor fit with a psychologist, and a rough go at a mood disorder clinic as part of a study, I have received the treatment that I need. This is not the case for all, however.

I am part of a fabulous community of people, my fellow Partners for Mental Health (PFMH)community correspondents. We support each other by sharing each others blogs, we brainstorm advocacy ideas, and share educational opportunities. The most important thing that we do, however, is support each other through our battles with mental illness. Being able to have someone to lean on who actually understands what  mental illness is really like, and the stigma attached, is invaluable.

This blog post has been born out of that support network and the discussions of our personal stories that we share amongst each other. There has been a lot of discussion recently about how challenging it can be to get the help that you need from our medical system. Now let me be clear, I am not here to complain about the Canadian health care system - it has actually been very kind to me. But it's far from perfect and it certainly is lacking in the field of mental illness. And as they say, "good enough isn't."

Yes, it is often painfully difficult to ask for help, to make the decision to not suffer alone and in silence. Now imagine that you have taken that step and the "help" that you get is harmful. We all have stories of brusque insurance companies and insensitive health care workers. Add to those the stories of meds being prescribed at a dosage high enough to raise a red flag to a pharmacist because of the Health Canada warning of dangerous side effects (thank goodness the pharmacist caught what the doctor failed to).

Or how about the psychiatrist who was "fired" by his patient but then called her numerous times until she finally answered and then badgered her to find out why she wasn't seeing him anymore?

Finally (far from it, but for the purposes of this post it will be the last example), the stories of my comrades who suffer from eating disorders as well as depression who don't seem to fit into one neat and tidy category so they get bumped around from program to health care practitioner to hospital, hoping that something will fit.

It's all rather discouraging at times. Ironically, at the times when you most need to be strong and advocate for  yourself, those are the times when the strength feels as if it's in short supply. I promise you this - the strength is still there. But strength in numbers is even better. So create a support network, educate yourself on your illness (or that of a loved one fighting mental illness), and advocate for yourself.

I won't give up the fight and I hope that all my PFMH won't either. The support, affection, and guidance that they give me - the help - is an incredible gift. It's a gift that I gave myself because I asked for it. And I never regret that I asked for help.

KB xo

P.S. Dedicated to my PFMH family - you inspire me each and every day!

To learn more about mental illness please visit the Canadian Mental Health Association's website.



Tuesday, 4 June 2013

"Intermittent Cloudy Periods"

 
 “He knows bad days. Bad days take him completely by surprise. They make him not trust the good days because it's likely something is lurking twenty-four hours away.”
~ Melina Marchetta, The Piper's Son
 
I know bad days. Boy do I ever. I just had a couple of them. Depression can feel a little bit like the weather. Some days are bright and sunny without a cloud in the sky. All you feel is the warmth on your face and a song in your heart. Those are the great days, the days that I seldom take for granted anymore. I have learnt not to.
 
And then there are the days riddled with storm clouds. Sometimes they come crashing in and you don't see them coming. Other times you can see them and feel them. The shadows slowly but surely crawl across the sky and block out the sunshine, bringing with them a sense of dread and a feeling that you need to seek shelter from what is surely the storm to come.
 
Sometimes I don't trust the good days. I know how fleeting they can be. Sometimes I feel too beaten down by the bad days to believe the good days will come again and that they will last. Sometimes.
 
I have had a lovely stretch of sunny weather lately - the depression has mostly receded and I am getting stronger and stronger every day. Spring with it's showers is on the way out and summer with it's sunshiny days is growing nearer. But it's not my first date with depression - I get how this works. I am not fooled.
 
Recovery, as I have written many times before, is not a smooth, straight path forward. It's far from it, in fact. If you have the flu there is a point where you can tell that you are beginning to get better. And from there it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that you will, each day, feel a little bit better until you are well and the flu is but a memory of tissues, soup, and sleep. One day you wake up and it's completely gone. Recovering from depression is a little like that but also a lot NOT like that.
 
The path to wellness and recovery from depression is slow and tedious. Yes, there is often a point where I know that I have turned a corner and better days are ahead. But it's more like a game of snakes and ladders - lots of up and down! The most important thing for me to keep in mind as I navigate the pitfalls of recovery is to keep things in perspective. One or two bad days does not equal relapse. In a way, one or two bad days is something to be celebrated. Celebrated because they are one or two and not ten or twelve. Perspective. It's vital.
“So long as there is breath in me, that long I will persist. For now I know one of the greatest principles of success; if I persist long enough I will win.” ~ Og Mandino
One of my favourite sayings about depression that I have found is this, "Depression is a lying bastard." On the days that it takes hold it tells me things. It whispers, seductively in my ear, "give up." There have been many times over the years when that siren call was almost too much to ignore. But I did. I pushed it away and drew on some reserve of strength that I didn't know I had. I held on because I knew, deep in my soul, that sunnier days were ahead. The clouds would part and that song would return to my heart. I trust in the good days. You should, too.
 
KB xo
 
P.S. Are you or someone you love suffering from mental illness? If so, please don't fight this alone. There are many fabulous organizations and resources available to help you. Please visit the Canadian Mental Health Association website for more information.

 

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