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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

(Repost) Mental Health Stigma

I don't have it in me to think or write right now but this is important so I thought I would repost for any who may have missed it.

Have you ever been unable to find the energy to get off of the couch for over a week and started to ask yourself, "I wonder if I stink and I just cant tell because its me?" Not only have I not done anything remotely physical, but I haven't had the energy to hold my hands over my head long enough to wash and condition my hair. So I just keep it in a ponytail and ignore my own hygiene and care altogether. My house is pretty much a wreck, too. The parts of the house I use, anyway. I gave up on going to bed a long time ago. I am on the couch. My pillow is on the couch. I have a blanket on the couch. Its too much energy to carry it all to bed every night and back in the morning.

I am too tired to take care of myself. My body doesn't have the energy. My mind doesn't have the energy. And I don't even think that bothers me any more. That is depression.

Every year I ride in a 50 mile bike tour that raises money for cancer research. I never train for it. I literally get my bike out of the shed, go to the gas station to fill the tires, and go line up for the event to ride for 50 miles. I finish my ride and come home exhausted with a body that hates me every year. Never, after finishing my ride and coming home, have I been this tired.

While raising my daughter, I always promised she would make it to Disney before she was 10. We were always poor and 10 seemed so far away. I refused to let her down, though. So the summer before she was to turn 10 I took a second full time job. Both of them required overtime. In one week I worked 96 hours. At the end of that week, I wasn't this tired.

When my dad was dying in hospice 3 hours away, I traveled to and from his bedside every weekend and spent more nights without sleep than I did manage to find sleep. I probably cried, exhausting all-encompassing cries, more in those last 3 weeks than I had in all of my life combined. By the time he passed I was not this tired.

There is a big difference between the kind of tired that comes from having run your body or mind too hard and from having run your soul too hard. I don't know the words to describe it. I'm not sure those words exist. My tired comes from having given up. The energy I have to write is the only energy that I have. My mind does not stop. My mind is tired and requires up to four naps a day, but my mind does not stop. So writing has become my outlet.

When I was an adolescent, I was diagnosed with severe depression twice. I didn't understand that depression was anything more than being sad. Mental health not only had a stigma back then, but it was often dismissed or discounted. My father had taken me for them to confirm that I was a bad kid and tell him how to fix me, not to justify my 'pity parties.' He pulled me out of them each time and determined they were quacks.

I am presently experiencing my third major depressive episode in my life. I don't know if they are precipitated by having had too much to deal with or having a chemical imbalance that makes it harder for me to deal with things that come my way, but each time I had more going on than I could find a way to endure. The first time that I was suicidal, my daughter was a toddler. I begged my parents to watch her so I could commit myself. My dad still had no use for such nonsense and told me "You created this, you fix it." Because he refused to believe in depression he thought I was looking for an escape from my life. And, as anyone would imagine, the best vacation I could think of was a mental health facility. Anyway, I did find a therapist and, with counseling and medicine, I was able to pull through it eventually. I believe now, however, and I believed then, that if I didn't have Audrey, I wouldn't have even tried.

I recently found this picture from when my daughter was little. It speaks volumes, I believe.

This episode has been much worse. My daughter is grown and off to college now. I don't have to take care of anyone. Care for myself has never even been something I have ever really thought about. Of course, that is why I find myself where I am now. I don't care. I never managed to find a value for myself beyond being a mother. Although I am still a mother, she doesn't need me to take care of her now. When my life began falling apart a year and a half ago, I had nothing to hold on to. I had nothing to fight for. I didn't need to be well. And I think my brain just kind of started giving up.

Initially around Thanksgiving of 2013 my life hit a wall that no one could have ever seen coming. I still can't talk or write about it because the tragedy is not just mine. But the pain and its mark will, undoubtedly, be with me for the rest of my life. At that time I only had my job to hold on to. I have always been loyal to my work and proud of my work ethic. Aside from Audrey, my job was the other thing I found external from myself to attribute my own value to. Even while things were collapsing personally, I managed to keep up my workload, but often had tears streaming down my face while I was doing it. Because of this I told my manager what I was dealing with so she understood because it must've looked very unprofessional. Having told her, I was sure, she would understand.

At this time I was 41 years old. I had been ignoring all evidence of an anxiety disorder for years. I really didn't even know that anxiety was a disorder, to be honest. I had accepted claims from those who knew me that said I was 'high strung' or 'neurotic' as truths. It was just the way I was. It didn't make me a bad person so I just figured it was my nature and never thought more about it. My body had been telling me for almost 20 years that it was more than just quirkiness but I had always found ways to ignore it. Hives. "Sure people get those." My back would go out and make me immobile but x-rays would find nothing wrong with me. "I must've pulled something and forgotten." My stomach would get incredibly sick every time I was upset. "What did I eat this time?"

So last year I guess my mind finally determined that it would give me a sign I could not ignore. My body literally betrayed me. In public. My boss, who knew that I was already on the edge and suffered from severe depression had been harassing me to a level which was so bad that by the time the legal department saw the evidence of both the harassment and Human Resources deciding to completely ignore and, thus, condone it, they offered me a settlement check to never tell anyone what she had done. But one day her harassment pushed me over the edge and my heart was pounding so hard I could feel it and hear it pounding in my ear. I was hot like I was immediately sick with a high fever. My entire body started shaking and I couldn't control or stop it. And my breathing was out of control where I could not catch my breath. I literally thought I was going to die from not being able to breathe. It was terrifying. I had no idea what was going on. Before that I day I thought a 'panic attack' was something else. "I'm having a panic attack" is a phrase people used when they were stressed out. I had no idea its actual reference was to a complete physical collapse.

I went for months after that day completely unable to leave my home. I was diagnosed with agoraphobia. It pissed me off. I finally looked it up and read that it is very common with people who have panic attacks, especially after their first, because your subconscious is trying to protect you from having a similar situation. I then accepted that this was a thing and that it made sense why it was happening. But I can also completely rationalize that it is irrational. So it still pisses me off.

Ironically, I honestly think that if my anxiety didn't keep my mind going at this seemingly fast pace (although compared to what my life usually offers when not combined with depression its not really fast at all), I would probably already be dead. The writing is the only evidence I have that something inside me is trying to counter my daily revelations that I would rather be dead. The fact that my life insurance doesn't pay out if I kill myself is the only thing that has kept me from thinking seriously about finding a way out.

I feel like my world is so dark that if I didn't have something to focus on I could actually fall asleep and just not wake up. I could stop eating and drinking. I already ignore the phone and repel visitors. My writing allows me to look outside of myself, like I always have. I can focus on something else and ignore whatever hurts. I'm sure that's not healthy. But spending time inside my mind isn't, either.

Of course, because I can't leave my house, I don't have a job. And because I don't have a job, I cannot afford insurance. So I am, at present, on a very long waiting list for psychiatric care. My writing is my distraction and my care at this time. To prevent a panic attack I don't even spend time thinking about what kind of anxiety I will have to deal with whenever I finally have a psychiatric appointment and it is time to leave my house and go to an unknown place to meet an unknown person and offer them my life story and my fears and entrust them with my mental care. That complete notion is so overwhelming that I cannot find the words to express it properly. That is probably the worst thing about mental health issues. You won't find them in an x-ray or in blood work. And I don't imagine I am the only intelligent person with a large vocabulary who cannot find the words to tell you just how terrifying and awful it is to be in this place.

That's where I am. That's what I call depression.

But for many in our society its easier to just call it lazy. Or crazy.

And that's a shame.


  1. Please call and see if you can get in sooner. You have so much talent. No one deserves to live like this.

    1. I am sure I replied to you all. I am so sorry. Thank you for your loving care Pat. You are beautiful. I am on a path to better mental health. I'm sure of this. Kiss Kiss.

  2. I cried as I read your story. It's as if you were writing about me. I still can hardly believe there's someone out there that has the same life as me. I want to thank you, Angie, for having the courage to write your story and most of all, for sharing it. Thank you for reassuring me & others, I'm sure, that we're not the only ones in this world that have these issues/symptoms. Much love and many, many caring hugs❤️

    1. +Dee Tallman-Hammonds I hope this message finds you, and finds you well. This blog stuff was newish to me in June and I thought I replied to you but I'm here and see it must've gone wrong. I'm sorry you didn't get my loving and understanding reply then. I do know how you are feeling, and you are definitely not alone. I am so happy to find that my words allowed you a connection. Allow that connection to give you strength in knowing this is not a lonely circumstance where everyone doesn't understand. The people in my life have no idea what my life is like because they haven't been here. That is why I wrote it, I want people to understand US. Many of US find ourselves in this place where it feels lonely specifically because those we know and love don't understand. I'm going to try to figure out locating you on G+ (no shame here in admitting I still haven't figured this all out, LOL). If I don't find you and you see this please send me a request and we can have one another to discuss and understand. This can be less lonely even if it's only a person in the Internet. It doesn't matter, at least you know you are not alone on your dark days. I send you many hugs in return. 💙💜❤️💚💛 Kiss Kiss - Angie 💐

  3. Angie, I have had almost the exact experiences as well, only my father was seriously mentally ill, so I was a little more familiar with the signs and symptoms and possible progression. Now that my daughter is grown, and I no longer work - things have gone downhill. I went to school for awhile, but the anxiety made it too difficult, so I took a time-out. I've fought regular treatment and still put off my appointments or trying new meds. One thing I've found that helped is Wellbutrin - don't know if you're a smoker or not, but it also helps curb the desire for smoking - which almost surely contributes to the depression, for various reasons. Try to force yourself to have a routine - including regular and at least somewhat healthy meals, taking a multivitamin, and forcing yourself to shower and get dressed. Agree to do things or be places - not too many, but a few a week - and get out of the house - think of other errands you can do while you're out. Preparing a decent meal is so difficult when you feel like this, but I've found a really healthy and quick smoothie recipe that works wonders. Frozen blueberries, vanilla yogurt, uncooked oatmeal (quick or regular), a little milk, and vanilla or strawberry protein powder. Sometimes I add frozen strawberries if I'm low on blueberries - but only a few (they're sour!). Put it in a blender - I don't measure, but use about 3/4 cup yogurt and berries, one scoop powder, 1/2 cup oatmeal and milk. I could eat it twice a day easy - and always feel better after. Blueberries and protein powder aren't cheap, but definitely cheaper and quicker than making a meal! I don't have agoraphobia (I don't think) but I do hate to have to go anywhere or be somewhere at a specific time - so I don't know how doable it is for you - but realize that just like everything else, the biggest hurdle is committing and taking the first step. I also have some material about the Anxiety Disorder that I would like to send you (email me if you're interested! It's a workbook, and as a writer, you'll be much better at keeping up with it than I was! But it has some wonderful techniques that I think would help you feel better until you can get to the doctor - especially the relaxation - I'm sure the tense muscles and teeth grinding probably cause the most of our problems - affecting sleep and causing mysterious pain and intestinal issues. Add in peri-menopause symptoms, and it's just a barrel of fun. I hope you feel some solidarity here! I can name about ten of my relatives and friends dealing with the same issues, with differing levels of awareness. The episodes are TEMPORARY - just hold on, get help, and get through it! Also sending hugs!

  4. You and I argued about politics in the FB Writer's Group and I came away from that with a very negative opinion of you. However, I read this based on the subject title and I really appreciated what you had to say. You see, I too suffer from very severe depression - in fact, I was hospitalized for it for six days three weeks ago. I will not go on about me but I understand every word that you typed. I know what it is like, how awful it is. And I know how we are stigmatized. Society is improving with its viewpoint of depression but still ... hang in there and keep on writing. I do not agree with you on SOME of your politics but regardless, I do admire your writing ability and intelligence. Best wishes, Tony Welch

    Also, my first (and only) novel that I published last summer is about a main character who is a writer and who suffers from severe depression. I hope more writers use this horrible affliction as a literary focal point.

    1. Oh Tony! What a lovely reply. Yes I can be crass when defending my viewpoints and here I am humbled by your reply. Thank you. I am so sorry whenever I hear about others who suffer. I should be hospitalized, to be honest. But I refuse to let anyone else care for my cat because they won't care for him the way I do. Lol. That might evidence how screwy I am right there. ... Anyway. I'm going to try to find you on FB and get the name of your book to check it out. I send you all of my respect. Angie

  5. This brought tears to my eyes, and holy shit I feel the same sometimes. Oh the anxiety and depression I have suffered. I was a Marine for almost a decade, and am still new to the civilian sector. I am huge on advocating for feminism, and inequality, and I feel "crazy" and unable to even go shopping our out in public to do things with my kids. I hope we can keep in touch and find solace in our writings. I feel like I am treading water (more like wet cement) and no one is listening.

    1. Oh my sister, you are not alone. So glad to have found you, as well. I'd like to thank you.

      Thank you, most sincerely, for your service to the country I love. Thank you.

      It feels like many offer their thanks but don't seem to be genuine in offering their gratitude. Please believe mine is honest. I have profound respect for those who serve.

      I've come to a place through research and reaching out to others that crazy is not where this is. It is overwhelmed. It is very common. Even if the people you know don't seem to understand it doesn't mean you're alone. It just feels that way, I know. Because your difference makes you hard for others to understand, allow reflections and personal introspection bring you to a place where the parts of you that are different are the things that make you unique and special. People don't understand my sensitivity. It's been a problem all of my life. Drove my family nuts. But do you know what? My heart may be broken from all of that dismissal, but it is a beautiful heart that reaches out to the world, sincerely loves everyone in it and wants to do my part in making it better. The people in my life who don't 'get me' are also the selfish people who only see and care about the aspects of this whole wide world that narrowly affect their lives. The thing that makes us different also makes us lovely. Look inside in a quiet moment and see if you can feel the same.

      You are not alone. I am listening. I promise.

    2. On the roadtrip to Florida. Reading more of your blogs, it is great to meet and connect with others like me.

  6. I've struggled with depression my whole miserable life. 14 years of psychiatrists, drugs, "therapy", and 3 trips to some stinking nuthouse have only served to show me that there is no care involved in "psychiatric care" and that the words "doctor" and "hospital" are foul words to fear like the plague.

    Sometimes there is no help.

  7. I've been on this journey even longer than you. It can be exhausting. You are right - most of (even) the medical community doesn't understand mental illness. But, a few are trying. Keep looking, and good luck. I've been able to find fairly good and STEADY treatment. And I am poor with few resources.