Support for Those Currently Struggling

“Yes, and” not “Yes, but”

The concept I want to describe is one that I’ve never quite been able to put into words, so bear with me here. Luckily, I have a couple of very insightful and thoughtful friends who understood the concept when I tried explaining it to them, so I’m borrowing their words.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve tried to separate my depression from me. I demonized it and made it this big villain that wasn’t a part of me – it was a battle I had to fight, an enemy I had to destroy. Time and time again, I hear myself saying “I am not my depression” and how I’m not really myself when I’m anxious and depressed. I still stand by those statements…sort of.

I am not my mental illness, I am not exclusively my mental illness, but it is a massive part of me. It influences the way I act, the way I speak, the people I associate with. It’s in every deep breathing exercise I do, in every therapy session I pay for, in each conversation I have. It does not (always) consume me, but it plays an integral role in my life. As much as I would like to believe I am not defined by my mental illness, it defines a part of me. And that’s not to say that my mental illness has to dictate my life and I just have to accept that, but rather, it means acknowledging how this part of me is not a demon to destroy, but a wound that needs healing. It means acknowledging that though my mental illnesses have made life really hard, they’ve also allowed me to become a better listener, they’ve guided me towards people who have better intentions, they’ve taught me valuable lessons about the universe that some people may never learn. They’ve made me more fearless in knowing what I want and going after it.

I’m learning that because my mental illness is part of me, I have to learn to love it somehow before I can truly love myself. I have to love the beautiful bits, and the parts I think are ugly, and I have to try and see the beauty in the ugly. I can’t accept myself wholly or give myself love if I’m constantly vilifying a part of me that can’t be silenced or ignored.

Part of that process of loving all of me, is being loved by the people around me. Letting them love the good, the bad, the ugly. Being loved simply because of me, and not in spite of something else.

Let me make this part crystal clear: my mental illness is not something to be “looked over” or loved in spite of. I don’t need you to look past my struggles and mental illness in order to love me. I need you to see that there is ugliness in me, but that ugliness is just as worthy of love as the most beautiful parts.

I’m tired of the rhetoric that exists around being loved even though you have pain or baggage or struggles. I deserve better than “I love Ameera, but she has anxiety and depression”. It’s not something that diminishes how deserving I am of love.

I was really frustrated with this one day, and tried explaining it to a close friend. She understood what I meant immediately, and described it as needing people to say “Yes, and”, not “Yes, but”. It was a simple concept I learned in improv class – that when someone offers something in a scene, you accept it. Whether it makes sense or not, whether it makes the scene harder or easier, you accept it, and you work through the scene together.

Moving from language of “Ameera has depression and anxiety, but I still love her” to messaging of “Ameera has depression and anxiety, and I love her.” It’s reaffirming that I can be loved with what I have, rather than mental illness being something that should detract from the amount of love I am worthy of.  It’s a mixed bag, and you don’t get to pick and choose which parts you get.

Another example is when I have a bad day or I’m going through a rough patch and feel bad about it, and people (with only the best intentions) respond with how they know how I really am, and they don’t judge me for this part. They see that I’m actually this happy, funny, lively person and it’s “just the depression talking.” I really, really appreciate the sentiment that I am not my illness, and sometimes my depression and anxiety make me act differently. However, that depression and anxiety is a part of me too. They may be a part I try to hide a lot more, but they’re a part of my journey and my experience. They are not just something to be overlooked or ignored.

When we make our mental illnesses something to be loved in spite of, or we allow them to be ignored so we can be loved, we create the perfect breeding ground for shame. Shame that makes us hide who we are, shame that makes us hide our pain and our struggles, and shame that makes us feel unworthy of the love we need and deserve. It fosters guilt that we can’t be “enough” because we deal with these issues. And it’s not right. No one should be made to feel more isolated and guilty and ashamed because of their mental illnesses. There’s already enough of those feelings because of the mental illness alone, we don’t need the problem exacerbated because it’s easy to love the “good” and hard to love the “bad”.

I realize I’m basically contradicting myself by saying my mental illnesses don’t define me but also they totally do, and I also recognize that it’s difficult to be a positive support when you have to navigate a paradox as complex as this one. This journey isn’t an easy one, but it’s easier when we’re in it together. Even if the people around me don’t know what to say, just knowing that they can love me with or without my mental illnesses, because it has no bearing on how they feel about me, is enough. Reminding me that depression and anxiety don’t have to be looked over and brushed under the rug in order for them to still think I’m great speaks volumes.

Regardless of if you deal with mental health issues or not, think about who you love. Do you love all of them? Do you love them through the messier parts? Do you show up when not showing up is easier? If the answer is no, think about how you can make that move from “yes, but”, to “yes, and”.

If you’re struggling with mental health issues, and you feel like people have to love you in spite of what you deal with, or you feel you have to hide the hard parts so that you don’t lose that love, you’re not alone. That fear is totally valid. I hope we can learn to love the beautiful bits and the ugly bits of one another, and see the ugly bits as beautiful in their own way, so that we can break down the walls and boundaries built by bricks of shame and guilt. I hope you remember that you have pain and struggles, and you are loved. Not despite it. Not in spite of it. Not when it’s ignored. You are simply loved. I see your pain and your struggle, and I love you.

“Yes, and”, not “Yes, but”.

Keep Surviving by Living.

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Support for those currently struggling

With the emergence of mental health/illness awareness becoming more prevalent, there are countless resources available to those struggling with any mental illness, suicide, depression, bipolar, anxiety, panic, the list goes on. However, with all these resources, it’s hard to know which one works the best, and it differs from person to person. I probably tried at least 15 different resources to find the one that worked best for me, and I am lucky that there is a vast variety of resources, so if I didn’t like one, I still had so many.

The emergence of online resources is incredible, because many people are unable, or unwilling, to pick up the phone and call a crisis centre. Here is a link to one of the best compilations of resources available to people contemplating suicide, or who struggle with suicidal tendencies: http://unsuicide.wikispaces.com/Online+Suicide+Help#.U2ad9lv4DVI

Here is another link to Mental Health Canada, with a list of links and resources to what’s available in Canada: http://mentalhealthcanada.com/Resources.asp?lang=e

If you’re currently in a crisis, or are concerned that you may face a crisis in the future, consult this list of resources for anything from mental health concerns, to self abuse, to elder abuse: http://mentalhealthcanada.com/Crisis-Intervention.asp?lang=e

The Canadian Mental Health Association provides a ton of PDFs and brochures to offer assistance to people who are struggling, including college students, high school students, and those facing difficulties with job retention: http://www.cmha.ca/mental-health/find-help/

Do NOT forget that you are NOT alone. There is ALWAYS help. There is ALWAYS hope. There is ALWAYS a good way out of a crisis. If you’re at a serious risk to yourself, don’t hesitate to call 911 and help will always be there.

Keep Surviving by Living. 

 

30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness – Days 8 to 11

Day 8: What age you were diagnosed at? At what age do you think your symptoms began? (You can make a timeline)
I was officially diagnosed with conversion disorder in the spring of 2013, although my symptoms showed up in late 2012, so I was 18 at the time. Despite the fact that my seizures and such didn’t start until I was 18, when my brain had close to fully developed, conversations with my family and sister especially indicate that there were some signs that my brain didn’t always connect emotionally. For example, sometimes when I should have been sad about something, I would get really angry instead, or during something really exciting, I just wouldn’t really get excited (this one drove my sister nuts). I was 19 when I was diagnosed with depression and placed on anti-depressants, although I’m positive my symptoms started when I was around 13 years old, but I never got the help I needed for it until I was 19 and it was almost too late. (more…)

Don’t Pull The Trigger

One of the main things I’ve noticed through my journey with depression, is that there are tons and tons of websites about it. This is excellent news, because people can participate in forums, blog or post about their journey and the internet has made finding support so much easier.

The issue, however, is that these sites are almost always monitored, and there are strict rules about what you can and cannot post. Of course it’s good to foster a positive and inspiring environment, but it doesn’t give an accurate picture about the raw, nitty-gritty stuff. People who run these sites are concerned about triggering people struggling with depression – every raw post must have a disclaimer saying there are triggers within the post, or sometimes it just won’t get posted for being too much of a trigger risk. Yes, we are dealing with a very volatile and serious situation, where small things can be triggers, but it still needs to be discussed, because when I read “triggering” posts, I kept thinking “Yes! I agree! This is so accurate!”, as opposed to the lovely sugar coated posts that say absolutely nothing, where I felt like people weren’t being truthful about how dark and ugly mental illness can be. When I was interviewed about my struggle with depression, and held absolutely nothing back, I also included a disclaimer stating it was much more intense than anything I had said before, but it needed to be said. Part of the reason mental illness is so prevalent is because we don’t talk about it! We don’t say “you know what, you had a rough go at it and dark stuff happened like contemplating or attempting suicide, but lets’ discuss it”. People aren’t afraid to say the word “heart attack” or “stroke” or “aneurism”, but people are terrified to say “suicide”. It’s as if saying it is as bad as swearing. Suicide is a serious epidemic that needs to be brought to light – it’s not Voldemort, where we need to skirt around saying the actual word.

If I asked you, “what is associated with Breast Cancer?” I’m sure every single person could say that it is a pink ribbon. What is the symbol for suicide awareness? Or mental illness awareness? Could you answer that? If so, congratulations, you’re one of very few. This is a serious issue, considering suicide is the number one cause of violent illness worldwide (close to 50%), and a person dies from suicide every 40 seconds, which means that in the time it takes your Keurig to make you a cappuccino, 1 person has died from suicide.

Here are some other hard-hitting facts that most people don’t know: Within 5 years, mental illness is going to be the second leading cause of premature death (after heart disease). At any point in time, 15% of Canadian children or youth (under 18) have a mental illness, and 1/5 people aged 15-24 have a mental illness or substance abuse problem. Some say the onset of mental illness can be as early as age 7! Even with these astounding facts, Canada only designates about 7% of health funding to mental illness, even though over 20% of the population is directly suffering from one.

Even though 80% of people respond very well to treatment (therapy or pharmacological), 2 out of 3 won’t ever get help for their mental illness and 90% of people with depression won’t seek help. Over 50% of people report experiencing a stigma from friends, family or other groups as a result of revealing they have a mental illness. Suicide accounts for 24% of deaths among people aged 15-25, which is close to 1 in 4.

According to a British Columbia study of 15,000 Grade 7 – 12 students: 
Those who knew of someone who had attempted or died of suicide: 34%

Had, themselves, seriously contemplated suicide: 16%

Had made a suicide plan: 14%

Had attempted suicide: 7%

Had to have medical attention due to an attempt: 2%

 

Despite all these astounding facts, with the prevalence of mental illness increasing at an astounding rate, there is not nearly enough being done about it. Therapy from a psychologist or counsellor or therapist, is not covered by most drug plans. Psychiatrist visits are sometimes covered, or partially covered, but the waiting lists to see a psychiatrist are way too long. Drugs like SSRI’s or SNRI’s, which are the most popular for treating depression and anxiety disorders, are seldom covered by basic drug plans, and can be quite expensive for those who need them the most. 70-90% of people who are unemployed have a mental illness.

Based on these facts, it is extremely important that we not only increase awareness about mental illness, but we take it a step further and talk about it without filtering the severity or ugliness of it, because it is the only way to help this epidemic. You can’t solve a problem that is never openly discussed. This issue is becoming bigger and bigger, and it’s time to step up and allow those suffering to speak up without being ostracized or accused of triggering someone else.

All facts taken from The Mood Disorders Society of Canada Quick Facts

Keep Surviving by Living.

Another Life-Changing Film

I’ve previously mentioned how important It’s Kind of a Funny Story was to me, and how it was a scarily accurate depiction of so many of the situations I found myself in. Another movie that resonated with me was Aashiqui 2, a foreign film from India that addresses the issue of addiction. While addiction is not an issue I have had to battle, many of the internal conflicts the main character and protagonist faces were incredibly similar to mine, including the mass amount of guilt of placing the burden of seemingly unsolvable issues on someone else. While the movie is largely a love story, it is also the story of a flawed man, who so desperately wants to be the man he used to, but is hindered by his personal demons and believes he can bring nothing but harm and pain to those he loves the most. This was an idea that I grappled with a lot, and it was difficult for me to understand that I’m more than just a burden on others. I remember using the story line, and quotes from the movie to try to articulate what I was thinking, at a time when I really could not put my struggle into my own words.
Aashiqui 2 received a lot of backlash, and although many people loved the soundtrack, a majority of people hated the storyline. This almost made me like it more, because it proved how real the story was and how people are often unwilling to accept that reality is messy and stories about mental health are often not pretty with typical endings. I’m not a person who usually enjoys watching foreign films, but this is a must see for anyone who wants to know more about how dark and gritty things can get. Plus, the songs are pretty great, so that’s a nice bonus.
Aashiqui 2 Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dv5onNXaPOI
Keep Surviving by Living

Mark Henick – A Brilliantly Articulate Man

Mark Henick spoke at TedX Toronto 2013, an event my sister played a role in organizing. Both my father and sister saw this Ted Talk and immediately messaged me saying I had to see it. I watched it when the video was put up online, and was shocked at how accurate, honest and raw it was.

One Fun Thing

After being in the hospital, I received an outpouring of support from friends and family. I, of course, was terrified that if I wasn’t completely “cured”, I would be shipped back to the hospital, like a bad day once in a while wasn’t allowed. As a result, you could say I went back to hiding my emotions. As supportive as people were, I realized that the only person who will ever be there for you is yourself. It sounds harsh, but it’s true. The sooner I realized that, the better it was. So I decided that I needed to be there for me; I needed to be the reason I lived. I made a shift from just surviving by not dying, to actually living. There is quite a distinction in my mind between not dying and living.

I came up with an idea called “One Fun Thing”, that goes in line with my “Surviving by Living” motto. It’s quite simple; everyday I create something for myself to look forward to. Every single day I do something to make me happy. It doesn’t have to be big or extravagant. Maybe it’s that I treat myself to some froyo, or I watch a movie even though I should be studying. Perhaps it means I treat myself to a nice glass of wine, or I make a great new playlist. The options for what I can do are endless, and some days my fun things are bigger than others – like last week I took a bartending class! Today my happy thing is that I’m skipping the gym, because you know what? The-day-after-legs-day sucks and I would much rather sit here with my cup of tea watching Keeping Up With The Kardashians. The point is, no matter what it is, as long as it puts a little smile on your face, it’s worth it. That alone, is reason enough to live until the next day, where you get to do a fun thing all over again! There are going to be bad things every day – you’ll just miss the bus, or your roommate will have finished all the hummus, or you’ll be completely lost in class. So what? There will be another bus, Canada isn’t going to run out of hummus, and who isn’t lost in class???

Try this “One Fun Thing” experiment out. Put in your headphones and walk with a bounce in your step. Smile at 5 strangers even though you don’t want to. Compliment someone. Pay It Forward. Surprise someone you love. Give a person you care about a bear hug. You could save their life, and inadvertently, your own.

Keep Surviving by Living!