Tag Archives: #depression

Youth and mental illness.

“You keep finding dead ends to what you thought were good beginnings”


Life can be agonizingly difficult during a depression and/or anxiety episode. I am lucky that my experiences are limited to ‘curable’ episodes (typically lasting a few months). For some people, the symptoms never go away. I am also lucky to be an ‘adult’ in my 40’s with a fair amount of life experience, a loving family network, and a large (very large) amount of therapy and medication behind me. It must be so hard for children experiencing the same illness. It’s a testament to the strength of the young that any of them make it through at all. It is this strength that we now see rising up again and again in the form of youth who are coming forward and talking about their experiences with mental illness. The courage of these young role-models never ceases to amaze me as they make use of social media platforms to get the word out there… “mental illness can and does affect anyone! So, let’s talk about it…”

So I turn the rest of this blog post over to a talented young (13 years old!) advocate called Olivia. This is her ‘Slam’ poem in which she bravely and insightfully shares her experiences with some very problematic mental health. Her words speak for themselves, so I will say no more…

At just the age of 4,
I was already having anxiety about every little thing in my kindergarten class.
Whether it was taking the attendance down
or sharing something in a circle.
I always felt nervous.
 
At the age of 8,
I felt the need to be perfect with all the work that I did
because the last thing that I wanted was
to be laughed at.
When a test was being handed back,
I could feel my teacher’s eyes burning on the back of my head.
I could see a gleaming red ‘A’.
But later in the day,
peers were telling me that I did worse than them
as my worth was merely something to compare to.

 

At the age of 12,
I was more worried about the routine I had to do every night than my homework. All my books must be an odd number.
My laptop must be clean.
My bed needed to be made perfectly.
These routines anchored each passing day
and tricked me into thinking that my anxiety would go away
Now, at the age of 13, all of this combined is my reality.
Every little thing you can think of in a day, make me nervous in some way.
Even simply getting on the bus…
All I can think about is the hundreds of things my bus driver might say to me.
 
Before a presentation,
I find myself slowly shaking to the point where its uncontrollable. I can see the sweat on my hands leaving marks on the table. 
And then my name is called…
I find myself slowly moving to the front of the class.
I feel like a deer in the headlights,
waiting to be hit with the stares of my peers.
 
 
If one little thing goes wrong in my day,
my brain latches onto that memory
and keeps on thinking about it for two weeks…
until it finally goes away.
Only to find that it comes back haunting me 
the next day.
 
If I get invited to go somewhere
My thoughts go to every situation imaginable.
Just thinking about that
makes me feel so ashamed because I just want
to go somewhere
without having to say “no”

 

Anxiety is like going through a maze.
Except it never ends.
You keep finding dead ends to what you thought were good beginnings.
No one is around you trying to help because they can’t see you on the inside.  

…You feel truly lost without anyone.


“1 in 5 Canadians experience a mental illness in a given year. As people get older, their mental health often gets worse. But, not many people talk about it because there is still… a mental health stigma which creates stereotypes and offensive comments. This can lead to many dreadful outcomes. We must speak out because…

…there shouldn’t be any shame.”

Written By Olivia

Mental health advocate

Age 13

Chapter 10: A New Outlook

A NEW OUTLOOK AND CONTINUED DIAGNOSES.

Is this over for me? Did I have a terrible experience, get through it, and manage to learn something from it to help make me a better person? Yes, no, and maybe to all of the above. I did have a terrible experience. I think that I am through it. I do feel like I’m a somewhat better person for it. I have no idea if it’s completely over. My psychiatrist has talked of a potential bipolar type 3 diagnosis. From what I understand, bipolar type 1 is extreme mood swings in a very short amount of time. You wake up in the morning, feeling great, but arrive home at the end of the day feeling the exact opposite. Bipolar type 3 is similar swings, but they happen more slowly – over periods of years. Type 2 is somewhere in between. I’ve greatly over-simplified, and mostly due to my own lack of knowledge about Bipolar, but the idea is there. (Maybe one of my awesome Twitter friends will help me with this part.)  Bipolar type 3 is very difficult to diagnose, but if that is the best description of my issue then it means that there is a cycle to it and that I will likely go through the cycle again.

“Alas, the litmus test for depression and related disorders still eludes us and so I am left uncertain as to the reasons for my experience.”

The cycle can often be seen with periods of high productivity, either at home, at work, or both. These are followed by the periods of depression. As I mentioned earlier in the book, I was feeling very creative and being very productive leading up to this ‘crash’. I was writing, building, raising my family, being husband, working on my guitar skills, my swimming skills, and working out to a point where I was no longer enjoying any of this. I also remember this from ten years ago when this happened before. Through discussions with my psychiatrist I have also identified at least two other similar cycles between these two depressive episodes. In these ‘intermediate’ cycles, the highs and lows, were not as pronounced, but I can certainly identify them and link them to similar feelings, such as health anxiety.

Alternatively, maybe it was a reaction to the antibiotics. Perhaps that was the trigger. Perhaps it was also the trigger ten years ago when I went through something so similar.  I don’t remember being on anything back then, before it happened, but it is certainly possible. Maybe the cause was negative life experiences and stressors? Environmental? Dietary? Genetic? Developmental? Maybe it will never come back. Hopefully.

Alas, the litmus test for depression and related disorders still eludes us and so I am left uncertain as to the reasons for my experience. I’m left listening to the expert opinions of others and ultimately arriving my own conclusions. I wonder if, in years to come, we will have many more ‘names’ for what we currently describe as just a few related conditions? Maybe what has happened to me is an as yet undiscovered/named disorder with a specific cause and cure? Time will tell? Hopefully.

 

 

Chapter 9: Part V: 10 Things That I Learned From Depression

10 Things That I Learned from Depression That I’d Rather Have Learned Another Way:

  1. Depression is a life threatening illness. It is more than just feeling sad.
  2. It is not something that you can just talk your way out of.
  3. We should seek the help and advice of medical professionals at the first sign of depression.
  4. Our brain is a ridiculously complicated and finely balanced organ.
  5. Life is fragile.
  6. Mental/Brain health issues are both real and serious. They can affect ANYONE. Depression does not discriminate.
  7. We are a big bunch of chemicals. When those chemicals get messed up, we’re in big trouble.
  8. Life is too short to spend it regretting what has happened and worrying about what might happen. When you have the choice (i.e., when you are not depressed), choose to live in the moment as much as you possibly can. Stop and smell the roses. Taste your food. Hear the music. Hold and cherish your loved ones. I’m too conservative to truly believe in living each day like it’s your last, but maybe live each day like tomorrow is your last.
  9. Depression is so torturous that thoughts of suicide can start to seem like a legitimate way to obtain relief. For the first time, I understand how people can have thoughts of suicide.
  10. Thoughts of suicide, if you survive them, can pass and there will be a time that you are glad you didn’t take active action.

 

Chapter 9: Part IV: Friends and Loved Ones

Continued from Part III:

It’s important to realize that the support network does not end at close friends and loved ones. Employers and work colleagues can be major players here. It was hard to tell my boss what was happening to me. We had a great relationship and I had much respect for him. The day that I told him what had happened, I was in a bad state. My body weight was down from 170lbs to a scrawny, sunken-eyed 150lbs. I was shivering from a coldness that felt like it stemmed from the inside of my body. Muscles in my arms were twitching uncontrollably. He showed complete compassion. He told me that he had been thinking that something was wrong but was unsure how to approach it. He helped me to organize the necessary accommodations that had to be put into place so that I could reduce my workload to half-days.

My immediate work colleagues were supportive beyond what I could have ever hoped for. Without hesitation, they picked up the slack that my half-days created. They listened to my attempts to verbalize what was happening to me. They shared their own experiences and insights in the kindest ways possible. They know who they are and I don’t know the words that will do justice to the amount to gratitude that I have for them. Their actions stand as an example to others and have bonded our friendships for the rest of time.

“Their actions stand as an example to others and have bonded our friendships for the rest of time.”

This support makes a huge difference and the facts apply to any illness, not just depression. Unfortunately, many people do not show this help and understanding for brain health issues (or many other ‘invisible’ sicknesses for that matter). They are often quick to dismiss them as fabricated, imaginary, or self-imposed problems. Yet the reality remains that depression is a cruel, potentially fatal, illness that can be as painful and torturous as any other.

Chapter 9: Part II: Friends and Loved Ones

A COMMENTARY ON THE ROLES AND PERCEPTIONS OF OTHERS.

Whether or not we believe any of the inaccurate viewpoints about brain health issues, we still know that they are out there. It makes it hard to admit to others that this is happening to you. Heck, it even makes it hard for us to admit it to ourselves.

“We need our friends and loved ones to believe in us.”

We need our friends and loved ones to believe in us. We need them to do their absolute best to understand and help. We need them to believe that one of the organs in our body is having trouble right now. It’s the most complicated organ of them all.  It’s the one that affects the way we perceive ourselves and the world around us. They have to understand how authentic this is for us. They have to know that this is not something that we can think our way out of. They have to understand that this is more than merely feeling lousy. This is feeling like there is no point to anything. This is the feeling I’d feel if my entire family were killed before me in a gruesome car accident. I don’t want to go on living… I’m sure that everyone’s experience of this misery is a slightly different shade of grey, but in each case, it is real beyond real. And, in the absence of any external issue (such as the family car accident) our minds may turn on ourselves, destroying our self-perceptions, ripping open our souls, and possibly removing our will to live. We are in serious trouble. Depression is a potentially terminal illness.

Chapter 9: Friends and Loved Ones

A COMMENTARY OF THE ROLE AND PERCEPTIONS OF OTHERS.

Boy oh boy, do us humans love to critique other humans. We make sweeping judgments about the actions and decisions of each other with only a superficial understanding of the reasons behind them. We arrive at arbitrary conclusions about other motorists based on a brief snapshot of their driving skills. Some people that have never felt depression love to make far-reaching appraisals of those with it. I used to be one of those people. I thought of sufferers as people who had let things get on top of them. “They have so much negative in their life that they have become very, very sad.” I thought it was something that could never happen to me. I was wrong. Either it can happen to anyone or we lack the science to figure out who it can happen to. One way or the other, no one knows if they are truly safe from it. Chemicals in your head, combined with electrical activity in certain areas of your brain can make you feel a sadness like never before. Trust me. Sad beyond the very pit of your stomach. Sad enough that you might consider killing yourself. Many do. It happens to celebrities and non-celebrities alike. Some are saved in time, while others succeed in taking their own life. Many never even ask for help.

“Some people that have never felt depression love to make far-reaching appraisals of those with it. I used to be one of those people.”

Friends and loved ones are real life savers in all of this. However, not all are created equal for this task. They may love you very much, but life experiences, beliefs and personality traits all affect how prepared and how well-equipped they truly are to help you through this.

Perhaps you used to have your own misconceptions about depression and other brain health issues. Perhaps you saw sufferers as weak? Perhaps you felt that they had brought this on themselves by making certain life choices? Perhaps you thought this only happened to the uneducated or those that pursued illegal drug use? Those with tough upbringings in which they were neglected or abused? Maybe you had none of these misconceptions. Either way, if this is happening, or has happened, to you then you know that it is gut-wrenchingly awful and that it does not discriminate.

 

Coming Soon… Chapter 9: Part II

Chapter 8: Part III: 10 Things That I Felt As I Recovered From Depression

10 Things That I Felt/Thought as I Recovered from Depression:

 

  1. I felt fragile, like I might relapse at any moment.
  2. I had been taking my health and happiness for granted for way too long… life is to be appreciated.
  3. Depression sucks more than I ever realized. I had my own misconceptions about depression, but they have been put firmly in their place.
  4. Many things that I did as I healed felt strange/different. Certain things felt like it was the first time I’d ever done them. Grocery shopping felt daunting and new.
  5. I spent a lot of time hoping that the depression would not come back. A fear that it would return lingered, but faded over time.
  6. I used to think that this could never happen to me. It can happen to anyone. I felt passionately about this point as I was recovering.
  7. I must use my experience to help others. I must share what happened and talk about it to those that were willing to listen. Of course, I still feel this way and hence I sit here typing away at night.
  8. Wouldn’t it be terrible if a child had to go through this… which lead very quickly to point #9.
  9. What is being done to help children that go through this?
  10. I was relieved that my suicidal thoughts had stayed passive and that I had never taken my own life.