Tag Archives: #mentalhealth

Driving and The (Im)Perfection Factor

I’m not a perfect driver. Simple fact. Luckily, I haven’t had any major accidents to date. I try really hard to drive safely. I drive 20km to work and 20km back five days a week. I drive for groceries and other things on the weekends. Sometimes I take a three hour drive to my wife’s parents’ cottage. It’s a lot of driving and sometimes I make mistakes. Plenty of people drive a great deal further than this. Is it fair to expect someone to drive for so much of their lives, without the slightest mistake ever? I think not.

I’m not encouraging careless driving and I’m not referring to accidents that ruin or take lives. I’m not talking about fender benders.  I am talking about completely honest mistakes. Mistakes that harm no one. Mistakes that although harming no one, somehow seem to result in unnecessary, disproportional anger in other drivers.  I’m talking about a time you were carefully watching a cyclist while sitting at a red light. You momentarily missed the light turn to green and received a prolonged and angry horn honk from a car somewhere behind you. Or, the time you took a few attempts to safely reverse park and held up a couple of other drivers in the process, only to have one of them angrily yell out of their window at you as they drove by. Have you honestly never once forgotten to check your blind spot? Driving requires a lot of skills. It requires a lot of our attention. We are all human. Mistakes will be made.

“We are all human. Mistakes will be made.”

Armed with this knowledge, let us all drive the roads expecting to see mistakes. Our logical brains know that they will happen. Let us drive as a team, not as one person against the rest of the world. We can look out for the imperfections in our own and other people’s driving. We can try our best to help them recover safely and with as little stress as possible.

“Unrealistic expectations are a recipe for stress, frustration, and unhappiness.”

I hypothesize that at least some amount of road rage comes from expecting everyone to drive perfectly and becoming enraged when this expectation is not met. Yet, the expectation is not realistic.  Unrealistic expectations are a recipe for stress, frustration, and unhappiness. Expect imperfections. Look out for them. Be the person who helps another driver during their mistake. Be the person who helps make our roads a friendlier place to drive on. Be the kindness in someone else’s day, from the comfort of your car.

By expecting to see mistakes on the road, we can adopt the attitude of looking out for each other. Be kind, not rude, to other drivers. Help make the roads a safer place by supporting the other drivers out there.

Kindness is the most precious commodity that we have in our possession. Use it freely, even from behind the steering wheel of your car.

Chapter 10: Part II: A New Outlook

Moving On From Depression…

I will do all that I can to prevent it from returning. I will eat healthy (within reason… no need for all those chocolate chip cookies to go to waste), exercise within reason, do my best to focus on the present, and for the time-being, take my SSRI each day.

When you are not depressed it is almost impossible to imagine that you will ever feel that way again. Even on the good days that happened during my period of depression, I could not imagine that the feeling would ever come back. It did. My perception was that I had way more control over it than I actually did. The truth is that it can happen to anyone and it can have a devastating effect.

“Depression changed me. It was awful, but it ultimately changed me for the better.”

The good news is that for most people, depression is curable. The challenges lie in accepting what is wrong and then getting the necessary medical and therapeutic help. In many places, Mental Health Care is still grossly underfunded so the quality of help available to individuals varies considerably.

So, as I heal, what next?

I felt fragile for a many months as I recovered. I felt that something could easily make my depression come back. Thankfully, it didn’t and the feeling of fragility gradually faded. Twelve months later and there’s still a tiny bit of that feeling, but it only wakes up for a few minutes of each day. With it comes an appreciation. An appreciation for the life that I have. We take our health for granted? I believe that most of us do. But, in the aftermath of something like this, it is so wonderful to wake up and realize how fortunate I am to have the life that I have. There’s something special there when I see my family. It’s something that wasn’t there before. It’s a love of the simplicity of being alive and having each other. Am I saying that I’m glad that I went through my depression? No – I wouldn’t wish depression on anybody. I’m just saying that there is some good to have come out of it. I would not be who I am now without depression and in many ways I feel better than the person I was before. When I teach children, I am so much more aware of their brain/mental health. When I hear of others experiencing mental health issues, I am so much better equipped to be helpful and supportive. When I interact with those around me, I do so with a belief that my words and actions can affect the health of their brains. Depression changed me. It was awful, but it ultimately changed me for the better.

I don’t intend this book to be ground-breaking – I know that it isn’t. However, I do hope that it will help someone. I know that hearing about the experiences of others was a great help to me. The unfortunate thing was that people weren’t very willing to open up about the topic because of the stigma still attached to it. I had to go through all this to learn what I learned. Surely there is an easier way? Hopefully we can change this for our children.

If you’re out there and suffering, hang in there. If you’re out there and talking about your experiences then keep going. Together we can change the way things are. Together, we can make mental health stigma a thing of the past.

THE END.

FOR NOW.

Thanks for reading.

Justin

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