Taking Stock

It’s a new year and the tendency is to resolve to be better in the year ahead. Three days in, I’ve done that, broken that and become a bit lost. So after a long absence, I thought I might return to blogging, something that has helped me so much in the past in figuring out where I am and where I am going. So here I am.

Major Depression:

Six years post-major depressive breakdown, I really do feel like I’m on the verge of breaking free. There have been several relapses, but they aren’t as bad now. My doctor and I have been lowering my medication over the past year, and I’ve managed to make some progress regaining my career. Low mood, hopelessness or sadness aren’t so much the issues now as anxiety. 

Generalized Anxiety Disorder:

The companion of my depression has been anxiety. This, I think, is my biggest obstacle at the moment, but here too there has been progress. I think for a long time my shame over mental illness fueled my anxiety and made me so afraid of people finding out. But a lot has happened to fight the stigma of mental illness and I think this has helped. I’m comfortable discussing it with some friends, I don’t dread going to see my psychiatrist, and I’m not ashamed to admit my situation to myself. 

But I’m currently not managing my anxiety very well.  I’m struggling a lot financially, the aftermath of my prolonged depression and career issues. I’ve taken significance steps to address this, but until these play out there is a lot of immediate stress in trying to stay afloat. So here is where I try to remind myself that I have taken the steps, that I’m almost at a point where I can balance things. But it’s hard. Not being able to pay for the simplest things, figuring out how I’ll feed myself and get to work until my next pay cheque arrives…it all adds up. My psoriasis has flared up and there are big red sores where I’ve scratched too much. I wake up with my fists clenched and tension up and down my arms. I struggle to sleep at night and yet sleep way too much overall. I’m sleeping in the day to avoid my worries, but this is just perpetuating things. 

I also stress about work. I’m struggling with a project and veer from worry to avoidance. This has affected my recent work and I’m seriously stressed about going in to work this week. I also worry about my work reputation, which compounds other worries. 

Right Now

I feel this post getting more negative as I confront my worries. So I will take a step back and look again at the big picture.

Depression: under control, with the exception of oversleeping

Anxiety: grounded in real stresses that I’m taking steps to manage

Medication: gradually lowering

Work: I’m functional, I have recovered some of the ground lost when I was laid off, and I have found a job and organization that I like

Social: I’m making some efforts to break free of my hermit like ways, though there is still a lot of work to do here

Shame: lessening as I’ve stopped self-stigmatizing and I have opened up to some

So that’s where I am in a nutshell. Thanks for listening 🙂

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Rest in Peace, Robin Williams

As I was heading home from my yoga class, I heard the sad news that Robin Williams has died of suspected suicide.

An amazing person who gave the world so much joy, it is so tragic that he himself struggled with severe depression.

This brings home the fact that mental illness has a long and indiscriminate reach. That it is so often hidden below the surface and isolates the sufferer.

Some of my earliest memories are of toddling about and laughing at the antics of Williams’ hilarious character Mork in Mork and Mindy. I grew up with the Dead Poets Society, Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire and Good Will Hunting. He was such a talented man.

Please take this as a reminder that major depression is a serious illness and that it should not be ignored. It can affect anyone and we need to have more openness and help for sufferers, without stigma.

My deepest sympathy to Williams’ family.

Pushing Myself to Date

It’s not officially part of my June Challenge, but this weekend I’ve taken steps to re-enter the world of dating. I am so nervous!

It’s been about two or three years since my last date. Depression has really pulled a number on me, and when I started seeing my latest therapist a few years ago, she advised against dating as I was at a crisis point.

I understand the logic there, but I think I also internalized this to support my inner belief that I am not good enough to be loved.

Result: complete retreat from any dating possibilities.

The thing is, it’s very lonely. And I have to overcome my feelings of worthlessness or life will continue to be lonely.

So I’ve joined a dating site to try and push myself back out there. So far I’ve just answered a few questions from some guys. Seems okay. But one touchy point has already arisen. There is a point where you state what would be a “break” for you. A non-starter that would ultimately mean no possibility of a relationship with this person. One of the options is “depression” and this came up with a potential match.

Way to get right to the root of my fears! On the one hand, I’m glad to know this. It means I will not waste any more time getting to know this person. Because while I understand that it’s never fun to be around a depressed person, I would want to know that whoever I was in a relationship with would have my back, would stay through the good times and the bad.

But already I’ve felt so unworthy given my history of depression, so this isn’t so helpful. I can’t imagine there being something that says a history of heart disease, diabetes or cancer would be a ban against you having any relationship. I know that I am in a fairly good place right now, content and ready to resume the things I love. But I’m also taking medication. And I don’t know if I will ever be able to stop. I also can’t foretell the future to know if I will have a relapse.

So I’m glad I’m venturing back out there, but this shows that there will likely be a lot of triggers along the way. I will need to be brave and fight my anxiety and my low self-esteem. I hope I can stay the course!

The impact of stress

All my underlying stresses seem to have exploded at once. It has really whacked me on the head and I’m barely functional.

I told you I missed work on Monday afternoon. Well, I also missed yesterday and almost missed today to.

It’s amazing how quickly I can fall down the spiral. And it is entirely stress. I’m not sick otherwise.

But the physical symptoms are bad headaches, inability to concentrate, and exhaustion. And depression kicks in because I feel so upset, I’m shamed I can’t just say that I was sick with the flu or something. I feel like I am completely withdrawn today, present in body because it’s only harder to go back the longer that I am off. My only goal is to make it to the end of the day. Then I will go shopping for fruit and veggies and maybe a small present for me.

Why am I stressed?
I am waiting to find out if I’ve won a permanent job.
I am waiting to have my current contract renewed.
I had two tests last week.
I am living pay cheque to pay cheque and just had a new $1000+ debt slapped on to my load.
I am so tired of applying for jobs. I just want some security.
I feel fat and like I need to exercise, but I can’t get myself to go.
The team I organize isn’t coming together well this year.
I have lots of homework for my teacher training.

And the list goes on and on.

Please forgive my rant. I just wanted to try to get these weights off my shoulders so that I can hopefully set them aside for the afternoon. After all, there is nothing I can do about them at the moment!

Argh.

Gratitude for Silver Linings in a Truly Terrible Year

2013 was a crap year for me. I was laid off from my stable job of ten years. I was fired from a new job when I was sick. And my depression was getting worse instead of better. I questioned my whole value as a person. I injured my leg and couldn’t take part in sports, my regular method of de-stressing, so my anxieties mounted. I’ve become so financially unstable that I’ve become a burden on my parents. And a death in the family rounded out the year.

But there some things that happened in 2013 that I’m truly grateful for. Instead of always focussing on the negative, I’d like to focus on these silver linings.

Time for my Health
Prior to being laid off, I was struggling with depression in the workplace. I loved my job, but mentally I was declining so much that I was missing more and more days. I thought I’d have to go on long term disability again, something I was so ashamed about when it happened before and which led to me really distancing myself from everything and everyone.
I’m grateful that my unexpectedly empty schedule gave me time to really focus on me, without the stigma of sick leave. To reevaluate how I live, what works for me and what doesn’t. To really absorb my therapy and begin to implement it.

A Long Overdue Holiday
I love to travel. But after the financial problems resulting from my period of long term disability and my more recent pay losses due to exhausting my sick leave, I just couldn’t afford it.
I’m grateful that my layoff and severance pay allowed me the chance of a lifetime in terms of travel. I travelled to the other side of the world and spent two months exploring, recharging, and rekindling my interest in life. Truly priceless.

A Reality Check
Getting fired was one of the most horrible experiences of my life. The way it was done, the shock of never having any prior indication from my boss that I wasn’t performing well, the fact that I wasn’t even given the opportunity to justify my day off for being sick by seeking a doctors note, and the walk of shame as I left and my friendly colleagues avoided looking at me, it was just terrible. I’d been sick twice in a month. That was actually a lot less than in recent years and I was trying so hard to readapt to the workforce after months off and a period of post-travel depression. I transitioned from sleeping nearly 24/7 to starting work at an earlier time than I’d done in the past ten years and I was changing medications as well. I was getting my life back in order, then wham!
I’m grateful because the resulting crisis led to me really taking my recovery to heart. I worked hard to implement some of the things that I’d learned in therapy.I came up with the idea of blogging to help me journal. And I discovered this wonderful, supportive community.

Reaching Out
I’ve never been one to discuss my personal problems, fears and struggles. I’ve had a tendency to retreat from everything in self protection and because I felt like such a failure and waste of space.
I’m so grateful that I decided to create a WordPress blog. When I decided to create an anonymous blog, I decided to lay it all out on the line. To tell all, things I had only otherwise told my doctors and therapists. And I discovered that there were so many great people out there who struggle with the same problems as me. I went from isolation to a sense of community and support. And I honestly think that it has been the one most important step I’ve taken in the 4+ years that I’ve been trying to recover from major depression, anxiety and a complete breakdown.

New Doctors, New Medication
After a mishap with my first psychiatrist (he blew up one day when I questioned why I needed to take mood stabilizers when I wasn’t convinced that I was bipolar and I was stressed about the warnings in the medication’s literature), I found a new psychiatrist with a fresh perspective. And she really listened to me when I noted my overall problem of apathy and lethargy. A lack of energy to get about my day or to care about much. And she recommended a change from the medication I’d been on for three years. The medication I was on had helped me overcome my period of despair, but I had stagnated and wasn’t fully progressing back to health.
I’m grateful to have been listened to, to have taken on an active role in my treatment, and I’m so grateful that the new regime of Prozac and Wellbutrin seems to be working.

Rebuilding Confidence
I haven’t been able to find full-time work yet. But I did have a short but intense part-time contract, working afternoons and evenings.
I’m grateful that I had that opportunity to rebuild my shattered self-confidence. Sure I was underemployed, but I showed myself that I could still roll with the punches and that I really could once again be a valuable and reliable employee. That I could go to work for every shift and never miss a day. That I could be punctual, too, when I didn’t have to contend with early mornings, the most difficult part of the day for me.

Reconnecting with Family
It is so sad that we lost my aunt to cancer a few weeks ago. She was such a wonderful person and so young. I regret not having visited her recently and that I kept some distance because I didn’t want to discuss my depression and unemployment.
I’m grateful that I travelled for a full day to go to her funeral. That I listened to stories about her strength in facing her challenges, both in terms of cancer and a truly difficult childhood. I’m grateful that I was able to reconnect with family after the funeral, that I had this breakthrough moment when I realized that despite all the dysfunction and trials and tribulations, there were some great people in my family. And that we all dealt with our problems by retreating from each other, but there was still love there. I’m grateful for the realization that I can rebuild some of these relationships. I just need to take the first step because we are all so cautious and reserved. I’m also so grateful for the support my parents are giving me while I’m ineligible for unemployment insurance.

I still struggle with bad days, but they are becoming fewer. I know that I’ve really progressed a lot since starting my blog. I’m beginning to regain my confidence. I’m beginning to realize how I’ve been stigmatizing myself, and how I’m really not that different from so many people out there who struggle with similar mental illnesses. I’ve become much more comfortable with my diagnosis of major depression and anxiety. I’ve overcome a lot of my shame. And I feel more comfortable acknowledging my illness, yet knowing it doesn’t completely define who I am.

My hope is that all of this progress comes to fruition in 2014. I think I’m finally ready!

Keeping a Journal

An often recommended treatment for depression is to keep a journal. I’ve always had trouble with keeping a journal, so I decided to approach journalling in the form of a blog. Let the experiment begin!

I’ve suffered from chronic depression and anxiety since I was a teenager. However, it was only in my mid-twenties that I started to suspect this, and years later before I admitted it to myself. This only happened when things came to a head and I suffered a breakdown that was so severe that I could no longer deny that there was a serious problem.

I was diagnosed with major depression and anxiety in 2009 and I’ve been trying to make my way back since. I’ve tried many medications, met with various doctors and also had counselling. While I’m mostly functional now, I still have frequent bouts of depression, often triggered by anxiety. My hope is that through my blog I will be able to better understand myself and work through whatever is causing my continued depression.

Probably the most difficult aspect of my depression is the isolation. I know it is self-imposed, but that doesn’t make it any easier to end. I struggle with the stigma of mental illness and with the idea that depression and anxiety happen, and they are not something to be ashamed about. This is something I want to work through in my journal.

So, join me if you like on this journey of self-discovery. I’m hoping to finally find a way to live life again, and this is the story of the challenges and (hopefully) successes along the way.