Posts tagged depression
Where I have been. Mental Health Update.
Home away from home in March.

Home away from home in March.

On NPR there’s a weekend show called “It’s Been a Minute,” and that’s how I’m feeling now as I write this first post in several months. Gosh has it ever been a minute. But I feel this need to apologize, like I’ve ghosted a friend (I swear I was doing something but I can’t remember what, but it was surely more important than talking to you, right? But SORRY!)

But it’s HARD to get started blogging again. Hard to get out there, when it’s easy to let the old status quo become the permanent status quo. It’s hard to get started with anything you once enjoyed and have let lapse, I think. And the guilt. I’ve learned a LOT about guilt in the past several months.

In fact, I’ve spent time learning about all kinds of emotions, and the role they play in both inner and outer life. After really struggling on and off through the fall, and feeling like I was making so little progress, and frankly feeling a little desperate, my therapist (PSA: I love therapy and you should go) said, maybe you should do an IOP. I think it would help you really get a jump-start in your life, and I think you need that. So then I said, “What is IOP?” And that’s when this began.

IOP: Intensive Outpatient Program for Mental Health

Turns out that on the spectrum between hospitalization & weekly therapy, there are a couple other options for those struggling with mental illness in a really active way.

  • PHP is Partial Hospitalization. This means that you go to the program every day, all day. Bring a lunch, the works. You spend time essentially like you would in a hospital, but you get to sleep in your bed at night.

  • IOP is Intensive Outpatient. This means that you go to the program every day for half a day. Same story, also get to sleep in your bed at night. :)

They’re offered, at least in my area, through larger psychiatry and behavioral health practices. They can be a month, 6 weeks, 8 weeks, and consist of psychiatric evaluation, individual & group therapy, CBT and DBT classes, meditation, music, art. Some programs do yoga.

My IOP Experience

Obviously I can’t speak for the experience of everyone, but I can say unequivocally that the month I spent in IOP was life-changing.

I had an initial assessment by a therapist, who was one of the group leaders. I filled out a bunch of papers, which included:

  • Things I like to do that help me relax or recharge or feel better

  • A specific safety plan, including people I can call if I’m feeling really desperate

  • Who I wanted at my family therapy session

  • My goals for IOP

The first 2 were really important, it turns out, because facing the darkness and talking about the pain is really, really painful. I had to enact the safety plan once, and admit to feeling suicidal, and referred to my “happy list” often. It was exhausting. I came home every day and fell asleep, many times with the salt of dried tears still on my cheeks.

The goal is to talk, and learn, and evaluate, and celebrate, and examine, and let go. To assess and be assessed (by professionals), and most of all, be supported by both professionals and fellow-travelers in a journey you’re on that’s lifelong, but that thankfully, blessedly, you don’t have to do alone.

I had an assessment by a psychiatrist, who changed my diagnosis and prescribed new meds, and who followed up every week for the 4 that I was there. That, coupled with the power that comes from actually going to a place every day, facing the darkness and the fear and the guilt, and learning skills for replacing those with positivity, for coping through the worst with hope, changed me forever.

The New(ly Diagnosed) Me

I’ve been seeing a psychiatrist for a really long time, and the same one for years, being treated for major uni-polar depression (“major drug-resistant depression”). With occasional tweaking, I’ve been on the same combination of meds for years. Part of what I was looking forward to with IOP was the psychiatric assessment (yep, I just said I was looking forward to a psych eval! ha!).

After the evaluation and a couple of computerized tests, he changed my diagnosis:

Bipolar type 2 and ADHD

I made those words big and bold, because I need for it to be known that mental illness is not a weakness. It’s ok to be out-loud about your anxiety, unipolar or bipolar depression, or your schizophrenia, or your PTSD, or your addiction. It’s courageous to be a survivor. It’s awesome to be conquering day by day.

The Dr. said the first thing I needed to do was come off of Effexor (venlafaxine). And start (re-start) taking a stimulant for ADHD, getting my blood pressure under control, and stop drinking Diet Mt. Dew like it came from the fountain of youth and I was dying in the desert. (He maybe just said, “you can’t drink caffeine while you’re taking Vyvanse.” But the message was there).

So I switched to Mio Energy drops on my way to caffeine-free. They are awesome (yep, I said are and not were and I don’t feel bad about it). And I was coming to IOP every day during the transition of meds, which made things infinitely easier. People who said, you showed up here yesterday to work on yourself, and you showed up here again today, and that is enough. You are enough, and even with setbacks you’ll always be enough.

The Good Stuff!

The clarity that has come from that combination - the extra resilience I feel, the skills I have, the mental clarity from the new meds (& off the old meds), and the month-or-so it has taken to basically re-integrate and I’m in a better place than I have been for as long as I can remember.

As a celebration, I “got my hair did” at a new stylist, who just by luck had specialized training in cutting curly hair and I posted my new hair on Insta:

End The Stigma Against Mental Illness

I am perfectly willing - eager, even - to put a face to mental illness. To put my face on it, if it helps end the stigma that the mentally ill are less worthy of love (or of hiring, or renting apartments to), or are walking time-bombs, or are somehow struggling in a way that is less than because it is less visible. I’ll be an advocate for the lonely and vulnerable, who maybe remain silent because they don’t know there’s another way.

If you and/or someone you love are out there today fighting the good fight, may God bless and shower you with Heaven’s love. May you know the kind of love and support that I’ve been given these past few months. May you feel how courageous you are, even if courage for day meant showing up to read this little post. It can get better. It WILL get better. You’re so much stronger than you know, even in your darkness.

In one of my IOP sessions we were asked to bring two songs - one that represented us today, and one that represented what we want in the future. This was my “today” song, and it has great significance for me. I hope it resonates, because I believe there ARE angels around us to walk us through this world.

I want to talk about the specifics in later posts. I really wish that everyone could learn specific skills taught in DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), such as the function of emotions, emotion regulation, values-based goal setting, meditation, acknowledging both little successes and little failures, and always getting back up to try again. Look for those in the future. :)

XO

-JS

Doing Something: Crisis Hotline Wallet Cards

I've blogged a few times about depression: here, here, and here, and talked in person MANY times about the reality of the struggle with mental illness, but this idea came to me in the middle of the night and I want to share it. 

Last night I ran across a post by a girl who had hidden a card with the phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline under some papers on her family's fridge. So she'd have it and they wouldn't know. Now that right there kind of eats me up. But first, what WE can do. You and me. 

I really loved the idea that BEFORE the crisis, we could provide ourselves and our friends and loved ones with a resource, a reminder of exactly what they can do. Kind of like a fire escape plan at your home. When you smell smoke and see flames, it's not the time for planning. When you feel the overwhelming pain and can't think of anything to stop it, it's the time to just get out the card and call. 

Hotline Wallet Cards

I made 3 versions of this card, and I hope you'll pick one and print it out for yourself or someone who matters a whole lot to you. All you need to do is right-click on the image and save it to your computer. Then print it out.

CrisisHotlineCard-mockup.jpg

Card 1: General Hotline Info

This card is for those of us who struggle with mental illness to carry with us. The day might come, the crisis might come, that it feels like there's no way out. Here is proof that there is.

CrisisHotlineCard-business.jpg

Card 2: My Hotline

I made this card in reference to a post I made just a few days ago, when I said I texted my bestie, knowing she gets it. She doesn't suffer from a specific mental illness, but she is very well acquainted with grief, and I know she'll be there, always. If you have someone like that - your Person, print out this card and write their name and number on it, so you carry that with you. There may come a day when the only thread you have left of the fabric of your old world is this card in your wallet. May this be that thread. Make that call.

CrisisHotlineMyCard.jpg

Card 3: Promise Card: I Will Be Your Hotline

This one is really special. We all know someone who struggles. This is proof you can give them, that no matter what time or place or circumstance they need you, that you will be there. If you are willing to make that pledge for someone who is really important to you, write your info down and give it to them. Look them in the eye and make them put it in their wallet. That promise is binding, and it is real. Your person will feel it. 

One of the devil's lies to people struggling with suicidal thoughts is that things would be better off - that YOU their loved one would be better off if they weren't there. Depression is not a rational thing but a terrible, ice-breathing, infinitely heavy, lying bastard who obliterates all sense and reason, even in a matter of seconds. Even if you find it impossible to understand how anyone could think that their sudden disappearance from your life could possibly HELP you, trust me, in the terrible darkness, this monstrous lie becomes a reverberating echo in their head. 

When you write this down, you have to understand how HARD it is to be someone who falters and fails, how hard it is to admit that there's no getting up unless someone reaches down for you, and I also hope you understand that if you ever get the opportunity to make good on this promise, you will have changed your person's life forever. There's a special place in heaven for the person who strengthens the feeble knees and lifts up the hands that hang down. 

CrisisHotlinePromiseCard.jpg

Please, PLEASE share these, ok? We CAN help save a life. 

Picking My Outrage Battle: Depression & Suicide
pexels-photo-720362.jpeg

I stepped away (okay, clicked away) from working on my latest class and spotted a news story from over the weekend. Apparently a "YouTube Star" - Logan Paul who makes a ton of money touring the world, setting up stunts, one-upping himself with the cray-zay, and basically "OMG!" reacting! to! stuff! with his face! in front of a camera! in a! crazy! hat! and posting it for millions to see, visited the "Suicide Forest" Aokigahara near Mt. Fuji in Japan, - which is known for being a place where many Japanese people go to end their lives, and actually found the body of someone who had very recently died from suicide

Granted, his lil' circus posse did call the authorities. But then rather than turning off the camera or leaving the immediate area out of respect for the deceased and their devastated family (who might not have even KNOWN yet), they zoomed in close. And just blurred out the person's face. And then talked about how CRAZY it was in the Whole! History! of Crazyness! That Nobody! Could! Top! This! talked about how crazy it was and his hands and how recently this happend, whatnot, and then proceeded on to a parking lot and drank sake, and asked your kids and mine (his regular audience) to subscribe to his channel.  

Thankfully the vid was taken down, and I didn't see it. Good thing, because instead of suffocating outrage I probably would be in my car on my way to kick someone's ass. But I have read several second-by-second descriptions of it, and it sickens me. It sickens me that the one and only serious statement he made was something like, "dude, mental illness isn't a joke." But then proceeded to make a joke out of it, by zooming up close to the tragic and preventable death of someone who was a person with a family and a future and people who loved them whether they could see that or not, and made fun.

ZOOMED IN CLOSE. AND MADE FUN.

I know there's a lot to get worked up over as the year 2017 moves off (tyvm) and a brand new bright shiny year with lots of hope and possibility and sparkles rolls in (ah just in time), with politics and the economy and the NFL and puppies and the housing market and suffering and starvation and war and injustice all over the world. If I got worked up over everything I probably SHOULD, I would not be able to get out of bed. So we have to pick our outrage battles. 

Joking about suicide or making light of depression is one of my outrage battles. I know too many people, love too many people whose lives have been destroyed by mental illness, by uncontrolled depression, by suicide, for me to EVER think that this would be okay. 

Depression is a lifelong struggle for many people. It's an invisible killer, and comes with a truly staggering level of pain that's impossible to describe, but must be built over, moved around, carried on with day by day, hour by hour. It's a monster that always lurks. 

I've talked before about how things for me are up and down, and that sometimes down comes without any warning at all. When it comes to depression, I am firmly on the side of "keeping it real", and so REAL is what you are going to get. 

Truth: I was feeling off-ish all morning on Sunday (Dec 31), and by the time we got to church, I asked everyone to go inside and I'd be in there in a minute. And then I just sat in the car and fell apart. Everything crashed at once and I just couldn't breathe, couldn't stop crying. Couldn't stop feeling desolate and desperate and filled with pain. Here is the text I sent to my bestie, as tears were running down my face:

12:23 p.m Sunday

I am sitting in the car outside my church building, and I need to write to someone. I choose you because you get it. The air is getting cold around me, but I can't bring myself to get out and go inside and smile. At a time and place in life and circumstance that I should be happy and peaceful I can see the gap with my reality most clearly, and maybe that is why  it hurts more. I feel sad, so sad and desperate, with a hollow longing for SOMETHING, for a nap, or for rest, or an OK you can put down your burden for a bit. I'm tired, mama. So tired.

I then did what I know I HAD to do: go somewhere safe and sleep. I texted my people who were already inside, and the people who were planning on me being at church (all of whom know about the struggle and have given me extra-generous compassion), and went home. Cried. Slept. Felt better.

So that was me 3 days ago. Right back there again. Not to the darkest of the dark places, but enough that I was debilitated by it for a whole day and night. You probably know I've been on meds and in therapy for 14 years, and on and off for years before that. Nobody should be fooled by now into thinking that it's something that a) will ever be completely under control, or b) will ever just go away. And yet, that misunderstanding keeps coming up. 

For me, I've definitely lost any shred of concern I ever had that someone would judge me or think less of me, or that I'd be disadvantaged because of my mental illness, but I'm lucky. I have a whole bunch of people in my life who, even if they can't fully understand, can at least give me compassion. Can give me their generosity while I sometimes stumble and sometimes simply can't. Just can't.

I'm lucky because I don't work for a boss who might use that information - even if it's illegal to do so - to my disadvantage. I don't belong to a family who sees depression and medication as a weakness, or parents who think mental illness is just a phase, or would be embarrassed if anyone found out their kid goes to therapy, or that it will go away if only I just ... (ate better, read scriptures, prayed, etc)... 

I know so many people aren't as lucky as me. Who feel like they can't be honest. Who can't find some way to find solace or safety or hope. It hurts as badly for them as for me, but they can't say, or won't, and so they just suffer on. It's excruciating. All-consuming. And I'm offended by ANYONE who makes light of or jokes about that kind of pain. It is no less appalling than dumping someone out of a wheelchair they need, or grabbing someone's crutches and throwing them in the street and then saying they're "raising awareness." Wheelchairs are real, y'all. And crutches.

So, when someone, whose life is full of hope and promise even though they can't see it right now, who might have benefited from meds and therapy or a hospital stay, or even just a friend to stick by them, finds themselves in the woods (literally or figuratively), and sees no other way out of the pain, and takes their own life my heart is broken, because I get it. Oh I get it. It kicks in this visceral mama-bear instinct in me that screams to PROTECT those who can't protect themselves. To FIGHT for the people who are already knocked down. To RECOGNIZE the pain someone else is in and do my best to shield them from extra hurt until they can get themselves looked after. Because I've been the one knocked down. I've been the one who needs protecting. And so for me, there is not enough outrage in the world. 

Final word: The world is full of awesome, generous, compassionate, good people. It also has a lot of A-holes. So I suppose if the appalling behavior of some high-profile A-holes can help keep a discussion going that improves the care and discussion and attitude toward depression and suicide, it'll be ok. It certainly has me raising MY voice again.

Important:

If this is YOU and you read this, call the hotline 1800-273-TALK and talk, just talk - there will ALWAYS be a kind supporter on the other end, someone rooting for you. Text the crisis text line. Gather your circle around you. Get somewhere safe and text someone. Go to the ER (for real, you can, just go). You will be ok. I promise you won't regret staying alive.

Much love, 

JS 

 

May: Mental Health Month

Did you know that May is Mental Health Month? One non-profit organization that is leading a campaign for awareness in May is NAMI: The National Alliance on Mental Health. I haven't - or I hope I haven't - made any secret here about the fact that I have depression. It's pretty severe. It's pretty chronic. It interferes with my life off and on even with 10+ years of stable meds and therapy. It sucks. 

It sucks in a way for which I really have no words. If I had my deepest heart's desire, it would be that I didn't have depression. 

When I was in high school I was the only person I knew who had something wrong up there (tap forehead). That was oh, 25-ish years ago. Nobody wants to admit to being a wacko, right? And anything that can't be seen really MUST be all in your head

Honestly, the stigma is part of the pain.

Stigma Free

Now, a couple decades and many thousands of conversations later, I know that I'm not the only one. I'm far from the only person I know: NAMI says that 1 in 5 Americans is affected by a mental health condition. Also I love Mayim Bialik, so be sure to watch this little clip here:

 

So you and I are in charge of whether or not it's ok to tell people out loud that you have depression. Or bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, without stigma. Or that your husband or son or daughter does. That it's ok to be brave and say "I have this struggle that you can't see, but it's a struggle all the same." And then, if you hear that from some courageous person, to give that person the respect they deserve, not only for the day-in-day-out struggle, but for their bravery, too.

On May 2, NAMI organized to have the Empire State building lit up in green in honor of National Mental Health Month.

My Story: Through the Deep Waters

I wrote a pretty grueling blog post right after the death of Robin Williams, in August of 2014. It talks in pretty detailed ways about my own struggle, some of the lowest points I've had, and some of the strategies I use (and keep using) to keep myself in a place where I can forge ahead. 

You can find that blog post here: Through the Deep Waters

What You Can Do

There are several ways you can actively participate.

Your Turn

Since it's May and we're talking about Mental Health, what do you think should change about the conversations we have concerning those who struggle? What about access to or the stigma around getting mental health care? Or maybe you're interested in alternative or integrated therapies? Mental health insurance? Specific ways we can all fight the "aloneness" that everyone with mental illness feels? What else?

Looking forward to hearing from you. 

-JS

Beauty Instead of Ashes, Joy Instead of Tears

I haven't written for a few days, not because I don't have anything to say, but because how do you follow on something like Heidi Swapp's beautiful and exquisitely sad post about her sweet son Cory? What else could there ever be to say that measures to this? How will any of us be able to see through our tears in our sorrow for one amazing family and one very, very lonely young dude? 

I've cried a lot the past couple of weeks. I ugly-cried at church so hard the past 2 weeks I had to come home. For two weeks in a row. I blame all the Jesus and Eternal Hope songs - not in anger, but in gratitude for God's plan - that we are all born into families for a reason, and that those families still exist in eternity. Doesn't make it hurt any less when one of them leaves the circle for awhile, though. My whole soul hurts for my soul sister. She is, all I can say, immensely strong. She's baffled and heartbroken and struggling, and still staunch and faithful and hilarious and I will love and admire her grace for as long as I live

She's a woman of sincere humility and faith who desperately feels the Cory-shaped hole in her heart, but knows with that same unshakeable faith that he'll always be hers, that he's waiting for her, and that someday - maybe not for a long time - she'll get some understanding of his pain. Maybe of WHAT the level of hidden pain he was in, and WHY. Oh, the why - why does this have to be an earthly affliction at all? It's truly low and dirty play.

And yet again, I myself find it terrifyingly easy to imagine the WHAT, although nobody can ever know the pain in those secret silent places in a heart and mind. I've blogged about my own struggle with depression. And so my heart breaks twice, once for each of them.

Here's my hope, and, after talking with her, Heidi's hope too:

Let there not be stigma about depression. Let there not be blame, or shame, or that old tired yawn about how it's only in our heads, and the whole pick yourself up and walk-it-off nonsense that never got anybody anywhere and instead kills thousands of people a year. Depression is a monster that eats you heart and soul, bite by bite. Plays to your weaknesses and sadness and hopelessness until one day you start to believe the devil's lie: That they'd be better off without you. 

I'm now on both sides of that equation. I've thought it. And now I experience (in my small heartbroken way, only feeling for HER unimaginable pain) the nuclear-bomb devastation left in the wake of a suicide. And one thing I know for certain-sure: 

THEY WILL NOT BE BETTER OFF WITHOUT YOU. 

But here is the bitter and heartbreaking truth: sometimes therapy and meds and our best vigilance are not enough. Sometimes to our beautiful friend or son or family member, whose hope is in ashes and whose future seems too dark to imagine, there is only one option left. Please, let us not blame them. Let us also never blame or question the action of parents or children or siblings or or others that they leave behind. They certainly have enough self-doubt and private, questioning anguish to be getting on with. 

So we can mourn with those that mourn, and when our own questions begin to turn to 'how COULD he/she/they, WHY did or didn't he/she/they, we can shut up about it. Because we will never know and it isn't ours to know anyway. We grieve. We condole with them. We cry our ugly-cry for the earthly life that so often hurts like a motherbear and leaves us all reeling in pain. And we can kneel in the midst of that sorrow and thank God for the opportunity to come here anyway. That He's there with His hand in ours through it all - not to take it away, but to help us live through it and come out more faithful, better, stronger in the end. That's what Heidi, my sweet and grief-stricken and immensely faithful friend, is doing. Maybe tonight you can kneel a little longer in grief for her and her family, and for all the earthly pain everywhere. And then maybe kneel a little longer still in gratitude for the peace that only Heaven can bring as it lingers close.

xo,

JS

 

All is well.

Thank you, so much for your amazing comments and emails and love. I have been moved to tears by your support, not only of me, but of the people in your life (maybe you?) in whom you might recognize some of what I said. I hope with all my heart that something might have resonated - that something might have provided help or hope or comfort.

As I've been re-reading, I realized that I needed a follow up to my last post. I need you to know about the success. And perhaps the darkness I explained and the urgency I expressed overshadowed what really matters:

It absolutely does get better. So much better.

It gets so much better that when you get back up to the ridge and the sunlight comes it is indescribable. The shock of the difference between the depths of the valley and the joyful journey with my little caravan on the ridge is so overwhelming that even I can't find the words to describe it, but just have to lift my face to Heaven and feel the bright sun and let the tears of gratitude fall. These are the reasons I'm on my knees at night, not in agony, but in gratitude to the God who gave me life, and challenges - and yep - even allows me to experience darkness. But also, because of it, the brightness of hope. 

It is no small miracle that I've arrived on earth when there are so many resources that make "normal life" (picture air quotes there, because come on, right?) possible. I knew I was going through the motions in my life when I began the search several years ago, for what it would take to truly feel better in a long-term way. If not to fix, then at least to patch the holes I felt. I was asked what percentage I thought I was "running" at - essentially how close to my real capacity for happiness | stability | potential | energy. Was it 60%? Let's start this med. 75%? What if we tweak this dosage? 80% now? And approaching that target has been my goal ever since. For me it's a more tangible way of identifying what I feel in relationship to my own potential.

I feel really good. Hopeful. And with that hope comes my desire to share the hope. 

The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi talks about the brightness of hope as he urges us to follow the path forged by Jesus the savior of the world: 

 Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. 2 Nephi 31:20

Today, right now, and for weeks and months honestly, I'm on the ridge, learning how to stay here as often as I can, learning how to tell when my feet start to slip. I love my life and I count my blessings and snuggle my family and I'm grateful. So grateful for the absolute miracle it is that I've arrived on earth in a time where there is SO MUCH hope for feeling better.

Living a gorgeous and colorful life in spite of depression is possible. 90%, 100% is right there, possible. It's so much more than damage-control or one more night without the agony.

It's rising up to the ridge where you should be, and to greeting the sunlight.

Through the deep waters.
Photo by Selover from Pexels

Photo by Selover from Pexels

In memory of Robin Williams, 1951-2014. 

Whose work made me think, and laugh, and try harder, and whose hidden sorrow and untimely death brings me here, in the hope that together we can save a few.

Rest in peace, Lonesome Robin. 

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee. 

-Isaiah 43:2

I don't talk about depression very often around here - or specifically about my depression. I'm actually not that sure why, except that, especially here, I choose to focus on happiness, optimism, my blessings. And laying this stuff out there is hard, I'll be honest.

But man. For the second time in two days Mr. Robin Williams has propelled me to step back out. So I will provide fair warning: heavy stuff ahead.

Yesterday I cried.

I cried for Mr. Robin Williams, along with the world's world's cries of shock and bewilderment and sadness. But I also cried a little harder for him. Because for me, it is terrifyingly easy to imagine the level of pain and loneliness and darkness that surrounds such a decision, such a deliberate act as suicide.

And so here I am talking about it. And please, If this post gets to you somehow, consider it a sign:

Do not end it. 

I was first treated for depression when I was still in high school. So let's say 20 years, give or take. And on and off until about 7 years ago, when I went on (treatment) in a long-term way. Like a for the rest of my life kind of way. I've had a long time to assess the situation, a long time to figure out and accept three things:

  1. Depression is not our fault. Not weakness of will or lack of faith or lack of nutrition or effort. It can be deadly, and should be treated and monitored like any chronic physical illness.
  2. Depression is so, so much more than melancholy, or a passing squall of grief and tears. It can be deadly, and should be treated like any other life-threatening illness. 
  3. Depression is treatable, but it's like walking on sand. It changes states and degrees over months or even days, evading 'cure' and requiring (for many) lifelong treatment and vigilance. 

Depression is Not Your Fault

I've experienced a lot of misunderstanding in the last 20 years of dealing with, suffering through, and accepting the fact that this simply IS a part of my life. And I will say that it takes a really long time to come to the point where you can look yourself in the mirror and say, this is not my fault. This dark and desperate and powerless way I feel, this going-through-the-motions-of-life way I feel isn't because of something done or undone. It is a rock to carry, your rock to carry, and possibly to carry on and on, stumbling til you lay it all down in the end. The hills ain't going away, and the rock gets so, so heavy. Other people have other rocks, and this one is yours. That must be said with acceptance and not with despair, and that's a fine, fine line.

And I will say also, that YEARS of careful self-acceptance can be undone by a single breathtakingly insensitive comment like, "Well, maybe if you could just pray a little more?"

Or, "I'm sure if you just get moving then it isn't so bad? More exercise? Vitamins? Positive thinking?"

And this: "Maybe you're getting TOO MUCH sleep and that's what's wrong?" 

No. That isn't what's wrong. 

That isn't what's wrong. What's wrong is that I need real help and I'm reaching out because I'm hurt, and I'm being insulted in return.

Nothing but the fact that you have depression is ever what is wrong. Put away the lie that you have mental or moral weakness, or that you simply don't have enough willpower or that you were born to be a terrible housekeeper. What's wrong is this outsider perspective that sees depression as something that can be "powered through." That can and should simply be sucked up with gritted teeth. Like walking on a sprained ankle, maybe. Maybe you put a brace on it, walk it off, it'll be fine. 

Major depression is really like diabetes. Your body doesn't make enough of something it needs, or isn't using what it has in a way that works enough. There's no permanent fix. You get really, really sick if you don't treat it, and so you must spend a lifetime handling with great care and constant vigilance. Management, not cure. Support and not scorn.

And I cried for Mr. Robin Williams yesterday because his decision to end his own precious life full of humor and influence highlights a terrible misunderstanding in our society: That untreated or poorly treated depression cannot be as lethal as untreated diabetes. Do not ever doubt that we're talking about something as serious on either hand. No one in their right mind would tell a diabetic to suck it up or power on through, and chronic depression is no different

So if you are privileged to be one of the Trusted Ones that your person reaches out to, (depression is still a pretty embarrassing thing to admit to out loud, and it takes an immense amount of courage for a grown-ass, independent woman to admit to needing help), please, for the sweet love. Put away the thoughts of the ankle brace and focus instead on just listening. And do not walk away until you're sure your person is safe back to the shore.

So Much More than Melancholy

I've been sad a bunch in my life. We all have. Shocked or grieving or hopeless or blindsided or betrayed or wandering through a desert of doubt. Everyone wades through dark water, everyone. And it's the worstFather Lehi says in the Book of Mormon, that our trials on earth teach us the difference between joy and sorrow - that there actually isn't any song of joy to sing at all without its accompanying bag of rocks to carry. That's the way the world and mortal education just works. And we come back out of the deep water and find our way to some joy again, so grateful that we know the difference.

And then there is chronic depression. Major depression. Bipolarity. The long-term stuff that sends your psyche into a tailspin a thousand times worse than any other doubt or dark water, because it seems endless, the rock infinitely heavy.

What It's Like: My Journal

In my personal reflections I like to hand-write a journal, that I don't share with anyone, and wouldn't normally share here. But it seems important to tell what really is in my mind during one of the dark times. Don't ever let anyone tell you that psychic pain is any less exquisitely painful than broken bones or a severed artery. Or that it isn't real because it can't be seen.

This is from October 29 of 2013. It's also very, very tear-stained.

The rock is heavy tonight. It is both infinitely weighted and invisible, so when I look inside all I can see is just flatness. No desire. No love. No hope that doing anything will make it better or make any difference. 
Tears - hot shameful tears of self-pity and self-loathing and hopelessness, and - I think - grief - for lost years and all my stuck-ness and suffering and battle against something massive, invisible, impossible to describe. It is formless and so only feels like emptiness. Only feels like failure, and such deep, deep mourning. 
So here I am at the bottom - nearly as far down as I ever get, only hearing echoes in my head and not comfort, or answers, or peace. Only more tears. 
Eventually the tears will go quiet and I will go quiet, and stop writhing in invisible pain, and just sleep. It's the only answer I've found to get on by and back up the hill a bit. Back up to a place where I can at least believe in the sun even if I can't see it - too far down and all hope if light gets swallowed up in the unending, unfathomable, suffocating dark.
Drink the bitter cup and be strong. There is a Savior who went before me, who bore this grief and carried this nameless abyss of sorry, and who even if He will not or cannot take it from me, will at least tread down the long dark road with me, until the higher ground comes and there's a hope of sun on the horizon. 
I know at some level it's the devil's lie to think they're better off without me, that ending my own suffering would end theirs, too. A convenient and easy-to-belive lie that always surfaces during the worst of the psychic vulnerability when the idea of disappearance sounds so, so appealing. Rest. Anything to stop the present pain, bleeding like an amputated limb, collapsing like a deflated hot air balloon. And in the ashes around me, ashes of dreams and hopes and curiosity and desire, now all seemingly, everlastingly burned away - just giving up, turning off the cold dark path and lying down forever right over here.
Perhaps my people up on the ridge won't notice and come looking to shake me out of my stupor of living death, for what is life without hope?
 Perhaps they will move off into the distance, my bright little caravan, capturing the joys of their life together and no longer weighed down with watchfulness hoping that this time I can stay out of the dark valley. Disappointed, maybe, that I return here again and again needing rescue. 
I'll be rescued, if I wait it out. Time and sleep and some chocolate and maybe a bath will ease me back to life, back up the ridge to carry on. But my footing's unsure, and my rock's a tricky and unbalanced weight. So the real rescue - a permanent place among the caravan on the ridge is a hopeless dream. 
That's ok. The times on the ridge - out in the sun with a little warmth and perspective help me leave the valley to itself for a time. But tonight, among the ashes on this dark and familiar and neverendlingly infinitely dark road I want to lay down and disappear among the ashes. To not need the immense amount of effort of simply trying anymore. But I will and I always will, sometimes more and sometimes less. More's the pity. So I'll sleep while it's dark and hope for a bright morning.

Depression Is Like Walking on Shifting Sand

One of the things you might have noticed there is that I've known about this and been in treatment for this for two decades. Intensive treatment with therapy and meds for more than 7 years, and yet that journal entry from the abyss of darkness, that frightened me even as I copied it down, is from less than a year ago. That's because depression is a shifty bastard. No other way to put it.

See, the truly sucky part (there is no word to describe the level of suck, actually) about depression is that it requires not only vigilance (taking its daily toll as though collecting the cover charge at the door of every morning), but it requires that you be rescued - not just once, but over and over again. As if asking for help once weren't excruciating enough.

And despite all your care and vigilance it'll just happen and you won't be able to control when or for how long, or how bad it will be this time, no matter what you do. That's what that journal entry means. Seven years in, twenty years in, good meds and therapy, and still it happens. It is what it is. But what I do know, is that the chances of feeling better in the long term increase with meds and therapy in combination. It's uncertain and slow, kind of like going to the eye doctor for new glasses, but it takes a year to get anywhere close to a prescription that works. "Do you see better with A or B? Come back in a month and we'll check on it." Depression is all the more painful because treatment is so difficult. And what worked a year ago, might not be entirely working now. 

If you're like me, it'll never truly pass, and that shadow will live there all your life, sometimes growing and sometimes receding. Meds and therapy. Sunshine. Prayer. A text to a friend. Getting out of your damn bed even though you need a running start. 

Don't disappear. Please. 

I'm not gonna lie, 2013 was a beast. It was a near-daily struggle with physical and mental illness, imbalance, confusion. I was helped through it - rescued from that instance of it - by a very kind counselor (who at one point during last summer, made me do daily suicide watch check-ins). It isn't my fault. Meds and therapy. And it will get better.

I know this is seriously heavy stuff. Frightening, actually. But I need for two things to happen by sharing this:

  1. If you are suffering, I'm over here, ok? I know a little of what the valley is like, and how excruciating the pain is. And how lonely that desolate place can be. When the rescue comes, recognize it for what it is, ok? Sit tight and wait for it.
  2. If you love someone who has been in the valley, or who has gone there again and again, they need your strength. They need your hand in a practical way, and it's impossible for you to be too concerned about this. Say "here, tomorrow I'll sit with you while you call a mental health center. Tonight I'll bring you the laptop so you can email your therapist that we'll be at their office first thing. I see you and your suffering, and I'm here." You'll be the rescue. 

On Rescue From the Valley

Every time I've been in the valley, I've been rescued by something, or someone, that pushes me back up toward the ridge and into the hope of sunlight again. Here are a few.

In an Emergency: Call the Hotline

This is really important, okay? If it is really bad, and you are thinking concretely about pills or ropes or your car's exhaust or whatever, stop whatever you are doing, ok? Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

Call right now 1-800-273-8255. Right now, man. I mean it. Please, do not end your infinitely precious life. 

Step 1: Call A Mental Health Clinic

Go online or to the phone book and look up a local Mental Health clinic, call them and ask to see a psychiatrist. They're MDs who can evaluate, prescribe, and recommend what additional therapy is needed. And they'll become your Someone if it ever gets really bad and you need to go somewhere to get safe. 

Make the phone call right now. Not tomorrow, or after your other to-dos are done, okay? You know you've already put this off too long. Your life will change forever when you do this step, I pinkie-swear.

Reach Out

And while you're waiting for your appointment, which honestly should be less than a week away or you need to call someone else, text a friend just to say hi. I've been rescued by Heidi, Kristen, Tori, Tristina, Erin, Sherrie, Heather, my dad, another Heather, Greg, Carol, and a lot of others. And of course, my soulmate Jared. Rescuers all, and they probably don't even know it. They represent contact with the world, a tie and a touchstone that says yep. If I reach, only reach.

Sit Still

Sometimes, some of us are only rescued from desperate acts by putting ourselves in a place where we can't act - we can just ride it out. Lock up the pills. Get in bed. Get in the (empty) tub. Lay in your closet. Squeeze those eyes shut and sleep or ask for a milkshake or for someone to hold on to you til the pain gets easier.

Also, if you get to this place, you should have calls or emails in to your professionals.

A Beautiful Sermon: Hope is Never Lost

I was rescued by a just-in-time sermon by Jeffrey R. Holland from the LDS Conference in October, which I'm embedding here because maybe it will rescue you, too:

Put Pen to Paper

Write. Write write write. Get a pen. Sob it out. It sucks, it hurts, oh sweet baby Moses in a basket it hurts. But if your pen is on the page and your thoughts are here, they aren't over there where the water is a little too temptingly deep. And when you get back to the lighter place, maybe a few weeks or months from now when the meds and therapy are making it easier, you can read that thing and know, if you go to the valley again, you'll come back out. Your little bright caravan on the ridge will not leave without you. If they didn't back then, they won't the next time. Proof.

Find Hope in Music

Get a song or two that really speaks to you. I have been rescued by the great Pioneer anthem Come, Come Ye Saints more times than I can count. I can picture those stalwarts there on the plains, walking and freezing and dying for their cause, and echo, 

Why should we mourn, or think our lot is hard?
Why should we think to earn a great reward, if we now shun the fight,
Gird up your loins, fresh courage take!  Our God will never us forsake!
And soon we'll have this tale to tell,
All is well! All is well!

Incidentally, here is that very hymn as sung by the magnificent Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Take a minute to watch it, ok?

So. We are called, sometimes, to go through the deep waters. To tread down into a valley that seems only full of desolation, and the most exquisite pain imaginable. And we may go there over and over again before the journey's through. 

If you're there in the valley or you find yourself nodding to the journal entry above and you haven't gotten help, get help. I hope that I can be proof that hope and help are there. And I want you to know that I know what real courage is: taking the step. You don't have to go through the motions anymore. There can be a day when you don't need a running start to get out of bed. And when the light comes again, it will be breathtaking.

If you are a Trusted One, fight the urge to lecture or suggest, or judge or become impatient. This particular rock is excruciatingly heavy at times, and although it's probably completely baffling from the outside, all you need to get right now is that your person is hurting. Call in the troops. Get those wagons of mental health professionals circled up around them. Your bright and beautiful person will come back up the ridge, and you can carry on into the dawn together.

With so much love,

-JS