Sunday, December 23, 2012

Keeping it real x.0: island time

I really meant to continue writing every day this month, but things just happen... Like I have a million projects on the go, and in addition to a full day's work, on Thursday I decided to go for a run at my favorite place on the planet (Torrey Pines State Park and beach), and on Friday I tried to get a criminal record check (but went to the wrong type of police station), and then yesterday Ron and I were just busy enjoying San Diego (eating fish and chips and taking in the sunshine). Can you blame me?

On a side note, Google Analytics records the key words that people type before they look at this blog or my name. I have some odd, yet interesting search terms. FYI, they include:

  • American loonie
  • I hate Colorado
  • Zebra perch
  • Gender identity spectrum
  • Sexual orientation
  • Lemur stink fight
  • Seven gilled shark
  • Devil horse
  • Canada sign
  • Chameleon head
  • Hockey stick car
  • Cockroach tracks
  • Leishmaniasis
  • Cruising area condoms
  • Danish rhubarb desert
  • Are lemur bites poisonous

Wow. I think I may need to digest those a bit. Sure, lemur bite, cockroach tracks, chameleon head, and devil horse, sound about right. But, cruising area condoms and leishmaniasis? Am I a female sand fly who is serious about safe sex? THAT is a thinker.

Anyhow, back to mental health issues and some of the barriers we may face achieving mental wellness. A common thread we may face is shame. The shame felt in admitting to yourself that something is wrong, be it addiction, or eating disorder, or overwhelming anxiety, or simply the shame felt in admitting you need help.

How might we get past this shame? Reducing social stigma and normalizing shame-inducing feelings, is certainly one way. You have an addiction? Bummer, lots of people do. Get depressed? That sucks, so do I. Have a sick hate for your left foot? Talk to my husband, lol. But seriously, regardless of any one thing we may feel shameful about, we are not the first, and certainly won't be the last. Not to diminish the feelings of shame, which may be substantial, but these are only feeling after all. And feelings, we can change. Both as a collective, but also as individuals.

I've posted this before, but if you've never watched this Ted talk by Brene Brown (or even if you have), its worth the 20 minutes.

Signing off tonight, as an admittedly selfish, absentminded, lemur researcher story teller, with major depressive disorder, and roughly 15 lbs of candy around my middle. AND OWNING IT! And also sending a nod out to all my old peeps, who today, celebrated the life of Liam Davis. Who left this world far too soon.

Much virtual love,

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Keeping it real 4.0: stigma of mental illness

While I have been calling attention to the lack of discussion on how mental illness may play a role in violence, drug abuse, and other maladaptive behaviors, its important to note that being mentally ill doesn't mean that you are somehow dangerous, going to abuse medicines, or deliberately harm yourself in other ways. Nor is autism the cause of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre. These are each incredibly complex issues, wherein we cannot place blame on simplistic explanations or experiences. Doing so would only act to further marginalize mental illness in society.

Which brings me to the topic so social stigma, and the cultural taboos surrounding mental order, or disorder, if we must. Why is mental illness held to a very different set of rules when compared to "physical" illness? Why doesn't anyone discuss what happened when a young seemingly healthy person commits suicide or overdoses? Is it disrespectful to the deceased (or their family or friends) to examine their mental state? To discuss their demise? Are we "politicizing" tragedy in discussing gun control after a mass-shooting? Are panic attacks more shameful than appendicitis? Is it culturally acceptable to have diabetes, but not depression?

I don't have the answers to these, but I certainly feel more comfortable talking about when I had Dengue Fever or that I get migraine headaches, when compared to discussing soul-sucking depression. And, I doubt that if someone died well before their time (at the age of 34) people would find it inappropriate to discuss, say leukemia, if that was the case. Please note that this last statement is not meant to be accusatory, but rather, exploratory.

With Keeping it Real, I am putting myself out there (and I am not the only one!), in the hope that mental illnesses become normalized within our psyches'. Maybe, if mental illness carried only the connotations of physical illness, more people would seek help, be able to access care, and the warning signs of imminent danger would be a) more apparent and b) actionable.  

I saw a great line today, which sums up how I am feeling at the moment:

 "Without discussion there can be no progress."

Shall we discuss and progress?

Sweet dreams,

PS This is totally creepy. Check it out!

PPS If you don't follow the Bloggess, she also documents her struggles with mental illness. Her post from yesterday was particularly pertinent to this topic.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

28 days of keeping it real 3.0

Once again, thanks to all of you that have shared your struggles with me, either publicly or privately. I so appreciate your willingness to open up and be vulnerable. At the moment, I am feeling quite vulnerable myself. Sharing my struggles with the world, is not something I would have really ever envisioned myself doing. Given that I judge myself for having mental illness, opening up to be potentially judged by all, feels quite prickly. Like a cat-hair sweater. 

But, as you may well know, you cannot change the behavior of others. You can only change your own. And here I am, in all my imperfect glory, over-sharing, with the hope that you will too. With me, with others, and perhaps most importantly, with yourself. For the children who lost their lives in the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings, and for our friends who have gone far too soon, mental illness must be addressed. And for me, that starts here.  

Today, I have the pleasure of having a guest blogger! Shane, an old friend (whom I recently re-connected with on FB), has also been significantly impacted by mental illness. And here is the first installment of Shane's story....

My name is Shane and I am proud of my old friend Marni to have the courage to not only open the discussion on mental illness but also share the challenges she has faced in her own life with it. So it has prompted me to share my own battle with depression. In 2003, I was in an accident fueled by alcohol and cocaine in which I fell over a railing of a second floor. I landed on a 45 degree angle, on my head, from approx 16 feet with my face and skull taking most of the impact. The fall resulted in a traumatic brain injury with too many broken bones to list. As well I damaged my optic nerves which has left me legally blind. I was in a coma for approx 6 weeks and had to have reconstructive surgery to rebuild my facial and skull. Luckily, the Creator was watching over me and I lived and am able to tell part of my story.
I tell you this because this accident eventually was one of factors which started me on my healing journey and also started my realization of my struggle with mental illness which I tried to bury with substances. I went into a severe depression upon release from the hospital and wished I didn't exist any longer. I refused medication and any mental health counselling, therapy, etc. Instead I turned back to substances and buried my pain. Eventually I agreed to take medication but mainly to control the seizures I was having and to manage the intense pain. I was also prescribed an SSRI. However, those led to Oxicontin and Percocet abuse.
Eventually I was able to get clean but now the pain I was burying was alive and stronger than ever. I continued taking my cocktail of anti-convulsants and anti-depressants, however, I was still in so much pain. Taking an anti-depressant felt like I was too weak to handle the world. I often fiddled with my medications or the doseages, and experienced crashes like you would see at a demolition derby. Seeing specialist after specialist. Psychologist, psychiatrists and trauma therapists, but to me they were all a bunch of idiots.
And now I shall have my tea. After all, I have quite a few more days to keep it real on this journey with Marni.

Thank you, Shane!
Virtual warm fuzzies,

PS Are you still wondering if I actually have a cat hair sweater?!

Monday, December 17, 2012

28 days of keeping it real 2.0

First, thanks to all of you that have commented and/or messaged me- I will try to keep responding promptly with my responses!

I just finished watching the news, which included coverage of the memorial services taking place for the Sandy Hook Elementary victims. Like everyone else, my heart breaks for the families affected. Frighteningly,  however, the news coverage also included a segment showing how busy gun stores have been in and around San Diego (and the US) since Friday's mass-shooting. In fact, some shops are reporting 20-year highs in their sales. I am astounded to hear the gun advocates saying that this would have never happened if teachers were armed.

Again, no one is talking about mental health. Instead of trying to stop a shooter seconds before he kills strangers, what about trying to teach him to express his feelings years earlier in life? And how to experience failure and pain, without violence? What about if Adam Lanza or James Holmes or any of the other mass-shooting perpetrators, had of sought out and gotten  mental health care? And why isn't anyone talking about this???

Well, I certainly have plenty of experience in this arena, and tonight will discuss my love/hate relationship with prescription drugs.

I've taken various cocktails of anti-depressants and SSRIs on and off for the better part of 20-years. Sometimes I hate them. I feel weak and powerless and like a whiner. I feel like I should be able to suck it up. I can never skip a dose, and am quickly reminded with violently illness, if I do forget. Alternatively, I recently mixed up pills and accidentally overdosed. I was fine, but terrified, and had to explain to by doctor why I was seeing dragons.

These are serious mind and body altering drugs. Not solutions to problems or available for a little pick-me-up.

Yet, when my old friend depression rears its horrible familiar head, I am reminded of how my quality of life is significantly improved by those little pills. Overwhelming heaviness, grief, despair, and crippling sadness are not fun, as you may well know. And I will choose pills over the dark clouds every single time. Guaranteed.

But what would I (and millions of others) have done a hundred years ago? Drugs for, and even recognition of depression or other mental illness, are relatively new phenomena. Would I have been able to suck it up and cope if I were born in 1878, rather than 1978?

I don't know the answer to that. However, my great grandmother, who was born in 1898, was also plagued with mental illness. She was checked into an "insane asylum" when she was 39-years-old, and died less than a week later, of unexplained causes.

Perhaps without meds, exercise, and talk therapy (which I will detail at a later date), I would turn to alcohol, or street drugs, or anger, or abuse, or death, or violence, as our society is all to familiar.

But, I don't. And the vast majority of my life is full of joy and love and happiness. And now, transparency.

Much virtual love,


Sunday, December 16, 2012

28 days of keeping it real

A couple of things have happened of late, which got me thinking about, well a lot. I know I am not alone in this, given that one of these catalyzing events involved the deaths of an entire first grade class, among others. I also heard of the death of an old friend. Someone I probably haven't seen in 15 years, and honestly, one I may have never seen again.

I don't know or understand the circumstances of my friend's death, and I don't think any of us will ever know or understand what would drive a young man to open fire in an elementary school. What I do know, is that when no one is willing to talk about why some one died 50-odd years too soon, and someone else kills a room full of children before them self, the list of potential causes narrows significantly.

For my friend, whom again, I can only speculate about and do not know the circumstances, suicide and/or overdose are possible. For the mass-shooter, it was suicide. And what do substance abuse and suicide have in common? Mental illness.

So I found myself wishing that mental illness did not carry the socialized stigma that it does, and asking others to open up such that we can learn, and invoke change. Why not break the silence and get over the socially uncomfortable truths? In theory, this sounds like a good idea, right? Well, not everyone agrees. And, of course, I can understand not wanting to publicly (or rather, facebook-ly) discuss the circumstances of the death of a dear friend.

Yet, here I find myself thinking and saying what we "should" do, without doing that very thing myself. That is, going beyond my own comfort level in order to practice what I preach. Well, here I am. Tonight I am pledging  to "keep it real" and for the next 28 days, am I am going to share tidbits about my own screwy self. Things I'd rather not admit, frankly to you or I. Things I wish I could fix. Things I wish weren't me. The things of mental illness.

And if you, dear reader, feel equally saddened and puzzled by the perceptions and consequences of mental illnesses, I ask that you do the same. Comment, share, post, think, read, understand, and feel. If we all do the same, who knows, maybe we can change a few ideas, actions, tragedies...

Keeping it real:
1. I have major depressive disorder. And I probably always will. Most of the time, I am fine, but then sometimes I am not, and spending months sobbing and sleeping feels like a nightmare in a cozy sweater.


Much virtual love,

Postscript quote: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."  ~ Margaret Mead