Considering how prevalent mental illness is, why do so few bloggers talk about it?

The aim of this blog is to write about my experience with mental illness, developments in my life as well as issues in the field of mental health all the while keeping a feminist framework.

I hope you can take something from this blog, whatever that may be.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Optimism? Really??

Some exciting news: my partner and I are off on an adventure to S. Korea to teach English! I’ve been working full time for the last 3 months on getting our papers in order and getting our application to recruitment agencies, schools, and immigration together. It has been ridiculously convoluted and stressful. Perhaps inevitably, I’ve been feeling a little Blue the last few days.

Compared to last time that I was having minor symptoms, about a year ago, I have not panicked. Rather I have calmly taken to upping my dose (according to my Dr’s advice) and trying to be active in regaining some balance. The first day it happened, I put everything down and went for a walk listening to my favourite podcast. (Unfortunately, they were talking about something rather sad, so that didn’t work out so well.) Last night, I went back into some skills learned in CBT and was challenging the thoughts I was having and trying to, as learned in DBT, focus on changing my mood by exposing myself to positive stimuli. My partner, as always, has been very supportive. He is always quick to ask what I need and is always very creative in ways to cheer me up! So, it’s been a bit up and down.

I have to say again how proud I am for not panicking! I think that doubled my symptoms last time because I was feeling like the inevitable was happening, where this time, saying calm really illustrated that I have gotten to the point that I do not feel that relapse is inevitable but rather something that can be prevented with effort. (Now I must put a caveat that of course some relapse and symptoms will occur even with tireless effort. I do not intend to support the idea that if we were all to just ‘pull up our bootstraps’ we could all ‘snap out of it’ and ‘get better’. Rather I point out my commitment to effort because at other stages of my illness I was utterly controlled by my illnesses and would feel completely defeated and at the mercy of my emotions. What my commitment to hard work, this time, really shows how my approach to my illness has changed, and I am very very proud of that!)

Now of course, I am getting a little nervous and concerned that once we get over there (we are leaving in just over a month) the sheer amount of change will be completely overwhelming and no amount of effort will help to prevent symptoms/relapse. Of course, it will be completely overwhelming, guaranteed! BUT, if I work with those thoughts now and come up with a plan(s) for what I will do when (not if) that happens, I can be active in my recovery.

Holy crap!!! I cant believe what recovery has done for my whole outlook on my illness! I have been symptom free (essentially) for 2 years (yay!!) and I feel completely different about my how I perceive my illness and life. I think I have written here before that I am NOT an optimist and am rather quite negative of a person. Was that a symptom? A learned response from experience?

Oh it feels amazing. Keep up the good work with your health! And while I HATE to say this phrase (Fuck I HATE this phrase), it does get better, and it feels sooo good.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Religion as Therapy

Here is an article that you may find interesting about using writing to honour our struggles as a form of healing. While I do not abide to any sort of organized religion, I do see the significance of recognizing a higher power during recovery (and life after/between illness).

I use to see myself as a Christian but my illness really quelled that idea. The Christian outlook on God (or at least how I always understood it) was that He only gives to us what we can handle and that He has a higher purpose for His actions. While this is all very well in theory, in the midst of my depression I started to think, what kind of asshole would put this upon those he supposedly loves? (Not to mention that it drives many to suicide for which He then punishes them for)

I still consider myself a spiritual person but believe in a more abstract form of higher power; more like there exists a power or powers that can guide and comfort, but has little power over peoples actions or their fate. I also believe my ancestors are with me and I pray to them when I need comfort or guidance. I cannot blame my life's problems on a higher power such as these but can find strength in them being there for me.

How does religion tie into your healing?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A little taste of the reality that is living with this illness

A couple months ago, I had 3 or 4 days of anxiety symptoms. I didn't blink the first day (I had had minor symptoms intermittently over the course of my recovery and they generally go away the next day). Day two, I was like... 'hmmm what's going on?' So, I took an extra dose of my anti-psychotic (as recommended by my psychiatrist. Do not adjust your medication without supervision!) The third day. I panicked. I was an absolute mess. 'It is starting again! It's all down hill from here' I was convinced. 'No, I cannot do this again, I can't!' My partner tried to calm me. 'It's okay, it has only been a couple of days, and if it is a relapse, we can handle it.' It was good knowing that there was someone who would be there for me (I remember many years of never having that privilege and was so thankful that there would be that support for the relapse I felt was inevitable), but I really could not be consoled.

But, after a couple days of bumping up my dosage, everything went back to 'normal'.

Of course, me freaking out, didn't help my anxiety symptoms and my anxiety symptoms didn't help when it came to freaking out.I cannot even explain how panicked I was. What that felt like was so powerful. I was so thankful to all the faith I have in this world.

I wish I had some sort of moral to this story. I learned how thankful I am for my medication and loving support of my partner. It reminded me to be thankful for the 'sanity' I enjoy but also that if things had gotten worse, it would be okay. I would use the skills I have learned in the past and I would have handled it. But god, I am so thankful it was a mere three days. I haven't enjoyed this long of a stretch of 'sanity' since before I was diagnosed in high school. I pray (in a secular way) that it will not be taken away from me. This is something average people don't understand: how fragile our quality of life is.

You know, re-reading that last paragraph, I realise I am completely lying! I wrote, "if things had gotten worse, it would be okay. I would use the skills I have learned in the past and I would have handled it". That is bullshit. I wouldn't have handled it. I would have continued freaking out making my depression worse and probably inspired a manic episode. I would, however, haul my ass to the psychiatrist ASAP and beg for more drugs and then pray they would work (all the while, freaking out!)

It's just, and here is that pessimistic side of me I am more familiar with, I have learned that therapy and the skills acquired there can help but they do not solve the issue (for me, anyways). So I could have begun the practice of self monitoring my thoughts and calming my automatic reactions to them, but my slide into a relapse would not have been stalled. And of course, this mere belief would have helped that fact come true.

Ahhh god, I am so thankful.

Bitch! How I love thee

Bitch, my favourite magazine, has a great blog you should all check out. They define themselves as a feminist response to pop culture. They are in my top three favourite blogs. What is even better? Right now they are doing a series of articles about mental illness. Definately check it out.

I am so excited to see a feminist blog doing a series on mental illness, and judging from the comments, there are many readers who would agree.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Update on Me

wow its been a long time. finding inspiration is a toughy apparently. things are going really great so I have to be thankful. recently my dosage of the anti-psychotic I am on has gone down. originally I want to switch brands of the drug because it was simply too expensive to stay with the brand I was on ($200 a month). talking with my psychiatrist, however, we decided to forgo the risks of changing brands (it was hard enough to find one that had manageable side effects in the first place) and instead lower my dosage. its been about 3 weeks and its going well, I haven’t felt a difference (thank god). it will only save me about $60 a month, but that’s better than nothing.
I am still keeping a mood journal and documenting anything of note. things are going strong with my partner, and my life is generally pretty stress free. this may be changing soon as we are looking in to doing some work overseas and that kind of pressure and change can challenge anyone.
all in all I am very thankful for my situation in life, and feel secure in my mental health. I am so lucky, and I am thankful for every day that I have in this health. I know one day I will be challenged again to fight off my disorders, but I feel more confident than I ever have, that I will be able to do it. fuck ive turned into an optimist, gag.
thanks for reading, I hope to post some critical commentary on mental illness and a related feminist issue soon.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Responsibility for Happiness

With mental illness, how responsible are we for our own happiness?

When I am depressed, it is all consuming. There is nothing that I can do to manage the symptoms. There is nothing I can do to ease the pain I feel, let alone make myself feel better. While I think that it is my responsibility to TRY to feel better, I recognize that it is generally an attempt that is in vain. So where do other people fit in this?

A couple of days ago my partner was upset with me. He felt that I was acting a bit down and his attempts to make me feel better were going unappreciated. He was referring to a couple of days that, while on vacation, I was acting particularly (and strangely) subdued and quiet and generally not acting myself. He felt that he had been trying to cheer me up but to no avail. What struck me, however, was that he said it was his responsibility to cheer me up and because it wasn’t working he felt he was failing at his job. This surprised me. While I have myself said to him, upon cheering him up, that ‘its no problem, its my job’, I never knew he took this remark so seriously. It sounds kind of weird to say but I think that while it is my job to TRY to cheer him up, it is ultimately up to him. I think back to the times where, for instance, he is stressed and feeling down because of all the work he has to put in to clear up any sort of bureaucratic mess that he tends to get himself into (like filling out job application forms, or graduation forms or other sorts of boring and annoying tasks). I try to cheer him up, but I know that the only way he is going to get out of his funk is for him to get motivated enough to fill out the forms and get the problem out of the way. I cant do that for him.

So why does he feel such responsibility for my happiness?

Besides being just a empathetic and generous person, which he is, I think there is more to it. He has seen me at my worse. And he was there for me. He would stroke my hair as I cried at the pain of living and would hold me for hours on end. I think he recognized that there was nothing I could do to help myself – I was at the mercy of my illness. Perhaps that is why he felt it was up to him to do something. Stroking my hair and lying with me was about the only thing he could do that had any affect whatsoever, and he would do it. Now that I am healthy, I wonder if he is still stuck in that place where he thinks I have no ability to take responsibility for my own health. I don’t like to think that he stresses over my happiness. It is normal for a person to have ups and downs and I hate to think that he feels responsible for this.

We talked about it and I tried to make it clear that it is, ultimately, up to me. I hope he understood that while it is his ‘job’ to try and cheer me up, it is not his responsibility! Time will tell I suppose.

As for now, I am left wondering about who is responsible for the happiness and well being of a person with mental illness. Is this a task that is lost to an illness?

Night Sweats and Mexico Dreams

So things have been good with me. Ive been keeping up on my medication and it is proving to be doing its job. My side effects are pretty annoying but manageable. One of the more annoying ones is my extensive night sweats. It’s pretty gross to wake up soaked!

I have been having some anxiety symptoms. I know they are symptoms instead of just mild, but ‘normal’ sensations because of the full bodied feeling of them. I can be anxious sometimes but I know its my condition when its this down to the bone anxiety instead of a really superficial and easily managed anxiety.

I think it has to do with my job searching I have been doing. I just graduated with my second bachelors degree in women’s studies and native studies. I have a summer job working at this small arts non profit organization but am looking for something for September. Its been rather stressful because all the jobs I find I am really eager for, but am under qualified and do not get called on. Im nervous I wont find anything for the fall.

Another mentionable thing is that I have been a little down since I got back from vacation. I was in Mexico for a week for a friend’s wedding and getting back I have been faced with a crummy job and a difficult job search. When I think back to the time in Mexico, my heart aches.

But, even with these symptoms I am functioning well and they are not all encompassing. Plus, they are instigated by real life events, vs past symptoms being caused by no stimuli in particular. I am thankful for the time I have feeling well.

(fuck, I am so damn positive when Im feeling healthy, it kinda disgusts me…. well, I guess Im not completely positive as this side note proves)

Monday, July 12, 2010

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

Like Bitter Medicine, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden depicts a very raw experience with severe mental illness. Reading this book made me realize how fortunate I have been with my own experience of mental illness and how lucky we are to have medicines that help (sometimes).
The story is about a girl named Deborah who is institutionalized in the 1960’s for her supposed schizophrenia (I say supposed because some doctors would diagnose her differently today, plus, how accurate are we really when we try to categorize the illnesses). This story can be considered feminist because of how deeply it delves into the lives and experiences of women. The novel chronicles the experience in a mental institution as she undergoes treatment which primarily takes the form of psychotherapy. She has a unique bond with her psychologist who is warm, caring as well as experienced. What struck me most was the way the doctor spoke of Yri, the ‘fictional’ world in which Deborah coexists. (I say ‘fictional’ because how can we say it is fake if it is experienced so vividly.) Her doctor does not tell her that she is disordered, that the world Deborah has ‘created’ is fictional and needs to be forgotten, but rather shows her that she is being controlled by that world and needs to get to a point where she can choose between ‘reality’ and the world of Yri. She goes so far as to say that she will have a choice and that she will not have to give up Yri if she does not want to. This blew me away, giving so much credit to a patient… if only more doctors were like this.
The depiction of her schizophrenia was moving, especially the time she spends in the world through a black and white lens seen through grey jail bars. She also demonstrates the connection people develop with their mental illness – how they can predict relapse and breakdowns but also the way you can develop emotional attachment to even ‘fictional’ characters.
The relationships between the patients and between the patients and the staff of the hospital were also interesting. An interesting dynamic developed surrounding the idea of failure. Twice in the book a patient is released only to end up returning to the confines of the hospital. The response of the other patients was telling. There was a mix of happiness in seeing an old friend but also animosity for what their ‘failure’ represented. Each time a woman was released there was so much meaning placed on their success; if one of us can overcome our illnesses and function and be happy, then maybe I can too. Their failure served to crush that dream.
I found the readability of this book questionable. I was really curious as to where the book would take me and I wanted to read it through because it was a book concerned with mental illness- a rarity. BUT, I found it a bit tedious. Yri is a difficult place to understand and many times I found myself skipping over sections so I didn’t have to decipher what was written.
I would recommend it for those who are looking to invest some time in a sometimes difficult to read book for a pretty good story and a really interesting and powerful depiction of mental illness.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Bitter Medicine: A Graphic Memoir of Mental Illness

Ive just started to read ‘I Never Promised You a Rose Garden’ as I am on a kick to read books related to mental illness. It got me thinking, however, that I hadn’t reviewed another mental illness themed book that I have read! Two months or so ago I went to the launch of the book “Bitter Medicine: A Graphic Memoir of Mental Illness”. It was really interesting. The co-authors spoke and had a short Q&A. I even ended up winning a $50 gift certificate to a local book store so I definitely have warm memories of the evening.
Anyways, this book is a collaboration between two brothers. One drew the pictures, in this intriguing scribbling style, and the other wrote about his family’s history of mental illness. Not only does this book document the experience of their younger brother with schizophrenia and his suicide, but also the artist’s history of mental illness.
The combination of imagery and text weaves an interesting story and leads the reader along a path of questioning. How do we relate to others? How do we deal with the suffering of others? How do we deal with our own pain?
What I liked about this book was that it painted a very realistic picture of mental illness. It is a raw portrayal of a severe disease. The book talks about doctors, medicine, institutionalization. It also focuses on the short comings of ‘the system’ which I particularly liked – there are so many shortcomings that we do not like to admit to.
One critique I had was the doomed attitude read in the book. So jaded by the system the brother who writes the family’s story is pessimistic in his outlook of the future. While this is, in its self, realistic, it is unhopeful and I think that ultimately, the reader wants to see hope for the characters. Meeting the brothers and asking them a few questions I could see there was hope: they had strong bonds between most of the family members, the brother was getting help and was gaining new support systems often, there was stability. These are details missed by readers of the book who do not have the opportunity to meet the co-creators.
I do recommend this book for those readers who want to see a realistic view of mental illness, but should not be swayed by the doom-y outlook. There is hope. We see hope when a mental illness sufferer (or survivor) stabilizes or recovers; when they find solace in an activity that can distract them from the pain or channel their energy; when new treatments come out. There is hope when one person is able to live one more day.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gravity Journal by Gail Sidonie Sobat

I picked up a book for teens by an author I had read before. It sounded interesting – its main plot line is the experiences of a girl with mental illness – so I thought I would give it a try. It was an enjoyable read, very accessible too. A quick synopsis from the book’s back cover:

Life is very grave for Anise. Hospitalized for anorexia, she wonders about the point of it all. Her frigid mother and ineffectual father seem oblivious to her struggle. Her beloved brother is too busy screwing up his own life to take note of hers. Living on the loony ward seems not to be making any difference at all, and Anise feels like a prisoner. Her only free choice is to turn to her journal – the place where she can make scathing observations about her family, other people, the world; the place where she can dream, and where she can decide whether to live or die.

Like I said, it was an easy and enjoyable read. I think Gail Sidonie Sobat, the author of this book, has a way of making any topic interesting. She talks about very important issues in this book. Not only about anorexia but also suicide, cutting, hospitalization, and the treatment options for of mental illness. It was surprising to see such bold discussion of these topics – I know that I expect only allusions to suicide or cutting, but in the book there is outright discussion. I give credit to the publishers, Great Plains Publications, for printing the book so raw. I think this fact cannot be over emphasized as I think it is very important for youth to have resources for thinking about these issues.

These facts aside, the book was a bit disappointing. I think there was so much potential for greatness that was not realized. The characters were simplified and predictable. I think Anise’s life was oversimplified as well. While I don’t want to dismiss the experiences of those similar to Anise’s I really thought the book portrayed a very simple and, honestly, easy experience with anorexia. Mental illness, especially illness requiring hospitalization, is devastating. Women, girls and men who are hospitalized and force fed are often at the edge of death. All aspects of your life are affected and relationships are often ruined. I wanted to see a book that really recognizes the depth of suffering people with mental illness endure.

Sobat secured a hopeful ending which is a positive thing… but is it realistic? The reoccurrence of anorexia is something like 90% but Sobat left the reader thinking that as long as Anise works hard, she will be successful. Maybe that is true, or maybe mental illness can be so strong that it can rip through people like nobodys business. I kept wondering if this was because the author was writing from an outsider perspective. Perhaps she has experienced hospitalizing anorexia or had only known someone who had (or perhaps neither). Her bio mentions that she is a teacher at the Alberta Hospital (a mental institution) so perhaps the book is a reflection of her experience there. I recognize that the publishers probably wanted a happy ending for such a heavy topic. Also, I think it is good to give a message of hope to the teens who read the book (or twenty-somethings like me). I do think there is a way to be hopeful while also recognizing the long, and often grueling, times ahead. I have recently read a book that was successful at doing this which I will be reviewing in the future, so more on this later.

So, in summary, the book was interesting and I was thankful for it but didnt quite meet the heights it could have reached. Check it out!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Shame of Suicide

I am lucky to say that I have never attempted suicide. I am lucky to have never been in that place. I have been suicidal on a number of occasions but never passed the planning phase. During my last episode I approached the attempt phase dangerously. I am lucky to have had someone in my life who I decided I did not want to have to deal with my death. He saved me because I was there, it was over, he was the only reason why I didnt attempt my death.
Having been so close has required a certain level of healing. When people talk about suicide I feel very uncomfortable. I dont think many people know what it is like to be there in that space when there is only one option. When people talk about it it reminds me of what it was like being there and the sadness is unbearable. I also feel ashamed that I was so close to doing that to my partner. I know that ultimately I made the right choice but the shame of suicide has stayed with me.
Some people say that suicide is the most selfish act one can make. I dont know how I feel about this. I think that is something that people who have never been there would say. Something that people say when they find out that a friend or loved one was suicidal. I would agree it is selfish if we take selfish to mean only doing something for one's self. But I do think that some choices need to be made selfishly. This is not to say that I think suicide is the right option. Suicide is a permanent solution. I know that I choose temporary solutions to my pain, long term or short. If you are in that place do WHATEVER it takes to comfort yourself. Anything but that. I know that I hate when people say this but it will get better. When I first heard that I thought 'you just dont get it do you?' This will never get better. I am pained to say that I learned that this is in fact true. It does get better. Even if it gets only a little better... its better. And then it gets a bit better than that.. and so on.
I have made a decision now that I am recovered (however temporary that may be). If I am feeling that I am there again, that there is only that option, I will go to the emergency room and will sit with supervision until I can manage again. I think it is important to make decisions like this when one is lucid because it sticks with you when you are not and it can be the only voice that will get through your pain when all other voices cannot.
I am still healing from being in that place. I think that feeling of being so close will be with me for the rest of my life. I think this is a good thing, for maybe it will remind me how thankful I am that I did not commit suicide.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


The sight of your wrists
It makes my skin float,
my milky whites ache

So close

They feel transparent
A scratch will open

Cheeks flushed and cold
Ears ring
Skin on edge

So close

The skin rattles
Ever thin
Sound of pouring
Breath stalls
Fear breaks

So close

Calming now
Milky whites clean
I will remember how close

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Looking Back

I keep a mood journal. Well, a very biased mood journal. I only really write in it when I am depressed. It does help me keep track of how I have been feeling, however. Sometimes I look back over it to see if I have made any progress and it can be shocking.

I am easily addicted to things whether they be substances or practices. I made a special section in my journal talking about addictions and last night I read my entries. It really made me see how addiction is linked to my depression. It seems I grasp for anything to distract me from the pain. Each episode I have tried different things - a consequence of doctors telling me not to drink, for example, because it is a poor way of dealing with pain and so next time I pick up a new substance to replace the coping mechanism I have lost. I have used alchol, pot, cigarettes, cutting, sex, food deprivation and even the habit of gaining attention as a means to cope. Whatever seems to work, for however short of a time, I cling to. I dont know how I will ever be able to get away from this. I have had years of therapy and yet substances and practices are still the most effective way of feeling better fast. I guess thats why they are addictive though isnt it?

Looking back last night did allow me to see that addiction is part of my illness that doesnt really affect me when I am doing well. Reading back also allows me to recognize the pain I have endured and that I have always made it through - sometimes I really do not know how. At the risk of sounding too positive, I think looking back is a healthy way of recognizing and learning from the past.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Update on Me

Well its been 6 months and Im glad to say I dont have very much to report. No news is good news when it comes to mental illness prognosis! I have had some minor tweeks to my med regime but nothing too extensive. I have some bad days but Im lucky that they are never worse than minor inconvenience. It seems I have stabilized for now. I am still going to acupuncture every two weeks - which helps both depressive and manic symptoms. I missed my appointment two weeks ago so I went a month without and definitely felt the difference. Recently my doctor and I (do you like how I pretend it is a partnership?) increased the dosage of my main antidepressant just to cover the last remaining symptoms I have, so I hope that goes well.

Side effects are still pretty mild. One strange one has to do with my vision: I get blurred vision and I have to consciously focus my eyes at times. I have glasses and it seems like my prescription is wrong, but I have had it all checked out and everything is fine there. This time to time blurred vision is really annoying. I have also found that my eyes cross really easily. I never use to be able to cross my eyes at all and now it seems my eyes enjoy it: anything gets close to my face and *pop* there goes my eyes. My doc says she has never heard of visual side effects but I figure the 'experts' never know everything (or anything really) about the medications they serve.

As for the police inquiry nothing has come of it. We reported it to the police (and we were very lucky to have a kind and understanding officer) but never heard anything of it. I am still convinced it was someone who works or worked in the building. Following this, I still do not feel completely secure in my apartment as I am always concerned that when I arrive home without my partner there will be someone there. (I know my doctor would have something to say about that: "forget this being a rational fear, I bet it is your anxiety acting up, plus a little paranoia we should keep an eye on").

Thats it for now. More to come...

A long sleep

Well, I have been away for quite some time now havent I? After vacation came school and with school came all that pesky homework. I really blame myself, however, for not keeping up with writing. As I have mentioned, not even my partner knows that I write this blog and writing it from home became a bit of a problem as my computer sits in the living room. I have also been disapointed to find that I have very little to inspire me to write. There is a lot going on in the world of mental illness and yet I have not been able to tap into it. I follow a number of organizations on Twitter and yet still no inspiration.
Starting up work again - very part time now and hopefully again this summer - will free up some time to write (how bad is that? I save my writing time for when I am on the clock! I blame myself, I honestly work so fast I generally work myself right out of a job daily and so have some free time). Hopefully the inspiration will come!