Tuesday, January 25

yes, a professional can vouch for my mental state

Shortly after reading yesterday's "Coming Out" post by The Bloggess, I had made up my mind that I was going to make my next blog about my mental, um, "health".

Last night I read Lori's blog. Now I am determined to keep that commitment. 

When I first began blogging last summer, I knew this day would eventually come. Every part of my being did. And that's probably why, bright and early this morning, my mind began frantically coming up with wild and crazily detailed creative options for nourishing my artistic hunger, hastily throwing together plans, images, ideas, and colors for what to paint on this wall, or draw on that piece of furniture, or how to arrange these pictures just so to make a statement...

All in an attempt at classic misdirection.

Man, my mind's good at that.

And it almost got me to play along. (giving myself a pat on the back for a nice try.)

But I'm keeping my commitment no matter how much my mind, body, and soul scream "wth?!". I'm blogging this. Today. Now.

Because motherhood is complicated enough in and of itself. And this just makes it chaotic.

So, I am speaking and coming out:

Depression. Post partum. Anxiety. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In the words of The Bloggess: "A part of me. Not all of me."

And none of them define me. I am not depression. I am not post partum, anxiety or ptsd. I am me. Heather.

And that's who I've been my entire life. However, it took years before I was able to separate myself and my worth from the effects of those four mental disorders and realize that they do not define Heather.

And that it wasn't my fault - or anyone else's for that matter (do you hear me, Mom?! nobody's fault) - that these disorders took up residence in my psyche without so much as an invitation, how-do-y'do, or even the courtesy to bring a fucking potted plant to soften the blow.

Prior to the culmination of eight years of bi-monthly "visits" with an exceptional psychotherapist, I can not remember a time in my life when I was consistently without cyclical negative dialogue (you're not good enough, that idea is stupid, you're not a real artist, etc.), demeaning thoughts of everything about myself, irrational thought processes (along the lines of borderline personality disorder), and/or illogical yet very real emotional and social fears.

Most people in society have heard the terms before. But aside from those either experiencing them or dealing with them, people's understandings are foggy and stereo-typed, at best. I can only share so much of my experiences of them without losing my desparate grip on what little security and separation from them that I have.

So here goes.

Depression isn't just feeling sad, blue, down, whatever. We all have those "I feel like shit" days. Those are normal. Healthy. A part of life. What's not normal but typical of someone with depression is the translation of those feelings into the belief that "I am shit." People who live with depression have to struggle Every Single Day to differentiate between How I Feel and the reality of Who I Am and have to constantly remind themselves that the two often do not equate with one another.

Every day I wake up and assess how I feel. Am I happy? What's my energy level? What are the voices saying? I acknowledge the answers to each of these questions. And then I remind myself who I am - a fact that is - and one that is unchanging. I am an artist. I am a mother. I am a wife. I am a friend, daughter, sister, aunt. I am a caretaker. I am me. I am Heather.

And I am worth more than what depression, ptsd, anxiety, whatever any disorder or any person says I am. I then remind myself of my one other truth and my only piece of security: God knows where I am. And then I go about my day.

In my early stages of therapy, I had to write down a similar version of this mantra. Over and over again. Every day. Until it became an automated response that began looping at the start of any cyclical negative dialogue. Until I no longer had to write it down. Until I no longer even had to - in my mind - finish the whole mantra. Until, finally, the negative voices ceased.

Yes. Ceased.

I said earlier in this blog that my mind started going all ninja with creative ideas to block myself from sitting down and actually discussing this. That ninja is a defense and coping mechanism that I have used my entire life. However, escaping into my inner art world, my creative dreamland, wasn't always a safe haven. Surprising, eh? (Especially to those of you who know me personally and swear I could make shit look artsy.)

You see, when depression and anxiety are life-long residents who are not being treated by a skilled professional, they run rampant. They invade every single cell of one's body. And they mutate, reproduce, cohabitate. I'm certain they even set up their own HOA committee. The untreated afflicted can do nothing but hop on that saturated merry-go-round of negativity, pain, and chaos and hold on for dear life. Because the only other option, without treatment, is to let go. And letting go of the only thought process you have ever known lands you in the sandbox of complete terror and, ultimately, suicide. And so even the inner art world I cherished wasn't safe. Because suicide was there, too.

People with mental disorders are often told that they have "nothing to _____": feel sad about, be sad about, feel anxious about, be afraid of, etc. (How often do we say this to our kids, hm?!) Such people as myself are basically told that their reality is not real, or at least shouldn't be. Or they are spoken to in disbelief and shock. "But you always seem so happy!" Ha! There may be phenomenal (yet delusional) conmen in the world who could "sell sand to an Arab" (as Bubby likes to say) but we depressed come in an amazingly close second place when it comes to lying. We know what our reality is. And we know how to fake what you think our reality should be.

And a lot of the times, before we successfully get a grip on the sword of I'm-taking-my-fucking-mind-back-thank-you, we often cannot acknowledge and/or accept the reality of how bad the depression/anxiety/post partum/ptsd/insert-your-own-disorder-here really is, how much it has permeated our entire being.

Most often, we can't acknowledge it because you can't either. We cannot fight mental disorders on our own. We need unconditional love, support, concern, understanding, and just-being-there from friends and family. We need a safe place where we can say "this is what I'm experiencing, this is how I feel, this is what I believe" and have someone, anyone,  say "okay. you're worth while. and we can get through this. and I won't leave your side, no matter how difficult it gets."

Even if it's just one person who reaches out to us. That person is the world. That person is our hero.

Because, though it is ultimately my own battle, it is one I cannot fight alone. And it is one that I would've lost if it weren't for the angels who were there to help me get up, stand, walk, and eventually valiantly fight by standing beside me, unconditionally believing in my value as a human being, in my potential to be whatever I dreamed of being, and supporting me because they knew that only help given in understanding and love would suffice as a sword and shield against my own personal demons.

After years of hard work, that little creativity sanctuary I mentioned earlier that I once had to scale barbed-wire fences to get into is now an open field that has become a vast part of who I am. For a long time I hammered at the negative voices to vacate my haven premises. Each time I made a positive step forward (a lot of little steps, very rarily any leaps and quite a few stumbles backward) I put it into that sanctuary. Eventually (a long eventually) those little pieces of love began to fill up that sanctuary, knocking down those barbed-wire fences, spilling out until there was no room left for the negative voices, until it became a vast sanctuary - one that wasn't merely a field I could walk into but now is an integral, far-reaching part of who I am, how I cope, how I exist, how I parent and how I love.

Truthfully, I never thought the day would come when I would be able to face my artistic drives without the blaring negative dialogue looping. And, on most days, not only can I face those drives, but I can embrace them as well - without having to sidestep any negative psycho babble, anxiety or paralyzing fears.

Because I now know I'm worth love. I'm worth life. I'm worth being positive.

Please speak. If you suffer from any mental disorders, there is nothing to be ashamed of. You are more than the disorder(s). You are worthy of love. And you are worth taking that one step to get help by confiding in someone you trust or contacting a licensed clinical social worker or psychotherapist. The simplest way to start is by saying "I need help."

And if you know somebody who suffers, it IS your role in this life to speak. Please help us valiantly fight. If you can't be brave, we can't either.

I am speaking:

Depression. Post partum. Anxiety. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
I am so much more than this.