Depression and lived experience

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“It’s all in your mind.”

“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”

“Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”

“Stop playing the victim.”

“You brought it on yourself.”

What do these statements have in common? And what do they have to do with depression?

All the statements above are dismissals of what is called “lived experience.” Lived experience is a scholarly term used to describe the “first-hand accounts and impressions of living as a member of a minority or oppressed group.”(1) Interestingly, the above statements, taken out of context, could easily be (and often are) applied to people who have experienced sexual abuse, racism, gender discrimination, or other forms of systemic cultural discrimination.

But today, we’re talking about depression because that’s what we do here.

From a personal perspective, the statements above hurt more than they help. I’ve had friends use them on me. Often, they’re well-intentioned; delivered by people who would never dream of hurting me and would be shocked to discover that they had. And here’s the thing…I’m sure I’ve done it to other people myself on other issues. I’ve done it and I’ve learned from it. I’ll share what I’ve learned and maybe it will help you.

The thing you’ve got to realize…the thing you have to hammer into your psyches every damned day…is that no matter how connected you are through social and traditional media, no matter how many mentally ill friends you have, no matter how many books you’ve read or classes we’ve taken, you DON’T GET IT. You don’t. Because you haven’t lived it.

And you know what? That’s OK.

You are not required to have struggled with depression in order to support someone who has. Just like you are not required to have struggled with racism or sexual assault to support someone who has. But if you haven’t experienced those things, how can you help? Glad you asked.

Listen more than you talk.

Be humble about the fact that there are things you don’t know.

Exorcise the world “should” from your vocabulary (those people should, you should, I should)

Accept that people are heavily influenced by their lived experience, which is not the same as yours.

Understand that you are not required to have an opinion on every issue.

Forgive yourself for not having a solution to every problem.

Do the best you can. You are an imperfect person in an imperfect world.

Listen…

Listen…

Listen…

peace out…

(1) http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Lived_experience

The happiest depressive on the block

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I’m  a mentally ill person but I’m also a fundamentally happy person.

I can hear your head-scratching from over here. “But Diva? How can that be true? Isn’t depression about sadness and despair?”

Yes. It is. But not all the time. Lemme’ splain…no…is too much. Lemme sum up…*

Luna_Moth_by_JoeyEvery day has the capacity for happiness. It’s just that sometimes it comes in tiny little bursts. Maybe your fried egg came out perfectly this morning. Maybe the sight of your dog running across the yard with a goofy, doggy-grin on her face made you smile. Maybe someone did you a small kindness like holding a door for you or letting you merge in traffic. Maybe something big happens and horrible darkness suddenly becomes bright, like this. Maybe, like me a few weeks ago, you saw a luna moth perched on the screen door and you’d never seen one before and that was cool (I keep seeing them. I don’t know what that means).

If you take a mindful approach to life, and I do, you notice those things. You store the memory of them up against the dark times so you can bring them out and fondle them like Gollum with the Ring of Power (preciooouuuussss voice optional). Maybe you write them down in a journal or on your phone so you can read over the list before you go to sleep.

Happiness is something you do, not something you have.

Now I can hear your skepticism. Who knew the Internet was such a good amplifier of people’s thoughts? “Diva. This is the same self-help crap I’ve heard all my life. I did not come here expecting schlocky Oprah Winfrey bullshit.”

Sorry.

Actually no, I’m not. Because did you ever stop to think that some advice gets repeated because it’s good advice? Because it *works*?

I know you’re sad. I know the world looks so very dark. I know you feel like you’ll never be happy unless you can achieve those big things we all want. Success. Money. A life partner. A house. Hell, maybe it’s more baseline than that. Maybe you just want food on the table and a roof over your head. I don’t know your situation.

I know you don’t want to journal. I know you don’t want to do “exercises.” I know mindfulness feels like a distant weirdo Zen concept when you can’t even tame down your brain to tie your damned shoes. You don’t want to try something you might fail at or not be perfect at or add something else you can beat yourself up for not doing (#100happydays anyone? ugh.).

I know this because I’ve been there. Remember? I am there.

But I also know for certain that waiting passively for happiness will not make it manifest. I know if you crush those small moments of happiness and refuse to recognize them because they’re not big enough, you won’t ever learn how happiness feels. You will wind up not knowing happiness if it reared up and bit you in the ass.

You are already happy. You are. The Diva would not lie to you. You are happy. Maybe not all the time, but sometimes. You just need to learn to recognize it in the moment. Like all things, it is a skill that you can learn with itty little steps.

  1. Watch for a happy moment.
  2. Remember how it feels.
  3. Jot it down, just for you.
  4. Drag it out when you need it
  5. Wear the memory of it like armor against the dark.

Today, a big part of my happiness is how warmly people have embraced my writing. It’s an incredible gift to be able to share my experiences and thoughts with you all.

peace…

*This movie is one of my personal happys. Also, does the concept of happiness armor make anyone else think of Monty Python? Or am I just weird?

Refocusing

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They say “write what you know.”

I’ve kept this blog on and off for the last year and a half, talking about this and that but mainly skirting the biggest issue in my life which is mental illness.

I am mentally ill. I have contemplated suicide multiple times. Yeah, I said it.

And having said it, I’ve decided that the best way I can help myself and others is to reframe this blog as a chronicle of my own experiences and a place to help others find inspiration, resources, comfort, and acceptance.

Two people inspired this. The first was Robin Williams and the reaction to his death. So many people shared their experiences; just came out of the woodwork to reveal their own struggles to the world. So many others who don’t suffer came out seeking ways to help their friends and family who do. There was a lot of misinformation, too. And a few notable assholes and trolls. But for the most part it was a magical, inspirational, raw, painful conversation that needs to continue. If it does continue, that may wind up being Mr. Williams greatest legacy. I feel like as a mentally ill writer, I have a part to play in that conversation.

The second is a bit more obscure to most people. There’s a hockey player who I have admired for years. His name is Theo Fleury. He used to play for the Calgary Flames. He’s also a recovering addict and a survivor of sexual abuse. He’s retired now, and spends his time telling his story to others. For the last few years, my mantra has been “If Theo can make it, I can make it.” There are no words to express how much this man has inspired me and informed my personal battles against my inner demons. He is relentless about keeping mental health, addiction recovery, and sexual abuse in the spotlight.

If Theo can do it, so can I. It’s time to add my voice to the conversation.

peace…

p.s. I have revised the legal whys and wherefores and the comment policy. You should read them. If you’re new, you can also read about me or catch up on old posts that are not about mental illness, but might be interesting to you.

Affirmation list

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I got the assignment today from my therapist to make a list of positive affirmations about myself and my life. I’m going to do it, but not gonna lie…it makes me feel like Stuart Smalley.

I guess the best way to do this is just to start anywhere.

1. I have made enormous progress towards being a healthier person.

2. I am surrounded by loving, caring people and I am worthy of their love and care.

3. I am interesting and creative. People like to spend time with me.

4. I am lovely, inside and out.

5. I am gentle, peaceful, and I want the best for everyone around me.

That’s all I have for now. I’ll add more as they come to me. The part where I have to recite this into the bathroom mirror is going to be harder. I don’t know how I’m going to keep a straight face.

The cost of whole foods…it’s not what you think.

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A while back I promised to write about the myth that eating a whole food diet is more expensive than buying packaged, pre-processed foods. Today is that day.

I went to the farmers’ market on Saturday and the grocery store today. My total grocery bill, including breakfast and lunch for QuirkyKid and myself, and dinners for the whole family for seven days was $87. I know people who spend 50% more than that, or even twice as much, in a week.

How did I do it?

Well, it’s a combination of making different choices and spending some time to get organized.

When you commit to eating a whole food diet and sticking to a budget you learn pretty quickly that grocery shopping and meal planning becomes a series of choices. Yes, if you continue to eat the typical American diet and simply switch to buying organic processed food, farm-raised meats, etc. in the same quantities you purchased before, that shit’s going to get expensive.

BUT…

If you spend some time upfront creating meal plans that are mostly plant-based, you can use the money you would have spent on meat to buy organic produce. You can send leftovers for lunches instead of giving your kid money to buy school lunches. You can make your own baked goods from scratch rather than purchasing mixes, And on and on.

So, in order to come in at the figure I quoted above (which is exactly my budgeted amount for one week…yay me!) I had to spend about two hours meal planning and making my shopping list. I spent about an hour at the farmers’ market (but that was fun!). I will likely spent about an hour each evening prepping dinner and making QuirkyKid’s lunch. I will also likely spend the majority of a day (about six hours) making pizza dough, yogurt, and muffins (maybe not that much, I’m not sure yet).

I anticipate that as I do this longer term, those times will go way down since I will have a repertoire of recipes and techniques. I’m still learning and as we all know, learning new things takes time.

I also (quite accidentally) made a meal plan where all the dinners are completely lacto-ovo vegetarian. Cutting meat out at dinnertime allowed me to spend that money on other things like organic grapes, organic granola, and so forth. It was eye-opening, I assure you. And let me tell you, we’re not eating sad poverty food. We’re having roasted vegetables and pasta, homemade cream of broccoli soup, pizza with mushrooms and caramelized onions…you get the picture.

Oh, I can hear your excuses now.

“I have to have meat for dinner!”

“I don’t like [fill in the name of a cheap staple food here…beans…rice…blah, blah,..blah)!”

“I don’t like to cook!”

“I don’t have time!”

I could write a book dismantling all those excuses, but far be it from me to tell anyone else how to live. We all have our crosses to bear and our own lives to lead.

HOWEVER…

Do not use those excuses to tell me that eating whole foods is more expensive. Because that’s one excuse that’s just flat-out not true.

Things change

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The last two months have been fantastically hard.

Mr. Quirky discovered that he had what he thought was a minor medical problem earlier this year. Well, it wasn’t minor and it required major abdominal surgery. He’s doing fine, recovering from that, but it’s been a hairy couple of weeks and we still have a couple weeks of healing to go.

As for me, I’ve been suffering from severe allergies and asthma since about April. It’s totally derailed the various projects I’d been doing, I haven’t been cooking, writing, doing projects around the house, etc. I haven’t been a very good friend (or maybe I have…more on that in a moment). I haven’t been a very good mom or wife. I’ve been completely wrapped up in my own wellness, or lack thereof. I’ve been sick and tired for so long I don’t remember what normal feels like anymore.

Then the roof started leaking.

Then the car died.

And so it’s been going…and going…and going…

At times like these, you really want to lean on the people who love and care for you. I’m so lucky to have had my mother helping me out (until she went on much-needed vacation…**waves at mom in Colorado**). One or two other people have stepped forward in both small and large ways as well, which has been much appreciated. (Also, I have received a ton of emotional support from friends and family all over the country through Facebook and it has meant the world to me.)

That said? There are people who I thought would be there for me when the chips were down who have just…checked out. If I’m not doing something for them, calling them, trying to remember to reach out to them in the midst of all this crap…well, I might as well not even exist. Very few people, in what I thought was a large and close circle of friends, have actually reached out to me and even then, it’s to ask how Mr. Quirky is doing, not how I’m coping. A few other completely clueless people have actually had the chutzpah to call me, when they usually ignore me, and ask me for favors in the midst of all this chaos.

So I’ve had the whole spectrum of responses, mostly appropriate considering the nature of the relationships, but some shockingly…not what I expected at all.

Maybe I didn’t communicate well enough that I almost died from an asthma attack? Or maybe I did and people thought I was exaggerating? Maybe I need so much emotional support on a day-to-day basis that people are burned out? Or maybe people think I’m strong enough to handle all this on my own. Maybe people are wrapped up in their own drama right now and have no time for mine? Maybe expectations really are future disappointments and my mistake was expecting anything from anyone at all?

Any one of those theories is better than thinking that the people I thought were my friends are actually only friendly acquaintances who are there only when it’s easy for them to be. As long as I don’t make them go out of their way, they’re there for me. I try not to think those thoughts. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Because you would think that as people stand by and witness the crap heap that is my life piling higher and higher and higher that they would step in and help. But really? All I’ve been left feeling is that I’m an annoying burden whom people tolerate because they can’t figure out a socially acceptable way not to have me around anymore.

And I *could* blame this on bipolar, social anxiety, insecurity, or what have you. But I’m hesitant to do that because I really don’t think this is completely my fault, except insofar as I may have misjudged the relationships to begin with. And that being said, unfortunately, I think what’s required here is a clear-eyed examination and re-evaluation of relationships I thought I understood, but apparently do not.

I don’t want to do it. I don’t have time for it. I don’t have patience for it. I needed…I really, really needed to feel like people had my back. Instead I feel completely alone, flying without a net, with no one to catch me if I screw up and fall. That’s an effing sobering realization.

But for my own peace of mind, I need to know who to trust and who to hold at arm’s length.

So, we’ll see what happens but I won’t be surprised if some major changes are afoot in the coming months.

peace…

p.s. Before you ask, yes, I did ask people for specific types of assistance. But I stopped asking because no one was responding. And you know what? That’s OK. Because now I know…

Food, joy, and diet evangelism

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HI! How ya doin’? How’s yer mama ‘n’ them? I’ve been away for awhile. It’s a long story and one I will tell at some point. Think sinus and asthma problems, family surgery, roof repair, and general malaise.

But that’s not why I’m here today.

I’m here to talk about why we evangelize diets with the fervor of rabid Jehovah’s Witnesses promised a new Lexus for every 1,000 souls they save.

Now before I start, let me disclaim by saying that there are people in my life who may see themselves in the following post. To those people I say, I love you dearly. I may not be interested in following your diet, but I support you and I’m thrilled that you’ve found something that works for you. But as a writer, I draw inspiration from a lot of places and it’s inevitable that from time to time, my friends are going to inspire a rant. Just keep that in mind.

So…

It’s all too easy to fall into an attitude where food becomes our enemy. Where every extra calorie, carb, preservative, or micron of sugar is OMG GOING TO KILL YOU RIGHT NOW. So we grab on to the latest fad diets. You know the ones. Cut out this that or the other thing and have eternal, everlasting health. Drink weird concoctions whizzed up from obscure vegetables and you’re on the path to thin and sexy. For the love of god, eat from a smaller plate and impose 10,000 rules and regulations on every morsel that enters your mouth. I could go on. And on. And on.

And we’re not content to simply follow these fad diets. We feel obligated to evangelize about them. You’ve heard it. OMG!! I’m following this GREAT DIET where I cut out 42 essential nutrients and constantly deprive myself to the point where it makes me cry but I’ve lost 6 pounds and you HAVE TO TRY IT RIGHT NOW. We slip it into conversation at every opportunity. We talk about little else. Eating a pleasant meal becomes a thing of the past because the whole conversation is about what we can’t and won’t eat and how bad [fill in the food group] is for you.

I have a theory about why we do this. We have an instinctive need to love food. But we have been trained over the last 100 years or so (maybe not even that long) to believe that loving food is an unhealthy behavior. So we compromise by professing, loudly, to love the diets we follow no matter how joyless and restrictive they might be.

We also don’t want to be alone. Eating is the ultimate social behavior (at least it was until the last 50-60 years). We want to sit down around a table with friends and family, enjoying well-prepared food and enjoying stimulating conversation. This has been true since Grod the caveman shared that tasty, tasty mammoth he bagged with the rest of the cave in a celebratory feast. So we think, if only everyone was following my diet plan, we could all be miserable…erm…healthy together!

We evangelize because if we actually stopped and looked at what we’re doing, we’d either curl up in the corner sobbing or start laughing and never be able to stop.

I call bullshit on this.  I call bullshit on all of it. I like cooking. I like eating. and I like nourishing my family and friends.  I reject diets that restrict me from eating things I know instinctively are good for me (don’t eat beans? brown rice? SERIOUSLY?). I reject the completely unproven idea that food sensitivities and allergies are responsible for poor health in more than 1-2% of the population (look it up). I reject this multi-billion dollar industry that thrives on making food my enemy.

I reject it, and I resolve to curtail my own evangelizing behavior because ain’t nobody got time for that shit. Capishe?

Look for more thoughts from me on this particular subject in the coming days.

peace…