Cowboy up cupcake…

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As I alluded to in my previous post, there has been a lot of sleeping, lying around, procrastinating, and general malaise going on around Diva Headquarters lately. For about the last week and a half, I just haven’t wanted to do very much of anything at all. Nothing seems to really rouse me from my semi-permanent stupor. Except The Musketeers. God I love that show. I digress…

Unsurprisingly, this coincides with an increase in the dosage of my Depakote, back to 1250mg per day. This is the dosage I was at a year and half ago when I was basically so depressed I could barely climb a flight of stairs because it seemed like too much effort. I went back on Depakote because nothing I’ve taken has ever controlled my mania (which presents as anxiety) quite so well. But I knew when I chose to do that, that becoming depressed was a possibility.

This is the hell of psychiatric drugs. There is no question in my mind, nor in the minds of anyone who knows me, that I need these medications. I would not be alive without them. Read that again. I would not be here.

But…ah, but…such a carnival ride. What’s going to work? Anti-depressants (hell, no)? Anti-psychotics (aw, HELL NO)? Mood stabilizers (OK, maybe…). Now, choose between side-effect profiles. Blind (no, thanks)? Panicky (rather not)? Dead (um…)? Fat, tired, and bald (well, if that’s the best that can be expected). Dosage? Somewhere in the sweet spot between Tigger and Eyeore, please, even if it takes six months of tinkering to find.

I tell you, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. But I do it. And oddly, I only kind of do it for me. I do it mostly for the people who love me and have to be around me. If it were just me, by myself, I’d be tempted to go live with my dog under a bridge somewhere. I do it for them, because they are the people who moor me to this earth on the worst days. Like today, when I am so burned out and hopeless and tired and my hair is falling out and I’m getting fat because that’s what these meds do.

But I persevere. I take my medicine. I go to my therapy. I visit my shrink. I use my phototherapy lamp. I promise (and fail, mostly) to get up every morning, not sleep all day, do stuff around the house, eat right, exercise. There’s only so much I can do, really and when I can’t do it for myself, I can do it for the sake of those who love me.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows here. Not every post is going to contain perky advice or wise social commentary. Some days it’s just going to be this. Me. Raw and unfiltered and imperfect.

Some days, the mantra is just, “Cowboy up, Cupcake.”

And that’s good enough for now.

peace…

Psychic armor for the digital age

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In just five minutes this morning, these were three things that popped up on my Facebook feed. I’m paraphrasing, but this was the gist of it:

“You’re not really a vegetarian if you eat eggs. Think of the chickens!”

“The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is stupid/boring/not important enough/taking attention away from other charities(!)”

“Psych meds are a crutch.”

Might as well just go back to bed because apparently, I’m just doing life all wrong. (As an aside, there has been entirely too much going back to bed around here lately. I love sloths. Cute little critters. But I’d rather they not be my animal totem, if you know what I’m saying.) I always have at least a moment or two of shame when I read something like that because it reminds me that I am not perfect if everyone doesn’t agree with all my choices and that, according to some near-stranger on the Internet I am fucking up.

Here’s the thing. The statements above? Intellectual bullying. Worse, pseudo-intellectual bullying. Here’s how I know.  The statements above are all other-directed. They’re not about what the person making them is doing in their own life. They are about tearing other people down, not about building them up with solid advice and loving support. The Internet amplifies this stuff to ear-splitting decibels. “You are the wrongest person in the history of wrongness wrongity wrong wrong wrong.”

Now that we know what these statements and articles are all about, how can we deal with them? Because I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not close myself up in a cave and live like a hermit (which is what I’d have to do to avoid this kind of thing entirely). We start by recognizing the sources and motivations of the statements, then modifying our own behavior, which, as in most things, is all we can do.

Source: Mainstream media articles, news broadcasts, etc.

Recognize that “you’re doing it wrong” or “we’re all going to die” or “unpopular opinion” stories are produced for ratings and clicks, nothing more. Believe me, no one in the mainstream media has your personal best interests at heart when they write this stuff. They know, through long experience, that nothing sells better than stories that play on your insecurities (unless it’s blood and guts and frankly, I think that’s arguable). How to deal with it: Tune it out. Turn off the TV. Don’t read articles on major news sites. If something important happens, someone will call you. Alternatively, file it away in the back of your brain until you can sit down and do a little research for yourself to see if it’s actually something you need to worry about.

Source: Social media

This is the great echo chamber of the Internet. Here, people actually do share information because they think they’re doing the right thing. They want to promote a cause, or share something they heard and believe. They do it, I am convinced, with all good intentions. But the end result is still a barrage of critical information that can make you feel pretty bad about yourself. How to deal with it: Curate your social media spaces. Use the various controls on Facebook to train it to know what you are interested in. Create interest lists. It’s imperfect, but it does work. Twitter is a little harder to control. The best you can do there is simply unfollow feeds that post too much critical stuff.

Source: Friends

There are some damned critical people out there and they’re pretty easy to spot. Know-it-alls, false experts, doom and gloomers, people who love to poke holes in stuff just because they can. How to deal with it: Block, unfriend, or unfollow people who annoy you, depending on the closeness of their relationship to you. It’s that simple. You are under no obligation to these people. Don’t trick yourself into thinking you are. With those who remain, be assertive about protecting your space. Tell people what you need (“I’m venting and I don’t want comments right now.” “Keep it civil.”) and gently guide the conversation in your posts in more positive ways. Don’t be afraid to walk away. You don’t have to have the last word in every conversation. “Well, this is what works for me and I don’t need more information right now, thanks,” works well.

General advice

  • Laugh it off.
  • Have a mantra. “I trust myself.”
  • Have empathy for critical people. Obviously, they’re fighting their own demons.
  • Vent. I don’t think there’s a thing wrong with taking to your podium and calling out your critics, or critics in general.
  • Ask questions. If you really want to engage, “Why do you think that?” is always an enlightening question.

Finally, engage in radical positivity yourself. Praise people. Give them compliments. Kill them with kindness. Be respectful and gentle in disagreement. I’m warning you now, sometimes doing these things is going to make you clench your teeth so hard you get a headache. But it’s worth it. Sometimes your mama was right. Being the better, bigger person does feel good. When all else fails, turn everything off and read a good book.

peace…

p.s. Speaking of books, I’m reading “The Three Musketeers.” What are you reading right now?

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.