The Stories We Cannot Tell

This is for anyone who has stories they cannot tell.

I share a lot on this blog. I try to be open and honest, as transparent and authentic as possible. But the truth is, there are stories I cannot tell. Parts of my story, parts of what make me, have to remain silent. There are certain topics that I can’t approach because I would risk hurting or embarrassing people I care about. There are pieces of myself that are regularly invalidated, but are nonetheless true.

I am one of the lucky ones. I am able to speak about my mental illness. There remains a wealth of individuals who we could be learning from, who could benefit from sharing, who are silenced. People whose stories are rich, complex and diverse. People who fear being stigmatized and ostracized. People who try to speak up but are quieted. People who wish they could speak up but are barred from doing so. People whose lives go unwitnessed. Whose stories go untold.

I see you, I hear you. Even as one of the privileged few who can be open about their illnesses and their stories, I know something of how it feels to have to conceal part of yourself. So, to the person who sees calls to speak up and feels heartbroken that you can’t, you are not alone. To the person who isn’t yet comfortable seeking treatment even though you know you need it, you are not alone. To the person who has decided to swallow trauma in order to avoid unpleasantness with people you care about, you are not alone. To the person who is silenced, you are not alone. No one is alone. I hope you have one person who you can trust to confide in without fear of judgement. Even a whisper can break the silence.

Untold stories are no less real.

Take care,

Fiona

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maybe someday…

I find myself repeating “maybe someday” an awful lot recently. My mental illnesses are currently making it difficult or even impossible to do things I wish I was able to do. Will I ever be able to go for a walk on my own again? Maybe someday. Will I ever work again? Maybe someday. Will I ever perform in community theatre productions again? Maybe someday. Will I ever be able to see my friends and family without discomfort? Maybe someday.

“Maybe somedays” are hopes, dreams, goals, aspirations. Sometimes maybe somedays are desperate answers to prying questions (i.e. “are you working again yet?”) that highlight things I can’t do that I feel sensitive about.

The hard part comes when I have to accept that despite my best efforts my “someday” hasn’t arrived yet. Last week I had to cancel my trip with my husband to Stratford, Ontario for next month. Stratford is my place. If you dissected me and turned my contents in to a city, it would be Stratford. Theatre (musicals! Shakespeare!), music, art, cute shops, restaurants, friendly people, parks, water, mature trees, etc. Whenever I go to Stratford, I feel like I am connecting with something that is truly a part of myself. I used to go every year. I haven’t been able to go since 2015, since my depression and anxiety worsened. I dared to dream I could manage the trip this year. There are no words to convey how sad I am that I can’t.

Maybe someday. Maybe someday I will return to Stratford.

I digress.

Maybe somedays can be uplifting or heartbreaking, it all depends on perspective and circumstance. Maybe someday means that there is hope, but not immediately. I know I’m not alone here, I know that many people with illnesses of all forms are torn between hope and desperation over the things they are currently unable to do.

I try goal setting, I try to gradually work towards being able to accomplish what seems so out of reach. This too can be either motivating or discouraging. I can see myself making progress and rejoice in small victories. “I left the house! Take that agoraphobia, that’s what progress looks like!” I can also see how very inconsequential my progress is, fixate on how many more small steps there are before I reach my goal and how these steps continue to be so draining. “So what if I left the house? Most people leave the house every day and most of them can do it alone without panicking.” Don’t even get me started on how it feels when I compare my current goals to the ones I had a few years back when I was unknowingly blessed with decent health. Comparison is fuel to the fires of depression and anxiety, and those fires are already burning me too much.

Lately I feel like I am being suffocated by my maybe somedays. They seem unachievable, completely out of reach. I’m not blind to my progress over the past couple of years, but there is far more ground ahead of me than what has been covered.

I could fill thousands of pages with my maybe somedays. I cower under the magnitude of the things I can’t do but wish I could. My maybe somedays range from things as seemingly small as, “maybe someday I will be able to do the groceries” to, “maybe someday I will be healthy and stable enough to be a mother”. They can be both things that others take for granted and things that are a challenge for anyone. It can be incredibly tempting to just stop trying. My husband has heard me more than once contemplate whether I would be happier if I just gave in and lived like a hermit, if I just accepted my limitations and stopped trying to overcome them. In my more rational moments, I recognize that I can’t expect myself to do everything and that balance is important. In my less rational moments I wonder whether there is even a point of being alive with so many road blocks ahead of me. Is the amount of progress I need to make to be a functional human even attainable?

I don’t have answers. I think maybe the best thing is to try to focus on what I am able to do and try to build mastery of things, one at a time. Perhaps trying to quiet the looming thoughts about the bigger more heartbreaking maybe somedays would help me focus on more achievable short-term goals. All I can tell you with certainty is that I have been working tirelessly to improve my mental health for over two years now and as time goes on it feels like I am accumulating more maybe somedays than I am accomplishing.

Will I ever lead a full life unencumbered by illness? I don’t know, maybe someday.

Take care,

Fiona

Sunshine Blogger Award – Like As The Waves

I’d like to thank the ever kind Nicole of Navigating Darkness for nominating me for the Sunshine Blogger Award. Nicole’s newly revamped blog is always an interesting read so you guys should definitely check it out.

My understanding is that the Sunshine Blogger Award is a way for the blogging community to show each other support and appreciation for each other’s blogs. Each person who is nominated answers a series of questions from the person who nominated them and in turn nominates more bloggers. I am grateful to Nicole for recognizing my blog and enjoyed answering her questions. I hope some of my nominees will keep this chain of gratitude and recognition going, I look forward to hearing their answers and looking in to the blogs they choose to nominate.

Here are the rules of the Sunshine Blogger Awards.

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you and link to their blog.
  • Display the Sunshine Blogger Logo in your post or on your blog.
  • List the rules in your blog post.
  • Answer the 11 questions that are provided to you by the blogger who nominated you.
  • Nominate 11 bloggers.
  • Provide your nominees with 11 questions (different from the ones you answered).

 

My Nominees

I am so in awe of a plethora of bloggers. I am going to stick with mental health bloggers today. Here are 11 of the many that I admire. While I’m not including bloggers who were nominated along with me, I haven’t checked if the people below have been nominated already. My apologies if some of you have already been nominated, as I’m sure you have been! I hope some of you reading this will check out these fantastically written and deeply insightful blogs.

Andrew, Rise Above the Ashes – https://riseabovetheashes.wordpress.com/

Anja, The Calculating Mind – https://calculatingmind.wordpress.com/

Ashley, Mental Health at Home – https://mentalhealthathome.wordpress.com/

Ida, Around the Ward in 80 Days – https://aroundthewardin80days.com/

John, The 3 of Me – https://the3ofme.ga/

Linla, Hello Linla – https://hellolinla.com/

Mercedes, This Is My Life on Anxiety – http://thisismylifeonanxiety.com/

Seeds in the Wasteland – https://seedsinthewasteland.wordpress.com/

Susan, My Loud Bipolar Whispers – https://myloudbipolarwhispers.com/

Terminally Nice – https://terminallynice.wordpress.com/contact/

Writing Out My Storms – https://writingoutmystorms.com/

Thank you all for your contributions towards our ongoing discourse around mental illness and mental health. I am inspired and motivated by your writing.

 

Questions for My Nominees

  1. What is your favourite book?
  2. Which of your blog posts are you most proud of?
  3. What quality do you value most in others?
  4. What is your best joke?
  5. Who is someone who had a big impact on your life?
  6. What’s one aspect of blogging that you dislike or find challenging?
  7. If you had to choose one meal to eat for the rest of your life, what would it be?
  8. What is your least favourite movie?
  9. What is your favourite scent?
  10. What is one way that you cope with bad days?
  11. Where is your favourite place?

 

My Answers to Nicole’s Questions

  1. Briefly describe the moment when you decided to start a blog. What made you want to start? Did something or someone inspire you?

Keeping this brief proved impossible, but here is how I decided to start my blog.

I started writing my blog in November of 2017. I wouldn’t say there was one specific defining moment that lead me to begin blogging about my mental illness, it was more of an accumulation of small moments over that year. In January 2017 my depression was at an all time low and I was hospitalized. I had been struggling more than usual and secluding myself. My friends and family knew I was ill, I have always been fairly open about my depression and anxiety, but I was avoiding communicating with them.

When I was admitted to the hospital I was completely terrified. I had been hospitalized just once before and that previous hospitalization had been a traumatic experience. Suddenly I knew I had to be transparent with my friends and family because I would need their support to get through my hospitalization. So, I started posting on Facebook. I let my friends know when I was admitted and gave them a bit of an update every day I was in the hospital. In response, my family and friends rallied, they made sure I wasn’t alone if I didn’t want to be, they showed me how much they care. But also, I started receiving messages from friends telling me how my writing about these experiences was helping them face their own mental health challenges. I knew I had to keep being open about it.

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One of my early Facebook posts that lead to me starting this blog.

I was released from the hospital after a couple of weeks. But I was still not stable and was readmitted in March. I went back to giving my Facebook friends a daily update during that time in hospital and they kept telling me how much it helped them. I even started to get messages from people telling me they never understood mental illness and that I was helping them understand it better. This was heartening. I also started to notice that blogging was a release for me. I began considering to write a blog but 2017 was busy, we moved in to our house in April and I married my husband in October. Blogging was far from a priority.

After the wedding I started to look for a new project to dedicate myself to. I had been planning the wedding for two years and suddenly there was a gap in my time, I needed a new meaningful activity. I had continued to be very open with my friends on social media and I was continuing to receive positive feedback from people of all sorts. I took the plunge and I’m very glad I did.

  1. What is one thing that you want everyone to know about you?

One thing I want for people to know about me is that I receive fantastic treatment and have an amazing support system. My husband Tom takes care of me in every way possible. I have caring, generous and accepting family members and friends who help me make it through tough times. I see a psychiatrist at least once per month. I have completed three group therapy programs in the last couple of years. I have worked with social workers, a psychologist, a case worker, occupational therapists… Point being, people can struggle even if they are getting the best care. I am being supported more than I could ever ask for, but I am still struggling. I have made some progress, but not much sustained progress, and I am still in a lot of pain and distress every day. It is too often assumed that if someone is struggling with their mental health they must not be receiving proper care. Or, even worse, we assume if they are receiving treatment and support than they must not “really want to get better” or “aren’t trying hard enough”. The truth is, even when we have the best of support and treatment at our disposal, recovery takes time. Everyone is different. I’ll admit, I do get tired of the assumption that my doctors and support system aren’t doing enough for me or that I am not trying enough solutions or trying hard enough.

  1. Tell us one way that you are a good blogger. Stating that you are not a good blogger is not an acceptable answer because every one of us has good qualities. Maybe you raise awareness for something. Maybe you’re good at coming up with ideas for posts. Maybe you love working with other bloggers and supporting them.

I am honest. That’s one thing I think that makes me a good blogger. I try not to veil any emotions or hide any messy details. I am as honest and open as I can be about what it feels like to be me and the things I care about.

  1. What is one of your biggest goals that you wish to achieve with your blog?

This might come across wrong, but I don’t really have goals for my blog. When I started the whole thing I just thought that maybe a couple of people would read it and find it meaningful or informative. I have already been floored by the amount of attention and love I have received for the blog. True, my readership on the whole is quite low. But a few of my pieces have been shared quite a lot and I have received such positive reinforcement. Every time I hear from someone that what I wrote helped them I am just so touched and grateful, it’s what keeps me going.

  1. What is your favorite TV show?

Choosing just one would be impossible! My favourites are probably The Office, Game of Thrones, Gilmore Girls and Downton Abbey. I love stories and TV is no exception. I have been watching quite a lot of TV in the past couple of years while my energy has been so low, these are the shows I keep coming back to.

  1. What is one country that you would like to visit, and why?

Italy is at the top of my list. I could tell you it was because of beautiful monuments and the culture… But honestly, it’s mostly about the gelato! That’s not to say that I haven’t always wanted to see Tuscany, the Trevi Fountain, the Amalfi Coast, the Colosseum… These are all necessary stops along the way, you know, to fill in the time that I wouldn’t be spending eating gelato, pizza, gelato, pasta and more gelato. I mean, who didn’t read Eat, Pray, Love and wonder why Elizabeth Gilbert ever left Italy? Ireland and France are also high on my list. My husband and I had to cancel our honeymoon to the Caribbean (probably Jamaica) in favour of nearby Québec City because of my anxiety, so I am also hoping to be able to go to the Caribbean with him some day.

  1. What are three material possessions that you couldn’t live without?

I see this in two different senses. There are items I couldn’t live without because of their function and others I couldn’t live without because they are meaningful to me.

Function
  • My oven: I love to cook and bake. I would be hopeless without an oven.
  • My iPod: Sadly, my beautiful iPod classic is on its last legs. I won’t be replacing it with a new version or putting my music on my phone. I need my iPod. I have already begun my desperate search for a fully functioning iPod classic. I’ve been using it for something like 12 years, I would be lost without it!
  • My bath tub: I can say this from experience. When Tom and I moved in to this house last year there was a tiny bath tub that I barely fit in. I rely on baths. It was of the utmost importance that we get a bath installed, ASAP. And my amazing husband and father-in-law did! In those interim months I didn’t know what to do with myself when I was panicking or very low and needed the warm embrace of a bath. I don’t function well without it.
Meaning
  • My wedding & engagement rings, and my stuffed animal pig “Pandu”: Forgive me this triple item. My husband is my whole world and I will never get over that he chose me to spend his life with, flaws and all. My wedding and engagement rings are a material reminder of how lucky I am, how in love we are and that I am never alone. Why the pig stuffed animal? When Tom and I first starting dating we were making a stop at a pharmacy when I saw an adorable stuffed pig. He got it for me, we named it Pandu, it was his first gift to me. I ended up losing it during one of our moves and searched desperately for years to find it, even emailing the head office for the pharmacy chain to no avail. When Tom decided to propose he did an extensive online search, searching through thousands of photos of stuffed pigs. He eventually found it and ordered it for me. His plan was to give it to me as part of our proposal but when the delivery arrived at the house I googled the name of the company it came from and realized what he had done. I still feel awful for ruining his romantic proposal plan, but it was still such a meaningful and romantic gesture that meant the world to me. That is how a pig stuffed animal named Pandu became as important to me as my wedding and engagement rings.
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Here I am with my engagement ring and my favourite stuffed pig “Pandu”. This was taken the night Tom proposed.
  • My copy of Peter Pan: This book has been a favourite of mine for as long as I can remember. I even broke a tooth as a kid jumping off of a tall piece of furniture, convinced I would fly. I adore Peter Pan, it is so beautifully written. My copy is cloth bound edition with the original illustrations. I take it out and read a few pages regularly. I read the whole book at least once per year. It was my escape as a child and continues to be now.
  • My red blanket. During my first time in a psychiatric hospital ward back in 2010 my dad drove for hours to come visit me and brought me a cozy red blanket for my hospital bed. Nothing ever seems so bad when I wrap myself in that red blanket.
  1. If you could have any superpower in the world, what would it be?

This one is pretty easy for me. I would want the power to heal others. I would want to be able to help others escape from their pain.

  1. What is your drink of choice? It can be non-alcoholic or alcoholic, or feel free to list one of each.

Grenadine. (Hands up if you get this reference from The Office!)

  1. What are three personality traits that you like about yourself?

I like that I am caring and I am creative. I also like that I value learning from one another more than sticking to my own beliefs and assumptions. I struggle to choose qualities I like about myself, but these few I am quite fond of.

  1. What are your hobbies or some things that you like to do in your spare time?

I love to cook and bake. My favourite things to make are pie, homemade pasta, ice cream, pizza and veggie burgers. I also love to read, I fill my bookshelves with lots of novels and when I can’t decide on a new book to read I re-read the Harry Potter series. I love spending time with my husband, my dog, and my family and friends. I love playing board games, especially when I am well enough to get together with friends to play games. Perhaps more than anything else, I love singing. There was a time when I was going to pursue musical theatre as a career, I sang, acted and danced every day. I miss that very much. I have wanted for years to get back in to community theatre productions, but it’s not possible right now. But nothing could stop me from singing.

Thanks again to Nicole for the nomination. Thank you also to my nominees for their fantastic blogs that inspire me all the time.

Take care,

Fiona

Good Morning, Depression

This post may be triggering to some individuals.

9am – My eyes open when I hear my husband rummaging around our bedroom, getting ready for work. It’s harder than usual for him to find clean clothes, our laundry is piling up precariously high in the hamper. My dog jumps on the bed and comes to greet me. My husband says, “good morning sleepy head”, while I unclip my CPAP mask and turn off the machine. He kindly avoids alluding to my break down last night. I know from him getting dressed already that I have slept-in past my goal time of 7:30am. One of my first thoughts is how disappointed my psychiatrist will be when she finds out I haven’t been keeping a consistent sleep schedule. I remind myself that’s irrational, she will know how hard I am trying.

I slowly pull myself up in to a sitting position, noticing a crick in my neck, no doubt the result of mounting tension in my shoulders from high anxiety. “Great”, I think to myself, “more pain”. I was supposed to go see a massage therapist to help with the muscle tension in my upper body but I still need to figure out if that treatment would be covered by my husband’s health insurance. That’s a problem for another day.

I reach for my phone while my husband brushes his teeth. Last night a fellow comrade on Twitter was in crisis, I am hoping to see good news. I fell asleep shaken with the possibility that he wasn’t safe. There is strength in connection over social media, but the distance can sometimes make me feel so hopeless to help. I don’t see any news, I hold out hope that he will check in to Twitter soon to say he is safe.

My husband is back from the bathroom. He comes and gives me a kiss, says he is on his way out and he’ll see me later. I can’t hold back the tears. I wish I could cry elegantly like the ladies in romantic comedies. For the next ten minutes he comforts me, reminds me he will be home soon enough and that he can call me on his lunch break. Every touch from my husband gives me strength and courage. Every time he lets go I begin to sob all over again. I feel horrible, the last thing I want is for him to worry about me while he is at work. I have dealt with many trials from mental illness, but perhaps none so terrible as the dread of waking up and having to survive another day. I try to hide how much I am hurting, but I fail miserably at this practice. I calm myself down as best as I can and give him a final kiss. I don’t want him to be late. I suppress my sobs as he walks down the stairs, grabs his lunch and closes the garage door behind him.

After a few minutes of seeking strength from cuddles with my dog who so intuitively is clinging a little closer to me this morning, I get up to go to the washroom. Passing the vanity mirror I notice my reflection. Its distorted features bear a resemblance to Quasimodo. I had forgotten that I plucked my eyebrows out yesterday when the urge to self-harm was overwhelming me. My eyes are puffy from crying and dehydration, I must remember to drink some water today. My CPAP has left a distinct ring around my nose and mouth. My whole affect is droopy, the feeling of being weighed down that I have been dealing with for weeks can be read all over my face. “Invisible illness”, I say to my dog, “not so invisible today”.

The washroom is brighter than the bedroom. I wince as I enter it. I’d say that depression makes me feel like a non-violent vampire, but my affection for garlic denies me that claim. I reach for a pill bottle, but I don’t have one anymore having come off of my last antidepressant just a few days ago. There have been many attempts to find a daily medication that works for me, so far, no luck on that score. My bathroom routine takes longer than usual, mental illness at its worst wreaks havoc on my digestion. I skip brushing my teeth and hair, they are a mess but I am already drained from the few minutes I have spent out of bed. On the way out of the washroom I check that our medicine cabinet is locked, it is. My husband holds the only key, a security measure we put in place at the urging of my psychiatrist after one of my suicide attempts last year. It has often crossed my mind that I could break the cabinet open if I really wanted to, but the superficial barrier of the lock gives me enough pause to remember that is a bad idea.

I change in to a fresh pair of pyjamas. I have steadily accrued a large array of sleepwear; my agoraphobia has been crippling for the last two years so I seldom leave the house. Being comfortably dressed in pyjamas just makes more sense. As I slip on my stained pyjama bottoms I remind myself that putting on day clothing might help me feel more put together; working from the outside in and yada yada. But truly, that’s a struggle for another day. I remember the counsel my psychiatrist gave me last week, “Your job for the next two weeks is to wake up at the same time every morning, eat all three meals and stay out of your bedroom during the day. The rest is gravy.” This is sage advice, focussing on anything else right now might stop me from meeting those seemingly meagre goals.

Pyjamas on, I succumb to the will to crawl back in to bed. My head is pounding and my breath quickening. I figure I’ll relax for a while to ready myself to walk downstairs. On a better day the walk downstairs would be nothing to me, but today it is daunting. In bed I scroll through world news, frequently thinking how messed up our current political climate is. I consider texting my friends, but really who wants to hear from me? I spot that thought distortion, my friends routinely try to reach out to me. Nevertheless, that sentiment feels real today. My dog whines, he wants to play – I respond by snapping at him. I lower my head in shame, am I really irritable enough to take it out on my dog today? I gather him up in my arms and show him love. I fall into a slumber.

Waking back up, I resolve to make my way downstairs. I can’t bring myself to prepare breakfast. Instead, I find my usual place on the couch, allow my dog to jump up on my lap and begin watching the same TV show I have watched over ten times in the past couple of years. The familiar story helps distract me from the agony of my own thoughts. It’s now just past 11:30am, two and a half hours down, far too many more to go.


Take care,

Fiona

A “thank you” to the people who care

This is a thank you note to the people who care. To those whose kindness and compassion doesn’t end when their loved one’s mental health is at its worst. To the people who show their caring every day, or once in a while. To those who don’t always know how to help but do their best. To those who don’t always understand but strive to.

Thank you to the people whose love for us doesn’t waver no matter what. Who feel our pain so acutely and wish beyond all else that they could take it away. Who help build us up. Who support us. Whose constant care and affection gives us strength. Who get the brunt of our bad moods, who see the worst of it and are never deterred by it.

Thank you to the advocates and the researchers. The people who spread information, dig for answers, share their experiences and help combat stigma.

Thank you to the people who stay at our side through panic attacks, outbursts, suicidal episodes, hallucinations, etc. Thank you for helping us regain control.

Thank you to the people who send us letters, funny photos or tokens that comfort us. Thank you to the people who sit with us when we are low. Thank you to the people who help us keep up with our lives by running errands for us, joining us for outings or bringing us healthy food to eat.

Thank you to the people who bring us to the hospital when we are in crisis. Who visit us in our hospital rooms. Who feel uncomfortable in the psych ward but come anyways. Who sleep beside our hospital beds. Who bring us snacks because the hospital food tastes like garbage.

Thank you to the people online who offer words of hope and consolation even though you don’t know us personally.

Thank you to the doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, occupational therapists, case workers, nurses, counsellors, pharmacists, social workers, personal support workers, etc. To anyone who care for us as a profession. Who face vicarious trauma, burn out, etc. in order to help people like me achieve health, happiness, stability and independence.

Thank you to the people who ask questions because they don’t understand. Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to vocalize what we are experiencing.

Thank you to the friends and family who never stop writing, calling or visiting. We feel less alone knowing you haven’t forgotten about us. Thank you for not judging us for not always being able to answer you, talk with you or see you.

Thank you to everyone who cares. I know you can feel hopeless too. I know you wish you had all the answers. I know want to know how to help. Thank you for caring, for trying, for reaching out, for helping, for your time and for your energy. Thank you for sometimes giving more than you receive when we aren’t in a place to give back to you. I know we don’t always make it easy on you. I know it can be exhausting for you. Thank you for caring. You are helping far more than you know.

Thank you. Thank YOU. Thank you.

Take care,

Fiona

Who would you like to thank?

Suicide is not selfish

This post may be triggering for some individuals. Please do not read if this may be distressing for you. If you are in crisis, you can find your local suicide hotlines here: http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html. Your life matters.

Whenever a high-profile death by suicide rocks the social media news cycle, I am both deeply saddened by it and apprehensive of the comments that I know will come along with it. Comments like, “how could he do that to his kids” or “but she had a husband, didn’t she think of him at all?” or “what a selfish thing to do”. I’ve had enough of it this week, I have to say something. Repeat after me: suicide is not selfish.

Listen, I can understand how suicide can seem selfish to people who have never been suicidal. I know that the concern we all feel for the loved ones left behind by suicide can morph into anger at the person who died by suicide. If you have never been suicidal, you just can’t understand. Too often it is assumed that those who contemplate, attempt or die by suicide are not thinking of the effect their death will have on those around them. Please hear me, that is so far from the truth.

Drawing from my own experience, my suicidal ideation is usually accompanied by the feeling that I am holding my loved ones back from true happiness. In my darkest moments I cannot register how important I am to the people who love me, even if they are right in front of me telling me just how much I matter to them. In my darkest moments all I can see is how much my mental illness impacts those around me, how hard those I love struggle to take care of me, how much I am burdening them, how much better their lives would be without me.

When I am suicidal I am thinking about others almost constantly. Wouldn’t my friends be happier if they didn’t have to worry about me all the time? Wouldn’t my husband’s life be improved if I was out of the picture and he could find someone less broken to love? Wouldn’t my mom be relieved if she didn’t have to drive me to appointments anymore? Eventually the doubt is erased and the “wouldn’t they” changes to “they would”. These are highly distorted thoughts, they completely shut out that my loved ones want me to live. They are unbalanced, irrational and drastic. But these are the kinds of thoughts that claw away at me when I am suicidal. I am usually able to understand how much suicide hurts the survivors, but not when I am most suicidal. When I am most suicidal I believe that my death would be a relief and bring joy to those around me. My mental illness distorts my reality. “Yes, they would grieve”, I think to myself, “but after they got over it their lives would be better”.

One person’s experience alone can not explain suicide. It is important to note that suicidal thinking does not look the same for everyone. I provide myself as an example, but my experience does not speak for everyone. I am fortunate to have learned this through meeting tens of individuals who have been suicidal. Having listened to their stories I have gained an understanding of just how diverse the causes of suicide are and just how different each person’s thinking around suicide can be. However, one theme that is almost universal amongst the people I know who have been suicidal is concern for their families and friends.

Let’s consider for a second that someone’s suicidal thinking is not as preoccupied with others as mine tends to be. I believe that most people who die by suicide feel desperate, exhausted, at the end of their rope and that there is no hope for recovery. That still does not make suicide selfish. No one should be judged as selfish for fighting hard against a serious and sometimes fatal illness and then losing the fight. Yes, suicide is preventable. Yes, there are treatments available that work for some people. But at its core suicide as a result of mental illness is no different from any other illness that can result in death. This can be hard to grasp if your thoughts and emotions have never been overtaken by mental illness. For too long phrases like “committed suicide” or “took their own life” have programmed our collective thinking and made us believe that the person who suffered and died from suicide is somehow to blame for their death. This is why it matters that we reframe the way we talk about death by suicide. We need to use our words to convey that suicide should not be about the act itself but about the underlying distress or illness. People with mental illness do not take their own lives, suicide takes their lives from them. Suicide is more disease than act.

Saying that suicide is selfish completely ignores the experience of suicidal people. It contorts suicide into something that it is not and further confuses public understanding about suicide. I believe that the misconception that suicide is selfish stems from a real lack of understanding of what causes suicide. If you are someone who struggles to understand suicide, now is the time to do some research. You owe it to yourself and others to educate yourself about why suicide occurs. If you think suicide is selfish, you don’t understand it.

Take care,

Fiona

If you are in distress please reach out for help. If you don’t know where to turn for help, please consider contacting a distress line near you. http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html

In the face of tragic news, remember to take care of yourself

Violence, divisive politics, loss of life, economic instability, human rights violations, and other tragedies and tensions that are plastered all over our social media feeds make me lose my balance. For some of us, these events contribute to our sense of the world being in turmoil and can make us feel hopeless. They can shake our drive to make the world a better place. They can make us feel ill.

Early this morning I saw the news of the school shooting in Texas. Just minutes ago I saw the news of the plane crash in Cuba. There have been casualties in both places. As soon as I see news like this I experience a wave of sadness, I begin to feel tension in my back and shoulders, my breath shortens and a knot forms in my stomach. When the world is in chaos, that reverberates right through my mind and body.

On days like today, anyone’s mental health can be shaken by the tragedies taking place. At times we can become so overwhelmed with bad news that we choose to be apathetic or tune out of current events all together. Or we allow it to completely take over our emotions, wreaking havoc on our central nervous system and causing distress. Balancing concern and empathy while taking care of ourselves is a big ask. But if you are easily provoked to an emotional reaction like I am, it is so important. Allowing these events to affect us, anger us and cause us to band together is a good thing. People feeling compelled to act helps speed progress. But we need to also care for ourselves. We need to ensure that we aren’t loosing ourselves in the constant barrage of distressing news stories.

I don’t have any real answers for you today, readers. But I do ask that you please take care of yourselves. Make sure that if the things happening around you are unsettling you take time to self-soothe. Self-care is becoming almost cliché, but really, it is important to take time to ground yourself and remind yourself of the good all around you. That Mr. Rogers quote that circulates every time one of these atrocities happens is a valuable piece of advice: look for the helpers. Look for the examples of people trying their best (hem hem – Stoneman Douglas High School students). Look for all the good. Find the meaning amongst the chaos.

MisterRogers.001
Credit: https://bulletin.represent.us/mister-rogers-look-helpers/

I don’t know about you, but I try really hard not to beat myself up over feeling. I’ve heard too many times that I “care too much”, but I’m not going to fault myself for caring. It isn’t wrong to feel a sense of urgency and despair in times of crisis – even when the crisis is far away. Feeling empathy for others is a good thing. But there’s a reason we are instructed to put on our own oxygen masks first when we’re on airplanes. We need to take care of ourselves in order to take care of others.

Remember too that conflict sells. Our news cycle leans towards the bad, the tragedies, the tensions. Yet everywhere around us there are people doing good. There are still things worth celebrating. There is progress being made. Even when so much is going wrong, there is hope.

Hope is the topic I want to end with today. I am fortunate that I am not currently in an episode of depression. When I have been, I am even more affected by the news. It can make me jump from sorrow to suicidal thinking at an alarming rate. I know I’m not alone in that. I know that for many of us, the news can make us feel as though there is no point in carrying on. Why should we live when the world is falling apart in front of our eyes? When for every cute picture of your friends’ pets there is an article about corrupt politics? When our mental health is at its worst and we are already running out of reasons to stay alive or hopeful, breaking world news can feel like the last straw. So I’m going to tell you something that’s going to sound really corny but I hope you hear it – you need to stay alive, to stay involved, because you care. If you are affected by world news, that means you care about things that are important. You are the hope that things will get better. Our future rests in the hands of people who care.

Sorry for the rant, guys. I know it wasn’t the most cohesive thing ever written. If you take something away from it, let it be that caring about others is an important value, but so is caring for yourself.

My thoughts are with those who have been affected by the plane crash in Cuba and the shooting at Santa Fe High School.

Hug the people you love.

Fiona