Learning to live in spite of suicidal thoughts

I’ve been slowly realizing something. The realization is that I can’t continue to use the same techniques for coping with my depression and suicidal thoughts that I always have, now that they are constant. You see, for years I experienced ups and downs. My depression came in waves. When I was at my lowest I could expect that I would pull out of it soon. When I was suicidal I knew that it never lasted more than a few months at a time.

That pattern changed three years ago. My depression worsened, my anxiety skyrocketed. My life changed dramatically. Since then, I’ve had only a few brief breaks from my depression and suicidal thoughts. Depressed and suicidal is my new normal.

I’ve had to adapt to my worsened symptoms, lower level of functioning and the ways they have limited my life. At first, I did what I have always done when I feel my worst. I ate comfort food. I wore pyjamas. I took baths multiple times a day. I watched all my favourite movies, over and over again. The problem is, while I say “at first”, I have been mostly doing this for the past three years. My coping has been in keeping myself as comfortable as possible. This was how I adapted, the only way I knew how.

The instinct to keep myself comfortable is a good one. It has saved my life on many occasions. It has kept me from further self-harm, helped me feel safer when everything around me seems dark and uncertain. However, after three years these attempts to self-soothe and provide comfort have begun to look more like my own form of hospice care. Being suicidal, I’ve not believed I will live. When I don’t believe I will live, I don’t see any reason to not just make what remains of my life as comfortable as possible.

What if being suicidal doesn’t mean I’m going to die? What if I can come to terms with my worsened illnesses and find ways to adjust my lifestyle to accommodate my new needs? What if I can bring myself to believe that I can live in spite of all of it? Seeking comfort in a decadent dessert, favourite movie and cozy pair of pyjamas can be helpful in coping with intermittent illness, but it’s no way to live every single day of my life. What if the things I’ve been doing every day are holding me back?

In short, comfort isn’t a solution. Comfort can help me cope with momentary distress, but is not suitable as the main line of defence against my long-term illnesses. It has a part to play, but I can’t allow it to take the leading role in my life on an ongoing basis. Not if I want to believe my life is worth living.

The alternative to comfort is, of course, discomfort. Pushing. Wearing clothes that I feel uneasy in after three years of pyjamas. Maintaining a routine for my exposure therapy even on days when it is hardest. Waking up at the same time every day and forcing myself out of bed even when my whole being revolts against it. Exercising at home, since my agoraphobia and social anxiety have stolen my ability to do it elsewhere. Eating healthily instead of chasing momentary solace in foods that cripple my body in the long run. None of this is comfortable. It is gruelling, unsettling. More importantly though, this has the potential to actually help.

I’ve been treating my day to day life as if my death is inevitable. I’ve given therapy my absolute best, but I haven’t done the same with the way I live. Despite being sure I’m going to die my mind and body have refused to give up. Even when I wish they would. Perhaps then, I should start believing that it is not my death, but rather my life that is inevitable.

I’d love to tell you that the changes I’m making and the manner in which I’m adapting my thinking have had a major effect on my illnesses. I wish I could but I can’t. I remain just as depressed and anxious. Most disappointingly, I’m still suicidal. In a way, that makes me all the more proud of myself. Proud that I am making changes in spite of feeling horrible. Proud that I’m not allowing myself to give in so easily. Pride in myself, as far as I can tell, is as good an argument as any to keep going.

Take care,

Fiona

Photo by Esther Tuttle on Unsplash

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My 2018: Loneliness & Finding Purpose

As the year comes to an end, it seems appropriate to reflect on 2018. In comparison to the drastic highs and lows of my 2017, this year has been calm. However, it hasn’t been without its own significance.

In 2017, Tom and I got married. I also spent a lot of time in mental health inpatient wards at local hospitals. We bought a house. I struggled with adjusting to prolonged unemployment and learning to cope with my worsened illnesses. These were the kinds of disjointed highs and lows that marked a very dramatic year. If I had to describe 2017 in two words, they would be: love & hospitals.

2018 has been much more subdued and I’m glad for that. 2017 was hectic, nonstop. 2018 has been, on the whole, slow and steady. There have been no hospitalizations or trips to the emergency room. There have also been no major life events like our wedding or buying our house. I’ve seen both improvements and regressions in my mental health. It’s hard to draw conclusions about 2018, it has been an inconclusive kind of year. However, if I were to once again pick two words to describe my year, this one could be summarized with: loneliness & purpose.


Loneliness

For much of 2018 I have been more secluded than ever. I seldom see anyone other than Tom. This isn’t due to any barriers other than my anxiety and depression. I have many amazing family members and friends who live close by and are eager to see me. I’m dying to see them, but I can’t. My depression causes a lack of motivation and drive to connect with my loved ones. My anxiety disorders cause me to feel sick at the mere notion of seeing others. Working in tandem, my illnesses led me to enter into a cycle of seclusion, which is proving hard to break.

Loneliness has had several impacts. It leaves me with a constant aching to see the people I love. I believe it worsens my depression, particularly my feelings of worthlessness. It also takes a toll on my physical health. Between this loneliness and my continued struggle to leave the house due to my agoraphobia, I’ve had to fight to maintain a sense of hope that my life has any real value. Much like 2017, 2018 has been riddled with long and low lows, high anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

To that end, however, I’ve seen improvement. I’m much more capable of managing my symptoms than I was in 2017. I haven’t needed to be hospitalized. I’ve come quite a long way in reducing my self-harm. I have a plan for when I become depressed. I have strategies that have helped me reduce the amount of panic attacks I have in my day to day life at home. I have skills that contribute to less onerous anxiety. I have strategies to cope with panic attacks when they come, which help them resolve more quickly and less painfully. I have a lot of work left to do, but there has been progress in these areas. I carried a lot of lessons forward from 2017 and these are some of the ones that have stuck. These have perhaps been my most notable achievements this year.

Purpose

Another achievement that marks this year is finding purpose. In December of last year, during my final hospital stay, my inpatient psychiatrist made a recommendation. The absence of work or studies since my health declined a few years ago has contributed to me feeling worthless and hopeless. With my frequent mental health related appointments in 2017, managing my mental illnesses had become my whole life. His suggestion was that I pursue some sort of volunteering or activity to help give me a sense of purpose.

The question became: What could I do from my own house, with minimal interaction with others, on a flexible schedule, that would fit in with my skill set and give me a sense of purpose?

Eventually, I created a volunteer opportunity that worked for me. I connected online with a young family of five in my neighbourhood. For a few months, I cooked a weekly healthy meal for them. It was perfect, I got to utilize one of my skill sets and interests for the betterment of others. For the first time in a long time, I felt I was making a valuable contribution to someone else. This continued until my depression worsened and I could no longer cook.

Around the same time, I also began volunteering for a political campaign leading up to an election I cared about. I was grateful to be able to place phone calls from home for the campaign. Taking on that responsibility was a significant challenge, as the phone is a source of anxiety for me. However, driven as I was to support the cause, I placed somewhere in the neighbourhood of a hundred phone calls in couple of weeks. On election day, I even pushed myself to leave the house and go to the crowded polling station to place my vote.

The most significant new source of purpose I have gained was in finding Letters Against Depression. I intend to write a dedicated post about this organization soon, so stay tuned for that. In short, Letters Against Depression offers a way for individuals who are suffering to receive encouraging and positive hand-written letters from volunteers. I began volunteering as soon as I learned about them, and I’m so glad I did. Writing these letters has given me an opportunity to help others, while also reminding me of all the things I have learned. Much like this blog, it is a way of taking this mental health nightmare I’ve been living for the past several years, and actually making some good come from it.

Of course, this blog cannot be forgotten. Since launching in late 2017, I’ve grown to understand that I have a voice and that there are people who want me to use it. Having always wanted to be a writer in some capacity, this has been amazing for me. This blog and my associated Twitter account are also responsible for a significant buffer to the loneliness I spoke of earlier. I have met some truly incredible people who inspire me, motivate me and make me feel I have something to contribute. I have written some pieces that I am very proud of, and have been moved by the positive feedback I’ve received as a result. I continue to learn and grow through the work I put in here. I continue to be grateful for it. In this blog, I’ve found a great deal of purpose.


I take comfort in knowing that despite the positives and negatives this year has brought, it was much more level than the year that came before it. Likewise, I’m comforted in things that have not changed, like supportive and loving relationships with my husband, family and friends. In 2019, I hope to continue my journey towards further stability. I want to learn more, do more things for others and write more. I hope to spend more time with people I love, and reconnect with things that anxiety and depression have stolen from me. In an ideal world, I’d like the opportunity to feel better too.

I’m wishing you all a warm end to 2018 and a 2019 that surpasses your wishes.

Take care,

Fiona

Sincerely, Your Friend with Social Anxiety Disorder

Hi there,

It’s me, your friend with social anxiety disorder. I wanted to write to let you know that you matter to me. I’m sorry that I haven’t been in touch enough lately. I know it isn’t easy for you, and I’m trying to do better.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to see you. Sometimes I have to cancel plans or decline invitations. Sometimes I can’t pick up the phone when you call. Sometimes those ‘sometimes’ turn in to ‘all the time’. I know that’s hard for you. Please don’t take it to mean that I don’t care. I’m working hard to manage the symptoms of my disorder so that I can shower you with love and attention. Our friendship is important to me. You are important to me.

It’s okay if you don’t understand why I can’t always handle social situations and interactions. I have a hard time understanding it too. Thank you for being patient with me.

Sincerely,

Your friend with social anxiety disorder

When Depression Ends

Today I’d like to share a positive post with you. I recently pulled out of my latest depressive episode. I have been feeling gradually better for the past month or so. I’m happy to say that the cloud has left for now. Depression always feels inescapable, it is a relief to be reminded that depression isn’t permanent. I have had many depressive episodes in my life and I know myself well enough to know that my depression will be back. Nonetheless, I’m enjoying this moment of respite.

A lot of changes occur when depression ends. In celebration of this return to myself, here are some of the positive changes I have noticed over the last few weeks.

The Big Changes

I’m optimistic about my future

When I’m depressed, I don’t always see recovery as an option. A future that looks any better seems impossible. I feel there are few things worth working towards, because life is what it is: depressing. When the depression lifts I’m reminded of all the things I have to live for and the things that keep me going. I’m able to acknowledge that there is a chance I can make lasting progress. I know that my depression is cyclical and it will come back, but I know that relief from the depression will too.

I feel better about myself

I’m very proud of myself and the progress I have made. I can see how much I have learned in my last couple of years in therapy. I can identify myself as strong and a fighter. I know that I’m a good person and am just doing my best. Conversely, when I’m depressed I feel like a burden. I feel like the worst person in the world and that my existence makes everyone else suffer. Suffice it to say, a break from this horrible self-concept is a gift. As a direct result of this, my self-talk is also much more positive and adaptive when I’m not depressed.

My anxiety is a bit easier to cope with

Since my depression ended I have been trying to leave the house and go for walks more often. I’m even slowly starting to see other people. My anxiety remains painful and debilitating, but I’m determined to try to cope with it when I can. Depression exacerbates my anxiety disorders by impacting my motivation, energy and desire to do things. My anxiety is all the more gruelling when depression robs me of any benefit that facing anxiety might otherwise yield. I’m less resigned to my anxiety when I’m not depressed.

I can feel fully happy

When I’m not depressed I can feel and sustain genuine happiness. When I’m depressed and good things are happening in my life, I can feel a fleeting sense of happiness about it, but rarely does that last. Anything happy is often quickly destroyed by my general sadness or lack of emotion. Or the happiness gets picked apart by unhealthy thoughts like, “I don’t deserve to feel this happiness” or “if I’m happy now it just means something terrible will happen soon.” Those thoughts occur infrequently when I’m not depressed, allowing me to more fully enjoy moments of joy.

I recognize the good things in my life

When I’m depressed, being reminded of the positive things in my life can actually make me feel worse. When my mood is incongruent with the things I “should” be happy about I tend to beat myself up about it. The guilt I feel over being sick is raised because I have so much to make me happy and live for. When I’m not depressed I’m able to appreciate my life and all the good that comes with it. I’m blessed in a lot of ways, chief amongst which is my loving and supportive network of family and friends.

The Smaller Changes

  • My internal alarm comes back. I wake up easily.
  • I sleep more regularly.
  • I make healthier food choices.
  • I want to spend time on my feet.
  • I’m able to play more board games. (When in a low it’s hard for me to focus and cope with unexpected changes so board games become hard to handle)
  • I use positive coping tools as a default.
  • My head doesn’t constantly hurt.
  • I dance and sing throughout the day.
  • I remember everything I have learned in therapy.
  • I drink water.
  • I play with my dog because I want to.
  • My body aches less.
  • I can make simple decisions more easily.
  • I’m able to read more comfortably (no repeating over lines, etc.).
  • I care more about my personal hygiene and self-care.
  • I’m not as easily tired.
  • I can contribute more by doing chores and volunteering.

All of these changes provide much needed light after months of darkness. They also highlight just how much my life is changed by depressive episodes. Depression can be a thief of joy, purpose, energy and self. Depression can make it seem like life isn’t worth living, but even a few short weeks out of depression can be enough to make months of struggling feel worthwhile. I hope that I’ll get a long break before my next low. I hope everyone who is experiencing depression right now will get some relief soon. I hope we all come to know more wellness and joy.

Take care,

Fiona

Photo by Marko Blažević on Unsplash

This or That Challenge

The lovely Elizabeth of The Uncustomary Housewife tagged me in the This or That Challenge. Elizabeth blogs about mental health as well as other fun things like cooking and geekiness. You can find her on her blog and on Twitter.

In turn I am tagging a few great mental health advocates who I’d like to learn some more about.

The Good The Human

Terminally Nice

Jen, Comically Chronic

John, The 3 of ME

Tony, The Mental Health Fog


Question 1: Shower in the morning or evening?

In the evening. I like evening showers best as I like feeling nice and fresh before bed. It is also nice to shower in the evening because I have panic attacks every time I shower, so it is nice knowing Tom is home in case I need his help to de-escalate the panic attack.

Question 2: City centre or close to nature?

Most definitely close to nature. I love trees and water, especially. My ideal is small cities/towns, I have always been partial to them. I used to work in downtown Toronto and I did enjoy the hustle and bustle, but I was glad to not live anywhere near it!

Question 3: Bright colours or neutrals?

Bright colours. I love colour. Neutrals are a bit dull for me.

Question 4: Spring or Autumn?

Autumn. I can’t think of anything I don’t love about autumn, it is my favourite season. I love the cool but comfortable weather, the colourful leaves, apple cider, apple pie, apple everything… you get the gist!

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I snapped this photo last Fall on my honeymoon on L’Île d’Orléans, just across from Québec City.

Question 5: Mint or cinnamon?

I love them both but I have to go with cinnamon. So many things are improved with cinnamon: apple pie, apple cider, apple everything… oops! I think we’ve been here before!

Question 6: Planned or spontaneous?

Planned. Always planned. I have found that especially when I am most anxious I can’t handle spontaneity. I can become hugely overwhelmed even when things deviate ever so slightly from the plan. I live in lists and planning documents. When I go on road trips or vacations I make binders full of information to help me cope and minimize surprises.

Question 7: A movie at home or at the cinema?

At home. This is especially true now with agoraphobia and social phobia keeping me clear out of movie theatres, but even when anxiety didn’t get in the way I have always preferred watching movies at home. Cuddling, better popcorn, comfortable seating, etc. There is something to be said about watching movies on the big screen or catching them before they are released for home viewing, but on the whole watching them at home takes the prize for me.

Question 8: Espresso or latte?

Latte for me – but not with coffee. It’s all chai tea lattes for me!

Question 9: Hugs or kisses?

Hugs. I love a good kiss, but nothing comforts like a hug.

Question 10: Spicy or mild food?

Mild. I am that annoying person who always asks for my Indian food served mild. I like a bit of heat but I am a total wimp when it comes to spicy food.

Question 11: Leather or lace?

I love lace. It is the height of prettiness where I am concerned.

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Bonus photo for Elizabeth – my wedding dress also had lots of lace!

Question 12: Overdressed or underdressed?

Underdressed. I mean, overdressed for social gatherings and work. But underdressed whenever it’s appropriate. I am happiest and most comfortable when I’m in my pyjamas.

Question 13: Adventure or comfort?

Comfort. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise given how much I have mentioned comfort already in this blog post. I have dreams of travelling around and trying new things, but even in adventures it is still important that I am comfortable.

Question 14: TV series or movie?

Oh, this question is hard. I enjoy both. The acting and overall art of movies tends to far exceed that in TV shows, but I love getting emotionally invested in the character arcs of TV shows. I’d probably give the edge to TV shows, I love binge watching shows and completely absorbing myself in the story. It something like reading a novel, as I spend more and more time in the fictitious stories I become more attached to them.

Question 15: Rock or country music?

Without question, rock. I love rock music and rock concerts. I rarely listen to country – the primary exception being The Dixie Chicks. I do love artists who are country/rock like The Eagles.

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Def Leppard and KISS Concert in Toronto, 2014

Question 16: Red or white wine?

Neither – I don’t like wine.

Question 17: Working alone or in a team?

Working alone. I enjoy working in teams but team dynamics change everything for me. I would rather work alone than with a team for which I am not a good fit.

Question 18: Swimming or sunbathing?

Swimming! My mom instilled in me a deep love of being in the water.

Question 19: Fast food or sit-down restaurant?

Sit-down restaurant. I love going out for a nice dinner, it is one of my favourite things to do. Chatting with great people while eating tasty food and not having to clean up afterwards is wonderful.

Question 20: Matched or mismatched socks?

Mismatched. I don’t often wear socks, but when I do I don’t have the patience to dig through my sock drawer for matching ones. I only use socks from the same collection, so they all feel the same, but I usually wear mismatched colours.

Question 21: Dancing or singing?

Singing. Singing is everything to me. I love dancing too, but I am not myself if I am not singing. Fun fact – I almost pursued a career in musical theatre. My singing chops are far better (though sadly out of practice these days) than my laughable dancing ability.

Question 22: Phone or the internet?

Internet. I like and use both but most of the time I spend on my phone is spent on the internet anyways. I like the larger screen and easier typing that my laptop provides.


Thanks again to Elizabeth for tagging me in this challenge, it was fun!

Take care,

Fiona