In Reference to Mental Health

I think, through my adolescence and 20s, I had seen my bouts of anxiety and depression as a passing phase. I saw the flux as the result of hormone shifts and the stressors of school, work, relationships, whatever. I remember vividly my sister in law, who also deals with depression, telling me that she thought I was depressed, and brushing it off. I was 24. I think I had bought into a significant portion of the societal bias against mental illness, a stigma that continues to cause me to be very careful of who I discuss my mental health with, and under what parameters.

I’m not proud of bowing to social norms. I don’t lie about my mental health, but I definitely hide it under a shroud of bravado and easy smiles. I will answer direct questions honestly, but I learned a long time ago that when you seem like your life is an open book, no one bothers to flip the page. I have spent years carefully constructing a facade, one that is just quirky and odd enough that most people assume that I can’t possibly be hiding anything, because wouldn’t the foul mouth, dirty sense of humour and tendency to do a happy dance randomly in public be the obvious things to hide? It’s not that those things are lies. They are just emphatically not the whole truth.

Interestingly, within the safety of that shroud I have learned to watch other people and their behaviours more carefully. Because I am painfully aware of my own disguise, I am more inclined to see through those that other people use. From a professional perspective, it’s extremely valuable: I am adept at seeing past the walls and learning about people – and I find their whole self interesting, which leads to better therapeutic relationships and I think ultimately better care.

As my 30s are well and truly underway, I am more aware of the reality that comes with dealing with depression, at least for me: It isn’t transient, or a passing phase. That doesn’t mean it won’t pass, and it doesn’t mean I can’t work on it, build up my coping skills, and improve my outlook. In fact, even as I sit and write, I’ve been pretty stable for the better part of a month despite significant upheaval in my professional life. I feel like a whole person most of the hours of the day. I recognize that I have a tendency to over-extend my resources, and I work to make sure that I allow for that, and the recovery time that needs to follow. So I work on balance, and self care, and try to practice what I preach.

But I am starting to realize that it is important for me to own my mental health. Because it is mine. It’s not going away, it will be ever changing, and sometimes hard… But sometimes it will be glorious, and I will get to experience true and utter joy – and that is worth everything, every single time. I have chosen thus far not to seek medication. The talk therapy has been effective, and all my understanding of the medications are that they dull your senses at both ends of the spectrum: no huge lows, but also no highs, and I live for those (none external chemically induced) highs.

I am blessed with a strong cohort of very good friends, who have been available to me in ways I could never have imagined, even when I didn’t know how to ask. I am lucky to have married a man who has weathered my storms with grace, and been willing to work on our relationship even when I was ready to give up. I have strong biological family bonds, and stronger logical family bonds, and I treasure them.

But on mental health: Its mine, good, bad, or otherwise. I am happy that this most recent depressive episode seems to be passing. With each successive experience I am more certain that there will, eventually, be a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

I will mourn my ability to conceive for the rest of my life. I am starting to accept that, and the daily hurt is slowly ebbing away. There are sharp pangs, and there is a very good chance that I will never attend another baby shower as long as I live. And I will let myself grieve that loss as often and as deeply as I need to, because that too is mine. Mine to decide how much it hurts, mine to determine what the appropriate response is, and mine to share only if and when I choose. I don’t know if I will ever parent in any conventional sense, or if any doctor will ever be able to tell me definitively why my body doesn’t seem capable of conception. And it’s not ok. But it is something I can acknowledge and build into my life foundation, not use to tear myself down.

Someday I want to share my story and struggle with mental health with the people I care about, and maybe beyond. Partially because I think there are too few stories about the people who don’t conceive (how many times has my saying I can’t get pregnant been met with “i’m sure you will!” or “I know a woman who said that and then…”), but mostly because I would like to face my fear of sharing these little secrets I’ve been so carefully hiding for so long. But for now, this is Me.

-Me.

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Happy New Year!

My blog name is suddenly antiquated…

But really, for me, 2016 was the year of infertility – not because its where it started, but because it’s where it ended for me.

This last year has been a very… It’s been a hard year. I have spiralled in and out of some level of depressive symptoms since adolescence, but admitting that I can’t procreate has brought out a whole new level of self loathing I was not in any way prepared for. I am lucky in that I have not failed at many things I have tried to accomplish in my life – I can quite literally count the things I feel I utterly failed at on one hand (my grade 9 royal conservatory piano exam (I fell apart playing the raindrop prelude and couldn’t pull it back – I failed by 2%, I got 58% when I needed 60% to pass…), the 1 high retrieval when working at a zip line (seriously, what freak of nature can pull themselves back up a 150 meter zip line? Not this girl… Seriously, those freaks of nature are kinda awesome… but I digress) I didn’t get into physio school (3.64/4 not a good enough GPA – 3.81 was the minimum I would have needed. FML) aaaaaaand getting pregnant – 3.5 years of unprotected sex and counting). Don’t get me wrong, there have been things I didn’t do well at. I only count my first race in a single scull at an international regatta not a fail because I didn’t tip the boat – I still came in last place, I’m just happy I stayed upright. For me I only feel like I failed when I don’t meet a basic level of function or achievement/reasonable expectation. I don’t think that it was an unreasonable expectation to have achieved any of my major failings: The piano exam I was prepared for, I knew, and know, that piece of music well, and even recognizing that I messed up, I still could have brought it back. The 1 high retrieval -well, that was a full body muscle failure, I was exhausted, but still, I think I could have done better. The GPA – i’m smart, I just like to multitask a lot, and i’m terrible with details… you know, those basic details like studying for exams thoroughly…..

Pregnancy, or the lack thereof, has been a whole other thing. I think it’s a basic mammalian expectation to be able to procreate. So not being privy to that arena has been a failure on a very basic and disturbing level. I have several friends who feel no drive to procreate, and they feel no such failure. But I think that that lack of sensation comes because they made a choice – one that I did not. I did not choose this for myself, and neither did my Husband. We planned a life with children, our own, our genetic weirdos, and despite our efforts, that has not been possible. I don’t think he resents me – he’s made it quite clear that our relationship matters more than our hypothetical children, and I hope he continues to feel that way. We have had open discussions on adoption, and I think that that will ultimately be the direction we go for. At least we will try. I’d like to adopt a child, or siblings, out of the foster care system. I have no drive to look after an infant.

But on failure: I think that’s the hardest part. It is for me. I don’t know if that is the same sensation that other women who are confronting infertility face – I suspect if I had a concrete answer as to WHY we can’t conceive I would have an easier time of it. But there isn’t an answer except that we can’t, and at this point we statistically won’t.  I don’t handle failure well. Years have passed since most of what I mentioned above, and they still bother me. In true character, I haven’t handled this one well. Well, I don’t think I have. I’ve been a withdrawn, shrivelled, miserable version of myself. And apparently my self flagellantism knows no bounds. I recognize that I have been grieving, and will probably continue to need to grieve. I am trying very hard to hide my grief from everyone who cares about me, because I don’t want them to know how much it is still bothering me. I think there is the outside perception that this is something to get over – something that will pass. And I let people think that. The very few people I have confided in, I allow to think that it is a passing thing, and i’m over it. They don’t need to know that each fresh menstrual cycle is a fresh indication of failure, or how hard it is for me to congratulate my friends on their progeny. Sorrow is hard – it’s hard to experience, but somehow it’s doubly hard to inflict on the people who care. I think my Husband is aware – he’s around me enough that he sees through my public persona and sees me hide and regroup. I think one or two of my closest friends have a whisper of an idea that I may not be as upbeat as I profess, but they respect me too much to push the issue. Because the funny thing about grief is that it has an expressed shelf life. Then those around you want it to be over with, and it’s time to move on. Public expression becomes insufferable, and you have to internalize to not put out those around you. So instead I push it down, and away, and make up stories to myself about how I’m ok with this, how I have grown in ways that I never would have had I had children, and how I can be so much more than I would have been professionally, personally, athletically, academically. All of which is true, to some extent – I would not be who I am now without the experiences wrought by this one small quirk of my physiology. And much of what and who I am I value. But the very honest truth is I would still go back and trade it all just to get pregnant. But thats a secret I can’t tell, and a grief I can’t share.

So this last year has been hard, because I’ve had to be honest with myself on a level I haven’t been able to be, and probably won’t be, with anyone else.

2017 is starting bright – we have possession of the town house we bought, we started painting it today. It has two bedrooms, one will be a shared office, one will be ours – no room for a hypothetical child, we are letting that space go, at least physically. 2017 holds promise professionally, academically, and athletically. I plan to continue racing a rowing scull, I think I can push my fitness to a new level I have never gotten to before, and that excites me. I have five courses left to finish my masters, and I am building and running a falls prevention program for adults in my community who are at high risk of injury. My husband and I work well as a team, and I think that having our new home to work on will be good for us.

So let 2017 be bright

-Me

Stranger Danger

For some reason, I am a lightning rod for random personal comments from strangers. In particular, at the facility I work at, every month or two, I have a new story of someone pulling me aside to tell me what they think of my body, most of which is excessively personal and reflective of my size. I’ve described my body type before, and I am by no means slender – but I’m also not a plus size. The image is me and my dog, taken a few weeks ago while my husband and I were out for a walk.me

So these random interactions have ranged from a lady coming up to me on the sidewalk to tell me that she has been meaning to talk to me for “ages!”, to tell me about having had a breast reduction many years ago, that it was the best thing she had ever done, and to go on to suggest that I should have the same thing done. Please note, I had never had any interactions with this woman before that day beyond a nod of acknowledgement of mutual existence when passing. The conversation went on far longer than I would have liked, and was enhanced by her thick Austrian accent. I’ve also had a random lady in the pool stop me to tell me that I should really be a plus size model – I think she meant that as a compliment.

Further interactions involved a couple calling me over to them while I was with a patient, to ask if I was on a diet, because it looked like I’d lost weight. They also went on to say that I reminded them of Dolly Parton, apparently something about my eyes. Another lady asked me if I was a physiotherapist, and when I told her no, was disappointed. I was curious as to why, and she let me know that it was because I wasn’t skinny like all those other physiotherapists, the ones who had told her she needed to lose weight in order to take some pressure off of her knees. There have been others, but that was the highlight reel.

The most recent interaction by far takes the cake: An ex patient, one who had been somewhat unpleasant to deal with in large part because he made it very clear that although he wanted to get the benefit of my education and experience, he did not think that he should have to pay the fees associated with treatment. Mildly offensive, but not the end of the world. Anyways, he came in and asked if he could interview me, as he was a freelance journalist and was writing an article. I’ve had various other individuals and media outlets ask to interview me with regard to my work before, and have accommodated them. That being the case, I felt that it would be reasonable to give him five minutes of my time to answer his questions, which I assumed would be about my profession.

No, no, I was so wrong. He let me know that he was writing an article for a plus size women’s magazine (quiet alarm bells started to ring in my head, but there was still the potential to have a health and fitness focus… alas, no) with a focus on the idea that some men might actually find the larger ladies attractive. At this point I was just staring across the table at him in incredulity. He continued: “And since you’re someone of that body type…” At that point I am quite sure I was shooting daggers out of my eyeballs, because he trailed off into stutters and said “Oh, I’ve offended you.” Which I confirmed.  The man didn’t know when to stop, because he plowed on, asking something about whether I felt that the media had an affect on me, and that it’s unfair, while again reassuring me that he, the paragon of virtue that he was, was one of said men who would lower their standards to consider larger women to be attractive. At this juncture I will point out that this is a man well into his 60’s, and frankly not one of those rare ones who manage to span 3+ decades to be attractive to your average 30 year old woman.

I was slightly flabbergasted. Between his audacity in starting the conversation, his assumption of my size and self perception, and the fact that he continued, despite my clear revulsion, it took me a few moments to collect myself to respond. Basically I just said that of course the media affects me, it affects everyone, and then finished with “we’re done here.” and walked away. As we were in my professional forum, and I value my work, I didn’t bother tearing the strip off of him that was so tempting. Taking the high road was possibly less satisfying, but it does mean my professional reputation remains intact, something that would have been hard to maintain had there been bloodshed.

Walking away I felt a weird combination of upset, judged, defiant, and used. I do not understand what messed up little part of his brain considered that an appropriate topic to bring up with me, or why, once it was clear that I was not open to it, he felt the need to keep talking. He definitely hit a few nerves with me – I’ve mentioned a history of disordered eating and body confidence issues before – but thankfully I have been able to recognize that his opinions are not my problem.

I’ve always been a bit of a beacon to the stranger parts of the people around me, and most of the time I find a way to process and see it as funny. This one was harder to do that with, because it was so brazen and unexpected. I’ve fired him as a patient, and he is not welcome at the clinic under any circumstances. And if he tries to communicate with me inside of the recreation facility, I may have to talk to the recreation coordinator about getting his privileges revoked. For now, as long as he gives me a wide berth, I won’t go that far. I think it needs to be more clear to people in general that, however much you have the right to watch, assess, judge, and form opinions about other people, sharing them without invitation is still rude and inappropriate. I don’t walk around with a sign on my forehead saying “Tell me what you think! Please!!”, so just stop. Even if you think it’s a complement, stop. If I wanted to know (and sometimes I do), I’d ask.

Still trying to find a way for this to be funny.

-Me.

 

Feeling Needed and Rambles

imageI have spent a fairly significant portion of my life putting on a strong surface and avoiding sharing how I feel with anyone. This remains true even when I trust someone – to the point that I fear that trust, because if I actually let them in, if they really get to know me, then when they inevitably (in my head) reject me, they will actually be rejecting me. Not the facade I’ve spent ages cultivating, but the real, deep, dark, complicated, secret me. So instead I spend a great deal of time making sure that I am who any given one of the people I care about needs me to be, while trying desperately to hide myself from them lest they see something they don’t like. With, ultimately, the net result of pushing the people I care about away and being super socially awkward.

It’s funny: I can happily stand in front of a room full of strangers, talk, give a speech, take them through a training protocol, present a new concept, and banter – and I don’t care what they think of me. I don’t give a flying fuck what strangers think of my silly antics and shenanigans – which makes it very easy for me to appear as if I am a social butterfly and to integrate into social groups. And I can maintain that in the long term.

The problem comes in when I meet someone who I think more of – someone who strikes a chord,  who I admire, who I click with. Then I am possessed by a burning desire to pour my heart and soul out, extract all of their personal details, and perform some kind of messed up mind meld symbiosis that results in us being bonded forever in blissful friendship. Needless to say, this can be quite overwhelming for me, and were I to let it out, I suspect that it would be comparably overwhelming for the individuals who are the targets of my attentions.So instead I am careful, and I keep my shit to myself. It comes out eventually, over time, in a somewhat more normal progression as the friendship builds, and thus I manage to actually form real friendships with people who are actually kind of awesome.

Which brings me to the other end of things – there’s this thing called imposter syndrome – it’s very common among academics, since in the ivory tower, it’s almost the purpose of the institution to make those learning within it feel insecure and off balance. Basically it’s the sensation that you only find yourself in whatever positive circumstances by accident, and because you have somehow managed to delude/bamboozle/stumble your way into the situation, not that you earned your place there.

I get it with regard to my friends – I am generally slightly surprised at how many really wonderful people who choose to spend time with me. I am frequently slightly in awe of their intelligence, drive, accomplishments, how well travelled they are, well read, professionally and athletically accomplished, etc. Seriously, I don’t know how I got so lucky to have so many people who have tolerated my awkwardness long enough for me to get over myself and let them in. Since I think too much of them to think I have somehow successfully fooled them into being around me, I have to conclude that they are also getting something out of our relationship, despite my neurotic weirdnesses. But I frequently feel somewhat like one wrong move and that will all come crumbling down.

In fairness, I have had a few of those deep friendships end, frequently without my knowing why, or if it was something I did, or if it was something beyond my control. Given that I am a control freak, I want for it to be something I could control, but I am aware that it likely was not. At least two had more to do with the person’s significant other/change in relationship status… Actually, now that I think about it, so did the third. I am still in contact with all of these people, but the closeness is gone. I suppose the fact that the contact still exists is good, and maybe indicative of my lack of involvement in the change of friendship – but each time it happened, it hurt enough that I worry it might happen again.

We, as a society, are very open to discussing the end of romantic relationships, and the trauma that comes with that, but somehow when friendships end, there isn’t an expectation that either party should feel the void left by the others absence. There is no expectation of grief, or loss, just the idea that you will go softly into the rest of your life without looking back or regretting things unsaid, plans not followed through on, or the fact that someone you once cared about is not part of your life anymore.

Really, basically, all of this is a long involved ramble to say that I feel like I have to keep my guard up constantly to protect myself, because I worry that if I let people in, they won’t like who I really am.

The funny thing is, I know who I am, and I actually like me… despite my insecurities, flaws, neuroses, I like who I am at my core. It just takes me a very long time to let anyone past those layers to see what lies within.

-Me

Compassion

I’ve been pondering the idea of familiarity breeding contempt, and I disagree. I think that familiarity breeds compassion. I think that knowing where a person comes from, what gives them hope, what makes them sad, and where they find joy, and love, and fear… It opens your eyes to their world and gives you space to understand, or at least try to, the complexity that is another human being. There are few things I value more in this world more than the moment that another individual lets me into their world, even for a moment. That trust, that window to their soul, is the most rewarding part of my work and private life. I treasure that feeling above all else.

Something I struggle to find is any kind of compassion for myself, or any expectation that others may react to my trust as I do to theirs. It makes me somewhat hypocritical, in that I value that trust, but I don’t expect others to value it from me. I tend to feel like i’m burdening others by letting them into my world – especially right now, when it’s somewhat of a dark place.

And I think that there are people who see any kind of emotional outpouring as weakness, and in those people, it will result in contempt. I hope ultimately to their detriment, but that’s out of my hands. It becomes a question of what matters more to you: A real, human, honest connection with those who will value it for what it has to offer, or shutting yourself off, protecting the vulnerable aspects of yourself, but missing out on the depth of knowing that could exist. I waffle between the two frequently, and make the decision on a moment by moment, case by case basis.

-Me

The Value of Community

Given the tone of the last few posts I’ve written, this should be quite different.

I spent the weekend at a rowing regatta with my teammates. I was very nervous going in, I feared that my own issues would be transparent enough that I wouldn’t be able to interact on a basic socially acceptable level. These are all people who have only seen me on one level – my social, positive, extroverted facade. I worried about the reality of spending four days in the presence of people who don’t know any details of my life (seriously, most of them couldn’t tell you what I do for a living, what my husbands name is, or my last name), would be too stressful and my own issues would out, whether I wanted them to or not.

Don’t get me wrong – I had some bad moments. I definitely hid from them in the evenings when I was worn down and tired and unable to cope. I had the blessing of one person I do trust being there. She doesn’t know all the details (in part because I have avoided telling her) but she knows me well enough that she helped me make space when I needed it, which was… for me, given how fragile I was feeling, nothing short of amazing.

What I did not expect was the sense of belonging I found over the weekend. When I started rowing, I joked that I had finally found my people – type A, OCD, compulsive, driven, hardworking, intelligent people who are just crazy enough to wake up at 4 AM and go sit in little narrow boats, rain or shine, dark or light, year ’round. I missed, on my first assessment, the other side of these people. I missed the compassion, the kindness, the support, kinship that exists within the team. That’s what I found this weekend. I have never felt so accepted by any group of people before in my life.

Knowing that this was my first regatta, they checked in on my constantly, offered advice and suggestions, and stories of races past, where win or lose it was worth the process. As a novice rower, the realty is I am a bit of a liability in the boat – it takes a while to get the technique down to the point that you’re contributing at a level equal to the more experienced rowers. But I never felt like they saw me as dragging them down. Instead there were constant words of encouragement. When I rowed my own novice single, I could hear my whole team on the beach cheering me on. I didn’t place, I wasn’t especially happy with my row, but coming back into the beach was like getting back under a warm blanket on a cold winters day. The results didn’t matter, my time didn’t matter – all that mattered was that I’d done it, and they were proud of me.

I grew up in a small town, and I think I am inclined to take it for granted. I forget the value of having a group of people who will stand behind you and be available no matter what. I didn’t know last year, when I started rowing as a favour to a friend (they needed another female, I’m reasonably athletic and I had time) that I would find a whole new support system to be part of. The warmth and kindness that these people have shown me – regardless of if they know any additional details about me – has been one of the most wonderful experiences I can imagine. My off colour jokes, silly dances, propensity to terrible puns, and inclination to be a cheeky little shit as often as I can manage are all accepted. Welcomed, even. Despite my reluctance to share (I didn’t), and semi-antisocial tendencies over the weekend, by the time we were on the boat home, I felt safe with my teammates. Safe to be me, whatever that looks like, and that it will be ok.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I know I have a whole community of wonderful people who will help me if I need it.

-Me.