Humility

More than most things, depression is humbling.

I have in most aspects of my life been able to force my way through, muscle/brain/charm/flirt, etc. I am lucky. I am a pretty, caucasian, blond, and highly intelligent female. I found out when I was 17 that the IQ tests I took at age 9 designated me a genius – on a continuum I fall about halfway between 99-100. I didn’t actually know when I was placed in the gifted program at age 10 what it meant, other than that i got to skip social studies, which was great for me – give me mind puzzles over details on the voyageurs any day. I mostly use this as an example as why when I say that IQ is not a relevant indication of success, it’s not sour grapes – I am in the top 0.5 percentile according to highly biased tests best suited to middle class north americans. I just don’t think IQ is relevant because, frankly, it has a lot of research and anecdotal evidence suggesting it is not. However, it has been valuable to me in that I pick up new concepts quickly, I can respond and amalgamate new information efficiently, And I see links between details that are not immediately evident to others…. Basically I feel like I am extremely good at fooling people into thinking I know more than I do. Don’t get me wrong, in my chosen field of active rehabilitation, I am good – I have worked my butt of to know, research, back up, and reenforce what I do, and I am good at it. But much of the rest of my life I am simply faster on my feet than average, and therefor I feel like i’ve fooled people into thinking I am smarter/better than I am.

All that being said, where does the humble come in? Here’s where:

I can’t muscle/think/smartass my way through depression and mental illness. Long before I started this blog, I was in denial that I was experiencing depression. My sister in law told me, years ago, that what I was experiencing was depression – she was right – and I denied it outright. My own fear of the stigma and overall atmosphere surrounding mental health caused me to completely disregard my own. In my mind, the fact that I was not suicidal, and could get my butt out of bed in the morning, were indications that I was fine. I was not aware of the term “high functioning depression”. I thought that to be depressed I would have to be basically bedridden and lacking any kind of motivation.

So I convinced myself that the black hole of a mental state was just my being grumpy, it had nothing to do with the feelings of inadequacy, the fear, self loathing, insecurity, fatigue… It was just my having a shitty day. Nothing to worry about. Because I could get up, go to work, be a full time student and work 2-3 part time jobs and still be a supportive friend/wife/sibling/child… all of this could happen, right?

I promised myself time off when I finished my undergrad – I was just going to work the part time job as a research coordinator for a lab at the university – a role I had been doing while completing my undergrad degree and honours thesis (it’s published, woowoo). Then I got my first real job as a Kinesiologist, and the next five years are what she wrote – far be it for me to turn down a job in my chosen field and not choose to work my ass off. But I never took time off. By the time I walked across the stage I was already embarked on my new career – something that few of my peers had managed, but something that meant that long desired and planned for time off didn’t happen. Fast forward five interesting and professionally fulfilling years – I don’t regret that decision. But I was burnt out and a mess at the end of my undergrad, and I never actually took the pause that I promised myself.

Back to humble. Basically it is this: It doesn’t matter how smart, driven, determined, or full on stubborn I am. Depression has caught up with me and overrun my life in the lat few years. And that is humbling; not because I thought I was better than anyone else, but because I had that stupid blind faith that I would somehow manage to be the exception: That Depression wouldn’t be able to take its tole, do it’s damage, because I would push through. So … humbled. Because this is my take away: You can run, but you can’t hide. You can busy the shit out of your brain, prioritize other things and people, and run at full steam for as long as you can… but you cannot ignore mental health. It isn’t simply gone. It refuses to be forgotten. Trust me on this, I tried. For years. For years before I knew what I was doing, and possibly with more fervour once I had more awareness. Therapy helped a lot, because it tends to. And I think it was a decent stopgap measure, but in my vanity, I still thought I could go it alone, and that was an epic fail.

When I finally hit the point earlier this year that I wanted to stop existing, I was clear that I needed help. All of the help. And I needed to let go of my own narcissistic vanity and be vulnerable. And I hated every second of that. I hate being vulnerable, I hate feeling weak, and I hate letting people in and needing support. But in wanting to not be me anymore, I realized I had to stop pretending that my depression wasn’t real.

I’m not going to for a second pretend I have any answers. I don’t. I don’t want to die. I want to see what life has to offer. I wish I had more humility, because even as I write this I still feel like I should know better. But that is the thing with being humbled – it happens in spite of yourself, not because of a decision, despite one… despite your sense of self, wants, needs… the id will out. And mine has wanted out with a vengeance, and scares the ever living shit out of me.

At least I don’t want to die.

Ugh. Humble is not my colour.

-Me

Pity

I hate being the object of pity. I’m not much happier with sympathy, I can sometimes handle empathy… But I hate pity.

I raced at Regionals this weekend, and although all of my four races felt good, and my team came together and performed well, I did not win any medals. Which was disappointing – every other person on my team won in one of their other races, I seemed to be the common denominator among losing boats. I thought I had made more improvements over the last year than I had, but apparently it’s going to take a lot more work to compete at an international level and win.

One of my coaches, who is an ex national team athlete (he was headed for the olympics until an injury forced early retirement), decided to race a single scull, and unsurprisingly he won. He felt like it was unfair, because despite having followed the letter of the law, it is somewhat unsportsmanlike for an athlete of his caliber to compete at a masters level. So this is where the pity comes in: At the end of the regatta, once the boats were packed back on the trailer and we were ready to make the 4+ hour drive back to the ferry, he called everyone together for a team meeting/end of regatta wind down chat. It started out nicely enough, he made some nice comments about learning a lot from adult athletes and how much he enjoyed coaching us…

Then he brought up a new thing. The “spirit” award. Citing the idea that this person had been positive and complained the least throughout the weekend, he called on me, and gave me his gold. And I just wanted to crawl under a rock and die. It I felt that I had earned that award, maybe it wouldn’t have felt so shitty, but I don’t think I did – There was another member of the team who had been far more helpful, positive, and proactive than I had been all weekend, which means they selected me because they felt bad for me. Because I alone had not medaled. I can handle my own disappointment, but knowing that I was the object of my coach’s pity just … It just sucks.

I held it together until I got into the car to drive home and then let the tears come. The ladies I was carpooling with were worried about me, and agreed that it was a poor choice and pretty transparently a consolation prize… and they were lovely. Half an hour into our drive home we were giggling about other things.

I have no desire to have anyone pity me. A large part of why I keep the details of my infertility largely private is because I have no interest in being the object of that attention. And I work my ass off at rowing, i’m just not performing at a high enough level to win yet. Having my coach think that that action was appropriate just… Makes me want to quit. Having it happen in front of all of my peers, and drawing attention to my failure, not to mention making me a lightning rod for their pity as well? FML.

I know that he thought he was doing something nice, and that makes the whole thing somehow worse. If he were just being an ass hole, I would write it off and dismiss it, but he genuinely thought that he was being kind. And there isn’t really a way to give it back without being an ass hole in return.

I’m aware that three days of racing in 35+ degree (celsius) weather, plus <5 hours a night of sleep for five days, plus 7+ hours of travel time on either end it making me more emotional than normal. I’m aware that once I am well rested and a few days have passed I will feel less miserable about this. But right now I don’t want to get back on the water, I don’t want to deal with anyone from that arena, I just want to hide, give up, oh, and starve myself to boot, because when I hate myself, I feel all the old body image issues resurfacing.

I have to go for a training shift at my new job today. I am overtired, have a slight heat exhaustion hangover, and my brain feels like fuzzy mush. Not ideal training circumstances, so here’s hoping I can get through it with some shred of dignity intact.

Fuck pity.

-Me

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.

Growth?

I’m starting to feel like myself again. And by myself I mean I am feeeling better, less depressed. I hesitate over that phrasing – alienating the depression, acting as if it is not a part of me, pushing away – it feels off. I suppose what I mean is that I feel closer to being the version of me I am comfortable living with. I think there is also an element of recognizing that although the depressed, nasty, brutal though processes were *gasp* “coming from inside the house!” So to speak, they felt like there was a monster speaking through me.

I think I find it difficult to reconcile between acknowledging that I was that monster, and wanting to push as far as I can away from it/me. Because ultimately I can’t runaway from myself. That monster is going to have to be maintained and cared for, so that it doesn’t decide it needs to try to be in control again.

But those thoughts aside, I am feeling better. Despite the upheaval in my professional life, and just passing the fourth year since we started trying to conceive, I am starting to feel real joy and hope, and I don’t feel guilty about it. One of the surest signs that I feel better is hat I don’t feel like I need to hide my depression from everyone around me. I am hardly broadcasting it (I don’t really broadcast anything…) but I don’t deny or hide it. Rather than naming it giving it power, it seems to instead strip away the layers of fear, hurt, pain, sorrow, and self doubt.

I recognize that, having been through some type of cycle of depression several times, I seem to be susceptible to the state. I know that it is possible that it will come up again in the future when the going gets tough. But each time I come out the other side, my faith that there is a way through is strengthened, and I recognize the value of hope. Two years ago I had “Hope” tattooed behind my left ear. Although I have never regretted the ink, the meaning behind it has shifted over time, and at the worst it felt like that permanent reminder was mocking me. Now, it serves he purpose it was intended for from he start, and reminds me that, whether I see it or not, hope is always there, and there is something worth hoping for.

-Me

sleeplessness

I have to be up and out of the house in six and a half hours, and instead of letting me sleep my brain is treating me to a parade of my self perceived failings and flaws in a seemingly endless loop. I’m tired, my Husband is out of town for work, and I didn’t work out today, so I’m less physically spent than normal, so my body is not winning the war with my brain and letting me rest.

I don’t know if this is true insomnia – chances are, once I close my iPad, turn on a book on tape, and try to let my mind drift off into the story, I will fall asleep sometime in the next two hours. Thankfully I function well on <5 hours of sleep, and make up will take care of the dark circles, so no one need be the wiser.

The endless parade of situations where I’ve decided I wasn’t good enough, should have known better, shouldn’t have said that, could have made a better decision… it keeps going in the back of my head even as I write. Nights like this I realize how much I rely on being physically exhausted in order to sleep. Tomorrow I will get up, go rowing, and probably walk with a friend then erg in the evening, so that, coupled with my likely minimal sleep tonight, should result in my brain shutting off as my head hits the pillow. But tonight, despite working nine hours and attending an AGM after, I didn’t do enough physically to trump my brains need to self evaluate and find myself wanting.

The CBT helps – I can at least push the negative spiral away far enough to recognize, objectively, that it comes from my depression and is not representative of how I actually am… but that requires focus, and me being awake enough to give it that focus, so using the tools at my disposal is not conducive to sleep.

I’m almost tempted to get up and work out, just so that my body is forced to stop, but then I realize that I need at least an hour to wind down post workout, so it’s unlikely to actually make anything better, and very likely to result in a shitty row tomorrow morning. Logic prevails.

So instead, I try to make some sense of the spirals, then push them away, while insulating myself as much as I can. For every “you’re worthless” I counter with “what I do has value”, and “you’re unlovable” with “I am loved”. I struggle to counter “you don’t deserve love/attention/affection/support”… I don’t have really a response to that one, and it is currently the loudest. I desperately want to reach out to my support systems, but I also know I can’t handle a rejection right now. So I have a choice between staying inside my own spiral, alone, or trying to reach out to be pulled out, and risking having my reaching hand slapped instead of held.

Tonight, it is late, and I need to at least try to sleep. Tomorrow, I need to start working on learning to deserve that which I willingly give those I love.

-Me

Sensory Overload

I overextended my energy resources this week. It was a bit of an intense week at work, and I had a lot of clients who needed to draw on my emotional resources, which is fine, the psychological component is a huge one for my job. And then I had a date night with my Husband, which was actually really lovely. Except that I realized that I have built up some serious walls even where he’s concerned. Namely that I didn’t realize until last night that I have never fully elaborated on exactly what I do at work – I have never actually explained to him the types of patients I work with, the magnitude of the job, or what it actually requires from an energy/focus perspective. I think i’ve started to take for granted the effort that badly injured, emotionally fragile patents take, and I forget that that’s not necessarily something that is readily apparent to most people. On the surface, my job is quite simple: Identify the area(s) of injury, and build a reconditioning program to address them. And that part, although it requires some creativity, is pretty easy.

The more interesting and difficult part of my job are the social/mental components. My patients are going through the worst time in their life: They are injured, and some of them are not going to recover completely, and often they know that… or need to be able to accept that. There are brain injuries, loss of function, and a loss of  sense of self. Not to mention that often they may have just faced their first real experience with their mortality. Add to that that the rest of their life doesn’t simply stop to allow them time to recover – relationships go on, or die. Children still need attention, parents develop dementia, and work wants you to just do the job required. So my patients are under a host of stressors, some emotional, some financial, and all important. My job becomes trying to find a way to get them invested in their own recovery treatment while adapting their program to fit the life they actually live, not the one I would want for them.

I don’t talk a lot about my job at home. Some of that is because of confidentiality – This area is not so big that it would be hard to connect a set of circumstances to an individual if enough details were disclosed. Also, sometimes it’s nice to have an apparent mental separation between work and home. It’s not that I don’t think about my patients when I’m at home, but not talking about them allows me some space to leave work at work, and be present at home. But my work is a huge part of my life, so not including my Husband in any part of the discussion, thought process, or at least the depth of what I do means that I’ve been unintentionally shutting him away from myself for years.  Last night, without giving him personal details, I outlined the depth of what I actually do. It might be the first time that he has understood why some days I get home and ask him to leave me alone for a while to decompress and talk to the pets. Unfortunately, the act of actually letting him into that part of my life was, in itself, taxing. And since my week with my patients had already plumbed the depth of my resources a lot, I didn’t have a lot left.

Then, today, I had agreed to meet a friend of mine to help promote some rowing stuff – something I was excited to do, and was actually really fun. However, it took place in a large gym space with a sporting event happening in the middle of things as the main draw, so it was loud, and there were a lot of people, and …. oh wow, did I not have a lot left. We got to introduce rowing as an option to a bunch of totally awesome kids ages 12 and under, which was really cool – including a bunch of really neat little girls who were eager to participate in conversations about how girls can work hard, and be muscular, and not take shit from anyone – and I am so glad that I went and helped where I could. However, it took pretty much everything I had left to deal with the crowd, and the noise, and by the time I made my excuses and left, I was done.

I sat in my car and cried, and then cried most of the way home. I don’t even totally understand why – I just know that I was emotionally and physically done. Thankfully my Husband is having dinner out, so I get the house to myself, to snuggle with the furballs, write, and regroup. Some of the issue is that my Husband just wants me to be ok. So badly. He know’s i’m hurting, and he knows that I am struggling a lot right now, and he wants me to feel better. Unfortunately, however unfair it is, I just feel his worry as additional pressure to perform. Whether it’s part of my insecurity, or just a basic part of my personality, or all of the above, I do not like to take my emotional shit out on the people around me, or to be an energy suck for them. Along with this making me quite unwilling to reach out and ask for help, it also means that when I see someone who cares about me affected by my issues, I will do everything in my power to shield them from me. It makes it easier to talk to my therapist, or frankly to any stranger (or to vent in an anonymous online forum) because I don’t see the aftermath, or feel like i’m forcing myself and my baggage onto anyone.

I have all day tomorrow without any expectations on my time. I think i’m going to take my dog and go somewhere alone for a few hours. Once I’ve been out and about and alone for a day, I think that will be enough to make me feel like I can get through another week.

-Me

Depression and CBT

I’m good under pressure. My fight or flight adrenaline response tends to result in me being calm, clear minded, and focussed. I can be a bit of a twitchy weirdo about things that don’t matter – I’ve been known to feel paralyzed with anxiety about posting a comment in an academic forum for my peers to see, or making a decision about purchasing a new couch. But when the shit actually hits the fan, I’m centred. When I got T-boned by an elderly woman running a red light on Christmas Eve 2015, I was the one who called 911 and made sure that the appropriate help got there quickly – and calmed my sister down when she came to pick me and my dog up because unfortunately my car was totalled and I wasn’t able to drive it away from the scene.

So with everything that has happened  in the last year or so, I’ve simply handled it, and remained calm, at least on the outside. When we finally settled into our new home, and all the loose ends had been tied up, all the stress came home to roost. Like a stress hangover, almost. Basically my brain, without something to latch onto and focus, decided to see it it could destroy itself.

The thought that I didn’t want to be here anymore scared the ever living bugeezuz out of me. My psychologist termed it “passive suicidal thinking”, which makes sense. It was that thought that made me go back and see him again, because I realized that my mental state was spiralling beyond my control. This wasn’t the first time I’ve experienced depression, but it was by far the worst. I finally had to admit that although I would love to blame my infertility for this, I had symptoms and depressive episodes before we ever started to try to get pregnant, which suggests that this is more about my brain chemistry and way of thinking, and that the infertility is just a trigger. There were a few weeks where I was barely able to keep myself together at work, and was crying at the drop of a hat. I was able to turn it on for my patients, but wasn’t able to talk to my coworkers, maintain social interactions, and had no interest in food or sex. I also  started sleeping 10-12 hours a day, and have trouble getting myself out of bed. For me that is very out of character, most of the time I sleep 5-7 hours max and get up at 4:30 to go rowing.

I went to see my Psychologist and admitted how bad things were inside of my head, something I had only told my Husband, and I had limited how much I told him, I didn’t want him to worry – and there was reason to be worried. I don’t seek help lightly, I hate to admit that I need it, and being vulnerable scares me.

We started working on some cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – something I was peripherally aware of, and had been using some of the techniques without realizing what they were. It was valuable, although more because it finally highlighted the central thought around which I base the worst of my negative self talk: I’m unloveable. Because I’m unlovable, I’m not worthy of affection, help, praise, support, etc. The CBT helped me to see how to set those thoughts against the empirical evidence in my life that contradicts them. For example the thought that I’m worthless is contradicted by my patients who tell me that I’ve helped them to regain their physical function and supported them in returning to their lives. The thought that I am unlovable is counteracted by the evidence that my husband is openly affectionate and has loved me for almost 15 years. The thought that if someone really knew me they wouldn’t like me is remanded by reconnecting with friends who have been in my life for anywhere from 5-25 years, and who have seen the good, the bad, and the messy, and still want to be part of my life. There are blips on the landscape I can’t ignore – my “bestie’s” rejection last summer still bothers me a bit, although I remain somewhat inclined to think that he’s just a self centred ass hole. There have been people who have dropped out of my life and probably won’t be back, but by and large those events have happened because of circumstances beyond either of our controls – moving away, etc., and there is no malice or negativity left in the void.

I am learning to seek out the circumstances that give me clear indication that my negative thought cycles are based on flawed logic. Mental health care is hard – the physical stuff I understand intimately, the mental rules I have trouble figuring out how to apply to myself.

I know that this needs to be an ongoing process. I know that I will have to keep working on this, because ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. But I am happy that I am back to singing to myself in my car, and my doodles are not depressing monsters anymore.

-Me