Tag Archives: Depression

A History of Mental Illness: An Awakening

My last post seemed to have struck a nerve for lots of people.  I haven’t responded to any comments or messages regarding this series for many reasons.  1) I wanted to finish the series before responding because, like I stated in my introductory post, I have learned so much about myself this 6 months and much of that has involved my mental illness.  I needed to finish the series before I could respond because it has occupied my thoughts for too long.  2) While I appreciate the affirmative responses like “it will get better” I must remind all of you that this is my history.  I know it will get better and it has in many ways.  (As I will discuss in this post.)  3) I knew that talking about motherhood would make many people say things like “yeah, that’s motherhood; it’s tough…” I know that.  Most parents know that.  But my experiences went beyond tough, it was excruciating because the anxiety and the depression.  This is why I’ve been diagnosed with mental illness. 4) As much as I love you all, I wrote this series for me.  I’m selfish like that.

Last year was a good year.  It was a great year.  I found myself on a level field in which I could realistically and logically look at the world around me.  It no longer seemed black and white; in fact, I found the world colorful, like a rainbow.  It was beautiful and I felt…normal.

There were things that were hard.  Incredibly hard: miscarriages 3 and 4, a move across the country for Ben to start medical school, medical school, starting work full-time (though that wasn’t really hard, it was awesome!), and Ben withdrawing from medical school.  But these transitions didn’t knock me down, mentally and emotionally, like they might have before.  Yes I had my highs and lows, but they were normal highs and lows, not the REALLY HIGHS and really lows I experienced before.

(Getting pregnant 2 short weeks after miscarrying was difficult.  I didn’t have time to fully grieve before getting thrust into the wait and worry game again.  That’s a story that deserves it’s own post.)

Anyway.  This year, after getting past 20 weeks, and finally feeling like a normal human being, I had to re-evaluate my situation.  I was able to take my medication (which was a life saver) and come to a place short of normal.

I finally decided to research anxiety and depression and figure out what is going on in my brain and my body.  This led to so much understanding of my history, my current state, and my future. I embraced that I have mental illnesses and that it’s okay.  It doesn’t change my personality, it doesn’t change my outlook on life, it doesn’t change anything.  I am a beautiful person who has a variety of mood disorders that makes life challenging.  But I love challenges.  I love who I am and how my mental illness has shaped me.  My favorite quote, stolen from Lindsey‘s blog, is,

Let me not…be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them.
Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it.

Let me not look for allies in life’s battlefield but to my own strength.

Let me not cave in. — Rabindranath Tagore

I see this quote as an example of my view on life–it is full of ups and downs, hardships and triumphs, losses and births, and each of these shape who we are as individuals.  One of my favorite passages in the Book of Mormon has and always will be 2 Ne 2:11:

For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so…righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

I sincerely believe that my compassion, love, and empathy/sympathy for others has come from my hyper-awareness about my own struggles.  I am still a happy person.  I’ve mentioned before that I am an realistic optimist.  This means that I see the world in all its ugliness and beauty but firmly believe that more beauty exists than ugly.  I think I have more love in my heart now than I used to because I see how hard it can be.

Most of all, I accept who I am.  All the parts.  Sure there are days when I wish I didn’t have highs and lows and when I wish that my anxiety wouldn’t cloud my thinking, but I am learning to accept those parts of myself.  This self-acceptance will be a life-long process.  I know I will have times when I feel angry, despair, and frustration with it, but I also know that those periods will will be shorter than before because I am okay with who I am.  I no longer need to apologize to others and myself for my shortcomings. I am an adult who can stand up and fight for what I need.

I am still learning about mental illness, specifically my diagnoses, and I know that my knowledge in this area will continuously expand.  Along with my passions regarding miscarriage and hyperemesis gravidarum, I have found something else I really believe in: educating people about mental illness and supporting those who struggle with it.

I have awakened.

Advertisements

7 Comments

Filed under Month of Instrospection

A History of Mental Illness: Can't Get Up

This is a series about my history of mental illness.  Please read the introduction for more information.

Funny how as I am writing about mental illness, a particularly bad depressive episode occurs.  A story for another day. Back to where we left off..

****

Some research suggests that half of all patients with generalized anxiety disorder (or GAD) have a comorbidity of at least one depressive disorder (see Lieberman, 2009).  Some researchers even suggest that GAD may be a risk factor for other psychiatric disorders.  Thus, it’s easy to see why I developed major depression in high school.

Despite my hypervigilance when it came to school work, I would have episodes where I just could not do homework.  I would stare at it for hours and feel these overwhelming feelings of worthlessness.  Despite all my best efforts, I would never succeed at my goals in life – I would tell myself – I am too much of a loser to do much more than fail.  I felt so tired all the time.  I could sleep an afternoon away and still feel exhausted.  I would read for hours on end.  It was my one escape from the thoughts of worthlessness and despair.

Sadly, as is common with GAD, my major depression turned into psychotic major depression.  Remember that cycle of obsessive repenting?  I soon convinced myself that I had committed some major sin—either in this life or in the Pre-mortal existence—that led to these feelings of despair.  And, despite all my best attempts at being a good Mormon girl, I would never be forgiven.  I also felt an inordinate amount of guilt for my siblings’ misbehaviors. I thought that if I had done something, or been a better person, they would stop making mistakes.  I also felt that all my parent’s financial struggles were the result of something I had done.  Clearly, if they had not given birth to me they would have been better off. I was the plague of the family and needed to remove myself as soon as I could.

Yet, I couldn’t picture suicide.  Suicide ideation, in my opinion, was for those who sought attention and I did not want people to think poorly of me.  I would just fantasize about disappearing, somewhere.  Of course, this is the same thing.  I didn’t plan it out, but I did think about how easier it would be if I developed an unknown and incurable disease, or if I was hit by a car, or if I died in a fire, etc.  I think that if I hadn’t feared other’s opinions so much, I would have made a plan.

Around this time, I started hearing things.  I would hear people inside the house, or footsteps on the stairs, and smell smoke at random times.  The vicious cycle of fear would start again.

*****

Lieberman, J. A. & Stein, M. B. (2009). Anxiety With Comorbid Depression: The Rule Rather than the Exception. Retrieved from http://www.cmellc.com/images/pdf/cme_supplements/PsychTimes/0904Reporter.pdf

See also Aina, Y. & Susman, J. L. (2006). Understanding Comorbidity With Depression and Anxiety Disorders. Retrieved from http://www.jaoa.org/content/106/5_suppl_2/S9.full.pdf

Continue on to Part Five.

3 Comments

Filed under Month of Instrospection

How Not to Survive (Under)Graduate School

I am three weeks into my program and wondering, what the hell was I thinking?  To make it easier for me and my fellow (under)graduate students, I’ve composed a list of 10 ways to ensure one doesn’t survive school.

1. Have kids.  Lots of ’em. And, if possible, make sure you’re pregnant WITH kids.

2. Start out poor.  Extra stress from financial burdens is extremely important to (non)success.

3. Stay home full-time with your kids, finding baby-sitters *only* when you have class.  This way you and your children will experience (under)graduate school together!

4. Move FAR away from family.  When you need help with little things, like an emergency baby-sitter, you will learn patience by taking your kids with you to appointments and classes!

5. Include your partner/spouse in the school/life/mother/spouse balance by sending them away for a few weeks.  You’ll never appreciate them more than when they are gone and return.

6. Ensure that you live on the third floor of an apartment complex without a washer and dryer.  This will make you appreciate your ancestors as you lug your kids (who refuse to walk), the laundry, the laundry supplies, and your pregnant body up and down the stairs to the laundromat.

7. Live in a *small* apartment.  Nothing like enclosed spaces to improve familial relationships!

8. If you have a mental illness, don’t take your medicine – for physical or whatever reasons – to improve your chances at (non)success.

9. Ensure that your toddler and preschooler are sufficiently independent and busy enough to cause all types of chaos while you attempt to work on a paper.

10. Don’t sleep.  Blame it on pregnancy-induced insomnia, anxiety-induced insomnia, or just insomnia in general.  That way, by the end of the week, you are hysterical with overwhelming stress and exhaustion.  A perfect recipe for (non)success.

If you can, try to combine one or more of these and I promise you the (under)graduate experience of your life!

 

4 Comments

Filed under Graduate School

A Pregnant Sky

I watch as the clouds turn from a pleasant grey to a dark, heavy, and threatening charcoal grey.

Winter is peering over the hills, casting a long shadow over our small town. Daylight Savings Time has fooled us; no longer does the sky stay bright as the time clock ticks, nearing Closing Time.

The clouds, the darkness, and the expectations weigh heavily in the air as I wait for my family to pick me up.  Looming above me is the potential for a powerful storm.  I hold my breath, hoping it waits.

*****

Inside, the clouds of a different storm wait.  They twist and turn, growing heavier and darker by the day, consuming my mind with different thoughts.  I am not sure when this storm will hit–or, if it will blessedly pass me over.  Hope, excitement, and other positive emotions are squeezed out by nervousness, pain, and fear. Disappointment dots my landscape.  I push through, though, certain I can work the bad thoughts away.

*****

I am home with the kids and husband, lying in bed when the clouds release a torrential outpouring of rain.  It isn’t the gentle pitter patter I had wanted; instead, the water slaps my windows, walls, and roof over and over again, jerking me awake as I listen to the sounds and hope our walls and windows keep us warm and safe.

*****

The storm inside is more complicated, silently waiting until I have relaxed to fully engage my mind, releasing a torrential outpouring of happy and sad, exhaustion and elation.  My insides shake as I am slapped consistently by a barrage of these competing emotions, attempting to decide which ones to focus on.

*****

I hide under my covers as the storms outside and inside converge, metaphorically, in a thunderous roar above my head.  The walls shake and I cower even further under the protection of warm blankets.  I tremble, not wanting to know the truth.  Or worse, to confront my fears.

But deep inside, as the storm rages on, I feel the shield of strength.  An umbrella emerging to protect my face and arms from the worst of the barrage as I confront my issues.  I take deep breaths and run through the storm, reaching my destination.  First one place, then the other, quickly making my rounds.   I finish, exhausted, but feeling Full.

The darkness and desperation have fled.  Yes, they might come back; but, this time I will be ready.  Fist clenched tightly around my medications: my relief and hope from the dangerous storm of mental illness.

*****I am linking up with Heather today, for her wonderful Just Write series.

11 Comments

Filed under mental illness

Closing Shop and Other Housekeeping Items

After I went public with my disaffection/break/discontent (whatever you want to call it) from the Mormon church–the church of my upbringing–I have had conflicting feelings.  On the one hand, I want to talk about my experiences because it shaped me as a child and continues shaping me as I grow older.  (My entire mindset is Mormon–I see things from a Mormon worldview; I view religion-related things from a Mormon perspective; and many of my friends are/were Mormon.)  On the other hand, I do not want to isolate those who continue to believe in the tenets of Mormonism and, in my mind, religion in all its forms.  It isn’t that I am trying to convince people to join me in my agnosticism/atheism, it’s that I am working through my past beliefs in order to integrate them into the person I am now and the person I am becoming.

I don’t feel I am being anti-Mormon, but understand the Mormon mindset which makes certain topics uncomfortable.   But, to be frank, it isn’t just Mormonism that I have issues with.  It is God, Jesus Christ, the scriptures, and the history of all Judeo-Christian religions.  I am open to exploring different religions and am also open to opinions that are different from my own. Heck, if you have an experience that is or was similar to mine, and you stayed faithful to whatever religion you currently are, tell me about it!

However, you are formally warned that I will be sharing my religious experiences and why I feel the way I do now.  It will be thoughtful and may also be hard to read.  So if you are uncomfortable with that and wish to say something that is not conducive to respectful conversation, do so at your own risk.  That is to say, I will not respond to hurtful comments.  In fact, I will delete your words forever.  At the same time, I have a forgiving heart.  Just be respectful to me and my views (and, by all means, disagree with me!) and I will be respectful to you.

All this is a lengthy explanation for my new Facebook rules.  I will be trimming down my current friends to those who are close friends and/or relatives.  I will not be talking about my religious angst, my political opinions, or anything that might be controversial on that account.  Instead, I have opened a new account that is dedicated to all the above plus a few other things that I will discuss a little later in this post.  You are welcome to friend me.  I am not picky and will accept everyone, who is not crazy and/or a friend whore, who asks.  I might seek you out because I am interested in what you have to say.  Again, you can find that new account here.   If you are not into that sort of thing, you are also welcome to “like” my blog.  It won’t be nearly as fun as my new account, but will apprise you of new blog posts.

_________________________________________________________________

My second piece of business is more momma-related.  Y’all know that I struggle with intense mental illness, right?  (If you don’t, where have you been?) (Kidding.)  As I am figuring out how to handle it (yes, my medication does not make it all better, I must do other things to keep me level), I realize that most of my current stress comes from being a mom.  To two toddlers.  To help me see the bright side of some crazy days, I will be posting quotes and/or experiences from the day to my new Facebook account‘s wall.  So if you are annoyed by that kind of thing, be warned.  It is something I realize helps me see things in a less hazy way.  I love my kids.  Oh I love them.  But mental illness often clouds my perspective and I need a metaphorical Windex-like product to wipe my windows clean.  And this is the idea that came to me.  So I’m going to try it.

_________________________________________________________________

Numero three.  I am revamping my weekly supporting parents write-up.  Look for more details soon.

_________________________________________________________________

And finally, I am taking a short break to recuperate and tackle this enormous to-do list I have.  I will most likely continue reading your blogs but need some time to gather my own thoughts before returning to writing. This whole exploration of my new feminist/religious/philosophical self is exhausting.  Literally, I pass out every day quickly because my mind is teeming with information, comments, ideas, etc.  Also, my to-do list is full of things with actual deadlines.  Deadlines that are coming up real fast.  Yikes.  So I must dedicate more time to completing these tasks (which include some exciting new adventures, I’ll keep you posted) before the end of the month.  I will continue with the Supporting Parents posts because I really do believe in my original idea and because it helps me look over my parenting with an objective magnifying glass.

If you are still reading this long post, kudos to you.

19 Comments

Filed under Random Thoughts

Oh to be normal.

I had a rough last week.  I could give various reasons: the kids went crazy, Ben is busy with medical school, I’ve woken up with debilitating migraines every morning; but the truth is, the wiring in my brain is screwed up and I am terribly sensitive to hormonal changes.

To have two mental health issues that are comorbid with each other–like my anxiety and depression–means they are interconnected yet independent: you cannot address one without addressing the other; and, as the patient, it is almost impossible to pinpoint which one is the source of mental anguish.  For example, if I miss a dose of my anxiety medication, I feel tense, my thoughts begin to race, and I have trouble sleeping–and, subsequently, my depression begins to come out (even when taking medication) and my whole life goes to hell.  That’s the truth.

The tricky part comes when hormonal fluctuations interact with my mental health issues.  As a woman, I am more prone to hormonal imbalances and, as myself, am especially sensitive to the regular changes (i.e. ovulation and monthly cycles).

So last week’s mess could have been calmly handled if I hadn’t been battling my hormones that also sent my mental health issues into a downward spiral.

There is nothing like a wake-up call to how crazy you truly are.  To make it through these hormonal swings, I must increase my medications a few times throughout the month.   The problem is recognizing when these times are and taking action immediately.  The lines become blurred when dealing with mental illness, so I will tell myself that things will get better if I clean the house, read the kids stories, stop bickering at Ben, and numerous other things that sum up to being strong and dealing with my shit like an adult.

But I know these are not solutions.  Taking control of my mental illness through medication, exercise, and healthy eating will help more than mentally belittling myself.  It’s just recognizing when I need to take these actions that’s hard.

Here’s to hoping that next week I will not sequester myself inside the house and that my body’s hormone levels will finally reach homeostasis.

16 Comments

Filed under mental illness

Shifting From Dark to Light

African sunrise Pictures, Images and Photos

While we were dating, Ben and I often went hiking on the beautiful Alaskan mountains. One particular morning found us at the top of Flattop a little after sunrise. I remember observing the gradual shift from dark to light as the sun’s rays spread across the land, leaving a kaleidoscope of shadows.

These last few days I’ve been reflecting on that scene in connection with my newly found happiness.  For years I suffered under a cloud of despair: Seeing my future as hopeless and desolate.  Looking back through time, I can only remember brief stints of joy splattered on a canvass of bleakness–my existence.

Up until a few months ago, before I recognized the need of intervention–in the forms of therapy and medication–I would wake with a rising sense of dread.  The kids would watch hours of the Wiggles so I could sleep through the pain of severe anxiety and depression.  When they engaged in normal child activities, the screwed up wiring in my brain produced reactions of intense and irrational irritation and anger.  My husband was terrified to come home because he did not know what Amber he would find: the cheerful and supportive wife or the desperate and despairing wife.  Multiple times a week I would have meltdowns complete with tears and dreary announcements of our future.

Under the guidance of a wonderful practitioner, I received the help I needed.  After finding the right dose and mix of medications–to treat the clinical depression and anxiety–I saw a noticeable difference.  The manifestation began by waking up full of hope and excitement for the day ahead of me, followed by joyful anticipation of the transition our family will soon make when Ben begins medical school, and capped when I no longer dreaded my husband’s long work week but looked forward to any time we had together.

The medication precipitated a symbolic sunrise in my life.  No longer do I dwell in darkness; rather, the shadows are carefully dispelling under the gentle caress of the sun’s rays.

No longer incapacitated by mental illness, I am peeling away the layers and finding the person I have always been: Compassionate, optimistic, and happy.

Thank you all for supporting me through this painful journey.   Your patience, kindness, and friendship has meant so much to me.

22 Comments

Filed under Depression