Life Sucks and Then You Die

life death.png

This is my new motto. A terrible way to live my life, I know. Sometimes, it’s the only thing that keeps me going though – knowing the futility of life. I believe in some kind of organizing force in the world. Sometimes I call it God, sometimes I call it the universe, sometimes I don’t call it anything. I guess I am more agnostic than anything else. I believe there is something, but I don’t know what it is.

Anyway, the point is, if I don’t have a clear idea of a higher power, then how am I supposed to believe there is a point to this life.

I believe in doing good in the world, in being a good person, in helping others. But for me, these things don’t always bring a sense of purpose or hope for the future. I am alive, I stay alive for my loved ones. Perhaps that is enough, to know that I have people who love me and to live for them. Perhaps it is enough to know that I am part of a greater community.

Is that enough for you? Do you remember that there are people who love you even at your darkest times? Make a promise to someone. Promise them that you will hang on even when you are at your darkest hour. This promise will help. If you don’t think you have anyone else, make the promise to me. I care about you.

I’ll keep writing. You keep reading. That will be our agreement.

The Dilemma

Hi Everyone,

I’m a graduate student now. I’m studying Counselor Education to become a Licensed Professional Counselor. Can you see the dilemma already?

Most people know that many counselor’s have a lifetime of therapy experience and that some of the best therapists are the one’s that have done the most work on their mental health. But there is a difference between knowing this and Knowing this. One day in the not so distant future, I am going to be a counselor. I will judiciously share with my clients parts of myself and my past that help develop the therapeutic relationship and advance the client’s own therapeutic work. I will not give them all the gory details. I will not give them my diagnoses, my list of medications, my history of hospitalizations. But that is exactly what this blog does. It gives the world my whole sordid past.

Now, I and many others would argue that my past and the work I’ve done and continue to do on myself will make me a good therapist. It takes one to know one, as the saying goes. But the ethics of self-disclosure are specific. Therapy is about the client, not about the therapist. So what happens when my future clients hop onto the internet and google me? What will they think when they find these stories that I have written, these truths that I have revealed about myself? Will they find me more or less worthy of being their confidant? Will they find me more or less relevant? Will it impede their progress or advance it?

I have been a student since June 2016. I haven’t written much since then because of this dilemma I am feeling. I built this blog to be honest about my experience and maybe help some people feel less alone in the world. I hope that I can find a way to continue to do this while also serving my clients’ best interests. Thank you for continuing to support me as I figure out this new chapter in my life.

 

Suicide Prevention: Get Educated

Recently, someone I love tried to commit suicide. Suddenly, I was reminded of both our connectedness and our profound separateness. Someone close to us called the act stupid and I had to dig deep to find the words, to explain that attempting suicide comes from a place of pain and desperation, not weakness and stupidity.

Yesterday, roughly 117 people committed suicide. For every person who completed suicide, approximately 25 people attempted. Approximately four of them were under the age of 20, thirty-seven were between the ages of 20 and 44, twenty-two between the ages of 45 and 64, and forty-two were over the age of 65. 14.7 percent were White, 10.9 percent were American Indian, and 6.3 percent were Hispanic, and 5.5 percent were Black.

There isn’t a demographic of society that isn’t vulnerable to suicide. Chances are someone you know has been touched by suicide or attempted suicide. There is value in being educated and informed about suicide. Are you prepared to handle this kind of crisis? Here are some tips on what to do if you are worried about a loved one:

  1. Show you care and are available to help.
    • Ask questions: How are you doing? Is anything bothering you?
    • Listen actively and empathically, express concern and caring.
  2. Ask specific questions about thoughts of suicide.
    • It can be difficult and awkward, but only one in five people seeks help for suicidal thoughts. If you don’t ask the question, you’ll never know the answer. Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
  3. Encourage them to seek mental health services. Tell them seeking help takes courage, but it will also help them feel better. Help them find a counselor and/or psychiatrist in their area. Low-cost options are available in most areas.

If you think a loved one is seriously considering suicide:

  1. Take the person and the risk seriously.
  2. Tell them to call or call for them the National Suicide Prevention Lifelife at 1-800-273-8255.
  3. Help them remove any means of suicide from their home (i.e. pills, weapons, etc.)
  4. Do not leave the person alone under any circumstances. Escort them to an ER, counseling service, or psychiatrist. Under immediate threat, do not hesitate to call 911.

Remember that caring for a person who is suicidal or who has attempted suicide takes a toll on you. Make sure you are paying attention to your own self-care throughout the process. Make an appointment with your own counselor, talk to friends and loved ones, and make time for yourself even as you help care for the person at risk.

All of the statistics and information for this blog post were taken from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website. Please visit the website for more information on suicide prevention, how to help a loved one, what to do if you are feeling suicidal, or if you have experienced a recent lost or attempted suicide of a loved one.

Please remember, you are not alone.

The Power of Shame

Shame is a pit in the ground. When you’re young, if your shames are small, then the pit starts out shallow. If your shames are large, then the pit starts out deep and dark. But no matter how it starts, over the course of our lives, all of the shame we experience makes the pit bigger, deeper, and darker.

For years, I admitted to myself only the shallow shames, the ones that kept me up at night, but not the ones that kept me silent. I compartmentalized my shame, convinced myself that there was no shame in my past that I needed to face. And then one day, an issue in my marriage brought me face to face with a shame experience from my past that I had never faced before.

I started exploring shame in counseling and I started reading Brene Brown’s book, I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame. Brown writes, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.”

Once I started talking about the experiences that made me feel shame, my feelings of shame increased exponentially. I explained it to my husband like this, I had begun by shining light onto one experience in my pit of shame, but inevitably this light uncovered other shame experiences and now I have to face them all.

At first glance, this feels like a terrible thing. I am more symptomatic, in more pain, then I was before this whole thing started. I am experiencing increased anxiety, loss of time, and out of body feelings. But I have to believe that in the end working through these shame experiences will result in becoming a healthier and more emotionally integrated person.

Brown’s brook is a crash course in shame management and developing resilience. She writes, “We cannot grow when we are in shame, and we can’t use shame to change ourselves or others.” We must process and resolve our shame in order to grow into the better versions of ourselves we all want to be.

We can help each other do that by listening compassionately and empathically to each other’s stories without letting our own fear and shame get in the way. Brown explains, “If empathy is the skill or ability to tap into our own experiences in order to connect with an experience someone is relating to us, compassion is the willingness to be open to this process.”

I encourage you to stretch your empathy muscles toward yourself and your loved ones today. The world needs more of it.

Dear Mom, You Did Good

Lying in bed the other night, I was thinking about when this all began. “This”: My lifelong battle with mental illness in its many varied forms; showing up as depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, panic attacks, and finally, bipolar disorder. This past Spring my mother and I had an enlightening and healing conversation in which we both agreed that it was around the age of seven that I changed. I became, somehow, an unhappy child.

I was laying in bed, thinking about this. This pivotal year in my life. Thinking about how there was no rhyme or reason for this sudden shift of brain chemistry and fate and then it occurred to me: why my mother had, during that Spring conversation, said to me, “I always thought it was my fault.”

The year I was seven was the year she and my father first separated. Is it possible that somehow my mother had convinced herself that if only she had been able to make her marriage work, I wouldn’t have developed a mental illness?

The thought brought tears to my eyes, and then a sudden and profound healing and gratitude. I realized what must have been the depths of my mother’s guilt and despair over my years of struggling, diagnoses, and hospitalizations. I realized that while I had spent years trying to understand why my parents hadn’t done more to help me, my parents had likely spent years trying to understand where they had gone wrong.

Mental illness is no one’s fault. There are contributing genetic, environmental, and neurobiological factors (among other things) that interact to cause mental illness. There is no one thing that can predict whether one person or another will develop a mental illness. Two people with the exact same genetic and environmental factors can experience the same life events and one will develop a mental illness, while the other won’t. Science can’t tell us exactly why.

I have never once in my life thought to myself, I have a mental illness because my parents separated when I was young. Sure there were years when I wished they had gotten me more or different help, but it never occurred to me to blame them for the illness itself. When I was teenager I remember people telling me that someday I would realize that my parents had done the best they could, that I would no longer blame them. At the time, I couldn’t imagine ever feeling like my parents had done the best they could. But over the last ten years, this idea became so ridiculous as to feel obsolete.

The idea that my mom could have somehow saved me from mental illness is too ludicrous to even consider. But it wasn’t until the other night that I realized my mother might not know this.

Mom,

Mental illness has tried to kill me over and over again. It has tried to convince me that I am crazy, worthless, stupid, fat, lazy, unloved, and fundamentally unlovable. It has twisted my thoughts, my beliefs about myself and made me believe that my friends and family would be better off without me. But the things I learned from you have kept me alive.

I learned from you that it is not only okay to take of yourself, but necessary. And since we are not always good at taking care of ourselves, it is sometimes okay to let others take of us. If I hadn’t learned this from you, I never would have survived this. I am strong, resilient, and brave because you raised me. I am still alive because you are my mother.

Thank you for doing the best you could in the face of this senseless and life changing illness. There is nothing to forgive. Thank you for being my mother. I love you.

Maybe there’s someone in your life who blames themselves for something between you. Maybe they have reason for blaming themselves, maybe they don’t. Think about the people in your life, take the time to thank them today. It will do you both some good.

There’s Nothing “Hypo” About It

Four or five weeks ago a wave of hypomania hit me so abruptly I felt like I was suddenly caught in the midst of a hurricane. It was in fact the beginning of a mixed episode more intense than any I had ever experienced before. I had read and heard that bipolar disorder has a tendency to get worse with age, that for some people each episode implies that each concurrent episode may be more severe than the last. And so, I had experienced with bipolar depression, but never with the flip side.

I was feeling so angry, irritable, and upset. There were some situational things going on in my life that would explain being upset, but that couldn’t explain my desire to put my hand through the wall. After a few days of feeling progressively worse, I realized that it was more than situational. I was furious all the time and the only thing getting me through the day was a particular fantasy. When I started to feel my anger spiraling out of control to the point of feeling violent, I would imagine myself holding a sledgehammer, walking through various buildings, and breaking everything in site. It was a very therapeutic fantasy and it got me through the most difficult periods.

My nurse psychiatrist put me on trileptal at first, but that almost immediately may be significantly worse. Within twenty-four hours I felt maniacal and didn’t take more than two doses. During the several days without medication while I was struggling with this furious anger and maniacal energy, one day I got up, put on my sneakers and went for a run. If you know me, you know that this is completely out of character. I think the last time I was able to run more than ten feet was at the age of sixteen. So this in and of itself gives you some idea of what it’s been like. At the end of that first run, I finally felt normal again for the first time since the whole thing began. I’ve been running a few times a week since then. It’s the only thing that pretty reliably makes me feel normal.

The sledgehammer fantasy led to the idea to go the batting cages, which is something else that my husband and I have been doing about once a week since this whole thing started too. It’s been very therapeutic to just get all my energy and aggression out. It’s also been a way for my husband to help and support me through this process.

Incidentally, hypomania is an eminently misleading name for this phenomena. Mania is a much more fitting term, though I appreciate that there is a big difference between mania and hypomania. The prefix “hypo-” makes hypomania seem so much quieter, calmer, less disruptive than it is in reality. I wish there was a better name for it. I really like the descriptor maniacal, although that really makes me sound crazy, doesn’t it? I mean, it feels pretty crazy in the moment.

My nurse psychiatrist switched me to lithium now, which I’m not thrilled about. It makes me really tired and I think it turning the hypomania into depression, which I don’t think I prefer. Honestly, I’d rather not be on any medication and just run off the energy. But the reason I went on the medication in the first place was because of the violent anger, because of feeling like I wanted to put my hand through the wall all of the time. That was not a good feeling at all. So, it’s an evolving situation. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I hope you are well.

Person-guilt

We give ourselves a hard time. Women. It’s what we do. Almost exclusively, without exception. There are few among us who can sit down at the end of the day and guilt-free think to ourselves, I am going to sit here and relax for however long I want. We suck at giving ourselves a break, letting ourselves off the hook. No matter what we have accomplished in any given day.

I feel like I have to earn the right to sit still, to do nothing. I have to earn the right to just be. Where does that come from? When as a society did we decide that we as individuals had no inherent value? That our value lay in doing rather than simply being?

I am guilty of posting only my most successful, proactive, and accomplished moments on Facebook. And still, when I scroll through my newsfeed, I sometimes feel bad about my life because everyone else’s life looks so glamorous, productive, and full of love.

Mom-guilt. Woman-guilt. Person-guilt. It feels like a lie to even just write the words, just being is enough. I don’t have to do anything to be enough.

Do you give yourself a hard time? Let’s all take a few deep breaths through our guilt today.