Life in the Spectrum – Breaking the Silence About Mental Health Struggles

***Originally posted on Life in the Spectrum.

I keep quiet about the pain because if I reveal the truth, people will judge me. I fear the stigma that will exist once someone sees the me – the real me. I don’t want other people to view me differently, to recognize how dark my shadows can run, to know how lost and alone I often feel. I say I’m fine when I’m not, and I put on the smile. But behind the mask of happiness that I wear on the surface, I have spent years struggling with mental health challenges.

The irony of this whole charade is that I now know that countless people around me and around all of us are just pretending that they are okay, too, even when they are clawing to just hold on. Every single time that I write about depression, multiple individuals post comments or send me messages telling me how they feel the same way but don’t talk about it.

We stay silent in an effort to maintain a facade that allows us to assimilate with society. We want to blend into a world full of people, but those same people are playing that “fake it till you make it” game, too. I’m not suggesting that you display every colorful detail of your life for all to see. More to the point – don’t do that. Big time no to that. Your whole story should not be the world’s business. But you should be able to be honest with people whom you trust. You need a genuine support network, and I guarantee you that they need you more than they are saying, too.

I don’t typically delve into my personal experiences with depression, anxiety, or OCD nor do I discuss my sadness regarding people who lose their lives to suicide or my own survival stories. The nightmare stories of my personal mental health challenges aren’t conversations I would ever have at work nor would I bring those topics up casually or at random with anyone else. I am selective about my audience for those kinds of discussions. Admittedly in this moment my selective audience consists of the entire internet, but the odds are high that you can relate to my words if you are still reading. In truth, the odds are high that almost everyone can relate.

Life can be a seriously rough ride at times, and we don’t always know how to react or even how to feel. We don’t receive a “How to be a Human the Right Way” when we are born, but we spend our lives trying to figure out what that even means. There’s no set answer, life is not black and white, and every person you know has struggled with mental health in one form or another at some point in his or her life.

We need to accept that it is okay to not be okay all the time. We can’t keep pretending like nothing is wrong when we need help. We have to speak up, and we need to be honest with each other. The day you reveal your struggles to others is the day that you will discover that you are anything but alone in this.

So even though I do fear the stigma, the judgement, and the misunderstandings, I know that I can’t live my life hiding the person I really am – good or bad, dark or light. I fall down, but I get back up, too. I sometimes feel like I’m drowning, but I know that I will find my way back to the surface again. My lowest points have been the most revealing moments in my life, and while I would not wish those experiences on anyone else, I wouldn’t eradicate them from my personal history either.

Own all parts of your journey. Learn from the falls whenever you find your way back to your feet once more. Search for the meaning in the madness and the calm in the storm. Discover that brave voice within you, and speak up when you can. And if you can’t find a safe place to speak your truth, I’m always happy to listen. Others have been lighthouses to me in my darkest times. I would love to be yours in return.

Much love to you. Jo

***Before you even ask, I promise you that I really am all good. Like everyone else, I go through waves of feeling like I’m crashing and burning, but I’m not in that place now. Nevertheless I have been there more times than I can count. When we feel that way, we need to find the courage to seek help. Figure out who you want in your inner circle and let those people into your world – all of it. You will be surprised once you learn how many others are struggling in silence as well. You need them, but they need you, too. Be brave and speak up. Always.

https://lifeinthespectrum.com/2018/06/30/breaking-the-silence-about-mental-health-struggles/.

Life in the Spectrum – Depression is Not Black and White

Originally posted on lifeinthespectrum.com.

chickadee - soft (greys)

The use of black and white filters can be striking in the world of photography, but in the world of depression, black and white is nowhere to be found. Everything is shaded with countless shades of grey. I have spent decades attempting to figure out the right way to handle this or respond to that. Hoping to learn how to be more likable and more normal. Searching for a better approach to maintaining fulfilling relationships. Trying desperately to just be okay.

However it isn’t that cut and dry. Life is unpredictable and has a fierce habit of jerking the emotional rug out from under us when we least expect it. And when that happens, we hit the ground. Hard.

For someone with depression, an emotional takedown can be utterly debilitating. Maybe your energy drains to nonexistence and you find yourself unable to move or leave your bed. Perhaps you become enraged and begin to actively push away anyone who cares enough to try to offer support. Some people physically hurt themselves or try to anesthetize the pain away with alcohol or drugs. Others lose hope, give in to the pain and the lies their minds tell them, and give up altogether.

I genuinely understand the indescribable heaviness you feel when you are facing that dark night of the soul. I promise that I truly do. But I also know that no matter how dark it is in that moment – even if that moment feels like it has gone on and on – it does not stay like that. It always get better. Ironically it will go back to crappy again, too, but the good news is that the pendulum keeps swinging back and forth. As always, just remember to wait it out whenever that happens.

The truth is that this is how life goes for everyone. You don’t need to be a card-carrying member of the mental health diagnosis club to feel like an outsider, to believe that you are lost, or to be in a place of tremendous sadness or hurt.

We may focus on our weaknesses, but the heaviest of times often reveal our greatest strengths, too. If you can’t get out of bed today, that’s okay. The weight of that kind of emotional exhaustion can be suffocating, but the world will keep spinning for now. But get out of bed tomorrow.

If you are being offered genuine help from someone who loves and wants to be there for you, open the door instead of slamming it closed.

Avoid trying to mask to pain with alcohol or drugs. I get that it feels good in the moment, but those will tear you down on so many levels. The numbness won’t last, and you are left with a deeper emotional hole with every further attempt to hide from your life.

Open up to others in your life who will help you find your footing again, and seek professional help.

Above all, don’t ever give in to the pain, and don’t ever lose hope.

I don’t believe on any level that suicide is an indication of cowardice. Rather I see it as an act of absolute desperation and total confusion. People who take their lives become tremendously lost regarding what seems real versus what actually is real. They can recognize the absolute truth that every new day holds a promise of something better. Now I’ll admit that that doesn’t mean that the better whatever will come along today. But then again, it definitely could. If not, that greatly improves the odds for an even better tomorrow, so it makes practical sense to keep sticking around.

Although it might simplify our days, a world of black and white would be tedious and dull. We may perceive endless shades of grey in our lives, but we are also blessed with an endless array of other colors to brighten our days. Don’t forget to notice them in their innumerable forms, and don’t ever hide your own colors, your brilliance, or your beauty in an effort to blend in or be normal. You are so much better than normal, and you are so much more than mere black and white.

Much love to you always.  Jo

chickadee - soft (color)
Life is more beautiful with a splash of color.

Life in the Spectrum – The Loneliness of Depression

moon flight

I don’t enjoy writing about depression. My insecurities rise to the surface as my innumerable failings are put on display. I worry that people will read my words and judge me. That I will be seen as weak. Or whiny. Or pathetic. In my mind, I am already giving myself a severe beat down, so sharing my tales to invite more opposing boxers to the ring feels like a seriously foolish idea. No one else could possibly understand the crazy sentiments racing through my mind. No one else could possibly relate.

But that’s entirely untrue. These kinds of feelings are rampant. Countless people face these struggles every single day, and too many of them lose the battle with anxiety and depression. They feel so isolated. Broken. Helpless. Hopeless. They put out the light before the sun has a chance to find its way through the darkness once more.

So even though I am embarrassed to share my struggles, I recognize that someone out there in this moment needs to know that they aren’t alone in theirs. That they aren’t the only ones feeling broken, destroyed, or terminally unworthy of love. That another person is in it, too, and that maybe there’s some chance that it can get better. That holding on is possible, and that sticking around is worth it.

It does get better. It doesn’t stay dark and heavy forever. And you aren’t alone in it.

You are absolutely worthy of love. You are not broken. You can make it through this.

If someone doesn’t get what you are going through, they are luckier than they know. If they judge you for being imperfect, well… definitely don’t sweat that because no one is. And if you feel like you are alone, drop me a line. But whatever you do, please don’t give up.

It won’t stay dark forever, you are stronger than you can imagine, and despite the way you may feel, you are never ever alone.

Big hugs to you.  Jo

***I wrote this post for a new blog I just started at lifeinthespectrum.com. This site focuses on the challenges that come with depression, anxiety, OCD, and similar mental health issues. If you discuss these issues in your writing, please let me know and I will gladly send readers your way. You may notice that I have also reblogged some of my relevant older posts to that site, so a few of the entries may look familiar.

Much love to all of you. I wish you happiness, healing, and joy always.

The Surreal Life – Moving Forward After the Storm

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Nothing feels the same here.  Chinooks fly over our houses.  SWAT vehicles roll down the streets.  Military trucks and personnel are common sights.  I greatly appreciate their presence, but it’s not something that we ever saw before.  Each time I hear or see them, I remember once more that everything is different.

Given the inaccessibility of the roads, the potential unavailability of the staff, and, in some cases, the flooding of the campuses themselves, school has yet to get started.  Consequently I have enrolled the kids in impromptu day camps that sprung up to avert further local disasters (the kinds that spontaneously occur when your kids have been home too long and repetitively utter that most dangerous of phrases…  “I’m bored.”).

image000000_48 - Copy - CopyWe have been in a collective daze struggling just to remember what day it is, but time has most certainly taken on a new distinction.  There is time before the storm came through, and then there is every moment after that.  Even our weather reports have changed.  We watch river, reservoir and bayou cresting reports.  We know our specific location elevations and where our properties fall with regard to those crests.  We pray for Hurricane Irma to miraculously disappear into nothingness as we can’t even contemplate the concept of going through this again.  It’s terrifying.  Merely typing the thought of it makes my pulse quicken, and I feel myself growing anxious.

I’m angry because I can’t sleep, and although I want to see the news discussing storm predictions, the Weather Channel is showing a fluffy program that sensationalizes storm chasing instead.  I don’t want to search the internet because it will lead me to further sad stories about people returning to their destroyed homes all around the Houston area.  I just want the basics on the current storm predictions.  The other major channels are consumed with gazillionaires yapping away about nothing while laughing at their own hollow tales.

Where is the latest hurricane going to go?  Why don’t they recognize what this will mean?  Don’t they understand what could happen to their family and friends?  Don’t they know that the stats become irrelevant the moment you find yourself living in the impossible?

No.  They don’t.  We didn’t either.  But once you live it, you can’t forget it.  No matter how much you want to, you can’t shake the reality that although it may be unlikely, it could happen again.

IMG_4704I’m waiting for the waters to recede all over town as I struggle to return to regular life via some kind of predictable schedule.  I went to the grocery store yesterday evening for the first time since the storm.  I found myself feeling irrationally angry at the other shoppers casually milling around the isles.  They were loading up their carts like nothing had changed.  I just couldn’t wrap my thoughts and emotions around that most innocuous of moments.  Why were we restocking our refrigerators while our neighbors were busy pulling out sopping carpets and destroyed sheetrock?  Had everyone already forgotten the loss all around us?  Was I the only one who felt that thick ache in my chest?  I plastered on a smile to veil the heaviness in my heart and guard me from the threat of tears.   Maybe they did, too.

Today I began to tackle the work that stacked up in my absence over the past week and a half.  My head felt cloudy, and I struggled throughout the entire day to remain focused.  All I could think about was the relief work around me.  I want to be actively helping families rebuild their lives, but there is a part of me that recognizes that I must also address my own.  I don’t desire to further elevate the trauma of it all.  I just don’t know how to release it.

I’ve never been a big fan of normal, but I now feel like I’m floating through surreality.   I want to clear the haze and move past the confusion.  I want to rise above the heaviness of this moment and fix the pain.  Mine.  Theirs.  All who are hurting.

It comes in waves.  I see tremendous beauty in the strength and unity of my town, state, and fellow man.  But I can’t talk about it.  Not yet.  I can’t get into the emotion of it all – good or otherwise.  I keep the conversation on the surface and seek humor where I can.

I hope that peace will find its way into in my heart and into the hearts of all affected by the storm.  I pray deeply for the safety of those in the path of this and all other destructive hurricanes to come.  They change you.  They change everything.

Joshua 1:9 – “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Much love to you.  Joanna

Elevate
Waiting

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