A little something to hum along with

Before you start reading, go ahead and get this going….. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NlprozGcs80

It’s hard to express the emotions swirling about tonight. Had a “good” day today. Don’t know why and I’m not trying too hard to figure it out. Just enjoying that I woke up this morning and felt all right. Went for a run during the day at work and went for an extra long walk home. Decided to have a bath and watch some shows on my laptop while I tried not to get too pruney in there for too long J. For the first time in a very long time I felt like doing some Yoga…. Something that has always brought me comfort and made me felt good… but also something I haven’t been able to do really since Willie died. It has lost all connection for me. Tonight though it felt right. So some Yoga, gentle with myself and not much really but it felt good. I had stumbled across a blog tonight before my bath which I’ll write a bit about later but it sunk in that my body and I need to get re-connected.

In the midst of my sitting pose I suddenly had a flash of a song that I used to love… as song that when I used to hear it made me smile and cry …the kind of music that makes you sway inside and wonder how anyone could have created something so beautiful out of their own minds. I remember that the first time I saw my first son after he was born I thought the same thing… I was stunned that something so perfect and beautiful and amazing could just “be” created. Every time I held each of my boys – the awe never lessened. I felt the same way about this piece of music. Every time I hear it – it’s like the first time.

So I stopped practicing my poses and flipped to youtube to hunt it down…found it and plugged in the speakers and just sat and listened… and do you know what…? It was beautiful and perfect and amazing – just like it had been. So I smiled and cried and felt… it hurts to feel the sadness but in finally really embracing that pain there’s an awareness that if the pain can be felt this strongly then the joy and happiness can be again too. Something as simple as hearing a piece of music and feeling it inside like I used to awakens that other joy can be possible again too. Not bad for little ditty composed ages ago.

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A tough subject to share

This is a tough one to share but I feel that it does. My ability to process the pain of losing Willie has brought me to depths that I haven’ felt before and have now idea how to live through. This is about that journey.

I have heard before and my Psychiatrist said it again recently that depression is anger turned inwards. A very apt way to describe it. It also goes along way to explaining self-harming behaviour. For myself, I have engaged in self-harm, in some form or another, for most of my life. For most of my life I didn’t really understand what I was doing or why…just that when my stress levels reached a certain point, I needed to do something to release the pressure. Suicide was never something on my radar (until recently) but I knew that what I did do did help. So, as crazy as it may have seemed to anyone else, it made perfect sense to me. This is something that I have spent a lot of time and energy on hiding from others, especially those who are close to me.

I became anorexic when I was in my very early teens. This morphed to include bulimia every now and then but my choice was always starvation over bingeing. After I became a fitness instructor and personal trainer I developed a well-organized version of exercise bulimia which replaced the anorexic behaviour. I was having kids and needed to eat so I had to be creative. Counting calories and obsessively exercising until those calories were burned did it. I recognize now that eating disorders are a form of self-harm, amongst other things. I have struggled my whole life with eating disorders and to this day suffer a delusion sense of what my physical body looks like. I know this on an intellectual level but that makes no difference to what I see in the mirror.

Flash forward a few years to after my first divorce and I was starting up my running routine. It didn’t take me long to discover that running was a perfect version of self-harming behaviour for me. There was, and continues to be, a drastic difference between a run for health and vitality versus a run embarked on in a tormented state of mind and driving my body to run until I can barely limp home the last block. Swollen knees, blisters and hips that scream at me. I have done this for 10 plus years now and have had the injuries to show for it. But to my thinking…it wasn’t “bad”, just a way to handle stress.

More recently this hasn’t been enough (not to mention an injury bad enough to actually side-line my running ability) so I have turned to cutting. The shame and guilt over this is new to me. I have never been ashamed of my self-harming behaviour – but then again, nothing before has left clear marks. Anorexia, unless it becomes extreme (which mine did in my late teens) can be covered up as dieting or with baggy clothes. Bulimia is nearly impossible to detect and exercise bulimia is usually not noticed. Running is a “healthy” thing and no one knows the horrendous thoughts of needing pain to punish yourself for being so fucked up that are running through your head. You smile and nod at the people passing by and you’re “fine”. Cuts can be hidden depending on where they are but sometimes the rational mind is not the one doing the cutting and you “snap out of it” and see that covering “those” are going to be a bitch. And… the shame rolls in. I should be stronger, I should be able to find a healthy was to deal with emotions that overwhelm. Then the rational mind that says, at least it was cutting and not something more permanent. Then the shame that you even have those thoughts to begin with. A circle that goes around and around.

My professional therapists have given me an insight that self-harm is nothing to be ashamed about and that in fact, it is just a symptom of an ailment. We don’t have guilt or shame over sneezing when the nasal passages are irritated. For some people, thoughts of self-harm (or actions) are the same thing. Just different wiring. Some people over-eat when they’re stressed, I starve myself. Some people want to lay on the couch, I need to feel physical pain to be able to release and process the emotional pain I have inside of me. Different responses but just simply, responses to stimuli. It’s being aware first and then being given the tools to change unhealthy behaviour to healthy outlets of behaviour. There are going to be times when the stress and thoughts are over-whelming and I fall to the “not-too-healthy” choices…no shame, just “better next time”. The key is that there will most assuredly be a “next time”. That’s what I’m working on right now.

I’m fine

I have been told a lot lately that I need to “let go” and move on. That my depression and ultimately my grieving is caused by my own actions in remembering and thinking about Willie. That I am “dwelling” on his death and not allowing myself to get “better” because I am the root cause of my own suffering – the fault lies in that I look at his pictures, that I don’t put the pictures away and that I talk about him.  I have been accused (albeit nicely) of not wanting to be better, of knowing what I need to do and choosing to not do it. I am at the end of my patience and ability to deal with people who tell me that. I don’t choose to be grieving. My son is dead. That won’t go away. I can not look at pictures; I can not talk about him… that won’t stop my mind from remembering that he lived and that he died. Plain and simple.  Let me grieve for whatever length of time it takes. In my heart, right now, it’s not the right time to simply move on… feelings need to be felt. Emotions need to be expressed. I spent the first almost year after his death pushing it away and trying to move on… what happened is it has hit with a vengeance. Will pushing it away and refusing to feel what needs to be felt make me better? Or will it just prolong the grieving process because I’m refusing to deal with the emotions and the reality? I do NOT want how I am feeling right now to be how I feel for the rest of my life.

I find it an interesting contradiction that I was told a few months ago that I had been pushing the feelings away and that they needed to be felt and dealt with in order for me to grieve fully and process what I need to so that I can move forward. So I stopped running from the emotions. I faced my loss and the pain. And now that I’m not getting better and am in fact still deep in a depression that I am struggling to get through, I am being told to not think about him, to put the memories aside and just move forward. Well, guess what…that was what I did before. Sure as hell didn’t work then. But I guess it’s easier for everyone else to deal with if I just am “ok” instead of being how I am.  Should I just start faking it and saying I’m “fine” when a friend asks how I am? Apparently I should. So to my “friends” whose advice is to just move on… consider it done. I’m fine J. Until I’m not, but don’t worry, I won’t be reaching out to you when that happens because the last thing I want is another lecture on why I’m the cause of my own grief.

Full Circle, again

I have been seeing a Psychiatrist and a Therapist for the last couple of months and have recently added a visit to a Zen Buddhist Priest into the mix for my journey through grief and depression.

I met with her last week and she had some insight. A little background on her though for reference. Her name is Reverend Meiten and she is 87 years old. http://www.vizs.org/teacher.php here’s a link to her bio… to suffice; she lived a “normal” life as a Clinical Psychologist and mother until she lost her son when he was 17. She then, after much grieving and a many years long depression spent in an ashram dedicated her life to Buddhism and has become what she is now… a resource and mentor…a comfort and guide to people living this life and struggling to find a way through pain and suffering.

Speaking with her brought back the peace and the comfort that I had found with Yoga and Meditation when I was going through my first divorce. During that time I was on full-tilt chaos control and stress management as I dealt with my marriage ending, moving, financial desperation and mothering 3 small children who had seen far too many nights of yelling and hurtful words between their parents. A couple of years before it all came to a head I had started teaching Yoga and Meditation and seriously looking into Buddhism and the eastern practices of body and spirit wellness. I used those principles throughout that life transition and can honestly say that it was what saved my sanity and allowed me to navigate through. As much as that time was tumultuous, I also found that out of that time came an awareness of who I am and what my core values and beliefs are. My moral centre was defined and I finally knew a peace by the clarity that I was living my truths.

Flash forward about 8 years and I was in another marriage that was sliding quickly downhill. Different reasons but the end result was the same. In essence, I had come to a point where I was making concessions and compromises in what I knew were my values and my morals with regards to my family. I was allowing behaviour in my house that hurt me at my core as I watched my children become unhappier and I started to sink into a feeling of failure at seeing my life going in a  direction that I didn’t want or believe in.  So… I ended it. I put my children and myself through another move and transition but this time with a direct clarity to bring my life and my children’s life back into balance. A few months after the move and the settling I looked around and realized that I was exactly where I was 10 years earlier – and it was 10 years to the month exactly! But not quite exactly the same place… This time I had the benefit of experience and I bounced back much quicker. I saw my kids settle and the mood in our house lifted and there was peace again. I look back on that time as a time of such ease. Similar to the space after my first divorce, I felt a calmness, a sense of self and an awareness of “I am” (satnam in Sanskrit) that translated throughout the family.

Now don’t think it was all flowers and rainbows…we still had struggles and arguments and money was tight and 3 of my kids were teenagers so moods were certainly all over the place but the underlying current was one that our direction was “right”. During this time, my oldest son developed a tumour on his lymph node and we spent 5 months of hell with uncertainty and tests and procedures. Culminating with surgery and a diagnosis of a benign tumour, we were all good again! A family trip to Whistler a few months later and life was good. I was single, surrounded by mi kids and happy – I knew what was important and was living it. I felt I had come full circle and was finally again where I should be. And determined that never again would my path bring me to level of unhappiness that I had, again, experienced in the last 6 months of my second marriage.

That summer (2011) was when things started to slide for Willie. Mental illness progressing steadily darker and deeper for him and ending in his death on Feb 1st 2012. Our lives since then have been an indescribable path of searching for balance and footing and a way to move forward.

For me, I have found a complete lack of peace or calm from the things that have previously brought me that. Yoga and Meditation have not only not given me comfort; I have found them almost impossible to practice. My foundational belief that things happen for a reason has been shaken. What possible reason could come out of this? The feelings that go along with my grief – the guilt, the pain, the questioning and the denial – are insurmountable it seems in trying to find comfort in anything. I look around and don’t recognize my life.

So I find myself searching for a way to reclaim my life again and come out of the depression to be able to grieve Willie and live my life – never like it was – but with my truths and my “self” living how I know I want to. Like Willie said in his goodbye note to me, I have to continue on the journey I had just found again.

So I met with Meiten with a hope that she might be able to offer me some words of comfort but also with a disbelief that anything would come of it. After all, I knew what she would say… nothing I haven’t heard from the Therapists or friends…but still, I went. And was surprised by the words I heard and by their impact on me.

The Buddhist principle of suffering is simple… we suffer, that is life. Suffering is caused predominantly by 2 things…having something in our lives we don’t want (and want to get rid of) or NOT having something in our lives that we want. The common thread there is WANT. To release the desire and the want to have your circumstances different than they are, to accept and be content that what you have and where you are just is (and will change, as life always changes, and not by our control) is to lessen your suffering. A simple message and a hard one to embrace. But one that I will try to bring into my life and live with.

She left me with the following Buddhist saying which captures it perfectly and beautifully….

“All life ends in death, all acquisition ends in dispersion, all greetings end in partings” Buddha

Namaste

Misguided “help” re: Depression

This one has been a long time coming… I have been dealing with grieving for 16 months now and for the last 6 – 9 months living with depression. Depression is a mental illness. People sometimes misunderstand the term “mental illness” and think that it applies to the big name issues like Psychosis and Schizophrenia (and all those associated disorders in that realm), Bi-polar Disorders, Borderline Personality Disorder and so many more with long names and scary sounding diagnosis’s. But if you pick apart the term you see that it simply refers to any illness that affects a person’s mental state. It’s like saying that a broken leg or a cold or a heart attack is a physical illness. They are; they affect a person’s physical well-being. So, very simple really, a mental illness is an illness that affects a person’s mental well-being.

Now that we have that clarified…it’s easy to broach the subject a little more. For the sake of this writing I’ll be using depression to discuss my point of view and the issues that I have encountered. This is because for me, personally, my mental illness is depression.  I’ve struggled with the stigma of saying that it is a mental illness. I’ve struggled with admitting to myself that I can’t make myself “better” by sheer will power any more than I could make myself better if I had pneumonia just by wishing I was better.

That brings me to the issues I have that I feel need to be brought out in the open. I am surrounded by a lot of friends and acquaintances here in Victoria and back on the mainland. Pretty much everyone knows about Willie and his death. A lot don’t know the details and many don’t know how he died, but almost all of the people in my life know that my son died last year and that I am grieving. Most of them also know that I am dealing with depression. Not many know the extent of it or the impact it has on my day to day life, but a few do. I have been fairly open in this blog about how far the depths of it go and how I question whether it will get better.

But this is about them, not me. This is about the people in my life, whether they be close friends or people I know only casually. This is about the strangers even who I don’t know but who may read this and get the point.

The point being that depression – mental illness – is not something that the person can just “get over” and make themselves better. It is not an illness that is “all in their heads” even though it is. This is about the misconception that a person who is depressed is remaining that way because they just simply aren’t “getting on with life”… or that they don’t want to get better.

I have been told, by well-meaning friends, that I can choose to either have a good day or a bad day. That “your attitude is like a pair of trousers you put on in the morning” That all I have to do is decide that I’m going to be happy, that I won’t be drawn down by letting myself wallow in grief. I have been accused of being deluded with a skewed sense of self-importance that it is “all about me” when I say that I don’t want to impose my bad mood and tears on an outing of friends – that I am caught up in a “pity party” and that I need to stop making myself upset by looking at pictures of Willie and thinking about him. When a friend asked me why I was sad and I replied that it was the first of the month and that date is hard for me because Willie died on the first of the month I was told that it was a hard day because I was MAKING it a hard day. That the first was a day like any other… that I needed to just push that away and not think about it. Seriously? I can tell you that I’m pretty sure there are a few thousand loved ones that feel that September 11th is not just a day like any other, no matter how hard they would like to forget.

I had a friend interrupt me recently when I was talking about Willie to say “how are you going to get better if you keep upsetting yourself by talking about him?” and then tell me to drop it and he changed the subject. I was livid. I was not upset; I was not crying or distraught. I had been talking about a fun event to do with my family in the past and Willie was a part of that. I have had people tell me to stop “dwelling” on my loss…that I need to make an effort to not think about it and just get on with my life. Well… having pushed everything away for many months and lived with shock and denial, I can assure that that is not the answer. Eventually, it all bubbles up and demands to be dealt with.

What infuriates me is this…saying that a person can chose to be happy is like telling someone who has lost a leg that when they wake up every morning then can chose to have that leg be there and just get up out of bed and walk. Ridiculous. Yet we do that all the time to people suffering from depression.

Telling someone who is depressed that they can chose to be happy is implying that they are choosing to be UNhappy…and that’s wrong. It re-enforces the stigma that mental illness has associated with it … it exacerbates the problem of people being ashamed of their perceived weaknesses of mental fortitude and capacity for wellness. If we all believe that we should be able to just make ourselves “ok” then what happens when we can’t? We suffer the guilt and the self-hatred of failing at what we feel we should be able to do.

Would I be angry at myself for not being able to will a broken leg to mend just because I really want it to be healed? No. Yet I have beaten myself up over my inability to just get better mentally. Why? In large part because of the misguided notions of my friends who may be trying to help but are just making matters worse. Can I just push it all away and be ok and smile and laugh and be the old “me”? Sometimes, yes…and many times I do just that. I smile and fake it and pretend because I cannot take the well-intentioned comments and pep talks and moral boosters that do nothing but essentially tell me that I am my own problem.

When I am having a day of smiles and happiness…or a few moments of it, I do not want to be told “see… You can be happy… Just decide to be like this instead of being depressed”. Or telling me that I just need someone to come over and take me out and show me a fun time and “make me snap out of it”

And people wonder why I’ve become so angry lately ;). Although on the upside, anger is an emotion other than sadness. Maybe it’s not happiness or joy but it is passionate.

My mental illness will heal…with time and the proper care. Just like any other illness or disease. You might not be able to see it but it doesn’t mean it’s any different from a physical illness…so enough with the “helpful” advice about how to make myself better. Thank you very much.