Category Archives: Health

Drop the Crutch

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I have spent two decades enduring the judgement of others because of my depression. I have witnessed looks of pity, looks of fear and even looks of disgust. I’ve lost friends. I’ve lost a job. I’ve heard people call me “crazy”, “unstable” and “insane”.

And I have proved them all wrong.

Now my battle is not only with my disease, but with the stigma that still surrounds mental illness. I’m not insane. What’s insane is that there is still such a lack of compassion and understanding for those who suffer.

I am not defined by my depression. My illness doesn’t dictate what I am capable of or what I can achieve. And I want everyone who struggles with mental illness to know that about themselves.

It breaks my heart when the world tells them they’re not good enough and they simply agree. They pick up their crutch and limp away in shame and sadness.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Mental illness does not have to control your life. There are ways to fight it and win. Don’t allow yourself to use your struggles as a reason to give up or give in. There is help. There is support. There is hope.

I know this because I’ve experienced it.

I’m not saying it’s an easy journey. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do and it’s a continuous battle. This disease is a vicious monster that can easily take down the strongest of the strong. It will rip you apart inside and poison your soul until you believe your life isn’t worth living.

I get it.

The pain I felt inside used to be so unbearable that I would purposely burn myself with boiling water just to escape that feeling for a few moments; I just wanted to feel something else, even if it was physical pain.

It’s brutal.

I get it.

But the fight is worth it. Don’t give up and let the attack overcome you. Don’t stop battling back. Don’t accept defeat and surrender.

It’s easy to give up on yourself and your life. Sometimes it does seem like the only option. And it can be easy to blame everything on your mental illness.

Didn’t show up for work? It’s because of my depression.

Missed your child’s first play? It’s because of my depression.

Stood up a friend? It’s because of my depression.

The world says we’re broken, so we act broken. Instead of fighting back, we use our illness as a crutch, as an excuse.

And yes, there will be times when your illness will honestly keep you from commitments. There will be days when you honestly physically can’t get out of bed. Believe me, I know. I once wet the bed because I was too depressed and out of it to get up to go to the bathroom down the hall. (How’s that for honesty?)

Depression is a horrendous disease that no one should have to experience. But if you do, if you are in that heart-wrenching battle, keep going. Keep fighting. Find support. Ask for help.

If you do, each day will get a little better. Each day will get a little easier. Each day you will get a little bit stronger.

Until you can finally stand on steady ground.

And you can finally drop the crutch.

 

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Trying to be Fearless

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This time of year makes me anxious. Actually, scratch that – this time of year scares the hell out of me. Not because it’s getting colder and ice and snow are on the way. Not because the days are shorter and darkness comes early and leaves late.

It’s scary because this is the time of year that my depression usually attacks. It’s not predictable – I don’t know what day or time it may surface. It’s possible it may not show it’s ugly face at all. However, based on past experience over many years of this war, it will likely appear sooner or later.

This time last year I was living at my parents’ house, jobless, collecting sickness benefits, applying for disability, and sleeping more than I was awake. It was a nasty time. There were specific things that lead to such a dehabilitating breakdown a year ago that are not an issue now, but it doesn’t mean I am safe. There is no security with depression.

However, things are much better now than they were then. I have a job that I love where I am surrounded by good people who treat me well and are positive influences. I am living on my own in a nice house, with a great roommate and two beautiful dogs. I have a little side business of creating and selling jewelry that is doing better that I ever expected. I am going to a new church and co-leading a women’s Bible study, where I am getting to know some amazing women. I am actively trying to meet new people and develop strong friendships.

Yes, I am miles ahead of where I was a year ago.

And this year, in the face of a possible battle with my depression, I am trying to be fearless. I am being proactive and building strength and support in order to fight if the need arises. I am getting ready to face it head on instead of hiding under the covers.

So, what does it look like to be fearless in the face of depression?

In the last couple of weeks I have read a few articles on comedian/actress Sarah Silverman. While her talent and humour are to be applauded, they are not the main reasons I admire her. I admire her because of her willingness to openly discuss her struggles with depression. She does not shy away, but is becoming a huge voice for those who suffer with mental illness. She is brave to speak up, especially since she is in an industry that centers around image.

To me, she is fearless.

Some have said I am brave for sharing my struggles with depression, for writing this blog, for being vulnerable. And I suppose at times, I am brave.

However, I still hide my depression from many. No one I work with knows about my illness. And there are still times when things are bad that I suffer in silence. I disappear into my torturous world for however long it lasts and hide it from everyone around me. I convince myself I am keeping it secret to protect them. But am I really?

Often when people find out that I deal with depression, they are surprised. They say they never would have known because I am so happy and positive all the time. They don’t realize how hard I work to be happy and positive. It does not always come naturally or easily. They also don’t realize that on some days, I wear a mask. I am a great pretender.

Does this make me fearless? To pretend things are fine when they are not?

Some days and in some cases, it does. There are certain situations when putting on a mask and hiding what’s going on is necessary. And in some cases, I have ‘pretended’ my way to feeling better for real.

But I also believe that being fearless is being real. Being real about what I go through and allowing others to hold me up. It doesn’t mean I have to let the whole world know what’s going on inside, but it’s letting in those I trust and those who care about me.

So often, people who are viewed as fearless are those who jump out of planes, climb mountain sides, run into a burning building to rescue others, or go to war. And I agree that those people are fearless.

But fearless doesn’t always have to be so big.

Fearless can be asking for help during tough times.

Fearless can be honesty with those around you.

Fearless can be sharing your struggles.

Fearless can be putting on a happy face when needed.

Fearless can be simply getting out of bed on a really bad day.

So am I fearless? I am trying to be.

I have had many many battles with my depression and I have won every one, so that helps in being fearless. But it’s a never ending war.

And I think fearless doesn’t necessarily mean being without fear. It can mean moving forward and facing your challenges despite any fear you have.

I don’t think I will ever be cured of being slightly afraid of my depression. But that does not mean I can’t stand fearlessly against it.

Please feel free to share this or any of my other posts with others.

Creating a Ladder

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My last post on here left a few people worried. That was not my intention and I apologize to those that I made worry. It was a post meant to share what it can be like to be in the middle of depression. One of my life goals is to help others understand what depression is, and to help those who deal with it feel less alone.

My last post made some worry that I was unwell again. I won’t lie – when I wrote it I was having a difficult time. I had a few bad days, one of which was spent in bed, but I pulled myself through and the depression didn’t last long.

I try to tell my loved not to worry about me.

The thing is, I will always have this disease, and I’ve accepted that. There are going to be times when my depression attacks and I fall to the bottom of the well.

But there is no need to worry.

Over the 20+ years that I have dealt this illness, there have been some horrific times, and yes, I have given people reason to worry. I know that. But now I am asking them not to. Because no matter what happens or how dark my world gets at times, I know I will always be ok.

I know this because over the last few years I have created a ladder. This ladder sits in the well and it stretches from the bottom of the pit all the way to the opening at the top. This ladder is why you don’t have to worry.

It took me a long time to create this ladder. It was built through years of struggle, pain, treatments and tears. There were times when the materials I used weren’t quite strong enough and rungs on the ladder broke when I tried to climb.

But the ladder I have now is solid. It is strong. It will not budge.

This ladder is what I use to climb out of the bottom of the well. Sometimes it takes a while for me to attempt that first step. But as I start to climb, I gain strength and I move faster.

Each rung is a step of healing. Each rung takes me farther from the darkness and into the awaiting light.

Getting out of bed is a rung.

So is taking a shower.

And allowing necessary tears to fall.

And asking a friend for prayer.

And writing on my blog or in a journal.

And making a counselling appointment.

And asking for help.

And eating healthy.

And going for a walk.

And talking to someone I trust.

And spending time with loved ones.

And understanding that this disease is not my fault.

And knowing that God has given me the strength to survive the darkness.

And that He has given me the strength to reach the light.

These are all rungs of my ladder. The ladder that takes me from the depths of my depression to health and healing.

I am going to deal with depression for the rest of my life. Mental illness is a reality in my world. I can choose to let it control me, conquer me, destroy me.

Or I can choose to climb the ladder I’ve created. I can choose to climb up out of the well.

Depression is an illness that is part of my life. It is something I will constantly struggle with. But I will not let it be my life.

Instead, every time is knocks me down, I will reach for my ladder, and I will begin the climb back up.

I encourage you to build your ladder. Life is short. Don’t stay at the bottom of the well.

You are worth fighting for.

You are worth the climb.

The Bottom of the Well

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What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a well? Water? That is it a source of clean, fresh water that can be life-saving to many people and communities around the world? That it is old fashioned? Or maybe, since it is not something that is used much anymore in our culture, you don’t think about it at all.

I do think about a well often, but unfortunately not in a positive way. I have often used the image of a well, particularly the bottom of the well, as a way to describe my depression.

When I think of the bottom of a well, the images that come to mind are a dark, damp, confined space. A well can be quite dangerous because depending of the depth of the water in it, a person could drown in a well. It can be a place of gasping for breath, struggling to stay above water, struggling to stay alive.

The bottom of a well would also be unbelievably lonely. A small space, deep down in the earth, where someone could be without anyone knowing. There is no way out, and no one to hear your cries.

Depression is like this. It’s dark, scary, and confining. And you are constantly fighting for your life, gasping for breath, feeling as though you are drowning.

And it is incredibly lonely. It’s an unimaginable loneliness because your brain tricks you into thinking that no one cares about you, and more importantly, that no one can understand what you are going through. The isolation that depression forces on you is suffocating.

And that is why anyone who deals with depression must fight against the isolation and the loneliness.

It’s the main reason I started this blog a year and a half ago. I wanted to help others who struggle as I have, (and continue to) with depression feel less alone. I wanted others to know that someone out there gets it, that I understand.

And I also wanted to help others find ways in fighting that loneliness.

When you’re depressed, your instinct is to isolate, but it is the worst thing you can do. I know this because doctors and counsellors have told me. I also know this from experience.

So, when I feel my depression coming, or when I am in the middle of a dark time, I fight my own instinct and find ways to feel less alone.

I text a friend and ask for prayer.

I meet someone for coffee or dinner.

I participate in something social even when it is the last thing I want to do.

I make an appointment with my counsellor.

I call someone I can trust if I feel up to talking.

I spend more time at work where I am surrounded by people.

I write on this blog.

All of these things help me climb the walls of that well. All of these things make me feel less alone. And suddenly things start to get better.

I always allow myself to feel or do what I need to do. If I feel like crying, I let myself cry. If I need sleep, I let myself sleep. If I want junk food, I eat junk food.

But the one thing I don’t allow for myself in times of depression is isolation. It may be what I want in the moment, but I know it is not what I need.

I know I cannot climb out of that well alone.

And I encourage anyone who may be reading this who is feeling like they are drowning at the bottom of well to do the same. Don’t go into isolation. Call someone, text someone, go outside, write in a journal, or get out of the house, no matter how much you don’t want to.

If you do, things will get a little better, and you’ll find a way to start climbing out of that well.

And take moment to look up. Chances are there is a hand reaching down to help you climb.

The Good Tired

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As many of my regular readers know, on October 4th 2014, I walked out of work and went straight to my doctor because my depression had once again become too much to bear. My doctor first put me on a one week leave of absence, which quickly led to being off work indefinitely. I quit my job and wondered if I would ever be able to work full time again.

In all honesty, I thought I was done. I had reached a point where I believed I couldn’t function in a regular full time work environment, and thought I would have to be on disability for the rest of my life.

For three and a half months, I struggled with my next steps. I wasn’t working, I wasn’t healing as well as I had in the past and I was exhausted. Every moment of every day I was exhausted, even though I was doing nothing. I spent 75% of my time sleeping, which led me to feeling even more tired.

Exhaustion is a symptom of depression. It is unfotunately a very big part of depression. No matter what I could not feel energized. Yes, the depression was zapping my energy, but the fact that I had nothing to do was also stealing it.

I started to find ways to fill my days. First I did puzzles and played games on my iPad to get my mind working. I would try to plan something for each day just to get myself out of bed, even if it was as simple as going to the drug store for toothpaste.

I started making jewelry, just for something to do, and it became a hobby I really enjoyed. I filled many days creating earrings, bracelets and necklaces. I spent many hours browsing beads, wires, clasps, charms and pendants at Michaels.

I continued leading the Three Rivers Windsor gathering every Sunday evening, one of the highlights of my week.

But I was still asleep more than I was awake. And I was still always tired.

In January, I started casually looking at part time jobs as I was beginning to feel ready to try and work a few hours a week. I applied for one job on the evening of January 8th for a part time position at a gym called Beach Walk Family Fitness. Within the hour I had a response in my email and an interview set up for Tuesday January 13th.

On the 13th I had an interview at 11am. An hour later I was asked to go in for some training that evening. I began working/training the next day, and worked every day for the rest of the week.

It all happened really fast and I can admit I was overwhelmed. I went from not working and barely doing anything, to working 5 days a week, shifts ranging from 4-8 hours in length. Now I was really exhausted!

But it was a completely different kind of exhausted. For the first time in a long time, it was a good exhausted. It felt good to be tired. It was an earned tired. It was an ‘I was busy and I accomplished something today’ tired.

My head would hit the pillow at night and I was asleep almost instantly. There was no tossing and turning, no mind spinning out of control, no waking up throughout the night.

It was a good, honest, ‘I need this’, sleep.

And it was a sleep I woke easily from, which was something I hadn’t experienced in many months.

These days I still feel tired, but it is that good tired. It is the ‘I accomplished something today’ tired. It is the ‘I am living my life’ tired.

I am energized while I am awake, and I fall asleep easily when it is time for bed. I am waking up when I need to, on time, and I am falling asleep naturally when my body and mind are tired. I am no longer taking a sleep aid every night. In fact I have only taken a sleep aid twice in the last month and a half.

And it feels good. I feel good.

Before I was desperately trying to fill my days. Now I have so much I want to do and can’t always fit it all in. How great is that?

I feel alive again. I feel useful again.

And I love my new job. I had only been looking for a part time job with about 15 hours a week. With this job I have been working 25-32 hours a week since I started, and I actually want more!

This job has been a blessing. It has helped me in the healing process and helped me to feel whole again. Every day I get to meet new people. Every day I get a chance to get to know someone new. Every day I get a chance to brighten someone else’s day with a smile or a warm greeting or a listening ear. (You’d be surprised how many people open up to gym employees). And I love it!

I feel helpful and useful. My manager is continually giving me more stuff to do, and I am continually asking for more responsibility. I am being handed admin duties, and I am being given information and tasks that most employees don’t have. I am being told that I am liked and trusted.

I feel valued, and I feel appreciated, two things I didn’t often feel at my last job.

And I am feeling the good tired.

Life has turned itself around, and I once again feel as though I am on the right path. I look forward to getting up in the morning.

And it is great.

 

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Fighter

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On Friday I had an appointment with my counsellor. I love counselling. I think it is the best and that everyone should go whether they are living happy or not-so-happy lives. It is amazing what you discover about yourself as you are asked questions and you respond in the moment. I have had countless revelations during years of counselling that have helped me know myself better, understand myself better, and see why I am the way I am.

On Friday, as we were discussing my struggles with depression, I said that every time I go through a dark period I come out stronger and smarter. My counsellor got really excited and saw this statement as a break through in my thought process regarding my illness.

As I processed what I said over the last few days I realized how powerful that revelation is. I knew it already but had never really acknowledged it or spent much time thinking about it. But it is so true. Every battle I have with my depression, I come out of it a little bit wiser and a little bit stronger.

I look back over the last twenty years of war with this illness, and I see the progress I’ve made. The ways that I responded to my depression when I was younger were quite destructive. I turned to cutting, drugs and alcohol in times of need because I just wanted the pain to stop. I was drowning and desperately needed to escape.

I haven’t cut myself in five years. I haven’t touched a drug in eight years. I barely drink alcohol, and when I do, it’s usually no more than one glass. I am no longer trying to escape. I am learning to accept my illness and I have found ways to fight it that do not include self harm.

I’ve taken the time to learn about and understand my disease. I’ve not only taken steps toward healthy recovery, I’ve taken leaps. Though there have been many times when I just wanted to give up, something inside me kept fighting.

I’ve always had a strong will to live. Even at times when I was suicidal, deep down I knew I’d never follow through. My life is worth fighting for. I am worth fighting for.

I believe I am here for a reason. I believe that I have this disease for a reason. I don’t believe God gave me depression, but He has allowed me to endure it. And He has given me the strength to fight. And I believe He can take all my struggles and all my pain and use them to create something good.

I can help others who go through the same struggles. I can help others with mental illness. Simply by sharing my story and vowing to never give up the fight.

Knowing these things does not make my illness easier. It does not mean the depression is going to disappear. It does not mean there won’t be days when I can’t get out of bed.

But it does mean I’ll get through it. It means I will survive. It means I will come out stronger and smarter.

Life isn’t easy, no matter what you are faced with. Whether it’s mental illness, single parenting, the end of a relationship, losing your job, losing a loved one or any of the other many many things that can go wrong. It’s not easy.

But it’s still worth fighting for. You are worth fighting for.

I pray you never forget that.

Goals

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I mentioned in my last post that I don’t do New Years resolutions. I haven’t for a few years. I find resolutions hard to keep because there is no leeway with them. You either do it or you don’t.

One definition of resolution that I found is ‘a firm decision to do or not do something’.

So, an example of a [common] resolution is ‘I am going to work out 5 days a week’. It’s a wonderful resolution as are many others, but if one week you only work out 4 days instead of 5, it can leave you feeling like a failure. And that often leads to giving up the resolution all together.

Resolutions are intimidating, and most people create ones that are nearly impossible to keep.

Again, this leads to a feeling of failure. It discourages you and then you just give up.

I prefer to make goals.

Goals are much friendlier and easier to follow through on because they seem to have less pressure placed on them.

Some would argue that resolutions and goals are the same thing. They are definitely similar, but still quite different.

The definition of goal (from the same place I got the definition of resolution) is ‘the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result’.

So you have resolution (a firm decision), and goal (an aim or desired result).

Goal seems much less scary. It is kinder and feels attainable. There’s a little less pressure and if one week you don’t fulfill your goal of working out 5 days, it’s not a big deal. You’ll just try again next week.

I also don’t believe that goals should be only set at the beginning of a new year. Yes, that is an obvious time to set some goals because moving into a new year can feel like a fresh start.

But we should be making goals throughout the year. Goals should be made monthly, weekly, daily. We should be constantly reaching for something more, a challenge, a way to better ourselves, a way to stretch our minds, a way to get out of our comfort zones.

Since it is the beginning of a new year, a fresh start, I have begun setting goals for myself. Some will be more difficult that others, but I will go after all of them and do my best to achieve them.

I’ve spent the last 3 months trying to heal from a bad breakdown/depression. It has been difficult and it has taken longer than I expected.

But as I’ve worked on healing, I have also been rediscovering myself, and the direction of my life. I am now at a place where I feel strong enough to move forward, to get back out in the world and go after some goals.

So, I thought I’d share some of them. Writing them down for all of you to read will give me more strength to throw myself at them. And if I can encourage or inspire anyone with my goals, that makes any struggles I may face worth it.

1. Write every day. In the last year I have rediscovered my passion for writing. I’ve always wanted to be a writer so it’s time to make an honest go of it. Whether it becomes a career or not, it needs to be a daily part of my life.

2. Finish the writing course I started last year. That got shoved to the side when life got a little crazy. Today I picked up the study materials again.

3. Give back. The last few months I have been focused on myself and getting better. It’s time to get out of my own head and start giving back through my church and through volunteering.

4. Pay off lingering debts. This is a scary one since I don’t have a job right now. But when I am earning money, my goal is to be wiser about what I spend it on and distribute more to debt payments.

5. Growing my church. I began a church gathering in early 2014 and it has been incredible. We have already seen lots of growth. But I look forward to seeing more. I want to be a better leader to those already in the gathering, and I want to bring more people to God.

6. Recognize my own strength. I’ve been through a lot in my 31 years. I look back at some of my struggles and sometimes I am amazed I survived. But then I look at where all of those struggles have brought me, how strong they have made me. The strength given to me by God, and those around me. Sometimes I forget how strong I am.

7. Stop worrying about what others think. This is a tough one for me, and I think for many others. It is one I’ve been working on for a long time. I fear judgement. I want to be liked, to be accepted. When I stopped working, my biggest fear was what people would think of me. But I am learning to say who cares. I know what I think of me. I know what my friends and family think of me. And I know what God thinks of me. That’s all that matters.

8. Appreciate my family and friends more. I have the most amazing family, and the most incredible friends, but I don’t tell them that enough. I want to actively show them how much I love them and appreciate them.

So, those are some of my goals for 2015. Some are carried over from past years; they are goals I want to be continuing to aim for all of my life. I haven’t listed all of my goals. Some I’m not quite ready to share.

But with these goals, those shared and those not, I know I am taking the right path.

I am embracing a new year and a re-newed me.

 

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