Confession Time (2 weeks of rambling)

This could get rather long – Grab your favorite beverage and settle in.

I’ve been thinking over the last few days that it’s been a while since I posted something. Indeed it’s been 2 weeks! The last 2 posts were about attending and participating in the Imagine: Run for Mental Health. On the one hand it only seems like a few days ago – and yet it seems like at least a month ago! What’s been happening?

Well it appears the Phoenix has inadvertently discovered an addiction. A single experience, just one high is all it took. Like all addictions, this one is probably not going to be cheap, and it’s probably going to affect my health, both physical and mental. It’s probably going to affect my work and social life. Chances are good it’s going to impact almost every corner of my current life. And like most addicts, while I’m not completely oblivious to the possible life-altering changes it may bring, I probably don’t fully grasp them either.

Yep, Phoenix has discovered long distance running.

Am I crazy? Possibly (remember, I am on medication!), but I’m hoping I can stick with this, especially through winter – because let’s face it, running outside in temperatures well below freezing is probably NOT going to happen. So I’ll have to get used to running on a treadmill for a few months. Which means paying for a gym membership. And budgeting for shoes every few months. And  changing what and how I eat. And I’ll probably eventually start doing supplements, and energy gels,  and talking about macros and split times and personal bests, and when the next event is…..ok, I’m sounding a little annoying about it, even to myself!

But it’s true! I started this spring with the goal of running 5k by the end of summer. A mere 15 days ago I ran my first 5k event on Sept 23, 2017 It was a small event, and it was more of an awareness event than a full on race-type event. Barely a week previous (Sept 14, 2017) was the first time I was able to run the full 5k distance without a walking break. 7 days later (Sept 30) I ran a full 10k without stopping – somewhat by “accident” which I’ll explain further on. Since then I’ve done it another 3 times (4x total) and to be honest, almost every day at work I’m thinking how I can’t wait to get home so I can go for a run. I’m limiting myself to 3x a week for now, but I might switch up to 4x a week. And once I feel a little more comfortable with the 10k, my next goal is 21k (which is a half marathon). Of course if I’m going to push that distance I’m going to need to make several lifestyle adjustments (especially nutritional, but others too) – but if running feels this good, I’m sure it’ll be worth it.

So what changed? I mean I was enjoying it but for some reason breaking through the 3.5km mark was very very difficult for me – but I changed up my technique and managed to get myself used to doing 5k – and once I beat that I wanted to challenge myself to 10k – which wasn’t nearly as difficult. As I mentioned before, the first one was somewhat accidental. To train for the 5k, I was using an app called C25K – which stands for Couch to 5k. (by ZenLabs, for iOS and Android). It’s designed to take someone from couch potatoe to running 5k. It was several weeks of training – 9 if I recall correctly. The first week was very simple – after a 5 minute warmup walk, it has you jog for 1 minute, followed by 1.5 minutes of walking, back to jogging for a minute, and walking for 1.5 – for a total of about 28 minutes or something like that. Each week would slightly increase the time spent running while gradually decreasing the walking time per cycle. It gives voice prompts over your headphones so you don’t need to worry about setting timers or checking times. This continues until at the end of 9 weeks you can run 5k. The next step – 10k – works very similar, and actually just continues on where you left off. Week 10 was jog 10 minutes, walk 1 minute (and that was repeated 4 times).

So the first day, I fired up my music, started the C210k app and did my warmup. At the end of 5 minutes, the voice prompt came on and away I went. 10 minutes jog, 1 minute walk, repeated 4 times. It didn’t even feel that bad! 2 days later I was out again, and used the same routine. Same apps. Everything was the same. Headphones on, music going, and I started the C210K app. After 5 minutes I was prompted to run for 10 minutes – just like last time. So off I go….after about 4 songs I was thinking this seemed like a very long 10 minutes – but I kept going. Another 2 songs and I’m realizing that for whatever reason I’m not getting the voice prompts from my training app. I had planned out a route so I knew where to go to hit the 10k distance. As I was jogging along I realized I had 2 options. 1) wind down to a walk, fish out my phone, and figure out why I wasn’t getting the voice prompts, or 2) just keep jogging along, follow the route, and when I’m feeling tired, just cut the route short and head for  home. I elected to take option 2. I knew roughly where the 1/4, 1/2. and 3/4 points were, so I could gauge approximate distance that way, but otherwise I was “on my own” – just music and guts.

Long story short, I did it. And if I can do it once, I can certainly do it again – which of course I’ve done Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays ever since. I even did a “short” 5k run today just for the fun of it.

So how does this tie in to mental health? I’ve learned that somewhere between 6 km and 8.5 km I need to “dig” to keep going. I’ve learned my legs and lungs can handle a lot more than my mind thinks they can or should – it just takes grit, determination, and focus. Sometimes it’s a block at a time, or a few driveways ahead, or a sign – Sometimes it’s longer – but I know somewhere in that range I’m gonna have to get into my music, try to relax and keep a smooth rhythm with my breathing and my strides – soon enough it goes away and I “perk up” again towards the end of my run.  Excluding warmup and cooldown I’m usually clocking 10k in 55ish minutes.

You see, I’m realizing that when my mind is telling me to quit – my legs and lungs can keep going. When I think “this is too hard, I want to give up” – I need to keep going. Because I have something to prove – and before I try to prove anything to anyone else, I need to prove it to myself that with dedication and focus I can do this!  The problem is for simpler things, I give in, give up, or don’t even attempt to start. Lets say dishes for example. I have a cheap basement suite – and it’s just me. No dishwasher. So every couple of days I need to do the dishes. I could leave it all week – and often have – but it’s so much faster and easier to do them every 2-3 days. Is washing dishes more physically demanding than running 10k? Not even comparable. Does it take more time than running 10k? Well – depending how long the dishes have been standing and how baked on the crud is, worst case scenario – then maybe. Does it take that much more mental focus? Well….that’s the dumb part. Dishes. Folding laundry. General domestic stuff I have a brutal time staying on task because I’m easily distracted and “it’s too hard, I don’t want to do this anymore”. So I quit. I procrastinate. I give up.

I have the courage (or I just don’t care what people think) to jog around town in running tights – and half the time I lounge around at home in them too (yes, the clean ones!). Yet I have a brutal time calling friends and or family – when I’m feeling alone, when I need a ride to run errands, or anything like that. I feel like I’m not worthy of helping, like I’m interfering, like I’m hindering them because they’ve got busy lives too. But I’ve got the courage to attempt, and overcome not just 5k, but 10k, and I’m pressing on to bigger and better. It’s taken physical work, but for me it’s been more mentally challenging as a whole, but I’ve done it, I am doing it, and I will do it.

Does anyone else see the odd and frustrating dichotomy? On the one hand I’ve set a goal that few people over 25 would attempt – and I started it at 39. Yet I’m to insecure, to scared, to shy to call friends for help – despite the fact they’ve reminded me time and time again that it’s not a hinderance.

So – yes, I’m running and loving it. But as good as it is for my health (physical, mental, emotional) – I need to learn how to transfer that ability to “dig in and focus” when it comes to other unpleasant or mundane tasks that are just a part of adulting.

I hope I can settle into blogging a bit more regularly – the running thing kinda surprised me but I’m hoping I can figure out a better schedule between work, working out, meal prep, domestic duties, and maybe even some social time.

Love and peace ya’ll. It’s Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada – so from me to you – take a few moments and write down things that you’re thankful for. Doesn’t matter how insignificant it seems, if you’re thankful for it, write it down. It’s worth the 5 minutes out of your day 🙂

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Imagine in Color (Pt 2 – The Run)

Now, Andrew, now was your run? You’ve been working up to this for a while! How did it go?

I was at the Start/Staging area fairly early. I had my headphones in with some tunes cranked up to get me motivated and “pumped up” There was group yoga and group stretching available, which most people were participating in. I always feel terribly self-conscious in those situations, so I did my own warmups and stretching.

Here’s an amusing side note – I wear running tights, and up until today have felt slightly uncomfortable wearing them outside EXCEPT when I’m actually running – even during my warmup walks I feel a bit self-conscious. Here I am wandering around the event doing my own warmup and stretches in my tights. There’s a group of people nearby and I honestly didn’t feel uncomfortable or embarrassed whatsoever. So I can wear tights around that many people, but I’m to self-conscious to participate in the group warmups? I don’t know about you, but I’m amused by that thought…

I was hoping to finish the run in under 25 minutes as a personal goal, but this wasn’t a timed or official race – no official times or placing – so it was my own goal. Not a big deal if I didn’t make it, but it was just a target to strive for

Once everyone was warmed up, the event leader had a short speech, and it was a bit emotional – they’ve been doing this 10 years, among other events. It’s understandable that having put so much time and effort into this annual event over the years and realizing it’s the last one would have that effect on her. After that was the national anthem, and then they started sending us out. First the 10k runners, then the 5k runners,, and then finally, the walkers. When the first few 10K runners started out I fired up MapMyFitness (an app which tracks my distance – I’ve got it set up to provide voice cues every half kilometer to tell me my current speed/pace among other information, which I’ve found useful) and started my FitBit, and away I went.

THe first 100m or so I was running! I was pumped up by my music and the adrenaline and energy of the event and I realized I’d be lucky to do a full kilometer at that pace, never mind 5 and dropped my pace down a bit. It didn’t take long to realize that for whatever reason I wasn’t getting my voice cues as usual – I hadn’t realized how much I rely on them to adjust my pace until I didn’t have them…and on my first “real” event no less! I briefly considered fishing out my phone and trying to get them going, but figured it would probably be more of a frustration than to just going without them. So I just kept going. It wasn’t long before I started passing people, and settled into a nice pace with roughly 3-5 people ahead of me. 2 people around me were going about the same pace but would drift ahead or behind as we all adjusted our individual pace. I was feeling good all the way out to the turnaround marking the halfway point. Thankfully there were volunteers handing out water bottles. I grabbed one and took a few sips before stashing it in my running belt. I didn’t want to slow down and take a proper drink, and had nowhere to hand it off afterward, so I just took it with me. Somewhere around the 3km point, I clued in I was pushing a faster pace than I’d ever run, and I was getting winded, and my legs were starting to tire. At about 3.5km I started to think I might have to seriously slow down the last stretch. 4km, and I could see the last color station ahead, and not far beyond was the finish. I was tired, and started to lose my mental focus. I slowed down for a few strides…and got mad! I said to myself (quite loudly, I may add) “Don’t F—ing quit, Andrew! Not now! GO! RUN!!!” I dug deep and stepped up my pace again and pushed hard for the finish. I don’t know my pace for that last stretch, all I know is it wasn’t as fast as I had started at, and that I wasn’t going to stop until I was several strides past the finish. At the finish line I clicked off my FitBit, and then reached for my phone to pause the MapMyFitness app. Up to that point I had assumed I hadn’t started it correctly because I hadn’t been getting the voice prompts. Thankfully it had logged the run, but I’m still not sure why I didn’t get the voice prompts. Anyway, I walked around for a while, to catch my breath and to allow my muscles to wind down from the effort. After I walked around for a while (gradually slowing my stride down from fast walk to a slow relaxed walk) I decided to check my stats.

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Time: 24:06 (mm:ss) – my previous best was 25:26. Not only did I make it in under 25 minutes, I was very close to making it in under 24 minutes. To put this in perspective – I’m about 6 months away from turning 40. Up until this spring I never thought about running for anything other than emergency purposes, nevermind setting goals and actually doing it! I started training in May, and hadn’t run and sort of distance since high school. I’m also still smoking almost a pack a day – something I definitely need to give up ASAP. All that considered, I’d say it’s a very respectable time! Now I need to figure out a training plan for winter and see what kind of events I’ll participate in next year! Maybe 13k by spring, and half-marathon (20k) by late summer 2018?

Imagine In Color (The Event)

It’s the day after Imagine In Color/Imagine Run that I was at yesterday – and I’ll be honest I’m having some difficulty processing through it today. I was expecting to be tired physically – I put in a hard effort and logged a personal best. What I wasn’t expecting was the mild case of “blues” I’m experiencing today. Yes, part of it is due to the physical tiredness. It’s been a busy week at the store, I’m processing through some health stuff, and I was trying to be at my best for the run. Some level of physical tiredness is expected, however the emotional side of it was rather unexpected

As I’ve thought about it, it’s a mixture of emotions. I’m a little sad, because this is their last run event, and I won’t have one to look forward to next year. There’s also a bit of a melancholy emptiness. I woke up this morning, and I noticed a vague emotional “heaviness” or emptiness. I’d experienced it before a few times but it took me a while to figure out what I was feeling and why.

It’s completely normal, but again while I was anticipating a lazy, tired day today the emotional response was a bit of a blindside. It’s simply the release of the anticipation. In a way, emptiness is a good word for it, because I’ve been thinking and working toward this for months – and now it’s over. The event is over, the goal was met, and instead of an event to look forward to, and a goal to reach – the space that they occupied in my life is now vacant – and in a strange way it almost feels like mourning. It’s a loss, and yes I was emotionally very invested into it. I wanted to prove it to myself, I wanted to prove to others I could, I wanted to show support for individuals and families there who had lost loved ones to suicide. And now, that spot that’s been occupied over the last 4 months or so is void. Vacant. Empty. I’m not afraid to admit it feels a little weird.

Hindsight, I should have considered the “aftereffects” and been more prepared mentally. As I stated earlier, I’ve experienced these emotions before. I used to play bass guitar at a local church, and would often get called to play for special services, some of which required weeks of practice. Without fail, the larger the time/emotional investment, the harder “the blues” would hit. I experienced similar response waaaaaay back in high school, where I was the lead tech for our drama team (which wasn’t saying a whole lot because it was a small school) but after the annual drama competition, I’d experience the same emptiness. Not that I knew what it was in high school – I didn’t have the self-awareness to even consider it – but as I look back at those sorts of events,  I can recognize it.

ANYWAY, enough about that. How was the event itself?  In a word, it was incredible. At first I had planned on attending with some close friends who would be my “support team” – you know, cheer me on as I ran, chuckle with/at me if I tripped, and then transport whatever pieces were left back home afterward. They had to decline for personal reasons (which I totally backed them on doing – I would have done the same if I were in their shoes), so I wound up attending alone. Again, in hindsight it was so good that I did. If I had people I knew there, I would have stayed close to them – using them as my “comfort zone” – and in doing so I would have missed out on interacting with some really great people. Because I was there alone I did have to be more outgoing and social, and again I’m so glad I was “flying solo”. I had some conversations and I think I made some good connections too. I have a feeling something good may come of those down the road – but I’m taking a wait and see approach. I definitely would have missed out if I was playing it safe and either reverting to shy/introvert – which I did for parts of it, but far less so if I’d have people there as direct support

The run itself was interesting in a good way. Normally I’ve been doing somewhat of a “loop” when I’ve been doing my training runs – one route I take is almost a straight “there and back” but I have to add a bit of a loop at either end to extend the distance a bit. I’ve also been running almost exclusively on asphalt (with some concrete sidewalks if it’s not safe to run on the side of the street).

The route for the event was a straight run from the start/finish line to the turnaround point 2.5km away . It was also run on a gravel road. I was curious how running on gravel would be, and I think it quite well. A couple of things really helped: 1) it had rained recently so there was minimal dust and loose grit and 2) it was well-travelled and compacted, which means there were very few patches of truly loose gravel, and those where easy to avoid. There were also “color stations” at various spots along the way. A few volunteers at each station would throw colored powder at the participants – hence the name color run. Although I’ve been describing it as a “run”, it’s actually a walk or run event. 5km walk, 5km run, or 10km run. The 5km distance was from the starting area out the the turnaround, and back again – Start to the turnaround was 2.5km, and then that same 2,5km back to the start/finish. OF course, those who chose to run the 10km had to turn around and do that same route again for a 2nd time.

After the all the participants had completed the course, there was a BBQ supper, and afterwards there were “paint wars” , and then later in the evening there was a pyro performance (I’m assuming a fire juggler, maybe a fire whip too – but I didn’t stay that long) and fireworks as well.

Now, Andrew, now was your run? You’ve been working up to this for a while, and have only actually run a full 5km distance a couple of times before this. How did it go?

Well, I’ve got a 2nd post for that – just keep your eyes peeled for it !. Click right here to view the few pictures I did take. It will link you to a folder in my Google Drive.

 

 

19/9/17

Even thought it’s Tuesday evening, it’s already felt like a bit of a long week. Yesturday evening was a bit of a struggle again – low level fatigue and anxiety all day. One of my team was ill so I worked an extra 30 minutes to accomidate a shift change and a different team member come in to take the shift. The last 3 hours of the shift were also accompanied by increasing sensitivity to the sounds and activity around the store. By the time evening rolled around I was definitely feeling low. The best option would have been to call someone, maybe even go to a coffee shop and talk. I was too tired physically and I wasn’t sure I could handle any more people situations. So I did the next best thing – hit up the #sicknotweak community on Twitter and chatted with a bunch of people – at one point I was struggling to keep up with the comments and conversations. Normally I’d get frustrated but it felt so good to interact. It didn’t take long and I was smiling and attempting some humor.

Today was… a day. Yet again, near the end of my shift I was starting to get annoyed by the sounds and busyness of the store. I’m chalking it up to change in seasons.

From here the rest of the week is probably going to fly past.
Wed: Work as per usual, training run, home for supper – maybe be social or maybe hit the coffee shop and do some writing.
Thu: Work as per usual, Doc appointment after, nothing planned after that – probably just relax at home
Fri: Work as per usual, Probably treat myself to pizza or something. Rest and pack my back in the evening.
Sat: Low key morning planned, and off to the Imagine in Color run for the afternoon and probably part of the evening. Depending on how I handle the run and the crowds will determine how long I stay at the event. I know there’s BBQ supper and a dance party after. I’d like to stay for the BBQ but I’ve got no interest in staying for a dance party. Too much volume, too many people in a small area, too much crappy music.

After that, I’ve got Sunday and Monday to recover from that and get ready for the next round of work!

If you’re at the Imagine in Color event, come say hi. I’ll be the tall skinny guy, and probably looking a little overwhelmed!

Imagine….

Here in southeast Manitoba, there is a volunteer organization called Imagine: Mental Health Matters. Their goal is to defeat the stigma and misunderstanding surrounding mental health and suicide. From their website:

“Imagine is a tool to draw attention to a disease so no one feels the need to suffer in silence. Suicide is not chosen; it happens when pain exceeds the resources for coping with pain. Imagine is trying to provide direction to those resources when needed.”

If you’re reading this, it’s probably no surprise that mental health is something I’ve struggled with, and advocate for. I’ve seen glimpses of the damage suicide does to families and friends when a loved one takes their life. I’ve been close to taking my own life.

6 days from now, almost down to the hour, I’ll be setting off on my first “official” 5k run. I’m running to challenge myself – to show that I can do it. I running because I’ve struggled with it. I’m running to show solidarity with people and families who are facing mental illness or who have lost a loved one to suicide. I’m going (and hopefully feeling social enough) to meet people like me.

I’ll drop a few links if you’re interested, or would like to come, either to cheer on the participants, or to participate yourself. There’s more information in the links below, and each of them has a link where you can donate to Imagine. Anything you can do would be so greatly appreciated. Money helps, of course – but so does understanding, compassion, and companionship.

Imagine: Mental Health

Imagine In Color: Walk or run 5km or 10km

The Lonely Mile

I hope to see you there. If you see me come say hello.

Andrew

I am using the logo for Imagine Mental Health without permission at the time I am posting this because if I’m honest it was a last second idea. I will be emailing them with a direct link to this post with an explanation. If asked I will remove the logo and replace it with something else. I am not a volunteer of Imagine Mental Health, nor am I sponsored by them. My only affiliation with them is that I will be participating in the Color Run for which I purchased a registration fee. 

UPDATE SEPT 18: I recieved an email from Imagine: Mental Health Matters, and they have approved the use of their logo for this post. 

 

17/9/17 (Helium)

When you get a brand-new helium balloon you have to hold on to it. You can feel the gentle pull because it’s got that lift, a “lightness” to it. It’s got this energy you can feel. If you let go, it takes off – if you’re inside it bumps against the ceiling with a gentle thud. If you’re outside it rockets skyward out of sight, following the breeze. It doesn’t have to try to float – it just does. You don’t have to tell it how, or teach it how to fly faster, or float better. It doesn’t need courses or routines to improve its flight. It’s just doing what it’s supposed to do and that is simply to soar.

Fast forward 24 hours or so, and that same balloon is a changed creation. It’s still a sack of rubber and latex. It’s still filled with helium. It’s color and hue hasn’t changed one iota. But instead of skittering against the ceiling and trying to take advantage of it’s potential, it’s listlessly drifting and hovering a few feet above the ground. It no longer has the lift, the snap, the energy to soar. Instead it’s just sort of there. It doesn’t seek higher places like it used to.  It’s not to the point where gravity has completely taken over, either. It just wafts along, neither soaring or sinking – powerless to change it’s altitude or direction.

Lately I feel like that helium balloon. Earlier this year I had energy, both physical and mental. I had snap, I had spunk, I had focus, and I was desperately trying to escape depression’s grasp. And I was starting to believe I had! But the last several weeks this heaviness, this fatigue, has really started wearing on me.

It hasn’t stopped me from going to work. But some days that’s about all I can manage, and those days are getting a lot more frequent. I get up, do the work thing, get home and I’m pretty much done. Finished. Sometimes I don’t have the focus or motivation to put a meal together. Going grocery shopping seems altogether too overwhelming – especially after work.

Of course being more physically active may help somewhat but even when the energy is there, the mental focus and determination to exercise usually isn’t. And so I often sit at home aimlessly scrolling through social media, or reading tech sites about stuff I can’t afford, or just half listening to music while my brain wanders and I wait for bedtime.

But where did that lift go? Why does it feel like I’ve got weights strapped to my ankles? I’m both annoyed, and afraid. Because I know how the last few winters have been – and it’s been a hard push to make it through the cold, short days back to spring – when everything comes back to life after the hibernation of winter. It’s not so much physically exhausting as mentally – but it’s no surprise that if the mind is worn out, the body soon feels the same way.

Hopes, Goals, Dreams, & Delusions: Navigating Life With Depression and Anxiety (Chapter 8)

Bringing It All Together

So – you’ve been my audience for several thousand words spread across 8 posts. (If you’re still with me, I’m very appreciative and thankful…and a little surprised). I’ve rambled. I’ve thought. I’ve tried to process through this and explain my thoughts as I go. I hope you enjoyed the journey as much as I did! So in a nutshell what’s the take-away here?

First of all (and probably the most important) is hope. Hope is almost like money; very rarely will you find a human who is completely satisfied with the amount they have, and have zero desire to get more. When you’ve got very little or none to speak of (money or hope) somehow getting some, even a little bit, seems overwhelming. When you get a little bit, you want more. I’m not going to go all Biblical and start down the “Love of money is the root of all evil” even though it’s often misquoted. Maybe I’ll dig into that one down the road at some point. But getting more hope is no easy task when everything in your life seems to soak it up and absorb it like parched soil getting a few drops of rain. Taking that analogy even further, too much all at once and the soul and the soil get overwhelmed and it all just overflows without soaking in where it can really do some good (amusing side-thought – here I am talking about how too much hope can be a bad thing which sounds…hopeless.Not my intent, believe me. However the dichotomy does appeal to my ironic sense of humor)

So with a baseline level of hope, you can feed into it and grow it – out of the hope can come goals (specific things to attain) and dreams (less focused but more open and light hearted thoughts of the future). The risk of leaning too hard on the goals and dreams is in becoming blind to the hard realities of life, especially when dealing with a mental illness where the slightest upset or difficulty could very quickly unravel all the momentum and send the individual back down into the dark pit they just fought their way out of.

That also doesn’t speak of the delusions of the dark pit – where you can’t seem to escape the overwhelming negativity, and although you crave hope and comfort, you push it away because as scary and overwhelming as the darkness is, you feel safe within it because you know it so well. Hope, sadly, seems scary because it is so preposterous, so vastly different from what you’re used to, and you don’t feel worthy of it. At all.
Hopes, Goals, Dreams, and Delusions. At first glance you may not see how they all tie together, but I hope by this point you see that they are very closely linked indeed.

P.S. When the next wave of twilight comes creeping in, and you know you’re in for another season of gloom, remember to grab a coffee for Darkness. Black, with 2 sugar.

*****          *****          *****          *****          *****

I could not have pulled this off without the help of several people. First and foremost to my family who have been incredibly supportive for years, no matter what. I’d also like to thank the many people who I’ve gotten to know via Twitter. I will also give special mention to the entire community at http://www.sicknotweak.com. Last, because people tend to remember the last name or 2 on a list: An EXTRA HUGE THANKS to Meg and Kath – These 2 ladies went over this entire article with a fine tooth comb several times over. I don’t know if a THANK YOU is enough – but it’s all I have for now. IF you’re in town, coffee is definitely on me!


The featured image for this series was courtesy of Little Visuals

 

Hopes, Goals, Dreams & Delusions: Navigating Life with Depression and Anxiety (Chapter 7)

So now what?

As with everything else in life, balance and moderation seem to be the ticket. It’s becoming comfortable with the fact that sooner or later life is going to throw you a curveball or two.. Not because you are more prone to them than anyone else. Not because you’ve earned them more than anyone else. Absolutely and in no way because you deserve them more than anyone else. But because life is hard. It can be and is beautiful. It can be (and often is) filled with the mundane. But the trap of this all-or-nothing delusion (at either end of the “momentum” bell curve) is what’s going to cause the most hardship.

It’s about finding people who are going to speak truth into your life, to gently encourage you when things aren’t going so well (and to gently correct the negative delusion), and to temper the delusion that you’ve got this monster licked, beaten down, and controlled – because let’s face it, mental illnesses are complex enough that even the professionals don’t always treat the same diagnosis with an identical treatment. These illnesses have far too many variables, symptoms and treatment strategies to have that unflinching certainty that this thing is not and no longer will be a part of your life.

It’s about fighting daily for the life you want – and celebrating the victories, no matter how small or silly they’d seem to the average person – yes, that means celebrating the shower you just took, because you managed to do it, even if that’s all you managed for the day. It’s embracing the ride, knowing that when the good times come, to enjoy them and savor them, because they’re not going to last forever – no matter how much you want them to. It’s about gritting your teeth through the bad times, hanging on because you’ve fought through this crap before and survived – and, as hard as it is, you can do it again. To quote an article that I love:

You are not a monster. You are a valuable, unique, wonderful human being who deserves everything grand that this life has to offer. Come out of the shadows and stand proud.  The world needs you and your story. You have been to hell and back and you are here to say, “It gets better.” When a person is struggling, many people look away. They change the subject or suddenly need a drink refill. You reach your hand out into the darkness to find theirs. You share your lantern. You’re not afraid of darkness, because you know it… You had coffee with darkness yesterday. He brought donuts. He doesn’t scare you like before. You know how to work with him.

It’s about perspective – and if your own is starting to feel very skewed (or maybe even before you recognize that it is) you need people who care about you to speak some objective truth into your life. Sometimes it’s hard to hear – when you’re at the bottom, the crazy dichotomy is you’re craving hope and yet push it away at the same time. When you’ve managed to string together several “good days” (however that looks for you) in a row, you need people who care about you to keep your reality in check – not to crash your party and be a downer, but to speak that hard truth that it’s not going to last, you need to be prepared when the tide comes back. Yet it’s at that point that you’re sucking up all the positivity you can and (rightfully) have cut as much negativity from your life as possible – it’s a risk these friends take because they care about you so much they don’t want to see you crash like last time. And the time before that. And the time before that…

A great example from my personal life would be my good friend L. I won’t state his name here although if you know me in real life, you probably have a good idea who he is. He’s been a very loyal friend and stuck by my side through some very trying times to put it very mildly. He’s stated his opinion when asked, he’s often given solid advice and then bravely and quietly and calmly picked up the pieces when I did what I thought was best (and it didn’t exactly go according to plan…) I won’t say he has physically saved my life – you know, saved me from drowning, or performed CPR, that sort of thing – but time and time again he’s proven by words and actions what true friendship is all about. I am extremely lucky to have him in my life – and I’m saddened that there are far too many people who don’t have a close friend like that in their life.

Another example is the wonderful people at SickNotWeak, which for me has been an amazingly supportive group of people around the planet. While it seems the most interaction between community members happens on Twitter, the website has blog posts written by members of the community and daily video posts by Michael Landsberg. Yes that Michael Landsberg. I’ve joined and left several online communities for various reasons – but SickNotWeak was one I came across fairly early in my search for an online community, and it’s the one that I’ve always felt the most at home in. People there are very genuine in their struggles but also in their compassion. I often say that I’ve never seen such strength from people who admit they’re very weak and struggling daily. I find it’s that united ‘weakness’ and transparency that gives SickNotWeak it’s vibrancy, unity and strength – that and there’s very little drama that unfortunately seems common in many online communities, especially ones that focus on mental illnesses.

I’d also be very remiss not to mention my incredible family – they may not always understand,  and I know it can be hard unless you’ve been there but damn they sure try! I’m also extremely lucky to have a supportive workplace – from employees to fellow team leaders, up to the GM and the business owner as well. All of them  have been amazingly good to me – and again, I am incredibly blessed to have that in my life. Unfortunately acceptance of mental illness in the workplace has a very long way to go for most people.

(to be concluded…)

Hopes, Goals, Dreams, & Delusions: Navigating Life With Depression and Anxiety (Chapter 6)

Delusions and Disappointments

There is a risk and a danger to this forward momentum. And that is the risk of disappointment. The risk of setback. The risk of life just happening. For the average person, forward momentum feels good but there’s a realization that life ebbs and flows. Good and bad times begin and end, like the darkness of midnight fading into the full sun at high noon and back again. For those of us with mental illness, a slight setback can feel like being at center field at a football stadium at midnight with every single light turned on… and suddenly the entire city goes dark. It can be that much of a dramatic difference. Unfortunately it may happen that fast too. It’s bewildering to say the least, and to say it’s unsettling is an understatement. It can be crippling, something that an average person will hardly be bothered by can be enough to trigger a major depressive episode for those of us who struggle with mental illness.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t dream. I’m not saying stop giving people hope. That’s not it at all, in fact keep doing so! The reality is that we who struggle with mental health issues need to be aware that the positive momentum can and likely will end at some point, whether it happens quickly or slowly. Otherwise any setbacks become doubly powerful: the setback itself, and then the psychological impact of being blindsided by it while they were focused on building into that positive energy and momentum.

This is one area where delusion can be so dangerous. The individual has built up positive habits, has found the right medications to keep things stable, and has incorporated healthy lifestyle choices. There are positive people encouraging them, there’s a stable job and/or relationship that adds some meaning to this person’s existence. Life is looking really good! Job performance is improving while relationships feel less forced and more natural. There’s a genuine lightness in their spirit. They begin to believe that they’ve got this thing handled. Maybe they decide to go off their meds (after all if things are going this well, why should they stay on them?). Maybe there’s an unexpected change at work, or an expense that came out of the blue. Suddenly this individual who had all this positivity and forward momentum is sliding rapidly down the slippery slope into hopelessness. What happened? How did life unravel so fast?

Chances are good that the situation is not as bad as it appears from their perspective on the inside looking out. That being said, it can feel incredibly overwhelming because there is a dramatic disparity between feeling in control, the feeling that life is finally starting to work like it’s supposed to without so much effort to make it click contrasts greatly with the feeling that all that hard work was an absolute waste. A complete squander of time and effort. That they didn’t deserve success. This setback just proves how much they really are a bad person or a fraud; this is somehow retribution for something they’d done. How could they be so foolish as to think it was actually going to last?

But therein lies yet another delusion. It’s merely the polar opposite, the mirror image of the delusion when things are going well. When you’re flying high after crawling out of depression’s pit, it’s hard to entertain the thought of it coming to an end because you’ve worked so hard to get things together. So you blindly hope this is finally it, that you’ve found the right recipe, the right weapon, the right formula to finally beat this thing into submission and put it on a short leash. When you’re at the bottom, it’s just the mirror image. You can’t believe you’ll ever get out of the pit. You hardly have the strength to breathe, nevermind summoning the courage to start the battle to crawl of the pit yet again. You lose any hope that you’ll ever be at the top again and feel like your mental illness has you on a short leash, one that it uses to beat you with on occasion.

As an aside: I  hold no illusion that I’m “healed” or “cured”. Maybe I am. Maybe not. I simply do not know. That being said, chances are good I’m not.  I’m merely at a stage where I have it “managed” for now.  What I do know is that as long as I’ve got the ideas, the focus, and the energy, I’m going to do what I can when I can  to spill a bit of positivity into people when I can. A smile, a genuine compliment, helping someone (even as simple as opening a door for someone who’s got both hands full) is all it takes. It seems the simplest gestures can have incredible impact on others. I fear the day that the darkness comes back; I’m under no illusion that it’s gone forever. But that’s why I do this. I can be a light and a voice and a source of strength while I’ve got the ability. I have to trust that if, or more likely when, my own darkness returns there’s going to be a hand or a light for me to reach out to and hold until I’ve got the strength to fight on my own two feet again.

(to be continued…)