I Did Not Fail

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We, as a whole, haven't been talking about mental health all that long, have we? I mean, even with my writing all the gory details and struggles and putting them out there for the world to read, there are some people who haven't so much as mentioned it to me. And that's really ok. I mean, it's hard to know what to say, I guess. "Hey, how's the crippling anxiety today?" Or possibly they're afraid to say anything to me for fear I'll burst into tears for no discernible reason (this is a real and valid possibility, I'm afraid). But I have to wonder, were I suffering from a different sort of illness, would the response be different? If I had a broken bone, or a grave injury, would people have shown up to offer assistance? To be clear, there have been some, and I'm forever and eternally grateful. But if you had a broken bone, or a grave injury, you wouldn't be able to do the things you needed to do, right? That's different, isn't it? You wouldn't have been able to clean, or cook, or do more than the bare necessities, if you were really ill or injured. If you think having a mental health struggle isn't being "really ill", you have clearly never suffered with a mental illness. Not only is mental illness a "real" illness, but it has a huge mortality rate. That means people die from mental illnesses. A lot. Every day. Veterans choosing suicide over living with PTSD. People whose depression convinces them the world would be better off if they weren't in it. People who are too ashamed to seek treatment for mental illness, because they don't want to be labeled as "crazy".  People who suffer from eating disorders, a mental illness that is more fatal than any of the ones mentioned above. I could go on. But we can't talk about it? Bullshit. I know I'm not the first one to say this, but if it were any other "disease" killing all these people, we'd be shouting it from the rooftops. There would be foundations set up. Folks would be running 5K's and having colored powder tossed on them to raise money for  - therapy and psychiatry, or whatever. But there's not. People are still afraid of being judged and labeled. In addition, it's hard to know a lot about a person's genetic mental health history. If someone actually had a diagnosis, it was never talked about, except in hushed tones as though it were something to be ashamed of. I think, more likely, most people were just not diagnosed. They were the lazy ones, the ones who didn't do all the chores that needed done. The ones whose children weren't cared for well because they weren't able. The ones who became dependent on alcohol or other substances to medicate themselves for an illness they didn't know they had. I don't know a lot about my genetics as it relates to my mental health. I have some suspicions from observations I've made, but very little hard data to work with. This is how I feel about all that. If you want to give me a label, please do so. Diagnose me with something, and do it as accurately as you can, so I can get back to my life. Please, help me feel human again. I'm working so hard. The shrink tells me, "You have some bipolar tendencies, let's look at treating that." I'm like, "Awesome. Tell me more. Let's kick its ass." My therapist tells me I need to meditate and talk to my inner child. Done. I've been having daily conversations with seven-year-old me for two weeks now. I can only stick with it for about ten minutes at a time because usually I cry like a baby the whole time. I figure there must be something there I need to work out with her. Also, she has pretty hair. I want to talk about this. I want people out there who are suffering in silence to be unafraid to get help for themselves. Last time I saw the psychiatrist I started crying in his office. "I don't understand. I was so good for so many years. I did all the stuff. I yoga'd. I meditated. I ate the vegetables and drank the smoothies. And I was ok. Why now? Why did I fail?" This is what he told me. "All that stuff you did, it's still in there. All the years of work you did, it still worked. Because you need help right now, it doesn't mean you failed." I looked at him. "It feels like I did. I feel like I failed. At being strong. At caring for myself. At being enough." "I know," he says, "That's why I'm telling you - you did not fail. Keep trying and working and you will get better." I don't know why that helped, but that's what I keep telling myself. As I move through the good days and fight through the bad days. I did not fail.
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What Happened?

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Well, that seems to be a question that has been asked a lot lately. I haven't posted in a while, but I've been writing. I've been writing copiously, constantly, every chance I have.  My notebook is my constant companion, carried with me everywhere. I've been writing instead of reading, looking at social media, even showering on some days. I've been writing down every thought, feeling, everything I can think of, to try and figure things out. I'm not really sure I've made any real progress. It's been a long couple of weeks, with some small setbacks and one major setback. A lot of days, I've been struggling to keep moving forward. I want to say that I'm working to care for myself and work through whatever I need to work through. It's hard, though, because new stuff keeps cropping up for me to deal with. And there's life. Some stuff I have to do, though all but the absolutely necessary has been pushed aside. And I always wonder, as I sit wrapped in blankets, writing furiously in my notebook, or curled up in bed because I'm just too tired to move - am I taking care of myself and doing what I need to do, or am I using this as an excuse to be lazy, and not do the things I actually need to do? In some ways, I am a little better. I don't want to cry quite every minute of the day. Sometimes I feel like I don't want to scream, so that's a bit of a change. Writing this makes me wonder, why did I let it get to that point? Why did I wait until I felt so bad that all I could do was cry or scream before I took action to help myself? But I tried. I did more yoga, I meditated more. I increased and changed my nutritional supplements several times. I talked to friends. And I felt like a hypocrite, a feeling I've explored before. I didn't want to admit that my tools weren't enough, and I dreaded the thought of being on medication again, after working so hard all those years ago to get off all the medications all the various doctors I had seen put me on. Considering how the medications ended up making me feel worse, and eventually I was the one who treated myself and was responsible for making myself feel better, I didn't have much faith in the medical community. In fact, I still think they generally do more harm than good. But here I am. Using two different medications to help myself. Believing that that's what I need to help myself feel better, at least until I get back on my feet. But I want to know why. I want to know why I broke. Because that's what I feel like has happened. I was going along, carrying all this weight. And eventually it got too heavy. It became too much, and eventually - I broke. I collapsed under the weight. Let's be very clear. The fact that I feel like I broke does not mean that I believe I am broken. I do not believe that there is fundamentally something wrong with me, or that I'm in some way inferior. But I need a minute to get back on my feet. But what happened? What led to the point where I collapsed? Partly, I think, that I have a genetic predisposition toward depression. As the shrink I saw a few weeks ago put it, I have depression with mixed symptoms. Or, as he delightfully elaborated, it's like, "depression with a splash of bipolar". Meaning I occasionally have manic episodes similar to those that characterize bipolar disorder, but they aren't long enough or severe enough to put me in the bipolar end of the spectrum. Mostly, I tend toward the depressed side. I pretty much knew all this, but it was helpful to have it described so clearly. As I've said a million times by now, I managed all this for years with exercise, yoga, nutrition, all that stuff. So why did it quit working? Why did I break? I'm getting a little older. Maybe I got a new batch of hormones. Maybe I have a bunch of old traumas that my body decided I needed to work through before I can be whole again. Maybe I can't carry the load of managing my household, raising my children, and doing the majority of the chores, shopping, planning, etc. Maybe it's just too much for me. I don't know, and maybe it doesn't matter why, but that's who I am. I want to figure stuff out. So I'll keep going to therapy, and writing in my notebook, and trying to do better and be better. So there it is. That's where I've made it so far. I'm in here, doing the work, trusting in the process, and having faith that I'll be better, hopefully sooner rather than later.
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I Surrender

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It starts out as plain, old, regular, tears. It's been a long day, and besides, I haven't cried for a couple of hours. That's about all I can manage. Finally all the kids are in bed, including the twelve-year-old who spent all evening sobbing in my arms. I sit down on the couch, and can't stop the tears from coming...again. My poor, bewildered husband is standing in front of me asking, "Can you tell me why you're crying?" I look at him, stricken. How can I articulate all this pain? The sadness of the world that I feel all over my body. All the pain I see all day that I can't escape, can't get out of my mind. Another random picture on my Facebook feed of a tragic death of a baby, a child, to add to the collection of horrors I'm carrying in my mind. Horrors that don't belong to me, but that I can't seem to stop grieving all the same. Then it changes. My chest seems to contract upon itself. I try and draw a breath through my tears. I can't. I look up at Patrick. "I can't breathe!" My heart races, like it's going to leap out of my body. I'm shaking, sobbing, gasping for breath. I'm rocking back and forth, back and forth, clutching the edge of the sofa with one hand, Patrick's leg with the other. I can't think, I can't help myself, and I can't breathe. I fling my torso back and forth and back and forth, alternately trying to pull in a breath and squeezing my mouth and eyes closed as hard and as long as I can, because it's all I can do. "Inhale", Patrick says, and I open my mouth and try and suck in a breath, only to have my body expel it immediately, before it can do me any good. This goes on for what seems like forever, me squeezing everything I have in an attempt to regain control of my body, Patrick saying "Inhale!", and me trying desperately to breathe. Every time I can get enough air to make a word I say "Stop!" like somehow my body and brain are going to heed my order and give me back control. Finally, finally, finally - it subsides. I'm standing, being held up by my husband, who is giving me detailed instructions on how to take in and expel the air that I need to live. By about midnight, I feel calm enough to sleep. Around 3:30am I wake up, anxious. But now I'm scared. I'm terrified that my body and brain are going to take over again. Afraid they're going to conspire against me, for some reason that will forever be unknown to me, and try again to steal my air, my control. I lie there for two hours, practicing breathing deeply, calmly. Someone's alarm sounds and I get out of bed. I go to the living room and put my yoga mat in its spot on the floor, where I've been practicing for almost ten years. Where I've been served by my practice over and over and over again. Renowned yoga teacher Seane Corn says that yoga without prayer is just calisthenics. I step on to my mat and begin to pray. With every deep, long inhale I move, slowly, peacefully. I ask the universe (insert, God, spirit, whatever works for you here), to help me. "Please, please show me the good. Help me remember." Over and over I pray. Inhale, arms up. Exhale, fold. Inhale, look up. Every move is a prayer. "Show me the good. Help me remember. Please." Gently and slowly, trying to care for my battered body and mind. Searching for peace. I remind myself, the longer and deeper the breath, the slower and more carefully synced the movements with the breath, the better for the nervous system. I move like this for forty-five minutes. Something happens. I inhale, arms up. Exhale, fold. My hands touch the floor. My mind says "I bow." I do it again. Inhale, look up. Exhale, fold. Hands on floor. "I bow." I stand. My mind says "Thank you." I do this over and over again. Something is happening. Inhale, arms up, Exhale, fold. Hands on floor. Finally, my mind says "I surrender". I keep going. Folding, bowing, pressing my hands to the floor, surrendering. The dam breaks, and the tears come. This time, it's relief, release. I feel the tightness ease, the burden grow lighter. I offer it all up. I give away my pain, my struggle. I sit on the floor, and feel raw, and broken, empty but it's a good empty. I let the tears come and chant "Thank you," and "shanti," (the sanskrit word for peace) over and over in my head. I feel raw, and torn open and vulnerable and broken. But maybe broken isn't so bad. Maybe I'm broken like one of those fancy desserts where you have to break the hard shell and all the warm deliciousness oozes out. Maybe I'm just broken so the good stuff can ooze out. Maybe we all are. The road is still long. It is still hard. My body and mind are exhausted. But my prayers were answered. The yoga worked, like it does every time. I stand up to begin my day with my soul a little bit lighter.
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