Tag Archives: depression

The Slowdown

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I sit unwashed and pajama-clad.  The kids are gone, the cat is riding a skateboard around my kitchen.  Bono croons in my ear thanks to my iPod.  I am trying, determined and grim-faced, to write something, anything.  Just a sentence.  Please, God. Just a sentence.

Good job, kid.  You’ve managed eight quasi-sentences; not pretty, not perfect but there they are – words on a page in a straight line, in English.  Why the sudden struggle you ask?

Well for one thing, its Fall.  As the weather cools, things tend to slow down inside my head.  I swear I was born to hibernate – me ending up as a human was a boo-boo on someone’s part.  I eat copious amounts of idiocy-inducing carbohydrates and think constantly about sleep.  Thoughts and movements become sluggish.  My husband should realize that my appearance at the gym last night was nothing short of miraculous.

More sobering: I’ve gone back on antidepressants.  For anyone who has suffered from depression chronically, you know the medication can be as much of a curse as a cure.  Apparently in order to boost mood the brain needs to come to a grinding halt.  It makes no sense to me but there it is.

I have to say that the drugs have come a looooong way since I was last at their mercy.  I remember being on Paxil one bitter Calgary winter.  I was at the stove stirring something.  In a near-stupour, I stirred that pot for an hour until someone gently took the spoon away  and stood me in a corner.  I was robotic but really not too concerned about it.

Nice.  In those days, I was driving very small children around in snowy, icy conditions.  It makes me shudder recalling how completely out of it I was.  I didn’t write.  I didn’t even think.  The modern drug that I’m on now doesn’t make me quite as dopey but I am shite at parking the car suddenly.  And I don’t care.

What I do care about is the fact that my creative tap has been shut off.  The odd idea floats by but I can’t react fast enough to grab it and set it down on paper.  The Novel is literally a chapter or two away from completion.  I wrote a pivotal scene right before I went on medication.  It was bad – it careened between happily-ever-after and desperate cruelty.  Eesh.  I’m afraid to even open the file.

I could finish it.  I could wrap everything up in a neat, tidy bow and be done with it but I know it needs a substantial re-write.  I know I’m not capable of doing it right now.  Because I need a haircut and a nap, not necessarily in that order.  It’s 9:15 in the morning.

What tidings will Winter bring?

When I Love You is Not Enough

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About a month ago, a girl killed herself.  A student at a local high school, on the honour roll, popular.  Her story was kept very quiet – there was no sensational, sentimental news coverage about yet another casualty to the shoal-laden waters of teenager-hood. There were shocked whispers from those who knew her. And then, silence.

I am not saying that every teen suicide should be plastered all over the front pages. I cannot imagine that helps families deal with the pain; no doubt it would heighten the already unimaginable grief they suffer.  What I want is for…God, what do I want?  Let’s think about that for a second.

I want teen and young adult depression, behaviour disorders, and mental illness to go away, as in eradicated.  This is an unrealistic wish because the stats are going in exactly the opposite direction.  There is a crisis of mental illness among our young people.  The children cannot be our future if they’re too ill to face today, never mind tomorrow.

There is a part of me that wants to run and hide from this information.    I don’t suppose the Amish community would accept me and my two electronics-addicted kids but sometimes I am tempted to try.  I can see us now, piling into our four-door sedan, driving to wherever the Amish live.  We would abandon our car, our iPhones, our Blackberrys and we would stand, waiting and hopeful…please take us into your simpler world…save us.

Nope.  They’d turn their buggies around and flee as if the Seven Horses of the Apocalypse were chasing them.

There is no escaping from the fact that our children are in jeopardy.  A multitude of factors can be pointed to – from our obsession with material things to various media to our lousy diets.  Are we, as some would argue, poisoning our own young with too much information, not enough sleep, and too much white sugar?  Their little brains are being affected by something; they are short-circuiting like so many overloaded electrical panels.

Depression has long plagued the human race – evidence shows that even the ancient Egyptians suffered.  I was born at the tail-end of the Boomer generation; I’ve suffered from depression off and on since birth.  However, for most of my life, I slogged through the fog undiagnosed, as do a vast majority of people who live with some form of the illness.

Todays young people are not allowed the luxury of sleep or downtime.  Busy children are children who don’t have time to get into trouble.  Well-intentioned parents over-schedule – after all, extra-curricular activities will mean well-rounded, successful children and isn’t that what we want for our kids? Maybe they think that if their kids are kept busy, they won’t have time to get depressed.  If only.

While parents over-schedule, the world over-stimulates.  Studies now show that Internet use is changing the way kids brains develop. Factor in the crap diet that harried parents feed their kids as they speed down the highway to hockey practice from piano lessons in the minivan and you have a timetable for disaster, a recipe for a nervous breakdown.  Don’t get me started on the genetics factor…

The principal at our local middle school gives a speech every September.  It goes something like this:  Your children, because of where they are in the developmental process, are about to leave you.  They, for all intents and purposes, are going to be snatched by aliens.  They will be returned to you in about 7-10 years when their frontal lobes are closer to being fully developed.  Be patient.  One day, your child will reappear as if they’d been there all along.  They’ll say “Good morning, Mom” and stand blinking in the kitchen wondering why they can’t find the cereal bowls even though you renovated the kitchen five years before.  It’s ok.  This is normal.  Good luck.

The first time I heard that speech, I burst into tears.

I want to cry now when I think of all of those under-cooked brains out there that are beleaguered by feelings of hopelessness and despair far beyond what the normal teenager feels.

The statistics are scary.  One out of every twenty teens is depressed.  Look at the average class size in a high school or middle school.  Do the math.  A great many go forth undiagnosed because these same children cannot articulate what is happening in their heads. Their parents, too busy negotiating traffic whilst eating something in a paper wrapper, aren’t listening.

Listen.  I’ll say it again in case you weren’t listening: listen.  This means shut up and listen.  Parents are great at talking and listening at the same time which…isn’t…really…helpful…it’s no wonder our kids spend a good portion of their time rolling their eyes at us.

Enter another girl.  Pretty and smart,she doesn’t think she is good enough for anything, not even living.  Another statistic, another teen suffering from depression.  She thought about doing what the other girl did.  The difference?  She asked for help.  She knew something was horribly wrong and she took the first steps to stop it.  She pushed her parents to listen, knowing that all the I love yous in the world were not enough.

People might sigh and exclaim, “But she is so young! So perfect!”  Yes but depression is an illness that knows no boundaries.  It can afflict anyone at any time. Is there hope?  Absolutely!  But, this other girl must work to re-wire her brain.  There will be setbacks and sparks might fly.  She must always be diligent, watchful, and aware.   If she can change the way she perceives herself now, she can carry that learning into her future like a torch held high to light her way.

A Deadly Silence

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Today, in Canada, Bell Media is sponsoring something called “Let’s Talk” in an effort to raise awareness and to help erase the stigmas attached to mental illness.  When researching this 2nd annual event, I found that there are a multitude of different “mental health” or “mental illness” awareness days. 

A very small sampling (Canada):

  •  February 8 – Bell’s “Let’s Talk” 
  • Sept. 30-Oct. 6 – Mental Illness Awareness Week
  • May 7 – 13 – Canadian Mental Health Association Awareness Week

The above doesn’t even include initiatives by various universities across the country which all have different schedules.  And, the U.S. schedule is completely different.

My question is:  Why aren’t we talking about this all the time?

Because: 

In the “good old days,” no one talked about mental illness regardless of socio-economic rank.  The poor were affected more visibly only because the wealthy families had the means to shove their mentally ill family members into expensive institutions.

Here’s a snapshot of my own family:

  • I have an aunt I didn’t know existed until I was a young adult; she was institutionalized when she was 18, 
  • My grandmother,described as “the laziest woman ever born,” would take to her bed for weeks at a time; she suffered from crippling depression and anxiety,
  • In the late 1950’s, well-meaning(?) doctors prescribed alcohol for my brother as a means of silencing the voices he began hearing  – leading to a lifetime battle with alcohol (never mind the schizophrenia),
  • My sister, later diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, was always described as “excitable” or “high-strung.”  Talking about her violent mood swings & impulsive behaviour was strongly discouraged,
  • Another aunt (different side of the family) was always described as “difficult,” or “eccentric”  even after she tried to harm her child.  No one knows whether help was offered or even available.  The child committed suicide as an adult,
  • I was told: “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.  Pull yourself together” during bouts of severe depression in my youth.  Thankfully, my method of coping was only chronic napping.

We never talked about mental illness.  The stigma was so great, relatives would vanish from sight or die and the silence was deafening.  Mental illness did all the talking in our family.  Now, with increased awareness, hopefully the suffering can stop or at least be diagnosed and treated. 

My brother, who has always danced along the fence separating genius from insanity, has crossed forever into the shady realm of delusion.  In his increasingly rare lucid moments, he talks candidly about his illness.  He acknowledges that our parents never did – “Sweetie, no one talked about it in those days.”  Our sister is dead.  I was lucky enough to have healthcare; the Black Dog has been trained to heel.  But, I lie awake at night and worry for my children; I’ll be honest, I over-analyze every mood swing (which does nothing to alleviate my generalized anxiety disorder). 

We talk about their aunt and uncle; however, there are family members who wish we wouldn’t.  We talk about the fact that when Mommy gets sad and can’t stop crying she goes to the doctor and gets help.  We don’t hide it.  We don’t pretend these things don’t exist.  No one is “delicate” or “high-strung” around here.  We call the demons out and we challenge them to duals.

So yes, talk about it.  Because silence can be deafening and it can also be deadly.

 

The Tao of Christmas Lights

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My writing takes me on some strange journeys and feeds me weird food.  Example:  today’s lunch of a banana and Triscuits – because I don’t want to be away from my keyboard long enough to make a proper lunch. 

Strange journey: from Reiki, to the movie “P.S. I Love you” to Taoism to a blog entitled, “The Tao of Christmas Lights.”

Get a snack (may I suggest Triscuits?), a drink, get comfortable – this might take awhile.

A few years back, I turned to Reiki during a time of great conflict and misery in my life. I was depressed and in a state of disrepair and despair.  It was Reiki or Prozac and I was very afraid the Prozac wouldn’t work this time.  I knew someone who practiced Reiki and knew there was little to lose.

To this day, I don’t understand how Reiki works.  I would get my Reiki Master to explain but he’s no longer speaking to me – an even longer, weirder story.

My Reiki Master was also a “life coach.”  We worked on my chakras and my attitude simultaneously.  Reiki had an almost instantly beneficial effect on me.  Way better than Prozac.  In retrospect though, I think my Reiki Master was a bit unorthodox.  Take, for example, his insistence that I watch a particular movie.  Alone.

As instructed, I rented “P.S. I Love You,” and watched it alone. I get why he wanted me to watch it alone -the torrent of tears that ensued was like nothing I’ve produced before or since.  I made my best friend watch it with me a second time.  She is a tough cookie, that one.  Her torrent of tears rivalled mine (maybe she needed some Reiki). I dutifully reported to Reiki Master that I’d seen the movie but didn’t tell him that I didn’t understand why.  He never asked; I never told.

Three years have passed. The movie was on TV this weekend, so I watched it.  Again, a torrent of tears ensued.  Worse, I still don’t understand what Reiki Master was trying to communicate to me through Hilary Swank’s romantic-comedic saga of life after her Irish husband dies.  Was it the shoes? Am I supposed to go to Ireland? 

Still puzzling this morning, I let my mind wander.  I thought about how much Reiki helped me and about how Reiki Master opened my mind to all things mystical and metaphysical.  Musing about meditation and focus, my brain leapt to Taoism.  I briefly contemplated writing a blog entitled, “The Tao of P.S. I Love You.”  Instead, I Googled “Taoism” and stumbled across something called, “The Tao of Pooh” which led me to a website called www.just-pooh.com; it was there I encountered a principle of Taoism called P’U or The Uncarved Block

  More Triscuits anyone?  Vodka perhaps?

The principle of P’U or the Uncarved Block: “things in their original simplicity contain their own natural power.”  And: “When you discard arrogance, complexity, and a few other things that get in the way, sooner or later you will discover that simple, childlike, and mysterious secret known to those of the Uncarved Block: Life is Fun.” The website maintains that this tenet applies to not only stuffed bears but also to humans.  

And now, here we are at “The Tao of Christmas Lights.”

I experience irrational joy at the sight of Christmas lights.  I go from age 50 to age 5 in a nanosecond.  I jump up and down, clap my hands, and spin around with glee.  Even while driving.  Nothing cheers me like the sight of houses decked out with strands of lights or trees swathed in faerie lights.

On a calm winter’s night, the streetscape twinkling in holiday cheer, I again believe in the magic of Christmas.  My cold cynical shell melts away revealing a happy child standing in the snow. Why do those lights have this effect on me? Who cares?  Colourful lights brightening the winter landscape make me happy.  Simple, without arrogance or artifice.  Life is fun (and pretty – at least between the end of November and the end of January).

A weird journey indeed.  Worth every step…except maybe the Triscuits…