Mental health disorders are difficult. They are journeys with long paths, paths that curve in many directions. The greatest gifts my journey brought me were true loved ones, strength, my voice, and the honor of working beside Veterans (they take me under their wings and treat me like one of their own). So now I give you the opportunity to speak up. Speak loudly and without shame.
It’s the first word that seems to come to mind when we are feeling that things are occurring too much, too fast, and / or too confusing to absorb and manage. We just simply say, we’re “stressed out”, “under stress”, or “too stressed” to handle it. When we are feeling such immense stress, we generally, and ultimately, don’t take the time to slow down to truly identify all that is happening in our minds, our bodies, and our spirit at those moments.
Of course, the first thing that comes into play is the stigma. The number of times I’ve heard someone say, “I’m so OCD!” the pop culture meme for explaining away control issues. At this point I’m aware of how social stigma functions, so I won’t be letting it get me down. Still, it’s out there in spades, pushing the self-stigma triggers ever more so, prompting mindful response over knee-jerk reaction. Dealing with another diagnosis is challenging enough without letting stigma derail my quality of life.
The staff on our wing had their work cut out for them, with twenty-four patients to attend to. Community therapy concentrated on setting and achieving goals. Occupational therapy focused on creatively integrating right- and left-brained processes. Twenty-four individual viewpoints on life; twenty-four souls needing to communicate, each in their own unique way. A microcosm of the very world we longed to be a part of, treating one another with respect when someone went off the rails, supporting one another when life’s lessons got too hard to shoulder alone.
“I focus on creating now, instead of destroying myself. My stitching gives me a reason to keep going, to keep fighting. I have to finish so many portraits,” she says of the benefits the stitching process provides for her mental health. “I start something to bring comfort to someone else and it ends up bringing comfort to myself. It’s like a circle. By helping others I’m helping myself.”“I focus on creating now, instead of destroying myself. My stitching gives me a reason to keep going, to keep fighting. I have to finish so many portraits,” she says of the benefits the stitching process provides for her mental health. “I start something to bring comfort to someone else and it ends up bringing comfort to myself. It’s like a circle. By helping others I’m helping myself.”
I hope I remember that SAD is deceiving, and that the things that seem least desirable to do are the things I need to do most. One of the major signs of depression, period, is the loss of interest in activities that normally bring you joy, and I need to remind myself that this is especially true when SAD strikes. I hope I remember to push myself to go to yoga; to go the extra mile to spend time with friends; to dress warmly and leave my apartment, even when it seems daunting.
The first time I sought out a professional respite, a brief moment flashed by where I let out a genuine sigh of relief. After months of insomnia, I was fighting off sleep during work hours, often dosing off where I stood. There was no longer a struggle for a balance between keeping myself together, and falling into rapid cycles of mania and depression. At that point, I was holding on by a thread for my life. The morning that thread snapped, I walked into work at 4a. I realized I could no longer keep my composure and fight the rising madness I tightly kept contained inside. At 6a, I walked out of my job, called a friend, and asked for a ride to the ER. I was finally ok with giving in and seeking what I thought was going to be a period of rest and relief from my difficult and unmanageable life.