Saturday, June 19, 2010

Scars. Saturday, June 19, 2010.

“A scar is what happens when the word is made flesh.” - Leonard Cohen

When I had my wrist-stitches removed, I asked the doctor how long the scars would last. She estimated a year.

Every day for months, I wore long sleeves no matter how hot the weather, I covered the scars with makeup and I used Vitamin E oil to speed their healing. I was terrified people would find out what I’d done, and every time I saw the ugly purple gashes on my wrists, I was filled with a deep sense of shame.

Sure enough, 12 months later I can barely see them in dim light. They’re faintly visible, but I don’t have to wear long sleeves anymore to hide them. Still, they’re permanent – and that deep sense of shame is still there, just as if the scars had appeared only yesterday.

It’s not about cosmetic vanity. It’s that they remind me that one day I lost control; that I crossed into some kind of insanity; that I was willing to leave my family behind (I truly thought, for their benefit). Every time I look at them, I feel a jolt of revulsion and fear. They say to me, “You are capable of destroying yourself.”

Many of the young friends I’ve met here on Facebook are “cutters.” They have dozens of scars on their arms. Some of them are constantly in the ER, getting stitches. Some of them are ashamed and hide their scars from sight, while others allow people to see them. One told me, “Every one of my scars has a story.”

For me, two scars are enough; they, too, tell my story – a story that I regret has to be told.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Stressful Times. Friday, June 18, 2010.

“If you think nobody cares if you’re alive, try missing a couple of car payments.” ~Earl Wilson

I believe we are living through a time of unprecedented stress. A worldwide recession has thrown most people into turmoil. If we’re lucky enough to have a job, we worry about keeping it. Mortgages or rent, food and healthcare, power and transportation, and credit card all has to be paid for. If we’re unemployed, we undergo enormous anxiety about how we’ll manage.

The experts say this economic situation will be with us for several more years. What makes that even worse news is that both domestic violence AND suicide peak when economic woes do. Most countries have been shy about reporting suicide rates tied to the recession, but in Japan, where there is less of a stigma about suicide, suicide rates have reportedly doubled in recent years.

I wish that I had some words of wisdom to quell this anxiety. Unfortunately, I don’t. But to the young people still living at home, I want to say, give your parents a break – they may be under more pressure than you think; most parents don’t want their kids to know about their economic worries.

To the adults, I want to say, we’re all in this together. The generation that lived through the Great Depression emerged stronger and became “The Greatest Generation.” What will our generation become?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

ZZZZZ. June 17, 2010.

“I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.” – Fannie Lou Hamer

If there is one thing worse than being exhausted after a poor night’s sleep, it’s being exhausted after a decent night’s sleep. Medication, stress or depression, or any combination of the three, can make the body feel as if it’s starved for sleep, even if it really isn’t.

If you have anyplace you need to be – like, for instance, a job – the feeling of sleepiness or fatigue really takes its toll. If you don’t have anyplace you need to be, then the bed or the couch welcomes you to stay there all the day.

Proper nutrition, a nice shower, a brisk walk, plenty of fluids … these are the supposed cures for daytime drowsiness, if you Google the problem. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. Experts warn against drinking coffee – goodness gracious, if it weren’t for the coffee bean, most of us wouldn’t make it out of bed!

I wish I had an answer for these attacks of exhaustion, especially since I need to “be someplace” 40+ hours a week. I’ve tried all the above (including the coffee). If you have a secret cure, will you share?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Pills. June 16, 2010.

“Are there any side effects to these pills apart from bankruptcy?” – Herman

Talk about a blessing and a curse. Medication is the best thing that ever happened to me and the worst.

Some people don’t believe in medication for mental health disorders. Some even believe antidepressants are placebos or that big pharma is carrying on a conspiracy. I do know that for cases of minor or moderate depression, the problem is best solved with talk therapy. But for a major depressive episode like I had, medication can truly be a life-saver.

I hate having to take pills to function. I’d go off them all except that I remember that both times I was hospitalized, I was “off my meds.” So dutifully, and out of fear, I take them.

They’re expensive – if I ever lost my health insurance I don’t know what I’d do – and they make me feel odd. Some make me tired, some make me too awake. Sometimes I can feel them working and other times they are like sugar pills. Every day is different.

I long for the day when I won’t have to take meds anymore. But I don’t know if that day will ever arrive. Until then I listen to the doc. Sigh.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Oh, no. June 15, 2010.

Father Moses asked Father Sylvanus, "Can a man lay a new foundation every day?" The old man said, "If he works hard, he can lay a new foundation at every moment."

* * *
Have you ever had one of those days when you have to be at work early but your alarm doesn’t go off and your shower drain is plugged and there is a stain on the pants you were going to wear and you spill the milk and you’re out of coffee and you get out to the car to find a ticket because you forgot about alternate-side parking and your engine light goes on which could mean a $1,000 repair and there is an accident on the expressway and you finally get to work and download your e-mail to find a note from your boss that he needs to “talk to you about something” and you realize you deleted the project you worked on all day yesterday and the school calls and says your kid just threw up in art class and …

It really does seem at times that life conspires against us because things happen in threes (or fours or fives). And the more you say “I can’t handle one more thing,” the more likely it seems that some additional problem will occur. And we say, “It’s been a terrible day!” But the day doesn’t have to begin when you first wake up. It can “begin” at any time. And after that, you just might have a fine day. Don’t like the way the day is going so far? Start it again.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Toil. June 14, 2010.

“Difficulties show men what they are. In case of any difficulty remember that God has pitted you against a rough antagonist that you may be a conqueror, and this cannot be without toil.” –Epictetus

* * *

I’m finding that getting well is really hard work. Really, really hard work. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s the hardest thing I ever WILL do.

What is my rough antagonist? Partly, it’s life itself, and all the disappointments and challenges that come with it. Partly, it’s my brain chemistry, which despite medication (and I think, some days, because of it) fluxuates from day to day. Some days I want to cry and I know the reason why; other days I can’t put a finger on a reason, and I can tell myself it’s my bipolar. That doesn’t make me like it, and it doesn’t make it go away.

So Epictetus’ word here, toil, is appropriate. And these are the days I bargain with God. I tell him that if he could just give me something ELSE instead of clinical depression – cancer, maybe, or multiple sclerosis – I wouldn’t complain, because I’d rather have a “real” disease – one that other people can understand or tell me to “snap out of.” Because unless you have a mental illness, you truly have no clue of the work involved in simply trying to function, and it’s easy to be the object of scorn, even by those who love us.

What’s my choice? Again, it’s life or death. I’ve chosen life, so excuse me while I keep working.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Youth. June 13, 2010.

“Youth is wasted on the young.” - George Bernard Shaw

* * *

Later today, my son will walk across the stage and accept his high school diploma. It’s a day I would have missed had my suicide attempt been “successful.” Thank God it wasn’t. It truly seems like yesterday that he was collecting Pokemon cards and was afraid of the dark. I’ll be thinking of his future, but also my past.

I was only 16 years old when I was diagnosed as bipolar (they called it manic-depression back then). I remember the doctor explaining the illness to my mom, and warning her that manic-depression carries with it a risk of suicide. I remember that she started to cry. I remember thinking that she didn’t need to cry, because I was never going to do something like that.

I had no clue at that age how difficult things would become, or how sick I would someday get, based on the decisions I made in the following years. Like most adults, there are many parts of my life I would choose to do differently if I had the chance to go back in time. I would have gone on medication sooner; I would have started therapy early-on; I wouldn’t have started abusing alcohol; I would realize that so many things that upset me at the time would wind up being totally unimportant later.

But we live our lives in one direction, and at this writing there is no way to go back. I can only go forward. As I look at the young people on the stage today, I’ll probably be envious that they have a world of possibilities open to them. But the truth is that they’ll make mistakes and have regrets as well. The bad things and the good things are all part of this thing we call our lives.

To all graduates: Congratulations. And may you make healthy decisions for healthy futures.