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I am struck by the idea that this week has been a major downer. Lots of negative posts; well, if not negative, then certainly gloomy and depressing (sorry, I couldn’t resist!). So there are some final thoughts I want to share with you.

I am thankful that I had my breakdown. Yes, very thankful.

The first reason that comes to mind is that at the time, I was involved in an abusive relationship with The Narcissist. (I used to call him The Bastard, but The Narcissist fits him better.) I didn’t know how to leave, and my breakdown was one way to do it (not the best way, but hell, it worked).

The second, and more overall reason is that I am so much better off now than I was then. It seems like a bizarre thing to say, but it’s true. If I had kept living the way I was, I probably wouldn’t be alive today. I was headed toward suicide if I didn’t get help, and the ways I tried to get help didn’t work. So, big reason to be thankful.

Also, through my years of therapy, I’ve learned more about myself than I ever knew in the preceding 28 years I’d been alive. There are some unflattering things I’ve learned about myself, more than I’d like to admit. And there are some amazing things I’ve learned. But more importantly, this knowledge is genuinely, truly about me. Not about the person I thought I was supposed to be, or the person that other people wanted me to be. About me, the person I am when I look deep inside myself and leave behind the Mask.

I’ve learned better coping mechanisms. I’ve learned how to make my life better, by not listening to my negative automatic thoughts, for instance. I know how to change those automatic thoughts (although it’s always easier said than done, and by no means am I able to do it all the time). I know how my thoughts can set me up for painful feelings. These are all things I probably wouldn’t have learned, but for my breakdown and illnesses.

Most importantly, perhaps, I’ve learned that I can make my life better. I know that the darkness always ends, it just takes time. Feelings are transient; if you wait them out, they’ll change. I know I will feel better, because I have felt better before. I know I can come out of a depressive episode, because I’ve done it before. I might relapse again, but I can hold on to the knowledge that this too, will pass. And I will not only survive, but I will learn from each relapse. I might always have chronic depression and anxiety, but I don’t have to always suffer from them.

Thank you for sticking it through this week. I hope that you learned at least one thing here that you didn’t know before. And that today’s message that there is hope and that things can get better reached at least one person who needed to hear it.

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Today was the Kamloops SPCA’s annual Paws for a Cause Walk for the Animals. I was in charge of registration again this year, and we had 143 registrants. We don’t have a final total, but it’s over $30,000, which is awesome!

I spent over seven hours going full bore today, and have exhausted myself. So I might take a day or two (more!) off from blogging, but I’ll be back! I just need some sleeeeeeeepppppppp!

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I had originally planned to write about Stigma and Skepticism yesterday, but I guess I get a little side-tracked….

My point was going to be that it’s a double whammy when you have an invisible chronic illness and that illness is psychiatric in nature. The first whammy is that it’s invisible; in our advanced Western society, we don’t believe what we don’t see. We are empiricists; we want to see it. If you’re sick, show me your symptoms.

Well, invisible chronic illnesses, by definition, can’t be seen. You can’t see anxiety or depression (or fibromyalgia, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or Crohn’s disease, or rheumatoid arthritis, or any of dozens of other illness I could name) by looking at someone. The illnesses do often have physical manifestations (e.g. someone with rheumatoid arthritis might have swollen or differently-shaped knuckles), but most of those physical manifestations of invisible chronic illness are not considered evidence of the illness that caused them.

The second whammy is “psychiatric in nature”.

There are still people, even in this day and age, who think that depression and anxiety (and for all I know, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) are “all in your head”. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard “feel the fear and do it anyway!” or “can’t you just decide to be happy?” There is a pervasive belief that “getting over” depression and anxiety are a matter of willpower. Either that, or that we’re all a bunch of hypochondriacs who imagine that we’re ill. Or even worse, that we’re doing it deliberately for attention, or to take advantage of someone.

When I wear the Mask, I know I make it harder for people to understand that I am ill. I can seem confident, capable and competent, but it’s only for a short time, and I will pay a significant price for the illusion. The Mask and my illnesses don’t square well with each other.

Another unfortunate belief is that a person with depression or anxiety is somehow to blame; either for having the illness in the first place, or for failing to “get over it”.

When this perception is still not uncommon out there, is it any wonder that people who have a psychiatric illness don’t want to tell people about it? Trust me, even if you think you can tell, you really can’t tell whether a person harbours this perception.

This belief works nicely with the stigma still attached to mental illness to make the double whammy even stronger. This links back with the “blame” aspect: if I was only strong enough, or had enough determination and willpower, I could get better. Since I’m not better, I’m obviously not trying hard enough.

Well, I’m here to tell you, I am as strong as a bull. I have enough determination and willpower to choke a whole herd of your choice of animal. I have tried and tried and tried, more times than you can even imagine. And I’m still ill. If strength, determination, and willpower could make me well, I’d be the most damn well person you’d ever meet.

I guess I should define my terms here. Stigma is a mark of disgrace or shame. When something has a stigma attached to it, what it basically boils down to is this. A label is applied to that thing (or person). That label comes along with negative stereotypes (see above), and those to whom that label applies are considered to be of a lesser status. They are marked because of it, and seen as somehow “less”. Less worthy, less deserving of respect. And then, stigma is often followed by discrimination against those who have been so labelled.

The stigma and the skepticism often will keep me from revealing my illnesses. Why would I set myself up for all that? If I don’t know you well enough to know what your reaction will be, I probably won’t bring it up in casual conversation.

When I was first recovering, I thought, “To hell with the stigma! I’m going to be a one-woman anti-stigma crusade!” I thought I would tell everyone, and single-handedly change the world. As time went by, I discovered that this attitude set me up for unnecessary arguments about the nature of mental illness and the quality of my character. So now I’m more selective in whom I tell. Not everybody needs to know.

People with mental illness are no different from people with other diseases, like diabetes. When we’re recovering, we’re no different from people who are recovering from heart attacks. Doctors say this all day long. But people… people just don’t buy it… or get it, or something.

One thing that my favourite psychiatrist told me (I affectionately called him Psydoc) was that it took me twenty or more years to get to the point of breakdown; why did I expect that in a few weeks, or even a few years, I could recover? He often told me that we don’t expect someone who has a heart attack to get up and run marathons, so why would we expect someone recovering from severe depression to be well overnight?

Psydoc was also fond of reminding me that not so long ago, people with depression as severe as I have were not out in the community, getting well. They were in sanatoriums, or institutions. But he was right; even a couple of generations ago, someone with a severe case of depression would live in a psychiatric facility, undergoing treatment every single day, under care 24/7. And I was out in the community, having therapy at most once a week, doing try-it-and-see-if-it-works with meds. In a facility, meds can be given intravenously, and it is MUCH faster to do it that way. It takes a certain level of many meds in your bloodstream before they become effective, and it takes time to reach those dosages when someone is taking meds orally. And with inpatient care, they are constantly monitoring the patient, able to adjust meds as needed, and to try many more types of medication in a much shorter period of time.

Psydoc was a wise, wonderful man. I miss him. Psydoc, if you’re reading this, please move back from the Yukon!

Well, it was a really hard week.  Like I posted at the beginning of the week, I had a ton of SPCA meetings scheduled for this week, plus a big event.  I did get through all of the stuff I had to do, but for the rest of the week, I’ve been fighting a losing battle with the ever-lurking depression demon.  I’ve spent a lot of time lying in bed, letting the inertia take hold.

There is one major reason that I’m in danger of crashing again, but I won’t talk about it here.  I’d like to, but for now, it’ll just stay in my journal.  If I can even bring myself to write there about it.  I’m still having some paranoia issues about the absolute privacy of my written word, even in my journal.

I’m between psychiatrists right now;  I had a new one that I started seeing in December of 2007, after my psydoc of over seven years closed his practice and moved to the Yukon.  The new one and her partner decided they didn’t like it here, and moved to Vancouver in June.  She did refer me to a third guy, back in May.  I never heard from his office, so last week I forced myself to call to see what’s going on.  I had to leave a message.  The office person called me the very next day to set up an appointment, which is at the end of November.  (Second psychiatrist had told me the end of September, at the latest.)  So now I’m wondering, if I hadn’t called at all, would his office ever have called me?  Seems suspicious to me.

(And just a word about me and the phone…  I have a terrible phobia of the phone.  Just thinking of having to call someone, or of the phone ringing, can send me into a panic attack.  And for now, I’m not interested in working on it.  I’ve always had trouble with the phone, but I think practicing law and having to have the 24-hour phone line all the time set the stage for a phobia to develop.  After my breakdown in 2000, I’ve just been so panicked about the phone that I’ve just basically avoided it as much as possible.)

Anyway…  I’m going to write my second psychiatrist a letter, because I want to see if she’ll write me a letter stating that my dog, Dannan, is an emotional support animal.  He really is as necessary to me as my meds, which is saying a lot.  I’ve often jokingly called him my “suicide prevention dog”, but no one laughs at that but me, so I don’t say it anymore.  But he definitely helps me to manage my anxiety, and to battle my chronic depression.  He sticks right by me when I’m not doing well, and when I cry, he stands on my lap and licks my face until I recover.  Even when I’m sick, he cuddles up with me and hardly leaves my lap.

I’ve been doing some research on emotional support animals, but most of the info is from the US.  So if anybody out there knows anything about ESAs in Canada, or even better in British Columbia, please let me know.  I would be forever grateful.

Well, I’ve certainly rambled a lot here.  But it’s done me some good.  I always find that as my mood declines, I find it harder and harder to just pick up a pen (or open my laptop) and write.  Once I take the plunge, I always feel somewhat better.  And the longer I let it go, the harder it gets to take that first step and write the first word.  So, my apologies for my ramblings here, if you’re still reading.  I’ll get it together soon.

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