Hide and Seek: The on-going struggle to open up to family and friends

So often I feel like I’m in hiding. I hide from my family, my friends and myself.

For me, one of the hardest parts of living with depression is feeling disconnected from the person I think I am. I know there’s person inside me who feels joy, who feels like she’s good and interesting, but I don’t know how to get to her.

I spend most of my days trying to look like I’m healthy, when inside I’m constantly thinking ,”Is this right? Am I coming across as a normal person?” It’s like I’m doing my best imitation of a human being, but inside I feel like an alien. I worry that I’ll start crying or that I’ll suddenly space out.

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I don’t go out of my way to have conversations about my mood with people – which is partially why I decided to start the blog. Aside from my boyfriend and my best friends, I don’t often share what I’m feeling.  Actually- scratch that. I can share what I’m feeling – but I don’t share what I’m thinking or doing. I use blanket statements like “I’ve just been down” but I don’t go into particulars about the things I think about, the times I cry or act out. It’s a barrier I put up out of shame. I don’t want to scare people, or cause worry – but I also want to keep up the illusion that I’m fine.

I have been craving real conversations about spirituality, health and relationships – and didn’t know where to get that. I don’t know if I’m adding anything to the conversation, but I wanted to blog so that people could say, “Yup, me too. been there, feel that – this is what helps me.”

A few weeks ago I was with some of my close girlfriends for a day of wedding planning activities (not mine). My friend Davida* was having a particularly tough day, and I could see as we were out and about that she was shutting down. After we went shopping for bridesmaids dresses and had lunch, we went back to the bride’s house and I asked Davida about what happened. She began to tell me about her anxieties, her insecurities and how some things were triggering for her (fluorescent lighting, dressing rooms, you get it).

I immediately went into friend mode, and tried my best to comfort her and offer reassurance that she was more than her anxiety and body. Suddenly I realized maybe I should just keep my mouth shut and see her in the moment.  So often we think we’re helping people by offering advice and reassurance, when we’re really dismissing their honesty and vulnerability.

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I couldn’t help Davida. Nothing I said could help her more than saying, “I see you. I hear you.”

It was a rare moment when we were finally out of hiding and could speak about the things we struggle with. These moments are few and far between but acknowledging them, helps make it seem like we’re not divided – we’re not two different people. We are one person, who feels many things.

Last weekend I went to visit my friend Meredith* in Toronto. Our pups in tow, we ate lunch and caught up – talking about things that I had been craving to talk about: writing, spirituality, mood. We spoke so openly and honestly with one another that I felt completely seen and understood. We weren’t trying to scare each other, or one-up each other with our feelings. I left Meredith’s house feeling lighter, despite talking about the heaviness we sometimes felt inside. We didn’t offer solutions for each other’s problems, we just listened and spoke from the heart.

I know there are people who really see me, and that helps me – even though today I feel like I’m back in hiding – trying to just make it through the day until I can go home and feel safe.

I think next week I’ll start sharing some books and talks that have been helping me. There’s a lot more to discuss.

Keep your head up, keep your heart strong!

xo

Elizabeth

 

 

*Names have been changed to maintain privacy.

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Exercises to change your mood

Happy Friday, everybody!

Real talk: I’m coming off of one of my bad days, so the fact that I’m up and functioning today is a personal victory.

There has been so much happening in my life over the past 9 months (no I’m not pregnant). Sometimes I get completely overwhelmed and my body just shuts down. Those are my bad days. My depression manifests itself where I become so exhausted that I physically can’t stay awake or function. I slept for 16 hours straight yesterday, and to be honest – could have slept much longer.

I don’t want to make it sound like these bad days happen often (if I can keep to a routine, get enough sleep and take medication most days I’m alright) but when these days happen they make me feel broken.

However, today is a new day.  It feels like my body had a reboot and I’m trying to not let it get to me that I had a minor setback.

One of the things I’ve been trying to do for when I’m having a bad day (or when my mood starts to drop during the day ) is arm myself with some immediate mood changers.  Since Care Bears aren’t real (sadly) we have to use anything we can to get ourselves out of negative thinking patterns. Here are some of my go-to’s to bring myself out of a funk:

  1. Mood Changer Pinterest Board

I know, I know – how basic white girl of me. I use Pinterest to look up home decor and plan my wedding on a secret board (I’m not even engaged) , but I’ve also made a Mood Changer board filled with pictures of my favourite things and quotes for when I need an immediate pick me up.

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Yup. Puppies at the beach work every time.

I  know it sounds silly, but looking at pictures of beautiful landscapes, puppies or quotes by some of my favourite authors gives me something to focus on and helps me get back to center. I’m one of those people who’s day can be ruined by an upsetting news headline, and I became really frustrated with something triggering me and derailing my day.  Something as simple as pictures of puppies at the beach gives me a little jolt of happiness and as crazy as it sounds – calms me down.

2. Meditation (Kind of)

I’ve always maintained that talking about yoga or meditation is the equivalent to talking about the Bible or praying – it’s deeply personal and not for everyone. I’ve always been slightly adverse to meditating and find it impossible to clear my mind, but when I feel myself spinning or my anxiety rising I like to take five minutes (if possible) to close my eyes and imagine myself somewhere peaceful. It can be somewhere that makes you happy, or somewhere you’ve never been, but focus on the details – what does it sound like? what does the ground feel like? is there wind? is there sun?

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My version of a happy place 

I guess this is kind of like “going to your happy place” but for me, two minutes spent focusing on my peaceful place – a calm, rock lined shore, allows me to focus and detach from whatever is troubling me in the moment.

3. Exercise

First of all, I just want to say that I hate when people tell me to exercise. If you’re someone who’s struggled with depression and anxiety, and gone to a doctor for help and been told to exercise, you know the feeling of wanting to pick up a chair and throw it at someone or something. I feel you, I am you.

However, there are times when my anxiety is so bad and my mind is racing that I feel like I need to just RUN. Sure, sometimes I’m at work and can’t bolt out of my chair and do laps around the parking lot, but going to the gym lately has helped physically exhaust me – and that does wonders to turn off my brain.

I have come to like the feeling of being out of breath from running and be dripping with sweat. It feels like I’m getting everything out of my system – sweat, fear and anxiety.

Again, this one isn’t for everyone and I fucking hate when people tell me that exercise is good for me – but just between me and you…

If you want to try it… it can help.

4. Playlists

Ok , hear me out. I think when you’re someone who struggles with anxiety or depression you have a unique kind of sensitivity that can be affected by anything or everything in your surroundings.  For me, I know that I can’t listen to sad music without immediately being put in a bad state and  I can’t watch the news when I’m not feeling fully stable.

However, I have made playlists for myself on YouTube and Spotify for things that bring me joy or make me laugh.

On YouTube, I have to say – I will watch that kid get an avocado and say thanks a million times and not get tired of it. I’ll watch an interview with Whoopi Goldberg or Oprah Winfrey and immediately feel calm (it’s their voices, I swear). I’ve made myself a playlist of funny videos of kids falling down (sorry kids), of dogs making friends with elephants, of stand-up specials by my favourite comedians, and I’ve let that kind guide me towards a better mood.

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He just loved his avocado 

Spotify is something I use a lot at work to keep my spirits up and get out of my own head. Pop songs, country songs – anything upbeat generally helps me suppress bad vibes. It is impossible for me to listen to Teenage Dream and not feel happy – or listen to Shake it Off and remember the time I was dancing with friends and Swift-ed so hard I puked (it was actually really funny).  I have friends who listen to Christmas Carols in March just to get a little dose of happiness.

Music and video help. Don’t make fun of the lady who watches cat videos – she’s probably just trying to feel better about life!

5. Address your feelings

One of the things that’s helped me is actually allowing myself to address my feelings. If I’m having a bad day instead of pretending that everything’s OK, I’ll flat out tell my boyfriend or best friend that I’m struggling.  Sometimes I write myself an e-mail with a stream of consciousness to get all of my feelings out or if things feel too overwhelming, I’ll excuse myself , go to the bathroom and cry.

Putting a name to my feelings helps me gain some semblance of control over them. I’ve found that suppressing feelings or trying to ignore when things aren’t great takes a shit ton of work and can be exhausting. Being able to say, “I’m feeling anxious about ____” or “I’m having a really hard day because of ____” has helped me feel free of my feelings.

By addressing my feelings I can help track them. When did this feeling start? What could have triggered it? What does this bring up for me?

Being able to look for patterns in my thinking, confide in the people close to me or give myself permission to cry actually helps alleviate the burden of my thoughts. It makes me feel like I’m not crazy, and while it might not be an immediate mood changer, it definitely helps me feel like I’m having a bad day, not a bad life.

What are some of your tips for changing your mood?

* Please note I am merely sharing what works for me. Everyone is different and in no way shape or form can a Pinterest board or YouTube video cure depression or anxiety. These are just my little tips and tricks to help snap me out of my daze and help me get back to a neutral, stable head-space.

 

 

#BellLetsTalk

Today  is #BellLetsTalk Day, an amazing initiative by Bell Canada and it’s affiliates to raise awareness and money for mental health and mental health initiatives.

There is a serious need for accessible and affordable mental healthcare in Canada. Many people would think that because of our healthcare system, we have the ability to seek help of any kind, but such is not the case.

Government funded mental health programs have lengthy wait-lists that prevent Canadians from receiving immediate treatment. Although costly, private treatment is the only solution for people like me to receive the level of care we need, when we need it. I am so grateful to my doctors who have helped me, but at two- hundred dollars an hour, I admit that there have been times I’ve had to cancel appointments to stay within my means.

Benefit packages that include psychiatric care yearly maximums that often don’t reflect industry prices. My package, for example covers $400/year – that’s two treatments per year. The rest is out of pocket.

The Good News

As of January 1st, 2018 – Ontario became the first province to offer prescription coverage for anyone under the age of 25 through OHIP+ Children and Youth Phramacare. This is extremely hopeful, considering recent studies have shown that a majority of mental illnesses present themselves in our early twenties.

However, there are still many Canadians in Ontario and across the country living without benefits are unable to afford prescription medications that can help stabilize and improve mental health issues such as Depression, Anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Bi-Polar disorder to name a few.

It’s important to remember that we are still making progress!

There is hope for us!

By raising awareness for mental health we are ensuring increased funding for mental healthcare initiatives remains a top priority for our government, employers and benefit providers.

Tweet, Snap, Like  – do whatever you have to do today to keep #BellLetsTalk trending and raise money for such a worthy cause.

If you struggle with mental health issues:

I hope you feel seen and heard, not just today but everyday. I hope you remember that you are more than your illness and that you are not alone.

For more information on mental health resources in Ontario visit the Mental Health Helpline website at www.mentalhealthhelpline.ca

CANADA

 https://suicideprevention.ca

https://www.crisisline.ca/

UNITED STATES

A full list of crisis hotlines are available by clicking here.

UNITED KINGDOM

Click here for mental health resources in the United Kingdom

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*Mental health is a global crisis. As a Canadian I feel as though I can only speak confidently about my experiences in Ontario. Please feel free to share your experiences in your part of the world!

What depression looks like

I was first diagnosed with a mental health cocktail of Depression, Anxiety and Anorexia when I was fifteen. I had resisted seeking help for several years, as soon as I left the  doctor’s office I felt relieved. Someone had the words to describe what I was feeling; I was sick, not broken.

For the past fifteen years, I’ve been living with and treating my illnesses in private. Many people close to me know about my depression, but only a select few have actually seen it (more about that later).

Whenever I tell someone about my struggles with mental health, I’m met with all kinds of responses. Sometimes people are empathetic, sometimes people don’t know what to say and sometimes people tilt their heads to the side like a confused puppy and ask, “How? You don’t look depressed?”

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This (dumb-ass) question/statement used to make me feel like I was being challenged- like I had to prove to people that I was in fact, sitting in the front seat on the mental health struggle bus.

When I was younger I used to ramble off my deepest darkest secrets, the behaviour that did, in fact warrant a medical diagnosis. “I was just crying five minutes ago in the bathroom. You didn’t see me? That’s too bad. I was in the middle of my daily breakdown- probably because I didn’t want to leave the house today and probably because I haven’t eaten more than 300 calories a day in a year and a half. TRUST ME, I’m fucked up.”

People’s eyes would get wide and they would slowly back away towards an emergency exit. I lost friends who thought I was crazy and who feared they would catch my disease of perpetual unhappiness and starvation.

One day I stopped rhyming off all the ways I was #crazy and became angry. “You don’t look depressed” signaled the end of our conversation. I didn’t have to prove myself to anyone. I would write people out of my inner circle, and judge them for asking what I thought was an insensitive question (tbh it kind of is though).

A few years ago I told a friend that I had just started going to therapy to help treat my depression when it happened- a confused look washed over her as though I had just told her I was born without nipples.

“I don’t get it, ” she said. “You don’t look depressed to me.”

I waited for the anger to come, but I was tired of fighting. Instead, I did what I couldn’t do before: I kept the conversation going.

“What does someone with depression look like?” I asked.

“You always seem so happy whenever we’re together – we’re always laughing and having fun.”

I felt my heart ache for my friend but also for me, too. It was true. I had been using all my energy to hide my depression to look “normal.” At work or with friends, I was cheerful, outgoing, lighthearted and always making jokes to get people to laugh, but at the end of the day, I was emotionally and physically exhausted.

“I do have fun with you,” I said. “But there’s another side to me that you don’t see on purpose. ”

We talked for over an hour about our feelings, about depression and body image and social anxiety. We were both vulnerable with one another, sharing our feelings and our struggles. It was like we were being introduced to a more complete picture of one another.

Many people don’t know what depression looks like. They picture someone crying all hours of the day or someone in the middle of a nervous breakdown. They don’t understand that it’s a shape-shifting disease that manifests itself differently in everyone.  People with depression can laugh at things, can enjoy movies and make small talk in the office, but who carry a heaviness inside them that they can’t seem to shake.

Depression looks like me and you. We’re sensitive and troubled, but we’re much more than that. We’re sad, happy people, trying to make it through the day.

This blog is dedicated to talking to people like me, who have good and bad days, who get lost in their own maze of self-awareness and who struggle to be seen and heard.

I look forward to connecting with all of you (ANY of you!) as we get through this together.