Categories
Alcoholism Mental Illness

FIVE YEARS OF SOBRIETY

Hello!

Today I celebrate five years of sobriety.  Yep, this day, in 2010, was the first full day I had without any alcohol and I haven’t had a drink since.

Since it is a pretty big milestone, I thought I would share what they call in AA my drinking story.  By recognising and looking back on our drinking story we get to understand how we became alcoholics and the lessons we need to learn to remain sober.  It also helps, if you are feeling you might be an alcoholic, to read others’ stories and to perhaps identify and know you are not alone.

It’s a long one, so you might want to grab a cup of tea!

I first became drunk when I was 14 years old.  My friend and I were going to a house party (really common in the 1980s) and we decided that we wanted to get drunk.  We took plastic drink bottles – the kind that came with lunch boxes – and filled them with a swig of every bottle of booze her dad had in his cabinet.  We then drank these bottles of booze pretty much neat.  It didn’t take long for the effects to take place.  I don’t remember much about that party but I do remember not feeling like I didn’t fit in.  Suddenly, I was the life and soul of the party and everything seemed to just flow.  I didn’t care what people thought.  I had courage to ask guys to dance.  I seemed to find friends that I struggled so hard to make.  I felt, quite literally, queen of the mountain.

I do remember my mom coming to collect us and us staggering to the car and me spinning a yarn of how tired we were which is why we had to be half carried to the car.  My mom, bless her, clearly didn’t want to face the truth that her 14 year old daughter had got blind drunk and so she accepted my lie.

From then on, I got drunk a lot.  I even took alcohol to school, as did most of my friends, though (as if this makes it okay), we would only drink after school before and after sport.  At parties, it was a free for all.

It is pretty much at this time that my emotional maturity pretty much ended.

My dad was also an alcoholic at the time.  Our family was dysfunctional, chaotic and a never ending moving platform.  Instability reigned.  Alcohol took away that pain, that uncertainty, that early feeling that I wasn’t good enough.  It helped me cope with a family life that wasn’t coping with itself.

Two years after I began drinking, my dad stopped drinking (he has now been sober for 32 years).  He began Alcoholics Anonymous and our lives radically changed.  He moved us 600 kilometres away to a new life, a new start.  It was the best thing he could have ever done for us, but at the time I was resentful.  I was fast becoming really angry at the world.

I was onto my 6th school and I did not settle well.  It was an all girls school and I really struggled to fit in.  I had a boyfriend that I had left behind and I missed him terribly.  The school was small and  everyone seemed so well settled.  I arrived in Year 11.  Friendships had been formed and I was, as always, the outsider.

At parties, I would drink.  None of my new friends at school really drank alcohol so I would hide it.  A bit before the party, a controlled amount during the party and a lot afterwards.  It gave me courage, strength to fit in.

My school work declined and I got a poor pass – far less than my academic potential suggested.  I just made it into university.

At university alcohol freely flowed.  Party after party ensued.  Uni work never got done, but I got more and more drunk.  I dropped out of university.  A long history of incomplete tertiary courses would follow.  I didn’t want to study, I wanted to party, to not feel, to be happy.

I married my long term boyfriend and we had Miss J.  I had no education and this feeling of not achieving anything would remain with me, forever ingrained into my psyche.  I would constantly feel like I had not realised my own potential.  I would constantly be searching for my “thing”, that thing that would help me identify myself, know who I am.  Because alcoholics lose themselves to alcohol, they no longer have any sense of identity other than that at the bottom of a bottle of booze.  Drinking is easier, it numbs the pain.  It certainly would turn me into a jolly person who appeared to love life.

I had my daughter and somehow I managed to curb my drinking.  I did not drink at all whilst I was pregnant with her and for a while after her birth I would only drink a little bit at parties on the weekend.  It seemed that my drinking problem had resolved itself.  I could control it. HA!

My first husband died in scuba diving accident.  I was 25 years old and my daughter was 16 months.  My parents swooped in, invited me to come back home where they could help me grieve and look after Miss J.  It was the opening I needed.  At night, once Miss J was asleep, I would go out on my own to the local pub.  My poor mother was mortified at this.  She would say to me that it didn’t look good that a woman go out on her own and that I should be at home with them where they could take care of me.  I couldn’t drink with them though.  My dad was by now at least 10 years sober and whilst he was really good about us drinking in front of him, I didn’t want to.  I wanted to soothe my pain good and proper.

And so off to the pub I would go.  When I look back on those days I am amazed I did not get myself into any strife.  I put myself into some ridiculously precarious positions and how I came out unscathed is a total mystery.  All I can do is thank the universe for watching over me.

I met my second husband and we partied like crazy.  We were in love and within 6 months we were married.  He got posted to a different town and so I moved away from my family.  Weirdly our drinking seemed to take  a backseat as we set up home, got used to our new life together.  18 months later we moved to the UK.  And my drinking took off again.  An off-licence was opposite the house, so getting a bottle of wine a night was nothing unusual.

I was what you would call a functioning alcoholic.  Every night I would drink, get drunk.  I would pride myself on not starting to drink until the children had been put to bed.  This seemed to make it okay. I would go to bed drunk and would wake up hungover, but I always managed to drag myself out of bed, get the children ready and take them to school.  This way, I could tell myself I didn’t have a drinking problem.  I could handle it, I was in control.

Except I wasn’t.

There were tell tale signs – I would forget things they had to do, I would be too tired to do their homework with them, I would yell a lot.  I couldn’t keep on top of the housework and would resent it if friends just dropped by.

I handed over more and more power to that elixer called alcohol, all the while telling myself I didn’t have a problem

We moved to Australia in 2006.  By this time we had a son, Master J.  We had no idea at the time he had autism.  Going out became almost impossible because of his sensory issues and so I would tell myself that drinking at home was my down time, my me time, my gift for the difficult life the universe had handed me.  I was totally isolated from my family who lived in the UK and South Africa.  I felt alone, so very alone.

I was angry and in pain and I had no way of dealing with it.  And so I drank even more.

I justified this drinking by having even more parties.  I went from one bottle to two or three bottles of wine a night.  On the weekends, I bypassed the bottles and drank casks.  By this time I didn’t care for quality.  It was the quantity that mattered.

My parental judgement became impaired.  We gave Miss J far more freedom than we should have.  We allowed her to drink “only a couple” of drinks at the age of 16.  Of course, we suspected the two bacardi breezers we gave her would blow out to much more, but we lied to ourselves.  How I cringe at that decision now.

I eventually became housebound at night because I would not drink and drive.  I was a self righteous alcoholic, judging those who did drink and drive.  I was a good person, I would tell myself, responsible even.  I’m not an alcoholic because I don’t drink and drive.  My husband and I would argue because I refused to drive and so he would be left sober whilst I had a whale of a time when we would go out.  Alcohol had finally got its hooks into me and my life had become a slave to it.

Each weekend would come and go and Monday mornings would see me groan with regret.  I started asking questions of how had I allowed my life to get like this.  But that is the disease of alcoholism.  It is insidious, progressive and before you know it, you are a slave to it and your life is in tatters.

The turning point came in 2010. I went to visit an acquaintance.  We weren’t close and she was forthright.  To be honest I was a bit intimidated by her.  I mentioned how one of our friends had got drunk at our house, again, how he had made a fool of himself and how he just drank too much.

My friend stared at me.

“You do know you drink too much, right?”

I looked at her, in disbelief.

“Are you saying, do you think, I mean are you suggesting I am an alcoholic?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying.  You need help.”

I left shortly afterwards.  I hated her in that moment, for her rudeness, for her ability to speak the truth.

As I lay in my husband’s arms, a wreck, sobbing, I knew I could no longer deny what I had known for years.  I was an alcoholic.  I told my husband I needed to go to AA.

The following day, Monday the 31st January 2010, I walked into my first AA meeting.

It was the scariest thing I have ever had to do.  Far scarier than posting bald pictures of myself.

That was the day that I admitted I was powerless over alcohol, that I took back control over my life, that I started to grow up.

I found fellowship and friendship.

I won’t lie.  It hasn’t been easy.  Depression has become a big part of my sobriety journey.  Because I have to learn to live with the pain of living.  And life can be pretty darn painful sometimes.

There are days I miss alcohol.  If I didn’t I would not be an alcoholic.  Sometimes it acts like a mistress calling to me, with her promise of the numbness she brings.  But I resist.  One day at a time I resist.

And my life is so much richer for it.  My relationships are so much better.  My children can count on me.  Through my example neither of them drink.  I am growing as a person every day.  I am maturing.  I am finding my way in a world that once would chew me up and spit me out.  I now have strength to face her wrath and to withstand her challenges.  I am living life on life’s terms one day at a time.

Today I celebrate 5 years of sobriety.  A proud moment in my life.  A moment worth celebrating.

Thank you for reading my story.  If you are in need of help with your drinking, please contact AA.  Someone there will be able to help you.  It is a hard but brave step and I promise you it is worth it.  One day at a time, you can do this.

Next time I will talk about how I managed to stay sober for five years and the challenges I had to overcome.

Much love,

SHW Signature

 

Categories
Mental Illness

DEPRESSION AND HOPE (or rather the lack of it)

It is with some trepidation that I write about my long term relationship with depression.

Recently, I have been drawn to people who talk of happiness as a matter of attitude.  People who have had their fair share of struggle, but have looked that struggle square in the face and said “Fuck you!”  Their souls, whilst changed, have not been broken. It is a matter of attitude they say.

I read these blogs, books and articles in magazines and my heart breaks a little bit more.

I think, perhaps, I am beyond help.

My head hurts.

My heart is broken.

I stumble through my day wondering why we exist at all?

It hardly seems fair to be created with sentient awareness, but to have no true purpose.

I have been told that my purpose is to write.  And it is true, I do feel it in my bones.

But I am ruled by fear.  People afflicted with this hideous disease are ruled by fear.

That is the truth of depression.

Some hard wiring has gone astray and we live in a perpetual state of fear.

The voices in our head, that nasty little creature that revels in our misery, tells us, constantly, how it is all going to go wrong, how we will make a laughing stock of ourselves, how we are arrogant to believe that we could be talented in anything, how our lives, really, are just a waste of the space we inhabit, how we just need to die.

And so we sit.  We wait.  To die.

We don’t really want to die, of course.  We just feel incapacitated.  We feel isolated and we feel hopeless.  And hopelessness is the killer.

I once watched an episode of Bones where the serial killer would brick women up into a room with no food nor water.  He would stream video footage of their families to them and then he would watch them as they would scream.  But no-one would come.  And eventually they would lie down and wait for death, all hope lost.  At the end of the episode, when he had been captured, he said that it was this hopelessness, so all encompassing that they would willingly lie down and wait to die, that he could induce in these women that gave him the thrill.  Pretty awful really, but a very good mirror on the human condition.

We need hope to survive.

Survival is dependent on hope.  Hope for a better future, hope that tomorrow will be better, hope that life will be okay in the end.

People who end their lives no longer have hope.

To have no hope is to be empty, to have nothing left.

To have no hope is to die.

I fight for hope.  Every day I wake up and pray for hope.  Depression and hope are interdependent.

It is not self pity.  Many people think it is.  Many people think it is a case of wallowing in our own misery.  Which is why mental illness is still so badly stigmatised, why it is underfunded and why it is now touted that not 1 in 5 but 1 in 2 people will be afflicted with a diagnosable mental illness in their lifetime, and only a fraction of those will seek help, and only a fraction of those again will receive the help that will set them on the path to recovery.  That is to say, on a path that will enable them to see hope.

At this point in time I see no hope.

It’s horrible.  Shocking even.  I am a middle aged housewife living in a beautiful home with a beautiful family.  I have no right to feel depressed.  Or so they say.

But the reality is that I do have a right.  I have a right, because it is my reality.  It is a reality I wish didn’t exist.  It is a reality that I suspect will be a part of who I am for the rest of my life.  I will always struggle with finding the joy in a simple day, finding the happiness in a bird’s song.  I will always struggle to ignore the voices in my head that tell me I am not good enough, a waste of space, not worthy of love.

It is reconciling that reality, marrying it to a life of less pain, more vitality, less anguish, more evenness, that is the key.

Today, I am losing the battle.  But as of this day, I am winning the war, for I am alive.

https://embed-ssl.ted.com/talks/andrew_solomon_depression_the_secret_we_share.html

 

Much love,

SHW Signature

Categories
Mental Illness

ARE YOU FEEDING THE WOLF OF DEPRESSION?

My word for this year is HEALTH.  Whilst I intended this primarily to mean physical health, due to the fact that I had an awful physical time of it last year, I realise that health means good mental wellbeing too.

I have clinical depression.  I try to ignore it, but like most things detrimental to our health, unless you deal with it, the black dog will not be silenced.

This past week has seen it rear its ugly head good and proper.

Partly, it’s hormonal.  My PMS is shocking.  I become suicidal and demented and I want to rip my eyes out.  It is a type of manic darkness that is frightening, nay terrifying, and one I wouldn’t want to wish upon my worst enemy.

Partly, it is because I am tired.  It was a long year last year, and whilst delightful, the long school holiday break has not been all that restful.

Mostly, though, it is because I haven’t really dealt with it.  Not really.  Not at the level I need to if I am to see any sustained recovery.

And so with my word HEALTH in hand, I decided to sign up for Rick Hanson’s The Foundation of Wellbeing course*.  Rick Hanson for the uninitiated is a neuropsychologist who has written a number of books on happiness and wellbeing.  The course itself consists of 12 pillars and it is recommended that each pillar be taken over  a period of a month in order to assimilate and practice the skills learned.

The start of the program, January for me, is about self caring – the foundation upon which all else comes.  It is about befriending yourself, being your own advocate, being your own cheer buddy, being there for yourself when times get tough.

I am so bad at this.  I advocate for other people all the time, yet judge myself so harshly.  Mr C will often lament that I take the best parts of everybody I meet, mash them together and try to be an amalgamation of all of the best bits of all of the people I ever meet.  An impossibility of course.

The result is that I fail, time and again.  It feeds my lack of self worth like a self perpetuating downward spiral.  And because I am constantly scanning other people for their “good bits” and trying to apply them to my own life, I have lost my own sense of self.  And that is a terrible thing to live with.

Have you seen those things that say “find your purpose”, and in it they say “what is your passion, for that is your purpose,” or “what is the one thing you would do if money was no object?”  Do you have an answer ready?  I don’t.  I don’t have a bloody clue.  I just stare blankly at the page, because I don’t seem to have a passion, a burning desire, or one thing that I would rather be doing.  I’m too busy trying to assimilate traits that I feel would make me a better person, a more valued person, a less judged person, a person worthy of life and living.

And it is tiring.  Oh my word, it is so tiring.  Judging oneself so harshly takes effort.  Enormous effort.  And of course, because they are other peoples’ traits, it is almost impossible to make them my own.  They are counterintuitive to who I am, yet I no longer have a clue as to “who I am” is anymore.

And so I become demented.  Crazed.  An internal inferno burning my mind, like a fuse lit at one end of my brain that rages through every neurone that exists until I feel an imminent explosion.   It is at this point I can sympathise with those people who self harm, because it is in those moments that I feel the very same urge, though have never gone through with it.

Have you heard the story of the two wolves?  I have heard a number of versions of the story, and forgive me if you have heard it, but it goes something like this.  A boy asks his grandfather how he came to be so wise and so contented in life, how he always manages to see the good and lets the bad just pass on through.  The grandfather looks at his grandson and says “My boy, there are with us at all times two wolves.  One is full of hate and anger, one is full of love and peace.  I just give the one full of love and peace more attention.”

At this point in time, I am aware that I am giving the wolf of depression, as I like to call him, way more attention.  It consumes me, baring its teeth at me, orange eyes flashing wickedly at my soul.  I love wolves, but I know too that they represent a shadow side to me that feels like it has control.

This is my year to wrestle back that control, to give the wolf of love and peace the attention it deserves and to find some respite for my mind that is so weary, so beaten, so broken.

Depression is such a horrible thing, so debilitating, more debilitating than most people imagine.  But I can’t give up.  I have to realise my quest of what peace of mind actually feels like, of what a life of meaning and purpose feels like, and until I find it, until I achieve it, I will not give up.

I hope you don’t give up either.

I have hope for the Rick Hanson programme.  I like him and I certainly enjoyed my first session.  It makes total sense to me.  First be a friend to yourself.  I can do that.  Surely, I can do that.

Until next time,

SHW Signature

 

 

* This is not a sponsored post at all.

 

Categories
Mental Illness To You

A love note to myself {and I encourage you to do the same}

Below is a love letter to myself.  It is Day 12 of the #reverb14 and this was the task for today.  I found it incredibly difficult to write.  It felt narcissistic and wrong.  And yet, by doing so I was able to acknowledge the value of myself as a person.  As a person with depression I find this almost impossible to do.

It ended up being reflective, encouraging and extremely cathartic and, dear friend, I truly encourage you to do the same.  It will feel strange.  We are taught from the very outset that any self love is really vanity which is wrong.  It isn’t vanity or wrong.  It is something we don’t do often enough.  We don’t visit ourselves and acknowledge our strengths and gifts.  Perhaps if we did, the world we live in might be a little nicer and kinder place to be.

 

Dearest Sarah,

Today is Friday, 12th of December 2014.  This time a couple of years ago there was much hype about the impending end of the world due to someone in the Mayan culture not continuing their calendar, silly person.  It worried you though.  You were only 44 years old and there was so much you felt you had not done and it scared the crap out of you to think you may never get to do them.  What frightened you most though was the fact that you knew you had all this unrealised potential inside of you and you didn’t want to die without getting some chance  to put it out into the world.

It would take you another two years to start to work towards realising your full potential.  And you are still very much a work in progress.  That is okay.

It was a fortuitous day in January that you met with that art therapist who urged you to start your blog.  Even as you felt you didn’t know what you wanted to blog about, or what you wanted to say, or what niche you should have, or if indeed you had anything to say at all, you knew deep down inside that all you had to do was show up and start writing.

I want to thank you for doing that.  For just showing up, week after week, and just writing.

So often you would have no idea what to say, but somehow as your fingers danced across the keyboard, the words would tumble out.  Sometimes your life seemed so dark that all you could write about was that darkness that inhabited your soul on that day.  

What you didn’t know is that by answering the call to write, by spilling your guts out onto the page and into the cyber/universe, you were healing the toxicity that had inhabited your soul for so very long.  That writing was allowing the light to shine through those cracks of that damaged heart of yours and it was beautiful.

You had no idea the people you would touch, or the people you would meet, and your instinct was to withdraw.  History had taught you not to trust.  But you didn’t withdraw, you ignored your head, you listened to your heart and you took a deep breath, mustered your courage and went to those gatherings, and online meetups, you made your contributions and with it amazing connections.  

I know you still struggle to see what goodness people see in you, how surprised you feel when someone says how kind you are or what an amazing writer you are.  This is because us creatives never believe our own self worth.  Which is why we have to look at our craft as an act of service, to put some goodness out into the world, expecting nothing in return.  That way, we safeguard ourselves from disappointment and anguish.  The irony is that once we start to do that, as you have started to do this year, the universe responds.  It starts to give back in ways you never imagined, as you now have begun to see.

Please do continue with your kindness bombs.  The world needs them.  I know you doubt yourself and wonder if the words are just frivolous noise in a sea of online noise.  I know you wonder if they mean anything.  Let me say this:  Anything that is positive and kind and nurturing is worth putting out into the world.  There is so much negativity out there that anything that counters that is a good thing.  People let you know that they love them, so please do continue with them.

I want to thank you too for your resilience.  I know you don’t feel that you are resilient, but you are.  I know how hard it is for you sometimes when the black dog comes to call, how you want to slink away, how you convince yourself that no one cares, how sometimes just drawing breath seems more effort than it is worth.  But you do, you draw that breath, you get out of bed, you meet with your friends, you go online, you write.  You show up every single day and my dear dear Sarah, that is worth celebrating.

You are just beginning to realise that life is something that is for living.  You are just finding out that you are a good person who has something to offer the world and believe me when I say that 2015 is going to take that momentum and catapult you even further to find more joy, more happiness, more peace and contentment than you ever imagined would be possible.  So much so that when the world is in fear of ending again, you will be able to hold your head up high and say “That’s okay, I’ve lived a good life, I’ve given the world all I can”.

Look back at this year, Sarah, and see how far you have come.  Know how proud I am of you, how proud your family is of you.  Know that you are well loved and valued for what you bring to this world.  Know that you have so much more to give.  As you head into 2015, continue with your courage and your tenacity, your kindness and your love.  The world truly does need it.  And do not stop writing.

In closing, I want you to know that I love you.  You probably don’t know that, but deep down inside I value you and I cannot wait to travel with you as you realise that full potential you have burning inside of you, and to live a life of self worth and inner contentment.  Let’s walk those 500 miles together and then 500 more.

Lots of love,

Sarah x

Categories
Mental Illness

We need to talk about mental illness, depression and suicide NOW!

 

I went to see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 today.  It was awesome.  I loved the book and I loved the movie.

But throughout the movie I could not help but feel sad.  As Philip Seymour Hoffman graced the screen in the effortless way that was his acting style, I couldn’t help but wonder where it had all gone wrong.

Just before the main feature began, an advert for another movie, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, was shown.  In it, glimpses of Robin Williams were to be seen, reprising his role of Theodore Roosevelt.

As I watched The Hunger Games, I kept thinking of Philip and Robin and what a great loss they were.  How they were so brilliant at their craft, so revered, so loved, and yet how inadequate they both must have felt to be pushed to the fatal end they both endured.  As a recovering alcoholic, I know only too well that addiction is born out of a feeling of not being good enough.  I have felt the pain that comes with inadequacy and the lure of suicide, knowing only too well the pain this will cause to family and friends.  In that moment, the pain of living is worse than the pain of knowing the devastation your loss will cause.  The promise of release from that pain all too seductive.

This week the internet has been all agog at the comments made by Mark Latham about Lisa Pryor’s comments on how she copes with motherhood.  In his Financial Review article, he likens the stress of tending of his garden to the work pressures that she felt as a mother and full time medical student.  He trivialises the pressure that women feel in this day and age, and goes so far as to disparage the choice of a woman to work for reasons other than financial gain.

Additionally this week was this post by Sarah Wilson in which she poses the question of whether or not her autoimmune disease can be caused, or at least exacerbated by stress.  The headline was unfortunate – Is Self Hatred Making Us Sick.  The backlash to this post, which was reposted on News Ltd’s website was enormous.  Whist I questioned what she wrote and didn’t agree with some of it, I admired her ability to stand back and take a look at what was and wasn’t working for her.  I certainly didn’t feel she was being prescriptive about what was causing my own autoimmune disease or how I should manage it.

What shocked me, though, was the unabashed vitriol that was espoused in reaction to this post.  Blog posts popped up all over the place denigrating what she had said as quackery and attacking her personally.  They questioned her qualification to dish out medical advice (which she was not doing) and called her credentials into question.  If stress does exacerbate Sarah’s condition, the venom spat her way must have caused her great discomfort in the autoimmune department.  It is this kind of cyber bullying that causes journalists to take their own lives.

And what is all the point of all this?  What do the deaths of actors, the challenging of women’s coping mechanisms and a post about autoimmune disease management have in common?

At the heart of all these things is mental illness.  And we don’t talk about it nearly enough.

Depression as an illness, is still a major cause of morbidity and death, and we need to understand it better, and we need to prevent people from killing themselves because they are depressed. – Changing Minds, ABC

When I got home from the movies, I decided to watch the the ABC series Changing Minds.  I had taped it weeks ago, but for some reason could not bring myself to watch it.  Maybe it is because I suffer from terrible clinical depression and I did not want to face the fine line that keeps me on this side of a psychiatric ward. Maybe it is because mental health is stigmatised so much that I try to lock my illness inside a cave somewhere deep inside my head, pretending that it isn’t there at all.  I advocate for mental illness, yet I myself still feel stigmatised by it.

I watched the series and it shocked me.  It shocked me because we simply do not talk about it enough and because of that people are not getting the help they need, especially in the wider community.  People try to ignore it, they do, but it cannot be ignored.

Actors are buckling at an alarming rate because of it, Sarah was trying to connect the dots between anxiety (read mental health) and physical well being, and Mark Latham was stigmatising mental health in women in the way only he (and many others like him) can in a publication largely read by men.

Men are three times as likely to commit suicide than women.  This is because the stigma is so rife, that men, in a world largely controlled by men, do not feel that they can talk about their mental illness.  And if they do, they are often turned away.  So they choose to leave behind loved ones and take their own lives.  Does Mark Latham think he is helping the cause of those men?  Never mind the women he is berating, how about the men?

Those people who chose to call Sarah a quack for her beliefs about her own condition, who chose to insult her as a person, as a journalist and as a personal blogger, did they think they were encouraging dialogue for those people who suffer from mental illness and feel that they cannot seek help?  Upon reading her article, I did not see as her attacking them personally.  I saw it as her seeking answers to her own condition and citing things that made sense to her, recognising that during times when she feels better mentally, she also feels better physically.  She was, in fact, talking about mental health.

All of this is about mental health, about when we feel better mentally, we can operate better on a physical level too – we are better human beings.  Without mental health we have nothing.  Our physical systems seem harder to cope with, our demanding jobs are harder to cope with, life itself is harder to cope with.

We live in a world where pressures increase exponentially and yet the discussion of mental illness is just not happening.

The dialogue of how to address the increasing mental illness and suicide issue needs to begin in earnest.  It needs to happen and it needs to happen now.

If you are experiencing any depression, suicidal thoughts or extreme mental anguish, please talk to someone you can trust, or call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Until next time,

SHW Signature

 

 

Categories
Mental Illness

Don’t judge the depressive person – be their seratonin buddy

A friend of mine and I were talking the other day.

We were talking about depression.  She hates that I can reach such deep lows.  She hates that I can even have a dalliance with the idea of suicide.  She sees the beauty in me as a person, the value in what I am and what I bring to the table of the world and cannot understand how I can’t see it myself.

In reality, most days I do see glimpses of it.

I know that I am very much loved by my family and the increasing amount of friends I am making.  I know that my craziness, as evidenced by my bald lip-syncing decision, is brave and courageous and that every day I try to live my truth as best as I can.  I know that my daughter adores my creativity, that my husband cannot possibly imagine a life without me in it, that my son does love me even if he can’t express it,  that my grandchild adores sitting with me on my settee whilst we chomp our way through a mountain of grapes.  I have much to love, to be grateful for, to be positive about.

But the dark days exist.  Despite knowing how devastated my family would be at losing me to suicide, those thoughts do cross my mind.

I wish they didn’t, but they do.

And the most awful thing anyone can say to a person in those times is to tell them to buck up, to think positively, to be grateful for what they have.  It is terrible because, for the depressed person, it is an impossible thing to do.

And let me tell you why.

A person who is depressed has a fundamental chemical imbalance {at its most basic, a lack of seratonin}.  This chemical imbalance causes negative thoughts to predominate in the brain.   Asking a depressed person to “think positively” and to “buck up” or “chin up” is like asking a blind man to see.

Of course, depression is {largely} treatable.  There are a few things that have been proven to address the chemical imbalance.  By embarking on these things, seratonin levels rise and it is this that helps treat the depression, not just “thinking positively”.

In a nutshell they are eating correctly, exercising, sleeping well, doing something for someone else being altruistic and feeling connected (yes, this actually raises seratonin levels in the brain), getting outside into the sunshine (low vitamin D levels cause a decrease in seratonin), meditation and putting all of this into ACTION.

The problem with the depressive is that to actually act, especially when you are in the grip of a crippling episode, is really difficult.

Facing life on life’s terms is really challenging.  Us depressives tend to get caught in a loop of self talk, driven by that pesky low seratonin level, that immobilises us.  Rather than face a world we have convinced ourselves don’t want us, we remain indoors, we stay online (as this give us the illusion of being connected) and we get caught in a feedback loop of what alcoholics anonymous calls “stinking thinking”.  And so the cycle continues.  To the point where it can become so severe that the pain of that existence, the pain of living a life in so much pain becomes unbearable and suicide can feel like the only option.

Of course, we are all responsible for our own destinies.  We have choice.  But we need to be very careful about how we bandy that concept about.  As I mentioned, a biological chemical imbalance is at play here and those around the depressive must remember that.

A more helpful strategy would be to help the depressive address those things outlined above.  Phone them and offer to take them outside, to go for a walk, to ask them to come along to something you are doing.  Work with them to help them set up a routine with them that will get them exercising and sleeping well.  Become their “seratonin buddy“.

They will baulk at the idea, but gentle perseverance is the key here.  Choose moments where they are having a better day, and just sit with them when they are having a bad one.  Eventually better days will shine through.

Whatever you do, please please please don’t tell them to “just think positively”, to “stop with the pity party”, to “stop being a victim”, to “buck up”, to “put their best step forward”, to “just cheer up”.  I can tell you from personal experience that these comments do not help at all.  They are judgemental and end up making the depressive feel even worse than they did before.  They victimise the victim, assuming that being so depressed that they consider taking their own life is a choice.  Because that is what we do as humans, we wilfully choose to devastate those around us, we wilfully choose to end our life and with it all of our possible potential.

When Robin Williams committed suicide, a number of articles emerged as a counter measure to the amount of empathy he received for the tortured life he seemed to have lived.  These articles placed the blame for his suicide firmly at his feet.  “He had a choice,” they said.  They were ill informed.  They were judgements written by the authors, not one of which mentioned any of the research that proves that low seratonin levels (and others) drives negative thinking.

And there is another problem too.  Chemically dealing with this chemical imbalance is tenuous at best.  I have tried, believe me.  I have been on prozac, cymbalta as well as others, all of which represent different ways to deal with the same problem.  There are a myriad of drugs available, all attempting to increase seratonin uptake.  For some, they find the drug that works for them.  For a lot of people, however, they really struggle to find that chemically induced sweet spot.  I fell into the latter ground and eventually the side effects far outweighed any small benefit I might have been getting.  So I stopped taking them.

That decision brought with it issues of its own kind.  Some people saw it as an act of finally taking control of my own mind (because to them that is a choice I have), some saw it as being irresponsible.  None, it seemed, saw it as me making a conscious decision for the quality of my own life.  It is difficult I know for people to understand.  I live day by day without knowing from one day to the next how my seratonin levels are going to impact my thinking.

In this day and age of ra-ra positive thinking it is easy to assume that is all we need to get over the depressive hump.  It isn’t.  This movement has been the death knoll for many a depressive.  It has sparked a litany of guilt, which drives even further the stinking thinking I spoke of earlier.  Despite all the positive-talk rhetoric, suicide rates are on the increase.  Positive thinking on its own just does not work.

I urge you to please be that “seratonin buddy”.  Just be with your depressive friend/family member.  That alone will help them feel more connected, which we know helps raise seratonin levels, which we know helps to drive more positive thoughts.  You see, just being with them can have such an amazing impact.

Here at Sarah’s Heart Writes, I encourage you to come and just be.  Us depressives need to stick together, we need to know we are not alone, and more information needs to be disseminated about the ins and outs of depression and I can promise you, you will never ever be urged to think more positively, to stop playing the victim card or to stop being a martyr.

Much love from your fellow depressive,

SHW Signature

 

 

 

If you are feeling suicidal, please please talk to someone.

Lifeline 13 11 14

Beyond Blue 

Black Dog Institute

 

 

Categories
Mental Illness

Introducing my entry to #Edenland – the International Lip Syncing Awards

Before I started blogging, I didn’t really follow blogs.  I would read them, but not really follow them as such.

When I started my blogging journey that changed.

I now follow a number of blogs – That Summer Feeling, Zinc Moon, Rare Pear Studio, Make Plus Do to name a few.

But one I follow avidly is Edenland.  I first came across Eden earlier this year.  Her blog is dark, melancholic, with flashes of hope and light.  Just what I need to read in my moments of extreme depression.

She has been struggling of late.  Her brother took his own life in October last year. It has been an unequivocal year of hell for her.

To honour his memory, Eden decided to launch the International Lip Syncing Awards.  You can read about that here.

I saw the post late last night.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.

Her journey has touched me so much.  I have felt a lot less alone and in those times when sometimes I have wanted to die, when life has seemed so hard, I have read something she has written and the thought leaves me for another day.  Thankfully, those times are not frequent and I am finding through my blogging journey that they are becoming even less.

And so I wanted to honour her.  I wanted to honour Cameron, her brother.  I wanted to honour all of those people who think that life isn’t worth continuing, who find life such a struggle, for whom life has let them down.  And I also wanted to honour those who have experienced the loss of a loved one.

And so I did this:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjhYYethoOs]

I chose this song because it was our anthem growing up.  My mom and her sister would sing this song and us girls would sing along with them.  It became our mantra and it is now the anthem for our daughter.  I pray she passes it on.

I chose to lip sync the song without hair because my baldness does not define me.  I am bald.  This is a fact.  I am also a woman and I am strong.  I own that.  Very much.

Eden, sweetheart, this one is for you.  I hope my mom gets to meet Cameron wherever souls may go and I hope they are looking down at us saying “There’s our girls, living their shit, making their mark.”

Much love,

SHW Signature

 

Categories
Mental Illness To You

An ode to the rainbow and the uniqueness of its colours

I’m going to struggle to find the words.  I know I am.  The words to describe the warmth I feel right now.  The words to describe that despite still feeling dark in places, the light is beginning to find its way through.  The words to describe what it feels like to find a group of women who have enveloped me, hugged me so hard that indeed it seems my broken bits are being mended back together.  The words to describe having hope, and the strength to work toward, a future full of life, love and living.

But I am going to try.

After 8 or so years of being clinically depressed and having gone through a number of psychologists, I had given up hope of ever finding light with any regularity in my life.  I had simply resigned myself to a life of existence.  No living.

My sister, God bless her, suggested I try an art therapist.  I baulked at the idea.  I am no artist.  But she encouraged me, saying it wasn’t about the art, it was about being creative and the toxicity that gets released through that creative process.  I took her advice.

After a few sessions it became evident that I love, well live, to write but fear with a capital F had stopped me from ever letting anyone see my work, bar a couple of blogs that I never told anyone about.

She suggested a blogging course, where I would be ‘published’ through a guided, supportive environment, with very little risk to my self esteem.  I chose the Blog with Pip course at her suggestion.

I enrolled on this course with trepidation.  I had no niche, no craft, no particular skill.  Immediately I didn’t feel like I fit in.  But I persevered.  I started off with this blog, realised it didn’t fit me and so started Sarah’s Heart Writes.  Without realising it at the time, I just kept showing up.  I re-evaluated and adjusted, and I just kept going.

However, my lack of belonging dogged me.  I wanted to belong so much, to be part of a tribe.  All across cyberland, you will find tribes.  It is the beauty of it.  No matter what you are into there will be someone out there who is into the same thing too.  And no doubt a few others too.

You know that here I write about my life mostly battling depression, recovering from alcoholism, being bald, being a grandmother, parenting a child on the autistic spectrum.  I couldn’t narrow it down.  I am a whole person and so I write about the whole of me {and please, dear friend, you do the same}.  My tribe seemed impossible to find.

But without realising it, I was looking in the wrong places.  Without realising it, I didn’t need to look at all.  Without realising it, I needed to be found.

You see, I met a group of women who just seem to get me.  They accept me for who I am.  They don’t care that I am melancholic, prone to more bad days than good, am extremely overweight, live a pretty boring existence, struggle to see my own value in a world that seems to have no place for me.  What they care about is that I show up as their friend as much as they are mine.  This is because they value what I have to offer and they remind me constantly what it is that I do have to offer.  This is such an incredible gift.

A gift that is in itself a lesson.

I was looking for someone just like me.  Someone whom I could hold up to the light to say “Look, they are just like me and they made it, so can I.”  What I didn’t consider is my uniqueness.  By virtue of everything about me – my upbringing, my life experiences, my genetic make up – I am unique.  As are you.  I had never really come to grips with that.  My uniqueness felt so isolating somehow.  I needed a tribe.

But then I found this group of women, and they found me, and together, we expect nothing more of each other than to show up with our uniqueness.  We celebrate our uniqueness with zest and love.  We champion it like knights on steeds carrying banners for all the world to see.  We are each individual colours of a rainbow, coming together to encourage each other to shine.  Yes, I have found my tribe, but it is based on something completely different than I ever imagined my tribe would be.  It is based on acceptance and love.  Nothing more, nothing less.  They don’t expect me to be something different.  They expect me to be, well, me.

We need more of this in the world.  We need more women championing each other, not tearing each other down. We need more women encouraging the uniqueness of others, celebrating them for it, not trying to pigeonhole them into something they are not.  Mass media makes its living out of trying to get us to do just that, and we conform, doing their job for them, tearing others down.

Albert Einstein apparently once famously said that if you try to get a fish to climb a tree, it will always feel stupid.

Don’t be a tree climbing fish.  Be a unique colour of the rainbow.  Own your truth and I promise you, your tribe will find you.  I will find you.

Much love,

SHW Signature

Categories
Mental Illness

How to organise your laundry

 

I don’t usually do how-to posts.

I’m all about the emotion of living life, not necessarily organising it.  There are far more better qualified people that talk about organising than I ever could.  For one, I can’t be bothered with the relentless photo staging and taking.  Who has time for that?

However, you will recall that a while ago, I spoke about how decluttering my life is really helping me to get on top of my depression.  Shortly after that post, I signed up for The Organised Housewife’s 20 Days to Organise and Clean Your House challenge.  I admit.  I was a bit dubious.  I really don’t like being told what to do.  But, as I have also mentioned, I am a course-collector/hoarder.

To say that I have been inspired is a complete understatement.  I have no idea how long it will last, but this past week, I have found a new found purpose to my existence.  Cleaning and organising is as boring as crap, but not if you couple it with a bit of creativity and this is where I have become inspired.

I have shown you my pantry, so this week, I decided to tackle to my laundry.

That puppy was a mess.  We have lived in this house for three years now and to be honest, I have never really sorted it out from the day we moved in.  It was the most uninspiring place to be.  I would literally gather up all the laundry dotted around the house, chuck it unceremoniously into the basket, do the washing,  pop it in the baskets, where it would sit for days before I finally got around to putting it away.

Before the big makeover!  What a mess!
Before the big makeover! What a mess!

Of course, that just made for a mind full of jobs that were not getting done.  This is not good for clinical depression.

So when the laundry came up as a task to be done in the 20 day challenge, I did not need any convincing.

First of all, I took everything out of the cupboards, and I ditched everything I had never used or not used in the past year, nor was ever likely to use.  I want to be able to tell you that I sorted through it, donated what I could, recycled and the like.  I didn’t.  Everything just went into a big black bag.

Before you write to tell me how irresponsible that is, please bear in mind that I have clinical depression.  Just taking this step of decluttering my life is a massive step in the right direction.  Once all the decluttering is done though, I promise you that going forward I will be heaps more “green” responsible.  I just needed to get this done.

I knew that I wanted my organisation to be creative, but I was struggling to come up with ideas.  I looked through some posts on The Organised Housewife and came across this guest post by Jess from Forever Organised.  It was perfect.

Admittedly, I didn’t so much as feel inspired as just copy what she did {why try to improve perfection}.

And here is the result.

This is the laundry after the cleanup
This is the laundry after the cleanup

The first thing I did was to get new hampers for the laundry.  These are just $15 ones from Kmart.  I could have opted for more expensive ones but didn’t have time to shop around.  I’m pretty pleased with the result.

These are the laundry baskets, labelled Linen, Lights and Darks. These are just cheap $15 baskets bought from Kmart.
These are the laundry baskets, labelled Linen, Lights and Darks.

Then I started tackling the cupboards.  What I did was sort everything into groups and then labelled the baskets according to that.  My groupings may be a little weird.

This is the top right hand cupboard.
This is the top right hand cupboard.

Inspired by some people who have made their own washing powder, I decided to make mine with my Thermomix.  I used Thermofun’s recipe which you can find here.

I love these jars and the labels make them look so pretty!
I love these jars and the labels make them look so pretty!

Finally, we have a fair whack of medicines.  This year hasn’t been a particularly good one for us in terms of health and I was really struggling to keep them all organised.  This $15 drawer set from the Reject Shop was just perfect.

Here is the new medicine chest.  So easy and organised now!
Here is the new medicine chest. So easy and organised now!

And there you have it.  I have to say a massive shout out to Kat who runs The Organised Housewife.  The program is amazing.  It is hard work, but she very much encourages you to do what you can, to keep the lists and go back to those tasks that you couldn’t quite manage at a later date.  The Facebook group is amazing too (very private so you aren’t airing your “laundry” to all and sundry).

Have you done some decluttering lately?  Has it helped your frame of mind, even if you don’t suffer from depression?

Until next time,

SHW Signature

Categories
Mental Illness

Declutter your life, improve your depression

It is no secret that I suffer from severe depression.

Lately, it has been getting worse.  Suicidal thoughts have even started creeping in.  Well, more like urging me emphatically.  I yell at them to fuck off, but, you know, it’s as scary as shit.

When I wake in the morning, there is a period of time, a minuscule period of time, where I feel at peace.  You know, that time between emerging from sleep and being fully conscious.  It doesn’t last long.  As soon as I am aware of my existence, the sadness settles.  It is really really crap.

My  mind is on the go all the time with the things that I have to achieve in a day.  So full is my mind, in fact, that I don’t do anything.  It all just seems so very very hard.  Too much to do and not enough time, so why even bother.  Eventually, the mind becomes so full, so cluttered, so manic, that it decides to shut down.

I had that shut down earlier this week.

I cried at all that I was not.  All that I had not achieved as I sat in my own manic, messy breakdown.

It was brutal.  My sister called me on Skype and I howled some more.  I felt like a massive pit inside of me had opened up, a black hole so big that I was sure to be sucked in never to be seen again.

And then, I woke up the following day and thought I need to fight back.  Somehow, somehow, I need to fight fucking back.

Mend the black hole, the heart will heal

I made a list of all the things I needed to do.  Fuck, that list was long.  All the things that needed doing around the house.  All the courses that I had signed up for and never started, never mind completed.  All the books I had bought (thousands) and never read.  All the people I swore I would call, but never did.  All the chores that haunted me on a daily basis.  It felt sick and liberating at the same time to write that list.  Afterwards I stared at those pages.

Right,” I thought, “I now need to eat the Elephant.”

It’s a horrible saying, I know, but there is a saying that goes “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”  It signifies that no matter how monumental a task seems, all you need to do is take it one small bit at a time, and eventually, eventually the task will be completed.

I decided to treat my messy mind like that elephant.

First of all, I started off with something that had bugged the shit out of me forever.  My pantry.  I am not much of a cook, but I like organisation.  If I was going to lose weight (also a massive thing on my list of things I have to yet achieve), I needed to get rid of all the crap and get some order to that baby.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take a before photo (trust me, it was a mess), but here is my after photo.

Organised Pantry

I’m really pleased with it.

{As a side note, I know some people are going ask me how I did it.  So here it is:  I got some Decor Pack, Stack and Store containers (on special at spotlight at the moment), some chalkboard labels and a chalk pen.  I then literally held a black bag open and emptied all the crap that I was never going to eat, that was out of date, or was just a bit dodgy looking into that baby.  I then put all the good stuff into the Decor containers.  Labelled them.  Wiped down the surfaces and voila!  It took about 2 hours in total.}

Then I decided to tackle my study.  In honesty, it wasn’t in too bad a shape, but I really needed to get it to a place where I like to be, rather than making my skin crawl every time I sat in it.

Again, no befores, just afters:

photo 3

This morning, I woke up and decided that I needed to declutter my inbox on my computer.  I have four emails, all of which are pretty active.  As I am typing this to you, my computer is downloading over 28,000 (yes, you read that right) emails. Is it any wonder that my mind is a complete and utter mess.  I am a serial subscriber.  If I see something I like, I subscribe.  And it has become untenable.

I realise that although my house is neat and tidy, I am in fact a hoarder of sorts.  I hoard craft stuff – I have every conceivable crafting equipment going, which is directly unproportional to the amount of crafting I actually do.  I also collect courses, books and email subscriptions.  I am an invisible hoarder.

I seriously need to simplify my life.

So, email is the order of the day.  I have sorted it into who the email is from and am deleting them en-masse.  Even the ones from my husband (who takes up the majority), because honestly it just daily chatter.  I don’t need to keep them.  I am checking emails for photos and that is it.  I am using a wonderful site called Unroll.Me to unsubscribe to them all, but you have to go in and delete them yourself.  28,000 emails people!!

Oops, just checked and apparently it’s up to 85,000!!!!

I think I am going to be ill.

It’s going to be a long day.  But I need to do this.  My mind needs to do this.

How about you?  Do you feel like you need to declutter?

Until next time,

SHW Signature