Actually, No. It Is Not All In My Head!

It is estimated that 50% of visits to the doctor for physical ailments end up being rooted in psychiatric causes.

Does this mean that half of a doctor’s patients are imagining their symptoms, or faking it?

No. No, not at all.

As you know, the brain is the “control centre” for the entire body. There are hormones, receptors for hormones, proteins involved in making these hormones and receptors…it is all quite complex, and I’m not going to pretend I know how to explain it. The main idea here though is your brain, along with your endocrine system (hormone system) controls your whole physiology. So, when something is not quite right with hormones, or hormone receptors, or the inticrate pathways these things take throughout your brain and entire body, you are going to experience physiological symptoms: mental, emotional, and physical.

The mind-body connection is a strong one. Not because we have vivid imaginations. Not due to the power of the placebo effect. The mind-body connection is a strong one that is based on real, live, scientifically observed biochemistry.

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You awaken to the sound of your baby’s hearty grunting. Normally, this would make you laugh, but your head is pounding. You feel like you can’t move. Cramps squeeze hard on your lower spine. Pain radiates into your pelvic bone. Your sheets are soaked with sweat once again. Taking deep breaths, you carefully roll your body over, wincing at the back pain. You just need to relax a bit, and the pain will ease. The same thing has happened each morning lately.

You loosen up enough to move just as your baby starts crying for you. Standing up makes your head spin, so you sit back down, take more deep breaths.

It’s Okay. You can do this.

You sigh with relief and feel grateful your baby’s bassinet is right beside the bed as you sink back into your pillow and hold her close. You nurse her, and feel comforted, despite the pain in your head. Your mind wanders. Every time you start thinking of what might be wrong with your health, you desperately try to shake it off. Tears sting your eyes when you picture your two sweet little girls trying to make it in this world without their mother.

No. No. No. You do not have a spinal tumour. You do not have ovarian cancer. You do not have leukaemia. You are not dying.

A sharp burning prickles over the skin on your left upper chest. It slowly fades into numbness. Shingles. Your defences are down, your body is tired, your immune system is weak. The chicken pox virus you had as a kid has jumped on the opportunity and come back with a vengeance. You have been enduring it now for 2 months, which you know is a lot longer than normal for a person your age.

Shingles is for weak, old people, isn’t it?
Why did you get it?
Why won’t it go away?

You gently burp your baby, being careful to keep her against your right side. You bend your fingers and notice your hands are slightly swollen.

Maybe it’s your kidneys. That would explain the back pain. Maybe your electrolytes are out of balance. That can cause heart failure.

A wave of nausea crashes over you. Your heart thunders. Your body is rubber. Your bedding feels like it has been stuffed with massive lead bars as it rests upon you. You see black spots rimmed with twinkling light in front of you.

You are going to pass out. Frantically you call to your husband. He needs to wake up and take the baby! When she is safe in his arms, you roll onto the floor. Remembering your lifeguard days, you put yourself into the recovery position. Your frail body rocks back and forth. You suck in air, trying not to pass out. Your stomach churns. You tingle all over.

Your husband has rushed to bring you some juice. He asks if he should call an ambulance.

“I don’t know.” You cry.

You press yourself into the cool floor and will yourself to stay conscious. You take deep breaths, and sip the juice. Your husband kneels beside you, cradles the baby in one arm and rubs your back. Slowly you start to feel better. You stand up, feel an urgent need to visit the washroom, pass loose stools. This has been an increasingly common health concern for you.

You wash your hands and gaze into the mirror. You look green. You lift up your shirt and examine your stomach. At least the hives that covered you the night before are gone now. You step on the scale: 95.8lbs. You have lost all of your baby weight, plus at least 10 extra pounds in only a few months.

Just add it to the list of reasons you think you are dying.

In the living room your children lie on the baby’s play mat and giggle.

Your husband pulls you into a tight hug.

“What’s wrong with me, Lovey?”

You apologize for wetting his shirt and look up at his concerned expression.

“I don’t know, Cutie, but you need to make an appointment with the doctor. No more putting it off.”

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When you first walked into the examining room, your blood pressure was through the roof. 180 over something. You could hardly speak without your voice breaking.

Now, you’ve been waiting for a while, you feel a bit better. You grab your purse tightly. You mutter prayers repeatedly.

The door opens, and you jump. The familiar sight of your competent doctor, his warm greeting threaten to unravel you. You smile weakly. This is it.

Your doctor produces the paperwork from the extensive testing he had ordered for you.

Abdominal and pelvic ultrasound: normal

Chest x-Ray: normal

2 pages of blood work: all normal

Urine test: normal

Tears stream down your face and you sigh heavily.

You aren’t dying. According to the tests completed, you are perfectly healthy.

But why have you been feeling so awful?

You expect your doctor to reassure you and dismiss you, but he doesn’t.

He asks you if you have a personal and / or family history of anxiety and depression.

Yes. Yes, you have both.

“How has your mood been lately?” He asks gently.

Then, you unravel. Your kind doctor passes you the box of Kleenex and waits.

You’ve been feeling scared. Scared for no reason, almost all of the time. You are tired beyond words, but can’t catch a good sleep. You have trouble focusing when talking on the phone, when getting groceries. You get irritated very easily, and take it out on your husband. Never your daughters though, never. You are so worried that your days with them are limited that you try to pack a lifetime worth of love into each day you have. You read to them as your vision blurs. You take them to the park as your limbs tremble. You hold them close in the night, and cry.

You picture your own death far too often. You’ve even gone as far as sprinting home from the park, looking over your shoulder, convinced the man in the white van was coming for you.

Your doctor listens attentively. When you finish, he produces more paper. Information on the emotional, cognitive and physical symptoms of anxiety and depression.

You read and realize you have been having almost all of them.

“This is not your fault. It is nothing you have done or not done. Things are imbalanced in your brain, but I can help you. It is going to be alright. ”

Tears spill onto your cheeks once again. You dab them with a mascara streaked tissue.
You listen as he discusses medication and counselling, and sigh deeply.

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Humans have a great ability to lie. They can also tend to attention-seek, exaggerate, and be self absorbed.

I think it’s because of these things people often have trouble completely trusting someone when they say they feel sick, anxious, depressed, or are experiencing pain.

“Oh, it is just in your head.”

Or

“Just stop dwelling on it, and you’ll feel better.”

Or

“Some fresh air and exercise will shape you up in no time.”

They might say.

Although saying these things may be well intentioned, they are quite harmful. The person who has confided starts to doubt themselves, to blame themselves, to feel ashamed.

And they stop talking.

The best thing a person who suffers mental illness can do for themselves, is talk.

The best thing a person who listens can do, is say,

“I believe you.”

Be Brave, and Talk.
Be Brave, and Believe.

** stat on number of doctor visits obtained at www.nursingassistancentral.com

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are

Diving into work, coming up only to breathe.
A magazine quality profile picture.
An immaculate front lawn.
A spotless home.
A 4th drink in your hand.
A joke on your lips.
A text message instead of a call.
A 3 times edited facebook status.

We have “reality” shows, and viral videos. We have phone apps that allow us to confess deep, dark secrets, without the accountability of our name attached. We take selfies, posting only the prettiest ones, and write on walls.
We are experts at hiding behind our carefully constructed images, but we long for just a little bit of uninhibited truth. Just a little bit though, because too much makes us rather uncomfortable. We want to watch from a distance, so we can laugh, so we can judge. It’s great entertainment, but it doesn’t affect us beyond the minute or two we watch it on a screen.

At least, that’s what we pretend.

We are a society that loves to hide, and if you suffer from mental illness, you are probably an expert.

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You lean back against your dresser drawers and stare at the floor. A stretched out rectangle of sunlight makes each fiber of your worn beige carpet visible, highlights the tiny hairs on your big toe. Your finger nails dig into your palms, they may even break skin. You want to slam your window shut, so you don’t have to hear the laughing voices, the snapping of flip flops, the clicking of 12 speed bikes outside.

As your friends and classmates have a blast, you spend this hot summer evening alone in your room, wishing you could disappear. Part of you is wondering if any of them wonder where you are, part of you is trapped, praying in a compulsive manner.

“Please, deliver me from evil, dear Lord. Please protect us from harm. Please forgive my sins, in the name of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Amen. Amen. ”

You inhale as deeply as you can. The air seems to get caught in your throat, and you gag. If only you could take one proper breath, maybe you’d feel better. You seem to have forgotten how.

You close your window, draw the curtains. Safely hidden, you sob into your pillow until merciful sleep takes over.
**********
20 years later, you lean back in your cool plastic chair and stare at your lap. Your anxiety group therapist turns out the lights. You relax your clenched fists, and focus on her instructions. Together with the other group members, you listen to her count, and breathe. You inhale as deeply as you can. The air seems to get caught in your throat, and you gag.
That’s okay, you get to try again. Your therapist is here to help, and you are not alone. Inhale: 1-2-3-4, Hold it: 1-2-3-4, Exhale: 1-2-3-4… You are doing it. The lights come on, and you listen to a group member who reminds you of your Dad share a success from his week.

Your turn comes. With a shaky voice and tears on your cheeks, you explain how you have a hard time being spontaneous. You usually reject all activities unless they are planned well in advance. This week though, you took your daughters swimming at a friend’s pool with only 20 minutes notice. It was a whole lot of fun, your husband was proud, and once you got there, you weren’t anxious at all.
As you speak, you feel grateful for the looks of understanding from the other group members.

There’s no need to hide here.
You feel proud, instead of ashamed.

If only it could always be this way.

We are a society that loves to hide, because we fear things we don’t understand. Fortunately, we are also quite curious by nature, and ever so slowly, we are gaining understanding of what mental illness really is. We post supportive statements on our facebook wall, we participate in walks for children’s mental health, we show our support for campaigns like tomorrow’s “Let’s Talk” by BELL.

We have a long way to go, but at least we have started.

The truth cannot remain hidden forever.

Understanding will slowly break down stigma.

Love will slowly replace judgement and fear.

Come out, come out, wherever you are hiding.

Please,

Be Brave, and Talk.

Power

Your head rests on the steering wheel as you listen to your favourite morning radio announcers banter back and forth. You wish you could be one of them. Their lives seem so carefree, their job seems so easy.

Your car is one of two in the parking lot. You always make sure you are early. It helps you feel a little less panicked, and you can avoid the scary, self conscious feeling you get when others see you walk in later than them.

You let yourself sit listening to one more song, focus on taking deep breaths. You tell yourself it is going to be okay. The day will fly by, and before you know it you’ll be breathing in the comforting scent of your daughter’s soft hair as you hug her hello.

“TGIF,” you mutter to yourself as you grab your bag and head for the door.

You take comfort in the quiet hallways and make a mental list of what you need to prepare for the work day ahead.

You log into your computer and hear a few coworkers laughing together down the hall. You need to do some photocopying, but decide to wait until they have headed to their end of the building. You just aren’t ready to see anyone yet.

You take a disappointing sip of your coffee, it’s cold. Your biggest comfort of the morning needs to be enjoyed the right way. You head to the staff room to warm it up.

Your heart beats faster as you see a colleague walking toward you. Turning around and ducking into the stock room would look a little odd, so you press on toward him.

You put on your best smile and say a warm hello as you pass each other. He stares straight ahead, nods slightly.
“How are you?” His voice is cool, and he doesn’t wait for your response. He doesn’t slow down at all.

You feel foolish because you had started to answer, your voice trails off in a whisper. He has rounded the corner and has no idea you were talking.

You rush into the staff room. You wait for your coffee to heat and hug yourself tightly. Your coworker thinks you’re an idiot. You wish you could go home, you just don’t seem to belong here. You close your eyes, try to shake off the squirmy urge to curl up into a ball, and scurry back down the hall to your room.

Your guts rumble. You vigorously rub your hands together to try to warm them, to try to calm your anxiety. You try to focus on your work. Then you remember you need to make photocopies. Damn it.

Out into the big, bad hallway you venture, praying you’ll finish the task without another coworker encounter. Just when you think you’re home free, someone pops out right in front of you. You apologize profusely and try to rush away, but she stops you.

“I just have to say, I really love your style. You always look so nice. ” she beams at you and gives you a friendly tap on the arm. You thank her and take deep breaths to avoid blushing.

“How are you doing?” She continues, “it isn’t easy, adjusting to work with a little one, is it?”

“Yeah, it’s pretty tough sometimes. We’re both getting used to it though.” You blink back tears and smile appreciatively.

“Well, let me know if you need anything. Anything at all. Really.”

You thank her again, and as you walk away, feel a tremendous sense of relief. That was such a nice thing for her to say. For some reason it makes you want to cry.

In the restroom, you wipe your tears and gaze at your reflection. You take note of your stylish outfit. You do look pretty good, it’s Friday, and perhaps your friendly coworker and you will one day be friends. Today, you are going to be just fine.

Power.

Your words, lack of words, facial expressions, small gestures have so much power.

You just never know what a person is going through.

What someone shows on the outside often has very little to do with the life they live inside.

We all have the power to touch that life.

We can choose to chip another piece off a crumbling self esteem.
Or we can choose to soothe an unsettled soul, even if only for a precious moment.

Every single one of us really does hold tremendous power.

How will you choose to use yours?

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Thank you for reading. If you want to follow my blog, click the comments below and a thing to like my FB page should come up. I will post at least once a week.

I Promise to Keep Trying You

You checked up on me on Facebook the other day.

A trace of a smile crossed your lips when you saw the picture I posted of my multicoloured, food-splattered kitchen wall. Gotta love the “terrible twos.” A pang of jealousy caught your breath for just a second as you scrolled through my camping trip album, and realized our old roommate from college had joined me. You considered taking a trip down memory lane, clicking on my “College Days” album, but instead you logged out.

The desk top was cool on your forehead as you stared down at your floral print pyjama pants. You stayed like that for a long time.

Somewhere in your chest, in your gut, floating around your mind, clouds of feeling were gathering. You were a safe distance away though, and took comfort in the fog. You were okay with feeling nothing, doing nothing, being nothing. You gulped down your wine to make sure you’d be able to sleep, and dragged yourself to bed.

I gave you a call the other day. You saw my name on the call display, and you almost picked up. Your uncertainty held you back though.
Maybe it was even fear.
You feared you would stumble over words, sound awkward, say the wrong thing. You feared your children would start fighting in the background, and I would think you’re a bad mom. Because my children never do that. No, never.

You feared, because parts of you are broken. You believe yourself to be unworthy of my love, because so much of the time, you have trouble loving yourself.

I do love you, though. And I miss you. I know you miss me too.

I was passing through your town the other day. I stopped by and knocked on your door. I probably should have called first. You caught a glimpse of me through the window, crouched down and hid, frozen in your anxiety. You didn’t want to let me see your mascara streaked cheeks. You didn’t want me to know your kids were watching T.V. Your cat’s litter box needed cleaning, and you were afraid I would notice.
Somehow, missing the chance to give me a hug seemed like a better option than showing me your vulnerability, your less than perfect self, your struggle. I turned and walked slowly back to my car. I knew you were in there. A frown furrowed my brow, and a weight rested on my heart as I reluctantly drove away.

As time ticks on, you will get closer to a day that brings you joy. After countless hours slip away from you, in blurs of confusion and fatigue, you will get to a place where you smile again. One of these days when I call, you’ll take a deep breath, be brave, and answer the phone. Maybe you will even confide in me about the battle you’ve been fighting.
Until that time arrives, I promise to keep trying you.

I will send you a text to remind you I’m your friend.

I will like your status updates, I will call and leave messages.

You are my amazing, strong, beautiful, dear friend.

When you are ready, I will be right here.

I will never give up on you.

Even if it takes ten years, I promise to keep trying you.

Thank you for reading!

It’s Okay

image

Gasp! What? You’re not happy today?
Well, fear not, because there is an abundance of happiness advice readily available in this day and age of social media. There are articles, like “12 Things Happy Moms Don’t do”, and ” 7 Habits of Happy People”, and plenty of quotes to inspire you.

“Happiness depends upon ourselves.” -Aristotle

“You can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will. ” -L.M Montgomery

“Most people are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” -Abraham Lincoln

So, you see? Feeling happy is under your control. Just be a little more positive, and you’ll feel fine in no time. Right?

You stare at the ceiling, feeling numb. Thoughts that seem miles away float haphazardly around your mind.

I’ve got to get up.
The kitchen is a disaster.
The kids are still in their pyjamas, what kind of mother am I?
Come on! Get up!
“happiness depends upon ourselves”
Well, I guess I am choosing to be unhappy. I am a negative, pathetic person.
I just want to sleep.
Get up, you lazy piece of garbage!
No, no. I’m not garbage.
I’m a good mom.
I can do this.
I’m so tired.
I need some Tylenol. My head hurts.
Happiness depends on you! What’s the matter with you?

You roll over, lie face down and notice your carpet needs vacuuming. This thought pulls at the ever tightening knot in your stomach. A pang of dread mixed with fear turns your hands to ice cubes, and gives you the motivation to stand up. The clock reads 10:00a.m.

If you can manage to be heading to the park by 10:30 a.m, it might not be too hot yet. You and the girls might still have fun. Your parenting might still fall within acceptable range, if you make it out the door by 10:30 a.m.

You bribe the girls with gummy vitamins to get their pjs off as fast as they can, and frantically clean the kitchen.

By 10:27 am you’ve cleaned, dressed kids and ushered them to the front door. As your older daughter struggles with her sandals, you realize you’ve forgotten the sunscreen. Racing to fetch it from the washroom, you catch a glimpse of the clock. 10:31 a.m. You run back to your girls, throw all the shoes they’ve messed up back on the shoe mat, slather on the sunscreen a bit too thickly, and bite back the urge to yell as you tell your children to walk out the door. You brush aside a nagging thought that you are being insane, and hurry the girls to their stroller. Then, it’s the buckles. They get you every time. Your head spins, and it’s almost like you can’t see enough to do them up efficiently. You pull and nudge and struggle, and wonder why this seems like the hardest thing in the world to do.

Finally, you’re off. You sweat as you push the stroller uphill. The heat of the sun on your face irritates you, even though you normally love sunbathing. You stop and pick flowers for your girls. Yesterday, seeing the look of joy on their sweet faces as they examined, sniffed and got excited over simple, pretty flowers was deeply satisfying to you. Today, it feels like going through the motions.

Yesterday, you saw a cardinal perched just above you in a fragrant, blooming cherry tree. You were moved by the beauty of nature as you pointed him out to your amazed little girls.

Today, you hear one singing in the distance, but you just don’t have the energy to look for him. The sweat on the back of your neck makes you itchy, and irritated. You want this park excursion to be over. You feel uncomfortable, anxious, and in the background, guilty.

Yesterday though, things were different. Yesterday you laughed and chased your daughters around the park. Today, you’ll be counting the minutes until it is time to leave. You can try with all of your might to get the magic back from yesterday, but it’s gone. For now. The best you can do is hope it will return tomorrow.

Even in the depths of despair that is depression, I think it is possible to find hope. Choosing to be happy though? I really do not believe it’s that simple. And really, that is OKAY. The message that it’s okay is a message that those with mental illness desperately need to hear. It’s okay. It’s not your fault. Have hope, and tomorrow might just be the most beautiful day ever.

“He who has experienced the deepest sorrow is best able to experience extreme happiness.” Alexandre Dumas

Thanks for reading!

Tortured by the Devil

Terrorist attacks. Children killing children. People going missing, bodies being found. Parents throwing their own children off bridges, locking them in closets and hot cars, beating them to death. Scrolling your facebook newsfeed can be a pretty upsetting experience, making you want to curl up into the fetal position and hide in your bed forever. Then you make the mistake of checking out article comments. You want to tear your eyes away, but they are mysteriously drawn in. Total strangers fighting via the Internet. Racist, Retard, Promoter of Rape Culture, Bible Thumper, Red Neck are just some of the insults you see cast.
“What is wrong with people?” You think. “Surely there has got to be a reason for this chaos? Surely it’s not just human nature?”

I was thinking these exact thoughts last evening while making supper for my daughters. I popped the casserole in the oven, got my 4 year old a Dora bandaid for her hangnail, and gave my 2 year old one as well, to keep the peace. Then, back to facebook I went, to feel a sense of connection to the outside world on fire, for a minute or two. I glanced over some article about horrifyingly evil human deeds, and sadly the temptation of the comments got me.

One person was claiming that the Time of Sorrows is upon us, and the reason for all of the world’s suffering and evil is that Christ will be returning to Earth soon. What struck me was a reply:” The biggest threat to humanity is religion.” No, no, no. The biggest threat to humanity, is humanity.

I’m now leading into some personal and difficult writing territory, the whole reason I’ve started this blog: to share experiences I have had with anxiety and depression.

Picture a 15 year old girl hunched over a little red bible. It’s the copy of the New Testament she received in grade 5. She has read a page of this Bible every day since grade 5, which means she has read through it entirely, more than once. She made a promise to God that she’d do this 5 years ago, and she’s been sure to keep it. The thought of breaking this promise terrifies her.

She sits in the warm light of her desk lamp, eyes closed, muttering prayer after prayer. She tries to take deep breaths. She tries to relax. She tries to believe God is protecting her. She tries to believe she is good, and will go to Heaven. No matter how hard she tries to focus, the terrible thoughts invade. Curses against God, her parents, herself seem to come from nowhere. They thunder through her mind. She fights back with more praying, more deep breaths that fail to bring her relief. She begs God to help her. She is certain the Devil is torturing her. She believes when she dies, she is bound for Hell.

Nobody knows this of course. As she rides the bus to school, as she takes her dog for walks, as she watches movies with friends, she fights. Nobody notices her lips move when she prays. Nobody sees the white knuckles of her clenching fists as she inwardly protests the unwelcome thoughts. Her sole relief comes with sleep. During waking hours, she occasionally pictures stabbing a knife into her stomach and up under her rib cage, and it gives her a moment of comfort. The only reason she doesn’t do it, is she absolutely believes her soul will suffer eternal Hell.

She endures months of this torture, all alone. Her only ally in her battle, she believes, is God. She prays to him thousands of times, and one day out of the blue, he seems to listen. Bible in hand, a warm, comforting feeling fills this now 16 year old girl. She is moved by a strong belief that God indeed loves her.A very important realization comes to her. She IS a good person. She is going to go to Heaven. She is going to be alright. And, just like that, the Unwelcome Thoughts stop. She has Made it through her months of torture by the Devil.

Or mental illness.

I now know that this awful time in my life was a product of traumatic life experiences, and a genetic predisposition toward anxiety and depression. Did God cure me? No, I got through it, miraculously, by myself. The responsibility belongs to me. At the time though, I made sense of what was happening to me the best way I knew how. With religion. My faith eventually gave me enough strength to overcome the illness (for a while). I think humans need to believe in something. Miracles can happen if a person has enough faith. But, there is a big difference between believing in something, and giving it responsibility for your actions.

Considering my past, it would make sense for me to hate religion, but I dont. Whenever it is blamed for world problems, I feel the need to defend it. Had I not believed in my version of God when I was a teenager, it is quite possible my mental illness would have killed me. Having faith in something helps us survive in this harsh world. Faith in God, faith in Karma, faith that good does exist in human hearts. This faith may help you see a different theme next time you scroll facebook.

New parents kissing their babies.Romantic marriage proposals. People holding fundraisers for others in need. Friends celebrating friends’ achievements. Someone risking their life to rescue a drowning dog. Someone reaching out, to tell you you aren’t alone.

Phew, there it is, my first blog. Thanks so much for reading.

 

Be Brave, and Talk