Why I Do Not Shop Black Friday

Every Thanksgiving I awaken with a huge grin on my face because I know that somewhere outside in my driveway is the large roll of Black Friday ads. I love looking at them. I dive in each year looking at items I would love to receive for the holidays noting a few to put on my list for this year and storing other items in the back of my mind for my winter birthday. I find good deals that I think my family members would like. I even have a distinct order in which I look at my Black Friday circulars, starting with my least favorite stores and ending with Target. I would be an expert shopper if…

… if I actually shopped on Black Friday (or Thanksgiving for that matter with how the retail market has been the last few years). But I do not. I went once with my mother when I was fifteen and found it overwhelming then. More than two decades later, I refuse to do it now. Why?

My mental health is worth way more than any bargain.

You see, I do not step out into these sales because of my Anxiety. Weekly grocery shopping gives me anxiety attacks. The bright lights, loud noise and people are just too much. Going out on Black Friday would be sensory overload. People waiting in line for that “I just got to have it!” deal, willing to plow through anyone that gets in there way. The attitude of “I had it first!” while playing tug-of-war with an another irate person over an item. No, I just can’t go through that. It isn’t just the fear of being trampled on that occurs in several locations or being shot at. People get mean and manners fly out the window.

Black Friday brings out the worst in people. If I can’t get through a shopping excursion during any other time of year, I definitely cannot handle Black Friday. But the circulars are so tempting. Deals on technology, clothing, toys. Marketing at its best. Which retailer will win the title of first to be open this Black Friday?! (It was Big Lots in my area which opened at 7am Thanksgiving Day). But I do not have to ruin my mental health for this modern American-born “holiday”, not with the creation of Cyber Monday. Cyber Monday, another modern American-born “holiday” where I get the same deals and save myself several anxiety attacks by just sitting at my computer alone in silence. A day similar to Black Friday that does not actually start the Monday after Thanksgiving but on Thanksgiving itself. It is a sufferer of Anxiety’s dream.

Not to say that I never make it out to a store because I do, but I do it for another modern American-born “holiday”, Small Business Saturday. With this day I get to support local businesses without the loud noises and large crowds. It may cost me a little more, but my sanity is worth it.

I sat this morning, pouring through ad after ad for Black Friday. For some of them, I didn’t understand why people lined up the day before, the deals just didn’t look that good. Driving to my Thanksgiving lunch today we passed Best Buy and there were already at least twenty people out there waiting in line in 30 degree weather. It was only 11:30am. I know there is a thrill associated with it, but I have to admit, I even found the circulars overwhelming and had to stop and take a break.

It is for this reason, that you will never see me in a major retail store on Black Friday. I just can’t do it. I won’t do it. I will not sacrifice my mental health for a not-so-great deal. I will not support ruining a holiday, Thanksgiving, that stands for being grateful, on the latest gadget that “I must have”. Instead, I will sit at my laptop with the Black Friday ads and do my shopping here in my house where I am grateful for the internet in creating the ability to do this in addition to my family, my therapist and my medications that keep me stable.

When You Learn How Important Self-Advocacy Is

In the last twenty years, off and on, with my frenemies, Anxiety & Depression, I have learned quite a bit about living a life with Mental Illness. My first twelve years were in secret, keeping my mouth shut on anything relating to the words melancholy, empty, sad. I was told to hide, told that the stigma would ruin any chance of a career for me, would isolate me and make me feel even more lonely than I already did. I was ashamed that my differences made me plague-worthy. Who wants to be friends with a psycho?!

Eventually, I got fed up… or I should say, extremely deeply depressed. I couldn’t hide it anymore. My Postpartum Depression and Anxiety brought on my first step in becoming free of this stigma… I had to admit my illnesses to someone aside from my family. I had to tell my boss. I had no idea what would happen, if I would be let go for some stupid made up reason to hide the real dismissal of me being crazy. I had no other option though, I was hospitalized and in turn could not do the work I took home to do during my maternity leave.

I then started to tell some friends and upon seeing their genuine compassionate reactions, I realized not everyone believed the stigma behind having a Mental Illness diagnosis. It was from this point, about a decade ago, when I decided to screw the stigma and advocate.

Advocacy is defined as, “the act of pleading for, supporting, or recommending,” by dictonary.com. I dove right in, starting with Mental Illnesses that most were unaware existed, Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. I immersed myself joining up with a non-profit I found on Facebook one day. I bonded with fellow mothers who experienced similar events. Some of them proudly declared their stories while others still felt the need to hide. It was an amazing feeling to not feel alone.

By doing this I began to tell my story to anyone at any given moment. It didn’t matter if they never inquired about my illnesses. I wanted to get my story out there. I wanted to be a voice, a voice that was heard when many others were still so afraid to speak up. This was my main form of Advocacy. I told my stories and frankly couldn’t care less if someone responded negatively which was very rare. I rose up to the challenge of becoming a symbol of someone who could be successful and who lived with Mental Illnesses.

These last few years, I began to learn about Self Advocacy, the need to fight for my own care. This is not always easy to do especially when your own care involves a brain imbalance and what I like to call “thinking imperfections”. In the beginning, I even wondered who would trust me to create my own care plan… after all, that required someone with a healthy brain, not someone who was mentally ill. Now I don’t care. Majority of the time, I am in my right mind and can decide things for myself. But this was not always the case.

Three years ago, things changed. I quickly went from a stable human being to one having a psychotic break. There was no point in creating a Self-Advocacy plan at that time because the change was so rapid I could barely recognize it. One moment I could coherently tell my husband I needed to go to the hospital’s inpatient psychiatric unit, the next, I was in the fetal position scratching my head repeatedly crying for the rapid thoughts to leave me, that it hurt too much. It frightened my husband, my parents and my daughter who was 8 at the time. More importantly, in my lucid moments, it scared the shit out of me.

It was after this last episode with Major Depressive Disorder that I became extremely involved in Self-Advocacy. I needed to be. I knew how my body felt, what my brain was telling me, how the meds were working. When I needed a different type of therapy, I searched for the therapist. I worked together with my psychiatrist at the time in weaning off two of my medications. I made sure my doctors and my therapist were aware of each other. I began to practice Mindfulness and really took notice at how my body felt. There were no secrets anymore, no hiding.

And now, once again, I am advocating for myself. In the last 2 years 9 months, I have been through 4 psychiatrists/APRN’s at the same psychiatric group. They all left for some reason. The first, who saw me through my worst, left to have a baby and never came back. The second I saw once and then he retired. The third who aided me in my weaning and worked with me on medication changes left to become a head for an addiction facility. The last… I saw her once in July, just sent a letter explaining that she returned to work far too early when she had her first child and was now pregnant with her second. She decided to leave the end of the December. I was due to see her in January.

What to do, what to do? As I am waiting for my next assignment, whether it be a psychiatrist or psychiatric APRN, I am researching my other options because well, starting a 5th doctor in 3 years is kind of annoying. With my track record, the 5th is bound to up and leave too. There must be other psychiatric groups out there. Sad thing is, I am only down to seeing them twice a year just for prescriptions. I know for emergency purposes, my primary care physician would write a script for me. Problem is, my Anxiety has been worse these last couple of months and I foresee an additional medication being prescribed. As much as I like my PCP, I need someone who specializes in Psychiatry.

Self-Advocacy is a process that can be very time consuming and mentally and physically draining. When it comes down to it though, it needs to rank high in the self-care process. The only person who is going to care as much about your care and health, is you. What I have realized is that having a Self-Advocacy Care Plan is also a necessity. This can be used when you know you are not mentally stable. It is a list of things for your spouse, parents, or even a special friend to tell the doctors when you can’t. It allows them to advocate for you the way you would want to advocate for yourself.

I am currently putting mine together.

I Will Not Hide Anymore: A Letter To The Non-Believer

To The Non-Believer,

 

If I passed you on the street, would you be able to identify that I am not ‘normal’? Would you cringe and slither away from me?  Would you see me as different, weak, an attention seeker?

 

For years, I stayed hidden because of people like you. Taught to fear my diagnoses. Shh, don’t tell anyone.  I believed it.  I played into the stigma.  I did it for protection of what you might say or do.  I feared losing friends, family members, even career opportunities.

 

And then one day I said “Fuck it!”

 

It just became too difficult to hide, too shameful, too guilty. And why should I feel that way?  To hide from you and your posse?  On this particular day, many years ago, I stood up proud and said, “I have Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.”  I would hide no more.

 

And you laughed because to you, these illnesses did not exist, do not exist. To you I was weak, finding life’s normal stressors to hard.  To you I was seeking attention, because you thought I felt ignored.  It never once crossed your mind to believe me because hey, you can’t see these illnesses so why the heck would they actually be real?!

 

It didn’t matter that there were other invisible illnesses that you can’t see but believed were real. It didn’t matter that I was someone you knew for decades.  It didn’t matter that a fifth of the population would be diagnosed with a mental illness.  To you and your fellow Non-Believers, I was making it up.  It was all in my head.

 

All in my head. Yes, in a way it is.  My head contains my brain.  Mental illnesses are disorders of the, what?  Yes, the brain.  The brain, the thing that controls everything in your body.  It tells your heart to pump blood.  It tells your stomach to digest food and make energy.  How could we believe that it could turn against us?!

 

But it can.

 

It distorts my thinking, makes me believe I am a loser, unwanted, undeserving of anyone’s love and kindness. It tells me my friends and family can’t stand me anymore.  And in some cases, it makes me ponder hurting myself or if life is even worth living anymore.  Do you know what that is like?  To fully hate yourself, everything about you, everything you were taught at a young age made you the cool unique person you are?  No, can’t be real, right?  And then more emotions creep in, more lies that Depression makes me believe… the guilt and shame to any wrong doing I thought I did.

 

I can’t wish these thoughts away. Oh, how my life would be so much easier if I could.  I would gladly take one day of a horrible depressive funk if I was guaranteed I would wake up wonderful the next day. Stay positive, you say.  One of many phrases that are far easier said than done.  Then you throw out remarks such as grow up, man up, snap out of it.  You call me selfish for thinking about self harm and suicide because obviously, to your Non-Believer clan, I am only thinking of myself in this situation.  You think I am blocking what others may think or feel if I inflicted harm on myself.  The problem is, you have never been there, have never been in that position of just yearning to shut the racing thoughts and emotions from your brain, of wanting to not feel like an empty void.

 

Oh, and the lack of physical symptoms… I laugh. My anxiety causes so many.  Where to begin?  Shortness of breath, heart palpitations, extreme nausea, dizziness, insomnia.  In extreme cases, full blown panic attacks that feeling like I am dying from a heart attack, vomiting, constant muscle tension and hours of rocking back and forth.  You tell me meditate, go for a walk and my favorite, hug your child.  Not bad suggestions, but when I am tensed up in the fetal position, unable to speak, trying to scratch my hair out, these suggestions are not going to happen.

 

And then the hospitalizations. You wonder why our government needs to focus so much resources into Mental Health facilities.  You think my two brief stays were a wasted of time and money.  Yes, of course they were… I so wanted to almost bankrupt my family to pay for these stays.  That was my desire, can’t you tell?!  My response to you now is we do not have enough resources for people like me.  There are not enough inpatient and outpatient facilities.  There is not enough coverage through insurance for psychiatrist visits, therapist visits and medication.  And there isn’t enough because of you Non-Believers and the stigma you place on my population.

 

You call me a Millennial with the way I am “overreacting”. Life is hard, you say.  Stop being so weak, you say.  Everything will not be handed to you on a silver platter, you say.  It doesn’t matter that I was clearly born on the tail end of Generation X or that my parents raised me to be a hard-working person.  You laugh it off thinking somewhere in my childhood they fucked me up.  You would be sadly mistaken.  Except for a genetic link, my parents taught me to be respectful, loving and a go-getter.  They always told me not to expect everything in my future career because we all are easily replaceable.  They taught me that working hard got you to where you wanted to be.  You know, all the same things your parents taught you.

 

And now, I am angry, so, so fucking angry. Angry that this is still an issue, that many people who are diagnosed still feel they must hide, that they would be seen as weak or a freak if they went for help.  I am angry that so many people have taken their lives thinking that was the only way out because of you Non-Believers.  Just furious, even at myself, that I thought I had to stay silent.

 

But, I am silent no more.  I will continue to advocate for my community and myself.  I will tell my story.  I will not let the stigma become me again.  And, I will not wish you to experience the hell I have even though that might ‘turn you’.  The internal suffering and the suffering of your loved ones because they can’t help is too much for anyone.

 

Sincerely,

 

Stephanie Paige

A Mental Illness Survivor & Advocate

 

 

When You’re More Nervous Than Your Child On The 1st Day Of School

Crowds of kids gathered with their parents at the bus stop snapping photos of their elated children.  Some even took video.  I stood with my daughter giving a hug and kiss on her cheek.  I did this as support, support she didn’t ask for. Why? Because today was the 1st Day of School, the first day in a new school district for her and I was worried.

I was very nervous, bordering on anxious… wondering if she had everything.  I think I was more nervous this year than she was because I can actually remember Junior High (New York’s version of Middle School) and I remember starting Junior High not knowing anyone.  I remembered the fear, the anxiety, the pure terror.  You see, I didn’t go to my zoned Junior High where I would have had friends from my elementary school, I went to a ‘Gifted & Talented’ Junior High for my creative writing abilities.  And although my daughter was starting a new school system as we moved in late spring to give her a better education, unlike myself, she already knew a few people.

I worried about my daughter.  With every new thing she would panic over… What if I can’t open my locker? What if the kids make fun of me? What if I am late to class?… my worry grew.  I only want her to be happy and to succeed.

As the days passed and the 1st Day approached, I repeatedly asked her questions:

“Do you remember how to open your locker?  Tell me.”

“What bus do you take from school to the YMCA in the afternoon?”

And then I started to make blatant statements:

“Don’t forget you will need lunch.”

“You only need a pen or pencil the first day. Why are you bringing so much other stuff?!”

I think I was beginning to drive my daughter batty as she began to roll her eyes at me and sigh.

I just wanted her to be prepared.  Middle School is not Elementary School.  You are given more responsibilities in Middle School.  You have to go to more than one classroom.  You have a set time to get to each class.  You have reports and projects.

And most important… you must figure out who you are sitting with at lunch!

This last item was what was making my daughter more anxious the last few days.  She doesn’t want to hurt anyone.  She was debating between her oldest and dearest friend (they have been friends since they were babies), our neighbor across the way and a friend from her former camp in the city we used to live in that relocated too.  She questioned me repeatedly about this.  I suggested her old camp friend as she would see her bestie on the bus and well, our neighbor lives right across the way from us.

A mass chaos of questions, things to purchase, items on a To-Do list and my brain was foggy (it has been for the last couple of months already).  I couldn’t concentrate to get everything organized, I just couldn’t think.  With that I became irritable.  With the irritability, I grew more anxious and had several anxiety attacks.  It felt like my brain was playing a hyper speed game of Atari’s Pong in my head. But I tried to keep my anxieties from my daughter. We didn’t need her GAD to start.

It was official. I was more nervous than my daughter.

As I stood at the bus stop this morning with her and the gaggle of other kids and parents, I internally told myself this is it.  She is ready and if she forgot something, there is always tomorrow.  Tell your Anxiety that she is fine.  She will make friends. She will open her locker.  She will find her classes. You know she is ready for this and so are you.

Then the bus showed up. I waved to my friend, the bus driver.  I watched her get on and smiled. I walked away feeling calm and content and whispered, “Good luck my love.”

It Isn’t All About You: The Selfish Side Of Depression

 

I am a selfless person. I always put others needs ahead of my own to the extent that I ignore my body and brain’s signals that I am not well. I want people to be happy… my family, my friends, my coworkers. I want the world to be happy ahead of me. I live to please others. Ask anyone I know, and the word selfish would never be used to describe me.

But two weeks ago I was reminded that there is always a part of you that is selfish, even when you don’t realize it.

I was going through a bit of a rough patch since my business trip early last month as usual whenever I travel. After I arrived home, I was met with several days of heightened Anxiety and even a Panic Attack. This was followed by 8 days of a Depressive state. I felt empty and alone. There were a couple of days I forced myself out of bed and many days I struggled to find anything enjoyable in my life. I knew if this lasted a few more days I would be headed to another diagnosed episode of Depression. Of course, in my mind, I was already there.

Within these 8 days I felt increasingly isolated, not from my family, but from social interactions with friends. I internally blamed myself as anxious Depressives often do. I was the reason my friends were ignoring me (so I thought). Was I talking about my Mental Illnesses too much? Was I too socially awkward for them? Did I say something? Did I do something? Was I acting too weird?

And then I got a text message from one of these friends asking me about something I have considerable knowledge on… psychiatrists. She then proceeded to tell me it was for her. There was some shock when I found out. In almost 6 years of knowing her, she never mentioned a need for a psychiatrist. I became worried and asked her what was wrong. She then requested a time we could talk face-to-face.

I went to her house last weekend where she told me why she has been so absent this last year (her story to tell, not mine). Never in my hysterical thinking did it ever occur to me that one of my close friends was going through a major life change. A mutual friend of ours was there too. She explained that she shared the same thinking I had, that we did or said something wrong. And then she said something that struck me…

“Although normal, it is such a selfish way of thinking.”

Ah ha! Light bulb moment!

And there it was, the selfish side of me, my Depression. Every question concerned only me, myself and I. I started to analyze my past Depressive episodes and the questions I always asked myself and there was one cohesive theme… I, I, I! How my life sucked. How no one wanted to hang out with me. How I was worthless. So many I’s and Me’s. It never occurred to me that my friends and family might see me differently, that they needed me, that they might be struggling. The thought of anyone else in my life having a rough time never passed through my mind. It was always about me.

Lies Depression Tells: “You Have No Friends… And Don’t Deserve Any!”

There is singing in my head, one song, on a continuous loop… “All By Myself” by Eric Carmen later remade by Celine Dion:

“…I think of all the friends I’ve known, but when I dial the telephone, nobody’s home…”

I hear laughter in the background as the song is being sung by a melancholy vocalist, myself:

“… Sometimes I feel so insecure, and love is so distant and obscure, remains the cure…”

Then I can visually see myself break out into the chorus with tears gliding down my cheeks:

“All by myself, don’t want to be, all by myself anymore…”

The laughing is growing and I am shrinking down into the fetal position on the floor, slinking my way into a corner. The source of my laughing, Depression, my friend, my foe, my constant companion.

It arrived back from its vacation a little over a week ago. Not wanting to stay quiet and play with Anxiety in the background, it has taken over my body. It has put all those ‘lovely’ negative thoughts back in my head that I worked so hard to get rid of… worthlessness, hopelessness, loneliness. I’ve tried to fight back, telling it that it will not take over me and every morning it is the personality trait that is dominant.

“You have no friends!” it echoes. There is a brief pause before it cackles, “And you don’t deserve any.”

This is a normal feeling that comes in waves throughout the year. For the most part, I can tell Depression to shut up, but this time, this time I can’t. I am silenced. I am not quite sure of the main cause of this Depressive state as it has been going on for over a week but I do know a few factors that have contributed:

My Business Trip: I love traveling for my job. I get to see new places, try local cuisine. This time I even met a friend for dinner. But traveling disturbs my routine and while I enjoy it, these trips are so jammed packed with work that I am constantly moving and never really decompress.

No Vacation: My husband, daughter and I took a vacation in April 2016 and will not be going on another vacation until October 2018. Yes, 2 1/2 years. We tried planning a long weekend this year but there were other commitments. So once again, no decompression.

Socialization: My therapist recommends I get out more with my friends. Easier said than actually done. Everyone is so busy except during the week. Even though it is summer, I work during the week.

It’s this last point that has been eating away at my happiness and refueling my Depression.

There was a group of friends of mine, close friends, close enough to call each other ‘Bestie’. Over the last year and a half there has been distance, mainly because our daughters no longer take dance. My instincts tell me there is more and I will sit and analyze this to no avail. My thoughts tell me I did something wrong or said something wrong. There were birthday parties my daughter wasn’t invited to. I blame myself for this. What did I do? Did I say something? I know, they are sick of dealing with me. There are photos of fun weekday pool gatherings. Stephanie, you work, you can’t go. There has been effort on my part earlier this year but now, now I am just so drained I have no more strength to try anymore. I know this is only hurting myself, and my daughter since she misses out on playing with her friends.

I feel alone, so, so, alone.

When I am lucid and logical I realize the falseness of this. “We’re all busy,” I tell myself, “Weekends are usually family time.” I mean, how can I deny the latter? That is when my husband, daughter and I can do something. I constantly tell myself that you have friends that you go out with. I just went out to see a musical with one of them. I have my best friend in the whole world living with me, my husband. I have family.

And yet, there is something missing.

Something about this group of friends and me. Something that is eating away at me. They don’t get it and at times, I don’t think they want to try anymore. They don’t get what living with Depression is like. They don’t understand how a Depressive thinks. I can’t blame them for this. My brain is not easy to understand. My husband, after knowing me for almost 21 years, still has times where my mind confuses him. Hell, my mind confuses me. And at times, those rare occasions where I do get to meet up with the ‘Besties’, I tend to feel uncomfortable because I constantly feel like I am being seen only as my illness. I know this is my Depression speaking. Sometimes it is just hard to separate my logical mind from my sick mind.

I have friends that get it. Friends that I met because we share Depression and Anxiety diagnosis’. I enjoy their company. I don’t feel like any topic is off limits. When my friend and I went to the musical, we discussed hospitalizations. They fulfill my socialization need. Then why the funk… why the constant loneliness, why the “You have no friends, and you don’t deserve any”?

I wish I knew.

Lies Depression tells us.

What Happens When A Dream Turns Into A Triggering Nightmare


Suddenly, I was back there.  That place, both a saving grace and a hell.  I was walking down the hall.  Bare concrete block walls.  Gray, solemn, just like the people that dwelled inside.  Doorways on both sides leading to rooms with aging office waiting room furniture that was once comfortable but now forlorn like their occupants.  I was one of them again.  An empty void, emaciated, internally crying for help.  Tempered glass and a counter to my left held those that treated us.  Their faces ranged from a gentle smile to a stare as if asking, “What is this person doing?  Am I safe?”  Slowly, I walked toward the end of the hallway where a window was.  Large, a glimpse to the outside world.  If only it was not right across the street from a cemetery.  

My eyes were welling up with tears.

Why was I back here?  There was no reason to be.  I have been doing well mentally and emotionally.  If this was the case, why was I, without warning, plunged into the short term psychiatric ward once again?  I was dreaming and being triggered.  Being both on the outside looking in and on the inside dying to get out.  

I have a love-hate relationship with the hospital’s psych ward.  When I was first there over ten years ago, I wondered why I was there.  I never thought I was experiencing the same problems as the other residents at the time.  I thought I was normal.  Ha, ha, good one Steph!  When I went back over two years ago, I begged for it.  I know being there would help me.


There are things I would rather forget about the hospital aside from the bare walls and gloomy atmosphere:  


The bed checks every 15 minutes… even if I was deep asleep, like clockwork I was awakened to a flashlight shining into the small glass panel in the door.  


The psychiatrists… although there to help, none of them appeared like they cared to help you. I spent all of five minutes a week day (they did not work on weekends or holidays) talking with them while their eyes looked elsewhere as if saying “You’re wasting my time.”


The wake-up time and routine… it was a bit rough waking up at 7am with all the medications I was given and then to go through the process of waiting in line to get weighed and our blood pressure taken.  


Lack of outdoor time… depending on your mental and physical state that day, you may be allowed to go for a short walk circumnavigating the hospital building viewing the nearby cemetery and emergency room.


But, where there is bad, there is also good.  As I mentioned, I knew I needed to be hospitalized again.  For some reason, I felt safe there.  I was only responsible for myself.  I could focus on my much-needed self-care and work on getting better even if it took a psychotic break to get me there.  I knew I would get the medications necessary to sedate me, stop my brain from its incessant thinking… you’re worthless, helpless, not worthy of love.  These medications would also stop my hysterical, borderline delusional, thoughts… take that screw, just jam it in your head, who cares if it kills you?!


Although the psychiatrists were lacking in care, there were some nurses that were a pleasant gift.  They would talk with you about your life focusing in on your face, treating you like a human being.  They remembered things you told them and asked you about it days later.  They were concerned about your care.  Sometimes they even sat and watched TV with us.


Aside from two very special nurses (1 each hospitalization), I made connections with fellow residents.  We talked about our experiences, gave each other advice, was there as a person who knew what it felt like.  I still, from time to time, communicate with my last roommate.


And yet, this dream triggered me.  I awoke with rapid breaths, scared, worried, panicked.  What did it all mean and why was it affecting me so badly?  I was somber the whole day.  Was this a prelude of another hospitalization to come?  Because of my Anxiety diagnosis, of course, here I am jumping to the worst conclusion instead of calmly thinking this through.  And if it is a premonition, why am I so fearful?  The hospital helped me.  Ultimately, I think I will have to consult my therapist on this.

When False Information On A Meme Makes You Angry…

Originally posted on Stigmama on Tuesday, June 20th:

The other day on Facebook I came across a meme… actually calling it a meme is too nice. I came across a shitty ad that basically told me and others that are Mentally Ill and medicated that we are now drug addicts. While addiction is a Mental Illness, I have not been diagnosed with it. I am a long time Depressive and Anxiety-ridden Mom that will fully disclose any part of my history because people need to know what it is really like to be Mentally Ill.

When I saw this, I was outraged, furious, and this was at 10am on a weekday morning in my cubicle at work:

What made this worse, was this was the pinned post in this group ‘The Free Thought Project’. My blood was boiling. I wanted to break something. Instead I decided to use this as an oppurtunity to educate.

I have seen many versions of this ad before (see below) consciously telling people that medication is evil and while I find them offensive, it didn’t hit me as hard as saying I now have a “lifelong addiction”:

                                        

Is medication shit… well I will flat out admit I wish I didn’t have to take it but comparing it to the stuff that would be on my daughter’s diaper years and years ago is a bit much.

Nature as an antidepressant… I agree wholeheartedly that nature is very rewarding.  I am an avid walker and hiker (and snowshoe-er in the cold winter months).  I love being outside.  After a hike, I usually find myself rejuvenated, feeling alive and most importantly happy.  A hike or a walk outside at lunch can ‘turn my frown upside down’.  There are just a couple of things wrong with this statement:  Nature does not have the same effect on everyone and when you are severely Depressed, it ain’t going to work, trust me, I’ve been there.

Being an Alpha personality, a control freak, a perfectionist, I will fully admit that I hated being on meds.  I couldn’t fathom the idea that a little pill (or four) controlled me.  I was only ‘normal’ because of them.  I thought I could get better without them.  I was wrong… very very wrong.

The first time I was prescribed medication was shortly after my 18th birthday.  It came in the form of a half white and half aqua capsule known as Prozac.  I was quickly told not to tell anyone I was taking it.  This was after I held a case cutter I stole from work to my wrist debating whether I should live or die.  This event, I was also told, to not speak of.  Ah, you got to love the stigma associated with being Mentally Ill.  Because of this, I thought medication was wrong, bad, sinful.  How stupid of me.

It wasn’t until my recent episode of Major Depressive Disorder and Severe Anxiety almost three years ago, that while getting better I finally said “Screw it!”  I didn’t care who knew.  If I had a megaphone, I would probably be screaming it.  There is nothing wrong with being medicated.  I really should create (or order if it exists) a shirt that reads: “Medicated & Proud Of It”.

These people that create these offensive and naïve memes have no idea what it is really like to live with these conditions.  Because it is invisible it doesn’t actually exist.  Because there is no official blood test or genetic test, we all must be making it up.  It is all in our heads… why yes, it is.  Because of a lack of Serotonin, something produced in my brain (i.e. my head) I live daily with two severe illnesses.  I am not making it up.  Who would make up paying monthly for medications, weekly psychiatrist & therapy appointments, being hospitalized, becoming severely delusional, considering hurting or killing yourself?!  Yes, I totally want all of this!

But we live in a society that believes Mental Illness is not on the same level as a Physical Illness.  It is okay if you take lifelong medications for illnesses such as Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, and Cancer and that is not seen as an addiction.  Why is it okay for them but not for people like me?  Why am I considered ‘an addict’?  Why am I ‘faking it’?  I wonder if there was a real test that proved a Mental Illness diagnosis if these views would change.

I have weaned off medications a handful of times.  It can happen.  I lived 4 years med free before I entered into my 6th Major Depressive Episode.  Once on medication again, I took a hard look at my husband, my daughter, and my parents and told myself I didn’t want to see them suffer anymore.  I didn’t want to suffer anymore.  I decided then and there to never ever go off my antidepressant.  Lexapro and I will remain the best of friends.  I am not ashamed of my med.  Without it, I would be in a very dark place or not here at all.

To ‘The Free Thought Project’, research more on what is truth and what is fiction.  I don’t care if you lean liberal or conservative.  The Mentally Ill are a large population and by posting this, you are making us want to hide more.  Because of this, many people will stay silent.  Because of this, many people will not get the help they need.  Because of this thinking, more deaths by suicide will occur.  Remember that old adage “Stop and think before you speak”?  It would have come in handy here.

To all my fellow people with Mental Illness, please do not hide.  Do not believe a word of this absurdity.  There is help.  A walk in the woods can help, but it is not a cure.  It will not help as much as therapy and medication.  Remember:

 

Hi, My Name Is Not “Sophia’s Mom”

I was not given the name “Sophia’s Mom” at birth.  How would my parents know all those years ago that I would go on to have a beautiful daughter and name her Sophia.  I am sure they had hopes and dreams for grandchildren, but exact details as the sex and name of the child could not be foreseen in the stars.  After the birth of my daughter though, my name has gone from “Stephanie” to “Sophia’s Mom”.  When introducing myself to her friends’ parents, I always say, “Hi, I am Stephanie, Sophia’s Mother.”

And yet, almost 99% of the time when introduced at school events, or to other friends, I am always referred to as “Sophia’s Mom”.  

But I am so much more.

Being Sophia’s mother is just one piece of me and it is a major important piece of me.  Having a child changes your life.  You are no longer responsible for yourself, you are now responsible for another human being.  I would be foolish to say that being her mother was not significant.  She is one of the reasons my heart beats.  She is one of my strengths.  She is this beautiful human being.  And I love being her mother.

But I am so much more.

I didn’t grow up thinking my career would be ‘Mother’.  I played house and had baby dolls and that was a dream of mine.  But, I was taught to have more aspirations.  My mother stayed at home until I, her youngest, was six.  Then she returned to work.  Her having a career taught me that I could have one of my own.  I did not have to rely on my future spouse for income.  I could earn my own money.

When I decided Architecture would be my schtick at six years of age, I dove into the career head on, even as a young child.  I would build any Lego set I could get my hands on.  The sets progressed in size and complexity as I aged.  In high school, I took drafting classes and started to design houses.  Instead of Teen Vogue, I would buy house plan magazines.  In college, I majored in Architecture and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Architecture.  Since graduation 15 years ago (wow, I’m old), I have worked in my field for several architects and now for a prominent furniture retailer & interior design studio.  I am not just “Sophia’s Mom”, I am also a “Project Manager/Architectural Services”.

Not every title is positive though.  Since teenager-hood, I have been a diagnosed Depressive.  Through the years, I gained the title of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and PTSD.  At my daughter’s birth, I had the titles of Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety.  I am Mentally Ill.  While most see these as negative, I have turned this into a positive.  I served as a Warrior Mom Ambassador and Climb Leader for the former Postpartum Progress.  I am an Ambassador for PatientsLikeMe.com.  I stand up to the stigma of Mental Illness and contribute not only to my blog, but online to The Mighty and Stigma Fighters.  I have contributed to three different books concerning Mental Illness, Stigma Fighters Anthologies II & III and A Dark Secret: Real Women Share Their Trials And Triumphs Of Their Battle With Maternal Mental Health Illness.  I am not only “Sophia’s Mom”, I am also a “Mental Health Advocate & Mental Health Author”.

While being a mother, I knew once Sophia started school, that I wanted to be known in that school for a reason most parents would not imagine.  I wanted the teachers and staff to know who I was in case my child was a trouble maker, which thankfully she never turned out to be.  I also wanted to be aware of what was going on in the school so I joined PTO.  First I was just your typical PTO member, then I became Treasurer.  For the last three years, I served in this position and will relinquish it once the school year ends and my daughter graduated elementary school in three weeks.  I have grown close to the staff and will miss them as they have always been nice and considerate to my daughter and myself.  I was not only “Sophia’s Mom”, I was “PTO Treasurer”.

What I am saying is we as moms are so much more than mothers.  You have likes and dislikes, hobbies and other things you are interested in.  Aside from all that I mentioned above, I am a daughter, sister and loyal friend.  I love to garden, to hike, to exercise.  I like hanging out with my friends painting or enjoying a nice meal.  We need to remember that being a mother is a part of us, a huge part, but not the only piece.  The next time I am introduced as “Sophia’s Mom”, do not be shocked if I correct you and say:

“Yes, I am Sophia’s Mom, but I am Stephanie Paige.”

When I Learned To Accept My Depression Diagnosis

I am not a woman who hides her age.  I will admit it, I am 37.  I don’t look it and that is probably why I will fully cop to my actual age.  I have a young (very young) face and I am short (incredibly short).  Throw these two traits together and I might as well be 20.  I still get gawkers and non-believers when I correct people on my age.  I am 37 and for the last 23 years, I have been a sufferer and survivor of Depression.



My first diagnosis was at age 14.  With all the rapid firing, teenage emotions, who would’ve known that Depression was there too.  I certainly did not.  I just blamed normal teenage angst.  The signs were there though… crying uncontrollably, hating myself, hating others, wanting to run away, wanting to remove myself from this crazy world (although not by suicide… that would come a few years later).  Once my parents realized there was something not quite right with me, I was brought to a therapist where I received my diagnosis and then to group therapy with other troubled teens.  Major Depressive Disorder.  I was angry.  I was so angry.  Why me?  Why couldn’t I just be ‘normal’?  And then there is the infamous stigma.  Back in the early 1990s, being labeled with a Mental Illness had people envisioning you in a strait jacket, talking to yourself and banging your head against walls.



I could not accept this diagnosis.  Being a teenager, I fought it like I fought everything else.  I barely paid attention at group therapy.  I still was mad at my parents.  No, nope, I would not be a Depressive.



A few years later, almost 18 and a legal adult, my 2nd episode with Major Depressive Disorder hit.  This time I was suicidal.  Group therapy was a thing of the past.  I was now seeing a therapist one-on-one.  I was deeply immersed into CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).  Even with wanting to die, holding a case cutter to my wrist, and seeing a professional, I could not accept living a life with Depression.  Nope, not for me.  I didn’t want it.  Someone please, for the love of God, take it from me.



My 4th bout of MDD was one of my worst, it was my battle with Severe Postpartum Depression and Anxiety, an illness so taboo in the mid-2000s.  I felt so alone.  I knew no one.  I became hospitalized.  Now, Stephanie, now would be the time to accept your circumstances and push past the trauma to live a fulfilling life.  Nope!  In the fight or flight aspect of Anxiety, I was and will always be a fighter.  I couldn’t understand why I had to go through this… hating my daughter, the panic attacks, crying spells, being an empty void for almost a year.  I couldn’t accept that I would never experience a typical postpartum and be the doting new mother.  I missed so much of my daughter’s first year of life, it just wasn’t fair.



My latest episode, brought on by taking care of and eventually having to give back my former foster son, was probably the worst.  I grieved for the loss of him for a good year and a half.  I was struck by several panic attacks, another hospitalization, and the realization that I was meant to only mother one child.  I lost myself, hopes and dreams I had for myself.  It brought back the trauma of my postpartum experience and ultimately gave me a PTSD diagnosis.  While dwelling so much in the past with the “Why me?”, “It’s not fair”, “I miss him”, I once again missed out on a big chunk of my daughter’s life, the child I did have.



It’s interesting though. I think we begin to learn acceptance with age.  After all, we are not as young and virile as we used to be.  I accept that I cannot run as fast I could before.  I accept that I can’t eat the foods I could eat before and maintain my weight.  I accept that my hair grays quicker after each coloring appointment.  So why couldn’t I accept my Depression diagnosis?  I have been living with it for over 2 decades.



Yes, I will never get that first year of my daughter’s life back.  I have so many pictures of my robot self from then, bad memories of myself caught on a piece of photo paper.    I will never get that year and a half of her life back from grieving the little boy who left our house.  I sat with this, after a year of EMDR therapy, and it came to me.  A light bulb literally appeared in my head and turned on.  By torturing myself with fighting my Depression, I was missing out on so much in life.  I took hold of a phrase my EMDR therapist would tell me:



“Invite your Depression in for a cup of tea.”



This time, after decades of being at war with my brain, I took his advice.  When I would find myself in pain over the past or self-loathing, I sat back and talked with my Depression, letting it consume me for that moment.  In time, I have learned to live in that moment, whether with my Depression or with my Anxiety, inviting it in for tea, and after a short time let it go.  My Depression no longer devours me.  The lies it tells me, no longer control me.  I have finally learned to live with this illness.



Twenty-plus years later, I have learned acceptance.