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“Are You Ready For The Summer?” Well I’m Not!

‘Are You Ready For The Summer?’  Well I’m Not!

It’s that time of year once again when your kids excitedly begin emptying out their knapsacks full of textbooks in exchange for their beach towels and sunscreen.  It’s that time of year once again when the April showers (and ice storms) have allowed for the May flowers to bloom and the June sky to brighten our days for hours on end.  And in our home it’s also that time of year once again when my kids hop aboard the Greyhound bus to their happy place while their father sheds his happy tears and joyfully hugs them goodbye amid his happy dance.

Tomorrow begins the official start to summer for two of my kids (unfortunately the third child has another few days of exams to get through first before her official start to summer).  But nonetheless, the dog days are here and so is another full summer of making some of the most incredible lasting memories for them.  I myself went to sleepaway camp for most of my childhood and young adult life and I can definitely tell you that is where I made some of my most incredible lasting memories (and friendships) too, but last summer my illness made it very difficult for me to remember those incredible lasting memories while they were away.

I know in my heart that my kids are safe at camp (and keeping their campers safe too!) while having the best time of their lives and making those incredible lasting memories but you see there is one major hurdle; my illness prefers to wander down the dark and sinister highways instead of taking me on a relaxing and gratifying joyride through the tranquil and serene country roads.  I should be looking forward to our ‘break’ from one another because to be completely honest, we really, really need it, this year more than ever before.

Every year since I began struggling with depression and anxiety we have been met with many additional and unthinkable challenges and adversities which are regrettably a normal part of life, but as each year passes for me I have become less and less able to cope with them, let alone the daily grind.   As I have mentioned previously in other blogs I never really experienced anxiety as a child (or adult for that matter), that is outside of what is considered to be a conventional range (as everyone suffers with anxiety from time to time) and even when I think back to a few years ago it was nowhere near where it is today.

I really can’t explain to you in a way that you would fully understand what having an anxiety disorder or panic attacks feel like because truthfully everyone’s experience is probably a little bit different.  All I can tell you is that for me over the last year my senses have become extremely heightened to the point where it is affecting my entire life, my husband’s life and most definitely my children’s lives almost daily and even though it may seem illogical, unreasonable or inexplicable to them or others, it is oh so real to me.

Just try to visualize for a moment that you are physically ill with the stomach flu and have been puking your guts up all night long, in a darkened room, all alone and someone tries to tell you that you’re imagining it, that it’s all in your head, that you take things too personally, that you’re overthinking it, that you’re affecting other people’s lives in the process or that you are simply being overly dramatic.  This is what my life with anxiety is like and yes it seems illogical, unreasonable and inexplicable to many, but for me it’s just plain exhausting, scary and very, very lonely at times when you are always afraid of your feelings or emotions.

The last thing I want is to let my anxiety and depression affect my husband and kid’s summers ahead, or have an instant replay of last summer where emergency personnel needed to intervene.  I really hope my husband gets to enjoy his well-deserved ‘break’, (but I also hope his Fitbit is fully charged for all the hiking trips I have planned!), a break from the 100’s of things he is burdened with as he continues to play the role of mom, dad and caregiver each and every day (and he is certainly not shy about letting you know how much he can’t wait for them to get on that damn bus already!).   I get it, I get his excitement, I get the kid’s excitement, I truly get it all from the bottom of my heart, I just wish my mind could get it so I can also enjoy a relaxing and gratifying joyride through the tranquil and serene country roads too.

My Birthday Present To Me; A Brand New License Plate

My Birthday Present To Me; A Brand New License Plate

This Saturday I will be 47. As a child I always looked forward to celebrating my birthday; the presents, the cake, the parties, really what more could a kid ask for?  Once I had my own children my focus shifted to them and wanting to see that they got the same in return; the presents, the cake, the parties, all of it and more. I always loved planning their birthday parties especially coming up with a fun new theme each year and sometimes I even went so far as to create my own unique loot bag for all of their friends as a keepsake; doing so from scratch.  Those days have long since faded away and although they still want the presents and the cake, their party themes have sorrowfully veered away from Elmo and Dora The Explorer to Coors Lite and Vodka.

I had never really concerned myself with the thought of what birthdays truly represent which is a basic acknowledgment that you are getting older.  I guess a big part of why I never fretted over my age much as I was growing up was perhaps because as the baby in my family I longed to be older so I could do more of the things my brother got to do first.  I also consider that another reason age was never such a big deal to me the older I got (when I turned 30 and 40 I didn’t even bat an eyelash) was due to the fact that I don’t look my age at all and never have (just ask the concerned bridal consultants when I was dress shopping for my wedding), or maybe it’s simply that I married a guy who’s almost nine years older than me!

Over the last few years however the significance of birthdays and getting older has impacted my mental wellness considerably.  Birthdays are supposed to be a happy occasion filled with celebration and hopefully a day for being pampered and spoiled by your loved ones, but instead nowadays as that day approaches for me I begin to feel more anxious and sadder.  Birthdays, although considered to be a happy occasion can also cause us to reflect, well at least they do for me.  Turning a whole year older now signifies another year that I am still battling with depression and anxiety, another year of reflecting on the ‘what if’s’, the regrets and the missed opportunities.  They are all neatly wrapped together in a tiny little box with a beautiful pink bow on top just like that birthday present you once longed for except this time as you tear away the layers of wrapping paper you are hoping it has a gift receipt attached to it because all you can see inside that box now are the ‘what ifs, the regrets and the missed opportunities.

This past weekend seemed to add further fuel to that growing fire.  Every year about six weeks before your birthday you receive a notification in the mail as a reminder that your license plate sticker needs to be renewed (well in Canada that’s how it works at least).  This year was a double whammy for me, actually it was more like a quadruple one because I not only needed to renew my license plate sticker which is quite simple and can be done so online, but I also needed to renew my actual license and health card too which for most individuals would not be such a big deal, just time consuming, but for me, well it’s a whole other story.

Needing to renew my license and health cards meant I had to go to the crowded license bureau itself and it also meant I would have to have my picture taken, yup just a few of the 100’s of things that would cause my anxiety to soar through the roof, driving outside my comfort zone nowadays, being alone in crowded rooms and last but definitely not least having my picture taken which I will have to look at for the next five years when all I want to do is erase any memories that represent this fractured part of my life.  To help avert part of the problem my husband agreed to take me and although he couldn’t resolve the issue of having my picture taken, he came to my rescue once again.

Over the past few months I have not been able to drive much due to my anxiety and panic attacks and will only do so within my comfort zone, but within that comfort zone I stand out like a sore thumb because for the last 30 plus years I have been driving around with a personalized license plate, and everyone who knows me or has ever known me, knows I’m coming from miles away. It was originally my mother’s plates which my family had given to her as a birthday present over 30 years ago but at some point in my late teens I became the sole owner and operator of her then baby blue Le Baron and the license plate too.  I was more than happy to keep the license plate as it was my dog’s name, and once my dog was no longer with us it meant even more, and believe it or not it still does today, however recently having a personalized license plate has been adding to my list of anxieties.  It may be difficult for someone to understand who doesn’t suffer from acute anxiety or a severe lack of self-esteem but when all I want to do is hide or drive through the neighbourhood with the least amount of resistance I needed to make that change.

It was by far a much more difficult decision for me than it seemed leading up to that moment as I stood speaking to the customer service representative at the license bureau asking her what I needed to do in order to change my plates.  After she finished telling me the simple steps it would take in doing so, she said, ‘so would you like to do this today?’  I hesitated and tears began to stream down my face (yup, that’s how life goes for me), and my husband who was waiting nearby saw my struggle and piped in and said, ‘yes, she would.’

You see it’s those simple and loving nudges I need in my life, the ones that help me look toward my future instead of sticking to my past.  I will never let go of that personalized license plate, rust and all, in fact my kids were actually a bit sad when we arrived home with my shiny new plates, so maybe when they buy their first car I will wrap up those plates for them with a beautiful pink bow on top, knowing that they will take as good care of them as I have, but this time there will be no need to attach a gift receipt inside.

Becoming A Butterfly

Becoming A Butterfly

“Just when the caterpillar thought her life was over…she became a butterfly”.

The last few weeks have been exceptionally difficult for me and I have been struggling a lot.  There is never an easy answer as to why some days or weeks are harder than others even though I am very much aware of many of my triggers, but as I’m sure you all know, life is always full of surprises.  Over the past several years I have found that the month of June itself to be a very overwhelming and stressful month in general, but this one seems to be rising above the rest, and it’s only halfway through.  All of the healthy boundaries I have worked so hard to apply to my daily life recently seem to have all but disappeared.  Right now as I sit here writing this I am silently (well I guess it’s not so silently) wishing I could build a cocoon around me for protection from the world, at least that is, until I am able to become a butterfly.

The good news is, my husband has settled back into the workforce really well after a 16 month reprieve and he seems quite content.  Since he began working again just a few short weeks ago I have been trying to focus much of my attention on my creative soul.  From the time I was just a little girl I would spend countless hours writing and creating art but over the years it has become less and less of a hobby, especially once I had my own kids and they no longer showed an interest in doing art projects with me!  Being creative enables me to look at life in an entirely new perspective, it allows me to take risks and face some of my fears.  It gives me the opportunity to break away from my mundane routine and contort my thoughts toward something more positive and it also means challenging myself to attain a goal.

A lot of my inspiration nowadays comes from my journey itself (surprise, surprise) while keeping in mind that there can only be one destination in the end, so maybe by trying to rekindle my creative soul that somehow got lost along the way, then maybe, just maybe one day I will be able to become a butterfly.

Butterflies actually serve a purpose in our lives beyond their beauty; they also symbolize images of freedom, peace and life.  It’s ironic though because the only image of butterflies I have in my mind most days now are from the feeling I get when I am extremely anxious or nervous to the point where I have ‘butterflies in my stomach’.  But quite possibly this expression is really just a metaphor for what the butterfly is truly meant to represent, which is to help protect its environment, so maybe those butterflies flying around in my gut are simply just trying to protect me.

Those symbolic ‘butterflies in my stomach’ have been on this journey with me since the beginning, but everyone knows that in order for a butterfly to learn how to spread its wings and fly away it must first endure a very long and strenuous metamorphosis, much like my healing process.  The pain and struggle I have experienced over the last four years and as I continue to battle with my depression and anxiety can undeniably be compared to that of a butterfly’s life cycle.

The Larvae is the first stage of the life cycle which for me is very symbolic as it is representative of the uncertainty of my battle which also leaves me wondering daily how I somehow wound up here.  The next stage in a butterfly’s life cycle is that of the Caterpillar which clearly depicts my struggle of exhaustingly trying to figure out if there actually is a light at the end of my tunnel while continuously needing more from life and patiently fighting my feelings of being hopeless and worthless.  The third stage of the life cycle is called Chrysalis which is where my ‘I Choose Me’ mantra stems from as it is the stage that symbolizes self-awareness while trying to figure out how to emerge from my isolated and desolate life into a pathway toward health and wellness.

The final stage of course is that of becoming a butterfly.  As I think about the emergence of that butterfly in relation to me, I see it as scared, unbalanced, distressed and hurting.  The journey could not have been an easy one for the butterfly as upon its arrival it is still unsure as to where it belongs or where it should go or even how it will get there.  Its wings may be broken from its long and strenuous journey but when it finally finds that outstretched hand to perch its tired wings upon it will know that it is ready to break free from its cocoon and become a beautiful butterfly.

When Depression Smiles

*Sensitive Content*

When Depression Smiles

This has been a particularly turbulent week for me. Lots going on at home right now (which I will leave for another time), that combined with the uncertain state of Ontario’s future thanks to the circus of an election we just weathered through and to top it all off with my own state of mind when I awoke not once but twice this week to the devastating news that two prominent, influential and highly successful public figures in the media world had taken their own lives.

I have spent the better part of my week consumed with the media reports and all the backlash that seems to follow when a prominent, influential and highly successful public figure like Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain or Robin Williams take their own lives, without any warning, or so it seems to many of us. I have previously mentioned in other blogs what the news of Robin Williams’s suicide did to me, a person who spends a significant amount of time battling similar, incomprehensible demons in my own mind.

Even though most of us don’t actually know any of these media moguls personally, we develop a pseudo-type of relationship with them when we buy their products, follow their brand, listen to their music or welcome them into our homes and our hearts through their big box office hits or television shows. So yes, believe it or not these types of relationships become very personal to many, and for me, an already vulnerable individual, I am left trying to figure out why someone like myself shouldn’t mimic their very tragic, harmful actions. I mean, come on, look at what they had to live for…

There is definitely an all too familiar commonality that many of these prominent, influential and highly successful public figures share. Watching them from the comfort of our homes, the news media or a magazine stand they all seem to have a life most people only dream of while being surrounded by their loved ones and more money than anyone could ever know what to do with in one lifetime. Yet, with all of their fame and good fortune they were still just human beings, many of whom felt compelled to smile through their tears.

Unfortunately the stigma associated with mental illness has led many of these prominent, influential and highly successful public figures the inability to use their platform to raise awareness or give them the ability to remove their mask before it becomes too heavy to wear any longer. Psychologists have actually named this simply as “Smiling Depression”. This defense mechanism is sadly how many of us who battle with mental illness live day in and day out for fear that others will find out that they aren’t actually living a perfect life.

Many people who live this way don’t want to burden or bother others with their problems quite possibly for fear of being rejected or for fear of showing their vulnerability to others, yet on the inside they are feeling empty, insecure and worthless which I know will only lead to an enormous amount of guilt and shame and suicidal ideations. For many individuals who are unable to remove their mask, it is that much more difficult for loved ones or professionals to recognize that an individual is at risk for suicide or in distress.

There really is an endless list of signs and symptoms of suicide but the reality is that many individuals, not just those in the public eye, can and will hide behind their smile so they don’t come across to others as weak. As I finish writing this blog I will leave you with this anonymous quote which can help educate others to the detrimental effects of mental illness which is that no matter how much a person may be smiling always try to “check on your strong friends, check on your quiet friends, check on your happy friends, check on your creative friends, always check on each other!

Is Suicide Selfish?

IS SUICIDE SELFISH? *Sensitive Content*

If you have ever walked inside of a Kate Spade outlet or been fortunate enough to own one of her signature bags or any of her many other creations for that matter you will know that her brand is unique and distinctive. Her brand beams with excitement and fun and is overflowing with bright, bold stylish patterns and designs. Much like her designs, Kate herself was recognized as a bright, bold, fun and unique individual to the outside world as well as a fashion icon and a very successful self-made businesswoman. She was also an inspiration to millions of young, like-minded girls around the world, but now, since the very first broadcast and publication of her suicide, speculation and rumours have quickly shined a whole new light on her. A light that is being overshadowed by discernment and the belief that she is to be remembered simply as cowardly and selfish.

The Internet and other news outlets are being inundated with ‘fake news’ and false pretenses about Kate’s suicide and the impact she left behind to those who looked up to her and especially to those who loved her. Unfortunately, as many of you know, suicide is excruciatingly difficult to fathom when you are standing on the outside looking in and even more so when someone who seems to have it all could be hurting that much. It becomes so easy for people to caste judgement on or anger towards another human being who has completed the act of suicide, but for someone like myself I only see the lack of awareness and understanding about how depression truly works.

Depression and many other mental illnesses can shatter even the strongest, most successful and most loving people you know. I know how depression feels and how easily and quickly it can manifest into self-destructive behaviour where your brain begins to overpower your heart. I know how suicide would impact on my family, but my depression tells me otherwise. My depression constantly tells me that I am a burden to those who love me, that I am just making things worse for them and that they would be better off without me.

My depression tells me lies each and every day from the moment I wake up until the moment I finally close my eyes late at night. It doesn’t tell me what my heart wants, but instead it tells me what my mind needs. It tells me I am hopeless and worthless and that all of my efforts in regaining some kind of normalcy again are pointless. It is constantly reminding me that this is as good as it’s ever gonna get and that I may not have physically left my family but emotionally I checked out a long time ago and there ain’t no going back. My depression also knows I have a lot to be grateful for in my life but my mind continues to play tricks on me, telling my heart I’m undeserving of any type of happiness, success or the love from my family.

Social media and other news outlets along with the general population will continue to speculate and spread rumours as to why Kate Spade chose to end her life and leave behind her young daughter to carry on the pain she left behind, but as I continue to find my place in this world as a person living with a mental illness I know that pain all too well. I can only hope that the millions of impressionable young girls who looked up to Kate and all those who deeply loved her will carry on her memory as the fun, bright, unique individual that she so boldly tried to emanate from both her mind and her heart.

Chopping Off My Security Blanket

Almost everything nowadays in my life has become a task of carefully calculating and methodically planning and executing it, including getting my haircut. In order to complete tasks such as this which require me to leave my home and access unfamiliar territory is done so with a vast amount of anxiety and anticipation. To try and ease some of my discomfort I aim to do these tasks on days that I will be least likely to run into someone I may know, even if it’s someone I haven’t seen in ten years. I also tend to only do such tasks at certain times of the day when again I figure I am less likely to run into someone I know. Keeping this in mind though trust me when I tell you that there are still several places you will never find me no matter what day of the week or time it is, including the local mall which I have not stepped foot inside of in more than two years.

It’s been quite a while since I got a haircut and I knew I needed one…badly. I have always kept my hair somewhat long and I’m pretty sure it’s from the trauma my mother caused me as a young child when she forced me to keep it short and often times during my early youth I was even seen sporting an unsightly bowl cut! But like every other task, simple or not, the planning and executing is an extremely paralyzing feat. The best part about my hair salon is that I can book my appointments online and don’t have the added anxiety of having to pick up the phone and talk to someone live which is at least one less thing to stress over!

So today was that day, the day I so carefully and methodically calculated (all last week) as the day I needed to get my haircut, and even executed the perfect time of day for me to do so as well. I knew my hair was lacking any lustre and thought maybe a new shorter hairstyle could liven it up; maybe the change would be good for me. Ya well as usual, I was sadly mistaken.

I have come to realize that my hair is somewhat of a security blanket, something that gives me comfort and ease, kinda like how Linus from the Peanuts comic strip feels as he totes around his blanket everywhere. It represents safety and something I so often find myself trying to hide behind. It is part of my identity and a part of my self-image that wasn’t so frayed. My hair was a part of me I welcomed compliments from as it distracted others from all of the many insecurities I have about myself, including everything that my hair surrounds.

It’s not my hairdresser’s fault at all, he was only doing what I asked of him, and I was confident in his ability to complete this undertaking smoothly, and he did so for all intents and purposes because I am now sporting a new, healthier, trendy and very summery hairdo and I know that it’s only hair which will eventually grow back. I also know that whether or not I believe it to be true, my hair doesn’t actually define who I am, but for now it has left me and my already agonizingly low self-esteem lying in a tangled up ball on the salon room’s floor waiting to be swept away together.

Just The Facts Ma’am; It’s Really Not “All In Your Head”

*Warning Sensitive Content*

Statistics show that the amount of people suffering with depression is quickly becoming more common than any other illness or disorder and that it is also the most common mental illness among those who die from suicide. These statistics leave me pondering why there are still so many people who don’t know much about depression and suicide.  I can tell you from my own experience that it is first and foremost a real illness, one that is often silent, life-altering and potentially deadly.

Many people have a preconceived notion about what depression and suicide really are and this continues to make it especially laborious for an infinite amount of individuals suffering with a mental illness to find the strength to be as open and honest with loved ones and professionals as they would like to be.  Too many times a person in the presence of someone who is suffering with depression or suicidal ideations may unintentionally use phrases like ‘I’m so depressed’ or ‘I’m gonna kill myself’ as a figure of speech to express their emotions in that moment without registering the substantial impact it may have on those who are truly hurting around them.

When someone casts these inadvertent statements around you it only diminishes and devalues the seriousness of mental illness, which also leaves so many people grappling with the inability to reach out and ask for help.  You see, depression lies to you because it makes you feel so alone & weak and makes you feel like the world is always judging you, simply put, depression and suicide are just vastly misunderstood.

The lack of knowledge and education encompassing depression and suicide continues to make it more and more challenging for the millions of people around the world to feel protected when they are trying to express their thoughts and feelings instead of worrying that they will be made to feel more alone, more weak and more judged.  Even though we as a society have made great strides over the last decade in recognizing that mental illnesses are not “all in your head”, I know there is still so much work to be done.  I know this because I live with a mental illness every day, I live with depression every day, I live with anxiety every day and I live with suicidal ideations every day.  I have been made to feel all alone, weak and judged as well as too afraid to speak the truth for fear of the aftermath as I have experienced much of that aftermath with significant regret and sorrow.

The misconception that a mental illness is “all in your head” can and will belittle a person suffering.  Depression et al is very much a disease and sadness is very much an emotion.  It is not something provoked by encountering a bad day and then thinking that by taking a long hot bath you can cure it; it unfortunately doesn’t work that way, and likewise, it can’t always be “fixed” by simply taking a pill (but I do hear that it can make you a racist, A.K.A Roseanne Barr!).  Many people assume that if someone is afflicted by a mental illness that a doctor will merely prescribe them an antidepressant and it will miraculously go away.  I know for me and many others this is completely untrue.  I have tried over 20 antidepressants and all that they did for me was lead to further complications.  I’m not saying that medication won’t work for everyone, but thinking that it will, can be very impeding on your loved one’s road to recovery.

One of the most difficult roadblocks I find while suffering with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts; a roadblock which can become the most dangerous one of all; a roadblock which can create a barrier so high that we can no longer speak our truth because the face of mental illness is so misconstrued.  Unfortunately you can’t see a mental illness in the same way that you can see many other disorders or illnesses (or a broken leg for that matter), so please forgive me if I tend to smile or even laugh once in a while or put on some makeup to hide my tired eyes or even carry on a normal and engaging conversation with you, but these actions are by no means an indication that I am not still hurting inside and will just leave someone like myself feeling more alone, more weak and more judged because “I look fine”.

I can probably relay to you fifty more preconceptions behind depression and mental illness in general but instead I will just continue to write my truths, be as honest as I can be and give you ‘just the facts’, the facts that I have come to believe to be true, the facts that are not “all in my head but instead come straight from my heart.