Thursday, 19 March 2015

Judge, Jury and Executioner

My family has had a disappointing experience over the past couple of days around mental illness and the all too common stigmas attached to it.

Listen, I get that discussing mental illness can be a conversation killer at the best of times, that’s why we never let it define us as people or make depression and anxiety the centrepiece of who we are.

Having said that, it is terribly sad when family members turn away and blame those that are or have suffered from the debilitating effects of depression.  I’ve always said and will continue to say until the day I die, if you have depression you would not wish it on your worst enemy. It is a life altering and extremely lonely place to be.

My husband and I want to be the kind of parents who are open enough to discuss mental health with our kids so that, God forbid, should they suffer in the future, we will offer them safety and compassion. Compassion is key. I have never asked anyone to “fix” my depression nor has my husband during his struggles. We have always just asked for a little patience and compassion as we work through the cycle.

When people, particularly close family members, are unwilling or incapable of such compassion, the difficult decision must be made to do without those individuals; sometimes forever. If there is willingness on the part of the depressed person to take responsibility for behaviours that may have occurred or seemed hurtful in the throes of illness, it is also the responsibility of said family to at least listen. If it cannot go beyond that and understanding cannot be reached, perhaps the relationship must end.

We have experienced this in our family and it is a horrible feeling. Horrible yes, but to apologize for being depressed and making rash decisions is no different than asking for the cancer patient to apologize for getting sick and throwing up in front of you.

Sadly, we have a long way to go in eradicating the dark cloud of stigma that contending with a mental illness brings. In our family, we are grateful every day for every day. We have friends and family who may or may not fully understand the depths of despair that can be reached, but are willing to listen with compassion.

In this recent event, my husband was given a list by a family member of his bad behaviours and a demand for an explanation before said family member would consider letting him back in. Please note: the time in question was over five years ago without a word, a note, a care from this family member when it really would have meant something. Compassionate family members absolutely have the right to be hurt, disappointed and even angry at a depressed person’s actions before they receive treatment. It does NOT however, give them the right to act as judge, jury and executioner.

It is true, as with any illness, a person must take on responsibility for getting well if that is the desire, but they do not have to stand in front of family member and be judged worthy (or not) of support.

That behaviour is far worse than anything a depressed person could do.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Standing Your Ground from the Penalty Box

My son got a penalty in hockey this past weekend.

It got me thinking about the whole playing by the rules and not playing dirty vs. standing your ground and standing up for yourself. Granted, in sports there are boundaries and rules that are there to keep us focused on the game and to not allow players to deteriorate into a bloodbath, but are there times when bending the rules to reach your end game (i.e. winning) ok?

I watch my son every weekend play his heart out on the ice. I also notice that my skinny little thirteen year old isn’t afraid of anybody! Sure, he may suffer from sometimes debilitating anxiety in other areas of life, but when he is focused on a goal and that goal is in jeopardy of not being met, watch out. He is fearless on the ice no matter what size the opposing player may be. He knows what he needs to do and he does it. In today’s case, he likely went a little far and received a penalty for his trouble (as he should have). What struck me is how tenacious he can be and how I wish that I had more of that sometimes.

I don’t play sports and I’m not sure I’ve ever had a really competitive spirit, but man, there are times in my life I wish I could have just stood up for myself and not worried so much about how I would be perceived. I’ve spent most of my life relegating my point of view to the back burner in favour of keeping the peace. Sometimes, I was made to feel that what I thought or did was clearly wrong and if that happens enough, you just start to doubt your own judgement and keep your mouth shut.

The older I get, I accept that I am a relatively intelligent human being who is entitled to her own beliefs and opinions and if handled respectfully, should be able to express them for the greater good. Sometimes that isn’t always possible with the people in my life, but at least I am looking at this with a new perspective. I don’t want to compete for air time or force my point of view down other’s throats, nor do I want to be bullied into backing down. This is a tactic I’ve been subject to throughout my adult life and I’m finding that it is working less and less on me (which is a positive thing).

My hope is to continue learning from my son and hoping that he is able to make smart decisions and stand his ground for the important stuff in his life. I want him to respect the differing of views of others and to not make people feel somehow less for not agreeing with him. As a parent, I don’t think I am any different from anyone else for wanting that for my kid.

In the meantime, I will continue to watch him make his way on and off the ice and hope to God he spends less time in life’s penalty box and more times in the winners’ circle.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Don't mind me. I'm Sick

I’ve learned something about myself this week.

I’ve always hated being sick, but not for the reasons I initially thought. I thought I hated being sick for the obvious reasons like feeling like crap. I was home yesterday nursing what has become a pretty dreadful cold when I discovered there was more at play here.

As I sat down on my couch, blanket and tea in hand, I was swept with an overwhelming sadness. It wasn’t the kind of sadness that accompanies any physical ailments, it was more sadness cloaked in guilt.

As you probably already know, nothing is ever easy when you have an anxiety disorder. Instead of just realizing and accepting you are sick and deal, I have to turn it into a huge big deal that has me questioning my overall contribution to life.

For example, by taking the day yesterday and resting, I used a good portion of the day laying on the couch and berating the fact that there were countless things I could be doing at the moment to better the world. Instead of taking my Neo Citron and tuning in, mindlessly, to Maury and Jerry Springer, I bemoaned the fact that life was going on outside of my house without me and that soon I would be a distant memory to the players in my life.

Yes, I go that far. The common cold is anything, but common when coupled with everything else that goes on inside my body and that includes my brain. I don’t have a martyr complex. I know this for sure because I know martyrs. When martyrs get sick, they haul their sorry asses out of bad no matter how bad they feel, get dressed and spread their illnesses throughout the community in the name of “the show must go on”. They say things like, “Don’t mind me.” Hack. Cough. Hack. “I just have too much to do and I don’t want to burden anyone else with it.” Sniffle. Sneeze. Hack.. “Don’t get too close, I’m highly contagious, but still, I’ve got to be here or the entire operation will grind to a halt.” THAT’S a martyr and trust me, that ain’t me. I’m too self-obsessed to be a martyr.

When I’m sick, I feel there is NOTHING I can do, but roll myself into a ball and spend the day berating myself and trying not to talk to anyone. I make a mental list of all my life’s goals and then systematically go through it and tell myself why I will never accomplish anything since I am such a sickly, pathetic creature. I think about the world of activity going on outside my door and how I will never be a part of it. I think of all the inside jokes I am missing and that stresses me out (I LOVE inside jokes).

Instead of just leaning back and enjoying the solace for a day and the comfort my little dogs can bring me, I wreck it by assuming there are several fun and/or important things going on without my participation.

There may be one positive that comes from the cycling of anxious thoughts, they take my mind off the body aches, sniffles and annoying cough that threatens to blow my head clean off of my shoulders. Small mercies.