Category: Mental Health

Testing, 1, 2, 3

Not doing so well at the moment. I don’t want to go into it.

I’ll post more once I get my thoughts together.

This is one of my favourite songs, and has been for the past couple of years. In fact, I’m performing a cover of it tonight at an event for queer performers with disabilities.

There’s always one line that sticks out for me:

Have you ever been alone in a crowded room? Well, I’m here with you.

With my mental illness, I often feel alone. Sure, there are a lot of people my age with depression or anxiety, but a lot of them seem to be on anti-depressants and more or less fine on the first drug they try. Or they’ll have depression, but it’s hard to find someone my age with something like bipolar disorder. In a lot of ways, I feel a lot older than my peers; mental-health wise, I’ve been through more than a lot of the people I know, just in terms of medication switches, misdiagnosis, and feeling absolutely god-awful.

I don’t see myself in a lot of portrayals of mental illness. In every antidepressant commercial I’ve seen so far, the people in it seem to be at least 10 years older than me. On all the websites for psych medication – again – it all shows people in their 30s and beyond. A lot of the stories I hear about mental illness involve people who, again, are not diagnosed until they are much older than me. Which begs the question – where are the young adults with mental illnesses? The typical age of onset of many mental illnesses is late adolescence or early adulthood.

Oddly enough, sometimes, I relate to children with mental illness more than adults with mental illness. Depression came on early for me – around the age of 13 or so – but the hypomania didn’t show up until around 15 or 16. I’ve always been anxious as all hell; at my recent assessment, my mom pointed out that I was even anxious as a toddler. I’ve been reading More Than Words lately, and I really feel for Brenna and Ailish. Like Ailish, I’m prone to depression and anxiety, and am sensitive and intense. Like Brenna, I have had total screaming/crying breakdowns before. (The family was on 20/20 recently, and there’s a video clip of Brenna in the middle of a psychotic breakdown. I would never post it because, while I’ve never been psychotic, I’d hate it if someone captured one of my breakdowns for the whole world to see.) Reading this blog has made me feel not so alone; I feel like someone knows what I’m going through, even if it’s two 12 and 14 year old girls from California.

If you’re reading this, I’d really encourage you to comment. Not because I need validation (although this is also true – ha!) but I think, if you’re out there, we could really support each other on this journey. I know you’re out there.

Have you ever been alone in a crowded room? Well, I’m here with you.

In the Balance

Yesterday, my doctor raised my dosage of my anti-depressant, Zoloft, from 50 milligrams to 75. It’s a small raise, but every medication or adjustment of medication that I’ve had so far seems to throw me into either depression or hypomania. The antidepressants I was prescribed when my diagnosis was “just anxiety” made me manic (well, one made me mixed, and the other made me manic), and one of the first-line medications for bipolar II, Seroquel, didn’t do enough to stop my moods from cycling. I’m currently also on an antipsychotic/mood stabilizer, Zyprexa. The combo isn’t working as well as I’d like; I’m still moderately depressed. However, I’m definitely better than I’d be off meds, and I am truly grateful for that.

When you spend so much time in either one end of the spectrum or another, you learn to appreciate the “normal” days, when you have enough “spoons” to do what you’d like, but don’t feel restless or agitated. While since being on Zyprexa (which is a potent anti-manic), I’ve sometimes missed my hypomanias, I remind myself that my hypomanias tend to start out well (I’m happy, energetic, on top of the world) and go bad pretty quickly. Even when I’m “up”, I can become an agitated, anxious, irritable mess.

I really relate to the author of More than Words when she talks about her daughters’ small victories. Even though my mental illness isn’t as severe as Brenna’s or Ailish’s, it’s still a day-to-day struggle. I’ve really learned to appreciate the small things; the days when I’m energetic enough to go to a party, even if it makes me horribly nervous, coffee with a friend, or a sunny afternoon. I have good days and bad days, but I know there’s something better out there for me.

Here’s hoping this change gives me some much needed balance.

Today, a friend of mine asked if I was mad at her. I replied “Of course not, why would you think that?” She explained that since we last hung out, I haven’t been talking to her much.

I’ve been dealing with a moderate level of depression for the last month or so. Depression saps all my energy. When I was at my worst, I was sleeping 12-16 hours a day, and could barely find the strength to get out of bed. Even though my physical health is fairly good, I relate a lot to the Spoon Theory.

When I’m hypomanic, or even at my baseline, I’m a ball of fire. Hypomania, in particular, seems to give me a seemingly infinite supply of “spoons”. There isn’t enough to do in a day to keep me occupied; I am endlessly social, having the energy to do everything in a day. I’ll cook, play music, write, swim, spend time with friends, and do more – sometimes all in one day.

When the depression takes over, I am left with a limited amount of spoons. For example, when I came home from university, it took me several weeks to finally unpack all my clothes. I probably simply appear lazy to most people; washing dishes, walking a block down the street, or doing other things requiring any amount of energy can be almost impossible. Socializing also becomes difficult. It’s hard to make small talk with people, especially when the depression gets especially brutal.

It’s different spending time with people who I can talk to about what I’m going through, but often, I either feel like I’m imposing, or will be shunned as bipolar disorder is still a fairly stigmatized mental illness. When I’m at a low point, if you take me out for coffee and ask how I’m doing – and genuinely mean it – it will expend some of my energy, but it can make me feel at least somewhat better. Just knowing that someone cares is important.

However, time with casual friends that don’t know what’s going on, while it can also be enjoyable, becomes really difficult to motivate myself to spend. It can also become exhausting. I feel like I can’t talk about much when I’m depressed; the words don’t come as easily, and I’m left feeling like a bad friend. This can, understandably, come across as me being unfriendly, or annoyed with my friends for some reason, but really, it’s because I’m running out of spoons.

It’s hard to articulate. To someone without depression or bipolar, it’s hard to imagine depression sapping your energy to the point where everyday things become difficult.

Sometimes, I even feel guilty talking, or thinking about my spoons. After all, aren’t I, at least on the surface, what society would define as “healthy”? Am I appropriating the experiences of people with chronic physical illnesses?

To me, mental illness is similar to physical illness in many ways. I experience physical pain and fatigue when I’m depressed, and in addition to my mood, this leaves me with a limited number of spoons to get through the day.

This song strikes a chord with me. At my recent assessment, my mom brought up the history of mental illness in my family. 3 of my four grandparents had fairly severe mental illnesses; my maternal grandmother had severe, recurrent depression, my maternal grandfather developed psychotic depression later in his life, and my paternal grandfather was likely some form of bipolar. There’s also a history of anxiety and depression in other people on both sides of my family.

It makes me feel like I’m a part of some kind of legacy. A legacy of pain, yes, but one of hope as well.

Recently, I attended a meeting for a radical disability group. One thing that was brought up is the many divisions in the disability community; how the outside world tends to encourage specific groups to fight for their rights while excluding other groups, particularly those who are stigmatized.

I’ve seen a lot of this. I used to be involved in the autistic rights movement, at least online, back when I thought I could have asperger’s syndrome. (Turns out, I’m just a mentally ill weirdo with nonverbal learning disorder thrown in for added interest.) There’s been a large push to dissociate autism from mental illness; and, well, Astrid probably said it better than I ever could.

This act of saying “Oh, we’re not like those people”, which has been done with many disability communities, is an example of the kind of divide-and-conquer the people in power want us to do. Granted, it’s important to recognize when something is and isn’t a mental illness; for example, there’s been a movement to remove transsexuality from the DSM. However, there’s a difference between simply stating that something is different from a mental illness, and blatant ableism.

I believe that neurodiversity means more than just autism. I’m not autistic, but I have various things about my neurology that can definitely be seen as not “neurotypical”. Besides my mental illness, I have a learning disability (NLD) that’s somewhat similar to autism, and definitely can be seen as outside of the range of “neurotypical”. To me, neurodiversity isn’t just about autistic rights, although that’s an important part of it. It’s about acceptance of people with all kinds of neurology, whether they have autism, a learning disability, a mental illness, are blind or deaf, and the like.

But more important than expanding the meaning of neurodiversity, I think, is creating a more cohesive disability movement. I think that most people with disabilities, regardless of the sort, face obstacles in society, perhaps not as tied to their actual impaiments as society’s perception of ability and disability. As I’ve often heard people say, accessibility is about more than ramps. By banding together as people with disabilities, we can create greater accessibility and acceptance for everyone, not just a group we happen to be a part of.