The Little Things Are Where Recovery Begins

“im team ‘cool karen ive got depression and that means i’m going to try this because i’ve got to try something’ i’m team ‘romanticize recovery’ i’m team ‘it isn’t working now but it might in the future and it’s worth staying to find out’.”

inkskinned

For as long as I can remember depression, anxiety, and god knows what other undiagnosed mental illnesses have been a part of my life. Some of it is nature, I believe. Some of it is nurture, I’m sure. But some of it is just being alive, being a person, being scared, and being hurt and disappointed by life.

Healing is a long journey I am still walking, and one I may walk forever, but I am always getting closer. Through trial and error, research and professional help, and, mostly, fumbling around in the dark, I am learning more and more about what works and what doesn’t.

The first time I sought help a therapist told me—after hearing about the bad things that happened to me, the stupid things I cried about, and all the ways I was hurting myself and others—that everything I felt and did was a perfectly normal response, considering what I had been through.

That is, anxiety, self-loathing, self-destruction, unstable relationships, and depression, were not at all indications that I was broken, or flawed, or unworthy of love. Mental illness is a perfectly human way of existing in this world.

The second time was someone I loved very much pointing out that depression and anxiety are not just illness. They are lies told to you by your own mind. The voices telling you that you are stupid, that you are ugly, that you don’t deserve happiness, that you don’t deserve life, that nothing will ever get better for you, it’s all a fucking lie. Every time that lie is spoken to you, you can speak right back. You can call out the lie. Like any liar who has been caught, your illness will double down when you confront it, but you just let it know that no matter how loud it gets, or what evidence it twists, you will never believe it.

It took me a long time to internalize these lessons, and some days I still struggle to stay on the track, but lately, It’s like I’ve hit a roadblock. My progress is slowing, and now, on my bad days, it feels more and more like I’m taking steps backward.

But my instincts tell me that when roadblocks are met, there are more lessons to be learned.

 

“There is no point treating a depressed person as though she were just feeling sad, saying, ‘There now, hang on, you’ll get over it.’ Sadness is more or less like a head cold- with patience, it passes. Depression is like cancer.”

― Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees

Earlier this year I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis—a chronic, incurable autoimmune disease that primarily affects the colon. Learning to live with a chronic physical illness, with the impact on my life as well as my emotions and the bunk advice from people who just don’t get it has really opened my eyes.

I’m learning to accept that life isn’t fair, but it’s still good. I’m learning to accept that even when your body fails and betrays you, it’s still a good body. I am learning that even when you are in a bad situation, there is still room for gratitude.

But the biggest lesson of all, the one I really need to internalize right now, is that just because there is no cure, that doesn’t mean treatment is useless, and that treatment is in every little thing that you do.

After my diagnosis, my doctor explained that treatment meant more than just visits to her office and medication. It included taking care of my stress levels, getting in tune with my body, asking for help when I need it, exercising and learning to eat well, drinking water, and making self-care a top priority.

She literally told me to meditate, do yoga, think positive thoughts, and do whatever it takes to get to my “Zen place” because the immune system is directly influenced by stress, anxiety, and emotions.

She added that, of course, none of that will stop my immune system from attacking the lining of my large intestines. There is no cure for ulcerative colitis, but taking care of myself in these little ways will help me achieve remission, and stay in remission, longer. She told me that even when I am too tired, and even when it hurts, even on my worst days, I have to try.

Depression, anxiety, and many other types of mental illness function the same way. You start with the little things, and all these little things are part of your treatment. They keep you healthy enough and strong enough to fight.

Lately, I’ve seen a lot of frustration and anger in the comments and replies of posts and tweets regarding simple self-care reminders and tips as part of treatment. The new thing is to shout about how no one understands depression and nothing can help, that reminding people to shower, eat well, take a walk, drink more water, text their friends, or say something positive to themselves when they can, is bad advice. Those, in my opinion, are the lies I was talking about before and now, with social media taking up so much more of our time and attention, and with our online relationships becoming more and more significant, these lies are finding a new way to spread and take hold.

It’s understandable that after years of being dismissed or misdiagnosed a person might be sensitive to the ways mental illness is discussed by “neurotypicals,” but a lot of what I’ve seen online is too far to the other end of the spectrum. Mental illness may or may not be curable, depending on the cause, but it is under all circumstances treatable. Saying that out loud doesn’t have anything to do with how serious a person’s condition is, and it isn’t dismissive of the struggle and hardships sufferers endure on a day-to-day basis.

And, yes, some of the pushback is warranted. Some people do believe that mental illness is a choice, a weakness of character or failure to control one’s thought, or to properly care for the body and that a diet change and a little sunshine will cure you. Yes, those people fail to understand what depression is, but you have to learn to separate their misunderstanding from what it means to properly care for yourself. You have to take a step back look at how you might be perpetuating bad practices and beliefs about mental illness when you dismiss advice that might help someone else.

We have to be careful how we say things, and we have to be open to letting people heal in the way that makes sense for them. We have to be careful about confusing what doesn’t work at all and what doesn’t work for me.

There are some who may be losing a battle right now, they may be looking for help and what you say can sway their resolve either way, especially when they are young, or newly diagnosed, or undiagnosed but in need of help. To tell them there is no getting better is to perpetuate the same lie their illness is telling them. We have to change the narrative. You may not be cured, but you most certainly can get better!

Every treatment option doesn’t work for everyone, and certainly, none of them work for the same person all of the time either, but any doctor will tell you that to fight a disease you have to do all these little things if you want to be strong enough to fight.

Let others start with just being able to get out of bed and eat something so they can take their medication. Let others start by getting outside, taking a walk, and enjoying a damn sunset, so they can get out of their own heads for a minute. Let others have their face masks, bath bombs, and glittery nail polish so they can love themselves for a moment today. Let other people have silly conversations, and laugh a little, so they don’t feel so alone. Let other people try things!

Some days wallowing might be the best you can do, but it is no long-term strategy. Remission is the primary goal. You might not know what “no evidence of disease” will mean for you yet, but you don’t have to. All you have to do is keep working toward the best and healthiest life that you can have.

So I guess that’s what I am trying to do here. I am saying to you and to myself that, yeah, it sucks to wake up every morning feeling the way we do, and I know that people don’t get it and everyone thinks they know what’s best for us but please, don’t give up. Please, don’t shut yourself off from things that might help.

Be honest with yourself about what healthy means and what you know you struggle with. Be honest about what you haven’t even been trying to do, and try to do it. Try eating something today. Try taking a shower. Try drinking more water. Try a face mask. Try getting out into the sun. Try texting a friend. Try looking in the mirror and saying one nice thing. Try breathing. Try helping someone else try.

It might not cure you, but it might make you strong enough to find a cure someday.

***

Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Featured photo by Ben Blennerhassett on Unsplash

Advertisements

Go and Heal Someone Else

“As soon as healing takes place, go out and heal somebody else.”

— Maya Angelou

Humans have a hard time accepting that other people might have an easier way in life than they did, even if the easier way in life is all they ever wished for when they were struggling. What I mean is, if we see some going through what we have but we see them being given the support, patience, and understanding we weren’t, we get angry, and we cry over what we didn’t have and what no one else should have either.

We’re just bitter. We feel we have been wronged and since those wrongs can’t be helped or undone the least we can have is that everybody is wronged in the same ways we were. It feels like some kind of justice or validation of what we went through if at least it is universal and enduring. There is relief in seeing others fight and struggle the same as you. I suppose it makes us feel superior for having survived while others fall behind. It gives us a little bit of power and control over the world and other people we’ve never had.

But it’s wrong, and we know it’s wrong.

What are we all fighting for if it isn’t so other people don’t have to go through what we did?

This week, listen to the ways you talk about what other people should have, what they deserve, and why you think they aren’t as strong or as smart as you if they had it a little easier. Listen to the ways you talk about change and what benefit you think there comes with keeping things the same?

I’ve heard people say we shouldn’t be fighting bullying in school, we shouldn’t have kids wear seat belts, we shouldn’t have therapy, we shouldn’t have later start times for schools, or awards for kids who do their best, why?

The only answer I get is because they didn’t have that when they were young, and they turned out fine so no one should. I always ask if they think they might have turned out better, happier, or more successful if they’d had more support, understanding, and a better sense that they were good enough, smart enough, and strong enough already to do anything they wanted in life. They always answer yes, and they have no answer for why they wouldn’t want that for everyone, even if they didn’t have it themselves.

For the most part, I’m aware of when thoughts like that creep into my head, but I still struggle with believing other people should be able to do everything I can with the same limited resources and assistance I had. I forget that I don’t have a corner on suffering and that I don’t get to decide what other people need or what they can handle. I can be just as hard on other people about their lack of progress as I am on myself for mine. I can forget to have a little understanding, patience, or empathy.

What healing I have done has taken a lot of work. Work that would have been so much easier if I’d had more support and understanding. I want to help others in all the ways I needed help when I was struggling rather than talking trash or thinking trash thoughts about how weak they are or about how much I did with so much less. I want to heal people, not hurt people. I want to teach what I have learned and make the world better for the next person who feels alone and lost. This week, try to do the same.

Of course it isn’t your job to heal anyone, just as it’s no else’s job to heal you either, but we are social creatures, and so much of our lives are wrapped up in other people’s lives, in society, and culture, and community, we all benefit when we build each other up and do our best to meet one another’s needs.

You can’t fix it all, I’m only asking you to do one thing you wish someone would have done for you when you were hurting. Try checking in on people, especially people you haven’t spoken to in a while, or people you think are strong and don’t need it. Try really meaning it when you ask how someone is doing. Encourage others to open up to you. Try opening up to other people and letting them know they are important to you and that they make you feel better. Try actively listening and not just waiting your turn to talk about yourself. Offer advice if it’s asked for. Offer a hug if they want it. Offer some words of validation always.

Heal yourself first. Get what you need, do what you need to, first, always first, but after you have made some progress and stored up some strength yourself, go out and help the rest of the world heal.

***

If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Featured image via Unsplash

Ask For Help, and Keep on Asking Until You Get It

Hello, dear readers and happy Monday! I know I know, Mondays aren’t happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting nothing more than to crawl back into bed and escaping the world.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s imagine that Mondays are the days when we get to start all over again. Let’s imagine all the bad things that happened last week don’t matter anymore and that we’ve been given a second chance to do it all again, and this time, we might even get it right.

From now on Monday’s are for making the changes we want to see in ourselves, and for thinking about the changes we want to see in the world. Monday’s are our new favorite days!

As for me, this Monday is a bit stressful, but I am proud of myself for keeping a cool head. My driver showed up half an hour late, which means not only were we late picking up our kids, and the parent was mad, but everything else I had to do today has been pushed back too. I am doing my best to catch up, but I fear it may be a lost cause. I’ll be late to everything until lunch.

“It’s never overreacting to ask for what you want and need.”

— Amy Poehler

My childhood wasn’t a particularly good one, and I have grown into an adult who struggles with depression and anxiety, and more specifically issues with boundaries, trust, and relationships of all kinds.

I do not like to be close to people, emotionally or physically. I fear there is always an ulterior motive, even with friends and family. I have a perpetually feeling of embarrassment and confusion around social norms and etiquette. I feel ashamed and afraid most of the time, and I am sad nearly all of the time. I suffer from panic attacks and bouts of depression, flashing rage, and uncontrollable crying. In my own mind, I am worthless, weak, ugly, dirty, and pathetic. I am a failure and a waste of space.

Some days I feel like I am swimming upstream and close to drowning. Some days just getting out of bed, and putting one foot in front of the other is the very best I can do.

There have been days where I wondered whether it might be better for everyone if I were to never wake up again.

I’ve had some therapy, but for most of my life I couldn’t afford it, so I’ve taken the unsure and unstable route of “self-help.” I have improved a lot through self-awareness, honesty, and forgiveness. I still think all the things I always have, but now I recognize them for what they are, symptoms of my past.

 

Getting there has been a lot of hard work, but it all started with one very small, but very big, step. Simply telling myself, and everyone around me, exactly what I needed.

I may need to be heard, be hugged, or be left alone. I may need to hear that I am understood, forgiven, and loved. Maybe need to be told what I am feeling is okay and I may need to be given the space to feel it. Maybe I need someone to hold my hand. I might need to gather my thoughts, to get away, to figure out how I feel. I might need to feel needed. I might just need food, medication, or water.

I might need help, and that is okay.

We live in a society that tells us to be strong we must hold our own. We are told that needed help is weakness and asking for help is something to feel shame for. It is so deeply a part of who we are now, especially as Americans, that I still have trouble asking for help and I still have thought that those who asked were weak. It’s a lesson I have to keep learning, and I wish more of us were learning it too.

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but one of strength. You have found it in yourself to reach out toward another human being and trust them to hear you and help you. It’s scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Each of us would love to help a friend who needed us and each of us would love to be helped too. To feel needed, understood, and cared for are all feelings we are looking for, no matter what our mental health status. We crave that closeness, and long to be that vulnerable.

Being open about my needs, and asking for help, helped me build relationships and learn to trust. It helped me recognize the ways I was hurting myself by not getting what I needed and allowed others to feel close to me and show their love. It gave me a chance to feel in control of my mental state. It gave me the chance to learn to cope and to heal. Asking for help opened to door for me to be able to do everything else I needed to do to get to where I am: happier, healthier, and functioning. I could never have made it this far with the help of others. None of us can.

This week, tell yourself, and a few people you trust, what you need.

There is a lot more to healing and coping with mental illness, but it all starts with the act of openness and asking. Ask for help, ask for what you need, and keep on asking until you get it, and then ask again whenever the need arises. Offer help when you can and let everyone you know hear that it is okay to do the same.

The world needs so much more of that.

***

If you like this post, consider signing up for my newsletter :)

Featured image via Unsplash