A blinder against hope – Depression

blogI’ve been there. It’s a surreal landscape. Terrifying. Disconcerting. Depression is a blinder against all hope. It blocks out all light and confuses the senses. You feel the confusion of weightlessness, nothingness and at the same time feel as if your heart weighs a thousand pounds. It is to feel the full responsibility of the world tied to you like a ticking bomb and to know you are powerless to escape it. 

Depression lays like a heavy, inviting, itchy, smelly blanket. You may want to leave that smelly cocoon but it is too damn heavy to move by yourself. At the same time, you want to stay in your blanket cave . You are fully aware that its a cold world out there and so shedding the blanket sounds foolish. Plus what if someone stole your familiar, what you already know, away? This is depression.

At its extreme, all the failures and faults of your life are laid out before you and the verdict is in. You mean nothing. You are nothing and will not be missed. You have failed at  what every other person you know has accomplished; just being a basic good human. The sick brain warps what is the ultimate selfish act into one of sacrifice and surrender.  In the darkness there are no acceptable answers. No choice is good.

Depression is very often about the past but anxiety is based in the future.  Neither are hospitable places for us to spend our emotional currency. Anxiety and depression are thieves. They steal your present and your future by overwhelming the senses with loneliness, uselessness and futility.

Putting one foot in front of another. Working towards a better today and tomorrow. Hopeful faith, believing in something bigger and more powerful than yourself. These are the only useful combatants in the fight against depression and anxiety.

Here’s to the living the day with hope for a brighter tomorrow.

DID – Formerly Multiple Personality Disorder

blogI’ve watched all the movies and tv shows about Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personality disorder. The screen has brought us Sybil, Three Faces of Eve and the United States of Tara. These shows, while introducing this relatively unknown and misunderstood disorder to the public conversation, have turned DID into entertainment.

“DID is a mental disorder characterized by the maintenance of at least two distinct and relatively enduring personality states. This is accompanied by memory gaps beyond what would be explained by ordinary forgetfulness.Dissociative identity disorder is a complex psychological condition that is likely caused by many factors, including severe trauma during early childhood (usually extreme, repetitive physical, sexual, or emotional abuse). Dissociative identity disorder is a severe form of dissociation, a mental process which produces a lack of connection in a person’s thoughts, memories, feelings, actions, or sense of identity. The dissociative aspect is thought to be a coping mechanism — the person literally shuts off or dissociates himself from a situation or experience that’s too violent, traumatic, or painful to assimilate with his conscious self.”

I have DID. My friends and family are largely unaware of this because I know how to camouflage myself. Covering up my personality and its quirks is a life long occupation. My experience with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is not a life of obvious changes, in and out of personalities with stark contrasts like Jekyll and Hyde. Its a journey of subtlety and confusion.

 I have spent days driving around in my car unsure of where I was going or where I had been. I lose track of time for hours at a time. My internal dialogue is a smattering of different voices. I am a gathering of fragments of different people, rather than one whole brain. When I work or read a book it is difficult for me to concentrate because of so many conversations going on in my head. My condition has inflection when I am triggered by past events, people, smells, memories or other triggers. I look in the mirror and the image staring back at me doesn’t look like its real.

Often times when I look at photographs of myself I have no memory of the photograph happening. I have some vague understanding that the person in the photo is me but I don’t remember the moment depicted.

My children tease me about my horrible memory but its true – my memory is terrible because I can go someplace or have a conversation and later not remember it at all . Recently I told my daughter we should go to a new restaurant I wanted to take her to and she told me we had already been there.  I have no recollection of the dinner we had there together.

In the movies a person with DID has an intentional and obvious switch in their personalities. Three Faces of Eve shows a head drop each time her personality changes. When Tara’s (United States of Tara) changes personalities she also changes clothes, attitudes and experiences. Each personality has its own life. These examples are vastly different than the slight shift I feel when my personalities change. For me it can be a blankness, a complete whiteout that happens in my brain or it can be a defined shift of emotion. Heavy fear, insignificance, insecurity all characterize some part of my personality.

My personalities don’t have names or dramatic shifts that are obvious to an outside, unpracticed eye. They are all well hidden beneath a thick exterior that is adept at hiding the shifts.

Frankly I am reticent to post this part of my mental health diagnosis because I know it sounds surreal and made up. I worry about judgement from others. However, whats most important to me is that I know my own experiences. I also trust the many psychiatrists and therapists who have worked on my case. I hope my life and writing can bring some light to this misunderstood, mischaracterized and misinterpreted disorder.

The weirdest girl

When I was in junior high I had braces with a medieval contraption called mouth gear that wrapped metal around my head, secured with an elastic band around my neck.  I was short. I had stick straight jet black hair and didn’t look like any other kids in my all white school. I wore hand me downs and goodwill dollar bin clothes. I felt uglier than any child ever on the face of the earth. One day a pretty popular girl told me I looked like a cow when I chewed my gum and I felt her insult to the core.

Junior high is pretty universally accepted as a time of torture for most children.  Our insecurities flared and we tried to camouflage them with wearing identical clothing. The lucky kids had name brands and no acne.

The challenge is that many of us never outgrow junior high.  We still feel like the weirdest, most awkward kid in the room. No matter who we are we feel like we stick out like a lightbulb in black room. We try to hide our insecurities with charisma and wittiness, but fail to believe it ourselves.

As an adult who is educated, talented and not completely unfortunate looking I still feel that way – like everybody is looking at me when I enter a room.

But its time for a change of perspective. We have been gifted with uniqueness, not weirdness. We have been given distinction, not difference. Life has offered us beauty in all forms and we make it ugly by comparing ourselves with each other.

I’m not the weirdest girl in the room anymore. I may be mentally ill, I am still short and my hair still doesn’t look like most other people I know. I wear athletic clothing all the time even though I don’t have the body of an athlete but I’m not weird. I’m blessed and special in God’s eyes and in the eyes of those who love me.  That is something to celebrate and I will celebrate it!

Trauma Treatment

When I arrived at the psych hospital for a workshop the facilitator prescriptively said, “This is the beginning of your 3-5 year journey of trauma treatment”. I said, and I quote, “Listen lady. I’m here for 3-5 days”.  One long hospital stay and four years later, I proved her right. I am still in trauma treatment.

Trauma treatment is a mixed bag of listening to yourself process trauma and listening to what others hear in your experience.  It is to be nakedly honest about your life so you can point at something and be able to say with confidence “this is where it hurts”. While my trauma treatment includes medication mostly it is about ciphering my memories and what I feel about my experiences.  It is to give way to the self conscious and discover the secrets that live beneath it.

I do well cognitively. I can organize a business, be a journalist, pastor or consultant with some sense of confidence  However my confidence breaks when I am asked to reflect emotionally on my life.  I find myself on thin ice when it comes to finding words to describe the toxic memories that captivate my nightmares. To live on the edge of emotion and pain is terrifying .

However, to heal I must be willing to live in this space that holds a foot in the doorway of emotional pain so that light can come in to the darkest of places in my mind.  Trauma treatment is no joke but I continue with the hope that as I allow light in it will shatter the darkness.

Being completely human

I set out to portrait a hope filled journey where I conquering the reality and stigma of mental illness. Several years of writing later, and I have hope that my tomorrows will be better than my yesterdays but I also have conflicting and challenging thoughts about living life with mental illness.

I see a doctor and therapist regularly and take all my dozen or so prescribed meds.  Regular exercise, watching my diet, prayer and journaling are routine parts of my life.  However, it is frustrating that even with following a solid routine of trauma therapy, good health practices and treatment for my mental illness I still find many days where I do not feel well. Days where my emotions or illness seem to row the boat rather than an upbeat conquer-the-world demeanor. I find myself wishing I were less symptomatic of my mental illness and could function throughout the day like a “normal” person.

However isolating my journey through mental illness is, I have to remember that I am no different than anybody else dealing with chronic illness.  Everybody has some part of their life they need to manage with care and kid gloves. Whether it be physical health, emotional health, stress or challenging relationships there is always a piece of us that needs consistent balancing and tweaking to keep it on course.

So, yes, treatment is difficult. Talking about the same triggers and challenges ad nauseam with my therapist and doctor rubs my patience raw. I find myself consistently irritated at the glacial pace of healing, wishing for simple solutions and easy answers. But I am comforted by the fact that my experience of working, praying and living through challenges is just part of the human experience.

Here’s to living with hope, the stuff of potential and future realized dreams. Keep living with hope because I am normal and so are you