February 28 2018, I posted my recent mental health snafu. So much to think about.
My father has been texting me almost daily, checking in on me. Allie and William tried to convince me to move in with them for a few days so I could have an unlimited quantity of cuddles and home-cooked food. My fairy godmother offered to accompany me to my first appointment with the psychiatrist, and referred to GAB and CSD as my angels for giving me the necessary push to get help. People I haven’t spoken to in months messaged me, to wish me good luck and positive vibes. One friend opened up about his own mental health struggles – something I’d have never guessed about him, I’d always pegged him as the party animal over-achiever. He gave me practical pointers on how to handle my sudden loss of bearings, and encouraged me without being over-familiar.
I’ve been strongly recommended a book on empaths, for fear that I will fall victim to the narrow-mindedness of traditional Western medicine. Teacher got mad at me, “Vanilla, your brain is beautiful, how can you believe this shit about yourself? You are smart, you are brilliant, you give up on yourself too easily. Keep fighting!” My boss blinked. “Transparency is the best policy, I agree. I hope you get the tools you need to reach your potential. Good timing too, that this is happening now in the slow months before busy season. You have some breathing room to try find your bearings.”
I started back on Concerta for my ADD immediately, and as expected, the loss of appetite (common side-effect) was extreme. For the first 4 days I barely ate 700 calories/day despite trying to eat. I almost fainted in dance class, and when I showed up to the gym, I was so light-headed I couldn’t walk straight. I brought Coach up to speed, warning him it would take me up to 2 weeks to adjust to the medication, and who knows what might happen should I eventually see a psychiatrist. Coach was silent, because that was a lot to process, and immediately modified the group workouts so that I wouldn’t risk injuring myself but could still trigger the endorphins that I needed. I admitted that my doctor had reprimanded me for ignoring my therapist’s long standing instructions to workout intensely 3x a week if I wanted to avoid anti-depressants. Coach reminded me gently, “I’ve always been here for you – even when you wouldn’t show. I got you.”
I was called braved on Facebook for sharing my story, putting myself out there. It’s not bravery. It’s a coping mechanism to try disarm the shame of all this.
Shame drives two big tapes —“never good enough” —and, if you can talk it out of that one, “who do you think you are?” The thing to understand about shame is, it’s not guilt. Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is “I am bad.” Guilt is “I did something bad.” How many of you, if you did something that was hurtful to me, would be willing to say, “I’m sorry. I made a mistake?” How many of you would be willing to say that? Guilt: I’m sorry. I made a mistake. Shame: I’m sorry. I am a mistake.
There’s a huge difference between shame and guilt. And here’s what you need to know. Shame is highly, highly correlated with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, bullying, suicide, eating disorders. And here’s what you even need to know more. Guilt, inversely correlated with those things. The ability to hold something we’ve done or failed to do up against who we want to be is incredibly adaptive. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s adaptive.
(…) empathy’s the antidote to shame. If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment. If you put the same amount in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy,it can’t survive. The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too.
Secrets are shameful. Shame is toxic, eating away at you till you are nothing but a hollow shell. I don’t have the energy to fight this fight against my brain and fight the corrosive effects of shame. So I publish my struggle with the world to prove to myself that it (it = my struggle = me) is not shameful, thereby disabling shame. It is not without consequences: it does impact people’s perception of me, sometimes negatively. But I feel that the consequence of those negative perceptions on my friendship, dating and career prospects are worth it vs trying to cope internally with the destructive negative soundtrack shame pumps into my already sick brain. I’m not brave. I’m exhausted, and if I am to have a shot at surviving this bitch of an illness I need to be pragmatic.
I’m taken aback by my rejection and discomfort with the potential diagnosis of bi-polar disorder. I who prided myself on being a mental health advocate… turns out I’m fine with vanilla mental health issues, but faced with one of the more heavy duty issues? Nah man, not cool. I guess that makes me a depressed hypocrite. That my doctor would even entertain such notion about me was a wake up call. I’ve been down-playing the gravity of my mental health struggles. A form of pride, I suppose, refusing to admit just how hard I’ve been finding life, how exhausting and frustrating to keep up the appearance of being normal, at the expense of friendships, interpersonal relationships, and a real chance of happiness. And now that I am being honest… it has been brutal. I have no fight left in me. I’m totally spent.
This has forced me into an unnatural state of humility. Whereas I’ve always struggled with the implications of taking meds for my ADD (how much of my success is my own, how much is the by-product of my privileged circumstances that grant me access to Big Pharma magic?) this time round I feel nothing but gratitude as I begin to notice the drugs taking effect: a slight moderation in my crazy roller coaster emotional swings, 1-2 moments of clarity during the day, 5-60 minutes of actual concentration on most days, the ability to answer emails, knock off the occasional item from my overwhelming to-do list, do laundry, or read a chapter from my favorite books every few days. I’ve a very long ways to go, but when I have these flashes of the Former Vanilla, I honestly don’t care if it is me or the drugs making the difference, I am just relieved.
Relief is sweet, y’all.
Update on the psychiatrist: Quebec bureaucracy, yo. I’ve been seen by a social worker to evaluate the urgency of my situation, who filled out a report I never was given an opportunity to read and have not heard back since. Apparently waiting times to consult a psychiatrist range from weeks (super urgent cases) to months (for run-of-the-mill cases… totally acceptable description of the lives of individuals that require a psychiatric evaluation). #ourhealthcaresystemenragesmesobad