Is Mental Illness the new “In” thing?

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I’m thinking of myself as the “Carrie Bradshaw” of mental illness right now. In fact, right now I’m wearing my pajamas and a sleeping mask on my head as I write this, sipping a black coffee and chain smoking cigarettes with a photo of Mr. Big on my nightstand. Okay, I don’t have the coffee or cigarettes or the photo.

And I’m sitting in a living room, so there isn’t even a nightstand nearby. I am sort of like Carrie in that I write, not a column for a trendy New York city paper, but a blog for dorky, silly people such as myself. Sorry, I called you dorky and silly if you’re reading this. But I’m dorky and silly, so I imagine if you enjoy my writing that you must like dorky, silliness if you’re still reading this. Where was I?

Oh yes. I’m like the “Carrie Bradshaw” of mental illness. If I did write for a trendy, New York paper, my column would be called Crazy and the City. Seeing as how I live in the Maritimes though, I would likely write for The Coast and my column would be Crazy in the Tiny City.  But am I crazy? I thought I was but some things have happened recently that called into question all the things I thought about mental illness previously. Let me tell you all about my BFFs, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha. We all went to lunch the other day and…

Okay, I am not so much like Carrie. I do actually have a Samantha friend. She may be better known to you as the Blog Broad. But she’s gay, and too crippled up with fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and slipped discs in her back most of the time to engage in the sexual acrobatics of Samantha from Sex in the City. 20180110_175922.jpgI also have a Miranda-ish friend, T. But she isn’t really very Miranda-like other than she has short red hair most of the time (she likes to change her hair quite often). She isn’t very sarcastic, she is an optimist and she’s very Catholic. And I don’t have a Charlotte friend at all.

So back to that thing that happened that caused me to question my insanity. Those of you who may have started following my blog may have noticed that I have disappeared for a while. In the days leading up to Christmas, things in my life went very… weird? No, not weird. They went crazy, literally. Someone very close to me went into a state of mania. So the last month was spent going back and forth from a very well known mental institution located here in the Maritimes. 20171226_171956.jpg

I’d never seen anyone in a state of mania before. It was an eye opener- seeing someone whose mind was broken to smithereens, going from one thought to another at the speed of light; seeing someone who was speaking to objects and dead people. Then visiting them at the hospital surrounded by other people in various degrees of true mental health crises. I couldn’t help but question all my previous-held notions about mental illness. I realize that there are varying degrees of mental illness, just like there are different stages of cancer. I suppose someone with mania would be at Stage 4 if they had cancer. Whereas I would likely be in the pre-cancerous cells stage or Stage 1 if I were to compare my “mental illness” to cancer.

20180127_063754.jpgBut it got me thinking about all of the people I know who are struggling with mental wellness, including myself, and I couldn’t help but wonder, are there really so many people who are mentally ill? Everyone seems to be on some sort of prescription: Zoloft, Effexor, Celexa, Prozac, Paxil, etc.. Is it possible for so many people to be mentally ill? Is it legitimate mental illness or is our society making us sick? Are we all so obsessed with being happy that we need to take happy pills to find fulfillment? Or is it technology that is creating havoc and anxiety in our minds? Is there really an increase in the incidences of mental illness or is it an increase in awareness of it, a combination of both, OR is mental illness the “In” thing? Could we all just be normal?

I also have been wondering, what is “normal” anyway? I’ve been reading a lot of other blogs about mental illness and I’ve read Jenny Lawson’s books about the same topic, and I find I identify with the writing because as I read, I’m connecting- OMG- This is EXACTLY how I feel. But maybe we’re not really the crazy ones at all. Maybe we’re just the ones who are brave enough to share our true thoughts and feelings and bare our souls to the world. Maybe the so-called (self-called) “normal” people are actually JUST LIKE US but are pretending they don’t ever feel socially awkward, or isolated, or whatever. I think they are pretending! I think everyone has some element of craziness, but some of us are better at hiding it than others. I think crazy IS normal. And that the “normals” are really the crazy ones among us because they are crazy and don’t even recognize it!! Oooooh…. you “normal” people really piss me off, thinking you’re all that and a bag of dill pickle chips, making me think I’m the crazy one and you’re crazier than a pack of wild hyenas running around in a Walmart.

Yes, I have stopped taking my pills. I’m normal, after all.

 

 

 

 

There’s no need to fear! Underdog is here!

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via Daily Prompt: Underdog
When I was a child, I used to watch reruns of the cartoon show “Underdog.” The show ran from 1964-1967 and was a spoof of Superman. Underdog was by day a “shoe shine” puppy (mutt) but whenever reporter Sweet Polly Purebred gets into trouble, he takes a pill out of his ring and transforms into a hero to save the day, “the secret compartment of my ring I fill, with an Underdog super energy pill.” Yes, perhaps the show was sponsored by Pfizer. In any case, I always rooted for Underdog, literally and figuratively.  I would argue that most of us do. As Maya Angelou has said, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” The more I get to know people, the more I see how this is true.

I think most of us struggle with unforeseen circumstances every day and those moments when we feel like complete losers. Ugh, can this day get any worse? And then, it does. But when Underdog faces challenges, he simply says, “I am a hero who never fails, I can’t be bothered with such details”and continues along. Underdog sees adversity as a minor setback, he downs his super energy pill, and saves the day. In fact, I’d argue most of us are doing the same thing. NBC news reported in 2016 that 1 in 6 Americans are on some kind of psychiatric drug (Fox, 2016) and a recent study has shown that the use of anti-depressants in the US has risen by 65% over the past 15 years (Mundell, 2017). So why are so many of us turning to prescription drugs?

Some experts point to the destigmatization of mental illness (Mundell). And I would agree that people are more likely to get help if they are struggling with mental health issues more now than ever. But I also worry about the normalization of taking a pill to solve our problems. Of course, if we all were to seek out the therapy we need, there probably wouldn’t be enough mental health professionals in the world to help us all. So I guess the easy solution is simply to drug us, dull our minds. First world problems, right? Here in North America, a woman wakes up with depression and anxiety about having to get groceries; somewhere in Asia, at the same time, a woman wakes up HAPPY even though she doesn’t even know if she’ll be ABLE to feed her family. 

I’m going to argue, that it’s not you. It’s not me. You’re not crazy. I’m NOT crazy. We are ALL crazy. We live in a society based on excess and perfection. The woman in Asia with “nothing” is happier than us all because she’s not constantly exposed to media messages telling her to be skinnier, sexier, happier… Oh and here’s how to achieve happiness, folks: buy this, buy that, buy, Buy, BUY, BUY! Still not happy yet? Well, here, buy this pill.  Let me sell you this bottle of Evian water to wash it down with. Don’t you feel happy now?

Most of us are Underdogs. Most of us are trying to be heroes in our society by placing high expectations on ourselves and others, all of these expectations being perpetuated by media images. As a society, we’ve set our standards so high that none of us, or very few, can actually meet them. And when we fail? It’s “super energy pill” time.

Fox, Maggie. “One in 6 Americans Take Antidepressants, Other Psychiatric Drugs: Study.” NBC News. <https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/one-6-americans-take-antidepressants-other-psychiatric-drugs-n695141)> November 25, 2017.

Mundell, E.J.. “US antidepressant use jumps 65 percent in 15 years.” Medical Xpress. <https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-08-antidepressant-percent-years.html> November 25, 2017.

Wowsers! A Liebster Award!

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Thank you, my dear friend, The Blog Broad, for nominating me for a Liebster Award. I have known Sam for a long time and we share many of the same interests: window shopping, board games, a love of humor, acting, reading (especially Stephen King) and, of course, writing. For as long as I’ve known Sam, she has been a creative and gifted writer. In fact, a little known fact about Sam is that the creator of the Trailer Park Boys, Mike Clattenburg, is actually her cousin.

Sam’s blog, The Blog Broad, uses humor to talk about many of the issues and struggles she has dealt with. She has chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease, arthritis, depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Even though she deals with all of these health problems, she still manages to keep a positive mindset. The Blog Broad is also one resilient lady. She is a word warrior; her writing is polished, descriptive and full of similes, metaphors, irony, satire and all of the literary devices I love as an English teacher and language lover. (Oh, yes, language- you turn me on!)

Sam has supported me in my attempt to grow an audience for my writing, especially since as a teacher I am limited in the time I have to write and in keeping up and maintaining a social media presence. I tend to believe though that if you are a quality writer that an audience will build due to the quality of your work. And the quality of Sam’s writing speaks for itself. If you have checked out The Blog Broad, I know you can see why I am so honored that Sam has chosen to nominate my blog for a Liebster Award. My personal favorite of her work is “Technology: A Pain in the A**.”

Sam has also been nominated for a Liebster Award in which she describes how this award works, “The Liebster Award is given to bloggers by other bloggers.  It is intended to recognize and encourage another writer’s work and efforts.  It also helps to shed light on what may be some lesser known blogs.  Essentially, once you are nominated, you pass along 10 other nominations and so on” (https://theblogbroadblog.wordpress.com/author/theblogbroadblog/).

So here are the Blog Broad questions to her nominees, including me:

If you could travel through time and live in any era, when would you choose?

As a history major, this is a tough question. Often we view the past as if it were made up of bygone eras of simpler, happier times. But I really can’t think of an era where that is truly the case. I would not want to go back earlier than the 20th century and live in an age where women were considered the property of men, were not allowed to speak publicly, and remained in the private sphere. Throughout our modern age, people lived through two World Wars, then the Cold war with constant fears of nuclear annihilation. I think there is no era within history that is any better than another- I think right here, right now is just fine. Yes, we have problems. We’re Trumped right now. But we do have a much more inclusive society in terms of accepting of differences. I would say we are living in an age where there is more understanding and appreciation of difference than any other in our history. Do we still have problems? Yes, of course. There is still systemic sexism, racism, heterosexism, ableism, and the like. But we are improving as a society and I see it more and more in my students. They give me hope that the future is so bright, we gotta wear shades.

What was the last good book you read and why would you recommend it to a friend?

When I was at the apex of my PNES, I was unable to work. While off work, I actually had time to read. (When you’re a teacher, the concept of reading for enjoyment is a paradox.) I was trying to find books about overcoming mental illness and I stumbled across Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson. I didn’t have any knowledge of Jenny or that she was a blogger until I found her book quite accidentally. I had no idea what I was in for. I read it every night before bed and would be laughing so much, my husband thought I was losing it even more than I already was gone. It gave me much comfort to see someone who had so many more issues going on than I ever have had and yet she was still finding humor in her struggles and being so candid about her experiences. It made me realize that I too could determine to be “Furiously Happy.”

If you could change one thing you’ve done in the past year, what would it be and why?

I’m a firm believer that regret is a poison. I would not ever change anything I’ve done. Mistakes are beautiful because they are how we learn. I own my mistakes, learn from them and move on.

Tell us one of your guilty pleasures.

Skittles. If only Skittle-pox was a real thing.

What is the goal of your blog?

Hmmm. I guess the main goal of my blog is to share my enthusiasm for words and writing and to share stories that people can hopefully relate to. I enjoy writing; it is a form of communication and should be shared.  The beauty of blogging is being able to share my writing so it’s not sitting in my Google Drive hidden from the world anymore. I don’t tend to focus on one topic in particular, but just anything that’s on my mind.

When did you start writing?

Just like most people I think, in elementary school. At first it was just for school assignments, but then I started writing stories, essays and poems for my own enjoyment probably around the 7th grade. I never considered writing as a career option, although I would love to have my own schedule and just write!

If you could fight a celebrity in a boxing ring, knowing you’d win, who would it be?

I hate to even write it because it seems so cliched, but it would have to be Donald Trump. And I would hope that he’d go down and never get up. Am I going to get flagged by the CIA or NSA now? My husband will be pissed if we aren’t allowed to travel to the United States anymore.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

Drivers in the town in which I reside. I’ll probably do a post on that later, but not until I move from here. There is enough risk from unintentional driver error in this town, let alone to make myself into a target.

What show can you simply, not miss?

Since it’s on Netflix, it’s not really possible to “miss” but the one Netflix show that I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for the next season to be released is House of Cards.

What game (Board, card or video) are you best at?

Gin. My husband beats me at every board and card game we play, but he has a difficult time beating me at Gin. I am very strategic with how I play it. I am not giving away my strategy- sorry, folks. But I need to have at least one game at which I can kick ass!

Before I proceed with my own list of Liebster Award nominees, I want to address something I have noticed in researching blogs to nominate. Some bloggers seem to be very humble and even have taken the time to make little “Award Free Site” icons-emoticons-emoji-thing-a-jig, whatcha-ma-call-its. I have taken a lot of effort and time (which I don’t really have) to read and enjoy the blogs I have listed here. Some are very established blogs, some are in the very beginning stages. I tried to choose lesser known blogs, for the most part. And I also looked for writing that was genuine. I’m new to blogging, but I can still smell bullshit from a mile away. I hope that those of you I’ve nominated here feel as honored as I do that someone valued my thoughts and words enough to give me an award.

Drum roll please. And the Liebster awards go to…

Alyazya

Catch the Rayve

Chronically Beautiful

Disclaimer on my Experience

Happymess Happiness

Ocean Bream

Sara in LaLaLand

Suffering PNES

The Bloggess

You Call That Art

The instructions for accepting the Liebster are:

  • Create a new post thanking the person who nominated you, link their blog and insert the award graphic.
  • Answer the questions provided to you, share a little bit about yourself.
  • Develop a new set of questions for your nominations to answer
  • Nominate 10 others and share your post with them so they see it.

Here is my list of questions for my nominees:

  1. What advice would you give to young writers/ new bloggers?
  2. How did you learn how to read and write?
  3. What made you want to start writing/ creating?
  4. If you had to switch jobs, what career would you pursue and why?
  5. Would you rather be able to move things with your mind or be able to talk to animals?
  6. What is the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever done?
  7. Referring to the television show Freaks and Geeks, when you were in high school were you a freak or a geek?
  8. Name one fashion fad that you secretly still love and are waiting for it to come back into style.
  9. Your first thought that comes to mind when someone mentions, “Canada.”
  10. Tell us about the funniest thing that ever happened ever. EVER. (I mean it. Ever.)

 

Playing with PNES

By Ocean Hayward

Anxiety. ADHD. PNES. Okay, you’re probably all well versed on the first two, but the last acronym is probably not as familiar. About a year and a half ago, I was officially diagnosed with Psychogenic Non-Epileptic Seizures (PNES). I always like to joke that, yes, it is an acronym that if stated phonetically would sound an awful lot like penis. Pee-Nes. Just my luck. I don’t typically share my PNES with most people. I used to because the seizures were so frequent that I was afraid I’d have one in front of people. I’d rather them know up front why I’m shaking and trembling like a person during DTs so I don’t alarm anyone.

I started having seizures about 8 years ago. They aren’t fall down, unconscious on the floor-type seizures. They are tremors, twitches and jerking motions that I have no control over. They can last for a few seconds, to a few minutes, to a few hours. It all depends where my state/ level of anxiety is. During the attacks, my blood pressure elevates as well. My seizures are my body’s way of dealing with extremely high stress situations. I’m not sure why it reacts with seizures. Maybe it’s because I tend to be a quiet person, especially when it comes to how I feel. I try to avoid conflict as much as possible and when faced with the anxiety of having to confront someone, that tends to set off the seizures quite a bit.

Certain situations are much more stressful than others. A big one for me is crowds. I hate crowds. Over the summer, my husband and I were walking along the Saint John waterfront and it was “Saint John Idol” night. You know, like American Idol? But with Saint Johnners singing instead. For whatever reason, the whole “Idol” show concept is still surprisingly popular in Saint John, even though in every other place in the world the craze has fizzled out.  It seemed that everyone in Uptown (That’s right, every other city/town has a “downtown” but Saint John has an “Uptown,”) and surrounding areas had amassed into this tiny closed-off-to-vehicles street. Some idiot (because it should be called Saint John Idiot/ American Idiot, in my opinion) was up there singing their heart out and I was stuck with my husband trying to walk on this street through the crowd of both people standing still and watching the Idiot and people also just trying to use the street as a through-way to another part of town (like my husband and I). I started to feel the panic because of all the people around me. My husband was behind me and he could see my body jerking, shaking and trembling as I tried to keep my calm. If I’d been asked to rate my level of panic, it would have been a 10+.

Suddenly, I couldn’t stand it anymore; I needed to be out of that crowd and quickly. You know how they say to stay calm in emergency situations, like if you’re in a crowded building that’s on fire? I was that person who panics and pushes through and stomps on people and kills them. That was me. I was pushing people out of my way in a mad dash to get the hell away from all the fucking people! I don’t remember much about it other than my feeling of panic, but I’m sure I pissed a lot of people off. Although perhaps my panicked voice saying to my husband, “I have to get out of here” made them sympathetic. All I know is my husband grabbed me suddenly by my waist and pushed me into a pub, and out of the crowd. I was still seizuring, but I was out of the source of my anxiety. In about 2 hours, it was as if it had never happened. But it did.

The worst thing about having PNES is I never know when something is going to happen that will spin me into a frenzied state of nervous energy. It’s unpredictable. Some people with PNES can never hold a job. I am determined, however, to beat PNES. (To improve the humor in the piece, read PNES phonetically in the last two sentences.) Where was I? Oh, yes, I will beat PNES. Er… I will overcome PNES. I have strategies. I use self-talk to calm myself down. I try not to take on too many things at once. I try to make sure I take time to take care of myself. I take drugs. Lots of prescription drugs. And I try to always find the humor in life, even in my PNES. The most important thing I’ve learned on my journey with PNES is that I have to put myself first, and keep myself healthy. I’m no good to anyone else if I’m not good to myself first. And on that note, I’m going to go play with my PNES.