Monthly Archives: December 2013

Executive Dysfunction : Christmas Cards Edition

Thank you to everyone who sent me Christmas cards! I truly appreciate the effort you took to think of me and others at such a busy time of year.

I’ve never sent out Christmas cards, but this year was to be the exception. After stumbling across a set of Peanuts Christmas cards with Woodstock on every design, I was inspired to adopt the tradition, so I bought the set. I purchased reindeer stamps, despite having plenty of postage on hand. St. Jude’s Hospital sent me a set of snowmen address labels with a donation request that I pledged to honour once I got my first pay check. I got a new set of pens because I couldn’t possibly sign these cards with old ink. I went through my mother’s Rolodex to get the addresses that I didn’t have in my own book.

I had all the ingredients but didn’t manage to complete the recipe in time for Christmas. Sigh. Executive dysfunction in action.

PSA : Mental Illness is Not a Crime

If you’re suffering from mental illness and struggling with the isolation and stigmatisation that unfortunately accompanies having a sick brain, I want YOU to know right now that there IS a light at the end of the tunnel, that there is hope, and that there’s an abundance of help. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I repeat: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

How can I make this declaration with such sweeping confidence? I am not a medical professional. I am not a therapist. I am not a social worker. I am not a counsellor. I do not have a graduate degree in Psychology, Cognitive Science, or Neuroscience.

Who the hell am I to tell you that you’re not alone?

I am someone afflicted by Mental Illness. I’m Lauren, and this is my World. I’m a 30-something who’s never been married and has no kids, and, while relevant in one sense of ‘alone,’ it’s my sick brain that makes me uniquely qualified.

I’ve been to hell and back so many times that the arresting sense of impending descent back down no longer fazed me. The feeling of Hell itself conquering Earth permeated my life so profusely that permanent residency seemed my inevitable fate; any former experience of heaven or purgatory were but temporarily illusions. Hell had come home to roost.

Mental illness has no shame, and it will stop at nothing to get its way. Stealthy and determined, an illness of the mind is so twisted and audacious that, somewhat like a cancer, it’s able to persuade its host to act counter to all survival instincts and become an instrument hellbent on intensifying one’s downward spiral endlessly into a black hole, ever re-defining “the bottom.”

I know what it’s like to be trapped in the darkness, plagued by defeat, and exhausted by everything, even sleep. I was caught in an endless loop of desperation and exasperation. Severe depression stole everything from me. Everything— friends, family, work, even my last remaining and dearest confidants, alcohol and drugs. Yes. I felt nothing. I craved nothing. I wanted nothing. Depression took and took until it finally stole even my desire to drink and use.

I was a shell of a person, devoid of the ability to emote, disconnected socially, incapable of sensing hunger, possessing no barometer for personal hygiene, lacking any desire to live, yet— this is the kicker— void of the desire to die. I spent months that became years just existing — desperate to find my way out but stripped of any sense of direction by an ever-malfunctioning compass.

I want to share my experience. I want to help others so that they don’t have to go through the hell I did. I want to raise awareness. I want to fight the stigma. I want to be able to talk about how my illness affected me without feeling like I’m being judged or that I’m making people uncomfortable. I want to be able to PROUDLY proclaim that I’m a fighter and survivor of a chronic, life-threatening illness, not shamed into a recurrence of my deadly disease.

Cancer survivors are celebrated, not stigmatised. Tanning-bed fanatics with skin cancer. Smokers with lung cancer. Do they hide in the shadows, afraid to mention anything about their struggles or medications? No. They are empowered— not stigmatised— for the most part, that is. Moreover, consider the implications for someone suffering from mental illness that’s found to be caused by a brain tumour. Why should this patient be treated any differently because the source of his illness has a physical manifestation that can be seen and held? Malignant or not, you can bet that this patient will be treated differently than the patient whose illness is rooted in chemical or structural differences in the brain. WHY?

Why do chemical imbalances involving neurotransmitters mean that I cannot discuss my illness openly? Why do we stigmatise that which we do not understand?

Be the Change.

Note: This is only the beginning for me in speaking out on mental illness. I have a lot to express, and I’ve only just begun to write, so please forgive me if this post lacks flow and detail, jumps around, and hits on a number of complex issues. It’s more important to me that I get this out to the world NOW rather than holding onto it in an attempt to massage it. I suppose that’s the nature of a blog, though, right? I can wait to polish and organise the content for the book. For now, it’s vital for me to publish my impassioned thoughts as-is. If you have a problem with it, blame my sick brain.

Fight the stigma.

The cleverest of all, in my opinion, is the man who calls himself a fool at least once a month.”

—Fyodor Dostoevsky

Sonnet—To Science by Edgar Allan Poe

Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art!
    Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet’s heart,
    Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,
   Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,
   Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?
Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car,
   And driven the Hamadryad from the wood
To seek a shelter in some happier star?
   Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,
The Elfin from the green grass, and from me
The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?

Life is hard. Bacon makes it better.

Well-behaved* women seldom make history.”

—Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

*What I find humorous is that folks will like, favourite, re-tweet, & otherwise share this sentiment with ringing endorsements, then they’ll abruptly unfollow/defriend me when I misbehave.

Ah, Alanis, that is what we accurately deem ‘ironic.’

Gratitude

I’m grateful for 81 days of continuous sobriety. I’m grateful that it’s been 112 days since I last took an antidepressant or mood stabiliser AND that my depression has finally lifted. More than anything, right now I’m grateful for the wonderful challenges and amazing difficulties that I’ve been through and am presently in the midst of navigating. It may sound strange to be thankful for hard times, and I was a bit surprised when the words, “thank you for my difficulties” came across my tongue in prayer last week, but I’m grateful for this gratitude.

It’s through these difficulties that I grow. It’s the financial challenges that I’m struggling with right now that humble me and force me to reach out and say, “I need help.”  Even in the middle of the storm, even with everything seemingly falling apart all around me, I’ve remained centred. That’s all faith. That’s all God. That’s all a Power greater than myself. Through this and my connection with my Higher Power, I’ve found stores of strength and grace that I never thought myself possible of wielding. I’ve encountered this gorgeous warrior of a woman — and she’s me! I’m not just becoming great; I am great… provided that I stay deeply connected to the Power that fuels me.

I’m grateful for the Hell I’ve endured. I’m open to the lessons I’ve yet to learn. I’m on fire and excited about life. Let’s get to it!

Final Friday the 13th of 2013

108 days free from psych meds. 78 days of continuous sobriety.  I’m not endorsing discontinuation of meds, not by any means, but for me, it took the former to promote the latter. However, I do feel like I was overmedicated.

While we’re talking milestones, check this out: on 12.13.2003, I graduated from one of the finest institutions in the South, The Georgia Institute of Technology with my Bachelor’s of Science in Computer Science with Highest Honour.

That’s right! Today’s the 10 year anniversary of my college graduation. What a long, strange, wonderful trip it’s been.  I’ve always wanted to return to higher ed, but the winding road of my life hasn’t quite led me back there yet. I’ve actually started looking at PhD programs in Neuroscience… and, armed with a burgeoning clarity of mind and reinvigorated sense of self, this dream may finally have wings.

Happy Friday the 13th, y’all! DREAM BIG!

feel what I feel
within myself — that is trying to
become aware of it
also what I feel in others
not being ashamed of my feeling, thoughts — or ideas

realize the thing that
they are –

— Marilyn Monroe

See more poems & read the full article “Marilyn Monroe’s Unpublished Poems: The Complex Private Person Behind the Public Persona” (from brainpickings.org).

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