Monday, May 30, 2016

Illustrations by Gemma Correll.

Gemma's work is great. You can follow her on almost any website known in life.

She's had a few pieces over the years that pointed to struggling with anxiety, but this is the first time (that I know of) that she has a dedicated series to mental illness.

She's been posting these with the hashtag mental illness feels like.

She did all of these for Mental Health America.

Check out her work!

Friday, May 27, 2016

I saw a Hungarian ghost.

I usually run errands on my break. Not all the time, but once or twice a week. I have an etsy shop, so I mail out items or I go to the bank.

Today, while walking along Saint-Catherine street, I saw a ghost.

Not an actual ghost, of course. It was mid-day and I was in full-sun. There were no wispy clouds, no fog. I wasn't up for a twilight pee, in a waking sleep. I wasn't in a storied place, I wasn't floating above my body. I was walking towards the MAC store, and I walked leisurely towards the Ogilvy department store doors when I saw her.

At first I wasn't sure. My eyes grazed her, as they do hundreds of people a day. Her eyes did the same to me. But there was this odd hiccup, where somewhere deep in my storied mind something clicked. I think it was her, but I can’t be positive. People change so much. She could be something else now. I am not certain, but I am pretty sure it was her. Her face had not changed. Her hair is more matronly now. She seems to be wearing the disguise of a rich housewife.

How can it be that someone I knew so well, so intimately is now an odd aberration? It’s been 12 years, maybe more. That time of my life is in the bastardized version of a memory. It’s not right, not really.

After seeing her I went into the department store and made my way to the 4th floor, where there’s a post office tucked away between 200$ haircuts and 500$ dress pants. Mail your letters like the rich do. Or would if they ran their own errands.

I looked over my shoulder once or twice. I didn't really think she’d come after me, she cut things off after-all. She was the one I couldn't reach. She's the one that cut all ties. It wasn't just me. It was everyone. All of it. Except for him.

I thought it would make me sad. It didn't. Seeing her gold jewellery confirmed to me that I don’t know her anymore.

I was sad for a very long time, but maybe not about her. Maybe it was more about the loss. I was tired of loosing. I was feeling increasingly rejected. Increasingly at a loss. Increasingly alone. Constant confirmation of what I already knew.

At one time she was my very best friend. The sister I never had. And since her, friendship has been hard. I'm more cynical than I was then. Friendships don’t forge through sleepovers and the absurd like they do when you’re a teenager. There's no crying over boys like there is when you're 16. We knew each other at our most vulnerable.

But that was a long time ago. And today, she was barely recognizable. Not physically, but as a being seeing and knowing another being. We didn't stop. We didn't say hello. Our eyes scanned through the city crowds and there was a flicker in both of us, and as soon as it was, it wasn't. We kept walking.

I walked into a luxury department store to mail a letter, and she walked somewhere that I do not know and cannot imagine.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

January 28th, 2010.

Found this in an e-mail I wrote in 2010, it was highlighted:
‎I guess the younger version of me assumed that life would eventually get easier. And I guess I'm a little devastated at the revelation that it doesn't.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Lady Dynamite.

I have been looking forward to Maria Bamford's Lady Dynamite for a good long while.

I'd heard through stand-ups and comedians on Twitter that she was working on a television show for Netflix and knowing it would deal with her life, and her living with mental illness got me all riled up.

If you're not familar with Bamford, I wrote about her a few times here, so click on the label of her name for more on her.

The Atlantic has a review up. Hopefully I can carve out some time this weekend and watch it.

Netflix has been big on my list this past year, with The Fall, Jessica Jones and Kimmy Schmidt, it's a feminist scream fest: stellar female-driven comedy and complex, well-written female drama leads.Whodafuckingthunkit.

The suicide memoir.

Over on Lit Hub, from The Suicide Memoir: True Crime, Mystery and Grief, Al Alvarez quoted discussing Sylvia Plath's suicide:

“It was an act she felt she had a right to as a grown woman and a free agent.”
Oooof. First, when I write "ooof" imagine someone being punched in the stomach.It's the sound someone makes blowing out air after being sucker-punched in the gut.

Many things can bring you to suicide. Desperation. Pain. Fear. But ultimately we should all have an unquestioned right to our own bodies, so yes, suicide is a right. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

So sad today.

I just finished so sad today, by Melissa Broder. I've mentioned her here before, she tweets under the name @sosadtoday.

The book is great. I flew through it. It’s a short collection of personal essays, all about her life, living with depression and anxiety and the ways in which she’s coped and continues to cope with her daily life.

I've been reading a lot of books about mental illness. Most of which have been memoir and personal essay. This is the first time that I really feel a book was written by someone of my generation and with my points of reference.

So much of the book is both heavy and detached at the same time. Broder has a lot of deeply existential threads throughout her work - and that just really spoke to me. I feel like she wrote the book for “people like me.” And I mean, she did.

So much of her work is reference-able. In her essay on her addiction to nicotine gum:
I chew the gum, because I don’t trust the universe to fill me up on its own. I can’t count on the universe to sate my many holes: physical, emotional, spiritual. So I take matters in my own hands. I give myself little “doggy treats” for being alive.
Preach. We all do this to an extent, but for me, those "treats" are often the only comfort I get. Again, this links to deep existential dread. 

The book is just so rich. She has a section on Effexor that again, I felt was written for me. Many of the questions she asks herself are questions I've asked myself. And though she and I are very very different, there are really strong ties as well, and though I'm sad that both she and I speak that dark language, I also felt comfort in the recognition of another. 

Highly recommended read. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Reasons to stay alive.

Just read Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig.

Overall I thought the book was a "meh." It lost me on a lot of sections, and overall I just wasn't impressed by it. It did, however have some sections I highlighted for further inquiry or just to excerpt here.

Page 18:
Now, listen. If you have ever believed a depressive wants to be happy, you are wrong. They could not care less about the luxury of happiness. They just want to feel an absence of pain.
I think that's a fair statement. For me, suicide, or death, or just a loss of consciousness just sounds peaceful and nice sometimes.

Page 104:
The thing I hadn't realized, before I became mentally ill, is the physical aspect of it. I mean, even the stuff that happens inside your head is all sensation. My brain tingles, whirred, fluttered and pumped. Much of this action seemed to happen near the rear of my skull, in m occipital lobe, though there was also some fuzzy, TV-static, white-noise feelings going on in my frontal love. 
Well, this is me these days. Zapping, whirring sounds, frontal lobe throbs. Feeling like these's a white-noise swarm in between my ears. These are real symptoms, and Haig mirrors my experience here.

Page 125:
The main thins is the intensity of it. It does not fit within the normal spectrum of emotions. When you are in it, you are really in it. You can't step outside it without stepping outside of live, because it is life. It is your life. Every single thing you experience is filtered though it.
Depression for me, wasn't a dulling but a sharpening, an intensifying, as though I had been living my life in a shell and now the shell wasn't there. It was total exposure.
I feel that. Like an open, raw nerve. Like I hear everything. Like it's all too much.

Page 131:
If you are the type of person who thinks too much about stuff then there is nothing lonelier in the world then being surrounded by a load of people on a different wavelength.

He also quotes Keats, "Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?" And you know I'd be lying if I said this never crossed my mind, but there are those who do not struggle this way, and who do not have a relationship to pain the way I do, and they have souls, do they not? I understand Keats' wanting to romanticize the pain, since it's his job, but sometimes romanticizing pain does us, those who live it, a disservice.

And then he quotes Vonnegut, "Reading and writing are the most nourishing forms of meditation anyone has so far found." And this is something I am exercising now. It is an attempt at exorcism through an art. Through a practice.

Overall the read was short. I thought Haig clearly had an anti-medication sentiment. And though he claimed to not judge those who needed it, he was always quick with a "but" which negated whatever non-judgmental statement he had just made. He also had these weird fake conversations between past him and present him. I thought they were simplistic and infantile. I also did not like his using twitter-based interaction as page filler. It just seemed amateurish. And I'm the amateur. Writing to the void.

Overall, I wouldn't recommend the book really. Unless you're drawn to "lighter" books about mental illness. I'm not.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Feminist Queer Crip by Alison Kafer.

When I woke-up with Bell's Palsy at the end of March, I was reading Feminist Queer Crip by Alison Kafer. I didn't read for a while, since I was exhausted and my right-eye wasn't really working, but I put it aside because I wanted to make sure I wrote about it here.

It had been recommended by a friend who had read it as part of her research around ability / disability studies. She's currently working on her Master's here at Concordia. 

She mentioned the notion of "crip time" which to me kind of correlates to spoon theory, in it's approach to creating a new way of understanding the way the context of ones abilities and limitations have a direct link to their own starting point / way of being in the world. 

Kafer's book has a lot of great sections in it, but overall it turned pretty heavily academic mid-point for me, so it lost me a bit. Though it reminded me of my time in Women's Studies, it also reminded me of how alienating academic writing can be. 

The book is a great place to start if you're interested in critical disability studies. Her early sections discuss the notion of disability as a "forging" of a group identity, but also how the ways in which race, class, gender, sexuality, and location being omitted in representation create a "white disability studies" reality, one which has been more visibly present and re-centred, as is the case with all whiteness. Her positioning herself as in a queer framework means troubling these ingrained systems of power. 

She also mentions that "disability" itself-though a term that can be used to gather around-and how those that identify with or as "disabled" can seek out that community. An issue she brings up is how "moving away from a medical/individual model of disability means that disability identification can't be solely linked to diagnosis" (page 13), something that's close to me since I've had so much trouble navigating the medical system and the mental health establishment. 

Kafer's work around "crip time" is something I found very helpful, from page 37:
Thinking about diagnosis and undiagnosis as strange temporalities open the door to still other framings of crop time, of illness and disability in and through time. What would constitute a temporality of mania, or depression, or anxiety? If we think of queer time as involving archives of rage and shame, then why not also panic attacks or fatigue? How does depression slow down time, making moments drag for days, or how do panic attacks cause linear time to unravel, making time seem simultaneously to speed up and slam shut, leaving one behind?
My memory, my use of time, the way I conceptualize time,  has been and continues to be a major issue for me in navigating my life, and in lately, worrying about work and taking care of myself. 

Kafer ends her chapter on time (page 46) saying:
Disabled people- particularly those with developmental and psychiatric impairments, those who are poor, gender-deviant, and/or people of color, those who need atypical forms of assistance to survive-have faces sterilization, segregation, and institutionalization; denial of equitable education, health care and social services; violence and abuse; and the withholding of the rights of citizenship. Too many of these practices continue, and each of them has greatly limited, and often literally shortened, the future of disabled people. It is my loss, our loss,  not to cake care of, embrace and desire all of us. We must begin to anticipate presents and to imagine futures that include all of us. We must explore disability in time.
Kafer's book is thick with examples of not only discrimination but the erasure of disabled bodies. There are examples of lived lives that would be very difficult for me to summarize here, so I recommend you read the book. 

Kafer discusses individualism, and how its often used as a way of depoliticizing disability, and more so removing societal responsibilities (page 89):
Disability appears as an individual physical problem that can be best overcome (and should be overcome) through strength of character and adherence to an established set of community values ... This focus on personal responsibility precludes any discussion of social, political, or collective responsibility.
We really are on our own. Especially in cases where disability is not physically identifiable. If a chronic disease is a mental illness, or is one that takes a lot of research and a lot of "negative diagnosis" it can be a tremendous amount of emotional, logistical and mental work to attempt to help yourself. 

The book is a staple of disability studies for a reason. If this area of study, or you know, reality interests you, check it out. 

Don't do that.

Friday morning I was predictably masochistic and checked out a bunch of facebook accounts of people I'm not longer friend with (but we still have common friends). It made me feel so shitty. I got up feeling fucking weird, and had a lot of shame about my life, and where I'm at now (on paper: living with my mom, being broke, being overweight) and I was just going to spiral.

I made my way into the city, and while I was making my coffee at work I started thinking about why I wasn't friends with these people, and if I did, indeed, want to re-establish this links, and if I missed them, and if so, why. I had a conversation with myself.

I miss the lightheartedness of that time of my life, and maybe the ignorance of it. It was pre-everything. I think the roots and "warning signs" of my anxiety and depression were indeed there, but they had not taken over yet, and there was still the energy of my youth, the prospects of the future, and a lot of unknowns.

I think I do hold a lot of shame and a lot of guilt about my body, and about my 20's.

I'm friends with great people now. My friends are totally different. They're supportive. They're empathetic. They're wildly smart. Things are different now, and I played an active role in that, and sometimes I forget that.

I'd been in a weird shitty funk this week. I've been stressed about the stability of my income / job and have been looking for something else. But, the economy is sketchy, the job market is quiet and overall jobs are just shit. Unless you're an engineer or in tech or finance finding a stable job is just the dumps.

I ended up feeling pretty shitty Thursday night, I was wishing I was dead, and just feeling useless. I often feel like I can't take care of myself, and can not depend on myself in a real way. I'm a bad depressive episode away from homelessness, at all times. That's my main fear.

I ended up e-mailing with a friend, who also has been struggling (though with different things) and this is part of that exchange:

Hey bud,
I wanted to reach out and kind of quasi-apologise. I've been in a weird funk for a few weeks now, and it's been getting worse.
I feel like you've been going through a lot too, and I feel like I always put my foot in my mouth and say dumb things. 
I'm also super sensitive right now, and thus paranoid and anxious.  
Sometimes I'm just so self-conscious about it all that it's difficult to understand what other people see in me. I'm the one who lives in my head, so I envy those who get an edited version of everything that goes on in there.
I hope if ever there is something, you'd mention it to me.
Aw buddy! I know how that feels - I have the same kind of self conscious thing with anxiety where I always feel like I said the wrong thing or whatever.  
Anyways - everything is fine! With us I mean. My personal life is another matter. No worries! I love ya and you are a great friend! ❤ 
lol - "my personal life is another matter" is how I feel right now. 
This morning a friend linked to a bunch of old friends of mine on Facebook and it brought up a ton of garbage emotions. Mainly shame and guilt and just self-loathing. I'm trying to be positive but I have this feeling like I want to cry so badly, like a good sob, but it's all caught in my arteries. Is that a crazy feeling?  
Like - this is a weird fucking thing to say, but I was always kind of jealous of L's depression/anxiety cause she can cry. From the outside, it looks cathartic. For me, it all internalized into these weird sensations, but there's no release. I wish I could cry it out, you know? 
You're so great I'm sorry you're going through a hard time. 


I mean, it's nothing magical. But it is kind, and supportive, and understanding. And yah, it isn't perfect, I re-read what I wrote and to me I hear a frantic undertone, which is difficult.

Thursday I was bugging out. 

I was just out of it - I felt like I checked out. I felt like I needed to be in a padded room. I'd been having a few days of brain zapping - something that apparently happens when you forget to take your meds. Though, I have been taking my meds. I was feeling dissociative and "floaty" and having trouble focusing or paying attention. If I turned around too quickly I felt wobbly/not-solid and kind of like I might walk into a doorframe or wall as I walked past them. I kept "hearing" brain zaps in my inner ear/head and it was just not pleasant. It's very difficult to explain. 

I'm feeling better, I've been sleeping and today I'm at home catching up and stuff, and I have to do my 24-hour urines test to track my cortisol levels. 

I wanted to write about it on Thursday and Friday, but I was having a  lot of trouble concentrating and had to keep the focus I had to get through the work day. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Kristen Bell on her experience with anxiety & depression.

I listen to podcasts at work quite a bit. They keep me sane.

Last week I made my way through a few episodes of Off Camera, and really enjoyed Kristen Bell's episode. I'm a fan of hers. She had me at "hello" with Veronica Mars, and then made Forgetting Sarah Marshall and is now on House of Lies, so basically I liked her choices and she kind of pushed it over the top to just loving her / thinking we're secret friends when she cried about sloths.

Listen to the podcast episode for a great discussion on all sorts of things, I thought it was fascinating hearing about her and Dax Sheppard's relationship, especially since they're so different. If you can, listen to his episode as well. Really fascinating. I really identify with Dax's "the world is full of wolves" mentality, but I can see why he'd be drawn to Bell's enthusiasm and joie-de-vivre. 

Shame on me for thinking she was the living embodiment of a Disney princess, beautiful and worry-less (I thought this before she got Frozen, she's like all cute and perky and sings to animals). Here is an excerpt in which Bell talks about her experiences.

I just want to wrap her in a blanket and hold her like a baby, but like, in a cool way.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Reminder: take a break.

Found here.

Exercises to "bust" your depression.

I don't love the title to this. It's click-batey. I get that it's the joke, but it bugs me.

Depression-Busting Exercise Tips For People Too Depressed To Exercise by Sarah Kurchak. 

Her piece is good though. She talks about the infuriating reality of being told to exercise when you're going through a depression.
When it comes to having a mental illness, the G.I. Joe doctrine is meaningless: Knowing what will help you isn't close to half the battle. It’s a tenth of the battle, at best. Most people with depression are already aware—often too aware—of all the things we could or should be doing to combat our condition. But where the well-meaning mentally healthy person sees a straightforward progression toward improvement, we see the paradox: yes, if we could do those things, it might help our depression, but not being able to do those things is a major part of being depressed.
I think neurotypical people just don't get that. How ambition and energy just evaporate. It takes all of your energy to just do the most "routine" of things.
When you’re depressed (you're navigating) a labyrinth of garbage fires fuelled by physical and mental exhaustion, self-loathing, defeat, and frustration.
Well, balls. This is me right now. I'm going to bed at 9 pm and am just exhausted most of the day. One of the pieces pull quotes just got it and fucking nailed it to the wall.
If you’re staying alive, you’re already doing the hardest workout imaginable.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Getting bodied.

This is not just a reason to post a Beyoncé video.

... though you should watch this immediately because Beyoncé­.

What does my body actually look like? by Amy Stephenson is really well written. There's a lot of it I recognize myself in. It's just a great snippet of what it's like to think about your body all the time.

Never the "Pretty Girl" by Carlyn Hill kind of hit the nail on the head for a lot of us, I think. There are pretty girls, and then there's everyone else. It's just a different life experience. Cue the Ani DiFranco song.

‘I Felt Both And Neither’: Reflections On The Gender Binary by Naseem Jamnia is another great piece to end this triptych. Gender representation has always been a weird one for me personally, as has sexuality, the way I'm read is not how I would identify, and the way I identify does not mesh well (I feel) with my sexuality.

Bodies and identity are on a spectrum. And the looser we allow those definitions to be, the happier we'll all be (I think, I mean I don't know a ton about happiness, lol). 

Monday, May 2, 2016

My beautiful life on and off meds.

Ijeoma Oluo over at The Establishment has a great piece up called My Beautiful Life On And Off Meds.

If you've had any experience at all dealing with your mental health, you've most likely dealt with medication. Taking it or not taking it. Changing it. Upping or lowering a dosage. The questions you have about it. The judgement you feel for needing it. Weaning on or off. Forgetting a dosage or two and feeling like you're losing your mind. Side-effects. Existential self-questioning about the nature of your mind, your brain and your self. Medicare. The cost of your medication. Questioning the actual difference between the seemingly endless choices. Questioning the validity of clinical trials. Questioning long-term side effects. Questioning dependence. Wondering if you can stop. Knowing (in some cases) that you can't. There's a lot that goes through a mind, even a medicate one.

Oluo's piece talks about her experience weaning off of her meds:
I went off my depression and anxiety meds a few months ago. I had a feeling that with the medications, I was doing better, but I missed things that my medication had denied me. I missed wanting friends. I missed wanting sex. I missed feeling really happy or excited. I missed crying. I wanted to be able to feel sun on my face and feel it warm my soul instead of just my skin. I had spent a month or two romanticizing my unmedicated life before I decided to wean myself off the meds again.
I think if you spend a significant chunk of time on meds, romanticising your unmedicated life is nearly an absolute.
When the weather is nice, when nobody in my family is sick or in crisis, when I can pay my bills, when my physical health is good, I can manage my lifelong anxiety with exercise, meditation, and engaging hobbies. For me, “managing” means a few pretty bad days a month and a few pretty bad moments a day, but I’m out of bed and moving and able to get some joy from the world.
I think for those living with neurological privilege, there is a deep lack of understanding of how much  work "managing" is. It takes an enormous amount of energy, planning, and "spoons." It takes so much to just engage in your life. There's an extra step for the chronically ill that only the chronically ill even see. It's a new language to learn.
That may sound like a chaotic and frantic life, but it’s not. Chaotic and frantic was before, when I couldn’t understand why I acted the way I did, when I would let waves of depression pull me into months of self-loathing, when I was at the complete mercy of my brain’s chemicals with no idea when my brain would turn on me or for how long. Anxiety and depression can be chronic illnesses. And just like any chronic illness, they are improved greatly by regimen. For some, that regimen is running and yoga; for others, it’s therapy and meds. For me, sometimes it’s therapy, sometimes it’s meds, sometimes it’s long walks on the trail by my house. And like with many chronic illnesses, sometimes no interventions work, and those are some pretty dark times. But even then, I have the comfort of knowing why.
I have to say, though I'm sometimes very hard on myself about my "status" and where I'm at in life, especially regarding my "lost 20's," I am cognizant of my ability to use language to describe my life, my illnesses and my limitations. I have friends with whom I have a short-hand for certain kinds of pain and struggle. It took a long time and a lot of work for this to happen, but I do have it now.

Knowing why, and having the language to talk about yourself, and for yourself is hugely powerful. Understanding the nature of my illness, and being able to stand-up and actually set people straight about their bias or judgement is important to me. I am able to talk clearly about my condition (when I'm in a good place) and that helps. I am not lost to myself.

Oluo's piece is a good representation of some of the considerations we have when on or off medication. Check it out.