I’ve been riding the crazy train since I was fourteen, ebbing and flowing on tides of happiness, depression, and anxiety. Many writers can probably say the same. Hell, engineers can say the same. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate.
I didn’t talk openly about my mental health (or lack thereof) until Robin Williams committed suicide. I realized that if someone as “happy” as him could do such a thing, maybe there were other people struggling in silence, too. I first started writing about my personal demons; then, I gave a big speech at the University of Arizona’s Mental Health Awareness Week.
Yeah, I was terrified, but since then, I’ve spoken a lot IN PUBLIC (arrrgggguhh) about mental illness: its causes and its treatments. Last November, I had a pretty nasty relapse. My mental health was the worst it had been in years. The depression, anxiety, and overwhelming fear wouldn’t stop, negatively affecting my work, my sleep, and my relationships
Sorta scared of medication, I sought therapy instead, and my therapist suggested I start a mental health blog … so I did.
Mental illness is a solitary disease, but it’s important to realize you are not alone. I’m just as messed up as you, I promise. There are plenty of us out there going through similar battles with body image, self confidence, paranoia, and severe melancholy. Let’s remove the stigma and talk about it.
If you’re up for a journey, come visit me HERE at Successfully Mad and subscribe in the sidebar. (You can learn more about my mental health speech there, too, and learn a bit about my background.) I’m going to try to be brave, so be brave with me.
Whatever you’re going through, have a hug through the internet. You’re not alone, and we’re gonna get through all this nasty shit together.
The past month has been a special version of Hell. I seriously injured a rib while helping my neighbor move a heavy chair. I knew the moment it happened that I was in trouble. When you feel something inside you go *pop*, reassess all your life decisions.
The pain spread from my rib to my back to my neck. I no longer slept through the night. I woke up at 2 AM and cussed at my TV for hours. I wandered through my days like an angry zombie … but I didn’t eat human brains. I didn’t eat anything, because OH, HELLO DEPRESSION! I WAS WONDERING WHEN YOU’D SHOW UP AGAIN!
As most of you know, I’ve suffered from depression since I was fourteen. This is nothing new. It reached its climax … valley … I don’t know which metaphor to use … when I lived in Phoenix and took some pills and drank some vodka and, oops, emergency trip home to stay with my parents.
Ohio has been a revelation for my mental health, possibly because I’ve come to realize I actually dislike sunshine and love rain and snow. I also love the small town lifestyle. I signed my first book deal here for the Bite Somebody series, and I have my family nearby. All these things put depression in the rearview mirror. But now, thanks to some unfortunate life circumstances and a rib injury, it’s back.
What do I do when my mental health takes a nosedive?
1. Hide in my house.
2. Drink gin.
3. Read Sherlock fan fiction.
4. Stop writing.
5. Stop eating.
6. Stop smiling.
7. Reconsider medication.
I haven’t been on antidepressants in over three years, and weaning off of them last time scared the bejeezus out of me. Am I at the point where it’s time to revisit medication? Well, that’s still up for debate, but as my friend put it last week, “At least you can acknowledge when you need help.” Many people with mental illness seem incapable of reaching out for help. They wander through life in a sort of denial haze telling themselves they’ll get better, they’ll get better, when they actually need support.
Medication isn’t the only answer, of course. There’s therapy and exercise and dietary changes and getting rid of alcohol (a HUGE depressant). There are any number of treatments for mental illness, but so many people don’t even want to admit they have a problem in the first place.
It’s been a long time since I had a “problem,” but that doesn’t mean I’m depression free. Whenever I speak about depression, I make it damn clear that there is no cure. You don’t just get kicked in the head by a horse and feel all better. Depression is a lifelong battle with peaks and valleys (see, I can use metaphors). I’ve been lucky to be on a peak for a long time, but now, I’m visiting the valley … and that’s what this is, a visit. I won’t be building a house here anytime soon.
It has been a month since my unfortunate *popping* incident. Two weeks ago, I wanted to cut for the first time in years. I saw my doctor and promised not to cut myself and spent a week on Effexor before its side effects freaked me out. I went to the gym today for the first time since my injury. I stared at Benedict Cumberbatch giggle gifs on Tumblr and watched the entirety of Yuri On Ice all over again. I’ve been talking again, too, smiling again, and I’m working on eating. Oh, I’m even sleeping again, and nightmares notwithstanding, it’s good. It’s all good.
I’m climbing out of the valley, slowly, but this has been an important and eye-opening reminder that mental illness is indeed the monster under your bed. It waits and it waits, until it grabs you by the ankle one morning and says, “You didn’t think I’d gone, did you?”
We need to take care of ourselves, mental illness or not. We also need to admit when we need help. See doctors. See friends. See God. When your mental health takes a nosedive, know that you are not alone. We all have bad days, weeks, months … Please don’t fight the fight by yourself. When you’re depressed, find the thing that makes you happy and surround yourself with that thing, even if it’s a good book. Even if it’s the sound of rain. Even if it’s ice cream. I’m clawing my way out of the pit. So can you.
For the past month, I’ve been weaning off my anxiety meds—little blue pills that have been my crutch for six years. Meanwhile, University of Arizona called and asked me to fly to Tucson to be their featured speaker at Mental Health Awareness Week. One of the reasons I started taking anxiety pills was due to my fear of being in public. The irony is not lost on me.
So why on Earth did I agree to speak in front of God knows how many complete strangers in the Arizona desert? Honestly, I was pleased as punch with the theme. My contact at the university informed me that they want my speech to be funny, happy, and cheerful. Instead of bemoaning my depression and PTSD, they want me to talk about not just surviving mental illness but thriving despite it.
Apparently, I’m the poster child for this thriving thing, which is surprising to me as I currently battle drug withdrawal, insomnia, and depression. I don’t feel like I’m thriving right now. I feel like I’m drowning. Despite my head being underwater this week, however, I sort of see what Arizona means.
Despite my social anxiety, I attend book conferences and speak on panels. (People actually consider me charming and funny at these things. I find this shocking.)
Despite my depression, I continue to write and work. I go to the gym and beat up weight machines. I cook dinner for my husband even when my appetite is gone, and I laugh at ridiculous things even when my heart hurts.
Despite my PTSD triggers (never walk up behind me when I’m sitting at my desk), I create. One of my friends recently called me the most prolific writer she’s ever seen—probably because I write to combat my mental illness.
I now have a speech to write. I need to talk about what it feels like to have a mental illness. I need to discuss treatments and techniques to manage. I need to put a positive spin on all the bad stuff, and even though it’s hard to be positive when you’re not sleeping, it’s possible. Anything’s possible.
On March 30, I will stand at the high tide of University of Arizona’s Mental Health Awareness Week, completely terrified to be the center of attention. I will share my story, though, which is something I’ve never been scared of. I’ve always been open about my illnesses, because demystifying a taboo steals its power. I will be funny, I hope. I will be honest. I’ll also be free of anxiety pills for the first time in several years.
Part of thriving is acknowledging our problems. We can’t hide behind mental illness. We can admit to it and move on. As I told a friend recently, “Slay the day.” Even if you’re terribly sad. Even if you’re scared to leave the house (or fly to Tucson, for that matter). Even if you’re just too tired. Don’t just survive … but thrive.
Trust me, this is not a clinical analysis of Seasonal Affective Disorder. This is my list of things I do to pick me up on a day-to-day basis. See, everyone I know has been a little wary, what with me moving from sunny Phoenix to the frigid Midwest. My family and friends know I’ve suffered from depression ever since I was old enough to buy black lipstick. It’s been over a year since I went off anti-depressants, and I’ve been doing great actually! However, with the creeping cold comes some creeping sadness, so here’s my list of STOP SAD NOW!
1. Happy Light / Light Box
There’s the theory that we get Seasonal Affective Disorder because we don’t get enough light. I’m not sure I buy this since I prefer rainy days to sunny ones, but I also watch horror movies to cheer me up, so … Anyway, this was my mom’s idea. Every morning, I sit in front of this big, glowing light. It’s supposed to fight SAD and give you more energy, so why not? I’ve been using it for over a week now, and I like it. I’m not sure I’ve noticed an emotional difference, but nothing like blinding white light to get your eyes open at 7 AM. Here’s an example.
2. 80s Music
Granted, the only reason I figured this out was because of my novel, BITE SOMEBODY, the characters in which adore everything 80s. I dare you to sit still and not smile while listening to bad 80s music. Here’ s an example. Dance, you maniac!
3. Happy Tea
Developed for me by my witchy friend Debi Brady (she’s not actually a witch; I just like to pretend she is), I drink a cup of “Happy Tea” every day. Here’s the rundown:
2 parts St. John’s Wort
2 parts Scullcap
1 part Red Raspberry Leaf
.5 part Peppermint Leaf
(Toss in some Catnip and Nettle for a little boost, too.)
I buy organic herbs in bulk and then mix up a batch of leaves in a tupperware container to bust out and scoop into my tea ball every morning. Sometimes, I use it twice a day. It’s nice with some freshly juiced ginger and orange blossom honey.
4. Find a (Healthy) Obsession
It’s no secret: I’m obsessed with Benedict Cumberbatch. Between work assignments, I troll Trumblr to find new pictures of him smiling. He’s aesthetically pleasing, all right? You need to find your equivalent, whether it’s pictures of puppies, Star Wars trailers, or making canned beets. Find something that can immediately, quickly, drag you from the depths and obsess. I give you permission.
5. The Gym
I joke that I’d be a homicidal maniac if I didn’t work out (I have anger issues), but really, it’s great for my joy levels, too. I go to a fantastic gym, by the way: Everybodies Gym in Chardon. The owner is possibly as obsessed with Halloween as I am, because there are creepy clowns that hang from the ceiling and spooky lighting. I adore it. There’s nothing like a good treadmill pounding to shake the blues away. Add some heavy lifting to get that extra kick!
6. Funny Friends
My closest friends are the ones that make me laugh, and there’s a reason. Laughing is fun, so the more we laugh, the better we feel … So if a friend makes you laugh, you’re going to want to hang out with him/her more. Find funny friends. Find friends who say hilarious, inappropriate things. Find friends who send you stupid videos of their dogs. Find friends who don’t judge you over Cards Against Humanity. And you know that Negative Nancy who just bitches about her kids/husband/bowel movements/etc? Get rid of her. She’s just dragging you down.
7. Talk to Strangers (the stranger the better)
We tell kids “Don’t talk to strangers,” but you’re an adult, so talk to strangers. At Big Lots, I was looking at knock-off perfume, and this lady asked me which one she should buy. We spent ten minutes spraying every sample bottle on different parts of my forearm. I reeked for days but left the store laughing. I met my friend, Keri, at a beer fest because I thought she was hot and told her so. Now, she’s one of those “funny friends.” Same goes for Deidre, who told me at a bonfire that she was a porn star. (She isn’t, but I love that this was her go-to response.) Talk to people you don’t know. Smile at them. It’s like a shock of happy to your system.
A final thought: Seasonal Affective Disorder (and depression in general) sucks, and my tactics might not be your tactics. Some people need medication. Some people need therapy. You have to figure out what works for you, but once you figure it out, keep doing it. Lift the funk and live your life. With love xoxo
I want to cut my wrists. Don’t panic; it’s not a serious thing. I don’t want to kill myself, but sometimes, when I’m daydreaming, I like to think about cutting myself.
I’ve been doing it off and on in secret since eighth grade. Once I hit my upper twenties, I stopped caring if anyone noticed. Now, in my thirties, good friends know how things are going based on my Band-Aids.
Again, this isn’t a suicide thing. It’s not a “cry for help,” as Marla Singer might say. I don’t cut for attention. I don’t cut because I mean myself any harm. I cut because it feels good. Physical pain is better than emotional pain any day. But it very rarely comes to that anymore. Mostly, it’s just in my head. I fantasize about cutting because it calms me down.
Say I’m in a crowded room, and people are small talking around me and I’m just feeling … anxious. I zone out and picture a knife against my skin. Not cutting into my skin—just lingering above it, like a playful tickle. This is my meditation, my visualization, my Power Animal. This image calms me down. Always has.
I considered getting a tattoo on my left wrist. That way, I wouldn’t cut my left wrist anymore because I wouldn’t want to ruin the ink. But then I thought, “How does ink do on scar tissue?” The tattoo is on hold.
I spoke to a group of troubled teens a couple months ago. I admitted to a room full of strangers (who possibly had more in common with me than most “adults”) that I’d been cutting for years. One of the girls asked, “How did you stop?”
Well, I didn’t want to tell her I hadn’t. Instead, I told her I channeled the yearning to cut into something else—my writing, for instance, or yoga.
But being a cutter is like being a smoker. You quit … but you never really quit.
I’m not writing this to freak out my mother or make you uncomfortable. I’m writing this to be honest. Although I haven’t been depressed in a while (yay medication!), when I am depressed, I often question God’s intentions: Why did You give me this stupid disease? Why did You do this to me? What kind of a loving god are You?
See, I get sad, then I get mad. Once I’ve calmed down, I usually realize I wouldn’t be “me” without the depression. I wouldn’t be as weird or funny or oddly charming. I wouldn’t be an artist. I also wouldn’t be able to speak to troubled teen girls or write blog posts like this that hopefully help other people—make them feel not so alone.
Recently, when I opened up about self-harm, I brought it up, nonchalantly, with a friend of mine who shocked me by saying, “Yeah, I’ve been trying so hard not to cut lately.” Who knew? Now, I do, and now, we talk about it.
We need to talk about this stuff. In college, I hid my mental health problems. No one would ever have thought, “Wow, Sara’s a real downer.” (Thank God for closed doors.)
The older I get, the more I have learned to embrace “me,” even the psycho side of me that wants to stay in bed, never eat again, and play with knives. If anyone needs a hug, it’s her!
So seriously, I’m not trying to freak you out. I just want you to know me, and maybe someday, we can help each other. Isn’t that why we’re here anyway?
Depression makes you feel like a broken toy. You once had use, but now, you’re forgotten, sprawled in the dust beneath a child’s bed. You can’t remember what it’s like to not be broken. You can’t imagine anyone fixing you.
So you lie there, tired, broken, and no one can reach you—not even mom’s feather duster.
Depression destroys you. It makes you forget how to work or how to eat. It makes you want to sleep but not cry. You are beyond crying. You feel nothing but a crushing pain in your chest. You feel nothing but aching muscles and the strange beat of your heart that seems louder in the silence.
It’s very quiet under the child’s bed. In the dust.
It’s not scary under here, not like the movies would have you think. There aren’t monsters under this bed—just you, the broken toy. You are in pieces. You can’t hurt anyone.
Depression is the bad thing you’re waiting for that never happens.
Depression is loss, but lost what?
Depression is the hope that this day will soon be over, because maybe you will wake up not so broken tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow will be better.
Maybe tomorrow, the child will find you under his bed. He will dust you off and sew you back together. He will play with you again and remind you what you’re here for.
You will remember how to work and eat and maybe even smile. Tomorrow.
For now, you lie in the dust and watch feet pass the foot of the child’s bed. You wonder: how do they do it? How do they go about their days? How do they keep their pieces together? When you are so broken.
You’re not even old! Barely played out! How did you end up in this dingy, under-bed place? How did you get here? But you don’t remember. One day, you were fine; the next, you weren’t.
Depression is the dark thing in your dreams, half remembered by morning.
Depression is the thief that takes and makes you forget how to give back.
Maybe you should rest now, sleep for a while, under the bed. Stop looking at other toys. Stop wondering how they stay together. Tomorrow. Tomorrow, you’ll be fixed again.