Wednesday, April 27, 2016

it's not you; it's me

I met with my doctor again yesterday. We meet every four weeks to see if our current approach is making a difference with my major depressive disorder (MDD). Yes, that's the official diagnosis; that's why I've been on medical leave for months. Yesterday's tests showed that no, we're not getting anywhere yet. 

If I had some other illness, I probably wouldn't have to tell you that. If I had some other illness, maybe you'd see my gaunt face, or you'd hear from someone how I haven't been able to leave the house so they're organizing meals. Or maybe you'd see me in a wheelchair or on crutches or dragging an oxygen tank. 

I told my doctor how frustrating it is to have an invisible disease. I reported some of the thoughtless things people have said. And some of the thoughts those have lead to in me. Thoughts like "Maybe I should go back to work even though I can't concentrate on anything, would be doing terrible work, and would end up shaking/crying again by the end of the first week." But mostly thoughts like "People think I'm shirking, that I'm not really sick, that I'm abusing the system; it matters to me what people think. If I went back they'd respect me again." 

My doctor was sympathetic. To the people in my life who've said those things, as well as to me. He pointed out that there's no way for people to know what it's like to have MDD if they haven't experienced it. They don't know the bone deep fatigue. The scrambled thoughts. The jangling nerves. The inexplicable head and body aches.

My doctor also said that I am not helping anything by masking my symptoms - that maybe if I walked around and showed people my test results they'd see something that doesn't show on my face or in my behaviour. Maybe if I fulfilled people's ideas of a mentally ill person they'd believe me (it reminded me of rape victims who aren't believed because they don't follow some expected response, but I digress). 

It made me laugh a little bit, sardonically. People often say that I'm an open book, and that my face betrays me - that's true. But a lifetime of pushing through has given me skills at showing the surface so I can hide what's behind it. I'm the Emperor of Oz, and like Dorothy my world is charcoal grey and the Technicolor is the illusion. The yellow brick road has fractured. I've hit some wall. I can't seem to keep pushing through. 

I could ask for help if I had any idea what to ask for. I could stop only seeing people when I'm on top and disappearing when I'm depleted. How could you know how bad the bad days are if you never see them? We all know that Facebook is a carefully edited highlight reel; it now occurs to me that my entire outward persona is a carefully edited highlight reel. I cycle between mysterious recluse and charming social convener - between Greta Garbo and Debbie Reynolds. The latter is the identity I prefer. I'm invested in you seeing me that way. I've been taught it's the identity most likely to be accepted. 
Really, which one would you rather hang out with?
I'm not on an extended holiday - I'm doing hard work trying to get better. Besides my doctor I currently have a team of 5 people supporting my overall health. My health trainers, a massage therapist, a counsellor, a digestive wellness coach (90% of serotonin is created in our guts, yet few depression therapies address gut health ...). I'm taking meds, but I'm also eating better, exercising, sleeping more. Pretty soon I start an 8 week cognitive training program - I'm excited about that. 

I shouldn't be writing this. I definitely shouldn't click publish. I want a better job, and in the meantime I want more responsibility at my current job when I return. I want to work. I want the routine and the social interaction and the income. Eventually I want clients who trust me to perform in my own business and help me create a life that's location independent. How is any of that going to happen when people know that I have unresponsive MDD that we (my team and I) haven't found an effective treatment for yet? How can they trust it won't recur when we do find the right treatment? 

But right now, today, I want you to know. I get that I'm responsible for not letting you know before. I get that you can't get it, and I'm sorry for judging you for that. Most importantly, I'm saying all this with the hope that maybe next time someone you know is on medical leave for a mental illness, you'll believe them. Maybe you'll take them seriously. And maybe, if you can't manage that, you'll at least keep it to yourself. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

i stand with Lucy; i believe survivors

NB: If you don't know what my title refers to, you are likely not Canadian, or at least not a Canadian woman, or maybe you're a Canadian who works hard to avoid the news. Regardless, the title should stand as a trigger warning that this post addresses rape and sexual assault with more frankness and anger and disgust than I usually permit myself. If you read no further, read this: 

A summary for those who need it: The verdict was delivered today in a high-profile Canadian sexual assault case in which a Canadian celebrity (yes, that's a thing) was acquitted on multiple charges brought forward by three women. In fact, almost two dozen women came forward against the accused, but the Crown decided evidence was only strong enough to proceed with charges in three cases. Following a trial that demonstrated everything about the legal system that keeps women from accusing their sexual aggressors (victim blaming, unyielding media coverage, unequal legal support, etc.), today's verdict was a surprise to few and an affront to many. 

I have tried largely to stay offline today. Having seen the verdict when I first logged on this morning and stated my support for the courageous survivors in this case and my sadness for all the women who will be silenced by this verdict, I decided that going about my life would be healthier for my peace of mind. Habits being what they are, I checked back in later this afternoon and saw a mix of responses on social media, including some really nasty further victim blaming, and the accused's statement that he "thanks the Crown and police" and hopes that this will keep other women in the future from coming forward. He knows. He's clear the impact on other survivors of this verdict. It's nauseating. 

A friend had commented on my stated support for all survivors by asking if I had read the testimony in the case. I was ready to be defensive because I have tried (in vain) to avoid much of the detailed coverage, and I hate to have my ignorance highlighted. But the truth is there's a reason I have fought my interest in this case and it's worth addressing. So, here's my too-long-for-FB answer. 

No, I haven't read the testimony. I have seen the unavoidable highlights and headlines; I have listened to the women I know who know some of the survivors and the accused, and I have consciously chosen to limit my exposure. There are several reasons for my avoidance and for my unquestioning and unwavering support of all survivors - for which I am unapologetic. Mostly, I didn't follow the case closely because of my personal experience with the injustice of Canada's legal system when it comes to sexual assault.

I didn't need the reminder of when someone dear to me spent three nights in 1986 sleeping on the floor of my university dorm room because she'd been raped in her own home and didn't feel safe there. I remember how the police questioned why she invited the man into her house, how much she'd had to drink, why they should believe her over him.

I didn't need to relive my 2001 rape and being told by the sexual assault centre counsellor not to bother pressing charges since the police would wonder why I'd willingly gone to the rapist's house.

I don't need to have recreated for me the freezing terror and crippling PTSD of another loved one when she was attacked in 2013 and could find no help in her small town, either from the police or from the women's crisis centre she called.

I have retained enough stories from my time at The Cridge Centre as colleagues stood beside woman after woman who faced losing her children to her abuser because the judge questioned her motives, her "version" of the truth, her actions in the face of being broken by love and hate and manipulation that makes her question her own reality. I could go on, but why bother?

In short, I know that the truth is of little to no consequence when a woman says a man didn't have her permission, let alone her invitation, to do whatever he has done to her body. I don't need to read the testimony, because I believe no woman would expose herself to the disbelief of the police, the ridicule of the public, and the cynicism of the court and media for anything other than a naive hope she will find justice.

My best friend said today she better teach her daughter not to bother telling anyone when she's assaulted - to consider both the likelihood of that beloved girl's assault and the lack of justice she would face stops me in my tracks. I adore her. She's brilliant and hilarious and loving and fierce. Statistically, it's a reasonable fear for her mom to have. I would give anything to protect her, and have no idea how to do that. As I said more than a year ago, this case only matters if we can use it to build a Canada that is safer for women. Today's verdict is a huge huge setback in that aim. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

moving home

To the uninitiated it might seem I am always on the move. In fact, to me it seems that I am always on the move. This month I am again moving home. It sometimes seems like we just got here, yet it will have been just shy of 4 years in this house when I leave (including the 6 months I wasn't here but my stuff was). I'm leaving under much different circumstances than I moved in with - a dream lived and died in this house. But other dreams have taken its place, and this move will facilitate them. 

In fact, 3 years and 11 months makes this one of the longer stays in one residence for me, certainly as an adult. In 48 years I've now moved 24 times* (including 2 moves in Kingston, which felt like homes; but not including two years in university dorms, which never were home for me). You'd think I'd be good at moving, and with my spreadsheets and sticky notes and 'moving tool kit' and penchant for organization maybe I am, but I still hate it. I have friends who have moved even more frequently and think nothing of it, but for me, having created a real home, there's always some sadness in the leaving. 

And this has been a home. It's the first home I've created with a partner since leaving my marriage, and we moved in calling it our love nest never thinking the honeymoon would end. It's been a safe space for my sons to come and go from. It's hosted parties and Christmases and Easters. We jumped feet first into the gardening, and soon discovered it to be a mud bog of effort though it still creates beauty and joy. I doubt I will ever again have a kitchen I love as much as this one - it's sunny, and spacious and warm and there's room in it to share work and laughter. I don't love cooking, but I love cooking in this kitchen. 

The condo I'm moving too will also be a home. My sons will again come and go. The 'stuff' that makes a place mine will surround me. It will, in time, host its own parties and Christmases and memories. I relish the bigger bathtub and the in-suite laundry and no longer having the least-attractive commute in Victoria. I can't wait to be walking distance to stores and restaurants, and to be more convenient for friends to come by or meet for coffee and walks. It will be a good space - one I hope to stay in longer than I've been here. 

It's time to go. It's time to close this chapter. But if there are tear stains on some of the tissue-wrapped photo frames, I'm sure you'll understand why. 
* The rundown, for those keeping track: 
  • Quesnel - 1
  • Kamloops - 1
  • Prince George A - 3 (?)
  • Chetwynd - 3
  • Prince George B - 1
  • Aldergrove - 1
  • Port McNeill - 2
  • Fort Saint James - 2
  • Castlegar - 1
  • Prince George C - 2
  • Victoria - 5
  • Kingston - 2

Monday, February 1, 2016

Me Before You - a book club review

There was more to Jojo Moyes' novel Me Before You than I anticipated, but not quite as much to it as their could have been. I know that in general we are discouraged from judging a book by its cover, but that's like saying not to judge people for how they present themselves - a nice idea, but a little naive. When a book looks like the prototypical 'chick lit,' I don't have high expectations. 

The characters in Me Before You, particularly the lead character Louisa, are complex and sympathetic, except when they're not meant to be. Louisa's parents are well drawn, perfectly flawed, struggling, inadvertently cruel and loving, unfair without malice, and limited by their own concerns. Her sister - the favoured daughter despite being completely self-absorbed and having quit college due to an unplanned pregnancy - is quintessentially sisterly. Loving when she's not being a bitch, and there when the chips are down. 

Though the plot of Me Before You sometimes verges on the maudlin and overwrought, it kept my attention and moved at a compelling pace. It didn't rush the reader or the characters, but their development over time was believable and rewarding. I sometimes thought the author was being manipulative, but that's because my reading was flawed by a misleading spoiler. I wish I could read it again for the first time and see if I still felt that way. 

Me Before You is set in a small English town, and as our book club hostess said "is Pride and Prejudice with a gang rape." In fact, though, the gang rape is one of the most poorly managed aspects of the plot. The main story is between charming, lackluster 26-year old Louisa who is perfectly happy with her job at a diner and living with her parents until the diner closes and she take a position as a 'carer.' Her client, Will, is the epitome of the entitled, public school attending, man of action, upper middle class Englishman. He's also bitter and suicidal since being hit by a car left him a quadriplegic. 

Despite all it has going for it, Me Before You fails to deliver. It broaches gang rape, teen pregnancy, the rights of the disabled and assisted suicide, and yet my over-all impression was of whip cream: it looks great and tastes good, but really doesn't satisfy. The fault lies mainly in the low reading level - it's a rare writer who can address complex issues with simple language; Moyes is not one of those writers. I do recommend the book; it was thought-provoking in a 'table topics' kind of way - it raised the point, but did little to really inform. 

What a brilliant woman our Teacher Lady is - her family was in the middle of moving this month but she didn't want to miss her turn hosting, so she booked a suite in a lovely downtown hotel and hosted us there. 

Downtown drinks after were an option. A dip in the pool could have been an option (if it hadn't been closed for maintenance). More ladies showed up than have attended in a year (in fact, everyone except Little E was there, her excuse being 39 weeks pregnant), and the food was outstanding.  It was, in fact, the perfect book club night. 

I wish I could have stayed over with Teacher Lady. It was a great reminder that we live in a beautiful city that people visit from all over the world. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

20 reasons why i need Bell's Let's Talk Day*

It's time once again for my becoming-annual Bell Let's Talk post (2015, 2014). And this year let me just say, stuff you and your cynicism about corporate greed. You can bitch about an organization that's at least doing something - as flawed, or inadequate, or self-serving as you may judge it - or you can get out from behind your computer screen and do something yourself. 

Want government change? Organize for it. Want to make a difference for people with mental health - ask them what they need. Want to change society so mental illness kills fewer of our young people and stifles fewer people who might make THE difference for themselves and others if they were well - do something that will change our conversation about mental health. 

Do I know what the answers are? No, obviously not. I'm busy trying to get well. But let me tell you what I do know: 

Why I need #BellLetsTalk:

  1. because if I was on medical leave with any other diagnosis, people would be bringing me meals and asking how else they can help*
  2. because telling my boss why I saw my doctor so frequently was a bad career move
  3. because when I met with a new counsellor the other day and started telling him what I've been dealing with, he teared up and I ended up managing his response instead of getting support
  4. because when my trainer asked who I can tell everything to and just be supported, I couldn't answer, and then I couldn't breathe*
  5. because every time one of my sons has a bad day I think A) will it kill him this time AND B) it's my fault - kids can't escape their mother's mental illness
  6. because the last time my son reached out to someone other than me on a bad day the police pushed into his apartment, called him a liar, took him to the hospital in just gym shorts and an undershirt, stole his medically-approved marijuana, and left him locked up overnight with no money to get home. He couldn't leave his apartment for a month after that, and I was too far away to do anything about it. 
  7. (EDITED JANUARY 29) because when my son was in the hospital for 3 weeks after his last suicide attempt, only his grandparents visited him or sent him a card, chocolates, or whatever else people in every other ward of the hospital get**
  8. because the stigma of mental illness keeps my son from asking for the college support service he has a right to and that would make his success approximately a billion times easier for him
  9. because suicide is the second highest cause of death among Canadians age 10-24, and instead of helping them we call them moody, hormonal, attention-seeking, self-absorbed or "just going through a phase"
  10. because when a woman cries over something we don't understand we call her a crazy bitch instead of asking what she needs
  11. because I'd rather stay home alone than have to bear the weight of a false smile
  12. because children from single-mothers households are 5x more likely to commit suicide than those from two-parent households, yet there aren't supports for divorced/divorcing families
  13. because my child's depression is more likely to kill him than your child's cancer, but there's no McHappy Day to battle that
  14. because in Canada, for all our hoorah and sudden coolness and bragging about our (not at all free or effective) universal medical care, only 1 in 5 depressed youth who require medical support will receive it despite the knowledge that early intervention saves lives and minimizes the frequency and severity of relapse
  15. because I am creative, intelligent, educated, adventurous, loving, fun, loved and beautiful, and some days I can't stand to leave my house
  16. because the man I love had to tell me every day for weeks that I wasn't okay before I heard him and asked for real help
  17. because I just want my sparkle back, and I can't find it on my own
  18. because 32 years after my first depression diagnosis I have only now given up caring what you think about it so I can focus instead on what I can do about it
  19. because it's okay for a stranger on the street to tell me I'd be prettier if I smiled, but not for me to tell him why I can't
  20. because even after reading all this, you won't believe that mental illness is a "real illness"
I keep re-reading this list, and each time it gets longer. I am one person with chronic mental illness. I love AT LEAST 4 other people with diagnosed chronic mental illness. Every one of them (and me) is so much more than our diagnosis, and none of us are getting the support we need to be truly well. I have seen my doctor at least 12 times in the 9 months I've been home and my depression (now coupled with anxiety) continues to worsen. 

So go ahead with your cynicism if it makes you feel cool and clever. But who's going to stop the spread of this epidemic? Lord know those of us caught in it are busy just staying afloat.  

*I hope that the 10 people in my life to whom this post doesn't apply know who they are and how much I love and appreciate them.

**(ADDED JANUARY 29) NL read this last night and told me grandma & grandpa visited him, as well as one aunt and cousin from his dad's family. I appreciate knowing that, and the correction.
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