Mental Health & Me

May 18, 2015 at 10:14 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

Crazy, I have been told, is a pejorative word in the world of mental illness. As such, I try not to use it. It can be difficult at times, because that word is ingrained in our minds pretty firmly. So I work on not calling anyone crazy. I wonder, though – can I still use crazy to describe someone who wants to build the Keystone XL pipeline? Can I use it to describe a big party? Probably. Maybe. I think there’s a place for crazy, somewhere, but I’m working to find that line.

Yesterday I participated in Portland’s NAMI walk 2015. NAMI, if you aren’t aware, stands for National Alliance on Mental Illness. The purpose of the 5k walk yesterday was to raise awareness about mental illness and to raise funds to help with awareness, advocacy, and treatment. In the way that seeing several thousand people walking a loop in central Portland is going to naturally prompt questions, I think some awareness has been raised. However, I would probably be doing a disservice to the spirit of the cause if I didn’t use the other platforms at my disposal to help as well.

I have talked occasionally about my brother, who deals with mental illness, but for the most part I prefer to talk about how his illness effects me. His story isn’t mine to tell, and he’s a fairly private person. What I do want to try to do, though, is help with the stigma around mental illness, and the only person’s story I’m qualified to tell is my own.

First, some facts. These all come from NAMI’s website.

FACT: 1 in 5 Americans experience some kind of mental illness. 1 in 25, a serious mental illness.

FACT: Nearly 7 percent of American adults live with major depression. Just over 18% live with anxiety disorders.

I could talk at length about how our prison and homeless populations have a prevalence of mental illness, but for now I will just encourage you to check out NAMI’s website and the stats for yourself. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done.

I think the biggest issue is the stigma around mental health in general – we don’t talk about it. I certainly don’t talk about it. It’s really hard to admit to having any kind of mental health problem, even though if you had a physical illness you wouldn’t think twice about saying “yeah, I have a cold,” or “oh my knee is a little bit fucked up from a random scooter accident.”

Last year my psychologist diagnosed me with mild depression and anxiety. The depression I can usually shake with some CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy – basically working to retrain your brain). The anxiety does pop up somewhat more often, and if I ever nope out of someplace, that’s probably what’s happening. I usually make up some kind of excuse, because saying “I feel super anxious and the walls are kind of closing in right now” feels like admitting weakness. It’s the same reason I have a near inability to cry – culture raises men to not disclose those things. I’ve seen it over and over in my own life and in the actions of others. Even now it’s hard to write.

I am fortunate that my problems are pretty mild, and I didn’t seek any help until there was an incident last fall that literally kept me from getting out of bed for a couple days. I think a lot of people wait until the problem gets completely unmanageable to get treatment, and if I could say anything, it would be that if you can (especially if your insurance will cover it), talk to a therapist. It was super helpful, even if didn’t love mine. Statistically speaking, there are a lot of people with some kind of mental health issue, and that’s OK. We can all work to be kinder, more understanding, and more compassionate. We can work together to help one another. We can work to be open and honest with each other. Don’t let the stigma or fear rule your life, and we can create a better future for everyone’s mind.

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Don’t Need No Trouble…

May 15, 2015 at 2:21 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , )

…but sometimes trouble needs me,” goes the opening line of the second track off of The Weepies’ most recent album Sirens. Outside of this album perhaps being their best yet, and the fact that I can’t stop listening to the album (or getting excited about seeing them in June!), this line really resonated with me.

I’ve been thinking a lot over the last few days about how my life has shifted SO dramatically in the last few years. I graduated from college 4 years ago at 20 years old, burnt out, unsure of what was coming next, with big dreams and a big blank space where the future should be. Sometimes I feel terrified that I am still that kid with big dreams and a big blank space (although now I know it’s where I’ll write your name). In no particular order, though, I look back and see the things I’ve done over that time span: fallen in love, worked in retail, worked a graveyard shift (and stayed up for a personal record of 41 hours), had my heart broken, seen my parents get divorced, struggled as my brother was diagnosed with a serious mental illness, ran my first 10k & Half Marathon, traveled in Asia for 6 weeks, watched the Seahawks win a Super Bowl (and come within a yard of a second), managed 3 political campaigns, helped some wonderful students change their lives, got my car stolen, worked in government, made a host of amazing new friends (honestly, just SO MANY beautiful, wonderful human persons), wrote exactly ONE original song (and it’s not terrible!), done a whole lot of singing, lived at home, lived on my own, and lived at home again. I’ve been accepted into a great university with a full scholarship to a program I feel extremely passionate about. I honestly believe that even though there are days that I struggle mightily, I am in the process of becoming more the person I want to be.

So that is the backdrop that I have to consider when I think about my life, my insecurities, and my fears. I realize more every day about myself – both good and bad. We have to look in the mirror and accept who we are. There are so many parts of me that I truly enjoy, and a few (that of course the mind gives outsize importance to) that are quite discouraging. I want to be more generous, more open, less fearful. I want to have a better body image. I would like to not always feel like I’m the one who has to fix every problem. I want to write more often – to me it’s something quite therapeutic, but the words don’t always come out easily. I also think that in our society there’s a pressure to not be honest, the “facebookization” of the world where we only share the good things in our lives and hide the struggles.

Speaking of struggles, I’ve been trying to get back into running after the long hiatus in Asia. The first week went pretty well – minimal soreness. This week, though, I’ve had awful shin splints and my knees have been giving me a bunch of trouble. It might just be getting over the hump and back into running more consistently, but I’m wondering whether or not it might be because of something that happened in Thailand…

Kyle and I (after one night in Bangkok!) traveled down to Phuket to enjoy the sun, beaches, and to get Kyle a work visa (which is a story for another time). The second day we walked down the road to rent some scooters, because that’s the easiest way to travel around. Of course, yours truly has never ridden a motorcycle or scooter before, and these were much more in the vein of small motorcycle than Vespa. I had expressed some apprehension, but at the end of the day part of this trip was about pulling myself out of my comfort zone so I sucked up my fears (I have nightmares on an infrequent basis about crashing vehicles) and rented a scooter. We saddle up, Kyle starts to ride off, and the friendly guy at the scooter rental place shows me how to work the scooter. He says, “just grab the gas like sOOOOOoooooooo…” and I shot off like a rocket down the road after Kyle, his voice fading into the distance. That was my only lesson in riding. We get to the first intersection (did I mention we’re driving on the OTHER side of the road?) and I of course shoot straight through it, manage to stop on the other side of the road (we needed to take a right), get myself turned around, stop, and then lightly touch the gas, causing me to rocket forward and crash in the center of the the four way stop. The bike was a little scratched, nothing major. My knee was a little banged up, but not badly. I mostly was embarrassed as a bunch of other people stared at me. I picked the bike up and headed after Kyle. The thing about riding a scooter is that the balance is simple if you can ride a bike, and the actual driving is not difficult. However, it seemed that no matter how little I grabbed the gas I was either not moving or FLYING forward. This proved to be a problem after I crashed for a second time that day, smashing off one of the rearview mirrors. I was again more or less unharmed (I hurt myself way worse when my foot hit some coral), but I was worried that there would be no scooter left when we returned it in 3 days. The crashes were a bit painful, but more than that they were incredibly embarrassing. I was getting flustered, and that probably wasn’t an ideal environment to drive in when I wasn’t particularly skilled in the first place. So we returned the scooter, they were totally cool about it (just charged us the cost to replace), and I spent the rest of our time in Phuket right where I probably would have preferred to be in the first place: riding behind Kyle on a single scooter. We had a great time, and Kyle was gracious enough to give me very little shit about it while we were there.

In any case, my knees (the left one in particular) were quite sore for a week or so afterward. I was worried there might be structural damage – I’m pretty sure there isn’t, but running has sucked this past week. Just going to keep running and see what happens!

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