Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Taking Charge

I think the hardest part about Depression and Anxiety is the feeling that the two conditions, particularly when they team up together, are in control of you, your activities, your capabilities and how you feel every step of the way.

I think the best thing I did for myself was refuse to let it control me - I think I gradually learned to coexist with my conditions, and I learned to leave it in it's rightful place. I took the approach at first to fight having it - In fact, I fought really hard to convince myself that even if I was depressed and anxious that there were totally logical reasons for it, and that anyone in my position would feel the way I did. I still believe this 100% with every fibre of my being, but I think the time finally came around February or March of this year when I decided to let it be. Accept it for what it was and focus my attention on the things in my life that made me feel better.

Part of that was the medication - I took it religiously. Another part was hormone replacement (this was temporary for me, but I found that increasing my estrogen/progesterone [bioidentical] levels really helped me to find the energy to combat the other stuff). If it did nothing else, at least the placebo affect of including hormones (bioidentical) in my regimen helped fortify me for the fight. And the final part was a realization that life was short - and I better start enjoying the things I have rather than fight the things I couldn't change.

Life altering would be an understatement. Within weeks I felt human again. Skeptical and cautious almost to an extreme, but human...and it had been so long since I felt human, that it actually meant I felt brand new at the same time. I'm afraid I may never feel that way again, but there's always hope.

Since then, I've returned back to work full time, and I continue to work on growing my own small wedding planning / wedding florals business, and I'm still volunteering with the local Mental Health support system, and I've even taken on tutoring for the school where I earned my wedding planning certificate. Some may think that I've really gone looney taking on so much, but I feel like all the energy that my full time job drains from me, at least a portion of it gets renewed and replenished by the other three...and finally, if you don't know where you're next step will land, how do you ever find out, without trying on the shoe first? So this is my approach. Not to overwork myself right into a grave, but to give myself the chance to formulate a corporate exit strategy with a menu of options I would have a tough time choosing between. I truly believe that nothing worth having comes to anyone without having fought for it and without having poured blood, sweat and tears into it. And for me, this means letting each piece of what I enjoy, grow organically until I know I have woven myself a new safety net.

I'm interested in hearing other stories as much as I'm interested in sharing my thoughts with the great abyss of blogspot...Does anyone have any similar stories to share?

Monday, July 27, 2009

The affect of depression on your loved ones

It would seem crazy to say this – but I guess I’m lucky now that the shoe has been on both feet for me. In my early twenties, I spent most of my time being the primary caregiver for my mother who suffered with the exact same disease. Then, fast forwarding to my mid thirties, when my new husband took on the responsibility of caring for me (although, much as I love him and much as he did a phenomenal job with me) I did much, much more as a single caregiver. I know how it feels to be the patient, but I know too, how it feels to be the caregiver and I find that makes me able to truly empathize with my loved ones, and truly appreciate their places in my life, their efforts to save me, and my own ability to recover.
My new husband had the benefit of sharing that responsibility with my mother and my grandmother – these two women and the love of my husband are the three crutches on which I stood, while pulling myself out of my own hole. They were there for every tear, every side affect, and they delivered every warm hug and kick in the butt I needed to get back on track. But I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like if I hadn’t had them in behind me, propping me up, every single hand squarely on my back resisting my desire to fall further into the darkness.
The whole time though, I worried about this situation that I placed my new husband in. We weren’t married a full year when I had my final breakdown and went on leave. I kept telling myself (though I knew I was completely wrong to think it) that this wasn’t what he signed up for. I will forever appreciate that he didn’t hightail it out of this house, and run for the hills, taking our brand new big screen tv and the good car with him. After all it was rather like, “BANG”, and right out of the gate, I was on my downhill slide. I know of many men who would have abruptly excused themselves from the marriage and found a lawyer pretty damn quick. My marriage was tested time and again in its first two years, and it’s still going strong. I’m a very lucky woman.
Among all three of them, I could see the pain and hurt in their faces when they looked at me. I felt like hell, and I looked ten times worse. And all they wanted to do was take that pain away, and nothing, absolutely nothing, could make me feel better. They quickly had to figure out when to tread lightly, and when to deliver the harsh realities. I put them on pins and needles – and for a year they had to navigate my maze as delicately as they could, leading me blindfolded every step of the way.
Ultimately, the only way I could fight this beast, was to find the right medical cocktail, and really, the big key was, finding me again. I could look in the mirror on any given day, and not be able to tell you who was looking back at me. I couldn’t remember what I used to look like, and I couldn’t remember what it felt like to be happy, or completely whole. I could tell you that I used to be audacious, gregarious, determined, and good hearted – and now I barely cared if I brushed my hair. I never missed brushing my teeth though – and I still took a shower every day – sometimes OCD can be your friend, LOL.
Now imagine that you’re not the one looking in the mirror. Imagine you are the person to the right or left of you, who loves you, and has cared for you all of their life. I can’t even begin to tell you how devastating it is to feel that helpless, unable to change the situation, unable to put a smile on your loved one’s face, unable to hear their laughter, unable to wipe their tears away, unable to feel whole yourself because the place they occupy in your heart is being left to rot due to their lack of interest in tending to it. In fact, it never really hit me until writing that last sentence that we are as responsible for the place we hold in another’s heart, as we are to our own hearts and minds. When you are affected by this disease, part of your recovery has to come from some degree of selfishness. Without it, you’ll never recover – you must tend to yourself, before you tend to others, or you’ll never survive this world. The trick is, once you’ve tended to yourself (the selfish part), you are obligated to tend to those you love, and who love you in return.
It takes nerves of steel and a heart full of the world’s riches and more, to be the caregiver to someone who is suffering with depression and anxiety disorder. Not to compare it with how it feels to care for loved ones suffering with all different kinds of afflictions, this disease is not something that is born from a lack of self control – it is something that grabs you when you least expect it to. It’s not a dependency, it’s a consumption of the truest kind – it overwhelms you, picks you at your weakest moment, and creates the gateway to a plethora of other problems.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Checking back in

It's been a while since I posted here - It's been incredibly busy, and to be quite honest, in returning to work full time, I've been challenged with maintaining my recovered state.

Looking at the first few months of opening my business, my days were quite preoccupied as one would expect, with the tactical activities of a small start up - this meant every day I was working on building my website, and working to establish a name for myself on the one social networking site that I had chosen to use as my primary marketing vehicle. I also spent time tightening up my own book "Life Size Bride" and finding a printer to help me self publish (after being rejected by every publisher out there). It meant that suddenly, I was on the go again - but I could go at my own pace. Since nothing was riding on the line of my business' success or failure but the time I'd put into it, the risk was significantly mitigated.

Ultimately, I booked my first two jobs by the end of the summer (I was totally underpaid and completely underappreciated for the work I did - but I got the jobs, and like it or not - I was in business finally - for myself - no one to answer to but me and my clients). This was helpful to maintaining my path of recovery since at the same time I had booked these jobs, the book went bust - In fact, I still have copies available - offering them at my cost to have them printed $10 each. It was well reviewed by the few people who did read it, but low and behold, fat brides and older brides, don't apparently want to be reminded of the fact that they're normal. Go figure.

While all of this was kicking off - I continued with Dr appointments and insurance calls...and struggled through every possible side affect to the medication cocktails they were brewing up for me. I gave up trying to have kids, and started going to the pool to do swim fit with the old folks - ultimately, the busy-ness of the business hamster wheel, and the side affects put a stop to the swim fit...and my weight levelled off at the highest it had ever been (higher than I could have ever imagined it getting to be)...and the meds made sure I couldn't take it off easily, and the side affects made sure I didn't care.

In all that time, I was desperate to find someone like me. Someone who apparently doesn't exist (I know this is not true - mental illness is the leading preventable cost to group insurance companies and corporations alike). I needed, and still need, to find people who were in a senior management role, highly respected and highly professional white collar people who are survivors of this disease. I look at it no differently than I view cancer or other conditions that people survive and carry with them forever. I believe that we need to find one another, connect and together, work to change stigmas and perceptions in the workplace. I've come to learn that those people who can afford to do it, tend not to depend on community support groups, but rather since they can afford it, they get their therapy independently. Not to throw out the value of therapy, but something is missing - and that's community support of like individuals.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Month 2 - adjusting

The theme for month two of my leave from work to deal with my medical issues was really more of the same and adjustment.

I realized that since I had been working around the clock, I had spent so much time reading technical, uninteresting, dreadfully painful, hundred plus page documents to keep my head above water, that I had actually stopped reading for fun years ago. I used to read all the time - and I mean ALL the time...Goodness sake, I always wanted to be a writer - and you don't want to be a writer without wanting to read everything you can get your hands on.

So I started reading. And reading. And reading. I followed a couple of Oprah's book club recommendations - one in particular was The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I was focused on books that would help me mentally and emotionally escape and reconnect to myself. This was a critical read - and the timing was perfect, as my read of the book followed Oprah's online seminars with the author himself. I read the book, and then I watched the seminars online, practiced centering myself, and it helped me absolutely focus on healing myself. It gave me enough quiet space in my mind and in my home and in my hands to breathe, and refresh my mind.

The other book that I read which happened to be coincidental to Oprah's promotion of the book through one of her shows was, The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch. These two books together, changed the way my rehabilitation could have gone. In his book, Randy spoke honestly and frankly and openly about dealing with his terminal cancer, and determined that his legacy could and would not be just the job or just the cancer. At the same time that I was struggling with my diagnosis, and unclear about my next steps, what became clear in my experience of these two books helped me resolve that I would not follow the footsteps of my mother (who chose to deal with her depression by quitting work, and sticking only with her medication to help her strike the even keel). I knew after having read those books, that I was still meant to do something with my life, that I was still (unhappy and sick as I was), not going to let the depression eat me up, and stick me out on the end of the couch with the potatoe. Coincidentally, Randy passed away not but a few weeks after I finished reading the book. If he had not been alive and doing as well as he was when I read the book, I don't know that it would have had the same affect on me. I am eternally grateful to a man that I never had the opportunity to meet, but whom I admired for his sensitivity to his family's loss and pains in being caregivers, his pragmatism on how to change the course of his legacy, and eternal optimism to choose life when cancer was knocking the hell out of his body.

I also reminded myself that just 5 years ago, I had thought long and hard about starting my own business. I decided then to open my own wedding planning business so that I could put my efforts and time into something that would give me pleasure and that would benefit me instead of the rich man, and that would help my mom find some purpose in her days by being able to work with me. This also meant that I was able to keep my mind sharp throughout my recovery, and that I was able to develop my skills further during sabbatical, hopefully improving my chances of making a career change post recovery.

The one thing that hampered all the progress I was making (which can be viewed as a good thing or a bad thing), was the constant pushing from the insurance group hired by my company to track the progress of my condition/treatment...and the constant doctor's appointments. I was seeing doctors or talking to insurance case workers at least every other day. The pressure to push through and just get back to work was incredible, and incredibly painful. And in fact, was a contributing factor I think to the reason why it took me 14 months to finally be able to return.

I think that if something comes from my writing all of this, I'm hoping it will be insurance and corporate reform in how they manage medical leave with their valued employees. Never in my career with this company, had I felt more like a useless, pain in the ass number, as I did when I was at the lowest point in my life medically. I certainly didn't feel support despite their claims that this was their intentions in following up.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Month 1

The first month I was off work was the strangest experience I think I've ever had. I quite literally found myself hiding in the basement in front of the television, mindlessly staring into nothingness. Mostly this was because I felt lost in my own home. Now I know that the reason I felt lost in my own home was, well, because I don't think I'd ever "been" there before.

I spent so much time, trying to balance a big career, with a big family relationship, and a big marriage, and living a big life, that I overlooked all the details that made it worth living. In essence, this is part of the reason why I think depression and anxiety took over. This is one of the ways in which I allowed it to.

So the first week was a drain - on the surface it was time wasted, although in retrospect, it was absolutely stage one of recovery, and time well wasted.

I also had at least 4 doctor's appointments, and started the year long roller coaster ride of trying this medication and that medication to see what would work with what. The biggest challenge in all of this though, was the same problems I had at work, were now coming at me from the corporate group insurance company. Fill out this survey, and that survey, and answer 20 phone calls, and every day, be made to feel more and more guilty for being sick...struggling with my diagnosis...and the only result that would come for me was that all my pent up anger was sustained. In fact I spent the first 9 months being the same level of angry as the day I went on leave. It took me 9 months to forget my password to my work computer. Can you imagine? I do have a good memory, and I was always smart about making my passwords somewhat memorable - but after 9 months of not using it? Don't most people forget these things after a week's vacation?

The more questions and interactions I had with doctor's and insurance companies, the more I had panic and anxiety attacks, and the worse my condition became. My feeling is that the insurance company did nothing but make things harder for me to return to work, through no malintent at all. Why? Because even though they are an independent company, in my mind (as I'm sure it is with so many others), they were representatives of my employer. Since my work was such a large part of the tipping point for me, I saw little in them to trust, or that would make me feel better about their advice or their statements of compassion or in their pressing me to return to work at all. Perhaps in my diatribes, I'll be able to discover how they could have acted differently to promote a healthier, quicker return to work for me...but for the moment, I know that they helped me find deeper places still in my disorder.

Convinced that this was easily beatable, and that I might have been slightly misdiagnosed, I decided that surely there were others just like me in my own community (I know there are thousands), and took out an ad in my local paper (cost me $200 that was hard come by, for a little bitty snippet on the last page in a single issue), looking for others to join me in coffee shop sessions of mutual support. One person (I'll call her M) answered that ad, and due in large part to things I learned from her, I believe it helped me to resist what depression and anxiety can ultimately do to kept me motivated to stay on the work at the living thing, cuz if I had chosen to give into it, at that delicate, precipice of a moment as it was, then it would win. I would lose my battle, and I'd never work again. That first month was critical for me, and her answer to my little itty bitty ad in my local paper, could very well have been the first step in saving myself. I can only hope that I helped her as much as she helped me, although I'm not certain that was the case.

I also found a community based support group - one that I attended once, but quickly realized it just wasn't going to give me what I needed. No matter what I put into it, I would not be getting the right result for me. The main challenge I found in that environment was simply that the people in the room were not like me. Many of them were clinically depressed, and their depression had robbed them socially and professionally...or perhaps they were depressed because of the latter two reasons. Without taking anything away from the good people or the goodness they realized from that community of supporters, I found that I spoke a different language. While it sounds awfully horrible to say (and indeed I've tried writing the statement a hundred other ways already), I simply operated in a whole different social cast than the people who were sitting around me. So even on a good day, I think we'd have a challenge speaking the same language. Add to this that we were all depressed, highly emotional, and anxious, and the mix was like watch oil and water avoid one another in a glass bowl.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

March 10th, 2008

Ever have one of those know, the one that most of us have when nothing goes right or precisely the way you want it to? The one that leaves you feeling defeated, drained, exhausted and fed up? The one that makes you want to run home as fast as you can, find a tub of ice cream and a big bag of chips and then hide out in the basement with the ringer on the phone turned off?

Now, ever had one of those days for 6 months straight?

By March 10th, 2008, I had certainly had my share of those days. Amidst quitting smoking and being a newlywed, I was stuck fighting with bosses, colleagues, competitors and even family and the new husband about everything, and anything. All the while, I was trying to throw up all appearances of being the perfect replica of June Cleaver. By March 10th, everything came crashing down around me, and I had failed at everything (so it seemed).

In to the doctor I trekked, wearing every last ounce of emotion I had brimming up, squarely on my face. All I wanted was the happy little pill that would let me get back into the office calmly enough to suck it up once again. Little did I know that the happy little pill would come with some time off work (starting immediately), and the opportunity to really explore my feelings of inadequacy. Exploring those feelings at the surface, would only let me feel them more deeply in the coming weeks. Apparently, I've been doing this so many years that I can't remember the last time I didn't feel stressed. In fact, I used to say with complete honesty that I was one of those people who thrive under pressure. All true until it catches up with you.

This is nothing to say of the problems we have in diagnosing and treating depression and anxiety in medical terms. With no psychiatrists accepting new patients in Ontario, and family practitioners who are shooting from the hip in finding the right cocktails for their patients, and employers and insurance companies pushing you to jump back in the fray, how can a patient begin to feel comfortable dealing with their feelings in the highest stress areas of their lives and know that at some point they will realize success? Family physicians, particularly in Ontario, will tell you that the majority of their patients are being treated for these disorders, that they are generally a result of stress and poor ethics in the workplace.

I can tell you from experience, that while there are hundreds of well intentioned and highly trained people out there, that no one has the secret fix to mental illness but the patient themselves. At least in the area of stress related depression and anxiety/panic disorder. There is truth in that balancing the hormone levels in your brain through medication will help, and indeed with great results in some patients, but the fact of the matter is that in stress related disorders, it is my feeling that this can only present you with the opportunity to heal yourself (using cognitive therapy with the help of medical and social work professionals and most importantly through personal growth).

These are also isolating disorders. And I believe that because they are disorders that not only thrive in their isolation, but the isolation itself adds to the complications and developments of stigmas. We need better ways of reaching out to one another to help one another through this journey. We need survivors to advocate for and with us. Especially given the lack of readily available doctors. We have social programs that are really picking up the slack to help us, but sufferers also know that we still need something more. That something none of us can put our finger on to describe is a super strong network of support not just in the areas of treatment, but particularly in the area of returning to work. A network that isn't compromised by insurance affiliations with our employers, a network that isn't primarily focused on the marginalized sectors of our society, but a network of professionals who can articulate what we need most. A safe corporate environment in which we can feel comfortable that we will not suffer repurcussions for our disorder...better yet, a corporate environment that wouldn't be a significant contributing factor to our disease in the first place.

Finally, we need people to fess up to the fact that while there are thresholds that allow us to diagnose someone with any of these disorders, that in a stress related disorder, some of it has to be allowed to be natural. None of my symptoms would be abnormal if I were an animal living in the wild. In fact, I would say that none of my symptoms would be unnatural either, given the circumstances in which they surfaced. So why aren't we claiming ownership of our instinct anymore? Why isn't alright to be pissed off? Why isn't it ok to let people know that what's happening (whatever it may be), isn't right, that it isn't comfortable? And why do we feel like we can't refuse to step over our own instinctual lines? I'm hoping that through sharing our ideas here, that maybe we'll find out that we discover that this is just one more place in which we've allowed ourselves to be controlled by corporate management - those people who ultimately profit from our efforts to please them.