Guest Post: Suffering Stream of Consciousness

The following is a stream of consciousness poem by a friend of mine who has been dealing with overwhelming medical negligence for several years, most recently blinded by a doctor ignoring medical protocol for a medication they put her on. These are her thoughts in the midst of trying to process her most recent medical traumas and yet another severe pain flare that has had no help from doctors. 

TW: Discussions of Death, Abuse, Suffering, Suicidal Ideation, Medical Neglect, Troll Brain thoughts. These are unedited troll brain thoughts as well and so not controlled for slurs and internalized prejudices.

written by friend Sophie; after spending 9 hours in an endless sob session and panic attack before being given a clonazepam and sitting down to write this as the clonazepam started to calm her down.

I am dying.
Continue reading “Guest Post: Suffering Stream of Consciousness”

Guest Post: Suffering Stream of Consciousness
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Strongest People I Know

Content Notice: talk of suicide, ideation, judgmental assholes

I had a bad day yesterday. I thought maybe I should end it all. These weren’t plans to actually kill myself. These are the thoughts I live with on a daily basis. Some days they’re easier to ignore. I wondered what was the point of living. Then I heard the news of Chester Bennington’s death. He killed himself. As my friends were sharing how much Linkin Park’s music had helped them in their teens, I also saw a lot of people with no understanding of mental illness, blathering on about “taking the easy way out”.

And it all brought it back to me. That time when I was 15 and attempted suicide. I was called all sorts of names. How stupid could I be to try to kill myself? Don’t I know it would hurt my mother? I started therapy then and have been in treatment since. I’ve had several ideation events. And the guilters were always there. I need to think about my daughter. How much it would hurt my family; my friends. How could I be so selfish?

There’s this idea that people who commit suicide are weak. They couldn’t handle their life and its circumstances. Korn’s guitarist Brian Head Welch said Chester took the “cowardly way out”. I cannot speak for Chester, but I can speak as someone who has attempted suicide. As someone who will always have ideation. Living with mental illness is fighting a war every fucking day. We’re fighting ourselves and also dealing with an ableist medical system. We have to deal with well-meaning people with their empty platitudes. We have to deal with cruel insensitive people like Brian, who think mental illness is just something we can get over.

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Modified version. I will not post the original.

We deal with people making memes shaming the use of anti-depressants. Supposed friends will tell you they are there for you but then walk away from you because you’re “too depressing”. And these people wonder why we don’t feel comfortable sharing our struggles with them.

You want to prevent suicide? You do that by helping us fight the stigmatization of mental illness. You do that by calling out shaming bullshit advice or memes like the above. You do that by examining your own biases and admitting that you too need to learn a thing or two. You do that by demanding better health care and treatment for mentally ill people. You do that by viewing mental illness like you would any other chronic illness, as something that cannot be “gotten over” but instead as something that the person dealing with can learn to cope with. You do that by demanding that therapists are actually well versed in their field, and that they also learn social justice because a lot of depressed people are also marginalized in a lot of different ways and that all plays a part in it. For fuck’s sake learn how to properly tag triggering content. On Facebook, hide links to potentially triggering content in nested comments. Accept that sometimes you will mess up and will be called out and maybe it won’t be as gentle as you’d like. You fight the stigma by NOT centering your feelings but those of the depressed person.

Telling us how our death would hurt someone is just a way to manipulate us by guilting us. We KNOW it would hurt our loved ones. I know my daughter would NOT be better off without me. And you telling me how horrible I am for having ideation just makes me feel worse. You don’t prevent someone’s suicide by reminding them of how horrible they think they are. You end up reinforcing the intrusive thoughts and negative self image.

Some days I don’t like myself very much. Yesterday was a bad day, but I was reminded of my strength. I was reminded of the strength of my friends who are also dealing with mental illness. Do you know how much strength it takes to get out of bed; out of the house? How much strength it takes to deal with assholes who judge you without knowing anything about mental illness?

*******

RIP Chester Bennington. Your music touched many and I hope you’ve finally found some peace. 

Strongest People I Know

Single-Malt Workohol

Despair is a heavy burden, and I bear its weight by working out.

I am not diagnosed with depression or anxiety, but there are days when I wonder whether I should be. Hints of how I deal with anxiety are scattered throughout my writing, but depression is a rarer visitor. I’ve avoided any real accounting of my depressive symptoms of episodes because of one peculiar fact: they’ve been incredibly useful to me.

Continue reading “Single-Malt Workohol”

Single-Malt Workohol

Victim Double Standards

CN: SA, CSA, domestic violence, corporal punishment

As a child, I was beaten and put down constantly. Anything I did, wore, or liked could be subject to ridicule. Any sign, imagine or real, of disrespect was met with a the buckle of a belt, a shoe or the calloused and hardened hands of my grandma. The people who should have been my protectors were my first abusers. So I grew up with low self-esteem and at 15 attempted suicide. In my late teens, I met my first boyfriend. He’d become my daughter’s father and the reason I deal with PTSD now.

People would ask how I could end up with someone like him. After a lot of therapy and introspection I figured out why. As I child, the messages I received were that I didn’t matter. I wasn’t important and never would be. I deserved the beatings and verbal abuse I got. After years of hearing that and hearing the messages I got from society , I finally understood my worth was very little.

So, this guy comes along and doesn’t call me names. Tells me I matter, well, that was new and I wanted more of it. But the reason he chose me specifically was because I was so starved for love and affirmation. Once I was “his”, he could reveal his true colors. Ok, but why did I stay? Because I had been conditioned since childhood to accept this type of treatment. Who was I to ask why I was beaten? Didn’t I know it was done out of love? I deserved it because I made the abuser angry. I needed to be reminded of the rules and who set them. (Aside: isn’t curious how the reasons people give to justify spanking children are identical to the justifications of spousal abusers?)

I didn’t like it. In fact I fucking hated it. But instead of hating my abusers, I hated myself for being so horrible that people needed to beat me. It was the same message I got as a child. It was just a different person saying it now.

“Oh you can’t blame your childhood! You’re making yourself a victim.” That’s what I was met with when I explained why I stayed.

“He was abused as a child. The abused will abuse.” This was also said simultaneously and no one noticed the double standard.

I was aware of the abuse he endured. He told me in the beginning of the relationship, which I now know was his way of trying to bond with me, to make me easier to manipulate. See, he understood me, I thought. 

So, why is it that I can’t say my childhood made me an easier target for abuse but he can justify his abuse of me with the abuse he endured as a child? Why is one OK and the other not?

Since news broke that Milo Yiannopoulos was uninvited from CPAC and the release of his book was cancelled over his comments regarding pedophilia, I have seen several people try to defend him. I’m not linking to anything by that guy. You can google him yourself. It’s bad enough he’s even being mentioned here but for the purposes of this post, he has to. One defense, I saw over and over was that Milo was a victim of CSA. The reasoning of “the abused will abuse” shows up again.

It’s very unfortunate that he lived through that. No one, I mean no one, no matter how much I hate them and their beliefs, deserves to be abused in that way. But having a fucked up childhood is not a justification for being an abusive adult. And yes, his transmisogyny, racism, sexism is all abuse.

Hearing that “the abused will abuse” made me think I would eventually become a monster. It would be inevitable that I would become like my abuser. While I know it isn’t true it’s still scares me.

The powerful or the privileged (or their supporters) can say , ‘I had a bad childhood” and all is forgiven. The marginalized and weak say, “I also had a bad childhood” and they’re met with derision. Ask yourself why that is.

Victim Double Standards

The Violence of the Mental Health Excuse

It’s become a trope. A white man is involved in a shooting, and within moments people are rushing over themselves to call him mentally ill. Sometimes this happens even before there is a suspect on which to pin the label. There are several cartoons and memes out there depicting the trend, and comparing it to the coverage received by people of colour in similar circumstances.

Whenever people are called on it however, there is always someone rushing in to defend the idea claiming that no “sane” person would commit such a heinous act of violence. That that level of obsession, that level of hatred, could only be the result of there being something mentally wrong with a person.

I understand why we need to believe that. Growing up listening to tales of good and evil, the villain is always readily identifiable. Whether an underground network of evil super villains, the wicked witch, or even just the bully at school, there is always some way of telling who the bad people are. To borrow from Christian mythology: some mark of Cain identifying the evil inside. Continue reading “The Violence of the Mental Health Excuse”

The Violence of the Mental Health Excuse

Depression vs Art

I’d like to consider myself a bit of a visual artist but these past ten years with depression have almost completely sapped whatever ability I had. I think I’ve made about five drawings in ten years. When I do create something I’m told I’m talented. But I just cannot seem to keep the inspiration or even the motivation going.

You hear a lot about how mental illness contributed in some way to an artist’s work; that they channeled their pain into their art. Whether that art be music, painting, writing etc, the point is they channeled it to mean something. My depression just spirals and loops back into itself and all I ever get out of it is more pain.

Which then makes me feel even shittier for not “depression-ing” right. Which I know is ridiculous, I know it’s just depression shenanigans and troll brain talking. I know it all rationally, but I still cannot shake the feeling that I’m a failure at depression. Isn’t that sad?

Lately, I’ve had a few ideas for a drawing and I can see it in my mind’s eye, but when I try to actually make it happen I draw a blank. (At least I’m punny?)

That’s what hurts the most sometimes. I know I have some talent at least. I know that I can make something beautiful but depression is always there just waiting to tell me, that no actually I can’t.

I remember having a pastel charcoals set when I was little. I used up the sketch pad rather quickly. I loved just sitting on the porch and drawing whatever came to mind, blending colors and getting my fingers covered in multi-colored dust. Sometimes I think maybe I can do that again, sit somewhere quiet, armed with a sketch pad and pencil and just draw what comes to me. But the fear is there; taunting me. Waiting for the first pencil stroke to land on the page, so the depression can start its bullying: why bother?, nobody will like it. You aren’t any good.

Why can’t I just ignore that, especially when I know that what my depression is saying isn’t true? It’s a never ending battle.

Depression vs Art

Let Me Take A Selfie

A few years ago, I participated in one of the Facebook status games. The point of the game was to reveal something about yourself, something that some people might not know or that you think they should know. Among the list, I included that I struggled with fairly severe body image issues. A friend of mine responded that she was surprised to learn that because she always believed me to be very confident. Since I have a tendency to hide my body, even as a nudist, and a tendency to show discomfort around my appearance, I was quite surprised to learn that she believed me to be confident. I asked her why she thought so and she replied: Yours always posting pictures of yourself.

It wasn’t meant as a criticism of me, it wasn’t meant to shame me, and it was simply an observation. I post pictures of myself, I take several pictures of myself, so therefore I must be confident.

As a culture, we’ve created this idea that selfies are a sign of vanity, and we are terrified of vanity. So much so, that we have built an entire culture predicated on teaching everyone to hate their appearance. We create impossible standards and then tell everyone that regardless of circumstance we must achieve it and maintain it. We’ve so thoroughly pervaded our social bias towards people who fall outside the “acceptable standards of beauty” that we as a society no longer treat them as fully human. Perversely, in an attempt to avoid the appearance of vanity we have instead created a cultural obsession towards an obsessive hatred of one’s self.

Ultimately, that is all that vanity is. It is an appreciation for one’s own appearance. It is a love for what you see when you look at yourself. It is a comfort in your own skin. Yes, excessive vanity can be dangerous, just like excess in anything is dangerous. But vanity, by itself? It is an act of self-love.

But selfies? They’re not an expression of vanity, they are a lifeline that reminds myself that I am not worthless. That I am not hideous. It is what allows me to replace my internal image of myself from one of loathing to one of acceptance. Because I don’t love how I look. I hate it. I can’t look in the mirror without desperately wanting to cut off some pieces of myself. Without wondering how anyone can possibly be attracted to me, and wondering if every sexual interaction I’ve ever had was a lie. My body, my appearance, was the weapon used to cut at my psyche over and over and over again. I was told it was the reason I was alone.

Those words, those cuts to my self-esteem are part of the reason why I let myself be taken in by users and abusers when I went out into the dating world. It was the excuse for every negative interaction with people I was interested in. They’re the reason that I sat like this, to avoid my rolls showing up through my shirt, because then people would think of me as fat.

Ania at 14 sitting with her back arched so as to not show any bulges

It is what made me think for years that the girl in this picture was fat.

Ania at 13 standing in front of the Notre Dame

Then I figured out that if I was careful I could take pictures that highlighted the few things that I do like about myself. The contrast of my features against my sk

Ania in a black tank top
in, the darkness of my hair, the colour of my eyes, all things I could appreciate about myself. They were things that let me believe that I had value, that I was worthy of love. Especially in this world that goes out of its way to tell me the opposite. These pictures, these pictures that are used to mock my vanity, to mock the very hutzpah of daring to love even the smallest part of myself when I am so far from perfect. Because how dare I. How dare I?

Older picture of Ania
How dare I look to myself for validation when the world teaches me that I should rely on the approval of men, regardless of whether I have any interest in their approval. How dare I not be grateful for the compliment that men deign to bestow on me, regardless of whether I want them, or whether they make me feel unsafe and like a target. The one that tells me that I am never allowed to refuse an advance because I’m ugly and so they are doing me a favour my being with me and tells me I am not allowed to have standards.

So no, I don’t need you to tell me that I am pretty. Because I have my selfie, so that I can tell myself what I need to hear.

Because that’s what they are. They’re selfies, and they have nothing to do with you.

 

Let Me Take A Selfie

YSI Excerpt: Disability and Mental Health

When struggling with pain, constant fatigue, nausea, malnutrition, loneliness, and a variety of other symptoms, it is not hard to believe that it is common for people dealing with chronic illness and disability to be vulnerable to depression. Whether this is because at times everything becomes overwhelming, due to circumstances influenced or worsened by your condition, or because of deficiency in necessary vitamins and chemicals, it doesn’t ultimately matter. The result is the same: depression.

With all the concern about managing your apparently more serious chronic symptoms, it can be tempting to simply ignore the mental health concerns. It makes sense that you are depressed. Who wouldn’t be if they lived like you? You already have all these other drugs, do you really mean anti-depressants. It’s not like you are going to hurt yourself, you don’t have the energy. And even if you did, would anyone care? You would stop being a burden. No one would have to worry about you anymore. It would stop the pain…

Just like that the depression becomes severe and cause for concern. At the worst moments during a flare, you might be stuck indoors for long periods of time alone. You might be in a hospital bed, your only human interaction the occasional visitor and the nurses, not to mention the person who comes to take your blood every morning. Regardless of whether you see a lot of people or not, you are stuck in one place for a long time. Imagine having to spend your entire day in a small, somewhat uncomfortable bed.  The only time you get up is to go to the bathroom, and to do that you have to push an IV pole that is attached to your arm.

Even if you aren’t hospitalized, the exhaustion can create the same results at home. After a while it starts to drain you even further. Your life starts to stretch out before you, and endless miasma of pain and boredom. You don’t even have the energy to watch TV. You just want to lie in bed, and wish you could get up the energy to have a shower.

What can further complicate the situation is that symptoms of many chronic conditions and depression overlap: fatigue, difficulty falling asleep, lack of energy, pain, and so forth. It can be difficult to tell when you are dealing with one thing or another. Are you unable to get motivated because your Crohn’s kept you up all night, or because your depression is making it hard to care about anything? Is the exhaustion mental or physical? Is my joint pain a physical response to inflammation or to psychological pain? Moreover, sometimes physical pain can cause the psychological pain. It all intertwines until it is almost impossible to tell.

Despite the frequent connection between disabilities, illnesses, and anxiety/depressive disorders, the medical community still has a hard time understanding the correlation. Frequently depression, anxiety, or any psychological diagnosis is treated very negatively. Even if you have a documented disorder that you are getting treated for, a diagnosis of any psychological condition could mean a decrease in the quality of care. Suddenly, every trip to the doctor or ER becomes suspect. Some doctors will wonder if you are faking your symptoms in order to score drugs, while others will assume you are over reacting or confusing mental symptoms with physical ones. It creates a situation where there is an incentive for people with chronic conditions not to seek help for their related psychological conditions.

I have seen this manifest personally. The usual procedure when I come into the hospital is to be given an anti-nausea agent and pain meds. Regardless of whether they think I need to be admitted or not, the usual assumption is that if the pain is bad enough for me to feel the need to come in, then controlling the pain is a concern. On one such occasion, I noticed a slight change in how I was treated. Usually there is an effort to reduce my pain symptoms as quickly as possible. This time around, it seemed that there was a hesitancy to do anything about it. I was offered some anti-nausea medication, but not once was there even a mention of anything to do about the pain.

When the doctor came in to see me, the first questions were not about why I was there, but clarifications about my last visit to the hospital being labeled “psychiatric”. I was confused, having never come to the hospital for anything mental health related.  I wracked my brain for every time I had been to the hospital in the last few months: visit with my gastroenterologist, visit with my rheumatologist, weight management clinic…. Bingo. It seems that the clinic that my GI had sent me to to see about getting help in losing weight with the difficulty of Crohn’s and arthritis, registered as a psychiatric visit on my hospital file.  In combination with my medication for anxiety and ADHD, they has assumed that I had come in to be treated for something else. The pallor of having sought help for a mental health problem changed how they viewed my physical health. I never was offered anything for pain, and I was sent home without any satisfactory aid for what was wrong with me. For the first time I was given the answer that it was “just Crohn’s”. A condition that had such a profound impact on my life was suddenly seen as no big deal because of one tick on my chart that might suggest that I also had depression. That the Crohn’s might be the cause of the depression was never considered. That a person can have two things wrong with them and have them be equally valid and serious was never considered. No clearly, despite the fact that I had a documented condition, depression, anxiety, or any other form of mental health disorder had to mean that the pain was all in my head.

YSI Excerpt: Disability and Mental Health