Tag Archives: mental illness

Dark & Beautiful: The Brain & Creativity

brainsbrainsbrainsThe human brain is a marvelous and terrifying thing.

I once heard that science knows as little about the deep sea as it does the human brain. The last frontiers. Is that true? Really, the only thing that matters is that I can buy its truthiness. Science can’t even really explain why some PMS makes me want to club a baby seal, but other times I’m fine. Hello?

Yesterday, for instance, I managed to be productive and focused, but inside I was terribly, terribly depressed and angry.

Fortunately, logically, I knew it was just hormones and weather. I realized there wasn’t an actual reason I should be either depressed OR angry, and I knew where I was in my cycle. The way I was feeling wasn’t rooted in reality, and I understood that, come morning, odds were highly likely the mood would vanish.

And poof, just like that, it’s gone. Today I’m hopeful, creative, charged, and just bought the domain name for the creative and existential project to consume the next half decade of my life. If that’s not optimistic, even at the low, low price of $8.99 per year, I don’t know what is.

Perspective

I mean, how many people have the opportunity to point at Planet Earth and go “I want that,” then set into motion the mechanics of taking on the whole wide world for five years with no roots, anywhere, no limits? One in 100,000? One in a million? Lucky, indeed.

It’s knuckle-cracking elbow-greasing time when it comes to this little going-Full-Nomad project of mine. A friend has offered to help me set up my blog. I’ve decided not to host that content here on The Cunt. This place has been great for me, and I’ll likely still use it to unleash my wrath and rail at the gods from time to time, but I’m in a different place now. I’m a different person now. I need a new creative home.

Despite my older, mellower ways, it’s pretty safe to say I’ll never be Mary Poppins. Nor would I want to be. I like my wrath and fury, my joy and faith. I like the mix of pathos that swirls in my brain. My yin to my yang is right there. I may tilt and pivot, vacillating from seeming extremes, but I’m usually able to hold onto a small measure of awareness that, whatever the tempest, life is generally a smooth-sailing place for me. Or at least a place I manage to navigate without peril.

Storms are Genesis

Chimp_Brain_in_a_jarEarlier, I saw a quote from Kurt Vonnegut about how it’s impossible to be a serious writer if you don’t suffer depression. I’m sure if he were to expound, he might have said something like it’s the variations of emotional themes which make great writers what they are.

They’ve loved, they’ve lost, they’ve lived to tell another tale.

Throughout history, writers have been the teller of the tales. They’ve kept the legends alive, passed the records of humanity from one generation to another. It wasn’t until humans began to write that we really had a record of not only the social structure but the emotional worlds in ages long past.

Writers record the human condition. We try to grasp what happens around us, record how it affects us, and inspire the next step. Today, different mediums allow for writing/recording/inspiring to happen visually, in audio, and of course on the page/stage/screen.

But all of it starts in the brain, when someone sees something and has a thing or two to say about it. Poof! A synapse fires, a thought is born, a project springs forth.

That inspiration and the ability to create something of where there was nothing, it blows my fucking mind.

The human brain is a marvellous and terrifying place, indeed.

The Psyche and the Fulcrum

Surviving nearly a year of dark, fearful deep depression baffles me. Survival didn’t seem an option then. I’m grateful my forays to bleakness are seldom now, rare even, and I’ve the faculties to buckle up and hang on until it’s over, which is never more than a day or two.

I have no illusions. Once I’m gone “Full Nomad,” there’ll be days where I find myself fatigued and homesick, wishing I had a bed all mine. But it’s days like today after I’ve told myself “It’ll be better tomorrow,” and I wake up, and it really is better, that convince me I’ve got this. I’ll have brief downs and see myself through them.

Done and Done

That’s another funny thing about the brain. The more we realize and act upon our strength, the more our brains can sell us on our toughness when needing a pep-talk down the road.

It’s fantastic we’re as resilient as we are. One of the greatest gifts ever given is adversity. It never feels that way at the time, but no matter what the loss or the price is, a healthy person will become better, stronger, more resilient as a result. I know I’m grateful to have proven already I’m “tough enough.”

Like the saying says, we don’t know how strong we are until we have to be strong.

That part is inspiring and comforting. What’s terrifying is the brain’s ability to shut out all hope and languish in darkness. Science needs to unlock mental illness. I’m glad it’s getting more attention.

And Now, More Mysterious Than Ever Before!

Strength and resilience aside, the flipside to the possibility of that terrifying darkness is the jaw-dropping experience of creation. Some brains conceive rocketships to the stars, incredible food combinations, cures for disease, life-changing books, or soul-charging songs. Poof! Magic. Inspiration, creation. And so the creative cycle continues.

With every new experience, a new creative door might open. I can’t begin to imagine what seeing the world and blowing my perception wide-open will do for my brain. What will I create? What will I learn? What will I experience? How will it influence my thoughts for the rest of my life? My creativity? How much will it increase my resilience?

I’ve already lived through incredible extremes of the human brain. Or like to think I have. In less than eight months, I start the project that I hope will shake me to my foundations and awaken me from my white middle-class life, and change my world-view for the rest of my days.

Waiting will be a bitch. Luckily, Trusty Brain shows me positives in proceeding slow and studiously, while laying proper groundwork for a long, successful journey.

Way to go, brain.

Brains

Mental Health: In Which Steff Calls a Spade a Spade

A couple months ago, I proposed to talk about writing for therapy, how to kinda “go there”, via blogging.

The conference was yesterday. It was an “unconference” put on by end-patients and people who work on the peripheries of mental care.

Why did I want to get involved?

For a million reasons. I’ll get to most of them shortly.

But, first: I proposed my talk without knowing the conference’s “reputation” or anything like that. I just wanted a forum to talk about depression.

Unbeknownst to me, I stepped into the thick of a controversial “unconference.” It wasn’t until Friday that I really realized just how controversial it was. Whether it’s because ballsy speakers like Steven Schwartz speak in dismissive vernacular, saying edgy-yet-funny adjectives a lot of boring people object to, or because of who was organizing it, or even the press some of us speakers were getting, the reactions were ridiculously sharp and pointed.

Late Friday night, I saw comments some anonymous dumb fuck left on the Mental Health Camp’s website, and I got pretty riled up. Since then, all the comments were deleted, which I take serious issue with.

Me, I never would have deleted the comments. We convened the camp to fight stigma against the “idea” of mental illness, so why would you delete, and not fight, that stigma when it stands up and attacks you? Deleting and silencing the attack does nothing to neutralize it. But that’s where I stand and it’s not my blog. So, yeah. Moving on.

The asshat’s comments varied, but the most offensive of them all were that a number of those involved in the Mental Health Camp were doing so only to propel their image and get their allotted moments of Warholian fame. Media whores, basically, all faking their interest to get noticed.

Heh. Yeah, okay. Fucking shrewd, that.

A line in the comment made me wonder if I was one of the people they alluded to, just because I had the audacity to do an interview with CBC about the conference.

Here’s the deal, all right?

I’ll be the first to admit there were organizational issues with the conference. That’s what happens with not-for-profit amateur/volunteer organizers, people who have organized a conference just to have discussion and don’t have experience organizing them.

Oh, well. That’s life. It happens. But it’s not about the organizing.

It’s about the messages explored — mental health, stigma, and the fact the lives are destroyed by mental illness every moment of every day, and the fact that EVERYONE in their lifetime will experience mental illness at some point, and YET we don’t talk about it.

Well, I do, and I have for years.

I’ve been writing about depression, weight issues, self-esteem, lack of confidence, and everything else I’ve battled in life since 2005, and blogging since 2004. I’ve been getting real fuckin’ raw and honest since 2006.

There are a whole lot of things I’m willing to do to have success as a writer. Do you know what the least smart of them would be?

Letting myself in any way be any kind of poster girl for any mental illness.

Let’s see, when was the last time a Hollywood publicist suggested their celebrity client embrace their mental illness for the public as a means of netting better starpower in the press? Um, never.

Know why?

No one wants to be thought of as “nuts”.

Why?

Because people who are strong, intelligent, articulate, engaging, and well-liked don’t come out and admit their mental illnesses. They don’t talk about them. So stigma exists because all we see are the nutty fucks you try to avoid in hallways, or the whackjobs they put on television shows.

But those are extremes.

When assholes like that anonymous commenter attack a conference whose only purpose is to bring the overly-shamed and constantly-silenced issue of mental health to the forefront only because they dislike the people behind it, and they use that opportunity to suggest it’s basically Starfucking by those involved, it’s an insult to the seriousness of the issue.

It also suggests they have no fucking idea what it’s like to have been, in my case, an otherwise strong and intelligent person who took the wrong medication and considered suicide before spending the next year-plus trying to claw my way out of the depths.

It suggests they have no idea what it’s like to live under the clutches of your mind, body, and chemistry’s whimsy on a day-in, day-out, year-by-year basis, never being able to rise above a sick world of fear, chaos, and hopelessness that can’t manifest outwardly, that you hear inside your head every time you wake or lie down to sleep.

It suggests they don’t fathom that mental illness is the most costly and insidious of sicknesses in society — it destroys the fabric of life, of all the lives around the sufferer, not just the body of the afflicted. It ends relationships, destroys marriages, causes debt, and is the largest reason for employee leaves of absence in the modern workforce.

I don’t WANT to talk about depression.

But I need to.

Because what happened to me can happen to anyone.

Because it happened to my mother, and, as a 17-year-old girl, I walked in on her attempting suicide with the very pills that caused her chemically-induced depression — one like I myself would experience 17 years later.

Because doctors will tell you birth control pills don’t cause depression.

Because I know my birth control made me want to kill myself and feel like life could never have hope again.

I need to talk about depression because I’m tired of bi-polars, schizophrenics, and other more acute or rare mental health concerns having the limelight in “mental illness,” when it’s depression that’s most likely to touch, and destroy, the average life.

I feel like their more “stereotyped” afflictions make it less likely for seemingly average Jolenes like myself to come out and say, “I’m not that afflicted, but it still really fucked me up, too, and no one saw any big signs…”

I am a good writer. I’m a really, really good writer. I’m a passionate speaker who will not mince her ideas. I don’t back down from a fight. I’m engaging, funny, and even self-deprecating. I’m a great communicator with friends, family, everyone.

And yet depression almost took me out of the game of life.

But I survived.

I made it to the other side. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been. I’m happy most of the time.

Still, I’m surrounded by people I see who are skating through life with the cool indifference of someone struggling with depression. I see it everywhere. And we’re NOT TALKING ABOUT IT.

You want to attack my IDEAS? Go for it.

But don’t fucking attack ME or any of those people who’ve had the STRENGTH to write about all the things YOU make fun of, that YOU won’t trust, or YOU can’t admit about yourself.

We’re out there only for the reason that we can’t be silent anymore. Society can’t AFFORD our silence anymore. We need to hear our thoughts expressed on the page, we believe our experiences are real and representative of the whole, yet largely ignored by the mainstream.

And we’re not going to be quiet about it.

Not anymore.

Until you’ve lost your job — like I once did — for writing in the public eye about your darker self, until you’ve had the courage to write without tempering your weaker thoughts and fears, until you’ve been able to admit you have an affliction the majority of society can’t understand and doesn’t know how to act around, you have no right to criticize us for the moments of acknowledgement we might finally receive after years of having the courage to tell our stories no matter what the prices have been.

Now it’s easier for me. But where the fuck were you in 2006 when I wanted to commit suicide only 9 days after writing the most harrowing things I’ve ever published? Where were you when my traffic dropped to nothing as I used my blogs to work through my depression? Where were you when I lost a job and nearly my home for having a voice on less acceptable topics? Where were you when I struggled to maintain faith in speaking out? Where were you when I constantly had to lower my voice when I said what I wrote about?

Sure, now you know about me, but I’ve been doing this for a long fucking time and I’ve paid a LOT of steep prices for my honesty.

But I’ve paid ’em and now you can’t shut me up. Just try it, honey. You’ll only wind me up more.

If I finally have an audience and a wider means of getting my message out, you’d have to be a fucking moron to think I’d walk away from that opportunity.

Oh, and being single and getting press for having gone nuts, been suicidal, and longterm depressed? Yeah, that’ll be a fucking brilliant way for me to get laid. I hear men are wild about that shit.

Marketing GENIUS, clearly.

Whoever you were, you anonymous spineless motherfucking commenter: Grow up. You’re a fucking idiot. Open your eyes. See that some battles need to be waged with faces on them.

At least I have the guts to show mine.

In Which Steff Talks About Mental Health

Come Saturday I’ll be giving a talk at Vancouver’s “Mental Health Camp,” where the goal is to get people thinking about stigmas attached to a wide range of mental conditions — from ADHD and depression through to eating disorders and compulsions all the way to harder-core afflictions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Me, I’ll be talking specifically on two things — one, I’ll give a 45-minute session on blogging for therapy in my solo “Ripping the Scab Off through Blogging” talk, and two, I’ll be on a panel discussing how each of us 4 panelists have used social media to share our psychological struggles and what it’s meant for us.

This posting is sort of to just touch on both of those, in support of the event, and to let you know what’s going down.

_____

I’ll be honest: Yeah, I’m not particularly wild about talking at something called “Mental Health Camp.” There is stigma, yeah. Damn right there is.

I also know that if there’s anyone who can overcome such stigma, I’m probably at the front of the line.

I’ve spent much of the last five years already writing about myself in very open ways as I take the journey of going from She Who Was Very Unhappy to this much more interesting and fun-to-be-with version of self I’m excavating from under years of neglect.

Writing about myself has been a huge part in how I’ve been able to accept where I was, where I needed to be, and what it would take to get there.

By learning how to write in an open way while still hanging on to details that weren’t really necessary to share, I’ve managed to be open yet keep some of my struggles inside, too. Snapshots, that’s what y’all get.

In homage to one of the great Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, I call the writing technique “surfacing” and it’s pretty simple to do, it’s just a matter of perspective. Shifting that perspective ever so slightly creates a whole new reward from the writing.

I’ll be talking about it in  detail on Saturday, and don’t want to blow my hand by writing all about it here and now.

The talk will include a lot more than that, though.

I’ll look at the differences between journal-writing and blogging, and point out all the pros and cons of turning to the web for an audience. I’ll tell you who should be blogging more openly (almost everyone) and who shouldn’t (and there are some).

I’ll tell you the top 10 reasons I think anyone willing to blog should be willing to be more personal, and why blogging for therapy just makes sense from a societal point of view — both from solidarity and healing perspectives.

I’ll also share the prices I’ve paid while attempting to cash in* on living the revealed life. It’s not something one should enter with the foolish notion that “I’ll write it and they’ll read it.” There’s a lot that can go wrong. There’s a lot that can play out well. There’s much to consider.

____

Later, I’ll be on a panel with three friends — all of whom have had far, far harder mental health journeys than I have — discussing how we’ve been “out” about our lives and the prices/rewards it’s cost/yielded us.

In both situations, I’ll briefly outline the facts: I lived with mild depression for most of my life. I’ve learned that, when it comes to natural depression FOR ME, it’s controlled with diet and exercise. I have indeed been medicated on a few occasions, both for “situational depression” as well as ADHD.

I’m on no meds now. It’s not a prize I’ve won for being a Good Mental Health Patient. It’s just that I’ve found a way to mostly regulate my chemistry.  When I was ON meds and began eating well and exercising, what WAS a good level of meds went sideways fast as I started building my own seratonin and dopamine.

Do NOT fuck with meds just because I’ve been able to get off mine. It’s NOT about the meds, it’s about what’s safe for you. Talk to doctors!

But all this is to say I’ve been to my mental health hell with a chemical depression that took two years of medication to regulate back to normal. I’ve been on the verge of suicidal with a desperate cry for professional help in the past, all while being an intelligent person who felt trapped in this chemical mood I couldn’t shake for months and months.

Before that, I had to overcome a head injury. Since the chemical depression, I’ve had to learn to adjust to an adult-ADHD diagnosis and how it makes me see the world.

So, I’ve had some experiences, and they’re probably more common to the general populace than my colleagues’ are, so I’m happy I can provide a “mental health light” perspective to balance it out.

Being on the other side now, I remember how hard it was to be in the chokehold the disease of depression had on me. I never thought I would escape. Suicide seemed like a smart plan.

Here, now, and looking back, it does shock me how putting my head down and keeping on keeping on, fighting the fight, eventually paid off and has brought me to a better sense of self than I’ve ever known before. Yeah, I’m proud of the stuff I accomplished.

The journey was long and strange, and I feel I’m still on it and I’ll always have to be aware that depression can find me again, but having this kind of self-awareness and openness, as much as it’s been problematic at times, is something I feel that will probably help me navigate whatever stormy waters might one day roll my way again.

The truth shall set you free?

Yeah. Maybe. Let’s talk.

____

People in Vancouver can see these talks, among many other good ones, for a lowly $10 at the door. There are plenty of tickets, and, yes, it’ll be air conditioned in the heatwave. Wahoo. There’s a chance it’ll be streaming live, and if so, I’ll be posting that URL for my followers on Twitter, and you should check there Saturday morning, in case I forget to post it here.

*Figuratively, not literally.