Monthly Archives: July 2012

Can You Trust Your Friends?

Because of more and more celebrities being open and sharing their struggles with mental illness, the stigma is perhaps slightly less severe than in the past. However the misunderstanding of mental illnesses and their symptoms endures. When well-known figures talk about their illness, they do so when they’re well. Their stylists have carefully done their hair and make up, and helped them select their clothes, so they look their absolute best. No unwashed hair, sweat pants and pajama tops for them. Every detail is carefully orchestrated so that as they announce their illness, everything about them screams, “But don’t worry about me. See how fine I am. I’m still the star you’ve known. Don’t stop worshiping me, because I can’t afford to lose my status as a box office star.”

So, perhaps, people won’t fear us quite as much when they learn of our diagnosis, but they will still hold us to the same standards as any well person: smiles on our faces, cheerful attitudes, perfect attendance at work and full participation in social activities. We should be excellent housekeepers, good cooks, fit and, above all, disciplined.

We are held to the standards of healthy people with no allowance for our illness. Consider an individual with cancer. If he or she chooses to stay in bed and sleep to attempt to escape the pain awhile longer, housemates tiptoe around to ensure no one disturbs him or her. However, when someone with clinical depression is simply unable to get out of bed, we’re considered lazy and undisciplined. Why? Because mental illness is still seen as “all in the head,” no pun intended. In other words, if we would just make better choices, we could lead perfectly normal lives. The paradox is that people tend to be afraid of us if we let them know we have bipolar disorder or DID, but if we don’t run around leaping around the room and screeching like chimpanzees, we’re considered healthy. The general public doesn’t get the “illness” part of mental illness.

Some people with bipolar disorder, DID, borderline personality disorder, narcissistic disorder and other disorders are able to function pretty normally most of the time. They can hold down jobs and be active socially. Many others simply cannot no matter how hard they try. They wish they could. Most of them have tried and were either forced to quit or were fired. Either way, their self esteem undoubtedly took a serious nose dive, and they had to use every bit of energy they possessed to claw their way out of the depressive hole they fell into as a result.

Understanding friends are few. Most adults have, at some point in their lives, had a bad case of the blues, so they think they understand what it means to be truly depressed. Thus, they wonder why we can’t pull ourselves out if it as they did. You may have talked, explained, shown, shared books, even taken them to your therapist with you. But most still refuse to accept the reality of the severity of the symptoms we live with every day. Loneliness ensues, compounding our feelings of isolation and unworthiness. We begin to doubt ourselves. Are we really just lazy and undisciplined? We may set more goals and promise ourselves that this time, we’ll carry through. This time we’ll be like other people who can follow through and consistently discipline themselves to reach their goals. And again, depression, dissociation or a manic phase steal our physical, mental and emotional strength, and, in our eyes, we fail again.

The truth is, however, that we haven’t failed. We have simply been unable to live up to unrealistic expectations – our own and those of others. We have to accept that most of the people we love and who we thought loved us don’t understand; they just don’t get it. We must be careful to cherish those who get it and offer support when we need it, who encourage us when we’re down and who hold us accountable when we’re feeling sorry for ourselves. Very few people earn that kind of trust, and they must earn it. We can accept the input of people who have proven, over time, that they love us no matter what. They love us whether we get out of bed or stay there with the covers pulled over our head. They love us whether our house is clean or the place is a wreck. They understand that when our minds are disorganized, so are our surroundings. They don’t criticize when we miss church yet again. They understand the difference between what we want to be and what we’re able to be. They listen when we’re hurting and celebrate with us when we get back to the selves we want to be, the selves that can reciprocate their friendship.

I have learned to expect criticism. That doesn’t mean it hurts any less, but at least it’s not a surprise. Still, sometimes, I let my guard down and start to trust someone who I think has proven him/herself worthy, and my heart takes a blow when they let me down. Those occasions make me wonder why I bothered to trust. That’s when my self-talk says, “Haven’t you learned? Don’t you know better than to trust? How could you be so stupid?” And my self-esteem takes another blow. Then I have to take a deep breath and remind myself of the truth about myself and the person who let me down. Perhaps he/she is a real friend in some ways but not others. I have learned over time that few people get “me” – that is all of me. I have friends who I have lots of fun with, but I know they don’t want to share any of the burdens with me. I have friends who are understanding to a point, but they don’t get my illness. Then I have friends who love me with all my stuff. Those people understand me and love me just the same. Those are the ones with whom I trust my heart. They have earned it. We just have to use our wisdom to know when it’s safe to share our hearts.

We have to know what we are capable of achieving and what we are not. We must always strive to be our best but not beat ourselves up and accuse ourselves of laziness when our goals were simply out of reach – at least for now. We have to learn how to have thick skin, while keeping our hearts tender. We must understand that most people cannot understand what they have not experienced. And, most of all, we must, when possible, be faithful friends to them and give them the love and understanding we wish they could offer us.

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Feeling the Feelings, Part Deaux

If you’ve been following my blog, you may remember that in the distant past (April), I posted about the value of “Feeling the Feelings,” which I have been doing a lot of recently, and that has kept me from posting. These feelings happened to be physical as well as emotional, as I had a car accident recently. I’m fine, and my shoulder strap bruise has healed, and I’m driving a new (to me) car. My computer was quite ill for several days, and then, of course, I was kicked in the stomach with depression. I’m also under a physician’s care as we try to diagnose the cause of ongoing physical illness. At any rate, I hope to be getting back on track with the blog.

I had written about experiencing and working through depression. Next I wanted to talk about fear and anxiety, because they’re so closely related. However, I believe they are different enough to warrant separate posts.

Fear is rooted in reality or what we perceive as reality. A person or a situation causing, or threatening to cause us harm prompts that rumbling-in-the-stomach, heart-pounding, mind-twisting terror that takes over. We turn it over in our minds, and become obsessed with the fear. We lie awake pondering it. Concentration on anything else is difficult if not impossible.

Those of us who have been abused have had plenty to fear. Awful things that are unimaginable to a child have crept up out of the dark, making our worst nightmares come to life. We may now be adults with spouses and children of our own. We probably have locks on our doors and even alarm systems to keep out the unknown, as well as the familiar nightmares. However, none of those precautions can deal with the fear that lives on in our minds. Perhaps we startle easily. Perhaps we’ve developed full-blown PTSD that brings the horror back to life in living color, complete with the sense of being touched, hearing the sounds, seeing our surroundings and smelling the scents that were present when the nightmare was alive and real. How do you deal with these present manifestations of past people and experiences?

Actually, I think it is practically impossible to completely lock out the memories of the past that cause us fear in the present. However, there are steps that will help us deal with the memories in such a way that they will stay where they belong – in our awareness of the past, in our consciousness, to be dealt with when we can be calm, thinking clearly and able to put well-defined boundaries around the past.

How? Acknowledge the memories as real and valid pieces of your past. Running from them doesn’t help. In fact, running usually ensures that they will pursue you doggedly until you stop and look the truth. It may sicken you and disgust you and force your fear up to the level of terror at first. You may have great difficulty believing that people who were supposed to love you, whom you trusted, could choose to hurt you so much. To get through the process of facing the truth of your past, you’ll probably need the help of a professional who knows how to guide you through it without traumatizing you further. But you can learn how to cope when the memories come back unbidden again when you are not with your therapist.

If you’re experiencing an ugly memory that seems to take your breath away, try to ground yourself in the present. Feel the chair you’re sitting in, look at your surroundings, take your hands and rub them back and forth on your legs and listen to the sounds around you as you put your memory back in the past. Tactile sensations are helpful in bringing you out of the memory and into the present, so doing things like holding ice in your hand does wonders to banish the lingering memory. If you can, pick up a magazine or newspaper to verify the date to remind yourself you are in the present. Look in a mirror to see that you’re not a small, vulnerable child any longer.

Work to calm your breathing. First, exhale slowly and completely through pursed lips. Your chest should drop as you do this. Next, breathe in slowly through your nose as you focus on your diaphragm rising while your lungs fill with air. Repeat this slowly and gently ten times. If you begin to feel dizzy, stop for a moment, then begin again.

The scent of lavender works wonders for some people, like me, for example. You can find lavender in different forms at most bath stores. Put a dab on the pulse points, and then let it work its magic. I like to lie down, close my eyes and focus on the scent. Perhaps you have music that is particularly soothing to you. Try putting that on to play, and, again, lie down and let it wash over you.

Some people have relaxation CDs meant exactly for this purpose. Relaxation CDs are available at most music retailers. Many are available free through iTunes, YouTube, and other Internet sources. Or you may have the voice of your therapist taking you through guided imagery. I used to listen to one every night in order to fall asleep.

And some people have a prescription for anxiety medication from their doctor. However, reserve the meds as a last resort to be used only if and when you’ve tried everything else. Use them exactly as instructed by your physician and avoid alcohol! That is critical. No alcohol if you’ve taken an anti-anxiety medication. They do not mix!

Hopefully, by now your troublesome memories have dissipated and you are feeling calmer and more peaceful. The more you practice relaxation, the more adept and effective you will become at dealing with the nightmares of the past.