Dirty Words.

i was having coffee with a friend the other day, ok, we were actually sipping on some fruit tea, but it was at a coffee shop.  we were catching up, talking about the upcoming release of my first book Silence & Noise.  since the book deals with lily’s battle with mental illness we focused our conversation, for a time, on that.  i shared with her my concerns that the topic of mental illness is so overlooked, especially in regard to today’s youth. and to me that is frightening because as i mentioned in my last post, teenage problems turn into adult problems.  so we just end up with a bunch of people battling something they don’t really understand in a world that turns a blind eye to the topic in general.

i realized during this conversation with my friend just how fearful people can be of the topic.  she shared with me her hesitation to use the label, “mental illness.” this friend told me someone close to her used that label in reference to themselves and how that bothered her.  when she heard it her mind was taken to another place, she was uncomfortable hearing it and especially hearing it in relation to someone she cared about.  somehow “mental illness” has become a dirty word.  something that makes people feel weird or awkward.  somehow it’s easier to label someone depressed, or emotional, or kinda crazy, than to say they suffer from mental illness.  an illness of the mind.  i wonder if it conjures up images of doctors performing lobotomies.  whatever it is, there is something about it that makes us uneasy.

my mind always reels back to thoughts of other illnesses, diseases.  things that are often more obvious and apparent.  things we have just learned to accept as battles people might face.  i think about cancer.  i think about telling someone that a friend has cancer and the automatic response of sympathy, or anger at the disease, or concern for the individual.  we don’t think, “oh, yikes, i’ll keep my distance.”  then i think about telling someone that one of my friends is battling with mental illness, that she suffers from schizophrenia. and how those reactions might change.

our minds are these sacred places and the idea of something not being right in our minds, or in someone else’s mind is frightening.  because if you can’t trust your own mind, then where does that leave you.  but why is it that we automatically assume the worst.  that initially we are hesitant about someone with a mental illness, like they have some disease we  might catch if we get too close.   mental illness and all the other labels that go along with it have become these dirty words.  the stigma attached to them runs so deep.  we look back on lives of notable figures who were rumored to have some form of mental illness and we idolize their creations.  not really thinking much beyond that.  we see the loss of a teenager, or adult, who has taken their life and we mourn, we think, “why didn’t they just tell someone something was wrong” not realizing that the stigma, the stares, the whispers, all of those things become roadblocks and barriers on the journey.  but it is important to remember we are all responsible for ourselves and we can’t point fingers and say, “i never told anyone about my battles, i was waiting for them to ask me.” we can’t assume anyone will know what someone is suffering from if we don’t speak up.  yet at the same time the environment surrounding the topic of mental illness may not present itself as the safest place.  which just makes everything complicated.

i wish people wouldn’t  laugh uncomfortably, or fidget when i bring up the topic of mental illness.  but i hope that the story of lily can help break down some of those walls.  i hope it can start conversations.  i hope it can impact those who battle with mental illness as well as those who do not.  i hope we can realize it is an important topic for all of us, no matter which side of it we are standing on.

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Grown-up Problems.

i have to thank my brother-in-law for helping to inspire this post.  actually, i knew i wanted to cover this topic in the blog because it is an issue that lily addresses in Silence & Noise and it’s an important one.  but my brother-in-law made a comment today that made me realize, today was the day to write this.

as lily is coming to terms with the world around her, realizing that maybe she isn’t like everyone else, she encounters many walls.  barriers.  obstacles in her path.  they range from parents, to friendships, to doctors, and even herself.  in fact it is arguable that she is her greatest obstacle.  and i think that is true for so many of us.  we wake up each day fighting the fight of life, swinging our punches, only to realize we are fighting ourselves.  one piece of advice lily receives on her journey is that maybe what she is battling is just “teenage problems”  everyone has them, right?  misunderstandings.  self-esteem issues.  insecurities.  the wrong clothes.  acne.  the awkward years.  depression.  cutting.  fears.  anxieties.  voices.  these are just “teenage problems” right?  maybe.  maybe not.

and what happens when these “teenage problems”  become adult problems?  this of course isn’t to say that every teenager that cries over a break-up must be batting some form of mental illness.  this isn’t to assume that anyone who may tell you, you are dealing with regular, normal, ordinary things is a bad person.  or that they are even in the wrong for that matter.  it’s just to say that maybe, just maybe for some people out there these little things that seem quite typical on the outside could be a whole other monster internally.  i think we are doing ourselves a disservice to pretend that all these feelings are fleeting.  that we will simply grow out of them in time, move on, and put them behind us.  in turn that doesn’t mean the other extreme of obsessing, holding on to, and never letting go of these feelings and fears is the answer.  it’s more about being honest with yourself.  if the hopelessness feels real to you, simply stated, it is.  your reality is your truth, but it is how you treat that truth that ultimately can free you or imprison you.

so how do we know when to take these “teenage problems” seriously?  for lily her battle grew so heavy and i think she was trapped beneath the weight of it.  i wish i could have been on her walk with her and lifted her up and told her, “i can’t promise you this will pass, but i can tell you, you will learn to understand who you are.”  i think lily has a great gift and i think people who walk around feeling immense amounts of pain all possess their own gift, i think it’s just how it is utilized, and how it is realized.  it is so easy to point fingers and blame people and think “they don’t understand”, “won’t understand”, “can’t understand” but the gift of feeling is pretty extraordinary.  and it is something that most people will never know.  to be able to look at someone and see their hurt, because you know that feeling, have experienced that weight.

i think if we aren’t careful, if we don’t take those “teenage problems” seriously then they might just become adult problems.  maybe if we come to terms with some things in our youth if we allow ourselves to consider the possibility that our battles are real than we can better learn how to face them as we age.  instead i think so often we are lied to and we lie to ourselves.  we think, “i will grow out of this”, “i will make money and this will go away”, “once i find love i will be okay” and it is those lies that will haunt us, will destroy us.  and they will destroy the things we try to use to fill the space.  relationships are good.  love is good.  friendships.  family.  jobs.  things.  none of these alone are bad, none of these alone are the problem.  the problem is when we assume having, finding, or possessing these things will solve any certain problem.

i just hope that we can all take more seriously mental illness.  that we aren’t so quick to judge.  to assume. to speak.  that we aren’t so inclined to say, “this is fleeting, this will pass.”  mental illness isn’t a death sentence, it doesn’t have to be.  it is a misunderstood beast.  it is a notion full of lies and half-truths.  it will destroy us if we let it, but it doesn’t have to.

there is an organization called To Write Love On Her Arms.  they are doing some pretty remarkable things to help people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.  i think it is resources like this that will be instrumental in knocking down some of the walls of mental illness.  i urge you to check out their work and i truly hope that lily’s story can impact your life as it has mine.

Resources:

To Write Love On Her Arms

The Morning Clarity.

there is something about mornings that makes long nights and restless sleeps fade.  there is this something that takes the stress of yesterday and buries it somewhere in our minds just out of reach.  sometimes it’s only for a moment, but in the morning there is that moment we awake and ever so briefly there is a quiet peace.  i’m not much of  morning person.  i prefer staying up late, watching some bound to give you nightmares tv show, or writing, or making use of my netflix account.  i prefer dinner at 9pm and bedtime much later.  i would rather sleep in until my body decides it’s time to awake and start my day then.

but, my morning routine has recently changed.  not because my life changed or my job changed, but just because i needed a change.  i used to sleep til 8 or 830 in the morning, get up and get ready.  my husband would already be gone, had already walked our dog, ate, and began his work day.  i felt like i was missing something.  there were these perfectly useful moments, this untouched time i was neglecting.  but i kept telling myself, “you don’t like mornings”, “just stay up late, be productive then”  but the thing was i wasn’t really being productive. at times i was.  in fact a large chunk of the first draft of Silence & Noise took place during late night writing escapades.  but that wasn’t the norm.  the norm was more like numb my mind with tv because i don’t feel like sleeping right now.  then norm was less productive than i’d like to believe.

so i made a change.  i started waking up with my husband.  it was hard at first.  actually i decided i wanted to try waking up with him for a whole week, but i didn’t tell him because i figured if i kept it to myself i could change my mind at the last minute when his alarm went off way too early.  why would anyone want to get out of bed when it’s still dark outside?  so the first two days of my experiment ended up with me still in bed asleep.  day three was when it all began.  i had told myself so many times i can’t wake up that early, i just can’t i need sleep.  and yes i do need sleep, but i realized if i went to sleep a little earlier then i could wake up a little earlier and it all sort of balanced itself out.  what i realized after the first couple days was my body started to get used to the changes i was making and instead of fighting me it went along with my decisions.  my mind on the other hand kept feeding me doubts and screaming profanities at me as the alarm sung me out of bed each morning.

i found in these moments, this time that i had never experienced on a consistent basis before, that the morning is different that early.  even just a few hours later when i used to awake, there was still that sense of urgency, that rush, the stress of the new day already sinking in.  but early, when the sun is only beginning to creep through my bedroom window, when the fog is still lingering on the damp grass, there are these quiet moments.  there is a peace.  i forget the deadlines from the day before, i forget the stupid argument i thought was a good idea to have as i was climbing into bed, i forget tears, or regrets, or anger, or sadness.  i get dressed and i join my husband and my dog on a walk and i shut off my mind and remind myself that my day hasn’t even begun, that i still have time.  and somehow only a couple more hours has added what seems like a lifetime to my day.

i don’t know how long i will keep this up.  it has been almost two weeks of early mornings.  but i am enjoying that little bit of peace and clarity that comes from those moments.

Saying What I Feel & Being More Like My Dog

my dog isn’t much of a barker.  he is 7 months old and up until about two months ago i think i could count the times i heard him bark on one hand.  it’s easily one of my favorite qualities about him.   he has been more on guard lately, i think he is at that growing and processing age and i am noticing more of his fears and curiosities.  he has discovered his bark and uses it more.  he doesn’t bark non-stop.  he doesn’t bark at random things.  he doesn’t bark when being barked at.  he barks when something is not right.  when something unknown is approaching.  he barks when he is scared and needs to send a warning to his pack.  he barks to ward off danger.  he sees something that doesn’t appear right to him and the tufts of hair on his back will spike up, it’s his way of appearing tough.  really he is scared.  just a pup, but his bark would tell you a different story.  a few short, deep warning calls he sounds out concerning the situation at hand.  when my dog barks i listen and i look.  something is not right and he is letting me know.

dogs are instinctive.  they don’t get caught up in their head space.  they don’t worry about what people may think.  and they certainly don’t hold back when they feel something isn’t right.  they don’t internalize emotions.  they don’t stuff feelings.  they live in the moment.  they don’t hold grudges.  they don’t think, “my owner didn’t take me for a long enough walk today so i’m going to withhold my love to teach them a lesson.”  they don’t think, “something isn’t right but i’m not sure if i should say anything because i don’t want to step on anyone’s toes.” or “i will just keep it to myself.”  no, you come home, your dog is excited to see you, he licks your face, wags his tail, gives affection.  something is wrong and he lets you know, he doesn’t hold onto the information to decide how he should use it and if he could get some leverage from it.  we as people have the ability to process our emotions, to understand the way things make us feel and to analyze those thoughts.  it is a unique ability, a true gift, but often it gets us into trouble.  we can get so caught up in our heads, in our emotions, in our racing thoughts, our anxieties, our worries our concerns.  we forget to live in the moment.  we forget to speak up and say what we think.  our friend is about to make a bad decision but we don’t want to butt in, it isn’t our place.  if i was walking right into danger i am certain my dog would try to stop me.  he would sound his bark, run up and protect me.  what is it about us that prevents us from following our instincts.  why can’t we turn off the racing thoughts and just live, a little.  every now and then?

we are just as instinctive as dogs.  it’s just that we spend so much time thinking and feeling that we waste our reaction time.  i think that is a lot of the difficulty with mental illness, even more so than the average person you get stuck in that head space.  reliving things.  holding onto things.  i wish i said what i felt more, what i thought more.  i wish i didn’t hold onto things.  instead of saying, “nothing is wrong, i’m fine.”  i wish i said, “i’m amazed i got out of bed today, i wish i could go back there now.”  or “you hurt me today and i just can’t get over it.”  life is so fleeting, we don’t have much control over the length of time we have here on earth, but i hope we remember to enjoy what we do have every now and then.  i want to live in the moment like my dog.  i want to let go of things.  i want to say what i feel.  i want to be carefree.

So What’s The Big Deal With Mental Illness?

it is the main theme running thru Silence & Noise, and while discussion of mental illness seems to be more prevalent in our society than in the past, the negative stigma has not gone away.  yes, there are tv and film characters who are portrayed as “depressed” or to suffer from some sort of mental disorder.  yes, your best friend might feel perfectly ok working, “i’m just feeling depressed today” into the conversation, and maybe you hear the occasional, “he must be bipolar” from time to time, and it’s hard to read a magazine or turn on the television without seeing an advertisement about some new depression medication and all of its glamorous side effects, but what does it all mean?  and does it change anything for those people who are out there actually suffering from a mental illness?

in 2004 it was reported that around 26% of US adults had some sort of mental disorder, that would be like every family of 4 having at least one person living with a mental illness.  at that time that was close to 58 million people.  that statistic was in 2004 and only includes the adult US population with reported illnesses.  i’m not exactly sure what the statistics are now in the US and across the world but i can only assume they are higher.  so where are we now?  while the topic of mental health is discussed more frequently and not as hush-hush as it once was, i’m not sure we really understand it.  the prescription market has certainly taken a hold of the reins, making sure we all know what drugs are available and urging us to get them.  we all know that depression “hurts”, and we all know the various side-effects of the prescription commercials and some of us have probably laughed a time or two hearing them listed off, but what does any of that really do for those suffering?  or for the families and friends?  or those who really just have no clue what any of it means?  is it knowledge?  is it information?  no, it’s just a quick fix.  “hey you are depressed? take a pill”.  “oh, bipolar you say, swallow this”.  “hearing voices?, no problem i heard there was something for that”.  and now we end up with a lot of people taking medication and ever more people not even understanding the problem to begin with.  this is not to say that medication is bad or that it can’t help manage symptoms of some of these disorders, it’s more to say that there is a whole lot more going on here than a quick fix pill.  a lot of these medications leave people feeling worse off than they were before, a lot of them are masking symptoms, hiding the real issues, a lot of them are causing major side-effects to the body, and again, it goes back to not really knowing what we are facing here.

still with all the resources and knowledge we have today, mental illness isn’t taken seriously.  it’s hard to put yourself in the shoes of someone who may be dealing with these issues when you aren’t really sure what they are, or what it looks like.  how do you even know if someone has a mental illness?  yes, there are the obvious cases, but what about the ones who keep it just below the surface, keep it hidden?  it could be the person standing beside you waiting to get their morning coffee.  would it matter if you knew, would it change anything?  should it?  probably not.  but why is it when we hear someone has been diagnosed with cancer our hearts ache for them, but if we hear someone is bipolar, or depressed, or suffers from anxiety we think,”they need to be stronger”, “just toughen up, get thicker skin.”  there is no cure for bipolar disorder.  it can be treated and managed to a point, but it is a life changing diagnosis.  i think the more aware we are, the more knowledge we have the better equip we are for handing whatever interaction we may have with mental illnesses, whether in our own personal walk, a friends, a family member, a child.

Silence & Noise focuses on Lily’s story, on her battle with mental illness.  it isn’t a true story but i believe it deals with truth.  i think Lily could be anyone out there who is battling a mental disorder and i hope her story can help to shed some light on the negative and false stigma’s still associated with mental health.

Resources:
NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness, it is a great place for anyone to start to learn more about mental illness. http://www.nami.org/

Normalcy.

I was thinking today about the idea of being normal and what that means or if it even exists. In Silence & Noise Lily is in constant battle with who she is and who she thinks she needs to be. She is overwhelmed by her emotions, the feeling of being an outcast. But there is also the notion that our uniqueness, our little idiosyncrasies, those are the very things that make us who we are. When we find ourself in our dark moments, sometimes we forget there was ever anything other than that. Than the bad. Our insecurities getting the best of us. Our pain overtakes us. And in those moments it’s easy to get trapped there, to only see that. Alone in who you are.  And it seems like so often we are struggling to feel normal, to feel like we are understood.  Thinking that maybe we will never be understood.  And I think when it comes down to it, we are more understood than we could imagine.  Some people are just better with honestly than others.  Some people are more comfortable expressing what they are going through.  We usually just end up complicating it with this notion of normalcy.   In a way it exists because if we were all honest we would probably see we are more alike than we think.  But in a way it doesn’t exist and it shouldn’t exist and we shouldn’t desire it because it’s our differences that make us who we are.  Our pasts, our presents, our moods, our fears, our experiences, all of those things help to make our interactions that much more interesting.  It’s a constant struggle, this life, and I am amazed by the strength I see in some people.  The things they overcome.  I do believe we are capable of overcoming more than we imagine.  We set our bars so low, but we are capable of so much.  I don’t know that I really care about being or feeling normal anymore or what that would even look like to me.  I just have to live each day the best I can, and I think that’s all any of us can really do.

on a side note…Silence & Noise: one girl’s journey into insanity has been formatted, time to review it and send it off to my editor!  Only 2 months til the deadline…wish me luck.

Reflections.

i stumbled across this writing a few days ago and thought i would post it here.  i think it fits in nicely with Lily’s story.  it was written during its conception and really encompasses a lot of the emotions displayed throughout the novel…have you ever felt this way?

the older i get the more i find myself slip away.
the quirks i had – the desire to be alone, needing my space, observing.
stuff that could have once qualified as cute, quirky, playful.
now as each year passes the senses heighten.
the need to be alone magnified to a secluded mess.
anxiety with human interaction, intensified insecurities.
always thinking, feeling i won’t be remembered or recognized.
imagining myself as completely insignificant.
standing against a wall watching the world fly by around me.
so close but just beyond my reach.
imagining i’m impossible to be around.
always up or down.
wanting to be alone, locked away.
needing companionship.
not wanting to leave the house.
staying out all night.
but watching always watching from the sidelines.
afraid of my own shadow.
knowing deep down i am nothing.
wishing i was everything but knowing even then none of this would change.
a prisoner in my own mind.