Category Archives: more than meets the eye

Today and forever

*mild trigger warning*  

Last week our nation was hit by a terrible tragedy, leaving so many of us reeling and wondering “why?” and “how”?  This weekend my family was hit by a tragedy that hit much closer to home.

I don’t write much about Hailey (both to protect her, and because she’s not really old enough to make a valid decision if she wants her whole life recorded in my strange little diatribes) but those of you who know me well enough know that Hailey was very blessed to go to an after-school and summer program she went to every day for years.  She loved Ms. Ally (her teacher) and Mr. Dan (Ally’s husband) and they loved her right back.  Ally and Dan were very special.  Loving, supportive, always helping.  Ally taught the kids and Mr. Dan (her soulmate of many, many years) was there for anything anyone needed.  He loved those damn kids.  He loved his own kids.  He loved his wife and the community, and he was the first person to show up at my door if I needed any sort of help.

This weekend Dan lost a battle with depression and ended his wonderful life.  He will be remembered as a strong and amazing man with a contagious smile and laugh, a father, husband and mentor, and the not for the demons that ultimately took him from us.

We – the men, women and children who loved him – can ask ourselves “why” and wonder if there was something we could have seen or done, but in the end sometimes terrible things happen in an instance.  And sometimes beautiful things happen too.  Like the way that our tiny community is coming together to try to help Ally and her family.  But there is so much more to be done.  Ally cannot (and could not be expected to) return to that home.  Her children can’t handle this alone and should never have to.  There are so many things that need to be done and we’re doing everything we can.  We’re standing by the family.  We’re rallying.  And we need help.

If you pray, pray for this family.  In the coming weeks I may direct you toward a fund to help with the expenses (once we know better what they are).  If you can’t do either of these I understand, but you can do something else.  You can tell your family that you love them.  You can tell them that you expect them to ask for help as soon as they need it.  You can forgive yourself for any guilt you have for living when others aren’t so lucky, because that’s what they would want.  You can post information for the suicide hotline on your twitter and Facebook or blogs.  You can save someone else in the same way Dan saved so many people in his life.

A lot of you have asked if this had to do with the Connecticut shooting and in some ways it may have contributed.  Dan worked Search & Rescue in the Coast Guard for many years and never fully recovered from the trauma of retrieving young bodies from the sea.  PTSD is an misunderstood thing and can lead to inconceivable actions.  I’ve never really written about it but when we were newly married Victor was lost at sea during a terrible storm and was finally rescued by the Coast Guard, so there’s a special place in my heart for those heroes.

One of the hardest things to accept about this tragedy is that Dan did ask for help.  When things got bad he went to the VA but was told that he couldn’t get the specific help that he needed because he didn’t serve during wartime.  I don’t know if he tried again for help, but personally I know how incredibly difficult it is to fight for your own mental health when depression lies about how you aren’t worthy of that help, and I know how hard it is to find good mental health in America when you barely have the strength to get out of bed.

The last time I was in true jeopardy I couldn’t find anyone willing to take me as a patient and had to call a suicide hotline to get their help in finding someone.  Even when I did find a doctor who specialized in what I needed she didn’t take my insurance so I happily pay thousands of dollars a year out of my own pocket to keep myself sane.  It shouldn’t be this hard to get mental health help.

There are no ultimate  solutions.  There are no answers to the questions of “why?”  There is only us.  And that’s one hell of a thing to be proud and happy for.  The Dan that I knew would not want us to grieve for him, and would be the first person here making an irreverent joke to make everyone feel better, and I think that helps…knowing that he’d want us all to be happy and to remember his best times instead of his lowest.

There are other things that you can do so that we can make sure the Dan’s life wasn’t in vain.  We can remember the joy he brought.  We can remember the love.  We can help others who are currently in Dan’s place, who are hurting more than they ever let on.  We can push for better mental health resources and make sure that our friends and family know exactly where the current resources are.  We can tell them to not believe the lies of depression and remind them how much they’re worth to us.  When this happened I tweeted about it and a brave soul came forward to say “The bravest thing I’ve ever done is to seek help and check into a hospital. I’m proud of myself for once.”  I retweeted it.  That day two people contacted me to tell me that was the impetus for them and they were going to ask for help themselves.  We help each other in ways we can’t possibly imagine, and the good outweighs the bad, even if it’s sometimes hard to see.

We can come together.  We can make this world brighter for all of us one tiny candle at a time.

Tomorrow will be better.  Tomorrow we’ll be better.

Dan would hate for me to end his story on a sad note, so instead I’m ending it like this: A few weeks ago I asked your help in raising the money to donate Nighty-Night Packages (a new blanket, stuffed animal and book in a canvas bag) to 1,000 homeless children. Last night these tweets came out from Project Night Night:

Thank you. Because out of the darkness shined a light that I needed to see, and I’m so grateful to be part of a community that can laugh together, cry together, and help together. I love you all very much.

*Worldwide suicide hotlines*

On knowing your weaknesses, and loving them

My friend Amanda is going through some rough shit.  Her best friend has cancer and she’s taking a leave of absence from work to be there with him while he battles it.  It’s a terrible situation for everyone involved, but what makes it even more complicated is that my friend is Amanda Palmer, and that means canceling her upcoming year of touring.  Which sucks.  For her.  For her friend.  For everyone who was hoping and expecting to see the wonder of Amanda.

If you’ve been reading long enough you know that I went to see her a few months ago and was struck with one of my biggest panic attacks ever.  Amanda read my tweets about not knowing if I’d be able to leave my hotel room and she did two things for me.  She emailed me and told me that she’d arranged for me to watch in a treehouse so that I could avoid the crowds.  She also left me a backstage pass so that I could go behind the scenes and visit.  It was amazing and incredible, but it took every ounce of my strength to just be there, and when the concert was over I looked at my backstage pass and I knew I didn’t have enough left in me to go and meet Amanda.  People without severe anxiety disorders will think this insane, and it is.  I simply didn’t have the ability to walk 100 feet to just  say “thank you” to someone who has changed my life.  I felt like a failure, passing up such an incredible opportunity that would bring me such joy, but I knew it might also send me over the edge into the abyss of mental illness that could take me weeks to climb out of.  I sat alone in the treehouse for 20 minutes and thought about my daughter and what it would mean for her to see her mom in bed for a week recovering from a breakdown.  And that’s when I decided that sometime being “strong” meant giving myself permission to protect my weaknesses.  And my weakness isn’t just my mental illness.  It’s my daughter.  Who is also my biggest strength.  (People without mental illness might need a decoder ring for this line of reasoning, but I assure you, it makes perfect sense.)  So I stuffed the backstage pass in the bottom of my purse and I left.  A little regretful.  A little inspired.  A little confused at how such a devastating weakness had just made me give up meeting an idol all for the sake of a little girl who needs her mommy.

Amanda’s post today reminded me of that.  She was giving up so much for the sake of knowing that her weakness for her friend who needed her ultimately outweighed everything else.

They say that sometimes your biggest strengths are also your biggest weaknesses.

But sometimes it’s your weaknesses that become your greatest strengths.

 

*****

For those of you who are new here, my favorite Amanda Palmer song which has pulled so many of us off of our own personal ledges:

UPDATED: James Garfield for Sainthood

SEE UPDATE BELOW

Victor:  I bought Hailey one of those shelf-elves for Christmas.

me:  Yeah, I saw that.

Victor:  And now it’s gone.

me:  Yep.

Victor:  I can only assume you’ve done something exceedingly inappropriate with it.

me:  Don’t be ridiculous.  That’s what the cats are for.

Victor:  Then where is it?

me:  On my shelf.  BEING AWESOME.

No hamsters died for this picture. It was already dead of natural causes. Promise.

 

And speaking of the holidays, if you’ve been here long enough you probably know about the Miracle(s) of James Garfield.  One came in 2010 when we all accidentally came together to raise over $42k to help get presents for kids who would not have otherwise gotten any.  It was awesome, and the next year tons of people who were helped in the past asked if we could do it again because now they were back on their feet and wanted to pass on the gift they’d received, but I couldn’t do it because I was so exhausted from running it that I got really sick.  Sorry.  I suck.  So instead in 2011 we decided to help Project Night Night, which is a program that donates over 25,000 free packages to homeless children (containing  a new security blanket, a book, a stuffed animal and a tote bag).  With our help they were able to donate the 750 packages they needed to hit all of this kids on their list for last December.

This year, Project Night Night just sent 1,000 Project Night Night packages to children affected by superstorm Sandy and they need to get another 1,000 to finish the list of homeless children who still need help.  It’s crazy simple to donate.  An entire package only costs $20.  Plus, you can donate packages as presents in the name of your crazy uncle who already has everything, or your insane aunt who was always kind of a bitch to you when you were a kid.  EVERYONE WINS.

Want to donate?  Of course you do.  Just click here and you can donate directly.  I’m starting it off by donating the first 25 bags in honor of you (the internets) for being so incredibly supportive this year.

PS.  Don’t sweat it if you can’t afford to donate this year.  You can always share the Project Night Night page online or with friends to help spread the word.  Every little bit counts.

PPS.  If we actually raise the 1000 bags needed this will be James Garfield‘s 3rd documented miracle and we can then seriously start applying for Sainthood from the Pope.  It’s going to be awesome and/or very offensively ridiculous.

PPPS.  I also bought you a water buffalo.  I hope it’s the right size because I did not keep the receipt.

I'm glad they specify that it's a "full" water buffalo, because there's nothing worse than getting an empty water buffalo (which I assume would be like a sleeping bag with hooves).

Updated 12/17/12:  I just talked to Project Night Night and we’ve raised 826 bags for children in need of comfort.  174 more to go. We can do this.  It’s $20 to fund an entire bag and you can donate right here.

 

Sometimes prisons can be beautiful

Five weeks ago I had a breakdown.  It was ugly and frightening and I spent most of the next month in bed or on the couch.  Last weekend (with the help of my therapist, more drugs and the support of you all) I started to come out of it, and last night I actually left my house and went – alone – to see Amanda Palmer in concert.  Or at least that was my intention.  Instead I went to a hotel room a few blocks from her stage and cried pathetically because I didn’t think I could handle the crowds.  I was afraid of being alone if I had a panic attack.  I was afraid of not being alone if I had a panic attack.  I was just afraid in general.

This probably comes as no surprise to any of you because you all know I have a severe anxiety disorder and that fear is my constant companion, but it’s usually sitting quietly beside me while I watch Doctor Who in my pajamas rather than with a thousand strangers in a new city listening to songs that seem rawly pulled straight from my head.  I watched the clock click past the time I was supposed to leave and I was still trapped in the hotel room.  Then two things happened.  An amazing songstress sent me a song she’d written for me:

And I listened and realized that she was right and I was building my own terrible cage to keep myself in, watching life at a distance.  Then I checked my phone and saw that Amanda had arranged for me to watch the concert away from the crowds because she knew I wasn’t quite ready for that yet.

And so I went.

And it was amazing.

And as I sat, huddled with my arms around my knees in the corner, I felt safe and secure and…brave.  And then I laughed to myself because I looked around me and realized that I was literally inside of a cage above the stage, peeking out at life below.

Amanda Fucking  Palmer

Baby steps.

PS. The great thing about cages is that if you put your face in between the bars the world looks just as beautiful and free. So here’s to each of you, reaching through your own personal prisons. I hope you all find helpful hands reaching back.

Amanda Fucking  Palmer

Amanda Fucking  Palmer

Today and forever

 

Talking about suicide makes me think suicidal thoughts, which is probably one of the stupidest triggers in the history of the world.

Nonetheless, it’s important that we do speak up and that we’re aware of the dangers inherent in the world we live in.  And it’s not just about those of us with mental illness.  About one in four adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.  That means if you think about your 10 favorite people in the whole world two of them could be at risk of suicide.  That’s why it’s so important to recognize the warning signs and to know how to get help for yourself or others.  If you or someone you know is thinking of suicide call 800-273-TALK, or click here for resources.

But for today let’s talk about the positives.  Let’s talk about why we’re still here.  Let’s talk about the words that help us get through.  Let’s talk about the pictures and places and songs that saved us, because maybe they can save others.

I’m here because my daughter saves me every day.

The words that help me make it through are “Depression lies.”

And one of the many songs that has helped to save me is below:

Your turn.

It comes around…and around

It was the second day at Disney World when I realized it.  Hailey was laughing her seven-year-old ass off as Victor spun us on the tea cups until we finally cried whiplash.  The weather was gloomy and occasionally hurricaney (that’s a word.  Stop judging me) but we were at Disney World and so everything was magical.  Except in my head.  I enjoyed myself and I’m so glad we did it, but the second day I realized that my peripheral vision was fading and that’s always a sign that a bout of depression is looming down toward me.

I was fine the first day.  I was tired the next.  The third day I wanted nothing other than to stay in bed, but instead I faked it.  I still enjoyed seeing Hailey so happy.  I still appreciated being able to spend real time with my family.  I still functioned.  I’m still functioning.

Maybe this time I’ll be able to fool myself into staving off a severe bout.  Maybe it was just a fluke and it will all pass quickly.  Maybe I just postponed the inevitable depression that will hit me any moment.  I don’t really know.

But what I do know is that I’m going to be okay.  I know that depression lies.  I know that I’ll be in this black hole again and again in my life.  I also know I’ll see daylight soon.  The spinning continues…in both good ways and bad.

I realize how incongruous that picture is in a post about depression but it’s also pretty incongruous that some of the funniest people I know suffer from mental illness so all bets are off.

But there was one thing I wanted to share.  At one point the ride we’d been waiting on was closed because a terrible rainstorm broke out so we ran for cover and hid under the monorail for some shelter.  It was fairly miserable and all I could think about it how I wanted to be dry and in bed and how I felt bad for Hailey that she was stuck in a closed park with no access to rides and that’s when I noticed that she was having the most fun she’d had all day just jumping in the enormous puddles and catching rain in her mouth.  Rain that had dripped off the monorail and probably gave her cholera, but still…she was so damn furiously happy.  She took what came at her and made it into joy.

This isn’t a post about forcing yourself to just smile and “be happy” because anyone with true depression knows this isn’t an option.  Instead, it’s about the good things that can come out of the bad.  In the past 5 years I’ve received 20 emails that I keep in a very special folder.  They are all from people who were looking suicide right in the face.  They are all from people who are still here now.  Mothers and fathers and daughters and sons who are still alive because of this blog.  And not because of my posts.  They’re alive because they saw the incredibly response to my posts.  They saw thousands of other people saying “Me too.”  “I thought it was just me.”  “I thought I was alone.  But I’m not.”  And that - that sense of community – convinced them what their mind could not…that depression lies.  That you can find help.  That therapy and medication and support can change lives.  And I want to thank you for that.  I want to thank you from the family and friends of 20 people whose lives you saved.

And I want to thank you for reminding me every day that depression does lie.  I want to thank you for telling me that it’s okay when I have a week when I simply can’t be funny.  But mostly I want to thank you because there are 20 people out there today who wouldn’t be in this world if it weren’t for you.  There are 20 more of us.  And that’s a good thing.  So maybe there’s a reason why I have depression.  And maybe it’s to help someone else.  And maybe there’s a reason you do too.  And maybe you saved a life without even knowing it.  Thank you.

This post isn’t about depression.

It’s about laughing in spite of the rain.

It’s about laughing because of the rain.

Depression lies

I’ve had a lot more emails than usual about depression/anxiety, which I think means a full moon is coming or possibly that we’re all on the same psychotic cycle because I’ve fought my share of demons this month myself.  In fact, today I had a monster of a panic attack that made me think I’d never come back out.  It’s not so fun to write about so I made a video to send to people asking me about it and I thought I’d share it here in case you needed it. It’s long and unedited so feel free to skip it if you don’t have mental issues.

On a related note, you can make a free DEPRESSION LIES bracelet by clicking here (video instructions included).  Make one for yourself or a friend.

We’re all in this together, y’all.

OHMYGODYOUGUYS

So then this happened and I never stopped screaming again.

Screen Shot 2012-04-25 at 4.39.52 PM

I don’t even have the words, y’all.

Feeling a bit like death warmed over

Hi.

I’m not quite myself this week.

I’m right in the middle of one of those weird depression weeks that alternates between a series of anxiety attacks and self-loathing mixed with not being able to do anything productive so I’m taking the day off to take your advice and watch episodes of Sherlock and Downton Abbey.  I’m dragging myself to the doctor today but I’m sort of an empty well so nothing funny today.  I do, however, have a picture for you that my friend Maile took of me a few weeks ago that seems somehow fitting.  Victor thinks it looks like I’m slacking off again.  I think I more like a disturbed crime scene.  I think that says a lot about Victor and I.

PS.  I’ll be back to myself any day now.  Promise.  No worries.  And remember, if you’re feeling this too, depression lies.  Keep fighting the good fight.  You’re worth it.

See you on the other side.

The end. And the beginning

I know I said I was going to give away five red ball gowns as part of the #travelingreddress project, but I am a tremendous liar who can’t be trusted. That’s why instead today I’ll be mailing out nine red ball dresses to women around the world. The tenth will be just as beautiful, but will be smaller and hopefully a bit more magical, as it will be going to Alice:

Amazing pictures already pouring in from women across the globe in their red dresses. In fact, some have improvised using just a few yards of material to make amazing portraits. Ball gowns are flying across the country and photographers are furiously offering free sessions, and honestly I may have cried a little.

A few minutes ago I got an email telling me that I’m a final nominee for a Health Activist Award. I’m not sure if it’s for my work with rheumatoid arthritis or with mental illness but it seemed to require some weekly chats or such and I immediately felt both proud and panicked and quickly emailed them:

I’m not sure if i was chosen because of my rheumatoid arthritis or my mental illness issues but the latter sort of keeps me from doing web chats or phone calls or any of that. My anxiety is just too strong right now for me to take on anything else. But I’m so honored. If you’d rather give it to someone less crazy than me though I totally understand. I just have to take care of myself a bit more and that means saying no when I want to say yes. I hope you understand.

After I sent that out I expected to feel bad, like a failure for not being the activist others might see me as, but instead I felt…comforted. Because I’m finally learning that I have to be my own activist as well and take care of myself.  And sometimes that means saying “no” when every fiber of your body says “yes”.

Sometimes a no is a yes.

Sometimes a battle is the triumph.

Sometimes a dress is a hope.

PS. Tomorrow I’ll be back in my usual old irreverent, biting satire as usual. The drugs should kick in any minute.  Promise.

UPDATED:  I won, in spite of myself.  Literally, and figuratively.  How perfectly bewildering.

 

Comment of the day: When you said “Ball gowns are flying across the country”, the first thing I thought of was looking up in the sky and seeing scores of victorian dresses flying through the air. And a small child, who is walking down the street with her mother would look up at the sky and ask: Mommy, what are those things? And the mother would smile, look down and say to her child: That’s hope. ~ Plaidfox