I don’t know if it’s the planets or the meds or the darkness of winter, but this week I’ve been a bit down in the hole and I suspect I’m not the only one. Then I heard this song that I’ve loved and forgotten and it saved me a little bit. Little things save me from myself all the time. Sometimes it’s music, and sometimes it’s words from writers who’ve been dead for years, and sometimes it’s you.
If you’re sad or lonely or feeling like you’re one of the misfit toys, know that you are part of us. And remember that those misfit toys were always far more interesting than the normal ones.
Tell someone that you love them, or that they’re important. And tell yourself. Because it’s true.
PS. I wrote this last night but I was too mentally exhausted to publish it, and this morning I looked out and saw a mostly full moon and realized that’s probably partially to blame. It sounds insane and vaguely werewolfy to blame the moon, but I know that weeks with full moons are worse for me. My shrink says that full moons and increased mental illness has never been entirely proven yet, but that studies have shown an increased correlation between full moons and human sleep quality. In particular, delta activity (deep sleep) decreased by 30%. I already have sleep problems and when I did I sleep study last year they found that I had severe alpha-intrusion, which means that my mind is awake while my body is paralyzed and asleep, and that I get almost no delta sleep. There’s no real cure, but my doctor told me that it’s commonly found with people who have intractable pain and depression. No idea if one causes the other or vice-versa, but it was nice to have someone who knew nothing about me look at the scientific printouts and say “You probably have depression don’t you? You’re in pain. I bet you’re exhausted.” Somehow it made it feel better to have someone nod and knowingly say, “It’s not all just in your head.” Except that it is just in my head. But it’s real. And it’s something I fight against, and something I continue to win against every day I’m alive. And if you’re reading this then you’re winning too, even if you don’t feel like it. Am I rambling? My guess is probably and I blame the moon and the fact that lack of sleep puts my ADD into overdrive and makes me question every single thing I do and say and write. So today I up my drugs until things feel better, and I wait until it lifts and then suddenly I remember what it’s like to feel again. Because I know it will come. I know depression lies. I know that mental illness is a small part of me that makes me who I am. I tell myself that when this lifts I will feel again and that it will be amazing. I don’t “know” it because my mental illness also causes illogical doubt, but I know that I’ve been in this hole hundreds of times before and that every time I come out with a few more tricks on how to deal, so mathematically the odds are in my favor. And they’re in your favor too. You just have to trust me on this one.
PPS. When I’m in the hole I find it difficult to help others because I’m so focused on fighting my own battle and that sucks. I’m sorry. But I’ll give you a few tricks I’ve learned and maybe you can share some of yours. Or maybe you can include your twitter ID here in the comments if you want to offer support or need to find a buddy who deals with the same thing you’re dealing with so you can talk to them. It’s amazing how much this can help. Here are a few tricks I’ve learned that help (off and on):
- Sunlight. Take vitamin D. Sit near a window. Buy a sunlight. When things are very bad I go to a tanning salon for five minutes. It’s not super healthy, but it helps me.
- Exercise to increase endorphins. This is only good when you’re not at that uber-fatigued level of depression.
- Rest. Watch funny shows and uplifting drivel. Something you don’t have to think about or keep up with. I recommend something like Little Britain or The Mitchell and Webb Show.
- Give yourself permission to be sick. Mental illness is just as dangerous and real as any other disease. If you need to take a day off to take care of yourself, do it without guilt.
- Read things that make you realize you’re not alone. Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and Half is good for this. Here’s her website if you can’t afford the book. Boggle, the owl, is also quite nice.
- If you have self-harm issues, snap a rubber band across wherever you usually hurt yourself. It’s just as painful and releases the same chemicals but less likely to give you an infection or scars. Also clench ice in your fists until they hurt like hell and you want to cry. You get the same pain-rush but without any long-term damage. If you pull out your hair or scratch yourself, smear coconut oil all over your hair or wherever you normally hurt yourself. It makes you more cognizant of when you’re doing it since many of us do it without thinking.
- Have someone you can tell so they can watch over you. There’s something very freeing about sharing your struggle and having someone else be available to call when things are at their worse. It feels bad to have to share the load with someone you love, but I guarantee you that they want to know so they can help.
- See a shrink. Adjust your meds as needed. Sometimes I need antipsychotics and sometimes I don’t. My chemistry changes and I have to keep up with those changes. Drugs sometimes work and then stop working and you have to manage them, which sucks when you have depression because you’re often too tired to fight for yourself, but you need those drugs just as much as someone with diabetes needs insulin. There’s nothing to be ashamed about. Ask a family member for help in making appointments and remembering to pick up refills if you can’t do it alone. Remember that it’s hard as hell to get the help you need when you’re mentally ill but that’s not a sign that you’re not worth it or that you should give up. I’ve had to switch doctors before and I’ve had to demand to be seen on numerous occasions. Not every shrink works for every person. It can take time to find the one who fits with you. It’s not your fault if you don’t mesh well with your shrink. Keep looking until you find someone you trust. The right one is out there for you.
- Call the suicide hotline if you need to. They’re there to help and they have fabulous tips and resources. It’s free, you can’t call them too many times, and no one there will laugh at you. You can stay anonymous and they’re happy to just listen to even the craziest things you have to say. Many of them are volunteers because they too have called and been saved by someone on the other end of the phone. I’ve called myself (even though I’m not suicidal) and some of these tips came from the amazing people on the other line. They can also often help you find a good doctor for your specific needs. Just google “suicide hotline” and your local one will pop up. There are also sites like “To Write Love On Her Arms” and Mind Your Mind, which can help.
- Remember that 25-50% of all people will experience mental illness at some point, so you are not alone. I’m a successful writer with a wonderful family, but I also have numerous personality disorders, some that even my closest friends don’t understand. You can be mentally ill and still be a good person. I have to remind myself of that sometimes, but it’s true.
- Do what feels right for you. Dance in your room. Meditate. Read silly quotes. Be unreasonably angry at strangers on the internet and scream at the computer screen from the safety of your home. Make balloon animals, or knit, or project a paint-by-numbers picture on the wall and paint a giant mural, or adopt a bunch of cats and dress them up like little people.
- Laugh. This one seems insane, but sometimes in the middle of one of my lowest points I’ll find something ridiculous and it’ll make me laugh and I’ll suddenly remember what that feels like to smile and it’s like a lifeline to remind me that I’m going to feel good things again soon. Laughing isn’t proof that mental illness isn’t real. It’s a sign that you’re stronger than your mental illness even when it has hold of you. For instance, while I was writing this, I googled “how many people will experience mental illness” and google decided to “help” and instead suggested I look up these two things:
Who is googling this? Also, the second one is just awesome because when I first looked at it I thought it meant that people had turkey butlers who cooked food for them and I felt a little jealous. Then I felt stupid. Then I laughed. Then I wrote “Get a turkey-butler” on my to-do list.
- And lastly, know that this struggle makes you special. It might not be a struggle you’d have chosen for yourself, but it’s one that can make you stronger in the end, and more sensitive and compassionate and empathetic to others. It’s one that will help you help others. And there’s something unique about the people who see the world from the bottom of the hole. We have different eyes when we come up and different ways to seize those moments of joy that we know are so important and rare. And that’s a gift. A terrible and wonderful one. You aren’t alone. You are wanted. You are good. And you will get through this. I promise. And when you doubt your worth, imagine your younger sister or your best friend or your child having these same doubts and realize that that same sense of angry disbelief that the world would ever be better without them is the exact same disbelief that your friends and family would feel if they lost you. You are as special and irreplaceable as the people you love most. Your differentness makes you unique. I makes you who you are. It makes you part of our tribe. It makes you flat on your back one day, and it makes you dress like a circus performer the next. It makes you grab hold of life when it comes back around. It makes you crazy. But that’s not always bad.
If you have tips, tricks, or want to share your twitter handle or email to offer an ear, or to ask for one, feel free to do it in the comments. Or just listen and know that you’re going to be okay. There is an incredible community here built from people just like you. We’re all in this together.