It’s Mental Health Awareness Month so some people expect me to write about mental health, except that if you read here you’re already perfectly aware that I’m mentally ill so this feels a bit pointless. But what if we change the game a little?
Share with me. In the comments, or on your own platform, or both. Almost everyone will battle mental illness or will be impacted in the struggle to help a loved one with their mental illness, so “awareness” isn’t really the issue for me. Cures, support, feedback, tools that work...those are the things we reach for in the dark. So let’s share…
How has mental illness affected you personally? What did you learn from it that might help others?
How has mental illness affected me personally: I have a host of issues but I’m most affected by Avoidant Personality Disorder which is like anxiety disorder on speed. It’s scary to talk about. When I tell people I have a personality disorder they try to convince me that I don’t. This is not helpful. It’s perfectly well-meaning but it’s like saying “You couldn’t possibly have anything so terrible as that” when in fact, I do. And lots of other people do too but they don’t say it out loud because they’re afraid of how they’ll be perceived. Then it becomes even harder to say it because everyone else is too afraid to say it (with just cause) and I can’t even blame them because being afraid to admit you have a personality disorder whose main symptom is crippling fear is a catch-22 and pretty fucked up. It’s like having to raise your hand to ask for help in attaching your prosthetic arms.
What did I learn from it that might help others: I’ve learned I’m not alone even when I feel completely isolated and like a failure. I’ve learned that depression lies. I’ve learned that when I’m not affected by my fucked-up brain chemistry I can see that my brain is not to be trusted so I write notes to myself when I’m out of the hole to remind myself that I’ll be okay again soon. I get sun. I take meds and therapy. I laugh loudly and often when I’m out of the hole because I know the importance of appreciating the good and the joy when it comes. I let myself be sad when I need to be. I watch ridiculous tv and listen to happy songs. I practice creating an invisible mental barrier around my body when I feel overwhelmed by other people’s energy. I call the suicide hotline if things get bad. I donate to suicide hotlines when I can. I allow myself to say no. I reach out on the internet because I can find friends to talk to or to inspire me who understand when I’m too afraid to even pick up a phone. I find a family member to help me when I think I need extra supervision. I thank people who help save me. I try to save them back. I hide in blanket forts with my cats and a collection of funny books or kick-ass comics. I share what helps. I learn from others.
I apply kittens directly to problem areas.
PS. This is my playlist that keeps me upright when my head is full of marbles. Feel free to share your own.
If you’ve been here long enough you know I’ve been working on my second book for the last three years. I’ve carried it with me every day, adding a paragraph here, deleting another there, reworking a sentence for the eleventieth time because I want it to be perfect, always feeling like a loser because Stephen King and cocaine set unrealistic expectations about how easy it should be to write a book. If you know me in real life you’ve seen me lugging around a giant manuscript and scribbling furiously in it when inspiration strikes. You may have asked me why I don’t just use a laptop and then nodded in what you hoped passed for understanding when I explained that I was afraid I’d lose everything I’ve written when the robot revolution happens and computers become self-aware and refuse to humor me anymore because I wasted their potential watching videos of baby hedgehogs in bathtubs.
When I was deciding what to write about for book two my first thought was “SPARKLY MALE VAMPIRES WHO ARE PRETTIER THAN YOU versus ZOMBIE FAINTING GOATS, IN THE BATTLE FOR BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH’S HEART”. Then Victor was like, “What are you, crazy?” and I thought, Well, sort of. And that’d probably be easier to write about since I have slightly more experience dealing with mental illness than I have dealing with goats.
And so began a terrifying and incredibly daunting task of writing a very funny book about a very terrible thing.
This book was hard. I wanted to be honest about my struggles — and that means opening up about things I’ve never really discussed before. And it was hard. But luckily, I had help. From you.
When I came out so many years ago about my depression and anxiety disorder I was afraid you’d all run away screaming. But you didn’t. Instead, thousands of you said “Me too,” and “I thought I was the only one,” and “It’s not just me?” You gave me the strength to be honest about my flaws and the support to realize that I was more than the broken parts that make up me. And you did something else you might not even realize…
In the years since I started writing about mental illness I’ve received so many letters from people who were affected by this community, but there were special ones I kept in a folder that I named “The Folder of 24.” – It was called that because it contained 24 letters from people who were actively planning their suicide, but decided to get help instead. And not because of what I said…they did it because of you. Almost every single one explained that what convinced them that depression was lying to them was the amazing response to my posts. They could look at a single person like me and think it was still a rare illness or something to be ashamed about…but when thousands of strangers shout out into the darkness that they are there too, it makes ripples. And those anonymous strangers saved lives without even knowing it. If you ever left a comment or a kind word you may have been the cause of someone’s mother or daughter or son being alive. Being thankful to be alive.
When I was on tour with my last book I’d sometimes talk about the Folder of 24 and how that folder is the best reason I’ll ever have for writing. And then something strange happened. After a reading people would lean in close and whisper “I was 25.”
There were so many 25’s.
This was what I went back to whenever writing this new book got too hard. Because I knew that to truly write about what it’s like to struggle with mental illness I’d have to go deeper and talk about things I haven’t written about, for fear that everyone would back away if I talked about self-harm, or mania, or the personality disorder that pushes me from “normal” crazy to something a bit scarier.
I wrote and deleted and rewrote passages, and I’m still afraid of how people will react. I’m in the exact same place I was seven years ago…afraid to share but unable to tell my story without laying it all out. And so I’ll do the same thing I did before. Because I don’t have any other choice but to be myself, and hopefully you’ll still be here in the same wonderful way you have been.
I hope you’ll come with me on the next step of the journey. I hope you’ll see yourself, or someone you love, in these pages and learn to love them better. I hope it shows people that laughter and joy can come from chaotic bizarreness. I hope you know how much you’ve helped me to become my own 25.
This is a humor book and I’ve been told that it’s funnier than my last. Most of the people who’ve read it don’t have mental illness. Certainly none of them have my specific diagnosis, but they still loved it because I think everyone can relate to the ridiculousness we bring on ourselves, to the fact that laughing at a dangerous, terrifying monster is the only way to make it small and easier to hide in your pocket.
I think everyone can relate to the fact that a ton of bullshit happens every single day and the only way we can battle that bullshit is choose to be furiously happy whenever we have the opportunity. That means different things to different people, but to me it’s about making clothes out of live ferrets, making the best of it when you get kidnapped by an actual funeral, and occasionally balancing your taxidermy raccoon on the back of your cats to create a Midnight Raccoon Rodeo in your kitchen when you’re having one of those weeks where you’re afraid to leave your house.
It also means celebrating the fact that I HAVE FINISHED THE BOOK. AAAAAAHHHHHH! Sorry. Just happy.
Step two was choosing a book cover, but my last book cover had a dead mouse on it and that level of sophistication is pretty hard to top. How do you get a book cover that captures the celebration of being broken in just the right way? My suggestion was to use a model who literally went from being road kill to being the star rodeo rider during my recurring bouts of insomnia.
Any you know what? I think we nailed it.
(That’s Rory, by the way. He’s in the book.)
I hope to God you love it.
Rory and I love you.
PS. Want details on when it comes out and where to order it right now? CLICK HERE.
PPS. Thank you. Again. Seriously. You made this happen. (Which I guess sort of means it’s your fault if you hate it. Just saying.)
Unrelated, but something I probably need to address anyway…this morning I wrote about my last book being translated into several different language and a ton of you are like, “Where is your next book? Why are you making me wait? Look at your life. Look at your choices.” And honestly the next book is coming but it’s really, really fucking hard. Writing always is for me. It’s something I’ve always done and will always do but I rewrite and rewrite and look at a blank page for days and feel like my head is constipated with thoughts I can’t write properly until suddenly it all comes together and I end up with one perfect page that took 2 weeks. I want it to be perfect because a ton of it is about mental illness and that’s a subject I can’t half-ass because it’s that damn important. Additionally I want it to be insanely funny, and surprisingly mental illness doesn’t easily lend itself to quick and dirty hilarity. It’s coming along and some parts I’m incredibly proud of and some parts I’m struggling with because I want it to be brilliant for you. I want people who suffer from mental illness to say “YES. THAT’S IT. I’M NOT ALONE.” I want people who love people with mental illness to read it and say “Oh. I think I understand a little better now. I never knew how important I was to those who struggle.” I want people who are undiagnosed to read it and think “Holy shit. This is girl is insane but she makes sense so maybe it’s not such a big deal to get tested and treated just in case.” I want people to say “WTF. That couldn’t have possible be true because OHMYGODTHEREAREPICTURES” and then get kicked off planes for laughing hysterically. And I want people who are never touched by mental illness to read it and laugh at the insane stories I’ve collected over the past couple of years and recognize all the little flaws that make us human and special and brilliant. I could have turned something in last year that would have probably sold well and I would have liked it, but I just want this to be perfect so please know that the time spent waiting is time spent making it better and shinier and funnier and more real because once it’s out there I can’t get it back. So many people were touched by my first book and in turn they touched me right back (not that way) and I don’t want to let you down. I have a giant manuscript filled with post-it notes in the shape of Daleks and self-made notes in margins reading “EXTERMINATE THIS. MAKE IT BETTER. MAKE IT STRONGER. MAKE ME A COCKTAIL. WHO ATE ALL THE BANANAS? FIND BETTER PICTURES OF ANGRY POSSUMS.” It’s getting thicker every day and that’s a good thing.
What I can tell you is that the very few wonderful (and painfully honest) people I’ve let read my drafts think it’s some of the best work I’ve done and they keep me from throwing it all in the fire when I feel like a failure, and I hope that you’ll still be here to read it whenever I finish it. It won’t be long in the scheme of things.
It’s coming. I promise. I hope I can make you proud.
And for those of you struggling with your own writing, a few bits of advice that help me to remember that good writing doesn’t always come easy:
I hate writing. I love having written. ~ Dorothy Parker
There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. ~ Hemingway
Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. E. L. Doctorow
What people are ashamed of usually makes a good story. ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald
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.
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.