Thursday, 16 December 2021

Before and after

You call in to work, saying that you won't come in today because you're too afraid to drive on exceedingly dangerous snowy and icy roads. 
Their response? "It's your responsibility to get to your place of work on time. You chose it, knowing all the possible risks associated with it. It's your problem, not ours. You won't get paid."

You drive into work on exceedingly dangerous snowy and icy roads. You get into an accident. 
Their response? "You poor thing! Why did you come in today? You should have stayed home!"

***

You cancel yet another get-together. They're fed up with you. That's the third time in 6 months! They voice their frustration with your "flakiness" behind your back - except, like all gossip, it reaches you eventually. 

You are distraught. The reason you cancelled was because you had just spent 4 days in bed, with food-stained clothes and very disgusting hair, and you simply couldn't muster the energy to have a shower, buy a bottle of wine, bring an appetizer, and show up ready to interact normally with other humans. If you'd have tried to explain, they might have said to "just come as you are! We love you no matter what!"

But would they? A greasy, grey, down-cast, no-use-to-anyone you? You don't like that person. She's a total downer. If you had the option, you wouldn't hang out with her. 
You are sure that nobody else can love her. So you hide her when she arrives. You lie, even if it threatens to destroy relationships. Because you know that being dropped for being "flaky" is a million times better than being dropped for being what you are: too sensitive. Too wimpy. Someone who belongs into a loony bin?

You make up an excuse: You tell them you had the stomach flu. Or diarrhea. You had a migraine. A fight with your husband. You had bad PMS. Mystery pain in your left kidney. Anything but the truth:
I couldn't face you. Not just you, but anyone.
I couldn't get out of bed.
My depression was so debilitating that I couldn't muster the energy to have a shower. 
My anxiety was so severe that I couldn't face a roomful of people. 
I've been so stressed out that I can't be "normal". All I want to do is cry and wallow about everything that's been lost. And I know that you want to move on (I do, too!), so I thought it's best to not come. Because I'm not there yet. 

They don't know it though. Because you are so very good at hiding how you feel, and pretending that everything is fine. 
So they get annoyed, and maybe they will distance themselves from you. The invitations dry up, and who can blame them? 
It's only ever after that they understand. 

After the breakdown. 
After the public tears, or yelling, or losing it. 
After the suicide attempt. 
After - the suicide.  

***


You are known for being competent, reliable, good at your job. Your co-workers know they can rely on you, and they love this about you. You always have a smile on your face. Everybody assumes you are fine, because you act fine. 

What they don't know is how much it costs you some days to keep up the facade of normality. How you pour every last ounce of your energy and strength into appearing normal at work, and how you have nothing left by the time you get home. All you can do is crawl into bed and hide. 

This takes a toll on your personal life. Your family wants you to be present for them, and they get annoyed that you are (seemingly) perfectly okay at work, and a total wreck at home. Understandably, they want some of you for themselves as well.   

At some point, you have to make a choice. You want to do both, and quite often you do both exceedingly well - but not always. And when you have to choose, and you choose your personal life over work by taking some time off, or going on stress-leave, or quitting - work is shocked. 

They have no idea where this comes from. Everything looked fine, right? You seemed perfectly content, didn't you? Why did you leave? What's going on?


What's going on is that it's still almost impossible to talk about your mental health struggles. 
You know how people are highly uncomfortable with death? As in, we never really talk about it in our culture, which translates into us not knowing how to behave around someone who just lost a loved one, or how it's perceived as morbid wanting to talk about death. We are supremely awkward around death, even though it's the one thing that unites all of us: everybody has to die. Doesn't make sense, but here we are.

It's the same with mental illness. I've talked somewhat openly on my blog about my own journey with depression, PMDD, and more recently, anxiety, for roughly 8 years. I try to insert it into my everyday life as well by talking about my issues freely, and trying to get a conversation going so others can share their own stuff. More often than not it dies before it even starts. 

I sent a link to this article to a friend after cancelling yet another invite. I have cancelled a few times during the 3 or 4 years of our friendship, always using the trusty old excuses I mentioned above (not feeling well; headache; stomach issues), and I wanted to come clean. 

When we met after, she hugged me tight and thanked me for sharing this with her. But as soon as I tried to start a conversation, her and her husband looked so pained that I changed the subject after a couple of minutes. Not ready, I thought to myself, and I wasn't offended. 

But it does worry me. All 4 of us have lost friends and family to suicide or were witnesses of attempted suicide. This isn't an issue that's far removed - it's one that touched each and every one of us. 

It's the same at work. I work in healthcare, and you would think that talking about mental health would be normal, right? Well, think again. 
It's still something that makes people deeply uncomfortable. One reason is that most healthcare workers (myself included) have zero training in how to deal with people who are in mental distress. 
The resources are scarce. In the case of the rural hospitals I work at, there is nobody there who is trained to deal with a patient who self-harms, has homicidal or suicidal ideations, or displays any other form of mental struggle. We have to get them transferred to a larger hospital, where psychiatric staff and social workers are present. That's several hours before they see anyone who can offer real help, which is disheartening to everybody. 

There's such a long way to go before we will be able to casually mention over coffee with our co-workers that we've been having a difficult time with our latest depression episode.
Until that happens, I will endure the awkward silences and hasty changes of subject. 

Because what we're having right now, with the after being tragic, heartbreaking, and sometimes irreversible? 
It's unacceptable. We have to do better. 


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6 comments

  1. Hey Miriam, Me again! I just commented on your last two posts, getting caught up on your blog. I'm honestly not a stalker, I enjoy your blog. I feel exactly as you seem to - sometimes good, and sometimes can't force myself out of bed... for days. I just retired, so for better or worse, sleeping is an option now. I also live with no other humans, but two elderly dogs and an elderly cat that all love attention, when I can manage it, which is usually. They are what gets me out of bed in the morning... or early afternoon. It really is a slog, sometimes. And sometimes it's really great. I never know what tomorrow is going to bring mentally. What I'm trying to say is that you are not alone in how you feel. Lots of love to you! Karen

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    1. Stalk away Karen! I'm so happy you like my content. I'm moving more and more towards writing about mental health issues, because not only are there many people like you and me out there, but even people who never had any mental health issues are struggling after these past 2 difficult years. I'm very much hoping that there will be a shift in our society and healthcare towards including mental health into the discussion of help, and to normalize it to openly talk about it. We need it.

      Thanks for all the comments, I really appreciate them! Lots of love to you, too!

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    2. I totally agree. I have a friend who has really suffered mentally during the pandemic and is totally open about it. She has gone through a two week period where she just cried constantly, over, as she said "nothing." No specific trigger. My sister has struggled this year as well and at 62 went to a therapist for the first time this week. Hopefully awareness will mean progress. My brother lost his best friend to suicide very dramatically years ago, without any warning that anyone who knew him saw. Everyone thought he was the happiest, most go-lucky person they had ever met, and he jumped off the tallest bridge in Maine. It was a complete shock that I don't think my brother has ever recovered from, or probably ever will. Thanks for your responses!

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    3. I'm so sorry to hear about your brother's friend. What a tragedy. Ignorant people sometimes say that suicide is selfish, but it couldn't be further from the truth. Depression convinces you that you're worthless and that the world is better off without you - they think they're doing the world a favour. It's so heartbreaking.

      Your sister is very brave, it's hard seeking help! As much as I appreciate therapy, I find the sessions always draining and emotionally exhausting. But they do help, and I hope very much that they will help your sis.

      It's wonderful that your friend feels comfortable enough to share her mental struggles with you - that's a credit to you as a friend and her as a person! We need more like her.

      Let's hope that we can collectively start healing moving forward, and that 2022 will get better and lighter.

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  2. Keep writing, Miriam. We do need to do better and your voice is a light that allows us to see what is often hidden in the shadows. XOX

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    1. You leave the most beautiful, thoughtful and kind comments, Elaine. I appreciate them so very much. Thank you, and let's hope and work towards a brighter future!

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