- Making counselling support available through the company’s Employee Assistance Plan or a community resource.
- Having a more supportive process for investigating, following up and recording the incident.
- Communicating how to prevent or respond to future incidents including conducting a risk assessment.
- Delivering an education program on prevention of workplace violence.
- Ensuring that the organization's direction for workplace safety was reflected and highlighted into corporate and service-specific goals.
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
I remember August 9, 2005 like it was yesterday. That’s the day the person I used to be died in a workplace accident. The day a disgruntled client walked into the company I worked for and threatened my life.
The event left me unable to work at that job and as it turns out, any job, due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that took over my life from that day on.
Sadly, this all could have been different had my employer understood the importance of responding more effectively to a workplace trauma to help prevent or at least reduce the risk of psychological injury.
On that fated day, it was especially busy because the receptionist had called in sick and I was covering her job as well as my own. Around 2 p.m. a dishevelled looking man came into the office. I can still clearly remember that he was wearing khaki pants and a red golf shirt. He approached the desk and angrily asked to see the manager. I asked him for his name and with a serious face, he told me to tell the manager, “It is Dracula and you don’t want to see any blood.” I was shocked at this and asked again and received the same response. I felt a shiver up my spine and my stomach clenched. As I picked up the phone to call Mike*, who was the manager, the man leaned over the desk threateningly and said, “Tell him I have a gun.” Mike overheard this comment and asked me if I saw a gun. I repeated what the man had said.
My heart sank and all I could think was that I shouldn’t even be here as my daughter was at home sick and I ought to have been looking after her. In that office however, calling in sick could get you fired.
I had no place to hide and truly believed he was going to kill me. There was no way I could get away.
I looked up at him trying to see if he actually had a gun and he repeated the threat saying, “You don’t want to see any blood do you?” I backed away instinctively, thinking only of how to escape. I had never been so afraid. I didn’t believe I was going to get out of this alive. I’m not sure what I said to him other than offering him a glass of water. I know that sounds strange, but our boss, Susan*, was very strict about making our clients comfortable. This was another issue she brought up regularly to threaten us with dismissal.
By the time Mike came into reception the man had calmed down and the police were on the way.
I grabbed my purse and ran out to my car. I was shaking uncontrollably and don’t remember picking up my daughter who I was taking to the doctor. On the way, my boss, Susan called. She asked me if I was okay and I told her I wasn’t sure. She said the police were coming first thing in the morning and that I needed to write down what had gone on with the man in the red shirt, word for word. She also said she wanted to see Mike and me in the morning before we talked to the police.
While I was at the doctor’s I went over and over what had been said. When I got home and started writing it out, the reality of the situation hit me. I broke down and sobbed.
As I drove into work the next morning, I couldn’t stop shaking. I thought the man in the red shirt would be angry the police were called and he would be waiting to finish me off. I pulled into the parking lot, but froze, unable to get out of my car. I truly believed he was going to come back and show me “blood,” and I started to cry again. After about 10 minutes a co-worker pulled into the parking lot beside me and smiled. I felt relieved, wiped my tears, grabbed my purse and got out of the car.
What happened next felt like further trauma. It started with my boss telling Mike and me to “suck it up.” She said there was no need to be shaken up because they knew the assailant. He was a long-time client, who had recently lost his business and separated from his wife. Mike’s attempts to collect $3,000 the man owed to the company had been “the last straw.” She asked for our copies of the conversations we’d had with the man and then told me to wait for her and the police in one of the meeting rooms beside the reception area. I felt terrified and all I could think about was the need to get out of there and find somewhere safe, but I was afraid that I’d lose my job if I left. After a long wait, Susan and the police officers came into the room and started questioning me. It felt like I was being grilled as if I was the criminal. The sting of that exchange still haunts me.
I learned that the police had gone to the man’s house to question him after the incident. Their words to me were that he was “just having a bad day.” When I asked about the gun, they said he didn’t have a gun registered to his name so there “mustn’t have been a gun,” it was “something he made up.”
I was also told that because he didn’t actually say he was going to kill me, I couldn’t press charges. Only the firm could, but wouldn’t because they were up for a business award that year and didn’t want the publicity. My boss said that they felt that cutting ties with the client should be enough.
It wasn’t. With no support either professionally or socially I wasn’t able to continue working at the firm. It was years before I could drive anywhere near that area of Burlington, because I was still afraid that the man with the red shirt would be looking for me. I had no control over these feelings. Despite my bosses and law enforcements perspectives that the threat wasn’t real and therefore didn’t require a response – it was very real to me.
I was diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and told by several specialists I would never be able to work again. I was and still am being alienated by some of my family and friends because they can’t, or don’t want to understand why I don’t “get over” it! Dr. Viacheslav Wlassoff (Brainblogger) says “There is no use telling PTSD victims to “get over” it because PTSD fundamentally changes the brain’s structure and alters its functionalities.” The shape of our brain; particularly the hippocampus, changes and PTSD victims are unable to discriminate between past and present experiences. For instance, one of my biggest fears is going anywhere I could get held up and for me that means wherever there is money being transferred from hand to hand. Banks, grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, special events, etc. For most people these are safe places and the chance that something bad is going to happen is slim, but I have a psychological injury and my brain has trouble distinguishing between past and present. I am hyper-vigilante, and on guard all the time.
I have panic and anxiety attacks. I sweat so badly because of my fear I have to carry a change of clothes with me at all times. Simple tasks like being a passenger in a car, are so stressful for me, I need to take meds to calm myself before I go out. I have nightmares so vivid that I’m literally afraid to go to sleep and the lack of sleep makes me so tired that I’m unable to concentrate. I double book myself all the time, or forget things completely. There are many days I’m so afraid I won’t even open my curtains.
During the first five years of being diagnosed with PTSD, I went through four assessments with four different facilities. Each time I was put through an assessment, it triggered a difficult emotional response and I would become suicidal. The rejection from some family members when I would talk about my diagnosis or what I was going through contributed to the desire to take my own life. Fortunately for me, my partner was, and still is, there to support me through it.
I tried cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which looking back, I believe was worse for me than the trauma itself because it just compounded how frightened I was of the outside world. Part of the CBT I received was exposure therapy; going to sit in a bank, restaurant or anywhere else that caused my PTSD symptoms to go through the roof and stay there until I felt comfortable. The extreme stress and mental anguish even thinking about this was horrible. I got my PTSD diagnosis ten years ago and I still can’t do those things without a panic attack. I have also tried anti-depressants, and sleeping pills; amongst other things to help me get better, but so far nothing has worked.
As a result, I’m the one who has been sentenced to a life where I am unable to conduct normal everyday activities like going for a walk or picking up groceries. I was diagnosed with stress-induced diabetes and central serous retinopathy; which is a serious condition I was told could cause me to go blind if I didn’t get my stress level under control. For me this meant getting rid of the negative people in my life, including family members, because my relationships with them only increased my negative self-talk. I’m a people pleaser and I always worry when a person doesn’t talk to me anymore, or treats me differently, so this was not an easy task. I almost always think I’ve done or said something wrong instead of considering that maybe it was the other way around - I think some negative people thrive on that.
I have now started to surround myself with positive people, those who would never think of questioning why I wasn’t the same person I once was. People that embrace me as I am because they know that if I did have a choice about my injury, things would be so different. Surrounding myself with supportive people is not just comforting - there is evidence that it can help prevent and heal trauma.
I recently read that a research study in the U.K. showed that perceived social support reduced the severity of PTSD symptoms that could lead to suicide. Social support at work has been defined by Cobb (1976) as the belief that you are valued and that your well-being is cared for as part of a social network of mutual obligation. For those who perceived themselves as having high levels of social support, resilience was improved and the impact of PTSD symptoms were lessened.
I fully believe that a supportive response from my employer and recognition that I had experienced trauma would have encouraged me to reach out for the help I needed in time so that I could have continued working. Further, the workplace could have put processes in place so that I, along with my co-workers, felt safe and supported. This might have included:
My workplace’s response was ineffective and made my symptoms of PTSD even more severe. They didn’t and still don’t get it.
They say I’m not the person I used to be and they’re right. That easy-going, active, friendly woman doesn’t exist anymore. She died in a workplace accident 10 years ago. The worst part? Her injuries could have been prevented.
*Names have been changed
Published by Moods Winter 2016 - Workplace Mental Health http://www.moodsmag.com/moods/order_previous_issues.php
Friday, December 22, 2017
I’ve never been bullied. Sure, I’ve encountered people who haven’t particularly liked me but I haven’t experienced my peers having decided at an elementary student conference during recess that they would no longer speak to me unless it was to poke fun at any and everything I did. I wasn’t popular either, but I was cool with 95% the people I was stuck with for six and a half hours a day.
I’ve had my share of childhood trauma and mishaps, but who hasn’t? I have a house as well as access to food, education, and healthcare. I have a family and a group of really supportive friends. I do well for myself, I can hold a job and go to school 85% of the time. Objectively, you could argue that my life is fine. Yet I’m still mentally ill and I feel like a fraud.
My name is Pers and I’ve been diagnosed with major depression, generalized anxiety, and borderline personality disorder. There are times when the symptoms hit me like a ton of bricks and I know that I’m going to have a moody, tiring day walking a tight-rope in order to be productive without acting out on others. Those days are always exhausting and I’m never as productive as I had hoped, but I’m also higher functioning and there are days when my illnesses are more like background noise instead of principle actors. It is on these days that I sometimes question my diagnoses and wonder if my issues stem from me just not trying hard enough.
The two illnesses that I carry with my all the time are the depression and anxiety, I find the BPD to be most manageable when I step back from close relationships and focus my time on education and work as a distraction. When I’m having a BPD episode, it’s deafening and debilitating enough to have me vomiting and facing waves of panic attacks. I experience irrational thoughts about friends and family plotting against me, I’m constantly overanalyzing myself and poking at all of the attributes I possess that could possibly have driven someone else away (spoiler: the answer is always that every attribute that makes up who I am is what drives people away), and I become defensive whenever anyone disagrees with me about anything because that somehow translates into them hating me as a person rather than them disliking my viewpoint. When it’s under control, however, it turns into my most mild illness.
The depression ebbs and flows with its influence. There are days when I feel heavy, like my entire body is a weighted blanket, and I can’t muster up the energy to go to the bathroom or to eat, never mind go to class or finish assignments. When it’s at its worst I’m researching ways to end my life and staring at blank white walls. When it’s at its best, I just feel empty. A persistent feeling of numbness. I’m not in a negative place but I’m not feeling positive either, I’m just neutral. Nothing is particularly exciting, and life is just a procession of an overfamiliar daily routine, but I’m not angry about that as it just is what it is. I’ve learned to live in this state of apathy for years. At first it was a coping mechanism, getting too excited or invested in things causes me to spiral into extreme moods (looking at you BPD), but now I think it’s my default. So much so that I can’t remember what it feels like not to live like this, and I wonder if everyone else feels the same and I’m just being oversensitive.
Finally, I live with anxiety. These symptoms are not only persistent but they are quite noticeable as well. I feel the faint urge to throwing up almost constantly, I never actually do but I’m stuck with this unsettling feeling that it could happen anywhere at anytime. Additionally, I have a pit of acid that lives in my abdomen and remains there, the more stressed I am the more my stomach-area feels like it’s on fire. When the acid is calm, it’s just a pit but a pit with matter. Almost as if my abdomen is filled with stones and they are dragging me away from friends, responsibilities, leisure, or anything worthwhile. Instead it’s replaced with this sense, this fear, that things are going to go wrong and everything is going to fall apart. This abdominal sensation is so heavy that it keeps me from eating, since it causes me to feel full even when I haven’t eaten anything of substance in day or two. Much like the depression, I’ve lived with these feelings for so long that I can’t tell whether this is unique to the illness or if I’m just over exaggerating sensations that everyone feels for years on end.
I don’t only feel like a fraudulent survivor of mental illness. I feel like a fraud in many other places in my life as well. I sit in class and halfway through answering a question or making a comment I get an overwhelming urge to shut up, pack my things, and run out of the lecture. I feel like I hadn’t truly earned my opportunity to achieve a degree and that my professor as well as my peers will see right through me in any second, ripping my arguments and thoughts to shreds before laughing me out of the class. Then I get back an assignment and I’m validated, one good mark might be a fluke but multiple obviously means I was accepted to my program for a reason.
The same thing happens at work. I come in feeling a little spacey since my brain refuses to process any information and would rather have me feel like I’m floating instead (thank you depression and dissociation) or I walk in ready to fight any and every customer because I am right and they are obviously wrong (BPD I see you perched on my shoulder) and I know that literally anyone could do my job better than I ever could. But then there’s a crises or a conflict and I’m a key part in helping to resolve it. I’ve had an opportunity to call the shots and my workplace didn’t spontaneously combust as a result. That is extremely validating, that and the fact that it’s been over a year and I haven’t been fired so, again, I must be doing something right.
Then there’s mental illness, my second shadow following behind me. It causes me to forget things, namely my sense of purpose and will to live, and minimizes the importance of my responsibilities. I have no concrete way of validating that what I have is affecting my life in the way that I think it is. Sure, my diagnoses have been confirmed by a psychiatrist and I am reassured each week during therapy. But how do I know the reason I’ve stayed in bed and missed all of my classes for three consecutive days is not simply laziness but truly because of an irrational fear of leaving my room (anxiety)? Where’s the proof that the spreading numbness that leads me to believe that nothing is worth doing (depression) isn’t me making excuses for not getting started on projects? How do I know that eclipsing a public space and taking extreme measures to make the area inaccessible to one individual who I feel has wronged me is because of my impulsivity due to BPD and not because I’m just generally a selfish person who won’t accept when I can’t get my way?
Yes I have mental illnesses and the symptoms show, but I’m also high functioning and sometimes the symptoms subside. It’s due to this that at times I can’t tell if my actions are a result of an illness or just me not being the best me that I can be and, until there’s a machine that can look inside my soul and tell me whether I’m an unfortunate product of multiple disorders or just a genuinely bad person, I will never know. It is because of this that I’ll never know if I’m truly the fraud that I think I am…
Thursday, December 14, 2017
At the time of my first break I was 19 years old. I was worked nights as a bartender at an upscale hotel lounge bar. I would do last call at 11:30 pm and be home by 1:00 am. I’d eat, unwind and get as much sleep as possible before I’d have to drive my mom to work in the morning. That was my routine. One night, I decided to go a friend’s house warming party. I ended up seeing some old friends, before I knew it, it was almost 5:00 am. Being that I had to drive my mom to work in a few hours, I figured I might as well stay awake until then and go to sleep after I dropped her off.
I dropped my mom off at work as usual and I was feeling pretty good considering I pulled an all-nighter. I didn’t feel like going to sleep so I thought I’d go visit a friend who let me borrow some money the week before who lived a half hour away. I got on the highway and started my drive, a drive that I would never forget.
About 5 minutes into the drive I began to feel extremely happy. I’m going to use textbook psychological terms, that I learned later in life, to better describe the way I began to feel. I started to experience an overwhelming joy. I was so happy that a few minutes into feeling this way I began to cry. I was crying tears of joy. I could not understand why I was feeling so happy. It sure as hell wasn’t the weed I had smoked earlier, I knew that much for sure.
I had never cried tears of joy. As the tears of joy were streaming down my face, I began to think of all the different things in my life that brought me happiness. My thoughts were revved up, I could barely keep up with my own train of thought. I began to pose questions in my mind, why am I so happy? Why is this happening to me? I immediately began to think of other questions like why don’t I feel like this more often? Do other people feel this way? Is that why they cry tears of joy?
As I thought of more questions, it was as if the answers started being given to me, and like a chain reaction of questions, answers, questions, answers, my thoughts took off faster and faster. Every question I thought of I was given the answer too. I knew that this must have been what people describe as enlightenment. I began to think to myself, why me, a random nobody, why was I chosen, why was I being given the answers to every question I posed in my mind’s eye?? Why was I being enlightened?! I began to imagine what would come of this experience, the endless opportunity, the pressure to fix what’s wrong in the world, the impact I’d have on humanity and that is when I began to panic. Why me? Why am I being enlightened, I thought. This feeling of panic was familiar. I had panic attacks before, they were the reason I dropped out of high school and again college.
Although I didn’t know that’s what they were at the time, I learned that later in life. As the panic attack set in, I tried to focus on the road because I was still driving on the highway and the exit must have been coming up soon. Then the feeling of panic slowly faded and was replaced with Euphoria. I began to feel better than high, that was the only way I could think of it at the time, I started feeling great again.
Although I didn’t know that’s what they were at the time, I learned that later in life. As the panic attack set in, I tried to focus on the road because I was still driving on the highway and the exit must have been coming up soon. Then the feeling of panic slowly faded and was replaced with Euphoria. I began to feel better than high, that was the only way I could think of it at the time, I started feeling great again.
A calm came over me, I had never imagined feeling this good. I was no longer concerned with how or why I was feeling the way I did. I was simply just feeling, I began to feel better and better. A feeling so raw, so pure, it was far better than euphoria, it was blissful. I had begun to feel so amazing that I began to cry again. Tears of joy were again streaming down my face.
I was feeling heavenly. I began to experience what I can’t even describe adequately with words. It was not as much of a feeling as it was something that I had sensed. I began to feel and sense as if I knew everything. Everything that there was to know, I knew. I sensed I was all-knowing. This is when I had begun to feel Godlike. Again, these are terms I learned later in life, long after this episode, long after struggling with acceptance and bouts of suicidal depression, of which my first episode was soon to follow. In all the textbooks I would come to read to try to learn about what happened to me in that car ride, the only term left in language to describe how I was feeling in that moment is Godlike. I had just been enlightened and I was feeling godlike. I was also approaching my exit and I had to navigate my way through the tollbooth. Wiping back tears of joy with a smile beaming from ear to ear, I pulled up to the tollbooth, I fumbled for the ticket and handed it to the toll person. “60 cents” he replied. I could only imagine what I looked like fumbling for the changed, crying and smiling. I gave him the money and as soon as he said thank you, I pulled off.
I made it, I was feeling A-MAZING. I began to drive towards my friend’s house. I glanced in the rear-view mirror and noticed a car with two girls in it pulling out of the tollbooth. I looked again to see if I could get a glimpse of the girls, as most teenage boys do, and I saw that we were close in age and then…CRAAASSSHHHH. I rear-ended a pick-up truck that was at a red light while I was going 30mph.
I got out and stepped away from the car. It was totaled. Jay Z’s song Song Cry was blaring. I walked up to the car behind me and the driver rolled down the window. I said, “I crashed because I was checking you out, can you help me get out of here?” she replied “no” I took out the money I had and started throwing $20 bills in her window. After about $300 she said, “get in”. That is where part one ends.
I can’t even begin to tell of the next 7 years of chaos and dysfunction spent trying to live in a perpetual state of hypomania, until I chose to engage in recovery in hopes of securing a better quality of life.
After a dozen involuntary hospitalizations, 20-30 arrests for symptomatic behavior (I lost count) and forced treatment under Kendra’s Law by the state of New York, I was able to recover. I still have my moments, fewer and farther in between. I have been fortunate enough to have been able to start a family with my significant other and we have 3 daughters, my 20-year-old step daughter that I adopted and 2 girls of my very own, 2 ½ and 1 year old.
At my worst, I never imagined that I would make it to where I am now, nor did most people that met me throughout those times. Although I can’t remember what it’s like to live free of mental illness, I can honestly say, I no longer “suffer” from mental illness. I co-founded a not-for-profit and am the sole proprietor of PM&BHC a behavioral health consulting agency at www.pmabhc.com. I go by the Twitter handle Mindful Of Illness @SoulfulOfWealth where I release daily quotes from my upcoming book and I offer free peer support to anyone in need that wants to DM me.
Friday, December 1, 2017
Mindfulness has its origins in Eastern meditation practices, dating back to the earliest teachings of Buddha. In the 1970’s, while meditating, Jon Kabat-Zinn had the idea of adapting meditation techniques to the needs of patients suffering from stress. In 1979 he set up a stress reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and so the MBSR (Mind Based Stress Reduction) programme was created. Today his programme is used all over the world for the reduction of stress, anxiety, depression and to cultivate a general sense of well-being.
My focus today will be anxiety.
1. Hold out one hand in front of you with your palm facing towards you.
2. Use the index finger of your other hand to trace up the outside length of your thumb while you breathe in, pause at the top of your thumb and then trace it down the other side while you breathe out. That’s one breath.
3. Trace up the side of the next finger while you breathe in, pause at the top, and then trace down the other side of that finger while you breathe out. That’s two breaths.
4. Keep going, tracing along each finger as you count each breath. When you get the end of the last finger, come back up that finger and do it in reverse.
5. Repeat this sequence until you feel your anxiety fade.
Thoughts are just thoughts
For general levels of anxiety, another useful approach is to remind yourself that thoughts are just thoughts. They are not real. Thoughts are transient and will pass. As will stressful events.
So, next time you’re anxious, have a go at the finger breathing exercise, or just take a few minutes out of your day to inhale and exhale - feel the difference and remind yourself: This too shall pass!
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
I don't remember what got me to that place; a rough day, a fight with my boyfriend. It was over something so minuscule that I can't even recall why I was doing it in the first place. But I swallowed those pills by friend gave me and I went to sleep, leaving nothing but a note behind. I was ending my life. When I woke up it was bright outside; something very out of the ordinary for me since I was nocturnal at the time. I rolled over in bed with a massive migraine and checked my phone. It had been 18 hours since my suicide attempt.
I spent the day walking around town, trying to process what had just happened. I wasn't supposed to be alive. There had to be some mistake. I wasn't supposed to survive. I wasn't supposed to see tomorrow. But by some miracle, I woke up. I felt so grateful to have survived. The day after my suicide attempt was the first day I didn't feel suicidal in years. I was so happy to just be alive. The air was fresher, the people in town seemed friendlier. Life has a positive outlook, no matter how grey it was.
I think I don't remember what triggered me because the trigger wasn't important. In the grand scheme of thongs, the trigger was irrelevant. It didn't even cross my mind when I woke up. I didn't try to die by suicide just because of an argument or a bad day. It was years of build up. It took years of living in a suicidal mind state to get me to that place. It started with suicidal ideation; the passing thoughts of if I was to be hot by a car that it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. Then it progressed to self harming. Eventually it lead to manic states of writing suicide letters here and there, but never an attempt, not like this. I wasn't suicidal for one little thing. I was suicidal because I have a mental illness that makes me incapable to see myself in a good light. I was blinded by a biological self hatred.
Depression and mania had a hold on me for years. My life was ruled by my mental illness. I didn't want help for myself until I survived my suicide attempt. From that day on I saw myself as worthy. I respected my body and stopped harming myself. I never wanted to get that "bad" again. I never wanted to be at the page where my life seemed invaluable.
It's been 3 years since my suicide attempt. I would be lying if I said suicidal thought hasn't come to mind when my mental illness gets worst. It's scary for me to have to think like that again. It's like a reoccuring nightmare, and I'm paralyzed and don't know how to make it stop. I have found comfort in talking about it. The more I address it, the less power it has. I am fighting my inner demons by bringing awareness to them. I am battling monsters, and I'm learning that I'm stronger than them.
My suicide attempt was the loneliest, saddest, most heartbreaking day of my life. However, it was also the most eye opening. I finally found my value. Although it will always be a struggle for me, I have learned that life is too important to leave. I have found my reasons to stay; mostly, being that I'm worth it.
Monday, September 18, 2017
I’ve been putting this post off for some time now because I haven’t felt strong enough. I’m still not entirely sure I’ve got the strength, but if it takes me a few tries, I think that will be just fine. If you have bipolar disorder, sometimes you’ll feel so down that it naturally feels like you’re grieving. In my case, sometimes I am. I’m grieving the loss of who I used to be. In the last several weeks, I’ve found something truly heart-breaking to grieve about, and there’s no mistaking these emotions for anything else.
On May 10, 2017, my father passed away. I’ve said it out loud a thousand times, and it still doesn’t seem real. He went to the hospital for a stomach ache, and two weeks later, he was dead. He died at the same hospital as my mother. In his final hours, he was having trouble breathing, so there was a tube down his throat, and he was strapped to the bed. Very similar to what they did to my mom. When it got closer to the inevitable, I was sitting alongside him, and rubbing his arm, telling him how much I loved him. Suddenly, one of the nurses felt his pulse and said he couldn’t find a pulse. So, they ushered my us out, but the room had a very large picture window. I almost collapsed in the hallway as I watched my 87-year-old father receive thrust after thrust into his chest to bring him back to life. They were successful, but it was one of the most God awful things I’ve ever seen, and I’ll never forget it.
We went around the corner to the waiting room where some other family members were, and we decided to sign the paper to let him go. It wasn’t fair to him. It was his time, and as much as my heart breaks as I write this, my father is gone. After losing my mom, I knew some of what to expect, but this has been a different grieving process. Somehow, it’s become not only grieving for him but both of them. One night I suddenly came to the stark conclusion that I was an orphan. I have no parents anymore. It sucks all of the air right out of you when you come to that conclusion. There’s no fixing this situation, it just is.
I was already going through a pretty heavy duty depressive episode when my dad got sick. Suddenly, I had to find a way to clean up that mess, stuff it in a closet, and focus on the fact that I may be losing my father. Every time we opened the closet, a little more creeped out. It left me feeling completely helpless and downright selfish. I couldn’t handle even the tiniest details or tasks. It felt as is bathing and eating were things the old me did. I was a different person now. My father was all I had left in my family. I have siblings, but all of the relationships are strained at best.
We managed to pull it together to have a memorial service for him. My father had been a petty officer in the Navy, so they had the flag folding ceremony at the service. I’ll never forget it. I cried my eyes out the whole time. They gave the flag to me. I was grateful to my siblings for deciding that I could have it.
Honestly, I didn’t do a lot of thinking about my depression versus my grief. I know I flew off the handle in a flash if something didn’t go right, or I was expected to make a difficult decision. I knew I wasn’t sleeping and if I did, I had nightmares. I was chained to my bed, and nobody bothered to tell me where the key was.
Some time has passed, and I’m doing a little better. There are still things days that I cry for hours. There are still days when I see something on TV about a father dying, or if a certain song is playing, I can’t control the grief. It’s getting somewhat better, but it’s still taken over my life and my bad days far outweigh the good. I had a doctor appointment, and she was able to refer us to a therapist that works on weekends. Perfect for us. This past Saturday, I saw her. The good news is, I like her and she didn’t fall asleep while I was talking.
This is a huge step for me. Deciding to go to therapy did not come easy for me, but when it suddenly occurs to you that you aren’t even living life, you’re just existing, well, something has to give. I miss my dad; we were so alike. I am like my mom too, but on the other hand, there are some ways we couldn’t be more different, but I was Daddy’s Little Girl. He got me a necklace with a charm that said that in my early 20’s. I still cherish it to this day.
They say that you go through five stages of grief when you lose someone. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. However, not everyone follows these exact steps, and people with bipolar disorder have the potential for feeling these emotions ever deeper than the average person. (I am not saying that anyone has it easier if they aren’t bipolar, believe me) We just feel everything deeper; it’s the curse of bipolar disorder. Most people can progress through these steps naturally and begin to heal. I’ve noticed that I might go through two or three steps in one day, and then spend the entire next day in denial.
“Someone with a mental illness, specifically a mood disorder such as bipolar (or unipolar depression), may experience certain stages more intensely or much longer than average, causing triggers, which lead to an episode or bipolar symptoms. Severe depression, irritability, irrational thinking/behavior, drug/alcohol abuse, and suicidal tendencies are some common symptoms triggered by death”. – Source - http://ow.ly/VADK30cUpMU
So, when you read something like that, it doesn’t take a degree in Quantum Physics to figure out why I decided to start talk therapy. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get passed the concept that all the family I had left that to rely on are gone. My mom died in 2008, and I’ve still never gotten over that, and when you add my father’s death, I have no hope for my future ability to process grief. I’m trying to remain optimistic, as hard as that is sometimes. Father’s Day was horrific and Mother’s Day never gets any better.
I am putting zero expectations on my recovery, and I’m not allowing anyone else to either. Nobody has any right to tell you what you should or shouldn’t be doing in this instance. Thank them for their suggestion and move on. Only you can make the decision to push forward, and you will. It’s going to take time, and it doesn’t matter how much as long as you’re trying.
Remember your track record for surviving devastation is 100%.
Friday, September 1, 2017
MENtal Health – A Guy’s perspective
Rebecca and I were chatting on Twitter about mental health issues and the idea to write a guest piece for each other’s blog came up. This isn’t uncommon practice in the blogging world and I’m delighted that my first ‘guest post’ could be for someone like Rebecca. (you should check out her book by the way!)
So, what could I write that would be of value to Rebecca’s audience?
Although they share commonalities with my own readers, they may look for different content or are simply used to hearing Rebecca’s ‘voice’. Then Rebecca noted that she didn’t have much in the way of a male opinion (nor I female) on mental health in her work, and the answer was obvious; I would write a piece about being a guy living with mental illness.
So here we are! This post will look at the unique barriers that guys face when dealing with mental health issues and some of the reasons as to why these problems occur. This list will be far from extensive as I have no experience to pull on apart from my own, so please carry on the conversation in the comments we’d love to hear from you!
Why is it different?
So why do men seemingly have such a hard time dealing with mental illness? Why does the same situation posed to a male and a female mental health consumer, often create stark differences in the way that the situation is dealt with? I’m no behavioral psychologist, but to me the answer seems straightforward, gender bias.
Now before everyone gets all up in arms, hear me out …
Traditionally the way boys are raised varies than that of girls. There are different expectations of males growing up. From a young age, we’re told that ‘Boys don’t cry’ and to ‘stop being a little girl’ if we get upset or are frustrated. The older we get this expectation only intensifies, guys are expected to ‘tough it out’, ‘man up’ or ‘suck it up’ when faced with adversity rather than discussing the way they feel about a situation. As harmless as it may seem and no matter how well intentioned these comments may be (I believe most people don’t realize the negative connotation behind what they are saying) they have lasting effects on the recipient and can have serious repercussions on the way they deal with their emotions in day to day life.
Dealing with emotion
Quite frankly, we don’t deal with emotions on the most part. As a guy, we seem to be hardwired to take emotions and turn them into something else. Embarrassment becomes shame, shame becomes frustration, frustration becomes anger
The shame of having a mental illness and the perceived weakness that comes along with it is quite literally killing Men across the globe.
Failure isn't something that we are taught to deal with and is frequently admonished when guys mess something up. Failing is a direct attack on our own masculinity in some cases and again comes back to the feelings of weakness, that we try so hard to run away from.
That is why failure isn't an option for many of us. So, we ignore it and actively stuff any feelings that come from not being perfect, being wrong or less ‘manly’ than we believe we should be down into the farthest reaches of our psyche, where we don’t have to think about it anymore.
Some men, myself included, turn to other substances to mask the way we feel about ourselves. Addiction is much more prevalent in males than in females; we are twice as likely to become alcoholics and three times as likely to become addicted to illicit drugs than our female counterparts (FACT CHECK) This abuse only worsens the problem and as we are less likely to seek help than women (FACT CHECK) guys often don’t see a way out. The next step is for them to end up a statistic on a report and you can be damn sure that they won’t ‘fail’ at that too…
This tragic loss of life is largely down to the societal pressures that are imposed on men by those around them, or more often than not, by themselves.
Man up, get over it, don’t be soft, snap out of it, you’re being stupid, the list goes on…
Not worthy of help
I didn’t seek help for my depression and did my best to drink it away for a long time. I thought I was worthless, a drain on those I loved, I felt like less than nothing because I wasn’t living up to my own version of these societal standards. These pressures and the ‘box’ I built myself that I was desperately trying to fit into nearly cost me my life.
Thankfully I had good people around me that helped me through, but I was close, very close to becoming a statistic simply because I couldn’t see any other option at the time.
Men’s health is being spoken about and taken much more seriously than ever before, thanks to groups like Movember, blogs like this one and of course all the brave men and women that have shared their own stories.
Personally, I don’t think mental illness affects Men and Women differently. I think we feel the same things and share many similar experiences on our journeys, possibly more than we know. What is apparent is the differences in the way we deal with our issues.
Now don’t get me wrong I’m not saying that every guy feels and deals with mental illness in the same way, nor am I saying that every girl talks about her problems and seeks help, but generally that seems to be the way it goes.
A message to those who are struggling
So, if you are a guy reading this and struggling right now remember this for me;
Your feelings are valid and they are yours alone. No one else is feeling what you are, so they can’t understand unless you tell them. The strongest thing you can do right now is talk to those closest to you about how you are feeling. They love you and they want to help.
From one guy to another, I’ve been there It is horrible and I’m so sorry that you are feeling that way. Trust me when I say you are worth it, you are not a failure and you most certainly are not on your own.
And to everyone;
We are making progress. Breaking down the stigma walls ‘one brick at a time’ thank you for being part of that. But until we as a society address the root cause of this issue, by educating the next generation that feelings are OK and by supporting boys to be whoever they want to be, without the stereotypes of ‘what men should be’ you need to look out for the guys in your life.
If you are worried about them bring it up, no matter how uncomfortable it makes them or you feel. Odds are they aint gonna tell ya about it otherwise!
Peace and love guys, thanks for reading