Why is it taboo to talk about therapy? What is the shame in our mental health? We talk about mammograms, menopause and colonoscopies without hesitation. It makes zero sense to me and that is why I do talk and about it and will talk about it.
Mental Health therapy is no different than physical therapy or occupational therapy as it gives you tools to manage through an injury, to speed up the healing and ultimately to handle it when it comes up again. I can no more diagnose nor treat the breast cancer that a mammogram may find than I can diagnose nor treat mental illness. But both can kill you. If you have symptoms in your breast we are quick to tell you to go get it checked out right away because time is of the essence. But if you have symptoms of depression we rarely tell you to run to a therapist. Instead we may offer to have lunch and take you to a movie. We may sit and listen to what is on your mind with zero ability to help you solve it. But to suggest that you “go see someone” is considered extreme. Why?
The role that a therapist plays in unraveling the knots in our head is no less a skill that any other doctor possesses in curing us from any number of diseases. They know how to get to the core of the issues and most importantly what work to do to get past the issues.
As important as it is to see a Therapist when you are sick, it is as important to see them when you are well. Again, much like your doctor, you go and get an annual exam even when you are not sick to make sure that everything is well. It is in fact now called a “Well Visit”. Seeing a therapist when you are well is as important as when you are not. The more they know about your “normal” the better they can help when you are not.
The reality is that there is no shame in talking. We talk to our families, friends, coworkers, neighbors, store clerks; for God sake we talk constantly. Why then do we have to hide when we go talk to the one person that can make something out of what we are thinking and what we are talking about. The ridiculousness of it being taboo to find meaning in our thoughts and learning techniques to manage those thoughts and control those emotions is something we have got to continue to breakthrough.
I have heard many say, when the therapy-debate arises, that they don’t need to talk to someone. It is a choice like the many we have to make in our lives and you are entitled to yours. My plight is to to take the shame and judgement away from the discussion; the discussion with a Therapist and the discussion about therapy by talking about it…it’s what we do.
Got your attention? Well they certainly have mine. The voices in my head keep me awake all night and keep me company all day. Not certifiably crazy, certifiably driven! Yes, that is right…driven. My mind is always going, always thinking, always learning, always processing 24/7. It can be exhausting at times as relaxation does not come easy but I am grateful for this monkey mind of mine as it is key to energy.
I have always had an excessive amount of energy as I was often described as “hyperactive” when I was young. I was indeed a busy girl but not more than I see in my own kids; or at least the way I recognized it. As a teenager again I think I was pretty chill but was never able to sleep-in and hated sleepovers because I was always the one up at 7a while my friends would sleep until 10a. Ugh…b-o-r-i-n-g! Outside of not needing 12 hours of sleep like most teenagers I was typical; love music, had the best BFF’s, tons of sleepovers and lots of laughter.
As an adult my mind would be my most powerful asset. The expectations have been set internally and the rules are always in flux. The pressure is real regardless of it being self-imposed. I always hold myself to a much higher expectation than anyone else could. While this seems like a good practice it can be mentally exhausting as you are always evaluating and redirecting the multitude of thoughts. I love rules and make them for myself constantly. Some call it self-discipline, and it is as long as you also exercise moderation. It is the moderation that is tough for me, “the gray”! It is all or nothing, all the time.
Multi-tasking is not a “thing” in my world. It’s hard enough keeping it all straight when I am doing one thing at a time let alone multiple tasks. I learned this early-on when attempting to talk on the phone and work on the computer. One would definitely suffer and it was typically the phone convo! Ha!! The person on the other end of the line would ask a question and I would have NO idea what the question was…busted!!!
While I do not multi-task my brain works in many directions when I am focusing on any task. For that reason I always keep a notebook on-hand or send myself an email to remind myself of what was on my mind in that moment to allow me to stay focused on the task at hand. If I am not disciplined enough to park the thought and continue driving through the initial task I will forget what I was doing and inevitably end up with 5 different windows open. Sometimes this can be quite humorous when I finish with the thing that took me off my course and realize what I was doing when my mind kidnapped my productivity!! I am also very guilty of this when surfing the web. I will go in for one simply search term and an 1.5 hrs later I came up for air realizing that I have just explored 10 sites digging deeper than thought possible on the original search.
So while I could go on and on about the voices in my head that keep me focused, take me out of focus, create rules, expectations and ultimately give every day a pass or fail…but that is neurotic. What keeps it all in check, what makes sure that I am not neurotic is “the work”. I do the work by creating timelines in my day, schedules are my jam, setting the intention for every single day, checking myself, my attitude, my energy…I do the work. Depending on the time in my life that work would be manifested through meditation, yoga, running, music, reading and all things that require my mind to quiet. This IS work! When you have a monkey brain and voices constantly driving your day the attempt to quiet the entire thing down is a task in itself, but it is possible. It is through this quietude that I find myself and clarity ensues.
My favorite question to ask Gary is, “What are you thinking about right now?” and his response is always “Nothing”. What the heck??!!??! How can you NOT be thinking about something every second of every day; including dreaming about the days events at night??? B thinks it is because Gary is in a constant state of meditation…we are going to go with that…Buddha Dad!
To write or not to write that is the question or is it? I write to relieve my brain, give my thoughts freedom and to pass along those things that I think can bring value to those around me. I am enjoying this journey and thought that today the process deserved some understanding of the intention and history behind it.
My writing started many years back with the exercise as prescribed by my then therapist, Randie, that gave me the assignment. She said that I needed to get what was wound tight in my head out. The assignment was to start writing, just write whatever was in my head and get it out on paper. Don’t correct anything, not spelling, grammar or punctuation and don’t read what I wrote…Just write. I did and it worked. Typing has always been easier than writing as I type as fast as I think and therefore my Google Docs were born. I did exactly as assigned and wrote for years. And then I started reading some of what I had written and wow. I could not believe what had come out on paper. Much like therapy so many of those thoughts that I didn’t even know I had locked inside started to come out as stories, recounts and full of emotion, EVERYTHING unfolded on those docs. I still never thought much of it until sharing a few of those entries with others and seeing their reactions. It was then that I realized that there may be more to this, more to give back, more to share, if I was willing to open these very vulnerable documents and truths about myself to the world.
There are times that I am learning that you don’t write or more importantly don’t publish. I had my first understanding of that a few weeks back when one of my loved ones was going through a tough time; a tough day and I realized that to write nothing at all, to let things lie where they were, was the right thing to do as that was my way of honoring her. I found myself feeling much the same way last night. Two mass shootings in less than 24 hours…and what in the world is “right” to publish? What could I write that wouldn’t seem callous to what had just gone on and what did I have to add to the conversation of the day. I think it’s an atrocity, I think it’s scary as hell right now and it falls somewhere in between believing there has to be more control of guns but more importantly MORE emphasis on mental health! I will leave the gun debate to those that know more than I but with regards to mental health I am going to beat that f’n drum as loud as I can and as often as I am given the soapbox because ultimately this is what is fueling these fires. So it was with that respect, to those lost and to those left to survive that I left last night unpublished. There will be many more days for me to write about all that I know, feel and believe about mental health/illness, last night wasn’t the time for it.
The more I write the more I read and the more I read the more I become fearful of what I don’t know. This creative energy has a lot more to it than I have originally invested. I decided it was time to write and I did, I decided it was time to publish and I did and now as I decide to perfect this craft I will become a student of writing but will work hard not to allow it to restrict my flow of creativity, thoughts, emotions and everything that has compelled me to write in the first place.
As stated this all started with a mental health practice of journaling/writing what was tangled up inside as a way to straighten it all out leaving room for things to resolve. The only thing that has changed is that I have found the courage to now allow those thoughts to flow out in a public forum, where you are welcome to join me in this journey. Take what serves you and leave the rest. Share what moves you or keep it close to your vest.
I have passed along this same advice to many that have confided in me about their own angst. Just write, don’t read it, don’t correct it, just write. It’s the best medicine and has opened up an entire world to me; internally through my mental health and now externally through sharing with you…my world. This is life as I see it – L.
p.s. Today we lost our sweet Smokey. She was our beloved cat who was blessed to live a very long life with us. She was 22 years old, as best we knew as we got her about a year after moving to South Florida. She disciplined our kids better than we did; swatting at them when they would simply walk by her and was my husband’s biggest fan. She loved G more than any of us and he her although he would spend years denying it. In the end, she gave us as much as we gave her, unconditional love and a sweet life. You will be missed as you are as much a part of this family as any of us. RIP Smokey Kiel –
Medication or Meditation…that is the question. Or is it?
It is astonishing to me how many people have reached out to me after posting “The Smiling Faces of Depression” and to date the “mental health” tags in my blogs have received far more views than any other subject matter. It is clear that I have hit a nerve and while I am on your nerves allow me to continue the conversation with the hopes of settling your nerves.
I have had many conversations over the years on depression and the many solutions that exist; natural and pharmaceutical. It is my belief that if we engage in this conversation with the sentiment that we are speaking on behalf of mental health as we would physical health then it would seem to me that the following statements should apply.
Depending on your level of depression you could require meditation OR medication. This is why it is important to seek the help of a professional. My first analogy is a simple one, if you had high blood pressure (HBP) you would go to the doctor who would suggest you change your diet and exercise and possibly prescribe a medication. You would likely not think twice about this advice. So why is it then when it comes to medications to solve depression we pause? That pause can do as much damage as untreated HBP as depression worsens without some form of intervention.
Should you use natural supplements? It is not my preference as I told my “tribe” during a recent girls trip when we had this debate. Every bout of depression is not the same and therefore there is not one solve when it comes to choosing a medication. It is far better to go to a professional that can determine the severity of your depression to find the chemical that can serve you best without worsening it versus experimenting with supplements.
Meditation is ALWAYS the answer regardless of the question. Meditation has many forms so finding the one that works for you is simply trial and error. I have tried many forms of meditation and ultimately what serves me well is counting my breaths, breathing deep and controlled. I prefer it because I can do it anywhere and any time. Meditation calms the mind, it clears the soul and through the practice it resolves the physical, slowing the pulse and calming the central nervous system.
Despite the debate the fact is that you need to do SOMETHING when you feel a depression coming on! Yes, that is not a typo…it is a “a depression” just like it is “a cold”; you are not depressed, you are affected by depression and can treat it and come out of it which is why we are not identifying with this condition as a characteristic versus the disease that it actually is. Not doing something about depression is where depression like any other illness can make us prisoners in our own lives. An analogy for you to consider:
When you get the sniffles you hope a cold is not coming on so you blow your nose and continue on. Then a cold sets in and you likely run to the drugstore to get some over-the-counter meds but they simply suppress the symptoms they don’t heal the infection brewing inside. Those sniffles eventually turn into bronchitis which without medication/antibiotics turns into pneumonia which without medical intervention can kill you.
When you feel sad, you acknowledge that your spirits are down but likely are not alarmed knowing that it is just a moment. When the sadness sits in for weeks at a time you start to feel worse as it is likely affecting your sleep, ability to focus and overall mood. If that long-term sadness is not addressed it can then turn into a depression which requires some form of intervention. This is a pivotal point in the journey of depression as if it is not dealt with or identified at this point where the depressed individual can be “reached” it can turn into suicidal thoughts and at that point reaching the individual suffering is far more difficult because like pneumonia when you are that deep into the disease the intervention needed is professional.
This is the conversation that we need to continue to have with each other. It is through these conversations that we can save lives. Openly discussing mental illness as easily we do HBP or any other mainstream condition is important because we acknowledge that we are more alike than different. We all want to feel like we are not alone in any journey whether it be medical, mental or social.
Back to the original question…Medication versus Meditation? To this I say BOTH! Medication is prescribed as needed to offer the body what it is deficient in and there is no shame in that especially when it can make all the difference in your life. Walking around anxiety-ridden, panicked or overwhelmed is debilitating and that a medication can solve is what I call a no-brainer! Meditation is a form of exercise for the brain, for the body and most importantly for the soul. it can be done anywhere and is as easy as breathing. There are great apps, free guided meditations on the internet and books and magazines that can offer techniques.
I conclude by applauding YOU my audience for making this conversation the top trending all month. We have to continue to have these conversations and have the courage to share that we seek therapy, take medication and meditate and these things do not make us “less than” they make us BAD ASS. My life is AMAZING because I am as serious about my mental health as I am about my physical health and that combination makes me whole, it makes me who I am. This is life as I see it. L.
Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do. – Brene Brown
Above I offer you the definition of Courage as defined by Brene Brown. Brene is a bestselling author and has studied courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She offers her insights in many mediums. She was introduced to me eight years ago when I dove head first into the yoga lifestyle. I embraced her message then and continue to now.
I share with you my notes from Brene Brown’s TED Talk “The Power of Vulnerability”:
Lean into the discomfort
Shame is the fear of disconnection
People that have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they are worthy
Courage is to tell the story of who you are with your whole-heart
Have the Compassion to be kind to yourself first and then others
Be willing to let go of who you think you should be to be who you are to connect to others
Have the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees
You know who you are when you call your friends and say I need to see a therapist
Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear but is the birthplace of creativity and love
We numb vulnerability and when we numb vulnerability we numb joy, we numb happiness
We make everything that is uncertain CERTAIN
Let ourselves be seen
Love with our whole-hearts even though there is no guarantee
Practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror
I AM ENOUGH!
When telling your story and to truly own it you have to be willing to be “excruciatingly vulnerable”. Do not apologize for who you are and most importantly who you are not. Just be you, the very best version of you.
I started my morning watching an interview on Nightline with Scott Stapp. Scott Stapp was the lead singer of Creed, a very popular group from the 90’s and best known for the song he co-wrote With Arms Wide Open. I was definitely a fan of their music, and still am. Allow me to segue for a moment to share my faves:
My Sacrifice – the first two verses are so freeing…
Hello my friend we meet again It’s been a while, where should we begin Feels like forever Within my heart are memories Of perfect love that you gave to me Oh, I remember
When you are with me, I’m free I’m careless, I believe Above all the others we’ll fly This brings tears to my eyes My sacrifice
My Own Prison – this song served me in my long fight through weight loss feeling like a prisoner in a body that I knew was not representative of the soul living inside. “I’ve created my own prison” they lyrics recite.
MY ABSOLUTE FAVE is One Last Breath –
Hold me now I’m six feet from the edge and I’m thinking Maybe six feet Ain’t so far down
I’m looking down now that it’s over Reflecting on all of my mistakes I thought I found the road to somewhere Somewhere in His grace I cried out heaven save me But I’m down to one last breath And with it let me say Let me say
Hold me now I’m six feet from the edge and I’m thinking Maybe six feet Ain’t so far down
YES all are perfect lyrics to bring us back to what was inspiring about Scott’s interview this morning. As someone who knows what it feels like to be “six feet from the edge and thinking maybe six feet isn’t so far down…” and also someone who said to her surgeon recently when they warned the risks of anesthesia that “I win either way; I am going to wake up with Gary or my Mom by my side…what is the risk?” the topic of mental illness/health is always one close to my heart, mind and soul and will continuously be thematic throughout my blog.
In 2014 Scott Stapp hit rock-bottom, posting disturbing videos and making paranoid 911 calls that were released to the public. He blames a mixture of alcohol and prescribed meds for the psychotic episode. He notes that his trauma goes back to childhood. Damn. Why is childhood such a traumatic event for so many. (I wonder what trauma my kids will claim?)
“The Space Between the Shadows” is his new album coming out next week. Getting much acclaim already is a song that he wrote Gone Too Soon as a tribute to his friends Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington who both committed suicide two years ago.
Scott Stapp notes in the interview “i don’t know that there is much that could have gotten through to me…because I was not in sound mind”. This is a testament to how dysfunctionally-private mental illness is; it builds a wall around its victim not allowing them to see OUT and rarely allowing those close to them to see IN; unless really paying attention and hopefully before it’s too late. This is why it is so important to be in touch with your own mental health and have a tribe around you that you can call, ones you can trust, ones that get it and that get you. But that is only a “thing” if you are fearless in calling it out.
A recent TED Talk from Eleanor Longden noted, as she was going through the throws of mental illness, that “someone died in that place and yet someone else was saved…a broken and haunted person started that journey but the person that emerged was a survivor”. You see not every story of depression ends in tragedy. Many come to know the process, the journey, to be worth the benefit of seeing it through. She, through her TED Talk, and Scott Stapp, through his music, are giving back to a community by “sharing the burden for someone suffering and holding the hope for their recovery”.
Eleanor goes on to note that “many people have harmed me in my life and I remember them all but they pale in comparison to those that saved me and helped me save myself. When you are aware of it you can do something positive about it for you cannot oppress the people that are not afraid anymore”. #Word
Another notable TED Talk with Elyn Saks notes that “everyone becomes psychotic in his or her own way” (Just ask my kids…Saturday CHORE mornings at the Kiel house will likely be what they will site to their therapists as TRAUMA!). Elyn goes on to note that “my head was too full of noise”. How many of us can identify with this in some form? My favorite quote from her talk is…
The humanity we all share is more important than the mental illness we may not #Preach!
We all have a responsibility to continue to acknowledge Mental Health regardless of our infliction or not. “For those that deny the experience are the most enslaved by what they have (or don’t). While you hide from it, it grows.” – Andrew Solomon
I conclude with lyrics from yet another favorite Creed song “What if”…
I know I can’t hold the hate inside my mind ’cause what consumes your thoughts controls your life
So I’ll just ask a question A lonely simple question I’ll just ask one question
What if What if What if
You decide the “What If…”, what if you got the help you need today, what if you didn’t, what if you got better, what if you got worse? You decide…I did and my “What if”…well let’s just say I do the work and the work does me well.
So as I was driving to work today and I was thinking of what I would be blogging about tonight and I knew tonight would be the night that I shared yet another personal experience in this life; my experience with depression. In that same moment, I had a thought that the face of depression has a smile, a twinkle in an eye and an infectious laugh. Ironically, I get to work and as we are reviewing our companies social media pages I see this meme posted by my Aunt Susie. Talk about the universe, parallel energies, synergy; whatever the heck you call it I was floored and KNEW this would be the subject of tonight’s blog.
Yes, these are indeed the faces of depression. This is reality, a terrifying reality but it was as real for them as it now is for their loved ones left wondering what they could have done, what they missed and the ever-longing cry of WHY!!!! I hope tonight’s blog can shed light on depression for the sake of your understanding or empathy for those around you that suffer. I have too often heard, “I don’t know how anyone could kill themselves” and to that my friend I say “consider yourself lucky”. Ignorance is indeed bliss however before putting your head in the sand consider my stance, my experience, my transparency…I put this out there to promote understanding and acceptance and hope you will read WIDE OPEN.
I believe in mental health as an active practice to stave away mental illness. Mental health is as important as physical health and while more accepted today it continues to be a stigma in our society. You would no sooner tell someone struggling with high-blood pressure to ” get over it” then why would we suggest the same to someone who is experiencing a depression. (Yes “a depression” because we ARE not depression; just as we ARE not our elbows. It’s a state that we are passing through.)
There are many roads we can go down on this topic so let’s start down one lane and see where we run into a few guardrails, cross solid lines and fly through tolls before finally exiting this highway…just for today. Yes JUST for today because this is a subject I will continue to blog about as I have a responsibility to all of those that believe in mental health as much as those that do not to help explain the curse of feeling sheer desperation, anguish and exhaustion from this life.
I came to know depression as a 20-something. I may have known it earlier in my life but it did not have a name until my boss (and friend) inquired as she could see I was in pain. She asked me “Does it feel like you are standing in front of a window that you cannot see out of?”. “YES! it does” I replied. “How did you know?” I asked. She then told me the story of her sister’s depression and in that moment I felt understood. She knew exactly how I felt, she described the despair, the helplessness to a tee. “But what do I do now?” She helped me get an appointment and there began my initial introduction to Mental Health.
This first bout of depression would be a hell of a ride. I have never been to a therapist and found it CRAZY that she could ask questions that made me say things I didn’t even know I was thinking!!! WTH? But the thoughts, stories, feelings were true, they were real, they were simply so deep inside I could not reach them to deal with them on my own. After weeks, maybe months, of therapy I felt unwound, understood by both my therapist and MYSELF. Yes, I understood myself better and had amazing realizations about who I was and would become.
The next bout of depression would show itself in my 30’s. I was struggling with my weight and despite hundreds of diets and thousands of hours spent in the gym I was not winning the war with the scale. This time I went to the therapist to help me uncover what was eating me inside out while I was eating everything in sight. This was a larger revelation than I was prepared for; I didn’t know it then. I found a therapist that kept it very real. She was a Jewish New Yorker who reminded me of my mother but absolutely was not buying my “shit”. I loved the process, I needed to be called out for my excuses, the lies I was telling myself, it was time to get real. She and I started digging and digging until the issues started rising to the surface. It was too much, I couldn’t bear it, I ran scared and I didn’t go back for two years!
When I returned to that therapist ready to finish what we started, she told me that she always knew I would return on my own terms because you cannot pull all of that shit out and think you are going shove it back in…it never goes back in once it’s out. So we finished the work, she took me to the edges of my courage and got me to deal with the realities of my life that I had never dealt. it was truly doing the work, dealing with these issues that ultimately allowed me to now get to work on the “easy” stuff…but not until I confronted my past. Ugh…the joy!
I emerged from this experience dazed and confused. She told me I would feel a weight lifting off of me as soon as I confronted these realities. For the next year I would continue to question when that weight was going to lift because I felt no different, had I done it wrong? No, I had not…it just took longer than the act of confronting my realities for my subconscious to release the burden.
My last visit to the dark side of depression came after a bout with kidney failure which would prove to be the last ailment I would face before finally taking control of my weight. I couldn’t do it anymore. I remember telling Gary “I’m done”! I was at the end of the rope, the bottom of the barrel, I had finally hit the proverbial bottom and it was time to act. This time didn’t send me too far down the “rabbit hole”. The blessing this time was that I knew what was causing my despair and I not only knew exactly what do but had done the work all along and was easily able to act. I had the tools, every single one of them…well except for the one that would offer the final resolve…my decision to have gastric bypass.
The process of preparing for bypass is a scary journey because not only do you have to get cleared by a number of doctors to prove that you can physically withstand the surgery but you have to pass a Psych eval! Holy Shizzle…now that is SCARY! I met with the Psychologist who immediately questioned my intentions…WTH I don’t want to date your son, I just want to lose 100+ pounds! Ha! I then was taken to a desk where I had to complete a 100+ question exam that I guess would tell them if I was “bat shit crazy” or sane enough to be skinny. Double Ha! I have to admit I was nervous about the test, and worse waiting for the call that I had “passed”. I wasn’t as scared about my cardiac clearance as this psych clearance. I was cleared and so were 140 pounds from my 5’3″ frame. 🙂
The experience of going through depression is that you learn what it feels like before it gets to far, you know what to do about it and you ultimately can control the extent of it. Much like a flu that you feel coming on. The first time you get the flu you don’t know what to expect when it comes, nor how to deal with it, when it has set-in you are left at the mercy of that strain of flu. So it goes, the next time you feel the flu coming on you get to the doctor immediately to get a Tamiflu shot to reduce the symptoms and shorten the duration. Depression is much the same. Depression does not always feel exactly as it did before however when you are paying attention, which when practicing mental health you do, you can get in front of it and while you will inevitably walk through it, if caught and treated early enough the walk will be brief.
Let us return to the those bright and smiling faces at the top of the blog. Those smiling faces were in pain, they were at their bottom, they were beyond reach and while we will never know if this was their first bout or their tenth ultimately they chose a “long term solution to a short term problem” or so a therapist would recite. Those around them may have never known that they were mentally ill as mental illness does not show itself in the form of an infection that we can see but it as painful and as gut-wrenching as any physical pain you will ever know. It is a lonely disease, it is an isolating sickness and it can overwhelm the heart and soul with a profound deafening and blinding thud.
I say to you that if you have never experienced depression be grateful and to you I hope that I have offered a bit of insight that will allow you a greater and more accepting understanding of a disease affecting many.
I say to those of you that have experienced depression, you are not alone. I know you, I am you, I feel you and I will walk with you.
This is life as I see it through my experiences that have formed my beliefs and ultimately shaped who I am. This is me – L.