Mental Illness is not Contagious

It was my second day in the mental hospital. I had anticipated being exhausted, isolated, scared. Instead, I woke up refreshed at 6:00 AM, even without an alarm. It was mostly because they had given me a sleeping pill the night before. I had agreed largely because I was slightly panicked about having a roommate in the mental hospital. I mean, what if they were really off their rocker and strangled me in my sleep? Additionally, the doors didn’t lock. 

(The irony of fearing death via murder was not lost on me. How was it that I was cool offing myself, but if someone else tried? Well, hell no!)

I took a shower that morning. Breakfast wasn’t for another two hours. Again, no lock on the bathroom door was sort of a turn off. Showering at 6:00 AM before anyone else was awake seemed like the ideal situation. I didn’t want any weirdos walking in on me naked!

 I walked down the hallway afterwards and smiled at the nurses sitting around a single computer. They looked up at me and stared. I tried to think of something to say. I turned to my mom status for a rescue comment.

“I’m used to waking up early and getting the kids ready for school.” I said, shrugging. 

In retrospect, it must have seemed super odd to them that I woke up so early, showered, got dressed. Aren’t depressed people sluggish and struggling to handle the day-to-day of life? Sometimes. Trust me, I have been sluggish and I have not showered for at least 10 days, multiple times in a row. 

Later that day, I sat with a psychiatrist. He quizzed me about symptoms and thoughts. I replied with one word answers. Then, he said I had atypical depression. I think I sniggered. Of course, my mental illness would be “atypical”. Figures. I added this to the growing list of things that made me odd or a black sheep. 

After that I went to a group session in which they compared mental illness to diabetes. If you had diabetes, then would you just stop taking your medicine when you felt good? No, you would check your blood sugar and keep track of yourself. This was how we should treat mental illness – as a health condition. 

At the time, this really helped me to accept what was happening to me, as well as take my treatment seriously. 

I made friends while I was there. For the most part, I stopped worrying about being murdered in my sleep or raped in the bathroom. They were good people, experiencing things like me. I could see the ways in which they were unhealthy, just as they could see the way that I was unhealthy. We even talked about first impressions of each other. People said they thought I worked there for the first 24 hours, because I had regular clothes on. I said I had a really good husband who brought me clothes and books. 

On my third day, the mood on the floor shifted drastically. It was visitor’s day, which only happened once a week. Many of my new friends had been there for almost a week or more than a week. Basically, every one was super high strung and anxious – myself included. I would be so happy to see my husband, but I would also be seeing my parents. You know, because they love me and wouldn’t miss an opportunity to see me – hospital or no hospital. 

Except seeing my parents…in the mental hospital….it made things real. I had a problem. I had a condition. I would be handled with care. 

The truth is, sometimes, the people who love us the most can’t help us. If they could, then they would have done it long ago. Both parties hurt, because both parties know. 

“This isn’t something I can fix. I don’t know what to do.” We all say to ourselves. 

Leaving the hospital, I was determined to treat my mental illness as a health problem. I quit caffeine, forced myself to exercise, shower and do the things that “helped” depression. For the next week, I was a task master driving myself through slavery. Then, my therapist drew my attention to something. 

 I frequently said, “It does no good to dwell on things. You just have to keep going.” I stared at him, clueless. Then, he said, “Generally, when people wake up with thoughts of harming themselves, then their day doesn’t proceed as normal.”

Huh? Umm….things still have to get done. I wasn’t sure what he meant

It took a really. really long time for me to realize that I could cut myself some slack. First, I had to actually open up to people and tell them what was behind my smile. Then, I had to sit with what I told them, because I had acknowledged it existed. Suddenly, I wasn’t the girl waking up at 6:00 AM, getting a shower and going on with the day. I was the girl lying in bed, crying and feeling so many, many things. 

About nine months later, I quit everything I had been doing for the last two years – every obligation, every responsibility. I left it all behind (except for being a wife and a mom). We even moved to a different city. Everything started over.

 This is when I finally started to feel free. I was still depressed. I was even more anxious. Yet, I felt free.

 You see, I had a lot of loved ones and friends. People, good people, cared about my family and I. Loving, kind, generous people. We all sat in a room awkwardly with each other, just like the night my parents visited me in the mental hospital. Except, this time it wasn’t just a room – it was our lives. My mental illness wasn’t something they could fix. They didn’t know what to do.

And I didn’t know what to do either.

Sadly, people largely don’t know how to respond to mental illness. I wish they wouldn’t call it mental illness. I wish I wasn’t referred to as the mentally ill.

I’m just Ash.

If people could just respond to me as Ash, then this wouldn’t be so hard.

 There is so much stigma around mental illness, that I’ve come to hate the word stigma itself. People have said to me, “Thanks for being vulnerable. Thanks for ending the stigma!” and even “I don’t know how you are so honest.” I can tell you how I have done it. I’ve come to know my truth.

I cannot live any other way.

I must be honest. I must be vulnerable or I will break again. Their is elasticity in vulnerability. It allows me to come back from the falls.

The Vulnerable, Mentally Ill Person Wants to Say This…

Ending the stigma of mental illness shouldn’t be the burden of the mentally ill. Social justice and responsibility mean speaking up for the speechless. Unfortunately, this has never once been the way the of the world. I learned it first with autism and the church. Evan was almost four before anyone addressed his autism at church. The church that addressed it was one of the best ones, but we had sought them. We had come to their church because he had autism.

I learned then that I would always be the one advocating for our family as a special needs family. No one else would do it for me. Now, I know this to be true for mental illness. No one else will advocate for me and my dear friends. They will pretend not to see me so I must make myself visible, even at times a spectacle.

I am willing.

It isn’t fair. It will never be fair. Do I fear that one day I may take my life and make all of these words null? Yes, yes, I do. Do I fear how my words will reflect and affect my children? Yes, yes, I do.

But I fear far more what saying nothing will do to the world and what it will do to me.

For this reason, I cannot keep silent.

I am an abolitionist of stigma. And I wish to find a new name for the mentally ill.

Candidly,

Ash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A New Type of Revolution

Sunday, I was at Target entirely as a means to be out of the house. We needed absolutely nothing. Sharing a car with my husband has given me serious cabin fever.  If I get a chance to leave and spread my wings, then I better go – somewhere, anywhere.

My latest Target finds were two $3 square wood plaques, painted in spring colors. The first says, “Every day is a fresh start.” And the second says, “Wash your worries away.” When I saw them and their price tag, Oprah boomed over the load speaker, cheering, “She FOOOUUUUND IT!”

Not really.

It felt so good to find those little items. Target is like that. When you walk in the door, you can feel the gods of peace and tranquility descend, as you grab a cart simply to lean on while you walk. I mean, rarely do I actually need a cart at Target, but I always get one. It’s what you do to prepare for “The Item” or “The Items”.

“The Item” is the thing you have been looking for your entire life. You have never ACTUALLY seen it before, but you know that somewhere, out there a fairy godmother is blinking it into existence. Think “I Dream of Jeannie” with crossed arms, a precise head nod and full wink. Sometimes, if you are very lucky, Jeannie creates a SET of “The Items”. If this happens, then you will invariably stand in the checkout line with guilt. I mean, finding “The Items”? Your girlfriends will for sure be jealous. Your husband? Anxiously moving money around in the budget.

I cannot tell you how many times “The Item” has been a water bottle. I don’t know how Target does it, but their selection of water bottles is a verifiable phylum in the animal kingdom, of which there are innumerable species. I swear to god, they discover a new one each week and every damn time I think, “This is it!!! I’m going to drink 64 ounces everyday for the REST of my life! I’ll be like the Jillian Michaels of water drinking!!!”

Except the next time I go into Target, I can almost guarantee that I will be dehydrated from the steady caffeine drip that is my Mountain Dew.

Why the Target Rally Cry?

I don’t know how many memes I have seen about moms in Target, but it’s a lot. In fact, as a socially awkward mom, I find that talking about Target is a sure fire way to make a friend. I mean, in the rare event that that they hate Target (I’ve never actually come across one of those moms), then what would you talk about? Aldi? Whole Foods? Costco?

I think there is more too it than just shopping. I think there is more to it than buying things for ourselves – more than finding “the item”.

I think moms are desperate for self-care.

Independence, alone-time, pursuing an interest, buying something for yourself without hearing about the 87 things your child saw that they wanted – these are things we don’t get very much. I don’t think people talk about the hidden burdens of parenting enough. Sure, we complain about poopy diapers, messy kids who refuse to do chores and squabbling siblings. Those aren’t the real, draining factors. They are just tips of the iceberg. Underneath, lies a hidden, colossal anchor.

Someone is dependent on you.

You are responsible for someone. Just existing in that context is weighty.

I have had days when I just needed to exist. I did the bare minimum for myself and for them. I have had days when I closed the bathroom door to go potty (do people still say restroom? Huh. I guess that word isn’t in my repertoire anymore), as I listened to the small being wail and thrash against the door. How dare I tinkle for 30 seconds by myself!

The worst part for me (I’m sure not everyone feels this way), is that I feel guilty for that 30 second tinkle.

Which is fucking ridiculous.

Then, there is the matter of pursuing interests. People talk about how you forget to connect with your partner when you have children. Then, suddenly, one day you have an empty nest and you are fumbling your fingers, looking to the other person like they are a stranger! But the real problem isn’t that you don’t recognize the person across from you. The real problem is that your don’t recognize yourself. Who is that looking at me in the mirror?

It’s the caring for children and ignoring the care of ourselves that leaves us unhappy. We are desperate to fit one more thing into Suzy’s schedule so that she can grow up, hopefully get a scholarship and live a full life. While the entire time, we fail to live our own full lives. And what kind of example is this to our children? This failing to live full lives, it only teaches them to do the same when their own little angels arrive.

A New Kind of Revolution

In Target, by myself, I can walk up and down the bedding aisle 87 times and find every endcap clearance shelving in the store, without a child begging for toys or a Vanilla Bean Frappuccino at Starbucks. I can fulfill my wants and desires for the hour and a half that I roam the store and emerge a human once again.

THAT is why the Target craze exists.

But what if, nobody freak out now, we liked being in our homes just as much? Now, there is an idea that could change the world. There is an idea worth fighting for.

But also, I just need to run to Target and pick up a few things to make this home more enjoyable… Shop on, sisters!

Candidly,

Ash

 

5 Tips for Introverted Mommies

I didn’t realize that I was an introvert until I was 30 years old and in therapy. Suddenly, I realized why I felt depleted all of the time – my house is full of people! People who walk in the bathroom while I’m pooping, need a drink/snack/tissue every time I move to clean and who play music/video games/tv loudly when I’m trying to read by the fireplace.

Basically, motherhood is hell for introverts. In fact, I think the more introverted you are, then the more motherhood will exhaust you. I don’t, however, think you need to be miserable. Here are my 10 tips to keep your sanity, recharge and unwind.

  1. Create routine family outings. Plan it. Stick to it. Do it. As an introvert, I find that I often make wishy-washy family fun plans and then cancel them or get mad when they don’t go well. Truthfully, if I could sit in silence with my family, everyone reading books, then I would. But, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, children want your attention. Setting a time in your weekly agenda that is specifically for your children and family is important. Knowing the exact details of it will help you to follow through and plan for a time to recharge afterwards.
  2. Quiet car rides. My children sound like a marching band played by zoo animals when we are in the car. It drives me insane. So when I go somewhere by myself, I enforce a no music or radio policy. Now, I do break this rule every now and then. Like on Black Friday when I need all the energy I can possibly muster to arm wrestle a Hatchimal from a grandma. Then, I listen to music. Death metal specifically. Regardless, if there is something you used to enjoy (for me its driving), but now seems like the children have stolen it from you. Relish it when they aren’t around.
  3. Speak up. Extroverts can’t read your mind. For a long time, I would do all of my reading, writing and general existing in my room, because my husband’s video games took the general raucous of family living to catastrophic levels. I’m not sure why it took me ten years to realize that I was hiding in my room, because I hated video game music…but once I finally did, I spoke up and told him to wear his headphones. Hello, peaceful medium.
  4. Establish me time. Most evenings from 6:30-7:00 pm, I disappear. My husband knows that he needs to keep the routine going for the kids. And I go take a bath. All by my sweet lonesome. Another great idea is to wake early and read or do your thing without people bustling around the house. I simply require 8 hours to wake up so this doesn’t work so well for me.
  5. Share experiences instead of barking commands. Yelling interactions will deplete you much faster than conversations. When I graduated from my 6 week therapy program, my house was revolutionized. I had spent each Thursday afternoon while in the program working on assertiveness training. I don’t know if you know this, but its extremely applicable to parenting. The first time I used it my kids were fighting over a stuffed Olaf from Frozen. I looked up and said, “I’m trying to read this article can you please work this out in a quieter way.” They both immediately jabbered out their defenses viewing me as the ultimate mediator and final authority. Once they were done talking, I said, “I’m trying to read this article and I feel upset that I’m being interupted. Can you go to another room and talk to each other about this?” They looked at me with wide eyes and slowly wandered off into the kitchen. I never heard anything about Olaf or the quest for ownership again. I think that adults sometimes forget that kids understand feelings. If you begin with an “I” statement about what you are feeling or doing, then they are more likely to see your point of view. I.e. you get what you want. Sometimes.