Friday, March 14, 2014

Coming Out!

A friend who also suffers from depression recently told me how amazed she is that I am able to share so openly and publicly about my illnesses. Well, this is why I do it:

1. To help those suffering from mental illness feel less alone;

2. To enlighten the loved ones, friends, family, colleagues, and caregivers of those suffering about what it feels like for someone with mental illness; 

and perhaps most importantly, 

3. To normalize mental illness as the biopsychosocial disease it is.

Number 3 is particularly important because for so long those suffering from various mental illnesses (which includes addiction) have suffered in the shadows. For fear of the stigma attached to mental illness and addiction, many have gone untreated and misunderstood rather than seek professional help.

The image we often hold of the alcoholic or the addict is not a particularly nice one: brown paper bags, dirty streets and alleys, wife beaters, drunk drivers, the dissatisfied house frau drinking her woes away with a martini in the afternoon while her baby cries unattended. Ask anyone in AA why the first step is so darned difficult yet powerful to take - saying, I'm an alcoholic. 

The image conjured up by the words mentally ill is no better: straight jackets, padded rooms, Nurse Ratched...

But, having depression, anxiety disorder, substance use disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, post-partum depression, etc. is not a character defect. They are brain diseases like diabetes is a metabolic disease or asthma is a respiratory disease. 

I am not ashamed to say in public, "I have asthma and I have to carry an inhaler." Nor should I be ashamed to say, "I am an alcoholic with depression and anxiety disorder and I carry my Where and When*."  

So that is why. The more of us that come out and say in a matter-of-fact way, e.g., I am an addict or I have bipolar disorder, the more we normalize mental illness and help it to be seen for what it is, and the more we help those who need it!

*Little book of Alcoholics Anonymous that lists local meetings - places, days, and times.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Raging River

I woke up this morning with the image of a glass of garnet colored wine in my mind. I could taste it on my tongue; I could smell the earthy cork...

Then I caught myself. Even eight years into recovery, I occasionally get a reminder that the gremlin is still alive and well deep inside me, just waiting for me to slip up. Just one drop on the tongue and the ground beneath me could crumble. 

Well, relapse isn't quite that simple. It comes much earlier than the actual drink, pill, shot, or smoke. Relapse begins when we fail to attend to our recovery on a daily basis.

My recovery counselor said that we are always relapsing; and he shared a great metaphor with us: Envision a raging river leading up to a waterfall. The river is the power of our addiction; and in order to maintain recovery, we must always be rowing upstream. The moment we stop, we slip closer to the waterfall. The waterfall, however, is the act of drinking, e.g., though, and not the relapse. The relapse occurs much earlier - somewhere in the rapids. The question we must always ask ourselves is how close are we to the edge. If we are too close, we better start rowing!

What do we do to row and get further upstream? Here are some ideas:

  • Go to a meeting (AA, NA, GA, any support group)
  • Tell someone who understands and is familiar with your addiction. Heck, if you have no one, contact me!  I'd be happy to chat with you!!
  • Get that bloody 8 hours of sleep a night!!! 
  • Limit the simple sugars in your diet. Eat a protein- / complex carb-balanced diet which includes lots of vegetables and fruits.
  • Drink half your body weight (pounds) in ounces of water.
  • Exercise - especially aerobic (e.g., running, walking, Zumba, aerobics, cycling).
  • Pour yourself into a hobby.
  • Read something inspiring.
  • Laugh! Watch a comedy (preferably not Cheech and Chong's Up in Smoke...)
  • Get out into nature: Touch and feel the bark on a tree! Smell a flower! Look at the beautiful waterfalls and feel the spray on your face. Listen to the sounds of the waves crashing on the shore and the seagulls screeching above. Look up into the night sky and count the number of satellites you see. You get the picture...
  • Connect with an animal. Dogs, cats, horses, and other pets are wonderful therapists!
  • Now that I think about it, connect with your therapist; and if you don't have one, get one.

So now that I've had that dream, where am I on the river? How close am I to the falls? Which of the above am I going to do today to keep myself rowing?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

To Uncle Don

My wedding: Mom, Uncle Don, and I
June 21, 1997

Last week, my family and I mourned the loss of a beloved uncle, brother, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and friend. My Uncle Don passed away. As the pain of death washes over us and eventually recedes like the tide, we are left reveling in the love and joy of a life well lived. 

Though it could never have been long enough, he lived a great life in his 86 years on Earth. He was a quiet, gentle soul with an impish sense of humor and a warm smile that never left his face. And unlike his tightly wound niece, he weathered life's punches with humility, humor, and grace.

In the past few days, I have felt the sting of this loss, but shared in the great love and legacy that he left behind in my big, wonderful family. It is times like this too that I find myself reflecting on life's deepest questions: What is the meaning of life? What is my legacy and contribution? How can I emulate my uncle to honor his life? 

Though I don't know all the answers, I do know that I want to make Uncle Don (and all my loved ones who have gone before me) proud. I want to be my best self by rolling with the punches more and remembering to always have a smile for everyone. I want to let those who are most important to me know it by spending time together while we can. Life is short and if we are not careful, it can slip through our fingers before we know it.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Good Day Sunshine!

I have blogged before about the importance of sleep for mental health; and today, of all days during the year, I feel this need most keenly. [See Recovery step #2: sleep, damn it! (3/5/13)] 

Daylight Savings Time. Ugh!! On the surface the idea seems great; but in reality, it sucks! I know it is only a one hour difference, but that one hour kills me every time!

This morning, I sleep-drove my daughter to school in the dark again for the first time in a month. Then I came home and went back to sleep - for three hours! I overslept and was late taking my time-sensitive dose of Effexor; and I spent the rest of the day grumpy and in a fog.

So what is the alternative? Skip the Daylight Savings Time altogether? I don't know, maybe. Or...move it to a different day - a brilliant idea that's so elegantly simple it just might work!

I don't normally get "political" on this blog, for obvious reasons. But this is an exception. There is a petition that was started yesterday (see to switch the hour-change from Saturday at midnight to Friday afternoon - thus extending the daylight on an afternoon as you enter the weekend! No sleep lost or weekend cut short - just daylight gained! Think of what this would do for the restaurant and entertainment industry - a little economy boost with the extra Friday hour! Think of what this would do for your psyche!!

If this sounds good to you, I would ask that you check it out, sign the petition, and share it on Facebook, Twitter, and anywhere else you can think of to get the momentum going. We need a lot of signatures to get the White House's attention, but with your help I know we can do it. Please join me in supporting a win-win idea that will benefit all!

Here is the petition: