This is What Mental Illness Looks Like

This is what mental illness looks like:

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Me and my son Xander

I am not ashamed. I have Bipolar disorder (or depression depending on which of my many psychiatrists you ask.) My disorder is not a secret. I don’t hide it from friends and family, but neither do I broadcast it.

That doesn’t mean I’m ashamed. Someone with a physical disorder would not be expected to go around broadcasting it (or judged if they did in most cases.) But there is a stigma against mental illness, and I’ve been advised that being too vocal about my disorder will drive people away (both professionally and personally.) And I read advice on keeping a professional face online, especially if you are using the platforms to promote yourself. After all talking about negative feelings drives people away.

This is why I’ve remained mostly silent on the issue when it comes to social media. I figured if speaking would harm me, why do it? It’s not like my words on the subject are expert or my stories earthshattering.

Nor is it all just what I’ve been told—I’ve lost friends both in online form and in personal form because they got fed up with dealing with my issues. Long absences drive people away too…and since I can’t cope when I’m hurting, I have to disappear. When I can barely keep myself going I don’t have the energy to maintain social relations. I couldn’t speak when I am depressed even if I wanted to. That is why I’ve remained silent for so long.

I have not been silent because I’m ashamed.

But now, I feel a need to speak out. Even if my words won’t change anyone’s life. Even if only a few people ever see them…the problem I’m seeing more and more is that when those of us coping with mental illness remain silent, it makes us look ashamed. And it keeps the face of mental illness looking desperate and unsolvable.

Maybe my words won’t do any good but my silence is doing harm.

This is what mental illness looks like:

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So is this:

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And this:

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The worst part for me of discussing my mental illness in the past is that many people feel the need to foist their anti-medication beliefs on me. I’m told I don’t really have a mental illness—it’s over diagnosed. Or I’m told I don’t really need meds that if I exercised and slept regularly I’d be fine.

Let me address these statements.

First: You don’t really have a mental illness.

I am a functioning member of society—yes. It’s true. But that is because I take my meds and because I have a loving and supportive family and a husband who helps prop me up when I start to slip. Who bears with me through months of weeping and barely getting out of bed when a medication stops working or I have to switch meds. They never, ever tell me I need to try and suffer through without meds. I am privileged to have this—my life could have gone very differently.

I don’t need to prove I’m sick to the people I meet—in fact, I don’t want to because that means the disease has taken over.

And sometimes it does take over—even when I’m on meds.

One night, probably eight years ago, my now husband, then boyfriend, Aaron and I had a fight. He stormed out of the house.

Now, this sort of event upsetting for anyone. But I’ve seen people deal with fights and be fine. I can’t compartmentalize those feelings. I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I breathe shame and self-hatred along with air. I hate myself so deeply and so much that the idea of someone else hating me seems to confirm how much space and energy my very existence is wasting. Even when online correspondents have gotten upset at me, I often lose sleep and am a ball of self-loathing for days. It’s worse when it’s someone I love.

No there is no physical pain—but that mental anguish can be just as unbearable. It’s torture hating yourself that much—every inch of your body feels offensive. The only relief would be oblivion, to curl into yourself and stop having to exist.

Now, that night, when Aaron stormed out over some fight I don’t even remember now, I had a full bottle of pills in the house. They were meant to calm my anxiety, to help me back down from those emotions I couldn’t escape. I took one. I took two. And every second waiting for them to DO SOMETHING was excruciating. I didn’t want to die—I just couldn’t endure being me. I wanted to sleep and hoped when I woke things would be better.

I took a handful of pills.

I wasn’t trying to die, I was trying to make the hurting stop—to get out from under that weight.

Then the world went fuzzy. I got scared. I tried to puke the pills up but couldn’t. Plus, I couldn’t get my limbs to work properly. I managed to stumble from the bathroom to the living room couch.

Aaron came home. I don’t know what would have happened if he didn’t. I tried to pretend I was fine—I just needed to sleep. I didn’t want to admit what I’d done and have him hate me. I tried to walk to bed. But it turns out, my legs forgot how to work and I kept slipping in and out of consciousness.

I found myself laying on the floor under the breakfast bar. I couldn’t stand up. I remember saying again and again that I was okay, that I just needed to go to bed.

Aaron called an ambulance.

I recall insisting to the paramedics that I could walk, but since I couldn’t even stand they didn’t believe me. I don’t remember arriving at the hospital. What I do remember is the doctor heavily implying I’d tried to kill myself and telling me that my blood pressure was so low that if he hadn’t been standing in front of me he would’ve thought I died.

That scared me.

He didn’t say I almost died. I don’t know if I did. I probably would have been fine if I’d fallen asleep on the couch.

But maybe not.

I’m not proud of that night, or what I put Aaron through. No one should have to experience what he did—that fear. Since then I have looked up every medication I have to be sure that even if I downed the whole bottle it wouldn’t kill me (the lithium wouldn’t be good for me at all), just to be sure that even if I slipped, I wouldn’t put him through that.

Don’t tell me what I do or don’t suffer from. If you don’t see me as sick, that means my regime of pills is working.

 

Second: Exercise and regular sleep are better cures than pills.

I have been depressed since I was four.

In kindergarten, I had such trouble socializing with the other children that I had no friends at all. One day we had to take pictures and our teacher had us pair up. No one wanted a picture with me. I cried at the back of the line and the teacher had to force someone to stand next to me.

I played at recess by myself, talking to blades of grass who were the closest to friends I had.

When I look back at elementary it brings up a deep horror.

My parents tried everything they knew of—they saw there was a problem but had no idea that a child my age could be depressed. They tried to force me to go outside and play with the neighborhood kids and I tried, but every interaction was excruciating as I judged and insulted my every word, breath, and motion. My parents struggled with me, hurting when I hurt, but having no solution in sight.

At twelve I tried to kill myself. I swallowed a bunch of nightshade berries.

My parents found me a psychiatrist. She diagnosed me with depression (the bipolar diagnosis came later after years of me outgrowing medications that never fully worked.) She put me on Zoloft.

My world changed. Suddenly it didn’t always hurt to be in my skin. I could even enjoy social interactions sometimes (though I remained painfully reticent and easily spooked).

Let me tell you, exercise and sleep wasn’t the issue. You think that at four, at five, at twelve I didn’t exercise enough or that my parents didn’t give my regular sleep hours? Sure those things can be supplements to help keep someone stable, but don’t ever tell someone they don’t need meds unless you actually understand why they have them.

This is what mental illness looks like:

Family Jesse Sprague

It’s easy to picture only those who have failed to function within society as what mental illness looks like. But that is doing everyone with mental illnesses a disservice. Because even those people who couldn’t make it, that beggar on the street corner talking to himself, for instance, shouldn’t be seen as lost causes. If you only consider the failures you miss the point that mental illness may be a life sentence but it isn’t a death sentence.

The fact I’m not homeless or drug addicted, or dead in a ditch is not proof I’m not ill. It’s proof that if we support and understand those with mental illnesses, it’s just as survivable as any impairment.

I easily could have ended up on a street corner. I didn’t because my family never told me my mental illness was my fault or something to be ashamed of. I didn’t because when my boyfriend found me overdosed on pills he didn’t leave me, he insisted I get counseling. I didn’t because that first time I tried to kill myself, my parents immediately got me help, and listened to what the experts said.

Not everyone has this support. I’d love to think that those people who don’t have the perks I had, live in a world where they can open up and get assistance and support. But that isn’t the world we live in. Instead, we’re told not to post our offensive sadness on social media. And as long as that is true, I’m affraid mental illness’ uglier face will always be more visible.

Please, be kind and understanding. When those people do open up to you…don’t turn away. Everyone needs strength, and we can’t always carry our own weight.

Mental illness can look like anyone.

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NEWS! Giveaway, Anthology and Parties

August is shaping up to be a busy month for me. On a personal level, I get to go back to school shopping for the first time, try to get the kiddo to his next day camp, and try to get him to see his grandmother before summer is over. But no one wants to hear about that!

So on to news on the writing front.

First…I have a new anthology that came out today (well as it is an anthology it isn’t really mine, but I have a killer story in it ;p ) Undeath By Chocolate is a project some fellow Wattpad authors and I have been working on for a while. As soon as the editor (the lovely and talented Steven R. Brant) pitched the idea to me I fell in love. And I wrote my story immediately—it’s a Snow White retelling of sorts, but also the struggle of a young woman to regain her faith in love after an encounter with a witch in her youth.Undeath By Chocolate

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B074FWCQ2L

Blurb: Have you ever met a necromancer with dreams of being a mariachi player? Have you ever mixed a potion with dragonfly tears, or made a deadly wish on a cake and had it come true? Did you ever visit a voodoo shop that only opens after midnight or kissed a corpse to life? Come and join ten specially selected authors for a sweet combination of paranormal and horror stories–tales which have both the undead and chocolate as their special ingredients.

 

Now on to my other August news. As I’ve mentioned before August is proud home of the Wattpad Block Party Summer Edition, and I’m one of the featured authors. So what’s new? Well, it has started and the posts even just of the first day are amazing. There’s even a great one on genre hopping.112942839-176-k490197

My article on Dialogue will be going live on August 4th (Friday) and I encourage people to check it out… because I think I’m brilliant. I’m mostly joking ;p

https://www.wattpad.com/story/112942839-wattpad-block-party-summer-edition-iii-august-2017

But there is more! More you ask? Yes. More. Cheers!

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There are a slough of giveaways that go along with the Blockparty.

For a full list visit: https://goo.gl/2x2anC

For my giveaway of a chapter critique you can go directly to the rafflecopter page: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/27854a79389

Halloweeeeeen is coming

Suddenly life got insanely busy 🙂

Over the past few weeks, I finally figured out where to go with the sequel to my novel and finished the first draft. On the opposite side, I got a few of my short stories in condition to start sending out and *crossed fingers* maybe not only get rejections. My son started preschool throwing off my entire schedule. I’ve also been working on a few Halloween shorts including one for an awesome collection on Wattpad- https://www.wattpad.com/story/8256175-thirteen-days-of-halloween

My story for the collection will be posting on October 20th 🙂 And the rest of the lineup is amazing.

Also my fifth wedding anniversary (and 10th year together) with my husband is coming up. In honor of that, my story for the Halloween collection is based in part on our zombie wedding costumes (this is what happens when you get married on Halloween!)

horror wedding Jesse spraguedress Jesse Sprague zombie bride

The Lost Path, Found

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to give up. As an author, as a girlfriend, as a student, as an employee…it’s the same urge. Just bone-aching tiredness inside and knowing that I’ll never get to what I want. Even if I got there, the goal would move and leave me grasping.

I’ve had enough nights lying awake regretting something stupid I said or did to last me until eternity. And sometimes, I have given up. I want to write down a particular moment in my life this week. I don’t know if anyone will read, but it means so much to me that I feel like I have to get it down.

After graduating college, getting a job…all that junk. I finished my first series of novels. Sent them out. Got turned down. Gave up. I didn’t have the time, energy or hope to succeed. So I let it go. And as the years went by I wrote a bit here or there but it was only because I couldn’t ‘not write.’ I didn’t finish anything and I never tried to get published or show my work to anyone.

My mom kept pushing for me to keep trying. My husband never pushed, but he always encouraged, even a whisper of that dream. My dad would ask every time I talked to her “You writing anything.” But I wasn’t.

Then my mom, god bless her heart, apparently decided she was going to take things into her own hands. She contacted a man she knew at church who happened to be a published author and own a small publishing house. She asked him to talk to me.

That is how I met Nathan Everett. We talked about nothing in particular, my goals, my writing, all those things I thought I had buried. He asked me to send him some of my writing to look at and we set up a coffee date to talk. So I sent him my novella Shopkeeper.

When I met up with him, mind you this was only to talk, I had not sent him something to be published, just so he could see what I wrote. He sat me down, told me how much he loved it. Said that he wanted to publish the piece. He said that if I needed he would pay all the costs. That he’d only ever offered this to one other client, but he thought this little story of mine should be seen.

Well, things didn’t work out that way, but I will be forever thankful to him for that moment.

Sheesh, I’m crying again thinking about it, and I cried then. After giving up on myself. Completely. Admitting–this won’t happen. This can’t happen and dreaming about it hurts too much. After living that emptiness for so long, to have someone (who wasn’t family…was in fact, part of the industry) believe in me just broke down all those walls.

And I remembered how badly I wanted this. I remembered how alive I felt when I wrote. And I wanted that, I wanted it so badly it hurt. Not to get published, though I wanted that too. I wanted the dream back, pain and all. Because that’s who I am and without it, I was living a half-life.

That’s not who I want to be for my son. It’s not who I want to be for me.

So I picked back up the metaphorical pen and I wrote. I started to do my research. Joined a critique site to learn to do it better. I did Nanowrimo. I entered a contest. I wrote short stories. I tried. I tried every day and I knew that this time I couldn’t give up.

One person believed in me and that was enough. It was like a shield against all the doubt.

And no, I’m not a bestselling author now (ten months later…) but in the past year I’ve had a short story published, been a finalist in the PNWA’s literary contest and have a featured story on Wattpad.

And that’s because I decided to live. But more importantly I decided that no matter what it took I’d do it. I learned to use commas for god’s sake… I finished a degree in English Lit without bothering to know how to do that.

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So this is me saying thank you. Thank you to Nathan for believing in me when he had no reason to. Thank you to my mom for using her magical mom powers of knowing everything 😉 And thank you to my husband for supporting my dreams completely, never even complaining that I am not at my computer 100% of the time. I have so much in my life, and its not just writing.

Sexy Lamps, Roses and Villainous Rodents

Rabbits! My next novel will feature one of these nefarious beasts asthe villain. Yes, a fluffy, hippity-hoppity devil monster.

For two years now, I’ve been trying to regrow some rose bushes the previous owners of our house cut down. I spray them (to keep the bunnies off.) It rains. The bunnies eat them. I spray them again, water them…the bunnies eat them. This year I bought chicken wire and caged the roses, sprayed them, watered them…the bunnies ATE THEM.

I should take solace that at least they made it through most of the summer this round and my raspberry bushes are not completely destroyed. I don’t.

One of these days, I’m going to aim for one of those furry beasts in the driveway and hit it. This will be followed by a maniacal laugh. I swear this time I will not be stopped by the “aw, it’s cute” reflex or the “it’s only acting on its nature trying to survive,” hippy morals I was raised with. Bunny is going down.

Both on and off topic does anyone remember the Buniculla books? My bunnies aren’t like that. They are pure evil. Thought I’d clear that up.

The novel with a bunny as the villain will also have a sexy lamp in place of the female protagonist. You’re welcome.

http://sjwiki.org/wiki/Sexy_lamp_test#.VcQlZ_lVhHx