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Posts Tagged ‘mental health’

I’ve been struggling for several days on what to write after the last couple weeks in the world. At first I wanted to rage against the stupidity and hatred and senselessness the actions of a handful of terrorists represent. Then I wanted to just post pictures of kittens and butterflies and try to ignore the whole thing. But now, I can do neither.

When these horrific attacks happen, I grieve like everyone else who isn’t directly involved: so sorry for the victims, so glad it wasn’t me. Having some physical distance from such events allows us to keep an emotional distance. I’ve never been to Paris, or Newtown, or Boston, or Nigeria. I have no connection to those places other than what I read in the news. It’s hard to admit, but most of us are relieved when bad things happen to someone else because it means we’re off the hook for this round. We send our prayers and good thoughts and move on with our lives. But there’s always another round. Spin the wheel, take yer chances…

In a world full of hate and anger, it seems only a matter of time before the wheel gets around to you.

On November 27th, a man – likely fed by the hateful anti-abortion rhetoric of certain politicians and a (quickly debunked) video about selling baby parts – shot up a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. I’ve been to Colorado Springs several times. It’s one of my favorite places. Good, long-time family friends live there. It also hosts the Air Force Academy and the Olympic Training Center. Despite nearly half a million people, it still feels like a small town. And you certainly can’t beat the views. But now it will be remembered for yet another crazy man with a gun.

In college I used the services of Planned Parenthood. I went there for my Well Woman exams, and, yes, birth control. Not because I was a promiscuous slut, but because I had difficult and erratic periods. If you listen to the Rabid Right, Planned Parenthood clinics are nothing but factories for baby murderers, when in truth they offer a wide range of health care for women AND men. And they provide those services in many areas where there are no other options. I am baffled by the vitriol that is constantly spewed in their direction, but then, I’m a liberated feminist who believes in the right to choose, and that government should keep their fingers the fuck away from my body.

We were still trying to figure out what happened in Colorado, when gunfire blasted through a conference room in San Bernardino. Half an hour from my house. In a county I used to work for. In a building I’ve visited. My husband’s route takes him around that area, and over a dozen customers didn’t get their deliveries that day because he couldn’t get through the police line. We don’t know any of the victims personally, but we have several friends who do. Now it’s not so simple to deal with. Now it’s in our own back yard.

These incidents have given even more fuel to the raging rants about gun control, mental health, and refugees. Everybody has an opinion on how to fix the problem(s). Everybody is sure that their way is the ONLY way. Take away all the guns, lock up all the crazy people, and leave the refugees starving at the border are no better fixes than giving everybody guns, ignoring the crazy people, and opening our borders wide to whoever. Politicians are trying to get elected and look like they’re actually doing something, but their quick-fix, one-size-fits-all solutions are doomed to failure.

There is no one simple answer, because there is no one simple problem. The seething anger in the world blooms from a tangle of ugly roots: fed by poverty, oppression, disenfranchisement, fear, and heaping piles of manure from the media and politicians. If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, blind them with bullshit.

Our job as citizens is to not fall into that trap. We must not surrender to fear and hatred. The problems of our society can be solved, but it will take ALL of us working together. We must come to the table with open hearts and minds, and ignore those that scream “my way or no way!” We can have our guns AND reasonable regulations. We can take care of the mentally ill without drugging them into a stupor and shelving them in the back corner of an institution. We can welcome refugees while ensuring the safety of us all. It just takes time and effort and compromise.

Each day the wheel spins and shatters more lives. It is only through our collective caring that we can survive.

Hands in Peace signs

(c) American Friends Service Committee

https://afsc.org/

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On Monday, August 11, 2014 one of our most beloved and treasured entertainers reportedly took his life. Our world has lost a powerfully unique and singular human being. I write, of course, about Robin Williams. Comedian, actor, humanitarian and, by all accounts, a generous and kind individual.

The reaction to this news has largely been stunned sadness. The tributes and salutes and comments have poured in from all over the planet. The analysis and opinions and theories have as well. As I write this, there have already been untold number of words spent on this terrible topic, but I am compelled to include mine. Not because I’m any sort of authority, but because I need to. Because I know what he saw.

I have carried the burden of depression my entire life. I wasn’t formally diagnosed until my late twenties, but that was simply the official recognition of something I already knew. I’ve been in and out of therapy over the years, and have spent the last sixteen on medications after my own step to the brink of that final abyss. Some particularly insightful friends managed to grab me back at the last second and that’s when I realized I needed more help than counseling alone. Medication has allowed me a semblance of sanity. It’s not entirely secure. It never is. But it’s better than where I was, and for that I am grateful.

Much of the commentary following Mr. Williams’ passing included the question “Why?” Why would someone of his intelligence, wit, charm, success take his own life? Why didn’t he reach out for help? Why didn’t someone notice his descent into darkness? Lots of questions and very few answers, because there simply are none. Most people are bewildered by his actions. Some are angry. My own husband accuses Mr. Williams of taking the coward’s way out, of giving up. A very few have spewed horrible invective onto his family about him, proving only that they are sad, hateful little humans who refuse to be part of the better world and deserve nothing from the rest of us. After the initial shock, my reaction was simply a quiet understanding.

Let me tell you a little bit about depression. The clinical explanations barely touch the deep truth of it. It’s more than just a feeling of sadness or chronic fatigue or losing interest in those things you always loved before. It’s a dark, crushing black hole of self-doubt wrapped in layers of hopelessness covered in a gooey topping of what’s-the-point. It’s looking in the mirror and seeing a fat, ugly failure with no hope of redemption, no matter what the actual reflection might be. It’s watching the world pass you by in all its rainbow brilliance while you sit under rain clouds pouring hot acid onto your soul. It’s the blinding loneliness of the Sahara’s dunes in high summer, despite being surrounded by cheerful crowds at the oasis. It’s the voice of a hateful demon constantly whispering in the nooks and crannies of your mind, ever relentless in its demeaning commentary.

What it’s not is a choice. No more than being tall or short, black or white, or gay or straight is a choice. Depression isn’t “just in your head,” it’s a biochemical nightmare storming it out in your brain and affecting every molecule of your body. One who lives with depression can’t just “get over it,” or “cheer up,” or “be happy” on command. If that were the case, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. No, depression – and all other mental illnesses – is an actual, physical assault on the human body by that one thing we all must have to survive: our own brain. And if the brain isn’t working properly, neither is anything else.

Oh, there are treatments. Therapy helps. Medication helps. Eating right, sleeping regularly, exercising – it all helps. Until it doesn’t. There is no predictor for that point. No magic formula or simple test or watching the moon cycles on the calendar. It’s just working, and then it’s not. There’s any myriad of reasons why, as individual as the person involved. For Mr. Williams I suspect there was a handful of reasons, a perfect storm, if you will, that brought him to that point in his home when he knew he just wasn’t going to live like that any more. With the news of his Parkinson’s diagnosis, it makes even more sense to me. Here is a man whose entire life and career has been dependent on his frenetic energy, grandiose physicality and uncanny faster-than-light wit, learning his greatest gifts will be taken from him in a slow and tortuous degradation. Yes, people live with Parkinson’s every day, and successfully, as Michael J. Fox has shown. But what works for some just can’t work for others.

That’s the truly challenging thing about mental illness – there is no one-size-fits-all solution. You can’t just dole out the pills and expect everybody who receives one to just up and get better. You have to look at the individual, examine their physical and mental needs through multiple tests and counseling sessions and come up with a plan that will only work for that one person, and then you need to change it and fine tune it constantly as that person progresses. It is a time consuming, money-sucking endeavor that isn’t supported by our current medical system. As long as “health care” is about actuary tables and statistics and profits instead of people, we will continue to have beautiful lives lost to mental illness.

The irony is, the business of medicine is actually penny-wise, pound-foolish. Take out all the analysts and claims reviewers and paperwork and layers of bureaucracy, and just pay for what the doctor and patient determine is necessary, you’d probably find the “business” even more successful. And there would be a huge upward spike in public satisfaction. We need to make mental health care a much stronger priority, not just in medicine, but also in our society in general. The negative commentary that sprang forth from this most recent news only goes to show us how depression (and other mental health issues) is still widely stigmatized and misunderstood by the public at large.

Our brain controls everything. Separating the needs of our brain from the needs of our body does not help either. Mental disorders can be the root for obesity and anorexia, drug and alcohol abuse, and violence. Want to stop mass attacks like Newtown or Columbine? Don’t worry about gun control – that’s closing the gate after the horse has already run off. Get the funds into the hands of researchers, medical professionals and programs that can figure out what is miss-wired in the heads of the people who perpetrate such actions, and help them before they snap. Neuroscience has come a long way from the days of trepanning and warehousing the afflicted, but it still has a very long way to go.

All the articles I’ve seen this week about “The (X) Signs of Depression,” or “The (X) Things/Foods/Exercises You Can Do to Beat Depression,” or “The National Dialogue on Depression” are fine and well, and help us feel good for now. But they are just frosting on a many-layered cake whose ingredients we aren’t sure about. We need to make mental health care our priority. We need to focus on it and tear into it like we did the journey to the moon in the 1960’s. Our very existence as a species demands it.

As for Robin Williams, he didn’t quit, he made a choice. Not a choice everyone would make, but one that he decided was right for him. Shouldn’t we all have the right to choose how we leave this world? Life should be about quality, not quantity. And the definition of quality can only be made by the individual concerned, not the public. It’s time we gave that the respect it deserves. Then we can remember a man for how he lived, not how he died.

 

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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Back in the early ‘60’s a child was born to a young mother. Hitting the world at 19” long and a whopping 8 lbs. 8 oz., that child went through all the usual child stuff of that time: tonsillitis and measles and chicken pox; glasses at five; braces at ten; teasing and bullying from the other children. A constant problem with knees that popped and swelled and hurt and generally didn’t cooperate was eventually determined to be a previously unrecognized birth defect in the meniscus. Surgery at twelve “corrected” that problem, removing the offending part entirely because the medical community at that time thought it would grow back in the right form. Of course, now we know that isn’t true, and while there was a brief respite for a few years after the surgery, that child later spent decades with bone-on-bone until the pain became too bad, and the joints too fused, to go on any further. Thankfully, there was a surgeon who believed in quality of life over commonly accepted medical practice, and those ratty old arthritic knees were polished up with titanium and polyethylene. After four-and-a-half decades, the knee pain was finally gone. But the worst of the damage would never be healed.

It’s not a physical damage. It’s far deeper than that. Think about it for a moment: spending your entire childhood unable to run and jump and play with your friends because your knees don’t want to work right, in constant pain both physically and emotionally. The course of an entire lifetime is charted in those first few formative years. Activity levels, social interactions, eating preferences and thousands of other little details that will affect you for the rest of your life are developed, learned, accepted, adopted in early childhood. Add in a genetic predisposition for depression, and you have a winning formula for a losing battle.

You’ve probably figured out by now that I’m referencing myself in the above paragraphs. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my childhood and the decisions that led me to where I am. I’m not blaming anyone besides myself, mind you, because as a responsible adult what I am now and what I do now is entirely my problem. But I can’t help but wonder how things would be different if I had been able to be more active as a child, if certain patterns hadn’t been developed to compensate for the different kinds of pain I was experiencing then. Would the depression still have been such an issue in my life? How about the migraines and the nightmares? And the worst part yet, would I have spent my entire life in a constant battle with my weight?

I’m the descendent of German and Scandinavian immigrants. Everyone of them was a big person for their time, and the only thing that kept them within reasonable condition was a lot of hard work; in the fields, in construction, in the lumber yards, etc. Our family puts on muscle easily when we do physical work, and fat easily when we don’t, and neither one goes away without a lengthy hard fight. I’m built to go all day long at a steady pace in a cold environment. Because of those damn knees, I never developed the habits necessary to keep that genetic package balanced. And so I’ve spent my entire life in a battle with food.

It’s always been what to eat, can I eat, should I eat, when to eat, how to eat, every blasted day as long as I can remember. Counting calories, carbs, fats, sugars, steps, laps, miles. Reading all the latest weight related literature, following all the newest doctors’ recommendations. Weight Watchers, Atkins, NutraSystem, portion control, small short-term losses that only lead to beating my head against a wall of failure time after time after time. Aside from the occasional vice, we don’t have junk food in our house. Haven’t for years. That was one of the first changes we made, just simply not buying it in the first place. If it’s not in the house, we can’t eat it. We avoid processed foods and complex carbs and soda and eat lean meats, fresh vegetables and whole grains. The last few times we had “fast food,” we both felt crappy for days afterward.

And yet, despite all that, my husband and I are both the heaviest we’ve been in our lives. Because of our ages and our sizes, our doctor automatically assumes we’re about to collapse from a heart attack or stroke at any moment. Plus he is constantly testing us for diabetes, high cholesterol, bad triglycerides and whatever else as he takes pints of blood every time we visit. All those tests come back within normal ranges, every time. We both have blood pressure on the high end of normal, but that seems reasonable given how much blood has to be moved over how much area. Or maybe it’s really the stress of spending a lifetime worried about every atom we eat, seeing the eyes of the crowd judging us as we walk by, hearing the snide remarks behind our backs. Fat shaming seems to be the last bastion of bullies everywhere, because the popular perception is that obese people are just lazy fucks busy stuffing their faces with potato chips and ice cream all day long. Bite me, bullies.

People are obese for a lot of different reasons, usually all intertwined to make a big Mobius Knot of complexity that turns any effort for changing that status into an epic war of self. It’s genetics and mental health and habits learned decades ago that are nearly impossible to reprogram. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, no quick and easy program, no obvious answer to any one individual’s weight problem. But until the medical community can accept that and stop trying to feed us all those pills and diets and flawed parameters of what’s “normal,” (see “Why BMI is inaccurate and misleading”), and the fashion industry stops pushing a completely unhealthy ideal of beauty, and society gets over its need to pick on those who are different, people like me and my husband will continue to suffer for sins we haven’t committed.

And you wonder why I don’t leave the house anymore. Here’s my bottle of Fuckitall, now where’s my dark chocolate…

 

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

 

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We humans have a tendency to create the very things we fear the most. What’s even sadder, it is our own efforts to avoid that thing which inevitably leads right to it. I’m talking psychology here, not actual concrete items. Things like the fear of being alone, or not wanting to deal with the emotional hurt of failing relationships, or being convinced everyone is a shit who’s out to get you. Your fears will eat you alive, causing behaviors that you think will protect you, like being standoffish or cynical or nonchalant or irreverent. But those behaviors will land you smack dab in the middle of that hell you were trying to avoid in the first place.

Most of us are our own worst enemies. Even the best and brightest among us have those moments when we’re standing in front of the mirror just before embarking on a golden opportunity, and hearing that voice inside our head screaming, “Fraud! Just what the hell were you thinking?”

We depressives have that on a constant loop. It’s 24/7/365 and it doesn’t matter if it’s an important career-making move, or the choice of breakfast cereal. The voice is always there, questioning, degrading, mocking. Nothing we do is ever good enough, and we deserve the shit we get because we’re not worth anything. That’s why it’s such a battle to do even the simplest of stuff. Ultimately, the voice says, it just doesn’t matter.

The medical community is slowly making some progress in tracking down exactly why people suffer from things like depression and schizophrenia. Something isn’t wired right somewhere in the brain, the right chemicals aren’t being produced in the right amount, but we’re still a long way away from true cures. Modern pharmaceuticals can give some relief in the symptoms, but the root of the problem is still there, still haunting us. There are always cycles, some good days, some bad days, and most days where we just don’t care.

The cynic in me has decided that the business side of the medical community doesn’t want anyone to be cured. Of anything. They want us to stay fat, depressed, diabetic, whatever. How else are they going to keep making their profits? If they actually CURED us, thus meaning we didn’t need their magic pills anymore, they would put themselves out of business. When everything is about the All Mighty Dollar these days, actually curing people is just crazy.

That’s why we have orphan diseases. Not enough people sick with whatever it is to warrant spending the money to help them, because the cost return on the investment is in the vastly negative. That’s why some companies have filed patents on actual human genes, so they could then rake in the dough on any studies, tests, etc., based on or using that gene. Thankfully, the Supreme Court recently called bullshit on that (“Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics“), but a lot of research has already been stymied, and it will take years – if not decades – to get to the results we should already have.

My personal thought is that medicine should not be a for-profit business. Sure, you should be able to recover your investment, but not at the expense of the humans attached to it. People have been screaming about death panels since the idea of the Affordable Care Act first cropped up, not bothering to notice that medical insurance companies have been doing essentially the same thing since the dawn of insurance companies. Their question has always been “Is it cost effective to keep this person alive?” I went to the funeral of a friend earlier this year because her insurance company had finally answered that in the negative. That’s not practicing medicine, that’s worshipping at the altar of the Golden Ox. The only people that should be making a decision about my health are my doctor and I. The person making the decision at the insurance company is not a physician; they’re an administrative stooge reading off a list of statistics from the actuaries. I’m just surprised no one has sued an insurance company for practicing medicine without a license.

The sad thing is, if those companies would just pay for what ever the doctor orders without argument, without needing all the codes and paperwork and actuaries and attorneys and accountants, they’d probably find themselves making even more money with a whole lot less stress attached to it. I know it would certainly make my life less stressful.

It would also be nice if mental health care – to include regular counseling and other therapies – were mandated to be part of general medical coverage. Thanks to my husband’s job, we have reasonable coverage for most things, but mental health isn’t one of them. I’ve always wondered why that has never been considered part of overall health. After all, if your brain ain’t working, neither is anything else. And studies are finding the brain can affect overall physical health in ways we never suspected.

For centuries mental health issues weren’t considered “real.” It’s all in your head, you know. The fact that there is no one thing that we can point at, no single virus/bacteria/(fill in quantifiable result here) we can look at, has plagued those of us who suffer through these issues. I still have people in my life who just don’t get why I can’t just shrug off the malaise and get on with things. Just smile and be happy, dammit – what’s so hard about that?

You have no idea how hard that is. I’d love to get up everyday and look forward to taking a walk, puttering around the house, playing with the animals, writing, stitching, weaving, whatever, but it simply doesn’t happen. Every day is a struggle just to get out of bed. Everyday is a fight to convince myself to get dressed, brush my teeth, shower. Everyday I look in the mirror and see an old, fat broad and I want to change that, but the voice is constantly in the back of my mind telling me it’s not worth the effort because I don’t matter. Everyday I worry that my husband will get tired of all my shit, despite him telling me daily he loves me and I’m beautiful, because that voice won’t let me believe him. Every second of every day, the battle is relentless. Everyday is exhausting.

I normally try to leave off with something upbeat or thought provoking, but tonight I just can’t. I’m tired and I need help and everybody is more concerned about how much money they can make on the deal than actually helping somebody. I hope I live to see the day when that kind of thinking is extinct.

 

© 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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