Why I Lied To My Dental Hygienist

I don’t like the fact that I take antidepressant medication. I wish I didn’t need to; which would mean I no longer struggle with depression; which would be awesome.  But since I do still struggle, and I have found the right medication that keeps my emotions relatively balanced (with normal highs and lows), I am trying to accept it as part of my self-care.  But what I really wish is that I didn’t feel the need to keep it a secret, but I often do (I’ve never been comfortable with secrets).  Because our culture often bashes people for taking medication for mental health conditions I sometimes feel embarrassed about it, like I’ve failed, or I’m not taking good enough care of myself and that’s why I need it.  We often hear in the media that this generation is taking significantly more medication than any before it, that doctors overprescribe this type of medication and how there are so many other ways we ‘should’ use manage depression (exercise, meditation, mindfulness or nutrition…).  So when my dental hygienist asked me if I was on any medication as part of the usual check-in, I said no.  I said no for the last 3 years when I should have said yes. But at today’s appointment, I told the truth.

So why did I lie? Because I worried I would be judged.  For me, that is one of the worst feelings ever.  I revert to being 12 years old and in the 6th grade.  I felt like my teacher never liked me and I was once scolded for cheating on a test when I hadn’t. I was angry and embarrassed and yet felt powerless to change his opinion of me. That feeling is so uncomfortable for me that I will occasionally lie to avoid it.

For those of us who have found medications to be a helpful tool in managing our mental health conditions we should not be made to feel badly because we have access to effective medications and we choose to take it.  We should not feel like we failed, or that we have chosen to ‘take the easy road’ and we are just wanting ‘happy pills’. Yes, of course, there are people who misuse medication, just as with everything else, but they are not the majority.

So where do we start? By telling the truth even when we would rather not, by supporting one another to make our own decisions and by celebrating our successes.

Just as most of us would never suggest to someone who has been diagnosed with cancer that they should try yoga, meditation or improve their diet before starting chemotherapy or radiation.  Of course, those things could certainly help them cope, but we know they are not a replacement for treatments like chemotherapy.   We should therefore never suggest we know how best to help someone else who is suffering from a mental illness.

So if you have been diagnosed by a professional, and with their support, you find the right medication to manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life, please celebrate that, don’t hide it. Don’t allow anyone to add to the emotional burden.  Whatever they think, it’s their problem, not yours.

 (FYI. my dental hygienist didn’t blink twice about my revelation and I felt just fine telling her the truth).

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Food Shame, It’s a Real Thing!

Maybe you have not heard of food shame, but its a real thing and I bet I’m not the only one who deals with it.

Aside from anything made from chocolate, I love fried chicken (crispy, greasy fried chicken). I could eat it till I feel sick, but I don’t even have to eat it to feel badly. Sometimes just thinking about the fact that I want it can make me feel crappy and that’s because I know ‘I should’ make healthy food choices and fried chicken is not a healthy choice.  So by feeling ashamed of wanting (and sometimes eating) less healthy choices, I sacrifice a little bit of my self-esteem.  I know fried chicken itself doesn’t erode my self-esteem, but the fact that I can feel so badly about myself for wanting it, is not a healthy thing either. That’s food shame and that’s a problem for me.

Food shame is sneaky and creeps in to our thoughts. Its incideous that way.   It pretends to care about us, to have our best interests in mind.

“You will feel so much better if you eat this” shame says. “You will feel badly if you eat that, and you dont want to make the ‘bad’ choice, or the ‘wrong’ choice do you? You’re smarter than that, aren’t you?”  And before you know it, you feel shitty for not making the ‘right’ choice (maybe it’s eat the chicken and feel bad, or have a salad and feel bad because you still want the chicken).  For me its chocolate and fried chicken, for you it may be its chips, or soda or going days without veggies, whatever, it’s all shame.  It holds us down, it sucks our energy and makes us feel like bad people (ok, I may be overdramatizing, but shame is shitty).

Food shame may feel like a tiny thing for many of us,  something hardly worth a second thought.  But for me, everytime I have to decide what to eat is an opportunity for that shame creep in. Sometimes I may not even feel the it because its so inconsequential,  but the problem is that it all adds up. A little shame here, a little there, and before I know it, I am loaded down.  And when I’m already struggling with depression, this added shame can be the straw that breaks the camels back.

Depression and shame have a very close relationship in my life. Where there is one, there is usually the other.  But now that I know that, and I can talk (and write) about them both, it’s like shinning a flashlight on the monster under the bed; there’s nothing there to be scared of.  So this is why I’m sharing my food shame story.  I’m shining a light on it so that it doesn’t scare me anymore, and perhaps I can shine the light under your bed too.

img_2006.jpgYes, this is a box of fried chicken that I thoroughly enjoyed with my family.

Anxiety Has No Rules

Anxiety comes over me like a wave. It can take my breath away, make my limbs feel tingly, and butterflies swirling in my stomach.

Sometimes I can predict it, like when I’m driving to a new place, or I’m meeting with people I don’t know.  But more often it just comes over me for no apparent reason. Sometimes I’m just walking into the grocery store, or watching tv, or eating my lunch.  I have no obvious triggers, no warning signs, no rules.

From the outside, nothing changes. My breathing doesn’t change,  I don’t look ‘panicky’, I don’t run and hide. If you saw me, you would have no idea that anything out of the ordinary was going on.

This describes my more recent episodes, but it used to be quite different. I used to freeze like a statue.  I would feel like someone pressed the pause button on me and I couldn’t move; my thoughts would slow down so I felt like I couldn’t process what was happening. What felt like hours was usually just a few minutes. These are just a few examples, but it is important to remember that there are as many descriptions of anxiety (or depression or PTSD) as there are people who experience it.

I’m sharing this as I am constantly reminded that mental health challenges don’t follow rules.  That is just one of the reasons they are so difficult to diagnose and to treat effectively.   But it only means we need to take it seriously,  observe our symptoms, makes notes, and be honest with ourselves and our care providers.   As caregivers, we need to listen and believe what our loved ones are sharing with us.  Just because it doesn’t sound like what was explained in the pamphlet or textbook doesn’t make it less real or less valid.  By focusing on what is happening, without judgment, shame or guilt, we would save so much time and energy.  So if anyone says that whatever mental health struggle you are experiencing is not real, tell them mental health challenges have no rules.

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The Courage To Ask For Help

Today is World Mental Health Day. It is my hope that with every year that passes, the stigma becomes less powerful and asking for help regarding mental health services becomes less intimidating.  But I know that by each one of us talking about our own mental health struggles, without guilt or shame, helps everyone around us feel more comfortable and confident should they also need help at some point.

10 Lessons I’ve Learned Since My Husband Was Diagnosed with PTSD

It was 2004, several months after he returned from Afghanistan, I knew he was suffering, heck, we were all suffering.  So the diagnosis of PTSD was not a surprise.  I attended the workshops about what PTSD was, how it affects the brain and how I could support my partner.  However, I was not given much information on what it meant to me and my family and things for me to do to prepare for the long haul.  It would not have taken away all my struggles because it is not an easy road no matter the path you choose, but it may have lightened my load.   So I am sharing them with anyone who might find themselves in similar shoes and hopefully I can lighten your load.

1- Please take care of yourself first. Sometimes it is going to seem completely impossible, and it will, in fact, be VERY difficult. There will be times when you need to put your oxygen mask on first before you can help the others (and that includes children).  This doesn’t mean that there won’t be times when you put your wishes and desires on the back burner (as any mother can relate to). But when the shit hits the fan, you need to figure out how to get some oxygen if you hope to be able to give it to others.  This might mean calling for backup asap, or maybe taking you and your kids away from the scene for a day, or 2 or 3.   This is going to feel counterintuitive at times, you will likely feel the need to care for the ill person first, but this is not sustainable.  You need backup, you need support and you need to have a way to refill your own self.   This is an ultra-marathon, not a  sprint.

2- Remember that you have choices and can make decisions. With every situation, there is a choice. Staying or leaving, that is a choice. Sometimes it may feel like choosing between a rock and a hard place, but it is still your choice to make.  Don’t let others make decisions for you as no one knows what goes on in your home, or in your mind. People will want to influence your decisions and may even overtly tell you what a ‘good’ spouse would do, or a ‘good’ parent, or simply a ‘good’ person (yes, this really does happen, but remember they are not in your shoes). I do not believe that anyone has the right or even ability to tell you what you should do.  If you and your kids are safe from abuse, then the decision is yours.

3-You can change your mind.  People change, circumstances change, and you can change your mind.  It’s OK.  Give yourself permission, remember it’s your choice (refer back to #2)

4-Get professional support for everyone involved, or at least make it available.  Family and friends can be amazing, but if that is your only support, it is likely not sustainable.  Find out what counseling services are available for you.  If you don’t want it through the military or work, look for community resources.  Talk to your doctor, talk to your kid’s school guidance counselor.  If you meet a counselor and you don’t feel a good connection, look for someone else.  Don’t give up on this! Trust me, it is key to your health and your family’s.   If you don’t feel the need it now,  know where you can go.  Even young children can benefit from a neutral person they can talk to about anything.  Kids can be extremely aware of emotional stress and it is critical that they too have a safe place to express concerns with no guilt or additional worry.  You may feel like you are their safe person, and you likely are. But they may not want to add to your stress by telling you what’s on their mind.

***Family and friends are not a replacement for professional help. They know the people involved, they have relationships, histories and their own concerns, but more importantly, they are not trained to carry the load.   Talk to them, vent if needed, but whenever possible, enjoy their company by doing things that nourish you both. Relationships are not meant to be one-sided and often break down if one person starts to feel overwhelmed by the other person’s needs. This is not weakness, or failure to love someone, it is just how relationships can thrive or stagnate.

5-Know what you will tolerate and what you won’t.  Set boundaries. Have a timeout signal or word that anyone can use to press pause on a situation before it escalates. Walk away and come back when people have calmed down.  Identify your priorities,  tell your partner and have others in the household do the same.

6-Make fun a priority. When survival seems to be the theme, fun is often seen as a luxury enjoyed by others.   But planning for fun will remind you what is possible. Play a board game, play frisbee,  watch a funny movie, go to a comedy show, whatever will help you relax, smile and laugh.  This may seem trivial, but a life without laughter and fun is not much of a life.

7-This is not a life sentence. Like after any traumatic event, our life can change instantly. To the point, it may be unrecognizable to us. You may not like any of the changes, but where do you want to go from here? What possibilities are out there? Think big! Don’t judge them,  don’t worry about the ‘how’ to make them happen at first. Just allow yourself to look forward and imagine what you’d like things to look like in the future. How will you feel?  Write them down. This practice keeps your ‘forward thinking’ muscles active.  Nothing may come of these ideas, but it is still important to think about them.

8-You deserve a good life. You are not weak, or a failure or a bad spouse or parent, just because really shitty things have happened.  Remind yourself on a daily basis that you are a strong and worthy person. Write it down and leave yourself reminders.  It is critical to our ability to cope that we believe 100% that we are strong and worthy people regardless of what shitty things have happened. They do not define you, the story is not over.

9- Stay active and take care of your body (as best you can).  I got so tired of hearing this that I wanted to throw things at any person who dared tell me. But I can’t deny the value of it.  Our bodies need to move and not just move around the house and in and out of the car. I mean really move. Walk every day if you can, stretch, if possible, take a yoga class, go on a bike ride with the kids. As much as possible, make it a daily habit to get out of the house and moving.  Science has repeatedly proven that our emotional well-being is positively affected by daily exercise.

10- Be grateful.  Again, I totally understand that this is nearly impossible when you feel like your life is in chaos and you are in survival mode. But taking a few minutes every day to think about the little things that went well that day, keeps those ‘forward thinking’ muscles active.  Maybe it’s as small as the fact that there was no line up at the grocery store, or you got all the green lights on your way home from work. Maybe its the sunset, or the rain that watered your grass so your yard looks green.  By taking the time to acknowledge these things, no matter how small, your brain will start to look for them throughout the day.

I hope that these 10 lessons (which are in no particular order) are helpful if you too are on the journey of family life with PTSD.  Please leave a comment to share which one resonates the most with you, or any that you would add.

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Do you feel like you’re ‘faking it’ at life?

I do, or at least I used to.   I used to feel like I was faking it and by that I mean I was pretending I knew what I was doing when I really had no clue and was making it up as I went along.

Whether I liked it or not, I didn’t feel very confident in whatever I was doing and yet thought that everyone else did.   This used to upset me. I used to get so frustrated that everyone else seemed to know what they were doing, why they were doing it and what the outcome would be and I kept waiting for this feeling to happen to me.  When I was a teenager I thought perhaps when I’m in university I get this feeling, or then it was when I graduate and get a job, or when I get married I’ll know.  Of course, this never happened. Actually the older I got the more I felt like there was still so much for me to learn.

This caused me to feel inadequate in so many ways, for so many years.  I thought I couldn’t be a great mom, wife, or employee because I didn’t really know what I was doing. I wasn’t a good enough friend or citizen in general, as I was an adult now but I didn’t have all the answers. I kept thinking that other people had taken a class or read the manual on how to make decisions and how to decide what was right and wrong and how to make sure they always made the right choice.  That was of course because I thought there was, in fact, one correct answer for every question. A next ‘right’ move, the next ‘right’ thing to do or say.  But for me, I had a million options swirling around my head at any given moment. And depending on how I looked at the situation I could come up with several reasonable options, all of which had their pros and cons.  Rarely would one option stand out as being the ‘correct’ one.

For people that don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s ok, I’d love to chat about that someday. But I think there are many others who do. So to them, I am saying what I wish I knew many years ago.  Life is not about getting it right.  Actually, there are NO right or wrong answers in most of the big decisions we make in life.   They’re all just choices, like a million options on the menu and we get to decide what we feel like ordering in that moment. Some of us may choose confidently and be happy with our decision, while others will take more time, and others decide to try a few things.   No one is right or wrong.  We all have different tastes, different appetites, different needs.  All of it is AOK!   The only mistake is letting someone else choose for you!  This is your life, you get to decide what is right or wrong for YOU!  I know this sounds so simple, but usually, the simplest things are the most challenging to do.

I wish I knew this years ago.  It would have saved me from wasting so much of my energy on looking outward for answers.  If I knew I was the only one who could decide if a decision was right or wrong FOR ME, I wouldn’t have focused so much of my energy on what everyone around me was doing.  Or waiting for some divine intervention to tell me exactly what to do next.

So if you are feeling like you are faking it,  or that you are waiting till you are good enough, or experienced enough or intelligent enough, to make some big decisions, don’t wait. That feeling will likely never come and you will just be wasting time.  Besides, if you are not happy with your choice, just make another one and try something else.

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