Awareness is not enough

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. The statistic that 1 in 5 Canadians will experience mental illness in their lifetime is being repeated over and over on my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Awareness is awesome, but it’s not enough. Politicians are tweeting that they are raising awareness but what we really need is funding. We need more psychiatrists so that it doesn’t take a year to get in to see one. We need publicly funded therapy so that we can stay out of the hospital and keep working (and paying taxes!). We need mental health services that are as easy to access as a family doctor visit. We cannot continue to talk about awareness and continue to not fund treatment. The stigma of mental illness will never go away when our treatments are expensive; this makes them appear as an optional treat for the wealthy. It would save money to fund treatment; it’s time to do the math and get it right.

The Rocky Road of Depression

This weekend has been tough. I seem to feel good for a while and then come crashing down because I’m wishing things were different. I’m wishing I knew nothing about depression and wishing I was better and wishing I wasn’t spending so much money on therapy and wishing I didn’t need medication. But wishing is pointless and damaging so I need to catch it and put it back in the cupboard with the leprechauns and other imaginary things. This road of recovery is a bumpy one and I feel like I’m on one of those tuc-tuc vehicles on a dirt road and just when we get going the driver realizes that we’ve been going the wrong way and back we go, holding on for dear life. The rational part of my brain knows that I’m improving. It knows that I have more energy and more patience and more self-compassion than I did when I started treatment but the rest of me wants to see benchmarks of improvement. When I started running I noticed every little improvement – running a bit further, running the same route in less time, being less tired after a run, etc. But this beast of mental illness doesn’t give me indicators of success, and it shows me it’s still boss after I have some good days by reducing me to a heap of tears on the floor. My family is left wondering what they did to set me back but the reality is that even with them being the greatest and most loving and supportive people in the world, I still have a lot of crappy days. I wish for someone to tell me when I’ll be better, to give me a date when I can say, “I used to have depression, it sucked but I’m over it” but no one will. So I keep journaling and doing thought records and being mindful and I flip the numbers back on my “0 days since I was a crying mess” board each day and maybe this time I’ll get past 10. Maybe. If I don’t, I’ll just try again.

10 things you might not know about chronic pain or illness

1. It’s not the same every day. Some days my pain is so low that I forget it exists for part of the day. I’m active and engaged with other people, looking to the future, and not revolving my life around rest and appointments. Other days I have no idea what a pain-free life would look like and I can’t get out of bed long enough to think about it.

2. It really does co-exist with depression. I’ve always hated the depression-chronic pain connection mentioned in every piece of literature about chronic pain, having felt that it somehow reduces the awfulness of the physical pain. But it’s impossible to lose the ability to do everything you enjoy without getting depressed. How do you get out of depression when you can’t go for a walk, can’t relate to others, and have no appetite for food you used to love? I don’t know. The physical pain has to go down for the brain to begin recovery.

3. Some doctors suck, and a few are awesome. I know there are some amazing doctors around but for the most part, they do a poor job of dealing with chronic nonsense. My family doctor ranges from ‘suck it up’ to ‘that sounds awful’ with little in the way of actual help. I have to pick what I complain about in order to get what I need, and that gets harder the longer it drags on.

4. When my life is busy with appointments, I can’t do any more small talk. Between physio, the lab, the x-ray, and doctors, I have no ability to small talk with a cashier or the other parents picking up their kids. It’s not like this all the time, but any time I have two or more appointments in a week, I’m unable to socialize. I hate that I can make people feel like I don’t want to talk to them when I really do.

5. Pain can make you selfish. Not on purpose of course, but when your brain is busy trying to make it up the stairs without falling, it’s impossible to think about making cookies for the kids or helping your spouse deal with difficulties at work.

6. Kids are awesome. My teens are a huge help by bringing in groceries, bringing me ice or water, or whatever I need when I’m too tired to get up. They will gladly help with chores in the morning so that I’ll have the energy to do something fun with them in the afternoon. They don’t pretend to know how to ‘fix’ me. It’s my job to make sure they become more and more independent so they can create a great life that doesn’t revolve around me.

7. “What would you give your pain out of 10?” makes me bat-shit crazy. Don’t ask me to rate my pain on a stupid scale and don’t pretend if it’s less today than last week that it’s because of you. I overheard another patient last week tear a strip off her physiotherapist when asked that question. We all hate it. Pain sucks, all the time. A smart doctor or physio can tell by how you react to movement how much pain you’re in.

8. TV is awesome. Chronic pain can suck your brains out as well as your body, leaving you unable to read, write, or do anything creative or meaningful. I’ve had periods of weeks at a time where showering is the most I can do in a day. TV saves me from going insane, especially if it’s watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine or Parks and Recreation with my kids. We have to laugh.

9. If there is a silver lining, it’s that I’ve learned that my time and energy are my most important commodities. Yes, I miss running. Yes, I miss my career. Yes, yes, yes. No, I don’t like having a nap almost every day. But if I spend time with you, know you must be very important to me.

10. It doesn’t get better with time. Being sick, in pain, having surgery, or being in the hospital get continuously harder to deal with. “I could never deal with that” or “I don’t know how you do it” is never helpful. I don’t have a choice but to deal with it, yet I’m grateful for every day I get to be on this fabulous planet of ours. Every day I know it could be worse and every day I’m glad that it isn’t.

These are my ten, I’d love to hear yours!

“Housewife”

Last week I started physiotherapy treatment at a new clinic. I always feel a sense of dread when going to a new doctor or a new clinic, as if they’re going to find out that I’m lazy and useless by how I write my name. I dutifully pulled my pen out of my purse pocket, refusing to take one from the germ cup, and I filled out the forms on the clipboard, checking off the boxes and filling in my medications. I learned a few years ago to only check off the boxes that are relevant or they’ll write me off before they’ve met me. I gave the clipboard back to the chirpy woman behind the desk with the fluorescent red hair and sat down, pretending to read a magazine that is blurry because I refuse to take my reading glasses out of the house.

Then a young athletic guy calls me back with a “How’s it going for you today?” and I pause, not sure whether to say, “great, you?” or “I’m in so much pain that I can’t even dress myself.” I settle for a “good” and then we talk about the weather and the upcoming election and I sit up on a cushioned bench built for someone who weighs more than twice as much as I do. I try to correct my posture as I sit there with my legs dangling over the side, sure that I am being watched and judged for being so slouchy. I can hear hair-girl talking on the phone from the front, telling someone “see you soon, okay, b-bye” as if they are two years old. Then a pretty young woman walks over to me and introduces herself and reads my “chart” that I’ve just filled out. Did I put my pen back in my purse? Or leave it on the clipboard? Drat. She can read how old I am and she asks what my medications do and I wonder why they ask about medications if they don’t even know one that’s in commercials all the time.

“So what do you do?” she asks, with her pen ready. “I’m at home,” I reply and I put my head down. She writes “housewife” on the line. I cringe. I hate that term, ‘housewife’, as if I just cook and clean all day and spend the rest of my time watching soap operas. I want to tell her that I homeschool my kids, that every day I’m busier than I ever was when I was working, but I don’t. I just stare at the page: “housewife”. It’s happened before; I forgot to fill out the “Occupation:” line on my last passport application so I had to phone the 1-800 number and talk to a stranger about how I haven’t worked since my last application ten years ago. She too chose to write “housewife” on the line but I never physically saw it; it’s not like they print your occupation on your passport. The physio asks me more questions and then starts creating pain that causes me to almost faint. Now I’m a lightheaded housewife hanging over the side of the bench that can’t even withstand the initial treatment. She doesn’t appear to be judging me negatively but still I feel betrayed somehow. She hooks me up to the electric shock machine and leaves me to my crushing self-esteem and I want her to understand that I do so much more than cook and clean.

But then I realize that my need to defend myself is sinful and based on pride. When faced with false accusations, Jesus did not defend himself.

He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. Isaiah 53:7.

The high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” But Jesus remained silent. Matthew 26:62-63.

Once I remembered what Christ had done for me, I felt terrible for feeling the need to defend myself, especially when I had no reason to feel defensive. God has given me a job to do. I was making assumptions based on a word that I happen to dislike but in reality, I have no idea how this young woman feels about it. Perhaps her mother was at home with her and she admires her for doing so. I was wrong to judge her. I tried not to cry, lying there on my back as I felt the wetness of the hot pack soaking my shirt. I looked up at the ceiling and tried to lose myself in counting the dots, thinking about how God is watching over all of us.

Alberta Voted

The NDP are here

Prentice shed a tear

At least I cast a vote

“X” in the circle I wrote

Now comes the fear

As plans go into gear

But I think we’ll all be fine

Rachel Notley isn’t nine

So please stop all your whining

Alberta will keep shining

Oil, mountains, and prairie

Our province is far from scary

We will shine through

Because of people like you

We’ve turned the page

No more time to rage

So support your MLA

Don’t forget to say:

“Thanks for all you do,

It’s okay that you’re new.

It’s great you’re there for me,

and our constituency.”

A Curling Poem

Curling is for rocks
Sliding to the end
Yelling “hurry hard”
A title to defend

Jacobs has it in the bag
But Gushue’s right behind
Who will bring the title home
A new champion we’ll find

Don’t count us out, Saskatchewan yells
We’re in the running too
Maybe we will be the champs
Over Jacobs or Gushue

Ah hem, says Morris, from the back
We’re quiet but we’re here
Our record is the same as green
Our skills you all should fear

Today we’ll watch from end to end
And see who’ll go for gold
We’ll yell and cheer for all the teams
On this great sport we’re sold.

Shakespeare on the brain

I’ve read articles claiming that reading Shakespeare excites your brain more than reading a novel, but I’m not so sure. I read three Shakespeare plays in high school and I hated all of them. Okay, maybe I didn’t despise Othello, but I read as little of it as possible. Instead of reading Macbeth, I stole my brother’s exam from the year before and studied that. Got an A! I avoided Shakespeare in university, choosing instead to meet my English requirement with poetry because it involved ‘less reading’.

Many years later I went back to school to start an English degree. I only declared my major after combing through the course list along with my credit requirements and figuring out with certainty that I could finish my degree without Shakespeare. As I finished my second and final first year English course, I emailed my tutor to ask him what I should take next. He replied: “Shakespeare Tragedies”. I said no. Again he replied: “Shakespeare Tragedies”. He told me Shakespeare was necessary to read, and he was a brilliant man, and no one else compares, and so on. Blah, blah, blah. So, kicking and screaming, I signed up for the course last summer.

It was an online course, and my books came in the mail: A big stack of seven (seven!) Shakespeare plays for me to read and understand in four months. I had a panic attack. And then I had another one. I didn’t even cut the plastic wrap around them for days. It couldn’t be done, there was no way I could read that much Shakespeare and live to tell about it. But by not wanting to waste $100 by dropping the course, I decided to start. The course began with Richard II, a play I had never heard of until I saw it in my stack. And it was good! Richard was so pathetic but he was also hilarious. Why didn’t we get to read histories in high school? This was not the Shakespeare I remember. I could look up real events! These were actual people!

Next was Henry IV, Part One. Loved it! Again I could look up the people and the history but it was less necessary to my understanding than it had been with Richard II. I fell in love with Hal and Percy and Falstaff’s nonsense. How did I graduate from high school and university without knowing these people? While searching online for help with particular passages, I came across The Hollow Crown and of course had to write a paper about Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal. It was glorious. I’d never enjoyed writing a paper more. After that came five tragedies, without Romeo and Juliet, and I enjoyed them all.

Our local Shakespeare Company put on a brilliant production of Othello a few weeks after I finished. The best part of it all was having my sixteen year old enjoy Shakespeare too (he still talks about that production of Othello), and that was a big deal considering how much he hated reading Romeo and Juliet for school just a few months earlier. He has fallen in love with Hamlet, which he gets to study for school starting next week. We will watch David Tennant’s portrayal of the tragic hero for the third time and maybe I’ll grab a copy of Kenneth Branaugh’s version as well. I am now reading Shakespeare for fun – finishing the King Henry plays and then onto the next histories because The Hollow Crown is doing a second series. I emailed my tutor to say thanks, and to say that I loved the course that I never would have taken without his push. Of course he knew that would happen. As for my brain, it is enjoying reading Shakespeare almost as much as it enjoys watching Tom Hiddleston play one of his characters.