Dandelions and Bad Hair Days: Untangling lives affected by depression and anxiety was published on 10th October 2012. Regular readers of my blog will know that many of the pieces in that book started life as guest posts on the ‘mental health monthly’ guest slot here on No Wriggling and I am proud to say that we are now well into our second print run and selling well on Amazon, via the publisher’s website and on the book’s own site at www.dandelionsandbadhairdays.wordpress.com.
In a radio interview I did for BBC Somerset I was asked whether I was planning a second volume. My answer – other than ‘let us sell lots of the first first!’ was ‘perhaps’. I am of course reliant on the wonderful people who are willing to put their mental health stories ‘out there’ and I have been commissioned to write a social history book on mental health after the First World War, which must take precedence. However, in the meantime I thought it would be wonderful to continue to highlight all the stories that are already on the net and the websites and blogs that offer the opportunity for people to share experiences and become part of something positive, as one reviewer of DABHD has said about the effect the book had on them:
“It makes me think about it like people from lost tribes having found each other, or having found the thread that connects them”…..
So here is a great piece written by Trish Hurtubise, the Founder and Editor of Mental Health Talk, a website that she describes as ‘an eclectic collection of stories and wisdom from people who experience mental health issues’. I came across it quite by chance via Twitter and as someone who experiences depression and crippling anxiety I felt really supported by Trish’s approach to publishing the words of people for whom getting their voice heard is one step towards recovery. I am thrilled that she has agreed to tell her story for No Wriggling.
The “Normal versus Me” Conflict
And I don’t want the world to see me
‘Cause I don’t think that they’d understand
When everything’s meant to be broken
I just want you to know who I am
~ Iris, Goo Goo Dolls
More than anything I want to be “normal”.
I mean more than anything I want to be me.
I mean… what do I mean?
The “normal versus me” conflict is the fuel that pushes my hippy van down my road of life. This conflict has become more apparent during my on-going experience with mental illness.
I was diagnosed with Complex Post traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) in 2008.
My main trauma occurred in early 2007 so before the diagnosis I had lots of time to enhance my mental health experience by:
- slipping into psychosis where it was possible to be cured if I could only outsmart the dark mass of insanity that was eating me from the inside out;
- spiralling deeper into depression each time reality slapped me with a reminder that my symptoms continued to persist, regardless of the alternative, paranormal, or self-help tricks I tried to fix me;
- fighting the constant anxiety, made fun by spikes of terror, that accompanied the belief my soul was dying with each new and/or fluctuation in my symptoms.
You may think that was the worst of it. It wasn’t.
What frightened me most was:
- the constant vertigo;
- the sensation like I was floating; and
- the chronic tension in my shoulders, arms, neck, and face that resulted in the weirdest bodily sensations imaginable.
I hated my body for betraying me.
To add to my agenda for the day, I experienced:
- every type of hallucination possible;
- gruesome visions of my death;
- severe sensory overload;
- hyper-vigilance to my body, mind and environment;
- fainting spells when reading seemingly benign words…
The list goes on.
I could not fathom spending the rest of my life with these symptoms.
And to give me that warm-fuzzy feeling, when I relayed these symptoms to my mental health team all I would get is “uh-huh”.
I concluded my C-PTSD diagnosis was some general category used when nobody really knew what was going on. How could they? I felt I was the only one in the world experiencing these symptoms.
So I ignored them and focused on the psychosis, anxiety and depression. It was easier to articulate these more normal common mental health issues anyway.
All the other stuff made me feel like a freak in a world that did not understand.
Love, gratitude, connection and… there’s that conflict again!
The medication helped me to face reality and I became open to new ways of looking at my mental health and life.
With the help of a wonderful therapist, I started to practice self-love and compassion. This is a continuing process of course, but I attribute the initial leaps in my recovery to this practice.
I also practiced gratitude—it was a bit of a fake-it-‘til-you-make it process but soon I felt genuine gratitude and love for the smallest of things.
I began to do what I loved; my creativity spiked and I used any excuse to draw, design or produce.
I started a website called Mental Health Talk as a platform for others to tell their experiences and share their wisdom. It was during the initial stages I realized I had found my tribe. I felt more and more connected each day because of the wonderful people I worked with on the project.
So at this point in 2011, the psychosis was no longer a threat, the depression had lifted, and the anxiety was manageable (most of the time).
I appeared to others to be relatively “normal” and with that came the expectation that I would have the tolerance, mental capacity, and physical fitness to carry on a “normal” life (or was it me who had this expectation?)
But I didn’t. All the “freakish” symptoms were still around and they continued to limit me from achieving the life I once had (my measuring stick for normalcy) and the life I now wanted (full of love, peace and creativity).
Okay, maybe they were right and I was.. let’s just get on with the story
Near the end of 2011, I was working with my psychiatrist to fill out my disability application and I recognized through her answers, I was experiencing flashbacks.
It wasn’t until May 2012, through using Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), I felt compelled to look up the symptoms of PTSD.
The first line on the website was “PTSD is a normal reaction to an abnormal experience”.
You mean it wasn’t because of weakness I wasn’t able to handle the traumatic events in my life? Or my inability to just get over it?
Another revelation occurred when I read most of my “freakish” symptoms under the C-PTSD category.
Since then, a world of possibility has opened up for me. For the first time I have been told I have a chance at full recovery given the time, resources and courage.
The more I read about other’s stories and the research on PTSD, the more I recognize myself in this moment:
- my brain has been rewired by what I feel I need to believe to survive given my traumatic experiences; and
- my symptoms are part of the autonomic nervous system’s freeze response, hence the need for somatic work like EFT.
And yes, I still have most of my “freakish” symptoms though they are becoming less freaky as I learn to stop dissociating from my body so much.
Being present and grounded can be really challenging when you don’t feel safe but it is so worth it to be fully engage in all my life experiences (even the “negative” ones).
This is what I consider to be a good life.
So I am shifting. I no longer want the life I had before the trauma.
I envision a future life where I use the skills and gifts that I love to fully express my true nature in a way that serves others—skills and gifts that came to light through this journey.
The conflict still exists. I sometimes step more into who I am and I will get a sign from my body I am moving too fast as my primitive brain reminds me: “normal is safe and everything else means die”.
The difference now is I listen to and honour my body because feeling safe is a big part of recovery. I use this feedback to gauge the size of step I can. At turtle speed, I am making progress without pushing myself into mental and physical distress like I did when fixing was my focus.
You see my mental health disorder is not some blip in my life I need to fix and put behind me. It is one of many on-going life experiences empowering me to dispel old beliefs and be who I am.
And I’ll let you in on a little secret: my desire and passion to be who I am is going to win out.
Just wait and see.
Trish Hurtubise is the Founder and Editor of the web site Mental Health Talk; Please stop by if you are experiencing mental health challenges as it is Trish’s intention you leave the site feeling better understood and connected to a courageous tribe.