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let’s humanize the term ‘mental health’

image and text by UndergroundIn the States, this month is BPD Awareness Month. Here in Canada, this week is the Canadian Mental Health Association‘s 61st annual Mental Health Week.

Along with awareness events taking place throughout Canada (though none that I can find yet here on Vancouver Island), there have also been several articles and reports on the news about the Mental Health Commission of Canada‘s recent proposal for Canada’s first ever Mental Health Strategy, entitled Changing Direction, Changing Lives.

Reading the articles, I began a train of thought on the question, ‘What is mental health?’. So, in honour of Mental Health Week, here’s what I have to say:

Why mental health matters to everyone:

Mental health is the well-being of human beings. Our ability to feel connected, of service, and part of something greater than ourselves; our ability to experience fulfillment and provide for ourselves; our ability to establish a sense of belonging and feel like a valued member of community; our ability to lend a hand, and reach out for one when needed; our capacity for diversity, our resiliency in the face of adversity; our ability to establish and maintain balance of work and play — all of these, as individuals, communities and the planet.

I’m going to play with a controversial stance here and say that I don’t believe in the government as being responsible for these things. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that the proposed $4B would be a bad thing at all; but, at some point, it is the people of a society who must make a change in the accepted norm, and the criteria for success. The government’s role is to inspire such changes in its people.

The contained and self-sufficient family is a failure. The norm of productivity, aesthetic beauty, and material things as criteria for success is a failure. These things are making for great suffering, epic depression, loneliness and estrangement.

People are estranged from their families, by geographical location, death, violence, lifestyle, religion and abuse; estranged from their communities by shame, ignorance and stigma. Counseling replaces the meaningful heart-to-heart conversations we used to have with friends and family members; support groups become the modern-day spiritual practice that brings us together to remind us of our common condition and the bigger picture of why we are here.

In each and every one of us there are aspects of this term mental illness. It is when these aspects begin to seriously and adversely affect the abilities listed above that our needs for these things in life begin to be realized and addressed. Those with the label of a mental illness remind us of what we are all feeling by magnifying it.

Mental illness is the illness of society, not the individuals diagnosed; it is the indicator of a society’s lack of humanity. No government can compensate for this deficiency.

(from the CMHA:)

One in five Canadians, over the course of their lives, will experience a mental illness and what that ultimately means is that every single family in Canada will in some way be affected.

There is nobody in Canada who can stand up and say, “Not my family, not my aunts or uncles or cousins or grandparents, children, siblings, spouse or self.” And yet the reluctance to talk about mental illness, to acknowledge it openly, to treat it as a form of human suffering like any other illness, relates in part to how threatening this set of illnesses is to our sense of who we are. Mental illness cuts across all age, racial, religious, or socio-economic categories.

The Impacts Are Staggering:

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that by the year 2020, depression will become the No. 2 cause world-wide of years lost due to disability. That’s a profound impact.
  • The number of suicides in Canada is almost 4,000 people a year. For people aged 15 to 24 in Canada, suicide is the No. 2 cause of death.
  • Mental illness is the number one cause of disability in Canada, accounting for nearly 30% of disability claims and 70% of total costs.
  • Mental illness costs the Canadian economy a staggering $51-billion a year, and each day 500,000 people will miss work due to mental health problems.
  • Each year employers and insurers spend a whopping $8.5 billion on long-term disability claims related to mental illness.
  • Mental health disorders in the workplace cost Canadian companies nearly 14% of their net annual profits and up to $16 billion annually.
  • The unemployment rate among people with serious mental illness is 70 – 90%. There is a 60% drop in family income when a breadwinner is diagnosed with mental illness.


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disability application process

Today I met with an agent at an organization called ‘Cowichan Independent Living.’ They provide assistance to those applying for permanent disability.

I was quite nervous that I would be misunderstood as a fraud and an attention seeker, but was pleasantly surprised to be received with sympathy, compassion, respect and support.

Generally, I am hesitant even to share my process here. Who knows where it will go. My hesitancy is the fence post i so often find myself upon — whether I am a gifted leader and artist or a patient in the lock-down psych ward. Whether I am minimizing or over-dramatizing. I have chronic confusion around this. One day, I wonder what all the fuss was about. I’m fine. What the hell was I complaining about. The next day, i wonder if I should admit myself into the hospital.

And so, here I am, embarking on this path, being met with compassion and support. No one is saying I don’t fit in, or I shouldn’t bother applying, and to some degree, this is still shocking to me. To another degree, it is the biggest relief of my life.

The rep at CIL read what I had written, expressed sympathy and invested his compassion in hearing my disability. We began by making a list of key words, and we began the process of putting my history into words–what are the events and experiences that have brought me to this application.

It’s daunting, and it could have been more terrifying, considering I had met this person at a social event in my neighbourhood a few weeks ago, and he remembered me. But his response was so genuinely caring that any embarrassment was soothed. He said how glad he was that I had found CIL, and that I he felt there was more the organization could do for me, beyond the disability application.

What remains intact in me so far is a striving for integration, a wholistic approach to the term ‘disability.’ The possiblity that I am both gifted and talented as well as requiring a higher level of emotional support, more processing time, and less stimuli and pressure on an ongoing basis.

As I was telling the rep about what I experience, it was clarifying how the things I go through really are exceptional and hindering to many things that the status quo take for granted.

This is quite a radical shift in how I view and present myself in the world. Quite the transition, quite the process of integration I am in.

I’m not sure how much I’m going to post on here about this as it evolves, but I’ll share this snippet that came to me at 3 AM last night:

I have an incredible diversity in me — an abnormal range on the scale of confidence. I go from being able to present myself confidently with warmth, humor, intelligence and leadership to social phobia, indecisiveness, insecurity, isolation and hopelessness. I have a regression into the later rarely less than once every week. It makes a fool out of me. Makes it hard to trust myself, know how to present myself.
This range of confidence is a significant part of my illness. I have difficulty maintaining social connections and community involvement and frequently feel disconnected, somehow at odds with the flow of things. People misunderstand me, call me a fraud and say that I am faking it for attention. They cannot imagine that someone who seems so competent and confident could also be at an emotional / psychological / social / economic disadvantage. And, because I compulsively hide the darker end of my experience, it’s easy for people to disbelieve that it exists. It’s even easy for me to forget how it feels until I am back in it. For the most part, the most that people would see of it is a shyness and awkwardness that seems out of character. A childlike quality where once there was a leader; someone with professional knowledge and expertise to offer. A shy person where once there was a ‘life-of-the-party.’ A person who doesn’t show up for things, who once seemed so gung-ho and like such a positive addition to any event. They are not sure how to take me — do they look up to me or bring on the extra compassion and support for me? Few of them I’m sure realize how much I share in their confusion. They do not engage in the relationship; it’s not a conscious decision, but rather like an inadvertent, unconscious rejection. There is nothing solid for them to attach to, so no attachment is formed.

I feel incredibly vulnerable posting this. I fight with myself in this process, with my insecurities and the chronic confusion over what is real. I’m going to try it out and give myself permission to change my mind and remove this post. It’s a fragile thing.

Luv Underground


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Mental Health Writers’ Guild

Mental Health Writers Guild 2012 MembershipI’m glad to find this project, and happy to be a new member.

The Mental Health Writers’ Guild is a new site to connect bloggers, share information, raise awareness, promote understanding and transform stigma on the subject of mental illness.

We are all in this together people. Check out the site by clicking on the Membership image to your left.

Love,

Underground


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adventures in … (living with integrity to my authentic self?)

Today, I communicated my authentic self. It was totally terrifying, and it created conflict, but you know what? It actually feels tremendously empowering and really good! It’s a hell of a lot better than repressing it and pretending to be normal. Pretending to be strong and stable when maybe I am not (and that needs to be okay). If that’s not okay, the situation is not healthy for me anyway, and I am better to let it go. Huwah!

Heart Junky:  I put a fair bit of energy into helping you, and you drop me like a twig? It’s not like it’s a big part of my psyche any more, just a little niggler of feeling used. At least I know where I really stand.

Colleague: Wow, I haven’t dropped (the project) nor you – I’m still on it.  I thought we were both fighting for the survival of (Organization started by HJ), and helping each other to do so. I have also contributed a lot of time towards trying to save this organization.  Which I believe in.  What on earth gave you the idea that your were (1.)  Helping Me, personally, and not the (community members) of (Old residence of HJ)  (2.)  that I wasn’t working on it any longer. I still have to face an abusive, narcissistic, potentially violent guy – in person in order to do this.  I have (A), (B), (C) and (D) on board. Not sure why you sent me this sort of email.

Heart Junky: It just felt like you suddenly dropped off the planet and stopped responding to any communications. The last thing you communicated to me about where the project was at was in the third week of October:   “I’m not sure what I need to do here – all of the steps to take – what you do, what I do, what the board does?” After a series of almost instantaneous and very-driven communications, which you had begun this with, I didn’t find it normal or respectful to suddenly not hear anything for a month and a half, especially as I had tried to communicate with you to find out how it was going. I have had no idea what is going on or if anything is moving ahead. If the letter I drafted seemed good, bad or ugly; if the plan of action is good but will just take some time, or bad and we need a new one, if you are abandoning ship because it is just too complicated … I realize there is a violent man in the situation; I realize there is an extremely busy and passionate woman also in the situation. A little more communication–that’s all … what is going on? Thanks!

Colleague: If you would like more communication, just ask – if you want to know what happened to my communication, just ask.   I am not sure what warranted the first email today. I have been travelling and putting out fires with other work stuff, (Organization that HJ started) took the back burner for many reasons. M’s Court Date, Full Participation from board, Clear Idea of a Game Plan, Other Work Commitments. Please think twice before you send me an email like that one this morning.

Heart Junky: I did try to ask for more communication and that didn’t seem to work. I feel quite powerless when I communicate that I need more communication, but don’t hear anything back, like I am somehow being ridiculous or obsessive or the person is trying to distance themselves from me because I am wierd and I am making it difficult for them by clinging. I’m sorry. I have triggers and emotional handicaps. That is me; this is me. I cannot keep it inside any more. So, now that we are communicating, I am communicating to you that I need more communication. LOL! :)))) Thanks. I feel like I understand what is going on. I hope everything goes as well as it can.


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Petition to change the name and designation of BPD

There’s been a lot of talk about the DSM-V (Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder 5th edition) that is coming out in May 2013, particularly the concept of re-naming and changing the designation of BPD.

Check out this forum on About.com, and a bpd advocacy site with a link to an online petition to the Chair of the DSM-V Task Force:

About.com Discussion on bpd name change

Info & link to sign the petition

For more info on the proposed changes to the DSM and the 5th edition:

American Psychiatric Association — DSM-V — Personality Disorders

Blessings on your day,

HJ


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lines in the sand

This morning, i was reminded of two people who didn’t respond to my most recent communications to them. one person who has been a consistent friend for several years has apparently just decided to ignore me, and move on (it’s been several months since he blatantly didn’t respond to a text I’d sent to him). The other person didn’t respond to my asking her if she’d ever thought i might be dealing with a mental illness (we had worked together very closely, and to my mind, she has witnessed my instability the most). I guess i so wanted confirmation that what i am feeling inside is actually happening; i wanted to have it confirmed by another person. But of course, she didn’t respond (several months ago also). No one wants to be the one to say, yeah, I thought you might be mentally ill.

My immediate thought after remembering these two occurrences was to realize that not hearing back from these people was clear enough to be taken as the feedback i have so been craving. That yes, indeed, i am complicated to deal with — that is what puts me on the pathalogical side of the normal-vs-pathalogical scale. People avoid people with mental illness because they don’t understand what we go through, and because they are afraid. Part of me can say, “So be it.” The people in my life who mean anything to me understand and are supportive. They are not the people who disregard me or write me off, or who can’t figure out what to say so don’t say anything and disappear out the “back door.” It seems healthy for me personally right now to stop making excuses for them, face the reality of the situation of being mentally ill (with a new understanding of what that is), draw some clear “lines in the sand” figure out how to live within them and maybe eventually learn to push and expand their boundaries with some good old advocacy and social activism around the misconceptions of mental illness.