Ok then, let’s talk
January 30, 2017
The 2017 Self-Care Project: Entry #5
Ok. So this week, I’m going to talk about something that I don’t really want to talk about. Because, that’s boring and self indulgent and such a downer, Elena. Because what if my mom reads it and worries about me? Because what if people think I’m whining? Because it’s MY problem, so I’d rather just recede into my own coping and nurturing strategies until it passes. Because I’m FINE and I’ve got it under control and I don’t want to talk about it so let’s just talk about something else, please. Please.
But last week was Bell Let’s Talk Day in Canada, and there was such an outpouring of support and kindness and honesty across social media, it seems right. So, well. Let’s do this. Let’s talk.
I get lows. I think I’ve actually gotten them since adolescence. If you want to get clinical about it, you could call these hypo-depressive episodes, and yeah, I do sometimes have the opposite too, hypo-manic episodes. Basically, what this means is that I have periods, lasting at least a week where my mood is a little too “up” or a little too “down”, quite unrelated to “happy” or “sad” things happening in my life. It is not bipolar disorder, but it’s somewhere on that spectrum. I never lose my capacity to enjoy things. I don’t feel worthless, and I’m not suicidal. It’s more creeping and insidious than that. I am irritable. I may briefly enjoy going for a coffee and talking to a friend, or doing something with my kids, but as soon as my mind drifts away from that occupation, it falls to something that bothers me. Something that was said. My hair is terrible. All of my jeans are hopelessly out of style. The little argument I had with my husband seems much bigger. My art is trite. Tackling the laundry (always my nemesis!) seems gargantuan. When Alida cries, it disturbs me too deeply, prompts unnecessary worries. I have a general, underlying feeling of ill-ease that drips down the back of my neck all day. I can ignore it or distract myself from it for a time, but it’s still there. And it makes me really tired.
Still, outwardly, I am quite functional, which is why I often don’t notice it at first and for years, didn’t recognise these lows at all. I will still get my illustration work done, in fact I am often more productive in this respect, distracting myself with stimulating productivity. And I will still take care of my kids. I will still joke and laugh. But it gets harder and harder. I get so tired, the word “overwhelmed” comes out of my mouth much too often. And if I don’t know it’s a low, then I think it’s the happenings in my life that are off, which can be really hard emotionally.
I am at the tail end of a low right now. It snuck up on me after the holidays. All the signs were there, but it took me a couple weeks to notice it. And I guess this is what I wanted to share… for me, knowing the signs is so important. Such a relief, actually. Once I connect the dots, and realise what is happening, I can start to take care of myself. Many of the signs, or “coping” strategies I use, before I recognise the low, are actually the worst thing for it. Now I know. Rest. Sleep. Balance, not over-productivity. Clean up. Watch out for stimulants like sugar and caffeine, and take care to eat healthy, regular meals. Spend non-demanding, nurturing time with friends and family. Shower regularly. Exercise. Overall, breathe and be mindful, and call a spade a spade. This is a low. It’s not my body, my marriage, or my career. What I am experiencing is a level of depression and anxiety, and it’s time to access my supports, talk to people and take care of myself.
And these things make the difference. My subconscious desperately attempts to run from the drizzle, but when I acknowledge that it’s raining, it’s actually a huge relief and also the turning point for feeling better again. Now to be clear, this is not a prescription. I know that my experience is my experience alone. I don’t pretend to understand the experience of someone with major depression or bipolar disorder, or other mental illness, and I don’t mean to suggest that what I am talking about is “treatment”. If you are experiencing depression, please talk to someone you trust and see a health care provider.
What I want to say is this. I am an artist and illustrator, a happy person, a mother, a friend, a loving wife, a trustworthy professional, and trained health care provider among other things. I am competent, adaptable, kind, creative and I also live with these lows and highs. Recognising it has made it so much easier.
Much, much love to you my friends.