Come Sail Away Cover

Sorting through videos today, I ran across this video of me practicing Come Sail Away (Styx) from last March that was one of my better sessions. It’s still not perfect (I aim for perfection when I play), but I thought I would share so that I would have a comparison video if I ever manage to master this song.

I know; I haven’t posted here in ages. I haven’t had much to share lately; and what I do have, well… this bout of depression has stolen my voice and my motivation to be social. I’m sorting through photos and videos to try to get my creativity up and running again; so hopefully, I’ll get back to posting more often. It’s been a long winter!

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Aspiration

Aspiration

Aspiration
Mixed Media – Watercolor, colored pencils, and ballpoint ink pen
9″x12″
2014

As·pi·ra·tionnoun /ˌaspəˈrāSHən/: 1. a hope or ambition of achieving something. [Google definitions]

I have tried to write out a blog post for this art piece ever since I finished it on April 18th. Lord have mercy; there have been a lot of distractions this past month! These distractions led to a much more serious bout of depression than I would like to admit and anxiety that has me questioning my sanity. It’s during times like these that hopelessness sets in, and I struggle to see the good in life due to feelings of despair and negative thinking.

Let me reiterate here that telling a depressed person to “just think happy thoughts” is probably the worst advice ever that someone could give. Not only does it invalidate what the person is feeling, statements like these can cause that negativity to spiral out of control when the person finds that this seemingly simple solution can’t be achieved due to, you guessed it, more negative thoughts. It’s a vicious cycle. A much more productive response, in my opinion, is to remind the depressed person that all of life’s problems are temporary and change is inevitable as nothing ever stays the same.

When my therapist spoke with me about doing a piece of artwork for a mental health publication, I knew I wanted to participate; and the above image is the result. The topic or art prompt he gave me was “Inspiring Hope” or “What gives a person inspiration of hope?” Coincidentally, back in January, I had posed a similar question to this on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.

January 15, 2014, on Facebook and Google+:

“I’m going to throw this prompt out all across the board to all of my social media networks: What physical representation means “HOPE” to you? Tell me or draw #hope.

I was considering the thought of creating a drawing series based on responses I receive. In doing a quick Google search I’ve run across the usual symbols: a dove, an anchor, a swallow; but I think it would be more interesting to hear and see individual responses given the personal nature of what hope might represent to others. For me, the first thing I thought of was butterflies (because they are so fragile yet travel such great distances) or maybe, the infinity symbol (because to me, infinity also means all things are possible through time and space – this one’s a little harder for me to explain).

Sorry to be so philosophical, but this thought crossed my mind. My curiosity got the better of me, so I thought I would ask.”

And on Twitter:

 

Failing to get any responses, I promptly forgot about it and moved onto other things. Yes, my failure to interact with people is as prominent online as it is in real life; and yes, it was also a “look a bunny” kind of thing. I had, however, intended at that time to sort out this concept in my mind to better understand how others experience hope since it is such a hard concept for me to grasp. My struggles with depression and anxiety often leave me with a loss of hope, as I’m sure these types of mental health struggles do for many.

I can’t really make up my mind as to whether hope is an emotion or a belief or something else entirely. “Hopeful” is often listed as an emotion, but I’m confused by “hope.” I could just be over-thinking it, as I often do; but it is my experience that I analyze something to death in order to gain an understanding of it. However, when I think about hope, expectation and disappointment also factor into the mix. One can’t exactly hope for something without a certain amount of expectation that this hope will somehow manifest. If that hope does not, then disappointment is a likely result.

Hopenoun /ˈhōp/: 1. a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. 2. a feeling of trust. verb: 1. want something to happen or be the case. [Google definitions]

On the day my therapist gave me this prompt, I had the topic of “Inspiring Hope” stuck in my head while I hiked at Burgess Falls after our appointment. Thinking about “what gives me the inspiration of hope,” I spotted a couple of beautiful Eastern Tiger Swallowtails. At that moment, I knew that a butterfly had to be a part of this piece because for me, butterflies are the perfect symbol for “Hope.” I would have preferred a Monarch butterfly to work from, but those are becoming a rare pleasure to see. Instead, I worked from one of my favorite photos I took of an inquisitive swallowtail that I photographed last August.

While working on this art piece, I thought more about the topic and came to the conclusion that I think hope is finding your passion and setting it free. My passions are drawing, painting, photography – creating art – and nature. These are the things that give me the most hope because these are things that I love to do and want to share with the world to inspire others.

What gives you the inspiration of hope?

Fight or Flight? Freeze.

I constantly struggle to decide how much and what, exactly, I should share about my personal life on my blog. I have often wanted to write more about my personal experience in dealing with mental illness; but I felt that these struggles were either too personal or would open myself up to a lot of critical judgment from others. I’ve experienced, firsthand, the stigma of mental illness and the feelings of worthlessness that can result from thoughtless comments made by people who simply cannot understand what they, themselves, have not personally dealt with.

No one likes to feel vulnerable, me included.

The problem is, though, that no matter how hard I try to remain positive on my blog, many times this aspect of myself seeps through anyway. Stress and doubt and all those fears I fight against every day make it very hard to be open and completely honest with my readers if I am constantly trying to hide that ‘thing’ that deeply affects my life. Hiding it also prevents me from posting a lot of what’s going through my mind and getting much-needed feedback from others.

The more stress I feel, the quieter I become.

Communication is never so difficult as when I feel overwhelmed, and it takes so little to overwhelm me. The slightest change in my environment or daily routine turns my world into a chaotic nightmare. It takes me forever to find the words to express what I’m feeling or thinking. Processing emotions and thoughts for me is like trying to read a book with AC/DC blaring on the radio while my reading lamp flickers on and off, spiders crawl all over me, and the TV streams non-stop obnoxious commercials, not to mention that annoying clock ticking that even AC/DC couldn’t drown out!

Life has a funny way of re-testing us over and over again. If we fail miserably the first time we are tested, that lesson continues to present itself in one form or another until we finally learn from the experience what was meant to be learned. I’ve experienced many of these tests over the years. Most, I don’t care to repeat; but there it is again without fail. This makes me question. What am I missing? What lesson have I still not learned? I don’t understand….

And I say all of this to get to the point of this post.

When danger or fear presents itself, the common responses are fight or flight; but I think there are variations of how these responses present themselves. For example, rather than a physical altercation as a fight response, people might use sarcasm, insults, or any other verbal abuse at their disposal. Flight, or running away from danger, could just as easily present itself as “freezing,” like the opossum who plays dead in the face of a threat.

I’ve never been a fighter. Heck, when I took karate to fulfill one of my college physical education requirements my freshman year, I remember one particular day in class when we paired up, sparring. The girl I was sparring with hit me right in the solar plexus, not hard, barely a tap; but I started crying! Of course, everyone (including the teacher) thought I was hurt and gathered around me for assistance. And of course, that made it even worse! By the time the teacher sent me back to my dorm room, I was in a full-blown panic attack. So, no, I’m not a fighter. Dare I say that I’m a total wuss? Yes, probably so.

I hate confrontation. In fact, I avoid it at all costs, even if it would be beneficial to spar with words to improve a relationship. Verbal arguments are the worst for me because I end up saying things I regret when I’m pushed to the point of feeling overwhelmed and hearing words that can never be unheard, whether they’re being said to me or thought in my own mind. It’s like my brain doesn’t work quickly enough to process the thoughts and information being shared. Then, I find that I can’t figure out how to respond appropriately; so I end up blurting out the first thing that pops into my head, resulting in a lot of hurt feelings. All while only hearing half of what was said.

Or – I shut down completely.

Quickly manifesting thoughts, emotions, and harsh words drown out the glaring, red light in my brain flashing: “WARNING! WARNING! Information overload… Shut down in 3… 2… 1…

Then, nothing.

And I think the hardest part of this shut down is that it happens so quickly that I don’t even realize it is happening. There’s no way to stop it. My mind simply freezes. Hours later, I wonder to myself, “What happened?” I’m left trying to piece together an argument that feels vague and confusing, not fully understanding why the other person is still so angry with me.

This unconscious behavior, for lack of a better term, isn’t just isolated to confrontations and arguments. It’s a forever-present defense mechanism that occurs for any type of overwhelmingly fearful situation in my life. And since most things outside of my normal everyday routine produce anxiety and fear for me, it’s a minute-by-minute struggle on a daily basis to challenge myself to stay present in this moment. Forget about thinking about the future. That is completely incomprehensible to me. It is enough of a challenge to keep a positive attitude in this moment and concentrate on what needs to get done right now.

It’s, flat-out, exhausting!

The reason I tell this story is that last year while Social Security was reviewing my case, this fear response took over my life. I couldn’t fight them. I froze. And I lost my SSD benefits as a result. Finding a therapist to help me felt too overwhelming. Finding anyone to help me felt too overwhelming. As the stigma of mental illnesses became a talking point for political bureaucracy, the voices of so many people commenting on blogs and articles about the misuse of social services ran through my mind, saying things like, “Why can’t you just keep a job?” Or, “You need to try harder.” Or, “You’re just lazy.”

I struggled the entire 5 years that I received benefits to justify my need for them. I questioned the validity of my illness. I developed a fear of psychiatry, medication, and general medicine so severe that I quit seeking treatment altogether! I haven’t been in therapy or taken any psychiatric medication since the middle of 2007. I didn’t quit seeing therapists and psychiatrists because I thought I was “cured” or even stable. On the contrary, my anxiety and fears became so severe that I fled.

I fled because I felt they were doing more harm than good. Over the course of 13 years, I had been hospitalized 9 different times for psychiatric emergencies and had taken every new medication available at the time, sometimes several at once. At best, the medication made me feel unreal or numb. At worst, the medications made me suicidal. Nevertheless, I found that my creativity suffered; and I no longer had the desire to do anything, including live.

Throughout those years, I was shuffled through countless psychiatrists and therapists due to insurance issues. They didn’t listen to my complaints about the medications and ineffective treatment. They offered very little productive feedback. Each one gave me new labels that ranged from a variety of Axis I to Axis II diagnoses. The list below is just the ones that I remember receiving in the order I was given them:

Postpartum Depression

Dysthymia

Major Depressive Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder

Anorexia Nervosa

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Schizoaffective Disorder

ADD

Bipolar Disorder

There could have been more, but it’s difficult to remember a lot of things from those years that I was medicated. After this 13 year roller coaster ride with psychiatry in general, I gave up because I was fed up. I was tired of being a guinea pig or lab rat, whichever floats your proverbial boat.

In any other species, the weak simply die off. That is, after all, natural selection. I’m not saying that this is either right or wrong. That’s just life, the way of the universe. Humans are only slightly more civilized than other species of animals in that they provide assistance through a variety of social services. At least, they like to think they’re more civilized. Receiving said services are, however, conditional. I’ve witnessed some of the most beautiful acts of kindness and compassion through this window to my outside world – my computer. I’ve also heard of some of the most atrocious acts of violence.

Fear is a debilitating emotion. I know I need help. For the first time in 6 years, I’ve resorted to going back to therapy. I am thankful that I finally found the courage to ask for help because sometimes, I need someone else to help me make sure my thinking is rational and constructive.

It has taken me many, many years of self-reflection, meditation, and therapy to understand the inner workings of my mind, to even label the emotions that I feel, to understand that to be conscious is a choice that one must make consciously. I’m not certain that I will ever master this human experience; but taking each moment as it comes, allowing myself the time it takes me to process whatever I’m dealing with, is the best solution I have to cope with the challenges I face and the challenges that others place in my path.

I apologize for the length of this post, but I had a lot on my mind. Mental illness affects so many people today. Telling our stories is an important part to creating better solutions and better care for those who so desperately need these services. Thank you for reading my story!

Day 276 The Dreaded Form Letter

Please, pardon me, while I vent a little before I implode. I promise not to make this a habit. I don’t normally write a lot about my life situation or the constant battle I fight against depression and anxiety. I’ve mentioned it a few times, but I don’t like to dwell on it. Maybe, I should share more. Maybe, I shouldn’t. I try to err on the side of caution because talking about it really does nothing to help, not to mention there’s enough negativity in the world without me adding to it. I prefer to share with the world and focus on the more uplifting and positive aspects of life in order to keep my own sanity in check.

I struggled to find that tiny light of happiness that usually keeps me going; but today, I couldn’t fight back the tears long enough to find it, not after I opened this piece of mail. Instead, I cried all day. It took 3 of the longest years of my life to finally get approved for Social Security Disability. Anyone who has been through the process knows what a nightmare it is. For those who haven’t, well… you basically have to survive for those 3 years on the generosity and compassion of others. For me, I felt I didn’t deserve to live because I was no longer a contributing member of society.

After I was finally approved, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I could finally breathe. I still couldn’t survive on my own; but at least, I was contributing a small amount of income to the household bills. Losing that $432 per month is going to hurt, a lot. I haven’t worked for 7 years. Given the state of the economy and the job market, I doubt very seriously anyone would ever consider hiring me with such a huge gap in my work history. It really doesn’t help matters any that going back to work terrifies me more than starving to death. I mean, seriously, I haven’t left my house in a week. How well is that going to work out when I’m supposed to be at a job?

According to the Social Security Administration, “You’re no longer disabled as of 09/12.” It’s nice to know that a lifelong condition will magically disappear next Friday. I will be so relieved to no longer feel the debilitating anxiety around people that I’ve felt since childhood or that overwhelming sensation of sensory overload that occurs when I’m forced into situations that are too much for me to handle. That would be great. I would love to have that freedom of normalcy and be a contributing member of society. It’s just a shame that real life doesn’t come with that magic on/off switch.