Monthly Archives: March 2017

Being Mentally Ill In The Trump Era

IMG_7157“Mentally ill”.  Now there’s a heavy label.

A part of me, the high-functioning counselor/writer/runner/Mom part of me, wants to forget that part of me, and exist as that picture you see of me on Facebook, the silly one of me and my husband dangling my daughter upside down.  The “everything’s fine” me.  The “I have a warrior high-feeling family who soars through their ups and downs” me.

But the truth is, I have had three, count em three, mental health diagnoses.  I have depression, and I’m in recovery from alcoholism AND an eating disorder.  All three of which have made me realize I have to tell the truth about who I am in order to survive.  And even more importantly, I have to surround myself with other truth-tellers who don’t pretend everything’s fine and that feelings are for wussies.

So when you are striding along confidently in recovery, and all of a sudden you are hit with a political environment that reduces half our country to “snowflakes” because they care about their fellow man, how do you think that affects those of us with invisible illnesses?

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When I watched Donald Trump mock a developmentally disabled person, I felt sick.  It was at that moment I could not understand how anyone could support this man.  Someone who mocked those with less privilege than him.  I don’t support him for a host of other reasons, but that stuck with me.  As his supporters grew louder with choruses of “Aww, shut up you wussy snowflake, I hope you get cornered in a dark alley by a Muslim” (read: real comment to me on social media), I quickly realized I was living in a world that did not condone experiences outside of the patriarchal norm.  And that patriarchal norm included not talking about feelings.  Making feelings into a moral issue, when in fact they’re simply instinctual responses from our brain that guide us.  Science. Who’d of thunk?

So I stopped asserting my opinions on certain social media boards.  Who might see them, and utilize them to their own advantage?  And I stopped going to family functions where I knew that patriarchal norm was supported.  Because my mental health wasn’t going to get any better there.  I even began to be more aware of the patriarchal structure that existed within self-help groups I attended, and decreased my attendance there.  Because they made fun of “special snowflakes” at some of those meetings.  And it reminded me of the conservative right.  Those phrases made me feel stupid for having such strong feelings.

And I became more isolated.

And we all know how good isolation is for depression.  And alcoholism.

I am very aware I cannot blame the severity of my mental illness on Trump.  But I also believe you cannot underestimate the effect the current political climate may be having on yours.  We are currently run by a very dysfunctional family, one made up of Trump and Spicer and Sessions and Conway, whose supporters believe everyone just needs to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps and be a real man/woman”.  Tell that to the bipolar individual whose depression renders them catatonic.  Tell that to the anxiety-ridden kid who can’t breathe in class.

One thing I know from being a counselor is that dysfunctional families will revolt against you if you drink lemonade instead of the kool-aid they drink.  They will do anything, ANYTHING to hurt you, knock you down, or stop you from shattering the status quo that they’ve been surviving on for ages.  A system will always try to flush out the truth-teller, even if that means retaining the current, hurtful, dysfunctional system.

Remind you of the current leaders in power any?  Of Twitter rants that we’ve been seeing?

For better or worse, we’re all one big American family.  And it’s really dysfunctional right now.  There’s a bunch of people in power that think “since I could do it, you should be able to”, and simply put, that’s damn arrogant and ignorant.   And it’s time for the truth-tellers to start shattering the unhealthy family patterns, but it’s really hard, because when we tell our truth, we get hurt.  People make fun of us and affect our mental health.  And we isolate further.

So that’s what it’s like being mentally ill in the Trump era.

It kind of sucks.  It kind of feels like I should hunker down low and not trust anyone.  Silenced.  At the risk of being persecuted.

But, I was raised by a parent who repeatedly taught me to “Give em hell”.  So here I am.  Telling you that feelings are chemicals in our brain and that science backs it up.  That it’s not just me but your neighbor too who’s been to a counselor before.  That Trumpcare will not require Medicaid to cover addiction and mental health services.  That the mentally ill isn’t just that alcoholic bum you see on the street, something you can shield your eyes from.  It’s your brother, it’s your kid, and the quicker we start integrating emotions into health, the richer we will be as a society.

Why Taking a Walk in the Woods Won’t Cure Depression

sadmandaI was a weird, weird kid.

I used to sit on the bus and stare at the back of the seat in front of me.  It was dark green and had lines running through it.  I remember the light filtering through the window, passing above my knees in a streak. I was five, and I was newly aware of mindfulness.  “Now is now”, I repeated to myself.  My mind was blown – almost to a dissociative level – time seemed to stand still when I thought that now was truly now, and there would never be another moment like it.

I wasn’t really aware of my uniqueness until I grew older, and realized all of my friends watched shows I never did, and did sports, and were just KIDS.  Most of my teenage years were spent going to stores with my mother and Nana, checking out in my head, living in a fantasy world, perhaps because reality was too hard.  Who knows.  All I knew growing up is that gratitude didn’t help me – it made me feel guilty, because I knew I had privilege and had some nice things but it just didn’t register.

As I got older and went to college and grad school and self-medicated with alcohol and restriction of food, I wasn’t aware that I was wearing a different pair of glasses than everyone else.  I wore dark, shaded sunglasses, while the rest of you wore regular near-sighted glasses.  You could see things as they were, the good and the bad.  But I could only see the bad.  Everything had a dark shade to it.  And the thing is, I thought this was completely normal.  I thought everyone laid in bed for hours on end and cried everyday and had fights with their friends because of it. So when I saw peers moving on and having successful relationships and having confidence I began to be bewildered.  Why couldn’t I get it?  In fact, a friend in grad school once remarked, “Amanda, I will be so happy the day that you say things are just “good”.”

10 years later, with 7 years of sobriety, individual and couples therapy, self-help groups, and medication, things still seem darker than I believe they do for most.  And let it be known I’m not negating “regular” people’s troubles or moods.  Everything everyone feels is valid.  However, I’m a sensitive soul, in all meanings of the word.  If I don’t get the right amount of sleep, my depression is triggered.  If I don’t exercise (which is a natural antidepressant), I run the risk of having a worse day.  This can get tricky when it comes to the eating disorder, because I also can’t get into repetitive, joyless exercise that I only do for my waistline.

When I have normal events in my life happen, I only see the bad.  For example, when my daughter was born, everything seemed tortuous, because I wasn’t sleeping which triggered my depression which also made it impossible to exercise because who can  or should exercise on 2 hours of sleep anyway?  I could see she was beautiful, but couldn’t enjoy it.  When it comes to being married, my dark sunglasses show me only the fights, the unnaturalness of staying with one person the rest of your life.

And when Robin Williams committed suicide?  I got it.  I wouldn’t ever do it, because I have a beautiful daughter to take care of, but I got it.  When life’s stress piles up over those dark sunglasses, it can seem like too much to stay here.

Do you see how it is chronic?  Well-managed but still chronic.  Easily affected by any little change.  And isn’t simply cured by a walk in the woods.

Don’t get me wrong – things are WAY better.  I get to help people with the same problems every day at my job, and I consider myself to be somewhat of an emotions ninja, someone who can, on a good day, utilize my drive to master any shots depression takes at me. And I’m a really good interpreter.  When my daughter asks me questions about emotions, I know what to say.  I know what to say in a current world full of people who call emotional souls “snowflakes”.  Which is sad, because emotions are directly connected to our medical health.  Why do you think married couples die so close together, so often?

Here’s how I try to live my life.  I don’t know what it’s like to be a person of color, super poor, or LGBTQ.  So I don’t try to tell those people what their perspective should be.  Because I’m not them, and I simply don’t know.  But I do know something about mental health, and eating disorders, and alcoholism.  So listen up.  This shit can’t be cured by just a walk in the woods.