Planting Roots & Speaking Up: Your Story Matters

SISCTREECOLLAGE The first time volunteered at mindyourmind office four years ago, involved me and some other volunteers playing the Reach Out game, where mental health questions are asked in a Jeopardy-style layout. I knew the answer to every single question but only contributed my voice to the discussion a few times.

I left the mindyourmind office feeling so sad and self-loathing that day, because I felt like a truly crazy person for knowing so much about mental health. My knowledge was all from personal experience like my suicide attempts. I hated myself for having such a dark history.

Yet, four years later, I’m speaking at conferences with mindyourmind, sharing my story and helping service providers in Ontario reach youth at times of crisis, bringing them the resources they need.

It is awesome. I love it! And at such events, I’m told that my input is very appreciated and I’m applauded for sharing pieces of my story. I know the mental health system as well as the rest of the people do in that room, except I know it from a patient perspective instead of as someone who works in that field. My voice is important!

The only thing that’s changed since that first day at mindyourmind when I felt so awful about myself is my perspective. In working with mindyourmind I’ve started to see my mental health knowledge as an asset, not a defect. My nights spent alone crying, self-injuring, wanting to die; the days in the hospital, wishing I could go outside for some fresh air; the scars I wear that sometimes cause people to stare at me – I’ve turned all of these things into something good. Something that can benefit others.

At the Systems Improvement through Service Collaborative conference I recently attended, we from mindyourmind asked the audience of service providers to compare the mental health community in Ontario to a tree. We handed out a copy of a tree collage I had made, and asked everyone to mark their spot on the tree. From the soil to the roots, to the trunk and the branches, every part of the tree has a role in producing those leaves at the top. Every part of that tree is necessary for growth.

Before my involvement with mindyourmind and the service collaborative, I didn’t feel like I was a part of anything. I felt like a stone in the ground, hard and cold and isolated. But one day I decided to walk in the doors of mindyourmind and take a look around. I knew I had something in common with the people who worked and volunteered there: a passion to help others. I wasn’t sure, but I thought maybe, just maybe I had something to offer. The only way I could know for sure was if I tried.

It was frightening, absolutely. It was rocky at times, I felt overwhelmed. But the good outweighed the bad, so much that I now feel like my history of mental illness is as good or better than a university degree on a résumé. It’s real life experience with real life issues that affect millions.

The next time you’re feeling self-hatred, take a step back. Maybe you’re used to putting yourself down, but could there maybe, just maybe be another side to things? Could your experience actually be an asset? What do you know that others don’t? What do you wish the people around you could understand?

You have the power to help others understand what you want them to know. You have the power the change this world. Yes, you. No one is exempt. Maybe you live somewhere or around people who aren’t supportive of your power, your voice, but they don’t have to control you forever. You can go out into the world and find people who make you feel appreciated. You have good things in you that this world needs.

Before volunteering at mindyourmind, I volunteered at the Humane Society, brushing and petting the cats who spent their days in cages. I was only helping one small cat at a time but that was in my comfort zone. I made a bit of a difference.

Start small if you have to. Start where you are. Start in secret if you want or need to, but just start. Plant your roots in the ground somewhere, anywhere that makes you feel safe. The sunshine will reach you if you stick your ground, I promise. You are NOT alone and you have much to offer. Prove it to yourself, the world. We need you! Share your story, your opinion, your thoughts and your tastes. You deserve to be here and be heard just as much as anyone else. We need to hear from you because there is no one exactly like you.

Come on out. Volunteer or speak up or just think about how your passions could change this world for the better. And if you take a chance, it could turn your whole life around. It could give you a reason to get out of bed. It could give you life, meaning, and a place in this world; just like it has for me.

Future Fears

childrenplayingIn these past few years, my Facebook feed has slowly become not about my friends’ lives, but the lives of their children. I used to do a double-take when a friend’s profile pic showed them suddenly thirty years younger than they were the day before, but now I sigh and say, “Another baby.” What’s really weird is when you are friends with a couple and they move away and then have children. And you get to see these strange hybrids of the people you once knew.

I’ve always been friends with people older than me, due to maturity or just a general sense of needing to run from whatever crowd I’m typically surrounded with. So my friends have been having babies for some time, but the older I get, the more common it’s becoming. And, you guessed it, the older I get the more I stress about having kids one day. I’ve always known two things about myself, that I want to be a writer and I want to have kids.

Only now that I’m twenty-nine, this has become a real problem. First of all, I’ve never had a boyfriend beyond two months because in my mind, dating means sex and sex means rape. And you kind of have to have sex to have kids, at least if you want to be a mother to your own offspring, without paying a bazillion dollars to be artificially inseminated.

Also, I still hate life most of the time. I still have suicidal thoughts every day. It takes a lot of courage for me to not kill myself, so I’m nowhere near believing that life is so great that I should actually pass it on to another person. While I am aware that it’s a fucking miracle to be alive, and that I’m so fortunate to be alive and as healthy as I am, I’ve yet to feel happy with my life. I don’t want to bring a kid into a world that doesn’t have happiness in it that I can count on.

I’m so scared, though, that I could never be happy without having kids because I love kids SO much. I’m beginning to resent my form of happiness.

And most of the time I think that I’m too fucked up to have kids. What kind of parent would I be, covered in self-inflicted scars? I’ve always felt like a target for predators, and I’m afraid my kids would come out just like me, hating themselves and feeling victimized at every turn. I feel toxic.

In a year I’ll turn thirty. My mom had me when she was twenty-five! No pressure, right?

I can only hope that the next five years or so will bring good things for me. That I can accomplish my dream of becoming a published writer, that I can earn enough money to keep myself alive, and then maybe those two things will give me enough purpose and security to think about trying to date. Fighting my fears that every man is a rapist. And then, if I can feel safer in this world, maybe I can find happiness, at least some of the time. Enough to feel like having children wouldn’t be selfish, but the opposite of that.

I also need to look my childhood sexual abuse in the face, really try to understand it because right now, my abuse just makes me feel like every kid out there will be hurt so badly. They are so vulnerable and there are so many bad people out there.

I need to start small. Like this week, I am totally psyched to see The Nut Job with my friend Andrea and her daughter Bea. Bea is the coolest kid ever and she makes me so happy. I feel like no one better than she will understand my excitement for this movie about squirrels AND a pug.

So if I ever seem like this mental health superhero to you, maybe this post will remind you of how much self-doubt and fear I still have. How far I have to go. If you are scared about your future – and really, who isn’t? – think about sharing your fears. Turning feelings into words is a powerful remedy. It gives you something to work with, instead of the swirling pit of chaos it can feel like when it stays trapped inside.

What does your ideal future look like? Where do you want to go? What would you want for your kids one day? Is there a way for you to get there yourself, first?

If you get overwhelmed thinking about the future, plant both of your feet on the floor to remind yourself of your present. Focus on your breathing. It’s super easy to get lost in our heads, thinking about all the “what ifs” we have yet to face.

You aren’t alone!

Defining ‘The Art of Living With Depression’

weatherSince writing my Good Things Jar post with my video tutorial, I’ve been thinking about art and its connection to this blog.

Before I started Daisies and Bruises, I knew I wanted to write about art and depression, because they are two things I’m passionate about. Art has been a key instrument in my battle with depression, and I wanted to make art more accessible to the world of mental health.

Little did I know how much punch that little tagline would bring to my writing and my life.

Almost two hundred posts later, I think it’s time we re-examine what The Art of Living With Depression really means. Each word in that line was chosen carefully. Ignoring “the” and “of,” what do the rest of the words mean?

To me, ART is much more than a subject in school, classical paintings, and kindergarten finger paints. Yes, I love art and I love crafts, but the word itself can mean so much more.

Dictionary.com defines ART as: “The quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.” That sentence makes me swoon!

But beyond aesthetic principles and what is beautiful, ART to me means “practice”. The art of _____. You could put anything in that blank space, so really, art is all kinds of things. It is the form and function of life.

It also means “balance.” It’s something we do from our first breath to our last. We practice the art of living.

Which brings us to the next word: LIVING. We all know what the word means but I chose it for a special reason:

So much of my mental illness is negative, but I want to live despite my depression. I want to live with my depression. So this blog isn’t “The Art of Surviving Depression” or “The Art of Existing with Depression” or “The Art of Dying with Depression.”

It’s LIVING. Up, on your feet, indoors and out, in the sun and the rain, today and tomorrow and the day after that. It’s breathing and smiling. It’s crying, it’s FEELING. It is the whole spectrum of what we call LIFE.

DEPRESSION is the last word of our tagline. I don’t need to define it; you know what depression is by now. Yes, it’s the basis of this blog, but I also feel like it doesn’t have to be part of the tagline, because this blog is about more than depression.

You don’t need to be depressed to feel the wide spectrum of human emotion. We all feel all emotions. People with depression spend more time feeling sad, apathetic, hopeless, alone, and all those other dark feelings, but even if you don’t have depression, you still know what feeling hopeless is like. We’re all human, depressed or not.

I want this blog to not only be about the Art of Living With Depression, but also simply the Art of Living. Depression is a part of life, for some of us, but it isn’t bigger than life itself, though it sometimes can feel that way. It’s just rain clouds in the vast expanse of our skies. Rain is a part of life, it nourishes the ground, it feeds the flowers. Rain is water, and we need water to live.

I feel the rain clouds stirring, a storm building up, emotion ready to pour down, cleansing this earth. Maybe after the storm, life will sprout. Hundreds of thousands of flowers can grow, trees can root their way into a solid foundation. After the rain comes sunshine. The clouds can block the sun but just because we can’t see it, doesn’t mean the sun isn’t there.

I hope you will join me in thriving from the storm. Let’s live the Art of Depression together, and define what it really means to be human in this world. The potential is limitless. We are limitless.

Halloween Trauma Triggers

AMerryHalloweenI am proud to say that readers from around the world visit and subscribe to Daisies and Bruises. Mental health is a universal issue, so I’m hoping even a few advanced alien species pick up on my site now and then.

So if you’re reading from somewhere that doesn’t celebrate Halloween, here’s a link to explain the traditions and celebrations we do around here in North America: Halloween History

Halloween was always super fun at my house when I was growing up. My parents went all-out in decorating the house with spider webs, jack-o-lanterns and black cats. A massive homemade ghost twirled from a window on the second floor of our house. My mom usually dressed up like a witch to hand out candy, complete with cackling and a scary soundtrack in the background.

It was my favourite holiday until I reached high school age, when trick-or-treating was no longer “cool” and all parties involved alcohol and only sexy-themed costumes.

Ever since I remembered my abuse, some of the fun things about Halloween now seem sinister. Post-traumatic stress disorder takes hold and points out some things that trigger me:

Halloween Props That Trigger Me

- crime scene tape

- fake blood, scars, stitches

- people jumping out at me (this has ALWAYS scared me to death, even as a little kid. Especially as a kid!)

- strobe lights/fog (anything that obstructs my vision)

- fake severed limbs

- overly sexualized anything

- fake chains

- cemetery props

- background sounds of human screams

 

Halloween Props I Still Love

- spider webs

- bats

- non-gory costumes

- candy, candy, candy

- Jack-o-lanterns

- black cats

It feels weird to list the Halloween things that trigger me, like I’m signaling myself as the biggest party pooper or something, but I can’t be the only one who feels this way.

It’s important to think about the messages we give to the world in our actions and decisions, from the every-day to special occasions. Just because it’s a holiday, it doesn’t mean my traumatic feelings go away. On the other hand, what triggers me may not trigger someone else and vice versa. If we stripped Halloween of everything that triggered people (which would be impossible anyway), some of the fun parts of Halloween would be erased too.

This post is about awareness, not scrubbing Halloween of all the potentially triggering things. Ask the following questions when you decorate this season:

- What kind of messages are my decorations giving?

- Is this appropriate for children and feelings of safety?

- Could these props be upsetting to some people, making them feel unsafe at my party?

- Can I add to the fun of the Halloween tradition without jumping out at people or playing “music” involving human screams?

- Is fake blood something to laugh at and decorate with?

This is also a guide to understanding why your friend maybe isn’t enjoying Halloween. Maybe that background music of human screams scares us for a reason, and we shouldn’t be ignoring that sometimes people do scream like that outside of Halloween. Real torture exists in this world, as well as real human monsters and real crime scenes. We should never allow ourselves to become numb to the real dangers in the world.

In two weeks we will celebrate Remembrance Day, to pay respect to veterans past and present. That holiday isn’t a joke to anyone, and most war veterans I know have seen more severed limbs than the rest of us can imagine.

Trauma memories aren’t mindful of the calendar. They don’t just go away because it’s Halloween. They are ever-present. That’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: the painful past remaining present.

This year, let’s find a balance between fun and safety for Halloween. Think about those reflective strips schools hand out to kids now so that they are extra visible to traffic when they’re trick-or-treating in the dark. We can improve on traditions, making Halloween more fun for everyone.

Share this post! Spread the word before the 31st, so we can plan to have a great time.

Fighting for Survival

Promo FliersI believe we have to fight to create a world worth living in. On my very worst days, art is the only medium that gives me hope, so on my better days, I try to contribute to the world through art. When I’m feeling bold I create collages and paintings, but art can be more subtle too, like leaving secret messages for others to find.

I like the message, “You aren’t alone.” It can mean anything depending on your state of mind, but I like to use it in reference to mental illness. This week I’ve carried around clear mailing tape, scissors, and a bunch of my tiny fliers during my walks throughout downtown. I’ve taped up my “You aren’t alone” messages in bus shelters to promote hope and promote my blog to those curious enough to see what my URL leads to. I figure lots of people wait in bus shelters with little to look at, so my messages would be spotted there. Plus if it rained, my fliers wouldn’t be ruined as quickly in a sheltered spot.

Tonight while walking Digby I decided to check to see if my messages were still up in the two bus shelters closest to my apartment. To my dismay, both messages had been removed by some jerk within two days’ time. Dammit!

In re-examining each bus shelter, I realized that I rarely ever see fliers of any sort in those things. Someone pays to have their gigantic ad on the billboards in those spaces. Glancing at the top of each shelter I saw the creepy CBS logo with its ominous eye peering down at me, something I’d never noticed before.

So fuck bus shelters. Who needs them? Besides me and my little shred of hope taped up against plexiglass?

Yeah, on my walk back home I felt pretty discouraged, thinking that my fliers being removed symbolizes my entire life experience. I try to make a difference, and the world stops me. Someone tells me to shut up or to at least not talk because they’re the ones talking.

Lately I feel so stifled, especially being so broke. I’m sick of not having enough money, I’m sick of thinking about money, I’m sick of complaining about money. I need to start making more money or I need to move out of this apartment that I love as my home.

These small acts of bravery just won’t cut it. One palm-sized piece of coloured paper won’t magically get Londoners to read my blog entries and buy enough zines for me to pay my bills. I need to do something bigger. I need to step out of my comfort zone.

My fears of having a job stem from trauma. When I was abused, I couldn’t leave and protect myself like I needed to. Twenty-four years later, I still get triggered and scared when I don’t have complete control over my present surroundings. I’m afraid that if I give up control I will be hurt and trapped all over again.

I feel like my trauma experiences have me by the throat, but I need to hold faith in my adult powers. So, maybe working for someone else isn’t where I’m at in my recovery, but surviving trauma has its upsides that can work in my favour. I have an increased ability for survival, endurance, and creativity. I can hang on and fight.

So where is this going? I have some ideas. As usual, I’m going to keep you guessing but promise you that you’ll be the first to know whenever I do have news to share.

In the meantime, think about what hidden tools your past experiences have equipped you with. How can you make better use of those tools? How can we all turn pressure into diamonds?

When you have that all figured out, cruise on over to HYPERBOLE AND A HALF. That’s right, Allie is back with a new story about depression. See that creativity? Yeah, life is good.

Suicide: My ON/OFF Switch

heartbeatI’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve tried to end my life. I first attempted suicide as a young child – though no one ever knew because as a four-year old I didn’t understand the mechanics of it all. Then I tried several times as a teenager and young adult, but was pulled back from the brink of death each time. I still have thoughts of suicide every day.

After so many suicide attempts, I know the devastation my death would cause. The people who knew me would be forever scarred. So, I need to keep breathing. I need to stay alive.

When you look at it that way, life becomes an ON/OFF switch. My light is perpetually green, staying on, even when I don’t want it to. After each suicide attempt I look at the green light and curse. When I’m done spouting out every vile word in the dictionary I’m left with a question: Now what?

If I’m going to live this life, what can I do to make it worthwhile? How can I live so that I’m proud of my ON/OFF switch staying green?

The answer is this: I need to live for me and not someone else. I need to do the things I enjoy so that I can enjoy living. And out of everything in the world, I enjoy reading, writing, and making art the most. I live for those things.

I write in my journal, I write my blog, I write poetry and stories. I create art in my apartment; my apartment is made out of art. I sell my art and writing here and there, but the financial profit isn’t my main concern. I’m living in poverty but I’m living, not just staying alive. There’s a difference.

I’m doing what I love and slowly things are starting to come together. I’m going in the right direction. I fulfill my dreams, not someone else’s. This is the place my heart rests and I can breathe with relief in staying alive.

Your life is precious. What can you do to make it worth living? How can you be proud of your ON/OFF switch staying green?

This video encourages the same question. Watch it, be inspired, and start LIVING your life!

Vacation Reply: Therapist on Holidays

needI’m running out of photos since I’ve been posting so often lately. It makes me want to apologize to your inbox, if you’re a subscriber. It makes me want to thank every commenter profusely for even bothering to come to my blog.

And it’s not just my writing that I’m super self-conscious about right now. I’m over-analyzing everything. I’m pretty sure I’m apologizing way too much; I’m overly polite with every cashier and stranger on the bus; I’m wondering if the person I’m talking to secretly hates me; and I’m repeatedly and spontaneously telling people how much they mean to me. I exhaust myself and, of course, I’m worried that I’m exhausting you, too.

Anxiety, anxiety, ANXIETY!!!

Obviously, I haven’t been the picture of mental health for some time now, but I’m connecting this current anxiety with the fact that my therapist is still on holidays. Today marks two and a half weeks without my dual appointment per week routine.

To make it worse, my last session with my therapist wasn’t good. I’d been feeling very depressed and I felt hopeless about the upcoming break and then to top it all off, my therapist didn’t even say, “Merry Christmas” when it was time for me to go. Some years she’s given me a handshake or a hug before vacation time, but this year I got nothing.

Who gives a fuck about Santa Claus when even your therapist can’t give you the gift of plain courtesy before kicking you out of her office?

I called and left her an angry phone message after leaving my appointment that day. She returned my call later on and said that she thought any seasonal gesture might make me feel like she was making light of my situation. That helped me to understand, but I didn’t feel much better on hanging up the phone.

It can be really hard not to take a therapist’s absence personally. Isn’t Christmas the time of year when you’re supposed to spend time with people you care about? So if my therapist takes a holiday, I often resort to thinking, “HA! I KNEW SHE DIDN’T CARE ABOUT ME!

Do you remember my previous post on Coping While Your Therapist is on Vacation? It’s this blog’s most popular entry, ever. So, I’m not the only one who knows the significance of a therapist going away for holidays.

If we’re struggling, we need more support not less. Unfortunately, we people in therapy lose one of our biggest supports a few times a year. No, it’s not fair. It’s one of the hard truths about therapy that few people talk about. It comes from the same place the fear in our gut whimpers, “But I shouldn’t have to pay someone to listen to me!” 

Payments remind us that it’s our therapist’s job to listen to us, and that can hurt to think about. But remember that our therapists chose this line of work out of every other job out there. To go to school to become a therapist takes years and years and years. Therapists listen to some of the saddest stories on the planet, from multiple people, day in and day out, almost every day of their adult lives.

That’s one hell of a commitment and they couldn’t do it if they didn’t care about each and every one of us. Truly. And they care so much that they do take their work home with them sometimes, considering our stories long after they leave their office. Sometimes those stories might even distract them from other people they care about like their spouses or their children.

I’m not trying to make you feel guilty. I’m trying to explain this all to myself, because it’s scary to think that my therapist is human. She isn’t indestructible, as much as I need her to be. She’s mortal and that means that sometimes she needs a break to keep doing the work that she does.

Maybe when March Break or summer vacation comes along I can scroll back to this post. Maybe it can remind me that my therapist isn’t the same as all the people who have ever turned their backs on me. She isn’t trying to hurt me on purpose by going away and just because I’m out of her sight temporarily, it doesn’t mean I’m out of her mind.

She comes back from vacation, every time. After almost a decade of working with this woman, that consistency means a lot. It pays off. It pays me back in bigger ways than $100 a session. It pays me back for life.

One Door Closes, Another Opens

I’ve spent the last 24 hours in solitude, quietly experiencing the closing of 2012 and reflecting on what the year has meant to me. With the opening of 2013, I feel somber but strong.

I almost didn’t make it through 2012. Two days after my Depression Cake post I ended up in the hospital because I was close to committing suicide.  I didn’t want to go to the hospital but I recognized my need and reached out for help. The hospital staff supported me and helped me to stabilize. After a few days of rest and lots of reflection, I returned home and picked up where I’d left off, but this time from a stronger place.

Since then I put my Etsy Shop on vacation so I could focus on taking care of me. I’ve been self-nurturing through doing art and keeping my small, basic routine. My blog and Digby have kept me going. So have my friends.

The best part of 2012 was visiting my friend Cassy in Salem, Massachusetts. I love her so so much and visiting her was completely magical. Through making that trip happen, I learned that I can experience truly awesome things in my life if I work for it. There are so many places for me to see and people for me to spend time with. There is so much to live for.

Life is both daisies and bruises. It is the hope generated by visiting a best friend in a different country; it is the pain ignited by speaking out against my abuser for the first time. Life is beautiful and life hurts.

Last night I saw a raccoon hiding from me and Digby in the bare magnolia tree next door. It saddened me that she was up there, scared and alone in a tree with no shelter. I quickly returned inside so she would feel safe enough to come down.

She and I have the same New Year’s Resolution: survival. I have many wishes and goals for 2013, but my only solid resolution is to get through it alive.

I look out my window and it’s snowing like it does in movies. As if a shaken snow globe shaken is finally finding balance again after being set down, the little flakes settling into their beds.

There is hope for the future and comfort during bad weather. I think the 12 Days of Christmas are over now, but I feel like posting again in the next couple of days. You help me hang on, and I hope I do the same for you. ♥

p.s. If you’re curious, here’s my blog stats for 2012. Thank YOU so much for reading along, and encouraging me in all the ways that you do.

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