Hey all! So... it happened again. There’s been a delay and I could only post one thing this week. I know I promised some sketches, but as you can see, that didn't happen. And the start of chapter 2 of my webcomic, Slug At Work, won't actually start until Tuesday. This is both because it's not ready, aaaaand Tuesday just makes more sense because of my work schedule.
But because it is the last day (ten minutes) of Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought I would instead take this time to talk about my multiple health disorders, what they do, and the steps I have or are currently, taking to fight them. Because it's not just one disorder I have, It’s several. And boy, do they just LOVE making each other worse.
For those of you new to this site, there are times when my mental health gets... in the way... of my work. It's why I take medication and why I was in group therapy from November to January. It's why I decided to have a loose schedule, as I try to take the advice I got in group therapy and go forward with my art and my day job. But the thing about mental health? It's not that easy. And usually what ends up happening with me, is that all of my plans—whether it’s personal things like movies I want to see or important things like classes I want to take, and projects I promise to publish online--- end up falling through.
It makes me feel embarrassed and unreliable. And I usually give some kind of lame excuse because... well? I don’t want people to think that I’m faking it, or using my disorders and disabilities as a crutch. And sometimes... I feel like I am.
However, if there is one thing I can take away from all the group therapy I just went through, it’s that guilt is an emotion we feel in order to cover up another feeling we don’t wish to admit we feel. In my case, it’s a lot of sadness, but also a lot of anger and self-hate. That was something that honestly surprised me. And it’s not an easy thing to just stop doing with the snap of my fingers. In fact, it’s much more healthy to express these feeling then deny them. I SHOULD get angry. I SHOULD express that... I... hate myself. Because that’s the only way to start getting over it. Admitting and expressing how I feel, even if it’s seen as a “negative emotion”, is one of the first steps to change.
The real first step is realizing that something is wrong.
And this week is a great example. It’s very easy for people to say things like “fight through it" or just keep going till your over the hump. So that’s what I tried. I ignored the signs and fought through it all so I could finish problems. But, ironically, if I had given in to the signs my body was showing me earlier in the week (that I was having a huge depression spike and was in desperate need of self-care to deal with it), I probably would have had the energy to get a lot more done by today. Put a pin in that for later.
That said, here are my health problems in order from least annoying, to... most annoyingly crippling:
1) Reading and Writing Disability: This one was a little easier to deal with, once I was diagnosed. In college, after I was diagnosed, I would get extended time on tests, in a private room, because I would have to read things multiple times over to understand it, and then apply it to questions. And then write my answer and then going over what I wrote again several times to make sure it could be understood. I’m doing that right now, with this post. I remember so many failed assignments where I didn't follow the assignment correctly, simply because I misunderstood what I read or heard. Yes, heard. Because this disorder loves work with Disorder number 2.
2) Attention Deficit Disorder (Inattentive type): someone once said to me that ADD doesn't exist. They were told this by a friend that works in some kind of medical profession. It was right then that I told him that I have ADD and that it, and it's counterpart, ADHD are VERY VERY REAL. If it wasn't, then I would need to have a long talk with my brain about how much it screwed me over during tests.
I explained to him how, because of my ADD, I literally have to use every muscle in my body to keep not only focused on what's in front of me but also consciously aware of my surroundings. If I don't, my mind will do one of two things. It will either start a reel of random thoughts at lightning speed that keeps me from focusing on someone literally talking in my face, or I will do something my therapist called "hyper-focus", where I am focused on one thought so strongly, that it's hard for me to switch gears and notice anything else going around me, including, again, someone talking directly in my face. Combine that with my Reading and Writing disabilities and you've got a whole slew of misunderstandings and awkward silences.
However, that was back at school. Today I have a pretty good hold on my ADD and the R/W disability. Some people do need medication. I, however, did not. Or rather, I tried but they all had nasty effects on me. Instead, I have meditations, do mind teasers and focusing exercises to help me deal with both of these disorders every day. The biggest problem I still have is that my ears still tend to pick up background noise more easily than, say it with me now, someone talking directly in my face. So it’s mostly all about concentration
3) Generalize Anxiety Disorder: The best way to describe this disorder is that ANYTHING can set it off. I DO have specific triggers, but usually, it takes literally nothing to set it off. One moment, I'll be listening to music, and the next I'll feel this rush of confusion and fear run through me that shortens my breath and I have to remind myself to breathe and that I am safe. My brain will run over the things that happened today that could have set it off, and can't come up with anything. And If I don’t do something about it fast, I’m going to have an anxiety attack.
Luckily for me, I take medication every day for this, and at the moment, I don’t get those surprise full-on anxiety attacks. without it, I would literally be a jittery mess all day. I even have an emergency pill to take if I do get an anxiety attack. But that doesn't happen very often. My anxiety, like my ADD, feels much more under control since I started things like therapy and medication. Again, the solution will be different for everybody. Oh, and I have stress toys.
A LOT of stress toys.
But it’s the last two that are the big problems.
4) Delayed sleep phase type: I have a saying: Fish swim, birds fly, and Tegan is ALWAYS tired.
When I tell people I have a sleep disorder, people usually assume that I have sleep apnea. "No no, it's not that at all" I would say, and then give them the proper name "It basically means that when I'm asleep, I'm not really sleeping." To which the response is very confused faces. The thing is, DSPT is pretty complicated when you try to read about it, having a long list of frustrating and exhausting (har har) list of symptoms. Instead of calming down, my brain keeps working and thinking, even while asleep, meaning I wake up feeling exhausted. But the real problem with DSPT is that I do not have the physical capability to have a normal sleep schedule. I will be sleep deprived but can't fall asleep until 1 AM. I can sleep for 12 hours and still feel exhausted. I take a nap right after coming home from work at 7pm just to recharge myself enough to eat supper. And though it's not technically a symptom, I also get horrible night terrors. It's the one disorder I can't find a steady medication for. Most of them will work for the first couple months before I either need to change the amount or the medication completely. It never works for very long. This is because every medication I take always make one of my OTHER disorders worse. Especially my depression. One way to cope with DSPT is to just, well, give in. Be a night owl. Go to bed late, and wake up in the afternoon. Unfortunately, our world isn't built like that. And until 24-hour shops like Shoppers Drug Mart starts selling Copic markers and aquarium supplies, that’s not an option for me.
In THIS case, I have a few things in place to help. I have a Daylight Lamp. It’s a light that gives off similar rays to the sun, giving me not only a bright wake-up call, but an extra dose of Vitamin D. I also take a vitamin d pill for the morning, and current medication to help me fall asleep. Lavender works pretty well too. Right now I’m trying a new medication to help me stay away during the day. I’m lucky enough that my family helps remind me, and, of course, I have my fish. 4 little lives that rely on me to get out of bed and feed them, clean up after them, and keep their water from drying up
But it’s still very difficult, and I’m currently at the point that even if I wake up and go to sleep on time, I still need one or two good naps to get through the day. So in layman's terms: I don't sleep. At all.
And yet, this still isn't' the worst...
5) Depression: Okay. Now we come to the big one. The one that is the root of the majority of problems in my daily life. Because no matter what's happening to me, whether it's an anxiety attack or sleeping problems, you can always find Depression has played some kinda part in it. My sleep disorder for instance. DSPT creates a chemical called Melatonin. Its polar opposite is Serotonin, the chemical basically keeps you from getting depressed. More Melatonin means less serotonin, which means on top of feeling tired, I can also wake up with a hard wave of crippling depression. (without my medication, that is)
I've heard of the "black dog" metaphor. But for me, depression feels more like a dark swamp trying to suck me down, like the Swamp of Sadness from the Never-Ending Story. My body and mind literally want me to give up and put me in a state of sadness and self-hate that tries to pull me down. That said, I'm lucky enough that I've never felt the urge to commit suicide. Not in the traditional sense. No, my depression wants me to give up in another way--- by laying in bed, cocooning myself in blankets. My mind tells me I'm useless, and that I'm better off here in my safe bed, where nothing can hurt me, and I'll be out of everyone's way.
That's what my depression does to me. And it's still one of the most difficult to deal with because my depression can hit me without warning. Or at least, it feels that way. In truth, a person can get a lot of signs that depression is about to hit them in a bad way. It's recognizing those signs that are hard. One sign? Say you have a really good evening with your friends. You're having the time of your life. Then it's time to go home. You lay down to sleep... and bam. That wave hits you in the face, hard. It makes no sense right? But everyone I know with depression gets this. After having a great time, as soon as it's over, and that wave of euphoria stops, depression takes its place. So you learn the signs and prepare for them...
However, the signs are ever-changing
When I first got diagnosed, it was the same year I was going to Europe with my family. I was terrified. But after 3 months of working with my doctor, taking therapy, and doing exercises, me and my family put together an emergency list for me to use if I get hit with crippling depression, or an anxiety attack. It had my medication list, a few of my favourite meditations, and I kept a second case of my medication in another bag, (Airports need everything to be labelled properly, so I reused the old medication bottles with the correct prescription on them). I also had some stress toys and music, along with a few meditation recordings too. Which worked out great, seeing as during the last week of the trip, I lost my backpack on the bus, which contained not only some of my medication, but my wallet, my passport, and pretty much everything else I would need to get through another night. If it wasn't for my family being prepared as well, I might not have made it through the night without a trip to the hospital. (We got back my bag the next morning too)
And over the next few months, and a few tweaks to my medication, I was feeling really good. Until about next year, when EVERYTHING stopped working almost at once. My meditations, my medication, everything. Even the signs of my depression had changed. It was like my depression had gone to the gym for the past year, jumped back in the ring for round two, and sucker punched me in the face when I wasn't looking. It made no sense.
I felt like I was back at square one. I had to learn new ways of dealing with my depression. Try out new medication, and learn the new signs of my rising depression. And, well, that's what I'm going through right now. I had thought I had gotten some hold on my depression, when it happens, how to deal with it, the medication amount. One thing I figured out was that I will be hit with a wave of depression a week before my period, timed almost perfectly. But... it's been a few weeks from that. And just like before, all my medications have to be examined and altered because of it.
That is the problem with depression, and many other mental disorders out there. It would be too easy and too simple if you could find every a single solution that work's forever. When you find something that works, it's wonderful. But eventually, after enough time, a single medication loses its impact on your body. It's just how our immune systems work.
So with that, all said, what can I, and you do about these disorders? Honestly, there are lots of things you can do that I've already mentioned. Get regular therapy, talk to your doctor (one that actually believes mental disorders are real), and just try different activities, meditations, breathing exercises.
But Most of all, take care of YOURSELF. Practice self-care. Sometimes that's the hardest thing to do. Especially for women. It’s been long known in the medical community that women usually put others before themselves. But treating yourself well even in little ways makes a big difference. Try something new! When I’m in a depression funk, I find doing things I normally like doesn’t help. This can work for some people but not me. Sometimes picking an activity I don’t usually do works much better.
And congratulate yourself. You got out of bed today? Congratulations! You got out of bed ON TIME? Congratulations! You ate today? Congratulations! You did something wrong at work and had to have a talk with your boss? CONGRATULATIONS. Because even if you did something wrong, you DID something and you can LEARN from it!
Also, reevaluate whats going on in your life and who is in it. One reason My depression and anxiety held me back for so long was that I had a very uncaring, toxic boss. Once she was out of my life, I felt more confident and happier.
There's also another thing to watch out for: Falling into bad habits when a disability or disorder hits you hard. For me, when depression hits, I tend to spend money on things I THINK will make me happy. But never does. You need to make sure that the things you are doing for yourself are HEALTHY as well. No drugs (except maybe weed) or anything that would cause you physical or mental harm.
Here's something I did.
Recently, I watched this video:
And it inspired me to put together a "depression emergency bag" and fill it with ridiculous, random, childish things. A build your own straw kit. Play-dough. A colouring book and pencil crayons. my favorite expensive candy and soft drinks. I tried it out for the first time this week, and it did help a little. I also still have an ever-changing playlist on my phone for the downs. And I love-- LOVE to watch lets plays of Bayonetta, a video game character that embodies all the confidence, intimidation and body positivity I so badly want to feel in myself. And then I packed it all away in my closet for when I needed it.
So if things you like doing aren’t helping you, do something silly, something new, something spontaneous! Put on a silly hat. Scream into a pillow. Watch your pet fish swim. You never know what might help, so try everything (that's healthy).
So with all that said, what did I do this week to help me fight my depression? Well, first I had to admit that my depression had spiked, probably because I had such a fun and energetic weekend. Saturday, free comic book day, started out amazing. I managed to get to three comic book stores, and my favourite art store. Where I bought specific colours of inks and markers for upcoming projects. I finished the final drafts for the new comic. I was doing colour studies and testing out new and old techniques. And then...Wednesday came and I just... crashed. It wasn’t until Friday that I stopped being stubborn and allow myself to admit that something was wrong, and then tell myself that it’s okay. I opened up my Emergency depression kit it. Had a kinder chocolate bar. Drank vanilla coke through a silly straw put together myself. Read "Fuck That" my favourite self-help book, and watched Bayonetta kill an evil angel by what I think was salsa dancing? Maybe if I just let myself relax and did this sooner, I would have been in better spirits sooner? Who knows?
So yeah, that's basically a... lot of stuff about my mental health, all laid out for you. Honestly, I’m still a little terrified of posting this. But I’m gonna do it. And then I’m going to congratulate myself for doing it. Probably with some cool YouTube videos.
Till next time,
Tegan Dumpleton aka The Sluglady