April 19, 2017

Star Wars: A New Metric for my Depression??

What you need to know about me to understand this post is that I am obsessed with Star Wars.  I'm wearing a shirt that says "Star Wars" in two languages and a BB-8 bracelet.  There are two Star Wars posters above my computer screen and countless action figures and books all around me.

I know it may seem frivolous (obsessions with sports teams seem similarly frivolous to me but I don't judge), but I love Star Wars.  It's my happy place.  It always makes me happy.  Or at least I thought it did...

The day the trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out two and a half years ago, I must have watched it at least thirty times.  I grinned ear to ear the whole time.  I couldn't have been more happy, and I spent the next 392 days in blissful anticipation.  Of course I had hard times, but none of them were so bad that Star Wars didn't make me smile.

Last Friday the trailer for the newest Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, premiered.  I watched the live-streamed convention panel where the stars and director talked about it, and then they streamed the trailer for the first time!!!!!!  And I. Felt. Nothing.  Nothing at all.  And then they played it again and I thought, "Oh I must not have been paying attention well enough" (as if) "or I'm just tired but I'll be more alert this time.  Surely it will be better."  And I felt nothing again.

As I stared at the screen and listened to all the convention-goers cheer, I finally realized just how depressed I am right now.  All of the struggles we (we being my husband and I) have had over the last few months (I'm looking at you tiny angry landlady with the roofless apartment) are resolved.  There are no major problems in our lives right now.  And yet I can barely get out of bed.  I can't manage to work more than an hour or two a day.  Phone calls go unanswered.  Texts go unread.  Smoke signals go unreturned.  All of the people who have asked me about my reaction to the new Star Wars trailer have been lied to.  The truth is that I am currently broken.

It took me too long to acknowledge this bout of depression, and that's a huge problem.  I tried alternately to ignore what was going on or to attribute it to other health issues I was having.  Guys, that is a PROBLEM!  I feel like I'm sort of an expert on this whole surviving depression thing, but I ignored all of my own best advice.  And I've been afraid to publicly acknowledge the current struggle because I was afraid it would be seen as a failure and that all the people who have told me they look to me for inspiration would feel betrayed.  But I'm speaking out now because I think you need to know that this is not a fight that goes away for me.  I'm never speaking out of a place of "I've been there" wisdom.  It's always a place of "I will always sort of be there."  It ebbs and flows, and right now it's worse than it's been in a few years.  But it will not win.  I will keep fighting, as must all of you in whatever battles you face!

I have a therapist, I go for walks when I can, I take my medication, and I just saw my doctor again (new medication regimen starts tomorrow).  I wear my Star Wars shirts and bracelets and try to smile.  I am doing everything 'right.'  But the insane stress of late 2016/early 2017 (details unimportant) broke me and exceeded the limits of my old medication, and it's just going to take as long as it takes to pull myself out of the hole.

There's nothing anyone can do right now, and I promise I'll ask if something comes up.  If you have reached out to me any time this year and I have not responded, please know that it was NOT an intentional slight!

Please keep reaching out, but please don't expect a response.  I do deeply appreciate knowing that people care.  Know that between an awesome therapist, a competent doctor, and a loving husband, I am being well cared for.

Holding onto happiness

April 6, 2017

How to find a therapist:

I get asked all the time how to find a therapist; I have seen at least ten different therapists over the years, so I have a little experience in the matter.  Some I've found through school and church, some through the community counseling center in Jackson, WY, and my current therapist I found online.  It can be really daunting to find a therapist, so I thought I'd break down some of the options I know the most about here:

  • For EVERYONE:  I recently found and started using a service called BetterHelp.  It's an online therapy program that allows you to send messages and have voice or video sessions with a therapist.  As I mentioned, I just started using this one less than two months ago, but here are my thoughts:
    • Pro's:
      • You don't have to leave your house.  All you have to do is turn on your computer or phone.  That is SO nice when I'm having a day where I don't feel like I can get out of bed!
      • They have over 700 therapists, so you're matched with one within 24 hours.  You just fill out a quick survey and they pair you with someone who will be a good fit.  Also:
      • If they're not a good fit, you simply request a switch and get a new counselor within a matter of days.  At other counseling centers, that process can take weeks.
      • You can do your scheduling through the app or website, or your counselor can take care of it for you.
      • Even if you move, you can keep the same therapist.  Not an option with non-online counseling!
      • The first week is free, so you can try it out without committing to pay anything.  After that, you get unlimited messages and video sessions for $45 a week.  I know that can feel like a lot of money, but it is SO much cheaper than most places.  Your mental health is worth the investment!
    • Con's:
      • There are a LOT of bugs with the video chat on the iPhone app.  Until they get them worked out, use a computer for the video chats.
    • Click here to go to their website and get signed up!
  • For BYU* students:  The BYU Counseling Center (in the basement of the WILK) is A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.  It's totally free, and they have truly amazing therapists there.  If you see Russ Bailey or Marlene Williams, tell them hi for me!  *Many universities have counseling centers.  It's worth checking to see if yours is one of them!
    • Pro's:
      • Free
      • Conveniently located
      • Amazing therapists (between individual and group therapy and going to school for a billion years, I've worked with five different counselors, all of whom were wonderful.)
    • Con's:
      • Counselors are often so busy (because they're awesome) that you can only get an appointment every week and a half to two weeks.
One of my favorite therapists, Russ Bailey.  He's at the BYU Counseling Center.
  • For Mormons*:  Ask your bishop if there is an LDS Family Services office near you.  I know many people who have used them, and they're awesome.  *Do other faiths have anything similar?  If so, please leave a comment and let me know!
    • Pro's:
      • It's often helpful to have a therapist who understands your belief system and can integrate those beliefs with your therapy.  
      • I'm not sure about pricing, but I'm sure it's at least on an income-based sliding scale.
    • Con's:  
      • You need to talk to the bishop to get a referral.  The only reason I put this in the con section is that I know when I'm depressed, it's so hard to get anything done; that includes making appointments with bishops and counselors.
  • For everyone (sort of):  Most communities have community counseling centers that accept clients, many of whom offer a sliding pricing scale based on income.  You can also ask a health care professional for a referral.
Basically I am an enormous advocate of therapy, and I hope that you'll get help wherever you are!  Was this helpful?  What other questions do you have about therapy?  Leave a comment below and I'll do my best to answer!

February 13, 2017

The duality of living.

I could write two posts about my life right now, and both would be true. I could tell you about getting all settled in to our new apartment. I could tell you about the blessing of finding new furniture that fits just right in the space and is right within our tiny budget. I could tell you about how grateful we are that Dad and Stu braved the avalanches to bring us the rest of our kitchen supplies and how grateful we are to friends and family who have helped us move and get organized. I could tell you about the sunny weather and sleeping with the windows open in February. I could tell you about weekly family dinners with good food and great company.

I could also tell you that I've been to see two new psychiatrists and a new psychologist. I could tell you that I haven't been able to work for a week and a half because I've temporarily (I hope) lost the ability to perform basic tasks I used to be able to do in my sleep. I could tell you how I have to choose between showering and having dinner with my husband because I don't have the energy to do both.  I could tell you that I can only make it to about twenty minutes of church each week before I have to go lay down. I could tell you about all the tears of frustration I've shed because I'm so off my game and I so desperately don't want to be. 

I could write both of these posts. I could pick which one to share. I could pick which me I want you to see. But I think it's important to share both because they are both true. There is no good without the hard, and the hard is bearable because of the good. None of us are just one or the other. You are not alone. 

January 13, 2017

So long, Carrie, and thanks for all the fish!

In trying to fulfill my New Years resolution to write more in my blog, I stumbled across this unfinished post. The timing seems uncanny- Carrie has been gone for just a few weeks now. But I'm going to publish what I had two years ago and then officially finish it off. The interesting thing is it starts like this:

For some reason this post is being difficult and I'm having trouble making the writing flow.  Bear with me.  Or just scroll down and look at the pictures :)

When I was a little girl, Princess Leia was my hero.  She was awesome.  Her main motivation wasn't finding a boyfriend.  It was freedom.  She fought for what she believed in.  (She found love anyways though, which was cool.)  And she was sarcastic and hilarious and held her own with all the men running around the Star Wars universe.  Eventually, she even became a mom (I loved the Star Wars books as a kid... ok, I still love them), but she kept fighting for freedom and family and wielding a blaster (and occasionally a lightsaber!).

Now fast-forward twenty or so years.

I still love Princess Leia.  But Carrie Fisher is my hero now.  I've been suffering from mental illness for over half my life.  I have severe depression and anxiety that sometimes makes me have to put my life on hold for months at a time.  Well, Carrie Fisher suffers from mental illness too, and....

And that's all I wrote back then. The experience was too hard to capture. So I'll say it now: 

Two years ago this month, I met Carrie, and I gave her a medal. I made a matching one for me, too. They're cheap plastic medals that say "MENTALLY ILL" in crooked, glued-on stickers on the back. 

         Carrie with Gary, her partner in crime

She mentioned in one of her books that everyone living with mental illness deserved a medal, and I wanted to make sure someone got her one. Anyways, I gave it to her, and then I talked to her for a few minutes and thanked her for helping me learn to talk about my illness. I never thought in a million years I'd get the chance to do that. And she wrote on the title page of my copy of The Best Awful, my favorite book of hers, "For Ashleigh, my heroine and fellow tribe-member, Love Carrie." And now she's gone. 

                 This means SO much to me  

My tribe member is gone, and I am grieving. I never would have learned to talk about mental illness if it wasn't for her; even the other author who helped inspire me was herself inspired by Carrie. Carrie's courage changed my perception of myself and of my illness.  I now proudly proclaim it. I shout it from the mountain tops, because I now have the power to climb that high. The freedom from stigma. The strength to stand. I owe it to Carrie, and she's gone. 

So I'm going to stop feeling awkward about grieving someone I only met once. I grieve for my tribe member and am humbly grateful that I got the chance to tell her what she meant to me. 

                  Thanks, Carrie. Give 'em hell!

February 25, 2015

Wait, this isn't depression.........?

The light at the end of the tunnel just turned into a flashing disco ball.

For over half my life, I've been dealing with debilitating depression.  It has at times defined me.  It has certainly shaped me.  Now it's just one part of me, albeit a significant one.  But I just started a new medication, and I am suddenly a VERY different person.

It's not a good thing.  It's not a super, super bad thing.  It is a monumentally confusing thing.

I've always been an extreme introvert.  I need a lot of alone time to recharge, and being around people really, really exhausts me.  But suddenly, I'm bored and lonely (I literally haven't been lonely in years) if I'm alone.  I have this constant craving to be around people.  I've done more socializing in the last week than I've done in the last six months combined.  Maybe literally.

And I can't hold onto a thought to save my life.  I've always been a thinker.  I've always lived inside my mind a bit, and I like it there.  But now it's just kind of a slowly swirling place with nothing really solid to hold onto.

And I keep waking up early in the morning to do my homework because I'm increasingly incapable of focus as the day wears on.  If you know me at all, you know this is seriously atypical behavior.  The real (?) me prefers staying up until 4:00 am to waking up before noon.  But lately I can't sleep more than five hours at a time anyways, so I just get up and do stuff.  I miss sleeping.

And I can't sit still.  I can't just be.  I have to always be doing 14 things, and I'm suddenly bored with all of them within five minutes.  I've already taken like three breaks writing this post, so it's probably going to be really disjointed.  When I looked back at my screen after the first break, I had totally and completely forgotten I was even writing anything.  It was a pleasant surprise?  I guess?

Here's the deal.  My therapist is worried that I'm exhibiting bipolar behavior, specifically hypomania.  Now if it's medication-induced and we can get it to go away, it's no big deal.  But there is a chance that the medication just triggered something that was already there.  Which is bad.

In my humble opinion, bipolar disorder is worse than depression because it's depression plus something.  Depression squared maybe?  I'm unsure of the math of mental illness, but whatever numbers add up to worse, that's what bipolar is.

So I can't focus and I can't make decisions (unless they're pretty impulsive) and I can't be me, and I hate it.  But not as bad as I hate being really depressed like I was three weeks ago.

I wish I could think of a conclusion to this post, but it just doesn't seem to have one.  Or at least it's not something I can hold onto.......  Oh I started with a disco ball!  I'll end there.  Instead of being a dimly flickering naked bulb, the light at the end of the tunnel is now a flashing disco ball.  Super fun for a party, but really disorienting when you're trying to find your way out of somewhere scary.

Does anyone have any thoughts?  I can't seem to stop talking about it, so I may as well talk about it with you!

February 8, 2015

Lucky, Blessed, and Depressed.

I have a pretty great life. I have an awesome family who gives me love and everything else I've ever needed. I have a couple of really cool horses who I've gotten to see grow up from being stubborn little colts to being stubborn big colts. I have amazing friends from all over the world. I've gotten to visit Europe and live in the Middle-East.  I have been on Good Morning America. I have been in the newspaper as recently as last week. I have gotten to meet my Hollywood heroes at incredibly fun Comic Con events. I even got to thank one of my biggest heroes (though she's actually quite short) in person for her mental health advocacy- she called me a member of her tribe, an honor I will always cherish. I have a good psychiatrist and an amazing therapist. And I have the support of a loving God. But I'm still sitting on the bathroom floor sobbing for absolutely no reason. I'm feeling really, really depressed again. It'll pass. It always does. But remember when you're looking at my life from the outside in and seeing all the fun I have, that what you aren't seeing is the girl on the bathroom floor. She is lucky and she is blessed. And she is also really, really depressed.

March 14, 2014

Loving Someone who has Depression

            One in four of you will experience a period of clinical depression at some point in your life.  You are highly unlikely to have to deal with it for a whole lifetime like I do, but you have a one in four chance of experiencing real depression.  The good news is that many people who have one depressive episode never experience another.  But if you happen to be one of the one in four who does have this experience, I want to share something important with you- something I’ve learned the hard way.  If you’re not one of the one in four, you know someone who is.  I think this is important for you to know, too.  Let me start with a little bit of my story- I want you to know that I know what I’m talking about.
            When I was in middle school and high school dealing with my depression (I have Major Depressive Disorder, MDD, or depression), I had no idea what was going on; I just knew that my life was falling apart and I absolutely couldn’t deal with it.  I hung on by the skin of my teeth.  With therapy, I made it through each episode.  See, depression for me has always come in waves.  I always have it, but it is usually mostly under control.  Sometimes, though, it’s not.  When I started college, the first time a major episode hit, it knocked me down hard.  I wasn’t sure it would end.  When it finally did, I picked myself up and tried again.  And then the next one hit.  And it got better.  And then another one hit.  And it got better.  Each time, I lost months and even years to the disease.  I just hunkered down and gritted my teeth and waited for it to be over and then tried to get back to living my life.  I continuously worked with doctors and medications and therapists and therapy groups and figured out how to make each episode as bearable as possible.  In total, I’ve spent around five years nearly incapacitated by my depression, and I’ve lived with the disease for over half my life.  That’s how you know I know what I’m talking about.  But why does my experience matter to you?
            Well, throughout the course of this last major episode (I’m just starting to pull out of it now), I’ve learned something really important.  You see, I used to just hunker down and wait till it was over.  I worked hard in therapy and with my doctors to find the right medications and address problematic thought patterns, but I still felt like I was waiting out a storm and when it passed, I’d come back out from under the depression.  I felt like the depressed person couldn’t possibly be me- like I was waiting for me to come back.  In a way, that’s useful.  It helped me to visualize my healthy self coming back to take control of my life again.  But in another way, it held me back. 
            As long as I thought of my depressed self as me+depression, I couldn’t really love my depressed self.  And anyone else who has thought of me this way- who has waited for me to come back from wherever I go when I’m depressed- hasn’t really been loving my true self either.  You (and I) shouldn’t love me despite my depression.  We shouldn’t love me “even when” I’m depressed.  What we have to realize is that I’m always me.  And we need to love me.  The depressed me.  The depressed me isn’t just to be tolerated, pitied, or suffered through.  The depressed me IS me.  I am me, no matter where I go or what I go through.  It’s a fine distinction, but it’s an important one. 
            During the worst of this most recent episode, I so often found myself waiting for “me” to come back so that I could do the things I meant to do and move forward in my life.  But one day I realized that “me” was never coming back.  I was never going to be the person I was before this episode.  I never have returned to being the person I was before any given episode.  That’s the point.  I grow and change in really important ways every time this happens to me.  And I’m me while I’m going through these tough times.   This may seem like a small thing, but it’s made a big difference to me.
            So if you’re going through a tough time, realize this: you’re not just “in there somewhere”.  You’re right there on the surface.  You are you.  You don’t have to apologize for what you’re going through or promise to make it up to people when “you” come back.  You just have to love you.  And you have to have people in your life who will love you.  Not love you despite your sickness.  Not love you “even when” you’re sick.  But love the sick you, because that is you. 

            And to all of you who know and love someone with depression (or bipolar disorder or anxiety or anything else), remember this.  I know it’s repetitive, but it’s important: Don’t love a person despite their illness.  Don’t love them “even when” they’re ill.  Love the ill them.  Because that is them.  It will set them free.
Thank you for coming. I hope you get something out of this. I hope you learn about yourself. I hope you get help if you need it or give it if you can.