Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Depression and other not-so-happy things

Warming: a fuck ton of words lies ahead. If you are one of those people who needs a TL;DR for a short paragraph, do not attempt. I swear I won’t judge.

I am going to be rather blunt here and just state the fact that I, Baby June, have spent the past week in a mental hospital and thus have not been able to reply to comments, check my email, faff around on Reddit, or do anything else requiring an internet connection for at least the past seven days.

And yes, it has been extremely painful.

I'll admit. It wasn't this bad. source


You don’t want to know the exact details of how I ended up in such a place, but first of all rest assured that I am completely safe and now have my laptop, my life source, back in my possession. I don’t think good ol’ Wi-Fi has made me this happy in a long time.

But happy I was not when I moved into my barren room in the adolescent ward of the local hospital’s mental health division. In fact, I was miserable to the point of sickness—depression, among other things. Not suicidal, but definitely a bit of my rocker. I still am. That is something I am learning to deal with.

Having never been in a hospital (not even for a broken bone), I was unsure of what to expect. Would my fellow inpatients be dangerous, or apathetic, or something much worse? It’s a bit scary, knowing you’re about to start living in a ward dedicated to children with severe mental health issues, issues even greater than your own.

The truth was far less frightening. At first, when I met the fifteen or so other patients in residence, I could not understand why we were all gathered in this place. They talked and laughed and played games and watched TV like normal teenagers Some were a bit reserved, like myself, but most seemed to have made good friends with their peers…albeit interspersed with more than a little bit of drama, but that’s to be expected from a bunch of pubescent kids forced to live in the same small space for a couple weeks, or longer. Sort of like Jersey Shore.

Not really. source

To put it simply, I was shocked by how normal everyone seemed. One of the boys, who was a practically a piano prodigy, appeared so smart and witty and overall well-adjusted that it was hard to believe he had been admitted to the hospital six times, for reasons I still do not know. These kids were just nice, normal kids who happened to have some issues. That became clear very soon after I arrived.

Another detail that soon came to my attention was the elaborate system of rules and restrictions. The windows—which were made out of bulletproof glass—always remained locked. No electronics, not even watches. No sharp objects, including staplers and spiral-bound notebooks. No shoes or shorts or anything else with strings. No touching other patients. There were no locks on any of the doors, not even the bathroom doors, so the staff could check on us every hour or so to make sure we were okay whether we were in the process of taking a good piss or stripping for a shower. No hot water except for showers, thank god. No going outside unless a staff nurse lets you out onto the patio, which was a small cage with a couple tables and a sad, dilapidated little basketball hoop. I could go on and on, but the most important rule was this: never go past the exit sign.

Well fuck you too. source

Some of these rules might seem arbitrary, but in fact they were all instituted to prevent two things: 1) self harm, and 2) escape.

It’s a strange dichotomy: you have a bunch of normal, happy-seeming kids, all trapped in an incredibly restrictive environment. But as time would reveal, those rules were absolutely necessary.

The first time I attended group therapy, the stories beneath each patient’s ordinary fa├žade began to make themselves visible. As we went around the table, stating why we had come to this mental health ward, the number of patients admitting past suicide attempts and self harm was saddening. Several were drug users, and the youngest in the entire group—13 years old—stated that she had abused marijuana in the past. 

This is why I hate Miley Cyrus. source

Another girl, who I held great respect for, listed off her myriad afflictions as if she had done so a thousand times before: suicidal thoughts, suicidal actions, homicidal thoughts, homicidal plans, PTSD, recurrent nightmares, and pyromania. Later I would learn that she suffered significant trauma after watching her best friend commit suicide at twelve years old. Yet another patient confessed to fantasizing about dragging a razor through her wrist. Slow and deep, she said.  

And outside of the therapy room, you never would have known.

After that, I never questioned any of the rules or restrictions again.

Okay, except maybe the deal with the internet. That’s just cruelty.

Why, one wonders, do these lovely teenagers end up with such crushing trials and tribulations? Why do they explode in rage, or contemplate suicide, or sink into endless bouts of depression?

The answer is not a simple one. People are not like this because of an improper diet, or poor parenting, or simply a weak character. I know myself; I know what has driven me down this road, and it sure as hell isn’t because I eat too much cake (although I might). There’s a reason for everything, and issues like these just happen to have pretty fucking complicated reasons.

I didn’t get to know all of the personal histories of my fellow inpatients during that week, so I can’t analyze what, exactly, drove these smart, talented, deserving teenagers to end up in that unit. I listened patients stop by the piano and have sing-alongs to “Jar of Hearts” and “Never Say Never”. I saw a member of two gangs watch SpongeBob as he practiced crying for his court hearing. Another boy played Wii as he lamented his difficult future—after a long time of abusing drugs, he had brought a pistol to school in order to kill himself and ended up expelled, losing the support of his parents and forcing him to work two jobs to pay for his college tuition. And still it was not enough. He was a great guy. Really smart, sharp sense of humor. 

Once, after a particularly intense therapy group, I started crying, and he walked right over to where I sat in the corner of the lounge and asked if I was okay. I was speechless. There are no words I could say that could comfort or help him in the slightest.

This song gives me the chills. And I hate rock 'n' roll. source

These kinds of lives—these hard, hard lives—are lived by the wrong people.

You may be wondering why I feel compelled to share this highly personal information (if anonymized) on my public, normally food-related (though not always, I will remind you) blog. You would be justified in wondering that. And to that I say awareness.

There is breast cancer awareness and autism awareness, but I’m afraid issues like these don’t receive quite the same airplay. Depression is a very real illness and is curable, yet many kids and adults alike suffer through it without seeking help, living in the shadows, convinced there is nothing they can do. For years I thought I would always be alone and sad and tired and demotivated, but thanks to modern medicine and therapeutic techniques, there is hope.

Yet depression, anxiety, and other issues like rage and PTSD are often looked down upon. Belittled. Stigmatized. Those who suffer from these issues are called dangerous and unstable and unfit for common society. There is no empathy. The girl who suffered from homicidal thoughts could have been the next murderer whom we imprison and sentence to death, whom we label as evil and unforgiveable and practically inhuman. We would not consider her past, or what she could have been. Yet she has sought help, and it is miraculous what treatment can do. She wants to go to college. She wants to have a new life, to move beyond the past and what it has inflicted upon her. She is a great person with strong morals and so much perseverance, I can’t even imagine what goes through her head every day. And god knows how many people I have come across in everyday life who are just like this, yet conceal their inner battles from the world.

Yet every day, we hear news stories about “the mentally ill”; those people who are unstable and can’t control their actions. Like second class citizens. It is incredibly dismissive to use that kind of vocabulary. There’s a world of difference between bipolar disorder and autism and major depressive disorder, which are all mental illnesses yet are commonly grouped under that one incriminating category by politicians, reporters, and the like. Rarely do we hear of people seeking to reduce the stigma against mental illnesses of all types in hopes that people will feel more comfortable seeking treatment; more often than not, “thuhmendallyill” are discussed in the context of rounding all of us up and sticking us in hospitals in hopes of protecting “ordinary folk” from a discomforting reality. Never have I heard a reference to “the physically ill”; why should mental illness be any different?

STAY AWAY FROM MY CHILDREN, YOU MONSTER! source

A related issue is that of so-called triggers. According to Psych Central, this is “something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma.” At the hospital, the term was also used in the context of something that sets a person off, whether in a burst of rage or depressive episode. The same girl I have mentioned previously talked about how people who were rude to her were actually being triggering, as they caused her to have the same rage, the same homicidal thoughts she was working so hard to suppress and eradicate. Another girl was forced to leave the room when, during a sex education group, the nurse teaching the group brushed on the topic of rape. The recent proliferation of “trigger warnings” is often belittled as the product of over-sensitive social justice warriors (SJW), and sometimes it is. But we must always remember. Even something as simple as the promotion of marijuana as a social activity could give someone painful thoughts and feelings. I don’t expect everyone to label everything, because it’s impossible to know what is triggering. Hell, I agree that most things commonly labeled as triggering should be no-brainers, since it’s usually pretty obvious when something involves sex, drugs, violence, and the like. What should be expected is empathy. Understanding, or at least an attempt to understand. Kindness.

Why?

Because we’re all human.

That’s all for today.

I’ll bring you some cake another day. 

P.S. If you disagree or have any thoughts to share, please feel free to leave a comment. Go right ahead; vent on this wall space if I have inspired you to do so. I don't expect 100% agreement, so let's have a conversation. If you or someone you know suffers from similar issues you can talk about that too. Thank you so, so much for reading and I hope you thought it was worth your time.

23 comments:

  1. June! I am so sorry to hear about your difficult circumstances and I have so much respect for your strength and willingness to share your own experiences and vulnerabilities to promote awareness. I will just say that mental illness is an issue that is a pretty big factor in my immediate family and something that to a degree we deal with every day, sometimes the dealing is very minimal but has even been severe enough to the point where we also had our own experience in the locked down mental wing of the hospital. I think that you have a tremendous amount of insight and a very empathetic spirit based upon what I've read here today and I wish nothing but the best for you. : )

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    1. Thank you so much! I'm glad you think so.

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  2. I am so sorry to learn this and that you had to go through a time like this. But at the same time, I'm also happy that things have worked out for you and are better! :) Take good care and everything will be fine! I agree with you on the treatment of mental illness and how lightly it is often taken! I hope for more people to read this and understand the importance of getting treatment at the right time!

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    1. Yes I remind myself of that every day. Thanks for the kind words! :)

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  3. I'm so sorry to hear about this. Know that you have a whole lot of people supporting your recovery!!

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  4. June, first of all may I say that you are a fantastic writer. That's quite a talent you have there! Also, I deeply admire the fact that you're willing to share this. You're right in saying that mental illness does not get nearly enough 'airplay' if you like. I experienced a bit of depression in my late teens/early twenties and it is certainly no fun.
    Anyway, great to 'find' your blog. I hope you continue to feel better and looking forward to reading some of your food posts as well. :-)
    P.S. Love your little jokes - hilarious!

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    1. Thank you so much for the flattery! And unfortunate as it is, it's always good to know we are not alone in our struggle.

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  5. My thoughts are with you June - I'm so glad you could share your experiences and get support this way as well as, I hope, in 'real' life. It sounds like a tough experience but hopefully a helpful one too. You're right that there is still too much stigma attached to mental health issues and honesty about MH experiences is such a key step to tackling that.

    Look after yourself and enjoy the increased freedom :)

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    1. Thank you so much! It's really offered a new perspective on life.

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  6. My dad has suffered clinical depression & PTSD for as long as I can remember...He finally got help after driving across a bridge on the Ohio River, and wanting to just plow through the side and plunge into the river. I'm glad you're getting the help you need. And time with the internet. :)

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    1. Great to hear that your father has sought help--I wish him the best! And thanks for reading!

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  7. I am amazed by your bravery and wisdom. How can it be that it is the year 2014 and we have progressed as a society on so many fronts, but mental illness is still so stigmatized and misunderstood? But then again mental illness can be so hard to wrap your head around and understand even for people who deal with it every day. My father is bipolar (my grandfather was too).
    Take it easy on yourself and know that there are many people who care and don't judge. And bake lots of cakes :)

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    1. Yes, I agree--it is very hard to understand even for myself at times. But cake will get us through it. :)

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  8. One of my best friends suffers from anxiety and I've seen how insensitive some people can be about it, it's really not right and I agree that there should be some kind of movement to raise awareness and de-stigmatize such illnesses. I admire your bravery for sharing your experience and I wish you well with your recovery :)

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    1. Thanks so much! Anxiety really is tough, but there is hope.

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  9. Thanks for your vulnerabilty....a very real post! Brave of you to write it!

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  10. June, I followed you here from my blog and after reading through the archives, found this unexpected post, I admire how open and articulate you are about your experience in the hospital. I myself suffer from panic attacks that were triggered by a traumatic experience many many years ago, yet it is something I keep hidden even from most of my friends...Not because I am ashamed but because it is difficult for others to relate. It was inspiring to read this - thank you!

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    1. I'm glad you were inspired! Sorry to hear about your struggles, but know you aren't alone. :)

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  11. I just came across this from a link in your Fault in our stars rant, and I have to say that it really inspired me. I won't go into the ins-and-outs but as a teenager I suffered with depression and it 'ruined' the years they kept telling me were meant to be my best. They lie though, going through it earlier on gives you the balls and drive to have many more years knowing yourself a little better. I'm completely for being open and honest about or else how will other know they can have help? BRAVO on a well articulated and bang on post.

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    1. Thank you so much! I think this is an experience a lot of people can relate to. I'm sorry to hear you've struggled with it too, but it's good to hear there is hope. :)

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  12. I've just installed iStripper, so I can have the sexiest virtual strippers on my desktop.

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