Posts Tagged ‘mental health’

Today’s post is in honor of Penny Lane, my 5 year old boxer-shepherd mix.  Her knee injury and surgery have had  me thinking (and worrying) a lot about my first dog, who in all honesty has been like my first child.  So here’s a nod to how much she has meant to me.

We adopted Penny Lane from a shelter when she was just over a year old.  The alternating abuse and neglect was painfully obvious on her starved body and nervous behavior.  She was so frightened the day we brought her home that she tried to hide from us and sleep behind a bush in the garden.  Granted, it had been an extremely hard day as Penny had been “fixed”, sick, and moved around by strangers.  I couldn’t blame her for wanting to hide, to just be left alone.  I had been there too.

In fact, I had been there all too often.  As many of you know, I was diagnosed with Depression as a teenager and spent many years battling the mental illness as I struggled under its oppressive weight.  I fought to find out who I was as someone with a mental illness, as someone who depended on medication to maintain a steady emotional state, and what that all meant for my identity as a young woman.

I rebelled against my illness (and my medication) all too often in my early 20s, not wanting to be defined by a disease or dependent on medication to be “normal”.  I indulged in alcohol and an often reckless lifestyle to self-medicate or just to feel ok for a few hours.  Nothing worked like my medication, but still I refused to take it regularly, causing me to plummet into the dark reaches of depression.

The fall after we adopted Penny I decided that I didn’t need to take my medication, yet again, as I was living with my fiance, in my own home, with a steady job.  Why did it need to take a pill when everything was fine and stable?  I abandoned the medication and therapy regimen, cocky in my happiness and current mental health.

What I failed to take into consideration was that though my work was steady, it was by no means making me happy.  In truth, I hated it.  I hated teaching my sophomore and senior English classes, despite my love of all things literature.  I hated looking into the vacuous eyes of the seniors who had checked out before the year had even begun; or into the cocky, bratty faces of my sophomores who were oh-so confident of their knowledge and place in the world.  I hated practically begging them to do their work, to pay attention.  I had been teaching for three years at this point and I had known by the end of my student teaching that I didn’t want to teach, and yet, I did.

The stress of working at an all-consuming job, like teaching, and dreading every single day is hard enough for those without mental illnesses.  For those struggling to maintain an emotional balance, the effect is devastating.  And in the end, it devastated me, sending me into a complete breakdown, forcing me to leave my position at the semester.  It was an awful, heart-wrenching decision but ultimately it was taken out of my hands when I couldn’t face another day without breaking into tears.

As I recovered from my breakdown, which was a long and arduous process which included returning to therapy and my drug regimen, I looked for things to normalize me.  I found Penny.

On the darkest days of my depression, Penny would lay beside me in bed, nuzzling me, licking my tear-stained face.  When I was so hurting that I could barely step outside, Penny was happy just to lay on the warm grass in the backyard as I sat, numb, staring  into the blue sky.

Yet, I knew it wasn’t fair to keep her locked up with me as I struggled to return to a normal existence.  I need that I had to take care of my Penny as she had taken care of me.  So that thought drove me into the sunshine or the rain, forcing me out of the house to walk Penny everyday.  And just that one effort, that one single act, pushed me to other acts of re-emerging.  We went to the store or to the park.

And when I say “we” I literally mean “we”.  In those early days when I was as tender as a sunburn, I took Penny with me everywhere, whether by foot or by car. She functioned as a kind of security blanket.  And yet, I knew that Penny’s own scarred existence depending on my love and company just as much, healing her as she healed me.  Often for that reason alone, that Penny needed me as much as I needed her, I kept moving forward, moving towards healing.

Miraculously, my recovery was just a few months, whereas in the past, severe depression had languished within me for six months, even up to a year.  I know with all my heart and all my soul that my recovery is due to Penny.  And I know, quite literally, she saved my life from being something far worse than it was.  Penny Lane gave me love and with that, she gave me peace of mind.


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Roughly 10% of the US adult population suffers from some various form of depression. It may be anxiety based or mood based. It may be moderate and affected only certain times of year by seasonal changes or it may be severe and require constant attention, drug and talk therapy. It may be undiagnosed until late in life or present and obvious since adolescence. In short, millions of Americans suffer from this disease (since it is not “the blues” or something that can be wished away), but so little is offered to help this portion of the population.

There are a variety of reasons for this that would take too long to delve into in one short blog post; there are entire books on the subject. Instead I wanted to focus on the multitude of self help books out there right now that are focusing on “happiness.” These books instruct the reader on a variety of ways to feel happier in their day to day life. Each book has its own special strategy: force yourself to smile more and you’ll feel happier! say to yourself everyday “I am a happy person” and you will be! try small amounts of kindness/pampering/exercise/insert innocuous activity here every day and you’ll feel happier! And then in small print somewhere on the back insert or credits page “not intended for actual depression.”

Not intended for actual depression? What is then? Who are they marketing these books to? Are there millions upon millions of readers out there who are suffering a daily unhappiness that nags at them so deeply they feel compelled to buy a book about it? And are these people without the tell tale signs of depression? If the authors have such great ideas on helping reasonably happy people feel happier, couldn’t they put a little effort towards helping clinically unhappy people feel moderately happy? Why is depression excluded from these books? Would it be so hard to add one chapter about those who suffer from this disease and things they might do to help themselves?

I think part of the author’s fear is that someone with undiagnosed depression, or even diagnosed and desperate for help, will read this book and not achieve the success it guarantees. This failure to achieve happiness may be just another nail in the coffin of their depression.

So where can people turn if they are depressed or suffering from depression? There aren’t really a lot of places to turn. There is drug therapy, which is helpful for some sufferers and not others. There is talk therapy or counseling, which is proven to be the most helpful for all patients, but is expensive. And after that what is there left for people to turn to?

You may ask, dear reader, why those suffering from depression who are receiving treatment would need something else? Shouldn’t the pills they take everyday turn them into normal, happy people? One would like to think so, dear reader, but that is not the case. There is no 100% cure for depression, no guarantee that therapy or drugs will work forever in every situation. The loss of a job for a normal person might be hard to deal with, but a person suffering from depression might find the situation heartbreaking and impossible to navigate. So if they had been taking drugs or attending therapy, they should be better equipped to deal with it. Still it could send them into a deep depression even with the drugs and therapy. So what do they do now? What tools are there left for these people to employ?

Now that is only one example of a situation in which a depressed person might need assistance. But the truth of the matter is that some depressed people need help on a day to day basis. Drugs and therapy alone may not be enough for them to conquer their daily battles with the disease. They need something more to help them lead a happy and healthy life. But what is there?

In my experience, I have found only one group that offers help beyond these two types of therapy. It’s called Recovery, Inc. It was founded by Dr. Lowe over 50 years ago, when even less was known about mental illness, such as depression, than today. This group runs today in several countries, and in this country nationwide. They offer meetings for those seeking help in the form of moral support from other people just like them. Or they have several books on the subject of how to combat the daily effects of living with a mental illness. These techniques are meant to be used in conjunction with traditional therapy. I have read a few of the books myself and found several techniques helpful. While the language is a bit antiquated and the examples can be sometimes hard to follow, I have found that I could identify a few techniques that would help in my own struggle with the disease.

This may not be for everyone, but I thought that if there was just one person out there like me, looking for a way to deal with the day to day of living with metal illness, then I thought, it was worth writing about. You, dear reader, may not need help or you may find your deal with your unhappiness successfully. But, dear one, you may know someone who needs help. You may know someone who wants to pick up those self help books that aren’t intended for actual depression. You may know someone looking for that little something extra to make their life better. Maybe you could help them towards Recovery.

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