Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Let’s Talk… Let’s Stop and Really Talk

So today is Bell’s Let’s Talk day

It’s an initiative by Bell Canada to end the stigma of mental health disorders, to raise awareness to the growing number of Canadians who suffer from mental health issues each and every day and to find ways to get everyone involved in supporting and advocating for those affected.

I’ve wrote about mental health issues before in my blog.  It’s been something that has affected my family for years.  I’ve always been vague…out of respect for my husband and our family and, well, because it’s the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about and no one seems to take seriously.  And today I’m not going to be vague.  Today I am going to talk. Today it is time to give everyone who reads my blog a bit of a peak into my life and to be really damned honest about how the stigma really feels.
The thing about mental illness is that no two days are ever the same.  The thing about mental illness is that no two people are the same.  The thing about mental illness is that there is no easy answers, cures, fixes or solutions.  And the thing about mental illness, the thing no one ever really touches on, is that, though it is by no means contagious, it most certainly can lead to mental health issues in the loved ones affected by the person originally diagnosed. It sure has for me.

And that is my life.  No two days are the same, no two hours are the same some days.  Walking on eggshells at times has become the norm.  Not knowing what would set it off, not knowing whether a bad start to a day put the writing on the wall for a day from hell or a day of amazing learning experiences.  Wondering when the other shoe would drop has also become a way of life for me and I think that is the hardest of all...the unpredictability of it all. That and the knowledge that it didn't used to be this way, that the person I married isn't the person I am married to anymore much of the time and the memories of easier times are, at times, no blessing at all. 

When I first we first began dating I knew there was something different about him…something awesome.  He treated me with such respect and he had such an interest in what I had to say, what I liked to do…in my life.  I had met him before and, in all honesty, thought he was a self-centered jerk and a show off.  But that was in a group. That was in front of a crowd.  When it was just us or just a small group he was so different. So natural, so genuine, so real and honest. Back then, when we began dating, I had no idea why there was the two sides to him.  Now I know… because deep deep inside he was ill at ease with himself, he was unsure, he was torn… but when I say that was deep inside I mean deep…so deep that he had no idea that he even had two sides, so deep that he, to this day, doesn’t really see this about himself and he has no idea why it happens.  I was drawn to that one side of him, this thoughtful, compassionate, loving, caring and very unmasculine, at times, side.
After we spent a number of months together I saw the anger side come out and often saw the side his psychiatrist calls ‘the overwhelming certainty’ side.  But I didn’t understand it and it didn’t affect me…and really was so rare that it didn’t matter at all.  Back then he worked hard, had fun, had lots of casual friends (though very few really close friends) and always had a job or even two. 

Fast forward a few years.  A kid or two, a house or two, money stress, job stress, marriage stress and, most of all, kid stress.  As time went on all of these things created a person that was very different at times from the man I fell in love with, the man I married.  There were angry moments, moments that weren't really moments for they lasted hours or sometimes days. And there were sad moments, dark times, silent times, lost times. For a long time I sat silent about the problem though I never sat silent through the anger…let’s be honest, I don’t know how to be quiet long, I don’t like to be told I am wrong about much and I am ‘good’ at arguing.  And there in began one of the biggest downfalls of our life... the volume and tone of our conversations, the words used, the attitudes taken.  It began to cause tension between us but it also began to push people away.  
Eventually I did speak up, eventually I did point out what I saw, what I felt.  And eventually he did ask for some help, was given some medication for depression and sent on his way.  
Fast forward 3 more years and add in the stress of an unplanned twin pregnancy, a significant medical diagnosis, the loss of a child, the hospitalization of myself and the premature birth of our surviving twin and you get a recipe for disaster when you are already struggling with your mental health and have done nothing except taken medication for it.  
The bottom fell out and the medical profession tried to put it back together with a quick assessment, some more medication and a few therapy sessions.  Bandaids...that's all we were given...bandaid solutions.  
And so it comes as no surprise that eventually the bottom really fell out about a year later and he hit rock bottom....heck our marriage hit rock bottom. Life sucked for a long time in this phase.  Some things were absolutely awesome... we found Christ and were born again. We found an amazing church and amazing friends and felt loved and supported.  And that was a very good thing because at the same time as those new relationships were forming, others were falling apart (and continue to do so it would seem).  I began opening up to others and being more honest in hopes that I would gain support, help, empathy.  Sadly, this is where I learned that this stigma of mental health goes beyond a lack of understanding.  It puts blinders on, it forms opinions and judgements and it can rip friendships apart. 
And we were still coasting through it all, despite a formal diagnosis of bipolar disorder because the medical professionals were still just offering bandaid solutions.   
Until one day an amazing Christian counselor offered ideas, solutions, the name of a doctor, a step by step plan with assigned jobs for both of us to help implement it.  And best of all, a new diagnosis, a much less 'life limiting' diagnosis, a much more treatable diagnosis was discovered. 
***and add in edit here after many have read this and it's become obvious that I didn't make this part clear*** He wasn't bipolar, he never had been bipolar.  This was and still is one of the most frustrating parts of this. We wasted 4 years of our lives trying to figure out what was 'wrong' with him...why nothing got better really despite being on meds for this disorder that seemed to be so threatening, such a life sentence.  We learned how much had been done wrong, how little had been invested in helping him.  But we had to move past that and work at discovering what the real problem might be.  That isn't really easy to explain or understand but simply put he doesn't regulate his emotions properly and they are all kind of messed up in his head, 'disassociated' to be exact.  It very well stems from incidents that are many many years old and were formed very early in his life.  There are some other things that go with this that cause him to be very 'certain' of himself...over certain, blameless in his mind etc and when all is said and done these things have created major struggles in maintaining relationships with family, friends, supervisors and bosses, co-workers etc.
But slowly, very slowly, things have started to move forward.  There were bumps in the road, there were further stresses...job losses, money troubles, family dynamics and relationships..but all in all, the road to recovery seems to be one we are on.

And so why am I doing this?  Why am I sharing this very personal information about our life ???  Because I am tired.  Tired of making excuses, tired of being embarrassed, tired of trying to explain only to know that it’s falling on deaf ears…that the judgements won’t go away no matter what I say, no matter how hard I try to explain.  I am tired of the looks. Tired of the silence that has come from friends who used to be there.  Tired of the comments.  I just want to talk about it without feeling unheard, unwelcome, unsupported.  I just want to feel like it doesn't matter that mistakes have been made...each day is a new day.  I just want to feel like I am not being held accountable for things I have no control what so ever over.  I just want the love and acceptance that I once had from friends and family to return and not be based on anything but who I am inside. 

I found this great article that really goes into the reasons why the stigma around mental health disorders is so damaging.  http://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/factsheet/stigma-and-discrimination-around-mental-health-and-substance-use-problems.

You can read the full article here but I am going to comment on a few parts of it.  
One thing that really jumped out at me was this statistic....Just under half of Canadians thought that a mental disorder was just an excuse for poor behaviour .  That is what people don't seem to understand... this poor behaviour...the displays of anger, the inconsistencies, the things that come off as rude, selfish or inconsiderate.... for so many people suffering from a mental health disorder there is little to no control of those things.  It's not intentional, it's not controllable.  And very often it isn't even something the person is aware of.  
There are some great ways to help end this stigma, end this attitude that really only leads to judging:
Address differences that prevent people from taking part in communities: Poverty, lack of affordable housing, lack of education opportunities and lack of meaningful work are a few of the social factors that affect well-being. These factors may be both a result of poor health and a cause of poor health. 

 Support everyone’s right to work: It’s no wonder that the right to employment is identified as a human right by the United Nations. Work gives us purpose and meaning. It’s also tied to income, which is tied to other social factors.
 Promote direct personal contact: Meeting and interacting with people with mental health or substance use problems is one of the best ways to improve attitudes and behaviours. The key here to me is interacting, getting involved, checking in on the person and their family. 
 Look at mental health problems as a part of our shared humanity: Fear, prejudice and discrimination lessen when we talk about mental health problems as an understandable response to a unique set of circumstances—not just as biological problems. You can't turn your back on it and hope it will go away.  If you share any part of your life with the person affected or their family then you share this part of their life too.
Help people be heard: We need to encourage and empower people with experiences of mental health issues to be leaders in any efforts, such as anti-stigma programs and research. This includes supporting people and connecting them with peers. When people relate to each other’s struggles and want to see changes, they’re more likely to share their stories and protest when they see injustice.

Ending the stigma, finding acceptance, empathy, compassion and even understanding has to come from within.  It isn't up to the person with the mental health issue, it isn't up to the family of that person...it's up to you.  


  1. Jodie. What an incredible journey you have shared, as well as capture the essence of mental health and wellness. I think we all are guilty of not being loving or accepting of others who struggle, especially when behaviors and mood are variable over time. I think trust is often build on consistent behavior over many interactions. Hence mood disorders impact relationships and can cause tension. I think a sense of humor and honest expression of concern and even stating how someones behavior made you feel are important first steps in journeying beyond the mystery and hurt. Thanks for having the courage to share. We love you guys! Charlotte

  2. From someone that has struggled all my life with depression good for you, and those friends and family have lost more than they know by not understanding! Love ya Diane!