6 Things to Remember When Talking to a Person with Depression
Elephant Journal, 10/16/2021 - ECOSYSTEM WINNER
As a result of my self-disclosure regarding my journey through depression and mental health, I have faced many questions about my struggles and my perceived lack of fighting at times.
Regardless of what the questions are, they reaffirm something I have known for a long time. People do not understand depression at all. And honestly, it’s no fault of their own. I’ve been told many times that unless you have lived it, you can’t possibly comprehend it.
The knowledge deficit got me thinking, though.
How can you possibly get someone to understand what it’s like to experience the dark doldrums of depression? How can we make someone understand what it’s like to reside in the pits of hell, day in and day out? And more importantly, why would we want to make people feel that way?
Well, I am going to tell you.
We have to foster a better understanding and comprehension of clinical depression because the existing misconceptions are harmful. They are harmful to those suffering, and they are harmful to the relationships you may be trying to maintain with someone who is suffering.
Misunderstanding and misconceptions give life to new stigmas because whether someone knows it or not, statements made due to lack of understanding can actually be received as judgmental. Judgment fuels the stigmas that exist within this society, and those stigmas need to be destroyed.
But those who have lived through depression cannot conquer the stigmas on their own. We must eliminate them by increasing knowledge in those who are not well-informed, thus, enhancing compassion for someone suffering from depression.
You see, those stigmas are perpetuated and given further credence when people fail to recognize that one cannot “get over” clinical depression.
I try my best to explain my struggles with depression to people. I write about it. I speak openly about it, but it’s not enough. Although I had many readers message me and tell me that my words are helpful, I fear one or two articles are not enough.
Tonight, as I prepared to write this, I knew I needed more ammunition. I found an old piece that memorialized some of those feelings, written on January 10, 2015, three days before I finally conceded to my illness and went to the hospital.
I’m sharing some excerpts here because I want people to know exactly what I was feeling. I want them to read my words, the words of a desperate woman in excruciating pain, and hope they will help some to understand that depressed people can’t just snap out of it.
Back then, I wrote:
“Time and time again, like a porcelain doll, falling from a shelf, my family scatters to try and catch me and protect me, but I slip through their hands. Boom! I hit the floor and shatter into a million tiny pieces.
I told my husband tonight that I feel as if my body is completely covered with open, weeping blisters. Everything hurts. Everything is intensified. Even air hurts when it hits my skin. I don’t know how else to explain it to him. I hurt.
I hurt so much, and then, I hate myself because I can no longer deny the pain I am feeling. I used to be the master of moving on, and now I am stuck. I have been stifled, debilitated, and disabled by this awful disease.
Feelings of anxiety and worry plague my every thought. I worry that my daughter feels she will never be able to depend on me again. I worry my thirteen-year-old will be forever scarred by this experience. And I hope and pray my six-year-old will have no recollection of it in a few years. I have always been able to stop the pain, ignore the difficult things, shove them far down, and keep moving, but I am now incapable.”
I hope this helps put into perspective how someone suffering to that extent could look through their children and feel nothing but shame and self-loathing. My motivation to fight depression has been questioned more times than I would like to remember, and I swear it’s only because people can’t wrap their heads around the utter suffering that’s experienced when someone is clinically depressed.
I share this because far too many people still exist in this world who believe it’s a matter of perception on the part of the person afflicted with this f*cking illness. I hate to break it to them, but unrelenting depression can’t be cured via the donning of rose-colored sunglasses, or drinking from a cup that’s half full all the time.
Unfortunately, depression does not come with an on/off switch!
Lack of understanding and empathy stems from inexperience—”count your blessings”—and, dare I say, denial?
I will reiterate, once again, no one’s cup stays full forever. At one time or another in your life, you are going to have a struggle. Some have better foundations, and therefore, they are able to navigate the struggle swiftly. Others, like myself, are not so fortunate.
Regardless, when it comes to depression, you must be mindful of your reactions and your words.
When someone is depressed, incessant positivity can worsen their state of mind, and I promise you, they will shut you out. They will become annoyed and angry because no one wants to hear someone telling them to cheer up or look at the situation differently. I could barely muster up the energy to shower, let alone find something for which to be grateful.
When someone’s days are filled with thoughts of only wanting to exit this earth and they cannot pull themselves out of their personal doldrums of hell, the last thing you want to tell them is to look on the bright side or that things will get better. They may just tell you to “f*ck off.”
Speaking from experience, I felt it was important to offer a few suggestions as to how you should approach someone you love or care about who’s currently dealing with depression. I wish someone would have shared these tips with my husband back then, for it would have spared us a lot of struggle:
1. Don’t pressure them.
Let them know you are there for them, and that’s it. Plain and simple.
No “how are you?” No “how are you feeling today?”
Just a simple “thinking of you and here if you need me.” Period.
Perhaps, it was just me, but anytime anyone asked me that, I would just lie. It’s easy to lie when those questions are presented, especially since depression makes people uncomfortable, and if you say you’re fine, they won’t delve any deeper, wiping their foreheads with relief, I’d bet.
2. Let them know you love them, every single day, but don’t expect a lot back.
Remember, they are probably incapable right now. What’s most important is that they know you love them, regardless of how awful they feel about themselves.
3. Do not point out the things for which they should be grateful, happy, live for, and so on. Trust me. They know; deep down they know, but they just can’t see it right now. They don’t need reminders, for it just reinforces in their minds that they are failing, and depression wins.
4. Remember, it’s not personal.
I’ll say it again. It’s not f*cking personal. It’s a disease. Depression is an illness, and many people become afflicted with it. Don’t make it about you.
5. Don’t imply there’s no reason for them to be unhappy.
Depression is not unhappiness! Whether it’s a family member or a friend, keep in mind that they are ill, and trying to discredit the illness with justifications that they’ve had a good life or are so loved or talented or special mean nothing to them right now. They don’t believe it.
6. Finally, whatever you do, don’t try to figure out what you’ve done to cause it because you didn’t. Trying to rationalize depression will only make you run in circles and only make the situation worse. Besides, I’ll say it again: right now, it’s not about you. I understand you love them, fear for them, and just want them to feel better. I understand you want to fix them, but you can’t. I also understand the disappointment you feel when you can’t.
I promise you I do, for I used to see that very disappointment in my husband’s eyes every day.
I remember as I prepared to come home from the hospital after 43 days, the fear I had about needing to be “fixed” for my husband and the worry I had about how he would look at me when he realized I was not “all better” were paralyzing. His unintentional look of sheer disappointment because he just wanted the old Lydia back scared the sh*t out of me.
I spoke to him about it tonight as I was writing this, and he told me that looking back, he knows he did that. But now, knowing what he does about my illness, he wished he hadn’t. He admitted he did not understand it at all, much like many of the people I encounter in my life.
You know, my desire to try and spare him disappointment caused me so much anguish and worry. I even fought with the hospital to postpone my discharge many times because I knew if I got home and he looked at me like that, I would be right back there, or even worse, risked the possibility that I would just give up. He had no idea the gravity one look from him had or how the force and power it possessed could easily pull me right back down to hell.
Believe me. I wanted to be better too, but it doesn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen for me for well over a year, and it was baby steps all the way—inpatient treatment, trials of many medications, ECT, endless therapy, IOP programs, and many ups and downs.
Be patient with the person you love. I can guarantee you, they don’t want to disappoint you either. With love and support, they will get through it in their own time, and it will take time.
You see, depression is like an uninvited house guest with an open-ended return flight ticket. It’ll only leave when it’s been told it’s worn out its welcome and its bags are packed and put out on the front porch.
Until then, we are forced to cope with the discomfort, while we patiently and politely wait it out.
Yelling at your Kids does Not Toughen them Up
Elephant Journal, 10/01/2021
There’s nothing like the feel of the crisp fall air, hitting your face as you load into the car, early in the morning, preparing to head out to another away game.
The car is loaded with blankets and chairs, extra shin guards, and sweatshirts. No way you’re going to be caught off guard, this year, when you arrive at the fields for your kid’s next game!
Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with this season. I have a T-shirt that says, “My heart is on that field,” and the heart is filled with the pattern of a soccer ball. I wear it with pride. I love to watch my son play with the other boys on his team. They are like a fine-tuned machine and have come up through the ranks of travel soccer, and now, they play in an extremely competitive division.
Honestly, I couldn’t care less about the division or level; I just love to watch him play and see the joy he derives from the sport and camaraderie with his teammates.
What I dislike—hate even—are the triggers I have to dodge while I try to enjoy his game. Whistles are drowned out by some parents who insist on yelling and screaming at their children, demeaning them in front of the other parents, their peers, and strangers, and it’s extremely disturbing.
As a nurse, I would consider this bordering on emotional abuse. I try to tune it out, but as someone who experienced emotional abuse when I was young, it’s not such an easy thing to do. My first inclination is to turn around and tell the person to shut the f*ck up.
I was always a fight not flight kind of girl, and I’d love to go on a verbal round or two with people like this. I have always fought and still fight for the underdog, and nothing brings that out in me more than a grown adult who is verbally attacking a preteen child, just trying to play a game.
I want to warn the parent who’s yelling that if they don’t stop, their child is going to hate them someday—if they don’t already. My heart aches for the kids who belong to parents such as these.
When I was younger, I was told all of the things that were “wrong” with me. Due to this, my hatred and resentment grew, and my self-confidence dwindled.
I’m going to date myself here, but the first vision I had when I started thinking about this topic was the scene from “Breakfast Club,” where Andrew, aka Sporto, is talking about taping up Larry Lester’s hairy butt cheeks, and how he did it to prove to his father that he was tough and cool.
He retells this emotional story, and the tough wrestler is in tears as he says, “It’s all because of me and my old man. Oh God, I f*cking hate him! He’s like this…he’s like this mindless machine that I can’t even relate to anymore. ‘Andrew you’ve got to be number one! I won’t tolerate any losers in this family. Your intensity is for sh*t! Win! Win!’ You know, sometimes, I wish my knee would give, and I wouldn’t be able to wrestle anymore, and he could forget all about me.”
How many of these kids are going to grow up to feel that way? I’ve heard parents yell at their children to run faster, play harder, question what’s wrong with the child, tell them to get their heads out of their pants, stop celebrating a goal they should have made sooner, and ask what took so long for the child to score. It’s disgusting, to be frank.
Other parents stand by and laugh awkwardly, but I know deep down inside they, too, must be feeling anguish over what is happening to the heart and spirit of the child on the receiving end.
Words and abusive behavior from playground bullies, disguised as grown adults, make everyone uncomfortable.
Sometimes I wonder if they have any idea how awful they actually sound?
Jana Swart, a Dallas psychologist, states, “At times, some adults don’t even recognize the difference between guiding a child and verbally mistreating them.”
As we all know, however, bullies don’t just become bullies. Most times they’ve been the recipient of abusive behavior too. As a person who has done a lot of research, participated in a ton of therapy, and has currently been learning about generational trauma, I also realize this issue did not start with the one doing the yelling. I write this piece with optimistic hopes that by sharing some of the risks to the child’s emotional health, I can help to put an end to it for generations to come.
To humanize the perpetrator, seated next to me on the sidelines, I remind myself that the emotional abuse the parent must have gone through as a child had to be just as bad, if not worse. By acknowledging this, I am able to feel a small amount of sympathy for the aggressor, yet I still feel the behavior should not be tolerated.
I want to help, but I’m no longer one for confrontations.
Instead, I decided to come up with a few questions I would have the person ask themselves, and they are as follows:
1. Did you not realize that loudly criticizing your player does not toughen them up or make them perform better?
In fact, it actually does the opposite. When a player is yelled at during a game, they become stressed, and as such, the body releases cortisol, the stress hormone.
Cortisol actually inhibits executive function and affects the player’s performance and reactions. So, please, take a deep breath and reconsider scolding your child publicly for their next misplaced pass.
2. Did you ever consider that your sideline behavior is negatively impacting your child’s teammates too?
Well, guess what? It is!
Research has shown that sideline anger and regular exposure to it also causes distress for a player’s teammates and may cause them to suffer as much as if they were the actual targets of the original criticism.
3. As you are publicly demeaning and verbally critiquing your child for all to hear, did you weigh the risks in the immediate gratification of a goal against the long-term effects of your abuse?
Did you know that kids, who are routinely yelled at and placed under duress, have a much higher chance of suffering from mental health problems in the future? According to Swart,
“Pushy parents can create an internal conflict with their child that may lead to anxiety, depression, and rebellion.”
I’ve thought about the best way to handle the situation, and it’s tricky, to say the least. I can only hope that maybe this article will make someone stop, think, and reevaluate their own behavior.
After all, these are children we are talking about, children who are trying to be active and learning what it’s like to be part of a team more than making a goal. They all strive for love and commendations from us—the parents.
Let’s try to remember that next time we get caught up in the competition.
If we crush their spirit and damage their egos, no one will ever come away from the game a winner.
Shocking (& Devastating) Mental Health Facts we Can’t Ignore any Longer
Elephant Journal, 10/9/2021
Last night I attended the first game of my son’s Columbus Day soccer tournament.
I quietly laughed on the sidelines about his pink socks looking like tights because they were so long, but really, seeing all the pink socks on the field just kind of irritated me. I know I am not going to make a lot of friends with that statement, but please, hear me out. I am so damn tired of mental health awareness dates taking a back seat to other causes! In June, PTSD awareness month was overshadowed by PRIDE. This month, it’s Breast Cancer Awareness.
One’s mental health is of utmost importance and contributes to long-term health and outcomes, including various forms of cancer! And believe me, I am not implying whatsoever that one is less important than the other. Rather, I am trying to point out the significance of mental health with regard to both headlining topics. Yet, mental health awareness does not get the lead part in any month, as far as I am aware.
As reported on National Alliance for Mental Illness’s website, the LGBTQI community has rarely been included in mental health studies, yet, as they state:
“There is strong evidence from recent research that members of this community are at a higher risk for experiencing mental health conditions—especially depression and anxiety disorders.”
When LGB adults are twice as likely to suffer a mental health condition than heterosexual adults, and the members of the transgender community are four times as likely to suffer one as opposed to adults who identify with their birth sex, there is a big problem when this population is not included in many mental health studies or data.
Talk about the need to raise awareness about mental illness for all!
Now, I am sure I am going to piss off some people with this article, but this information needs to get out there as well, and it is just as important (if not more) than breast cancer awareness or recognizing one’s sexual identity or choices. Mental health issues often begin to develop in our youth, yet they go unidentified due to the lack of awareness, which leads to long-term consequences.
According to Massetti, Thomas, King, Ragan, and Lunsford, “Mental health problems emerged as a substantial marker of disparities in risk factors for cancer in young adulthood.”
Their study found that young adults with undiagnosed mental health issues had a higher propensity to abuse alcohol, drugs, engage in risky behaviors, and smoke, all factors that increase one’s risk for cancer. When will the world, specifically the United States, begin to acknowledge the true importance of raising awareness when it comes to its citizen’s behavioral health issues and lack of resources and knowledge to help manage the various struggles that accompany them? What is it going to take? Perhaps a review of some statistics?
Did you know that in 2020, 48,344 Americans died by suicide? And of those, 90 percent had a diagnosable mental health condition at the time of their death? No one survives suicide, yet there are over 3.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.
I understand that an estimated 42,170 women will die of breast cancer this year, and that’s an atrocious statistic as well. The death of any human being is not okay, and I am all for fundraising and elevating the awareness on the importance of mammograms and early detection. I truly am. One of my best friends lost her mother as a result of breast cancer and recently one of her dear friends. It’s not okay, but neither is being unable to tell me what color represents mental health awareness month or PTSD awareness month. (To be perfectly honest, I did not even know the answer to that and had to look it up!) I knew teal was the color for PTSD and that t0 support suicide awareness, I could don a semicolon tattoo, but I was clueless when it came to the color for mental health awareness. After I searched, I found that it’s green, and I suffer from mental health issues! I can guarantee you a majority of the population has no idea!
I was even asked the other day, “Wasn’t it mental health awareness month last month?” I quickly informed them that it had been Suicide Prevention Month. They all tie together, yet again, last month in the news, the focus on World Suicide Prevention Month was overshadowed by the many crises happening in our country from COVID-19 to the border! Meanwhile, we have over 50 million people in this country enduring personal crises on a daily basis.
When the f*ck is someone going to talk about this? When are sports teams going to don green socks or teal for that matter or sew a semicolon patch on their jerseys? If mental health issues begin in our youth, don’t you think it’s important that we begin educating them about the many early signs and symptoms they should be mentioning to their parents, teachers, or doctors? Why is it okay to offer sex ed and diversity classes in middle school, yet we don’t truly educate our kids on the risks of undiagnosed mental health conditions?
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 20.6 percent of United States’ adults experienced mental illness in 2019. The need to raise mental health awareness and end the stigma that permeates our society can be further substantiated by these thought-provoking facts:
>> 48 million adults navigate life with an anxiety disorder
>> 19.4 million adults suffered a major depressive episode, and Major Depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States
>> 9 million citizens in our country live with post-traumatic stress disorder
>> 7 million manage life with bipolar disorder
>> 2.2 million adults’ lives are affected by obsessive-compulsive disorder
>> 1.5 million have been diagnosed with schizophrenia
Out of everyone listed above, only 65.5 percent of them received treatment for their serious mental illnesses.
Even more troubling is that the delay between one’s onset of symptoms and treatment is 11 years. Eleven years! So, people have been struggling for over a decade before seeking help? Take, for example, my child: if he was currently experiencing symptoms quietly, he wouldn’t seek treatment until he was 24, suffering quietly through the formative years of his life? Come on!
But the most disturbing is that 55 percent of the counties in the United States of America do not have even one practicing psychiatrist. Seriously? Where are the people in those counties supposed to find help?
Enough already! Enough, I say! The mental health crisis in this country is real! There is a shortage of psychiatrists, facilities, insurance coverage, and knowledge when it comes to treating mental health conditions. Something has to give. Sooner or later, if we make our voices loud enough and don’t stop talking about it, the right person will finally hear us.
People are suffering in silence, facing the world with fake smiles—trying to fight another day. More than a designated color or a team that wears socks in mental health’s recognition, they need care.
Come on, America! Open your eyes!
No one is immune to a tragedy happening in their lives or setbacks that can cause a mental health condition. Isn’t it time mental health got the lead marquee on the billboards?
5 Questions to Assess Suicide Risk & 1 about a Project Semicolon Tattoo
Elephant Journal, 9/09/2021 - ECOSYSTEM WINNER
My 50th birthday is two days after World Suicide Prevention Day and to celebrate, I’ve been considering a tattoo.
Many of my friends have tattoos, really cool tattoos, but I never imagined myself with one, especially considering I already have five. I always told my friends I had multiple tattoos, and when they would ask where, I would say they were on my chest—outlining the field for the radiation treatments that I received for Hodgkin’s Disease, back in 2001. And believe me, those five dots were enough for me!
Sitting still for an entire piece of art to be permanently inked on my body was an impossibility for me. Yet, this year, as I achieved my highest level of mental health and clarity, I became determined as hell to represent my mental health community as an advocate and writer. A permanent marking to signify my commitment was one potential way I thought I could do that.
I wasn’t sure what my tattoo would be. I did know it would include a semicolon, for back in 2015 when I was struggling with the worst depression I had experienced in my life, I found an organization called Project Semicolon.
Project Semicolon was founded by Amy Bleul, in 2013, after she lost her father to suicide ten years prior. She created the foundation to create awareness around mental illness, depression, self-harm, and suicide. Bleul herself also suffered from mental illness and as a peer and inspiration, her foundation’s popularity quickly grew.
The foundation’s motto is, “Your story isn’t over,” which hit home with me as a writer. The concept was that rather than using a period to end a thought, a semicolon could be used instead to signify a pause—rather than finality.
Even back in 2015, I knew my story wasn’t over yet as I crossed the threshold of the metal doors, into that hospital for treatment. I held onto the concept of the semicolon. I knew when my inpatient stay had concluded that I would have one hell of a story to tell if I made it through. A story that someday would help others, just like Bleul’s foundation had helped me.
Today, almost seven years later, I have vowed to share that story with hopes of spreading knowledge and awareness about mental illness and suicide. Ending the stigmas against mental illness, the ones that deter people suffering from seeking out help, has become one of my life’s missions.
So why not get a tattoo, you ask?
For one, I am the type of person who likes to change things frequently, whether it be how my desk is arranged, my living room furniture, my kitchen cabinets, or my bedroom closet. I get bored and feel the need to rearrange.
I drive my husband insane (no pun intended) with how frequently I make changes in our house. It’s so bad that every time the commercial for Prevagen, the supplement that helps with memory loss, comes on, he begs me to get him some so he can remember where I have put things.
Having a tattoo in the same place forever caused me great anxiety. I was worried I would get tired of looking at my tattoo in its original location. The realization that I would never be able to relocate it was disconcerting.
Secondly, tattoos are expensive. I had no idea how costly they can be, and more power to you if they are your thing. But for me, I just couldn’t justify it in my mind. I would rather have a lovely evening out with my husband when I could draw the symbol on my wrist daily if I really wanted to do so.
I was comforted to read on Project Semicolon’s website that a permanent tattoo was not a requirement but rather by donning the semicolon, even in pen, was support enough.
Most importantly, I realized basically everything in life is temporary, except a tattoo, death, and, of course, suicide.
Life, faith, money, happiness, love, and depression are all temporary.
I decided that for me to better represent the motto of Project Semicolon, I would share my story and advocate to end the stigma of mental illness. I will work to educate and enlighten those who do not understand depression and suicide. And, I will pen the semicolon onto whichever body part I prefer that day to show my appreciation and support of Project Semicolon’s mission.
Sadly, I found out that Amy Bleul’s life was cut short when she committed suicide in 2017—which shows how fragile life is, no matter how much we try to take care of ourselves and no matter how much education and insight we may have.
Hence, please, heed my call once again as I ask for your help to spread the word about mental illness and suicide. Despite the founder’s tragic death, Project Semicolon is still in operation and provides valuable services to the mental health population, including advocacy and empowerment.
Check out their website which is full of resources, educational information on the various mental health diagnoses, medications used for treatments, and even a special section just for teens! They even have an app.
Bleul’s legacy still lives on despite her death and the one million people that die annually each year due to suicide.
The site also offers assessment tools, including one to assess your suicide risk.
The Suicide Risk Assessment Test consists of the following questions:
Answer them based on your feelings over the previous two weeks.
1. In the past few weeks, have you wished you were dead?
2. In the past few weeks, have you felt that you or your family would be better off if you were dead?
3. In the past week, have you been having thoughts of killing yourself?
4. Have you ever tried to kill yourself?
5. Are you having thoughts of killing yourself now?
I took the test. In about 90 seconds, and although my risk is extremely low today, I would have answered “yes” to every question asked back in 2015.
The results calculate while you wait and depending upon your risk score, the site provides you resources and contact information.
If you don’t have access to the site, you can still take the test.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, if you answer “yes” to any of the questions 1 through 4, you would be considered to have a positive screening for suicide risk, and you should seek help right away.
If you or someone else answers “yes” to Question 5, call for help immediately and do not let the person out of your sight.
If you answered “yes” to question five
and no one is with you, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline who accepts calls or texts 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.
On September 10th, I will display a semicolon on my wrist to signify my support of Project Semicolon, to let others know my story is not over yet, and to carry on Amy Bleul’s legacy by spreading awareness regarding mental illness and suicide on World Suicide Prevention Day.
Although it may not be a permanent tattoo, it will be drawn on my body in black permanent ink. I will watch and admire the symbolism as the ink eventually fades—just as my depression has over the years.
Even when the mark is gone, I will always remember what it was like to live with mental illness and depression or to feel as if death was the best option. I will always remember finding Project Semicolon and how it inspired hope in me.
To pay it forward, I will continue to share my story to honor Bleul and Project Semicolon’s vision that one day, we can all live in “a world where all people affected by mental illness live healthy, fulfilling lives supported and inspired by a community who cares.
Let’s Raise Suicide Awareness: Death does not Grant Second Chances
Elephant Journal, 9/04/2021 - EDITOR'S PICK - ECOSYSTEM WINNER
What image comes to your mind when you think of an alcoholic?
I decided to do a Google search for “images of alcoholics” and was surprised when the first 12 were men, and out of 35 images, only 5 of them were females!
Not only that, but the pictures consisted of men drinking alone in dark places on the streets and looking desolate. The female images included three who were drinking in the bedroom, one was in a bar, and one was in the kitchen with her child.
Canned images that fill society with mistruths about alcoholism—aka alcohol abuse or alcohol misuse disorder—must be dispelled, and here’s why.
Today, in the midst of a conversation with a friend over medications for depression, I was telling her I stopped taking mine because I realized that the glass or two of wine I was having each day was likely negating my antidepressant. I explained that once I stopped drinking wine, I felt better because the anxiety was gone. I can’t quite remember what was said after, but there was somewhat of an awkward pause, so I said, “Did you think I was inebriated every night of the week?” and kind of laughed.
I never expected her to say yes.
It had never occurred to me that as I publicly shared my stories and was honest about my struggles with alcohol and my ultimate decision to stop drinking wine, people created their own idea as to what I was like before I decided to become sober.
I should have known better.
I read tons of Quit Lit when I first threw away the wine. I learned how society conditions us all when it comes to alcohol and how it begins shaping us at a young age to believe we need it to have fun, to socialize, to be sophisticated, yadda, yadda, yadda.
The conversation I had with my friend rented space in my head all day. It got me thinking hard about the idea of alcoholics, sobriety, and what this society even really understands about it. I’ve never been one to fit into a category or definition, and I’m okay with that.
Here’s what I do know about myself when I used to drink wine:
>> I did not like to drink anything else, and I didn’t.
>> I did not drink every day, but I drank most days.
>> I could stop at one glass of wine when I wanted to—key word…wanted.
>> I did not get drunk every time I drank; most times, I did not get intoxicated.
>> I did look forward to my glasses of wine each night.
>> I loved the taste of red wine; I still do, but what I love more is having a healthy mind.
>> Wine gave me a temporary lift or feeling of happiness, which I later realized was dopamine, but then I would crash.
>> I got up every day and went to work at a job where I was successful.
“But there was something that made you stop,” you say.
And to that I say, “You are right. There were two things.”
1. Anticipated risk.
I work with high-risk patients and see alcoholism and its damaging effects on a person’s body and mind over time. Cirrhosis of the liver is a horrid condition. I have seen several patients pass away due to complications of alcoholism, and it scared me.
You see, I had too many similarities to my patients when it came to childhood trauma, depression, and anxiety. I related to their pain and knew that although I may not have crossed that line to physical addiction, I flirted with it, and based on my personal psychiatric history, had a high propensity for crossing it someday.
2. Inability to moderate.
Drinking and partying with my friends has always been an issue for me. I hate for the party to end, hence, my Instagram handle @nomoderationmoma. When I was amongst friends, one glass would lead to two, then three, then a bottle, then another bottle, all under the guise of “having fun.” I had these “fun” times two or three times a year.
Harmless, right? Sure, but on March 7, 2021, I scared myself and my family. The following day, I realized I never wanted to take a chance with my life again while having “fun,” so I stopped drinking altogether. I’ve had friends tell me it doesn’t have to be forever, to which I say yes it does. I am not willing to take that chance again, and I am totally okay with the decision. I’ll struggle to moderate my laughter and joy nowadays, thank you very much.
Getting back to the issue at hand, though, why do people immediately conjure up a certain image when it comes to drinking? I wonder, do I have an image in my head? I don’t think I do, but when I try to delve deeper, it brings about a question within me that makes me wonder.
For instance, why am I even writing this? Am I trying to justify something? Make myself feel better? I hope not. And if I was, again, I would curse the stigma and the ingrained desire to avoid it as society has conditioned us to do.
I suspect humans like comparisons in an effort to make themselves less guilty or self-conscious, myself included. I think these canned images on Google, these preconceived notions of an alcoholic or someone who struggles with alcohol or inability to moderate is so far-fetched.
They make 90 percent of people who question their own relationship with alcohol feel better. If they look at a picture like that of the gentleman sleeping on a concrete slab with an empty bottle spilled over, they think they are okay.
But are they, really? And if they aren’t, who would tell them they’re not? How would they know? Who would they approach to even discuss the concern?
Sadly, I also believe stigmas are perpetuated within the medical community.
I remember being told in nursing school that should a patient admit to drinking two or three beers a night, you should double or triple that.
I carried that with me throughout my career, and now I realize that is a massive barrier to anyone who may be at risk, for as soon a person goes in to speak to a nurse or doctor and says, “Yes, I have one or two glasses of wine at night,” that number is doubled or tripled by the assessor, and stigmatization immediately takes place.
How many people continue to drink because they fear being stigmatized by their doctors, peers, and support system? There has got to be a better way to determine if alcohol has had a negative impact on your life in an earlier stage before it truly gets its clutches into you.
Once I stopped partaking, I realized that, maybe, some of these little tiny warnings may help you reevaluate your relationship with alcohol or anything else that may be distracting you from living a beautiful, fulfilling life:
>> I no longer have to remember which wine store I went to last since I was on a constant mission to avoid being deemed a “regular.”
>> I no longer worry, before going on a trip, about whether I should bring a bottle of wine for the room.
>> Family time is genuine and uninterrupted now that I don’t have to refill a wine glass halfway through a movie or game night.
>> My husband and I go to bed together again now that I no longer have a glass of wine to finish. (I never could gulp it down, and I wasn’t going to waste it.)
>> I dine out anywhere now because I’m not worried about a wine list! (Psst—I was missing out on a ton of great restaurants!)
These are just a few things that come to mind for me. Remember that alcohol abuse comes in all different shapes and sizes.
I think another great question to ask yourself is: how is alcohol positively contributing to my life?
The wine was not adding anything positive to my life. Even my laughter when I had wine was influenced by the alcohol. In fact, it was doing quite the opposite of contributing positively. It worsened my anxiety and depression, interrupted my sleep, and controlled my thoughts.
No, I did not fit the stereotypical image of society’s idea of someone with an alcohol problem, but I had one.
I remember someone once said to me, “I didn’t always get in trouble with alcohol, but when I got in trouble, alcohol was almost always involved.”
That quote resonates with me to this day.
If you question your relationship with alcohol, reach out and seek help.
Read. Join the sober communities online. There are programs for everyone now.
Alcohol abuse is a symptom of a bigger problem—personal pain and the desire to avoid it through intoxication. We may not all be able to relate to every person’s story or come up in Google’s image catalog, but we are all too familiar with the underlying theme.
How PTSD Triggers can affect Rational Thinking
Elephant Journal, Published 6/16/2021
At 49, I still sleep with a little lamp on my nightstand.
The switch for it is within arm’s reach, and my room stays lightly illuminated with an essential oil diffuser all night long. Yes, at 49, I am still afraid of the dark. It is never pitch black in my bedroom, ever.
I get triggered.
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines a trigger as “a stimulus that elicits a reaction. For example, an event could be a trigger for a memory of a past experience and an accompanying state of emotional arousal.”
Darkness, for me, is a massive trigger.
In September of 2019, I completed my first sprint triathlon. I posted celebratory pictures of myself crossing the finish line, doing the bike ride, and the final run. It was an amazing experience, one that I almost did not get to enjoy.
You see, I was minutes, possibly even seconds from being pulled out of the lake during the swim because I was frozen with fear. As much as I had trained for the swim, I knew it was going to be the hardest event for me, but when I set my eyes on that lake the night before the race, I realized it was going to be harder than I thought.
Its darkness began to wreak havoc within my mind. The water was like liquid onyx, and there were lily pads at both the entry and the exit points. The swim was a quarter mile which is really nothing in a triathlon, but in that lake, I knew it was going to feel like 10 miles.
The morning of the race, I made sure to arrive early so I could take some time to meditate and try to make peace with the water. I sat at its edge as the moon’s beautiful reflection danced upon the tranquil waters. I asked God to please get me across that lake.
Actually, I begged him repeatedly, as if it were a mantra I was chanting.
“Please God, please, get me across the lake. Please God, please, get me across the lake.” I said it over and over in my mind—believing with each chant it was making the request even stronger.
When it was time to enter the water, I stepped in, through the lily pads, and kept trying to breathe and stay calm. I felt the mud squish in between my toes and silently hoped it would help to ground me. I continued to repeat my newfound mantra.
My swim cap and matching pink goggles were on, and I stood waiting for the horn to blow so I could start. At the sound of the horn everyone began to swim, faces down in the water, but not me.
I just couldn’t put my face in that black water. I could not bring myself to do it. The thought of that blackness swallowing me up scared me so much. Just knowing that if I opened my eyes, despite my goggles I would only be looking into the darkness paralyzed me.
I could hear my family yelling from the banks, “Go, Mom! Go, Lyd! Go, Mom!”
Realizing I couldn’t just stay there, I started to swim the breaststroke—and I must say, a wet suit is not meant for doing the frog kick. I was exhausted in a matter of minutes from fighting the resistance of the rubber wet suit and constantly holding my head out of the water. Even worse, I was barely getting anywhere.
I stopped to tread water. I listened to faint echoes of cheers from my family, but I was petrified. I knew to get through the swim, all I needed to do was put my face in the water and swim like hell—but that trigger, that darkness, took away all my sense of reason and rationale and replaced it with fear and anxiety.
But you know what? God was listening to me that day and sent me an angel on Earth.
The nicest gentleman swam up when he heard the men in the lifeboats saying that they were going to pull me from the race. He asked me if I was okay, and I said yes. I told him to keep going so I didn’t ruin his race.
Do you know what he said to me?
“Absolutely not young lady! We don’t leave anyone behind in the water.”
And do you know what? That man saved me. Had it not been for him distracting and calming me, I would have been pulled from the lake that day.
He even sang to me as we swam. I did the backstroke with him at my side guiding me and serenading me with the hymnal, “Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore.” And after a long 18 minutes, we made it to the other side.
At the time, I did not put it all together because I was so overwhelmed with panic and anxiety. However after the race was done, I realized that not only did God watch over me that day, but he also sent this angel to help—an angel who also summoned my baby boy named Michael, in heaven, to guide me to shore.
My best friend calls this a God Wink, but I call it a miracle!
I believe that in times when a trigger paralyzes us or catapults us back to a traumatic event or flashback, we have a choice. We can choose to be paralyzed and activated with fear or we can tell ourselves that the trigger is temporary. We can find a distraction. We can pray. We can breathe. We can do whatever it takes to get through those moments.
If we are worried about the possibility of something triggering us, we can create scenarios to combat it beforehand, ways to excuse ourselves—figure out whatever it takes to get to the other side of the panic. Our ability to do that takes work, therapy, meditation, faith, and lots of reflection—but it can be done.
That day in the lake, the solace for me was found in the power of God. He made his presence known. I firmly believe that if we put our trust in God, and believe that He is with us at all times, we will be safe and protected. He will see us through those awful moments or send us angels to help us along.
I know that there are still triggers out there lurking, just waiting for me. They may get me at times, but I’m different now. I feel safe in my body and believe that someone bigger has got my back now.
Once I accepted that God was on my side, not playing games with my life, my entire perspective changed.
Whatever it is that you believe in, whether it’s God or a higher power, or the universe, just know there’s something bigger than us that is in charge and will care for you and love you and protect you forever.
Reach for it.
Allow its healing power to help put some of your triggers to rest because honestly, we all deserve an angel on earth, we just have to look in the right places.