peer support

Being depressed and helping others

I’m learning to be honest with myself and others about the current state of depression I’m experiencing. I’m learning something else, too.

I used to believe that I can’t truly be of service to others who are struggling, if I’m struggling, too. Like somehow my brokenness and woundedness means I have no right and no basis for reaching out to help others who are experiencing struggles of their own.

It’s a “relapse” in my mental health recovery process, except it really isn’t. There’s an idea that being in relapse makes one’s knowledge and understanding of what recovery is somehow invalid and insignificant. However, when it comes to mental health, all it ever is is symptom management and a kind of remission. At least that’s true for me.

The brain, which is atypical, continues to be the brain it is. I was reminded of this a few months ago, when I was being very productive, feeling very good about myself, sleeping less than my already minimal sleep, and full of “grand ideas” about how I was going to go about changing my life and circumstances.

I’m as well medicated as I can be and still be cognitively and physically functional. However, I was concerned that I was experiencing a degree of hypomania. It was actually serving me in constructive ways, but, I couldn’t shake the worry that this would end like all the other times – of which there have been too many for me to remember over the past 40 years. I was fearful of the potentially impending period of depression that would follow. Especially considering that I was also entering my “traumaversary season.”

I expressed that concern to a trusted friend and mentor. He reminded me that, regardless of how well medicated I am or how many behavior modification methods and tools I have learned and acquired over the past five years, my bipolar brain, is still a bipolar brain. I needed to recognize that I may be experiencing hypomanic symptoms, but they weren’t anywhere near as severe as in the past and that the depression that might follow wouldn’t necessarily be as bad as in the past either. Plus, I do have tools and I have learned healthy coping strategies, as well as increased self-awareness.

There’s also an idea that experiencing symptoms means I lack the capacity to help others. As if being symptomatic is a weakness that, by definition, consumes all my functionality and diminishes my ability and capacity to do more than survive the symptoms.

To a degree, and in some circumstances, both of these things can be true, however, they aren’t absolute.

I am struggling with significant symptoms of depression. The depression is exacerbated by current circumstances and situations beyond my ability to control, but are inherently part of me and what I’m having to come to terms with. These things are emotionally and mentally exhausting and draining.

Yet, I’m still functioning. I’m not doing all the things that are supposedly normative for neurotypical folks: keeping a clean home, staying on top of nutrition, and generally sociable. However, I’m taking tax prep classes and attending them instead of giving up because the depression and overwhelm have gotten in the way of doing homework. I am still attending my Peer Support Specialist Training and being fully engaged with the class and processes, even when they trigger stuff. I’m still taking care of personal hygiene (mostly). I even followed through with a job interview and was offered a job.

I’m also in or near tears a lot of the time. I’m experiencing the negative voices/thoughts of self-criticism, self-doubt, and self-hate. I barely have the energy to do the things to care for my child and my dog, but I’m still doing them.

In the midst of all of this, through honest conversations, allowing the tears to fall and be seen by others, and sharing the struggles, others are letting me know that I’m helping them. They don’t feel so alone. Seeing me fight and recognizing the little “wins” offers hope and insight for themselves.

So, I’ve decided that if the depression, hypomania, and anxiety are going to fuck with me and my life, I’m going to put them to good use.

Much Ado About Nothing Major

If you’ve been reading along, you know that I took the NCRC (National Career Readiness Certificate) assessment yesterday. It’s a certificate that lets employers know that you have basic workplace skills to understand workplace documents, mathematics, and graphic representations of data. Each of the three assessments can achieve rating levels from bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. Whichever of the three has the lowest rating, determines your overall rating. So, a platinum in reading, a silver in math, and a bronze in graphic literacy will yield and overall rating of bronze.

As previously discussed, my perfectionistic nature isn’t happy with the idea of having the lowest score determine the overall outcome. You may also be aware that I was super worried that my math score would drag me down. So, I was incredibly anxious about taking the math assessment.

The assessments are proctored and each one is 55 minutes long with 35 questions. On the math assessment, I guessed at two and ran out of time before finishing the last one or two problems. I assumed that meant I had gotten a low score.

Apparently not! I scored PLATINUM!!!!

I also scored Platinum for reading. The score that dragged me down was Graphic Literacy. I got a Gold rating for that one. So, my overall rating is Gold. Evidently, I’m not suited to be a chemist, medical researcher, or engineer. I’m good with that.

I have to admit, though, that in addition to feeling quite ecstatic about my results – I couldn’t stop smiling for at least the first half hour after finding out my scores – I’m also feeling a bit sheepish.

Why?

Well, I’ve known about the NCRC since 2013, the first time I thought I was ready to reenter the job market. I doubted myself and got overwhelmed by life and didn’t follow through on taking it then. In 2015, I started the process of getting ready to go back to work then, again, and avoided it completely. I could probably have taken it six weeks ago. However, I was so full of self-doubt about my math abilities, that I avoided it.

That pesky perfectionistic nature, that all or nothing attitude has been holding me back.

I’d like to say that this revelation means I won’t give into it’s immobilizing effects again. But, that’s probably not true. What is true is that I can start questioning the self-doubt when it rises its ugly head in the future. I can ask myself if I’m worried about doing something imperfectly or if I’m holding back because I genuinely don’t have the knowledge or skills to attempt it.

Another thing I can do to combat the perfectionism is to evaluate whether the goal I have in mind or the result I want requires the level or even the thing at all that I’m working so hard to be as perfect as possible at.

For instance: A Peer Wellness/Support Specialist doesn’t really need advanced MS Office 13 skills. Yet, I pushed myself to attain advanced certificates in Word and Excel. That job also probably doesn’t require algebra or geometry. Therefore, it would have been no big deal if I had gotten a lower score on the math assessment.

It seems that I have a lot of unpacking to do around the perfectionism. It will give me something to work on with my therapist when next we meet.

Is there an area in your life where perfectionism could be holding you back?

Like attracts like and water seeks its own level

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For those who have been following this blog for a while, you are familiar with some of the relational difficulties Keith and I have had and you may have seen previous postings where I’ve stated I believe we all experience difficulty with an undiagnosed mental health issue of his that I’ve identified as probably being Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

I’m bringing this subject up again, because of two reasons: One, understanding that behavior which is typically identified as stalking and domestic violence may not necessarily be something that is consciously chosen by the individual and is frequently dismissed and doesn’t stem from a need to dominate, control, and hold power over others. Two, people exhibiting these signs and symptoms need compassion, empathy, and understanding as much as their “victims.”

The following information comes from NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness):

Individuals with BPD usually have several of the following symptoms, many of which are detailed in the DSM-IV-TR:

• Marked mood swings with periods of intense depressed mood, irritability and/or anxiety lasting a few hours to a few days (but not in the context of a full-blown episode of major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder).

• Inappropriate, intense or uncontrollable anger.

• Impulsive behaviors that result in adverse outcomes and psychological distress, such as excessive spending, sexual encounters, substance use, shoplifting, reckless driving or binge eating

• Recurring suicidal threats or non-suicidal self-injurious behavior, such as cutting or burning one’s self.

• Unstable, intense personal relationships, sometimes alternating between “all good,” idealization, and “all bad,” devaluation.

• Persistent uncertainty about self-image, long-term goals, friendships and values.

• Chronic boredom or feelings of emptiness.

• Frantic efforts to avoid abandonment.

Borderline personality disorder is relatively common—about 1 in 20 or 25 individuals will live with this condition. Historically, BPD has been thought to be significantly more common in females, however recent research suggests that males may be almost as frequently affected by BPD. Borderline personality disorder is diagnosed in people from each race, ethnicity and economic status.

In the past, I have characterized my relationship with Keith as toxically codependent. It was. It has improved quite a bit in the past eight or nine months as I have done a few things:

1) I made the conscious decision to start finding out how to communicate in ways that a person with BPD can receive and process information. Then began acting on that information.

2) Work on acceptance and forgiveness while also working on letting go of criticism and judgment. However difficult and personally painful it is dealing with him when he acts out on his impulses, intense & irrational anger, and unstable moods, I now know and understand that he is no more the cause of what I believe to be his illness/issues than I am the cause of my depression, hypomania, and attachment disorder. No one consciously chooses to be this miserable and unstable.

3) Seek support from my peers. Since the average, “healthy” person has no context to understand my decision to stay in relationship with him and I have been subjected to harsh judgments and criticisms regarding that choice, however justified the people passing judgment and offering criticism may be, I have stopped trying to get others to understand or condone my decision. Instead, I now participate in a closed, private, online support group with other people who are or have been in relationship with someone who experiences and exhibits symptomology consistent with BPD. It is a safe place to vent, receive, and give supportive encouragement.

4) Focus more on myself and my own growth and healing. As I have looked at my own attitudes, history and patterns I am learning how I have played into our relational difficulties and am learning to choose different ways of responding to his behaviors and words instead of staying other focused on what I want him to change and do different. Doing that has not eradicated the “problems” but it has gone a long way toward improving our relationship

5) I am making conscious efforts to get out of my situational and self-imposed isolation and have committed to doing things I need to do to take care of myself and seek after ways of achieving my dreams and goals, instead of simmering in bitterness and resentment that he is limited in his ability and capacity to encourage and support me in those things.

I know that by choosing to stay in relationship with him, I am choosing a more difficult path. However, the things that I value and believe inform and dictate this choice. He is committed to me and our family. He is working to provide for and support our family. He WANTS to be a father to our daughter and is doing the best he can to be the dad and husband he wants to be.

A member of my support group shared an image from the Facebook Page, The BPD Monster and Me. I want to share it with you.

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One of the things I have learned and come to understand as part of the healing and recovery process is that the people and relationships I wind up engaging with and having in my life are a reflection of my inner being. What this means is that however dysfunctional and damaged I believe them to be generally indicates that I have the same level of dysfuntionality and damage. The less I focus on their dysfunction and damage and the more I take my cues from their issues and am willing to see and address my own, the healthier I become. As a result, I am encountering new people and building new relationships where I am finding new and different reflections of myself.

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