Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Depression, and Why we Need to Talk About it More

This contraption saved my life.

I remember the day I planned to die.

It wasn’t all that different from any other day except that it felt like I would finally get some rest. I was so tired. I was worn down from pretending, from trying.

Depression starts off subtle, like a light sheet draped over your body. It’s annoying, but you figure you can shake it off. Each day it gets heavier, until it’s a thick, cumbersome blanket, weighing you down. That heaviness makes everything harder, even the little things. It obstructs your perspective and suffocates your joy. You can’t just shake it off. Sometimes, it feels like you can hardly breathe.

I was tired of living like that. I felt depleted in every way. Worse still, I felt like I was everyone else’s heavy blanket, burdening them with my problems that just wouldn’t go away. It didn’t seem fair.

So taking my life seemed like a good solution – the only solution, really. I was going to do us all a favour. I knew how and I knew when, and just knowing this made me feel lighter.

I went to school knowing it was my final day, and I was probably a little happier than usual. When I talked to people, I tried to drink it in a little, like a last meal. I was careful not to let anyone in on my secret, knowing full well they would probably try and put a stop to it. People can be so meddling, I thought. I needed the pain to end in a way I couldn’t possibly explain to anyone else. They wouldn’t get it. They weren’t inside my head.

I remember it all. I remember when the weight was so heavy that going on for even one more day seemed impossible. I remember thinking that reaching out for help was futile, that nobody could possibly understand, that the pain would never go away - ever. I remember it all.

I was at a friend’s house yesterday when news broke that the incredible Robin Williams had taken his life. He was a genius comedian, someone I grew up wanting to be. We shared a love for the stage, a love for making people laugh.

But I could see it from time to time, that pain in his eyes. I recognized it. I’ve lived active addiction, too. I’ve lived depression, too. And now anxiety is my gremlin, throwing wrenches into my every day.

“I have a good life,” I’ll remind myself on the really bad days. “Why can’t I just be happy?”

And I wonder if Robin, with the world as his oyster, living a life most of us can’t even imagine, asked himself the same thing. My guess is that he did. Mental illness doesn’t give a shit who you are. It doesn’t care if you’re somebody’s parent, or what you do for a living, or how high your property value is. It doesn’t care if you’re loved by tens or by tens of millions. It doesn’t listen when you take stock of all the good things in your life. It doesn’t respond to logic because it’s an illogical beast. That’s what makes it so terrifying.

I don’t often talk about trying to take my life. To be honest, it’s not something that tends to come up in conversation very often. But if I said that was the only reason, I would be lying. Shame is the other.

Mental illness loves shame. It fucking loves it.

When we don’t talk about mental illness, it can continue fester and grow in ourselves and in others. When nobody speaks out - when we don’t hear about other people coming out the other side of something insidious like depression – our brains don’t have the chance to think, “Hey, maybe I can, too.”

Shame keeps things hidden. It says,

“Don’t talk about that.”

“It’s embarrassing.”

“Nobody likes a downer.”

“People will think you’re weak.”

“They won’t look at you the same again.”

And sometimes I listen. I’m not proud of it, but I do.

I was saved by a phone call from a complete stranger. I’m not even kidding. On the evening I was going to die, the phone rang. It was my friend’s boyfriend. She had asked him to call me because she knew I was depressed and was worried about me.

I talked to him, this complete stranger. But most importantly, he talked to me. He told me about his dark place. He told me he had tried to kill himself. He told me how much better things were for him now, how he got help, and how the darkness had lifted.

I listened, and I cried, and we made plans to get together the next day. I did not try and take my life that night, and we struck up a friendship that saw me through the darkest part of my life. We’re still in touch today.

His kindness and openness saved me. To say I’m grateful he made that phone call when he did would be an understatement. He didn’t let his shame keep him silent, and I’m here today because of it. I have a rich and full life because of it. I’m married and raising three kids and toiling away in my garden and painting on big canvases and laughing with friends because of it. I’m here to write this because of it.

Depression can take hold of anyone. Suicide becomes an option far too often. There is help out of the darkness, but sometimes people need those around them to shine a little brighter so they can find their way. We need to be that light.

We need to talk about this shit more, you guys. It won’t bring back the incredible people we’ve lost, but it can save someone. I’m proof of that.

Let’s stop drowning in stigma and start swimming in hope.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Why Having a Wrist Tattoo is the Best. Thing. Ever.

We grow from struggle - especially us pretentious brooding artist types - and I know this. But the getting there part is like running uphill while being chased by a shark. Well, a shark on legs. A leg shark. Those exist, I'm telling you. Don't climb any hills.

I'm happy to be coming out the other side of a rather prolonged period of shit shifts. And to commemorate the changes that have happened inside of me because of everything going on outside of me, I decided I needed a tattoo.

Like, yesterday morning.

So I went and got one in the afternoon; you know, in between dishes and groceries. Just a typical day as a suburban mom. Scrub a pan, get inked, buy a watermelon.

Oh, don't get your boxers bunched. I've been thinking about my second inking for a while now. If you've been reading me for a little bit, you know I got a tattoo in October 2012 that meant the world to me. I've been wanting to go back and get another ever since, but I take the whole "permanently etched on your pasty white skin" stuff pretty seriously. It had to mean something.

Anyway, I absolutely love it.

But the greatest thing about having a tattoo where everyone can see it? It makes everything I do significantly more badass.

No, really. Observe:

Leaning on a fencepost?
Probably tired from a long night of delinquencies.

Pretending to drive a car so you can take a picture?
No longer really lame. This could be a getaway car. You just don't know.

Fuck this tablecloth. When I set the cup back down it's not going on the coaster.
Rollin' and trollin', motherfuckers.

What? Another selfie?
Hell, no. This is a statement.
You might be initially wooed into a false sense of security by the choice of stylish clothing.
But all I need to do is flash my left wrist at you for a second and you'll be all like,
"Watch out for that chick. She breathes and shines."
Stand back, bitches.

I'm not just giving my kid a thumbs up. I'm giving him a lifestyle.

Is this a woman glueing buttons on a painting? (Don't ask. I have a plan.)
Hell no, bitches.
This is a rebel artist creating outside-of-the-box art.
She doesn't care if you get it.
She doesn't even care if you like it.
Go ahead and question her shit. She's not your corpo-sheep.
Stand back and let her work, motherfuckers.

See? Totally badass. Drive-68-in-a-60 badass. Pay-for-13-items-in-a-1-to-12-express-lane badass. Take-more-than-1-complimentary-mint badass.

I'm a whole new Maven. I also think I may be having a midlife crisis.

I knew I wanted "Breathe." on there to remind me to, well, breathe. Duh. You probably figured that out, right?

This anxious girl does better after a few deep breaths. I get a little less wall-head slammy. I act a little less like a triple-layer douche cake. Basically, I'm just a better person after receiving a larger supply of oxygen.

And "Now, shine?" Sometimes I forget that I'm a pretty great person. And when I lose my confidence, I kind of suck at being awesome. I forget I have qualities and a personality and I go hide in a corner. And nobody puts Maven in a corner. Not even Maven.

So now I have life instructions on my wrist: Calm down. Be awesome. You know, the important stuff.

We all have the capacity to shine. Sometimes we just have to remind ourselves that we do.


Tuesday, July 08, 2014

On The Other Side of Terrified

Source of all this bling: Wikipedia Commons.

There was a time after Gutsy told us she's a girl that I wished we could go back. I was terrified. What did it mean to have a transgender child? How would we know what to do? How would people treat her? Would she ever be happy?

Before seemed simpler. Less scary. We had three kids who's outsides matched their insides. We had three kids in the school system. We had an established family identity of three boys, a dad and a (stupendously awesome) mom.

I wanted to go back.

I don't feel that way anymore. It's taken nearly five months, but I've finally accepted that, while this isn't an easy road, it's actually a pretty good one. A not-so-scary one. A cool one, even. Like, have you seen all the trans* stuff in the news lately? We have arrived.

All kidding aside (for once), I'm good with where we are right now. More importantly - because, believe it or not, there are things more important than how I feel (I know!) - my daughter is good with it. So good with it.

Taking her out of school was probably the best thing we've ever done. (Please remind me of this in September. I beg you.) She's no longer afraid of what the other 500 people at school will think of her. We've created a safe place for her to transition; a cocoon, if you will. She knows the world can be critical and cruel, but she doesn't have to deal with that right now.

In her world, there is no ridicule or shame. She has enough to deal with. She has appointments and injections and blood tests and mood swings and unlearning a lot of the gender roles society insisted upon when she was younger. And on top of all of that, she still has to have time to be a kid, figure out where she's headed in life, and create some great memories along the way. These are monument tasks.

And right now, the school system was a burden and not a help, so we took it away. No regrets.

Until I have to teach physics. Then fuck my life.

I don't want to go back to where we were because I've learned not only a lot about parenting and gender and advocacy through this experience, but I'm also learning a lot about me.

I'm learning that I'm a lot stronger than I thought I was.

I'm learning to re-prioritize life and put myself first.

I'm learning that I don't have the time or energy to devote to toxicity or negativity.

I'm learning that there's more to life than trying to make other people happy.

So no, I don't want to go back. I like it here where I'm not eating my feelings every day and I'm getting up early to go to the gym.

I like that I'm learning to say no, and to step away from situations that drain me.

I love the connections that have deepened as people have rallied around Gutsy, and the amazing new friendships we're forming with people we've met this year.

I love the way my daughter has started wearing shirts with a bit of glitter on them because they make her feel pretty (confidence!), or how she's getting brave enough to use the girls' washrooms when we're out.

I love watching how protective her brothers are of her, and how they have unequivocally accepted her for who she is. Those boys totally rock.

I love seeing the strength in my marriage and knowing we can weather anything together, because we've been through so much and I still think he's totally hot.

Oh, and he's nice and stuff too.

I never had the need to evaluate myself so deeply, or to spend so much time appreciating life. When Gutsy came out, I really didn't think I had it in me to give her the mass amount of support she'll require for years to come - not the way I was living, anyway. So I've had to make changes - big, bold changes - in order to be the kick ass woman I need to be. I see it not as an option, but as a job requirement with incredible benefits.

She may have very well saved my life while I've been fighting so hard to save hers. True story.

I'm not scared anymore. We're not going back, and I'm grateful for that. Forward is so much better.

And has more glitter.