I’m Dreaming!

One thing that I notice when I’m depressed is that I don’t dream. Or at least I don’t remember my dreams. When I was younger, I was known in my friend group to be the one that would come to school or work everyday telling them about my dreams. My best friend, Janel, even bought me a dream book for my birthday in great eight. I used to write down my dreams and try to find meaning in them all the time.

But in the last decade I don’t really remember having a lot of dreams and certainly none in the last couple years.

I’ve started a therapy here called Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), and after the very first session I started having dreams again! CPT is a very common therapy used to treat PTSD, which is what I have been diagnosed with. I was warned by some other clients here that once I started this treatment I was going to have nightmares, but that if I did have nightmares then I know that the process is working. It’s kind of a catch-22 because you are reliving the trauma while you’re awake, and then you could be reliving it again while you’re sleeping. This process is very important to treat this problem effectively, though, so I was willing to try anything.

I have done three sessions of the CPT now and have had dreams every single night since I started it just over a week ago. I have to say that I haven’t had nightmares, per se, but I have definitely had dreams that have stirred up a lot of emotions. In fact, on Saturday morning I woke up shocked by a dream that I had had the night before. It brought back emotions from almost 20 years ago that I have been storing deep, deep down inside. It took me the full day to recover from the dream and I am glad that I have a counsellor here to support me when I’m going through this. He made me realize that I don’t have control over my dreams and that it’s okay to feel the emotions that come from them. It also made sense when he linked my emotions from the dream to my current trauma that I am trying to get over. It’s all intertwined and it all makes so much sense now!!

I am a quarter way through the CPT process now and I may still have a nightmare come up, but I am in a safe place to experience them and I am willing to risk it because those dreams do mean something.

I never thought that losing my dreams for so long really mattered, but now that I have them back, I realize how much I missed thinking about them and finding meaning in them and I am so glad that I am dreaming again.

This process has made me feel a lot healthier and I am so excited to start dreaming while I’m awake now too.

-J

Road to Recovery (RTR) Series Part 2

Hey everyone! So I’ve been at the facility for 9 days now and I have already felt a change happen in me. It is just so amazing how being removed from the everyday stresses of life has really helped me focus on myself and my recovery. I have learned so much in the past week from the courses that I’m taking here and from my counselling sessions that I get throughout the week, but I’ve also learned so much from my peers that are also here. It’s really amazing when you find a group of people that have different reasons for being here but a common goal… it really makes for a supportive environment.

I knew I was going to learn a lot by coming here, but what has surprised me the most is how much I am learning from the people that are also in treatment. What makes me feel better is that I am seeing people from all different walks of life: from people that are homeless, to people that are in the military. We have all found a common ground here and are able to support each other. It’s like an added bonus because I didn’t expect to get this much from those people.

I think that this just reiterates what I’ve been trying to talk about since I started this blog, which is that we are not alone. It’s really hard to feel like you belong to a group when you’re depressed and you have isolated yourself, so this has been really a positive thing for me.

I have been making behavioral changes that have impacted me in a positive way while I’m here too. I am using my bed for just sleeping, instead of laying there with a book. Sounds simple but it’s really important for me to remove myself from my bed. Another thing that I am trying to do is spend less time in my room and more time in the lounge with other people. I have really had to push myself to do this because I am an introvert, but I have already seen the positive impact other people have had on me. Now instead of sitting alone in my room and letting my anxiety get the best of me, I am surrounding myself with people that I feel comfortable with and who make me laugh, and most importantly, reinforce the positive feeling when I leave my room so that I will keep leaving my room.

I have spent about an hour and a half every single day hiking in the beautiful woods of British Columbia, which is therapy in itself. My energy level has risen substantially and I’m starting to feel really good again. I am so happy that I chose to come here to get that boost and that extra knowledge that I needed about myself to carry on with my life as a happier me.

So this is me checking in and letting you know that so far everything has been amazing and I am learning a lot and I am excited to keep learning and I will make sure to take you along for the ride.

Thank you guys for supporting me along the way as well!

J

My Humble Thoughts on Illness

It is 4 days until I leave my home, my family, my world. And although my world has been dark and crappy for the last couple years, it still makes me sad and uneasy to leave it. Anyone that has suffered from a mental illness will probably understand my feeling of apprehension and nervousness surrounding recovery. A lot of times we want mental illness to be seen as just another illness like cancer or diabetes, but I think that there are some differences for sure, and that those need to be identified as well.

I have never had cancer, nor do I have diabetes, but unfortunately my family has been affected by cancer. Lots and lots of cancer. I will not pretend to even know what it’s like to get a diagnosis of cancer, although I know that it devastates families.

And while a mental illness is an illness, I think that’s where the similarities end. I know that if I got diagnosed with cancer today that the fight would be in me. I would want to do everything I could to get better and to live. Every waking hour would be time spent getting better. Whether it be appointments, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, counseling, rest, and other self care, the fight would be there.

When you have a mental illness, you do not want to feel the way that you do, but the fight is not always there. This is an illness that takes that fight away. This is an illness that lies to you and makes you feel like you are not worth fighting for. People don’t react the same way when you tell them you have a mental illness then when you tell them you have something else. I don’t want to sit here and cry and complain about all that, but I just want to clarify the similarities and differences between these illnesses. Mainly I want people to recognize that mentally ill people want nothing more than to live a normal life, but the illness has taken almost everything away from us. And most importantly, it has taken our strength to fight away (although we aren’t weak, we are still fighting even if you cant see it). This is the type of illness where people that are suffering need way more people in their corner than they ever have before. We will probably not ask for you to be in our corner though.

All illnesses suck. I wish nobody had to deal with any type of illness. But the truth is we all have our own shit and we all need to support each other. If you have a family member that suffers with a mental illness, please take time to read about the illness and how to support someone with one. It means everything to us. And sometimes it can mean the difference between life or death.

J

Any Questions?

I will be doing a series about my road to recovery on my podcast. I will be answering listeners questions during these episodes so please send your questions my way! If you have the anchor app, you can send me your questions by voice message, which is a really cool feature. It’s really easy to use so I would encourage you to check it out because that is a really cool interactive way to do an episode!

You can also email me at thegreymatterspodcast@gmail.com or you can follow me on Twitter @thegreymatters4.

I will attach the link to the Anchor app in case you are interested in trying that voice feature out.

J

9 Days Til I Leave…

In 9 days I am leaving my family and heading to a mental health treatment facility. And even though I am relieved that the time to take care of myself is almost here, I am also scared shitless, too.

If someone were to ask me why I was scared, the answers would be almost endless. I have been afraid of flying for most of my life so the fact that I have to take two planes to get to this place is terrifying. Usually I have to drink a couple beer before I get on a plane, but this time my flight leaves at 6 a.m. so I don’t think I’ll be doing that. This time I will have to rely on mindfulness tools and stuff like that. I have to be honest when I say mindfulness tools do not work for me on an airplane. Can someone just knock me out please?

I also have to figure out if there is a shuttle from the airport to the hotel, otherwise I am taking a cab alone and that is scary to me as well. And I also feel really lonely in all this because I am traveling by myself, and if you experience anxiety then you know that being isolated can make it worse and while I’m traveling I’ll have no one to talk about what I’m feeling.

But what is really hard is trying to plan for the next couple months of my kids’ lives the best that I can, for my absence.

Absence. That word is hard for me to say and hear because it makes me feel like I’m abandoning them; that I will be absent from their lives. And unavailable. People have told me that it’s going to be hard for them, and I know it will be. It’s going to be different for sure. It’s also something that no one in our family has done before so we are in uncharted territory when it comes to handling mental illness in our family.

Every single day I think about what it will be like for them without their mom while I am away. And sometimes I feel guilty. But a couple of really amazing friends helped me realize that not only is this the right next step to take, but the reality is, my kids have already had an ‘absent’ mom for two years now. 7 more weeks is nothing, especially when it’s for treatment.

The reality is that for the past two years it’s been a struggle for me to even get out of bed. When I do get out of bed and the kids talk to me, I am only half-listening because my depression keeps me in a fog and my anxiety makes me worry about ridiculous things in the back of my mind, which competes with their voices. While my sweet kids are telling me something interesting, something that might have happened that day at school, or how they’re feeling, I realize I am not present in the moment. I am stuck in the land of depression, where everything just sucks so bad that you don’t even want your kids to see you the way that you really feel.

I’ve stayed in my room a lot lately. It’s mostly because I fear that when I open my mouth I might say something vile. It’s like the words that come out of my mouth are a direct reflection of my horrible feelings inside. I am afraid that my kids are going to think that my words are a direct reflection of my feelings for them— but how do you explain that to little kids? Especially when I love them more than anything in the world.

My kids have seen their mom struggle for a while now, and it is finally time for them to see their mother get better. Because they deserve it.

7 weeks is a long time to be gone, but it’s nothing compared to the last couple years where I really haven’t been around. And if this illness were to end in death, then 7 weeks is no comparison. I’m going to go, do my best, and make the most of my time, and I’m going to come back better.

J

Because look at these faces .  They deserve the best mom ever.

My Story So Far – A Guest Post, by Amy Hill

So I am a 30 year old mom of two beautiful children; a four-year-old daughter and a six-month-old son. I wanted to share my story to help raise awareness and help others out there that are suffering.

Most people have heard of postnatal depression, but no one talks about postnatal anxiety or OCD. I, for one, had never heard of these postnatal illnesses or how common they actually are. These debilitating mental illnesses are scary and hard to talk about, especially when you’ve never heard about them before.

The intrusive thoughts are the worst. It’s like being tortured by your own mind. Thoughts so distressing and disturbing, they send you into a panic and make you believe you are the worst of people. Those thoughts are scary, hard to talk about, and make you feel ashamed that you can even think these things.

Intrusive thoughts: I’d never heard of them, add the OCD, depression, and anxiety, you fall so fast you don’t even know where to go.

My first intrusive thought was when my baby was 4 weeks old. He had a slight runny nose, and that was it. That was the moment my downward spiral begin: from having a runny nose, to getting a chest infection, to needing a hospital, to needing intensive care, and eventually my baby dying. The anxiety and panic was unbearable. I never slept that night with worry — and this is how it began. How that one thought, from ‘my baby just having a runny nose’, which of course was never any more than that! But this was just the beginning. The intrusive thoughts got worse. From bathing my baby, to him accidentally drowning, to me actually drowning him. From changing his nappy, to thinking I would touch him inappropriately. They were horrendous. The worst things you could imagine happening to your baby were in my head.

For days, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I barely functioned. I was so scared of what was going on in my head and scared to tell people in case they thought I was some crazy monster. The problem is, once you have those thoughts, you become obsessed with them. It starts as an innocent thought and quickly turns into an intrusive thought. And all the different scenarios come racing through your head. This is where the panic sets in because the thoughts are so horrible, you believe you are an awful person for even thinking these thoughts. You become scared thinking that because you had these horrid thoughts, you may actually do these terrible things. I was so terrified that I would actually harm my children or something bad would happen to them, I went to live between my mother and mother-in-law. They took care of my two children whilst I was unwell. Unfortunately because of these horrid thoughts, I distanced myself from my kids. I was so scared that these unthinkable thoughts would become a reality and I could actually harm my children. This made me feel so guilty that I couldn’t look at them. I felt like I was protecting them from me. It’s hard to understand that they are just thoughts and that they won’t become a reality. I needed, and still do at times, constant reassurance that I was not some vile human, that I was not going to do these disgusting things that kept popping into my head, or that it was very unlikely my baby was going to die.

I felt so ashamed and embarrassed of what was happening and that I wasn’t managing or happy like other moms. I thought my family deserved a better person, a better mom, and that I had failed them for being this way. I became extremely low with everything that was going on in my head. I started to have dark thoughts that maybe I needed to be put down, being such a horrible person with these disgusting thoughts. I felt like I was never going to be normal again and that everyone would hate me. I thought if anyone knew what thoughts were running through my head, they wouldn’t want to be anywhere near me and they would want me locked up.

I only managed to calm down by taking diazepam regularly, which just made me so sleepy. I started to Google some of my symptoms and was surprised to find out that what was actually happening to me was an illness and I wasn’t the first, or the only person, that had suffered with this terrifying illness. I plucked up the courage to go to the doctor. Initially, I told them I was having really bad general anxiety because I was too scared to actually say what was happening in my head. After having a few days of getting worse and realizing what my actual illness was, I went back. My mother-in-law came with me as I was in such a state.

Telling my husband, my mom, and mother-in-law who take care of me was one of the hardest things that I had to do. Letting them know about the sick thoughts I was having seemed an impossible task without them thinking I was going to harm the children and that I was some kind of monster mom. It was so hard that instead of speaking out loud, I showed them the stories and descriptions of the illness I found on Google and said, “That is what I have.” This is where my recovery began and was beginning to feel some kind of hope of getting better.

I had started on antidepressants, but I knew those first few weeks of getting them in my system we’re going to be hard. I begin to see the perinatal mental health team, who’ve been amazing. They were quick, thorough, and they helped me understand my illness better. Regular meetings with the mental health nurse have been an essential piece to my treatment and my recovery. Being able to talk to a neutral person who understands the illness has helped me get through. I also wouldn’t have managed without the amazing people in my life: my husband, my mom, and mother-in-law were my rocks through my toughest and lowest times. Without them, I honestly don’t know how things would have turned out. I have three amazing sisters and extended family who all helped out one way or another, and wonderful friends. Even my best friend, all the way in Australia, helped me in more ways than she will ever know.

As well as taking medication, I was advised that CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) was the treatment for my illness. I had done a course of CBT a few years ago after suffering with anxiety the past four years. CBT so far has been a major eye-opener for me. To start with we have focused on the intrusive thoughts and the OCD. Through therapy I have begun to realize that I have suffered from OCD for a long time and did not realize that some of my habits were actually not normal.

I am still in the early stages of my recovery and know that I have a long road ahead of me. I’m finally realizing that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that there is hope.

To anyone out there who is suffering with these terrible illnesses, please realize that you are not alone, that it is an illness, you are not some horrible, disgusting person. Read people’s stories and please go get help.

-Amy Hill

@amyh_Sunflower

Listen on: https://anchor.fm/thegreymatters/episodes/19-Guest-Submission-My-Story-So-Far—Amys-Story-e3ub6c