Christmas Thoughts and Support of Family and Close Friends

Been feeling more irritable and short tempered the last few days.  Not sure what to make of it.  Hopefully it is just the stress of being so close to end of year holidays.  I won’t be going anywhere for Christmas this year.  My parents are returning to Nebraska for a couple days and will be spending Christmas with a few of my aunts.  If I’m up for guests I might have them over for a few hours myself.

But, as it’s been, I just really haven’t wanted to see anyone lately.  Kind of depressing in that I was doing so well for a long time.  Had a short but tough break down a couple weeks ago.  Fortunately it wasn’t as vicious as many as I’ve had in years past but it was still unpleasant and painful anyway.  I hate that I vent my problems on family when I have breakdowns.  I’m sure it has caused them much grief and fear over the years.

I would love to alter my personality to the point that I would just break down and sob rather than be angry and take my problems out on others.  I don’t know how much of that is the way I was raised in my culture and how much of it is being a man.  But I have never been good at suffering distress by taking it out on myself.  I don’t raise my voice as much as I used to during breakdowns.  Hopefully I’m better at coping with the distress of these flare ups.  After nearly twenty years of mental health problems, I should hope so.  I hope at this point I’ve moved far beyond even the acceptance phase and into the advocacy for those who aren’t as experienced with these problems as I.

The weather has been quite decent, by December standards, for the last ten days in my home state.  It still gets below freezing at night so we still have a few patches of ice.  But the roads are clear and it’s pretty easy to drive around town when I need to.  My family and I recently hired a cleaning person who works with a few elderly people in my complex.  I like her work.  Hopefully I can hold onto her services for a while.  I had a really good cleaner a few years ago who cleaned twice a month, at least until she had heart problems and had to take retirement.  I liked her.

I’ve seen my psych doctor a couple of times in the last few weeks.  I’m on a newer anti psych medication that’s supposed to help reduce compulsive behavior and serve as kind of a stimulant.  Most of the psych medications I’ve been on have promoted drowsiness.  I’m still getting used to the fact I don’t need as much sleep as I’ve had in past months.  I usually sleep only six to seven hours a night now, with a couple exceptions when I’m feeling really distressed.  I think sleep is one of the ways my mind works against mental health problems.  But I suppose there are worse ways of dealing with mental distress than sleeping ten to twelve hours a day.

I am looking forward to Christmas.  While I don’t have much planned, I should call friends and family and see if I can set up Skype with them.  I have the programs on my computer, I just don’t use them very often so I’m rusty with them.  I have learned over the years, the real value of the holiday seasons is spending time with family and friends. I don’t really remember much of the gifts I got as a child.  I don’t even really remember when I quit believing in Santa Claus and magic elves.  But I do remember the time I spent with friends and family, especially my grandparents and a couple of my uncles who have now passed away.  Those times aren’t coming back.

I’m glad I had a family that, even in our disagreements, we didn’t cut each other out or bring up our grievances during holidays or weddings or funerals.  I didn’t realize how rare that was until I went to a Christian college and found out from friends and classmates that, in some cases, even devoutly religious families can have serious issues.  I’m glad I dodged those bullets.  I never realized how cool my family was growing up.  Like many teenagers, I thought my family was kind of embarrassing and didn’t know what was what.  But now that I’m of the age when most of my friends have children of their own, my family knew their stuff far better than I realized all along.  My parents are now more like good friends and wise confidants than the authority figures I respected and sometimes feared as a child and teenager.

I’m glad I got to this point in my relationship with my family before they went into declining health or died.  I’m glad for all of it, even the discipline and nagging I couldn’t stand as a ten year old child.  But it served it’s purpose.  I may not have a successful career and well adjusted children like my brother and most of my cousins, but  I am managing an otherwise crippling mental illness pretty decent.  From what I have seen when I was inpatient hospitalization and from what I’ve heard from my readers, this thing could be much tougher to manage.

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Self Advocacy and Speaking Out

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There are things that you can do on your own in order to help alleviate problems associated with mental illness.  I made two big mistakes in the early years of my treatment.  One, I relied solely on medications to make things better and Two, I almost never talked about my problems.  Completely relying on the medications meant that I never went to therapy sessions and expected to find that ever elusive all purpose solution in the form of medications.  It doesn’t work that way.  For one, there is no cure all in the forms of pills.  For me, taking the meds was only one part of solving my problems.  I didn’t really start improving until I started talking to therapists, other individuals with mental health problems, and counselors.  And I really started improving once I stopped hiding the fact I had mental illness and quit lying to others and myself.

One thing I never could stand in conversations with people I met for the first time was the inevitable question of “Oh, what do you do?” or “Where do you work?”  I’m far from old enough to look like I’m retired and from all appearances I am quite healthy.  Since I was frequently between jobs for the first few years after I finished college, I would often lie about having a job or say I was looking when I definitely was not.  I was asked what I did for a living when I met new people practically everywhere I went, whether it was out shopping, at parties, at church, in my apartment complex, etc.  I didn’t enjoy lying at all but I couldn’t explain in ten seconds or less that I was mentally ill and had problems with holding down jobs without committing several social gaffes all at once.  So I resorted to lying for years about my work status and history.  Being asked what I did for a living seriously irritated me.  Now I just mention my writing and my blog.  Though I do all of this for free, I get looked at now like I’m self employed and working out of my home.

Advocation is another thing I do for myself.  I quit lying to myself that I was normal, at least as the world understands normal, and set about sharing my struggles, problems, victories and defeats.  I don’t shy away from people when talking about mental illness anymore.  This was far from easy at first.  It was actually quite terrifying at first.  I was scared of the stigma that I knew would come my way.  Yes, stigma did come my way.  It came namely in the form of being ignored by some, being patronized to by others (I was a frequent recipient of the “We understand how you feel” when they really didn’t and did nothing to try to figure out what goes on with mental illness), and losing friends.  I didn’t mind the losing of some friends because some of these ‘friends’ should have been given up as lost years before.

In closing, talking about my problems and the problems of others with mental illness has helped as much as anything.  It has let me know that people are often not as malicious as my paranoid mind set often made them out to be.  It let me know that there are people who, once they know the problems, are eager to help.  Sure there are malicious and intentionally misunderstanding people out there, but I have found that thankfully they are a small percentage of the population.  Conversations about mental illness, mental health, problems, etc. are not easy, especially at first.  But the stigmas can be broken down.