Compassion / Pay It Forward

TW: mention of suicidal ideation

Ron had two really bad days in a row, and didn’t sleep in between. Ze told me ze was suicidal. On the first day I took time from my visit with Banji to have an extended phone conversation with Ron, anything to keep zir connected. On the second day I drove for five hours, successfully chaired a 90-minute meeting, reconnected with Fox after 5 days apart, then welcomed Ron into our home at 10:30pm. We decided to hang out in the back yard.

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Still Here

I haven’t posted in 3 weeks, so I thought I’d just mention that I’m still here. I’m taking Thesis Seminar this semester; so far my topic has been approved and I’ve got some ideas bouncing around regarding it. I’ve been rather preoccupied with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, – not just my Let’s Play, but mods as well. I’m also concerned/depressed about my health. I might have some kind of neurological problem (besides my psych issues) that’s affecting my visual perception and giving me headaches. To make things worse I’m between HMOs and my state’s program sent Fox a “reminder” to verify my citizenship, even though I’d addressed that 2 months ago. I’m trying to get myself to spend some time outside in the beautiful weather we’ve been having, but lately I’ve been more inclined to hide in my nice dark nerd cave. Basically hanging on to my life preserver, trying not to get seasick, and praying for this storm to pass.

Hypomanic and Depressed at the Same Time

I read an article today and now my world makes so much more sense. In a Depression Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) “Ask the Doc” article, Dr. Mark Bauer, MD states that:

“[T]he most common mood state in bipolar disorder is a mixture of hypomanic/manic and depressed symptoms. In fact, the classic picture of bipolar disorder having a course alternating between the poles of high and low moods is an over-simplification.”

He goes on to explain mania and hypomania more clearly, basically describing them as hyperactivation – feeling “sped up” and driven. This can feel good (e.g. grandiosity), bad (e.g. irritability), and everywhere in between. In other words, mood and activation level are two different things.

Ergo, we can think of bipolar disorder as

“a condition of recurring depressive periods punctuated by periods of hyperactivation – and sometimes these periods of hyperactivation alternate with slowed down, depressed periods, but at other times they overlap.”

That. Is. My. Life. It’s very rare for me to experience a period of time with no depressive symptoms; at best my symptoms become few and mild enough that I don’t meet the criteria for clinical depression for a couple days to a few weeks. But periods of hyperactivation… just look through my blog and you’ll see my posts about “I’m going to do this new thing that will change the world,” staying up all night composing, “now I’m getting better and I’m mad at Fox all the time,” and most recently “Let’s Play Skyrim!”

I usually feel better during my periods of hyperactivation because 1) I have energy to do things and 2) I’m hyper-focused on something that’s meaningful to me, at least while the hyperactivation lasts. Sometimes I don’t feel so good because I want to Do All The Things!!! but I can’t focus on one thing to do, so my mind is a jumbled mess. I’ve also tried to be a part of too many different groups at once, which invariably results in me feeling overwhelmed, backing out, feeling guilty, and my depression symptoms becoming more severe. As far as I can tell, all of my periods of hyperactivation have occurred at times when I also met the criteria for mild depression. (Possibly also moderate depression.) In other words, I’ve never had a discrete hypomanic or manic episode.

I try not to put too much importance on labels; what’s really important is that the needs of the person with a mental health issue are being met. But having a label creates a container for my experience; I can understand it and talk to other people about it and know I’m not the only one who’s had that experience. Finding labels that accurately describe my experiences helps me feel safe. I obviously can’t diagnose myself, but the label “bipolar disorder” seems to become more accurate the more I learn about the experiences it’s intended to describe.

I know I’ve been “depressed” lately because I’ve been feeling sad and/or grumpy, isolating, having trouble eating full meals, apologizing for my existence, and thinking “I want to die” when I’m tired. I feel like it’s only a matter of time before my world starts unraveling (again): I worry about Fox’s safety, our rats’ health, my own health, the house burning down, etc. Calling these experiences “depression” helps me separate a bit from them, accept them, and engage in self-care.

Out of the Darkness: In Search of Solidarity

Last night was the Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk in Boston. I wasn’t there – to be honest, it had completely fallen off my radar – but I saw one participant’s posts on Facebook. I spent much of the night taking note of their updates in my own impromptu vigil.

For anyone who doesn’t know, the Overnight is the fundraiser by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: a 16- to 18-mile walk that takes place from dusk to dawn. I’ve been suicidal, and I know people who struggle with suicidal ideation, who have attempted suicide, and/or have lost a loved one to suicide. It’s a cause that’s near and dear to my heart.

I have yet to participate in the Overnight, but one aspect of it I find particularly attractive is the Honor Beads. There are 9 different colors, 6 of which represent the loss of specific relationships (i.e. child, partner, parent, sibling, relative/friend, and first responder/military.). There are also colors for people who support the cause and/or know someone who struggles.

A green square with a string of beads in darker green. The words: "I wear green for my personal struggle. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. #OvernightWalk" in white.

Out of the Darkness Overnight image to share on social media. “I wear green for my personal struggle.”

I like that participants can choose to wear green honor beads to represent their own personal struggle. It’s a way to silently communicate: “I’ve been to hell and I’m still standing!” It’s possible to meet eyes with another person wearing green and know they’ve been there too. And if you’re still in hell, it might be easier to connect with others who can understand what you’re going through. Such visibility can be healing.

I first learned about the Overnight two years ago, during a time when I was actively struggling with suicidal thoughts and feelings. At the time I wrote: “Above all, I am walking for myself, because everything we do to promote mental health and prevent suicide benefits me directly. I am walking to save my own life.”

I was very disappointed when circumstances prevented me from being able to participate in the walk, but at least I was able to raise some money to support the cause. I don’t know how many people were inspired or encouraged when they saw me wearing the T-shirt, but one person thanked me.

Words cannot express how grateful I am for the hope, happiness, self-esteem, and health I have now. I no longer feel like my life needs saving; that is something I will not take for granted. (Because honestly, it’s not guaranteed.) I want to do whatever I can to “pay it forward” – to help others who are actively struggling.

Registration is currently open for the 2016 Overnights, which will take place in San Francisco May 21-22 and in New York June 4-5. I haven’t registered yet, but I’m seriously considering it. I’ve started talking to loved ones about forming a team.

I would love to hear from you if you’ve participated in an Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk: what was your experience? How do you recommend preparing (beyond info available on the website)? You’re welcome to leave a comment, or contact me if you want to write a guest post.

Sometimes I Just Need to Sleep on You

Allow yourself to feel your emotions, she said. You’ll feel less tired when you’re not repressing them, she said.

Bull. Shit.

Okay, I let the sadness up. Happy? I even admitted to a pain that’s been brewing inside me for over half my lifetime (the fuck). What else do you want from me? Cotton candy? Let’s go, I’ll buy you some right now. I’m sick of this shit.

There is a thing gnawing on my insides. My stomach and my heart and my lungs. It’s big and ugly and it keeps growing. It’s turning my whole body nasty colors, from the inside out. It causes a deep ache and sometimes it stings and it’s always there.

Maybe I’m just hungry. I eat, it gets the food, but it’s still gnawing on me. Let’s go for a walk. Okay, I walk. Maybe I’m distracted from the pain for a while. It’s still there. You tell a joke. I laugh. It feels good. Maybe it loses its grip for a moment. But then I stop laughing, and it goes back to gnawing. When I cry, that’s it gnawing so loudly you can actually hear it. When I sleep it keeps me from resting fully and fills my mind with all sorts of crazy thoughts and dreams. When I wake – you guessed it! – still there.

I just want it out of me. Can you do that? I’ll give you anything. I’ll do anything. Just make it stop!

Sims 3 Legacy: Sim-Cyborg Relations

This is the fourth installment of my Sims 3 Legacy. It picks up where Part 3 left off: with Nash inventing and Nicole vigorously studying Alchemy in order to produce an elixir that can cure transformed sims.

Legacy Family

Nash and Nicole’s aunt Mira retired as soon as she reached the appropriate age – none of this “waiting until I’m about to die” nonsense her mother and sister did. This enabled Mira to fully enjoy her golden years receiving a hard-earned pension. She spent as much time as she could in werewolf form, finding a variety of rare and fascinating metals, gems, and insects. When not hunting, she went on dates with her girlfriend and helped raise her niece’s children.

The Door of Life and Death

The Riverview Association for Amateur Archaeologists (RAFAA) caught wind of some strange, seemingly sim-made protrusions coming out of the ground in a grassy, undeveloped area near the fish hatchery. When they excavated, they discovered a peculiar door that seemed to lead to nowhere. Perplexed, they withdrew to covertly observe what happens when sims interact with their discovery.

The site has since become a popular place to hang out, though a few outsiders have suddenly gone missing. To Nicole and her high school sweetheart, Savannah Drummond, it seemed the perfect place to go for a date. They were pleasantly surprised to learn that, by knocking on the door, they could talk to Death – without dying!

Nicole felt that Death owed her one for ruining her high school graduation ceremony. So, she requested a new life – a pregnancy – created from a combination of her and Savannah’s genes.

Death summons a bolt of light that strikes at Nicole's feet, causing her to become pregnant. Nicole's girlfriend, Savannah, watches nearby.

Death summons a bolt of light that strikes at Nicole’s feet, causing her to become pregnant. Nicole’s girlfriend, Savannah, watches nearby.

The thing is, such a merger defies the laws of nature – and that is risky. The two children Nicole conceived in this manner (on two separate occasions) “dance to the beat of their own drummer,” somewhat out of touch with the reality most sims agree on. Perhaps they are more in touch with another reality, such as that beyond the grave?

I gave Nicole’s daughters the “insane” trait to reflect that their ways of being in the world seem … a bit odd … to other sims. I share some of their tendencies, particularly talking to myself (or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that we talk among ourselves almost constantly very frequently “all the time” – and seldom agree have trouble coming to a consensus). Most notably (and refreshingly) they don’t lose focus whenever they are in the same room as a ghost; I guess seeing dead people is “normal” to them.

The Master Invention

While Nicole was negotiating with Death, her brother Nash was hard at work inventing. He moved his bed into his workshop to make it easier for him to stay up most of the night working on his craft.

His dedication finally paid off very soon after Nicole gave birth to her first child, Oma. After searching all of Riverview for rare materials (with the help of Mira) and working tirelessly in his lab, he finally created the invention that would define his career and change life for all simkind – hopefully for the better…

A robot sits on the edge of a crafting table, smiling with arms extended as though to give a hug, while the inventor who created him cheers. An unmade bed is visible to the left, several other inventions to the right.

a simbot!

Nash named the simbot Josiah and adopted zir into the family, where ze was fully accepted and loved. A good-humored virtuoso, Josiah learned to play guitar with ease and became an active member of a local rock band. When not practicing or performing, ze helped to care for Oma and her younger sister, Olive.

Josiah plays zir guitar

Josiah plays guitar

Josiah reads with Oma, a toddler

Josiah reads with Oma, a toddler

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Life in the Legata household was going well. The children were well cared-for, Nicole learned to create her elixir and used it to cure many sims of zombie-ism, and Nash turned to improving his handiness so he could keep Josiah in good health.

Josiah (far left, holding Olive), Mira (left center), Nicole (right center), Nash (right), and Oma (seated in foreground) pose together in front of a wintry backdrop.

Josiah (far left, holding Olive), Mira (left center), Nicole (right center), Nash (far right), and Oma (seated in foreground) pose together in front of a wintry backdrop.

Then Oma, ready to grow up into a teenager, had her birthday on the night of the full moon. When she went to blow out the candles, her cake mysteriously caught fire! At the same moment, Mira died of old age. Death seemed to gloat as ze claimed her, further influencing the life ze had helped create: Oma developed the “brooding” trait, which predisposes her to melancholy thoughts about existential issues. It reminds me of my tendency to ruminate, especially when my depression symptoms are stronger.

[I wish I’d taken a screenshot!]

During Mira’s funeral, Death visited once again – this time to claim Josiah. The simbot greeted Death graciously, but the rest of the family was devastated.

Josiah shakes hands with Death, surrounded by zir family members (who are crying). They stand atop a recently-filled grave, with two other tombstones visible in the right-background.

Josiah shakes hands with Death, surrounded by zir family members (who are crying). They stand atop a recently-filled grave, with two other tombstones visible in the right-background.

Aftermath

The loss of two family members hit the Legatas hard.

a man flails, suspended in a vertical beam of light in a nighttime, suburban scene

Nash is abducted by aliens in his own front yard!

Nash swore off inventing and lacked focus … until he was abducted by aliens. They ignited a his passion for – no! obsession with – all things having to do with outer space. He built a tower between Mira’s and Josiah’s graves, equipped it with the basics he needed to survive, topped it with telescopes, and retreated from everyday life. (This enabled him to master the logic skill, the third and final skill he needed for the lifetime wish: “Renaissance Sim.”) Though he has identified several celestial bodies, he has yet to find whatever it is he is looking for.

Oma sits cross-legged, deep in thought about her heartache. The graves of Mira, Lisa, and Melanie are visible through the window.

Oma sits cross-legged, deep in thought about her heartache. The graves of Mira, Lisa, and Melanie are visible through the window.

Oma spent hours contemplating both the meaning and the hollowness of reality. Though her brooding did not interfere with her school performance, it limited her ability to develop skills, socialize, and otherwise live a fulfilling life.

a young female sim, submerged to her neck, with an anxious facial expression, surrounded by nature

Suddenly finding herself in the middle of a body of water, Olive looks around anxiously.

Since becoming a teenager, Olive has been having sudden impulses to run out into the nearest body of water and swim. She suddenly realizes she is in deep water and becomes anxious and disoriented. Fortunately, she has thus far been able to find her way back to dry, solid ground. No one has been able to explain the reason for – or meaning of – these impulses.

Oma’s transition to young adulthood went smoothly enough, considering the circumstances. She graduated with honors at the top of her class. The family went to the Fall Festival immediately afterward to take a photo together and celebrate.

Nash, Nicole, Oma, and Olive pose in front of an autumn backdrop after Oma's graduation from high school.

Nash, Nicole, Oma, and Olive pose in front of an autumn backdrop after Oma’s graduation from high school.

Below is the updated version of the Legata family tree. Mira’s symbol (just right of center) is now crossed out to show that she is deceased. I added a diamond to represent Nash’s simbot, Josiah, in the lower left. It is filled with black to show that ze was a simbot, and crossed out to show that ze is also deceased. A blue arrow with the word “Invented” shows that Nash created Josiah.

I added the family tree of Nicole’s ex-girlfriend Savannah on the far right side of the Legata family tree. The symbols for Savannah, her father (Rex), mother (Windy), and youngest brother (Jaques) are filled with white to show that they are “normal,” non-magical sims. The symbol for her sister Hannah is filled with fuchsia to show that she is a vampire. The symbols for George Dean (upper left), Mira Legata, and Savannah’s brother Antwain are filled with reddish-brown to show that they are werewolves.

Death is represented near the middle of the family tree by a diamond (filled with gray to show that zir “supernatural status” is unknown). Red arrows point from Death to Oma and Olive to show that Death helped Nicole conceive them. Finally, the symbols for Oma and Olive (bottom center) are filled with yellow to show that they, like their mother (Nicole), grandmother (Melanie), and great-grandmother (Lisa), are witches!

The Legata Family Tree, generations 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4.

The Legata Family Tree, generations 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4.

The Next Generation

Oma met a fellow witch named Quintin Beaulieu at the Fall Festival and quickly fell in love. She slept with him that very night. Several urgent visits to the bathroom later, Oma discovered that she is pregnant with her first child!

A young woman (left) talking to an older woman (right) whose eyes and mouth are opened wide. In the upper left corner is an image of a man and woman holding hands in bed, surrounded by a thought bubble that points to the young woman's head.

Nicole (right) is shocked to learn that Oma (center) is pregnant at such a young age. In the thought bubble (upper left corner) Oma remembers the night she spent with Quintin (left).

National Mental Health Awareness Month and the Importance of Language

Every month is Mental Health Awareness Month here at a day with depression, and I’m glad to have the support of President Barack Obama’s proclamation for one month each year.

Among the topics he discusses – care for veterans, reduction of stigma, that “taking action to help yourself is a sign of strength,” etc. – I personally am most grateful for the Affordable Care Act. As a result of this legislation, Fox and I have health insurance that enables us to receive the medication and marriage counseling we need. Around this time last year I felt like our marriage was falling apart. Now we’re working together and supporting each other. Fox has held down a job for 6 months (and counting!). I am less than a week away from completing the last two classes I need for my Master’s degree; after nailing my piano final last night(!) I feel like I’m ready for internship and will be an awesome music therapist.

I have a bone to pick with President Obama, though. His proclamation begins:

This year, approximately one in five American adults — our friends, colleagues, and loved ones — will experience a diagnosable mental health condition […] and many others will be troubled by significant emotional and psychological distress, especially in times of difficulty.  For most of these people, treatment can be effective and recovery is possible.

(emphasis mine)

I wish he would use more inclusive language; that would be a great way to reduce the stigma around mental health issues. The language in this proclamation suggests that mental health issues affect other people, even if “they” are the people “we” interact with every day. It seems like the President is trying to distance himself from the people who live and struggle and sometimes even thrive with these issues. He’s practically saying: “this thing exists and we need to be aware of it – and just to be clear it doesn’t affect me, and I don’t think it affects you.” IMHO, that contributes to the stigma.

I imagine that we’re all in a room, and Mr. Obama is on the stage giving a speech, and I’m in the front row because hey, I’m the one imagining it. He’s talking to me… about me, as though I’m not sitting right in front of him and can’t hear him. I’m probably one of the people who are the happiest to be there listening to him, and yet he’s not really talking to me. I think maybe he’s talking to the person sitting next to me.

However, more than 20% of the people in this room are the population he’s talking about (as though we’re not there listening to him – probably filling the front-and-center seats). The person sitting next to me might feel the same way I do; they probably think I am a member of the President’s intended audience. But neither of us will admit it, because then we’d be marking ourselves as “other” – as not really belonging in that room where “normal” people go to become more aware of us. (How ironic is that?) Instead of connecting with each other, we each go home feeling more isolated than ever. (And the “normal” people go home unaware that we were literally sitting right in front of them.)

What about us? I wish someone would say: “This year, approximately one in five of us will experience a diagnosable mental health condition and many more of us will experience significant emotional and psychological distress, especially in times of difficulty. For most of us, treatment can be effective and recovery is possible.”

That wording makes it sound like mental health issues affect everyone, and needing help with them is normal. If I attended a speech and the speaker said that, I would feel like I belonged in that room. Isn’t that what reducing stigma is all about?

You don’t have to be one of the “one in five” – or the “many more” – to use this language. You just have to be willing to admit – to yourself and everyone else – that you could be. If you’re brave enough to do that, you can help us feel safe admitting that we are. That’s how you let us know we’re “not alone.”