A Clouded View

When I come downstairs in the morning I open the door for my two critters, who trot happily out the door. They always greet the day with tails held high, so delighted to greet the world. I sip my coffee and come to consciousness more slowly.

Char (l) and Lily

In fact I’m cautious how I approach the day. Will I get it right, make progress, be successful? Or will I fail to complete enough tasks to feel at peace? Did I do well enough yesterday? Will I be ready for tomorrow? These processes are running constantly, just below my regular awareness.

Yesterday I was reading a list of affirmations from my therapist. I mentally knock them off: nah, not me, unh-uh, not for me, nope—then I come to one that hits a nerve:

“The present moment is perfect, even if I don’t like what’s happening.”

Somehow this one stops me, For a flash I see it: a perfectly beautiful world, my pets here with me, blue sky, soft green grass, the shimmering water beyond. I hear birds and feel the soft air on my skin, and think “how could I not see this a moment ago?” and with that, a shadow falls over my thinking again, doubt and judgement resume their program.

I felt a cloud of negativity lift, and I saw the world clearly, just for a moment. It was a bit astonishing. I’ve worked hard at keeping destructive thoughts at bay. I’ve learned to rely on my higher power and find peace in uncertainty.  But this – this grey film over my reality, I don’t want to see the world through gloom colored glasses!

I listened to the magical wordsmith Caroline Casey yesterday:

Expectation and Disappointment are dance partners. Better that we dwell on Willing, its dual meaning of intention and availability.”

Now that I’ve seen beyond the veil, I can’t lose this: a brighter world is right there, just behind that grey. That if I feel low, hopeless, or worthless it’s  only my old distorted view, and I can shift perspective.  That I can upgrade my thinking by deciding where to focus.

And when I forget, please do remind me!


Suicide and Altitude


I came across this article about neuroscientist Perry Renshaw’s research into what he calls the “Utah Paradox.”

Neuroscientist Perry Renshaw

Despite ranking as America’s happiest state, Utah has disproportionately high rates of suicide and associated mood disorders compared to the rest of the country. In fact, it’s the No. 1 state for antidepressant use.

I was intrigued, since I’ve known for years that a higher, drier clime has the power to make me feel remarkably happier, when I arrive from the sea level humidity where I live.

So I was intrigued, then argumentative, then baffled, then amazed as Brain Mic editor Theresa Fisher dove into the neuro-chemistry and the geo-demography (two of my favorite subjects!!) to identify the experience that I have: I lifelong depressive who feels uplift and well being from altitude.

The working theory is that high altitude hypoxia reduces seratonin but stimulates dopamine. Since I know from a major medication adjustment about 5 years ago that SSRIs alone don’t manage my depression, that helps explain my joy at altitude. Of course more sunlight and spectacular vistas certainly don’t hurt!

Where we live has so much to do with who we are, and how we feel. If you have climate or geography related experiences with your mental health, please tell us about them.

Depression: Not that Simple

In light of the very public death of Robin Williams, and in the spirit of Blogging for Mental Health 2014, I wanted to reveal some of the really challenging things that depressed people live with. (I’ve bolded the ones that have been particularly pernicious for me.) Many of these symptoms and tendencies seem innocuous or unimportant, but they can add up to an unbearable life.

Things Nobody Tells You
About Being Depressed

Reach out, in what ever way you can, to a friend, professional, clergy, online. The headline above links to a wide variety of resources.

“Depressed but Not Ashamed”

Two young journalists discovered that they both live with depressive illness while working together. It was the first time either of them had discussed their illness with a peer. Finding strength and hope from their supportive connection, Madeline Halpert and Eva Rosenfeld began to investigate depression among their constituency: high school students.

11% of teens experience depression

Their research uncovered strong links between untreated depression and suicide among young people, as well as estimates that 11% of adolescents experience depression. With suicide the third leading cause of death for young people, Halpert and Rosenfeld felt obligated as journalists to shine a light on the issue: one plagued by the silence enforced by stigma.

They planned an entire issue of their high-school newspaper devoted to teens living with depression, and interviewed teenagers from around their school district about their experience with depression, addiction and anxiety.

Tackling the stigma — and the silence– head on, Halpert and Rosenfeld asked their interviewees to use their real names, and nearly all agreed. They even obtained parental approval.

However, the young editors ran into roadblocks from their administration, who eventually forbid them to publish.  Fearing bullying and other blowback from the personal stories, school counselors and administrators nixed the project.

Our intrepid journalists were not content with just backing down. They published their tale in today’s New York Times Op-Ed page:

We were surprised that the administration and the adults who advocated for mental health awareness were the ones standing in the way of it. By telling us that students could not talk openly about their struggles, they reinforced the very stigma we were trying to eliminate.

The feeling of being alone is closely linked to depression. This can be exacerbated if there is no one to reach out to. Though there are professionals to talk to, we feel it doesn’t compare to sharing your experiences with a peer who has faced similar struggles.

Whenever people have the courage to stand up and speak the plain truth, and to therefore implicitly ask us to behave as a tolerant, compassionate society, I intend to cheer loudly and often. And to lend my support in whatever way I can.

I once lost a job because my depression became a factor in my performance. Had it been epilepsy, or alcoholism, I would have been protected by the Union and been able to keep my job.

Now I’m a free-lancer who no longer fears retribution for my speaking out. But I know there are many people who fear for their livelihood, kept silent by their corporate and government responsibilities. At best they live with the stress of hiding their illness and living with the fear that it might be discovered. Worse, many go without treatment or medication that could ease or eliminate the symptoms and ravages of the illness.

That’s why today I am Blogging for Mental Health 2014, and want everyone to know about the courage of those who speak out, like Madeline Halpert and Eva Rosenfeld. They are making a world where mental health means caring for yourself, without shame.

Blogging for Mental Health

bfmh14-copy-e1388959797718Thanks to blogger Lulu, who asked the important question “what can I do?” we have Blog for Mental Health 2014. 

When I read this  WordPress’ blog post I realized I had to join in. I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.

This very blog, Art, Spirit, Nature, is named for the keys to my sanity, the resources I turn to for healing, inspiration, and strength. I created it for my own sanity: to connect with others, to create, to share the difficult beauty of living.

The purpose of Blog for Mental Health 2014 is to shine a light on mental health issues in our lives, to do our part as communicators to bring mental illness and its human toll out of the stigma closet, and help people who suffer or struggle gain a little, or a lot of hope. To maybe even save a life.

I live with depression. I take anti-depressent medication, and I must take conscious steps to stay out of self-destructive habits and thinking. I recently went through the process of acquiring a new therapist in a new healthcare system. During the intake process, the counselor asked me “How does your family feel about mental health care?”

After I recovered from hysterical laughter, I told her the story of my cousin, whom I shall call “Donna,” now deceased. “Donna” essentially died from untreated depression, succumbing to multiple organ failures at age 58. You could say she chose to lead her life in a way that destroyed her health by degrees, making choices that were increasingly deadly. Many people do this. They use substances, ignore their doctors, eat unwisely, fail to exercise. So I suppose the real disease might be called self-hatred, or at very least, self-neglect.

In my family, the stigma of mental health treatment out-weighs any imaginable benefit.  For my cousin, there were some opportunities to intervene. Only a few, as she was stubborn and determined to have her way.  I regret that I did not make a greater effort. I have distanced myself from family members for years when their choices prove toxic to my sanity and stability. We do not share a belief system, one that is a matter of life or death for me.

I believe in choosing to confront mental illness and be proactive for mental health. So that’s why I am Blogging for Mental Health in 2014. Every one of my posts is already an attempt to focus on the pathways in life that encourage my mental health, my strong and living spirit, my love of life. I’m just making it clear that there is a deliberate purpose to my blogging.

I hope you’ll share this post, this project, your story, any or all of these things.

Blessings for a beautiful day!