Your heart or your head? How do you know which one is broken?

“Don’t listen to your head… Follow your heart!” It’s a cliche oft used to point out it’s good to listen when something feels right or wrong, good or bad. I’m being a little more literal with today’s post.

Your head or your heart?

I am sitting in my office at work and suddenly I have pain in my chest. What was going on?  I start to get a little concerned. First I check my pulse. Is my heart racing? It’s a little high. “Maybe I just need a drink,” I think to myself so I get up and grab some water. Dizziness. “Oh crap”, I think to myself. Tingling in my fingers. “It’s just anxiety,” I try to tell myself as I sit down, and hope it all passes.

A couple of minutes passes and I still feel like something isn’t right. I check in with Dr Google who tells me it’s probably my heart. “But what if it’s just anxiety?” my brain helpfully tells me. “You’ll feel like a bit of a dick making a fuss!” I decide to relent and ask someone to call an ambulance.

Finally after spending a night in hospital and having a bunch of tests I now know I was having an anxiety attack. It wasn’t my heart. It was my head. But how was I to know at the time?

While I am lucky that I took things seriously it’s worrying to think of the people who don’t know and don’t get checked. People think they are wasting the time of the doctor but because of their inaction they could end up in the ground. Dead.

My mental illness results in me worrying what other people think, so I am prone to ignoring my concerns in case people think I’m being a ‘drama queen.’ What would I do if it happened again now that I know this time wasn’t actually a life threatening situation? I would ask for an ambulance and maybe cop some crap, but I would know I’d get the help if I needed it.

What would you do if you were confronted with this situation? Have you had to make the call for yourself or someone else? 

Disconnected? Stumble you might fall…

Stereo MC’s had a song they released in 1992 called “Connected“.  The lyrics were catchy (it was used in an ad) and the chorus went something like this:

If you make sure you’re connected
The writings on the wall,
But if you’re mind’s neglected
Stumble you might fall

Disconnected? Stumble you might fall

I am feeling disconnected from the world around me the last few weeks. It is like the people around me aren’t as close as normal and seems like I’m not as in touch with what is going on with me and with others. As a result I have been feeling a little blue. A little disconnected.

When I feel disconnected from the people that love me I am much more likely to love myself less. I find that I feed off the love and good vibes from other people even though I’m an introvert. As a result my mind falters, and so does work, relationships, life and so on.

When I neglect my body, my mind suffers, and vice versa. I am not walking as often as normal and therefore I’m feeling a little run down. I am not taking the time to meditate. My mind is being neglected and I’ve started to stumble. If I am not careful I might fall.

Last night I decided to meditate, go to bed early and see if that would help me reconnect with myself. It hasn’t worked yet but I will give it a try again tonight rather than give up straight away. My plan is to make a lovely chicken satay noodle stir-fry and give my wife a massive hug. I know she has been feeling disconnected to, so perhaps we can reconnect together?

I’ll keep you updated and see if I feel more connected as a result.

What do you do when you feel disconnected?

Photo by Vitorcius

Dealing with loss – the hidden cost of mental illness

Some loss you are taught to deal with by watching other people deal with it. The loss of a loved one, a pet, or a physical object that is of value to you is hard to take but there are examples to follow from family, friends, the media, and other sources. Other losses you aren’t taught or shown how to deal with them.

How do you deal with losing opportunities for success because your mind is unable to cope with day to day life? How do you deal with the feeling of slipping into a sadness that feels like it will never disappear? In what way should I grieve the missed chances at career growth, new connections with people, and the fun times I’ve missed out on because I was too scared to take a risk or even leave the house on a given day?

I don’t know how to express the loss of agency that comes from being unable to get out of bed in the morning and knowing you will have to use another annual leave day as sick leave. The annual leave day you wanted to use with your lover and best friend to go on a holiday in the countryside, relax, reconnect, and recharge. I don’t even know what words can be used to describe the heart wrenching pain of looking back over your life and looking at all the regrets that you have because you couldn’t get your brain to hold itself together any longer.

Yet people will look at me and tell me to smile more, go for a walk in the woods, and that antidepressants are the reason so many people are fucked up. Well meaning folk will look at me strangely when I say I was too afraid to pick up the phone and ask for help. Governments will decide to crack down on ‘welfare bludgers’ because they should go out there and get a job, even though they can barely go out there and order a cup of coffee due to anxiety or depression.

Please don’t tell me that mental illness is nothing. I have lost so much to this illness. I will fight for what I can but I know the future will contain more loss and more grief and more what ifs. I have to accept that otherwise I can’t go on. So I do.

Photo by Gattou – Lucie Provencher

Depression is not sadness

People who have never lived with depression, or lived with someone who has depression, can sometimes misunderstand what it means to have depression and how it affects people. Depression is equated with sadness and from that viewpoint the concept that a good ol’ “Cheer up, buddy” or “Snap out of it” will solve everything seems perfectly logical. Alas as someone who has lived with depression (technically Dysthymia) I can assure you that is akin to considering having a leg cut off as merely a flesh wound.

In my lived experience, depression is like having a faulty rechargeable battery. Some days the battery is up to 100% charge first thing in the morning and yet two hours later it’s at 3% and in need of a recharge. Other days it starts at 60% and to get through the whole day the charge level has to be managed, eeked out over many hours. It isn’t a perfect analogy but it works for me at least at this point in time. There is the Spoon Theory which is probably a better way of putting it.

Then there is the feeling of total emptiness. It is as if the barrel that contains all of your emotional wealth has holes in the bottom that allow it to drain away without you noticing. You plug the holes one by one until the barrel starts filling again but it’s never completely fixed. There is always a little leak somewhere.

The thing is to try and keep enough energy to keep your eye on the ball and notice when the barrel is leaking. It’s a hard balance. It doesn’t help when you are using your spoons to keep on top of your emotions and mental space and you have less (or none) left for other things (food/money/relationships). Something will always fall by the wayside.

So the next time you hear that someone is depressed, remember it is s whole lot more complicated than feeling sad.

Photo by Hamed Parham