Dim the Spotlight on… Marilyn Monroe [#5]

THIS IS A SERIES ON MY BLOG WHICH CONSISTS OF ME LOOKING BACK AT ARTISTS I LOVE AND/OR HAVE INFLUENCED ME THAT ARE UNFORTUNATELY NO LONGER ALIVE. THEY MAY NOT HAVE NECESSARILY DIED DUE TO THEIR MENTAL HEALTH ILLNESS/ES, BUT DURING THEIR LIVES THEY SUFFERED FROM ONE OR MORE.

Continue reading “Dim the Spotlight on… Marilyn Monroe [#5]”

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Things need to change

This is more of a personal post where I just rant about how I’m feeling. I have already done this rant with a few people, and yet, I don’t feel better.

So as some of you may know, I will now be working in a different school this scholastic year, and… things are not going too well. I know, I’ve only been to this place once, yesterday, for four hours, but something seemed off.

The moment I entered the school, I felt like I was suffocated even though it was three if not four times the size of the other school I worked with. I got there before most of the staff, so there weren’t that many people – only a handful – around. I was so lost, it took me a solid twenty minutes to find someone to direct me towards where I needed to go. Their response? “I don’t know where you [I’m an LSA] usually stay since you don’t have your own room.”

I’m sorry, Teacher, but am I not part of your college/school/staff team? Can’t I, a newbie, barely half an hour into her first day of work, stay with you for five minutes? Or at least until someone gets here?

Then, when people finally started showing up, I only recognised two persons: a teacher that used to teach me in secondary school (all we exchanged was a ‘hi’ and ‘we were in the same school together!’), and n SA who was in the same course as me in the beginning of the year. Did this LSA talk to me? No. I assume she didn’t even recognise me (I have this thing where I recognise people who don’t return the gesture).

During the first meeting, I sat alone. Nobody came to sit in the seat next to me. Quite reassuring. The staff members behind me kept bickering and commenting on every single thing that was said. Really puts a stamp on some people huh. Oh, and the man in front of me pushed his chair back to my knees, leaving me with no space to move my feet at all, and when I brought this to his attention, he frowned and ignored me. Three times I asked him, and very politely, and three times he ignored me. Could I have moved? No, because others put their stuff on the empty chairs.

You can get a jist of how I feel right now.

Out of place. Sad. Frustrated. Anxious.

I don’t love it here, yet I don’t hate it here. Will these feelings change? I sure as hell hope so because this is the first time I cried after a first day of anything. Ever. In the last job, as soon as I entered the building, I felt so right at home, every single day. Of course, the place came with a few downfalls, but they didn’t affect me that much. Not as much as here anyways.

Why the title “Things need to change”? Because it’s obvious: I don’t want to feel this way. I don’t like it in this place. I cannot ask for a transfer because apparently I need to pay for that. I cannot quit because it is what I want to do. I have no other thing to do than pretend to be okay when I’m not at this point.

 

The Symptoms of Depression Nobody Talks About

Depression is often very misunderstood. Some believe it means simply being sad and unmotivated, when in reality, the symptoms of depression often have a way of infiltrating everything, from the smallest, most unsuspecting details, to the biggest, most significant aspects. And trying to explain this often feels like trying to hold onto water.

I did a lot of research on this, both as a curious person and a sufferer of mental health illnesses, which is why it took me over two weeks to publish it.

By opening the dialogue and trying to put words to these symptoms, we can continue to deepen our understanding and unveil the misunderstanding that leads to stigma. 

Here is what I found out:

  • Wanting to say what’s on your mind, but can’t explain it, so you just cry because you don’t even know what you’re feeling
  • The exhaustion is equally mental as it is physical. Mental exhaustion from having to apologize for who you are, from trying to convince yourself you deserve to be alive. The physical and mental exhaustion from living in general
  • The black hole felt in the core of being. It sucks in life, motivation, concentration, etc. It’s drowning in the the ocean in the middle of a tempest
  • Not showering, combing your hair, brushing your teeth or changing clothes for a long time. Basically, all hygiene just goes out the window
  • When having an episode but you are not so far gone, and part of your rational mind is telling you there’s no reason to feel that way, yet the dark part of your mind still won’t release its grip
  • You can see and take in your surroundings, but you don’t feel a part of it, as if in a dream
  • When you’re depressed, your ability to feel joy from the things you normally love fades, but the worst days are the days where you are so numb you can barely even feel compassion or empathy
  • Your aching body from staying still all day, whether from laying in bed or just sitting. People think people with depression are just lazy for doing so
  • Disassociation. When you are so depressed and consumed you are no longer yourself. It feels like you are in a videogame. There is no emotional connection to reality
  • When you are so tired you do not manage to get to places in time. It takes you a lot of energy to get up, get ready and go
  • Not knowing that something is wrong in the early stage, and hurting other people with your behavior, and this is of course not done on purpose. This results in people accusing you of the things caused by the illnesses you could not control
  • The amount of migraines you struggle with when you go through depressive episodes which makes dealing with everything a million times harder
  • Anger, agitation, irritability and the feeling of having little to no self-control. This often gets to a point where you cannot bottle it up anymore, and you go down a downward spiral over the simplest, smallest of things because you cannot manage your emotions. Basically, depression is anger turned inwards
  • Thinking depression will be passed on to your children, and you cannot explain this because it is not tangible. Fact: children are more likely to develop mental health problems if their parents experienced them
  • This one is for the ladies: your period reacts to your emotional stress level and depression can cause you so much stress because people don’t understand, your period sometimes either stops or it just keeps going and becomes super irregular and painful
  • You are not able to talk and voice your thoughts because depression makes you believe your opinion does not matter
  • Sometimes you think: am I just exhausted because of my sleep schedule? Or because my mind hasn’t stopped working or stressing for days? That constant need to rationalize your mental health makes the depression symptoms even worse
  • Preoccupation. Depression can make you preoccupy yourself with game apps and simple things I know I can do or change because I feel that I can’t change or control anything else in my life
  • Promiscuity. You get so down and depressed you just want to do anything to feel better, even though you hurt yourself at the same time
  • The internal frustration that you are too scared, guilty or embarrassed to speak out because there is still so much stigma and lack of services, and people who say they are there for you when actually they aren’t. So you just end up drowning in your own thoughts and your depression or anxiety worsens

Image result for you are not alone

  • Paranoia. You think that people are getting annoyed with you and the awful symptoms
  • One minute you’re having fun with your friends and family, and then it hits you hard and begin to shut down without an explanation, nothing to have triggered it. Suddenly you have trouble enjoying yourself with people you are happy around
  • Foggy thinking, making it impossible to concentrate or remember anything
  • Gaining weight because you don’t know what else to do. Or the weight loss because you are just not hungry and don’t have the energy to cook
  • You’re guilty all the time. Hurting friends and family, lying about why you can’t do something or go somewhere, not going to work, staying in bed all day, not taking proper care of your responsibilities… It’s consuming and never ending
  • The uncertainty. You don’t know if you’re going to wake up in the same horrid mood, a worse or better one. Not knowing if one day you’re going to stop functioning. Not knowing whether you will be able to keep your job while keeping your head above water
  • Cancelling plans last minute, having your friends and family think you don’t love then when this occurs constantly
  • You don’t know if your thoughts are real of just effects of depression feeding you lies. You feel betrayed by your own brain and you’re not able to distinguish the true and depressive thoughts
  • The need to put on an act so everyone thinks you are OK, but inside you feel worthless. Sometimes you just want to shout that you are suffering and cannot cope, but you’re made to feel like you are not allowed to show weakness. The exhaustion and the physical pain caused by holding back tears because you have to appear to function well at home, at work and in social situations
  • Not knowing how to explain why you are depressed. People constantly ask you “What’s making you depressed?” or “Why are you depressed?”. It’s hard to keep saying that you have no clue. Because if you knew, you would have loved telling them and fix it, but it’s tough… you just don’t know why. You just are
  • Awareness. Awareness of all the things that are wrong, but the inability to fix any of it
  • The physical and emotional pain and weariness and feeling like you have to apologize for all of it. It’s exhausting!
  • Wanting to put yourself in dangerous situations. Depression isn’t always about laying in your bed, it also can be the urge to be self-destructive. People don’t talk about this because it’s a kind of a grey space. You’re not really suicidal, but you have a kind of urge to put yourself in dangerous situation
  • When you’re typically a super responsible, organized person, and you slowly feel all of it start to unravel. You start showing up late to work, falling behind on tasks, stop eating, start praying that your kids (if you have them) won’t notice and you put on that fake smile and try to keep it all together. Through tears and self-doubt, you pull through for them because they need you
  • Thinking you’re no longer in love with the love of your life. Becoming paranoid of them thinking they’re bad for you. It causes the partner to feel unloved, no matter if you still say ‘I love you,’ they can feel it
  • When every decision, no matter how small or big, becomes an insurmountable burden because of your indecisive mind. Then the guilt of having made a decision that always seems to be the wrong one. And then more guilt that makes you think you are useless to anyone in the world including yourself
  • Selfishness. You tend to isolate yourself and put your depression first, and the rest second. Depression takes the spotlight, and everyone and everything else is in the backseat
  • Constipation. Whether it’s because of something bad you ate, the medication or because all you do is sleep. It takes you weeks to start getting back to normal, and nothing prolongs the cloud in your head than feeling bloated and sick on top of lack of motivation and self-deprecation

It is important to remember that no matter how much you are struggling or how overwhelming your symptoms may feel, you are never alone and you are worthy and deserving of help.

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Dim the Spotlight on… Robin Williams [#2]

THIS IS A NEW SERIES WHICH CONSISTS OF ME LOOKING BACK AT ARTISTS I LOVE AND HAVE INFLUENCED ME THAT ARE UNFORTUNATELY NO LONGER ALIVE.


This is quite a difficult post to write; I’ve had to do a lot of research on the matter and I was quite surprised with what I found about the comedian’s untimely death. My earliest memory of his acting was either in Jumanji or Mrs Doubtfire when I was still a child.

The assumption was the Robin Williams ended his life due to struggles with depression, which he was known to have dealt with when he was still alive. And I will repeat again: this was the assumption.

In a recent interview, Susan Williams, Robin’s widow, revealed that he was actually struggling with dementia with Lewy Bodies – also called Lewy Body dementia. While making the loss of such a beloved individual no less tragic, this does throw a different light on matters.

So what is Dementia with Lewy Bodies?

Dementia with Lewy Bodies is not as common or well known as depression, or the more familiar forms of dementia, most obviously Alzheimer’s disease. However, even among the grim spectrum of neurological disorders and mental illnesses, dementia with Lewy Bodies is a particularly nasty condition.

Put simply, Lewy Bodies are lumps, known as aggregates, of misshapen protein (of the type Alpha-synuclein) that occur in nerve cells (neurons) of people with certain conditions, most often Parkinson’s disease, and but also (obviously) dementia with Lewy Bodies. Cells as complex and important as neurons produce a bewildering array of proteins, to aid in the necessary functions and form the delicate cytoskeletal structure in place to maintain everything.

The most likely people to develop dementia with Lewy Bodies are men, aged early 60s to 70s. Sadly, Robin Williams fell right into this category.

So it wasn’t depression after all?

As Susan Williams said, if Robin Williams had depression at the time of his death, it was one of countless other symptoms he was dealing with. A look at the very brief summary shows just how all-consuming dementia with Lewy Bodies can be.

But depression and dementia with Lewy Bodies often occur together, as is the case with most dementias. This is entirely understandable; it would take someone of superhuman mental fortitude to not let such a diagnosis affect them very deeply. It’s like depression with anxiety: they often co-occur together.

We will never know exactly what Robin Williams was thinking when he opted to end his own life, and at this point it seems disrespectful and more than a little sinister to keep asking about this. However, given the number of things dementia with Lewy Bodies can put a person through, accusations of “selfishness” now seem more unwarranted than ever.

Mental Health First Aid

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This makes it official, right?

Well…! I’ve finally done it! The first of many steps towards breaking the stigma surrounding mental health problems in Malta:

I am a Mental Health First Aider!

Confetti it’s a parade!

Celebrations aside, this has been something I’ve wanted to do since forever. And it’s finally done. 2 Saturdays. 6 hours each. Lots of laughs and new friends. Breaking the stigma, one person at a time.

Why should one take a mental health first aid course?

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My experience

Over the past two sessions, I learned a lot of things about mental health, and took note of them. Having been through mental health problems gave me a good background of certain things, but some things were new to me, including ALGEE:

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ALGEE – the life-saving acronym

Algee, the mascot of MHFA, is this cutie pie:

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Algee the koala

Despite having the MHFA manual, which was given to us free of charge, I still took notes of my own, and they will be listed down below…

  • Mental health problem – not diagnosed but displays symptoms
  • Mental health illness – diagnosed
  • Image result for spectrum of interventions for mental health
  • NEVER leave a person alone if they need help!
  • Say you went through a “similar situation” NOT “same thing”
  • Image result for thoughts emotions behaviors triangle
  • Attack the behaviour not the person
  • Make sure of the following:
    • You care and want to help
    • Empathy
    • Help is available
    • Thoughts are very common
    • Encourage the person to do most of the talking
    • No threats/guilt
    • NEVER KEEP SUICIDE A SECRET
    • There are ways to address specific problems
    • Involve the person in who to be told about the problem
  • When person is in crisis – first aid
  • When person not in crisis – ALGEE
  • Panic attacks are
    • frightening but not dangerous
    • not all triggered
  • When in doubt, assume person is experiencing a panic attack, NOT a heart attack
  • When person says they’re having a panic attack and recovers – no intervention
  • Slow breathing helps BUT focusing on breathing can become an emotional crutch leading to difficulty with eventual treatment
  • Panic attack – not more than 10 minutes
  • Types of traumas:
    • Individual
    • Ongoing
    • Mass
    • Witnessing/hearing
    • – (I didn’t get the last one unfortunately)
  • Dissociative Identity Disorder = Multiple Personality Disorder but NOT = schizophrenia!
  • Psychosis = loss of contact from reality
  • Neither confirm nor deny someone with psychosis!
  • Schizophrenia should be diagnosed early – teens to early 20s
  • Borderline Personality Disorder NOT = Bipolar!
  • Schizoaffective – schizophrenia + bipolar/depression (mood disorder)
  • Helpful actions: *
    • Seeking help
    • Offer tea
    • Didn’t go inside
    • Good memories
    • Friendship to help
    • Calm + firm tone
    • Gave options
    • Showed concern
    • Seated
    • 90-degree angle
    • Listened/emphatic
    • Minimal reaction (present)
  • Unhelpful actions: *
    • Sarcasm
    • Judgemental
    • Showed fear
    • Tone of voice
    • Remained standing
    • Arguing with delusions
    • Anxious
    • Insane
    • Calling help behind his back
    • Speaking about Peter in front of him
    • Facial expressions
  • What is affected by substance use disorders? The 4 Ls
    • Livelihood
    • Love
    • Liver
    • Law
  • Three types of substances:
    • Depressants
    • Hallocages
    • Stimulants

* Points taken during a video about MFHA: Psychosis taken from the MHFA Australia DVD


So these were all the points I jotted down throughout the 12-hour course, including some pictures used during the presentations. As a disclaimer, I would like to point out that despite this certification, I CANNOT diagnose ANYONE, but simply ASSIST the person in case of mental health problems. For a diagnosis, please seek professional help (GPs, psychologist, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, etc.)