Tag Archives: mental illness

When you can’t tell anyone how you’re feeling…

Adolescent angst is annoying but also somehow cute. We’re all nostalgic for those days when life was filled with drama and every little thing was “the end of the world.” Then, adulthood comes along and life gets harder but we’re supposed to be happy all time time unless things are real shit… I mean, like cancer shit. Otherwise, as long as we have a stable job and can afford basic cost of living we shouldn’t be sad. There are so many reasons to NOT be sad. Yet, when we are sad, what should we do about it? Who should we tell? What should we do with the dark thoughts in our minds?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately because of my cousin’s suicide attempt. As I’ve written about a bit in the last few weeks, it brought me back to my own quasi attempt in high school taking six tylenol and then realizing it was a bad idea and stopping myself from taking more. I never really wanted to die. I just wanted to not be so alone in my sadness. I wanted to be allowed to be scared and confused and maybe I wanted attention but more than anything I wanted to feel not so alone. Continue reading

My Cousin Tried to Kill Herself

There is nothing harder to get through than adolescent depression. Not only are you dealing with the darkness that is a depressive episode, you are stuck in an environment where drama is amplified and your hormones are raging and you are trying to figure out where you belong in the world as you transition to adulthood. It’s really fucking hard.

Yesterday, my aunt texted to tell me that she was back in the ER with my 15-year-old cousin, I’ll call her Jen. I just visited Jen last week in a special group home for youth with various mental illness. I visited her twice in the 10 days she was in the home after previously giving her school counselor a note saying she had a plan to kill herself. The first visit went relatively well, but was short because I got there after work and they have an early curfew. Continue reading

The Cost of Teen Depression: Affording Mental Illness

Mental Illness, like any other chronic condition, is expensive to treat. Over the years I’ve spent who knows how much on therapy and help, not even counting lost wages due to being let go from jobs over my depression and anxiety getting the best of me. For the first time, I find myself in the situation advising a family member whose daughter is struggling with depression and suicidal ideation. High School is tough. I want her to survive it.

I don’t want to go into too many details on the rare chance that someone finds my blog who knows my family and who this is. But, I wanted to write this post because I think it’s an important topic, and helping depressed teens get the appropriate treatment is sometimes cost prohibitive. Whether or not she will actually go through with her plans to kill herself is a moot point, she’s very depressed and is in a dark place. Due to writing a letter to a school counselor she ended up in a 72 hour hold and then her parents opted to send her to a residential program for teens with mental illness – but that only lasts 10 days and then they have to figure out – what’s next? Continue reading

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The High Cost of Mental Illness

Mental Illness is a touchy subject –  unlike, say, cancer or diabetes, it isn’t something that can be diagnosed via blood tests or biopsies. And everyone suffers some amount of anxiety and depression at different times in their lives. I’ve struggled with my own mental illness for years, both being tortured by its overwhelming nature, and, often in the same day, telling myself that I’m overreacting and totally fine.

Mental health conditions cost employers more than $100 billion and 217 million lost workdays each year. When I’m lost in a web of anxiety, I know I’m not being a good employee. This reminder of my failure as an employee spins me into a deep cycle of depression and worthlessness which quickly spirals out of control. I get so mad at myself because I simultaneously feel like the greatest impostor of all time and know I can do a better job that what I do right now, but the sadness of being an obvious fraud gets in the way of productivity. Eventually, my boss catches on, and I move on. I put so much of my personal worth on my job, I really don’t have much else in my life outside of my job and my husband. My career is everything. Maybe that’s the problem. Continue reading

I Don’t Give A Fuck / I Give All the Fucks

Time continues drifting onward so quickly I can barely catch by breath. The sea of life seems to flow constantly at different speeds so that it spins you around when you stop to try to follow it in a nausea-inducing dance. As a teenager your memories of 10 years ago were a blur, a clearly different time from the “now” then. Today, 10 years ago seems like yesterday, and also 100s of years ago, and also only a moment ago if you close your eyes you can hear the sound of the wind lashing against your window, howling in a summer’s storm. You see your house in different forms, a kitchen prior to redesign, walls wallpapered versus painted, a swing-set twice replaced and now long gone. And in this adult life, especially one in which you still have living parents, you exist in this limbo of child-adult, responsible for your own well-being yet judged like an adolescent with wrong choices sans youth’s excuse.

If my life is prosperous now it’s filled with a simple, humble, constant love, and a semi-consistent check coming in for a job that I don’t do all that well and one that I’m pretty sure isn’t going to have the longest tenure no matter how hard I try at this point. I’m caught up in all the details of life that hardly matter on your death bed and find myself constantly gasping for air, desperate for a way out, with no exit in sight, only the jabbing, embarrassing reminder that I have it so easy — easier than most in the world – most in the world of all time of all the worlds.

Maybe it’s depression or exhaustion or the hatred of myself in failing to make a living from creating or perhaps the acknowledgment that the only options for a fulfilled life is either the narcissistic one in which one has an ego fueled by those who they associate with, or one of complete giving, which is still a narcissistic one, if to be fulfilled by the gratitude of others or the chance at entry to some post-mortal promised land. Or maybe you can just sit and meditate and be a monk and stare out into the distance and find peace in being as close to a plant as one can be while still breathing and thinking and experiencing as we do as humans.

And so I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t give a fuck / I give all the fucks. I’m nearly 32 and writing bad angsty teenage-style ramblings because I still fall deep into a dark place of anxious sorrow. I weep for the passing of time, the death of the me that was yesterday, who never had a chance to be who she wanted. I weep for the me of tomorrow, who has but 24 hours to prove herself wrong, to make up for all the hours of anxiety and wasteful thoughts and wasteful moments. And I weep for the me of 70 years from now, if I’m still awake and aware of the world, knowing that any second my breath would be my last, and in that breath I’d know that all that’s left is eternity underground with my flesh decaying and being eaten by the tiny bugs which when alive I accidentally would step on and squash without second thought. And I weep for knowing that even the few things that make me happy such as being held closely by my best friend and lover and future husband is a ritual that can only be recreated a finite amount of times before one of our pairs of arms go limp and can hold each other no more.

I try so hard to just live in the moment. To focus on the now and to be happy for what is… all that there is. And there are those moments when I do find some peace. But they they’re gone. Gone with memories of my childhood tainted spectacular through rose-colored glass. Gone with the stresses of my job and guilt and fear that I’ll never be able to do much of anything to maintain a stable adult life. Gone with the acknowledgment that all is temporary, that all that grounds me is saving money and getting one step closer to some form of freedom. I can’t let go. I can’t let go. I can’t let go.

 

 

Three Years Since My DUI – Life After a DUI

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In the summer of 2011, I made a terrible decision to get behind the wheel after attending a networking event and drinking away my anxiety with one too many glasses of wine. I could have killed someone or severely injured myself. I was fortunate to only end up in handcuffs and $10k poorer as a result of that horrible night.

As I learned at my required “first time offender” program, the events leading up to the DUI rarely describe a typical day. We had to do a writing exercise to detail out the events of the day, putting focus on any warning signs so we could recognize them in the future, in order to avoid a DUI habit. (Shockingly, despite the embarrassment and fees, there are still many repeat offenders.)

The day I got my first (and last) DUI, I was trapped in a deep depression, unable to get out of bed to drag myself to work. This does not at all excuse my actions, but looking back three years later I realize just how lucky I am to have escaped that evening with “only” a DUI. I pried myself out of bed to attend a networking event I was looking forward to having not eaten so much as a cracker during the day. My anxiety quickly kicked in and I downed a few glasses of wine (I think it was three oversized glasses, but the servers were refilling so I could have lost count.)

To my own credit, I knew I was not ready to drive immediately after the event. I went around the corner to a bar with a group of event attendees and stayed there for an hour or so until everyone went home. At that point, I walked back to my car, and the rest is a lesson in terrible decision history. A woman called 9-11 on me as I walked to my car and five cops were waiting to arrest me around the corner. I wasn’t ready to drive. Another hour and I would have barely made the cut off for the legal limit. I shouldn’t have even been thinking about driving. I blew a .10%.

It was the roughest night of my life. A night handcuffed to a chair in a freezing waiting area of the jail in nothing but a small, thin, summer dress because I was under psychiatric watch due to informing the cops about my very real intention to kill myself the second I had a chance. Thank god for my boyfriend at the time who, while being sad at the situation I had gotten myself into, picked me up at the jail the next morning and helped me through the very trying next year of my life. Thanks to him, I got through it.

Three Years Later

In hindsight, while being bipolar and massively depressed is not an excuse for driving drunk (ever / at all), I definitely now can recognize the signs when I’m emotionally not in a good place to think about drinking. And since when you have a DUI on your record you cannot have a drop of alcohol in your system when you are driving, I’ve learned how to handle the best practice of never driving if I plan to have anything to drink.

In my professional culture, this is not always the easiest, but people tend to understand. I typically take public transportation to work, which helps, because a work happy hour can still occur without a challenge in getting home. Even when I do drive in to work, if I go out with my colleagues after work for “drinks” I make sure to have just one and then spend a good three hours or so wandering around the mall to make sure any trace of alcohol is out of my system.

The hardest part of my DUI was the first few months when my license was taken away and when I had to participate in “volunteer work” and first offender classes, not to mention hire a lawyer (useless) and go to court to find out what my fine and punishment would be. I really don’t know what I would have done without my boyfriend helping me through the very dark time in my life. I feel bad for people who get DUIs and don’t have a support system in place, especially those who have others relying on them — like single parents or adult children responsible for taking care of their elderly parents. It’s amazing how many things you take for granted about your freedom and ability to transport yourself from one place to another until you’ve been arrested.

Fast forward three years and it seems everyone has a story about a DUI – whether they received one or knew a close friend that did. What drives me absolutely batty is how many people I know go out and drink a couple than get behind the wheel. For instance, I had a colleague who would drive extremely drunk and there was no stopping him (though my coworkers and I tried taking his keys away on numerous occasions.)

The reality is, there is this massive group of people in this country who drive drunk repeatedly and just never get caught. Or at least they haven’t been yet – one day they won’t be so lucky. Some people boast about their driving skills while others are more silent about their repeated choice to get behind the wheel after a few drinks. Last year my boyfriend and I were driving on the freeway behind a blue car that was clearly swerving over the lane back and forth and while we didn’t call 9-11 on the driver, we did follow them off the freeway and saw a police car finally spot their poor driving and pull them over. I was relieved the police got the driver off the street and no one got hurt.

Lessons Learned

Today I’m actually grateful for the woman who called 9-11 on me walking to my car that day. While I might have gotten home safe that night without hurting another person, that could have been a much uglier night. But what’s more – I clearly had a big problem, one that extended much broader than just my occasional alcohol binge to fight my anxiety and depression — and I needed help. I had gotten to the point where I wasn’t caring about my own well being and wasn’t thinking about how this may effect anyone else. I was selfish and a danger to myself and society. I needed a wake up call.

That wake up call set me back over $10,000, cut my pride in two, made it impossible to get into Canada, and shot me straight from the last flickering embers of my dumb youth into adulthood. I still wish that day never happened, and I still feel sick to my stomach thinking about that evening as I sobered up at the local police station and was driven in the back of a police car down to the county jail for the night.

I think about how humbling the experience was – going from being the girl who didn’t have so much as a sip of alcohol until college – the prude, abstinent one, the one who literally won a poster contest for M.A.D.D. (Mother’s Against Drunk Driving) and was honored at one of their events, to the girl behind bars that they warned you about. The whole experience taught me a lot about judging people so harshly for their mistakes. I think, in a strange way, my progress after the DUI made me a better person – or at least a wiser one, now that I’ve lived through it to tell the tale. There are certainly much safer, more sane places to gain wisdom than one that could result in you spending the rest of your life in jail or worse.

Mental Health System Failures

What I didn’t expect was the amount of people who would find my blog (apparently it shows up in a lot of different searches for DUIs) and, barring the few trolls telling me how terrible of a person I am, how it would help many people who had, like myself, made a very bad decision, and were in a world of hell trying to recover from their mistake. I would get emails, sometimes very long emails, detailing out how much people could relate to my situation and how reading my blog posts about my DUI process made them feel a bit better and more able to handle the brunt of the storm to come.

I continue to be willing to offer my time and support to “DUI victims,” which includes the people who have untreated mental health issues which lead to their DUI arrest. I won’t respond to letters of people who are angry about getting arrested and feel they didn’t deserve it, but I’m happy to support those who know they made a terrible mistake, and who need help. If my blog can help someone bring some reality to their situation – see the light at the end of the tunnel, then writing about all this has served some good.

The Challenges of Being an Effective Leader

To be an effective leader, perhaps the most important ability is being able to hire well. As I’ve said before, when directing a theatre production, 90% of your success is achieved by casting the right actors. You have one chance to get that right – because you can’t really fire actors (especially if you are not paying them), so you better make your picks count. You can hire great actors and do nothing and still have a reasonably good result, or you can hire poor actors, try hard to direct them, and still end up with a mess. It’s exactly the same with management.

The challenge with hiring though is the quality of your employees trickles down from the top. As a manager, you are tasked with bringing in A players. Your success depends on it. But if you aren’t the best at recruiting or hiring others, and your firm is not, say, “Apple” or “Google,” you have to figure out how to recruit great people. Getting heaps of applications isn’t the hard part — getting the right people to apply, move them through the hiring funnel, and closing them is. Every manager must be great at marketing and sales, especially those who are at companies whose name does not yet do all the sales before the candidate walks in the door.

I know if I’m going to be successful in my current position I need to hire fast, but not too fast that I bring in the wrong people. In order to attract high-quality candidates, I know I’m already handicapped. This is the case of many newer managers, especially in innovative industries that naturally attract candidates who were genetically modified for a high IQ since residing in utero, who also are only interested in working for Ivy League-esque graduates. Just as a talented actor won’t audition for a play directed by an unproven director in a local theatre which has yet to make a solid name for itself, talented professionals are weary of working for companies and managers that don’t have a long list of gold stars on their C.V. Not only do you have to sell your company, you have to self yourself as a great manager. It’s a lot easier to sell a company you believe in — harder to sell yourself when you don’t even look like a great manager on paper.

The only way I’ve managed to scoop up one great talent, at least part-time, is due, strangely enough, to him knowing everything that goes in my mind, as he is pretty much the only person I know IRL who has access to this blog. It’s my one success story, but I need to hire more talent like him, and that’s proving very hard. At the end of the day, I have to hire fast, but also get the right people in the door. I admit I’m not doing a good job at it. I’m also in that hard place where I’m a young manager, so I’d be better off hiring talent older and more experienced than myself, but then I don’t know how I’ll actually remain the manager. At some point I have to ask if the person I should be hiring for is someone to manage me.

This opportunity is so remarkably huge that I don’t want to screw it up, but I just don’t know if I have it in me to do this. With the opportunity comes the weight of needing to move oceans fast in order to succeed, and my success = helping many others be successful as well. If I fail, I am not only failing myself, I am failing my team. I feel infinitely stressed and terrified. I love so many of the pieces, the industry, the people, the intellectual side of telling the right story, and much more. But I also see myself crumbling yet again. I am trying to be strong. I am watching the opportunity disappear before my eyes as I fail to effectively lead.

Then, when I do have resources, managing them just doesn’t come naturally to me. Growing up not playing team sports, I never learned how to be a team player. In the arts you are pretty much in it for yourself. But when it comes to business you are not important. You must be a machine, making your part more efficient and productive. You must be clear on objectives, and once you’ve hired the right talent, make sure they have what they need to be successful. You also need to know if said talent isn’t delivering, and if it’s your fault or theirs, and if it’s theirs can you provide guidance to help correct this, or not, and are you even capable of providing the right guidance?

Maybe leaders – mostly men – are better at faking it until they make it, especially when it comes to management. I feel as a woman I already have less natural respect statistically. As a young female leader it’s worse. Then I show weakness just once or twice and I’m done for. I wonder often if it’s already too late.

What does the ideal manager look like? Is she flawlessly dressed, hair with an “at home” professional-looking blowout, body toned from daily pre-sunrise workouts at the gym, protein shakes, and weekend 8-mile hikes to ensure her body is in tip-top shape? Does she spend thousands of dollars a month on clothes and accessories to look fashionable without trying too hard, each item in her wardrobe tailored to fit her toned physique? Is she so organized that every day she creates a list of “to dos” and knows exactly what her team is working on at all times, so she effectively communicates this up the line of command and motivates the best work in her direct reports, while always being one step ahead of any potential fire drills? Is she a duck smoothly gliding across the executive pond while kicking furiously underneath, moments away from drowning?

I feel constantly I’m not strong enough for this. I don’t know when I should push vs pull, to chase vs accept, to strive for perfecting the important details vs just let them go. I think maybe one day I could be a decent leader but maybe I’m just not ready yet. It’s only I don’t want to blow this opportunity. I really want to fake it until I make it, to at the very least ensure we hit our numbers to provide time to fix what’s broke and to grow into the leader I would like to be. I may be on the verge of a mental breakdown, or professional breakthrough. It’s too soon to tell. But as I comfort the chaos in carbohydrates, I fear I’m quickly aging and falling apart, trying to hold myself together so no one would guess just how broken I am.

 

Becoming an Executive Malfunctioning

It’s a rough transition from individual contributor to executive, especially for someone with ADHD. While I’ve gotten to the point in life where I value my innate abilities, I also acknowledge that there are many things vital for moving up in the workforce that do not come naturally to me. I am currently at the point where either I figure out how to fake it well enough that no one realizes this, or giving up.

I don’t want to give up. The opportunity I have today is so great, so exciting, so overwhelmingly awesome that I end up getting to the end of every day and kicking myself for not doing it better. Because I know the best executives know how to be those ducks with their feet kicking hard under water but their faces never flinching. They manage to instantaneously prioritize thousands of projects or project particles while also not slipping up on any details. They are human gods.

There is a reality to my existence, which, at best, puts me into the absent minded professor type category and at worst has me tripping from job to job impressing on one project but failing magnificently on the next. The trick, I’ve learned, is an executive must learn how to make friends and influence people. She must have such charisma that even if other people come up with a great idea and execute on it flawlessly, she will somehow take part of the credit without hoarding all the credit to herself, and seem somehow to effortlessly manage so many moving parts at once. And while she embraces conflict in the right moments, she avoids it in all others. She is everything I’m not and will never be. Continue reading

Hello 31.

Well, I’ve made it. Another year around the sun. Another 365 days of ups and downs, laughter and tears, deep depressions and manic outpouring of not-so-situationaly-appropriate glee. It has been a year of growth and change, saying goodbye to one job and another, embarking on a shaky yet exciting advancement in my career; moving in – finally – with my boyfriend of 8 years; losing my grandfather and attending my first funeral; and — starting — to accept that aging is going to happen, and is happening, to my own flesh despite still wanting to believe that I’m forever-young invincible.

So I have 1/32 of a grey hair now, a few more wrinkles in my forehead due to my chronic state of worry, and a couple of more breaths between freak outs to remind myself I’ve been in those unpleasant shoes before and managed to survive to see another happy day. I’ve taken steps to seek the right kind of help — hired an ADHD coach — focusing on treating the symptoms vs the root cause of my psyche which, no matter how well I psychoanalyze and understand, is never going to dramatically change. I guess you can say at 31 I’ve accepted that I have a chronic condition known as “me.”

Am I 100% satisfied with myself? God no. I have a lot of work to do. I’m always pushing myself to improve all while pondering how that may be possible given my constant state of neurosis. I’m longing to become a mother despite being terrified of how that fits in with this life I’ve managed to create for myself as a business executive and otherwise responsibility-free adult, all things considered – no mortgage, no car payments, no kids, no debts – just save, save, save, and push through the lows so I can try my best to enjoy the highs. It’s the best I’ve been able do so far, but I still have a lot to give and still have a lot of getting my shit together to do.

10 years ago I had this crazy goal to save $250,000 by age 30. I didn’t really think far past that, other than a seemingly impossible objective to save $500k before I have my first child. At the time I had $10k in the bank and didn’t even have a boyfriend so it was all a crapshoot of dreams. Today I have my guy and I’m nearing a solid $300k in networth as I say hello to 31. I’m in a good spot to achieve my $500k before my first kid goal. On paper my life is pretty damn spiffy. But every day is still a struggle with all the highs and lows.

In my 30s, now that I’m actually “in” my 30s vs just starting them, I want to achieve some kind of stability. Perhaps this means medication is a requirement vs a nice to have, but I need to find consistency in my routines and slow down enough to find serenity in the everyday. Perhaps I can do that. As opposed to my 20s and before when I longed for a bit of a crazy, uncertain, constantly changing life, now I yearn for consistency, routine, and regularity. I know I’ve always hungered for the later but a fear of not picking the right route of settling down kept me bouncing from one path to the next. I was terribly lost and only the rush of impractical choice would make me feel momentarily alive and free – but the lack of stability punched me in the gut day after day after day. In my 30s I’ll admit open heartedly that I’m tired of trying to be different and letting a fear of being “just like everyone else” run my life. Maybe being just like everyone else… (even though that’s not really possible anyway) is not that bad.

What’s throwing me off most tonight is that I graduated college in 2005 when I was 21. It was easy to accept 10 years removed since high school graduation — high school was the end of my childhood — but college… that doesn’t seem that far in the past in many respects. In others it seems like a lifetime ago. Still, it was actually 10 years ago. 10 years ago at this time I was in my senior year, falling into a very dark depression that I’d spring out of only after moving to the west coast and pushing through a year of one failure after another, picking my pieces up again every time I fell apart. Senior year of college is a blur – I was lonely, confused, unsure of where I was headed, and just trying to give myself some framework to follow, some sign to guide the way. I had just returned from my first trip abroad, a summer in eastern europe studying and traveling, and continued a relationship with my boyfriend at the time who had moved to a city on the east coast for the year, and who I visited fairly frequently as a treat to escape my life and throw myself squarely into his which I never did fit. It took a move to the west coast and a serious heart-to-heart shortly following the move that we mutually agreed we weren’t right for each other. And there I was, completely alone, with no framework or guide or must-do for life’s next steps. All I knew was that I couldn’t fail – permanently. I had to get up and keep going. And so I did.

Well, so now I’m 31. I have a goal to have my first child by 34 at the latest and the fact that that’s three years away probably scares me the most… especially because 34 isn’t even a “young” age to have a kid and I’d like to have at least two. It’s crazy how fast time flies once you’re in your mid 20s. I guess it’s strange because childhood is this extremely slow moving set of years where you’re growing and learning so quickly that every day can seem like a millennium… and suddenly you’re thrust through a magnetic launcher and boom you’re rapidly accelerating towards the rest of forever and you can’t stop it… you just have to try to breathe and appreciate the sights and sounds and wonder as you rapidly approach the end of your ride. I’m sure I’ll feel the same way at 35 and 40 and 50 and 60 and beyond, and even more so. And miss the days when time was long, the nights where the sun seemed like it would never set, the mornings rushing out the door and chasing after the school bus in excitement because of a certain topic to be discussed in class or an after school activity to be held that day.

My goal for this year is to find some sort of similar excitement in my life again -in a sane, healthy way. I’ve lost a sense of happiness, a sense of wonder, a sense of joy. Life has become a calculator of finances and hours in the day to fill with work and getting stuff done. While these are first world, middle class problems they are my problems nonetheless. I’m looking to establish my own independent sense of adventure and peace with solitude. I know this year will bring about lots of change, perhaps more than the shifts in the last 365 days, and I hope I’m ready for it. I approach my 31st year with wide eyes, an open heart and an open mind. Come on 31, bring it.

 

 

 

 

RIP Robin Williams: Depression isn’t Funny

The news of Robin Williams’ suicide today hit me like a brick. I didn’t know him personally and I certainly haven’t seen all of his films. But something always transfixed me about his spirit. His brilliant improv comedy. His ability to entertain and make others laugh while inside were these dark shadows hidden only by his light.

Also, as a resident of San Francisco, I often would imagine his comedic inspirations walking down the hilly streets. Once, my boyfriend informed me that Robin Williams was on his flight back to SFO. I wished I had been on that plane. Not that I would have said anything to him, but I just wanted the opportunity to meet him in person. I think a lot of people felt that way about Mr. Williams. And now we’re all in mourning on news of his passing. Continue reading