Today’s edition of Breaking The Silence of Stigma/Voices of Mental Illness is honored to have Jared of Lunch Sketch as our interviewee. If you haven’t seen Jared’s amazing art blog, Lunch Sketch, I advise you to hop right over there as soon as you finish reading this wonderful interview! So let’s dive right in!
BSS: How long have you known that you are living with a mental illness?
LS: Almost 10 years now.
BSS: Can you share with us your diagnosis/diagnoses?
LS: Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, and Depression.
BSS: When were you diagnosed with these?
LS: Almost 10 years ago.
BSS: How were they diagnosed? Did you have any special testing?
LS: I had a series of health scares, starting with Bell’s Palsy which I never recovered from and underwent many tests to ensure it was not a tumor. I then had a case of pericarditis misdiagnosed as a heart attack – this included prepping me with morphine drips and calling my next of kin (my wife who was 7 months pregnant with our third, Emma) up to the hospital. Next I saw a doctor about a lesion on my lip and was told it was cancerous and that I would need a large portion of my lower lip removed – fortunately family forced me to get a second opinion with a dermatological specialist who informed me it was (if anything) “pre-pre-cancerous” and nothing I couldn’t keep on top of with a tube of lip balm.
Haha. So special testing? Hmmm … maybe too much testing
In addition to all of the above, I was constantly sick and tired. For almost a year, during all of this, I never wanted to go out, I would just go into our bedroom after work (spending no time with my family) and slept through most weekends.
I ended up crying in my doctor’s office like a little kid. I told her I was going to die! I had a “Final Destination” style idea that all these near misses meant it was my time … and eventually something would stick. I distinctly remember sobbing, “I am sick and tired of always being sick and tired”. I think I remember those words best, because they are lyrics from Anastacia’s hit song and I was embarrassed to say them, but had no other words to describe my feelings.
My GP asked me a series of questions and then told me she thought I have health related anxiety, which was causing me to be depressed. I did not believe her and was frustrated she could not see I just needed tests to find whatever was going to get me next!
She gave me a book (Taming the Black Dog – by Bev Aisbett) and a video, insisting I read and watch them. I did, and it did not take me very long to realize she was right. The book and video described “me” … even though I really didn’t want it to. It was undeniable.
BSS: Have you ever been hospitalized due to your illness?
BSS: Are you on medications for your illness? Do they help? What about side effects?
LS: I was on fluoxetine for 12months and in that time really worked hard at getting my diet, mental health and physical health in order. I was fortunate enough to have work pay for a psychologist at that time and she helped me also with some cognitive training and other coping tools.
I was happy on the fluoxetine (after the initial nausea), but part of me worried that the medication was desensitizing me to health problems (lumps, sores, aches and pains) which I would get looked at if I wasn’t on medication. The worry grew and my doctor and I decided maybe now that I knew about my mental illness and had more training and awareness in managing it, I should try going without.
I have not been back on it since, but there have been times I considered seeing my doctor for another script. It absolutely does help and I would not hesitate to go back on it if I felt myself getting too lost for too long.
Not so much a stigma for me with the medication. It just increases my anxiety in a strange way, which I hope I explained well enough.
BSS: What other things do you do to help with your illness? Do you go to individual therapy? Group? Other things? What, if anything, seems to help?
LS: I eat well and exercise frequently. Not gym exercise so much (although have recently joined one), but outdoors stuff like ocean kayaking, bike riding, hiking and jogging. Knowing I am looking after myself physically helps me to rationalize risk with my irrational health anxieties.
To manage my social anxiety I avoid too much socializing. Being a fairly solid introvert who married a very strong extravert, we were going out and had people over almost every night and weekend. We no longer do this. My wife still enjoys a very busy social life with her girlfriends and we also go out together as often as we can. But she knows I cannot do too much in a row and will make sure a busy weekend is followed by a very quiet weekend (even if just for me). I am not comfortable in crowds and social environments. I get an overwhelming feeling of needing to escape (like how I imagine claustrophobia would feel).
One evening recently when visiting friends – my wife was not ready to go, but I was – I left her the car and walked the 1km trip home (with my youngest on my shoulders). My wife understood, but I am sure our friends thought I was odd … “can’t he just wait another 30 minutes?” No I couldn’t!
I guess for us it has been about understanding and balancing our needs.
For my depression I ensure I get enough sleep (but not too much). But I also sketch, write and have lots of “me” time. Sketching calms me and focuses my mind on just one thing. I find sketching particularly good for me to process feelings at times. I can spend hours and hours on a single piece related to a feeling I am trying to process and the time sketching is uniquely therapeutic … almost like an acceptance or deeper understanding of myself and my thoughts, without all the negativity and depressive thinking and behaviours that would otherwise result. I hope that makes sense …
I don’t do any social media except for my WordPress blog. No FB, no Twitter, no Instagram. Yet over the past 2 years I have discovered a sense of community here. Becoming one of the authors for Canvas of the Minds has furthered this sense of belonging and made me not feel so alone and strange. Not just the other authors on that blog, but readers also have helped me immensely (some who probably will never know how much they did). I guess for now, that is my “Group”.
BSS: How has your illness impacted your life (jobs, education, relationships, children, alcohol, drug abuse…..
LS: Negatively in all areas (except substance abuse) I would have to say.
Job: I could get so much further in my career and would pursue such a path if I was not aware of my limitations and the effects of additional stress on my mental health. I am content to just hold my own in my current role. Our CEO recently mentioned to me that he thinks some of the Managers are point scoring because they want to be his successor. I told him to count me out, because I am not interested in his job at all. Again, he probably thinks I am lazy or lacking ambition, but I have been learning to care less about the judgments of others.
Education: A few years ago, I attempted an MBA whilst working. Got through 3 subjects before realizing I could not do it. The study was taking up what time I had left and needed for “me” to cope. Work needs me, my family needs me, and in between those I find and need time for me.
Relationships: The doctor visit I mentioned above was a week after my wife said she could not cope with me anymore. I reached a point where I was disconnected from her and our kids. I was always down and took them down with me. So yeah … had I not been diagnosed and treated accordingly … they may not be with me now as I type this … or to be even more brutally honest I may not have been here to type this … I considered suicide several times, but never went beyond ideation.
BSS: Have you ever felt discriminated against because of your illness, or had to deal with disparaging comments, denied a job or other opportunities?
LS: I guess I discussed my self-imposed denial of job opportunities above. Have not had to deal with direct disparaging comments … but am frustrated every time I hear people at work and socially refer negatively to what they see as depressive or bipolar behaviours in others.
I think it is the dismissiveness of insensitive people that bugs me the most. There is no care in the words of someone who says things like, “I dunno, maybe she’s depressed or something weird like that” … or … “God! It’s like he’s bipolar or something!”
If she is depressed … if he is bipolar … they need your friendship, understanding and support … not your sarcastic wit!
BSS: If you could give advice to someone else struggling with mental illness, what would it be?
LS: Get support. Whether it is just one person or many people … do not go it alone.
Read good literature and learn as much as you can about your illness. Understanding my personality, my past and the nature of my illness has been so important in holding my ground and even gaining some ground over time.