October 2nd, 2015 (10:18 pm)
How I'm Feeling: thoughtful
I have been on a journey, as they say. Life is like a journey, isn't it? Some things we choose, others just happen. I felt for a long time that things just kept happening to me and I was lost on this ocean of pain - emotional and physical. I finally feel like I'm somewhat in the drivers seat, although life still controls the road and many of the sites I see and learn from along the way. We are all works in progress, sometimes swimming and sometimes treading water. That's a lot of anaology. But it's real to my story.
It's hard to know when and what to disclose to people, as well as who, and I've found myself in different states of mind when it comes to just that throughout my life. My first big experience with mental health crisis led me to be an open book, no longer ashamed of my experiences and how i was feeling. i lost a lot of people in my life back then, but I thought "good - now I know who my true friends are and who I can count on, who is real with me". I've come to realize that some people don't have the knowledge or even the faintest idea of how to respond when they hear you are suffering from illness of any kind. Mentall illness especially, but physical illness, too. Many people, it feels, just can't handle it and it's easier to just walk away rather than saying "hey, I heard you're suffering and I care. I don't know what to say or do, but I'm here." It takes some maturity and some openness to being vulnerable. Some people really don't understand and they try to relate it to times when they felt down and were able to just "pull themselves out of it". They say things that really just hurt and make you feel worse, even though they have good intentions. So you end up deciding to keep everything in and suffering alone, thinking no one cares how much you are hurting - they don't get it. You start carrying around this big secret where you think you are broken inside and unrepairable, unable to cope with this life. The truth is that so many people are suffering in silence like this. When we have the courage to speak up and disclose our deepest fears and pains, sometimes someone says "me too." And that's when a powerful connection is made. Suddenly you're not alone and neither are they. I've had this experience many times too. And so I've learned to disclose to some and not to others, but to stay open to the idea that there are others out there who are suffering like me, physically and mentally. And there are those who are suffering differently from me and I can say to them "hey, I heard that you are suffering and I care. Do you want to talk about it? I'm not sure what to do, but maybe I can be a shoulder to lean on." All my pain and heartache has helped me develop a strong sense of empathy. And that has led me to seeing the world through the eyes of someone who cares deeply, which I think is a big strength. Many people say that I'm "too emotional", but they just don't get it. I care. I want to be a good person and help others with their pain too. This has led me to animal rights and activism - making little changes in my life so that others suffer less. And animals suffer so greatly at the hands of humans. This is how my chronic illness and my veganism are deeply connected.
When I see suffering, it moves me. I want to help, I want to make the suffering stop. When I was a child, there were times when I was abused physically and emotionally. I developed complex post traumatic stress disorder that wasn't diagnosed until I was in my mid 20s and was looking after two little girls that were the ages I was when some things were done to me. I had flashbacks and nightmares, memories coming back that I hadn't thought of in years. And I was angry and sad and hurt and depressed. I couldn't understand why someone would do the things that were done to me, an innocent child. This was also when my love of animals changed into a deep desire to protect them like I wished someone had protected me when I was innocent and had done nothing to deserve the pain inflicted on me. I see myself in the eyes of my cats, of the pigs in transport (death) trucks. I see "someone home" who doesn't deserve to die a painful cruel death. All they did was exist in the wrong place at the wrong time, through no fault of their own. When I look at the primates at the monkey sanctuary, some who came from labs and others who came from zoos, I see PTSD in their behaviour and their eyes. I Feel it. Lori Gruen has a theory called "Entangled Empathy", which she argues is a direct route to how someone else is feeling in their situation such that we care about them and are motivated to act. My empathy works that way. I cannot stand by and do nothing when someone is suffering - and animals are someone. They have a subjective experience of the world. And I believe they also suffer from mental illness such as trauma and depression when they are treated horrifically, just like humans.
I suffer from many illnesses. Let me disclose, as I want it all on the table.
I was diagnosed with type one diabetes at the age of 12. The theory is I went through trauma at the age of 11 that might've triggered it - I lost a childhood friend from brain cancer two days before I lost my grandmother to cancer.
On my 17th birthday I was diagnsed with majpr depression and was put on my first antidepressant.
At the age of 18 I had my first suicide attempts and was hospitalized after the 2nd one for 5 weeks.
I developed an eating disorder known as diabulemia when I was 19 that I struggled with until my mid 20s when I finally got help. I can now say I'm recovered, but I still deal with "ED head" or eating disordered thoughts and body image issues regularly
In my early 20s my diagnosis changed to "double depression", where I suffered from mild depression (dysthymia) at my best and severe depression at my worst.
I was then diagnosed with mononucleosis that I struggled with for two years before it developed into fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Around the same time I was diagnosed with cPTSD from child abuse.
And then my psychiatric diagnosis changed to bipolar type 2, which means I've never had a bout of mania but my moods fluctuate from depression to what is called hypomania, where my personal symptoms are usually irritability (where I really don't feel like myself) and severe anxiety.
Are you still with me?
I think I've had a total of 8 suicide attempts now and lived to tell the tale. i also struggle with self-harm through cutting.
In my mid 20s, my best friend became sick with a terminal brain tumor. Those of you who know me know that Renee was a dear friend. We met when we were 13, went to high school and university together, living together in our first year of residence. Renee died in 2008 when we were 24. It was a life-altering experience for me, as she taught me how to live in those last 8 months of her life when we knew she could die any time and were attached at the hip. So many people couldn't be there for her because they didn't know what to say or do. She thought no one cared. I did, deeply. And I told her that all the time to the point where it was almost a joke between us.
I wasn't scared to look at death in the face beside her, as it was something I'd done alone many times. But it was an invisible illness that took me there; hers was more "real" than mine. But it wasn't. Mental illness can be fatal and it is just as real as cancer or diabetes or any other disease. But society doesn't grant us that. The stigma is horrible and so many people keep things to themselves because it beats being told to pull your socks up and suck it up. Illness can be lonely and isolating. We need to keep challenging this and reach out to one another in a caring empathetic community.
Throughout this time I was sick on and off, withdrawing from university four times in total before finishing my undergrad in 2014. I had started out in Zoology, but couldn't stand the way animals were talked about - like machines - and so I ended up switching into philosophy where I could study animal ethics. I'm now working on my MA in Philosophy specializing in animal ethics. Animals stuffer so much in our society and we need to make drastic changes to fix the exploitation and horrific unnecessary cruelty that animals face due to human ignorance. I experience chronic pain every day now, but it is nothing compared to what is inflicted on lab animals intentionally by humans. It is nothing compared to the fear those animals on death trucks must feel on the way to their excruciating deaths. It's not a competition, but it gives me perspective.
I deam of a world full of caring people and animals who love and nurture one another and where justice and love guide our every day actions. Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka's book Zoopolis presents a nice framework for this kind of society, but most people think it's not rational, that it's utopian and unachievable. I'm working on this theory for my MA thesis, focusing on how interspecies friendship strengthens and supports such a society. Can you imagine? An end to the animal use industry, farm santuaries everywhere, universal basic rights not to be killed, tortured, enslaved, etc, granted to all animals... it's a dream to me. I'm sure if you had told human slaves back in the day that someday they would be free they would've hung their heads in dispair and not had much hope of that ever becoming reality. But it did (in some places anyways). We have to hold onto hope that things will get better and keep working towards it, no matter what the obstacles. Together, we can do it. We just need some faith in ourselves.
I have rambled on long enough.
Until next time,
"I do not believe that suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and willingness to remain vulnerable."
-Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in Within and Without