Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Is Keeping Up with the Jones' Making us Sad?

What is normal?

The fact that my psychiatrist thought I was ‘normal’ enough to just see a regular family physician and the insurance company thinks I’m mentally healthy enough to return to ‘any occupation’ by mid-July has got me thinking…  What if being a zombie who experiences panic attacks is the social norm?  Is it possible that being happy is abnormal and being unhappy, angst- ridden and ghost-like is the norm?  I mean, why else would my mental health professional and my insurance company be so anxious to get rid of me?
Maybe all those years of happiness, punctuated with some downs too, was an abnormal way of life. Maybe that’s why I never quite fit in. Maybe that’s why people thought I was strange.  Laughing until I cried, being proud of my accomplishments, sharing adventures with my family and friends, and just having fun… Maybe these things are not normal for most. Maybe the overwhelming, heart-swelling joy I experienced was more proof that I was ‘wrong’ somehow.
Think about it. Maybe I’m right. Maybe misery is the norm, but we don’t necessarily see it because ‘successful’ people don’t share their miseries, only their successes. (That's what makes them 'successful', don't you know???)
Realistically, we don’t understand other people’s emotions. We only see what people choose to share with us; what’s socially appropriate. Most people present only positive emotions in public – at coffee-time, on Facebook, while shopping etc. We don’t see or hear all those things that make people feel bad – the negative emotions. Of course, when we compare ourselves to these images, we come up short. No one can always be that perfect. That happy. All. The. Time.
Why do people present more positive than negative? Easy. They want to appear to be ‘winners’, in control and successful in life. No one wants to be the ‘loser.’

People, obviously me included, tend to consciously or unconsciously supress their negative emotions for fear of being ‘different’. Presenting a positive public face is a form of self-preservation. It's a way of 'keeping up with the Jones'" If you’re sad or frustrated and in any way ‘imperfect’, you’re showing signs of weakness – at work, at home, or in with friends. And, if you’re not perfect, well there’s something wrong with you. You’re not fitting in with what you think society expects you to be. Unfortunately, this means that wherever you go or whatever you do, you’re wearing a mask and not revealing your true self – just the shell, the superficial outside. (Sadly, there are those who are perfectly content with knowing your superficial self... Try to minimize those types of people in your life... Too many can be toxic).
Social media – such as Facebook or Twitter – perpetuates this mythology. Generally when posting, or ‘liking’, people want to present themselves in the best possible light. We tend to avoid people who consistently make negative comments in their Facebook posts, leaning towards the positive. Of course, when you’re reading only good things or see people sharing experiences that you want in your life, you might think ‘good for them’, but inevitably, you end up wondering why your life can’t be like that – why your life is coming up short…

When skimming through Facebook, we tend to forget that everyone has their own journey. Everyone has their trials and tribulations. Did you ever think that maybe what you see is an illusion, a façade? Your friend may have got the dream job. But you don't see the hours of hard work, heartbreak and sacrifice that made it happen. Yes, that frenemy might be on vacation somewhere exotic, but you don’t know if she is fighting with her husband all along. What about the couple with the beautiful home? Maybe the wife is addicted to gambling, and they are in danger of losing that home.  What about the parent of kids who seemingly can do no wrong? Maybe the there is more to that too. All you see is the good. You don’t necessarily see or know the background into these so called perfect lives.
The casualties of this social Darwinism, or survival of those most socially adept, are people like me. People who know how to present the façade so well that people don’t even notice there is something wrong. These are the people who desperately need help, but don’t have the strength or courage to ask for it, for fear of being narcissistic (too many folks like that on the internet, sigh) or judged harshly. (That’s one of the reasons I’m kinda like Gossip Girl: “Who am I? I’ll never tell.”).  If we ask for help, we live with the worry that we’ll become social pariah.

In my case, I’ve told a few friends about my situation. Thankfully, most of them have been extremely supportive. Some of the people I haven’t told might understand, but I fear the majority will not. Actually, I know the majority will not. I will be forever labeled as ‘depressed Mom’ and unable to escape the stigma of mental illness.
I wish I could be one of those people who feel comfortable enough in my own skin to share my issues more often – both in person and on-line. Let’s face it. If I had cancer or was in a car accident, I wouldn’t be as reluctant to share. Okay. I probably wouldn’t want to share that either, but I would be less frightened about what people would say and how they’d react. Less afraid of being ostracised. Illness or accident are more socially accepted than mental health issues.
I generally don’t ask for help. I think that’s partially why I’m where I am. My mask is so thick, that I don’t even connect with myself. Perhaps that’s why I’m a zombie with no positive emotions. Ever.

My mask – my social persona – has formed my outward reality, while my insides are dead. Form without function.

The solution? Allow yourself to be different. Allow yourself to share things that make you happy and sad. Be true to yourself – both on the outside and the inside.

I wish I did that more often. Maybe then, I wouldn’t be stuck in this world of darkness unable to escape.

Monday, 22 October 2012


Sadly, sometimes it takes a tragedy to make people stand-up and pay attention to an issue.  Amanda Todd's suicide on October 10, 2012 tragically brought cyber-bullying and bullying into an international spotlight.

I've been following her story since mid-October, and it's made me sad. Not just for Amanda and her family and friends, but those in situations like hers.  Her heartbreaking life and death started me thinking more about bullying and the impacts on my life.

The more I contemplate bullying - and the role it's played in my life - I realise that I have played both roles: victim and bully.

When I think of my life as a 'victim', I think about my childhood and how I was bullied because I was different. I was considered smart, and I never really fit in - sometimes by choice, other times by circumstance. Sometimes I'd defend and befriend those being bullied, and other times, I'd turn a blind-eye so I wouldn't fall prey to bullying too. As a kid, you want to fit in - even if it is to a small degree.

As an adult, it's taken me a long time to realise that I've been a victim of workplace bullying - most recently my former boss. It might seem odd, but I didn't see her as a bully until I started looking up bullying. I found a website, www.bullyonline.org , which speaks to bullying. 

As indicated in one of my earliest blog entries, How I became depressed Mom - work, my former boss would dismiss my ideas (unless they were presented by someone else). I would feel like everything I'd learnt throughout my many years in my industry were useless. I remember driving home, feeling sad about my need to be ethical and do things right. Of course, my right and her right were completely different (her standards were much lower than mine).

I remember going to a meeting with my then new boss. I thought it went okay, but she spent a half hour telling me that 'she'd never been more embarrassed in her entire life.' (in hindsight, REALLY??? REALLY???? Never so embarassed???). We were meeting with a consultant who was exceptionally good at what she did. What did I do? I shared (not over-shared) some of my experience to provide her context and an understanding of my background. The consultant didn't seem offended. But, my boss raised heck afterwards, and wouldn't stop even after I'd apologised. I remember thinking I should quit. And, I should have started looking for work right away. Obviously, I didn't. And, it wasn't until my self-esteem eroded completely that I realised there was something wrong with my boss' 'leadership'. (BTW - other people noticed her treatment of me and commented on it in private. No one stood up for me though).

Philosophically, I'd never been one to think that 'I'm all that.' I've always looked for ways to make my work better. I've never been the person to take credit for other people's work. In fact, I've been known to give away credit for things I've accomplished. So, as my boss started demeaning my work and my accomplishments, I didn't think twice. I'd already been doing it for years. Why would I notice when she was doing it?

Looking at the bullying website's section on workplace bullying, my boss' tendency to bully me are even more apparent.

Here's an excerpt from the page http://www.bullyonline.org/workbully/amibeing.htm 'What is bullying?' My comments are italicised and bold.
  • constant nit-picking, fault-finding and criticism of a trivial nature - the triviality, regularity and frequency betray bullying; often there is a grain of truth (but only a grain) in the criticism to fool you into believing the criticism has validity, which it does not; often, the criticism is based on distortion, misrepresentation or fabrication (check)
  • simultaneous with the criticism, a constant refusal to acknowledge you and your contributions and achievements or to recognise your existence and value (check)
  • constant attempts to undermine you and your position, status, worth, value and potential (check, check, check)
  • where you are in a group (eg at work), being singled out and treated differently; for instance, everyone else can get away with murder but the moment you put a foot wrong - however trivial - action is taken against you (check - remember me being 'shushed'?)
  • being isolated and separated from colleagues, excluded from what's going on, marginalised, overruled, ignored, sidelined, frozen out, sent to Coventry
  • being belittled, demeaned and patronised, especially in front of others (check)
  • being humiliated, shouted at and threatened, often in front of others (check - except the shouted at part...)
  • being overloaded with work, or having all your work taken away and replaced with either menial tasks (filing, photocopying, minute taking) or with no work at all (check - I had to do the menial tasks the junior person didn't want to do)
  • finding that your work - and the credit for it - is stolen and plagiarised (check - my comments were 'ignored', until my boss took ownership of them as her own).
  • having your responsibility increased but your authority taken away (check - I was always working with no authority and very little credit)
  • having annual leave, sickness leave, and - especially - compassionate leave refused (no... instead, when I became too sick to work, she INSISTED I not return)
  • being denied training necessary for you to fulfil your duties (check - she would ALWAYS suggest I take additional training, but never give me time to take them or allow me to take courses that the junior person was encouraged to take... even though my skill-sets were a more natural fit for that type of training)
  • having unrealistic goals set, which change as you approach them (check - she would create bizarre arbitrary deadlines for things. Suddenly, projects had to be done 'yesterday.')
  • ditto deadlines which are changed at short notice - or no notice - and without you being informed until it's too late (check - see above)
  • finding that everything you say and do is twisted, distorted and misrepresented (well, not so much... she just ignored my ideas until someone else suggested them)
  • being subjected to disciplinary procedures with verbal or written warnings imposed for trivial or fabricated reasons and without proper investigation (No... Despite her treatment of me, she was always complimentary to my face during evaluations. Her big exception? The junior person. She always wanted me to be nicer to her. I couldn't. I was polite to her, but I couldn't be more inclusive...She wasn't nice to me, and I didn't want to include her more in projects she wasn't a part of. Does that make me a bully too?)
  • being coerced into leaving through no fault of your own, constructive dismissal, early or ill-health retirement, etc (check - my boss REFUSED to allow me to return to work early in my illness, when I thought I should return; and she started sending me settlement offers when it looked like I was about to return).
So now you see why I don't want to return to the place of torture.

Of course, reading the list, my conscience hurts knowing that I too have been a bully. Not on purpose; more out of pressure on my shoulders to deliver and a frustrating realisation that some people didn't have the skill set or desire to get the job done.

Am I just as guilty as my former boss? Maybe. Probably. Yes. On some days to some people.

Was it intentional? No. Well, sometimes.

Self-preservation? Yes.

Retaliation for being bullied? Yes. Sometimes.

Do I regret it? Yes. Yes. Yes.

I wish I could have done better. Been better. I did the best I could with what I had and the pressure I was facing. I was just trying to make my life easier, so I could get the tasks done. I would apologise and explain, but doesn't change my initial actions.

Can I change? YES. Now I know better and will try harder to be cognisant of my actions.

Do I think my boss will ever change? No. She is too narcissistic to change. Although she asks for feedback about her leadership skills, your words go in one ear and go out the other. I don't think she thinks she's ever wrong; she doesn't have that level of introspection.

In the description of a bully, she definitely meets these criteria:
  • when called upon to share or address the needs and concerns of others, responds with impatience, irritability and aggression
  • often has an overwhelming, unhealthy and narcissistic need to portray themselves as a wonderful, kind, caring and compassionate person, in contrast to their behaviour and treatment of others; the bully is oblivious to the discrepancy between how they like to be seen (and believe they are seen), and how they are actually seen
So what have I learnt?  I've validated the fact that I've been bullied by my last boss so much that I've lost all confidence in my skills and ability to work in the industry. I don't think I can EVER return to the industry I've worked in for 20 years. Faith in myself and the industry is irrevocably shaken. I'm no longer 'X' the 'X professional.' I'm depressed Mom. Perhaps that's all I'll ever be.

I've also learnt that anyone can be a bully, even though it can be unintentional. And, perhaps bullies need understanding too. Recent research has linked bullying to mental illness. (But that's another story... and perhaps another blog entry). Maybe I'm more of a bully than I think I am.

One thing for certain: bullying exists and is a complex social issue. Amanda Todd reminded us of that. I am grateful to her for that. But, she shouldn't have had to pay the ultimate price for it. She deserved better.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Making Decisions and More

Decision about Long Term Disability
I made a decision without making a decision. The stress of the long term disability settlement offer has been overwhelming. I've been experiencing this veil of anxiety for months, not certain what to do.

After talking with my doctor and my lawyer, I still didn't think I could make a decision... So, I asked my employer and the insurance company for an extension.  No word yet. But, I just can't make a decision without knowing a bit more about my mental and physical health.  We'll see what they come back with.  Thankfully, there is no worse-case scenario in this... Or at least right now I don't think there is.  If they give an extension, then I have about another month to see specialists, take my tests and decide. If they don't, then I go back to the insurance company...

Okay, I am totally paranoid about them making me jump through more significant hoops and making me even more stressed and sicker, or decide to stop making payments. I don't want to have to use my lawyer and to fight for something that I'm entitled to.  And, there will be a lawsuit if they stop making payments.  Just because I'm sick doesn't mean that I don't have people willing to help me fight the 'Big Brother' looking over my shoulder...

Let's face it. The insurance company doesn't care about me and my well-being. All they care about was their bottom line. I think they'd prefer me to take the settlement offer, so they don't have to risk paying anything after the 24 month mark. It's sick. They'd rather have me suffer, than continue to pay me to get better.

And, even worse, I am worried sick they'll force me to go back to the company with no ethics and no morals. I would rather do almost anything else than return to the place of hell.  I worry that I will die if I return. It might sound extreme, but if you were in that hell-hole, you'd feel that way too.

Mental Health
Fine. I now admit it. Perhaps the Effexor had more 'positive' impact on my mental well-being than I thought. The generalised angst and the constant panic have returned when I leave my home. And, once again, I wake up from my sleep extremely anxious and afraid.  Not sure how much of this has to do with the insurance company offer, as it got worse when the initial offer was made (while I was still taking Effexor), and now I feel it more often... Okay. Much of the time.

Oddly enough, I'm still a zombie. A zombie with panic attacks.  I am not present. I am not here. I am just existing. Like a ghost. I wish I could be present and experiencing life rather than in this bizarre dream/trance-like state.

To make matters worse, I thought that once I was off the Effexor, I would be able to experience positive emotion. My theory? If the Effexor made me more 'flat', then maybe not taking it would help me experience positive emotions.  Well, sadly I was wrong. No positive emotion whatsoever.

Life without positive emotion is horrible.  There's no positive reinforcement for anything  I do. Instead of feeling happy when something should make me happy, I feel sad and cry.  (Okay, I wasn't doing that on Effexor). On the upside, at least something, somewhere within me knows I should be experiencing a positive emotion... It just comes out wrong. All wrong.

Solution? Don't know. Thanks to our local mental health hotline, I've been set up with counselling sessions starting next week. (I also have an appointment with the counsellor at my doctor's office for mid-November). Should I go back to the anti-depressants? I'd rather not. I worry that I'll go back to the cycle of it not helping me... Getting my 'hopes' up that each pill I take will make me feel better, and then I feel crushed when it doesn't. I'd like to request another psychiatrist. One who listens to me...

And, I am so desperate to get better (deep breath), I'd like to investigate the possibility of trying electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Maybe I'll become better if I 'reboot' my brain.

Physical Health
My health has been driving me nuts. Some symptoms I've been experiencing have existed all throughout my journey with Effexor. I was labelling these health concerns as Effexor side-effects; now that I'm no longer on Effexor, the symptoms persist.  I have to take some tests (yes, I have the forms). I just hope the doctors can figure out what's wrong. My physical health is making it harder for me to want to go out. And, it's been a distraction from my mental health issues. How can I focus on my mental health when I'm not feeling well? When I'm feeling sick much of the time.

Too much. Too sad. Too blank. Too invisible.

Fingers crossed I'll feel better - physically, mentally, spiritually - very soon. Sadly, I don't even know what hope is any more.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Self pity... Woe is me...Boo hoo...

I think the title says it all.

Do you know what it's like to me?  I really, sincerely hope not.  No one should have to go through this hell. Not even me... LOL.

Do you know what it's like to know you're in love with your husband and kid and NOT FEEL A THING? See breath-taking scenery, share stories and hugs with the little people in your life, try to EXPERIENCE the beauty of life and NOT FEEL A THING?

I know.

Do you know what it's like being a zombie (well, a tiny bit less so now that I'm off Effexor), who suffers from panic and fear (more so than when I was on Effexor)?

I know.

Do you know what it's like when you feel panic, rage and fear in situations and circumstances that never made you feel like that before?

I know.

Do you know what it's like to feel manipulated by an insurance company and their 'policies' to accept a settlement package?

I know.

Okay, I haven't accepted anything. But I do feel let down by their sneaky tactics. They aren't looking out for me (like they said they would). They're looking out for their bottom line. Not certain what to do, I did an on-line search. Not good news. Because 'depression' is considered a self-reporting illness, the insurance companies take FULL ADVANTAGE of the grey areas - and try not to pay out individuals beyond the 'inability to work within own profession' - or the two year period. And of course, legally, there's a lot of wiggle room there. Sadly, to the advantage of the insurance company. The insurance companies are making people sick. VERY SICK. No one should be bullied by an insurance company - or an employer.

I know I'm not the only one who feels this overwhelming sense of hopelessness. And, for that, I'm very sad....  NO ONE should feel this way. Let me repeat: NO ONE SHOULD FEEL THIS WAY. Even you - if you're reading this and feeling sad.

Thank you INSURANCE COMPANY. Not only am I sick, but you've robbed me of the chance to even envision a future. Assholes (sorry for the language). How many people have you done this to? How many people have ended their lives because they couldn't reason with unreasonable faces? Sick bastards. How do you fight them? I even read an article about a person who was told that because she was fighting too hard for the insurance, she wasn't sick enough to get it. HOW RIDICULOUS!

Not sure what I can do to end this bullying. HELP!

Monday, 15 October 2012

Depressed Mom - Update

It's been a while since my last update.  Sorry about that.

A lot has been going on.

Insurance Company Settlement Offer
The stress of deciding whether or not to accept the settlement offer from the insurance company and my employer weighs on me heavily.  I keep reading horror stories from people saying that they had significant problems with the insurance company (before and) after they rejected the settlement offer.

I saw my doctor about the issue, and she said she didn't know if I'd be better in a month, or by July, or in a year.  She couldn't project my health.  She suggested that I continue to go through the hoops of long term disability, but ONLY IF I think I won't be forced to endure grief from the insurance company.  Sadly, I am worried that my recovery will be compromised by whatever decision I make. 

WHAT IF I NEVER GET BETTER?  WHAT IF THIS IS MY LIFE FROM NOW ON?  I wouldn't be able to cope.  And, I don't think I would be long for this world.  (Sorry for my frankness, but it's true... I would rather die than endure the torture from the insurance company). I am filled with worry and 'what if's'.

Of course, all of this makes sense.  The insurance company is banking on my fears of being cancelled to force me to accept a settlement offer that I might not be ready for. It is sick... VERY SICK. The insurance companies manipulating people who are sick - making them more sick - for their own financial benefit.

I will wait to talk to my lawyer... See what she suggests.

My psychiatrist dropped me... Of course, I started to cry.  He said he's gone as far as he could with me, so he referred my case back to my doctor (NOTE: first communication with my doctor). Basically, because I wasn't compatible with group therapy and I wasn't getting better/getting worse, I was told that I should visit my doctor for help. I feel abandoned. Translation: being a zombie with panic attacks is considered a cure and/or acceptable by the psychiatric community. Pretty pathetic.

Effexor Withdrawal
If you're depressed and taking anti-depressants, be VERY careful about which ones you take. Do your research before you pop a pill. Of course, if you're like me, you're too depressed to do research and discover the impacts of medication - when you're on it and when you decide to stop taking it.  I learned that antidepressants - which are supposed to be non-addictive - can create depressive symptoms as a withdrawal symptom. This makes you think you're still depressed and need to continue taking the medications.  I'd suggest you read The Anti-Depressant Antidote or Taking Anti-Depressants if you're considering taking or discontinuing the medication.

Tired of being a zombie with panic-attacks, DESPERATE to experience positive emotion, and wanting to know if I could function without them, I decided to stop taking the medication.  I tapered off my usage, and it's been horrible. The physical side-effects were (and are) brutal. And, now that I'm no longer on the medication, I don't know if it made a real difference in my life.  I don't feel happiness (although now I start to cry when something would have made me happy in the past); my anxiety levels haven't increased (or decreased), but the occurrence of anxiety has increased. Groan.  I don't know if it was a good decision to stop taking it, but something had to give.

I don't want to remain on medication forever... I want to be able to move on and live a 'normal' life... Whatever that might be.

Physical Sickness
I missed out on one of the nicest summers in recent history because of surgeries and illness. I'm still physically not well. Thankfully, I've enrolled in a pain clinic to help me out with my physical issues.