Capitalism = Isolation

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We live in a society that glorifies productivity, busyness and wealth.  I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how this capitalist value system doesn’t work for people with disabilities including chronic mental illness.  I’ve also been thinking about how glorifying busyness means devaluing human connection, caring and many tasks that are associated with women’s unpaid labour (housework, childcare, health care); as well as, devaluing self care (especially for women).

Those are a lot of big words.  As I’m adjusting to reduced energy levels and increased amount of symptoms related to my physical and mental health issues, I’ve been recognizing the need to slow down.  I’ve been more aware of my disability than usual.  I’ve been very keenly aware of how many people around me are addicted to, or glorify, being busy to the point of workaholism.  I’m aware of how many people around me are literally too busy to make a human connection.  I’m aware of how many people are putting careers first, trying to get ahead, trying to get rich…and putting off connection “for later” or for “when I’m successful enough.”   It’s incredible how many people are too busy to spend time with friends.  Too busy to go on a date.  Too busy to have a telephone call other than in the car in between “essential” tasks.

I’ve been reflecting on what is actually important to me and why I often feel like I just don’t fit in anywhere.

Quite honestly I have no interest in being so busy that I am too exhausted to enjoy my life.  I don’t want to be rich.  I don’t want to be famous.  I don’t want to have a bigger house or a fancier job. I don’t want to be the boss.  I don’t want to have fame.

I just want human connection, peace and happiness and I don’t think money can buy those things.  Neither can workaholism achieve them.  I want to have time to enjoy  my kids while they are young.  I want to spend the day cuddled in bed with a partner.  I want to have someone to cook for.  I want long talks over coffee.  I want to have someone to talk about my day with.  I want to be comforted when I’m afraid.  I want to create memories.  I want to feel like I have space to breathe!  And I want someone else who feels the same way.

It’s occurred to me that there is a much larger social problem going on around me when people I talk to don’t have time to meet for a coffee.  Not just one or two people, but the majority of people I know are so busy they have almost every minute of their lives scheduled.   I’ve been thinking a lot about how our society glorifies being busy.   Society equates being busy with being valuable.   Being productive with having inherent worth.

But where does that leave people who choose to stay home to take care of their children?  Where does it leave those who are living with either permanent disability or temporary illness?   When we don’t value unpaid caring labour we are not valuing some of the most important work in our society.  When we equate productivity and earning power with self worth we perpetuate abelism and the view point that disabled people are somehow less than whole, less than valuable or even expendable.

Equating productivity with self worth means that I’ve been conditioned to believe that resting, self caring, and hobbies have no inherent value.  This is not true.

Equating earning power with value, means that when I entered the workforce my years of full time parenting were not viewed as relevant experience, even though I was applying for jobs in the helping profession.

Capitalism creates a world where burn out is expected.  It is almost worn as a badge of honour by some people, how many hours they work and how much money they earn.

Lately as I’ve been forced to slow down and accept my own limitations, I wonder if some workaholics will have regrets.  I wonder when people are old and rich, but alone if they will feel sad.  I wonder if people feel satisfied with the lives they have, or if like me, they are yearning for more.  I wonder how many people in our society are deeply yearning for connection.  Connection to one another, connection to community, connection to nature and connection to something bigger than themselves.

It could be a radical act to accept our self worth is not connected to our net worth.

It could be a radical act to deeply value self care and caring for others.

It could be a radical act to care for our communities and help those around us who are less able, while still viewing them as complete and valuable human beings.

It could be a radical act to value connection.

(please note this blog entry is NOT meant to devalue the struggles of those who don’t have enough money for the basics of life, or who need to work long hours to provide the basics for themselves. Captialism is responsible for this as well, because a more communal philosophy would place stronger social safety nets in place, including a living wage!)

If depression were treated like a physical illness

The holidays can be a difficult time for people struggling with invisible illness such as mental illness or chronic pain.  During the holidays we are “supposed” to be happy.  We “should” relax and have fun.  We are “meant” to connect with friends and family.  It’s happiest time of the year, right?

But what if you aren’t happy?  What if you want to be happy and connected more than anything else, but you can’t be?  What if depression is stealing the happy, the relaxing, the fun and the connection right out of your holidays?

People all around me have been cancelling plans due to the flu, a cold and other winter illnesses.  This is acceptable and even expected in the winter time.   It’s even considered polite and good manners to stay home and keep your germs to yourself.  It’s understood that you aren’t feeling your best and that you have no energy when you have the flu. It’s okay to stay in bed and eat soup and sleep for hours.  People are sympathetic and nobody expects you to just “cheer up.”

I can’t even tell people that I’m sick. I can’t cancel plans.  I can’t stay in bed.   I feel disapproving looks from people around me when I’m not smiling and when I sit quietly or lose my temper  more easily that usual.  I’m exhausted, and I won’t feel better after a few days in bed.  Even if I could spend a few days there.

It’s Christmas time and I’m living with depression and anxiety.

Yes.  I’m sick.  I’m more severely depressed and anxious than I’ve been in a long time.

I want to call in sick to life.  I’m not even suicidal, I don’t want to die.  I just want to give up on “acting normal” and “keeping up appearances.”  I can’t imagine going back to work next Monday, the thought makes me panicky almost to the point of tears.  I have fantasies about developing some serious physical illness…nothing TOO serious, just enough to get me about a month off work with no questions ask, but not SO serious that I’d be in the hospital.  I want someone to take care of everything and take all the stress away.

This is what happens when society doesn’t acknowledge mental illness in the same way it does physical illness.  People who are depressed are lowered to the point of imagining horrible illness as a reason to be “justified” in taking sick leave, or even just taking the day off to rest.

Because when you are depressed you get treated like a misbehaving, whining child when you are not happy and not feeling connected.   When you are depressed you feel like a shitty parent when you don’t want to play with your kids, or you can’t enjoy your time with them.  When you are anxious and don’t want to leave the house you have to push yourself through it, even when you don’t enjoy a single minute of the activity you are doing.

When you are depressed, a “good night’s sleep” won’t fix it.  When you are depressed, “just cheering” up won’t work.

When you are depressed, you can’t just “lighten up” or “just relax.”

Believe me.  I WANT to relax.  I WANT to lighten up.  I want to laugh with my children.  I WANT to have fun with you.  I WANT to feel connected.  I WANT to feel like more than an empty shell marching through the tasks of the day.  I WANT to have energy.  I’m fully aware that I’m not acting normally and I’m terribly self conscious about it.  I feel guilty all the time about how depression impacts me and those around me.

I didn’t ask for this, any more than you asked for that cold, flu or stomach bug.

I didn’t ask for this, any more than anyone ever ASKS to be ill.

I don’t need to be fixed.  I don’t need suggestions on how I can help myself.  I don’t need to be told to look on the bright side.  (by the way neither do people dealing with chronic physical illnesses!)

I need you to keep me company while I shuffle through this dark period.  I need you to be there for me and to not judge me.  I need you to remember that I’m sick and not malingering or misbehaving or ungrateful or lazy.  I need you to remember that I’m trying my best and sometimes MORE than my best just to get through each day.  I’m using every ounce of energy to hide the depression from you, from my kids, from everyone.

I’m in pain.  I’m tired.  I don’t feel hopeful.  The world seems like a dark place and I can’t see the end of it because my thoughts aren’t clear.  Just as a runny nose and cough are symptoms of a cold,  depression makes me think that everyone hates me, that I’m worthless and that I don’t deserve basic things.   Just as a flu causes a high fever and aches, anxiety causes me to imagine horrible things and obsessive irrational thoughts.

These are symptoms.   It’s not a choice.

I’m depressed and anxious.  I’m sick and that is not a choice.

I had the best holidays I could, while not feeling well or happy.

 

Post-it notes

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Possibly one of the saddest moments in my entire story revolves around a post-it note.

During a particularly dark time in my life, sometime in early 2011, I wrote a series of 3 suicide post-it notes.  This is something I haven’t really shared with anyone.

I was completing my Master in Social Work, I was about to start my final placement.  I was working as a Teaching Assistant, attending classes and taking care of my kids.  On the outside I was functioning, but on the inside I was consumed with depression.  Looking back, I know a good part of the darkness was being caused by my increasing unhappiness within a sexually abusive marriage.  I began to feel like I had exhausted every option for recovery, every medication, every type of therapy, every treatment program and as a parent of two young kids I felt I had even fewer options.  I felt trapped and disconnected from myself and the ones I loved.

I don’t remember why I was upset or what happened that day, I do remember I wanted the pain to stop.  I was home alone, the kids were at school or daycare.  I saw a pad of yellow post-it notes one of the kids had left in my bedroom.  On it I scrawled three separate notes, one for my husband and one for each of my kids.  The notes basically said “I love you ___” and had a heart drawn under the words.   They looked like innocent little notes, the kind family members leave for each other to wish them a happy day.

But to me those were the most tragic post-it notes in existence.  In that moment where nothing was really making sense, I was saying goodbye.

I did hurt myself that day, but I went to the hospital to get it taken care of.  I didn’t tell the hospital staff about the post-it notes or about my despondent thoughts.  I let them fix me up and I went home.  I rarely discussed my suicidal thoughts in the Emergency Room unless I wanted to be admitted to the hospital.

When I got home my family was there and so were the post-it notes, unassuming and cheerful yellow papers.  But seeing them reminded me of my dark plans.  I hated those post-it notes with great passion.  They made me angry every time I saw them, but luckily anger was at least a feeling and not just numb emptiness.

The post-it notes stuck around the house for months before I finally threw them away.  I won’t ever forget them though.  They are a symbol of just how little anything ACTUALLY makes sense when you are severely depressed.  Things that seem logical in the moment are completely ridiculous and nonsensical when you are feeling brighter.  Choices that seem like the only option are revealed as unhelpful and fatalistic when you are recovered.

It’s important to hold onto this realization.  When you are severely depressed you are not thinking clearly.  When you are starved from an eating disorder you are not thinking clearly.  When you are triggered and in the middle of flashbacks you are not thinking clearly.

Don’t make decisions that could harm you or someone else when you are not thinking clearly.  Chances are you might regret it when you are calmer.   If possible focus on grounding and self care, or get help from others if you realize you are not thinking clearly.

Suicide wouldn’t have solved the problems in my life, it would have passed them on to my children, my parents and my close friends.  I can say this now, but I know for a fact that in a dark place I just won’t care.  The only thing I will think about is getting the pain to stop.

Luckily, in recovery, I know that depression is temporary and impulses to harm myself are passing thoughts.  Suicidal thinking and gestures are symptoms of depression and PTSD for some people.  Thinking about suicide can be a normal coping reaction to surviving violence.  Just thinking about suicide is not necessarily dangerous.  Sometimes it can be a way of feeling in control of something, which is actually a method of self preservation.  It is necessary to challenge the self destructive behaviours, but I try not to judge myself for the thoughts.

At the end of the day there is no difference between a person who sometimes thinks about suicide and one who does not.  There is not a special “crazy” class of folks who contemplate dying.  Suicide doesn’t discriminate.  Anyone can have the thoughts and it doesn’t make them weird, dangerous or a person to be feared or shunned.

Suicide survivors walk among us.

Sometimes the best thing you can do for a friend who contemplates suicide is to allow her to talk about her thoughts and impulses and listen without panicking and without judgment.  Validate her, let her know that you are sorry she is feeling SO awful that she feels life is hopeless.  Allow her to explore the thoughts with you, or encourage her to talk to a counselor, support worker, crisis line or doctor.  It isn’t your job to save her, it’s your job to be her friend.  Thank her for trusting you.  Let her know you care. By letting someone talk about suicide, you are reducing shame and creating a connection.

Connection is the opposite of depression.