Becoming mentally healthy isn’t just about taking the right meds and seeing a shrink. It’s a lifestyle change. There are many factors such as diet and sleep that can affect your mood. It’s also very important to be aware of who you surround yourself with.
If you are a recovering alcoholic, the last things you need to be around are bars and people who drink, especially in the early days of your recovery. It will obviously get easier with time, but while the recovery is in its infancy, temptation and outside factors can set you back tremendously. It can make things a lot harder than they need to be and can lead to falling off the wagon. The same most certainly goes for depression.
If you have made concerted efforts to improve your quality of life and face the depression head on with doctors, medication and a change of lifestyle, it can be very challenging to be around others who are depressed. I have had to take stock of who I surround myself with and determine whether they are actually helping me recover or are detrimental to my health. While the natural instinct is to think “hey, I’ve sorted myself out, I can help others”, it is usually far more difficult than that. It is much easier for someone in a depressive state to bring you down to their mood instead of you being able to elevate theirs. I’ve had a few people in my life I have had to disassociate myself with because I was always brought down to their emotional level and I would be left questioning how healthy I really was. It was the perception of me being unhealthy to make that person feel better, rather than the reality that I was recovering and they were not. Misery loves company.
I find it very hard to be around people who suffer from chronic depression who do not take strides to get better. This may sound elitist, but the reality is, my health and happiness are more important than enabling someone else’s depression. I have no time for people who constantly remind me of who I used to be. Part of the process of healing is forgiving yourself for previous mistakes and taking ownership of them. This can become a lot harder if someone is constantly reminding you of your previous mistakes and relapses or are quick to jump on you for a current mistake by saying your meds need adjusting. I know who I used to be and I have taken steps to correct that. If I’m having an off day, which we are all allowed, depression or not (I will get into this more in a later blog), I don’t need to told that I am falling back into my old ways and I just up or change my meds. I’m not. I’m just having an off day.
That’s not to say that you should ignore people who say your mood is changing. My wife is one of my core group who can tell if my mood is off. I trust her advice implicitly. She doesn’t say it out of anger or spite. Usually I can feel that something isn’t quite right by the time she tells me, but it’s good affirmation that I may need to increase my meds for a few days.
I’m not saying to do a massive friend purge, but give your circle an overview to make sure people who claim to be on your side actually are.
On January 26th, 2008, my dad was in England celebrating his 54th birthday. At the same time, I was in Phoenix. I was sitting in my SUV and parked in my garage. The engine was running and there was a hose pipe running from the exhaust into the passenger window. I had downed two bottles of wine and was unconscious when the police found me. It would be the first of three suicide attempts over the next five weeks. The last of which involved an overdose of medication that put me in a coma for four days. I had taken what doctors consider two times a fatal overdose. I shouldn’t be here, but somehow I am.
My name is Craig W. Chenery and I live with clinical depression, chronic social anxiety and bipolar disorder. Notice I say I live with depression, I no longer suffer from it. I suffered for 33 years with undiagnosed depression, social anxiety and bipolar disorder. Despite the social stigma attached to these illnesses, I am not ashamed to admit I have them. There is far greater shame denying their existence and trying to live life like nothing is wrong. If I choose to ignore it, everyone else then has to deal with the fallout when I have a swing. Living with these illnesses is mandatory. It’s how I was programmed. I have no choice in that matter. Suffering, on the other hand is optional.
I always try to avoid the big three topics on my blog and other social network sites. Sex, religion and politics are the easiest ways to alienate people. That’s not to say I will avoid controversial subjects. Far from it. As part of an ongoing blog series, I plan to start discussing depression and mental disorders and how creators can not only live with these illnesses, but live full and productive lives.
I am not a doctor. I will not offer medication advice. We all work a little differently and what works for me, may not for you. Medications that would give me nightmares and hallucinations work perfectly well for others. Finding the right mix is a discussion for you and your doctor.
As a society, we don’t like to talk about depression and mental disorders. Sometimes it seems that the only time it is socially acceptable is when a celebrity commits suicide. Then it becomes a buzzword spoken around the water cooler for a few weeks and it’s quickly forgotten. That is to not downplay the loss of a celebrity’s life. The loss of any life due to depression, be it celebrity or otherwise is a terrible thing. But depression affects 8.5% of the adult population totaling almost 18 million. Bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million adult Americans, or about 2.6%. We’re not alone, not by a long shot. In the coming weeks and months, I will be discussing my journey with these illnesses and hopefully generating a dialogue with others.
When I present or speak on panels at conventions, usually I’m talking about zombies or Star Wars or other pop culture items close to my heart. This year for Phoenix Comicon I plan to do something very different.
When submissions open, I plan to submit a proposal to do a presentation/Q&A session on “Creating with Bipolar Disorder and Depression”. It is a topic I am very passionate about and have substantial experience with. I would like to share my experiences with a new audience. I know I will be putting myself out there a lot more than I have done in the past and will be wearing my heart on my sleeve. Hopefully my experiences will resonate with the audience. I will not be discussing medications or offering medical advice. That is what doctors are for and the last time I checked, I wasn’t a doctor. What I can talk about is my journey as an author and how my life has been before and after my diagnosis and treatment.
Creating with Bipolar Disorder and Depression is not easy and there are few resources available that address this aspect of the illness.
Fingers crossed that this is well received.
My long-time writing partner and friend of 21 years has just done something unbelievable. He has decided he doesn’t like the direction of the Butch G. Cat project and instead of handling it like a grown up, he has pulled the writing team and started a mutiny. At this moment the Butch G. Cat project is dead. Years and years and a few thousand dollars are potentially gone. More to come. To say I’m hurt, shocked, disappointed, disgusted is an understatement.
My silence in recent months was not planned.
In late September, I was rushed to the emergency room with severe abdominal pains. Words like colon cancer, emergency surgery and high white blood cell count were thrown around and suddenly my life became finite. It became clear that I only have a set amount of time left on this earth. That maybe I won’t get to grow old with my wife or see my daughter grow up to be a woman and possible parent of her own. And it scared the shit out of me.
My wife and I are no stranger to death, having lost siblings, parents, grandparents and friends, but I’ve never faced my own mortality like this before. To be frank it was terrifying. It was just me and my thoughts. It was not a great place to be. It was a mind full of regret, despair, anger and fear.
It ended up being a fluke occurrence, I did have to have surgery to remove a full obstruction to my lower intestines, but the experience has spurned me on to being the best person I can be. Be that as a husband, a father, a friend, a son, a brother and yes, as an author. I’ve always been a bit of a procrastinator and suddenly I was faced with the harsh reality of being out of time. I want to make the most of the time I have here. I have a wonderful life. A wife and daughter I love very much, many, many friends and a promising writing career.
I am back into writing “Don’t Make Me Come Down There” and am all in until it’s finished. This will be my defining work. It has every part of me in the story, the characters and especially the dialogue. I look forward to releasing it to the world next year.
When my time is up, I want to look back with no regrets, with my elderly wife beside me and my grown up daughter. I will not settle for less.