What Should I Tell My Mentally Ill Friend? How Do I Help?

The worst therapist I ever had told me, “You’re a lost cause. No one can help you. You should kill your self because you’re wasting mine and everyone’s time.” Harsh? Yes. Tough love? Maybe. Helpful? No.

The best Psychiatrist I ever had said, “If you’re going to get better, part of you has to want to get better. You may hate yourself and hate this pain. That’s okay. You can be suicidal, but you have to deep down know there is something worth fighting for. I can’t help you if you can’t help yourself.” This changed my whole perspective on my fight with depression and mental illness.

I just gave you two examples. Two mental health professionals saying essentially the same thing. One, made me want to end it all permanently. The other, gave me something to think about- something to work for.

In my illness through the years I’ve gotten some advice that has been extremely helpful. I’ve also gotten a lot of advice that (though well intended) actually has been very hurtful.

When someone you know is struggling with a mental illness, it’s important to know a few very important things.

First, and most importantly, do not think you know what they are going through. You can Empathize but don’t Sympathize. Even if you have had similar experiences, trust me when I say everyone’s journey and pain is vastly different.

This idea comes often with people who are grieving. I lost my father this year and I got well meaning messages say “I know how you feel, I lost xyz” Well no, you don’t know how I feel because you don’t know me, or my relationship with my dad. I also don’t know you and what types of feelings you felt. I can’t imagine my moms grief because she lost her soulmate, her husband. I can’t even know my brothers grief because he had a different relationship with dad and he lives farther away. I’m sure I don’t know how he feels in his grief. In the same way, everyone’s mental illnesses, traumas, life journeys are different. You can’t know the pain I’m experiencing because you are not me.

Second, it’s important to understand the ill person before offering advice. Let me explain. Imagine a man has a tumor in his brain. He goes to the doctor and he recommends chemo and radiation because he is young and healthy otherwise. Now the next day, another man goes to the same doctor. He finds out he has the exact same tumor as the other man. Now this man is the same age and seems healthy enough. The doctor decides that this man’s tumor is inoperable and he is put on hospice. Same tumor, two different recommendations. The one man was healthy and his body could fight and withstand the chemo. The second man found this tumor because he was recently diagnosed with sage 4 lung cancer that metastasized to his brain. Without knowing the patient, we couldn’t possibly give advice to either one.

In the same way, people with mental illness have gone through different things. Some need medication to survive. Other may find therapy is enough. Some respond well to harsh criticism like my therapist above. Others need a gentle push in the right direction. Some people, like me, are treatment resistant, meaning I will likely struggle the rest of my life. Others get hit hard with it, but with therapy and a first line anti depressive can live a normal life in a few years. So, before giving advice, think about the person you are trying to reach. Maybe instead of telling them what to do ask them what they think has been helpful. Ask them if they need extra support and then ask what support you can give. Don’t assume anything. You can offer advice but make sure you say something like, “I’m not sure if this would help you and if it doesn’t that’s okay. I just wanted to share something I have done to help me when I’m feeling sad/anxious etc. Don’t feel any pressure but just know I am here for you if you ever need me and I want to help.” Be kind and loving. Asking questions can help more than giving advice most of the time.

The third and final thing to remember is to respect their wishes. *I will preface if someone is suicidal or homicidal the most loving thing you can do is reach out for help for them* I know it may be hard to see someone you love stay in bed all day. I get it. You can absolutely encourage them or try to entice them to get out of bed for a little bit. In the end though, do no force the person. It will only make them grow to dislike you.

If I say, I’m feeling suicidal but I will reach out for help if I need it. Trust me. I will reach out. You are welcome to check in on me but don’t call the police because I’m working through hard thoughts. It’s all a part of the process. It’s about learning your self and your emotions. Coping is about control urges and temptation. General reminders are good and can be helpful. Always ask what is the best was to help.

Obviously I am not a medical professional and this should be read from the perspective of someone with a mental illness. I can’t claim any of this will be true for all people but my hope is that sharing my experience can help others and help reduce some of the hardships mentally ill people face. Thanks for reading.

Hope Comes Through The Darkness

I share this because it was written in the darkness and it deserves to be brought to light. What follows is my suicide note that I drafted about five years ago.

I share this note now after coming through the worst year of my life in multiple ways. I share this note because I am alive! As dark as the following note may seem I have fought and I have won!

I am a survivor and I have survived multiple attempts at my own life. I proud to share my story. I’m proud to share my hope!

My heart is aching.  I hold this pain of the past and present.  I think of death everyday.  I think of the escape that it holds.  The sweet, sweet, relief its emptiness holds.  Its unknowns hold in its hands the key to my happiness.  Life on the other hand holds my sorrows, hurt, pain.  Deep pain that cannot be quenched.  Pain that a fire no amount of water can touch.

In my pain I have hurt others, countless others.  I scold them passing through. It would be better off if I weren’t here.  I would be better off dead.

My thoughts consume me. I am better of gone.  I am better off dead.  Those around me fail to see I hurt more than I help.  Everyone will move on without me.  Their lives will be better off.

Maybe I can’t share my feelings.  Maybe I have to keep pretending.

Maybe this is my goodbye.

I wish it would be.

I’m glad it was not. Stay alive friends.

 

Some Seriously Depressing Stuff

I have been yearning to write during the past couple of months but my brain forbade me. With everything going on in the world right now, politics, hate, the death of my best friend-my father, and seeing so much distress in others lives, I couldn’t put to words how I was feeling.

I was feeling like a shipwreck on an unknown island. I had to figure out a new way to live and come to terms with some hard losses. I’m still working on it. Grief is like a leach slowly sucking and draining my emotions. It’s always there reminding me. The smallest things set me off. I can’t focus. I sleep for 18 hours a day if I’m not working. If I am working I cry on and off for 8 hours straight before I get done. Then I go back to sleep.

I snap, I go crazy like a loose wire breaking it a windstorm. The electricity in my brain gives me a new surge of energy. I turn into a suicidal Harly Quinn with a smile on my face I will laugh as I tell my poor husband how I plan to inhale cloramines until I get to see my dad again. I’ll laugh through tears stumbling around trying to find something, anything to take away the pain and fear that grips me.

Hard Grief plus Bipolar Depression plus COVID 19 equals the worst possible combination of death eaters I’ve had the displeasure of knowing. There is only a handful of reasons to live and an ocean of reasons to die. Do I like those odds? Nope. I don’t think there is much I can do about it. I’m doing all that I can. I’m getting out, spending time with my Mom and Husband (my two biggest reasons to stay alive), I’m (trying) to keep going to work even when I can’t breath because the anxiety closes the chest in pain, I’m taking my pills, I’m talking to my doctors, I’m meditating, I’m eating healthy, I cut out pop, I’m exercising more. I’m doing it all right. Pain wins in the end.

I’ve started to discuss, much to my husband regret the possibility of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT). Over the years I’ve changed drugs so many times they are running out of things to prescribe. Perhaps rewriting my brain will be my only hope at getting ride of this dreadful disease. It’s a last resort, I know. But, I’m sick this same rotation. I should not have to find myself in this place over and over again. It has hurt relationships, jobs, and life. There has to be a solution.

I know there is more to life than this. I’m not meant to live my life crying underneath the blankets. I’ve seen good and I know it’s out there. I just wish my brain didn’t want me dead.

A Fathers Day Memorial

My dad was hilarious. He would make jokes in casual conversation that could make the whole room laugh. Even when the whole room didn’t laugh at the joke, I promise they would smile at the boisterous laugh my dad produced after telling said joke.

One joke he always told was when we would both be sitting in the living room, watching tv or whatever, and he’d look over and say, “Hey Tori, as long as you’re sitting there not doing anything. Can you get me some ice cream from the kitchen.” When he told this he was also not doing anything and generally closer to the kitchen.

He always loved spending time with his kids growing up. He didn’t mind listening to us talk about things he didn’t care about. He just liked to talks and spend time with us. I remember he had my brother convinced he was just as interested in Pokémon cards as my brother was.

When I was really young and not in school yet we would have “Daddy Tori Time” every Friday morning. It was my favorite day of the week. We usually would go out, just the two of us. We usually went to get doughnuts at our favorite place Marges Doughnuts. After we would do things my dad loved such as, go to Thrift Stores, Big Lots, Dollar Stores, and Garage Sales. It was my favorite time because he usually would let me buy a little something. It was so special.

You could always tell that we were related because we had a super similar taste in food. He passed on to me his love for peanut butter, all things cookies, and salt-on everything. He enjoyed life and passed that on to me. My favorite food he would make for me we called “Daddy’s Special”. Even in to adulthood I could count on him to make me the best Daddy’s special. All it was is buttered toast with peanut butter and apricot jam on top. It was simple but only my dad could make it just the way I liked it.

Dad loved to share stories from his childhood. If you got all the Torreson brothers in a room, I promise you could probably write a book using all the story’s they have from growing up on a farm in rural Iowa. From corn fights to big foot, you would find hours of entertainment.

One story my dad told I think captures his joking spirit. When he was a teenager he would work in the summer at some neighbors farm to make money. Well when he worked he would always borrow the owners work boots. One day, the end of the work day, he took off the boots and saw a couple of salamanders. He decided to put the salamanders in the boot to surprise his neighbor. The next day came and his boss told him that he was surprised when he put on the booths because he thought dad has left some wet socks in them. Apparently he didn’t mind though and continued working. When he took off the boots he was shocked to find the wet socks were salamanders.

I’ve probably never heard all the stories my dad could have shared. I am sad I’m starting to forget some of them too. His stories brought his personality to life. People who never sat and had a conversation with him missed out on so much joy and knowledge.

Much like in his story above he loved to pull pranks. Usually they were small, like taking your dinner plate and hiding it when you got up to get something to drink. He always laughed and laughed at your confusion when you came back. His face looked like that of a school boy when you walked in the room. You could always tell he was up to something.

My dad was one of the best people in the world and one of my best friends. When I was diagnosed with depression anxiety and bipolar disorder he was always understanding and loving. He could always listen and understand things I probably never would have felt comfortable telling anyone else. He understood when I shared with him terrible things I had done. He was able to relate with me. We shared a bond that was so deep because we understood each other in a way others didn’t. We were similar and that helped me. In my adult life I shared many heart to hearts with him over doughnuts at Marges.

My dad created these relationships with everyone he was close too. But probably the most noble quality was his commitment to our family. He worked every single day at a job he HATED. A job that drove him to depression, he would work hard at everyday to provide. He rarely complained. He held it in. In fact, I didn’t know just how much he hated his job until he was laid off 14 years later. He is a hero, a true hero.

I think my dad lived his best life. He loved us and his hobbies. He loved antique radios, lawnmowers, bikes, good food, and family. I can’t help but think he is doing all of those things and more in heaven.

I could write forever. I don’t think there is enough I could ever say that would come close to capturing how great my dad was. But with that, I beg those who knew him to share him. Help me keep him alive on earth with his memories and stories. One part of the COVID funeral that I really missed was the luncheon afterwards. You know, the one where people get up and talk about happy memories and share stories. I need that. Please comment here on my blog if you have anything you would like to share to keep his memories alive.

With the most broken heart and the hardest hurt I’ve ever felt, I wish my Dad, William Torreson, a happy Fathers Day, the first Fathers Day spent with our Heavenly Father. Love you Daddy.

The Struggle Of Faith

It feels strange to write again, however my thoughts need to be expressed. Sometimes I bottle up my thoughts and feelings to the point that it hurts me to continue on. It’s odd, as I have always been a talking a social. Growing into my adult self I found that the more I said the more shame or embarrassment I felt. I feel like I am wasting others time by talking. I’m sure that is the reason why I am privy to writing. I say what I want and no one has to read it. I can speak even if no one wants to listen.

That might be a long intro into what feels like an entirely different topic. The reason I bring it up, though, is that if you find yourself reading this, you can understand at least why I am writing it. It’s not that what I have to say is particularly important to anyone but myself. It’s that my words are some that may have been held in shame or embarrassment. I freely write these words to share my own personal experiences and pain. I share for myself but I do hope others may stumble upon these writings and learn. I pray they will learn from my experience.

With that, I want to begin my story my freshman year in college. I was young and full of hope for the future. As time went on I lost that hope. I’m fact, I lost all hope. I became withdrawn, frantic, obsessive, crazed, and I hated myself. This is how my journey started. I have shared that story on my blog before but this time I need to share something a little different.

During this time I thought I believed in God. I’m not sure if I actually believed or if I was putting on an act. This whole part of my life felt like I was putting on a show. The sicker I became the less I publicly professed my christian Faith. I hung on to it for a long time and tried to believe until something broke me.

I’m both ashamed and not ashamed to talk about this part of my journey. You see I became actively involved with a family of believers that encouraged me more than I could have ever imagined. Now I don’t think it’s fair of me to judge so I’ll say this as kindly as a can. I really believe this group of people had good intentions, unfortunately they did not understand mental illness. I try not to blame them as it’s a hard topic to understand unless you have experienced it firsthand. And though this is another topic entirely, it’s one reason we should be advocating for mental health first aid and training in our churches. Again, this wasn’t the case for me and I was asked to leave the group that became my family.

This event crushed my spirit, and absolutely demolished any shred of faith I had left. I was left feeling empty and broken. I was angry. I couldn’t sit in church without crying because I could no longer believe a loving God existed. I eventually stopped trying and claimed agnosticism. I didn’t know what I believed.

I went down a horrible dark road and after I never fully recovered. Even after getting married I still struggled with anger, questions, and doubts. I wanted to believe and I did research. I read books and studied the Bible. It never felt real to me. There was a disconnect and no matter how much I tried I couldn’t do it.

It’s interesting to think about your life as a story. I know everyone has one. It never turns out the way you expect. In February of this year, we found out my dad had Cancer. I knew he was going to die. Every hopeful thing we tried was cut short. I knew with every step he had very little time. I was lost and alone and without knowing where to turn I cried out to the God I used to know. I cried to the God I once believed in. I wailed and screamed. I talked and listened. He answered me with a stillness. I had never felt more at peace in my life.

I talked to him for probably an hour about everything on my mind and he answered by putting words in my head. I finally asked God if my dad was going to die. I felt a overwhelming “yes” wash over me. It was followed by images of heaven and my dad biking through the perfect mountains and fishing in perfect waters. I felt peace.

Not but two weeks later I learn he had passed. I hurt so much missing him. I would not be able to continue without that peace.

He prayed for me every single day. He loved me unconditionally. He listened to my doubts and anger. He forgave my mistakes and made me feel less alone. He gave everything to be a great dad. I believe he was praying for me the night I prayed about him.

My dad is gone and nothing can make up for the hurt or the sense of loss I feel. I grieve daily. I believe I will see him again someday. I’m a reborn Christian and despite the hurt, I’m thankful I was given this chance to embrace faith in Christ again and my identity in him.

Cursed Springtime

I hate the spring. Spring is supposed to be a time for new beginnings, but instead for me, it is filled it sorrowful losses. Today we received the news I was dreading to hear. My dad does not have much longer on this earth. As a child, we know these things will come. However it’s hard to think it’s coming so soon.

This isn’t the first time I received bad news in the spring time. All 3 of my deceased grandparents died in the spring. A neighbor who was like a grandfather to me passed away in the spring too. My Facebook “memories” this time of year are filled with obituaries and memories. Every year I brace myself for another loss.

The losses align well with my life as the hardest times for my mental illness also align with the spring time. My longest stay in the hospital, my terrible struggle with mania, and even now with this quarantine. Springtime seems to bring nothing but pain.

I feel selfish for feeling the way I do. I almost can’t handle the amount of pain that it inevitably coming. As awful as it sounds, I feel envious because I wish it was my life that we were counting down the days too.

I hate this cursed springtime that continues to bring death and pain. I hate that I’m so helpless. My dad is the most amazing man and he does not deserve this. None of us do…

Doubts and Shame

Do I believe?

Most of my adult life I have struggled with faith in a higher power.  My struggle stems from a lot of very bad “Christians” representing a God I cannot see.  I am supposed to be able to see God through their works, but I don’t.  I see good people and I see bad people and prescribing to a certain religious belief  seems not to correlate to what type of person you are.

I very much want to believe.  It is something I am constantly yearning for.  I want to believe in Jesus and I want to believe in the Bible.  I want to be a part of something bigger than myself.  In fact, I constantly am reading books and articles that set out to PROVE Jesus of the bible.  Books like Lee Strobles, The Case for Christ and I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Frank Turek and Norman Geisler have done a great job of convincing me the Bible and how it presents itself is an incredibly accurate historical book. 

At this point, I have found the thing that is truly the source of my doubts is Christians.  I can’t understand the things I see and hear and how are they supposed to represent this wonderful God that the bible portrays.  I suppose I do have a faith, though it be small.  At this point I know the God of the Bible is real and good and I believe he did amazing things.  I just have a hard time transferring this belief into a faith that I can be proud of.

I know Christians are told they will be persecuted for believing in Christ. My shame, however, stems not from knowing Christ, but instead from being associated with hateful Christians.  I can claim, “Hey, I’m different,” but so is everyone else.

So to answer my own question I guess, yes I believe. I am far from being free from doubts though.  I doubt why someone who loves Jesus would be so hateful.  I question why people who love Jesus would be so judgmental.   I question if it’s possible for anyone to actually believe they can worship on Sunday and then post hate speech on Facebook on Monday.

I mean I’m not perfect, but shouldn’t we at least try harder? Be better? Maybe my faith is really imperfect and it’s full of doubts, but I mean, at least I’m not hateful.  At least I’m trying to be a good person.

I keep hearing the beauty of Christ is you don’t have to do anything because he did it all, but maybe that’s not as good as it seems because people don’t try.  They don’t do anything to set themselves apart.  They walk around high and mighty claiming “CHRIST SAVES” but then they say, well except you.. and you.. oh and not you.  The sad part is people believe being hateful is being Christian.  That, is the saddest part.

I’m ashamed, not of Christ, but of Christians.

I wish

I wish I didn’t have this illness.

I wish I could live a normal life

I wish I didn’t have to ask the hard questions

I wish I didn’t disappoint people

I wish I didn’t think about death everyday

I wish I didn’t have to take pills just to stay alive

I wish I was able to be carefree

I wish I didn’t have to be hospitalized anymore

I wish I could live without fear

I wish I could live without doubt

I wish I didn’t have to explain myself

I wish I could be free

I wish I didn’t wish death would come quickly

I wish I was as happy as I pretend to be

I wish I was better

I wish I could get better

I wish I didn’t have this illness

I wish this illness didn’t have me.

Life Is

It’s funny how we come exactly how we go

Naked and terrified

The circle of life

It seems so arbitrary.

Life feels meaningless

When you have family that loves you

but you don’t love yourself

You remember life is just a vapor in the wind..

and no one will remember whether you come or you go

One hundred years from now.

no one will know your name

The circle of life.

It’s so arbitrary

They say give your life meaning

How can one do

as life means nothing to the stranger who’s wealthier than you

And no one knows your face a a million miles away

When your employer thinks your just a number not a name

When the judge says your guilty and you have never done a thing

It’s meaningless

You ask me to live, and I’m living only for you

never for myself

it’s impossible to do.

to be happy, to be content

without power or fame

Even they can’t be happy

Robin Williams and Cobain

The circle of life

It’s arbitrary you see!

Even religious men don’t seem happy to me

Faith in a God that brings peace and light

But I would rather just be in heaven

A perfect place

I dream of the day

Until then we will all wake up

putting a mask on our face

We will find meaning in the arbitrary

We will stay alive because we have to

because we have to

because we have to

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where is Happiness?

It seems I have lost it again

I’ve lost it so many times before

Maybe I’m just not meant to have it

It is easily given but easily forgotten

I found it as an Easter egg hidden under a bush

I saw it light up the sky after a ball game

It has licked my face and wagged its tail

I have felt it’s soft kiss and warm embrace

How could I lose it?

Where can I find it?

Instead, I always know where to find pain

It’s hidden in corners, cupboards, and boxes.

It puts on a mask and pretends to be your friend

I’ve heard it yell insults and threats and curses

I’ve held it’s hand on a date to the movies

I was raped by it in a cheap motel room

I drank it down to forget

Oh I know where to find darkness

Darkness is easy to find.

It sits in my brain waiting for its day

It makes my heart bleed out on to my arms

It speaks to me telling me I shouldn’t be

I have found darkness.

But, where is happiness?