Author Archives: Anita Levesque

About Anita Levesque

Anita is a mental health advocate with lived experience through loved ones; father - bipolar; brother - PTSD, depression, anxiety; mother - PTSD; boyfriend - clinical depression, severe OCD, GAD, personality disorders. Her goal is to focus on personal experiences with mental illness.

LOVING SOMEONE WITH A MENTAL ILLNESS AND VALENTINE’S DAY

downloadValentine’s Day is here and it’s a day to express love and affection towards family, friends and loved ones. It’s an emotional day for most, but it can be a frustrating day for others, especially for those living with a mental illness.

I remember the first Valentine’s Day with my boyfriend. Even though it was a new relationship and we were just getting to know each other, we treated Valentine’s Day just like any other day. For me it was a day to show affection, but not it wasn’t for him. You see, my boyfriend lives with a mental illness and when he first moved in, 2 months prior, I discovered that he was not on any medication and as a result he couldn’t tell me how he felt. I didn’t completely understand then, but I do now.

He lives with clinical depression and with that comes sleeping all day, not wanting to do anything or go anywhere, and emotions are put on hold (don’t want to laugh and don’t know how or what to feel). He also lives with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which adds anxiety to the depression. Now you add dealing with the fear of going outside and the fear of talking to someone (you don’t want to text, call or email anyone). When you’re in a relationship you may also see paranoia, at least I did. He would ask me questions like “Do you love me?” “Why do you love me?” “Why don’t you find someone else, someone with a stable mind?”

Something else that I noticed, was that he couldn’t be touched when he was upset, anxious or panicky. The best thing I could do in those situations was to just talk to him and provide reassurance. What helped me the most was reading all I could on other people’s experiences of mental illness. I found it helped me to better understand him and his needs.

I’m not afraid to say it was a rough year, but it was worth it. We made it through. For the past 2 years now, he has been going to therapy and taking his medication, and we couldn’t be happier.

If you have a loved one that lives with a mental illness, I have some advice for you:

1. Please be patient. I know it can be frustrating and upsetting, but it will be worth it.

2. Your loved one will need reassurance. Don’t be afraid to tell them you love them even though they may not be able to express the same back to you.

3. Be sure to take time for yourself. What you’re experiencing may drain you mentally.

Overall, just remember that Valentine’s Day might look different for you and your partner, but the important thing is that you’re with your loved one and that you do love them and see them for who they are and not their mental illness. Also remember that they DO love you, even if they don’t always express it.

By: Anita Levesque

Anita is a mental health advocate with lived experience through loved ones; father – bipolar; brother – PTSD, depression, anxiety; mother – PTSD; boyfriend – clinical depression, severe OCD, GAD, personality disorders. Her goal is to focus on personal experiences with mental illness.

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Mental Illness Portrayed in the Media

thumbnail_24715Chances are the majority of knowledge of mental health comes from the media. Researchers have suggested that most portrayals in the media are stereotypical, negative and incorrect. Stigma towards mental health has been in the media as far back as the 1800’s, with a prime example of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” depicting Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), which was formerly called split personality disorder or multiple personality disorder. An inaccurate portrayal of people with mental illness has created negative stereotypes in all types of media (internet, television, and print material such as magazines and newspapers).

In most cases, the psycho killers, crazy girlfriends/boyfriends, stalkers and criminals all have some kind of mental illness, according to Hollywood. All too often, this results in a culture of fear and ignorance towards mental illness resulting in stigma. Contrary to popular belief, studies have shown that the majority of people living with a mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence, rather than being the perpetrators of the violence. However, popular TV shows like “Criminal Minds” that depict crimes being committed by people with mental illness only help reinforce this stereotype and continues to create a universal fear. Sometimes the stigma attached to mental illness is so strong that people are unwilling to seek help out of fear of what others may think.

The current movie “Split,” which came out in theatres on January 20, 2017, has a lot of controversy within the mental health community. I have read comments on Facebook from people who live with mental illness and still want to watch the movie because it’s just that – a movie. There are others who live with mental illness and are disgusted at how the movie presents DID, formerly known as split or multiple personality disorder, and is also frequently mislabeled as Schizophrenia. My boyfriend and I went to see “Split” and we didn’t find the movie as bad as it was made out to be. I felt that it did portray how someone with DID functions and what can happen. I liked how the psychiatrist in the movie defined DID by explaining how the brain works and how the personalities co-exist. Overall, I thought the movie was well done and that the trailers made it look worse than what it actually was.

It’s important to keep in mind that portrayals of mental illness in the media are only an issue when they falsely portray the illness by using negative stereotypes that affect those living with a mental illness. Here is a partial list of movies that honestly depict mental illness in their true form:

1. Rain Man (1988)-Autism
2.What About Bob (1991)-Anxiety
3. As Good As it Gets (1997)-OCD
4. A Beautiful Mind (2001)-Schizophrenia
5. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)-Bipolar
6. Inside Out (2015)-General mental health
7. Benny & Joon (1993)-Schizophrenia

What can we do to help end this stigma in the media?

1. We can call or write to the publisher or editor of the newspaper, magazine, book, or radio and TV station and help them realize how their publication has affected those people with a mental illness.

2. Start a discussion about that movie, TV show, or article that you read. Explain to people what it’s really like living with a particular mental illness and highlight the discrepancies found in the media.

3. KEEP TALKING & KEEP LISTENING

By: Anita Levesque

Anita is a mental health advocate with lived experience through loved ones; father – bipolar; brother – PTSD, depression, anxiety; mother – PTSD; boyfriend – clinical depression, severe OCD, GAD, personality disorders. Her goal is to focus on personal experiences with mental illness.

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Having a Loved One with Depression/Anxiety and Attending Family Gatherings

 

downloadWhen thinking about the holidays, it’s easy to envision a scenario like this: people getting ready for a family gathering, preparing the gifts, dressing the kids, getting everyone in the car, knocking on a door, having Grandma answer it and give everyone a hug and kiss, and having everyone go inside to see all the other family members to celebrate the holiday. This picture perfect scenario is not a reality for many people, particularly for those with anxiety and/or depression.

My father lived with manic depression and anxiety. Family gatherings were not his favourite. When we would go to family gatherings, there were a lot of relatives and only a few of them knew about my father’s manic depression. Back in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, not a lot was known about mental health, so there was a lack of understanding. My father would become anxious about going to these gatherings and we never knew what he would do or say, or if anyone would comment on his behaviour. Sometimes my family members would say something that would end up hurting my father’s feelings and we would leave the family gathering early. They would bring something up from the past and it would grow into a huge ball of anxiety, frustration, anger, embarrassment, and humility. After awhile, we stopped going to family gatherings all together, as there would always be someone who didn’t want my father there because of something that had happened in the past.

Family gatherings are meant to be fun, memorable, and an opportunity to get closer to one another. When a loved one lives with anxiety and/or depression, it can become a very stressful event. Things are said and done that cause anxiety and eventually the feeling of being trapped occurs, which can result in a panic attack.

When a loved one has anxiety and/or depression, the anticipation of the event can sometimes be worse than actually attending the event. Your loved one may ruminate about all of the possible outcomes and consequences days, even weeks, before the event. Sometimes the preparation of the event can be stressful as well. If it’s Christmas, gifts have to be ready, if you have pets, they have to be taken care of before leaving, if there are children, they have to get ready. All this preparation has to be done within a certain timeframe and can cause the anxiety to heighten.

You may not always be able to control your relative’s actions towards your loved one during a family gathering, but you can help reduce the anxiety that they may feel by:

1. Finding an ally. If there is a relative who is positive and comforting, go with your loved one and begin a conversation.
2. Set limits. You cannot control what someone else says or does, but you can help your loved one come to terms with the fact that it’s okay to speak up for oneself and to know when it’s time to walk away.
3. Bring a distraction. At times your loved one may start to feel overwhelmed. You can help by bringing some comforting items that they enjoy in order act as a distraction from all the chaos, such as an IPod, a book, or board games.
4. Focus on the good.  During the anxiety-provoking situation, you can help your loved one by getting them to focus on the good. There is always something positive that can be found that can be a calming distraction. You can suggest things like talking to a relative who has a positive, understanding energy, reading stories to the children, or assisting with the meal. Doing something positive will calm your mind and reduce the anxiety/depression.

Understanding what is happening and having a plan to make it through a family gathering can increase your loved one’s sense of control and ultimately decrease their anxiety.

By: Anita Levesque
Anita is a mental health advocate with lived experience through loved ones; father – bipolar; brother – PTSD, depression, anxiety; mother – PTSD; boyfriend – clinical depression, severe OCD, GAD, personality disorders. Her goal is to focus on personal experiences with mental illness.

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What is High-Functioning Depression?

hidden-depression-FIHow well do you know your friends, co-workers or even family? It may seem that you know a lot about them, but they may be hiding a part of themselves from you. What you may see on the surface is a happy marriage, a great job, and lots of friends. But what you won’t see is the unhappiness, lack of energy, and constant self-doubt, which are all symptoms of high-functioning depression.

Depression can be devastating and debilitating for anyone. It affects nearly 350 million people worldwide, and you probably know someone who lives with depression. People tend to be more familiar with major depressive disorder (MDD), as the symptoms are more visible. Symptoms of MDD can be physical and mental, such as exhaustion, irritability, appetite changes, loss of interest or motivation, and a sense of overwhelming hopelessness, just to name a few. These symptoms are often present in high-functioning depression as well, but to a lesser degree. It can be hard for someone with high-functioning depression to identify their symptoms as depression because they often mask their symptoms and so it doesn’t match the stereotypical picture of depression. Some signs to look for include: being an overachiever, constant self-criticism, feeling like you’re wasting time, and substance abuse.

The exact cause of high-functioning depression isn’t known. However, as with MDD, it may involve more than one cause, such as biological differences, brain chemistry, inherited traits and life events. One of the most difficult aspects of high-functioning depression is people’s ability to blend into society and the lack of understanding that goes with it. Examples of celebrities with high-functioning depression include Kristen Bell, Dwayne Johnston, Lady Gaga, and J.K. Rowling.

Here are a few additional things to know:
1. People cannot understand the complexity of the symptoms unless they’ve lived through it
2. Everyday activities feel impossible
3. Illness doesn’t have to be seen to be real
4. Checking in on the person is appreciated
5. It goes deeper than life’s circumstances
6. Outside appearances don’t always match what is going on in the inside
7. The tiniest gesture can go a long way
8. Those with high-functioning depression are more likely to commit suicide than those whose depression is more visible
9. Treatment does work and varies for everyone

By: Anita Levesque
Anita is a mental health advocate with lived experience through loved ones; father – bipolar; brother – PTSD, depression, anxiety; mother – PTSD; boyfriend – clinical depression, severe OCD, GAD, personality disorders. Her goal is to focus on personal experiences with mental illness.

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Tips on how to Help a Loved one with a Dual Diagnosis

 

drugabuse_istock-57702162-young-woman-upset-with-therapistOn September 12, 2016, I went to listen to former NHL player Clint Malarchuk speak for the World Suicide Prevention Day. He touched on how he would mix his medication with drinking and how it affected his mental illness, himself, his family and his suicidal thoughts.

I do know, from personal experience, how important it is to NOT mix alcohol and drugs or certain medications when you live with a mental illness. My father had a severe back injury, when I was one, and eventually became addicted to the pain medication. His addiction only heightened his manic depression episodes and suicidal tendencies. Further, my boyfriend started drinking and using drugs at a young age due to his panic and anxiety attacks. He found that alcohol and drugs were the easiest way to control and hide his mental illness and live his life. His first suicidal attempt was a result of being put on the wrong medication and almost overdosing on a mixture of street drugs, alcohol, and prescription medications. Years later, he attempted suicide again by overdosing on prescription drugs because he felt trapped and alone. All his life he`s lived with severe OCD, clinical depression and GAD. Here he is, in 2016, clean and sober for over 10 years, on the right medication and has a great support system.

A lot of people who live with mental illness tend to become addicted to either alcohol or drugs because it`s how they suppress and numb the mental illness and how they`re feeling. They may not know what resources and support are out there for them. They may be afraid and ashamed to ask for help.

The best way to help someone is to accept what you can and cannot do. You cannot force someone to stay clean, nor can you make someone take their medication or keep appointments. What you can do is make positive choices for yourself, encourage your loved one to get help, and offer your support while making sure you don’t lose yourself in the process. Below are some tips on how to support a loved one with a dual diagnosis.

1. Seek support. Dealing with a loved one’s dual diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse can be painful and isolating. Make sure you’re getting the emotional support you need to cope. Talk to someone you trust about what you’re going through. It can also help to get your own therapy or join a support group.

2. Set boundaries. Be realistic about the amount of care you’re able to provide without feeling overwhelmed and resentful. Set limits on disruptive behaviours and stick to them. Letting them take over your life isn’t healthy for you or your loved one.

3. Educate yourself. Learn all you can about your loved one’s mental health problem, as well as substance abuse treatment and recovery. The more you understand what your loved one is going through, the better able you’ll be to support recovery.

4. Be patient. Recovering from a dual diagnosis doesn’t happen overnight. Recovery is an ongoing process that can take months or years, and relapse is common. Ongoing support for both you and your loved one is crucial as you work toward recovery.

By: Anita Levesque

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