I’d feel really good for awhile… go to yoga, cook healthy meals, enjoy my family. I’d think “Ya, I got this. As long as I take really good care of myself, I won’t get depressed. I’m doing what the world tells me to do: exercise, eat well, be with those you love, be grateful.”
I’d do all that, again and again and again.
But no matter how hard I tried, the good times always came to an abrupt halt. I’d inevitably find myself miserable, exhausted and curled up in bed. The voice in my head now berating me for not exercising ENOUGH, for not eating well ENOUGH, for not being grateful ENOUGH. I would burrow deep under the blankets, attacked by the thoughts in my head with nowhere to escape them.
And then that cloud would lift and I would once again feel hopeful that maybe this time, I could get it all under control. A longer gratitude list, perhaps.
So I would get back to it: exercise, good food, rest… and I would feel great. Until I didn’t.
Again, it would all crash down around me. No matter how “perfect” I was in the good times, the bad times would always return.
When I was 21, my psychiatrist diagnosed me with rapid cycling bipolar but when I read about it, it never felt right. Although the inevitable mood shifts were familiar, the descriptions of mania weren’t something I had ever experienced.
The years passed… finishing university was incredibly difficult. Attending regularly and keeping up on my homework was always a challenge.
I would excel when I was feeling good. I would crumble when I didn’t. I thought I was weak. I thought I was broken. I thought it was all my fault for not taking good enough care of myself. And the world around me, the not-so-helpful self-help movement, would feed me the same line, telling me that my willpower was weak, my mindset wasn’t right, my routines not optimized.
In the last few years, the cycling became much more pronounced. I could feel wonderful one day, capable of changing the world. And the next day I couldn’t get out of bed. I hated myself. Why didn’t I have the willpower to overcome my moods? Why wasn’t that damn gratitude list changing my life the way all the life coaches said it would? I dug myself into a deeper and deeper hole, blaming myself for my pain, convinced I just needed to be more diligent to overcome it.
Then one day, after yet another absence from work due to anxiety, I typed these words into Google: “depression during PMS”. It seemed like the hardest days were always before my period and I wondered, for the first time, if there was a connection.
And there it was: Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder.
I read over the symptoms. I looked back over my calendar.
For so many years I had felt like I was going crazy. I had hated myself for not being able to control my moods. I had pretty much given up on ever being successful, never able to show up consistently the way the professional world demands.
But suddenly, with my menstrual calendar and my absences from work neatly aligned, I had hope.
Tears lined my cheeks.
The Mood Disorders Association of Ontario describes Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder as:
…a condition associated with predominantly severe psychological symptoms which cause disruption of the daily lives of affected women. Dysphoria is derived from the Greek word dusphoros, which means hard to bear. The symptoms of PMDD are recurrent. They usually start seven to 10 days before menstruation and decrease within a few days of the onset of menstrual flow. Then, they disappear completely until the next premenstrual phase.
Unlike PMS, PMDD symptoms are very severe, completely disrupting the lives of women affected by it. Women diagnosed with PMDD usually present 5 or more of the following symptoms:
- Very depressed mood, feelings of hopelessness
- Marked anxiety, tension, feelings of being “on edge”
- Marked mood shifts (e.g., suddenly feeling tearful or extremely sensitive)
- Persistent or marked anger or irritability or increased interpersonal conflicts
- Decreased interest in usual activities (e.g., work, school, friends, hobbies)
- Difficulty concentrating
- Fatigue, tiredness, loss of energy
- Marked change in appetite, overeating, food cravings
- Insomnia (difficulty sleeping) or sleeping too much
- Feeling out of control or overwhelmed
- Physical symptoms such as breast tenderness or swelling, headaches, joint or muscle pain, “bloating”, weight gain
I thought back over the years… my ex had once complained that every month, before my period I would “tear our life apart”… suddenly everything made sense: why I cycled but never experienced mania, why no matter how hard I tried, I would always dip, always end up exhausted, anxious and depressed.
Part of me was angry. I was a mental health worker and advocate, how did I not know about this? How had no doctor ever suggested it? How did something so big and so obvious stay hidden right there in plain sight?
The answer to all these questions is simple, though not necessarily easy to stomach. Like most, (if not all), women’s health issues, we are under-educated. More and more studies are coming out illustrating the drastically different experiences women and men have when seeking medical treatment. Women are considered to be imagining their symptoms, often treated with anxiety meds and told to rest. And moving beyond the patient-doctor interaction, our medical knowledge is based almost entirely on the study of the male body. Caroline Criado Perez presents numerous cases and data points of the bias in her new book “Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men.”
The reality is, if our healthcare system didn’t suffer from such extreme gender bias, the (male) psychiatrist who diagnosed me with rapid cycling bipolar would have asked me to track my moods against my cycle. My (female) doctor would have suggested the same at some point. This diagnosis could have been made almost twenty years ago, maybe saving me from dropping out of university, losing a full scholarship, missing a full semester of college, intense postpartum depression, maybe even divorce.
The simple truth is, if even one of my many medical practitioners had thought to consider PMDD, my life today might be very, very different.
Of course, getting hung up on “what ifs” for too long doesn’t help, so instead I look forward.
For the first time in years, I have real hope. I’m no longer scared of the ever-recurring funk that descends upon me, throwing my whole world into question. Instead I can plan my life in a way that respects and honours my body, my moods.
Few women ever find complete relief. Most, like me, take antidepressants to keep their moods manageable but still need to make significant life adjustments to manage. For me that means keeping my expectations low during my PMDD weeks. I don’t make a lot of plans. I give my loved ones a heads up on my mood. I rest as much as possible. I don’t judge myself for having an extra movie night with the kids or feeding them cereal for dinner (not that any busy modern mother should judge themselves, more to say about that another time).
I finally feel like I’m no longer stuck on a mood roller-coaster, smashing haphazardly through my life. Now, I’m the driver. I know there are high times and low points. I have the map. I can see the dips coming and give myself more compassion until I rise again. And in the good times, I can soak them up without worry that staying up too late or an extra piece of cake will mean an emotional crash the next day. I can’t control it, which for some might feel scary but for me, it’s incredibly freeing. Not being able to control it means it’s not my fault.
Statistics say that 1 in 20 women have PMDD but also that 90% of PMDD cases go undiagnosed so the numbers could easily be higher than suggested. If you experience mental health issues that seem to come and go, please take the time to track them along with your menstrual cycle for a few months. Knowledge is power. Sometimes we just need to understand our crazy in order to stop feeling so damn crazy.
Sometimes we speak truths that we only know once we hear the words leave our lips. It was one of those moments. The other day, on the back couch in the late afternoon sun. A warm support on the other end of the phone.
“I want to blog and I want it to be fun!”
I’m so sick of the rules. Of content marketing. Of online business. Of monetizing.
Of trying to position myself as an expert.
I’m going to write whatever I want. And it’s going to be fun.
This space is for my own self-expression. That’s why I bought parrishwilson.com YEARS ago… knowing that one day I would create for the simple purpose of creating. Because that’s how I feel pulled to show up in the world.
Sometimes. And sometimes I don’t.
Sometimes I want to read, advocate, parent, binge Netflix, drink beer, walk in the sun, laugh, love. And all those wonderful things give me interesting ideas and stories to write about. So how about that. I’ll just write.
No more coaching. No more editing. No more positioning myself as someone who knows so much about writing. I just want to write, free of the pressures that come with trying to make an income from it. I want to be a student of writing rather than a teacher. I want to write for the simple sake of writing.
No more shoulds.
No more thoughts to the expectations of others.
I just want to show up to the page and play.
I just want to have some fun.
Too many days on the couch. Too many Netflix episodes watched (thank you, Jane The Virgin). Too many moments spent feeling sorry for myself. Too many hours thinking I should be more productive.
Week after week.
It’s been just over five weeks since I fell, missing a step and landing on my toes, rolling forward with my foot taking all my weight in a way it is simply not designed to without on pointe ballet shoes and years of training.
And we were in the middle of a month long trip to Costa Rica.
I’ve tried to write about other things, really, I have. But this is all I can think about – how fucking pissed I am that I lost two weeks of our trip. How fucking tired I am of lying on my couch with my foot up. How much I want to feel strong and capable again instead of scared and helpless.
Yesterday, a mid-February day in Ontario, it was unseasonably warm outside and I was committed to walking around the block, the farthest, by far, that I have walked in the past 5 weeks. So there I was, getting myself ready to go and casually asked my sweetie to join me but he said no. He said he had work to do. I flipped out, as one does when their first steps in the sunshine are not seen as momentous to others as they are to the one who has been on the couch for weeks. I ranted and raved about him missing out on the sunny day, about how we have this time we could be spending together and all he ever does is work. I threw my fit. He threw his.
Alone in the bathroom, post-argument and just minutes before putting on my winter clothes to leave the house, I realized that I was scared to go without him. I realized that in fact, if he didn’t come, I wouldn’t feel safe going on my own. What would I do if I came across a big patch of ice? What if I slipped and fell and got hurt again?
And yet I didn’t tell him this when I emerged from the bathroom. I stuck with stubborn and told him I expected him to come with me no matter what, staying quiet about the fact that in that moment I felt like I needed him.
Because I’m pretty sick and tired of needing him, truth be told.
Needing him to make me a cup of tea, to get me down the back stairs to the car, and in those early days before we had found crutches (not the easiest items to find in a tropical paradise) I even needed him to get me to the bathroom, to get the clothes I wanted to wear from my suitcase. I’m not keen on being needy. I’m not keen on losing control.
I’m not keen on messy, imperfect, difficult life realities. I prefer life to do as I expect it to so that I can find my way through the days without having to come close to anything that might taste like vulnerability.
Only in my writing do I find my vulnerability interesting, soothing even. Only when the fears shape themselves into words do I feel safe exploring them. This has done me well so far in life, using journals and blog posts to examine my inner workings, the harder feelings, the scarier truths but I know another possibility is calling me, one that gives space to real life, face to face vulnerability. To the deeper connections that are only available in messy relationships that hold space for vulnerability, that honour its power.
Vulnerability has power. Don’t doubt it. It takes what may appear simple and dull, and illuminates its truth, its sparkle, its depth. It cracks open windows and lets in the fresh, sunny air. It weaves together incredible, committed love. In fact, its power might be what scares you must about it.
So perhaps, if one was to look for meaning in my busted foot, one would see the opportunity to be needy, helpless and vulnerable as a good thing. As a learning opportunity. As growth. But, lest you think I’m starting to like this, I will admit that right now the idea of being more vulnerable in real life makes me nauseated, makes me squirm with discomfort, in fact as I write this, a look of disgust is coming over my face. I don’t do real life vulnerable. But unfortunately, I know a commitment to it is on my path.
In the weeks leading up to my injury, as I contemplated a theme for 2017, words like “messy”, “naked” and “trust” came up again and again. Ultimately I landed on “Sacred Connection”, knowing that would only be realized with a very deep commitment to vulnerability, truth and faith. Despite the angst this theme caused me, I knew it was the one that most deserved my dedication. So considering that, if you really want to take the woo-woo to the next level, one might even see this injury as the universe delivering me exactly what I asked for. But fuck, I would have appreciated a simpler lesson. (Though it could also be argued that the universe has been trying to teach me this lesson for awhile now…)
Or maybe, shit just happens sometimes. Sometimes you just miss a step.
Either way, being the introspective, find-meaning-in-everything kind of person that I am, I will try out vulnerability in real life, daring it stay longer than the walking cast or cane. I will choose to see its power rather than fear its process. I will allow it to crack open a window, letting in the fresh air and sunlight in little ways that keep the discomfort at a minimum, and in big ways too, nausea, squirmy-ness, disgust and all.
And so, as I write these last words, I will muster up the courage to once again ask for a little help, this time in the form of strong shot of espresso delivered to me here, on the couch.
It’s another stunning sunset on Playa Jaco. The sky transforms from crystal clear blue to vibrant red, orange and pink…
My sweetie and our youngest play in the sand, digging holes and filling the plastic dump truck until it overflows…
I’m sitting a few feet away on a folding chair brought from our rental house, my foot, in a removable brace that goes halfway up my calf, resting on an upside down sand bucket. I wish I was on the ground playing or bobbing between the salty waves. I wish I could run and splash and be silly.
But I can’t, so I sit and watch.
And in a moment when self-pity and disappointment are threatening to wash over me, I am suddenly overwhelmed by a knowing that this is OK. This moment, this incredibly imperfect moment is OK. No, it’s not how I imagined it would be. Yes, I would love for it to be different. But it is what it is, and it’s OK.
Imperfectly, I am still sitting on this beach, watching this sunset. My youngest is covered in sand, building memories with his father (well, he probably won’t remember them because he’s three, but we will). My oldest is back at the house, beating his grandfather at Rummy.
Not every memory needs to be perfect to matter. Life doesn’t need to follow a pre-planned path, each day organized for optimal experience, to be right, worthy and wonderful.
Life can be messy. Everything can fall apart – you can break your big toe and strain all the muscles in your foot halfway through your month in Costa Rica – and it’s alright.
A good life is not made up of perfectly executed moments but rather a good life is one full of love, no matter the mess.
And my sudden realization goes a bit deeper… not only need our life not be perfect to be grand, but we need not be perfect to be loved.
I, in fact, don’t have to be perfect to be loved.
Unable to cook for the kids, or wipe poopy bums, or take a shower without help, my sweetheart has loved and cared for me every moment of the last 10 incredibly difficult days. He has not lost his patience once. He has reassured me every time I’ve cried.
And right here I am brave enough to say I would not have been so patient were the roles reversed. You see, I expect perfection. From life. From myself. From those around me.
Oh, the joys I am missing because of that foolish expectation!
And so I go even deeper in this new found respect for imperfection…
I don’t have to be perfect to love myself.
I can love the imperfection in me. I can love the mistakes. I can love the parts of me that are not ideal. I do not need to withhold love to any degree, awaiting some unattainable achievement of an ideal self.
How did I not know all this before??
In this moment it seems so simple.
Of course life is not perfect. Of course we are not perfect. And yet there is still love. Deep, true, authentic love.
Imperfections and all.
Sitting here, as the sun made it’s final dip below the horizon, with my busted foot on an upside down sand bucket, there’s love.
I’m taking a break from writing my blog posts so that I can focus on writing my book but I really wanted to share with you my adventures in Costa Rica with my family this month. I’ve been travelling to Costa Rica since I was 14 after my father moved here and this is the first time as a family of four that we’ve visited.
So… I’m doing regular Facebook Live videos and then bringing them together here as blog posts. You’re welcome to watch live on my Facebook page or catch up right here:
Work + Travel + Kids. The truth.
Posted by Parrish Wilson on Thursday, January 12, 2017
Thanks for following along! This country holds a special place in my heart and this is a really fun way to share my family’s experience here. I hope you enjoy these little peeks into our travels. Let me know in the comments or on my Facebook page if you have any questions about this beautiful country, its people or our adventure.