It’s #BellLetsTalk Day, which here in Canada is the one day of the year that people—for better or worse, and sometimes to just bash Bell—stop to talk about mental health. I’m not getting into the Bell thing—it’s a thing.

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What I am getting into is this country has taken the time to pause and reflect. This is awesome. I have seen so many of my friends on Facebook share their struggles and triumphs and stories of living with anxiety and depression; of going to therapy and of choosing to try medication. People who have dealt with these things since childhood, or who are navigating mental health concerns for the first time as adults. To all of you who have shared your stories—today or any other day—I am so proud of all of you. Thank you for being bold, embracing who YOU are, and sharing your journey: I hope that it makes people in your world see “mental illness” differently, and see you just the same, because you are. You are important and your story is important. Every damn day, not just today—the highs, the lows, your story is important. Every. Freaking. Day. 

I am right here with you.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, but one that is also considered by some—including the Canadian Mental Health Association—a mental illness. Like depression and anxiety, ADHD is caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, specifically neurotransmitters.

And I’ll be honest, there are days that I can’t believe that. There are days that I see attention deficit disorder as a blessing or a gift or whatever cheesy, cliche thing people say and how could that be a mental illness? How could it be something that isn’t awesome? Days that I am on my A-game, that I have witty remarks that come out the right way, and that words just fly out onto the page in front of me, and days that my energy is exploding out of me in a way that actually feels good.

Except, more often, there’s the flip side to ADHD. The self-doubt, the feeling that I can’t do things right because I have failed to meet expectations so many times, the times I cannot focus enough to figure out the simplest of things—or even when I can focus, there is information my brain simply can’t process. There are the times that not only can I not understand why I am reacting to things the way I am, but also that it is a tidal wave: my feelings just crash over me and I can’t figure out how to just stop this and react how I know is “normal”. It helps—a bit—knowing that this is common for kids and adults with ADHD alike, that we legitimately feel things more intensely and for longer than other people do [1]. But it only helps after the fact. There are the times I hyperfocus and fail to get anything done that I actually need done and only let myself down; others that I again feel like I’ve failed someone else. The words “I forgot,” or “I’m sorry,” are not less true when they come out of my mouth: I mean it. But I get it: it’s hard to accept, again, when you’ve heard it before, because it looks like carelessness. I don’t blame my ADHD—I blame myself, because ADHD and I coexist. I am not my diagnosis, but I cannot separate from it, either. ADHD isn’t just about academics: it’s about life. And it sucks when your failures or shortcomings are not for lack of trying, they are just because my brain is not wired that way.

But here’s the thing. It’s so much better than it was. It’s better knowing that there is a reason why some things are like they are. ADHD is not an excuse, but it is an explanation, if even just for myself sometimes. It’s better knowing how to figure out strategies that work rather than just feeling like I’m stupid. It’s better knowing that this is how I am wired, and that is okay

My first appointment with my psychiatrist back in 2013, she did not say it but she clearly made a note that I appeared anxious. I started medication for ADHD the next day. When I met her again a month later, early in the appointment she commented that I seemed less anxious even just on a very low dose of Concerta, and asked if I had felt anxious before. I told her that I hadn’t, but that things just “felt better” inside me. It was hard to describe—she understood. Every appointment I have seen my psychiatrist she actually asks about side effects. She asks how things are going. She asks how my mood is. Every time. Because she knows the statistics.

Research states people with ADHD are at increased risk for mental health issues: nearly half of people will experience an anxiety disorder, well over a third will deal with a mood disorder like depression, and 15% will develop a substance-use disorder. [2] However, if ADHD is managed correctly, be it through whichever combination of exercise and therapy and medication and eating well-ish, these things can either be caught early and treated early—maybe even be prevented. Maybe.
I am fortunate, I do not currently have any co-existing mental health concerns. That doesn’t mean that it hasn’t, won’t or can’t happen.

ADHD medication doesn’t give a person with ADHD any special ability to concentrate. I probably still focus less well than most non-ADHDers on 72 mg of Concerta a day. I don’t know because I’ve never had a non-ADHD brain. But do I feel better? Yes. Even though all of the above that I still struggle with. Part of it is because of medicine, but part of it is simply knowing what I am working with, knowing that other people experience this, knowing other people get me.

So, Canada.
You spoke.
I spoke.
We “talked”.
Now, don’t shut up just because Bell does.

Because we need this conversation. And we need the conversation to go further: to ensure mental health care is easily accessible—and affordable—for all Canadians. To make therapy with high-quality therapists affordable and accessible*. To ensure that services are available on demand, when people need them—weeks, or months, or years later. As a Canadian, healthcare for your body comes with the package—its a right. But care for your brain? It’s still on the table. (Which is closer than it’s been for a long time.) Stories are important, but so is access to care.

We need this conversation because we need every Canadian to feel confident they can be supported when they choose to share what they are facing.

Because my diagnosis is NOT about whether or not you believe it exists or not. It exists.

And we are living, breathing, singing, dancing proof that WE EXIST.

*Affordable and accessible therapy, to me, means to make therapy that is not income dependent or not something that is dependent on (awesome) charitable organizations like Aulneau, or educational institutions like the University of Manitoba Psych Services Centre. I’m uninsured, and if I can’t afford insurance, I can’t afford a $150 an hour therapist: which doesn’t mean that I should (or in some cases can) just wait longer.

Happy New Year! I finished off 2015 sick (thus the delay in publishing) so here’s hoping to a better end to 2016 in 365 days!

This post is a continuation of Tuesday’s post summarizing the 2015 soundtrack from March through July. Here’s how my year concluded, in song form…

Time to Be Well – Jenny Simmons.

In August, I started on a journey towards better self-care. In September, I tried to spark myself a “Self-Care September” challenge. Self-care, actually, is hard shit. In part, I wrote that I wanted to “try to pay more attention to what’s around me—and how that affects what’s going inside me, and how I respond to it”, and I think I’ve done okay with that, even beyond September. It’s a challenge sometimes, but Imyself, am a work in progress—and I had to learn that.

i wasn’t looking,
i wasn’t ready
kicking and screaming 
tired of believing by myself
i never would have done it on my own

oh but You, You were never gonna let me go
You took me, You took me, You took me…

straight to the Healer,
You were my believer
when i couldn’t even see it for myself
and now i’m whole, i can feel it
now i can see it,
when i couldn’t even say it for myself
You said “it’s time to be well”.

The thing is, even though I’ve been ignoring Him so much, I do feel like God was pulling me in this direction: I may not feel like I’m ready, or be ready, but He knows if I am or if I need to learn. This song, when I first got Jenny’s EP, tugged at my heart right away with the truth packed inside this 4 minute and 8 second track. Now in December, I can put into words the realization I had in August: that I am a work in progress, and I always will be. But that does not mean I am on my own.

no man’s an island
we need each other

no use in hiding
no pain in lying to myself
‘cause i don’t have to do this on my own

oh, with You, i don’t have to walk this world alone […]

Not only do I not have to do this on my own because I have Jesus, I also have other people in my world to help me. And, as I’m currently exploring a bit in writing a guest post for Smart Girls With ADHD, in this season I learned better how to ask for help. It’s a task I struggle with more often than I care to admit, but it’s so important to BEING well and feeling whole—feeling supported.
These things—songs, stories—they cross our paths for a reason: for me, I think Jenny’s words in Time To Be Well were a way that I heard a message I needed to hear: that I had to choose this for myself: I had to choose to not be an island in the midst of people, I had to choose to invest in self-care, I had to choose to make an effort to be more well. (“More well” is probably a grammatical nightmare. You get it, though.)

Repeatedly—back in September 2005, and today, this is true of my journey with God:

You tore a hole in the roof, and You laid me down
just to make me well, just to make me well,
and He made me well, and He made me well.

Transformation is conscious, and it is continual. And that is okay. More than okay.

Therapy – Relient K.

There’s a lot of this song that tugs at me, and other parts that don’t really fit my world (“I never thought I’d be driving through the country just to drive“, for example, doesn’t, but “with only music and the clothes that I woke up in” does…) but, there’s more truth than not here.

One night at the cabin, at 2 AM, in the Time to Be Well phase (with my spotty 3G-sometimes-LTE-data in the wilderness…), struggling with aspects of my life, I found a very sliding-scale payment counselling clinic—it works well with my lack of insurance. After my assessment, I was offered therapy, which I passed on since I’d have to go through the queue again—also, I wasn’t ready. Yet, as I kept going, kept reading, everything says therapy is one of those things that should be part of my ADHD treatment. It wasn’t, so I took initiative to make that happen—at 2 AM, like all worthwhile things. Legit—it’s that reflecting-in-the-darkness thing:

[…] I never thought I’d need
all this time alone, it goes to show
i had so much, yet i had need for nothing…
[…] this is just therapy,
let’s call it what it is
with a death-grip on this life, always transitioning.

I was assigned a therapist and started with him at the end of October. I spend an hour every week or two learning how to navigate my world better. I didn’t really know what I wanted out of therapy, except to control my reactions better, mostly—he was cool and worked with my vague-ness, though, for me, I continued the internal debate of whether I even wanted to be there.

letting it all sink in,
it’s good to feel a sting now and again 

Guess what? Therapy is fucking hard sometimes, but that’s why I’ve learned to like it. It makes me think and think about shit differently and criticize myself a bit—I’m cool with that. My therapist doesn’t have much experience with ADHD, and I’m okay with that, because he does seem to totally get the fact that I’m working with a “death grip on this life, always transitioning,” probably at a pace quicker than most people.

forgetting it all, begin
fresh paper and a nice expensive pen
the past cannot subtract a thing from
what i might do for you, unless that’s what i let it do 

This part is huge in that other stuff: the past is only what I let it be. End of story.

[…] loneliness and solitude are two things not to get confused
‘cause i spend my solitude with You
gather all the questions of the things i just can’t get straight
and i answer them the way i guess You do
‘cause this my therapy…
‘cause You’re the only one that’s listening to me.

this is my therapy, let’s call it what it is
not what we were, with this death grip on
this life that’s in transition, this is my therapy

Yeah, therapy for me happens in a room now, not only in a notebook or on a keyboard. But what I’ve learned in that room repeatedly runs through my racing thoughts throughout the day: I reflect, extremely often, without really realizing it. And this is how I know that it’s, at least somewhat, worthwhile for me to go through that “sting now and again”…

I needed to have some solid thoughts on therapy before I threw them all out here. And maybe I’m starting to have those. I’m lucky that I found a clinic I can afford, and a therapist who’s working his ass off to get me and my world, and how to help me to make things work better—yeah, maybe there’s somebody with more experience in ADHD (who I could pay $150 an hour rather than a subsidized $10 an hour), but I’d rather work with someone who tries to get me instead of someone who tries to compare me to a textbook. I actually like coming in to see what he’s printed or pulled up from journals via/or the web, to see that not only am I learning from him, he’s learning because of me, too.

So, I’m learning to navigate this life that’s in transition. And I’ve bought some new black Moleskines and tracked down some Sharpie pens to help me on that journey into next year… With five-plus therapy sessions left and all.

Armistice – MUTEMATH.

It’s sometimes a challenge to find a song to end the year on, especially since I am ending this year hugely in transition: a few blogging gigs started, a couple to begin, being employed but very under employed, in the midst of the process that is therapy. Armistice is a song I identified with a certain line of after my ADHD diagnosis, and I feel the song is pretty fitting to my current world.

out of time, and out of inclinations that we’re in
how’s it feel to watch a man relenting?
let’s just say that i might be a sucker for progress
it’s all in how you cope in spite of knowing…

The actual lyric here may be “cope in spite of no end,” but the internet people and myself are conflicted. This is the lyric, as it is above, that was a key player in sorting through the whole assessment/ADHD/learning issues diagnosis thing,

you don’t have to say it, i know, it’s all my fault
you don’t have to worry, i know, it’s how we are
you don’t have to say it, i know, it’s all my fault
the give and take is taking its toll

it’s an honest work if i can stand up on it
maybe we’re not as far apart as it appears
swallowing the blame is second nature,
i’ve got to keep on handling my business my way

2015 marked a year that I got into more contract-type work as well—right now, I’m working on four blogs, not including my own, and two are yet to begin, and I’m really stoked about that. I began writing with Understood.org and for the first time am working with an editor (!!!), Andrew, who has been amaaaazing.
Fortunately, I’ve found great people to work with who allow me a huge amount of freedom, and understand I won’t compromise who I am and what I stand for to land a writing gig—not everybody does

[…] i will take the fall if it takes us somewhere
the give and take, the give and take
the give and take is taking its toll

you don’t have to say it, i know, it’s all my fault
you don’t have to worry, i won’t
it falls apart.
you don’t have to say it, i know
it’s all my fault
the give and take is taking its toll…
you don’t have to say it. 

I’ve felt that give-and-take first-hand, so I don’t need reminders of what may have not unfolded as I expected. What goals I have yet to achieve. 365 days never unfold as I’ll anticipate they will, 2015 included. And that’s okay, that’s how growth happens. I’m working on it.

My first soundtrack project, in 2013, ended with “avalanche, in the blink of a year”. While 2013 was more of an avalanche than most, it worked to prepare me to be here. Prepared me for the waiting, the working, the being a work in progress. 

And, here I am, in the first days of 2016—I’m working on things here, still. As I should be. ‘Cause I weren’t a work in progress, wasn’t constantly in transition, I probably wouldn’t be learning anything, and wouldn’t be where I am meant to be.