Bea Sparks

You Really Learn the Hard Way

If you are chronically down, it is a lifelong fight to keep from sinking. —Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation

I was first diagnosed with clinical depression a little after I turned 20 years old. What I thought was some kind of virus/infection with high fever and weakness unleashed one of the worse things I’ve had to deal with in my life. When you’re depressed (sick, not just sad) and you don’t know what’s happening to you, it’s one of the most frustrating feelings in the world. My depression was accompanied by severe anxiety which basically meant I was in a state of fear ALL DAY LONG. Try living like that for 2-3 weeks. There’s no rest, there’s no peace, nobody knows what’s wrong with you and you think you’re going to die.

After many urgent care visits to several doctors to treat the physical symptoms, the person who actually nailed it was my endocrinologist. I was already being treated for thyroid disease, was able to schedule an appointment, and when she examined me she said my body was fine but she was going to refer me to psychiatry right away because I needed first and foremost medication to calm down. She put me bromazepam, I slept for 2 weeks waking up only to eat and take my meds, and started my road to recovery through therapy. And that’s how it all began. It’s been 20 years and depression has become a part of my life. Sometimes it wins, sometimes I win… we learned to live with each other.

What’s interesting is that it took me almost 20 years to actually understand and accept the fact that this is probably something I’ll never get rid of and I’m OK with that. My current psychiatrist told me that unless they come up with some kind of vaccine, my type of depression will always require treatment to some extent; and by treatment I mean medication. Remission is a word I can’t really use in my depression vocabulary; years of mishaps and quitting treatment before its time make me prone to recurrence — take meds, feel good, quit meds, feel bad, etc. I wrote about this a while ago, how the doctor told me that in order to control my diabetes, I have to pay attention to my depression… nothing new there. Metformin, Fluoxetine, Bupropion — That’s my cocktail.

Remission is a word I can’t really use in my depression vocabulary; years of mishaps and quitting treatment before its time make me prone to recurrence.

The month of March was a challenging one for many reasons. I got so obsessed with it all, I slipped and didn’t take my meds for a few weeks. I knew I was under a lot of stress that was normal-ish, and then I felt myself falling back into that big black hole, so familiar, so scary. This time it was different because I didn’t let it take over, I recognized it for what it was and I got rid of my old thoughts of “oh, this is normal for me.” NO! It isn’t normal. After 18 years of living with depression I can finally see its ugly face showing up and I’m able to smash it before it comes through the door. And that is progress.

Like I said, it’s a constant struggle, and it will always be. But I’m fine with that.

Deeply Rooted Connections

 

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One of the most pervasive effects of depression and low self-esteem is that no matter how much people like you, you still don’t see yourself for what you’re worth. No matter how much you know you’ve put into something, you still feel like you’re lacking, not good enough, never good enough. You have a hard time understanding the value of what you bring to the table, and you actually end up believing people don’t see you despite the irrefutable evidence. Completely messed up… now try doing that all your life.

But why am I talking about this? Well… when the announcement for the HealtheVoices 2016 conference came out, and someone mentioned I should apply to attend, my first reaction was to scoff and think “Me? What am I going to do there with all those people who actually matter?”  At that very moment I completely forgot that for the last 10 years I have been a health (diabetes) advocate, and that I championed a couple of initiatives that I’m pretty sure made a difference in someone’s life despite the fact that I became selectively blind and decided “it wasn’t a big deal.” But I though “why not” and decided to fill out that application. Two days later, I received an email from Katie Alberico at Tonic, inviting me to attend the 2ruth is Numbers Summit for people with type 2 diabetes, and told me that I’d be attending HealtheVoices as well. I guess it was meant to be.

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The pre-conference 2ruth in Numbers summit was a small event with a huge meaning. I got to see dear friends like Sue Rericha, Kate Cornell and Bennett Dunlap, and I was extremely fortunate to meet Jill Knapp and Michele Tuck-Ponder. The conversation revolved around how type 2 diabetes advocates need to fight stigma by putting ourselves out there, visibly, shamelessly. Part of the conversation was heavy and raw, and it involved tears (it usually does in my case, anyway) but that’s why I appreciate the privacy of this kind of gathering, where we can share how we feel, and what we want, and everyone agrees because we don’t need to justify ourselves in front of everybody. WE GET IT. But how many people were there? 6. That’s easy… for this introvert to handle 5 people, 3 of whom she already knows. The rest of that weekend was scary, and exciting, and mind blowing.

Walking into the HealtheVoices opening event felt like walking into my first Bio class in college. So. Many. People. So. Much. Noise. So. Much. Input. “I feel like an idiot” kind of moment. “What the heck am I doing here” kind of moment. “I’m such a poser” kind of moment. Inadequate, you say? I felt that, too. There were quite a few familiar faces, but all the excitement about seeing them was  numbed out by the fact that I was right there, in the middle of that room, surrounded by  all these amazing people who had so much to say, so much eloquence, and so much passion. And then I felt lucky… but lucky doesn’t really cut it. I knew from that very moment when we were getting randomly introduced to strangers that HealtheVoices would become one of the (or THE) most inspiring and motivating moments of my health advocacy experience.

2016-05-09 08.51.59Sue Rericha, Kate Cornell, Michele Tuck-Ponder – My T2 tribe!

It was all a blur, a magnificent blur of learning, connecting, observing, opening my mind. A bunch of wonderful aha moments bunched up together. From learning how to manage my content throughout different platforms to protecting my rights. Each section I chose to attend felt like it was tailored to my needs and my questions. Every expectation I wrote on that application form was met. Most importantly this conference help me understand that I needed to change my perspective, that my life is not divided in silos of my diabetes, or my depression, or my other chronic conditions… but all of these things go together, and in order to be a good advocate, I need to encompass all of what I am. Attending this event is the reason why I decided to get back on the saddle because guess what? Despite believing what I do doesn’t matter, deep inside me I know it does, and I’m grateful for having people who remind me of that on a daily basis.

I wish there was more time so I could get to know everyone better. But I’ve made a few connections, and my goal is to keep on building relationships with all the wonderful people who have shared their stories, their time, their twitter accounts, their Facebook posts. I miss those little moments of really connecting by sharing how tired, achy, BG high/low, flared up we were. That is us, health advocates, trying to do the best we can while fighting our own physical and emotional demons. I met/heard of of so many people I greatly respect now for their struggle and their bravery. So thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for all you do.

20160415_150846-1Special shut out to this guy… dear Josh Robbins (@imstilljosh), health activist extraordinaire, and my current biggest crush. You have no idea, Josh, of what a difference you’ve made in my life despite of the short interaction we had. Every time you gave me that shocked face when I said something bad about myself, you made me realize I’ve been doing myself a disservice for many years. You actually helped me to make the conscious decision to let go of many fears about what people may say or think of me so I can become a better advocate. After all, this isn’t really about me but about the people I reach out to. I call this serendipitous. I had no idea of who you were, but I am glad you came into my life… and you took my fear of videos away.

Depressed: The New Normal

7395b496d3afbe4bb7e0bbfc64a0b70aDepression hit me like a ton of bricks when I was 19 years old. I never saw it coming, never had any issues before apart from the usual angst of teenage years. One day I woke up to go to my early Evolution Theory class, and I had a chest cold that turned into a monster in a matter of hours… a cold! The next two days were spent in a feverish haze, and then I didn’t sleep, eat or have a minute of peace for the next two weeks. I don’t remember how many doctors I saw that told me “oh, it’s just a virus, you’ll be fine.” But it wasn’t fine, I didn’t feel fine, I felt disconnected from reality. Finally my endocrinologist took the time to listen to me, and without much thought she said “you’re depressed, you have severe anxiety, and you’re going to a psychiatry consult right now.” A cold… my depression started with a cold, and it has been my best friend and my nemesis for the past 20 years.

Rebranding

20150508_quote_with_sunset_sunrise_prairie_image1All my life I’ve had this feeling that everything is temporary (and it really is, the whole life is fleeting thing). That is probably why I don’t do things like get a tattoo (so permanent!). Maybe that’s why I recently heard my therapist say that I have “fear of engulfment,” a completely new to me term. I’m not trying to get all deep and personal here… or maybe I am, who knows. After all, revamping this blog and my online presence is about embracing all that is me, including the pesky demons.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been compartmentalizing my life, especially my health issues. It took a lot of soul searching, many visits to many doctors, and most recently a health advocacy conference to help me round up all my chickens. It was an aha! moment that I decided to grab by the horns. But it really isn’t that recent… maybe that’s why I went dormant for a while, maybe that’s why I felt so overwhelmed when trying to juggle separate issues without realizing that what I needed to do was actually find their connection and work from there.

I’ve been blogging since 2000. I’ve been blogging about having diabetes since 2006. I’ve been telling people I suffer from depression since time immemorial. I still have to learn how to put all that  out there, in one snazzy package, without the fear of sounding like an idiot… or crying, which happens more often than not. These two aspects of my life may not define who Bea is, but dang… they’re heavy. So here I am, rebranding, revamping, whatever you want to call it. It’s not about the cranky pancreas, or the lazy thyroid or the messy brain. It’s about me, who I am as a person, as a patient, and as someone who wants to reach out to others. So good luck to me… and help me spread out the word!