I have a volunteer gig with a local community services agency doing presentations to high school students on suicide awareness. There’s a pretty standardized format for these workshops, and they are usually done for various grade 9 classes a few times a semester. I started doing this about a year ago to try to give myself more of a sense of purpose and hopefully aid in my recovery from depression.
I’ve done public speaking about mental health in the past related to my work as a nurse, and it was something that I typically enjoyed and didn’t get overly nervous about. I’m not sure why I had expectations that the ease of public speaking when well would translate into some degree of ease when depressed, because that has definitely not been the case.
Luckily anxiety hasn’t been too much of an issue; it helps that I know the subject matter well and it’s essentially the same spiel each time. My feelings leading up to these presentations have been a strange mix of antipathy and forced pseudo-excitement. I want to feel good about speaking to youth on suicide prevention. It’s certainly a topic that matters to me and that fits with my desire to combat stigma, but wanting to care and wanting to be excited aren’t translating into actually caring and being excited, no matter how hard I try to convince myself.
I post about it on Twitter in an attempt to stir up some advocative fire, but it only fuels my apathy. That in and of itself bothers me; I want to be able to feel corresponding emotions to things that are important to me in a cognitive sense. It’s just not working out that way, though.
I did a presentation yesterday morning to a class of grade 9’s, and the kids were ok; not great about participating, but not terrible. Once again I disappointed myself with my own performance; it was ok, but not what I would have expected of myself under normal circumstances. My thinking is slow, and it’s hard to be spontaneous. There were times when I lost my train of thought or stopped to search for words that just weren’t coming.
I’ve noticed for some time now that in many situations when I’m having to think hard about what I’m saying, I look up at the ceiling as I speak. This isn’t something I do consciously, and I’m guessing I do it to minimize visual stimulation in order to focus better. Normally it’s just a quirk of depressed Ashley, but while speaking in front of a class of kids it certainly doesn’t add to my effectiveness as a presenter.
I’ve had to come to terms with having my level of functioning impaired by depression across multiple contexts, but it seems just a little bit harder to adjust my expectations when it comes to something like this that I want to be passionate about. I feel like in a sense I’m letting down my values and ideals. I’m fully aware that this idea is ridiculous, but there you have it.
I was able to give myself some credit, though, for an email I received yesterday morning from the editor-in-chief at the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing. The email invited me to apply to be a member of their editorial board. I’m fairly certain that this was a form letter sent out to anyone that has had a paper published in the journal over the last while, but I still thought it was pretty cool. That’s not to say I’m actually going to apply; without a PhD I’m not properly qualified, plus the expectations around workload would be more than I’d be prepared to take on.
Still, I have to remind myself not to discount the positive when I find it. The email triggered a glimmer of an idea for a new research project looking at mental health blogging; I’ll have to give it some more thought and evaluate whether I have the energy for it or if I’d just be setting myself up for failure, but if I decide to go ahead with I’ll be asking fellow bloggers to get involved.
No matter what it is I’m doing I try to adjust my expectations based on what my illness will or will not allow at the time. Sometimes I’m able to do that without too much difficulty, and in other situations it can be a real struggle. I guess what’s most important, though, is that I’m attributing my limitations to my illness rather than a fundamental flaw in myself, so it’s a dynamic work in progress. And as Marsha Linehan would remind me in her DBT assumptions, I’m doing the best I can.