Today I would like to introduce you to one of the first people who knew about my dream to have a podcast about mental health – Mari Strache.
I found her on Instagram where she was continually sharing openly about her own struggles with mental health and inviting others to come join in her journey.
She is multi talented. An artist, she writes comedy, and is an actress. Mari shares her heart, love and joy with others and thereby deeply touches so many people. Mari was born and bred in Germany, and then made London her home for a number of years. More recently she has lived in America. That is a great deal of moving and traveling for someone suffering from anxiety and depression.
Mari shared with us tips that work for her to be able to pack her suitcase and leave behind family and friends and go to the unknown, aware that suddenly anxiety and depression could pounce on her.
Making plans is something she does only when she is in a good place.
1. Before she leaves she makes sure she lines up people she can call at any time of day or night to virtually
2. hold her hand if she feels the darkness settling in. When she was in Canada and was in a real downer she realized there was no one she could reach out to. So she called her friends back home and cried and they listened. Their listening and accepting was a huge virtual hug that gave her the belief “I will get over it and move on.”
Knowing who not to talk to is just as important as knowing whom to turn to. Not everyone is capable of filling the role of supporter. It doesn’t mean they are bad or evil, just not fit for the role.
When all was well, Mari wrote a letter to herself, speaking to the Mari who was not seeing hope and a way out. In the letter she enumerates how she had been there and climbed out of it and went on to experience wonderful and happy times. She went into specifics about how it felt to be in a healthy, hopeful mind.
The impetus to get Mari to leave her comfy, lovely quarters and jump into traveling to the unknown was when her landlord would not renew her lease. She knew that she would not be able to afford to replicate that type of place in London. Mari could have stayed in London with the tried and tested but she felt that she was doing the same, same day in, day out and not enhancing her experience on this planet. The thought of wasting her life was what gave her the courage to leave break away from her comfort zone and leave Europe.
It wasn’t easy. But it made her grow. Mari felt that before she could make that huge leap to travel to the unknown, she wanted to get off her meds. They had worked for her and she was functioning well, but Mari feared that if she was dependent on them and for some reason could not get them she would be battling an enemy with both hands tied behind her back and standing at the edge of an abyss all alone.
She had spoken to her doctor and he gave her the okay to try. She called her parents to tell them she wanted to get off her pills. They welcomed her home and said they were there for her. She gradually cut down her dosage over months. Then the real test came when she went off everything. It was the worst she had remembered it. She cried and said, “I can’t do this. I need them.” She woke up her mother at night wailing that it was too tough. She couldn’t cope, she said. But she got through it. With the help of her loved ones.
Mari does not believe that everyone should be off medication. And if someone wants to try Mari doesn’t see how someone can do it without a loving support system and a great desire to overcome the dependence.
It has been a year since she stopped all her medication. There are times when she spirals down. Then she takes out her toolbox to fight the depression and anxiety. These are things that work for her.
Heat – a hot bath, or a hot water bottle.
Get out of bed. Even to just walk around the room. Movement of some sort.
3. To read the letter that I wrote myself. I keep it on my phone so it is easy to access. When the darkness settles, even getting out of bed to find a letter is a struggle. In the letter I tell myself, “I know you don’t feel so great now, but ‘This too shall pass’.” Then I remind myself of all the wonderful things that came to pass so far. I see no hope now, but I wrote this and I know it is true. It will be good.”
4. My support system. Even if I make no sense they listen to me. They give me permission to not feel good. They don’t tell me, “Just wash your face and get on with it.”
Mari shared with us that in her family there was a very severe attempted suicide. The person was in a coma. The body was severely damaged. Her family was in the ICU awaiting news. Other families were also awaiting news of their relatives who had been in terrible accidents and needed surgeries. When her family saw the doctors they asked them how they viewed their relative who had self inflicted her wounds vis a vis the others who were victims of circumstance. The doctors answer reverberates in Mari’s mind to this day. “There is no difference between them. Depression is an illness that can be as fatal as a car accident.”
With mental illness there is a seeming lack of choice. To help people who are fighting mental illness we need to help them get out of the lack and come back to the choice. One day at a time.
Like many others who suffered for years with battling darkness, Mari thought it was normal. She had no idea that people should live differently.
“Several years ago my boyfriend called me and heard that I was not in a good place. He was far away at the time and he was concerned that I might do something drastic. So he called the police. There was a knock at the door and there were three policemen standing there. I was so passive that I just let them in. They asked me how I was and I told them that I wasn’t feeling well.”
“They took me to the hospital where after I was examined a psychologist was sent to speak to me. After speaking to her, for the first time I became aware that I was suffering from depression and anxiety and that what I was living was not normal. I began therapy, started taking medication and slowly found a new way of living.”
“My struggles began when I was 18, or 19 after my relative attempted suicide. Until then I had been the one always giving support and help to others. So, when I began to feel unwell, I reasoned, if I can’t help myself no one else will be able to. My mother would tell me that I carried the burden of the world on my shoulders. I did not have a point of reference to understand if this was normal or not. But as we mature one reflects and asks, ‘Is this normal that I cry every morning or that it’s so hard to get into the shower?’ As a person matures and takes upon themselves more responsibility, it is harder to deny that you are not functioning fully. “
“How can a person know that they need help? Usually if you are asking yourself that question it means that things are not okay. I tell people to sit down and honestly look at how much these bad feelings are impacting them and the people around them. It is a personal equation.”
5. Another thing that Mari keeps in her toolbox is chocolate. “When I eat a piece of chocolate my senses take over and I feel the sweetness. I am not numb anymore. It will stir up the senses and can break the loop of the panic attacks.”
Mari feels we don’t ever conquer our struggles with mental health, we learn to handle them. “There are triggers, but it is a positive thing. It means that my body and soul are trying to protect me when I experience a panic attack. “
In her journey to heal Mari has used conventional medicine, healers, meditation, a selection of charmers, Buddhist meditation and chanting. “I believe in using whatever works for you. Don’t seek others approval – you know what makes you feel better.”
“People who follow my blog will write me that reading my blog helps them feel that they are not alone. I respond that their writing me makes me feel less alone. When you share the experience of the dark place, you already have more in common than with most other people you know.”
Mari’s dream for the mental health world is to create a Mental Health Fair. She would invite people to share without putting pressure on them. It would be fine to share or not to share. There would be no stigma. It would be as normal as sharing that you are suffering from a headache.
People can find Mari on her Instagram or website: maristracke.com. “I like this mode because it is direct and in the now.”
Thank you Mari for sharing with us, and all of you out there, please feel free to share your story with us.