Bad spells, when you can’t afford a bad spell. (Part 1/?)

(Many swear words ahead)

Rough times with mental illness aren’t ever desirable, to state the obvious.

Less obvious (maybe): consider those times when you can’t afford to go down that familiar, shitty road. Those times where it’s hard to get things done without the additional shit to sort through. Those times that tend to bring out stress: stress that leads to an increase in symptoms, disguising themselves as coping mechanisms.

Well, fuck.

I’m a senior physics student, trying to write my undergraduate thesis. I’m writing about the physics behind hybrid MR/PET imaging, and how the physical properties of the imaging modalities make it so promising as a diagnostic tool for Alzheimer’s disease. A topic I’m passionate about, interested in, and that I enjoy learning about.

So why is this paper bringing about my first major depressive episode in years?

I don’t have the answer to this, to be honest. I know that the more I struggle with putting words to paper, each week I don’t have much of anything to bring to my advisor, with each additional document I create to have a fresh start to look at while trying to write a different section, I feel more and more inadequate. More like a fraud: someone who will never complete a bachelor’s degree. I see my fellow seniors stressing over their theses, and writing. Sometimes hating every moment of work spent on that paper, and still writing it. I know that others are struggling with this fear of not completing, or not passing this major hurdle to graduation, but in my mind I’m still lesser to them.

And the more these feelings take over, the worse my sensory problems get. I haven’t discussed them much here, as my diagnosis of ASD with significant sensory processing problems is fairly recent, but essentially I (or my brain at least) feel assaulted by the world around me constantly. Daily I cope, with help from my psychiatric service dog. But as I drown in my thoughts, and retreat inside  my mind, the sensory assault is more prominent and my coping skills less effective. As this happens, I dissociate more (therefore) panic (leading to) a higher risk of my shitty coping skills, like avoidance, too much food, too little food, and more. And so the cycle returns back to a failure to do the shit that I have to do: in my case today (tonight), write part of this thesis.

All this is to say that I’m able to recognize now that it isn’t a coincidence that when I’m least able to afford going down the rabbit hole of my mind, it becomes much more difficult to avoid doing so. And much more important to conscientiously set myself up for a better chance of success.

How? Not sure. That’s part 2, stay tuned.

Thanks for reading, and as always I’m here if you need me.

 

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On Mental Health Awareness Month

One thing I always wonder about is what people think of me once they friend me on Facebook. I meet them in person, and we get along well enough to at least want to stalk each other on the internet, and then they come on Facebook and there I am–not hiding my struggles in the slightest.

That’s another reason I haven’t been posting as much–I’ve been meeting people, and for a time I was worried about how they would react. But it’s almost the end of Mental Health Awareness month, and I haven’t done a goddamn thing, and that’s not okay with me.

You see it all the time–those posts that say “The brain is an organ, and gets sick just like every other organ!” And this is true. The false part is though, that its not just an organ–it’s ourselves, in a squishy mass of gray matter. And this makes it more personal.

I saw a statistic today that I disagree with in a big way–“1 in 4 people are affected by mental illness.”

Everyone is affected by mental illness. Maybe not to the same extent as others, or for the same duration of time, but everyone is affected.

You’re affected when you hear about suicide rates, and wonder how anyone “could be so selfish.” You’re affected when you judge people as selfish, or not, for their actions. You’re affected by mental illness because you’re in contact with other people, and have a brain. You’re affected by mental illness more than other illnesses because of its nature–because it’s not just a gene mutation, or a virus (though they may certainly play a role in risk and cause). Mental illness is a fleeting thought turned pervasive and detrimental. It’s good intentions turned bad, and the belief in falsities.

Mental illness exists because people exist, its potential exists in all of us because we all have thoughts, and we all have beliefs and we all try to do what we think will get us where we want to go. We are all at risk for mental illness, and this terrifies people.

But instead of being terrified of the mentally ill, and trying to distance yourself from the notion of being so, do your best to be aware, and supportive. Don’t judge, but recognize that someone who can’t get out of bed truly feels certain that they can’t get out of bed in the same way that you feel certain that you can’t climb Mount Everest: it may be possible, but it isn’t happening anytime soon. Use the commonalities between people as a source of understanding, rather than a source of fear of comparison.

The thing about Mental Health Awareness is that it (like all the other months of awareness) needs to be more than a month of good intentions. It needs to be an accepted practice.

And to all you who may read this who didn’t know about my mental illness before this, I’ll say this again: while I hope your opinion of me isn’t affected by my openness, or by my mental illness, and my past, if it is remember that before you read about it explicitly I was in your mind no different from you–no less normal.

Mental illness affects us all, and is all around us, and it’s time for the stigma surrounding it to drop.

On life, and my return to it.

So, its been a while.

Its a good thing–kind of–I promise.

The kind of is because after my last post I ended up back in the hospital for a couple of weeks.

The good part is that I am doing fucking amazing.

It’s really weird to say that, honestly. I didn’t think I would be able to–ever.

I don’t think I’m going to go into too much detail about exactly what brought me to the hospital, or exactly what went on there, but I’ll summarize it for you, and perhaps elaborate one day: I learned to take care of myself, and I figured out that I can actually do shit.

I met some amazing people, and faced a lot of my bullshit, and realized something: there is no way to get past mental illness other than going straight through it (yay, I’m full of clichés!). At some point, it really comes down to looking at your life and then asking yourself two questions: what changes you want to see, and are you willing to make those changes? If you aren’t, then at least you know where you stand, and don’t have to waste your time on something that won’t happen–you can move on. If you are, then what the fuck are you doing not doing those things?

I had a lot of things to say about why I wasn’t doing what I had to do:

“It’s hard–you can’t imagine how hard it is, it’s impossible.”

“No one understands but me, I can’t do it.”

“I’m too weak. Other people are stronger, so they don’t get it.”

But here’s the thing: you are literally the only person (I hope) who decides what you physically do. No matter how hard it is to do something, unless it’s physically impossible you are the one who does or does not, who makes that choice.

So I made a different choice.

Not eating? Not an option.

Cutting? Burning? Killing self? Nope. Not anymore.

I’m a pretty stubborn person–and as much as the therapists, and people who essentially have kept me from destroying my life are skeptical, I’m feeling pretty finite about those self imposed limits.

So I’ve been actually doing life for my months of absence, which has resulted in less of a focus on keeping you all informed. And life is pretty great it turns out, even when it fucking sucks.

I’ve been working, and going to school, and going out with friends, and my boyfriend, and when shit comes up I think about my options: I could relapse, and lose everything again, or I could take what I can do and do it, despite how much it sucks.

I’m not doing perfectly–I’ll be the first to tell you that. But I ate part of a fucking calzone, I haven’t self harmed in months, and I want to stay alive. My slip ups aren’t a divine signal that I’m not worthy of life anymore–they’re a sign that I need to try something new.

People are still skeptical–and I don’t blame them. But I’m earning back the right to be trusted with myself, and while a difficult process, I can tell from what I’ve gained that it’s fucking worth it.

And I’m not going to lose everything, again, for a life of misery and self-hate.

When Nothing Goes Right

I’m a big fan of planning, as anyone who knows me, or anyone who’s been reading this blog will probably already know.

But what about when it doesn’t work? When you try to put barriers in your own way, but you just crash through them?

Then life gets interesting. To put this in context, I did the whole setting yourself up thing pretty damn well yesterday: I had a lot of back work to get through, and simply brought it to work (this part might only work if you work in a coffee shop…) and decided not to let myself leave until my work was done. My work wasn’t completely done when I left, but it was pretty close and they were closing. So that it would be harder to back out I told my coworkers about it and then only whined a little when I was working. Also, discounted food and drink while you work–can’t beat it!

The part that wasn’t done was watching a movie: The Fifth Element, for my Physical Theater course and writing an essay on it. Also, I had one more chapter of notes to do for my sophomore research seminar. I let myself go to bed last night pretty early, figuring that I could wake up and finish the notes, and then finish Physical Theater that night since it wasn’t due until Tuesday.

Today though, was a snow day. I wasn’t plowed out for my first course and then the rest were cancelled, along with work because thankfully, no one decided to brave the storm to go shopping (restoring my faith in humanity a bit).

To summarize, I woke up, ate, and watched Grey’s Anatomy. And didn’t stop doing those things except to sleep for a little bit. And there were a lot of things that I could have been doing today. I really want to give myself the free pass of, “It was a snow day!! Everyone would’ve done nothing!! It’s fine!!” but I really don’t think I can as what I didn’t do were some things that, to put it simply, everyone else does. I don’t want to really get into specifics here but basically there were things that should’ve been done and that weren’t done that I’m expected to do.

Get all that?

One of my first memories at the program I go to was going into a rant about everything I had to do, and everything I wasn’t doing (essentially the same list) and the woman who heads the program telling me, “You need a win.” It’s something I’ve since heard many times, as my friends and I at that program tend to be the people to get down on ourselves until we can’t really do anything we’re supposed to do (or until we feel like we can’t do anything.) Its also very true and a simple phrase that hasn’t left my mind today.

Lately, nothing really seems to be going right. I haven’t been getting my homework in on time (a first for me), I haven’t been eating enough, with a couple instances of eating too much thrown in there, I’ve been skipping appointments with excuses because I start shaking and crying and get too anxious to go,  I’ve been unable to cope well with the simple matter of living in my own skin, and I had to drop my fourth course because it was too much for me to handle alongside work and school, neither of which I’m prepared to give up.

To sum it up, I need a win pretty badly if I want to turn this around, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to make myself turn this around.

It’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t have crippling anxiety or depression what its like, but it could also be pretty easy. For anxiety, imagine waking up, and you’re thousands of feet in the air, and being handed a parachute and told to jump out, “Trust me, it’ll go off, people do this all the time!” And you’ve never skydived or seen these people before ever and you now have what it feels like for me trying to go to an appointment right now.

For depression, imagine lead weights attached to all of your limbs while a reel of things you’ve done wrong, or could do wrong plays in front of you, while a voiceover tells you that its obvious you’re going to fuck everything up because, “Look! It’s all you’ve ever done, and so obviously it’s all you’ll ever do.” And yet you’re being told that you have to go about your day.

Alternatively, remember that feeling before the SAT’s (if you took or cared about the SAT’s) or the feeling after the death of a pet or person you really cared about. Bottle it up and then imagine feeling that, magnified, about everyday activities.

So for me, a win might look little but feel impossible. I also recognize that it looks little, which makes me feel shittier because why can’t I just do what I have to do what the fuck.

But even a small win would be good–because the power of any sort of win is that it makes you feel accomplished and makes you see that regardless of the shit your mind spews out “Look! You can do all the things, because you did a thing!”

So I guess the question that I’m asking myself, and that everyone who cares about me wants to know the answer to is can I make myself make the effort again, for something that I’m not sure is worth it? Can I make myself put in all the effort to do the things that feel impossible even though it feels like I’m not worth it?

I’ll get back to you on that, but for now I need a win, and for tonight that’s going to be treating myself nicely. That means a bath and some dinner, and the movie that I need to watch anyway. I can’t promise that long term I can do all of the things, but I can do these little things, right now, and for now that’s going to have to be enough.

You Are NOT a “Special Snowflake”

Recently I’ve become aware of how many people suffer from mental illness–part of it is because as I write this blog more people choose to come to me for help (which I love!) and partly because everyone suffers to a degree. I truly believe this. Mental health is a spectrum to me, and what I’ve seen from people since I’ve come public about my own mental illness has only supported that.

With that said: I need to point this out to people who are suffering, and please, please, please don’t hate me: YOU ARE NOT A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE BECAUSE OF YOUR MENTAL ILLNESS.

This isn’t directed at anyone in particular, more something I’ve noticed over the past year of treatment, something that I’ve experienced myself, and something that it hurts me deeply to see others suffering from. One of the ways that people are controlled by their mental illness is because it makes them feel special–like they’re the odd one out and like for some reason, they are broken in a way that no one has been before them, and so they’re separate from other people and unable to relate to them, or be comforted by them.

I’ll be listening to someone I care about speak about their thoughts, and in that I sometimes hear my own thoughts reflected. But when you let them know, “Oh yeah, I totally get where you’re coming from.” All too often the reply is something along the lines of, “Well, yeah you get it, but here’s why I’m worse…here’s why I’m different from everyone else…here’s why I’ll never get better…here’s why you can’t possibly understand.”

And I get it–when you’re suffering from mental illness, and that hell inside your head, it’s impossible to believe that others have gone through the same thing and lived to tell about it. And yes, everyone has different experiences and no one’s experienced the exact same things, but those thoughts that you think, that you think are unique because they’re so sad, or so fucked up, or so utterly awful–they’ve passed through the heads of countless people before you: I guarantee it.

I have realized through hearing countless other people talk about how their disease makes them think and feel, that nothing I’ve felt–no matter how dark, or tragic, or hopeless, is unique.

At first, this made me mad. Like some of you probably will be at me for posting this.

But your sadness does not make you special. It only makes you sad, and holds you back in life.

Your eating disorder does not give you control–it either kills you, or puts you in a situation where you are stripped of all control.

Your mental illness is not unique, it is not what makes you, you.

You are the person who kicks ass at that sport, or who can’t stop talking even when you have been all night, or who is loved by everyone around you, or who’s smile makes everyone else smile, or who drunk texts everyone “I love you”‘s. You are made up of endless quirks, and fascinations, and loveliness, and so many things and guess what? None of those things are your mental illness.

We are, all of us, living our own private lives within our minds. But let’s all stop pretending that those lives are so different from one another’s. Do you know how much I would give to tell someone that I relate to what they’re saying without hearing back,

“Well, yeah you can do that, but I can’t.”

When you tell someone something like this, at least in my experience, you give the monsters inside your head that much more power. You’re not only missing out on a chance to bond with someone over the shit you’ve both experienced (because something positive should come out of it somehow) but you’re also invalidating the other person’s experiences, and basically making them feel like a piece of shit.

And if you’re reading this, and think that I’ve talking about you, know that: A) Everyone’s friends occasionally make them feel like shit and yet they still love each other. and B) I’m not talking about you so sh–don’t worry.

And I might get shit for this, but I want to challenge the notion that everyone’s thoughts are unique because they fucking aren’t. Out of all of the people who have ever lived, and likely out of all of the people who are alive at this very moment, someone out there has thought the same things as you. And one of the only positive things about diagnoses (other than insurance–yay!) are that they make it easier to find people who understand, and who have thought those same fucked up things that you have.

So next time you rant to, or talk to someone about something that’s going on inside your head and they say, “Dude, I’ve been there, I’m sorry, I get it.” Try believing them.

Because we all think these things, we all suffer, we all get sad or lonely, some of us want to or have wanted to die, some of us can’t talk to people without freaking out, a lot of us think that we’ll never be able to actually be happy, and it’s about time we start believing each other, and let this stuff bind us together instead of isolating us inside a little bubble.

As always, I’m always here to listen, though be warned I’ll be honest.

I love you all–keep on keeping on, and thanks for reading.

Peaks and Valleys and Imperfect Recovery

So I go to a school that runs on trimesters–this essentially means a semester of school packed into ten weeks instead of the 15 that I believe a regular school runs on. One thing this changes is that we take only three classes typically. So what did I decide to do as I work a part time job and spend hours in groups every week? Add a class of course!

I’m still trying to figure out if this was a mistake, but I’m really enjoying it so far. For the first time in a year my worries are “normal!” That’s to say that they’re about school, and getting my assignments done, and getting to work on time, instead of stuff like whether or not to go to the hospital.

What I’m finding though (and what other’s I found out last night in group are finding as well) is that when you’re distracted from the bad stuff, and not concentrating on it as much, its much easier for it to creep back in on you until suddenly, “What the fuck, I haven’t thought about this in months!”

Example A: I’ve been doing pretty well with the whole not bingeing thing. The other day though, I was passing my student center before a class and I suddenly thought, “Wow, I have money on my card. I could go and buy a shit ton of candy and eat it all instead of going to class and no one would have to know.” Know what I did? I went the fucking long way around, where there was no chance of both making my class and going to the student center, and ended up making my class and not getting those bags of candy. But you know what else? I bought two candy bars that night and ate them in my car.

And you know what? That’s a fucking success story, because things don’t have to end up perfectly in order to be successes. I delayed my binge for about twelve hours. And that’s eleven and a half hours longer than I could have two months ago.

And also, that’s recovery right there. Getting the thought, recognizing it as just a thought and fighting it, and maybe losing the fight, but most of the time winning. And I’m finally at the point where I’m comfortable enough to say that I’m in recovery without wanting to figuratively throw myself back under the bus, so you bet I’m going to scream it. I’m recovering, and I’m basicallyalmostalways okay with that, and not only that but proud of it too.

This turned into a sort of rant, but I’m okay with that. Because I think too often we think that we’re the exceptions that are going to “do recovery perfectly” (I certainly did) and we forget that its the upwards trend that’s important, not the minute peaks and valleys of the graph. I’m constantly reminding myself of this and I hope you are too.

Breaking Radio Silence and on Medication and Setbacks

Hello all, remember me?

If you’re new, welcome. If you’ve read before, welcome back!

I’ve befriended a few people on Facebook who may be reading for the first time, and learning a lot about me that they didn’t know, and so for their benefit I’ll do a quick recap. I’m Kerry, as you hopefully know, and I’m a lot of things including a sophomore in college, a barista at Starbucks, and an owner of many cute animals (including pet rats). I’m also in recovery from an eating disorder, and pretty severe depression. I hope this doesn’t change your view of me too much, as I’m obviously still the same person, but I’ve accepted that it might. I’m writing this blog to hopefully increase awareness of mental illness, and acceptance of mental illness, and I want that to start, or continue with me.

So anyway…

As Amy Poehler puts in her book that I got for Christmas, Yes, Please!, “There’s a lot of, ‘I dressed for writing and went to my writing spot,’ and it’s like ‘What the fuck are you talking about? This is a nightmare!’ Writing is a nightmare.”

Writing about your innermost fee-fees (feelings) is easier said than done. Especially when you’re being open with all the internet. This became obvious in the last month, when instead of writing about when I fell off the ‘recovery wagon’ I kept my mouth shut and tried not to feel like a hypocrite for all the advice I’ve been giving people.

But enough with me whining about how hard it is to write (something I truly love to do) and lets get on with it: yes, I fell off the recovery wagon.

You see, a very important part of the recovery process (for me, not everyone) has been finding the right medications. I’m including the name of my medication here, so that people who are taking it or considering taking it have a view of what it might be like to go off of it. That medication for me is Effexor XR, used alongside Abilify and Trazodone with the occasional Ativan.

Sounds like a mouthful right? (ha, ha–get it?) But seriously, if you’re on medication let me give you a small piece of advice:

Do NOT go off of them without your doctors help.

Yes, this sounds self-explanatory and you’re probably thinking, “Why Kerry, why ever would I do such a thing?” But if you are taking the right medications, you end up feeling better. For me, this automatically translated to ‘I don’t need these anymore, and they’re awkward to take in front of people, and so I’ll just stop.’

Of course, skipping them once led to skipping again and by the time I noticed that I was regularly skipping my medication it had been five days and nights. Luckily, I was in group when this happened and was able to tell my therapist, “Hey A, I think I know why I’m feeling so dizzy, nauseous, lightheaded, depressed, sleeping a lot and crying a lot.” Because that’s what was happening. By the time I got home I withdrawal had really kicked in, and I couldn’t watch a small section of a military-based TV show without becoming overwhelmed, anxious and bursting into tears.

You see a lot about withdrawal in the world: when people stop smoking, or drinking caffeine, or when people who use drugs try to stop. What its impossible to convey though, is how much it sucks when its actually happening to you. I’m just going to whine for a little bit here, because the people in my life got tired of hearing about how much it sucked pretty quickly–way before I was done complaining about it.

Effexor withdrawal is the most awful thing I’ve experienced (and I’ve gone through gallstone pancreatitis–more on that later). Not only do you feel the feelings that the drug has been keeping away, getting sadder, more tired, and yes–suicidal, but you also get the physical symptoms of your body adjusting to being without this drug (and so not performing the chemical reactions that it has been helping with the same way). These physical symptoms include: brain shocks (which essentially feel like a small current of electricity is going through your brain, or like its being shaken), nausea, migraines, lack of the ability to regulate your emotions, and more. Fun stuff!

Personally, I (as a neuroscience major) was morbidly fascinated, as what was happening chemically in my brain was pretty interesting. Effexor is (I’m pretty sure) an SNRI, which means selective serotonin-neuroepinephrine reuptake inhibitor. Basically, it causes the neurons (brain cells) to take back in less of the chemicals that they use to communicate (serotonin and neuroepinephrine in this case) than they normally do. This means more happy chemicals (they actually affect mood and energy levels generally speaking, respectively) swimming around in your brain. This means that your brain gets used to these new levels.

Now imagine taking that extra juice away.

So logically, I knew it was no wonder that I felt like shit.

After a couple weeks, including a really hard weekend that I may go into detail on later, and a lot of lectures from many medical professionals on stopping your medication without assistance (again, the upshot is: don’t do it) I was mostly back mentally, and physically. So why didn’t I post then?

This experience scared the hell out of me.

One week, I was doing well, visiting my friend in NYC, eating as I was supposed to, and the next I was contemplating putting myself back into the hospital. Thankfully, a lot of good things that I had set up in my life kept me from doing that.

First, there was work. I love being a barista, and the people I work with, and though I have no problem with them knowing that I’m in recovery (as a few people do know) I didn’t want this setback to affect my ability to do my job, or people’s confidence in me. I’m proud of having a job, and I love Starbucks as a partner and as a customer. Going inpatient would have meant taking a lot of time off of work, and it also would have meant the possibility of reduced hours (with increased care) for a while after I got out of the hospital. I didn’t want to go backwards.

Second, there was my team. If you’re going through any sort of anxiety, depression, eating disorder, or any other sort of mental illness, I hope you have a good treatment team–and I’ve got to say, mine’s fucking awesome. They made sure that: A) I was safe and B) I didn’t forget that this was temporary, and that I had shit to do other than being a patient.

I truly am thankful for their helping me stay out of the hospital, because although the hospital is “great” when you absolutely need it, its obviously something to be avoided if you can. You know that you have a good treatment team when they do what they have to do to keep you safe and on a good path, regardless of how you feel about the matter initially.

Thirdly, there was my family. Although my parents didn’t do the ideal thing, what the treatment team advised, they helped me to figure out a solution that worked for everyone at the time. If you’re going through a tough time, it pays to have family on your side, because you’re pretty much stuck with them loving you no matter what you do. My extended family ended up chipping in and helping me out where I needed it, and it was the perfect distraction.

And lastly, as cheesy as it sounds, there was me. You can set up the environment all you want when you’re feeling crappy, and try to prepare for everything your sad self might throw at you, but in the end there’s you and your thoughts. One of the main things that stood in my way from doing something stupid that really hard weekend was the memory of how exquisitely good life can be when you’re really in it, and trying.

So now I’m back. In school for the Winter term, with a full course load, stepping down on treatment and stepping up with that whole life thing (more on that later).

Let me know if you want to hear more about anything I mentioned here, or if you have any questions you want me to answer. I’m happy to help with pretty much anything and everything, and I don’t care if we’ve never talked, or if you used to hate me, or if you think I’m weird, or think that I think that you’re weird, or any of that. If you need to talk, message me–period.

This has been a rambling message, with a lot of odd details and I hope you’re still with me. My new goal, to hopefully not fall off of the radar, will be to post something daily, likely when I’m procrastinating (like now). So expect to hear from me tomorrow.

Love you lovelies, thanks for reading!