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.
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.
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.
Hello everyone–sorry for the break, it’s finals time for me which had to be the priority unfortunately!
I want to respond to the poll and what people want be to elaborate on, but I feel that it’s necessary to talk about something that a loved one brought to my attention recently, and that’s the possible repercussions of posting my “secrets” for all to see.
I am aware of these repercussions, and I have been for long before I wrote my first post. But as it is so nicely put in the song, “Secrets” by Mary Lambart, which the title of this post comes from, I really don’t care who knows about my secrets anymore.
The loved one who inspired this post, or made me aware of its necessity, is concerned that I may be hurt by this blog–that people will look at me differently, and treat me a certain way before getting to know me and you know what I say? Let them.
Because what they’ll see if they look at me in any certain way is that I’m human. There are things that I struggle with, and ways that I cope with them, and these things have been labeled a certain way but this makes me no more or less human than others who are not labeled in these ways.
I’m not ashamed of my problems. They are a part of me, and my eventual goal is to accept all of me–not just the things that I like–even as I work to change some things.
In treatment one of the most difficult things is that for a time you are treated as a diagnosis. Things are assumed about your behavior, you aren’t trusted, and your independence is restricted because it is assumed that because of your label you will do certain things. The tough part comes when your life is out of danger, and you’re still in treatment, and you’re asked to shed your diagnosis as your identity and find yourself again outside of your disorder. This is the hardest thing that I am doing right now, as my disorders are still so much a part of my identity.
But what people don’t realize is that people, when they’re living with mental illness, are constantly working to find their new self. I’m now not only a depressed and anxious eating disorder patient–I’m a dancer, a student, a crafter, a rat-lover, a barista, a research assistant, a reader and so much more.
Recovery happens “when life becomes more important.” This is what I’ve heard from people since day 1. And what recovery is becoming for me is just adding to the list of what I am, and who I am. With this blog, I’m hoping to add “mental health advocate” to that list.
People won’t be able to change their preconceptions of what mental illness is until they realize that it’s all around them. And that it doesn’t take away a person’s other identities–it just shortens the list until they’re well enough to extend it out again.
So if you’re reading this, and choosing to look at me as a mental health patient before you check out my other qualities that’s fine, because it’s part of who I am, and where I’m coming from. And yet when you do look at me from that perspective, I hope you’ll see and understand that I am fighting to be so much more than that. And my decision to share that fight with you all is a choice that I hope will help you see that people with mental illness are not to be discounted as “just another patient.” We’re people whose lives were taken away, and who are getting their options back, and our lives back one day at a time (oh no…Four Winds motto!)
So I can’t stop writing. Seriously, thank you all for being interested in what I have to say!
Thank you to those who voted in the poll–the results were a tie (at least so far) between how my Filofax has helped with my anxiety, and my depression turnaround, and as I’m upgrading to a new Filofax system soon I really wanted to write this one so that I can chronicle the current setup. If you’re interested there’s also an accompanying video, which is my first venture into Youtubing.
I’m excited because this is my first post that will have pictures. And they’re pictures of one of my favorite things, the nerd that I am, my Filofax!
So, I got into planning one really awful night when I was home alone for the weekend. I was coming off of a pretty horrific binge, and I remember just thinking, “What should I be doing right now? Because it isn’t this.”
I started researching journals, and planners, and I came across the amazing Filofax community! Soon I was sucked into the videos, and the decorations, and the different ways of customizing your pages, and your setup, and I just had to get one. I ordered my black Domino that night, rush order (yes–next day delivery) because I had this feeling that it could help me for that weekend, and she’s been with me ever since!
(Also you get to see my face–exciting I know)
So this is my baby now, and it helps me in so many ways. So when you open it up:
This is what you see!! I have my dashboard, which has the occasional post it on it with reminders, but is more to protect the pages, sticky notes and quotes behind it. Silly as it may seem, opening my Filofax up to a big ol’ bright pink “Hello” makes me smile, so I keep it. On the back of the cover is five card holders, which I use for appointment cards and to hold sticky notes, in the pocket behind I have some labels right now– it’s super handy.
Oh and just a close up of one of my favorite quotes. I don’t remember where I got these printables but If someone knows please tell me!
Is a pretty piece of paper that I washi taped and had to show off, and then…
Comes the meat of the planner–my week on two pages. This is one section that really helps my anxiety. I use it to make to-do lists for every day, and I make all the lists on the Sunday before the week starts, using my syllabi and notes I make as needed about appointments. This way, I know what I have to get done, and how I’m going to spread up the work so that I have some free time but everything gets done. After I finish the to do lists, if there’s any doubt about how I’ll get through a day I used the calendar on my phone and block out every single minute, starting with the time-sensitive things, like appointments and classes, and then fitting in the rest of what I have to do. If it doesn’t work out, I rework the spread of the to do lists.
I also keep here a positive things sticky note, which I’ll talk about later, and a goals sticky note, where I have my goals for the week.
This might seem like a lot to do just to make a to-do list, but it cuts way down on my time later because I never have to worry about how I’m going to get something done: it’s already figured out.
The time consuming thing I did not like was the entering things into my phone. So I’m moving to an almost entirely paper based system and making…
Day per page pages! I’m not actually making them for long–I ordered a set for 2015–but for now they’re working out fine! So on these, as you can see I have my calendar, which is only ever completely scheduled out if I have a day that seems impossible. I kept a section for to-dos, and added a section that I was keeping on sticky notes before–positive things about the day. It really is nice to fill this out throughout the day, and just keep note of the nice things that happen. Also I love turning to a past week and being able to say, “Oh cool, this was when I started
My goals are now incorporated into my to-dos, and calendar, and I keep the ones for the week on my dashboard at the front of the binder.
So then after the bulk of the binder are the rest of the sections: contacts, which are hidden because Internet, quotes, which I have a few pictures of! Notes, which is mostly Starbucks stuff to remember, Projects, which is stuff I’m planning to make for Etsy, and for other people, and last but for sure not least my Recovery section.
The quotes help if I need a boost, but the recovery section is super important and I will forever keep it in my carry-along binder. It has all of the notes from my treatment groups–CBT, DBT, Nutrition, the works. This way if I ever find myself really stuck I can look and see what I can do in that situation. This is also where I make the lists I talked about in my last post, of things to do, and where I keep a running CBT log, because I’m a dork and find that they work.
Basically, in here is everything that I could possibly need when I’m out and around. It keeps me on track, and helps me worry less, because it lets me both figure out how to handle a situation that’s come up, and plan to handle ones that may come up in the future.
If anyone wants a post about setting up their own Filofax let me know–I’m planning on doing one around Christmas but definitely can sooner!
I had an odd conversation with my therapist the other day.
I’m definitely on an upward swing treatment wise. I’m stepping down in treatment, and stepping up in life. But what a lot of people don’t tell you is that even when you’re ready to not be in treatment for twelve hours a week, you’re still not always sure that you’re ready or able to recover. I was describing a slightly scary incident that I had the other day, and how a lot of the urges to act in “bad” ways had come back for the first time in a little while, and my therapist asked me, “So what did you do?”
I was a little shocked at the simple question, mostly because I was so caught up in how I had been feeling, and describing to her exactly how bad the situation seemed, and how it obviously meant that I was going back down my old road again. So when I answered it felt really, really anticlimactic.
“Well, I drew up a pattern, cried a little, watched some TV, finished my work, ate a snack, and went to bed.”
That’s it. That was the conclusion to my big night of emotional turmoil. Productivity, a few tears, and some much needed sleep. And she informed me that what I did was cope with it.
Now: I did not know until a few weeks ago that I had this ability. It still feels a little bit like a super power or something else miraculous. I mean, something horrible happening doesn’t mean that horrible things need to continue happening?! It may seem obvious, but when the pattern is to drag out the unpleasant and dismiss all good things, to start to reverse that feels like some bizarre opposite day.
So what is coping anyway? Its a word you hear a lot once you start treatment in any form– “Did you use any of your coping skills when that happened?” is a question that will forever be burned into my brain, and I’m not sure that its in an entirely helpful way. It brings to mind stress balls, CBT worksheets, and lots of suppressed feelings. It seems that if someone has to cope with the situation, they have to let it “win,” and just deal with the outcome, or at least that’s how I always interpreted it.
In reality though, I’m finding that coping with a situation is just the opposite of that. Its not that you’re giving up to the situation, its that you’re letting go of the pointless struggle. When you can’t change a situation, does fighting it do anything other than show that you’re fighting it?
For a long time, I thought that if I actually coped with a situation it would mean that I wasn’t feeling the actual emotion behind it. Because if you feel that strong an emotion, and that strong an urge, is there anything left to do but act on it? As it turns out the answer is yes.
But what coping is not is: artificial, forcing yourself into something, unpleasant, or suppression. An actual coping skill that you use can’t be something that you don’t want to do, or it loses its purpose as you’ll never do it.
Also: this whole coping thing? Not just for people with mental illness! Thaaat’s right, everyone can do it! (Cue cheering I know!) In fact, I learned how to really cope by watching people who weren’t depressed, and who (as far as I know of course) had never “officially” learned coping skills in therapy.
So how to do it? How to cope with a situation in a healthy way instead of overexercising, cutting, bingeing, purging, or beating yourself up in any way? I came up with a system that works for me, and I figured I’d break it down and share it with you all.
First, accept that the unpleasant thing happened. That’s right, let it into your mind: let it become a past event just like all the other things you’ve ever done, and don’t give it any more significance than that. Its something that happened, that’s now over, and that you cannot prevent or do anything about, other than move forward.
Next, look at your options. Usually, when something bad happens, you have options. If you don’t have any options, move onto the next step. I recommend at this point, until you’re used to doing things the healthy way, making a list of your options. I have a huge list from past events in my planner. And really consider what you can do, including things that you might initially discount. I’ll share my list from the example I was giving: binge, binge and purged, overexercise, restrict food for the next day, cut (and yes, it may be the unhealthy things that come to mind first: don’t worry about it), continue doing my homework, eat a reasonable snack. After thinking a little more, I added to this list: put on my favorite movie, let myself cry, practice banjo, play ukelele, plan out the next week, watch How I Met Your Mother, sleep, play with the rats, wake up my parents to talk, pet my dogs, feed the fish, go for a walk, plan out my meals for the next day, call my therapist, start a book for NaNoWriMo, make something for my Etsy shop. Get creative with this list: the only restrictions are that it has to be things that you actually like to do, and things that you could get up and do that second, without making excuses to prevent yourself from doing it. But you want a really good list, and you want to include literally everything you could do
Choose the ideal option. This isn’t always easy, because what you want to do is almost always what you should do. So take a look at that list, and pick out what it would be ideal for you to do–even if you don’t want to do it in that moment. So for me, I would circle “Continue homework.”
Identify what options would move you backwards. That is any action that won’t bring you towards where you eventually want to be. And not just short term. For me, although in the short term, when I’m in a bad place, I might want to just be a patient forever. It helps here to look at the long term, where I want to be a respected neuropsychologist, with research going, and patients that I see, happily married, with kids that I homeschool. So I would take my list and (because I love colorful pens) underline in red anything that doesn’t bring me closer to where I actually want to be.
Then, decide what you feel like you can do, that isn’t underlined in red. This doesn’t have to be the ideal option: we’re getting there! This is just what you feel emotionally prepared to do, in that moment, right away. For me, it was to watch TV. I felt a little guilty about not doing my homework, but it was what I could do, and even if it wasn’t moving me forward, it wasn’t going backwards either.
Repeat previous step as needed. As you do each thing, you’re distracting yourself, and proving to yourself that you don’t need to do the things marked in red. I ended up combining to things on my list: I made a pattern for something I’m going to put up on my Etsy shop! Make your way through your list, doing everything you can. What will usually happen is that you’ll either calm down, or run out of time and have something come up that you need to do.
Now, notice that the unhealthy things aren’t crossed off, just marked as backwards-moving. This is because if you go through everything, and you can’t calm yourself down, and you’re in a really bad place, I won’t pretend that they aren’t an option. And its possible that you’ll make it all the way through, and have nothing left to do but something that will move you backwards. But if it gets to this point (which shouldn’t happen often) keep in mind how long you’ve made it without resorting to unhealthy behaviors. Try repeating some things on the list. Or seeing if you can add to it. Just know that you don’t have to do those things: recognize them as a choice, not a compulsion. You’re free to make that choice, but you should do so recognizing that it’ll only move you backwards, and hurt you in the long run.
Anyway, hopefully you’re still on the happy things on your list, and you’re now calm enough to…
Do what you need to do to move forward in your situation. For me, as my crisis was school related, what I had to do was to do the homework that I could do. But because I didn’t just jump into trying to do this, I was able to get it done quicker, without getting frustrated with myself. Sure I could have gotten it done sooner without doing all the other stuff, but by pausing for a moment and doing something that made me happy, I reminded myself that there are things in life beyond the stressful situation at hand. There are things that you enjoy, and that bring you joy. Life is bigger than what makes you miserable.
Congratulations, you just coped with an upset in your life!
Yay, congratulate yourself!
If you actually try this out, and keep doing it, you won’t always have to make physical lists. You don’t even have to at first if you don’t want to–I’m just making suggestions, do what works for you. I like lists because I’m paper-obsessed, and like to write things, and see them all in front of me. Also, making lists makes me happy for whatever weird reason, so its another one of what my therapist would call my, “delaying tactics” (what I refer to as your options).
If you have a slightly backwards mind like me, it might be scary to successfully cope with a situation, without using your unhealthy coping mechanisms. To this, I say: f*** your mind, because it obviously doesn’t know what’s best for you. You made decisions specifically based on what will bring you to where you want to be, and if something in your mind doesn’t want that, then its only trying to hold you back.
Know this. Own this. And keep kicking butt.
Also, I have a ton of things I’d like to write about, but consider taking this poll to show me what you’d like to hear about. If no one answers, I’ll do whatever I want 🙂
After lurking, stalking, admiring, and envying all the bloggers out there, I’ve decided to join the club.
So first: introductions. I’m Kerry, a twenty year old full time college student, and a part time barista at Starbucks.
I’m also in the process of recovering from an eating disorder, social anxiety, and severe chronic depression that left me in places that I did not like. There are a lot of changes happening in my life: changes that I want to be able to acknowledge, and remember. Trust me: once you’ve been in the grips of something that’s seized your mind, and taken your life away from you, making decisions for yourself again is both scary and a process that you’ll never take for granted again.
I don’t know what I want the focus of this blog to be, but I want a few things to come out of it: increased awareness and acceptance of mental illness is the biggie, I want to help people who have loved ones who are suffering from depression, or an eating disorder, or any sort of mental illness to understand a little more, and be better able to help. I want to share my obsession with planners and how planning my life has helped me improve it (my Filofax is one of the loves of my life: don’t judge), and I want to show off my crafts (knitting, crocheting, sewing, quilting, etc.) and have a base for my Etsy shop so that people can get to know the person behind the shop a little better. Overall, I want to be able to look back when I’m fully recovered and see my progress, my fallbacks, and how I got there, so I can remember the process, and help others who are struggling.
So if you’re interested, curious, or want to know more, feel free to follow along!
I’d appreciate support along my journey as I come public about my struggles with mental illness for the first time, but I also want to support you. If you know me in real life feel free to message me on Facebook anytime, or anyone can message me here if you want to talk, or need help, or just want to chat.
I want to help change the face of mental illness: it can happen to anyone, and it isn’t something that need be taboo, or that anyone should need to hide. We’re all human, we all struggle, and we all have the ability to emphasize with and support each other. And I think that its when all people begin to use that ability, that changes will really start to happen.