Bad Spells, etc. (Pt. 2/?): How

Alright then, the “How”. Kind of.

First,  you drink a lot of tea. From your favorite mug. Herbal stuff, because of that caffeinatedanxiety thing. Or cocoa I suppose, if you’re one of those non-tea drinkers.

I say kind of because coping with shitty circumstances is never going to feel good: there is nothing that I know of that will take something that is a) hard and b) necessary and c) uncomfortable, and make you love doing it. And if you find it pretty please let me know?

I love to write–putting down my thoughts so that I can see them, read them and process them linearizes my thinking. Things aren’t this vast tangled web, and I can figure out what I’m actually thinking about and what I actually want, need, and feel. In fact when I’m manic there is almost nothing other than knitting and writing that actually helps me stay calm, or in one place. But writing this thesis: the first long writing piece I’ve had to write about the technical/mathematical craziness I love that is physics, has been hellish.

The other aspect to this that has taken a little while to understand and move past is that it truly knocked my confidence in my recovery. I thought I was a bad ass, honest, leave everything on the table, speak my feelings, recovery oriented ninja and then suddenly I was skipping meds, missing class, missing meetings with my advisor, neglecting myself, and my pets, and generally avoiding anyone who cared enough about me to question the mess that things were obviously becoming.

It turns out that the way I got things to start to come back around was the same way I’ve done so in nearly every other aspect of recovery: find people who I trusted to help me figure it out, spill my guts…

…(be incredibly grateful when they don’t judge me for avoiding everything and everyone and also for helping me come out of the panic attack that inevitably comes up)…

…make a plan, and execute with much communication and help.

For someone who tells those who honor me with their trust, and ask for my advice, that mental illness is physical illness: that it’s physical illness of the brain, and that they don’t need to feel ashamed for needing help, it was a bitter pill to swallow when I had to give the same talk to myself.

In my case this time, I was lucky enough to be at a small, liberal arts college where all the professors in the department know me, and know each other. My advisor reported concern, and I had to face up to the mess I’d been shoving under the rug all term. Since that happened, I’ve started making progress on my thesis again. It isn’t going to be what I wanted, or what it could have been, but that’s something for radical acceptance: I’m hanging onto what one of the lovely people told me when I asked for advice (they work for the college): “The best thesis is the thesis that is done.”

In the spirit of getting all the shit done, when everything is shit, please find below my attempt to distill my experiences here into some general to-do’s for the next time this happens.

And yes, if you know me in the real world please feel free to smack me upside the head with this if I pull a vanishing act on you.

  1. Find someone who you trust loves you enough to call you on your bullshit. Talk to them, tell them what is in your head, and then ask them to help you make a plan to get back above water.
  2. Spread your plan out, and make sure you’re not overloading yourself. It’s not going to do any good if you panic about your plan, and then feel shitty for not doing it “right”.
  3. Drink a cup of tea. Breath. 
  4. Ask your someone if you can check in with them, and if they don’t hear from you if they can check in with you. Feel that other people around you care, and that you aren’t alone in this.
  5. Get shit done. 

Treat yourself as kindly as you would treat anyone else who is feeling like you are. We’re all human here.

My thesis is due on the thirteenth, for better or for worse. A thesis that is the best I can do under the circumstances is better than a thesis that never appears. People are here for me. I’m not alone in my shit. You also, are not alone in whatever shit is going on in your life.

When mental illness rears back up it can really feel like it’s life interfering with the mental illness rather than the other way around. Remember in the midst of that, that you are a person with a mental illness and not reducible to it. We’re all here, dealing with our own shit, and rooting for you.

Until next time,

Kerry

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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!

“I don’t care if the world knows what my secrets are.”

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!)

We are also stronger as a result of it all.

Thank you for reading.