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

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.

 

Confessions: Inside My Mind

So as you’ve probably guessed from the title of this post, I haven’t been doing the best lately.

Instead of disappearing from the world, like last time I fell down a bit, I thought I’d share a bit about what’s been happening, and hopefully help some of you understand what its like in the mind/life of someone with an eating disorder, and depression. My goal with this blog is still to (someday) reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness, and I feel like being open is a good first step. If you’re suffering, this may be triggering as it deals directly with my thoughts.

Today I felt like I was floating. People imagine, or I imagine that they imagine, that when you suffer from depression you sit around listening to sad music, and sigh a lot, and seek revenge on your dead father’s murderer of a brother. Oh wait, that’s Hamlet.

Quick rant: I actually had this conversation with my Shakespeare professor last term, as he looked at Hamlet, who I personally think is one of the first famous characters shown to be depressive or manic depressive, and said to the class, “And there’s Hamlet crying again, such an emo.” This reduction of someone to “emo” bothers the hell out of me. To look at someone and call them emo involves so much assumption, and judgement, the end result of which is a fairly derogatory term for a mentally ill person. It’s one of those terms that people don’t think about a lot, but that contributes a hell of a lot to the stigma around mental illness. End rant.

But back to the floating. That’s often what depression looks like for me. Clinically, its called “depersonalization” which always seems to fit for me as it sounds like it means becoming less of a person. It really means a sort of loss of identity, or a state where it seems like your body isn’t your body and your thoughts aren’t your own but rather you are separated from body and world and all that they imply. What it looks like to the outside world must be a bit bizarre. I imagine I stare into space a lot, as people tell me that I look like I’m zoning out a lot. I’m often quieter, but once I start talking I ramble and can’t stop. I forget that I’m hot, or cold, and I often forget about what it requires to be human: must get up, must eat, must brush teeth, must shower. I actually write all of these things down in the to do section of my planner in order to not forget.

All this depersonalization, and dissociation (which for me relates closely to the depersonalization though its different) basically make it seem like my mind is in a world of its own. The odd part is that when I’m depressed, I often go into my eating disorder which has become so much about my body.

One of the problems for me with eating disorder recovery is that it greatly involves being present, and mindful and in your body. Frankly, I hate my body. I hate it with a passion actually. So when I’m in this dissociated state, it’s a welcome break from the feeling of entrapment in a place that I hate. What I need to learn to do is tolerate being in my body, even when I hate it, but that’s another blog post entirely.

How the dissociation affects my eating is another story entirely. It’s hard to explain because as much as I feel separate from my body, I also feel tethered to it in a way. Often when I’m dissociated I completely forget to eat–that it’s something that I have to do as a living creature, but then when I get hungry the eating disorder takes over. When you feel like you’re a mind trapped within a body that’s not your own it becomes incredibly hard to remember that thoughts aren’t orders, and that they aren’t permanent, and that you can argue with them, and change them and flip them entirely. So here’s how it often goes: 1) Sit down or lay down or stand or be 2) Thoughts occur 3) Thoughts consume 4) Forget importance of things like hygiene, school, and food. 5) Get hungry. 6) New thoughts consume–thoughts of greed, and disdain, and food and fat.

What happens next varies. Lately, I’ve been choosing the not so very good options of refusing to eat, throwing out what food I can and feeding more food to the dogs so that I won’t give in, or eating everything. Often these two options rotate, one after the other in a cycle of self-hatred that feeds itself until I intervene with a meal plan meal.

I’ve been asking myself recently, a lot, why I don’t just give up on recovery, and stop eating, and stop going to therapy. I could do it, though not for long. You see, they’ve got my number now. I’ve outed myself in too many ways (including this blog) and people who care about me would know immediately what was happening. Then the following things occur, in a ritualistic stripping away of the things that make me less of a patient:
1) They would make me step back up in treatment, cutting down on work hours.
2) I would have to quit my job, or go on leave.
3) I would have to cut down on classes.
4) I would have to stop going to classes completely.
5) I would be admitted to a higher level of care.

I’m writing that down primarily for selfish reasons, to remind myself that if I go back to being a patient, I lose more than weight–I lose everything. Everything that makes me, me–at least for a little while.

So it would work for a little while, but not long enough to allow me to lose enough weight, if I’m being honest. Too many people care about me more than I do (goddamn it) to let me spiral too much. This makes me both incredibly grateful, and incredibly sad.

So what’s the other option–figuring this shit out. That’s the option I’m trying my hardest to move towards, and I’ll detail that more later, as right now I have to do it and that means doing my homework as opposed to writing what I would like to write. It means taking steps towards studentdancerbaristaquilterratloverwriter Kerry instead of patient Kerry and it means trying to do instead of just trying to be.

As always, I love you all and I’m always here if you’re struggling or just need to talk.

Thanks for reading.

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!

My Filofax Planning and Recovery

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!
IMG_0050.JPG
(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:

IMG_0047.JPG
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!

IMG_0048.JPG
After that…

IMG_0054.JPG
Is a pretty piece of paper that I washi taped and had to show off, and then…

IMG_0055.JPG

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…

IMG_0056.JPG

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
rockclimbing!”

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.

IMG_0061.JPG

IMG_0060.JPG

IMG_0058.JPG

IMG_0059.JPG

IMG_0063.JPG

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.

IMG_0064.JPG

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!

Until next time, with lots of love.