Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – Alyssa

I am very excited to share a piece today written by my friend, Alyssa. Alyssa is someone I have known for years, yet have never been all that close with. We were in the same sorority in college, but a couple pledge classes apart. 

The reason I mention this though, is twofold. For one, it helps to prove my point that you really never know what someone is struggling with at any given time. And two, I just want to say that I was taken aback by Alyssa’s genuine willingness to share. Talking about suicide and suicidal thoughts is terrifying. Sharing something so intimate can make you feel completely exposed and beyond vulnerable. Somehow, Alyssa was able to put that fear aside and contribute to this project anyway. She shared some of her most intimate feelings and experiences for me, someone she has never been extremely close with, and even more so than that, for all of you reading.

As you will soon see, Alyssa is still in the midst of her recovery process. Having said that, she has still found a way to explain her mental health journey, and how it ties into this month’s theme of Suicide Prevention Awareness, in hopes that her words will positively impact someone else.

I may have said this in the past, but I cannot stress enough how meaningful that is. Being able to put words to some of your demons is hard enough. Sharing those words with the world is even more difficult. Like those who have shared before her, Alyssa is one of the few people that has found a way to break her silence in hopes of breaking the stigma.  

Without further ado, check out her piece here:

Suicide and depression are complex and are so unspoken that it becomes difficult to find the words to express the darkness. It is hard for me to understand the effects these diagnoses have on my brain, let alone on my life.

For many years, I was able to keep these things hidden. I struggled constantly and knew I wasn’t like everyone else. Something was wrong with me. I grew up thinking I was a defective version of a human, flawed beyond fixing. I lived my whole life constantly criticizing myself and convincing myself I was not enough. If you can’t imagine, this becomes extremely exhausting. A daily battle with yourself, filled with negative thoughts and feelings of shame and guilt. Feeling guilty for just being alive. I lived basically my entire life inside of my head, never taking a breath of fresh air or stopping to enjoy what was around.

Having depression and suicidal thoughts is like walking through darkness with your eyes closed. Everything just seems pointless and confusing.

For years, I convinced myself that I could beat the flood of negative thoughts by myself. By the time I turned 21 though, I knew it was a serious problem that I could not solve alone. Around this same time, I was also still battling my eating disorder – a very physically harmful component of my anxiety. I was sick, but I was able to realize how unhealthy these habits were really becoming.

I panic every time I think about the effects that 8 years of an eating disorder had on me. It ripped my life right out of my hands and forced me to think I did not deserve anything. I was not worth love or life. Suicidal thoughts were not foreign to me. They had been very present in my head ever since high school. 

One day, as I sat on my couch wanting to die, I was scrolling through my phone when I came across #projectsemicolon. I immediately thought to myself that I needed this tattoo. As an impulsive person (probably not much help from my anxiety/depression), I was on the way to the tattoo parlor in under 10 minutes. For those of you that have not heard of Project Semicolon, I highly recommend looking it up, it is beautiful.

This tattoo gave my life a little bit of purpose. It was exactly what I needed. I promised myself that after I got the tattoo, I would confess to my mom that I needed help. She had been in the dark just like everyone else in my life. Keeping all of these things hidden became too easy, and that is a scary thought. I was struggling more than ever and I was not okay. I wrote my mom a note explaining everything, put it in my nightstand at home, and left it there for “the right time.” (Now my only wish is that I would have asked for help sooner).

Finding mental health services alone seemed impossible, but telling my family about my anxiety and depression was the last thing I wanted to do. I did not want anyone else to feel the way I felt, and for some reason, I thought it was something they would take personally.

Since then, it has been two years and a rough road to recovery. There have been days where I wanted to give up, but my support system has kept me going. I would be lying if I said that recovery is smooth, because there have been times of relapse and obstacles. I have spent months crying and not feeling like myself. I surrounded myself with people who bring love into my life and helped me see positivity. My friends and my family are the reason I am alive today to share my story. I am forever thankful for all that they have done.

Along the way to recovery (where I still am today), I have endured a lot of self-discovery, both good and bad, but all of it makes me a stronger person in the end. I am thankful for yoga, coping skills and ALL of the mental health services. Two years later, and I have no shame seeing my therapist weekly or taking medications to help my brain reach a healthy place – both things that seem to have a negative connotation. There are still days that seem never-ending and way too difficult, but the main thing recovery has taught me is to enjoy the little things. I have learned to celebrate all of my minor accomplishments (and some days they may be smaller than others.)

On my journey to recovery, I have found my passion, which gives me purpose. Something I lacked my entire life, until now. My preschoolers bring a special kind of light into my life and filled a hole I did not even know I had. They make me feel happiness – a feeling I had long forgotten.

Some days, my accomplishment is just making it through the day with minimal tears. It’s the little things that make life worth it. To this day, I still struggle wrapping my head around all of this, because it’s something I’m still battling. But for now, I have started to see the beauty in the world. Throughout this process, I have learned that I am worth love from myself and from others. I will continue to take life day by day, minute by minute, because at the end of the day- All we have is now.

I honor the place in you where the entire universe resides. You are enough. You matter. The world is a better place because YOU are in it.

Learn more about Project Semicolon here: https://projectsemicolon.com/

 

MHAM Post #18: Kelsey

With the long weekend that just passed, I wanted to wait to share this post until today, when I knew people would be back to their everyday schedules and more likely to read it (it’s just that good).

The writer of this piece is, again, someone I was introduced to through a friend. Her name is Kelsey and, although we don’t know each other in real life, I feel genuinely connected to her after reading her words.

As cliche as it may sound, Kelsey’s writing truly makes you understand what it feels like to be a part of the roller coaster ride that is her dad’s mental health and addiction struggles. 

My favorite thing about this piece is how well it shows that people’s experiences can impact their loved ones mental health too. 

It’s heart-felt and heart-breaking all at once, and I’m pumped to share it here:  

HERO:
My dad is my hero. He is my favorite person in the whole, entire universe. We have the same humor, we have the same cackle, and we have the same antsiness when it comes to scheduling/agendas. Our hobbies together include: Watching Family Guy, making terrible, bologna sandwiches (drenched in too much Oscar Meyer, mustard) and taking midday naps in a shitty, box-fanned vortex, with our two, unruly Irish Setters.

My dad is a Clinical Social Worker.
And he’s damn good at what he does.

I’ve listened-in on countless, midnight phone calls, convincing his clients to “make it” or “hold on” until tomorrow. My dad would repeat: “Phil, you won’t feel like this tomorrow- It might not be any better, it might only feel slightly different. But I’ll guarantee you: It won’t feel the same.”

Dad would take a few minutes, nodding/listening to the distraught man on the other end, “Phil, call me in the morning. Promise me you’ll be around.” And just like that, Dad and I would continue our movie night, no comments/questions needed. Phil would call 6am tomorrow morning.

On the weekends, we’d go to garage sales so dad could, “Buy Richard a table for his Birthday,” because Richard didn’t own any furniture. We would take a pit stop, on the way to the grocery store, so dad could “Give Janice a pack of cigarettes, and a Snickers, so she’d make it through the week.” Always something.  

He’s my hero.
But he wasn’t always.

THE BEGINNING:
I found out my dad had a problem in 2005, when I was in 8th grade. Through Mom’s crying, through selling our home, and through a short-lived divorce, I found out that my dad had another talent.

My dad is addicted to Poker.
And he was damn good at what he did.

Until he wasn’t.

We lost a lot that year. My parents decided that restarting (again) in Idaho was the best option. In turn, we watched my dad like a hawk, and Dad attended Gamblers Anonymous Meetings (G.A.). Out of guilt, Dad encouraged mom to be a stay-at-home mom. In turn (because her babies weren’t in need of this role), Mom reconnected with her good friend, wine cooler.

Looking back, I never recall being sad. My parents were always dysfunctional. My dad always worked a lot, and mom always drank. Just how it was.

LATER ON:
By 2014, Dad had stopped going to G.A. Meetings, and Mom was Mom (that’s another story, for another time). Dad was working later nights. He was gone more weekends. He was on-edge, stressed from working On-Call at the hospital. I loved my Dad, but he was definitely a different person than he was in 2005. But I understood. Mom wasn’t working. He needed the extra cash. I’d pitch in when I could. I would let him borrow $200 here, $300 there. I’d let him put groceries on my credit card.

Regardless, I was proud.
Dad had stopped playing poker.

Until he didn’t.

In summer of 2014, we found out Dad had never actually been working nights, or going to Hospital seminars over the weekends. Dad was never borrowing money for groceries… Dad’s friend, John cracked one day when Mom cornered him. “John. Where’s Steve? And don’t you dare lie to me.” John whimpered, “He’s at a casino in northern Idaho. He will tell you he’s in Vegas, but he’s not. Someone needs to drive and get him…”

Dad finally called, after ignoring our calls for 3 days. “Jan. I messed up. It’s bad.”

Over the last year, Dad had gambled away an unspeakable amount of money. He took money from my Brother and I to count cards, and he maxed out our credit cards. I thought, “Kelsey…How could you be so blind?”

That was just the beginning.

ACUTE WITHDRAWAL SYNDROME:
We also found out that Dad had been abusing opioids. He had been addicted for the last 7 years. My Brother and I knew that Dad would pop an anxiety pill here and there… but we didn’t realize the dosage, or frequency, or how bad it really was.

Wasn’t it normal to take an anxiety pill, every once in awhile?

With his new job in Boise, insurances/doctors had changed, and Dad no longer had the “Doctor, Homie-Hook-Up.” Dad went off these drugs cold turkey. In turn, Dad went crazy. In 2014, Dad started going through Acute, Opiate Withdrawal Syndrome. (It’s now 2017. He isn’t any better.)

Dad stopped being any form of my Dad. His “Family Guy humor” stopped, his cackle stopped, and he spent most of his time in the room of vortex fans, sleeping. His hands shook. He preferred to sit alone, instead of goofing with his kids.

Recently here in 2017, Dad tried to explain this chemical imbalance/withdrawal syndrome to my Aunt. “It feels like I’m going to jump out of my skin. And I have a hard time with day-to-day tasks. The thought of shaving gives me high anxiety.” He continued with a story: One-day at work (before he realized how bad it was), Dad was counseling a couple. The couple was fighting in Spanish, and Dad couldn’t get a word in. Dad was patiently waiting for them to stop speaking Spanish, so he could help.

Turns out…

The couple was speaking English.

SHIT HAPPENS:
Later in the summer, Dad crashed the Prius. His reply to the accident was, “I wish it killed me.” That day Mom took Grandpa’s guns from the house.

A couple months after Dad fessed up about gambling, and beginning the journey of this new mental illness, Dad lost his job. They were losing the house. My brother broke his arm and lost his job as well. I was the only one in my family with a job, and I was just offered an internship at my dream job, outside Seattle.

One Saturday afternoon, while working in the Boise, Idaho Mall, I had a full-blown panic attack. I fell in the backroom at my store, chest pounding, not being able to breath. How could I leave to Seattle for this internship? “How dare I think about leaving them.”

CONCLUSION:
My boss at the time (now Mentor, and who I consider a best friend), Meghan, found me defeated on the dust-bunny covered, cement floor. I’ll never forget the way she calmed me down. These were the conclusions she lead me to (took me until just now to finally accept):

-I can’t save my parents
-I can’t send them money (no matter how indirectly I’m asked)
-Mental illness is real
-Suicide is real; I can’t blame myself
-I can only focus on me, and my well being

 Because of this mind-set, I’ve accomplished so much more than I thought I could.

-I took my dream internship outside Seattle
-I became a Jr. Marketing Coordinator for the company
-I paid off my car (big win for me!)
-I dropped in on my first mini-ramp
-I received my Bachelors of Business Administration Degree
-I moved to California
-I became a Marketing Coordinator for another, kick-ass company
-I started volunteering for a dog rescue 

NEXT STEPS:
My dad rarely calls. When he does, and I see his caller ID, I think “Is he ok? Is he calling to say goodbye?”  This is the truth I live with.

We lost our house, and my childhood memorabilia, yearbooks, and Harry Potter action figures are stored in my best friend’s garage.  My parents are living pay-check-to-pay-check in a small, rental house. Mom finally got a job after 8 years. Dad is on unable to work, and is applying for disability. I haven’t been home in 8 months, and I’m honestly a little scared to.

However… When days are bad, and holidays away from Idaho feel extra heavy… I think back to when my dad helped Phil, on the phone all those nights…

“Kelsey…you won’t feel like this tomorrow- It might not be any better, it might only feel slightly different. But I’ll guarantee you: It won’t feel the same.”

MHAM Post #11: Corinne

This piece is written by someone that I’ve known during many stages of her life. Corinne has been a friend that I can honestly say I have grown with. I have known her since high school, and together we have experienced all of the ups and downs that come with your teens and 20s.

My favorite thing about our friendship, is that I can honestly say I’ve watched her learn and grow into herself over the years. She has become such a mature, self-aware person and it shows in her writing. 

I liked that, in a sense, her story contrasts the previous story, with regards to her opinions on medication. She also touches on her experience with therapy, and other coping mechanisms shes learned over the years. 

Read her experience here: 

It was my senior year of college. I came back to school after a summer that felt like an eternity of missing “The Promised Land” and mourning the breakup of a college relationship that, for some reason, shook me more than I ever imagined a short-lived relationship could. Going back to JMU after being at home for the summer was the best feeling in the whole world (I know all my Dookz can agree). It was then, upon the return to my favorite place, that I started experiencing what I would soon learn was my anxiety, something I would carry with me for the rest of my life.

I remember exactly what I was doing the first time I felt this then unfamiliar feeling, which I now know to be a panic attack. I was walking into the library, up to the front desk to check out a laptop. As I approached the front desk, I felt my heart begin to race. I became increasingly hot. The floor felt like it was moving below me, and I experienced an out-of-body feeling that I had never experienced before, for what seemed like no reason. I felt like I was crawling out of my skin. I felt like I needed to escape as soon as humanly possible, like I was in danger or something.  I thought it was weird, but ultimately I brushed it off.

It wasn’t until these feelings started to appear, not just in the library, but also on the bus going to class, while giving presentations, and while doing seemingly “relaxing” activities, like eating with my friends in the dining hall, that I started to become worried about what was happening to my body. (Side note: all of these were place I had previously THRIVED…I mean I AM a Leo SO you know…).

Krump was actually the first person who told me that what I was experiencing sounded like anxiety. I’ll never forget laying in my bed in Forest Hills googling “symptoms of anxiety” on WebMD, a website that, once I actually learned I had anxiety, I’d never visit ever again (hello hypochondria). I remember thinking, “holy shit, this is it, this is all of what I have been feeling”. And then I felt scared. What does this mean? Why do I feel this way? How do I make it stop?

Luckily in college, you’re surrounded by friends and LOTS of booze. So much so, that admitting to my roommate that the only time I didn’t feel anxious was when I was drunk, felt so casual to me. That fact didn’t actually scare me until I was out of college, and drinking until you can’t feel anything isn’t really a normal life coping method anymore.

Fast forward almost 5 years later and here I am, still learning new things about my anxiety and what comes along with it every single day. Sometimes I think I have it totally under control. I think that the 5th antidepressant/antianxiety medication I have tried and now take religiously, the seemingly healthy food I am putting into my body, the chamomile tea I drink both at night and during the day (I almost threw a fit when someone at work wanted to get rid of the sleepy time tea because “who needs that during work”.. umm hello anxious people do!), the 9 PM grandma bedtimes, my Himalayan salt lamp, my adult coloring book, my lavender candle, and the meditation, have somehow made my anxiety disappear. But then, BAM, I’m hit with a brain zap that comes with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, fear, worry and my least favorite, the out-of-body feeling I referenced earlier.

That’s the sneaky thing about anxiety though…just when you think you have it under control, it’s there hiding in the darkness, just waiting to come out. It appears when I am at brunch, laughing and enjoying time with my friends. It appears when I am driving down the highway. It appears when I am alone at night. It appears when I am grocery shopping. It appears when I am watching TV. It appears at times I can’t always explain.

Now let’s get to the positive side of things! I have spent a lot of time thinking about the differences between the ways that I used to cope with my anxiety versus how I cope with it now, and I feel like I can finally pat myself on the back. The people closest to me always say I never give myself enough credit, so here I am. I’m working on it! For starters, less than a year ago, I also was petrified of medication. I had some of the worst days of my life while on antidepressants that were pushed on me in the past, and I didn’t think medicine was the answer for me. Turns out, once you find a doctor who truly listens to you and genuinely cares about your well-being, this can change. I take my anxiety medication two times a day, and I can genuinely say it has changed my life for the better. Of course, I still have my moments where my anxiety creeps up on me like I described before, and it still happens way more often than the average person, but believe it or not, the number of these instances have decreased significantly. I can actually breathe again.

Less than a year ago, I was constantly looking for life situations to blame my anxiety on and so did my ex-therapist.  She taught me to search for answers or reasons as to why I felt this way. Like maybe it was just my post-grad anxiety/depression (my doctor said she saw so many people for this, so it must be true right!?). Maybe it was the toxic two-year relationship I was in. Or maybe it was the aftermath of the breakup of that toxic relationship. Or maybe it was the fact that my physical health is all sorts of fucked up and that carries so many unknowns. Or maybe it’s because I was transitioning jobs, or my work environment wasn’t good… this list could go on forever. Telling her about an experience I had with sexual assault was like a goldmine for her, because she was convinced she had found the answer to all of my anxieties. In reality, this wasn’t the case at all (hence the “ex” in ex-therapist). She made me feel like anxiety was something you could “fix” but it’s not. It’s actually quite the opposite. While, of course, the experiences I shared with her do play a part in the state of my mental health, even when I can’t recognize it, addressing those experiences doesn’t mean they, or my anxieties as a result of those experiences, suddenly go away. I now know that my anxiety has always been with me, it just chose the year 2012 to come out in full force.

And finally after all this thinking (it’s what us anxious people do best right!?), the #1 thing my journey has taught me, is that despite anxiety being a part of me, I am not “anxious all day every day for no apparent reason at all” like I used to believe I was. In the past, I was convinced that every ounce of my body felt anxious at every second of every day. I used to only noticed the times when I wasn’t anxious, in the same way people who don’t have generalized anxiety disorder only notice the times that they are anxious.

Since then, I have grown to learn how my past and present experiences have shaped me as a person, and how they have shaped my anxiety. I have learned what many of my triggers are, and how to talk myself off the ledge when I feel myself ramping up. I have switched from having the mindset of blaming my anxiety, to accepting it. My anxiety will always be part of me. There will always be time when it hits me and I can’t explain it. And it will never be “fixed”, but I know one thing is for sure, my anxiety does not define me and yours does not define you either.

**Disclaimer: I still think that therapy is one of the best things a person can do for their mental health, despite my personal experiences thus far. I know my prefect therapist is out there somewhere, just gotta find him or her!

MHAM #9: Christine

Today’s piece is written by the queen of social media herself, Christine. In case you don’t already know her, now you do. Like, I’m pretty sure she’s friends with Kris Jenner at this point, casual I know.

It’s hard to explain Christine in words because, like she says herself, she wears her emotions on her sleeve (and I mean that in the best way). I am never not hysterically laughing when I am with her. Her smile and cackle literally fill up a whole room. She genuinely instills happiness and positivity in everyone she meets. 

I’ve known that side of Christine for years now, but this may be one of the first times I’ve ever reached out to her about her deeper struggles.

Thank god I did. Christine’s insight into the stigma surrounding mental health is so powerful. I am so happy she agreed to share, because her words had such an impact on me and I know they will have an impact on all of you too.

Check it out: 

If you know me, or if you’ve even just met me once, you know that I am a very outgoing and sociable person. I tend to not hold back my feelings when it comes to expressing myself. When I think something is funny, I cackle. When I’m happy for one of my friends, I cry tears of joy. When I watch video compilations of dogs reuniting with their owners, I sob uncontrollably. I would say that I pretty much wear my emotions on my sleeve. What is usually surprising to people is that I struggle with anxiety and depression.

I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder when I was in 6th grade. I couldn’t go to class most of the time because I was too scared that if I was away from my family, something bad would happen. I would make my parents turn off the news in the mornings because that was an instant trigger. I spent the majority of that year in the guidance counselor’s office, where classmates delivered my schoolwork and asked what was wrong with me. My parents tried to get me professional help, but I refused. I was so embarrassed to even say the word therapy out loud. I grew up with the horrible stigma that surrounds mental health so ingrained in my mind by society, that I was too ashamed to even think that I could possibly need help. I spent the next few years trying my best to hide this anxiety, while simultaneously leading a normal high school life. 

I went off to college, still refusing any sort of therapy, just thinking things would fix themselves. Of course, I was wrong. I became obsessed with the fact that there must be something wrong with me. A reason why I wasn’t like everyone else. I developed a severe lack of confidence in myself and couldn’t even look in the mirror most days. I soon learned that anxiety and depression do not just disappear. They are not “fake illnesses” or “made up by someone who wants attention” – both phrases coined by society. They are extremely visceral and that’s something I have come to terms with over the years. 

Fortunately, I was able to get help during my freshman year of college. While I was home for winter break I went to therapy and saw a psychiatrist, and was then put on medication for anxiety and depression. This is something that took me almost eight years to act upon. Something I pushed off time and time again, panic attack after panic attack, because I couldn’t bear the fact that I would have to utter the words “I need help.”

At this point in my life, it’s still difficult for me to talk about out loud. Writing this is a little difficult, actually. Most people hear the word anxiety and think “Oh, they must be afraid of everything” and the word depression is usually followed by the question, “You’ve tried killing yourself?” It needs to be understood that this is not a black and white diagnosis. Yes, sometimes I’m scared. Yes, sometimes I think that people’s lives would be better without me here. Sometimes I lie in bed for hours thinking about everything that society says is wrong with me until I finally get tired enough and fall asleep. I still spend some mornings looking in the mirror pointing out all the things that could be better. I’ve spent these years at war with myself, and I know the only way things will get better is if we open up the conversation. The conversation that no one wants to have is consequently the conversation that is necessary for our well-being.

Think about your close group of friends; at least one of them suffers from anxiety or depression. Think about your coworkers, your teammates, your classmates. Close to 40 million Americans suffer every day. Luckily, both anxiety and depression are manageable. We have the medication, we have the therapy, and we have the technology. So, you ask, why are so many people still suffering then? It’s the stigma that surrounds this matter which causes so many people to shy away from the fact that they may have a mental illness. It’s our responsibility to start the conversation and break down the barriers that cause so many people to devalue themselves. Whoever you are – you are so valued, and you are so loved.

MHAM Post #8: Jess

I met Jess (better known as Jschwa) through a friend a few years back. Knowing Jschwa has taught me that you can find comfort in people even when you’re not actively searching for it. Plus, it’s nice to know someone else who has an affinity for Tumblr the way I do (lol). 

I’m not even sure if her and I have ever actively shared our personal experiences with each other, but something in me just knew I should ask her to share her story, and I’m so glad I did. 

The way Jschwa writes is so poetic and I feel that her words and experiences have so much value. 

*I probably haven’t said it enough over the past week or so, but being this open and honest is terrifying. I have such a respect for everyone, including Jschwa, who has opened up about their darker moments simply in hopes of helping others. I couldn’t do this without you guys.*

Without further ado, here is her piece about loving and losing and finding some hope in the process: 

Growing up with a hole in your heart can pressure you to latch onto anything necessary in order for survival. All you knew was that something was missing and any way to fill the space was what had to be done. I can’t know for sure if this is why I began to let the darkness in, but I am sure that this is why I held onto it for so long.

My mother passed away from breast cancer when I was seven years old. I don’t remember much besides hiding in my room while adults tried to tell me how to feel, locking myself in the car when my dad tried to drag me to therapy before I was ready, and binge eating
whenever the pain became too much to bare.

By the time I was in high school I could still feel the emptiness I carried around but knew I wasn’t ready to make sense of it yet. I was not yet equipped to handle mourning my Mother but was drawn to a certain sadness that I could use to fill myself with for the time
being. Depression understood me at my worst and was always there for me in a way that I had refused to let anyone else be.

Back in September of this year, I found myself craving a better life for myself for the first time in probably my entire life. I was moving into a new apartment with a roommate I loved. I was starting a job at a company I admired in a field I was passionate about. After
years of failure, I had finally found the right mix of medication and therapy to armor me in my battle. I knew in my heart that I finally had the necessities to start becoming the person I had always aspired to be. It was time to let some of the darkness go and open my heart back up to someone who was pushed out many years earlier.

I could sit here and talk about the depth of pain from the depression, and the paralyzing fear of not knowing when the next anxiety attack would strike, but I’d rather write about what came next for me. I think one of the hardest parts about “getting better” is trying to
see yourself and learn about yourself as someone without depression, someone who deserves to be happy. For so long I clung to my depression and anxiety, letting it define who I was, letting it take up the empty space. It was warm and comforting in a way that I only knew because the only person who I had let in close enough to explain it to had been taken from me. I was left behind with a chemical imbalance that only she could have helped me navigate.

I was hesitant, as first, to begin the battle, and even after eight months of hard work, I still have days, even weeks, where I slip or indulge in my old habits of isolation and misery. All of these days are necessary to win the war, because that is still a part of who I am, but it is not the only person who I will let myself be. I’ve learned that instead of trying to fill the empty space that my mother had left, it makes more sense to finally mourn her death and let her reclaim that hole in my heart. It was always hers and always will be.

MHAM Post #5: Allie

Usually when I describe joking about my darkest moments with friends, I am referring to Allie (better known to me as Mcveety). She’s the person who always helps me lighten the mood with a laugh. She gets me on a wave length that not many do, and I’m so lucky for that. 

When I thought about making this month a collaborative project, Mcveety is one of the first people I asked to help. Something in me just knew she’d have a good experience to write about.

In her piece she talks about what her diagnoses mean to her. She also shares a harsh wake-up call she recently experienced, and how it has influenced her outlook moving forward.

I am happy to share her words here: 

Anxiety is, two hours ago, having to call your mom from where you were pulled over on the side of the road to talk you off the ledge because you could feel a panic attack coming on. Anxiety is your mom having to come home early from work to find you in the fetal position on the kitchen floor, unable to tell her what’s wrong. Anxiety is, at 7 years old, laying awake the entire night because every single little noise you hear you HAVE to go make sure your little brother is still alive and well in the next room, because you are deathly afraid something will happen to him. Anxiety is having a half hour conversation with a professor and not remembering what was said because you were in the middle of a panic attack and you tend to black out during your worst ones.

I do notice that I referenced my mom a lot. Other than the fact that she is my favorite person in the entire world and I literally couldn’t function on this earth without her (no literally like she fills out my FASFA for me), she has – earlier than I can even remember – always encouraged me to express my feelings. She has always made me feel that my feelings are valid, simply because that’s the way I feel. No other proof or evidence needed. That’s why, growing up, I never understood this unnecessary stigma against mental health issues. I literally came out of the womb with mental health issues. Like I wouldn’t be shocked if I was birthed and looked at my mom and said “girl u fucked”. But my mom never made me feel like it was something that made me different. It was the just the way I am.  And I truly never realized that not everyone else was like me.

Entering my spring semester of my second year of grad school, I slipped into a very deep depression. My grades were slipping, I never showed up to clinic, I was constantly crying. The catalyst was a breakup with a boy I had real feelings for. I couldn’t recognize my self worth. I didn’t understand why I felt the way I felt and he didn’t feel the same way about me (I have now subsequently realized that he MUST be gay, because I am an ethereal goddess with zero flaws). This is NOT an excuse for my depression – it is simply just what set me off. This large event had happened, and I was alone in Connecticut, a place I knew I would not thrive and didn’t belong, and I was just stuck.

However, I had been this low before, so I knew the actions I needed to take. I called my therapist and started back up with my weekly sessions, and I expressed to my primary care doctor that I wanted to start back up on my anti depressants and anti anxiety medication. I was extremely proud of myself that even at my lowest of lows, I took action. I did something to make myself stronger. 

After taking all of the above necessary steps, I also scheduled a meeting with one of my clinical supervisors to explain why I had not been at my best. When I thought I was in a safe, judgement free zone, I explained to my clinical supervisor what was happening in my personal life. I explained in detail what I was going through, how low I was feeling, and that I was finally taking steps to correct it. 

What she said to me next was when I realized that not everyone in the world is as understanding as my mother. She looked at me in the eyes, after I had spent the last 45 minutes inconsolable in her office, and stated, “everybody has mood swings”. Frankly, I was appalled at her behavior. Here I am, genuinely spilling my heart out across her desk, and she had the audacity to equate my clinical depression with MOOD SWINGS. 

Now, I have had my fair share of mood swings before. I am a girl, I have a period every month, I am also a self proclaimed drama queen. Hell, I have fucking mood swings every day when I get slightly hungry. Mood swings are not – by any means in the history of all the world – equivalent to your depression. If you are suffering, there is something that I need you to know: OTHER PEOPLE ARE NOT IN CHARGE OF TELLING YOU HOW YOU FEEL. YOUR FEELINGS ARE VALID BECAUSE THEY ARE YOUR FEELINGS. 

My professor’s words were shocking to me. They literally rocked me to my core. But after a long time and a lot of self reflection, I began to legitimately feel sorry for her. And frankly, for her children. I am sorry that your daughter will never feel like she can come to you crying and not know why she is sad. I am sorry that you feel the need to belittle the feelings of others, simply because you do not understand them. I am truly sorry.

In a way, I needed this experience. I needed the experience because it helped me be not only more in touch with my attitude toward mental health, but it honestly and truly helped me be a better friend as well. This woman did not understand what I was going through, so she squashed my feelings like a bug. I do not ever want anyone else to feel the way that I felt that day. Your feelings are valid because they are yours.

Check out Allie on social media:
Twitter: @McTweeetMe
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nstagram: @mcveetz


It’s Mental Health Awareness Month!!

According to Wikipedia, May has been considered Mental
Health Awareness Month since 1949. This seems shocking to me, seeing as lobotomies
were still considered an effective form of treatment until the 1970s!! How could we have been so #woke if we were still mixing around people’s brains with ice picks? Okay
yes, they weren’t common practice after the 1950s, but you catch my drift (side bar: Howard
Dully wrote a crazy book about the lobotomy he underwent at age 12 in 1960…
check it ouuuuuut).

Although this is the 68th Mental Health Awareness
Month to date, I think it’s extremely important to remember how drastically
things have changed since then.

This month is a time to applaud our progress, both as a
nation, but within ourselves as well, and to plan our future growth.

Mental health in 2017 is tricky, right? On the one hand, just because
you’re diagnosed with a mental illness shouldn’t mean you’re any different… but on the
other hand, it actually should, right? In 2017, we’re always trying to remind others that what they’re struggling with may look invisible,
but it’s just as present and debilitating as any physical illness. But if that’s the case, how do you
ask people to see you as an equal while also asking them to respect what you’re
struggling with at the same time? 2017 is #woke but #confusing.

But that’s the great thing about this month. It’s the
perfect reminder of the overarching theme: the 1 in 5. 1 in 5 of us are having those same circles of
thoughts. 1 in 5 of us are going through this together. To me, Mental Health
Awareness Month means visibility. 1 in 5 of us shouldn’t feel ashamed,
or lesser, or damaged.

I have learned so much over the years while dealing with my
own struggles. I could write thousands upon thousands of words attempting to
explain the ups and the downs I’ve experienced, but the best way I could
possibly summarize it all is that this is all just a part of me. I have
absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. My diagnoses don’t define me. They don’t
make me lesser. They don’t make me worthy of pity nor do they make me worthy of
favoritism. As cliché and corny as it is, they just make me, me.

The best part of how far we have come with regards to mental health is that I can say all of that and genuinely mean it. I don’t have to be
ashamed of the medication I take, or the bad days I still have. I can work a
great job, surrounded by great people, in the city I love. I can thrive on my
good days, yet I can still be understood and respected on my bad days. I can
joke with my friends about my suicidal thoughts and my lowest of lows, yet I
can have a support system to turn to the second I need it, no questions asked.

That is what this is all about. That is what I wish everyone
understood. The bad days don’t define you and the good days don’t mean you’re cured.
You are just you, illness and all.  

Some days I wear my anxiety like a shield. Sometimes I loath
my depression more than I can put into words. Not every day is easy. I don’t always
feel proud or confident or willing to accept who I am. I am, however, so lucky
to have so many positive experiences though, because I know not everyone can
say the same.

My big take away from this is that it is all about
acceptance. Acceptance of yourself, of those around you, and of the things you
can and cannot change.

Mental Health Awareness Month also isn’t just for those who
are struggling either. It’s for everyone. It’s about the progress, the compassion, the
empathy, and things we have yet to learn.

I’m going to take this month (I know its already May 3rd
sry) to write about different experiences I’ve had with mental health. Whether
they’re my own struggles, or those of my friends and family, they’re important
to share and I’m going to share ‘em!!! I can’t guarantee how often I’ll
actually write (LOL I HAVE COMMITMENT PROBLEMS SORRY!!) but ya know keep an eye
out ok!!!!!!!!!

HAPPY MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH U GUYZ HAVE A #BLESSED
DAY

This is What Two Years in Jail Looks Like:

image

Earlier today I tried to write a really lengthy post about this….and my computer crashed right before I posted it. L O L was that a sign? I’m not sure!! But here I am writing it again!! I can’t guarantee this will be as interesting because my brain is still mostly consumed with my anger towards Tumblr for not automatically saving drafts of my posts every couple minutes incase of potential computer crashes!!!! But anyways, 

I’ve tried to sit down and write about this so many times and I’ve never been able to find the right words. Are there even words that can be correctly strung together to formulate sentences to explain what it’s like to have a dad that’s been in jail for two years? I’m not sure. Probably, but I haven’t found them yet. 

In a lot of senses, I think its difficult to explain because my problems with my dad began well before he was in jail. In a way, two years ago was not the beginning of my problems, it was the beginning of my freedom. 

Two years ago was the first time I was able to separate myself from my dad. It was the first time in years that I wasn’t consistently feeling responsible for him. I didn’t have to be the parent anymore. But at the same time, it was the first time my problems were exposed to the world. It was the first time I couldn’t just pretend things were normal or perfect or easy. Two years ago I was forced to start learning to let go of my fear of judgments and outsiders’ opinions. 

A lot of losses are easy to understand. With a death or a divorce, most people can fairly easily interpret the pain you’re feeling and appropriately comfort you. With incarceration, no one ever knows what to think or say. In my opinion, so much of that lack of appropriate support comes from confusion. 

To start, it’s extremely difficult to explain the complexity of the flaws within the criminal justice system. On top of that, it’s even more difficult to understand what it feels like to be trapped within that system (whether guilty or innocent). And then to be an outsider looking in, watching a loved one suffer without any ability to help or control the situation is another demon entirely.

Two birthdays. Two Christmases. Two summers that would have been spent at the beach or by the pool. Two years of missed calls. Two years filled with hand written letters. Two years without my childhood home. 730 times that I could have processed my feelings. 730 days to pick up the phone and say “hello”. 730 days to write you back.  

The best thing I’ve learned over these past two years is that change does not happen overnight and progress is not linear. Sometimes I go weeks without crying once. There are periods of time where my life feels flawless. Then there are periods of time where my entire day is filled with shame and anger and pity. Sometimes I feel proud. Other days I feel beyond weak. 

I used to think that was wrong though. I used to think that time just healed wounds. But healing also takes work. And just because you’re healing doesn’t mean it always happens in a sequential order. Sometimes you’ll take 3 steps forward and then 5 steps back. Sometimes you’ll take 10 steps forward and only 1 back. 

I’ve learned that the whispers behind your back are sometimes unavoidable. I’ve learned that the silence after sharing the truth is okay. This situation is just as new for me as it is for everyone else. Judgments and criticisms directly stem from confusion. 

I’ve learned that people can be both good and bad simultaneously, and that doesn’t mean you were ever wrong for loving them.

I also learned that I’m allowed to love the parts of my dad that I see within myself. Just because I am made up of parts of him, doesn’t mean I am him.

My dad showed me a lot of beauty but he also showed me a lot of darkness. 

These past two years have been filled with growth and acceptance. 

Incarceration. Is. A. Loss. Too. 

Maybe it’s not as conventional as other losses, but it’s a loss. For the past two years I’ve felt, more or less, unable to openly share what I’ve been going through. I’m not going to let my shame control me anymore. I am proud of the person I have become. 

My dad is in jail but my life wasn’t perfect before that either. It has been two years, but I am the happiest I think I’ve ever been.

A Quick Thank You

When I started writing this blog a few months ago I wasn’t really sure of what my intentions were. I didn’t really have a plan or an end goal, I just had thoughts in my mind and feelings I wanted to put into words. 

Three months later and I still feel the exact same way, but I am so glad I started it. I am so so thankful to have people in my life that have taken the time to read these confused, emotional, often poorly-written words. I would have never ever guessed ANYONE would look at this blog. And never in my wildest dreams would I have thought anyone would reach out to me to say such thoughtful things after reading it. 

Sharing such vulnerable parts of myself has been terrifying, but it has been shockingly therapeutic so far. I know this is just the tip of the iceberg for me, but if you are considering doing something similar, I highly highly suggest it. You’ll be surprised how many people genuinely care, and you’ll be even more surprised how many people can relate.

Perceived Confidence

alexkrump:

I’ve been thinking a lot about confidence recently, or at least perceived confidence. As I’ve mentioned multiple times before, I have a problem with being passive and letting my social anxiety take control. For a long time I think I just assumed the two went hand in hand. Being socially anxious does sometimes make me passive. I avoid conflict. I avoid conversations with people I’m not completely comfortable with. I avoid anything that makes me vulnerable and that could potentially make an interaction become uncomfortable. I let others determine every aspect of how my social interactions will go. I, by definition, am pretty fucking passive. But if New York has taught me anything, it is that being passive is not only not going to get me anywhere, but its ultimately going to eat me alive.

I let my perceptions of myself be defined by other people’s perceptions of me. When my dad was arrested last year I let my shame determine how I handled all of my interactions. I always found myself making excuses for people that started treating me differently because of it. I was always walking on eggshells hoping not to offend anyone with my presence. I literally remember apologizing to so many people as I opened up to them about my dad. As if my personal struggles were in some way something I needed to be sorry for? ? What I failed to realize at the time, was how often I was offended in the process and how badly my emotional stability was suffering as a result.

This weekend I went out to a bar in my hometown for the first time in a very long time. (Backstory: I haven’t truly lived in my town since high school, but until recently, my mom still lived there and I visited often. My relationship with my “home” is complicated… maybe I’ll elaborate in another post sometime. But for all intensive purposes, I really like it there, regardless of some of the negative memories I have associated with it.)

Anyway, I’ve always been a little hesitant to go out to bars in my town. But I have some awesome friends from home still, and I don’t see them as often as I should almost entirely because I am afraid that I’ll be put in uncomfortable social situations with people that will judge me based on my family.

So on Friday I decided to go out to celebrate a friend’s birthday. While at the bar, I ran into a lot of people I used to know/be friends with that I haven’t seen in years. The idea of seeing these kinds of people in this type of setting usually TERRIFIES me because 1) my anxiety makes the thought of small talk with acquaintances seem literally crippling sometimes, but more importantly because 2) almost everyone in my town thinks they know about my family due to all the publicity my dad’s arrest got and all the gossip said publicity created over the past year and a half. This aspect of the situation alone is usually enough to keep me far away from any social situation at home.

This time I faced my fears head on. I threw caution to the wind and spent my night divulging a LOT about my life to a lot of people who definitely were NOT expecting it. Granted, I was drunk so I had a lot of ~liquid courage~ but that’s never helped me to be more ballsy with anything like this in the past! I went on and on about my dad being arrested, my mom hooking up with guys I graduated with, my brother being bullied after the arrest, my own mental health, etc. Basically, when it came to anything that people could and have read or talked about over the past year – I was an open book. It was a RUSH! AND I’ve never had such positive responses! I felt like the most confident girl at the bar.

Now listen, don’t get me wrong, this shit still hurts. These things still get to me and clearly I’m not all that confident with any of it yet. But if I can act like I am, and open the dialogue on MY terms, then I finally can be in control. I finally feel like I don’t have to be seen as someone begging for acceptance, but instead someone promoting understanding.

I think it opens people’s eyes a bit to see someone acting visibly confident about something that can be seen as controversial. And honestly, even more-so than that, I feel like opening up about personal issues allows people to be more comfortable vocalizing their own. Everyone has something they’re struggling with. I’m a strong believer in the fact that there really is no such thing as “normal”. 

The experiences we go through in life, both good and bad, make us who we are. I’ve always been willing to accept that about others, but It’s pretty liberating to finally be accepting that about myself too.