Posted in mental health, stigma

First Look: My New Book!

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo) and writing a mental health self-help book! That’s why I’ve been so inactive on my blog. I’ve spent the last 19 days writing over 30,000 words, with my end-goal being 50,000+ words. For those of you who have been with me since the beginning of my blog, you know that Ungluing Stigma (US) started out as a book, but I got overwhelmed and decided to write a blog instead. With US, I found my voice within the mental health community and what topics I had a passion for writing about. It was my New Years Resolution to write 10,000 words a month to “train” for nanowrimo. If you’re interested in what my book will be about, specifically, here’s a first look at my introduction! And feel free to leave me your thoughts in the comments, I would love the feedback.

SNEAK PEEK: What to Do (When You Don’t Know What to Do)

If you’re like me, high school was rough. And again, if you’re like me, you sucked at the social aspect. Relationships are hard. While high school may have taught you physics and advanced calculus, it didn’t teach you how to navigate rough waters when your best friend was angry with you, and is certainly didn’t teach you healthy coping skills when life just seemed to be too much. Once again, if you’re like me, you had to learn these things the hard way, losing a few friendships and maladaptively coping along the way . This book is here to change that. Well, not change the past necessarily (although that would be pretty cool), but to fill your toolbox with skills to help you manage life… to not simply survive, but to thrive.

I wrote this book because like it or not, there is a stigma surrounding mental health. It can show up in little ways, like when you friend doesn’t hang around anymore after you tell them you have depression because they don’t want to be around “an attention seeking burden” (which remember, is not true). Or it can show up in big ways, like when people blame terrorist attacks on a mental health problem. This stigma prevents people from getting help. I was one of those people. I was so ashamed of being “abnormal” that I felt like I was dooming myself by admitting that I thought I had depression. I avoided therapy and mental health diagnosis for years solely out of shame. I let it all build up inside of me for years until I snapped. I suddenly was convinced that I needed to be locked up in an insane asylum because I was “dangerous” and unwell. It was only then, when I sought professional help, that I realized having a mental illness doesn’t make you a dangerous, or even a bad, person. Since then I have been through years of intense therapy, even living in a mental hospital for a portion of 2016, to get to where I am now. And the sad part is, most of the things I’ve learned… most of the skills I use on a daily basis to keep myself stable and safe… aren’t things that you have access to in your everyday life. People struggling with anxiety can’t benefit from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) in most places, because it’s generally just for those of us with Borderline Personality Disorder. The truth of the matter is that DBT is packed full of tools to help people manage anxiety, crises and even everyday relationship problems. None of my relationships would be what they are today without DBT. It’s something I firmly believe everyone should have access to (more on why later). Living in a mental hospital was like high school in a sense, because we had classes all day every day, and mountains of homework every night, learning skills to help us live the best life we can. But a program like that tends to have waiting lists that can take months or even years to get off of, and you have to go through a lot of screenings and doctors appointments to even be considered for a spot. It’s my hope, my dream, that this book can help people build a foundation for their lives with access to dozens of life skills that normally they wouldn’t have access to. I want to make mental health accessible to everyone, not just the sickest of us… ironically.

I also wrote this book to share my story. I want to give you a glimpse into my life and into my head, to show you that a stable and healthy life is achievable, and is a lot closer than you may think. I hope to inspire you with my pitfalls, showing you the ropes that were tossed to me at rock bottom and how I climbed back out, again and again. If I can do it, so can you.

You’ll notice as you read more of the book that I’ll refer to the same event in my life throughout this book. This serves two purposes, and neither of which are to annoy you. The first is that I designed this book to not necessarily be read from start to finish. It’s okay if you jump around, so you might miss the first time I tell the story and find yourself lost as to what I’m talking about when I refer to something in my life. The other reason is that I hope you begin to truly understand the situation I was in, and how I used multiple tools to help me in the same situation. I want to give you a multidimensional look at my story to show that there are many ways to approach a situation, and there can be a lot to learn from even one situation that can give you insight in how to improve your life.

The therapy book I’ve found the most helpful in my recovery was a book written by a doctor and it was similar to this one because it included various life skills to improve your life. It also had various made up patients whose stories demonstrated a practical application of the concepts and skills. I found this exceedingly helpful. It made me feel less alone on my journey to recovery while showing me how to actually apply the skill. I struggled with the fact that their lives were made up though… of course the skill helped them! You can make up any ending you want to their story! The difference between my book and that one is that I’m not a doctor or a licensed professional, I’m the patient, so I can legally share my own story and provide you with living proof that these tools can radically change your life. I don’t want this book to be a textbook filled with skills that eventually gets overwhelming because too many things are being thrown at you at once. I want this to be a journey. Our journey. If I bring you on my journey and teach you the skills that I’ve learned, I hope that you can increase your quality of life and begin an epic journey of your own.

Posted in Anxiety, coping, mental health

What is an Exposure?

Exposures are a type of therapy exercise that I learned when I was staying at Rogers Memorial Hospital for my residential stay. They’re designed to help lessen your anxious reaction to everyday situations because unfortunately, simply telling yourself not to be scared simply doesn’t work. When I was at Rogers, I hated doing my exposures. Not going to lie, sometimes I would fake the results just to get out of doing them. It wasn’t until I returned home that I saw a need for exposures, and started doing them on my own. In the past year, I’ve seen the difference that exposures have on my life, and am excited to share my experiences with you!

First off, you’re probably asking me what an exposure is. Exposure therapy is trial habituation to situations/ experiences that give you anxiety. This means you routinely expose yourself to things that give you anxiety in safe, controlled environments, in an attempt to help you reduce your anxiety when encountering the situation out “in the real world.” For example, I get stressed out when I’m driving behind semi-trucks, so for one of my exposures, I look at a picture of the back of a semi. It stimulates what I would see in the anxiety-filled situation, but it happens in a safe environment. While looking at the picture, I take note of the moment when my anxiety reaches its peak. I rate it on a scale of 1-10 and start a stopwatch. When my anxiety has been reduced by half, I record how long it took, as well as the new rating of my anxiety. For example, if my anxiety peaked at a 7, I would time how long it took for my anxiety to come down to a 3 or 4. The catch is that you’re not allowed to help yourself cope with the anxiety, like using fidgets or participating in breathing exercises. Wait a minute for your anxiety to come back down, and then repeat the exercise 4 more times. Record your results so you can see the progress you make!

Now, the above method is very homework-esque and suited me just fine in a therapy-centered environment like Rogers, but at home, it just felt like one big chore that was always looming over me, so I adapted it to fit my at-home life and learning style. I make a conscious effort to routinely expose myself to things that cause me anxiety, and take note of how my anxiety behaves in different situations. Going grocery shopping is a very stressful and overwhelming experience for me. Being around food is very triggering for my eating disorders, and trying to decide what I’m going to buy to eat just makes things worse. In addition, being in public where there are other people around is also anxiety provoking. I make an effort to go to the grocery store during non-peak hours like 6 am or 10 pm (right after opening or right before closing) when there are fewer people around to ramp-up my anxiety. Before I actually go to the store, I take the time and look at a map I drew of the store, and visualize my route. This way I don’t stress about what to buy when I’m surrounded by an overwhelming amount of food, and I don’t have to spend any extra time returning to aisles for things I forgot the first time around.

If the idea of exposing yourself to things that make you anxious sounds scary, you’re not alone. Remember that you can start small. Just imagine the situation, or look at a picture of something similar to what makes you anxious (i.e. rather than looking at a picture of the back of a semi, look at a picture of an angle that’s less threatening, like the side of a semi, to start with). Keep in mind exposures are designed to help your anxious reaction become less extreme, it will not magically heal your anxiety.

Do you have anything that helps you with your anxiety? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

Posted in bpd, coping, mental health

Break-ups with Borderline Personality Disorder

So James and I broke up this weekend, just three weeks before our one-year anniversary. If I was given a choice on the best way for me to be broken up with, this break up would have been better than anything I would have come up with. In the end, I’m more okay than I ever thought I could be right after a break-up, and I know that I will be okay. I’m heartbroken, but he didn’t break my heart.

When you have Borderline Personality Disorder, something you deal with is severe abandonment issues. Breaks-ups have the potential to be one of the hardest things to deal with when having BPD because, in our minds, we’re being abandoned by someone who is our best friend and biggest support. Someone who is the #1 person in your life suddenly is no longer around. The separation can feel like the end of the world.

Another common symptom of BPD is called splitting. If that sounds painful to you, that’s because it is. It’s a coping/ defense mechanism people with BPD subconsciously use when facing their inability to deal with opposite emotions. There’s a reason BPD is also called Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder. We view the world as black and white. Either you love me or you don’t, it can’t be both. You always want to be around me or you never want to see me. James loves me, but we’re not dating anymore, and despite him answering all my questions about it, it still confuses the heck outta me. In my mind, it just isn’t possible for something like this to exist because my borderline tells me everything is black and white. One moment I feel I’ve forgiven him, and I feel a sense of calm about the situation, feeling okay with what happened and knowing that it’s the best choice given the situation we were in, then I suddenly feel such agony because it’s all gone and I can’t live without him because my life is going to be so different that I can’t cope. I’m torn down the middle trying to bridge the gap between two opposing thoughts because my brain can’t do it by itself. I’m on a rollercoaster that I can’t get off of no matter how hard I try.

**Trigger Warning – this next paragraph discusses self-harm and suicidal thoughts**
When people with BPD experience intense emotions, we often feel we are unable to cope with it and turn to self-destructive behaviors like self-harm and suicidal tendencies. 10% of those of us with BPD end up successfully committing suicide. Having Borderline has been compared to having 3rd-degree burns over 90% of your body, that’s how strong our emotions are. Even at 582 days cut-free, I’m facing urges to cut again as a desperate attempt to make the feelings and the splitting go away. I have thoughts telling me I’d rather kill myself than go through the process of starting a new relationship from scratch while dealing with everything else in my life. Even though I’m generally stable with my recovery in terms of self-destruction, all it takes is one little thing to make me feel like I’m back at square one.

So what helped this break-up be something I feel I can cope with, and why do I think it was a good way for me to be broken up with? What happened that makes these symptoms less destructive?

  1. Fear of abandonment: while he left me as my boyfriend, he didn’t leave my life. I wasn’t completely abandoned by him, so my abandonment issues aren’t kicking in quite as intensely as expected. We still care about each other deeply and feel like best friends, so after some time and space, we hope we can still be in each other’s lives.
  2. Splitting: he let me ask all my questions and gave me assurance on all the issues I felt were black and white. I probably asked “if you love me, then why are we breaking up?” just about every way humanly possible, and he answered it every time, giving me my own ammo to fight those splitting thoughts when I’m wrestling with them on my own.
  3. Timing: it wasn’t a sudden thing that happened out of the blue. We spent about a month talking about it with our therapists, friends/family, and each other. I had time to process what was happening and slowly begin to accept it and cope with it, giving me time to get all of my questions answered before the relationship was no longer.
  4. Grief: I’ve definitely experienced the different stages of grief over the past month (before the break-up even happened): denial, bargaining, depression, anger, and some acceptance. Now that the break-up has become a reality, I feel I’ve already begun the grieving process, and that’s helping me deal with the initial feelings you get after a break up in a healthier mindset because I’m not also dealing with all of the initial grief as well.

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Did you like this article? Do you want to read more? If you want to read more about what BPD patients feel and do because of our fear of abandonment, The Mighty has a great article you can read here. If you have BPD, or know someone who has it, you might relate to some of the things I talked about in this article and want to know more about friendships and BPD. This article talks about 6 things your BPD friend wants you to know, and it continues to talk about some of the topics I mentioned.

Do you have any tips for me on getting through this break-up? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

Posted in Anxiety, coping, mental health

DIY: Weighted Stuffed Animal!

**DISCLAIMER: The information in this article is designed to provide helpful information to people with sensory disabilities, mental illnesses or other special needs. I do not own any rights from Build-A-Bear or Pokemon, or their affiliates. Any references are for informational use only. I understand Build-A-Bear and Pokemon are not responsible for any problems the product has after it’s alteration.**

If you follow my Instagram, you know I took a plane out west for vacation! It was an exciting adventure, but I had my fair share of nerves as well. When preparing for my trip last week, I knew I wanted to bring my weighted blanket to help me regulate my anxiety while on the plane and in a strange city, but the thought of lugging a 14lbs blanket through the airport was less than appealing. I began trying to think of solutions that were more practical for travel, but still gave me the benefits and feelings of security. If you look on Amazon, there are weighted lap pads and some weighted stuffed animals. I had found the solution! But pricing and the time it would take to ship were far less than ideal. So I called up a friend who’s a wizard at sewing, and we got to work.

I love Build-A-Bear and have been collecting for years. I had the idea to buy an unstuffed skin from them and stuff it at home with the poly pellets used to stuff weighted blankets. When I called my local Build-A-Bear, they informed me that their skins were not tested to hold weight inside of them and that they wouldn’t sell me an unstuffed skin if I planned to weight it. Upon further research (a call to the guest service line), I was told that while the animals were indeed not tested to hold weight, there wasn’t anything stopping me from unstuffing it at home and restuffing it myself, so that’s just what I did.

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I picked Squirtle to be turned into my weighted stuffed animal. I liked the idea of having a Pokemon as my partner in crime to hang out with me, much like Pikachu does with Ash in the TV show. After stuffing Squirtle as usual at Build-A-Bear, we brought him to the sewing room at my friend’s house for some major surgery. We reopened the hole in his back and pulled out all the stuffing. It was an incredible sensory activity for me, I used it as a mindfulness activity, focusing on how the stuffing felt in my hand, how it looked, how it smelled… you get the idea. img_20171004_190157882.jpg

Once Squirtle was unstuffed, the real work began.  We sewed small pouches of fabric into sizes that represented the general shapes of his limbs, head and body shape. Those were stuffed into his body instead of regular stuffing. To make sure small things like his fingers and roundness of his head were preserved, I stuck small amounts of stuffing back into his body to give him the final shape he needed! After being stitched back up, he was all set and ready to go!

I couldn’t believe the effectiveness when I tested him out! We had been able to stuff about 5lbs of pellets into the skin, and while it wasn’t like my weighted blanket, it wasn’t nothing either. Placing Squirtle on my chest helped with my anxiety, and when my legs started to shake, placing him on my lap gave me a warm reminder that everything was okay. These positions are much like the ones a psychiatric service dog uses when it’s owner experiences the beginning stages of anxiety attacks. The dog with lay it’s head on your chest or put it’s front paws on your lap when you begin to feel anxious. Squirtle doesn’t feel unlike a newborn baby when you hold him, and it’s a very comforting feeling.

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As predicted, I experienced a great deal of anxiety while on the plane and while taking a bus from my aunt and uncle’s house to downtown Portland. Squirtle was a real trooper and sat on my lap for the duration of my flight, occasionally crawling up onto my chest when I took a nap. It’s fun to imagine he’s alive, especially because he has the weight and density of a real animal. I feel like I’ve got a real travel pal who I can whisper my anxieties to, and know that he’ll keep the secret. Did I get some weird looks? Sure I did. It’s not every day a 21-year-old sits and talks to a stuffed animal in the middle of the Minneapolis/ St. Paul airport, but it got me through my flights!

Do you have a unique possession that helps you get through stressful experiences? I’d love to hear them- let me know in the comments below!

 

 

Posted in mental health, stigma

Mental Health and Mass Shootings

Sorry I’ve been MIA. My laptop quit on me and I had to get a new one.

Getting into politics and topics where people are very opinionated makes me very nervous. A few years ago I engaged in a conversation about politics and it ended with broken relationships and a sour taste in my mouth. I’m definitely a people pleaser and don’t enjoy conflict. Having Borderline Personality Disorder, I struggle with relationships as it is and would hate to give anyone a reason to abandon me. Plus my anxiety skyrockets trying to defend myself. The horrors that are plaguing our world are many, and it’s hard to stay silent and just watch on the sidelines. It’s also hard to know what to do. I’m just a 20something from Wisconsin with a blog, what can I do to help save lives? But when I think about it, if we all contributed what we could, the small things would eventually add up. So here’s my effort to make the world a better place in light of the Vegas shooting and the other tragedies that have kills hundreds across our world.

You can’t read an article about the mass shootings in our country without reading about mental health. One of the main focuses tends to be the state of the perpetrator’s mental health. While mental health may contribute to the attacks, it can be a burden put on the entire mental health community. I myself have had people say that I am dangerous and need to be locked away due to my mental health so I don’t shoot or knife anybody. The morning after the 2016 shooting in Florida, some ex-friends decided to discuss on social media that it’s people like me who commit these horrible attacks. This happened shortly after I had been fully discharged from my residential stay at a mental hospital. The fact that I was sick enough to stay at a hospital seemed reason enough to put me in a category with terrorists.

Does mental health contribute to these attacks? Probably. But there are a myriad of other factors that bring someone to pull a gun on others besides mental health. According to the Washington Post, things like criminal profit, acting on religious beliefs, disagreement with government views, and mistreatments like bullying or prejudice are suspected motivations for previous shootings in our country.

Putting sole blame and focusing all efforts on understanding why these things happen onto mental health greatly intensifies the mental health stigma. It gives people an excuse to treat us like criminals, rather than human beings, even when we personally have given them no reason to think we are dangerous people. It’s horrible, being judged and punished for something we haven’t done. It’s hard to even read headlines or watch the news, knowing that people who have never met you are making assumptions about who you are as a person.

In light of yet another tragedy that has struck our country, please remember to be kind to those of us with mental health. Not only is it devastating and stressful to deal with the emotions we feel learning of these horrors, but we’re also dealing with judgment and fear that we’ll be attacked, punished and humiliated based on the sole fact that we have a chemical imbalance in our brains.

Posted in Depression, mental health, stigma

A Note on Suicide Awareness Month

I think it’s awesome that social media is using it’s viralness to spread awareness on suicide. It’s a step in the right direction when it comes to ungluing the stigma and helping those of us with mental illness feel heard and understood. But I would be lying if I said this month is easy for me. I’m surrounded by constant reminders of the multiple attempts I’ve barely survived. The days my brain made life so unlivable that I felt I could do it no longer. The trauma that drove me to the edge. Each photo on Instagram and article on Facebook just picks off the scab I’ve put on suicide while I heal mentally. I’m reading statistics, wishing I was one of them. Topics on suicide hit me from left and right, it’s like going grocery shopping when you’re hungry. I know the hunger will pass, but in the cake aisle of pick-n-save, it’s impossible to ignore the hunger. The other 11 months of the year I have to fight off the “hunger” on my own, September just sticks me in the middle of a bakery.

Running a mental health blog, it’s no secret I dedicate my time to educating others about mental illness, including suicide. I know that as a neurodivergent. I offer a unique voice to the mix. I can speak to things that the mass public cannot fathom. But in September, I feel obligated to talk about my pain and trauma every day, to anyone online who makes a post. As if my OCD doesn’t force me to dwell on harm enough, now it’s everywhere I look for a month, dangling my pain in front of me, tempting me to engage in the harm. I imagine it’s similar to the thousands who have lost a loved one to suicide. It’s a long grieving process, filled with second guessing and questions. It can take years, so more than likely you’ll encounter Suicide Awareness Month, and be forced to confront your grief over and over before you’re ready.

It’s easy to stay quiet about this struggle. I don’t want to deter the overdue attention the mental health community is receiving. I don’t want anyone to feel bad or guilty for sharing photos, articles, and especially their stories. But it is Suicide Awareness Month, and to do this month proper justice, I think it’s important I share this side to suicide awareness.