As each day passes that I’m battling all my mental and chronic illnesses, the more I feel convinced that I’m never going to find a partner. Each night I sit with a cold wash cloth on my head while on the bathroom floor puking my guts out, the only question in my mind is “why would someone sign up for this?” As I sit in the hospital for hours hooked up to an IV pole every week I wonder “who would willingly get to know me as a potential date with IV scars all over her hands?” Or “Someone who wakes up sweaty and screaming from nightmares?” … “Someone who takes lots of medication and has multiple doctors appointments every week?” I’m not looking for someone to “save me”and I’m sure as hell not looking for a caretaker… I’m just looking for someone who will be there on my good days, but also on my bad days. I want a best friend who will make me laugh when I’m sad and be there when I need to scream and cry. Someone who will go on adventures with me on the good days. And even the not-so-good days. I’m just scared that being my partner is asking too much. And I’ll be all alone. I know there are people who stick by their partner when they become sick… but what happens when someone’s sick before the partner is in the picture? I’m so scared I’ll be dismissed before I even get a chance to say “hi!” I’m so much more than my illnesses. My whole life I’ve been paranoid that the people who love me secretly see me as a “project” or as something to make them feel better about themselves. I mean, who doesn’t love the saint who supports the sick girl? I’m scared that if I recover, they’ll leave cuz they succeeded, but if I don’t recover, they will see that their “project” is a failure and take off anyways. So even IF I somehow happen to find someone, who’s to say my paranoia won’t get in the way? Or my borderline? Or my chronic pain? Doctor’s appointments? The list is endless! I feel like a liability. Like I’ll end up alone. I’m good at saving myself. I just wish I had a cheerleader of a partner.
I’m back! I apologize for being so inactive on this site lately, but now that my book is in the editing process, I have time to dedicate to the blog again!
TRIGGER WARNING This article or section, or pages it links to, contains information about SELF-HARM and SUICIDAL THOUGHTS/ ATTEMPTS which may be triggering to those who struggle with suicidal ideation, cutting and other forms of self-harm.
Yesterday in therapy I had a huge breakthrough in my recovery from self-harm behaviors. It started when I was with my psychiatrist in the morning. I see her once a month, so she likes to check in and see how I’m doing safety-wise, like if I’m having any thoughts of suicide or struggling to stay clean. I discussed with her how in the past week or so I’ve been increasingly obsessed with my scars. I’ll catch myself counting them, or trying to remember when I made certain scars that are crooked or especially long. I am hyper aware of when I’m around people who are close enough to see the scars on my arms. Nothing happened that would really explain the increase in the behavior. My psychiatrist recommended I talk about it with my therapist. Luckily I was seeing my therapist later in the day, so I didn’t have to wait long to really dig deep into the new behaviors.
I had tried to figure out what was triggering this new behavior in me but was unable to come up with anything. I felt a certain emotion when looking at my scars, but I couldn’t name the emotion. I knew my physical symptoms of the emotion I was feeling when I would obsess over my scars, but I couldn’t link the symptoms to any emotion. My therapist suggested we do some brainspotting to try and determine what was going on. Although the process ended up being different than traditional brainspotting at the end of the day, I almost instantly had some profound thoughts about where I’m at in my recovery from self-harm.
My thoughts immediately jumped to my future. I thought about my kids and what they would think of their mom having self-harm scars on her arm. I thought about my husband, and how he and his family will feel about the scars. I’ve never been someone who is ashamed of my scars or makes an effort to hide them. I wear t-shirts without a second thought. Back when I cut, one of my reasons for doing so was so I could prove to myself and others that I was sick, and my scars kept that proof as a point of validation. They’re tangible proof of the intangible, unseen struggles I wrestle with.
So what does this have to do with my new obsession? I realized that I’m at a point in my recovery where I don’t need proof. I know I’m sick, and I know how to advocate for myself and explain that I’m sick to others without needing cutting and scars. If people still don’t believe me, I can use my radical acceptance skill to make sure I don’t feel invalidated by their disbelief.
When I first started my journey to clean arms, I was upset that I didn’t give myself more scars before deciding to drop the behavior. I would obsessively look at pictures of people’s scars online with envy. Now I am accepting of the number of scars I have, and if my scars faded, I believe I’d be okay.
It’s taken me 632 days of being cut-free to get to this point, but I still have a long way to go. I’m still not comfortable having knives in my kitchen, and the thought of buying razors to shave with makes me feel nauseous. Recovery is a slow process, but it’s definitely worth it in the end.
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!
**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.
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.
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.
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!
It’s back to school time! For some of you, that’s high school. For others, it’s college. Maybe your kids are heading off to kindergarten or you’re teaching in your own classroom for the first time! Empty nests, the freshman 15, new teachers and new schools. It’s both an exciting time and a time of big change. For many, it’s college move-in time. College is a big deal, and it’s not always possible for those of us with chronic and mental illnesses.
I never went to college, and it wasn’t an easy decision. Today I’m going to share my college experience… or lack thereof, in hopes that it helps those of you struggling with the back to school season.
I came very close to attending college… in fact, I probably got about as close as you can get without actually going. I did everything, college tours, applications my junior/ senior year, picked a college, got a roommate, got assigned my dorm room and signed up for all my classes… I even attended freshman orientation. I had everything I needed for my dorm room, including a mini fridge, and was mostly packed and ready to go. About a week before move-in day, I made the difficult decision to drop-out… before classes had even started! It wasn’t easy, but it was the right choice.
In the spring before college move in day, I wore myself thin applying for scholarships and trying to bring my grades up so I could graduate high school. I was also struggling with worsening mental illness symptoms. I was out on my own, living with a friend’s family. I was constantly suicidal, and my friends and I struggled to keep me safe that semester. I was getting Ds and Fs in most of my classes and my attendance slipped. I skipped physics class more than I attended it. I spent most of my time in the PAC, just wishing I could dance my life away. Even with all my troubles with school, at least it gave me something to fill my time. When summer hit, I was a wreck. I slipped into very unhealthy patterns. I threw all my energy into self-destructive behaviors. I put college on this pedestal and began banking on it being the magic wand to fix all my problems. But as move-in day got closer, I was getting sicker. Going to college and doing it on my own, in a new city, with nothing but strangers, scared me. My support system would be so far away and I’d be alone. I was already suicidal on a daily basis, and I knew that going to college was just opening me up to a whole new list of possibilities in self-destruction, and there would be no one there to stop me.
But as move-in day got closer, I was getting sicker. Going to college and doing it on my own, in a new city, with nothing but strangers, scared me. My support system would be so far away and I’d be alone. I was already suicidal on a daily basis, and I knew that going to college was just opening me up to a whole new list of possibilities in self-destruction, and there would be no one there to stop me. Plus, my last semester of high school was a glaring reminder that I was not able to handle a full school load. Making the decision to stay home was embarrassing. I felt like such a failure because I wasn’t going about my education the “traditional” way. My abandonment issues were triggered by the thought that all my friends were leaving without me, even though logically I knew it wasn’t their fault/ because of me. I locked myself in my room for days, refusing to eat or to interact with anybody. The thought of calling the college and dropping out was overwhelming, but the thought of letting my roomie know that I was dropping out and that she’d be rooming with a stranger all year was even worse. That was the hardest phone call I think I’ve ever made.
Three years later, looking back, I’m thankful that I made the choice to not go to college, or at least not at this time. Knowing the severity of my chronic and mental illnesses now, I can see that I would not be able to cope with everything that college would have brought on. While seeing all my friends “move on” with their lives without me was depressing, I know that trying to keep it together and being successful in college would have been completely detrimental to my health as well as my sense of self.
Have you ever made a choice that was against “the norm”? Let me know how you did it and how you coped in the comments below!
TRIGGER WARNING This article or section, or pages it links to, contains information about EATING DISORDERS which may be triggering to those who struggle with body image, eating disorders, purging or other forms of unhealthy weight loss.
Three years ago, towards the end of my senior year of high school, I had a secret. It was a secret that I would keep to myself for years. A secret that I was forced to reveal this past week. I’m embarrassed, ashamed and scared.
Earlier, during my senior year of high school, I moved in with my at-the-time best friend’s family. It only took a few months, after the “honeymoon” phase, before some things started to go sideways. At the time that I moved in, I already knew I had Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). I always perceived food to have rules surrounding it, for example, there were rules about going back for seconds, how much you could take and what foods you could go back for seconds for. Each home I visited had different rules about snacks, seconds, types of food you could eat, etc. I became overwhelmed with trying to keep track of all these rules and experienced crippling anxiety surrounding the food and whether or not I’d be punished for breaking the food rules. Eventually, I became consumed by this fear, and I began avoiding eating food out of fear, and when I was eating food, I didn’t allow myself to eat too much so that I wouldn’t break any rules. I began sneaking food and keeping it hidden in my room, because in my mind, if no one saw me eat it, it didn’t count. When I moved my senior year into another household with foreign rules, it was a great source of stress for me.
There was one time the dad of the family and I were in the kitchen and getting ready for work, packing out lunches. I couldn’t’ find anything I wanted except some leftover pizza, and I asked him if I could take that to work. He said it was fine, but when my lunch break came, I had multiple text messages from the mom, expressing feeling upset because she had been looking forward to eating pizza for lunch. When I returned home after work, she confronted me about it a second time and then proceeded to give me the silent treatment for the next 3 or 4 days. There were many similar incidences where I ate the wrong things and was yelled at, monitored closely, or given the silent treatment. Suddenly I found myself running to the bathroom, throwing up after I ate because of the sheer panic and guilt over what I had eaten. Before I knew it, everyone seemed to be commenting on my weight and just how skinny I was. I weighed a mere 100 lbs. I became consumed with my body image. I felt like I had the dream body. Although I was uncomfortable with how skinny I was and with all the comments I was getting, everyone else seemed to think it was a good this. At least I was getting attention from it. People would tease me for it, but I took it as a compliment. I began avoiding unhealthy food unless I was alone. I began obsessively working out, doing challenging ab routines and lifting weights to keep my arms looking good. I received a comment on how strong and hard my thighs were, and I immediately added leg workouts to my nightly routine. No matter how much I worked out, I wasn’t getting skinnier. I knew I had to get skinnier or everyone would hate me and tease me for getting fatter. I began secretly purging whenever I could after a meal without being caught. When I moved into my own apartment and lived by myself, I was purging after nearly every meal. I had to stay skinny. I bought clothes that were almost too small for me as motivation to lose weight. I lived right by a bike trail and a local nature preserve, and I went walking for hours in an effort to stay skinny. I became obsessed with how I looked. I often couldn’t remember the last meal I had eaten. I felt confident and sexy, but it wasn’t enough. I wanted more.
When I went to Rogers, I attended their mood disorder program, and they forced me to eat every meal, otherwise, I was going to be kicked out. I tried to purge when I could, but with 10 other patients and 3-4 staff members on the floor at any given time, it was a challenge. Sometimes I’d wait until everyone was asleep and purge then. But I was gaining weight. Twice a week I was weighed, and I completely panicked. I eventually became so overwhelmed that I stopped caring. I would still push my food around on my plate and purge when I could, but I became beside myself with shame over my body weight. Suddenly, no matter how much I ate or how much I exercised, used laxatives or purged, I was gaining weight. Even when I didn’t eat for days, I’d step on the scale and see I had gained 3 more pounds. I tried everything, but I still kept getting fatter. My clothes were too small. And by the time I went out and bought new clothes, a month later even those didn’t fit anymore. Before I knew it, I had gained 100+ lbs and I had no idea why.
A month ago I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. One of the symptoms of PCOS is that I produce an excessive amount of male hormones. Men tend to carry weight in the abdomen area, so women with PCOS also tend to carry a lot of weight in their abdomen too. Despite all the laxatives, purging and excessive exercise, I was now over 200lbs and HATED my body. I had gone from a size 0 to a size 18… a size small to a size x-large. I was overwhelmed and became desperate, and I tried to seek help. I had never told anyone I had bulimia, I had never been diagnosed, but I’d known I’ve had it for nearly 3 years. I tried getting help for ARFID, hoping that I would pick up some skills to help with my bulimia along the way, but I was met with unwillingness and zero concern everywhere I went. My primary care doctor, my psychiatrist, the ER doctors, other mental health professionals. etc. One time the ER doctor had the audacity to say that I couldn’t have an eating disorder because I was too fat. There was an eating disorder specialist that I kept calling, but she only returned my call once, and now seems to be ignoring me. I felt like I was a lost cause and worthless, because no one seemed to want to help me.
All of this climaxed this past week. I was staying at a mental health facility because I had gone off my meds and was in great need of some respite after over 25 days of being fully manic. It was a 5 day stay, so while I was there, they offered 15 meals. I only ate 2 meals. After both of them, I purged everything I could. The second night, I was caught. The staff member stood on the other side of the bathroom door, asking me what I was doing. I knew I was caught and confessed that I was purging.
“What can I do to help?” she asked.
“I don’t know, I’ve never gotten help for an eating disorder. I can’t control when I purge.”
“Okay. Well just stop it. Make sure you flush and just go back to bed.”
I hear her footprints retreating. I finish purging and I wash my hands and face before returning to my room, consumed by tears.
The next day they diagnose me with bulimia but don’t do anything to help me, despite me asking where I can get help for my eating disorders. Later, I request information on bulimia and types of treatment. I get handed a single page that defines different eating disorders and talks about how anyone can get an eating disorder. There’s another page that just shares statistics of eating disorders.
When I’m discharged I share my experiences with one of my friends, and she tells me she’s going to ask her mom, who is a doctor, about where I can start getting the help I need. Thankfully she took me seriously and gave me a phone number to call.
That brings us to today, me writing this blog post. This had been one of the more difficult pieces I’ve written. My struggle is going from 3 years of being private to having the whole internet gaining access to it. But I think it’s a very important thing to share. If I had continued to keep this a secret, it could have killed me. 4% of people with bulimia die. I had a deadly secret. I hope that this post encourages those struggling with an eating disorder to start seeking help, just like me. You’re not alone. I see you.
Struggling with body image or an eating disorder?
Text “NEDA” to 741741
National Eating Disorders Hotline: 1-800-931-2237
TRIGGER WARNING This article or section, or pages it links to, contains information about SELF-HARM and SUICIDAL THOUGHTS/ ATTEMPTS which may be triggering to those who struggle with suicidal ideation, cutting and other forms of self-harm.
If you follow me on Instagram, some of this will sound familiar. A few mornings ago, I had an unfortunately realistic dream that left me convinced that I wasn’t a real person, and that I was engineered to have everything go wrong in my life.
Ever since my junior year of high school, I’ve been a believer that I had bad luck or essentially the notion that everything in my life went wrong. This started when I got involved in my old church by having a mentor, but because of the extent of my suffering, she felt the need to share my story with the staff members of the church. Every week when I went to youth group, my mentor or a staff member would deliver me some form of bad news from the development of the staff knowing my sufferings. My friends at the time agreed with me when I compared my life to a TV show, where every week’s “episode” brought a new curveball that I, the main character, had to deal with.
My first psychiatric hospitalization was an acute stay of a few days on my hospital’s psych ward. It was after a suicide attempt where I tried to drown myself in a bathtub with a back of rocks on my head. My emotions leading up to the attempt were rooted in the belief that everything in my life is bound to go wrong. That I have terrible luck and therefore I needed to protect myself and those around me by escaping the bad luck via death. My bad luck seemed to continue even in the hospital when I accidentally seemed to break two computers and was ignored by the ward’s head doctor. My Borderline self played into this belief with my abandonment issues, telling me that my friends and boyfriend were going to leave me as another effect of my bad luck. So I SHOULD try to leave them via suicide before they have a chance to leave me. I ended up discharging myself before I was ready to return home, with the hope to escape reality once again by suicide. Obviously, I was unsuccessful, seeing as how I’m still here.
A few nights ago, my brain attempted to convince me of another possible reason as to why everything in my life seemed to go wrong. I am still desperate to find an explanation for all the trials in my life. Here’s what I woke up believing:
“I’m not human. I’m an experimentation. I was designed to have everything go wrong eventually in my life so my creators could observe. They wanted to see how someone could respond to abuse in various situations. They wanted to know what would happen if you kept kicking someone while they’re down. I’m worthless. No one cares about me, it’s all fake, it’s all a ruse to see how I respond. That’s why I cut myself. So that I would see blood and pretend that I’m real. That’s why I want to kill myself so much. That’s why I take medication. They give it to me to make me different kinds of sick. To experiment. That’s why everything’s going wrong right now. That’s why everything always goes wrong. ‘When it rains it pours’ is my life motto. It’s always pouring. The PCOS, abuse, lack of friends, self-harm, mental illness, all my lung problems, my skeletal issues, being ignored by the world, etc. It’s all just someone’s idea of a sick and twisted reality and I’m just something to play with and leave behind.”
My brain decided this was my new reality. I’ve been fighting it off for days and I’m still not 100% sure which “reality” is the real one. I don’t want to take my meds because part of me is convinced “they’re what’s making me sick.” I know that’s only perpetuating the problem if I don’t. I’m grounding myself but nothing’s working. Even a freezing cold shower left me thinking I was still being watched and laughed at by my creators because I was trying to erase that reality. The concoction of PTSD and psychosis can do weird things…
My life seems to embody the saying “If it rains, it pours.” And I’m still trying to find answers to my question of “why?”