Posted in Anxiety, Bipolar, bpd, coping, Depression, mental health, OCD, PTSD, stigma

Stories from the Mental Hospital

**all names changed for privacy reasons

Two years ago, I graduated from a residential mental health facility. Yes, I lived in a psych ward for a few months (average stays were anywhere from 1-4 months). It doesn’t mean I was or am currently dangerous. It wasn’t legally required or forced on me. I was sick enough that I qualified for admission, and it was an incredible opportunity to make leaps and bounds in my mental health recovery. The hospital I stayed in (Rogers Memorial Hospital) is one of the best mental hospitals in the country. There were patients from all over the country and even some from other parts of the world. There was an intense screening process to determine if you qualified for admission. Then I was put on a waiting list and waited for a bed to open up for me.

So… why did I qualify? I struggle with 8 mental illnesses on a daily basis, including borderline personality disorder, type 1 bipolar, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and complex post-traumatic stress disorder. I was sick. Monthly visits to my psychiatrist and weekly therapy visits weren’t enough. I was on some medication, but it wasn’t the right concoction yet.  For 18 months or so leading up to my residential stay, I was in the ER at least twice a month for self-harm or active suicidal thoughts and was admitted to stay in an acute psych ward at least once a month. I was constantly suicidal and had attempted to take my life over 100 times by that point. There are multiple times I would have died had the police not broken into my apartment, or a friend had not physically held me back.  I wasn’t a danger to anybody else, but I was a grave danger to myself.

So one Friday afternoon, I got the call from Rogers that a bed would be available for me the following Wednesday. I was sent a detailed packing list, outlining the restrictions on what I could bring (the unit I stayed on was extremely self-harm and suicide-proof, so things like drawstrings in pants and spiral bound notebooks weren’t allowed). Naturally, I did my best to live it up for the next few days before I was “locked up” in the hospital. I ate so much junk food, stayed up late binging on Netflix, saw my friends one last time, ran around outside at 3am during a thunderstorm… you get the idea. Before I knew it, Wednesday had arrived and I was off on the adventure of a lifetime.

I was amazed at how massive the campus was when we pulled up to the hospital. I had been picturing a typical hospital, tall with lots of windows, not a lot of outdoor space. What I found was much nicer. There were half a dozen beautiful buildings. Gardens filled with statues and flowers sprawled out between the buildings, and you could see multiple gazebos poking up behind the bushes. We walked through the main doors and filled out some paperwork, then loaded my luggage into a van that would take me across campus to the FOCUS center where I’d be living. Yep, the grounds were so big we took a van to the building I’d be calling home.

I will never forget pulling into the FOCUS parking lot. My favorite building I’d seen so far on campus was the one we stopped in front of. We dragged my luggage through the front doors and into the office just inside. I met some of the staff and started my paperwork and assessments, which took about 2 hours to complete! My fellow patients were all very friendly and introduced themselves, telling me it was going to be okay. And with that, life in the mental hospital began.

At FOCUS, they just push you in head first. There was very little leeway given and they kept a strict, rigorous schedule that you were expected to follow, or you would be promptly kicked out (believe me, it happened). Each morning we’d start with mindfulness, then either art or “gym” before attending dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) with our therapist. After lunch, we had cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with our behavioral specialist (BS). We received plenty of homework in both therapy classes that kept us busy until dinner. Once a week we had a spirituality class and a nutrition class. Our evenings were filled with more homework time, as well as weekly activities like open gym, open art, going to the YMCA, or a trip to Target (to pick up snacks, clothes, anything we needed). We also met 1-on-1 with our therapist, BS, and the head psychiatrist every week. There were also sessions with our family every week or so, to keep our loved ones up to date on our progress and educate them on how to support us when we were discharged. We were given free time before bed and on the weekends. We could vote on activities we’d like to do on the weekends (go to a bookstore, an ice cream shop, a playground, etc) and went to the YMCA on Saturdays and Sundays.  To say we were busy was an understatement.

When we met with our therapist and BS privately during the week, we were given personal assignments to further specialize our care. Each patient was given a list of “bans” (harmful behaviors we weren’t allowed to engage in, such as self-harm, ruminating or reassurance seeking) that we tracked in a notebook, and reported to our BS on a daily basis. Our BS assigned us various exposure therapy exercises to complete and track, as well as positive activities that supported our hobbies and passions (I was supposed to do things like watch dance videos or learn new words in sign language). Our therapist gave us writing assignments, like exploring what recovery meant to us, or our ideal perfect day. The BS and therapist also decided what “level” we were on during our stay. The levels determined if we were allowed to do certain things or not, and were based on safety. For at least the first 48 hours of your stay, you were on “safety,” which meant you couldn’t go anywhere without staff supervision, including walking just down the hall for meals. This was so the staff could get to know you, and if you were at risk of trying to hurt yourself/ others or at risk for running away. You would be reverted back to being on “safety” if you ever did become a flight risk or a danger to yourself/ others. While on “safety” you were not allowed to leave campus for the group outings or the YMCA/ Target trips. For most levels, you were asked if you could be safe with scissors before you were allowed to use a pair. The next level up allowed you to go on the outings and go places in the building without staff supervision. As the levels progressed, you would be allowed to walk around campus with other patients and without staff, and eventually you could roam on your own. Everything was completely personalized to our situations and really added a lot to the overall therapeutic experience.

Being in a residential treatment had its ups and downs, and my time there wasn’t without its fun and drama. So here are some of the more prominent memories from my time living at Rogers.

Jim and Lexi were my two closest friends at Rogers, and two years later the three of us are still very close and talk weekly. Jim arrived 2 days before I did, and coincidentally left 2 days before me as well. Lexi arrived and a few weeks after me. Jim and I were in the same small group, and had a wonderful connection from the beginning. He is into card tricks, and since my dad is a professional magician, we had fun bonding over magic. Lexi was quiet at first, but when she warmed up, she, Jim and I were inseparable. Lexi was also in our small group. When the three of us reached a high enough level, we would go on long walks on campus and talk about the drama on the ward, homework, life… anything really. These were genuinely my favorite times during those few months. It was spring, so the air smelled wonderful, flowers were beautiful and birds were singing. We’d hike in the woods on campus, and get lost in each other’s company. Those walks helped me forget that I was living in a hospital. I felt like a typical, stable and accepted person. Sometimes I imagine my walks with them to help me fall asleep at night.

Sky was a lot like me. She was also in my small group, and we instantly bonded over Broadway and American Sign Language. She could put her feet behind her head and make a face and noise as if she were “possessed,” and we liked to joke that she should do that when someone new comes to the unit to scare ’em into thinking living on a psych ward is like in the movies. We never did this, obviously, but it was fun to laugh about.

One time, most of us created personas for everybody and sometimes pretended we were the cast from a sitcom… life on the ward was certainly weird enough to provide material for a TV show. We went for the classic stereotypes… there was the jock, the hippie (me), the nerd, the princess, the thespian, the bad-ass, the southern boy, the surfer dude, the player… you get the gist. Honestly, that helped us get through some of the more intense drama, to pretend it was a sitcom plotline.

Speaking of drama, here’s one of the more dramatic things that happened while living at Rogers:

We were on a group outing one afternoon to a local craft store. Paul had asked earlier in the day if we could stop by a gas station so he could buy more cigarettes. This wasn’t unusual, as we were the only unit that allowed outdoor smoking during certain times, and there were opportunities for the smokers to buy more when they ran out. In this particular instance, the staff said no, we could not stop for cigarettes on this outing. Paul was upset by this, and when he found out there was a drug store right down the strip mall from where the craft store was, he formed a plan with Becca and Rose. Paul was a high enough level that when we were at the craft store, he didn’t have to stay within sight of the staff member like the rest of us did. Becca and Rose picked and end cap that displayed bubbles and purposefully knocked a lot of them over, making a loud ordeal out of the whole thing. This distracted the staffer, and Paul knew he could successfully sneak out of the store and run down to the drug store to get cigarettes. Back in the store, a lady who worked there approached Becca and Rose, making sure everything was okay and chastising them for being so loud. The lady also complained that they weren’t supposed to be carrying large bags in the store (all of us had backpacks that we took pretty much everywhere, that contained all of our skills worksheets and various fidgets and things to help us mentally). Becca seized the chance to fake-freak-out, exclaiming that the backpack was her medical bag because she lived at the mental hospital in the area. The lady quickly backed off and cautiously tried to diffuse the situation by treating Becca like a rabid raccoon or something. It was a very stigmatized situation, but also pretty funny.

Whenever we got back from a trip where we could buy stuff, the staff checked our purchases (and sometimes our bags), to make sure everything was safe to be on the unit. Cigarettes had to be kept in the nurse’s office and smokers had to ask get one during specific smoke times. Our rooms were searched daily, so Paul decided to turn in his cigarettes he had snuck away to buy, with his thought process being “there’s nothing they can do about it now!” Naturally, the staff were not pleased. At all. They took the pack and refused to give them back. Paul became upset, and got into a heated debate with the staff because the cigarettes were his property, and if he wanted a cigarette during the smoke break, he should be allowed to have one since he spent his money on it. During this heated debate, Lucy needed one of her “as needed” medications, and also went into the nurse’s office to ask for her pill. The staff were trying to deal with Paul’s outbreak, and asked Lucy to come back later. This made Lucy upset, because she needed her medication and didn’t like being denied because of Paul (only one person was allowed in the nurse’s office at a time). An explosive argument broke out and one of the staffers moved the rest of us into another room to keep prying eyes away and simply to get us away from the situation. We all sat awkwardly in the room across from the nurse’s office, still able to hear the muffled shouts of Paul and Lucy. A handful of us were emotionally upset at this point, feeling triggered by the argument and screaming. No one really said a word. Then we heard a loud bang from outside the door (Paul had punched the wall) and that sent 2 or 3 of us into genuine panic attacks. The staff were busy trying to deal with Paul and Lucy, and so there weren’t staffers around to help us with our panic attacks. It was intense, to say the least. There was drywall missing from the wall, and Paul’s had was the size of a baseball… literally. Things were intense for the next few days on the unit.

There were other “classic Hollywood” things that happened, like the police were called when one of my roommates tried to run away, or when a patient had been hiding his medications under his tongue and stock piling them to snort in the bathroom (so we were moved to a different unit for the evening while the police searched everything). But honestly, it wasn’t like the movies for the most part. We played card games, watched TV, did our homework, took our sedation meds early in the evening so we could get super out of it and have “drunken” conversations late at night.

There was one weekend where Rose had her senior prom that night. Unlike most of the residents, she lived in the area, and her high school was close by. She was given permission to leave that night for prom, but she had to get ready on the unit. Some of us girls helped her shop for her dress online (we could get mail while living on the unit). The day of prom, all of us girls piled into one of the 3 single-stall bathrooms on the unit (which was totally not allowed) to help her get ready. Thankfully we had two female staffers working that night who let us do it. There was a no-touching rule on the unit, normally we couldn’t do anything from painting each others nails to giving hugs… absolutely no contact (touching leads to feelings, and feelings lead to relationships, and we were there to get healthy, and relationships would distract us from that goal). That night we were “permitted” to help Rose do her hair, make-up and nails (I say that with quotation marks because we definitely would have gotten in trouble if any of the higher up staffers found out). We listened to music (on our old school iPod touchs because no phones or electronics with cameras were allowed so we all bought old iPods without cameras) and all of us girls dressed fancy to support Rose. Us girls were very close, we loved to sit in the hallway and have chat circles and talk about boys, life on the outside, our families and friends, and the current gossip on the unit.

There was a Wii that was shared between the 3 floors of our building. Whenever my floor got it (which was more often than not), most of the my fellow patients and I would hold Wii tournaments. There was a whiteboard in the room that had the Wii, and we’d create brackets and go head to head in bowling or tennis. We’d blast “Panic! At the Disco” and eat chips and rice crispy treats (there was always an excess of them in the cafeteria. If you would have walked in that room, you wouldn’t have been able to tell we were all severely mentally ill. We were just normal 20 somethings playing Wii on a Sunday night.

Sometimes when people are sick, they need to stay in the hospital. If you have a heart attack or a stroke, you stay in the hospital. Our brains are sick, so we stayed in a hospital. We’re not people you need to fear. You can be our friend. The people I met while living at Rogers are all people worthy and deserving of friends… not people who need to be shunned and shut away. We don’t need to hide because of who we are, and you don’t need to hide from us. Living in a psychiatric hospital comes with a heavy stigma, and believe me, I’ve endured a lot solely because of I lived there. It isn’t like Hollywood, so please stop treating it like it is.

 

Posted in bpd, coping, diagnosis, mental health, stigma

Being Invisibly Ill

I deal with 14 invisible illnesses every day. If you saw me on the street, I wouldn’t look sick. I wouldn’t look disabled. My illnesses are internal. Because of this, I often deal with the fear that I won’t be believed when I call in sick to work or cancel plans. In my past, there was a myriad of situations where I was made out to be exaggerating or lying. I once had a mentor say to me: “It’s not that I don’t trust you, it’s just that I don’t believe you anymore.” There were a couple times I was admitted to the psych ward for suicidal thoughts/ attempts, and either my support group or even DOCTORS would doubt my suicide attempts as being real. As a result, I tend to overexplain everything (often to the annoyance of whoever I’m talking to). I sweat the little things and feel like I have to defend everything that comes out of my mouth as truth.

So when it comes to my illnesses, the same fears apply. Mentally I struggle. I’m either manic or depressed because of my bipolar. My emotions are four times as strong because of my borderline. I’m obsessed with the fear of harm coming to myself or others (OCD). I worry about everything (anxiety). I avoid and restrict what I ear (eating disorders). I live in a near chronic state of feeling traumatized (PTSD). My head is always spinning. My stomach is paralyzed, so I’m on a strict diet and am currently malnourished (despite being ~200 lbs, so I don’t look like it). This basically makes me feel like I’ve come down with a bad case of the flu 24/7. I suffer from chronic pain in many places, sensory processing issues, cysts on my ovaries and pre-diabetes. With these things and everything else I have going on, there is never a day that I feel like healthy. It is almost impossible for me to participate in everyday life activities. When I work a 3-hour shift (the maximum amount I can work per day as determined by doctors), it feels like I worked a 9-hour shift (which I used to do before I got sick). I can barely get out of bed for the rest of the day. Laundry is a daunting task that I usually have to span over multiple days by washing on one day, drying on another day, folding and putting away over the next few days. I’m lucky if I can shower once a week. The pain builds when I cook food to the point where I’m in too much pain to eat what I cooked, and have to stick it in the fridge for later. Same goes for grocery shopping. I usually do it late at night so I can sleep off the pain after completing the task. I’m sick, and it rules my life.

I do my best to live life to the fullest despite being sick. I carefully plan out my week so I have at least 2 days a week where I don’t have any commitments, so I can lay in bed all day and recuperate. I’ll watch TV, write stuff on my laptop, play video games or read a book. I light a candle, use baby wipes to keep myself clean and drink lots of water. I know that if I work, I won’t be able to do anything for the rest of the day. I try to plan fun activities, like board games with friends, after a doctor appointment that might be difficult. I call friends and talk to them on my days I’m stuck in bed. I do my best to be happy.

Even with all of this, I still struggle with the fear of not being believed. I loathe calling in sick at work, in part because I love my job and hate missing it, but also because I’m scared my coworkers won’t understand. Recently all three managers were sick with chills, fever, cough, etc. but they all still came into work. I felt especially useless calling into work sick during that time. I felt like a wimp because they were toughing out their sickness for work, while I wasn’t. Images flashed through my head of them complaining about me being weak. It was a challenge for me to remind myself that their sickness was different than my sickness.

Living with any illness, visible or not, temporary or chronic, is a challenge. The flu is a marathon. Chronic illness is like eternal back-to-back marathons. Not having anything visible to identify to strangers that I’m sick is a struggle that I deal with every day. I’m constantly trying to prove to my coworkers that I’m sick (even though they are lovely and don’t actually need proof). Having a medical ID bracelet is helpful for me beyond just the practical use for first responders. It helps me feel validated, and it’s visible proof that I’m sick. I feel validated when I look at it. I deal with invisible illness every day, and I learn something new every day. It’s a challenge, but it’s my challenge.

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 bpd, coping, mental health, stigma

After an Attempt

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.

September 2, 2015. The suicide attempt where I would have been successful without the intervention of the police. There’s a wide variety of topics on suicide that you’ll encounter on the internet: warning signs, what to do when your friend is suicidal, statistics and the impact of suicide, etc. What you don’t often hear about is what it’s like to survive an attempt, and how life changes in the immediate and far futures. And when you do, it’s about how friends and family surround the person with Hollywood like gestures of love and support. I’m here to share my story of life after my big attempt and dispell the misconceptions about life after an attempt.

I’ve dealt with suicidal thoughts for years. I’ve attempted suicide more times than I’m comfortable admitting. On the day before the big attempt, I was caught in a pretty big lie, and my whole support system was pretty upset about it. The night before, I stayed the night at a friend’s parent’s house because I was feeling unsafe after I had been caught. In the morning I woke up with this giant pit in my stomach. After trying to talk with my at-the-time boyfriend, we’ll call him M, I wasn’t feeling any better. While he said he’d still date me, it was going to take a long time to build his trust back. Since I suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder, I struggle with abandonment issues, and took his comments as a way to let me down easy and that he was really going to leave me. So upon hanging up, I drove to the local hardware store, and went to go look at the ropes. An employee came over and asked if I needed any help. I was lost trying to find a rope strong enough to hold my weight, so I disguised it as wanting to buy a rope to tie things to the back of my moped. I rode back to my apartment and… well you can imagine what happened next.

I called M’s mom, sobbing, and telling her that my life was over no matter what: if I lived or died. I then hung myself. I won’t go into detail. M’s mom had called an ambulance and the police. The police forced entry and saved me. They took photos of the scene IMG_20150902_191816989_HDRand then threw away the rope. I was put in a neck brace and rushed to the hospital and went through nearly 24 hours of tests. At the end of it all, I was told there was swelling in my c-spine, and I’d have to wear the cervical collar for a month and a half. It was the most traumatic day of my life, and even 2 years later I haven’t told anyone what it was like, but I still have nightmares. Once I was medically cleared I was taken to the psych ward. I’ve blocked most of the following days out, so it’s all a blur, but in the days following I had a lot of phone calls. The first one was M’s mom checking up on me. She had brought me some toiletries and a journal when I had been transferred up to the psych ward, and wanted to know how things we going. I tried to ask about M and how he was doing, but she declined to answer, saying that he’d call me when he was ready. A few days later he called, and broke up with me. I reacted quite violently out of a place of hurt. I was crying and screaming at him, calling him a liar and saying that he was breaking his promises to me. It got to the point where he had to hang up on me. After talking to a nurse, I called his mom back and asked if he was willing to talk to me again, this time there’d be no screaming, and I’d be using my new skills I had been learning. Thankfully he agreed, and we had a mature conversation. I had now lost M and his family, which made up almost my entire support system back then. All I had left were my friends B and F. That didn’t last long… the next day I got a three-way call from B and F saying that they needed a break from me. The deal was no contact for two weeks – every message, DM or voicemail I tried to send would not be read and promptly deleted. After two weeks, they’d call me again, and we’d discuss if we’d stay friends and if so, what that will look like. So when I released to go home, my support system was gone. If I thought that was hard, I had another thing coming.

I was returning to an empty apartment. I had no central support. How do you return to a life you thought you were never supposed to live? I had heard stories about friends IMG_20150911_184413463waiting at the patient’s home with letters about how much they love them or the patient gets a fresh and renewed outlook on life and everything is magically easy. NOT TRUE! Not only was I still in an unstable state of mind, but I had a cervical collar that screamed: “LOOK I WAS IN SOMETHING TRAUMATIC, PLEASE ASK ME ABOUT IT SO I CAN BLUSH, CRY AND RUN AWAY!” Furthermore, I when I did open up and tell someone what happened, many people had the audacity to tell me that I didn’t really try to kill myself and it was all fake. Those really got me. What was the cervical collar THAT THE HOSPITAL GAVE ME for then, huh? Just a prop I stole for my big lie? REALLY?  I know my credibility wasn’t the best at that moment in time, but still. Whenever someone told me my suicide attempt was faked, it drove me to want to kill myself even more. I was so hurt and mad that I’d want to prove them wrong, to show them that I was capable of ending my life.

The whole time I had my cervical collar on, I just wanted to hide. I returned to work during that period, and was flooded with questions from coworkers and clients. Because of the collar, it was difficult for me to do the back work, so I spent most of my time at the front desk, checking in and out clients and managing emails and phone calls. Believe me when I say that you don’t realize how much you use your neck until you can’t use it at all. Especially when it comes to riding a moped. Talking on the phone was rough too, so I felt like I was pretty useless during work. Which didn’t help my mental health. For our September monthly work meeting, we went rock climbing as a team building exercise. Everyone doubted my ability to actually climb the wall, but I made it to the top! It was the first time I felt good about something since my attempt.

Returning to life after an attempt is difficult. It’s hard to know what to say to people who know what happened, but even harder to come up with excuses when you don’t want people to know what happened. Because I attempted in my home, it was hard to walk past the spot every time I had to walk past it. It was hard to restart without any sufficient support. I had to learn my triggers, and if you think about it, to learn your triggers, you have to be triggered (more often than not) and dealing with those triggers can be a challenge. It’s more than tempting to relapse into self-harm, or to attempt suicide again. In my case, I had attempted suicide WITH my support system around me, so when I was triggered after my attempt I felt like there was nothing emotionally keeping me here anymore. My self-harm increased during this time. On social media, I came out as having Borderline Personality Disorder, but I mostly tried to portray having a perfect life and that I was entirely happy. I overcompensated for my “failure” by faking happiness. There’s no magical change where things get better, there’s no party where everyone in your life tells you how much you are loved and then you suddenly are healed.

If you were wondering, I was given a clean bill of health. IMG_20150922_162921780_HDR

What’s important in life after an attempt is that you DO continue to seek professional support once you are released from the hospital – a therapist, psychiatrist, even your primary care doctor works in a pinch. It’s also important that you increase your self-care, and give yourself leeway in your recovery because things will not go perfectly. If you have a support system, give them space to process how they need, but don’t be afraid to ask for help if they’re in a headspace to do so. You’re not alone, and you’ve got this.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts:
Call the Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255
or text  HELP to the Crisis Text Line at 741741

Posted in bpd, diagnosis, mental health, stigma

Disclosing for the First Time

Disclosing you have a mental illness, whether it be to family or friends, to an employer, even on social media, it’s scary and carries a lot of unknowns. With such a stigma hanging around, I’ve seen it be very discouraging to make your mental illness public. It took a long time for me to open up online about my mental illnesses. My first big diagnosis was Borderline Personality Disorder. It wasn’t until 4 months after the diagnosis and 4 psychiatric hospitalizations that I was comfortable posting on Instagram about my illness. It took me days to figure out what I was going to say and how I was going to approach the issue. I decided that education was key. People would be less likely to judge or be stigmatizing if they we operating with a knowledge of where I was coming from… right? While the response wasn’t completely accepting, it was overwhelming better than what I was expecting. Days before I opened up online, I had lost my at-the-time boyfriend, his entire family, and temporarily lost my best friends. I needed support. I was genuinely trying to navigate life after a suicide attempt on my own, and while I didn’t disclose this particular information, my motivation was definitely hoping to find support. If you haven’t opened up about your mental illnesses, do not worry. There’s no rush. There’s no timeline you’re expected to follow. You never have to if you don’t want to. But if you’re looking for inspiration or even just a place to start thinking about it, here’s what I wrote when I first came out.

I’m still young and new to this world. And maybe this is the borderline talking. But I’m going to shed my two cents on mental health awareness and share my personal story.
I have borderline personality disorder. I feel the same emotions you do. But I feel them on a more extreme scale. When I first got diagnosed it was explained to me as such: let’s take a range. 0-100. 0 being no emotion, like a Psychopath. 100 is an emotion, so extreme no one has felt it. People without borderline, well, their feelings typically lie at a 20 on this scale. Now take someone with BPD. Our everyday emotions, on the same scale, are an 80. Having borderline has been compared to having 3rd-degree burns on 90% of your body. Brain studies have shown the emotional centers of our brain overpower our logical centers. People with BPD struggle to maintain relationships due to the intensity of the emotions. It’s hard for us to keep a job. Sometimes it’s a miracle if we can muster up the mental energy to even get dressed in the morning. I’ve spent nearly a month working on this post because I over-analyze everything. We’re trapped in our brain. Some days it feels like an eternal hell. I never know what emotion I’m going to feel from one minute to the next. It’s agony to look at all the people I’ve hurt. I constantly struggle with fear of abandonment. My brain can only think in black and white. I can say from personal experience: it’s exhausting. 1 in 10 people suffering from BPD successfully commit suicide. Mood disorders have a 6% suicide rating. I don’t share any of this for pity, or for attention. in fact, I ask that there are no “oh my gosh I’m so sorry” or “you’re so strong” comments (or the like) added to this post. I’m choosing to share my story to bring awareness to the fact that mental illness is a very real thing. And it’s very present in our society. It’s not something we can just “get over.” there have been days where I have called into work sick, crying on the phone because I mentally was feeling particularly unstable. I’m very blessed to have a job that understands and has graciously worked with my disorder. But I’m one of the lucky few. Mental illnesses are very real. I once watched someone struggle with the idea of taking a shower or simply go to the grocery store, due to anxiety. Things that most people can do without thinking. The world is starting to shift its view on mental illness, and it’s up to us to keep that change going. I know I’m only one voice. I know most people will not take the time to read all of this. So I want to say thank you to those who did. Borderline personality disorder is only one of a myriad of mental illnesses that people struggle with every day. 1 in 4 adults has some sort of mental illness. Please educate yourself. We thank you for it. I proudly wear green for mental health awareness and gray for BPD awareness. And I thank you again for taking the time to read this.

Posted in Anxiety, bpd, coping, Medication, mental health

When it Rains, It Pours

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?”

Posted in Anxiety, bpd, coping, Depression, ED, mental health, PTSD

Self-Therapy: How I Had the Best Monday Morning I’ve Had in Years

I started writing this earlier this morning and am proud to bring you the best self-therapy I think I’ve ever had:

My mental illnesses are taking over. It’s taking all the energy I have to keep myself from attempting suicide, and I don’t even want to die!! My nightmares/ dreams are so bad I can’t even tell if I’m awake or dreaming. My eating disorder and self-image is at nearly an all-time low and I’m starting more intense therapy.  My knees ache in the springtime because of the cool, damp air. My back is getting worse and I’m scared wearing an occasional brace and electrotherapy won’t be enough in the near future. My blog traffic is down so low it’s worse than the first month is was live. I’m stressed all the time. My financial situation is dire. My bipolar is temporarily stable, but the fear or losing control again makes it even harder for me to trust my mood. I’ve had life-altering pain in my side for 7 months with no answers, and more my digestive system is revolting against me and doctor’s don’t know why yet. I’m a mess. I need a vacation. I’m curled around a puke bowl crying and browsing Facebook. I don’t even remember what inspired the thought, but something made me realize I need to do my best to live life despite the blows that knock me down. Lake Monona is my backyard. I got a bigger boost of inspiration than I’ve had in months.

IMG_20170522_080844949It’s 7:30 am on a Monday morning and I just got home from the ER about an hour ago. I’m struggling with my Bipolar Depression and thoughts of suicide while struggling with the scary and unknown thoughts of digestive failure or kidney disease. Every fiber of my being screams to just curl up in a ball under blankets and just watch a movie I’ve seen a hundred times over. Something on Facebook inspires me to just make a positive memory for myself and live a happy life, at least for the morning. I needed to just let go of all of the anxiety over unknowns in my life and enjoy myself. I wasn’t going to let anxiety win. I got up, threw my phone, a waterproof speaker and an Ensure in a bag, grabbed my favorite canoe, Pea Pod, and dragged it all down to the shoreline. I was so excited, but also nervous, because I had this gut feeling it was a bad idea to go canoeing in my current physical condition. Somehow my persnickety brain allowed me to throw caution to the wind and go canoeing anyways.

I started out quite clumsily, it was hard to find a way to paddle that compensated for my current right flank pain. It was so early in the morning that the sun was either directly in my eyes or so low that I was in the shade and chilly. After a period of wrestling with the canoe and the sun, I realized I had forgotten to turn my music on! That improved the entire situation 1000%.  I was singing at the top of my lungs, laughing, talking to the wildlife and enjoying the view. I went down this channel that has a great balance of interesting houses, and wildlife, to look at while paddling. img_20170522_082707328.jpgI drank an Ensure, which is a nutritional drink I was prescribed when I was diagnosed with my eating disorder. I’ve been struggling a lot with my eating recently because I’m about to start meeting with a new professional about it, so I’ve been avoiding drinking the Ensures so that I appear “sick enough” for this new doctor (PRIME EXAMPLE OF WHY THE EATING DISORDER STIGMA IS DANGEROUS). It made me feel really good about myself, but there was still this hesitation inside of me that I didn’t like. My thoughts immediately jumped to pushing myself really hard paddling so I’d burn off the calories and not get fat because I drank it. Instead of acting on that thought, I practiced a DBT skill where you imagine your thoughts and urges as leaves on a river, and picture them flowing past you without judging them or acting on them… only I did it in real life on the lake with some leaves from a nearby tree and watched my urges to over-exert myself and self-image issues drift away from my canoe. Then I “took matters into my own hands” and paddled away from them. I decided to make a conscious choice to leave those issues behind me and “paddle towards recovery”. I think my phone heard my thoughts because the next song that played was a song from my library that dealt with physical appearance and learning to accept yourself (as long as you promise not to judge me for being a Gleek, you can listen to the song here).

There were many times I started to turn around. My depression was screaming at me to go back into my bed and just spend the next few hours mindlessly on my phone. Even now, I don’t completely know how I was able to fight those thoughts off and keep going on my planned route. I would mutter a little pep talk (“you got this, remember you’re having a good time?” or “oh no you silly brain. this is my morning and you aren’t taking it from me” or something of the like) and paddle on. At one point my foot fell asleep so bad that I had no feeling in my foot. If you know me, you know I’m ridiculously ticklish

IMG_20170522_083159379
Accidentally wore the perfect shirt…

on the bottoms of my feet. I can even tickle myself! I ran my finger across my foot and couldn’t feel it AT ALL. It was a weird out-of-body experience, and also kinda scary. Needless to say, the rest of the ride I was always wiggling my feet and knees so they didn’t fall asleep. I paddled along, quacking at ducks and then laughing at myself… that’s a really powerful gift, to be able to have enough empathy towards yourself that you can laugh at the silly quirks you have, instead of tearing them down. That thought was another positive thought that I noted to use in the future when I begin hating my childish quirks. I seized the moment and sat cheering myself on for the distance I’ve already run in the marathon to self-acceptance.

 

At this point, I’m about 2/3 of the way through my planned trail to blaze in Pea Pod. Once again, as if on cue, a string of my self-empowering songs played. Pure positive energy seemed to burst from my chest. It was surreal. I paddled with renewed life in me. My cheeks hurt I was smiling so much. I paused long enough to capture a quick video of the moment:

I paddled home in the best mood I can remember ever being in, in recent history anyway. There are a gazillion more thoughts I had and experiences I will treasure from my paddle, but I will leave you with this, recovery is not a straight line. Things had been going well for me these past two weeks, and then everything came crashing down. Even with this paddle to lift me up, I’m still in a funk and overwhelmed. This wasn’t a wand-waving experience that made me feel all better. In fact, I’m still a little low-key passively suicidal. But the opportunity to suspend reality, if only for a moment of relief, was well worth the effort. I’m depressed but rejuvenated. The self-discovery journey I went on today was one I will never forget. I hope this post encourages you to stretch yourself this week, and allow yourself the freedom to take things as they come, and go on a journey with your closest friend… you ❤

Want to hear “My Paddle Playlist”? Check it out here.