Posted in coping, mental health, OCD, PTSD, stigma

How to Say Goodbye

Before I start, no this isn’t a suicide note. Just wanted to make that clear to keep anyone from a freak-out.

This past week and a halfish I’ve found myself in the midst of my biggest relapse I’ve experienced. Generally, I write about insightful things on the blog, hoping to break the stigma one blog post at a time. I’ll be honest, I had a depressed “realization” that the stigma hasn’t diminished, it’s only morphed to fit in with today’s society. I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle. Logically I know it’s not a losing battle, just an uphill one. A long, near-right-angle uphill battle. Okay, yeah, I’m depressed. And I’ve got a lot going on. So I’m selfish this blog post… I’ll figure out how to make this mind dump into something worth reading… maybe… hopefully… eventually… I’m going to use the excuse that this is showing people what it’s like to be in my mind. If I come up with something better later, I will. But for now that flimsy excuse I don’t even believe myself will stand. Time to shout into the emptiness that is the www.

So I have a lot going on in my head right now. Unfortunately, I can’t talk about the two biggest things. Actual legal reasons. I know. It sounds pathetic even to me.

One thing I am at liberty to talk about is the loss of my childhood home. I spent most of my life in that house, and in the past month, my parents moved. Being the home I grew up in I have a lot of good memories. And bad ones. Casualties of growing up. I’m terrified of saying goodbye to my closet. It was my play place as a kid. I have tried for a half an hour to put into words what a special place it was for me. I lined the walls with pictures I drew of my invisible friends, I created a console for the inside of a spaceship and traveled all around the universe (I wanted to be an astronaut scientist with seven kids when I was growing up). I would read, color, let my creativity run wild. I hung a flashlight from the hanger-hanging-pole thingy. I had my favorite stuffed animals, a pillow, blankets… on more than one occasion I happily fell asleep.  When I lived with my friend’s family during my senior year of high school, my closet was a corner of the storage room off my bedroom. When I found myself in states of great distress, I didn’t curl up in a ball under my covers. I grabbed my favorite blanket and my Winnie the Pooh I’ve had since I was 2 and curled up in a ball on the storage room’s cement floor. When I had my own apartment for the first time, I set up my large collection of stuffed animals, beloved blankets, and 400 page Disney coloring book accompanied by 200 crayons in a nifty little nook at the bottom of my closet. Even now, at nearly 22 years young, I still hide in the bottom of my closet whenever there’s a big storm or a tornado warning… or when I’m really upset. Like this morning. My parents have completely moved out of the house and they have a buyer for it. How am I supposed to say goodbye to my closet?!? I have no time, and I’m panicking… big time. I’m always trying to find reasons and tangible evidence in the physical realm to help explain what’s going on inside my head (my pal John Green touches on it beautifully in one of his latest videos). WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO ME WHEN I LOSE MY CHILDHOOD HOME? WHAT IF I NEED TO PROCESS SOMETHING AND THE PHYSICAL PLACE IS GONE?!? Yep. Only slightly freaking out. And I’m putting all this pressure myself to say the perfect goodbye to a stupid house. Yeah. Mixed feelings.

Another thing I’m trying to say goodbye to is this weird secret addiction I have. And before you start thinking, I can guarantee that you’re wrong. It’s not drugs, it’s not alcohol or porn or anything. It’s something that not only have I never heard of anywhere else, but my therapist who has been in the business for over 20 years has never come across anything like it. It’s the single biggest secret and source of shame in my life and even talking about it this much will have me reeling in shame for weeks. Please, respect my trust and don’t try to guess or judge. Please. It’s something I’ve struggled with since I was in elementary school. And I’ve relapsed. Big time. It’s worse than it’s ever been. I’m disgusted by myself and I don’t know what to do. And I’m so embarrassed and ashamed of this that I can’t talk about it with anyone except around 3 people (before you ask, my therapist is in Europe, just another part of my freak out… her parting advice was to feel my emotions and stop burying them before it killed me… literally). Screaming my panic into my pillow has only gotten me so far… so now I’m screaming into the void.

A week ago I was the mentally the sickest I’ve been in over 2 years. It took waking up friends at 6:30 in the morning to come be with me before my OCD took over and put me in danger. I felt as if I exhausted my local support system with the visits I kept requiring. people to make so I could stay safe and out of the god-forsaken hospital (before you argue with me, read about my worst ER psych experiences here and tell me if you’d ever want to go back when you were in crisis). My head hurts all the time. My room is a mess. My pets miss their playmate. I sat in my new bungee chair for 72 hours straight last week… then slept in my bed for 36. I’m a mess. I haven’t written a blog post in a week. Heck, I have barely written anything in the past two weeks. I just keep turning over how to say goodbye. To my parents’ house, to ghosts in my past, to my secret addiction, to legal battles, to eating disorder therapists rejecting me…

If you actually read all of this I’m genuinely surprised.

 

Posted in coping, Uncategorized

When Words Fail, I Dance

In case you haven’t already guessed, I like to write… a lot. Over the years I’ve become an articulate person who can usually express what she needs to say and can find words for things that others can’t. I’ve been asked to write books, articles, presentations, and I make it a point to write in some way every day. I’ve always been a writer. I loved keeping a diary, and have done so for most of my life. It’s definitely one of the biggest passions in my life. But there are times where words still fail. I can write things out release my emotions over and over and over again, but sometimes it doesn’t provide the relief I usually feel after doing so. Sometimes, words fail.

This post is a little different from my usual material. To tell this story, we have to go back. Way back. Let’s say, 30-40 years. My parents met in high school drama class. My dad started performing magic when he was younger and continued it as a career into his adult life. My mom’s family was big into the performing arts as well. My grandma taught piano lessons, my uncles were into music and had a band, and my mom grew up taking dance lessons… and she got pretty good too. She studied with the Milwaukee City Ballet one summer. So naturally, when I was growing up, I was bred to be a performer. A 226835_182907175091926_1964194_nmagician for a dad and a ballerina for a mom. I took lots of music lessons growing up: piano, violin, drums, guitar… and participated in a lot of theater. I also took dance classes. I’ve been dancing since I was 3 years old. My first recital was in 1st grade, and we danced to Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! By high school, everything had fallen away except theater and dance and high school. My junior year, I was dancing at the studio 2-3 times a week for 3 hours at a time. I had an elaborate bedtime routine that involved 2 hours of stretching and strengthening along with practicing whatever we had learned in class that week. I loved it. Every Christmas and birthday, all I asked for were dance clothes. But it wasn’t until my senior year that I found my true passion, and the point of this blog post.

One day after my Theater Arts class, the drama director Mr. Nibbe called me into his office. Mr. Nibbe was my favorite teacher, and we got along really well. He was definitely a father figure in my life, especially my senior year. I was going through a lot of tough stuff in my personal life, and it prevented me from dancing at the studio that year. On this particular December morning, Nibbe proposed the idea that we do a musical for the spring show, and that I choreograph it. I was thrilled with the idea. I made up dances all the time at home, but nothing serious. A friend of mine and I had choreographed a piece for the school’s talent show, but that was the extent of my experience. When the time came for rehearsals to start, I was beside myself with nerves. I was catastrophizing, telling myself I was going to be horrible, and all of my friends would be there to see me fail, seeing as how they were all in the cast. I kept waiting for the moment to come where somebody laughed or told me it was awful, but it never came. I got compliments and reassurances from the cast and Mr. Nibbe. When the curtain fell on opening night, I walked out into the lobby and was flooded with genuine compliments. It was an amazing experience. It was so good I got asked to choreograph the same show at a local middle school, and I even got paid for it! I wasn’t as proud of that show’s choreography… it was a lot of similar elements and I feel like I was judged for that. Plus, they never asked me to choreograph again 😛

I didn’t give choreography another thought until about a year later when I was cast in a show and then asked to choreograph it as well. I had a blast, and was nominated for a local theater award for my routines! Shortly after the show, I went to Rogers Memorial Hospital for my residential stay. We were required to go to the YMCA 3 times a week, and we were expected to actually work out during that time. Not being one for ellipticals or weight-lifting, I found myself an empty yoga studio and using the sound system to play music to dance around to, or more commonly, to stretch to. I was bopping around when a very emotional slow song came on that Lady Gaga had written about sexual assault., but it can be used in a variety of situations. The words really resonated with me and my treatment at Rogers, as I worked through feelings of suicide and wanting to destroy myself. I decided I wanted to choreograph a dance to this song. I started looking forward to the YMCA trips. I choreographed the dance to portray that there was this invisible force torturing me, throwing me across the stage and trying to kill me. I even used a scarf as a prop to show strangulation and this force pulling me around. Most days I cried while choreographing this routine, because it allowed me to combat these feelings around me, almost as if they were physically around me and not just in my head. My friends started noticing just how emotionally drained I always was after the Y and were awesome support on the particularly rough days. When I finished the dance I called everyone into the little yoga studio to show them the dance. Not only did I cry, but a few of my fellow patients were moved to tears as well. You could tell that the energy in the room had changed slowly throughout the dance. It was as if a fog filled the room and made everything slow and heavy. The air was thick, and everything seemed still for a moment. I will never forget the moment, or all of the love that I received from my friends afterward. Rogers has a rule where we can’t touch each other, but I got lots of hugs anyways. I went home about a week later, and it was then that I realized just how helpful the dance was for me. Dancing that story did things inside of me that no amount of writing or therapy ever could. Words hadn’t been enough. Words had failed me, but dance had not. Now whenever I’m really stuck on a feeling, I try to find a song and dance to it for a release. Not having proper space to dance since Rogers last year has lessened the effect that choreographing a piece has, to the point where I actually haven’t been able to choreograph a piece like that since. I

I went home about a week later, and it was then that I realized just how helpful the dance was for me. Dancing that story did things inside of me that no amount of writing or therapy ever could. Words hadn’t been enough. Words had failed me, but dance had not. Now whenever I’m really stuck on a feeling, I try to find a song and dance to it for a release. Not having proper space to dance since Rogers last year has lessened the effect that choreographing a piece has, to the point where I actually haven’t been able to choreograph a piece like that since. Tonight I cleared out half of the basement storage area, giving me just enough concrete floor to work with. It’s definitely not the ideal floor, bruises are already forming, but the rush of picking a song and nailing that first few second of choreography has reminded me just how powerful dance is. Without my parents, grandparents, dance teacher Ms. Shannon and Mr. Nibbe, I don’t know what I’d do, or how I’d express these emotions. My toes are itching for another go, but for now, I must sleep… since I’ve been awake all night dancing.

What do you have in your life that helps you release your extreme emotions? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

Posted in Anxiety, Bulimia, coping, diagnosis, ED, mental health, stigma

Secrets Can Kill

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 Screenshot_2017-07-15-17-17-53.pngbreak 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 IMG_20170420_064023300weight. 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
https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/

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 coping, mental health

How 1 Band Helped Form My Recovery

I see the light that I’m chasing
A memory, but it’s fading
When it’s gone I’ll be waiting
Knowing it’s too late

There’s no sugarcoating it: recovery is hell. It’s not easy to make a complete lifestyle change and fight against actual chemical imbalances in your brain every second of every day. Even living in a mental hospital with the best support in the world, there were still times everything was so overwhelming that it felt like I had no support at all. Nothing can prepare you for just how difficult it is to do it on your own, in a different environment with none of the same people, once you’re discharged. Consistency is lacking. When I went through the transition from residential to outpatient, I found myself searching for anything in my new life that carried over from my time in the hospital, hoping I would be able to recreate the healthy environment at home that I had started my recovery in.

She captures her reflection then she throws the mirror to the floor
Her image is distorted screaming, “Is it worth it anymore?”

Ways to entertain yourself in residential are few and far between. Electronics with cameras aren’t allowed, which meant I didn’t have my phone that I could listen to my music on. This quickly became an issue for me, so I caved within the first week and bought an old iPod touch without a camera on Amazon to put my music on. I ended up downloading the audio off of youtube videos, which is a tedious task and I had limited computer time, so my music library for the next few months ended up consisting of some acapella music and the entire musical makings of Little Mix, a British girl band. After that, I gave up trying to download music onto my iPod.

I might be young, but I know my mind
I’m sick of being told what’s wrong or right

Acapella is great, but you can only listen to it so many times before it kind of wears on you. So during my time at Rogers, I found myself listening to Little Mix almost exclusively. At the time, the band had 3 albums out, offering me a wide range of song topics, sounds, and rhythms. I think it’s safe to say that I listened to basically nothing but Little Mix for two months, and it was one of my favorite parts of my recovery.

I’d cross a desert and an ocean
To get away from the pain of your storm
But chase the sunlight, been running from your shadow
So that I could heal and I didn’t breathe

They had songs for almost every mood I found myself. All 4 girls from the band have unique and personal experiences that they write their songs about. Music is a very therapeutic activity to participate in however fits you best. You can sing along, make up dances, sit and simply listen to the words, etc. I found myself choreographing dances to the songs that resonated with me at the present time. It was a wonderful form or expression that allowed me to wrestle with whatever challenge my brain or treatment was throwing at me at the present moment. I not only was able to wrestle with it mentally, but I was able to physically battle against the invisible forces keeping me down through dance. It was also a great way to work out and keep my body fit and healthy. Three times a week we went to the YMCA at Rogers, and I found a small yoga room that I commandeered on each visit to dance in. I ended up choreographing a full dance and shared it with my fellow patients and was genuinely able to bring people to tears with my dance. It was incredibly healing for me, and I don’t think my recovery would have been the same without the dance. It helped me feel empowered because I controlled the story and how the dance ended. I could beat whatever was suffocating me at the moment. I’m forever grateful for Little Mix, and the fact that they wrote the soundtrack for my recovery. I can face anything with them singing me on.

I feel the rain on my skin
Wash away all the pain I was in
I see the sun in the sky
No longer know how it feels to cry

They said I couldn’t, they told me that I wouldn’t
But if they could see me now
They’d see I’m something, that I’m not scared of nothing
And the world will hear me shout
Might call me crazy
But I’ve been thinkin’ maybe you would change your mind
If you could see me now

 

Posted in coping, Depression, diagnosis, ED, mental health, PTSD, stigma

Dear Patient Relations – An Open Letter

This weekend I wrote a letter of complaint to the patient relations at my hospital. Being an advocate on my blog and Instagram can only get you so far. I took the courageous action to share my story with the people who will hopefully really help me make a difference. And it’s only right that I post it here so that it may find whoever needs it and I pray that this continues to find the right people so that this issue is addressed not only in my hospital but in hospitals across the country and maybe even globally.

Dear Patient Relations,

My name is Serenity Kaspar and I am mentally disabled. This means I frequent the ER as a psych patient when I need the extra help. I am an avid mental health advocate and with my latest trip to the ER, I ran across some red flags. I am thankful it was me, and not someone in an unhealthier mindset, who ran into these unsafe situations.

I had a dramatic mental episode on the morning of June 9th, leaving myself and my care team wondering if I had overdosed on one of my medications. I drove myself into the ER, as I have many times before. I know you guys have been rearranging things, and I pray my experience today was simply ironing out the kinks of the new program. If that is the case, I hope this letter helps you adjust the new system. Once I was checked in, I was taken back behind the desk to get my vital signs done, then returned to sit and wait. My first thought I’d like to make is that there was a large number of times that I was moved from room to room and all the standing and sitting was very unwelcomed. I had taken too much medication and I was feeling very sick, as I’d imagine most patients would be feeling given the nature of the emergency room.

When I was finally taken back to a room, I was immediately left alone while the staff member asked a question. I was a psych patient left alone in a room full of chords, medical supplies, and more. Now, given what you have done with the psych ER room remodel, you understand the severity of this mistake. This happened not once, but twice. I was even left alone for a lengthy period of time, plenty of time to do some serious damage. After an EKG, I was left alone again in that new, smaller waiting room area. No one at the desk, nothing. I’d like to note that at this point, I had all my stuff and nothing had been checked. I also had not been asked if I felt like I could keep myself safe or if I still had thoughts of wanting to hurt myself or others. If this had been back when I was at my sickest, I would have had a knife in my bad to cut myself with and I would have lied to the initial staffers. There wasn’t enough of a relationship for me to have felt comfortable sharing, nor for them to know if I was truly safe or not, despite how I may have “seemed.”

When I was taken back into the psych room, I was met with a staff purely made of new people. They were not aware of the rules, when we were allowed, what we could wear… nothing. They weren’t even aware of how everything in the room went. I understand that there are staffing problems, but there should never be exclusively new people staffed in the psych area. I ended up being the one to tell them how certain things went. Again, if I had not been this far into recovery, this would have continued to give me opportunities to lie and get away with things that could compromise my mental and physical health.

Thankfully I am in recovery and was not having current thoughts about hurting myself or others. I want to applaud the hospital for the renovations it made to the psych rooms. They are so much safer, and I rest easier knowing that my fellow mental health patients are safer when they come into the ER.

I also wish that this was the only thing I felt I needed to write about today. I have run into some serious issues in your ER before, when it came to mental health issues. I have had staffers sitting with me and answer my questions about how tall a building needs to be for me to effectively kill myself and sat there while I self harmed. I have had staffers check in on me, find me self harming, tell me not to do it, and then leave again, leaving me to self harm to my heart’s content. These are truly appalling things that I have experienced, and unfortunately, I am not alone in this.

–I then included the text from my previous blog post: The Problem with the ER

Please take this to heart and get it to the exact right people that can help change this. Don’t make it another email that’s summarized by checking a few boxes.

I am more than willing to talk on the phone and meet with whoever I need to meet with so that this can change. I am willing to do whatever it takes that mental health patients do not need to experience this, and ultimately reject care that has the potential to change their lives.

Posted in coping, diagnosis, mental health

Reflecting On Rogers Memorial Hospital

5/23/17… a year ago today I arrived home after a 2-month residential stay at Rogers Memorial Hospital. It may have only been 2 months, but there was a long road that led me there, and a lifetime of memories to treasure afterward.

My first mental health diagnosis (Borderline Personality Disorder) came about because I went to my therapist, sobbing, saying that I needed to be locked up for good in a mental institution (read more of that story in this article). Even in the months following, I felt the pull to be hospitalized for psychiatric reasons, and I wasn’t sure why. In June 2015, following a suicide attempt, I was hospitalized for psych reasons for the first time. Something felt right. It wasn’t until later that I was able to explain the sensation. I was in a place where there were no judgments being made. There was still evidence of a stigma, but less so than out in the world. I was surrounded by staff that knew how to take care of you and people who were experiencing similar symptoms and could empathize with you.

Down the line about 4 months, I was first introduced to the idea of going to Rogers for their mood disorder program. Despite the call I still felt to “live” in a mental hospital, I was resistant. “What would it look like to other people if I went away and lived in a hospital specifically for the severely mentally ill?” I was scared because of the stigma. I knew it would be good for me. At this point, I was already beginning the road to recovery, going to 1 on 1 therapy and attending Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). I loved learning new mental health skills. Plus, having the referral to go to a residential treatment was extremely validating. It wasn’t all in my head. I needed real and serious treatment. The end of March 2016, I got the call from Rogers saying I was at the top of the waiting list and they had a bed ready for me on the upcoming Wednesday. It was a whirlwind few days and I prepared to go live in the hospital for the next 45-60 days.

Rogers Memorial Hospital is split up into many different buildings, with different buildings dedicated to different programs, like a program for adolescents, drug rehab, OCD, eating disorders, etc. I attended their FOCUS program, which is their mood disorder program. In addition, patients who struggled with suicidal thoughts and self-harm were also in our unit, as these things usually go hand in hand with mood disorders. The entire unit was suicide proof and objects that you could potentially hurt yourself with, like a spiral-bound notebook or shampoo/ conditioner with alcohol, were either kept off the unit or only allowed to be “checked out” from the nurse’s office during certain times of the day and were closely regulated. It was daunting at first to be so closely watched and controlled, but after a while it simply became routine, and you learned to make do without those things. The FOCUS building was divided into three levels, with the first two levels for ages 18-30, and the basement for 30 and over. Each level had 11 beds. So there were 10 other people on my floor, “locked” on a unit that consisted of a kitchenette, a typical-sized living room, a smaller group room and our bedrooms. Needless to say, we were around each other all day every day and became quite close. Even now, a year after graduation, I talk with many of my fellow patients on a weekly/ daily basis. We’re still very close. The patients came from all around the country and even had some patients from other countries as well.

Every day, we started with breakfast in the cafeteria (nothing but hospital food for 2 months… yuck), followed by mindfulness. We then attended either Recreational Therapy or Art Therapy. In RT, we would do anything from ziplining to geocaching. We did a great number of high and low ropes courses, rock climbing, teamwork activities, typical gym games, etc. Everything related in some way to our treatment or recovery. For example, when we went ziplining, we metaphorically left something behind on the platform that we wanted to move away from in our recovery, I chose self-harm. Symbolically I left the act of self-harm behind me on the platform, and “zipped” towards a future that had clean arms. When we did an obstacle course blindfolded and lead by a partner, to demonstrate that in recovery, we won’t know the exact path or challenges ahead, but with help, we can reach the end goal. Cheesy stuff like that. In art, we took the same concept and put it into art. Our art projects we were assigned helped us explore different areas of our recovery and express them creatively. After RT or art

After RT or art, we had DBT taught by our therapist, lunch, and then Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), taught by our Behavioral Specialist (BS). In CBT and DBT, each session started with a check in and a quick discussion of our daily, outstanding assignments. In DBT, we had a general check in, rating our suicidal and self-harm urges, depression, and anxiety. In CBT we went over our “bans” which were destructive habits we were trying to curb, such as skin picking, rumination, attention seeking, checking, etc. We also had a daily assignment of “exposures”, where, in small doses, we exposed ourselves to things that caused us anxiety. We then would turn in homework, like a typical school class, followed by discussion and the daily lesson. I’m sorry this was clumsily explained. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Our week contained going to the local YMCA 3 times a week, nutrition and “spirituality” classes, weekly meetings with our BS/ therapist/ head psychologist, weekend outings (Target, mini golfing, bookstores, coffee, playgrounds, etc) and much more. It was a busy schedule, leaving us busy from breakfast to dinner, with homework time and free time in the evenings. I was busier at Rogers than when I was in high school. Having the structured time was good for me. It prepared me for managing a schedule after discharge. After graduation, I stepped down from a residential level to a partial hospitalization program, and then back to outpatient, where I’ve been since June of 2016.

Rogers saved my life. Before I went to Rogers, I needed to go to the ER an average of 1-2 times a month, as well as a monthly inpatient stay on an acute unit. I was putting my best effort into recovery, but even weekly therapy sessions and DBT wasn’t cutting it. I was still self- harming, my mood was rarely stabilized, I wasn’t good at maintaining healthy relationships, and I was losing more and more hours at work. I had to call in sick almost weekly for a time due to the state of my mental health. After Rogers, it still took a year to be able to return to work, but this time around I have the skills to effectively handle working a few hours a week. I can advocate for myself and find reasonable accommodations to make working a significantly improved situation for both me and my employers. I have maintained healthy friendships as well as a healthy romantic relationship. We were able to experiment with my medications at Rogers and I have the right medications to stabilize my mood now. I’ve successfully been in recovery, not needing to go inpatient, for a full year now. I’ve been able to thrive, whereas before Rogers, I was simply surviving. I’ve stepped outside of my comfort zone and been on spectacular adventures. I can shower, do my laundry, manage my schedule, and do things for fun! I speak the language for mental health way better than I could’ve ever imagined. It’s night and day, the differences in my life pre- and post- FOCUS. I love myself and I love recovery. Don’t get me wrong… sometimes living at FOCUS was HELL. It was certainly the toughest thing I have ever done. There were days I hated being there and for the first time in my life, there were times I was truly angry. The way they ran certain things and some of their policies really got my goat. Every morning I woke up despising the staff member who woke us up. It wasn’t until after I returned home that I fully loved my experience and was thankful for it. It was the best experience of my life, and besides my wedding, I doubt anything will top my time at Rogers. I now say it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but the greatest thing I’ve ever done.