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.

Posted in diagnosis, mental health, stigma

The Face Behind Ungluing Stigma

So today I’m taking the time to make some fun and quick announcements and then answer some questions about myself to help you get to know me better!
Coming up on Ungluing Stigma, we’re going to have a surprise guest writer! I won’t spoil who it will be, but they’re just as passionate about ending the stigma as I am! Also coming up in the next few months, I will be continuing to write a few blog posts that will be shared on the blog of the spa I work at and will be sharing them here as well. Finally, I will be giving a presentation at work about empathy, and how to respond appropriately to any client who comes in with a mental health issue. I’m hoping to get a video of the presentation, or at the very least get my notes up on the blog, so be on the lookout for that as well. This weekend I also got a burst of inspiration on various blog post topics, so it’s an exciting next few months here at Ungluing Stigma!

So you all know some things about me, from the experiences I share here on the blog, from my Instagram, or maybe you know me personally and are a friend or family member reading my blog. On Pinterest recently I found a 14 Day Blog challenge and realized it would be a great way to officially introduce myself to all you lovely people. Rather than spending two weeks on these questions, I’m going to rapid-fire answer them here and now! Here we go!

  1. Introduction. My name’s Serenity Rae Kaspar, but I typically go by Ren. I have Complex PTSD, Severe Anxiety Disorder, Rapid-Cycling Bipolar 1, Borderline Personality Disorder, Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, Binge Eating Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I’ve lived over 10 different places in my life, but I’m able to proudly say that I’m a Wisconsin-Raised gal. I’ve been dancing since I was 3, and now I choreograph for local theaters in the Madison Area. I love theater and have been in over 15 different plays/ musicals. I’ve kept a poetry journal since 8th grade. I have a bunny, a guinea pig, 2 gerbils and a hamster. I love to spend quality time with my friends.
  2. 20 fun facts about me!
    1. I’m a Libra
    2. I’m a Harry Potter Fan: Ravenclaw and Pukwudgie
    3. I met my best friend in kindergarten and we’ve been BFFs ever since (so that’s 16 years)
    4. I love kids movies
    5. I have 7 Build-A-Bears
    6. I love the DC Universe more than Marvel
    7. If I could have anything growing out of my head besides hair, I’d choose flowers so that I never had to wear perfume and always a piece of spring with me – I love spring (bonus fact!)
    8. I’ve played almost every Nancy Drew Mystery computer game
    9. I’ve been to 40 states
    10. My younger brother and I can quote the entire movie Cars… this is a theory we actually tested and we do indeed know every line
    11. I have a moped to get around town
    12. My first kiss was at a cast party for my senior year’s musical. I had to keep my eyes closed while they picked someone to kiss me and so I don’t know who I had my first kiss with.
    13. My medium of choice when coloring is always crayons or highlighters
    14. When it thunderstorms I run outside in a tank top and shorts and get soaked while playing in the mud.
    15. In my lifetime I have lived with 11 different cats
    16. I hate math even though I was one of the best at math in high school
    17. I’ve been to NYC 3 times and each time I saw a broadway musical: In the Heights, Wicked and Newsies.
    18. I once went on a 37-day roadtrip to 11 different states
    19. I helped rebuild houses damaged by Hurricane Katrina
    20. I used to have hair so long it was past my butt
  3. The meaning of my business name: I knew I wanted it to be about mental health and ending the stigma. I originally thought about Ungluing the Invisible but that title wasn’t as clear. I also considered Lead by Butterflies, I hate mental illness… it’s awesome, and Confession Time
  4. Earliest childhood memory: I remembered getting stuck in the frame of our kitchen table when I was around 2 and they almost had to call the fire department.
  5. My guilty pleasure: watching the sad movies where someone is sick and/ or dies (Bridge to Terabithia, The Fault in Our Stars, If I Stay, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, Safe Haven… etc.)
  6. 3 personality traits I’m proud of: empathetic, thoughtful, creative
  7. Favorite foods: Ice Cream, any kind of pasta, deep fried cheese, yogurt, pancakes!
  8. Old photo of me: my Godsister had dressed me up to go swimming:1072290_514412761941364_875904172_o
  9. Piercings and tattoos? Yep! My ears and my belly button are pierced and I currently have 7 tattoos (with 3 more in the works), my Instagram has pictures of 6 of them
  10. Fist celebrity crush: Being demisexual I didn’t have many celeb crushes, but boy howdy I loved Evan Lysacek, a figure skater from the 2010 Olympics. I slept with a photo of him under my pillow and would kiss it goodnight.1386682395000-USATSI-7465724
  11. My most proud moment: when a blog post of mine when viral
  12. If I won the Lottery: I’d get a lot of tattoos and go to Disneyworld
  13. Favorite Quote: good ol’ JK Rowling: “Words are our most inexhaustible source of magic”
  14. Dream job: getting paid to write about mental health on a blog or website of some kind and working at the Crisis Text Line to continue making a difference in the mental health world.

So that’s me! I think this post was a great way to help reinforce the idea that I am so much more than just my mental illnesses. I’m a real human with real feelings and experiences and silliness. Remember that everyone you meet is more than just their mental health diagnosis. Have a spectacular week everybody! And remember to keep an eye out for all of those exciting things coming up!

Posted in Anxiety, Bipolar, coping, Depression, diagnosis, mental health

Greiving a Diagnosis

Receiving a diagnosis of any kind can be devastating to a person’s life. It’s perfectly normal to need to grieve a diagnosis. Getting diagnosed can mean extra treatment, new medication, hospital stays, lifestyle changes, and more. It can put a strain on even the strongest of relationships. A diagnosis can also leave a lot of unknowns for what the future holds, and that can be very unsettling. Fear of the unknown can hold a lot of power over a person. Grieving a diagnosis can look like any other type of grieving, commonly depicted in 5 or 7 stages. I’ve received 9 mental health diagnosis over the years, 2 of them were misdiagnosed and so today mental health professionals agree on 7 diagnoses and an 8th in the works. When I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, I definitely spun into a deep state of grieving, and it took me nearly a year to fully grieve my diagnosis. My bipolar diagnosis came slowly, first I was diagnosis with Bipolar 2, then my psychiatrist disagreed, saying it was just my Borderline showing similar symptoms. After getting a third opinion, it was finally accepted that I had bipolar 2. One time I went into therapy, it was very apparent to my social worker that I was fully manic, a state that can only be reached if you have Bipolar 1. Almost a year later, I was talking with my therapist and I mentioned how I get manic for about half of a month and depressed for the other half. According to her, someone who has bipolar only gets manic once or twice a year, at most, not every single month. this means I have rapid-cycling Bipolar 1. About 2.5% of all US citizens have bipolar disorder, and of that 2.5%, only 10-15% have rapid-cycling. Because of this long, drawn-out process of getting a proper diagnosis that 4+ mental health professionals agree on, I went through the grieving process multiple times when it came to my Bipolar disorder.

Drawing on my own experience and various articles online, I’m going to talk you through what grieving can look like after receiving a mental health diagnosis.

Shock/ Disbelief- What did the doctor just say? Surely I didn’t hear him right. I’m perfectly normal. Everyone just gets a little stressed sometimes… right? The chaos can be all you think about, You have to find out what happened, no matter what the cost.

Denial- This can’t be true. It just can’t be. I don’t need this medicine. I can’t have this illness. I’m so healthy! I’ve felt like this my whole life. Why should now be any different??

Bargaining- I can beat this, I just have to grin and bear it with my treatment team. Maybe if I tell them everything’s better, I won’t have to go to therapy anymore. And my mom won’t have to look at me with such sad, desperate eyes. That’s it, just pretend and do what they want you to do and say. Maybe if I went and got a second opinion…

Depression- A number of people tend to get stuck in this phase and that makes it the most dangerous stage. This is where the sadness and guilt can set in. Self-blaming can take over. If only I had gotten help sooner… now it’s helpless. I can never get better, it’s just too hard.

Acceptance- Reaching this stage is something not everyone is able to reach. It’s looking in the mirror and saying “Welp, this is the hand I was dealt with. I can do this.” You radically accept any emotions that come your way about your diagnosis.  You can begin to forgive yourself, and let yourself be loved again.

Please remember that I am not an expert in grief, I am speaking from personal experience and the experiences of others that I know. Greif can look different for every single individual. Have you ever grieved a diagnosis? Do you have any tips or tricks that helped you in your grieving process? Let me know in the comments below!

 

If you’re struggling with grieving a diagnosis, know there is someone who is always there to listen. Text GRIEVING to 741-741 or message the Crisis Text Line on Facebook.

Posted in coping, diagnosis, mental health

Me vs. Mental Illnesses

Where do I end and my mental illnesses begin? The question that patronizes me every single day of my life. When I first was diagnosed, I remember a friend of mine calling me out, telling me that I was making my whole identity my mental health diagnoses. She challenged me to change my mantra to “I have Borderline,” not “I am Borderline.” It definitely helped, but I still struggle with keeping me and my mental illnesses separate.

When I begin to doubt a relationship, I automatically assume it’s rooted in facts that I have experienced. But when I stop to think about the doubt, the knowledge that people with Borderline can have really unstable views of relationships dawns on me. Now not only am I doubting the relationship, I’m doubting the fact that I’m doubting! I’ve ended or almost ended a number of relationships because I doubted them, and I wanted to jump the gun and end the relationship before they had a chance to the same. In a weird way, I figured I’d be less hurt if I was the one to end it, rather than be the one to be left behind. But at the end of the day, I find myself alone and without my friend, often unnecessarily.

Sometimes I don’t even realize or make a conscious decision to end the relationship. Sometimes I sabotage the relationship without even fully realizing what I’m doing. There was one time I lied about one of my mental health diagnoses to my support group in an effort to get the attention and support that I felt like I needed from my best friends, boyfriend, and his family. At the time I wasn’t aware that that’s what I was doing. All I knew was that I finally felt listened to and supported. Doctors had speculated that I had this diagnosis, but ultimately decided I didn’t have the disorder. It felt all too easy to run with it, especially since some of the manifestations of Borderline Personality Disorder were similar to the manifestations of this other disorder. It was a frantic grab to ensure that I wasn’t going to lose my friends or have my boyfriend break up with me. But one day, while playing up the false disorder, my boyfriend’s mom questioned the validity of what I was saying and doing. I panicked and knew that I was caught. I stormed out of his house and drove to therapy. I cried harder than I had in years. That was the last time I saw my boyfriend. That night I stayed with my best friend’s parents because I felt like if I went back to my apartment and spent the night alone, that I wouldn’t be able to keep myself safe. That next day was the day I attempted suicide and got very close to succeeding. I spent the next few days in the hospital on the psych ward. During those days, my two best friends told me that they needed a two-week break from me and my boyfriend broke up with me. In frantically attempting to keep my relationships, I lost all of them. Ever since then, I feel like I’m always walking on eggshells with my relationships, questioning myself every time my illnesses seem to take over. I wish I was better at making the distinction between which actions of mine are legit and which ones are symptoms of one of my mental illnesses.

After that attempt, I threw myself into books, trying to learn everything that I could about my mental illnesses. I became unhealthily obsessed, like I talked about in my post “I’m My Own Bestie.” I studied everything that I could about my mental illnesses, trying to learn everything there was to learn. I wanted to know what parts of my relationships and my life were because of my mental illnesses, and which parts were just part of being human. I never wanted to go through losing friends or a significant other again. But the truth of the matter is that that’s just a part of life. Friends drift apart, couples break up. Mental illness or no, these things happen. Simultaneously, my mental illnesses DO have an impact on my relationships. I feel like I’m a part of this never-ending cycle of not knowing what’s my mental illnesses and what’s just part of life.

Having struggled with this for years, I’m beginning to radically accept that I may never always know the difference. It’s not always easy, dealing with unknowns and absolutes. I’m learning to live with my disorders, and I think part of that is learning that I may never know which is which. Have you ever struggled with this? Do you have any thoughts on knowing what’s you versus what’s just your mental illness? Let me know in the comments below!

Posted in coping, diagnosis, mental health

A Letter from the Borderline

TRIGGER WARNING This article or section, or pages it links to, contains information about SELF-HARM and SUICIDAL THOUGHTS which may be triggering to those who struggle with suicidal ideation, cutting and other forms of self-harm.

Dearest Friend,

So you’re reading this because you know someone with Borderline Personality Disorder (me), and things can get tough sometimes in the relationship. You might be feeling worn out, frustrated, used, and hopeless to the idea that things will ever be okay again. I want you to know that it’s not your fault that I’m struggling and that things are tough. You might not believe me when I say that because I can switch from singing your praises and big displays of affection to angry, hurt and untrusting. I might even blame you for the way I’m feeling. But I promise you: it’s not you, it’s me.

This extreme black and white thinking is common in BPD patients. It’s called dialectical thinking. For patients who haven’t been through Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), it can be hard to appropriately handle these intense mood swings. Before I went through DBT, I destroyed my fair share of relationships. I would jump from friend to friend, latching on and then cutting them off. BPD patients deal with severe abandonment issues. I’ll come up with frantic and desperate ways to keep you by my side. This can often influence the way that I interact with you, my friend. Even if my words push you away, I’m desperately hoping you’ll fight to stay with me. I’m hoping you’ll not leave me in my time of suffering.

It’s also possible that we were triggered by something you said or did. It can bring us back to a time in our lives when we didn’t feel safe. Our bodies might go into crisis, or fight or flight, mode. Borderline can be caused, in part, by childhood trauma, or other forms of trauma, and we can develop PTSD from it. Just like a soldier can be triggered by a car backfiring and sent into a flashback. I can revert to old, learned behaviors that I developed in my past when my mind perceives a threat. This can cause identity disturbances, giving me an unstable sense of self or self-image. Sometimes it even causes me to change my mannerisms, giving BPD patients the nickname “chameleons”.  These unstable senses of self can lead to reckless behaviors.

BPD patients also tend to do very dramatic, often harmful things such as talking about or attempting suicide, self-harming in some way, or doing other drastic and dangerous behaviors. I myself have attempted suicide a number of times and struggled with self-harm for years. Friends of us Borderlines often experience burnout from the stress and worry, and it can be hard on both me and the other person. Borderlines often experience emotions 4 times as intense and for 3 times as long. Dr. Marsha Linehan, the developer of DBT, compares having BPD to having 3rd-degree burns over 90% of our bodies. Thankfully, with medication, DBT and/ or other professional help, these behaviors can be curbed and managed. This process can be very long and hard for us BPD patients, be sure you love us extra loud on the rough days.

Thanks for reading,

Your Resident Borderline

Posted in coping, diagnosis, mental health

I’m My Own Bestie

You read that right, I’m my own best friend. The concept might be foreign to some of you, and that’s okay. It was to me too until I was admitted to Janesville Mercy Health’s psych ward back in August of 2015.

During the admission process, there are a handful of standard questions, like “what brought you here today?” or “what kind of stuff to you like to do?” in an effort to figure out how best to help you. Now, I had been admitted to my fair share of inpatient psych wards, but on this particular admission, the latter question gave me pause.What did I like to do? I knew the right answers: dancing, writing, playing the piano. But those are answers my friends would give. What did like to do? What was I passionate about? Who was I? Okay, okay. I know that sounds like I went weirdly deep and philosophical, but cut me some slack, I was already having a mental crisis. These questions flooded my mind for a few hours. I knew all the right answers, but they were just that… answers. Like it was information learned for a quiz. I couldn’t answer the questions as genuine responses from me… if that makes any sense. I realized the answers to these questions were not my own, but answers that anyone who knew me would answer.

Doubts began to sink in. My sense of self was based on what other people thought about me. Their opinions, their judgments, their misconceptions. It got me thinking: what do I know about myself, regardless of what others say? I wasn’t sure where to start. So I just wrote stuff down when it came to me. It started out as silly stuff. “I like being in the rain,” “I should stretch more,” or “I like tap dancing.” The list really started to work. Slowly, I started discovering deeper things too, like my warning signs that I was going into crisis, or advice to shower more often. I continued to make this list, even after discharge. It’s currently six pages long. A few months after my stay in Janesville, I was again in a psych ward, very close to rock bottom. I had lost my boyfriend, I had lost his family, my friends had taken breaks from our friendships… I was so sad that words like “I’ll never leave you” weren’t true. I realized the only guarantee in life we have is that we’re stuck with ourselves for the rest of our lives.

Once I had this realization, I started studying myself a lot. I bought books on my disorders. I took quizzes to learn about my different personality traits. I brought my list of things I learned about myself everywhere with me. I tried to learn at least one thing about myself every day. After six months I did it. I loved myself like I would love a best friend. I had inside jokes with myself. I was way more honest with myself. I gave myself a nickname that I called myself. It was me, myself and I, and I was finally happy being alone. I knew my strengths and weaknesses. But I didn’t want to stop there. I kept studying and studying. I became obsessed. I would by college textbooks to learn about my disorders. It became unhealthy. I had worked myself into thinking that I could study my mental illness away. Like I could cure myself if I knew enough about it. My Behavioural Specialist at Rogers noticed this behavior and called me out on it. While at Rogers I wasn’t allowed to excessively engage in this activity, beyond the homework I was assigned. It was hard at first, but I gained some much-earned freedom from my constant studying after a while.

Flash forward back to present day. I can now say I have a healthy balance of learning about my disorders and myself, without obsessing over it. I’ve been proud to be my own best friend for over a year now. I love life so much more because I always have a pal by my side to share life with. You might think it’s weird, but I assure you it’s the best decision I’ve made in my life. I’m my own best friend.