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 coping, Depression, diagnosis, ED

A New Chronic Illness

Hey everyone! I apologize for the month-long wait. I was diagnosed with a new chronic illness last month and I’ve had to direct all my energy into staying afloat. So that’s what I’m choosing to write about today.

I was diagnosed with gastroparesis. Basically, my stomach is paralyzed. It doesn’t work anymore. I lost a lot of weight in a short amount of time and became malnourished despite my best efforts to eat. About once a week I’m told to go to the ER to make sure I have enough fluids in my body and to check my levels. I get iron infusions once a week at the hospital. My barf bucket is my best friend. My muscles twitch, fail and even the slightest pressure makes them feel like I’m being stabbed with a knife. I sleep for 12 hours, go to a 1 hour appointment, and need to take a 5 hour nap afterward because I’m so fatigued. This past month I’ve had to learn through trial and error what I can and can’t eat (error meaning puking my guts out all night and/ or severe pain). I’ve had to walk with a cane or a walker to make sure I don’t fall. People had to do my grocery shopping at first because I was too weak. Having gastroparesis (GP) is already a huge learning curve, and I haven’t even met with my main doctor for a treatment plan yet. For the past month, I’ve had to find ways to cope until I can actually get a treatment plan.

To say I wasn’t ready for GP is an understatement… but the more I think about it, who is ever ready for a life-changing illness? I played doctor as a kid. I used to pretend I was dying in the ER to help me lay still when I was trying to fall asleep. My mental illnesses used to be suppressed and I thought I was destined to a life in the hospital because I was so sick mentally. I would even dream of living in a psych ward. I never used to mind going into the hospital. Now I get incredibly distressed simply getting a bad of fluids in the ER. I’ve had to surrender all control to my body and I’ve never felt more sick, or more helpless. A lot of people with GP end up getting a feeding tube, either permanently or temporarily. I already can barely cope with weekly infusions. I’m terrified of whether or not I have the ability to cope with a feeding tube. Or surgeries. Or whatever else GP treatment throws at me. I’m not coping yet… I’m barely hanging on. I know that I will learn to cope. I will learn to do more than cope. I will learn to live. Just like I did with my mental health. It took years for me to effectively cope. I’ve only known I’ve had GP for a month. It’s going to take time. This article was originally titled “Coping with Chronic Illness” but halfway through I realized that this article isn’t about coping because I don’t know how to cope with this yet. But my blog is dedicated to helping the invisible become visible. This is my story. My invisible journey.

Posted in coping, diagnosis, mental health

Reflecting on 2017

So it’s the last day of 2017, and what a year it’s been. Both in our world and in my personal life.

I started out 2017 in the hospital for an overdose on one of my medications that was the result of psychosis and a loss of control over my body. So naturally, the only direction for me to go was up! I’ve come so far in my recovery this year, and looking back I don’t think I could be more proud of myself. I was able to sustain a healthy dating relationship for most of the year, and it ended peacefully without broken hearts or bitter feelings. I returned to work at the spa after a year of sick leave, and I got a new job just a few weeks ago! I was able to stay cut-free, and out of an acute psychiatric ward all year. It was a year of recovery milestones.

But this year was so much more than tangible milestones. It’s the internal change that I’m most proud of. Something I’ve noticed about myself is that I’m happier. I genuinely find myself happier throughout the day and laughing harder and more often. Manic or depressed, alone or surrounded by strangers, I enjoy life more and unabashedly laugh when something tickles my funny bone. When life got tough, I was able to effectively cope without turning to my old, unhealthy habits. In fact, urges to maladaptively cope showed up less and less as the year went on, and now I find myself preferring to cope healthily.

This year hasn’t been all positives though. Despite calling nearly every eating disorder specialist my insurance covers in town, I was unable to find someone to treat my eating disorder. I’ve watched myself fall deeper and deeper into unhealthy activities like body checking, purging and restricting. I finally admitted to myself, my therapist and the world that I’ve been struggling with bulimia for years. I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome and gained a lot of weight, which led doctors to believe my eating disorder wasn’t worth treating. So the spiral became out of control, and I’m left hoping that with my insurance change in 2018 I’ll finally be able to get treatment.

For once I actually kept my new year’s resolution! In January, I resolved to write 10,000 words a month in preparation for National Novel Writing Month, and then write my book in November. I started this blog to help me find my voice and do my part to end the mental health stigma. Two of my articles were published on The Mighty, and one of my blog posts went viral! I’ve met so many amazing people because of my blog, and am thankful for the friends I’ve made as a result.

I also became a Certified Crisis Counselor at Crisis Text Line and have helped save dozens of lives. I’ve had the honor of being able to make a small but meaningful difference in the lives of our texters. I’ve also been able to support my friends more effectively in their times of need. It’s been an amazing and humbling experience.

For the first time in a long time, I’m pleased with how my year went overall. I have no big, overarching complaints. It’s weird to feel so positive, but I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. I dunno what my new year’s resolution will be in 2018, but I know I’m hoping to keep growing, recovering and enjoying the life I’ve been given. Chronic and mental illnesses can’t hold me back!

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, 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 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.