Posted in coping, mental health

The Soundtrack of My Health

“There’s only us, there only this. Forget regret, or life is yours to miss. No other course. No other way. No day but today.”

Rent the Musical was playing at the theater downtown this past weekend, and I ended up being able to go see it twice. Rent has been one of my favorite musicals for about five years and was a part of the first coping skill I consciously participated in. Seeing it brought up a lot of memories, some good, some not so good. It also spurred a night of reflection on my life with chronic and mental illness.

“I can’t control my destiny. I trust my soul. My only goal is just to be.”

A majority of the characters in Rent are suffering from AIDS. The plot revolves around the fact that the characters are sick, and will be for the rest of their shortened lives. When I started acknowledging my mental illnesses and realizing that I would suffer from chronic pain for the rest of my life, suddenly the lyrics of nearly every song had lines I could relate back to my situation. I found myself doodling the lyrics in the margins of my school notebook. I listened to the songs on repeat while sitting in the bottom of the shower, mourning the healthy future I would never have. I started feeling an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, because I identified with the characters, and if they were doomed to die young… what was my fate?

“Goodbye love. Hello Disease.”

Rent takes you through a series of emotions during its performance, and I found it easy to get swept up in the brilliance of the music. I’d be crying happy tears in Act 1 from the beautiful harmonies and sobbing into my pillow by Act 2 because of the plot. Back when I first started watching it, I realized it was a way for me to forget what I was going through in my own life. The rollercoaster of emotions it took me on was extreme enough that no matter what I was dealing with at the moment, I could forget for an hour or two.

“Will I lose my dignity? Will someone care? Will I wake tomorrow from this nightmare?”

Fast forward to this weekend. I’ve come a long way in 5 years. I’ve started, and stopped, self-harming. I’ve attempted suicide. I’ve received 8 mental health diagnoses and 3 chronic illness diagnoses. I’ve gone from being on my way to college to living in my grandparents’ basement while on disability. I’ve gone from thinking I’m going to work a traditional 40 hour work week for the rest of my life to multiple doctors appointments every week. I’ve lived in a mental hospital. I am sick. This weekend I watched these characters who have been with me my entire recovery play out their lives on stage. I watched them care for their sick significant others and hold them in their arms while they die. Tonight while I was laying in bed trying to fall asleep, I kept imagining a future partner sitting by my bedside as I struggled with my illnesses. I could almost feel them stroking my hair as my body shook uncontrollably. I could hear their voice pleading with me to try to eat something, or handing me a glass of water so I could start taking my handful of medication. I became so upset. I would never wish that on anyone! Why would someone choose to be with me, where there will be nights like that?

“You don’t want baggage without lifetime guarantee. You don’t want to watch me die.”

The message of hope the plot sings is not lost on me. The characters say that they would always choose love and sickness over no relationship at all. When someone loves me romantically, there will be happy moments. There will be tickle fights and movie nights. There will be adventures and laughter. They will make the commitment to me, in sickness and in health, and love me despite my baggage. Now if only I can emotionally understand those facts.

“There’s only now. There’s only here. Give in to love, or live in fear. No other path, no other way. No day but today.”

Posted in coping, mental health, stigma

Logan Paul’s Aokigahara Vlog – My Thoughts

TRIGGER WARNING This article or section, or pages it links to, contains information about SUICIDE and SUICIDAL THOUGHTS/ ATTEMPTS which may be triggering to those who struggle with suicidal ideation.

You’ve probably heard of Logan Paul’s latest vlog that he posted that has generated high amounts of media coverage for his vlog where he went into Japan’s Aokigahara, or “suicide forest” and discovered a dead body. The general consensus is outrage at his insensitivity and decision to post the video. Others jump to his defense, saying that his laughter and jokes were his way of coping with an overwhelming situation. Before I posted this blog post, I wanted to make sure I gathered as much information as I could so I could form a real conclusion for myself. I watched the video and his apology, as well as read opinion articles and opinions that come from both sides of the “argument”.

Logan Paul had ~15 million subscribers on YouTube when he posted his video that was filmed on December 31, 2017. His “New Year’s Eve” goal was to post something that met a two-year-old goal of his to “slow it down and go somewhere isolated.” If that was the goal, there are a THOUSAND other places that could meet those criteria. Many of his followers are kids in their tweens, and many parents cried out in frustration when they were forced to tell their kids about suicide before they felt their kids were in a place to be able to handle that kind of conversation.

Something that immediately bothered me, before he even goes into the forest, is when he announces the name of the forest as “the suicide forces” he grabs one of his friends by the back of the neck and pulls him into the shot. As a survivor of a near-fatal suicide attempt by hanging, this made me uncomfortable. Whenever someone touches my neck since my attempt, I immediately get a sick feeling in my stomach. With suicide already on my brain due to the nature of the video, seeing someone pull on another’s neck made me want to hurl in discomfort over the flood of unwelcome memories.

Paul and his crew reveal their plan to camp in Aokigahara overnight, and when showing what they’ve packed, the item that stuck out to me was a football. I don’t know what on earth they were thinking. “We’re going camping in a forest where a hundred people kill themselves every year… let’s toss a football around the campsite!” The insensitivity was already glaringly apparent. They also mock the fact that the football says “signs” on it, and at the end of the video Paul loudly exclaims that they should have listened to the football. Paul proceeds to don a lime green alien-like hat and a “f***ing Gucci jacket” covered in colorful print and patches because he “wants to look good”. Paul then mocks his friend for saying “dead serious” by a suicide forest and then laughs with a big ole smile. You can hear him chuckling when he talks about the folklore that claims the spirits of the deceased “lure the sad and lost off the path.”

Next, they venture into the forest… “just a dumb Americans going camping…” Dumb is right. Paul makes an announcement to the ghosts in the forest, asking them to leave his group alone before the crew sets off, leaving the path. It’s not long before they discover a body hanging from a tree, and from their assessments, apparently “looks fresh.” A crew member immediately calls the police. You can immediately tell that Paul and his friends are deeply shaken by this finding, and you can see the emotion on their faces. At the very least, this is where the cameras should have turned off out of respect for the deceased and their loved ones. But no, they film the body. Yes, they blurred out the face, but it’s still disrespectful to continue filming. Turn the cameras off so you can deal with your preliminary emotions without having to “play to the camera.” Paul even admits that this was supposed to be a “fun vlog,” which is particularly upsetting because nothing respectful can come from filming a “fun vlog” in Aokigahara. Even if the video ended up being the crew camping and laughing over the “spookiness” and telling ghost stories, it would have been disrespectful because of the location. Thousands of people have lost their mother, brother, or best friend in that story. It’s not a place to mock their pain with a fun camping trip.

Paul does address the fact that mental illness is real and that you are not alone. He does slow down and gets serious. But if I was one of his followers watching the video, the laughter and the jokes would overpower the statement he makes. “Actions speak louder than words,” and when you are galavanting through a place known for attracting people with feelings similar to mine, a generic statement saying “you’re not alone” is the last thing I want to hear from you. Your actions have already screamed way too loud, Logan.

Upon leaving the forest, Paul is seen drinking and excitedly conversing with fans they ran into. Why he chose to include that in the video, I’ll never know.

He later issued an apology video, which I’m not even going to get into, but I will say this: you are not required to accept his apology. Just because he issued an apology does not mean you need to excuse what he did or especially how he made you feel. It doesn’t invalidate you or what you are going through.

Overall I’m left with a really sad, unsettled feeling. This video sickens me. Even Paul himself says that his jokes are a coping mechanism, but the jokes started way before the body was found.

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, please know that there are many resources available to you in your time of need. You can call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255, or, if talking to a stranger feels like too much, text HELLO to 741741 to talk to a certified crisis counselor for free. Neither of these resources will immediately jump to calling the police. They are there to listen to you and provide support. And if the police where to even be involved, it’s not as bad as you think. They are also there solely to get you the help you need.

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 Anxiety, coping, mental health

Self-Harm Breakthrough

I’m back! I apologize for being so inactive on this site lately, but now that my book is in the editing process, I have time to dedicate to the blog again!

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

Yesterday in therapy I had a huge breakthrough in my recovery from self-harm behaviors. It started when I was with my psychiatrist in the morning. I see her once a month, so she likes to check in and see how I’m doing safety-wise, like if I’m having any thoughts of suicide or struggling to stay clean. I discussed with her how in the past week or so I’ve been increasingly obsessed with my scars. I’ll catch myself counting them, or trying to remember when I made certain scars that are crooked or especially long. I am hyper aware of when I’m around people who are close enough to see the scars on my arms. Nothing happened that would really explain the increase in the behavior. My psychiatrist recommended I talk about it with my therapist. Luckily I was seeing my therapist later in the day, so I didn’t have to wait long to really dig deep into the new behaviors.

I had tried to figure out what was triggering this new behavior in me but was unable to come up with anything. I felt a certain emotion when looking at my scars, but I couldn’t name the emotion. I knew my physical symptoms of the emotion I was feeling when I would obsess over my scars, but I couldn’t link the symptoms to any emotion. My therapist suggested we do some brainspotting to try and determine what was going on. Although the process ended up being different than traditional brainspotting at the end of the day, I almost instantly had some profound thoughts about where I’m at in my recovery from self-harm.

My thoughts immediately jumped to my future. I thought about my kids and what they would think of their mom having self-harm scars on her arm. I thought about my husband, and how he and his family will feel about the scars. I’ve never been someone who is ashamed of my scars or makes an effort to hide them. I wear t-shirts without a second thought. Back when I cut, one of my reasons for doing so was so I could prove to myself and others that I was sick, and my scars kept that proof as a point of validation. They’re tangible proof of the intangible, unseen struggles I wrestle with.

So what does this have to do with my new obsession? I realized that I’m at a point in my recovery where I don’t need proof. I know I’m sick, and I know how to advocate for myself and explain that I’m sick to others without needing cutting and scars. If people still don’t believe me, I can use my radical acceptance skill to make sure I don’t feel invalidated by their disbelief.

When I first started my journey to clean arms, I was upset that I didn’t give myself more scars before deciding to drop the behavior. I would obsessively look at pictures of people’s scars online with envy. Now I am accepting of the number of scars I have, and if my scars faded, I believe I’d be okay.

It’s taken me 632 days of being cut-free to get to this point, but I still have a long way to go. I’m still not comfortable having knives in my kitchen, and the thought of buying razors to shave with makes me feel nauseous. Recovery is a slow process, but it’s definitely worth it in the end.

 

Posted in mental health, stigma

First Look: My New Book!

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo) and writing a mental health self-help book! That’s why I’ve been so inactive on my blog. I’ve spent the last 19 days writing over 30,000 words, with my end-goal being 50,000+ words. For those of you who have been with me since the beginning of my blog, you know that Ungluing Stigma (US) started out as a book, but I got overwhelmed and decided to write a blog instead. With US, I found my voice within the mental health community and what topics I had a passion for writing about. It was my New Years Resolution to write 10,000 words a month to “train” for nanowrimo. If you’re interested in what my book will be about, specifically, here’s a first look at my introduction! And feel free to leave me your thoughts in the comments, I would love the feedback.

SNEAK PEEK: What to Do (When You Don’t Know What to Do)

If you’re like me, high school was rough. And again, if you’re like me, you sucked at the social aspect. Relationships are hard. While high school may have taught you physics and advanced calculus, it didn’t teach you how to navigate rough waters when your best friend was angry with you, and is certainly didn’t teach you healthy coping skills when life just seemed to be too much. Once again, if you’re like me, you had to learn these things the hard way, losing a few friendships and maladaptively coping along the way . This book is here to change that. Well, not change the past necessarily (although that would be pretty cool), but to fill your toolbox with skills to help you manage life… to not simply survive, but to thrive.

I wrote this book because like it or not, there is a stigma surrounding mental health. It can show up in little ways, like when you friend doesn’t hang around anymore after you tell them you have depression because they don’t want to be around “an attention seeking burden” (which remember, is not true). Or it can show up in big ways, like when people blame terrorist attacks on a mental health problem. This stigma prevents people from getting help. I was one of those people. I was so ashamed of being “abnormal” that I felt like I was dooming myself by admitting that I thought I had depression. I avoided therapy and mental health diagnosis for years solely out of shame. I let it all build up inside of me for years until I snapped. I suddenly was convinced that I needed to be locked up in an insane asylum because I was “dangerous” and unwell. It was only then, when I sought professional help, that I realized having a mental illness doesn’t make you a dangerous, or even a bad, person. Since then I have been through years of intense therapy, even living in a mental hospital for a portion of 2016, to get to where I am now. And the sad part is, most of the things I’ve learned… most of the skills I use on a daily basis to keep myself stable and safe… aren’t things that you have access to in your everyday life. People struggling with anxiety can’t benefit from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) in most places, because it’s generally just for those of us with Borderline Personality Disorder. The truth of the matter is that DBT is packed full of tools to help people manage anxiety, crises and even everyday relationship problems. None of my relationships would be what they are today without DBT. It’s something I firmly believe everyone should have access to (more on why later). Living in a mental hospital was like high school in a sense, because we had classes all day every day, and mountains of homework every night, learning skills to help us live the best life we can. But a program like that tends to have waiting lists that can take months or even years to get off of, and you have to go through a lot of screenings and doctors appointments to even be considered for a spot. It’s my hope, my dream, that this book can help people build a foundation for their lives with access to dozens of life skills that normally they wouldn’t have access to. I want to make mental health accessible to everyone, not just the sickest of us… ironically.

I also wrote this book to share my story. I want to give you a glimpse into my life and into my head, to show you that a stable and healthy life is achievable, and is a lot closer than you may think. I hope to inspire you with my pitfalls, showing you the ropes that were tossed to me at rock bottom and how I climbed back out, again and again. If I can do it, so can you.

You’ll notice as you read more of the book that I’ll refer to the same event in my life throughout this book. This serves two purposes, and neither of which are to annoy you. The first is that I designed this book to not necessarily be read from start to finish. It’s okay if you jump around, so you might miss the first time I tell the story and find yourself lost as to what I’m talking about when I refer to something in my life. The other reason is that I hope you begin to truly understand the situation I was in, and how I used multiple tools to help me in the same situation. I want to give you a multidimensional look at my story to show that there are many ways to approach a situation, and there can be a lot to learn from even one situation that can give you insight in how to improve your life.

The therapy book I’ve found the most helpful in my recovery was a book written by a doctor and it was similar to this one because it included various life skills to improve your life. It also had various made up patients whose stories demonstrated a practical application of the concepts and skills. I found this exceedingly helpful. It made me feel less alone on my journey to recovery while showing me how to actually apply the skill. I struggled with the fact that their lives were made up though… of course the skill helped them! You can make up any ending you want to their story! The difference between my book and that one is that I’m not a doctor or a licensed professional, I’m the patient, so I can legally share my own story and provide you with living proof that these tools can radically change your life. I don’t want this book to be a textbook filled with skills that eventually gets overwhelming because too many things are being thrown at you at once. I want this to be a journey. Our journey. If I bring you on my journey and teach you the skills that I’ve learned, I hope that you can increase your quality of life and begin an epic journey of your own.

Posted in Anxiety, coping, mental health

What is an Exposure?

Exposures are a type of therapy exercise that I learned when I was staying at Rogers Memorial Hospital for my residential stay. They’re designed to help lessen your anxious reaction to everyday situations because unfortunately, simply telling yourself not to be scared simply doesn’t work. When I was at Rogers, I hated doing my exposures. Not going to lie, sometimes I would fake the results just to get out of doing them. It wasn’t until I returned home that I saw a need for exposures, and started doing them on my own. In the past year, I’ve seen the difference that exposures have on my life, and am excited to share my experiences with you!

First off, you’re probably asking me what an exposure is. Exposure therapy is trial habituation to situations/ experiences that give you anxiety. This means you routinely expose yourself to things that give you anxiety in safe, controlled environments, in an attempt to help you reduce your anxiety when encountering the situation out “in the real world.” For example, I get stressed out when I’m driving behind semi-trucks, so for one of my exposures, I look at a picture of the back of a semi. It stimulates what I would see in the anxiety-filled situation, but it happens in a safe environment. While looking at the picture, I take note of the moment when my anxiety reaches its peak. I rate it on a scale of 1-10 and start a stopwatch. When my anxiety has been reduced by half, I record how long it took, as well as the new rating of my anxiety. For example, if my anxiety peaked at a 7, I would time how long it took for my anxiety to come down to a 3 or 4. The catch is that you’re not allowed to help yourself cope with the anxiety, like using fidgets or participating in breathing exercises. Wait a minute for your anxiety to come back down, and then repeat the exercise 4 more times. Record your results so you can see the progress you make!

Now, the above method is very homework-esque and suited me just fine in a therapy-centered environment like Rogers, but at home, it just felt like one big chore that was always looming over me, so I adapted it to fit my at-home life and learning style. I make a conscious effort to routinely expose myself to things that cause me anxiety, and take note of how my anxiety behaves in different situations. Going grocery shopping is a very stressful and overwhelming experience for me. Being around food is very triggering for my eating disorders, and trying to decide what I’m going to buy to eat just makes things worse. In addition, being in public where there are other people around is also anxiety provoking. I make an effort to go to the grocery store during non-peak hours like 6 am or 10 pm (right after opening or right before closing) when there are fewer people around to ramp-up my anxiety. Before I actually go to the store, I take the time and look at a map I drew of the store, and visualize my route. This way I don’t stress about what to buy when I’m surrounded by an overwhelming amount of food, and I don’t have to spend any extra time returning to aisles for things I forgot the first time around.

If the idea of exposing yourself to things that make you anxious sounds scary, you’re not alone. Remember that you can start small. Just imagine the situation, or look at a picture of something similar to what makes you anxious (i.e. rather than looking at a picture of the back of a semi, look at a picture of an angle that’s less threatening, like the side of a semi, to start with). Keep in mind exposures are designed to help your anxious reaction become less extreme, it will not magically heal your anxiety.

Do you have anything that helps you with your anxiety? I’d love to hear in the comments below!