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

Stories from the Mental Hospital

**all names changed for privacy reasons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Posted in mental health, PTSD, stigma

#MeToo

This is my experience dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault. Although I do not go into any detail over what happened and solely talk about what happened afterward, I’m placing a TW:
TRIGGER WARNING This article or section, or pages it links to, contains information about SEXUAL ASSAULT which may be triggering to those who have been sexually assaulted or are sensitive to the topic.

Kindergarten. 5 years old. An adult acquaintance. Too young to even know what was going on.

Third Grade. 8 years old. Perpetrators were classmates, no one believed me because how could an 8 year old do something like that?

Last summer. 21 years old. Durning a massage. Was told by an acquaintance afterward: “Why didn’t you enjoy it? I’d love to have a massage therapist make a move on me during a massage!”

The 24 hours after I was sexually assaulted last summer was probably one of the worsts day of my life… and speaking as a mentally ill kid who’s suffered abuse from friends and strangers alike, I feel as though that’s saying something. I was sexually assaulted during a massage (not at the spa I worked at the time). It was a Monday. I spent the rest of my day in denial. I kept telling myself it was an accident, or that it was all in my head. I actually had a good rest of my day hanging with some close friends. But when I slowed down my brain enough to get ready for bed, reality came crashing back down. I cried harder than I’ve cried in my life. For the first time in over a year, none of my coping skills were working. I couldn’t lay down to go to sleep without an intense fear that it was about to happen again. I wanted to believe it wasn’t assault. I called the sexual assault hotline and talked to them. They assured me it wasn’t all in my head, and that what happened to me was definitely assault. They explored my options with me before hanging up. I had a plan. I was going to go to my therapy appointment the next morning and have my therapist help me report the assault. But my appointment was still a whole 12 hours away. None of that helped me now though. I called my best friend to tell her what happened. It was 1 am by this point, and we couldn’t talk long. It helped to have someone know what happened and have their empathy. After a couple more hours of failed attempts to distract myself with self-care and coping skills, I called my other friend out of sheer panic and fear. I was in hysterics at this point in the night. I could not come to terms with what happened… even in the weeks following I found myself unable to cope with the idea that this man had done such a terrible thing to me.
When it finally came time to go to my therapist’s office, I was beside myself with anxiety. When the police arrived at her office, I found myself face to face with a male officer. I hadn’t thought about it until that moment, but I didn’t want to spend the day with a male stranger… last time I was alone with a stranger he sexually assaulted me. I don’t know how, but I was able to make the report. The officer proceeded to take me to the hospital to meet with forensics where they were going to extract the massage therapist’s DNA from my body. It was a very traumatic experience. Having PTSD from prior trauma, I knew I was familiar with the fight, flight or freeze experience. But until that day in the forensics room, I had no idea just how frozen one can get. On the exam table during the procedure, I completely froze. I couldn’t move even if I tried. I laid there for at least 5 minutes, crying and unable to move. I couldn’t even move to scratch an itch.

The worst part of this process what the advice I seemed to get from everybody: “Don’t tell the police about your mental health issues.” Friends, my therapist, the rape crisis counselors who met me at the hospital to support me. Their reasoning? Because they might dismiss my case because I was mentally ill. The argument could be made that I’m overly paranoid or made it up in my head. I was furious! The mental health stigma was… IS bad enough that I had to go out of my way to hide one of the main factors in my life so that I would hopefully be believed?!? I felt like I was manipulating the situation, or lying by omission and that I would get into trouble for it. In fact, the only reason I’m now choosing to tell my story is because I recently got the call from the detective saying that they were dismissing my case (not enough evidence). I was told that I couldn’t post on my blog, Instagram or Facebook just to be safe. I was nervous that I’d get found out, mess it up, and not get justice. Well, now that justice will not be served. I’m speaking out:

I am a survivor of sexual assault. #metoo

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

How to Say Goodbye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Goodnight Brain, Hello Pain

Not a day goes by where I don’t dread the night. It’s difficult to find the light when even the room around me is dark. I put off sleeping as long as possible, sometimes even for days a time. I have an extreme dislike for almost everything associated with bedtime. I really struggle with taking my medication. There’s all this pressure to make sure I fall asleep in a timely manner so I can get enough sleep so I don’t ruin tomorrow before it even starts. Sleeping requires giving up all control and handing it over to my brain, who I don’t trust. My brain tortures me at night with the worst nightmares one could experience. My nightmares are so real that I can’t tell if I’m dreaming or if I’m awake. When I try to wake myself up in the dream, my nightmare plays the scene that I have woken up and then continues the nightmare. I lose track of reality, and often can’t tell the difference between being awake and being asleep. I’ll talk to my friends about something that happened, and they’ll inform the that it was never real, raising the question of if I simply dreamed it and mistook it for reality.

My nightmares force me to relive the worst day of my life, or take my fears and play them out to the extreme. For example, my OCD concerns itself not with germs and cleanliness, and manifests in self in other ways, like worrying about harm to myself and others. Basically what this looks like, is when my friend recently moved from Wisconsin to Wyoming, I needed her to text me every leg of the journey so I knew how it was going. In my nightmares, my brain takes the important people in my life and puts them in horrible and dangerous positions, both physically and mentally. I often had to text my friend in the morning so they can assure me that they’re safe and alive. The worst is when I wake up from a nightmare, unable to move my body. This is called sleep paralysis, or a temporary inability to move or speak when waking or falling asleep. It’s terrifying. and often adds to my feelings of helplessness and not being in control. I often find myself shaken to my core in the hours, or sometimes even days, after a nightmare, I’m on two different medications to help with my nightmares, and these experiences are still a nightly occurrence. Imagine what it was like before the medication!

Even with my medications that have sedative properties, it can still take me upwards of 3-4 hours to fall asleep. It’s a nightly challenge to turn my brain off in preparation for sleep. Laying in bed, in the dark, with no distraction to keep my brain from wandering, I typically find myself thinking about things that work me up and make me anxious. I’ll think about stupid little things I said to a friend months ago, or I’ll begin questioning life decisions about the places I’ve moved, or the friends I’ve cut out of my life. The negative self-talk soon follows, and by the time I fall asleep, I’m crying and wanting to die. Sometimes I feel so sickened by my thoughts that I genuinely throw up… all I’m trying to do is get some rest!!

On another note dealing with my PTSD and falling asleep, I always have to fall asleep with the TV running. Trying to fall asleep to silence leads to me assuming every little noise the house makes is a past abuser breaking into the house to enact their revenge, by doing something like setting the house on fire or looking for me so that they can hurt me. Most of the time the noises are just the house settling, or one of my grandparents getting a glass of water. But the sheer paranoia from my PTSD takes this little bumps and turns them into full on panic-able things. With the TV on, I hear only a fraction of these noises, meaning I won’t go hiding in my closet at every thump.

Nighttime has always been stressful for me. It has always been one of the most challenging parts of recovery. Despite all of my medication, years of therapies, like EMDR and bilateral stimulation, sleeping is a daily struggle that I have to face. Do you struggle with sleep and have tips of your own that help you fall asleep? I’m always open to hearing new ideas! Let me know in the comments below!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_20170522_083159379
Accidentally wore the perfect shirt…

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

 

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

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

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

Posted in coping, mental health, PTSD

Mental Health and the Workplace

So many of you know I work at a local day spa (as much as I want to go on and on about how amazing it is to work here, I’ll resist the temptation.. but for those of you in the Madison WI area, please go check out Kneaded Relief Day Spa & Wellness next time you need to practice some self-care with a massage, manicure/ pedicure, facial, waxing, body treatments, personal training… etc. you won’t be disappointed). I was asked to write a blog post for the blog at the spa I work for. But I’d like to encourage all of you to read it, I explain PTSD and the effects it can have on someone. A spa is a great way to help you practice self-care, take care of your body physically, and it’s fun! Even if you can’t make it a regular thing, it’s a great way to spoil yourself and love yourself. Going to the spa doesn’t have to be stressful. Keep reading as I explain PTSD and then how you can advocate for yourself in the situations life presents itself with.

At our last staff meeting, we talked about our clients with mental health issues, more specifically PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and ways we can help those clients as therapists. Seeing how May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I think it’s the perfect opportunity to talk about PTSD and how we as therapists are willing to come alongside you in your journey of recovery.

What do you think of when you hear PTSD? Is it a soldier? If that’s where your mind went to, that’s okay. Soldiers can have very severe PTSD from the things they might have seen while overseas. But did you know that anyone can have PTSD? It’s not limited to just soldiers. If someone has been abused, assaulted, in a car crash, bullied, had a medical emergency, or even watching a loved one go through a serious physical or mental illness… these are all examples of people who might be traumatized and experience PTSD.

As someone who has personal experience of what it’s like to live with PTSD, I can attest to the fact that there are times (both sometimes or all the time) when you don’t want to be touched. Being touched can trigger various reactions, and for different reasons. Say there is someone who was in a car accident. A massage can be very healing for the body, but not always for the mind. The client’s seat belt might have cut off their windpipe, making it difficult to breathe. That can be a scary and very traumatizing thing, to be unable to breathe in a very alarming situation. While massages and/ or facials usually include neck and shoulder work, this can trigger the client and that can result in a myriad of things.

What it a trigger, and why does it matter? Dictionary.com defines a trigger as anything, as an act or event, that serves as a stimulus and initiates or precipitates a reaction or series of reactions. Okay, lots of fancy words. What does that mean? Let’s go back to the client that was in an accident. Touching their neck can remind their brain of the time when they were strangled. This can cause a series of reactions that are, but not limited to: a flashback, in which hallucinations occur of the traumatic event, often convincing the person that they are actually reliving that moment; an emotional response similar to the one the person had at the time of the traumatic event; fight or flight mode; an intense and “irrational” fear of the person who triggered them; and many more similar reactions.

At Kneaded Relief, the therapists (whether it be for a massage, facial, body treatment, etc) take the time before the treatment starts to check in with the client. Update on any changes of health history, talk about areas that need some attention… this is a great time to let your therapist know if there are areas you want them to avoid so you aren’t triggered. You don’t have to be afraid of judgment. Our staff had a wonderful conversation at our meeting, and I can speak from personal experience, having PTSD and other mental health issues myself, the staff takes a non-judgmental stance when it comes to opening up about mental health issues.

No matter who you are, or where you are, this concept can be put into practice. I think it’s wonderful to talk about mental illness in the workplace. I’m glad my employers are helping lead the way to education and the end of this stigma.