As each day passes that I’m battling all my mental and chronic illnesses, the more I feel convinced that I’m never going to find a partner. Each night I sit with a cold wash cloth on my head while on the bathroom floor puking my guts out, the only question in my mind is “why would someone sign up for this?” As I sit in the hospital for hours hooked up to an IV pole every week I wonder “who would willingly get to know me as a potential date with IV scars all over her hands?” Or “Someone who wakes up sweaty and screaming from nightmares?” … “Someone who takes lots of medication and has multiple doctors appointments every week?” I’m not looking for someone to “save me”and I’m sure as hell not looking for a caretaker… I’m just looking for someone who will be there on my good days, but also on my bad days. I want a best friend who will make me laugh when I’m sad and be there when I need to scream and cry. Someone who will go on adventures with me on the good days. And even the not-so-good days. I’m just scared that being my partner is asking too much. And I’ll be all alone. I know there are people who stick by their partner when they become sick… but what happens when someone’s sick before the partner is in the picture? I’m so scared I’ll be dismissed before I even get a chance to say “hi!” I’m so much more than my illnesses. My whole life I’ve been paranoid that the people who love me secretly see me as a “project” or as something to make them feel better about themselves. I mean, who doesn’t love the saint who supports the sick girl? I’m scared that if I recover, they’ll leave cuz they succeeded, but if I don’t recover, they will see that their “project” is a failure and take off anyways. So even IF I somehow happen to find someone, who’s to say my paranoia won’t get in the way? Or my borderline? Or my chronic pain? Doctor’s appointments? The list is endless! I feel like a liability. Like I’ll end up alone. I’m good at saving myself. I just wish I had a cheerleader of a partner.
In case you haven’t already guessed, I like to write… a lot. Over the years I’ve become an articulate person who can usually express what she needs to say and can find words for things that others can’t. I’ve been asked to write books, articles, presentations, and I make it a point to write in some way every day. I’ve always been a writer. I loved keeping a diary, and have done so for most of my life. It’s definitely one of the biggest passions in my life. But there are times where words still fail. I can write things out release my emotions over and over and over again, but sometimes it doesn’t provide the relief I usually feel after doing so. Sometimes, words fail.
This post is a little different from my usual material. To tell this story, we have to go back. Way back. Let’s say, 30-40 years. My parents met in high school drama class. My dad started performing magic when he was younger and continued it as a career into his adult life. My mom’s family was big into the performing arts as well. My grandma taught piano lessons, my uncles were into music and had a band, and my mom grew up taking dance lessons… and she got pretty good too. She studied with the Milwaukee City Ballet one summer. So naturally, when I was growing up, I was bred to be a performer. A magician for a dad and a ballerina for a mom. I took lots of music lessons growing up: piano, violin, drums, guitar… and participated in a lot of theater. I also took dance classes. I’ve been dancing since I was 3 years old. My first recital was in 1st grade, and we danced to Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! By high school, everything had fallen away except theater and dance and high school. My junior year, I was dancing at the studio 2-3 times a week for 3 hours at a time. I had an elaborate bedtime routine that involved 2 hours of stretching and strengthening along with practicing whatever we had learned in class that week. I loved it. Every Christmas and birthday, all I asked for were dance clothes. But it wasn’t until my senior year that I found my true passion, and the point of this blog post.
One day after my Theater Arts class, the drama director Mr. Nibbe called me into his office. Mr. Nibbe was my favorite teacher, and we got along really well. He was definitely a father figure in my life, especially my senior year. I was going through a lot of tough stuff in my personal life, and it prevented me from dancing at the studio that year. On this particular December morning, Nibbe proposed the idea that we do a musical for the spring show, and that I choreograph it. I was thrilled with the idea. I made up dances all the time at home, but nothing serious. A friend of mine and I had choreographed a piece for the school’s talent show, but that was the extent of my experience. When the time came for rehearsals to start, I was beside myself with nerves. I was catastrophizing, telling myself I was going to be horrible, and all of my friends would be there to see me fail, seeing as how they were all in the cast. I kept waiting for the moment to come where somebody laughed or told me it was awful, but it never came. I got compliments and reassurances from the cast and Mr. Nibbe. When the curtain fell on opening night, I walked out into the lobby and was flooded with genuine compliments. It was an amazing experience. It was so good I got asked to choreograph the same show at a local middle school, and I even got paid for it! I wasn’t as proud of that show’s choreography… it was a lot of similar elements and I feel like I was judged for that. Plus, they never asked me to choreograph again 😛
I didn’t give choreography another thought until about a year later when I was cast in a show and then asked to choreograph it as well. I had a blast, and was nominated for a local theater award for my routines! Shortly after the show, I went to Rogers Memorial Hospital for my residential stay. We were required to go to the YMCA 3 times a week, and we were expected to actually work out during that time. Not being one for ellipticals or weight-lifting, I found myself an empty yoga studio and using the sound system to play music to dance around to, or more commonly, to stretch to. I was bopping around when a very emotional slow song came on that Lady Gaga had written about sexual assault., but it can be used in a variety of situations. The words really resonated with me and my treatment at Rogers, as I worked through feelings of suicide and wanting to destroy myself. I decided I wanted to choreograph a dance to this song. I started looking forward to the YMCA trips. I choreographed the dance to portray that there was this invisible force torturing me, throwing me across the stage and trying to kill me. I even used a scarf as a prop to show strangulation and this force pulling me around. Most days I cried while choreographing this routine, because it allowed me to combat these feelings around me, almost as if they were physically around me and not just in my head. My friends started noticing just how emotionally drained I always was after the Y and were awesome support on the particularly rough days. When I finished the dance I called everyone into the little yoga studio to show them the dance. Not only did I cry, but a few of my fellow patients were moved to tears as well. You could tell that the energy in the room had changed slowly throughout the dance. It was as if a fog filled the room and made everything slow and heavy. The air was thick, and everything seemed still for a moment. I will never forget the moment, or all of the love that I received from my friends afterward. Rogers has a rule where we can’t touch each other, but I got lots of hugs anyways. I went home about a week later, and it was then that I realized just how helpful the dance was for me. Dancing that story did things inside of me that no amount of writing or therapy ever could. Words hadn’t been enough. Words had failed me, but dance had not. Now whenever I’m really stuck on a feeling, I try to find a song and dance to it for a release. Not having proper space to dance since Rogers last year has lessened the effect that choreographing a piece has, to the point where I actually haven’t been able to choreograph a piece like that since. I
I went home about a week later, and it was then that I realized just how helpful the dance was for me. Dancing that story did things inside of me that no amount of writing or therapy ever could. Words hadn’t been enough. Words had failed me, but dance had not. Now whenever I’m really stuck on a feeling, I try to find a song and dance to it for a release. Not having proper space to dance since Rogers last year has lessened the effect that choreographing a piece has, to the point where I actually haven’t been able to choreograph a piece like that since. Tonight I cleared out half of the basement storage area, giving me just enough concrete floor to work with. It’s definitely not the ideal floor, bruises are already forming, but the rush of picking a song and nailing that first few second of choreography has reminded me just how powerful dance is. Without my parents, grandparents, dance teacher Ms. Shannon and Mr. Nibbe, I don’t know what I’d do, or how I’d express these emotions. My toes are itching for another go, but for now, I must sleep… since I’ve been awake all night dancing.
What do you have in your life that helps you release your extreme emotions? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
Another day, another diagnosis. I’ve been diagnosed with over half a dozen mental illnesses in my lifetime. A diagnosis can mean many things. For some, it brings hope because they finally have answers. For others, it can bring up feelings of shame or embarrassment. In my experience, it’s a mixture of both. This was definitely true when I received a diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder this week.
Back when I was a patient at Rogers Memorial Hospital, a fair number of my fellow patients had OCD. Before Rogers, I had never been exposed to all the ins and outs of OCD. I knew it was more than cleanliness and order, but beyond that, I wasn’t well versed. As I got to know my fellow residents, more of the interworkings became clear to me. As I watched them learn how to skillfully deal with the disorder, I began to wonder if I had OCD, or at the very least, obsessive-compulsive tendencies. I quickly pushed these thoughts away, not wanting to add another diagnosis to my list of illnesses I have to deal with.
In the months following my stay, these thoughts continued to pester me. I continued to ignore them, and when I was forced to confront any of my compulsions or obsessions, I brushed it off and dismissed it as “oh, I might have tendencies… that’s all.”
Getting a mental illness diagnosis can be scary. The brain is a very vital, but very complicated organ. Because of the stigma surrounding mental health issues, getting diagnosed can stir up feelings of wanting to hide or keep quiet about it. I remember the first diagnosis I every received. I was living with my best friend’s family at the time, and when her mom asked me how my therapy appointment went, I couldn’t even look her in the eye. I was crying, and so scared that they were going to treat me differently or ask me to move out. I felt like I belonged locked away in an insane asylum because I was officially the girl with a personality disorder. When I finally mustered up the courage to tell her, she reacted in the best way possible. She said, “Okay. Thank you for telling me. I’m not judging you. I’m not reacting in shock. We’re not going to kick you out. We’re still okay with you being around our daughter. It’s okay.” That had a profound impact on me. It made me realize that maybe a diagnosis wasn’t the end of the world, but the opportunity to begin a new one. One where I had a better quality of life.
It took finding our that a family member has OCD to make me seriously look at my hunches. I brought it up to my therapist, and she gave me an OCD screening. Screenings look different for every illness, and there are multiple ways to diagnose someone. This screening was 15 pages of questions asking me to rate how much different thoughts and activities were problems for me. It was exhausting to fill out and took me many days to complete. My OCD deals less with cleanliness and order, and more with worrying about harm to myself and others, perfectionism and the everyday thoughts I have. This time around with a new diagnosis, I have a positive attitude and look to the future with hope. Because the actual diagnosis doesn’t change anything going on with me mentally, it just better explains my brain and allows me to get the help I need to build a better life for myself.
With proper medication and therapy, OCD can be managed and allow the patient to go about a more normal life. Lucky for me, I have actually gone through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is a wonderful therapy that helps patients understand their thoughts and feelings that influence behavior. I have a meeting with my psychiatrist next week to discuss medication. I have wonderful support and I’m feeling okay with the diagnosis. I still feel that shame and fear, but I know I’ll make it through.
“You can’t be loved until you love yourself.” I’ve heard this quote many times in reference to eating disorder recoveries. It’s this stigma that people with eating disorders are unlovable until they love themselves and get healthy. Since I’ve been in recovery for Avoidant/ Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, I’ve gained around 80 lbs. Now I am what is considered a healthy weight for my body. I’ve been underweight since high school when my eating disorder really began to take hold. So while I logically know that I am healthy now, I’m carrying an extra 80 lbs around. None of my clothes fit anymore. I went from a small t-shirt to a large. I went up 7 jeans sizes. Mentally I reacted negatively to all the weight. I constantly mention how fat I am, or how I look pregnant because of my tubby tummy. I hate that none of my favorite clothes fit anymore. I developed an even worse self-image than I had when I was still under the thumb of my ED. Normally when I make a negative comment about my weight, everyone is immediately exclaiming “no you’re not!” “you’re beautiful” “you look great”, but it was hard to believe them. I felt as if they didn’t see what I saw.
The biggest “nay-sayer” was my boyfriend. We spend most weekends together, and they often involve eating junk food, which I struggle with… eating is already a daily struggle for me, on top of the fear that eating junk food will make me even fatter. Throughout our relationship, James, my boyfriend, has always encouraged me to eat, and let me know he was proud of me when I did eat. He proved to me that he was a safe person to eat food around, and next thing I knew we were eating donuts and ice cream together. We went shopping together to get new clothes that fit me, and he never failed to call me beautiful and sexy.
A few days ago, he encouraged me to really look at my body for what it was. I critically judged my stomach, arms, and thighs in the mirror… but then it dawned on me that my body wasn’t as ugly as I had perceived it to be. I realized that when I look down at my tummy, it looks like it stuck out more from my perspective that it does in the mirror, and that my thighs are still muscular looking and not just jiggles of fat. Since this moment in the mirror, I haven’t had a negative thought towards my body. It really feels like I’m onto something here: that I’m beautiful AND healthy now. And I have nothing to be ashamed about when it comes to my body.
“You can’t be loved until you love yourself”… I believe my ED recovery proves just the opposite, it was because James loved me and my body that I did begin to love my body and accept that part of myself.
Struggling with food, body image or an eating disorder? Find help here.
TRIGGER WARNING This article or section, or pages it links to, contains information about SELF-HARM which may be triggering to those who struggle with cutting and other forms of self-harm.
Before I was in recovery, self-harm was a large problem for me. I was giving myself at least a dozen cuts every few days. I always had a razor with me. I had to keep going to different stores at different times to make sure no one saw me frequently buying razors. I wore long sleeves all the time. I hated people touching me because my arms hurt so bad, and I was afraid someone was going to notice.
For me, cutting wasn’t a form of self-punishment. It was a way to manage my anxiety. The endorphins that the cuts released helped me stop shaking. Plus it’s hard to worry about anything else when there’s blood coming out of you. It made me feel like I was actually competent at taking care of myself when I dressed my wounds. I felt like my scabs and scars were tangible evidence that I really was sick, even if people rarely actually saw my arms. I could just pull up my sleeve and go “see?!” when someone told me it was all in my head, or that I was faking. Not that I ever did.
The last time I self-harmed was about a week before I went to Rogers Memorial Hospital for a two month stay in their FOCUS program, which dealt with mood disorders and depression. At the time, I had no idea it’d be my last cut. I still often wonder if I would have treated the “occasion” differently if I had known it would be my last. Maybe I would have tried to remember it better, or maybe make more of an effort to stop.
It’s been just over 300 days since then, and I still miss it. If I see a picture of fresh cuts on the internet, or if my bunny scratches me so deep I bleed, every fiber of my being wants to return to cutting. Sometimes I catch myself picking at scabs, trying to make them bigger. When I’m laying in bed, and can’t stop shaking, even after I’ve taken my medication and participated in healthy coping techniques, I still wish I could cut to make the shaking go away.
I love tattoos. Right now I have seven and have four more on my wishlist. Unfortunately, being mentally disabled and unable to work leaves me with little money for things as expensive as tattoos. A cheap alternative that is trending right now is the Stick ‘n’ poke tattoos. It’s done by buying your own appropriate ink and using a needle to insert the ink into your skin, one dot (or poke) at a time. Normally, I’d be all for giving myself one using this method, but because of my history of self-harm, I know that the idea of poking myself with a needle repeatedly for hours isn’t safe for me mentally. This is just one example of the ways that my life in recovery is still affected by my addiction to self-harm.
Even though I don’t cut anymore, there are still ways my mind and body attempt to get the same results though other forms of self-harm. Whenever I feel like my brain is being stupid, whether it’s a feeling or something I said, I sometimes catch myself hitting myself hard in the head with the heel of my hand. Sometimes I don’t even catch it, and if there’s a person with me, they’ll place their hand in between my hand and my head. Sometimes I don’t try to stop my bunny from scratching me right away. While I have the cutting under control, there are still ways that my mind allows me to harm myself to get similar results. I’m still taking everything one day at a time. Recovery takes work, and with an addiction, it can often be years or even a lifetime of a battle.
Yeah yeah. Everyone makes them, hardly anyone keeps them. But, I’m going to try anyways.
I’ve had this blog for over a year now. I’ve been dedicated to posting… for about three posts. Then it slips my mind and I forget about it. So I’ve given the blog a face lift and set goals for myself. Here we go!
The new year brings a lot of excitement. This year I’ll celebrate one year in recovery, as well as one year self-harm clean. I’m in a brand new relationship that so far holds a lot of promise. I have the opportunity to continue publishing my writings about mental health on The Mighty (follow me here!). It’s going to be a fun year!
So what is my New Years Resolution? Back in October, I started writing a book. Why? I’ll explain in a minute. But after months of working on it, the magnitude of a book just wasn’t sitting right with me. I eventually got so overwhelmed that I stopped writing. Since I’ve wanted to write a blog since 8th grade, my book has now morphed into a blog! How did my writing project come to be? Well..
We’re going to jump right into the middle of my story. I was in the hospital after a suicide attempt. After being cleared physically to be transferred to the psych ward, my at-the-time boyfriend’s mom and dad brought me some things for my stay (shampoo, clothes, a novel, etc.). In this care package was a notebook. That notebook is basically where this whole thing began. Now, this wasn’t my first stay on an acute unit psych ward, and it wasn’t going to be my last, but it certainly was the most important. In the days following my attempt, my already small support system kind of disbanded. My two best friends decided they needed a break from our friendship. My boyfriend broke up with me, therefore his family left me as well. In our final conversation, my boyfriend told me I wasn’t going to get better on my own unless I hit rock bottom. And the only thing keeping me from hitting bottom was him. He was my biggest support, and unhealthily he was the only one who I would let “save me”. I was codependent. It was hard for me, but I cannot imagine how infinitely harder it must have been for him. He was right. Us breaking up was the final straw. I had no one to turn to for help but myself. I made some very harsh realizations of the truth about life. One of them is that the only guarantee we have in life is that we are stuck with ourselves for the rest of our lives. During my stay, I began collecting some mental health skills that I could use to take care of myself and putting them in the notebook. After discharge, I became consumed with filling that notebook with skills, quotes, charts… anything and everything having to do with mental health. Pretty soon it was so full of stray pages from books, pamphlets, and printouts that I had to use a headband to keep it closed. I would read the DSM-4 for fun. Whenever I had extra money, I went to a secondhand bookstore and bought self-help books. I watched Ted Talks, I listen to podcasts. I attended DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) on a weekly basis. I went to support groups. My life became consumed with learning as many skills to help myself deal with my mental illness. I learned a lot of really great things, too. I became my own best friend. I could ground myself and pull myself out of a flashback. Further down my timeline, I was admitted to Roger Memorial Hospital’s residential FOCUS program. I lived at a mental hospital with 10 other psych patients for two months. We had Cognitive and Dialectical Behavior Therapies every day, we alternated between art and recreational therapies, we had daily mindfulness, we went to the gym 3x a week, we had homework and spirituality class and a nutritional class, among other things. We met with the head psychiatrist, our therapist, a dietician and our behavioral specialist once a week. My behavioral specialist quickly picked up on my obsession with learning. She sat me down and we really broke down which behaviors were healthy, and which ones were driving a wedge between me and recovery when it came to learning about mental health. I productively learned as much as I could in the months I was there. Now here I am, five months after I was discharged from Rogers, with three journals filled with skills. At my psychiatrist’s office, nearly all the staff know me as “journal girl”. The whole time this story was taking place, there were a surprising number of people telling me that I should write about my experiences. My boss, my therapist, a friends mom, doctors, old friends on facebook, strangers on Instagram… you get my point. So here I am, sitting down to write. All I can think is “what the hell am I getting myself into?” Let’s go!