Posted in diagnosis, mental health, stigma

The Face Behind Ungluing Stigma

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

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

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

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

Posted in 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.

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

Greiving a Diagnosis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Posted in coping, mental health

Tracking Mental Health

Tracking your mental health can be very important. You can learn your triggers, understand possible reasons for a depressive or suicidal episode, heck, you can study patterns to predict your mental health more effectively. Today I’m going to take you through a couple of ways that I track my mental health.Screenshot_2017-04-25-15-36-37

Apps. There is a myriad of apps in the app store that offer ways to track mental health, physical health, diet, blood pressure, medications, mood, fitness… the list goes on. Throughout the years I’ve tried many of them. Daylio (play store, iTunes) is the main app that I use to track my mental health. To the right, you can see a screen shot of what my last few days looked like. You can choose between 5 different moods (the default are rad, good, meh, fugly and awful, but you can customize them to whatever you’d like). Then you select from a customizable list of activities, thoughts, chores, etc. based on what you did that day. I added many of my own tasks, including manic/ depressed so I can track my bipolar cycles, whether or not I had self-harm or suicidal urges, if I cleaned my pet cages, etc. At any time you can go to the statistics page and there are a number of unique ways that you can view the data in whatever way suits you best. You can set reminders for you to fill it out each night, and there’s a space to add your own personal notes. Everything can be backed up onto google drive and it’ll tell you how many days in a row you’ve filled out a diary entry!

I take a handful of medication every night, as well as having a few “as needed” medications for times where I need extra help getting to sleep or to help with my anxiety, I use Medsafe (play store, iTunes) to keep track of my meds. I love this app because you can customize pretty much everything. You can even pick what the medication looks like so you can see it in your digital pillbox just like it appears in real life. There are lots of great apps for tracking your medication, this is just my personal favorite.IMG_20170425_151115.jpg

I have yet to find an app that I like for tracking what I eat, without it getting too technical, like counting calories. Instead, I track what I eat in my Bullet Journal. It’s quick and simple, without me having to feel guilty about eating so many calories and having that trigger something with my eating disorder. I also track how many glasses of water I drink every day, to make sure I’m staying hydrated. I draw one little water droplet for each glass of eight or more ounces of water that I drink. You can also see that I track how many words I write a day because my monthly writing goal is 10,000 words a month, I also use an app on my phone to track this, so I’m still ironing out the kinks of how to track it on paper. I like this layout because it’s quick and easy to use. Do you use an app to track your food or water intake? I’m always looking for suggestions! Let me know in the comments below, or go to my Contact Us page for more ways to get in touch with me.

As I mentioned in the paragraph above, I have a bullet journal that I use to keep my life somewhat organized. Below is an overview of what a week looks like in my bullet journal:IMG_20170425_151233

I played with a number of layouts before I settled on this one. You can check out all the pins I saved for inspiration on my Pinterest board that is full of artsy ideas. It gives me space to write down my schedule for the week, track my sleep, meals, water intake, and a boatload of other things. As you can see, I have a system of different colored pens, as well as different symbols to keep track of various appointments, chores, due dates, and a daily gratitude. I have a graph that lets me quickly and easily track my sleep. The bottom right photo is a small graph where I track things like if I took my medication, which days I did a variety of chores like cleaning my pet cages or laundry. I track if I’ve done yoga, or if I’ve used laxatives (which is a harmful behavior that I’m trying to stop).

IMG_20170425_151255.jpg

There are a few other ways I track my mental health that I’d like to share. Being someone who has rapid cycling bipolar, It can be very devastating to have my quickly changing mood affect my plans and daily routine. So this year, I’ve been tracking when I’m manic and when I’m depressed so I can start to see a pattern, and be able to plan accordingly. It’s very east to do, all it takes is highlighting the date with either pink to signify that I’m manic, or orange to signify that I’m depressed. You can already see that there’s an emerging pattern that I use to help me know when to make plans with friends, and when to know that I’m going to be stuck in bed with depression and might need to increase treatment frequency.IMG_20170425_151318

I also use the Daylio app that I talked about earlier to create a big-picture idea of what my mood (NOT linked to my bipolar phases) looks like throughout the year. I take the same five moods/ type of day (rad, good, meh, fugly, awful) and simply fill out a square on the graph accordingly. At the end of 2017, I’ll have my entire year in pixels! It’s fun to look and see the different moods I felt during the same time frame over the past few months.

Tracking mental health can be very important. It allows you to better understand what can seem like a chaotic and random illness. You can better answer questions that doctors and therapists might ask you during an appointment or hospital stay. I find it gives me peace of mind to have a tangible documentation of what is otherwise a very difficult thing to understand and track. Do you track your mental health or have an app that helps you when things get chaotic? Let me know in the comments below!

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

Dear 8th Grade Me

2008. The year I started eighth grade. Life got messy the summer before and things have only gotten messier since. If I could go back to what I consider the “beginning” of the chapter of my life that I’m in, here’s what I wish I could say:

 

Dear 8th grade me,
Hi. It’s your future self. You’re 21 now, and drinking a grasshopper as you write this. I know, us drinking alcohol… weird. You don’t know it yet, But you’re not neurotypical. Okay, what does that mean? It means you don’t show atypical (“normal”) brain patterns or behaviors.. yeah, we’re actually mentally disabled. Hard to believe, huh?

So this past summer, at camp, you learned that some things in life are not as they seem. I know you’re completely crushed and lost right now. You feel like the only person who will understand is your camp counselor… but you made a mistake with her and she’s no longer in your life. Over the course of the next year, you’re going to reach out to a lot of different people: potential mentors, friends, even strangers, all because you’re desperate to find answers to all this pain and confusion. It’s going to feel really helpless. You’re going to question every fundamental aspect of your life: love and relationships, your purpose here on earth, your beliefs and your passions. You’re going to start cheating in school… please don’t. I come from the future where you did, and not only do you academically suffer from not learning that stuff in math and history, your self-esteem suffers too. You spend all of your time latching onto people, only to burn them out, along with yourself. This is one of the main symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder – you get diagnosed after high school graduation, so be prepared for this to screw you up for the next 4 years. You will have people who will criticize you frequently for your raging emotions… that also comes from Borderline… strap in and prepare to write a lot of poetry. In fact, it is probably best that you get a journal specifically for your poetry. I have one I’ve had since I was your age, and it’s like my heart is outside of my body it means so much to me.

You’re also going to have your fair share of physical challenges too. You just got diagnosed with a few different knee problems. You’re going to have to wear knee braces for the foreseeable future… you still have to wear them in 2017! Being the stubborn girl you are, you’re going to push through the pain… but sometimes you’re going to take opportunities away from others with your stubbornness… sometimes you gotta let it go girl. People will love you even if you’re not unbelievably “strong” physically.

You’ve never self-harmed. You’ve even put a razor to your skin to try to imagine what that’s like, and you swear you’re never going to cut. You even tell the youth pastor who’s worried about you that you won’t ever cut yourself – and you really mean it. Keep holding onto that as long as you can. Cutting is really addicting… and you get addicted to it. But never fear! I’m writing this at 393 days clean! Right now it’s your dream to go with the high school ministry to Romania… and you’ll be accepted on the team after Junior year. But because of your undiagnosed mental health issues, you’re going to be pulled off the team mere weeks before they leave for Romania for a month. You’re absolutely gutted. That’s when you first attempt suicide by overdosing and start cutting. A few months later you lose favor with your dance teacher and push yourself unbelievably hard dancing in the Middleton Parade. You collapse and are taken to the hospital, and you trigger life-long lung issues, almost dying from it. Please, learn how to take care of yourself. Practice radical acceptance and healthy coping. Start coloring! Play more music. Enjoy the nice weather. Write as much as you possibly can. Life’s going to get rough, and without your 100%, my past is your fate.

Dear 8th grade me… Do your homework. Go to therapy earlier than junior year. Learn how to cope with the curveballs that are coming your way. Lean on Erin, she’s the only one who stays all four years of high school and beyond. Enjoy being young. And if you ever need me, you can always find me within yourself. Stay unique girly. Rock that multicolored fake hair piece no matter what your friends say about it.

Love,
Me

Posted in mental health

Returning to Work

So today was my first shift back at work since I went away to FOCUS at Rogers a year ago. I’m a receptionist at a day spa and for the past year I’ve been on sick leave for my mental health issues. 

Today was very different then I thought it would be. Earlier in the week I got retrained and reminded how to do most things, but I was still nervous. The last thing I wanted to do was mess up in front of a client. I was nervous that my first shift was on the longer end of how many hours I should be working. I was also nervous that it was on our busiest day of the week. What if I booked something wrong, or couldn’t help a client on the phone without awkwardly putting them on hold? My anxiety was definitely acting up. 

I was looking forward to seeing my coworkers again though. Being a wellness spa, most of my coworkers are the caregiving type. I had some really great relationships last year and was excited to give them hugs and be welcomed back. I was counting on that part to be easy and get me through my shift. But the universe decided to make my shift a teaching moment that expectations aren’t always really. 

Now, I’m not saying things went horribly with my coworkers. But things weren’t what I expected. In fact, it was almost like my expectations were flipped. Phone calls, booking appointments, checking clients out… those things were like riding a bike. I only made one mistake (that I’m aware of) in a four hour time period. I was able to relax and smile with the clients. I remembered how much I liked taking phone calls because they made me feel so professional and useful. I was reminded how fun booking appointments can be, it’s like trying to solve a puzzle. What made me nervous was interacting with my coworkers. I was secretly ashamed of the kind of coworker I was during my last months before my sick leave… I had been so mentally unstable and an unreliable coworker. I wasn’t sure how much people remembered or judged me for. I didn’t know what the new people had heard when I introduced myself and they seemed to know me already. I’m sure part of it was just in my head… but it still made me nervous. I know I’d be curious what kind of illness someone had if they had been on sick leave for a year. When I said hi to some of the people I used to get along well with, it felt as if I was a distant memory. I’m hoping in the next few weeks, I begin to get a better idea of where I stand with my coworkers as I build back the bridges that once stood. 

I’ve been beyond blessed to have employers who treat mental illnesses the same a physical ones. I could call in sick for depression or mania the same as calling in for a cold. I was given a lot of grace back when I was sick, and it’s already been clear to me that I have a lot of work to do with my bosses and coworkers to show how recovered I am, and that I truly am a better and healthier person now. It’s not going to be easy, but I’m excited for this next step in my recovery. 

Posted in mental health

Why I got a Medical Alert Bracelet

My medical ID bracelet finally arrived!! A few years ago I saw a psych patient wearing one and at first, it confused me why someone with a mental illness would wear one, so I looked it up. Professionals recommend ID bracelets for people with mental disabilities for the same reasons they recommend them for those with physical ones. If I were to have a severe mental breakdown because of my PTSD or Bipolar, for example, the bracelet would help alert the cops or paramedics that my symptoms might be caused by a mental issue, not a physical one or drugs or something. I have personally had an experience with an individual who the police thought was high, but as it turns out he was having a psychotic episode. He could have gotten proper care faster if they had known that ahead of time. Since I have been known to black out into psychosis, I thought it’d be a smart idea to invest in one myself finally. I love this brand, getmyid, because there is a QR code and ID number on the inside so first responders can instantly access all my medical information as well as my mental health history. Definitely consider one if you’ve got mental health issues!