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 Anxiety, coping, mental health

“What Can I Do to Help?”

I’m sick. I’ll always be sick. When I’m having a bad day, or when someone first learns of my health issues, they almost always ask: “what can I do to help?” Often, in the moment, there aren’t many immediate things people can do to relieve my pain or frustration… but there are often things that can be done that can keep me from getting to that point as often or as quickly. Here are some ideas of ways you can help your mentally or chronically ill friend:

  1. Quality Time. Your friend probably spends a lot of time alone at home. There are only so many movies on Netflix. Visiting your friend at home can give them a break from the marathon hours of loneliness. As long as you promise not to judge them for their appearance or the appearance of their home.
  2. Housework. If your friend suffers from any sort of fatigue or chronic pain, housework can be a near-impossible task at times. Offer to do a load of laundry or wash the dishes. Ask if they need a room vacuumed. Bring a homecooked meal (check if they have dietary restrictions first). Walk the dog. It might seem like a trivial thing, but any of these tasks can use up all the energy we have and leave us stuck in bed for a day trying to recover.
  3. Words of affirmation. Being permanently sick can wear on your friend’s self-esteem and become a frustrating, hopeless experience. Send your friend a quick text or give them a call letting them know you’re supporting them. We need the reminders from time to time 🙂
  4.  Errands. Offer to go grocery shopping with us! Or better yet, ask us if you can pick anything up while you’re grocery shopping for yourself. Or maybe we need more Ibuprofen from Walgreen’s. If you’re already out and about, this can be an easy one to do, and can make a big difference! It saves us from having to get dressed, drive around town, walk through the store, wait in line… etc. and completely wear ourselves out.
  5. Learn about their illness. Google their diagnosis and read about it! Knowing that you made an effort to learn about such a major part of our lives in an effort to understand us better is incredibly validating.
  6. Get creative! You know your friend… and your friend knows their needs. Brainstorm ways you can help out to fit each individual. There are endless ways you can help!
  7. Be there. Most importantly, be our friend. Laugh with us, play games, make memories. Enjoy the time you have with each other and treasure the highs and the lows. It’s what makes us human and what makes a life worth living.
Posted in chronic illness, mental health

Having to Stay in Bed Isn’t “Lucky”

Recently I was with a friend when this happened:

Me: I have to go home soon and lay down.

Them: Lucky! I have to go to work. I wish I could just lay in bed all day.

What I wanted to reply was “Alright. Want to trade places? You can have my pain, chronic fatigue and inability to do even the most basic of tasks, while I get to work full time and be independent.” When I’m laying in bed resting, I feel anything but lucky. I hear the cars go by out my window, planes flying overhead, birds singing… but I’m stuck in bed. Majority of the time, I’m actually stuck in bed. I have a chair by my bed to use as an assistive device to help me stand up because on bad pain days I can’t hoist myself out of bed on my own. I take 17 pills at night. I have to monitor my blood pressure. I have at least one doctor appointment a week. I walk with a cane. Life with chronic illnesses is not easy, nor is it something to be jealous of… is it cool that I watch TV, read and play video games all day? Yeah, I guess so. But the whole thing is tainted by pain, nausea, discomfort, rambling thoughts, and sickness in general.

To get an idea of what an average day feels like for me, imagine these steps:

  • Get a severe sunburn all over your body, every time you wear a shirt or pants it is painful.
  • Overwork your muscles so you’re incredibly sore.
  • Don’t sleep for 48 hours.
  • Headbang for 10 minutes every hour.
  • Turn on every light you own and point them all at your face.
  • Get the flu (and never get healthy again… just always have the flu).
  • Electrocute yourself so your muscles twitch and you get sharp, shooting pains.
  • No matter how you sit/ stand/ lie down, you are always uncomfortable.
  • Cover yourself with something that makes you itchy… don’t take it off.
  • Go to the bathroom at least every 90 minutes, for 5+ minutes every time.
  • You can’t eat anything. Hungry? Too bad. Drink some baby food and hope for the best.
  • Tie cement blocks to your wrists and ankles.
  • Wear a snowsuit 24/7 so you’re always overheating.
  • Spin around 10 times whenever you stand up.
  • Eat all the beans you can and deal with the toots.

Now, try to clean the house, go shopping, work… live your normal life. That touches on the surface of what it feels like to be trapped inside my body… still think I’m lucky? Didn’t think so. I’m not being lazy, this isn’t fun, and I assure you that you don’t want to trade lives.

Posted in bpd, coping, diagnosis, mental health, stigma

Being Invisibly Ill

I deal with 14 invisible illnesses every day. If you saw me on the street, I wouldn’t look sick. I wouldn’t look disabled. My illnesses are internal. Because of this, I often deal with the fear that I won’t be believed when I call in sick to work or cancel plans. In my past, there was a myriad of situations where I was made out to be exaggerating or lying. I once had a mentor say to me: “It’s not that I don’t trust you, it’s just that I don’t believe you anymore.” There were a couple times I was admitted to the psych ward for suicidal thoughts/ attempts, and either my support group or even DOCTORS would doubt my suicide attempts as being real. As a result, I tend to overexplain everything (often to the annoyance of whoever I’m talking to). I sweat the little things and feel like I have to defend everything that comes out of my mouth as truth.

So when it comes to my illnesses, the same fears apply. Mentally I struggle. I’m either manic or depressed because of my bipolar. My emotions are four times as strong because of my borderline. I’m obsessed with the fear of harm coming to myself or others (OCD). I worry about everything (anxiety). I avoid and restrict what I ear (eating disorders). I live in a near chronic state of feeling traumatized (PTSD). My head is always spinning. My stomach is paralyzed, so I’m on a strict diet and am currently malnourished (despite being ~200 lbs, so I don’t look like it). This basically makes me feel like I’ve come down with a bad case of the flu 24/7. I suffer from chronic pain in many places, sensory processing issues, cysts on my ovaries and pre-diabetes. With these things and everything else I have going on, there is never a day that I feel like healthy. It is almost impossible for me to participate in everyday life activities. When I work a 3-hour shift (the maximum amount I can work per day as determined by doctors), it feels like I worked a 9-hour shift (which I used to do before I got sick). I can barely get out of bed for the rest of the day. Laundry is a daunting task that I usually have to span over multiple days by washing on one day, drying on another day, folding and putting away over the next few days. I’m lucky if I can shower once a week. The pain builds when I cook food to the point where I’m in too much pain to eat what I cooked, and have to stick it in the fridge for later. Same goes for grocery shopping. I usually do it late at night so I can sleep off the pain after completing the task. I’m sick, and it rules my life.

I do my best to live life to the fullest despite being sick. I carefully plan out my week so I have at least 2 days a week where I don’t have any commitments, so I can lay in bed all day and recuperate. I’ll watch TV, write stuff on my laptop, play video games or read a book. I light a candle, use baby wipes to keep myself clean and drink lots of water. I know that if I work, I won’t be able to do anything for the rest of the day. I try to plan fun activities, like board games with friends, after a doctor appointment that might be difficult. I call friends and talk to them on my days I’m stuck in bed. I do my best to be happy.

Even with all of this, I still struggle with the fear of not being believed. I loathe calling in sick at work, in part because I love my job and hate missing it, but also because I’m scared my coworkers won’t understand. Recently all three managers were sick with chills, fever, cough, etc. but they all still came into work. I felt especially useless calling into work sick during that time. I felt like a wimp because they were toughing out their sickness for work, while I wasn’t. Images flashed through my head of them complaining about me being weak. It was a challenge for me to remind myself that their sickness was different than my sickness.

Living with any illness, visible or not, temporary or chronic, is a challenge. The flu is a marathon. Chronic illness is like eternal back-to-back marathons. Not having anything visible to identify to strangers that I’m sick is a struggle that I deal with every day. I’m constantly trying to prove to my coworkers that I’m sick (even though they are lovely and don’t actually need proof). Having a medical ID bracelet is helpful for me beyond just the practical use for first responders. It helps me feel validated, and it’s visible proof that I’m sick. I feel validated when I look at it. I deal with invisible illness every day, and I learn something new every day. It’s a challenge, but it’s my challenge.

Posted in coping, Depression, diagnosis, ED

A New Chronic Illness

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

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

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

Posted in coping, mental health

The Soundtrack of My Health

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

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

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

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

“Goodbye love. Hello Disease.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in coping, diagnosis, mental health

Reflecting on 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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