What You Don’t See

Psychotropic drugs are usually accompanied by a set of expectations, myths, misconceptions, hopes, and beliefs. When discussing it with your doctor, he/she might only give you the pertinent medical information. Your friends and family, on the other hand, will let you know how it affects you in real, day to day life, as they are the ones who notice the impact it has on you and the side effects it brings on. Yet, you are the only person who can really decide if it’s working for you or not. Only you get to experience what it feels like to take the drug or not. Only you get to experience the side effects to its fullest extent. And only you get to decide if it’s worth it or not.

Doctors will mostly share the major side effects, like death, immune system failure and body tremors. Knowing all of this is indeed important, and yet, there are so many little things that you will soon discover come with taking those drugs. Some doctors might fail to notify you that sometimes it gets worse before it gets better. And suddenly without prior notice you find yourself in worse moods with depressing thoughts, puzzled and not knowing how it happened. Also, you might be told by your family or friends that you grind your teeth while sleeping, that you snore, or that you drool excessively. If you’re in a relationship, your partner might suddenly be dealing with a hit of mood swings from your part, until your body gets used to the medication. So often, our libido or sexual drive goes down to nothing while on medication and your partner might be wondering if there’s anything on their part that has caused it, making them feel inadequate and like a failure when it is completely not in either their control.

Each one of us, deals with our unique situation and therefore, unique side effects. And though one medication might fit perfectly with you, it might do more harm than help for me. Some hit it off with the right drug at the first try, and others can go through months and months of trial and error, medication change, and adjustments.

Sometimes, our loved ones only see and understand what is visible to the naked eye. What they don’t realize is that there’s so much more hiding beneath the surface. They might only notice our fatigueness and drowsiness, without realizing that instead of no sleep at all, we had 4 hours of sleep. They only see us dragging ourselves out of bed in the morning, without realizing that we might have spent a week in bed if not for our medications. Thus, I find it important to destroy the stigma that surrounds mental health and mental health medications. The more familiar we are with what’s happening to us, the more we can make our loved ones understand what’s happening to us. Because most of what’s happening to us, is invisible.

What people fail to notice are how our successes measure up, despite some drawbacks. They fail to notice that behind all those side effects that change our appearance, like weight gain, acne, or tremors, there are benefits that are essential to our happiness and ability to go through with day to day life. They fail to notice that it hurts to be judged based on something that is completely out of our control.

Recently, I broke up with a guy, who I was hoping will be my forever guy. The reason we broke up? Because I put up too much weight causing him to lose his attraction to me. To be honest, I was very hurt, even though it was the honest-to-goodness truth. In two months, I have put up 30 lbs. Not because I was careless or was overeating, in fact I have been walking a lot more every day and have focused and made sure to have three healthy meals a day. So what happened? I have been experimenting with different medications, trying to find the right one. I felt blessed to have found one that works after a while. The downside? The side effects of that particular drug is weight gain. And so, I found myself a lot happier but also a lot heavier. And for that to be the reason for a break up, hurt a whole lot, because it was something that’s completely out of my control.

And therefore, I am writing to all of you; those with mental illnesses and to those who live and love someone with mental illness. Know that there is more than meets the eye. If you notice that your friend/family member is more fatigued, ask if he needs help with daily tasks and chores. If you notice something that concerns you, ask them to bring it up with their doctor. Don’t judge, because there is so much beneath the surface of what you see.

And please, even though we put up 30 lbs, drool excessively in our sleep, or experience tremors throughout the day, love us anyway. We are self conscious about all of those changes that are happening to us and it’s hard to practice self-love. We try our best to live life as best as we can with our challenges and receiving love and reassurance can mean the world to us. Literally. The whole wide world.

And to those of us fighting the good fight, keep fighting. If you have concerns or are uncomfortable, speak to your doctor. If you need help or some tender love and care, don’t be afraid to reach out to family and friends.

And though my relationship has ended, it strengthened my relationship with my inner self. Because I stood in front of the mirror and saw what you don’t see. Hiding behind my extra 30 lbs was a good heart who tries its best.

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Last Night

Last night, you dragged me home from the pub -drunk- after a drink too many of Chardonnay. And this morning, as I nursed my hangover, you  shared with me how scared you were last night. And yet, I have no recollection of the night’s events.

You are not the only one to tell me that you’re scared. My therapist says that my nihilist attitude scares her. My friends and family keep checking in on me, because they are afraid I might act on my suicidal thoughts. Strangers keep a distance and think twice before befriending me, because I scare them away.  And I know you have my well being in mind, I know you want the best for me, and you mean well when you check in on me. But, still, it hurts to know that I scare people.

Let me tell you how I feel. I’m scared too. I scare myself every night. And when I wake up in the morning, the fear is still there. I am scared by my suicidal thoughts and even more so that I can’t stop them. I am afraid that I might not be strong enough today and engage in self harm. I am scared by my bitter attitude, knowing that it pushes people away and leaves me on my own to fend for myself in this scary world. I’m scared of my urges to drink and smoke, because I don’t know if I’ll be strong enough to not act on those urges. I’m scared to look at my bottle of medication, because it triggers more fears. I wake up afraid, and go to sleep afraid; I can be my biggest enemy.

Last night, when you dragged me home and told me how scared you are, I wanted to hold on to you, keep you close, and tell you how scared I am. I don’t want to scare people away, because I know how it feels to be scared of myself. Last night you experienced what I experience every night. (and sometimes every day)

So please, when you feel afraid, know that I am just a frightened little girl and I need all the support I can get. I know it’s hard, but together we are stronger and together we can conquer our fears.

My Little ‘How To Accept Myself’ List

I tell people all the time, “Don’t let anybody define your unique experience and struggle with mental illness. Don’t let anybody prescribe some generic emotion you’re supposed to feel.” And I mean every single word; do not allow anybody, family, friend, or professional, to tell you how life should make you feel.

But I, myself, wasn’t always so sure of my emotions. Whenever I hit a rough patch, I would reach out and ask if it’s OK to feel a certain way. Sometimes, people would tell me that my situation would make them angry and if I wasn’t angry at that point, I would start riling myself up. When my attempts were unsuccessful, I would get frustrated with myself and that always ended with me being angry only at myself. Other times, people would ask me why I’m not sad after triggering events, causing a turmoil of emotions and self-doubt. Worse than feeling negative emotions, is doubting oneself and constantly questioning if your mind and heart are in order.

When I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder it made me turn my thoughts inwards and honestly think about what I want to feel as opposed to what I should be feeling. In the past, when my therapists were talking about the five stages of grief, I perceived their words and translated it in a literal sense. It is commonly known that grieving is a process of five stages; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Though some people see themselves and their experience in this cycle, not everyone does. Most mornings, I found myself waking up and making a conscious decision that today I will be in the bargaining stage, or today I will be in the acceptance stage. And those of you who have been dealing with depression will know that emotions don’t tend to work this way. Depression isn’t wired to hit the acceptance stage when you set it to. Depression is so numb that it doesn’t fully grasp what anger is. And the more expectations I set myself as to how I should feel, the more I set myself up for disappointments which only made me more depressed.

Speaking to my therapists didn’t help, because I kept measuring myself up to a process and therapeutic terms that didn’t fit in my world. Only when I hit rock bottom, did I realize that if I am not going to define my own terms, my own emotions, and my own process, I will end up spiraling down into an endless of pit of self-destruction. I knew that I had to do something big to pull myself out of the rut. I had to learn how to let go of prescribed emotions, expected feelings, and normal thoughts and terms. I had to learn to accept myself for who I am. The only question remaining was how I was going to make those changes? Three daily rituals that I implemented helped me immensely in reteaching myself that what I feel and what I think is perfectly OK because it’s unique to my experience.

  1. I started keeping a daily journal, writing down at least two positive things about myself every night. If I helped someone during the day, I would record that I am kind, and if I struggled to get out of bed in the morning but still did, I wrote that I was courageous. It wasn’t always easy. There were days when I did not see a single good thing in myself and was only seeing the worst which was pulling me down. On those days I simply wrote that I like the sweater I’m wearing and that I still have good taste in fashion. Although it may seem like a minor thing, it gave me something positive to associate with myself. Sometimes, I decorated those journal entries with sketches, art, and poetry for added positivity.
  2. I stopped obsessing over what prescribed symptoms should be. Though most people feel anxiety a certain way, not everyone does. Some people grieve best when they cry and others when they distract themselves and laugh. I allowed my emotions to decide for me and stopped telling myself whether what I’m feeling is right and wrong. It’s not easy to stop obsessing, and it takes time. Yet, every time I caught myself in the act, I would stop, take five deep breaths, and let the expectations go.
  3. I also learned to communicate. Sometimes, people don’t know what we feel until we tell them. And until we tell them what we’re feeling, they will tell us what we’re supposed to be feeling. So no, I didn’t disregard my therapists and the people who care for me. I just learned to accept my feeling first and then communicate it, instead of asking them how or what to feel. And I’ve come to realize that most people are a lot nicer and accommodating when they know what you’re going through.

I am still learning to accept myself for who I am. But I definitely like myself a lot better now, than when people dictated my life. Yes, I still ask for advice and support when I need help, but I don’t let it define who I am. Sometimes, I forget and I do, but when I do I look back at my little list and it makes me feel better.

Life After Trauma

I have written a poem to portray one of the many feelings that are commonly experienced after trauma; anger or rage. In the past, I used to be afraid to admit to myself that I am angry, which only led to further suppressing my emotions. This week, something strange happened; I had an epiphany. And I realized that I can run; but I cannot hide. And so I faced my anger. It’s hard but it’s not as scary as I thought it would be. And the bonus? A beautiful and touching poem that perfectly expresses how I feel. Here goes:

Bloody, red Bordeaux’s in bottle-green glass,
and warm light saturating the room;
my mother picked violets to spoil me,
but I want to throw it all away.
I pop five corks, hurting after three,
and let my nostrils welcome the aroma of aged oak.
I mourn for the fermentation, filtration, and clarification;
for I will never taste the Cabernet Franc meticulously grown
in the magical valley of Loire.
The process of oxidation unleashes an inner fury,
as I hear the shattering of glass in my body.
Have I inherited violence in my genetic code?
Because nothing makes me feel at peace,
but three hundred sixty-five pieces of broken glass;
when shards and shards puncture through my body,
and the color of my blood, like watercolors, mixed with wine
creates deathly hues in deep shades of reds,
and stains pristine white linen.
My mind only stops its death march,
when droplets of expensive Merlot run down the walls
and form puddles on the granite around me.
Sleep only comes to rescue me when once beautiful blossoms,
drown in those cursed little ponds; home to glass fish.
And only after,
I have exerted myself-flinging bottles, hurling objects
and taring flowers-
has my soul finally reached the point of tranquility,
for me to fall asleep on the floor,
in my own havoc.

Football Failure and Mental Health

I’m not big on sports. Thus, I mostly don’t pay attention to the various sports programs playing on the car radio, on my way to school. Today, though, was one of the days on which I listened. Really listened. And I am glad I did. Former NFL player, Ryan D Leaf was being interviewed about life after his career failure as QB, at the NFL. His words, in seven minutes, have touched me, inspired me, and taught me more than I have learned in months. And I hope that I can hold on to the humbling feeling I had this morning, and carry it with me. I want to remind myself every single day that [in his words]:

“Our best decisions won’t take us to the promised land; our best decisions will take us to the worst places.” 

Thank you, Ryan Leaf. It was something I needed to hear; and like you said, sometimes all it takes are the right words in the right time.

Link:

http://foxsportsradio.iheart.com/onair/outkick-the-coverage-with-clay-travis-58002/ryan-leaf-discusses-johnny-manziel-and-15525864/

The Key to Healing

My friends like to hang out sometimes and have fun. So do I. After all, life is short and if we’re not going to make the most of it, nobody else will do it for us. 

And yet, it has become increasingly hard for me to chill with my friends. Bar? Oops, no alcohol for me. Drug interactions, you know… Coffee? Uh oh, no caffeine. My anxiety might just go through the roof. Nighttime meet-up? Won’t work. I need to stick to my schedule and can’t go to bed too late. Breakfast? Oh well, you know how my medications work… I need extra sleep. Just a nice walk or brunch? See, my medications make it very difficult for me to keep up a conversation or have a decent train of thoughts. I lose my focus fairly quickly and it’s hard for me to concentrate. I don’t feel like myself at all. 

Every time my friends decide to get together, the battle in my head begins. Should I take my medications today and skip the meeting? Should I take my medications and go anyway feeling like a sleeping cloud? Or should I skip my medications and just have fun? And deal with the consequences tomorrow? In my mind, I know what the right thing to do is. I know I need to keep taking my medications to be healthier and feel better. I know that skipping a night won’t do good for anyone. And still, it’s hard to feel so bland all the time. As much as I crave normalcy and routine, the inner disorder in me craves chaos. And so my judgement becomes clouded and decision making  becomes so damn tough. 

I’ve made the mistake of going three days without medication while being on vacation. The first two days felt really good. I was able to drink, have fun and feel like my old self. Yet, by the time the third day rolled around, I felt sick to my stomach and my anxiety levels skyrocketed. My depression hit an all time low and I knew that not being compliant only harms me. 

The one thing my doctors and therapists have asked of me is to be compliant. And I know that in order for me to feel better mentally, physically and emotionally I need to stick to my medication regimen. Compliance is key to healing. 

So, to all of my friends I ask of you to please help me and support me in my journey to recovery. If you ever invite me out, please make sure that I take my medications. It is not your responsibility but sometimes all I need is a good friend to remind me. And if I’m quiet while all of you are having fun, please understand that it’s healthier to stick to my medications than to drink or have too much fun. And if you have any other friends with mental health issues please don’t pressure them too much into hanging out. Please be a good friend and understand that medications and compliance is the first step to healing. 

Compliance ensures we have a better quality of life. 

Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall…

You watch me
Wipe my tears away
Tear-stained kerchief
Lone star on the field.
You watch me
Apply extreme black mascara
Glittery eye shadow
Concealing puffy, red lids.
You watch me
And you’re silent
Don’t you know
That silence is consent…

You watch me
Spread a soothing layer
Of warm, vanilla cream
Atop my fading scars.
You watch me
Examine fingernail scratches
The sad evidence
To hellish dreams.
You watch me
And still, you’re silent
How could you?
Silence is consent…

You watch me
Don a pair of jeans
As I silently hope
For it to be alright.
You watch me
Comb through my hair
As I try to embrace
Another day of struggle.
You watch me
In absolute silence
If you only knew
That silence is consent…

You watch me
Swallow another pill
And you know deep down
It won’t fix anything.
You watch me
Smother on lipstick
Trying to feel pretty
When all I feel is self-hate.
You watch me
And you’re silent
Mirror on the wall,
Silence is consent…