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.

Powered by Gatorade

‘It’s just another fight I’m going to have to learn how to win, that’s all. I’m just going to have to keep smiling.’
-Serena Williams

Professional tennis player, Serena, has been ranked World No. 1 in singles on six separate occasions. What makes her success so remarkable, is not so much her victories, but her drive to win. She has become the definition of effort; a constant, undeniable determination. Her name has become synonymous with excellence. No obstacles, nor haters have stopped her. She plays to win.

Recently, I have been hospitalized for a week. I was experiencing a severe panic attack and my mind resorted to suicidal thoughts. Battling anxiety isn’t easy, and after a fifteen-minute, painful battle, I picked up the phone and reached out for help. I called my doctor and a close family member. I am lucky enough to have a great support system and I was taken to the hospital where I stayed for a while to be monitored and have my medications adjusted.

I spent some lonely hours in the emergency unit of the hospital in a room with nothing but a bed and bare walls. It gave me a lot of quiet time to calmly reflect and think about life, my choices and decisions; past, present and future. As I was thinking, the nurse handed me a big bottle of orange Gatorade to keep me hydrated. I was slowly sipping from the bottle when I saw Serena, in all of her glory, on the Gatorade label. Suddenly, Serena was my only connection to the outside world, as no cellphones or visitors are allowed on the unit. I thought about her image. I thought about her love of sports and her determination to go all the way. I thought about her willpower and her strength; how she never gives up. I thought of the battles she’s been through, her injuries, her haters; and yet she still fiercely plays and goes for the goal. She is not only an image in the sports’ world, but as a woman I admire her immensely. Her attitude and determination is what earned her a total of 22 Grand Slams. And when she says that it’s her hard work that made her a champion, I believe her. It’s not luck that has brought her this far.

We, Serena and I, play different games. I battle my own mind and strive to conquer my anxiety and negative thoughts. I aim for the championship. I want those 22 Grand Slams. And suddenly, right there on my hospital bed, I realized that it takes hard work, determination, and a willpower made of unbreakable steel. If I’m going to wait for my good luck to kick in, I will spend every other week in the hospital for another anxiety episode or panic attack. I stared at that black and white image and engraved it in my head. I engraved Serena’s message. Victories don’t come easy, but they are worth it. Serena is an inspiration to so many, and maybe one day, if I’m lucky enough my battles will inspire someone also. 

I embraced all the love and support I received and let my doctors help me, because this was the first step in my journey to stardom. And from here and on, I play to win. 

Thank you, Serena Williams. And thank you, Gatorade. (You know, just for keeping me hydrated.) 

Hope. Do Not Give Up.

I’d like to introduce you to the driving force in my life. Meet hope.

I haven’t realized what an important role hope played, until I’ve hit rock bottom and attempted suicide. Only when hope was lost and there was nothing left to save me, have I learned that hope is life in itself. 

Hope – to me – is going to bed every night at bedtime despite me knowing full well that I’m probably not going to sleep. It is getting out of bed in the morning, getting dressed and going out to face the day. It is giving my medication another shot, hugging myself after beating myself up, smiling at myself in the mirror, daring to dream of a brighter future, reaching out for help, speaking to my doctor, simple acts of caring for myself, and the list is so much longer. Hope – to me – is life.

It isn’t easy. In fact, it is a hellish road. It is a lot easier to bang my fists on the table, throw a tantrum and then give up. It’s so much easier to keep my eyes closed in the morning and pretend the sun hasn’t come up. Instead of going through the process of finding the right medication, which isn’t a lot of fun, I’d much rather turn a blind eye to reality and forget about medications, doctors and side effects. And yet, I still fight. For despair and losing hope is dangerous. To me, hope has become a matter of life and death. For when hope is lost, and there’s nothing left to hold onto, thoughts spiral out of control. The next step? Suicide.

It isn’t easy to hold onto a small, almost-extinguished, light when life punches you in the face. My brain is constantly in overdrive, thinking so fast and so much. I’m pretty sure if brains could suffer from heart attacks, I’d have a brain attack. The demons living in me are wrestling me and constantly knocking me over. The light at the end of the tunnel is merely a dream. Still, I will listen when my heart whispers in the language of hope. Because hope is life. And I will choose to live every single day. 

When hope is lost there is nothing else left to live for. Yes, hope is the driving force of life. Hope is what has kept me going for the past year, through all of my painful struggles. And when I lost it, it only made me realize how precious it is. And even through my setbacks, crying and screaming, I still hope. I learned to understand that those setbacks are a part of the recovery process and as long as I don’t give up, I can allow myself to take a break sometimes. A break is okay. Giving up, quitting and losing hope is not.

And so, I dare to dream. One day, things will be okay and I will be in a better place. For now? Now… I hope. And you? You should hope too… This too shall pass. And light shall come soon enough. 

Cheers! To hope! 

Recovery and Potato Chips

Recovery is a journey. Yet, no map or compass is provided to aid in this journey. I, alone, have to figure out each morning the steps I will be taking that day. I have to decide on the supplies I’d like to carry with me as I’m trekking; and leave the unnecessary behind. 

Setbacks happen. Because logic. And sometimes those missteps are overwhelming and affect my ability to see how far I’ve come on my journey. Setbacks make me believe that I am at the starting point all over again. They make me believe that fighting isn’t worth it; that my effort in holding on is futile. I forget that I am so much less suicidal today than I was six months ago. I forget that when I am feeling suicidal I am so much stronger now in fighting those thoughts. I forget that I used to be in the ER every other night for anxiety and severe PTSD symptoms. I forget. I forget. I forget. 

And when setbacks are overwhelming all I want to do is curl up in a ball, stay in bed and just cry until my tears run dry. And sometimes, I do just that. Like yesterday. I was depressed and angry at myself that my schedule became messed up again. I’ve worked hard to keep a schedule and trying to adjust to my meds. And yesterday, sleep wouldn’t come and at that moment, that meant my hard work was pointless.

I stayed in bed all day, ate two family sized bags of potato chips, didn’t shower or brush my teeth and delayed my medication intake by a few hours. Not good. Not good. Not good. 

I woke up this morning feeling horrible. I figured I might as well stay in bed another day and have another bag of potato chips. As I was debating the idea, I remembered how far I’ve come in my journey and the small successes I’ve celebrated each day. I remembered my old self and the newer one who incorporates coping skills to the best of her ability. I remembered the warrior in me, the obstacle fighter, the mountain climber, the untrodden path hiker. Real hikers pause their journey too sometimes. They set up their tents for the night and resume when they feel recharged. I must not let my bad choices of yesterday influence my choices of today. I will accept my yesterday because it’s part of my recovery. It is a part of my journey; my life. 

One day I will tell the world how two bags of potato chips made me realize that setbacks are ok and I can fight again tomorrow. 

I ain’t giving up that easy. My journey is important to me. Setbacks and all. And I am slowly learning to make new and better choices each day. 

Safety First!

During my first hospital stay in NYC, I was given numerous worksheets daily in regards to mental health. There was one for coping skills, another one for thought patterns and yet another one tracking behavioral responses. It was my adult version of homework. But unlike my school homework which I despised, I found those exercises engaging, thought provoking and extremely helpful.

My most important worksheet was my safety plan. In my safety plan, I identified my triggers, my stressors and helpful methods for dealing with anxiety. It also listed contact information for supportive friends and mental health professionals. I reviewed the worksheet with my professional team and had it officially nominated as my safety plan. For a while, even after I was released from the hospital, I kept this worksheet close by so I can refer to it should the need arise. 

Whenever an anxiety-triggering emotion rose to the surface, I tried to engage in one of the soothing activities I had listed or call one of my friends to talk about it. Slowly, one baby step at a time, I have learned to override those dangerous thoughts. My safety plan is in the drawer now, instead of being out, but I still call my friends to ask for support. The importance of having a support system can sometimes mean the difference between life and death. I am grateful to all of my wonderful friends who have been there for me and continue to do so. All of you are my safety plan. 

And to all of you, think about your safety plan. Not because you’re in danger, but, because it’s important to remember what our triggers and stressors are and what we can do about it. It’s important to know who the supportive friends in our life are and to whom we can reach out if we need to. The friends who are there for you in your tough times are your true friends. Love them, appreciate them and let them know how much they mean to you. They are your support network. They are your safety plan.

To all of my supportive friends, safety begins with teamwork, so thank you for being a part of my team. 

And you? You are the key to your own safety. Don’t let anything or anyone ruin or steal that key. Take care of that key, keep it in a safe place, nourish it, treat it nicely and remember your importance. 

Solving The Mystery

Mystery creates wonder. And wonder is the basis of a man’s desire to understand. -Neil Armstrong 

The human mind likes solving puzzles and that is why we enjoy mystery so much. The mysterious comes with a unique thrill that is stimulating, exciting and will draw us in. And that is precisely why mystery novels are one of the most popular read genres. It is the reason why so many will spend hours on a crossword puzzle. There is always something fresh and thrilling on a clean, white sheet of paper for writers. 

Yet, in addition to the exciting and thrilling side of mysteries, there is also an element of fear; the first day of school, the first step of a journey and the first day on the job. Then there’s the part where we say, “that is so weird.” We look at the things that are unfamiliar, analyze and then come to the conclusion that because it’s different, it must be odd.

Since my initial diagnosis of anxiety and depression, I have become an object of mysterious wonder to many people. I’ve seen the thrilling component; that exciting determination of I will figure this one out. And I’ve seen the fear; the I’m not sure I want to do this, it might be contagious look. And I’ve also been branded as weird and rather odd. 

What we don’t know becomes a mystery. And mysteries are different and strange. But mental illness should never be the object of anyone’s fear and shouldn’t be considered odd. People suffering from mental illness are people just like anyone else and they deserve to be treated as such. 

Dealing with anxiety, depression and PTSD hasn’t made me lose my personality. I still enjoy listening to a good song as a means of winding down, I still like to write poetry so I can reflect on my thoughts and I am still funny and witty sometimes. I get sad sometimes and I cry; I also get really happy and excited sometimes. Just like you. And you. And you. We are not different as a people, we only fight a different battle. 

Fortunately, though, we live in a world where mental illness is becoming more and more talked about. There are so many different resources that discuss and teach about different aspects of mental health. If someone in your life is in any way affected by a mental disorder, do them a favor and educate yourself. Firstly, because there should be no fear or panic associated with mental illness. The more you know and understand a subject, the more comfortable you are being around that subject. Also, admittedly, because as humans we want to be treated as such; we are not a thrill or a matter up for research and discussion. And most importantly, let the odd apply to three-legged aliens. When you will learn more about mental illness and how it affects us, you will realize that if you look past our struggles, we are just people trying to live life to the best of our abilities. 

Recently, we had some guest over for the weekend. After the house quieted down and most people went to bed, I struck up a conversation with one of the guys. While we were chatting, my suicidal attempt somehow got mentioned. That seemed to have piqued his interest, for he soon had loads of questions as to how and why and where and what. When his curiosity was finally sated he found it perfectly fine to tell me that my story is the weirdest story he’s heard by far. Weird? You find a suicidal attempt weird? Is that the word you use to describe depression, anxiety and mental illness? Weird is the last adjective that comes to my mind in relation to suicide; sad, depressing or inspirational seem to fit better. When you use the term weird you don’t only hurt me, you hurt all of us suffering from mental illness. And by saying that, you state how poorly educated you are. 

Why am I writing about this? To tell all of you, that we are not weird and we don’t have to be a mystery. If there is something that puzzles you in regards to mental health, please do some research before you make assumptions. We don’t have to be feared. No, mental illness is not contagious and we are generally not violent. Honestly, we are also not very thrilling; in fact, we might be depressing sometimes. 

One out of four people is affected by a mental health condition here in the US. That is a lot. And that means that the chance of you interacting with one of them is very high. And that is why it is important for all of us to educate ourselves on this subject. Because knowledge replaces fear. And if you know it, it isn’t weird or exciting anymore; it becomes a mundane reality. So, read up on it because educating yourself about those illnesses is really the foundation of support.

There you go. Mystery solved. 

Let’s Meet on the Road to Recovery

I am currently in the process of healing, having been through several suicidal attempts due to my anxiety and depression. Recovery is a rather slow course and a long road. Yet, each day I am one step closer to my final goal. I say it is a long road because sometimes I fall back. They say, old habits die hard. And they’re right. It is hard to tackle stress when the only coping mechanism my brain knows is suicidal thoughts. Still, I don’t let those instances of relapse define me. I am patiently teaching my mind and heart new and healthy strategies on how to cope with pain.

I know what despair feels like; I’ve been there not too long ago. And, nobody should ever have to feel what darkness is like. That is why I am writing. I have launched this blog to talk about the bittersweet and to spread awareness. In no way though, is this in place or instead of professional help from a trained or licensed individual. 

I am profoundly touched and honored when people come forward and tell me that I have made a difference. Even more so, when it is the people in pain who reach out; for I know their world and I know what strength it takes to break the silent and isolated suffering. Yes, it is for those of you that I write. I want to give that secluded world of heartache a voice; the voice it so deserves. Furthermore, I want to encourage you to take a step out of that world, reach out and ask for help.

But, I am not -and cannot be- in place of professional help. I am not a trained professional. I am not a licensed therapist. I do not have a PhD in psychology. Nor do I know you or your life-story. There is no way for me to know what makes you tick and what triggers you. Thus, I will say that asking me for professional advice is not a good idea. I am not in a position to give you that. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reach out. You should. But please, reach out to someone who can help you; someone professional who will guide you through the ups and downs of mental illness. If you tell a therapist that you are thinking of hurting yourself he/she is mandated to alert the proper authorities and together they can work out a plan of care that works for you. So many wonderful and caring professionals are willing to assist you in your journey if you only allow them.

I am in recovery myself and I cannot allow myself to be dragged back into those dark places. I cannot afford to be triggered into destructive behavior again. I want to be a good friend and be here for everyone; but first myself.

Reach out to someone trained and professional who can help you with real, solid advice. Get started on the road to recovery and we can meet there.