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‘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.) 

New Dawn, New Day, New Life.

My bad choices
Of yesterday
Mustn’t influence
My choices of today
I can’t allow myself
To spiral downward
Because I slipped and fell.
If I follow the line
Of the past
Death would be
My middle name
If I let the past reign
I become the oppressed
In a dictatorship
Needing to be overthrown.
I will make new choices
Today and tomorrow
Begin a revolution,
Break the cycle.
Because I can,
Because I want!

My Linear Equation

I smell the white chalk dust, which I hear
Against the board, and the sound of pencils moving fast
Against paper.
I hear her voice in the distance, still
My body is confined to a blue plastic chair; my cell
And a wooden desk.
My mind is at the vanity mirror this morning.
I think she talks of grids, and while my peers
Chart it out on graph paper
In their notebooks
I remember the razor blades and dried up blood
And the charted graph I have on my arm
As proof.
I’m wearing a navy blue, cotton shirt; its sleeves covering the gauze
And it hides my well-kept secret.

Quiet.
Why has she stopped talking? Does she know?
She wants to confirm I’m following.
Yes, ma’am
I understand every word, term, and concept
I’ve got parallel lines and perpendicular too
I know how to graph and how to read charts.
Only yours is in pencil,
And mine is blood.

 

 

Friends Through Hell

Life is not easy as a person suffering from mental illness. There’s so many ups and downs and I never know which is better, the up part or the down. Each one comes with its own trials and tribulations.
Yet, today I’d like to do a shoutout to our many friends. This is for all of you who watch us suffer, grow, heal and fall back down. Thank you for being there with us in our hell and for teaching us how to fly when we forget how to use our wings.
Good friends are priceless. And I’ve learned that sometimes they make all the difference in my mental health.

I gulped down a can
Of bright, red paint
Its color was 100 mph
So the label said
And it was true…

For I felt it cascading
Down my throat
Filling each crevice
And chink and dent
Millions of em; who knew?

I was a walking sculpture
Of bloodied hell
Fireworks, explosions
Red pain searing
Blistering; grueling view.

And you stood by me
Walked through the blaze
Cleared the smoke
Focused on a vision
The whole way through…

Artistry and skill
And so much goodwill
A heart that’s made of gold
With kind precision
Transformed the red statue.

Brush strokes of kin
Added gloss to red paint
And sketched roses
Bordeaux wine, maraschino
An image brand new…

I swallowed red paint
But maybe it’s not all bad
Who said red’s solely hellish
Maybe it is a brother
For I know it’s friendship too!

We Are As Sick As Our Secrets

I was in my therapist’s office, silently biting my lip, fidgeting my feet and terror in my eyes. My therapist has hit a raw nerve, a wound that wasn’t fully healed yet. Something I have shut down and did not allow myself to feel. 

As soon as the secret compartment in my heart was knocked on, I was on high alert. My fears were rising. To me, my emotions were secret. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Slowly, my emotions were eating away at my inner linings, making me feel so much more insane. The more I fed my fears and secrets, the more they thrived… creating a monster so big and all the while making me so sick. 

My therapist kindly and slowly probed, trying to figure out what has set me off; why I’ve shut down and refused to talk. When I told him that I am afraid of my secrets being out in the open, of being shamed and rejected, he said this, “We are as sick as our secrets.”

That statement was the most powerful statement of my life in the past three years. I have learned that when I lock up my fears, emotions and depressive or manic episodes, I am allowing myself to be defined by my disorders. And I don’t have to be defined by it. I am so much better and so much stronger than my conditions. But when it’s a secret and I carry it alone I am as sick as my secrets. 

Yes, my fear of rejection is very big. And when I share what I am going through with you, I am afraid that you will shut me out, knock me down or make fun of me. But the risk of me keeping it inside and allowing it to take up space in my heart is far greater. So, I have taught myself to become vulnerable and open up and share my secrets. Because only together can we destroy them. Only together can we learn to fight the demons and together we can reduce and eliminate the shame and fear that comes with exposing our secrets. And when I let you in on one, I know I will never be as sick as any secret, disorder or mental condition.

Keeping those dark secrets also saps our energy from us. When all the energy is needed to fight the mental illness, depression and anxiety, we can not afford to have our little amount of energy going into keeping a secret. When there is no benefit to it, only self harm.

If you are a friend I open up to, accept and respect my vulnerability. I have chosen to be stronger than the devil in me. Validate that. No matter how you feel about it. You don’t have to give advice or share your opinion. All I expect is just for you to validate the fact that I have shared something that has been eating away at me. Acknowledge my strength. After you have done that, you can ask me what I expect. I am open and honest. Ask me whether I just wanted to share or if I want advice. Ask me if I want help and if so how you can be of help. If I tell you that I need help and it’s something you can’t do, please tell me. I appreciate your listening and honesty and I’ll know that I can always come back even just to talk.

And to all of you carrying heavy baggage in your heart. It’s time to rise up and be stronger than your sickness. It’s time to grow and to stop leading a life defined by our secrets. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Open up to a good friend. Share your fears. Talk to your therapist. Because you know what? We are as sick as our secrets. 

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. 

Self Destruction

Some days are spent looking at my reflection in the mirror trying to make sense of what I’m seeing. When I see my scars, bruises and scabbing wounds, I know that I don’t recognize myself anymore. When I see the unkempt hair and bloodshot eyes, I know that I am no longer me. 

And not knowing who I am and where I’m headed to, is the scariest and most frightening thought to me. More than anything else I’ve had to deal with as a result of my depression. 

This is a poem I wrote after a particularly rough night. 

My hair is in my face, And my heart’s beating fast, My pajamas stick to my skin, And my breath smells of smoke.

I can still feel the Chardonnay, Rushing through my blood, And my mind a fuzzy ball, Of lint, attracting more dust.

My skin’s a bloody battlefield, But you wouldn’t understand, My body isn’t mine, Yet I don’t know whose it is.