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.

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 ABC’s of Coping with Mental Illness

Life with mental illness can get tough. In fact, most days are spent trying to figure out what the next moment will bring and how to survive it. Sometimes, it is hard to maintain balance and not get knocked over in the process; and it is equally hard to remind ourselves that our temporary letdowns don’t define us. Indeed, it is easy to get caught up in overwhelming despair. For those moments, I have created an alphabetical list of motivational and inspirational quotes to help me get up, put things in perspective, reapply my mascara, and face the world.

I have a little notebook in which I record any positive affirmations or words of courage I come across. I also keep a mental jar of happy quotes in my head. And for the rough times, you ask? When I don’t even have the strength, and focus to access that jar? That is when this list comes in handy. I pinned it on the bulletin board in my room, so I can refer to it at any given moment. I can always pick one and remind myself that:

A – A ship is always safe at shore, but that is not what it’s built for.

Ships are meant for sailing the sea, even if that means hitting a storm. Don’t be afraid of taking risks or failure. The biggest failure is to stay put.

B – Broken crayons still color.

No matter what happened today, you’re still worth it. No matter what brings you down, you are unique and still add something special to this universe.

C – Collect moments; not things.

Live in the moment. Don’t think tomorrow or yesterday.

D – Don’t promise when you’re happy, don’t reply when you’re angry, and don’t decide when you’re sad.

Negative emotions don’t last forever. It’s always a good idea to think twice before making an impulsive decision based on anger or depression.

E – Every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day.

Find the little things; a child’s smile or vanilla ice cream. Just remember that there is something good in every day.

F – Failure is a great teacher, and, if you are open to it, every mistake has a lesson to offer.

It’s ok to make a mistake. And to make the same mistake again. And again. Eventually you will figure it out, learn, and grow.

G – Gardens are not made by sitting in the shade.

Yes, today is hard. But good things don’t come easy. Think instant coffee or freshly brewed real coffee.

H – Healing takes courage, and we all have courage, even if we have to dig a little to find it.

Give yourself another day, another chance. You will find your courage eventually. Don’t give up on yourself just yet.

I – If you stumble, make it part of the dance.

Find the beauty at the bottom of the pit. Maybe it’s making a new friend, learning something new, or discovering a new hobby.

J – Just when the caterpillar thought her life was over, she began to fly.

You never know where the uphill path begins. It might just begin right now.

K – Keep your love of nature, for that is the true way to understand art more and more.

Take time to relax and appreciate natural beauty. You’ll be surprised what a positive impact nature can have on your wellbeing, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

L – Let bygones be bygones.

Yesterday happened. And it’s gone now. There’s nothing that we can do that will change it. Let it go and think of the here and now.

M – Magic is believing in yourself. If you can do that, you can make anything happen.

Sometimes this is the hardest thing about mental illness; believing in ourselves. But close your eyes and think of yourself as a magical princess who can conquer anything. Believe in your inner strength and beauty.

N – Negative people don’t need to be defeated. They defeat themselves with their negative attitude.

Sometimes we get caught up in our negative thoughts and dire predictions which end up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Slow down, and fill your head with positive thoughts.

O – Of all things which wisdom provides to make life entirely happy, much the greatest is the possession of friendship.

This is probably the thing that helps me most in my struggles; friendship. It really helps to have someone with who you can laugh about your struggles and cry about it too. Remember, it is ok to reach out for help.

P – Pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever.

Today is tough. And maybe tomorrow too. But in a week from now things will be looking up. If you quit today you won’t get to next week. Hold on tight.

R – Rain makes the sun shine brighter.

Only when we’re in the low, we learn to appreciate the precious moments of feeling better. And remember, there is no rainbow without the rain.

S – Start writing. No matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.

Writing is an amazing tool that can help sort out difficult emotions. It’s your journal entry, simply write how you feel in the present moment. There is no right or wrong.

T – Tough times don’t last; tough people do.

Be the winner. Don’t allow the tough times to win over you. Show them you’re tougher.

U – United we stand.

Reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of strength. When it gets tough, ask for help.

V – Victory belongs to the most persevering.

Your perseverance will get you very far. We each have our own finish line so don’t compare your journey to others’.

W – Whatever you do, never run back to what broke you.

Sometimes, chaos feels normal so we recreate chaos in our lives, repeatedly. But once we realize that there is no benefit in doing that, we can move on from what breaks us.

Y – Yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s games.

Each day is a new battle, yet each day also holds promises of sweet victories.

 

This list is on the wall in my bedroom and is easily accessible when I need a quick, motivational reminder. I will always find at least one line that I can connect to. Keep this list handy; your room, your wallet, your desk; wherever you may need a loving reminder that you are not alone and that you are strong.

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.

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.

 

 

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.