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.

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!

I Am Not Perfect

I am human. And yes, I have faults too. Yet, unlike my friends, my faults are obvious and up for discussion as I suffer from mental illness. 

One of my toughest issues is learning how to navigate relationships. Friends are important to me, as mental illness can sometimes make me feel isolated and alone. Unfortunately, though, it is hard to be my friend. Trust me, I’ve tried. 

My friends reading this will know what I mean. They will know, as they have continually been shut out. They have to deal with rejection every day. They have to listen to my fifteen minute rants a dozen times daily telling them why we shouldn’t be friends. This behavior is in direct contradiction to my statement above that friends are important to me. I know. 

One of the toughest issues I battle is extreme fear of abandonment and rejection. Every time I suspect that I might be rejected, most of the time it’s based on irrational assumptions, I will begin a frantic effort to ensure that I am not being rejected. I will ramble about my horrible personality and how nobody will ever be there for me, until my friends will reassure me that I am not horrible and they’re glad to be here for me. Some of you might think of it as manipulative behavior; but it is not. At that moment in time, I am unable to clear my brain of those thoughts. My body enters a fight or flight mode as it has encountered danger; rejection. And the only response I know is to reassure myself that there is no danger. 

The problem? Nobody wants to spend their days reassuring again and again. And yet again. It gets tiring, boring and burdensome. After hearing three times a day of what a horrible person their friend is, everybody starts getting fed up. And after being pushed away for too many times, everybody begins liking it and stays. 

Now, my fear of abandonment renders destructive behavior which causes rejection. The fear of rejection is then intensified and the destructive behavior continues at an even more aggressive pace. See? 

Being my friend is nearly impossible. My brain works on overdrive. Every statement a friend makes is dissected and analyzed a thousand times. I will sometimes respond to statements three days later when my friends have long forgotten what they’ve said. 

Why am I writing this? First, as a note of gratitude to my friends for still being around. Thank you. Your efforts haven’t gone unnoticed and I appreciate it and it means so much to me. Also, I am writing this to explain to them where this behavior stems from. I am not trying to say that this behavior is excusable. All I am saying is that I am trying my best to work on changing my behavior. I am training my brain to shut those niggling thoughts out. I’m teaching myself coping skills and better ways to deal with my fear of rejection.

Thank you for bearing with me. Even with my faults. And a piece of advice, it’s ok to tell me when I’m too much. 

Nobody is perfect. Not even me.