Anxiety in Words

Go away!
Why are you leaving me?
Come back, 
and stay with me.
You’re too loud
and it hurts my ears.
Will you please quit yelling?
Why are you so quiet?
Please talk to me.


I’m tired.
I want to go to bed.
Why can’t I fall asleep?
I’m counting sheep,
so why am I focused on the wolf?
I don’t want to wake up in a sweat.
I don’t want to dream,
because my dreams are always nightmares.
So, why go to sleep?

Everything hurts me;
it hurts to exist.
Hold me close,
and wrap your arms around me.
Don’t touch me!
leave me alone.
And no, I don’t want to talk about it.

Turn the music up,
and I’ll lose myself in the lyrics.
I don’t understand…
Music is for happy people,
so shut it.
I don’t want to fake a smile.
But I also don’t want
to have my real emotions on display.

I want to cry.
Instead, I laugh really hard.
I hate people,
but I want to be accepted.
I know I should be the one
who accepts myself.
But it hurts to be
in my own head.

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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 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.

 

 

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. 

Let’s Be Stigma Free

Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all. – Bill Clinton 

And yet, three out of four people suffering from mental illness report to be experiencing the stigma associated with mental illness. There is no denying that the stigma is out there. Fortunately, society is slowly gaining more awareness of mental health. Still, the stigma isn’t completely gone; it’s merely lurking in the shadows.

I have repeatedly encountered stigma myself. I’ve watched people change their attitudes towards me as they find out I take medication for my mental illness. I’ve had to deal with rejection and being shamed by the people closest to me. I witnessed the eye roll accompanying the word crazy; and the ease with which people label and classify others. Truth be told, it did not make me feel better. In fact, it has stopped me from coming forward and reaching out for help when needed for fear of the reaction. It has made me feel guilty, ashamed and second class. And it shouldn’t have.

The toughest battle I have to deal with, though, is self stigma. Unfortunately, people with mental illness are aware of the stereotypes about them. Knowing those stereotypes, has made me very self conscious, which means from awareness it has gone to internalization. The more those stereotypes, generalizations and misconceptions are internalized, the more my self esteem plummets. And when self esteem is low, it is a lot harder to reach out for help when needed. 

It’s hard for me to talk about stigma when every day is spent judging myself and beating myself up for what I’m not. It’s almost foolish to expect people not to judge when I degrade myself in my own heart. Sadly, though, self stigma is a direct result of public stigma. 

Dear friend, I’m writing to both of us today – you and me. I will work harder to accept myself for who I am, with my flaws. I will reach out for help when I need it. I promise not to let the stigma get the better of me. And please, in turn, don’t judge. Accept, respect and don’t expect. Educate yourself and try to get rid of those negative beliefs. Every single person makes a difference in fighting the stigma. You. And me.

Let’s bust the stigma.