MHAM Post #19: A Great Friend

Today is officially the last day of May… wow. This month and this project have flown by! I’m not entirely sure if today will be the definitive end point of my Mental Health Awareness Month posts (also more to come about an upcoming project soon), but I did save this post for the “last day” for a reason. 

This piece is written by a good friend of mine who chooses to be anonymous (~corporate jobs ya know~). Like I’ve said before though, I think each of these posts has so much weight, regardless of whether or not they have a specific name attached. 

This month has been all about speaking up, sharing your unique experiences, and feeling more understood in the process. I love this post because it encompasses just that. 

The writer shares her journey with her mental health and how she found her voice over time. I really feel that her struggles and her silence are so perfectly described in a way that we call all identify with, and her end points help to bring it all full circle.

Here it isssssssssssssss:

“I’ve always envied people who sleep easily. Their brains must be cleaner, the floorboards of the skull well swept, all the little monsters closed up in a steamer trunk at the foot of the bed.” ― David Benioff, City of Thieves

As the pressure of performing well in college dug its way into my psyche, I began to sleep less and less. For three years, I managed. All-nighters are not unusual in college to cram for an exam or essay, and I could always reset my system once whatever was keeping me up was over. I never recognized it as an actual issue, and often fed my undiagnosed insomnia with cups of coffee and giant red bulls. I’d crash, sleep, and repeat.

But something changed senior year. Everything felt chaotic. After going abroad my spring semester junior year, I felt displaced amongst my friends and overwhelmed with what exactly I was going to do beyond the safe and secure bubble of a college town. I didn’t get either of the first two jobs I applied to, and the fear of failure was crushing me. Sleepless nights turned into sleepless weeks, and I couldn’t verbalize what was happening to me. No one wants to be sick their last semester senior year, but I was. Chronic insomnia is what they call a “co-morbid” condition (sounds a little dramatic, TBH), and often sits beside it’s ugly stepsisters, Anxiety and Depression. Pair that with a thyroid imbalance and a looming feeling of uncertainty, and you have a recipe for disaster.

I wouldn’t have gotten help on my own. I didn’t recognize any of my thoughts as harmful, or my actions as out of character, but my wonderful friends did. I am lucky to have had friends that recognized I was not okay, even when I couldn’t admit that to myself.

The most ironic thing about my experience, is that one of my majors was Communication Studies in college. You would think as a proficient writer who was enrolled in interpersonal communications and leadership classes – that focused on how to bridge gaps between different groups and personalities –  I would have these skills to tackle the crushing fear of failure. I studied the autism spectrum and learned how to communicate effectively with people that are seen as “other” and “different,” yet, when I felt like an outsider, I lost my voice. I couldn’t speak. The stigma crushed me. I was a happy-go-lucky senior, a fairly good student and super involved my college community. My friends know me as a loud, outgoing person. Yet when I had these sudden fears of not fitting in, or not getting a job that I pulled three back to back all-nighters to apply for, I lost my ability to articulate my feelings.

As illustrated through this blog, mental health is a tricky subject. We all have different coping mechanisms and ways out of the dark, and there’s no “one size fits all” solution. When I sat down to write this, I struggled for a while to articulate what truly happened to me senior year. I still struggle with insomnia, but feel very far removed from the way I felt three years ago. But if I learned anything from my experience, it’s that the stigma around mental health issues is pointless. I am glad that this blog gives us all a chance to air it out.

If you take anything from this post and this month, I want it to be those last two lines. The stigma IS (for lack of a better synonym lol) pointless. We are all just human. We all have good days and bad. We all have our struggles. By sharing what we’re going through, we can remind each other, and ourselves, that we are so far from alone. 

Also, check out this writer on Tumblr here: @todayitwasalltheearth (it’s filled with awesome poems/words/art!!)


MHAM Post #18: Kelsey

With the long weekend that just passed, I wanted to wait to share this post until today, when I knew people would be back to their everyday schedules and more likely to read it (it’s just that good).

The writer of this piece is, again, someone I was introduced to through a friend. Her name is Kelsey and, although we don’t know each other in real life, I feel genuinely connected to her after reading her words.

As cliche as it may sound, Kelsey’s writing truly makes you understand what it feels like to be a part of the roller coaster ride that is her dad’s mental health and addiction struggles. 

My favorite thing about this piece is how well it shows that people’s experiences can impact their loved ones mental health too. 

It’s heart-felt and heart-breaking all at once, and I’m pumped to share it here:  

My dad is my hero. He is my favorite person in the whole, entire universe. We have the same humor, we have the same cackle, and we have the same antsiness when it comes to scheduling/agendas. Our hobbies together include: Watching Family Guy, making terrible, bologna sandwiches (drenched in too much Oscar Meyer, mustard) and taking midday naps in a shitty, box-fanned vortex, with our two, unruly Irish Setters.

My dad is a Clinical Social Worker.
And he’s damn good at what he does.

I’ve listened-in on countless, midnight phone calls, convincing his clients to “make it” or “hold on” until tomorrow. My dad would repeat: “Phil, you won’t feel like this tomorrow- It might not be any better, it might only feel slightly different. But I’ll guarantee you: It won’t feel the same.”

Dad would take a few minutes, nodding/listening to the distraught man on the other end, “Phil, call me in the morning. Promise me you’ll be around.” And just like that, Dad and I would continue our movie night, no comments/questions needed. Phil would call 6am tomorrow morning.

On the weekends, we’d go to garage sales so dad could, “Buy Richard a table for his Birthday,” because Richard didn’t own any furniture. We would take a pit stop, on the way to the grocery store, so dad could “Give Janice a pack of cigarettes, and a Snickers, so she’d make it through the week.” Always something.  

He’s my hero.
But he wasn’t always.

I found out my dad had a problem in 2005, when I was in 8th grade. Through Mom’s crying, through selling our home, and through a short-lived divorce, I found out that my dad had another talent.

My dad is addicted to Poker.
And he was damn good at what he did.

Until he wasn’t.

We lost a lot that year. My parents decided that restarting (again) in Idaho was the best option. In turn, we watched my dad like a hawk, and Dad attended Gamblers Anonymous Meetings (G.A.). Out of guilt, Dad encouraged mom to be a stay-at-home mom. In turn (because her babies weren’t in need of this role), Mom reconnected with her good friend, wine cooler.

Looking back, I never recall being sad. My parents were always dysfunctional. My dad always worked a lot, and mom always drank. Just how it was.

By 2014, Dad had stopped going to G.A. Meetings, and Mom was Mom (that’s another story, for another time). Dad was working later nights. He was gone more weekends. He was on-edge, stressed from working On-Call at the hospital. I loved my Dad, but he was definitely a different person than he was in 2005. But I understood. Mom wasn’t working. He needed the extra cash. I’d pitch in when I could. I would let him borrow $200 here, $300 there. I’d let him put groceries on my credit card.

Regardless, I was proud.
Dad had stopped playing poker.

Until he didn’t.

In summer of 2014, we found out Dad had never actually been working nights, or going to Hospital seminars over the weekends. Dad was never borrowing money for groceries… Dad’s friend, John cracked one day when Mom cornered him. “John. Where’s Steve? And don’t you dare lie to me.” John whimpered, “He’s at a casino in northern Idaho. He will tell you he’s in Vegas, but he’s not. Someone needs to drive and get him…”

Dad finally called, after ignoring our calls for 3 days. “Jan. I messed up. It’s bad.”

Over the last year, Dad had gambled away an unspeakable amount of money. He took money from my Brother and I to count cards, and he maxed out our credit cards. I thought, “Kelsey…How could you be so blind?”

That was just the beginning.

We also found out that Dad had been abusing opioids. He had been addicted for the last 7 years. My Brother and I knew that Dad would pop an anxiety pill here and there… but we didn’t realize the dosage, or frequency, or how bad it really was.

Wasn’t it normal to take an anxiety pill, every once in awhile?

With his new job in Boise, insurances/doctors had changed, and Dad no longer had the “Doctor, Homie-Hook-Up.” Dad went off these drugs cold turkey. In turn, Dad went crazy. In 2014, Dad started going through Acute, Opiate Withdrawal Syndrome. (It’s now 2017. He isn’t any better.)

Dad stopped being any form of my Dad. His “Family Guy humor” stopped, his cackle stopped, and he spent most of his time in the room of vortex fans, sleeping. His hands shook. He preferred to sit alone, instead of goofing with his kids.

Recently here in 2017, Dad tried to explain this chemical imbalance/withdrawal syndrome to my Aunt. “It feels like I’m going to jump out of my skin. And I have a hard time with day-to-day tasks. The thought of shaving gives me high anxiety.” He continued with a story: One-day at work (before he realized how bad it was), Dad was counseling a couple. The couple was fighting in Spanish, and Dad couldn’t get a word in. Dad was patiently waiting for them to stop speaking Spanish, so he could help.

Turns out…

The couple was speaking English.

Later in the summer, Dad crashed the Prius. His reply to the accident was, “I wish it killed me.” That day Mom took Grandpa’s guns from the house.

A couple months after Dad fessed up about gambling, and beginning the journey of this new mental illness, Dad lost his job. They were losing the house. My brother broke his arm and lost his job as well. I was the only one in my family with a job, and I was just offered an internship at my dream job, outside Seattle.

One Saturday afternoon, while working in the Boise, Idaho Mall, I had a full-blown panic attack. I fell in the backroom at my store, chest pounding, not being able to breath. How could I leave to Seattle for this internship? “How dare I think about leaving them.”

My boss at the time (now Mentor, and who I consider a best friend), Meghan, found me defeated on the dust-bunny covered, cement floor. I’ll never forget the way she calmed me down. These were the conclusions she lead me to (took me until just now to finally accept):

-I can’t save my parents
-I can’t send them money (no matter how indirectly I’m asked)
-Mental illness is real
-Suicide is real; I can’t blame myself
-I can only focus on me, and my well being

 Because of this mind-set, I’ve accomplished so much more than I thought I could.

-I took my dream internship outside Seattle
-I became a Jr. Marketing Coordinator for the company
-I paid off my car (big win for me!)
-I dropped in on my first mini-ramp
-I received my Bachelors of Business Administration Degree
-I moved to California
-I became a Marketing Coordinator for another, kick-ass company
-I started volunteering for a dog rescue 

My dad rarely calls. When he does, and I see his caller ID, I think “Is he ok? Is he calling to say goodbye?”  This is the truth I live with.

We lost our house, and my childhood memorabilia, yearbooks, and Harry Potter action figures are stored in my best friend’s garage.  My parents are living pay-check-to-pay-check in a small, rental house. Mom finally got a job after 8 years. Dad is on unable to work, and is applying for disability. I haven’t been home in 8 months, and I’m honestly a little scared to.

However… When days are bad, and holidays away from Idaho feel extra heavy… I think back to when my dad helped Phil, on the phone all those nights…

“Kelsey…you won’t feel like this tomorrow- It might not be any better, it might only feel slightly different. But I’ll guarantee you: It won’t feel the same.”

MHAM Post #17: Someone I’m Lucky to Know

Sometimes you meet people that positively impact you when you’re least expecting it. That’s how I feel about the writer of this piece. 

When we first met, it felt easy from the start to share intimate details about each other. I told her about my family, and my fears, and my aspirations as if I had known her for years. 

When she told me that she was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, I actually felt more comfortable talking to her. Is that weird? For those of you who don’t know, my dad also has Borderline Personality Disorder. 

Getting to know this writer, in turn, helped me get to know my dad and for that I can’t thank her enough. 

Needless to say, her words are cool AF and I’m very lucky to share them here: 

Living with Borderline Personality Disorder is not beautiful.
Every day, it is fighting a battle every that I’m not sure I’m ever going to win.

Rewind seven years ago to when I was age 15. When I was first diagnosed. I was in a relationship with a male who physically and mentally abused me. One broken arm, scratched cornea, and a couple hospital visits later – I felt that I deserved it. I apologized for his mistakes, like the 6 times that he cheated on me. However, I was cheating on him as well… with multiple people both men and women. Living with borderline personality disorder is living with unstable relationships including the relationship that you have
with yourself.

For 8 years, I self-harmed. Attempting and thinking about suicide occurred very frequently. I felt that this was “normal” and when someone tried to tell me otherwise… it did not end well. My temper was out of control – one minute I would be cheerful and then the next, for whatever reason, I would be punching holes in walls and screaming things that never made
any sense. I have lost many friends due to my mental illness. Looking back on it now, I can understand why. I wasn’t a good friend and I wouldn’t have wanted to be my friend either. I was using the people around me for my own selfish reasons and I didn’t care. I was manipulating every single person in my life. When I was a senior in high school, one of my better friends committed suicide. As usual, no one saw it coming. I remember getting the news and feeling my heart break for the first time. This was a sadness I didn’t recognize. Being in a major depressive state was a constant in my life, but when this happened – it
was a sadness mixed with jealousy and confusion. I did not attend school for roughly 2 weeks after that. I wasn’t able to move. I remember my mom lied to my school and told them I was absent because I had mono. It was easier than explaining to them that I have BPD.

One of the biggest things that I personally face with BPD is dissociation. When I’m faced with certain situations in my life that trigger me to feel sad or nervous, I pretend like they don’t exist. I literally stop feeling and thinking about things entirely. I can’t control this and in turn, it has caused me to have an awful memory of even the good things that have
happened in my life. After I come out of a dissociative state, I often feel like I’ve grown into new skin. When I dissociate I leave everything about my life behind. I don’t talk to my friends, family, and I don’t leave my house. I don’t do anything. I’m just there physically but not mentally. Though my BPD is not as bad now as it used to be, every now and then I will dissociate. This has caused tremendous frustration with my college friends and it’s taken a lot of time to explain to them why I do this in order to help them better understand. If
there is one thing I have learned, it’s that BPD is a very confusing disease. You can never genuinely understand it unless you’re living with it. My family has supported me as best they can. However, I have an older brother who suffers from Bipolar 1 Disorder. He is also a heroin addict. Their focus has more so been on helping him throughout my life and in a twisted way, it’s actually helped me understand myself better.

College was my turning point. Freshman year I wasn’t necessarily in a good place because I didn’t have any friends and I dissociated a lot. Sophomore year, I decided to be an RA. I gained all these amazing and positive new people in my life. I also got into the nursing program at school because I realized that I wanted to help adolescents with mental illness. I wanted to be that person who was there for someone who felt alone – I wanted to help them understand that they are never alone no matte how alone they feel. Although I don’t know how it feels to be them, I want to try and understand. I know all too well how it feels to be misunderstood constantly. Junior year I was doing well. I stopped cutting and I dumped my loser abusive boyfriend (woohoo!) I had friends, true and genuine friends, for the first time in my entire life. I felt like I belonged somewhere. I fell in love with a woman. For the first time, I was in love…. and then senior year had its ups and downs. I got broken up with. That sent me into a depressive dissociative state. I started fucking around with a lot of people. Drinking too much. Almost… almost self-harmed again. I got to a really low point. Then I realized something: I have come so far since the beginning. I just recently graduated with my BSN in nursing. I have grown tremendously since I was that out of control 15-year-old girl. When I was at a low point… I wrote a poem:

That Unlovable Girl
I wonder when I will stop being “that girl”
That girl who had the bones in her wrists
severed by a boy with a thick temper
That girl who is into girls
That girl who is into guys
That girl who only fucks guys
That girl who is there,
palms open, ready to feed your loneliness
That girl who you have no intention of keeping,
but you still kiss her goodbye
That girl who fucked you as hard as she hated herself
That girl who swam on her back
through your bloodstream and decided to call it home

 “A day will come” my mother sighs,
“when you will find someone who knows how to love you”
That girl wonders how they know this,
where did they learn how to love her
Who taught them how to stitch every broken
piece of diamond back together
Where did they learn to dance with the chaos
that fills her raging and empathetic heart
Her quick wit and swollen fist full of apologies
“I promise you,” my mother says,
“every atom in your being will be enough.”

 My BPD has often caused me to feel unlovable. But I know that the only person who believes I am unlovable is myself. I now know that I am stronger than my mental illness. I will have days that totally suck, but I’m alive. Through everything, I am still fucking alive. My journey is to be cherished. Dark days are only dark if you believe they have to be. Paint your own fucking picture, write your own story, and know that whatever society tells
you is “wrong” with you – only makes you a whole lot brighter. Mental illness needs to be talked about more and the stigma needs to be broken. We are all compromised and we all have our own shit. I would be terribly boring without my mental illness. Who knows, I might wake up tomorrow and have a really shitty day; I might fall into a spiral. That’s okay though. I know the future is out here.

MHAM Post #16: Hope

I met Hope, the writer of this piece, when we were in middle school. We were, I don’t know, 14 maybe? To this day, I still remember how, when we first met, I thought she had it all together.

No one has it all together, obviously, that’s the whole point of these posts this month. But it’s just so interesting that you still can’t help but assume that about people sometimes. 

Hope has been one of my friends for a very long time now. She’s the kind of person who I used to spend every second of every day with, and I’d still never get sick of her. But even now, we can go months without talking, and the minute we do, it feels like we picked up right where we left off.

That’s something I really appreciate about her. I think there’s a kind of unspoken understanding between the two of us. We just know how each other’s brains work, like we’re on the same wave length or something. 

I know being vulnerable isn’t always Hope’s favorite thing, but I think she’s such a talented writer that I just had to ask for her help this month. She writes in a way that makes people who can’t understand, understand. That’s what I enjoy most about this piece. It’s not as much about specific experiences, as it is about making a concept make sense to others. 

I’m sure all of you will get as much out of this as I did. Check it out: 

I am not generally an open person. It takes a lot for even those I am closest with to truly get me to open up. In fact, I am having a hard time even writing this because of the sheer idea that someone who doesn’t know me will read this and I’ll be exposed in a very vulnerable way. But I have faith in the idea behind why I’m writing this and because of the fact that it might make even one person more comfortable with themselves, or help them realize that there are so many (normal) people who have these types of feelings/problems/issues – whatever you want to call it – that helps a little bit.

I found out about anxiety when I was much younger, although at the time I didn’t have the explanation for it that I do now. I do remember waking up suddenly in the middle of the night, not able to take a full breath, feeling like the walls were closing in. I remember feeling a terrible pit in my stomach, a feeling I have become quite familiar with, thinking that there must be something wrong but for some reason not being able to recognize just what I was so fearful of. I often feel that when people think of anxiety, they immediately associate that word simply with worry. I can’t tell you the frustrating amount of times I’ve been on the other end of, “Well why are you so worried? Just calm down.” If that was a viable solution, I would have been cured years ago! The best way that I can describe anxiety in my case (disclaimer: not the same for everyone) is an overwhelming sense of fear. It’s a fear in the worst way, because you’re not even sure what it’s really of, and in the rare case that I can pinpoint it, it’s usually something that I know in my brain isn’t valid, or even something that warrants this type of reaction. The part that separates anxious people from those who aren’t is that even though you know and can tell yourself you shouldn’t feel a certain way, it will never help or cause it to go away.

On good days, panic attacks are just a few minutes long, they’re slow to come on and I can recognize hours beforehand that they’re creeping their way up to the surface. On the worst day, my calcium levels spiked from breathing so hard and fast that my hands froze up in a weird position that resembles claws, my muscles in my face became paralyzed and my speech became slurred because my jaw went numb (my mom thought I was having a stroke and took me to the ER – a fun day). There are some days where my biggest success has been getting out of bed. There are periods when I go days or weeks being physically and emotionally exhausted from having constant feelings of anxiousness and depression all day, every day. It’s during those times that I can feel myself becoming disinterested and detached from everything around me because it’s so much easier to just go home and wait it out. *Note: I have found it hard to explain to someone that the reason you’re so tired is because of worrying so hard. Although it is a mental issue, the effects manifest themselves physically because your brain feels like it is on a constant treadmill of fear and worry. Something that may seem so minor to someone else, becomes a giant source of gut wrenching uneasiness, which branches into 100 different little anxieties which all bubble up until they become as horrible and thought consuming as the first.

There have been times when I was so scared to get on the train or in my car, I couldn’t go to work. I’ve counted down the seconds to leave a meeting because I know that for whatever reason, any second I might start hyperventilating and crying for no reason at all. It’s a terrible feeling when you have to explain to someone that you “just feel off” but have no good explanation as to why. What does that even mean? To someone else it may seem that I’m just feeling too lazy to carry through on our plans and am blowing them off. But to me, it means that at that moment, the only safe haven that I have is home because at least there I can curl up in a ball until I feel normal again.

In the grand scheme of things, I am so lucky to be who I am and have all that I have-my health, friends, family, the list goes on. In some moments, in the midst of a panic attack or a particularly depressing episode it’s hard to recognize all of the things that I should be grateful for. Some days it’s much easier to focus on the negatives which can drown all of the good out. Treading through the topic that is mental health (that even today has such negative connotations and at times, very little understanding throughout society) is a confusing and painstaking process. I’ve only just recently found a medication and the right dose of it that works for me, and that’s after many years of visiting doctors and talking to professionals.

My hope is that with more open dialogue and open minds, people will feel more comfortable talking about these issues and that society will become more receptive to learning about them.

MHAM Post #15: Maggie

Today’s piece is actually written by a friend of a friend whom I’ve never even met. I just wanted to stress this fact, because the amount of support and enthusiasm I have received about this project over the past month is so amazing/heartwarming/mind-blowing to me. 

The fact that someone I don’t even know on a personal level would be so inspired to open up about her experiences for the sake of others is so crazy and beautiful. 

I really enjoyed this piece because Maggie, the writer, doesn’t focus too much on specific diagnoses. She just shares times in her life where things got especially trying, and in turn, negatively impacted her already existing mental health struggles. 

I think that’s an extremely important thing to remember. Mental health is a part of all of us, right? Whether good or bad. Some of us have a genetic predisposition to certain diagnoses. Some of us have more negative experiences with regards to our mental health than others. Some of us have labels that we can attach to our struggles. Regardless, we all have good and bad experiences in life, and those experiences impact our mental health. Regardless of predisposition, confirmed diagnoses, etc, our life experiences shape us and make us who we are. Our mental health is directly tied to all of that. 

Maggie’s piece does a great job at explaining just how drastically certain events in her life made these kinds of impacts on her. 

I am happy to share her story here: 

This is difficult for me to start, because my experience with mental illness has been both a marathon and series of short, painful sprints. I didn’t meet my triggers until late in college, and didn’t know how to talk about what I was feeling until after a terrifying and heartbreaking night in the emergency room.  

My case is different than some. I never worried about talking about what I was feeling. In
fact, I ALWAYS talked about what I was feeling, whether it was to someone else, or within my ever present (sometimes deafening) internal dialogue.  From an early age, I was assessing and labeling what I saw, heard, smelled, tasted, and felt, and if something wasn’t right, or I wasn’t where I wanted it to be, I fixed it.  Big surprise, I now work in healthcare. 

When I was in high school, I experienced hardship as everyone does, and instead of dealing with the things I couldn’t understand or label, I started digging deep to bury the hard things. This continued throughout college, until I ran out of space to bury the shitty stuff.  The biggest problem with this was that, because of the fact that I didn’t understand and couldn’t put a label on my feelings, I couldn’t find the means to talk about them. I wasn’t talking about what I was going through, but not because I was afraid or because I didn’t want to. I literally couldn’t.  I had dealt with death and hardship, and while these are horrendous and devastating things, this was DIFFERENT.  I stopped sleeping, I overate, drank an unbelievable amount, and completely stopped working out.  I managed to push through the end of college with minimal visible harm, and slid into my gap year. During this year, I took my physical health to the forefront, but did not think much about my mental health. Because physicality is such a huge part of my life, my mental health
improved with the improvement of my physical health.  However, I was not making a concerted effort to better myself as a whole, and I was doing myself a disservice without even knowing it. I thought my dark period in college was a come and go “rough patch” that I wouldn’t go back to, and DAMN was I absolutely wrong.

I have always been driven, determined, outgoing, outspoken, and didn’t give a flying fuck about what anyone thought about me, until I started dating the person I thought was my forever partner. We met right before I started grad school, and immediately clicked. I had never felt that way about anyone before, and things moved much too quickly.  We were living together after only a few months. The fights we had were vicious and sometimes very scary for others. Things spiraled downhill almost as quickly, and I saw a side of myself that I wish to NEVER see again. I let someone else dictate my life. I made all decisions based on this person. I didn’t realize it until almost a year after the fact, but I was living in constant fear that if I said or did the wrong thing, or didn’t consistently put this other person first, that he would leave me and my one true love would be gone forever, and he didn’t let me forget it. One of our infamous fights hit an all-time low, and I tried to kill myself. Waking up to the pure sadness that I saw was the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever experienced, and I would not wish that feeling on anyone in the world. Despite this, I stayed with this
person another two years, and it was a constant ebb and flow of amazing days and some of the ugliest days I’ve seen. I let myself get to a point where I told myself I had nowhere to go but inward. I knew what I was feeling, but I was so paralyzed by fear that if I expressed myself, he would leave and I would be left with nothing. Little did I know, I am fucking everything and more (and so are you).

Last summer, his beautiful mother passed away, and to say that it was devastating is an understatement. I didn’t deal with this loss, because I didn’t feel as though it was mine, and I knew I needed to be his rock.  After this, I made the move to NYC, and I was biding my time until he was able to move up here as well. In this time, he became distant and meaner than ever. I was constantly anxious and terrified that I was doing the wrong thing. Later I came to find that he had started dating someone else, but it was just too hard for him to tell me (insert eye roll here). I. Was. Devastated. I lost 20 pounds in less than a month. I wasn’t sleeping. My work suffered, and my already broken relationships with my family and friends suffered even more. 

Here comes the upswing (you knew it was coming at some point).  Instead of letting this person continue to define me, I decided to redefine me. I told myself, “I live in the greatest city in the free world, take advantage and just do you boo boo”. I started just doing things that I wanted to do, whether I had someone to do them with or not. A random happy hour by myself, where I met an amazing woman my age in the same boat (WHAT?! WHY?!). Check. John Legend concert. Check. All you can eat pizza fundraiser for breast cancer. Check. Training for, and soon to run, a half marathon. Check. Signing up for my first marathon. Check. Getting accepted to a doctorate program. Check.

During this time, I worked with some of the greatest and most supportive earth angels on the planet. They took me under their wings, and didn’t comment on my obvious, rapid weight loss, they didn’t try to tell me what to do, they were just there for me  even though they hadn’t known me for very long. They let me talk when I wanted to, and, most importantly, they didn’t judge me for feeling. They are now some of my best friends in the world, and if it wasn’t for this shitty situation, I wouldn’t have been able to expand my bad ass squad with these rock stars. Not only did I make new friends, but my best friends (which includes my family) were truly amazing (which is the understatement of the century). They dealt with, and still deal with, my breakdowns at all hours with unbeatable
grace and always had a kind word or a laugh to share. 

I have also been able to pay it forward. I am not the only one of my friends that has struggled with one of many mental health issues. We have created an open dialogue that may look terrifying to the outside eye, but it’s our safe space.  Doing this has also given me an incredible amount of perspective when I am having my bad days. We are not alone. We can do this. We are a tribe that gets shit done in grand fashion.

While I will always struggle with the need to fix and label, it’s getting easier with each day and a lot of hard work.  I will never let someone else define who I am. I will continue to be the outspoken (sometimes too blunt), funny, lighthearted person I always was, but my bad days are quite a bit different now. I know the bad feelings will not last forever. I know that I am not only enough, but I go above and beyond.  I have a bad ass team behind me, and I don’t have a clue how I got so lucky to have them all in my life. I am a mother fucking queen.

MHAM Post #14: A Mentor

The writer of this piece is someone I consider to be not just a friend, but in many ways, a mentor as well.

I actually couldn’t even tell you when I first met this writer. I was probably like 8? I attended the same camp every summer throughout my childhood, and as a teenager I began working there too. That is when me and this writer became closer. 

Growing up, if you had asked me to describe him, I would say he was filled with nothing but love, positivity, and happiness. This writer literally made the kids at camp light up with joy every day. He seemed to be constantly be overflowing with energy and passion.

I know I’ve said it a million times before, but you really can’t judge a book by it’s cover. So many people you are surrounded by everyday are battling their inner demons in silence. 

It means so much to me that the writer of this piece was willing to share his words. I’m so happy to know that we are able to still connect now, years after working together, to share our experiences with mental health. 

As you will see in this piece, it is HARD to open up about what you’re going through. Mental health struggles are a catch-22 in that sense. Not only do they cause you to feel unstable, but they often also make you feel less capable of opening up about what you’re going through. Then, to top it off, the stigma surrounding mental health makes it, in many ways, even more difficult to share your experiences openly. It’s no surprise than so many people grapple with these issues silently. 

Having the courage to share your experiences is extremely commendable, so, without further ado, check it out: 

When I graduated from high school in 1997, I had the vaguest notion of what bipolar disorder was. I certainly did not understand its destructive power, its ability to tear away at the life one built with terrifying swiftness. I would not know that I was bipolar until August of 2009. What I do remember knowing without any doubt when I was seventeen, and entering my first year at Penn State, was that I did not feel emotionally well-balanced. I do not mean this in the sense that I was feeling down, or going through a transition in my life that made me feel more stressed and emotionally drained. I felt shame, guilt, embarrassment, hopelessness, and uselessness to such a degree that I would hide from the world for days at a time, which progressed to weeks, and eventually months. I eventually spent the better part of seven years locked away in a studio apartment with the blinds drawn, trapped in my own mind.

No family, friends, or medical professionals knew of the way I lived until March of 2008, when I hit a breaking point, but I was not properly diagnosed with cyclothymic bipolar disorder until August of 2009. It was only then that I allowed myself to begin healing. Until recently, I rarely spoke or wrote about my mental health condition for various reasons that were grounded in the shame that fueled my protracted silence, in addition to the pernicious stigma that unfortunately continues to surround mental health issues. My voicelessness, however, did not stop me from learning about my own condition. I read as much as I could in the scientific literature, in addition to memoirs about people’s experiences associated with being bipolar. I am finally able to share my story more readily; I hope it helps anyone who reads it.

Nearly everyone I have known has felt depressed at some point in their life, which is a normal phenomenon. They understand that depression tends to shut people down and draw them inward mentally. Most people, however, are fairly resilient and find that mental balance without any help, so they are soon back on their feet and functioning normally. This resiliency is the line in the sand where my diagnosis separates me from those who are able to bounce back. It is critical that I emphasize two points. First, this separation is not my choice. I would never choose to continue to be depressed. Second, the severity of the depression that I suffer from is far more serious than what most people have ever had to deal with.

Looking back, it makes sense that I was bipolar at Penn State. I loved learning, reading, hanging out with friends, and playing competitive sports. Yet, very soon after I started college, I began to withdraw. The life that I worked very hard to build throughout high school was fading as life started feeling less important to me, for reasons that I may never know. Feeling that depressed, my natural reaction was to hide, both physically and emotionally. As professors and friends told me, when they did happen to see me, it was as if I just fell off the face of the earth. From time to time I did leave my apartment, and some classes were able to motivate me enough to participate and do well. For the majority of the time, however, I was hiding in my apartment. I cried, read, and slept. A few times a week I would eat. I was fortunate to have loving parents who worked hard to put me through school, which made me more ashamed of my lack of attendance and participation in college. Until I spoke out years later, my parents paid my tuition, I tried to recover from my depression, and I would continue to fail most of the time. When I was not failing because of never attending class, I was withdrawing from a semester of courses that I never went to. I was not a party animal who blew off everything academic. I was a lost person hiding from the world, and trying to run from my mind and my pain. This was my life for many years. When I was supposed to have graduated from Penn State, I remained in my apartment and lived off of my own savings from high school. My sporadic academic victories against bipolar disorder were marked with As on my transcript. My academic shortcomings were not indicative of blowing off college; they were the markers of my suffering. Medical research strongly suggests that people with a bipolar disorder often lose social functioning that is so easy for others and do not recover it for many years. I am living proof of that.

Throughout those difficult years in my life, there were a few genuinely bright spots. I did have windows in my house of misery that brought rays of happiness into my life. I enjoyed photography, and I especially enjoyed working with children in the summer when I had to live at home. To be sure, my years working at a summer camp saved my life, and sparked my interest in education. I am certain of this, which makes me grateful for the happiness and sense of purpose the children brought into my life. I do not speak much about working with children in this particular summer camp beyond the superficial comments of how fun it was. The truth is, that summer camp holds such a special place in my heart that I find it hard to articulate how much it really means to me.

In early 2008, I finally hit bottom and broke down in front of my parents. The stress and emotional toll that the silence brought was starting to kill me. I was a shell of my former self. I told them everything. I explained how their son left his apartment once every few weeks to every two months, and learned to subsist by getting food delivered. I apologized for wasting their money, and for failing them. One of the most profound moments of my life came after I apologized. My father picked me up off the ground, wiped the tears from my eyes, and told me that the only thing lost was money and time, but that I was still here, still alive, and should be proud of that, not ashamed. From that moment on, I never allowed myself to feel like I was too weak to overcome this disorder.

It has not been an easy road, but the faith I placed in myself has helped me tremendously. I never completed my degree at Penn State, but I am proud to say that I am a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania who is currently pursuing a masters degree at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. I am studying how institutions of higher education can do more to promote mental health awareness. I have a wonderful wife, and three beautiful children who have redefined what it means to be happy and to love unconditionally. There are indeed quite a few things in this world that are far more powerful than the destructive nature of bipolar disorder. Most of all, I have learned to stop hating who I am and what I suffer from, and began to love the face I see in the mirror, as well as the mind behind that face.

Although my own struggles with bipolar disorder prevented me from actively raising awareness over the years, I truly believe that my academic and professional work regarding mental health conditions, combined with my efforts to raise my voice and share my story, are in themselves forms of activism and resistance to the stigma associated with living with bipolar disorder. I learned that my lived experience, combined with what I learned throughout the past 20 years, can effectively be used toward making the lives of others like me thrive. No one should ever make others feel like they are not worthy of love or acceptance, or loving and accepting themselves. Loving oneself is a radical act. Loving oneself is an act of resistance in a world where so many forces seek to make groups of people feel lesser. There is much work to do….

MHAM Post #13: Lydia

I remember going into my freshman year of college and feeling so passionately that a sorority would never be the right place for me. I just couldn’t help but feel that it was almost, in a way, a cop out, or the “easy way out” when it came to making friends. It seemed like, if you had pay to be in the group, there’s just no way the friendships you’d make could be genuine.

I know I sound beyond cliche, but I cannot put into words how wrong those preconceived notions were. Being in my sorority taught me so much about trust and compassion and sincere acceptance. I honestly have never felt like I belonged anywhere more. It is, without a doubt, the reason I have a lot of the amazing friends I do. 

From an outsider looking in, you probably don’t realize it, but a good deal of the people that have been willing to open themselves up for the sake of this blog over the past month have been friends that I made through my sorority. 

Being in a big sorority has it flaws though. It’s just impossible to truly get to know every single member on an intimate level in the short few years you have together. 

Lydia, the writer of this piece, is someone I genuinely wish I had had the opportunity to get to know better before I graduated. The great thing though, is that college friendships don’t need to be contained to college. I’m lucky that I am still able to get to know Lydia now, even years after graduating. 

Earlier this year, she wrote an amazing, gut-wrenching piece about depression, suicide, and coping with the pain. Her words were just so powerful that, when I came up with this month’s blog idea, asking her to share something was a no-brainer.

I’ve never told her this, but I have so much respect for Lydia. She has taught me to always remember that you never know what someone else is going through or coping with. 

Needless to say, I’m extremely happy to share her words here: 

I am here but not there.
I have found myself yet I am still searching.
Standing at the top, my eyes stare forward,
trembling to look down before I let myself plunge.
Falling beneath the black, deeper into a hole
that may never close.
The ditch is stable but its width fluctuates –
I can still fit.
I imagine a day where I outgrow the hole but maybe I don’t want to.
Maybe the depth of its darkness is a place to hide.
I dig with weary hands and brittle bones until
the dirt consumes me.
Until my heartbeat stalls and my breath screams into the empty air.
Until I realize the only way out is to climb back up without searching
for a short-cut.
The hole has found its place in my chest, my eyes, and my brain.
I will fill the hollow dwellings with my own light.

I walked into my bedroom at home last week with a new pillow added by my mother that read: “joy is in the journey”. I did not think much of the cliché until I walked into an office the next day, where the same exact pillow sat on the couch. A center where I finally accepted treatment for an eating disorder – the very hole that has welcomed depression and anxiety into its darkness. I dug into the depth of the void and I found emptiness. My mind’s control is consuming and I cannot fix this on my own.

I constantly find signs where there may be no significance at all, but nonetheless, a simple pillow ignited a decision. “I need help” came in a soft and quivering voice, but I’ve never felt so strong. I am ready to breathe freely, to dismiss the overwhelming voices, to change my learned behaviors, to start living. Recovery will be a process and there is no satisfactory result. The journey itself holds purpose and the timeline to rebuild is continuous. A hole can leak and crack, maybe re-open, but closure does not determine progression.

Whatever the hole may be for you, if your mind had the power to form the hollow dwellings, you also have the strength to fill them – but you do not need to know how to do so on your own. There is no manual to healing, no concrete image of a fixed hole to follow as you read the instructions. Making the effort to begin is greater than the endpoint. No matter your pace, purely start; rid yourself of the pressure to reach your sense of perfection. Put down the guide and stop planning for success – if the “joy is in the journey”, then you’re already there.

Read Lydia’s other piece here:

MHAM Post #12: Gina

Like Sammy (who wrote the first piece), Gina has been one of my best friends for as long as I can remember. It’s honestly difficult for me to even put into words how lucky I am to have known both of them all of this time. 

Growing up, I always had an issue with feeling secure in my friendships. I always believed every friendship I made had an expiration date. Either a time, an experience, an argument, etc that would make us grow apart. 

Gina (and Sammy) have genuinely taught me that I am so delusional for ever thinking that way. We have each had some very difficult, defining moments in our lives, but as cliche as it sounds, we’ve been there for each other through all of it. 

Gina wears a tough exterior that not many see at first glance, and she is often too good at hiding what is going on in her mind at any given time. 

In my opinion, Gina is one of the most intelligent and well-spoken people I know. She doesn’t always take the opportunity to make that known though, which is why I’m so glad she agreed to write this piece. 

Her story is about something a bit different than just generalized anxiety or depression, but it’s just as valid. 

Here it is!!!:

When Krump asked me to do this, I thought it’d make the most sense to write about my experience with an eating disorder. I’ve been hesitant because I [personally] know quite a few people who deal with some type of food/body issue and it’s different for everyone. So i feel like writing about something so specific to me and my body might not be something the majority can relate to. But I guess that’s not the point of this; this is about accepting other people’s struggles and trying to understand someone else’s perspective. My eating disorder might not look like yours. 

I remember people suggesting books to me about other girls who had struggled with eating disorders. I remember feeling frustrated with these books because they portrayed the most extreme examples. Girls who became bone thin and required hospitalization. Girls who only ate carrots and then threw them up (If you know me at all, you know I’m extremely emetophobic!!). I wasn’t that girl and I couldn’t relate to that girl. Since I couldn’t relate to something that I was already resistant to solving, it was easy to dismiss it as not being applicable to me. I would finish the book, the warning, and say “but i’m not that bad”. And I really wasn’t. Something I’ve learned with time is that doesn’t make it okay. I didn’t need to be the worst case scenario to need help. Dealing with the mental issues that surround wanting to starve yourself is still not okay! No matter how much you weigh. I would look at photos of anorexic girls but I didn’t feel like I wanted to look like them. I was slightly underweight and that was enough for me. People told me I was skinny constantly and that was enough for me to stay motivated in my pursuits.  

I eat fairly normally right now, so I feel uncomfortable talking about the “worst” of it. I also don’t think it’s beneficial to anyone to write out the details – especially when it comes to something like losing weight. I did have GERD for 2 straight years, and I want to acknowledge the role my eating disorder played in that. Both in the cause and perpetuating it. A diet of predominantly vodka and tabasco sauce and a need for a real excuse not to eat, respectively.
One aspect of my struggle, that’s remained consistent throughout the past 12 years, is that I don’t think I’ll ever feel comfortable eating meals around new people. I started a new job in January and I could only eat sliced vegetables for lunch for the first few weeks. I worry people are judging me for eating, noticing how fattening it is. I worry I’ll gain weight and people I barely know will be like “well yeah, she eats pasta for lunch”. It took me over 2 years to eat a full meal in front of my boyfriend’s family. I dread when I’m able to eat guilt-free and someone ruins it by making a comment. It’s often in jest and I recognize that outwardly, but it sticks with me. On a contradictory note, I can easily lie about my food intake to make myself seem more relatable. I’ve found that my food issues alienate other young women. I remember new friends being excited to see me binging on junk food, like it made them feel comfortable, and I replicated that in the form of.. lying? To make them feel better about themselves and me. It’s an extremely nuanced set of issues. 

I’ve dealt with this for over a decade and sometimes I don’t think I ever won’t. It comes in waves and I can’t explain them. Sometimes it’s too easy for me to restrict myself to an extreme and sometimes i desperately want to go back to the comfort that comes with that kind of control but I can’t and I give in to food.

MHAM Post #11: Corinne

This piece is written by someone that I’ve known during many stages of her life. Corinne has been a friend that I can honestly say I have grown with. I have known her since high school, and together we have experienced all of the ups and downs that come with your teens and 20s.

My favorite thing about our friendship, is that I can honestly say I’ve watched her learn and grow into herself over the years. She has become such a mature, self-aware person and it shows in her writing. 

I liked that, in a sense, her story contrasts the previous story, with regards to her opinions on medication. She also touches on her experience with therapy, and other coping mechanisms shes learned over the years. 

Read her experience here: 

It was my senior year of college. I came back to school after a summer that felt like an eternity of missing “The Promised Land” and mourning the breakup of a college relationship that, for some reason, shook me more than I ever imagined a short-lived relationship could. Going back to JMU after being at home for the summer was the best feeling in the whole world (I know all my Dookz can agree). It was then, upon the return to my favorite place, that I started experiencing what I would soon learn was my anxiety, something I would carry with me for the rest of my life.

I remember exactly what I was doing the first time I felt this then unfamiliar feeling, which I now know to be a panic attack. I was walking into the library, up to the front desk to check out a laptop. As I approached the front desk, I felt my heart begin to race. I became increasingly hot. The floor felt like it was moving below me, and I experienced an out-of-body feeling that I had never experienced before, for what seemed like no reason. I felt like I was crawling out of my skin. I felt like I needed to escape as soon as humanly possible, like I was in danger or something.  I thought it was weird, but ultimately I brushed it off.

It wasn’t until these feelings started to appear, not just in the library, but also on the bus going to class, while giving presentations, and while doing seemingly “relaxing” activities, like eating with my friends in the dining hall, that I started to become worried about what was happening to my body. (Side note: all of these were place I had previously THRIVED…I mean I AM a Leo SO you know…).

Krump was actually the first person who told me that what I was experiencing sounded like anxiety. I’ll never forget laying in my bed in Forest Hills googling “symptoms of anxiety” on WebMD, a website that, once I actually learned I had anxiety, I’d never visit ever again (hello hypochondria). I remember thinking, “holy shit, this is it, this is all of what I have been feeling”. And then I felt scared. What does this mean? Why do I feel this way? How do I make it stop?

Luckily in college, you’re surrounded by friends and LOTS of booze. So much so, that admitting to my roommate that the only time I didn’t feel anxious was when I was drunk, felt so casual to me. That fact didn’t actually scare me until I was out of college, and drinking until you can’t feel anything isn’t really a normal life coping method anymore.

Fast forward almost 5 years later and here I am, still learning new things about my anxiety and what comes along with it every single day. Sometimes I think I have it totally under control. I think that the 5th antidepressant/antianxiety medication I have tried and now take religiously, the seemingly healthy food I am putting into my body, the chamomile tea I drink both at night and during the day (I almost threw a fit when someone at work wanted to get rid of the sleepy time tea because “who needs that during work”.. umm hello anxious people do!), the 9 PM grandma bedtimes, my Himalayan salt lamp, my adult coloring book, my lavender candle, and the meditation, have somehow made my anxiety disappear. But then, BAM, I’m hit with a brain zap that comes with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, fear, worry and my least favorite, the out-of-body feeling I referenced earlier.

That’s the sneaky thing about anxiety though…just when you think you have it under control, it’s there hiding in the darkness, just waiting to come out. It appears when I am at brunch, laughing and enjoying time with my friends. It appears when I am driving down the highway. It appears when I am alone at night. It appears when I am grocery shopping. It appears when I am watching TV. It appears at times I can’t always explain.

Now let’s get to the positive side of things! I have spent a lot of time thinking about the differences between the ways that I used to cope with my anxiety versus how I cope with it now, and I feel like I can finally pat myself on the back. The people closest to me always say I never give myself enough credit, so here I am. I’m working on it! For starters, less than a year ago, I also was petrified of medication. I had some of the worst days of my life while on antidepressants that were pushed on me in the past, and I didn’t think medicine was the answer for me. Turns out, once you find a doctor who truly listens to you and genuinely cares about your well-being, this can change. I take my anxiety medication two times a day, and I can genuinely say it has changed my life for the better. Of course, I still have my moments where my anxiety creeps up on me like I described before, and it still happens way more often than the average person, but believe it or not, the number of these instances have decreased significantly. I can actually breathe again.

Less than a year ago, I was constantly looking for life situations to blame my anxiety on and so did my ex-therapist.  She taught me to search for answers or reasons as to why I felt this way. Like maybe it was just my post-grad anxiety/depression (my doctor said she saw so many people for this, so it must be true right!?). Maybe it was the toxic two-year relationship I was in. Or maybe it was the aftermath of the breakup of that toxic relationship. Or maybe it was the fact that my physical health is all sorts of fucked up and that carries so many unknowns. Or maybe it’s because I was transitioning jobs, or my work environment wasn’t good… this list could go on forever. Telling her about an experience I had with sexual assault was like a goldmine for her, because she was convinced she had found the answer to all of my anxieties. In reality, this wasn’t the case at all (hence the “ex” in ex-therapist). She made me feel like anxiety was something you could “fix” but it’s not. It’s actually quite the opposite. While, of course, the experiences I shared with her do play a part in the state of my mental health, even when I can’t recognize it, addressing those experiences doesn’t mean they, or my anxieties as a result of those experiences, suddenly go away. I now know that my anxiety has always been with me, it just chose the year 2012 to come out in full force.

And finally after all this thinking (it’s what us anxious people do best right!?), the #1 thing my journey has taught me, is that despite anxiety being a part of me, I am not “anxious all day every day for no apparent reason at all” like I used to believe I was. In the past, I was convinced that every ounce of my body felt anxious at every second of every day. I used to only noticed the times when I wasn’t anxious, in the same way people who don’t have generalized anxiety disorder only notice the times that they are anxious.

Since then, I have grown to learn how my past and present experiences have shaped me as a person, and how they have shaped my anxiety. I have learned what many of my triggers are, and how to talk myself off the ledge when I feel myself ramping up. I have switched from having the mindset of blaming my anxiety, to accepting it. My anxiety will always be part of me. There will always be time when it hits me and I can’t explain it. And it will never be “fixed”, but I know one thing is for sure, my anxiety does not define me and yours does not define you either.

**Disclaimer: I still think that therapy is one of the best things a person can do for their mental health, despite my personal experiences thus far. I know my prefect therapist is out there somewhere, just gotta find him or her!

MHAM Post #10: Alyssa

I’ve always felt really fortunate to have friends that live all over the country (and world). But over the past couple years, as I’ve struggled/coped/moved/grown/changed, I’ve been guilty of letting some longer-distance friendships slip. 

This month’s project has taught me that regardless of distance, time, or space, most people still care about you, and most friendships, thankfully, are for the long haul. 

I met Alyssa freshman year of college. I have watched her grow, change, cope, and learn so much over the period of time since then. I am so happy to see the person she has become, and I’m even happier to share her story about a portion of her journey. 

In this piece, Alyssa talks about one of her biggest triggers related to her mental health. She also shares some really important insights on medication. It’s important to remember that different things help different people. I loved Alyssa’s blunt honesty in this. If you know her at all, you can see her personality shine through her writing. 

These words are her to the T, and I’m happy to share them here:

I really don’t know how to start this out, so I am going to start with a quote that helps with my frustrations… “Telling someone with mental health issues that all they need to do is be more positive and they can make themselves happy, is like telling someone who has asthma that all they need to do is breath harder because there is plenty of air.”

I have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety, wrongly diagnosed with bi-polar, and I am currently being evaluated for PMDD. I hate being labeled. But these labels have allowed me to learn about myself on a deeper level than I think any unlabeled person has. Every day, I learn something new about myself. Whether it is a new trigger, an effective coping strategy, or that I did a great job self-managing. Even though sighing is considered rude, I’ll sigh all fucking day if it helps me not physically shake or burst into tears. And sometimes I reflect and learn I did a terrible job self-managing today and need to make some phones calls to apologize.

Every reaction has a consequence, and every person has a memory. You may feel like there is a person inside of your chest, breaking every rib, trying to get out, but reacting poorly to that sensation normally results in burnt bridges, slipping deeper into a self-loathing cycle, and becoming more recluse. Mental health issues are difficult, because self-management is pretty much an ongoing conversation with yourself. You build yourself up or you break yourself down. I’ve learned that, even with practice and self-love, the volume of that voice can either break your ears drums (cue the panic attack), or be muffed, sometimes only by an extremely annoying number of sighs and gratitude lists.

Where I am today is why I can admit that I hated myself for a very long time. I am my own worst critic, and sometimes I rip myself apart over something as stupid as an Instagram comment because, “what if they don’t realize I’m being sarcastic and I just lost a friend?” This anxious concern has always been something I’ve struggled with. When I was younger it was more along the lines of, “did I remember every single friend’s initials in my AIM profile?!” Seemingly stupid shit, but it climaxed when I was in college.

Like I said, anxiety and depression has been a part of me my whole life, but there are definitely triggers that have made it worse. For the sake of length, I am only going to touch on the biggest trigger, and how refusing to process traumatic events can be detrimental.

Before I went into my freshman year of college, I woke up to a friend physically taking advantage of me. No one believed me when I told them, and said I was being dramatic. I didn’t report anything, I didn’t stand up for myself, and I allowed that dirty, used feeling to control my decision as I kept quiet. Two more girls were hurt by him and I’m still working on not blaming myself for that. I developed so much self-hate, that sometimes I acted on that hate, and it perpetuated the vicious cycle of stress, reaction, and guilt. *If anyone out there has experienced this and does not know who to talk to, please reach out, I am here and can help you link up with a professional to meet your needs.*

From there, my mental health struggles continued to get worse because I was not loving myself. I wasn’t even attempting to. I put on dirty band-aids, like blacking out, having sex with people I didn’t care about, and staying quiet about what was going on inside of my head, instead of choosing to love myself. I had opportunities to talk, and would share sometimes with friends, but never too much because, “what if they think I’m too dramatic?”

I took what, to me, felt like the easy way out, and went to a general medicine doctor and talked about my symptoms. He diagnosed me with depression and bi-polar disorder. He put me on Lexapro and Zyprexa and HOLY FUCK did shit get even worse and worse fast. I wanted a quick fix, but that speed lane took me straight to suicide city, and those thoughts were loud and always present.

I went back two weeks later to say “I don’t think this is right, everything is worse”. All he did was increase my medication. I don’t remember much of September and October of 2015. The first week of November my friends and I had all been at a pregame at the house next door. I remember exactly what I was wearing and I remember standing there, feeling like I was just over it. I was looking at everyone’s smiling faces, listening to my friends sing, loudly shouting about which party to go to, and I didn’t feel like I was even there. I slipped out and went back to my house, smoked about 5 cigs in a row, and grabbed the two pills bottles with about 20 10mg of Lexapro and 20 5mg of Zyprexa, and just held them in my hand, eerily calm. I sat there and cried on and off until I fell asleep.

I may have suicidal thoughts, but death within itself is too final, and I am thankful I am afraid of that. When I’m in that moment though, it feels like there are two voices in my head. One saying, “fuck it, life is not really even real, I can’t even think straight with how many feelings I have right now, I just want it all to fucking stop”. And a contrasting little voice saying, “life is still here, death is so final and unknown”. These continuous reel of thoughts, paired with a waterfall of loud tears, equals an indecisive and exhausted human standing in the middle of the room stunned and unable to move until she’s exhausted herself to the point of falling asleep.

Disclaimer* I called my parents the next day, I took myself off the medication, went through withdrawal symptoms, and as a result, was kicked out of my Athletic Training major because of my lack of performance in clinic and two failed classes. Thankfully, I was able to show documentation that my doctor did not refer me to a talk therapist and had upped my medication. My major advisors informed me I would be suspended from the Athletic Training program and could come back the next Fall. Meaning, I wasn’t graduating with my friends, and had to add another year of tuition to expenses. But more importantly than that, it meant I got a second chance to manage this correctly. This was terrible news, but I could either continue hating myself, or I could choose to love myself, be fearless, and vocalize how I feel and what my thoughts are. I chose to vocalize, and graduated a year later with a double major, acceptance to graduate school, and a one-way ticket to California.  

It’s fucking annoying going to doctor after doctor, having some kook push medication down your throat like its sweet-tarts, and feel like you’re losing your personality from the medication. It hurts looking at your parents as they try to hide their fear from you, and watching your siblings be confused by your differences. It just about kills you when you make the, “it’s getting bad again” call. But at the same time, I have been lucky enough to be able to have that open conversation with my family. I had to look at my Dad within the last month and say the thoughts came back, they aren’t loud but they’re back. Seeing how that horrified and broke my Dad is why I will never let this control me completely, even if the voices are like banshees screaming in my head. I’m working on not seeing myself as selfish or sickly, but in turn, realizing that I am so fortunate to have a family that allows for open communication and has embodied a safe and loving environment full of support. Not everyone is that lucky.

If there is one thing I have learned in my journey with mental health, it is that everyone’s experience and perspective is different. Everyone’s management is going to be different. Medication didn’t work for me, but it could save someone else’s life and that’s beautiful. I struggle daily with anxiety and depression and I combat that by loving myself and setting appropriate goals for myself depending on how I feel that day. 

The biggest message I want anyone who is suffering from mental health issues to understand, is that there is nothing wrong with you and you aren’t dramatic. TALK about how you feel. What’s “wrong” with you is something that provides you with an opportunity to learn more about yourself, develop your identity, create personal coping strategies, and have an increased level of empathy. The brain is crazy my friends, it’s the only thing that has named itself in this world. Learn about your brain, your thoughts, and talk about it. I am far from having control over my labels, but I can now say I am proud of where I am and I love myself.