Tuesday, March 27, 2018

When Anxiety Rears It’s Ugly Head...Again

I got these rocks years ago. They helped ground me when I was anxious, paranoid, and afraid. They brought me comfort. 

Two nights ago I got them out of the drawer they’ve been living in. With everything going on in my life right now I’ve been struggling with anxiety again. They are a physical reminder that I’m okay. 

I talk a lot about doing well and recovery and living well with mental illness. I have a lot of people who reach out to me who are struggling. I’m writing this for them and for everyone who knows someone with a mental illness. 

I consider myself to be able to live well with my mental illnesses. That doesn’t mean I don’t have times of my life where I struggle. 

That is not a failure or a weakness. My mental illnesses are just as real and valid as my chronic illnesses. 

Just like I take medication, monitor my vitals, and restrict what I eat to help with my physical illnesses I have to take medication, reduce triggers, and use coping skills to help manage my mental illnesses. 

The methods I use can manage, but not cure my physical illnesses and the coping skills I have can manage, but not cure my mental illnesses. 

Sometimes I struggle more than others. Right now is one of those times. 

My parents move to Montana, my whole family being in Montana for a couple weeks in April, and my move to Idaho (surprise! I’ll be apply to BYU-I for next year hopefully for the winter track) 

None of these changes are bad. I feel confident that my parents will love Montana, that I will be okay in Bakersfield alone for the middle of April, and that Idaho is where God wants me to be. 

The thing about anxiety is that it doesn’t have to be rational. It’s not. 

I’ve dealt with anxiety for a very long time. I know it well. I know how to deal with it. I know it  won’t kill me and I know it will pass. 

I wanted to write this to show that recovery is not linear. Recovery doesn’t mean your symptoms disappear. To me it means you are able to manage and live your life successfully along with the symptoms. 

I believe recovery is possible for me and you. Keep fighting. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

My Divine Worth Never Changes

For years I thought who I was directly correlated to what I did and the activities I was involved in. As a teenager I saw a great deal of who I was as being someone who struggled with mental illness and a speaker/debater because those two things dominated my life. 

When I moved on to college and became healthier my view of who I was expanded a lot more. I was active. I was busy. I was a full time student and the president of a club on campus. I volunteered in my community and held a calling at church. In my mind those things were a big part of who I was. 

Most of those activities came to an abrupt halt at the end of last year when I became sick.

 In October of last year I got very sick very quickly. It took two months before we figured out that I had Gastroparesis. In the mean time time I could barely eat or drink. I lost twenty pounds in six weeks time. I got on a first name basis with  all the staff at my local urgent care because of how often I needed IV fluids and the only medication that worked for me to be able to eat anything had the side affect of making me really loopy/sleepy for a few hours every time I took it. 

Between everything happening with this new illnesses and the affects It had on my already diagnosed illnesses I had to press the pause button on most of my normal life. 

I stopped going to my volunteer position for about six weeks. I handed off the club I ran to the VP. I dropped one class and worked it out with the rest of my professors where I would teach myself the materials, do some extra writings on my own, and basically only show up to take exams or for a couple projects I couldn’t do myself. 

It was very difficult for me to submit to the fact that I wasn’t healthy enough to do the things I wanted to. 

During this time there were two places I made a priority and did everything I could to make it there. The first was church on Sunday. The second was Institute class on Thursday nights. 

There were some weeks where the only places I went were to doctors, urgent care, and Institute.  There were days I  went to Institute where I was not sure I was doing the right thing for my physical health by going because I had to skip dinner and evening medication to go, but I spent so much of my time trying to do what was best for my physical body that I needed those ninety minutes to take care of my mental/spiritual body. 

I wondered a lot during this time what all this meant for me and who I wanted to be. I thought, “If I can’t go to school, if I can’t go to TAY, if I can’t do these things what does that mean for me? What does that mean for my life?” 

Who was I without the things I did. 

For an Institute activity in November we watched a Face-to-Face broadcast given by two of my church’s apostles. In it one of them advised us to be careful with labeling ourselves. He said if we want to place a label on ourselves let it be “child of God.”

I pondered on this a lot and I came to realize that I had been wrong in who I thought I was. Who I am is not what I can do. Who I am is and always will be the same. I am a daughter of God. 

In my church the girls ages 12-18 focus on eight values: Faith, Divine Nature, Individual Worth, Knowledge, Choice and Accountability, Good Works, Integrity, and Virtue. 

I’ve gone back to those and focused a lot on divine nature and individual worth recently. My worth is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. It is the same today as it was before I got sick. My worth does not come from anything this earth provides; it is divine in nature. My worth comes from my Father in Heaven. I am His. 

Realizing this has brought me so much peace. Sure, I still sometimes worry about what my future holds and if my illnesses will limit what I want to do, but I know that with whatever happens I will be okay. He has guided my life so carefully this far. I have always had everything I needed - the right people, the right places, and at the right time. I know that he loves me with a love greater than I can imagine. I know He is always with me and because of that I never walk through any of my struggles alone. 

My favorite scripture for the past few years has been John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you, my peace so give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” 

I am so grateful for this knowledge I have and the peace it brings me. 

Thursday, December 28, 2017

How My Parents Helped Keep a Sucidial Child Safe

Although I have never done it I have no doubt parenting can be hard. When you add in parenting a child who’s struggling with mental illness, well, knowing how I was somedays I don’t know how my parents did it. 

There were times as a teenager where I was suicidal. My parents did a lot to try and keep me safe during that time. 

What my parents did helped keep me alive, but that doesn’t mean that if another parents child completed suicide that makes it the parents fault or that they didn’t do enough. Sometimes a parent can do everything right and it’s not enough. 

I am thankful that what my mom and dad did was. 

1. They locked up anything I could use to harm myself. 
My mom got a small safe to put in her closet. All the medications, scissors, razors, and anything else got locked in there. They put a lock on our pantry and knives were put in there. If my brothers or I wanted to cook something we had to ask my mom to unlock it. If I had a cold and needed Tylenol I had to ask for it  If my brothers or I wanted to shave we asked for a razor and then gave it back right after our shower. By locking up these items it greatly decreased my access to items that could become dangerous. 

2. I was not left home alone. 
Whenever I wasn’t safe either due to suicidal ideation or psychotic symptoms I was not left alone. My mom decreased the amount of days she worked to be home with me. When she was at work I went to someone’s house. We were lucky to have amazing people who would let me stay with them for a few hours, sometimes multiple days a week. When my mom wasn’t at work and had to go somewhere I had to go with her if my brother or Dad weren’t home. 

3. My mom checked in with me everyday. 
My therapist at the time liked me to rate the severity of my symptoms using a 1-10 scale. He had my mom check in with me every day to see how I was doing. I hated being asked so she would text me. She would send just the letters A, D, and S to stand for anxiety, depression, suicidal. I would text back three numbers to match. 

These were the three main actions my parents took to keep me safe when I was suicidal. They also got me the help I needed by taking me to a therapist, to see psychiatrists, and when necessary driving me down to the hospital at UCLA because it was significantly better than the one in my town. 

I revently did a training centered around suicide prevention which said that suicide is the most preventable cause of death.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicide I urge you to take action. There is help available. Life can become better. 

Below are numbers for crisis hotlines/the text line. You don’t have to be actively suicidal to use the help lines. If you need someone to talk to or are in a mental health crisis of any time you can use them. I know the Kern County one will also provide you with resources available if wanted. 

Kern County Crisis Hotline:
National Suicide Prevention Line:
Crisis Text Line 

Friday, December 8, 2017

"Men Are That They Might Have Joy"

As a teenager I went to Mutual every Wednesday night at my church. It was a time for the youth ages 12-18 to get together. There we would learn about Jesus, do fun activities, and serve others. I have so many fond memories from the time spent at Mutual.

I remember one evening when I was probably 16 years old. Some of us girls were sitting around a table doing an activity. At one point during the night we were discussing scriptures and one that was brought up was 2 Nephi 2:25 which reads, "Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy."

I remember later that night talking with my aunt about it, because at that time I did not like that scripture. At that time I was in a major depressive episode and to me those words served as a reminder that I should be happy, but I wasn't.

I can look back at the scripture now in a different light. Now those words, "men are, that they might have joy" give me hope. To me they tell me that I am not here to be depressed. I am not here to be miserable or hurting. They remind me that it is completely possible to be happy and that is what Heavenly Father wants for us. They give me something to aim for.

It might help that I'm not currently struggling with depression, for which a characteristic is no hope, but I would like to believe that I've learned enough since I was 16 that if I ever did struggle like that again I would be able to see that scripture in a different light than I saw it back then.

I've learned that perspective is important. I've learned that it's by design that we struggle; it is by design that I have the particular trials that I do. I've learned that the Atonement of Jesus Christ covers more than just my sins. His sacrifice made it possible for me to handle and overcome any obstacle I have including mental illness. Some trials can be overcome in this life and for others the time will come in the eternities.

There is a quote I like that I pulled off the Institute quote sheet from last night that says, "Our hope in the Atonement empowers us with eternal perspective. Such perspective allows us to look beyond the here and now into the promise of eternities." That is from Elder Steven E. Snow of the Seventy.

Sometimes we are told to aim for things that are not possible, such as "be ye therefore perfect..." (Matthew 5:48) because that is what we are striving for. For me, because of my experiences, 2 Nephi 2:25 is the same, only it is possible in this life. It is possible to be happy and if we're are not at this moment the scripture gives us something to strive for, because "men are that they might have joy."

Monday, November 20, 2017

I Might Have Limitations, but I am Still Superwoman”

I was told something by a medical professional recently. He was trying to get me to realize my limitations and said to me, “Caitlin, you are not Superwoman.”

I’m going to have to disagree. I am most definitely Superwoman, but that doesn’t mean I can do everything. 

Out of all my pills that has been the most difficult one to swallow. I grew up being told and believing that I could do anything and be anything that I put my mind to. 

I carried that with me through school and through struggling with mental illness. While I began to recognize some of the limits my body when I started having more problems with chronic illness I often pushed myself past what I should do. 

Five or six weeks ago I started presenting new symptoms for which I am still in the diagnosis phase. At the onset of this I didn’t realize how serious it really was. I thought I could live my life the way I was used to and everything would be okay. It wasn’t. 

I was used to spending ten hours a week in classes and probably another ten reading, studying, and doing homework. I was used to running a club and being involved in other extra-curricular activities on campus. I was used to being involved my church. I was used to volunteering at the county several hours every week. I was used to spending time with friends. 

I was making it work. I knew how to take care of the illnesses I knew about and how to manage my schedule and my symptoms. I loved it. I was busy, but it made me happy. 

But then these new symptoms started and I could not keep up with the schedule I could before. I tried and it got dangerous. 

I was soon forced to realize that something had to give. I had to either make exceptions to the life I wanted to live in order to take care of my health. Or I could try to keep doing all my activities and eventually my body would make the decision for me. 

Slowly over the past few weeks I have cut down on what I’m involved in. A lot of the choices were made for me based off the side effects of a new med. I can’t eat or drink anything without it, but taking it puts me out of commission for a few hours. 

So for the time being I mostly only go to class for exams. The rest of my work I teach myself and work through email and the occasion office visit with my professors. I cut back my hours at the county, but still try and go every week with the understanding that I may have to call in sick if I’m not well enough to perform my duties. I have taken a step back from my extra-curricular activities and the club I am President of is being run by the VP. 

There are limited times I will still push myself to do things. I push myself sometimes to go to Institute. I have spent so much time doing what’s best for my physical health that sometimes I have to put that aside and do what’s best for my mental and spiritual health. For me that has been going to Institute. 

This isn’t easy. It has been very difficult for me to take steps back from what I was involved in, from what I loved. This past week was especially hard. There wasn’t anything new really happening, but I was behind in school and the frustrations of the past month had caught up to me. 

So I dealt with it. I let myself be frustrated. I let myself be sad. I texted my mom when I was frustrated about my academic performance declining. I stepped out of a dinner forum I was at for a couple minutes to call my best friend and vent to her that they were eating some of my favorite foods, I was starving, I wanted to eat with them, but I couldn’t and that made me incredibly frustrated, but I couldn’t explain that to any of the dozens of people around me. 

I let myself feel that frustration...for a little bit. When I’m upset I usually set myself a time limit depending on the situation where I can be upset and then I get up and figure out what I need to do to make it better. 

Sometimes making it better isn’t fixing the problem. I can’t fix my problem. I don’t have control over the situation I am in. What I do have control over are my thoughts, feelings, words, and actions regarding that situation. 

So no, while I cannot do everything I am still Superwoman, because I will keep fighting. I will keep moving forward. I will do the things I think I cannot do and I will be stronger for it. 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Twenty: The Birthday I Didn't Think I Would Make it To

Tomorrow (maybe today by the time I'm finished writing this) is my 20th birthday. Like I always do around my birthday I have been looking back at the past year and couple years that have got me to where I am today.

I have been thinking  about the fact that for several years I didn't think I would make it to twenty.

I started experiencing psychosis just a couple weeks after I turned 16. I experienced suicidal thoughts intermittently from 15-18, peaking when I was 17. I spent my 18th birthday in a Residential treatment facility.

Even when I was not actively suicidal my mental health was such that I could not envision a future for myself. I would be asked what I wanted to do with my life and I could give answers like, "I want to go on a mission." "I want to go to college." "I want to have a family." But I couldn't see it. They didn't seem possible and sometimes I honestly didn't believe I would live long enough to see those things happen.

Now here I am, at 10:47pm the night before I turn 20. I'm typing this from my dorm room because I am second-year, full-time college student. I can't go on a regular proselyting mission, but in January I am supposed to start a Service Mission at the Institute. I am a public speaker and advocate for mental illness.

It is crazy to look back on where I was two, three, and four years ago, then to look at where I am now. I am so glad I didn't kill myself. I am so grateful for the people I had in my life who helped me through that time and continue to provide support to me now. I grateful that I had the means and opportunity to receive good help.

I am glad I didn't kill myself, because now I have this whole life ahead of me. Now I can see a future for myself. In that future I graduate college and go to graduate school for Marriage and Family Therapy. In that future I get married and have children. In that future I serve my God where He calls me to serve. In that future I continue speaking anywhere they will have me to break down the stigma of mental illness and let people know that their life can be so much more than their diagnosis.

I have a future now, I'm not going to waste it.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Mental Illness Should Not be a Halloween Costume

Happy Halloween everyone!

Today is a day dedicated to treats, tricks, and scares. Halloween is a very commercialized "holiday" that capitalizes on people's fears. But what happens when what people are afraid of are other people?

Every year around this time I see more and more online about mental illness, but it is not what I want to be seeing. Instead I see Halloween costumes letting people dress up as a "schizo," "psycho...," or even an "escaped mental patient."

These are some of them:

This year my town's big haunted house is doing an Insane Asylum theme. They did reach out to me and let me know that it is meant to be a state hospital that closed down 50 years ago leaving the people inside. They said they are not trying to make fun of people with mental illness, but are in the industry of capitalizing on people's fears. She apologized if she had offended me. 

I appreciated this and I understand as a business they want to go with what sells. I never thought they were trying to personally attack people with mental illness. I still think it is wrong. 

Even if it is meant to be 50 years ago in an abandoned state hospital in which I know patients were treated horribly, they are still portraying people with mental illness with the goal to scare people. 

That is the main problem. That the stigma and fear of mentally ill individuals is so powerful that is what would get the most attention. 

"People fear what they don't understand." I have grown up hearing that. It is part of the reason I write about mental illness, because so often if their lives have not been touched by it in some way individuals don't know what it is really like. 

Part of the reason these Halloween festivities bother me so much is not just because I have mental illnesses. It's because for two years of my life I had the diagnosis of Schizoaffective. It's because I have had psychotic episodes. It's because I have spent considerable amounts of time in mental hospitals. 

The types of people being portrayed is me and I am nothing like those costumes or how the haunted house will portray people like me. Most of us who struggle with mental illness aren't.

I have met many many people with many diagnosis during my last few years. When you're in hospitals you have the opportunity to meet a wide range of people. Those opportunities showed me that no matter what the diagnosis attached to them is, people are people. Some just have extra challenges and they work harder than you will ever be able to comprehend to live despite them.

The problem with portraying those with mental illness as scary, violent, and dangerous is that they are such powerful images they become stuck in a persons mind. In reality individuals who have a mental illness are more likely to be the victim of a crime than the perpetrator. 

According to mentalhealth.gov "The vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Most people with mental illness are not violent and only 3%-5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population. You probably know someone with a mental health problem and don't even realize it, because many people with mental health problems are highly active and productive members of our communities."

I understand the appeal to be scary on Halloween. For people who choose to dress up it is one night a year where all of that is socially acceptable, but there are so many costumes out there which are scary (trust me) and don't promote stigma against people with mental illness. 

Unlike with a costume we don't get to leave our illnesses in the hamper tonight, but we do have to carry the stigma every single day.