Saturday, June 16, 2018

From "Not Dead" to "Alive"

Quoting her mother, Diane Von Furstenberg said, "There are two types of survivors, those who don't die, and those who live."

In my own journey of surviving I have belonged to both of these categories. This past April marked five years since I was raped. For the first three years after the assault my body was breathing, but my heart felt like it had died in that room. 

There was a secret I couldn't bring myself to say aloud - I wished he had killed me that day. 

This is the first time I'm sharing that sentence outside of a therapy room. I do it for the purpose of creating the contrast between then and now. For those years I was the type of survivor who didn't die. In the past two years I have become the survivor who lived. 

Earlier this year when I took a step back and looked around at my life I realized I was living my dreams. 

In the past five years my main goals have been:
  • Stay alive
  • Graduate high school on time
  • Stay out of the hospital
  • Go to college
  • Live on my own
  • Get involved in mental health advocacy
  • Serve a mission 
Some of these look similar to what other 20 year olds might have on their list of goals, but they often weren't a given. My Freshman year of high school was the only one I attended full time and on campus. Graduating with my class wasn't always a guarantee.

I was once told that I should expect hospitalizations to be continuous part of my life. I was told college and living alone were things I might not be able to do, and definitely not at 18. 

But this is my life. I will never be a person who has never been raped, but the defining choices of my life will be mine, not my perpetrators. We all have the power to decide who we want to be. 

Coming to a place where I felt alive again took time and a lot of work. I had to accept that I was different now, but that different didn't mean worse. Coming to a place where I felt alive again wasn't something anyone could do for me. In large part going from "not dead" to "alive" was a choice. 

A choice to fight. A choice to put one foot in front of the other. A choice to change the way I viewed my assault and myself. And it's a choice I continue to make every day. 

The course of my life was changed in an instant. It has been five years and there are still things I have to work through, but I am so glad he did not kill me that day and I'm grateful that I never took my own life. 

How glorious it is to feel alive. 

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."

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 "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. 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

An Eternity with Mema

In four days time, on Wednesday, it will have been two years since my Grandma (Mema) died. She passed away November 1, 2015. Like everything happening around that time, I saw my Heavenly Father's hand very clearly in what happened.

Mema had been sick for a long time; she had been sick for years. There had been multiple times when she got sicker and it looked very likely that she was not going to make it. She always managed to pull through though.

My mom and I have had this conversation and we both believe she got to stay as long as she did in part because of me. The last two years of her life were also the two years where I spent most of my time psychotic and in and out of hospitals.

Mema and I had always been extremely close. She was a vital player in my life since the moment I was born. When we moved into our house at the age of 5, Mema and Papa bought a house around the corner to be that much closer to us. I have so many wonderful memories of growing up with them.

When Mema died I was in the Residential treatment center I was living in at the time. I had been there for over a month. I originally had a lot of guilt over not being there when she was so sick and when she died. Eventually though I saw it as a blessing.

I do not know what it would have done to me if she had died at any other time. Her passing away while I was at Canon gave me 24/7 support during that time. I needed to be there when I lost her because they were able to help me cope in a way I would not have had back home.

It also gave my Mom the time and space she needed to plan a funeral and take care of my grandpa and uncle without worrying about my safety or if I was taken care of.

I was granted leave to go to her funeral where I was able to speak and read letters written by all of my siblings.

The last two years have been hard without her. I still miss her dearly and think of her often, but I find tremendous comfort knowing that I will see Mema again. It was such a blessing last year to be able to do the temple work for her by proxy.
I am so grateful for the knowledge I have that death is not the end. We still have a eternity together waiting for us.

M. Russell Ballard has a quote I like that says, "What matters most is what lasts longest, and our families are for eternity."

Friday, October 27, 2017

To My Suitemate Who Sees Me as More Than My Illnesses

Dear Suitemate,

When we met last year I knew we would become friends. We are similar in ways that made it easy for us to get along. I was so excited when you asked if I wanted to room together this year. We ended up compromising and living in the same suite (two rooms sharing a living room and bathroom) because I need to not have a roommate.

Last year you knew that I had chronic illnesses, but you did not know much of what my life was like with them. I was a little worried about how living together would change our relationship.

When we moved into the dorms in August my life was managed fairly well. There were a couple instances where it was more obvious I wasn't completely healthy like when I ended up in the ER on move in day, or when I passed out in our bathroom, but I was managing all aspects of my life just fine.

The last few weeks have been a little tougher with new problems emerging and although I was initially worried about how you being more aware of my symptoms would affect our relationship, I don't know how I could have done it without you.

You can tell when I don't feel well and are keenly perceptive. You let me know ever so subtly that you won't think less of me if I have to sit down for a minute to catch my breath, ask for help, or sit something out. You have taken on some responsibilities for ANCHOR when I couldn't handle them. You don't question me when I do things that "normal" 19 year olds don't do.
You have taken me to Urgent Care when I needed an IV, but couldn't drive myself. You check in to see how I'm doing and let me know you are there if I want to talk, but instead of asking questions you leave it up to me to decide how much I want to share.
You are also there if I need to be normal for a while with it having absolutely nothing to do with illnesses, symptoms, or treatments. 

The biggest worry I had was that our friendship would become about me being sick, but that never happened.
Our relationship is exactly like it was before. Perhaps the thing that means the most to me is that you don't treat me like I'm sick. You don't look down at me or act like I can't do certain things because of my illnesses. I am still invited when the group gets together even if I deny the invitation. You see me as the same person you knew before you learned about my illnesses and that means the world to me.

It's been a blessing to have you in my life.