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 threw 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 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 "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."

Choosing Not to Tell My Friends I have Chronic Illnesses

This year at school I have a new group of friends. There is only one girl I am friends with this year who I was friends with last year. She is awesome, we live in the same suite, and I'm very grateful to have her. She is the only one of my friends at college who knows about my illnesses.

Then there are three other girls I am friends with. I made the decision this year to keep my illnesses  separate from my friendship with them.

It isn't a decision I made out of shame or embarrassment. It kind of just happened and I decided I wanted to keep it like that. They obviously know I have some sort of medical problems. A service dog kind of gives that away, but they haven't inquired any farther into why or what and I haven't offered.

So my friends don't know what my diagnosis are or what they mean. They don't know about this blog or about the writing I do for other websites. They don't know about my journey with mental illness and that that's the reason I'm involved with so much advocacy. They are not on my social media. Our entire friendships are about who I am outside of my illnesses and sometimes I really need that.

It didn't matter as much to me until a couple weeks ago when I started having new complications. Suddenly everything about my life was becoming about my illnesses.
There was a day last week when I hadn't been able to eat pretty much anything for like a week. I had just ended up in Urgent Care for my fourth IV in a row because POTS wasn't happy. I wasn't sure what was happening with my body or what the end results would be.

I returned from Urgent Care a little after 6. I took the bandage off my arm and I went to go handout with my friends in one of their dorm rooms. There were five of us in that room and only myself and one of my suitemates knew where I had been.
No one asked how I was doing. Nothing was mentioned about my health. We just hung out and for a little while I got to forget about everything that was happening in my life and I got to be normal.

It's not always easy with them not knowing. Sometimes a comment will get made that was only made because they don't know what's happening in my life, but I've decided it is worth it to deal with that and have one part of my life where I can leave all the worries behind and just go and laugh.

I'm sure one day they will learn about my illnesses. If we get closer I might tell them. If they asked about it I would tell them. I'm not completely against them knowing and I definitely wouldn't lie if they wanted to know more, but for now I'm enjoying having a part of my life that has nothing to do with being sick.

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.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Recovery Conference Speech

Hi guys, last Friday I had the incredible opportunity to be a Keynote speaker at the Kern Behavioral Health and Recovery Services annual Recovery Conference.
I was asked by a couple people to share my speech, so here it is. This is my story with mental illness and my thoughts on what recovery means.
Fair was a 15 minute speech so it's a little long.

Recovery in Motion
            Hi everyone! I am so grateful and incredibly humbled to be able to stand here today and talk with you about recovery and my journey with it.
            My story begins about four years ago when I was 15 years old. I was a Freshman in High School and mental illness never crossed my mind, that is, until I started struggling with it.
            My symptoms started out gradually and progressively became worse. About the time my Freshman year was ending I started experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression. I did not know what was happening to me, but I felt like it wasn’t right and so I hid it from everyone around me.
            As my sophomore year was starting the depression was getting worse. I knew I needed help, but I was embarrassed and I didn’t know how to talk about it; so, I wrote my mom a note and left it on her pillow one night.
            I was blessed with parents who took what was happening seriously and my mom found a therapist for me to start seeing. This would be the therapist that I would stay with for the following two years. Despite getting on medication and being in therapy once a week my life started to unravel as I became more and more unstable.
            A few months after starting therapy for anxiety and depression I started experiencing psychotic symptoms that slowly became more severe. I was having auditory and visual hallucinations, I was delusional, and I became paranoid. I was given the diagnosis of Schizoaffective Disorder. That disorder began dictating my life.
            I had missed a significant number of days of my Sophomore year due to depression, but as the end of the year drew nearer my psychotic symptoms became such that I had to go on Home Study.
In May, when my classmates were taking their finals I was being admitted to what was then known as Good Samaritan Hospital for my first psychiatric hospitalization. In June I was hospitalized again this time in UCLA’s Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital. I came out relatively stable for the summer.
When August rolled around I wanted to go back to school. This launched me into my second psychotic episode. Most days I would end up hallucinating in a teacher’s classroom and the administration would have to call my mom to come take me home. I lasted about two weeks before going back on Home Study for the remainder of my Junior Year.
This time around the psychosis was worse than the first. I could barely read or write clearly. Some days I couldn’t think or talk clearly. My safety was a big concern and so I was unable to stay home alone or go anywhere without being watched by someone who knew about what was happening inside my mind. I felt like a prisoner. A prisoner to my mind and a prisoner in my home.
In December of 2014 I was hospitalized for the third time in UCLA. I left that stay less stable than my previous one. When my doctor came in to discharge me he told me I was going home because “there is nothing else we can do for you here.” That was incredibly discouraging to me, but it was also one of the driving factors to make me fight.
I have been told more times than I can count that I am a “complicated case.” I was told at one point that I should expect to have to be hospitalized every year or so of my life to be re-stabilized. For a long time I thought that was what my life was going to be, but I never wanted to fully resign myself to it. I had a choice to make. I chose ignore those who told me I could not doing something and I chose to fight. So I let my psychiatrist put me on what was probably the 20th new medication and I showed up to every therapy appointment.
Do you know what happened? Things didn’t get better, not for a long time. In fact, they got worse for a little bit.
Around August of 2015 right as my Senior year was about to start the psychotic symptoms started becoming less and less, but my depression was bad again. You see, I had a secret. A secret of something that had happened two years prior. A secret I had dissociated from for about a year and kept quiet for another year, but my secret was about to kill me. I couldn’t say it out loud so I typed my therapist an email late one night.
What I told him was that in Spring of 2013, right before all my symptoms started seemingly out of no where, I had been raped by a man from my church. I didn’t know what dissociation was at the time, but my therapist explained it to me as the mind being a powerful tool. My mind made me forget about the trauma for a short time to protect itself from something I didn’t have the capacity to handle. The memories were still there, they just manifested as anxiety, depression, and psychotic symptoms.
All of a sudden all these little things we didn’t have answers for made sense. The pieces of the puzzle were all in place and we finally had a picture. I was grateful to just be believed. My biggest fear was that became of my history with hallucinations and delusions I wouldn’t be believed, but that was never the case. Telling my therapist about that assault opened the door for me to start working on the root of my problems and from there things started getting a bit better.
After telling my therapist I was hospitalized for the fourth time in UCLA. This was the first time I was being admitted for suicidal thoughts instead of psychosis. The diagnosis of Schizoaffective was taken away and labeled a misdiagnosis. My new one was PTSD – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
I was in UCLA for three weeks. I came home the day before Senior year started. I went to school for three weeks, but refused to talk to my therapist about the assault. I became actively suicidal and was sent back to UCLA for my fifth and final hospitalization.
I was there for another three weeks, but this time something had to change. I couldn’t keep living like this. I was three months away from turning 18. If I got admitted again the next time I would be in the adult unit and that terrified me.
So the decision was made and on September 27, 2015 I entered Destinations to Recovery, a residential treatment center in Topanga, California.
Destinations was the absolute best thing that could have happened to me. I was there for 10 weeks. In that time I worked with some therapists who taught me what a good therapist/client relationship can look like. They taught me how to trust. They taught me my life didn’t have to be a revolving door of hospitals. They taught me how to fight, how to believe in myself, and they taught me I was worth it.
My progress at Destinations was multi-faceted. I progressed in therapy to the point I was able to tell multiple therapists about my trauma. I learned how to trust others and gained a best friend out of my first roommate. I also learned how to have fun and feel safe again. We did multiple activities that were both fun and had a therapeutic benefit including surfing lessons, taking care of horses, and expressive art groups.
I spent both my 18th birthday and Thanksgiving in Destinations. Thanksgiving especially was a really special day for me. All the families came, the chef made an awesome dinner, and we all had a good time together. The special part for me was how happy I was that day. I had spent the last two Thanksgivings psychotic and I felt like I had come so far.
I came out of Destinations in December of 2015 a completely different person. I was more stable than I had been in over two years, I was happy, I was strong, and I was determined to continue my progress. One of my first accomplishments was going back to school for my last semester. Not only did I graduate with my class, but I was in the top 75 of my class out of 500 students and I gave commencement address at the graduation ceremony.

Normally that is where I would conclude when asked to share “my story,” but today’s theme is “Recovery in Motion” so I wanted to be a little bit more transparent with you about what recovery means to me.
I used to think recovery and being recovered meant that one day I would get to a place where I would wake up and go about my life with anything relating to mental illness just a distant memory from another lifetime.
I have since come to the understanding that at least for me, that couldn’t be farther from the truth, because I continue to fight my mental illnesses.
I still struggle with my PTSD. I’m hypervigilant, I have flashbacks and nightmares. I have an anxious mind and I don’t sleep enough. I have not had a depressive episode in two years, but I still feel the depression sometimes.
These are things I have to deal with, but my life today is about more than just my symptoms. I am doing things that two years ago I would have never dreamed possible. I’m a college student at CSUB. I made the Dean’s List last year. I am the President of a Club and part of Health Outreach Committees on campus. I teach the three year olds at my church. I am a speaker and a writer, and I volunteer with the KBHRS Transitional Age Youth team.
Now I’m not telling you these things about me to say “oh look what I can do.” No. I am telling you this to let you know that struggling with mental illness doesn’t have to be the beginning and the end to your story.
Your life might be a little harder and you might have to do things a little differently, but that’s okay. I still see a therapist every week. I still take medication. I attend an awesome support group at Riverlakes. I make sure to schedule into my planner time to rest, time to reflect, and time to recharge. I carry coping skills with me wherever I go and if life become to overwhelming I give up one of the activities I am involved in, even if it is something I love, because my mental health must come above all else.
Guys, I am not special. Well, my mom tells me I’m special, but the things I have done and continue to do in order to maintain my mental health and live the life I want are simple. They are steps any one of us can take.
I have come to learn that my past and my illnesses do not have to be a weakness. I choose to use them as an asset. Sure, I will admit that from my mental illnesses have come some of my biggest weaknesses, but I have also gained strength and opportunities because of them I could have gotten no other way.
So today I want to challenge you to take a look into your own life. Whether you struggle with mental illness or some other adversity. Look at what you view as your biggest deficit or weakness. Now look a little deeper and see how that struggle has made you stronger. Use it to your advantage. It might not be easy to find, but every situation has at least two sides.

In that, is where I believe recovery comes from. Not in an absence of symptoms, but in a new way of viewing and managing our struggles. The power is within each of us to succeed and live a fulfilling life. You just have to find it.