Saturday, December 31, 2016

Do not apologize for living with a mental illness

Im sure it's pretty clear by now that I don't hide the fact that I have a mental illness. I have no reason to.

I have found so much peace in my work to accept who I am. I am by no means complete in this process. It is a process, but when I stopped hiding my life I opened myself up to support from others and I opened myself up to be a support to others.

Whether in my life at college, with my friends, at church, or online I don't hide my mental illnesses. Some information has to come out at the right time to the right people, but besides that I try to be as open as I can be.

Through this process of opening myself up I have had so many marvelous opportunities to help people. I get asked questions all the time about coping skills, how to treat a friend who has a mental illness, where someone can find a good therapist, or how to go about getting a service dog or emotional support dog. You name is. I have probably been asked it.

It's not always butterflies and rainbows. Not everyone appreciates how open I am about certain things. But their opinions are their opinions.  The way I see it though is I'm not looking for attention, I'm just talking about my life. It just happens to be a little different at times than some people's.

If all people see about me is my mental illness that is their fault, not mine.

I have a goal in life to help as many people as I can. I believe that one reason I have had to go through these trials is so that I can help people. I do that by speaking out. By educating. By showing others who are in my position that it's okay. You don't have to apologize for living with a mental illness and it will get better.

Right now I do that by writing, be speaking, and by being open.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

I am Enough.

Most days I wake up terrified, haunted by dreams of memories past. On these days I lay under my covers and feel the weight of Jenny on me. Her deep breathing is a constant reminder that I am not alone. I take a breath, filling up my lungs to match my breathing to hers. I remind myself to stay in the here and now.

I often do what I call "reality checking" through out the day. This is a coping skill that has been in my toolbox for a couple years now, but I'm just starting to get where I remember to use it in the moment. This skill works when I challenge my core thoughts to see if they match up with reality.

I can often talk a good game and I am a pro at smiling in the face of anxiety, but deep inside my head I struggle with insecurities. Many of these are related to my mental illnesses. Most of these core thoughts can all be brought down to: I'm not good enough.

Not to sound conceited or anything, but that is simply not true. Why do I think this? Because I have enough diagnosis that I need two hands to count them all?  So I have some health problems. So what? That does not mean I'm any less capable to succeed. That doesn't mean I'm any less of a daughter, sister, or granddaughter.

It is said that one in four American's has a mental health condition. Many of us live quietly. Most of the time unless you were told, you would not know that your brother, sister, neighbor, or mentor had a mental illness. An extra struggle does not take away a person's worth.

I am well aware that this is mainly a problem which lives inside my head. To sound cliche for a moment, I am my own worst critic. That is why I wake up every day, lay under my blanket, match my breathing to Jenny's, and remind myself -- I am enough.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Don't Hold Yourself Back

I am one of the lucky ones who had the support and the means to get quality mental health care treatment when I became ill. Between all the treatment teams I've had and the teams from hospitals, I have had more than my fair share of help.

When I was at the hospital at UCLA there was a staff member there, D, who is one of the ones who stand out from the crowd. She was one of the patient staff members who stayed with us all day.

I liked D almost right away. She was funny and supportive while also being no nonsense. She knew what I was capable of and wouldn't accept anything less. I respected that and it made me work harder.
Anyways, one of my hospital stays had a particularly difficult ending. When I got discharged I did not feel as if I was ready to leave. I'd received some discouraging news. I wasn't sure how I was going to go home and manage my life. D knew I was upset about it and pulled me aside to talk to me. She gave me the pep talk of the century. This was all the way back in December of 2014. I still bring this pep talk to mind two years later when I need a little boost.

D sat me down in my room and told me basically screw everyone. Everyone who told me I couldn't do something or I wasn't good enough or called me crazy. She told me that the only thing that mattered was what I knew. D told me there would always be people in the world who would tell me I couldn't do things, not even because I have mental health problems, but because that's how the world works. It's impossible to make everyone happy. D told me that if I let what other people thought of me stop me from doing something then I was holding myself back and that wasn't okay. She admitted that life might be hard, but that giving up was not an option. There are ways to manage every difficulty and I need to find out what I had to do to make life work for me.

This was exactly the thing I needed at the moment. I will never forget the lesson I learned that day.
It has helped to fuel my persistent, stubborn attitude. Life is hard. That's not in question. Everyone has difficulties whether they be medical, financial, occupational, or anything else. However, struggles don't have to hold us back. I learned that valuable lesson two years ago and will remind myself of it everyday if I need to.

Thanks, D.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Stigma of Mental Illness

I have a mental illness. I have multiple mental illnesses.
You probably know multiple people with mental illnesses.
There is a 20% chance that you have a mental illness, yourself.

So why is there still such a stigma revolving around mental illness? Why are those of us who struggle with mental illness shamed and blamed for something we can't control.

A huge problem is how mental illness is portrayed in the media. A couple days ago I was watching ASL videos on Youtube and a commercial came on for a movie that will be coming out in January. This movie is called Split. Split is about a man who has 24 duel personalities and he kidnaps three young women. They portray this man as having Multiple Personality Disorder. This diagnosis was actually changed to fall under Dissociative Identity Disorder. The movie portrays the main character as very volatile and dangerous due to his mental illness.

I became so mad when I saw this commercial. My mom had just left for work and I got on my phone and angry texted her all about it. It is movies like these that give mental illness a bad name.

MYTH: All people with mental illness are dangerous.
FACT: All people have the potential to be dangerous. Those affected by mental illness are actually more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.

MYTH: People with mental illnesses are just lazy and need to work harder.
FACT: Mental illness is as much a physical disease as a mental one. Often times it has to do with a chemical imbalance in the brain.

I am on a mission to do what I can to reduce stigma on mental illness, educate those who don't know what living with mental illness is like, and prove that those of us with mental illnesses can do anything we want to.

One week to live

I was driving this morning with my family on the way to the coast to see my older siblings. We are fans of country music and The Bobby Bones show was on. This is the one and only talk show I have ever liked
One of the hosts, Amy, was sharing a story which I especially enjoyed.
I didn't catch all of the segment so I'm not sure where she heard this, but the main concept was asking what you would do if you only had one week to live.

They were talking about how everyone is so busy with the little things that they often do not realize life is passing them right by.
So the question was: If you knew you only had one week to live, where would you go, what would you do, and who would you be with?

I thought this was a great thing to think about with the new year only an arms distance away. When I first heard this it was a hard question. I didn't know what I would do. How do you plan something like that?

Well, I thought about it and thought about it and I think I know what I would do.

If I only had one week to live, where would I go? What would I do? Who would I be with?

I would want to see as much family as possible. In particular I would want to spend a lot of time with my papa. I think he would take my passing really hard. I would want to go to the pet rescue I volunteer at one last time and clean up there. As for where I would go, I'd want to spend my last few days in Montana up at the Wren Ranch. I have more family up there aind it's a great place for people to gather. I would want to write out letters to all of the many people who have helped me in my treatment over the years. Then I would want to write out and publish my entire story. I wouldn't leave anything out. Then I would sit in the living room and play games with my family.

My last few days would not include Netflix or TV. They would not include social media or Pinterest. My last week would have no arguing. I would try my best to speak kind words and be gracious to those I come in contact with.
I would focus on the things and act as the kind of person who was preparing to meet my Savior.

The point of this question was that I will never know when my last week is going to be. Hardly any of us will. It could be this week, it could be in 80 years. Personally, I hope it's closer to 80 years, but that's not exactly up to me.
I'm not saying that tv and social media and all the things so many of us get caught up in every day is bad. I for one am not about to stop watching Netflix, but there have been times where I've lost sight of those things which I should be focusing my attention on.
I don't think my Savior is going to care how many episodes of Gilmore Girls I was able to binge watch. He will, however, care if I spoke sharply to my mother.

There are many good things in this world. I try to remember what a church leader told me one time (I don't remember who). It goes along these lines. You can choose the good thing to do, yes, but there may be a better thing you can do. The better thing might also not be the best thing.

When I was in high school my Forensics teacher had a quote on his wall that said "Good, better, best, never ever rest 'till your good is better and your better is best.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Superhero Service Dog

I am extremely blessed to have constant heartbeat at my feet. My partner in crime is a two year old, female, yellow lab. Jenny, whom I have had for a year, is my psychiatric medical alert service dog.

I received Jenny from an organization is San Diego, California named Little Angels Service Dogs. They have a ranch where they train service dogs for all different types of disabilities including psychiatric, autism, hearing, and seizure alert dogs. A lot of their dogs come from their breeding program, but they do rescues as well. Jenny's training started at six weeks old. I met her shortly after she turned one. When her training was finished my mom and I had the opportunity to travel to San Diego where I spent two weeks in Handler Training learning how to work with Jenny.

This is the first day I met Jenny. 
This is her preforming Deep Pressure Therapy

Jenny is a Psychiatric Service Dog. This is different from a therapy dog or an Emotional Support Animal. Jenny is specifically trained in different tasks to help with my mental illnesses.  Her basic obedience tasks include sit, stay, down, wait, come, off, inside, out, and watch me. Then she has the tasks that help me personally. Her main task is medical alert. Jenny is trained to notice changes in my body and can alert me to panic attacks before they happen. She notices when my anxiety rises. She alerts me when I am holding my breath. She has also recently started alerting me if my physical pain becomes too high. When Jenny alerts me I am then able to assess my situation and do the steps I need to in order to take care of myself. 
Jenny can also help with that. Another command Jenny knows is "paws up." When I say this to Jenny she jumps up in my lap if I'm seated in a chair, or lays across me if I'm laying down. This uses her body weight to hit pressure points that relieve anxiety. It also gives me a good chance to hold her and pet her which takes me mind off of whatever has me upset. 
Her last task is Non-Protective Boundary Control. Most of the time when Jenny is doing this others around me will have no idea. I simply hold my hand in front of her nose and say "touch" and she will follow my fingers wherever they go. Normally she just lays in front of me or behind me in order to provide more space and keep people from getting too close. 

Since Jenny is a service dog she is covered under the American's with Disabilities Act. Federal law gives me the right to take Jenny into anywhere the general public is allowed to go. There are a few exceptions to where we are allowed to go such as certain areas of the hospital which require sterile protocol such as burn units and operating rooms. I also have to ask permission to bring her with me when I am entering another persons house. This usually isn't a problem. I've only had one person tell me that I could not bring Jenny with me if I wanted to come over. 

Since I got Jenny when I was seventeen she finished out high school with me. We walked the stage together at graduation. Now she lives in the dorms with me at Cal State Bakersfield. 

Having Jenny has allowed me to be able to do these things and many more. She has vastly improved the level of independence I can have. I am grateful every day to have her. I look forward to all the new adventures we will have together.  

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Finding my Voice

The highlight of my high school years was the opportunity I had to compete on my schools Speech and Debate team. While I loved the exhilarating rush of debating, speech was my favorite. I liked that I could customize the topic to what messages I wanted to share at that point in my life.

As I started having more trouble with mental illness in my life I chose to speak on topics relating to that. At one point during my Junior year, after returning from a hospital stay at the UCLA medical center, I wrote and competed with a speech entitled "Ten Things I Learned in a Mental Hospital."

I love speaking and I have known for some time now that I wanted to use my voice to speak out about mental health. My struggle though is finding opportunities to do this. After I graduated high school and no longer had my team as a speaking outlet I was looking for something to get me started in the direction I wanted to go. Cue blogging.

I started this blog to write and share my ideas and hopefully be the first step in sharing my story and education others about mental illness. When I first started writing on this blog one thing I knew is that I didn't want this to become a stressful event. When working on a writing piece I can spend months writing, rewriting, revising, and editing and still not be happy with it. That is not what this is about.

Writing, for the most part is theraputic for me. Whether or not anyone reads this, it is helping me. Because of this I normally only read over what I have written one time. I don't spend hours revising and editing it. I do not stress about whether or not it is perfect. I can tell you right now, it never will be. It isn't supposed to be. I am not perfect. My life is not perfect. My writing mimics that. For now I am just finding my voice.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Reflections from leaving Residential

Last week a very special anniversary passed for me. It was my one year date since I came home from Canon.
Canon House was part of Destinations to Recovery (DTR). It was a mental health residential treatment facility I stayed at for two and a half months from the end of September to December 2015. I entered at 17 years old, spent my 18th birthday inside, and came home about a month later. The decision to be placed in residential came after a long and hard couple years during which time I was hospitalized five times. Canon was my last hope.
DTR did not disappoint. It was not easy, but with the help of some amazing therapists, great counselors, and group leaders I became stable again. I often say Canon was the best thing that ever happened to me in my treatment journey. Living there I was immersed in a 24/7 world of therapy. Every moment from the time we woke up in the morning to the time we went to sleep was scheduled out for us. We had two individual sessions, one family session, one multi-family session, and multiple group sessions with therapists each week. In between those we had many different groups. We did everything from Psychodrama to Nutrition to Dance and Movement therapy. My most fun activity was getting to go surfing each week.
While Canon was great and I learned so many things, life there is best compared to living in a bubble. We weren't in the real world. It is easy to stay stable in recovery when you are in such a safe and calculated environment. All good things must come to an end and on December 11, 2015 I left Canon House to return home. I was terrified and excited all at the same time. While I didn't feel ready to leave in my head I knew I was.
Due to the lack of resources in Bakersfield my only after care plan was seeing a therapist twice a week. My therapist had never sent someone home without a day program and had them succeed, so I knew I had my work cut out for me.
The most important thing I learned being home is that it is all up to me. My therapist could say whatever she wanted, my parents could say whatever they wanted and try to make me do all of the right things, but ultimately it was all up to me. I had to be willing to follow through with all the tools I had learned. I had to be willing to stay away from situations, people, and things that I knew were not good for me. I had to be willing to ask for help when I needed it.
It has not been easy. I have been home for a year now and it is still not always easy. I thank my Father in Heaven every day that the good days now outnumber the bad. However, I will always have to fight my battles and keep up with my healthy coping skills.
One other thing I have learned is that there are no excuses. I can make them, sure, but they will always be invalid. There is always more to be done, different skills to try, someone else to reach out to.
My life doesn't own me anymore. The reins are back in my hands. I have had such amazing help alone the way. My parents have stood by my side and helped me find the best care possible. I have an amazing aunt and an awesome best friend who are a great aid to my support system, and I still see a therapist once a week.

Our struggles and our demons do not have to win. This is our life and our agency. With help and persistence we can make it anything we want it to be.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

I'm Not the Girl I was Last Year

1 year. 12 months. 52 weeks. 365 days. Countless changes.
Each new year brings opportunity for change. You learn, you have new experiences and grow from all of them. Some changes are for the better and others become lessons for next time. Change is often slow, sometimes so much so you don’t notice the effect it’s having on you. This year though, I have changed more than ever before.
This year tested my limits unlike any year prior. The fog of confusion that had clouded my mind during the previous years had dissolved leaving me to clean up its mess. I lost best friends this year. I came to a place of understanding that some of those “that’ll never happen to me” situations might just happen.
This year I soared to the sky after my spiral to the ground. This year I stayed out of hospitals and treatment homes. When I left home in August it was to move into a college dorm room. This year I retaught myself how to learn and finished out my first semester strong. This year I became an advocate for myself and my needs. This year I became stronger.
It wasn’t easy. I questioned every move I made, but I’ve had too many experiences and learned too many valuable lessons to waste time wishing for what could have been.
I’m not the person I was last year, and that’s okay.
Who I am now is a girl who isn’t afraid to stand up for herself. Who I am now is a girl who knows failure doesn’t come from making mistakes, only in failing to learn from them. I’ve tried new things. I have ripped off band aid after band aid as I work towards taking care of myself. I have brought myself to a place so much healthier than I ever hoped to be a year ago.
I have a few more mountains to climb. I feel no shame in admitting that. I know the work that needs to be done and I can do it. I will do it.

 I am young. I’m still figuring life out and I’m sure it will test me at every turn of a corner, but that’s okay. I’m on a journey that is all my own. Who will I be next year? Only the future knows. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Blessed to be Stressed

I am about to embark on the most stressful week to a college freshman: finals week. As I was setting up a plan of attack my mood shifted from stressed to incredibly blessed.

A year ago I was in a very different position in life. I was still in the residential facility I was staying at and there were so many unknowns about my future.

My high school career was....unusual to say the least. Most of my schooling was done on a Home Study program in between doctors appointments and hospital stays. For a very long time I did not consider college to be an option for me. It just didn't seem possible.

So now when I take a look back, I feel so blessed to be stressing over finals, because it is a miracle to be in this place.

Over the past semester I moved out of my childhood home into the college dorms. I had to reteach myself how to learn in a school environment. There have been many moments of stress. I had days where I called my dad in tears because I didn't know how I was going to get an assignment done in time.

I am still teaching myself how to learn. My brain works different than it used to. I still have moments of stress and anxiety, but I deal with them as they come.

Now, when I get worried, when I'm afraid of failing, or scared that I won't be good enough I look at the past. I look at a year ago when I could have never imagined living on my own. I look at two years ago when the thought of college was unfathomable. I look back at what I have come from and I feel so incredibly blessed to be stressed.

Monday, July 4, 2016

A Different Kind of Independence

         Between food, fireworks, and friends there is a lot I look forward to each Fourth of July as we celebrate Independence Day.

         I love my country. I am thankful for my country. I strive to be aware of what the price was and is for the freedoms I enjoy every day. The cost of independence is not an easy one.

        As I am looking back at the many milestones happening in my life I find it fitting that this Independence Day marks one year since I brought my service dog, Jenny, home to be my forever companion. Jenny is a huge symbol of my personal independence.

        For two years I struggled through anxiety, depression,  medications, hallucinations, psychotic symptoms, misdiagnosis, and hospital admissions. I felt surrounded by darkness and could not see any spark of hope. I would be hospitalized almost every six months just to get stable enough to come back home and try and deal with the mess inside my head. I traveled from doctor to doctor, no one knowing what was wrong with me, everyone throwing different medications at me. One day, a nurse practitioner made a suggesting that would change everything: a dog.

         My loving grandparents got my sweet little Yorkie, Oliver for me. With Oliver came hope. I loved him with emotion deeper than anything I had felt in a long time. He was able to pull me out of episodes and comfort me like nothing had in over a year.

         Oliver continues to be a huge blessing in my life, however as time went on my family and I realized I needed something that I could have outside the walls of my home.

          When the idea of a service dog was first brought up I went back and forth. I didn't know if I was "bad enough" to be able to have one. When my Junior year started and I only made it a week and a half before going back on Home Study I knew I was ready to pursue a service dog.

          This meant I would have to share my story also. Up until this time I did not like to talk to anyone about what I was experiencing. I was embarrassed and ashamed. Thankfully, the people in my life and community rallied around me and became a huge part of why I was able to get a service dog so quickly. Sooner than we all expected the email came one day that Jenny was ready for me. All I remember that day is hugging my dad while we both cried.

          A few days later my mom and I headed up to San Diego for two weeks of Handler Training where I learned how to work with Jenny and she learned how to work with me. At the end of training, on the July 4, 2015 I brought Jenny home with me as my forever companion.

          Jenny has been such an enormous blessing in my life. We work together and flow together 24/7
as if we were one and the same. Since bringing Jenny home I have become more stabilized and received the correct diagnosis and medication. Last month we were able to walk the stage together as I graduated high school. A feat I never could have done without her. Sometimes Jenny knows me better than I know myself.

          This doesn't mean that I don't still have issues. I do. I am on medication and I have things I am still working through in therapy. I use my coping skills and techniques to help me live. I have to fight hard every single day for my mental health, but Jenny meets me part way.

          Together we stand. Together we live. Together we thrive.

Commencement Speech

This is the speech I had the opportunity and privilege to give at my high school graduation last month.

The theme given to us for this year’s graduation is “We fly high.” I chose the word “given” carefully because like many things in our past twelve years of school, this theme was given to us. We’ve been fortunate to have family members, administration, and teachers pushing our development forward to get us to where we are today. Tomorrow, when we walk out the school gates for the last time that aid is over. We are adults now. If we are going to progress and move forward any more in our lives it will be up to us to make that happen.
Our theme of “we fly high” certainly has the potential to be true, but it will not be for all of us. It is our choice to either fly or fall.
A few years ago I found myself falling fast. A battle with anxiety and depression was controlling my life and threatening my ability to graduate on time. The days I was not in school outnumbered the days that I was. Thankfully my amazing family and a few great teachers helped me be able to succeed. I've learned a lot from the past four years here at Independence and I found that the most important lessons did not come from within the pages of textbooks. The time I spent in AVID taught me that if I wanted to advance I had to do it through my own individual determination and the Forensics program and my amazing coaches taught me how to speak and be heard. Those are the lessons I will forever carry with me.

Life is not meant to be easy. Growing hurts, but we each have it within us to soar. When an obstacle presents itself go around it, climb over it, crawl under it if you have to but move past it and you will fly high.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

I Stand Unashamed

I Stand Unashamed
I do not apologize for my scars anymore. I refuse to.
Most of them are small, discreet. Some you would have to look for to find, but I have one set on my arm that is easily be spotted by those I come into contact with every day. I have agonized over these small white lines for almost two years.
I was not mentally “present” in my body when I made those marks, yet the first thing I said to my mom was, “I’m sorry.” I tried every possible means to hide them that I could think of from make-up, to different kinds of bandages, to long sleeved clothing.
I hid them out of shame and embarrassment. I hid them out of fear. I was afraid of the negative reactions that would come with having scars on my body. But hiding is difficult, some days I forgot the band aid, some days they just wouldn’t stick. Slowly as I grew confidence in myself I began covering my arm less and less.
This is when I really had to learn to fight for myself. I had to be ready to accept negative feedback when it came in. And boy did it come in.
From most people it was just a small look, or maybe a whisper that wasn’t quiet enough. Other times people would take it upon themselves, whether I knew them or not, to tell me their opinion on the matter. As if they had all of the answers I lacked. I look back at certain encounters and wish I could run a do-over with all the information I know today. I wish I could have stayed cool under pressure when I was berated at Walmart by a mom I had never seen before. I wish I could have stood up to the mean girls at YW Camp who spoke not far enough behind my back, or who told me I was going to hell and that I had a devil inside of me. I wish I would have educated and informed, instead of running away. But there is no use dwelling in what could have been.
I prefer to celebrate the now. In a few days’ time on June 16, 2016 I will celebrate one year free of self-harm. If I were running the AA program it would be considered my first birthday. So now I do what I could not a year ago and Stand Unashamed.
Do not misunderstand; I do not condone injuring one’s self in any way. I consider those who find it “beautifully tragic” to be either ignorant or in need of help, probably both.
But I will never apologize for my scars.
I view them as a part of me and my story. I have sustained many injuries to my body that cannot be seen, these just happen to be on the outside. They tell the story of the girl I used to be. More importantly, my scars show me the person I am now. They show the healed white lines of an old mark that has been aged with time. They show the battle I fought and survived. They show the girl who has left them behind.
I go through the majority of my days without noticing them anymore. Only sometimes will they catch my eye and I’ll find myself thinking of a world I used to live in. Then I take a breath I remind myself of the strength the healing shows.
There was a time I would have become angry when someone stared a little too long or asked a probing question but now I am confident in my answer, “They are from another lifetime.”