Friday, September 22, 2017

Needing Help Doesn't Mean I'm Not Strong

I will be the first person to admit that I am a stubborn person and I base too many of my actions off of feelings like I "should" do something. That is something that I am working on and slowly but surely becoming better at.

I can see the progression in the different parts of my lives. I am good at taking care of my mental health and putting that first. I've done so much work on it that I can make those good decisions fairly easy. If I need assistance or accommodations I will ask for them.

I have been dealing with that for about four years now so it has been a journey to get to the point where I felt comfortable doing that.

I have been dealing with chronic illness for about a year and so it is a bit of a slower process figuring out and accepting what I need to do for that.

I don't like feeling like I have limitations or that I can't do everything. I feel like I have this weird relationship with EDS and POTS where I spend half the time trying to pretend like they don't affect my life and the other half advocating for treatments and trying to show others that they do exist.

One thing I am not  very good at for the physical illnesses is asking for and receiving help. This is where the "shoulds" come in. I feel like I'm only 19 so I should be able to do all these things and keep up with everyone my age, but the reality is that doesn't always happen.

One instance this has come into play recently is how I deal with pain. I've written about dealing with chronic pain before because of my Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. I don't keep it a secret, but when I'm interacting with people I don't like them to be able to see that I am in pain. I hate the days I'm limping or the days I need to use my cane because then it's more obvious that I'm hurting.

Part of this stems from a bad experience I had very early on when I was honest with someone I knew very well. I saw her every day and she saw the progression of braces and mobility aids and saw me training Jenny in more mobility tasks. So when she asked about the reason why I was told her.

She is the sweetest individual and all she does comes from a place of love, but her response was, "oh you poor thing. Let me do everything for you because you can't do it for yourself." She continues to ask me every day if I'm feeling better yet. For a few months now I've been telling her yes so that she wouldn't get that sad look in her eye if I said anything else.

Because of that experience I don't want to let people I'm with know if I'm in pain or dealing with other symptoms because I want to be seen as competent and able to fulfill my responsibilities.

But sometimes I do need help and one of those instances happened last week. For a reason I am not aware of my hips were in a mood last week and doing this weird thing where one of them would just give out randomly when I was standing or walking.

So I was at Institute one night and I almost didn't go because my pain meds weren't working, I was tired and anxious about the fact that my hips were in a mood but I decided to go anyways because I wanted to feel the Spirit and peace that is always present in the Institute building.

I was glad I went. Class was good. It finished and I got up to go. When I stood up there was this shooting pain that radiated from my hip all the way down my leg and I kind of fell, but kind of caught myself, but still ended up on the floor. (lets all just ignore my grammar. It's late. I'm not too worried about it)

While I was sitting on the floor some girls came up to me with questions about Jenny so I acted normal and answered their questions. It's not unusual for people to see me sitting on the floor at Institute. They walked away and our teacher came over. I think he kind of knew that this time my sitting on the floor was not normal. He asked if I was okay a second time and then if I needed help.

I was honest about the fact that I didn't know if I could stand up, but I declined his offer of help.  That was my stubborn pride of thinking I "should" be able to get up and the fact that I don't want to bug people and he had already helped me with something else a couple days earlier.

Short story shorter - he walked away, I tried to stand up, more pain, he came back, I asked for help.

Getting help up was not the part I was super concerned about. The part that worried/embarrassed me was that I was hurting and I knew getting up was going to hurt. As I stood up we were facing each other and I was aware of the fact that he could see the pain in my face. I don't like people to see that.

Anyways, he was cool about it in that he didn't make a thing out of it. After I was upright he walked away and went about the night normally like nothing had happened.

Later I both thanked him for his help and apologized for needing it. (Yes, I'm working on not doing that). His reply was something I didn't know I needed to hear. He told me that it was a blessing to be able to help and that I shouldn't hesitate to ask for help because of the blessing it could be in the other persons life. He told me that needed doesn't mean I'm not strong.

This instance was the opposite of the first interaction I had. It challenged my way of thinking.

I'm definitely still not super comfortable asking for help in most situations. I will always try every way to do things on my own first, but that night planted the seed that maybe it's okay to need help sometimes. Maybe it's okay to not be able to do everything. And that needing help doesn't take away from my strength.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

God Sees us Different than We See Ourselves

As I have been working on a speech for an upcoming event I am speaking at I have been pondering change and how God has worked in my life to change the course I was on. A big part of my speech is about changing the way you view your trials, struggles, and weaknesses. 

Through writing this speech I was reminded of a song that was shared with me about a year ago. The song is called "Mended" by Matthew West. It talks about how sometimes we feel like we are beyond repair, but that God always has his hand in our lives and what he sees in us is our potential. 

Especially concerning my mental illnesses I used to think that I was damaged goods, that I would never be good enough to reach that potential we all have, but no matter how we view ourselves that is not what God sees when he looks at us. 

When my Heavenly Father looks at me he sees everything I am and everything I can become. He sees the struggle I am in now, but also how it can make me better. I don't believe that we have trials just because. They all have a purpose in our lives. To test us, to help us grow, to make us stronger. 

I love Matthew West's lyrics because they describe all pf that while beautifully put to music. 

Here is some of what he says

...Look in the mirror, but you find someone
you never thought you'd be
oh, but I can still recognize
the one I love in your tear stained eyes...

When you see broken beyond repair 
I see healing beyond belief...

When you see nothing but damaged goods
I see something good in the making
I'm not finished yet
When you see wounded, I see mended

You see your worst mistake
But I see the price I paid...

I see my child, my beloved
The new creation you're becoming
You see the scars from when you fell
but I see the stories they will tell

You see worthless, I see priceless
You see pain, but I see a purpose
You see unworthy, undeserving
But I see you through the eyes of mercy

You see broken beyond repair
I see healing beyond belief...

When you see wounded, I see mended

When I changed the way I viewed my mental illnesses I became a happier, more successful version of myself. I'm not saying they're a great thing, but I am saying they have made me who I am and I don't need to be ashamed of them. 
Yes, they have given me some of my biggest weaknesses, but from them I have also gained strength and opportunity I would have found no other way. That is what I choose to focus on. 
I choose to use the trials I have been given and let them aid me in becoming who I am meant to be. 

Every story and situation has more than one side. I see both sides, but I choose to focus on the good and the possibilities. 

Friday, September 8, 2017

Love Them or Hate Them, Most of us Need Them: Therapists

I have been significantly MIA on here for quite a while, but I think it is time I get back into writing. Today I wanted to talk about therapy, or more specifically therapists. 

You might love them, you might hate them, but I'm under the impression that most of us need them. 

Over my years of experience with mental illness I have seen quite a few therapists and learned a thing or two. 

Dr. C. was the first therapist I ever saw. I started seeing him when I was 15 years old and continued seeing him right up until I went into Residential at 17. While I liked him and he helped keep me alive for two years I should have never stayed with him that long. 

Most of the problems (not all) we had were my fault. I'll admit this. I must have been a very difficult client to work with especially the first few months. I didn't talk hardly at all. I was so deep in a depression I didn't even realize how much of the time we sat in silence. I didn't know how to talk about my feelings and so I didn't say anything. 

I also did not realize this at the time, but I didn't trust him, because of that I only told him what I felt he "needed to know at the time" which was not in fact what he needed to know at the time. But he was the only therapist I'd ever had. I didn't know it could be better than what we had, until I went to Residential. 

At Residential I had two amazing therapists. One of them, T, I still keep in contact with. The experience I had with them was almost a 180 from Dr. C. This was because I was willing to work with them and because I was willing to be honest with them. 

T's style was direct. From her I learned what style I needed a therapist to use in our work together. That is that I need someone to push me. I need someone who will be able to understand how much I am capable of and then not allow me to do anything less. 

After returning from Residential I started with a new therapist here in town. I only stayed with her for 3 or 4 weeks. I honestly feel bad, but I don't even remember her name. I didn't stay with her because she didn't push me. She didn't make me work and if I don't have a therapist who makes me work I won't always push myself to do the hard stuff. 

So I switched and in doing so I found an amazing therapist who I still work with. I started seeing her in February of 2016 and we have done some really good work together. Unfortunately she went on maternity leave at the beginning of June. (Unfortunately for me, congratulations for her). I am expecting her to return in November. 

I knew that I couldn't halt therapy while she was gone so that left me working with someone new. I started working more with a therapist at my school I had seen a few times. I worked with her from June up until school started. 

You see, one of the things I've learned and that I want people to know is to not settle if a therapist isn't working for you. The one I was seeing over summer I had the same problem with that I'd had before. She didn't push me and I didn't trust her. I had made the decision back in December of 2015 that I wasn't going to do what I did with Dr. C ever again. If it wasn't working with a therapist I would switch. 

It's not a personal relationship. I talked it over with her and we agreed that if it would be better for me to switch than I should. She was not mad. There were no hard feelings. 

So two weeks ago I started seeing a new therapist in my school's counseling center. I am once again working with a guy which was a little nerve wracking given my trauma history, but I felt like it would be good for me. 

And you know what? Switching to him as my new therapist has been one of the best decisions I have made for myself all summer. It's only been two weeks, but I can already tell that we're going to be able to work together well. 

So for any of you who see a therapist, good job. You've taken a great step for yourself. If it is working that's awesome. If not, don't be afraid to switch. You have to prioritize your health and do what is best for you. 

For those of you who want to see a therapist: go for it! Don't be afraid to shop around. If it doesn't work with the first one you try, go back for a second or third session to be sure, but then find someone new. It might take a little bit of searching, but a good therapist makes all the difference. 

If you know me and are wanting to see a therapist, hit me up. I get asked for recommendations all the time so I've started keeping a list of ones who I know are good on my phone. Or I recommend the website I find most of the people I have seen off of there. 

Good luck on your adventure. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Forgiving the Man Who Raped Me

I honestly feel bad for the people who have never had the opportunity to attend LDS Institute classes. I have taken two so far, one last semester and one over the summer. I don't always make it to class, but when I do it is often the highlight of my day.

Institute is such a uplifting environment where I have the opportunity to learn and feel the spirit. I feel like I always get something out of the class. It might not be what the lesson is about, but there is always something said either by our teacher or the Spirit that I needed to hear.

When I started attending Institute I expected to grow in my knowledge of the Gospel. That's why I was going, right? I figured it would be like Sunday School. I did not expect to be touched and grow as much as I did in my personal challenges.

I have written before about being diagnosed with PTSD  and how I felt about  seeing my rapist at church. I write for many reasons. I write to know that I am not alone. I write to spread awareness. I write to heal, but I had not completely healed because there were still things I was holding onto.

When I started this last class at Institute I had not forgiven the man who assaulted me. After going through this past class, I have. It wasn't purely the class that did it.  We didn't talk about it. I'm not sure if anyone there really knows about what happened to me, but going to class, learning more about the gospel, feeling the Spirit and growing as a person were big components of me coming to the point in my life where I could forgive this man.

For a long time I couldn't fathom the idea of forgiving my rapist. I knew I needed to. I knew I was commanded to, but I didn't know how I could. I tried to justify not forgiving him thinking, "How can I forgive this man who broke my trust? How could I forgive this man who hurt me so much? How could I forgive this man who hasn't shown any remorse? How could I forgive this man I was still afraid of?" And for a while that worked.

I was at Institute one night and I don't remember what the lesson was on that night, but I remember some of the thoughts and feeling I had which I wrote down in the journal I brought with me. One of which was "God accepts me as I am." Perhaps the most powerful thing I wrote down that night was, "God loves him. God loves this man, despite the terrible choices he has made, the same as He loves me."

I had never thought about that before. I had thought about everything else. I had thought about his wife and kids, his job, his house, his calling, but I had not thought about how God feels for this man. This point I had not thought about made all the difference to me.

Throughout the past couple months though Heavenly Father has been putting things in my path that were letting me know it was time to forgive this man. One of which was a beautiful video I saw where the LDS mother of a Sandy Hook victim was speaking about her feelings for the man who killed her daughter. (you can find that here. I highly recommend watching it) This mom's words about the shooter mirrored my feelings almost exactly.

The only person who was being hurt by my anger toward him was me. He had no idea. He didn't care. I was the one who was losing peace. I was the one who was not keeping the commandment of forgiveness.

As I was preparing my Sunbeam lesson this week which was titled "I can Forgive,"  (I told you the topic of forgiveness has been all over my life) I pondered on everything I've learned this past year. As I was doing this I realized I could think about this man without anger in my heart. That is when I knew I had finally forgiven the man who had raped me. And that filled my soul with peace.

Friday, June 16, 2017

What it is Really Like in UCLA's Mental Hospital

There are many misconceptions and stigmas about mental illness and treatment. One of the biggest stigmas I have found is that of spending time in a mental hospital. So many people think that if you have to be hospitalized you are crazy or dangerous. This is simply not true.

Between the ages of sixteen and eighteen I was hospitalized five times. The first trip was at my local psychiatric hospital in my home town. The last four stays were in UCLA's Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital. Those are the stays I will be talking about here.

I would like to point out that this is purely my experiences. This is not what all hospitals are like. UCLA is top of the line. Many people are not so fortunate to be able to receive treatment in such a great hospital.

At UCLA I was on Unit B, their acute adolescent unit. My first stay was about a week. The second and third were about two weeks. My last stay was for 3 weeks. The days were filled with groups and doctors all designed to help me return home better equipped to cope with my mental illnesses.

We had about a dozen groups including Ocupational Therapy, Recreational Therapy, Art, Coping Cards, Mindfullness, Cooking Group, and our daily Community group where we set goals for the day.

What I like about my stays at UCLA compared to my stay at tiny towns local hospital was that they really did a lot to help rehabilitate and teach me new skills. When I was hospitalized in my hometown we colored, slept, and watched tv all day. At UCLA our days were filled. Every time slot was assigned and had a purpose.

The staff at UCLA was amazing. There was a very high nurse to patient ratio, everyone was assigned a psychiatrist they saw every day, and a therapist and social worker who they saw respectively a couple times a week. I still remember all of the nurses and staff who I worked with while hospitalized. I will be forever grateful for the time they took to comfort me, help me, and teach me.

I am so glad that I was blessed enough to be able to be hospitalized in UCLA's hospital. I learned and grew so much there. I continue to this day to use some of the coping skills I learned during my time inpatient. So while many people think of mental hospitals as scary places with crazy people, my experiences were the complete opposite.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Why I Don't Hide the Bad Parts

I'm pretty open about my life. I put a lot out there, especially about my struggles with mental illness. I know this isn't a decision everyone would make or agree with, but I don't regret it in the slightest. 

I don't believe in hiding the bad parts of my life. Not even the bad parts, because they're not all bad. I don't believe in hiding the parts of my life that don't conform to what society perceives as normal. 

Through being open I have gained new experiences and opportunities, been in a place to help others, and given myself permission to stop being ashamed of my illnesses. 

I've had very difficult times in my life. It's not a secret. I have had bad things happen to me and I've struggled with my mental health because of it. It's amazing though, how Heavenly Father has used everything I've been through to continually open new doors for me. I can see his hand guiding so many aspects of my life, leading me to the right people and places I need to be. 

One of the best things about deciding to be open about my story is how it has opened me up to help other people. I've had countless people come to me and tell me they have been through something similar and are now getting help. I often get asked to talk to friends or friends of friends who are struggling. Because I'm open about what I struggle with people feel more comfortable reaching out for help. 

Another amazing thing I've gotten out of sharing my story is the freedom I have found within myself. I'm not ashamed of where I've been. For so long I kept everything a secret. That only led to feeding the beast of shame and guilt that continued to grow inside of me. Since I stopped hiding and started speaking I've grown so much more comfortable with who I am. 

So I don't hide the parts of my life that aren't all sunshine and rainbows because that's not real. 

I'm not looking for attention. 
I'm not looking for sympathy or pity. 
I'm looking to foster a society where it's okay to be honest about the struggles you are going through. 
I'm looking to share the good and the bad and hopefully help someone along the way. 
I'm looking to continue to heal through my writing. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

I Fear my Illnesses Make me Hard to Love

Okay. Comfession time. I am nineteen (and a half) years old and I have never been on a date. I've never had a boyfriend. I haven't had my first kiss yet. 
Okay, so not that big of a confession. This is in large part to my own design. A big reason for this is my PTSD and associated trauma. I don't trust easily at all. Another reason is that I'm just not healthy enough to be able to have a healthy relationship with a significant other right now. 

The third and final reason is that I haven't exactly had a lot of offers. When I was in high school I was asked out a couple times, but it was by two different guys who were either too old for me or not doing the right things in life. Then there was one guy in college who mistook the fact that I wanted to be friends as an invitation for more and wasn't happy when I shut that down. 

Most of the time this doesn't bother me. If I was actively looking for a boyfriend maybe it would, but like I said earlier, I know that I nesd to be healthier before I engage in a relationship. 

There is a fear though deep inside of my heart that my health issues make me hard to love. I struggle with PTSD and the  depression, anxiety, dissociation, and eating disorder that it brings with it. I also have chronic physical illnesses. I know that it's not always easy for people to be close to me. 

I have trust issues. Major trust issues. I test people. I get too clingy or push away. My sympotoms might flare up at times. There are times when no one can touch md, I don't care who you are. I dissociate. I struggle with chronic pain and chronic fatigue every day. These things to some extent will probably always be a part of my life. 

Now there are a lot of good things about me too, but there are some negatives and I fear that they make it hard for people to love me. I fear that they keep people from wanting to get to know me in the first place. 

I've had experiences in my life where people leave when they find out what I have going on in my life or maybe they stay, but they don't understand why I live the way I do. 

I know that it will take a strong man to love me and see past all of my problems. I know that strong men exist. I just worry that because of my mental illnesses it will be hard for him to love me. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Is a Day of Fun Worth the Pain?

Yesterday my brother took me on an adventure! I woke up in one of those moods where I just had this need deep inside of me to go out and do something. So he and a friend took me rappelling for the first time. 
I was a little nervous about going as I had never done it before. Both because walking down the side of a cliff seemed a little scary and because I didn't know how my body would react. 
I decided that the risk would be worth the reward and I went anyways. I think that an increase in pain is sometimes worth it to still be able to go out and have fun. I don't want to let the fear of pain control my life. 
So I went rappelling and it was a blast. I was so glad I went and even now, at 3 am, awake because of pain, I do not regret going. It was worth it. I did take care of myself while I was there and I only went down twice because the hike back up was really rough on my hips and knees, but I still got to go down twice and that was good enough for me. The rest of the time I was able to sit and look at the beautiful view from the top. 
Although I don't regret going at all I don't know if what I chose to do was "right." It did cause a lot of pain which I'm now dealing with and will probably deal with tomorrow as well, maybe the next day. I almost passed out at one point because my heart rate went too high. Don't worry, my feet were firmly on the ground at this point and my eyes only went a little dark. I also might have used all of the next day's spoons because of all the energy it took. My thoughts were that it's worth it, but one of the biggest questions I have about the chronic illness life is whether I should be listening to my body and not pushing it too hard or whether I should not let the symptoms control me and "do anything I set my mind to." 

I don't have an answer to this. I don't know if I ever will. Most of the time I try and play it safe and take care of myself, but sometimes I have to get out and have an adventure to keep me sane. I'm 19 years old. Life is unpredictable. I want to have some fun sometimes. I think that's okay. How do you strike a balance in your life? 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

How a Burglar Triggered My PTSD

I have noticed that having PTSD certain things scare me more easily. One symptom of PTSD that I struggle with the most is hypervigilance. It's really easy for that to be specifically triggered above it's everyday baseline.

One reason I believe this is true for me is that a lot of the general public thinks "things like that won't happen to me," but for me having been raped I'm keenly aware that bad things can and might happen to me.

There have been a couple instances that have happened recently which I found especially triggering for my hypervigilance. One happened just last week.

Last Friday I came home from the store and all my family members were gone. As I was starting to pull in closer to my house I noticed not only was our garage sliding door open, but there was a guy I did not know at the entrance. His car was pulled in front of my house, running. When he saw me he ran to his car and sped away before I could get down the license plate number.

Needless to say this terrified me. I called my dad; I called my mom; I called Dakota, who came home and did a walk through of the house to make sure everything was clear.

When I told my therapist about this she asked why I called my family instead of calling the police. My gut reaction is not to call the police. This is from when I was delusional and having hullicinatioms all the time. I would see people in my house or think someone wanted to kil me or was following me, but I couldn't call the police because it wasn't real. (I wanted to at the time, my parents wouldn't let me, due to it not being real)

So my original reaction even now when I'm stable and knew I wasn't hallucinating was to call my family. Later on I thought about calling, but the only things I had been able to recall to write down and give was "Hispanic, white shirt, jeans, buzz cut. Black Toyota car." The danger was over, nothing was stolen, and there was only a very vague discription to go on so I didn't end up making a police report.

I was seriously shook up for the rest of that day complete with irrational thoughts about what if he were to come back. Then for a couple days after I was scared around my house and when I was alone, but was able to be rational and cope. I have noticed my hypervigilance being elevated since then though. Although it's been elevated anyways because of all the abduction attempts I keep hearing about in my town.

I am very proud of myself though because I handled this situation very well. I didn't panic in the moment. I remained calm and was able to tell my therapist today that I think I'm over it. My reasoning behind this was that I'm not afraid of him coming back anymore and I'm not afraid when I come home anymore. I recognize it happens, but now it's over and I don't need to be afraid anymore.

Even though my PTSD does make these type of situations worse for me I've also learned through it the coping mechanisms I need to get through these events.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Another Step in Recovery from Sexual Assault

Tonight is a very special graduation for me. 10 months ago I started "Passionate Hearts," a Christian, curriculum based support group for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. I'm taking this group through Riverlakes Community Church.

I was a little skeptical when my therapist sent me out with the assignment to check out this support group. At this time I wasn't used to discussing the particulars of my assault with others, especially people I didn't know. It was also at a non denominational Christian church. I'm always nervous when first doing things with other churches as a Mormon, because I never know how I will be received.

It turns out I had nothing to worry about. My group was amazing. I have absolutely loved being on this journey these past 10 months. We met every Monday for two hours and went through our book discussing our abuses, healing, and Christ's gospel and his love for us.

The faith, strength, and courage of these ladies I've come to know has strengthened my own faith and progressed my healing.

Sexual abuse is not something that should happen to anyone, yet unfortunately is so common. It can have devastating effects on life, but it doesn't have to be a life sentence. There is hope and there is help available. I am so grateful I decided to go to this group and take one more step in my healing.

If you are in Bakersfield and looking for a support group you can find the different ones offered at There are five support groups offered. One for childhood sexual abuse, one for eating disorders, one for emotional issues, one for codependency, and one for emotional abuse survivors. I would highly recommend looking into them.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

What I Want You To Know When You See My Service Dog

I am coming up on two years of having Jenny with me. She has blessed my life in ways deeper than I could ever put words to. She saved my life and gave me back my independence when she first came into my life as a medical alert dog for me PTSD. She continues to aid me everyday as we grow and learn together.

As I try to do with most things when I'm asked questions about her in public I try and answer them and educate others about service dogs. I'm not always perfect at this. Sometimes I'm busy or just not in the mood. Perhaps I've just been asked why I have a dog five times on my way to the back of Walmart when all I wanted was a gallon of milk. I'm only human.

I have heard what seems like every comment under the moon about Jenny. Most of them roll of my back. I have gotten very used to ignoring people and not letting ignorance upset me. There is one comment though that I always hate to hear. "I wish I could bring my dog with me too."

I always want to answer, "No you don't. Yes, she's cute and dogs are fun, but she is not with me for fun. She is with me as medical equipment for provide aid for my disability. When we are out together we are working. She is doing her job taking care of me and I am taking care of her. I love taking her out with me, but I do it out of necessity. For you to have a service dog that you get to take everywhere with you, you have to have a documented disability that you can't choose to leave at home."

That's usually more than people want to know and no one wants to hear that it's not always fun and games so I tend to just smile and say thank you.

Don't get me wrong, I love Jenny. I love having her with me and I am so grateful for her and the life she allows me to have, But if I could pick getting to have Jenny with me 24/7 or not having PTSD I would give her up as a service dog to not have my PTSD.

The same goes for other handlers that I have talked to. We all love our service dogs but if we could give up our medical conditions we would do it. I love dogs and would always have one as a pet, but a service dog team is not able the fun of being together, it's about managing the handlers health.

I know that's not what most people are thinking of when they say they wish they could bring their dog with them, but next time you see a service dog team stop and understand that there is a medical need that nexessitaes that team be together.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Yes, I have a Mental Illness. Yes, I am competent.

I've been asked a couple times recently what I want people to know about me as someone living with mental illnesses. My answer almost every time I'm asked this question is the same.

I want people to know that I am competent.

Yes, I struggle with mental illnesses. Every day of my life I choose every action carefully in order to best accommodate my illnesses. I wake up every morning not knowing how hard that day's fight is going to be, but still I wake up.

I like using the verb "fight" when I speak about my struggle with mental illness because is shows that it is work. It shows that it is not easy. But fights can be won. It might not be easy, but it is possible.

So I wake up every morning to fight and I go about my life. My mental illnesses don't control my whole life. I am still able to get my everyday activities and chores done.

I just finished my first year of college. During that time I lived alone in the dorms. I was responsible for getting myself to my own doctor appointments. I was responsible for taking my medications. I was responsible for my own meals and self care. I was responsible for making sure I kept up on my coping skills so I wouldn't down spiral. I was responsible for making sure I went to my classes and did my homework.

I was a peer educator and set up events to speak to students about depression and suicide. I completed a national peer educator certification. I was involved in Anchor Club, a club that provides support for and advocates for students on campus with disabilities. Next year I'm going to be the president of that club.

I don't tell you all this to be like "oh look what I can do." I'm telling you all this to show that I am still able to take care of myself. I tell you this to show you that my mental illnesses don't stop me from doing anything I put my mind to.

It doesn't happen often, but there have been times where I've felt that people don't take me seriously when they find out about my illnesses. At times I avoid telling people who are higher up than me for fear that they will no longer see me as competent.

I don't want to do that. That's a main reason I speak out as much as I do, because I want to do anything I can to break the stigma attached to mental illness.

So that's my message today: Yes, I have mental illnesses and yes, I am just as competent as anyone's else.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Accepting My Cane as a College Student

A few months ago the pain in my hips started to get more intense. There were days I could barely walk without help. My hip was moving out of place a lot causing me to fall often. I knew I needed something to help.

I spoke to one of my doctors inquiring about a cane. I wasn't sure if it would help or hinder. He agreed it would be a good idea so I got one. Then came the new challenge of getting comfortable using it.

At first I would only use it around the house and when I had bad days I just wouldn't go out places I had to walk. I was embarrassed and scared about the reactions I would get as a seemingly healthy 19 year old using a cane. Then it came time for me to go out of town with the Forensics team I help coach on. We were going to the Bay Area for 3 days which meant both a lot of walking and a lot of time in the car: two things that aggravate my pain. I decided that, for the first time, I would bring my cane out in public with me.

I had a lot of fun on that trip. I loved getting to go with my team and spend time with friends; however, from a health standpoint that trip was miserable. I didn't have any pain medication at the time that was working for me. I also did not use my cane in situations where I should have. I was scared of other peoples reaction for me using it part of the time and walking normal part of the time. Because I couldn't get over myself it stayed folded up in my bag most of the trip.

It wasn't until the very last day when I broke it out. At that point I literally could not walk any farther. I was fighting to keep the tears away so my team wouldn't know how much pain I was really in. I sat outside on a bench when they went into the museum and I sat in the car when they went to the thrift store because I could not go any further.

Because I had not been able to get over my pride the first two days and actually use my cane when I needed it, by the third day I couldn't hardly walk any farther even with it.

When I was sitting outside the museum I texted a friend of mine. She made me understand that the same way I am comfortable advocating for my mental health needs I need to do the same with my physical health. It's no different. She was right. I can't let fear of what other people think keep me from doing things that could help myself.

After that trip I started to use my cane more. I didn't use it everyday, but on the days I needed it I took it with me. At my doctors request I ended up using crutches for a few months around my college campus because of all the walking I had to do. I've recently taken myself off of those as I'm training Jenny for mobility work. On the bad days though I'll still use my cane.

I'm no longer afraid of reactions I'll get around school or in public. Really the only place I don't take my cane is church. I still have not fully gotten over that uneasiness; however. that is just my own fears and doubts getting in the way.

Starting to use a cane when I'm only 19 was rough for me, but I realized that I can't worry about what other people think, I can't worry about where I thought I would be at this point in my life, and I can't worry about what this might mean for me long term. No one knows what the future holds.

For right now I'm going to use my cane if I need it and I'm going to remember that just like advocating for my mental health is important, so is my physical health.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Finding a Balance with my Weight

A topic that has been swarming around my mind lately is how to find a balance with my body - particularly with my weight.

As I have written about before I struggle with Anorexia. I'm doing better with it than I have in the past, but I believe that once you struggle with an eating disorder you will, to some extent, have that voice inside of you.

I have actually had some success with that lately though in that last week I reached my long worked for goal weight. I think I'm the only college student on my campus this year who was actually grateful to gain the Freshman 15.

In an ideal world I could focus on recovering from Anorexia without worrying about my weight. I would focus on eating and loving my body no matter how it was. Actually I suppose in an ideal world I would not have developed Anorexia. Regardless, in the world I live in I did develop Anorexia. I was also given the challenge of chronic illness.

This is the reason I have no focus and keep track of my weight. My particular type of Ehlers Danlos Syndrome affects my joints a lot. I have lost count of the number of doctors and treatment professionals who have warned me against gaining weight.

Just yesterday I was at my PCP's office for something unrelated, or at least not directly related, to my EDS and the PA I was seeing noticed I have gained a little bit of weight since I had been in last. She felt it appropriate to point out that I had gained weight and warn me to not keep gaining weight or it would make my joints worse.

Keep in mind, yes I've gained weight. Yes, I'm at my goal weight, but I'm still skinny. I don't agree with giving out numbers online especially when talking about eating disorders; however, I am at a healthy weight for my short height and I am still skinny.

It's difficult though to have these two illnesses whose treatment seem to contradict each other. For my eating disorder I should not be focusing on weight and size. For my EDS everyone is telling me not to gain weight. How do I strike a balance? For now I'll stay where I am. It seems to be the happiest medium I could find.

And I'll continue to fight the battles I've been given. I can't possibly be the only person with a chronic illness who also had an eating disorder. I am determined to get better and I'll do that however I can.

To anyone else out there struggling: keep fighting the fight. Keep moving forward. It's always worth it.

Monday, May 8, 2017

When An Illness Warrior Gets the Flu

Well it happened. I got the stomach flu,  the worst one I've had in a long time. With my other health problems something like getting the flu can completely throw me out of wack.

I'm really grateful that the first time I got sick last night I was at home because it made me stay home and my parents have been taking care of me all night. Plus who wants to be throwing up in a dorm bathroom?

Getting the flu like this can knock me out of the game differently than it would someone who donesnt have mental or chronic illnesses.

The first way the flu messes with me is not allowing me to take my pills. I first got sick a little after 7pm yesterday and have been sick seven times in eight hours since. I haven't even attempted to take any medications. That means my sleeping pills haven't been taken and so I haven't had a full sleep cycle yet. I also haven't been able to take any pain pills.

That's another way that my body is affected differently because of the flu. My pain levels shoot into overdrive. Looking over the last few days I think my body knew I was going to be sick because Saturday was an unusually bad pain day. Turns out Sunday I got sick.

I don't know why, but when I get the flu or a cold it makes my EDS flare up,. Thanksfully, thankfully, thankfully the good heating pad is at my house. I've been laying on it for hours and it has been my saving grace.

Hopefully by tomorrow I'll be able to keep some meds in my system. On nights I don't sleep the following days are really tough on my mental illnesses and I'm going to need some of my daytime meds to help with that.

For now I will continue praying for relief. I know that if it be His will then Heavenly Father can heal me.

Friday, May 5, 2017

My Dorm and How Psychosis Changed My Safe Places

I have been so very blessed to have lived in the dorms this year. I'm two weeks from wrapping up my first year at college. I never would have thought I'd be in this position. For so long I didn't see college let alone the dorms as realistic to me because of my mental illnesses.

I'm so grateful though that I chose to move into the dorms. It was literally the best decision I could have made for myself this past year. I grew so much and really became more reliant on myself. I learned how to take care of myself when no one was around to make sure I ate or took my pills.

Most important of all, my dorm became my safe haven. Over the years between the problems I have with certain neighbors and my mental health challenges my home no longer felt safe to me. A big part of this stems from when I was psychotic.

When I'm in my living room I remember the time I had a hallucination in front of my best friend. I screamed and started panicking. She got scared and ran to get my mom. That's how she found out I had been diagnosed Schizoaffective.

In my bedroom I remember the delusion I had of two men following me and sleeping outside my window on the roof. I remember pacing the floor in circles because of the voices.

In my bathroom I remember "waking up" from a hallucination realizing I had given in to the voices and cut my arm.

In my parents room I remember the nights I slept on their floor because I was too scared and too paranoid to sleep alone.

The memories of my house aren't all bad and I can be there when I need to be, but moving into the dorms allowed me to start freah. I had this new place that was all mine. I could make it how I wanted and start over. My dorm is my safe haven. Its one place I have always felt safe. I can't say that about many places.

But school is almost over. In a matter of days I will be leaving my dorm probably forever. I'm moving back into my house where my room is now in boxes and my walls are repainted white. I love my parents and this has nothing to do with them. It has to do with places I feel safe.

If I'm being honest I looked for other options besides moving home for the summer. But I only have three months before I move back on campus and I have no job with means no rent money. So I'll move back home and I'll do what I always do. Keep moving forward.

We're all places in difficult situations in our lives that sometimes we can't get out of. What will determine the success of that situation is how we approach it. I'm trying to approach this summer with a positive attitude.

I'm making plans to keep myself safe, healthy, and moving forward in life. And for the time being I will enjoy the little time I have left in my dorm. It's not over yet.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

When Insecurities Collide with Friendships

I find it ironic how I can stand up in front of 5000 people and give a speech or talk about my mental illness in front of a group of peers no problem, but once I'm one-on-one in an interpersonal relationship I am the most insecure person. 

Speaking in front of groups comes easy to me. It's something I love and it's something I'm good at. It gives me confidence. When I'm in the normal world though and not on a stage I have a hard time with relationships. 

A lot of my problems stem from trauma issues. I have trust issues and abandonment issues that I am currently working on. I also have some social anxiety. I have since I was younger. 

One of my core beliefs is that I annoy people. I'm always always worried that I'm talking too much or texting too much or anything too much. I'm constantly concerned that people don't really like me. 

I have a tendency to ask the other person every so often, if we're good  It's probably not healthy, but I sometimes need that reassurance. That they care about me like I care about them and all the problems I see are cognitive distortions I've magnified in my head. 

This is definitely something I hope to be able to overcome and I do believe that as I continue my healing journey that I will be able to get better at this. I've already come a distance from when I first started.   I believe as I begin to grow more confidence in myself as a person and a friend and as I learn to trust others and myself more I will be able to form friendships and relationships that I don't have to question. 

Until then, if you're one of the people I'm lucky enough to have in my life, give me patience. Allow me that reassurance. I'm trying and always moving forward. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Last Night I Dreamt of my Pain

Sleep and I have a complicated relationship. Besides struggling with Insomnia, most nights my dreams are filled with PTSD nightmares. It took me a long time to accept this and actually want to sleep. Although I still go through periods where I won't want to sleep because I know it means I have to dream, I know that my mind and body need the rest. Even though I couldn't escape my mental illnesses in my dreams the one thing I could do was escape my chronic illness. That is, until last night. 

Last night I dreamt of my pain. 

I think the hardest part is that except for a few small details it was pretty realistic. Everything I dreamt had actually happened before. 

In my dream I had a normal high pain day that could have easily been real. Sleep is no longer the one place I can escape my pain. 

Sure, it's where my trauma comes out to get me, but for those few hours of sleep I don't feel any hurt. 
That has been very important to me lately as I've been getting used to the idea of being chronically ill. 

Dreaming of my pain felt like my last escape was gone. 

When I'm able to take a step back and look at this cognitively it's not as bad. I'm trying to celebrate the fact that for one night I didn't have to relive my assault. I'm reminding myself that it was just a dream and it didn't mean anything. I'm acknowledging that having that dream didn't change my health in the slightest. 

It's easier when I can take a step back and view it like this. Sometimes I can't do that though. Sometimes I dream of pain, wake up and cry because now I have to get up and do it all again. 

But this is my life. It's the life I have. It's the only body I'm going to get. So it's the one I need to celebrate. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Jenny as a Mobility Assistance Dog

Depending on how long you have been following my blog you might be aware that I have a wonderful yellow lab, Jenny, who has been my Psychiatric Medical Alert Service Dog for two and a half years. She does her job beautifully and has improved my quality of life and independence greatly.

One new addition to her work is that I have recently started training her to also be a mobility assistance dog. I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and because of that my joints are very loose and tend to move out of place and sublux a lot. The joints I'm currently having the greatest problems with are my hips. 

My left hip has a labrum tear and it is very loose. The ball does not stay in the socket like it is supposed to. It will come out of place partially which causes pain and about half the time I will fall. I'm in college and have to walk a lot so I started using a cane a few months ago and at the suggestion of one of my doctors I started using forearm crutches to get around in January. 

The crutches worked well for me. It was able to take some of the weight off my left hip which kept it from coming out of place. There were a few problems with it though and that's why I decided to start training Jenny to do mobility work. 

First is that I have been told that my problems not going away. For a problem without a solution I didn't want to become reliant on crutches for the rest of my life. Also, favoring my left leg with the cane and crutches it caused my right hip to start hurting more than usual and I didn't want to risk doing damage to it. So I started looking for other options and talked to the owner of the organization I got Jenny from about training her in mobility work. 

She cleared Jenny to do mobility work and told me the steps to take to start training her. Now, Jenny is not able to do the same job that the crutches do. They took the pressure off my hip to keep it from moving around. She can't do that because while bracing is one task I'm working on with her, dogs cannot brace when they are in motion. 

The task I'm focusing on with her right now is Bracing. This is when she stiffens her body and using a harness that she wears I am able to transfer some of my weight onto her. This helps me be able to stand from a sitting position on the days I need help with that. It helps me to be able to not fall when my hip pops or my knee gives out. I'm also planning on incorporating it to working on stairs once she has it down pat. Stairs are one of the bigger areas my hip pops and I have fallen down them quite a few times. 

She doesn't have a ton of mobility tasks, but what she does do helps me greatly. If I didn't already have a service dog I wouldn't have gotten one specifically to do mobility work, but with already having her I saw it as a good opportunity for her to help me even more. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

For the Person who Listens to my Fears

Dear you,

You are the person I go to when I feel like I have no one else to talk to. Sometimes there are problems or questions only you can solve. You are the person I go to when I need that calm reassurance that everything will be okay. 

You are the person I tell when I'm proud of myself for something. You are the person I go to when I am crying, even if I'm trying to hide it. 

You listen. You understand that I don't need you to fix me. I just need you to be there, to listen. 

You challenge my thoughts while still validating them. You give me advice while asking my opinion too. 

Thank you for our late night talks. Thank you for your guidance and wisdom in a time where I felt completely lost and confused. Thank you for helping me see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

As you know by now I sometimes have difficulty in relationships. I don't trust easy and am constantly questioning our relationship. Mainly my part in it. I'm always worried that I'm being a bother. So sometimes I'll ask....and then worry that that is a bother. Thank you for continuing to silence my fears and my guilt. 

Thank you for not giving up on me. I know I can be a lot to handle. I hope one day to be able to convey to you just how much all you've done means to me. 

For now, dear you, thank you. 


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Finding a Good Therapist

Finding a good therapist can sometime be an uphill battle. When I first began therapy at fifteen I didn't know what it was supposed to be like. I didn't understand the connection and trust that was supposed to be present. 

My first therapist was Dr. C. He was a good guy. I saw him for two years and he kept me alive for those two years. I especially appreciated that he was willing to continuously learn about my new diagnosis of Schizoaffective Disorder. 

I feel bad for everything I put Dr. C through. For the first little while, I don't even know how long, maybe a couple months I barely talked. I was severely depressed and time didn't mean much to me. I also didn't have the words like I do now to be able to talk about how I was feeling and what was wrong. A lot of our first visits we sat for quite some time in silence. 

Most of the problem with Dr. C. is that I didn't trust him completely. I did trust him enough to work with him for two years. He was also the first person I officially told I was raped; however, I still didn't trust him enough to completely surrender everything. I honestly believe though that at the point in my life where I saw him I didn't have the capability to do that. 

The next therapists that I worked a lot with were B and T when I was in Canon House. For those of you who don't know, Canon was the residential treatment facility I stayed at for 10 weeks when I was 17-18. B was my individual therapist and T was my family therapist. I loved them both. T was the first therapist I completely trusted, although I worked really well with both of them. They were kind and caring, but also knew exactly what I was capable of and didn't let me get away with anything less. They pushed me to be my best self and for that I will always be grateful. 

Working with B and T at Canon taught me what a therapeutic relationship with someone I trusted could really be like. When I went home I sought out a new therapist. This time I wasn't settling. I was going to find the right person. 

I saw a therapist for a month after I came home and honestly I don't even remember her name. We didn't work well together. She coddled me too much and I needed someone who was willing to push me. 

It is vitally important when searching for a therapist to find someone you work well with. You won't click with everybody. If you don't mesh well with the first therapist you see, go see a different one. Trust me you won't be offending anyone and it will work out so much better for you in the long run. 

After deciding that therapist wouldn't work for me I starting seeing the therapist I've been working with now. J is awesome. We've worked together for 15 months and gotten so much great work done. She pushes me to be my best self and helps me see me as I actually am not as my disordered thoughts tell me I am. 

I feel very grateful to have found a therapist that I can work so well with. In some ways I wish I had found her earlier, but I don't regret staying with Dr. C. He was what I needed at the time and got me to where I was. 

There is such a stigma around going to therapy, but it honestly doesn't need to be there. Therapist are there to help you succeed. It is nothing like the stereotypical therapy model that you see in comics and on TV. If you need help, if you need someone to talk to then seek out a therapist. I don't know what I would do without the ones I've had. 

Unbroken by Mental Illness

I've been in therapy since I was 15. I was hospitalized five times as an adolescent and spent ten weeks in a residential treatment facility. 

I'm still not "fixed". 

I sometimes feel that because I'm not as unstable as I used to be that people expect me to have become all better. I felt like this a lot after I came home from Canon. 

I don't know if people really expected me to be better or if it was just another unrealistic expectation I placed on myself, but I've come to realize that I will never be "fixed", and more importantly, that I don't need to be. 

I am unbroken. I don't have to be repaired. 

Mental illness is a clinical illness. Just like having Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome does not make me damaged or less than, neither does struggling with mental illness. 

Needing to go to therapy every week does not make me weak. I am receiving treatment for my illness. Would you deny a man with kidney failure dialysis? Of course not. 

In my early years of diagnosis I mainly saw what my illnesses would take away from my life. The things that were no longer possible for me. I saw how my life would never be normal and the hardships that would follow me. 

I didn't have the eyes to see at that time the changes that were happening in me for the better. I didn't see the strength and the insight I was developing. I didn't see the voice that was blooming waiting to be set free. 

Now I do and I realize that even though I am not "fixed", I don't need to be. This is who I am and this is who I will stay. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

How One Fight Sent My Day into a Tailspin

As someone with mental illness my emotions can sometimes be rocky. This can especially be true when it comes to some of my core beliefs or what I call "damaged thoughts" that stem from my assault.
I was reminded of this earlier this morning when my entire day was sent into a tail spin over a stupid fight with my dad. I feel emotions very deeply and I'm sure it was made worse by the fact that I didn't sleep much last night.
I try to not fight with my parents as much as I can because I am very sensitive about feeling like people are mad at me or I've upset someone. But this morning my dad and I argued. It was over the phone and the first problem was that I was in the middle of Target.
I'm more of a wet anger person than a dry anger person. What I mean by that is that when I get angry my emotions tend to spill over and I will start crying. So when I hung up the phone I burst into tears and tried to make my way out of the store without making a scene. I then sat in my car for an hour and a half because I could not stop crying to calm down well enough to drive myself back to campus.
I stayed around my dorm and the community center for the rest of the day. I have been s emotionally raw that if I think about wrong thing I'll burst out crying.
I get that this probably seems like an over reaction, but this isn't all about the fight. It was about everything that happened this week. The fight was just the spark that set the hay on fire.
I'm not writing this for sympathy. I'm not writing this for pity. No. I'm writing this because it's my way of process today. I'm sharing this because this blog is about honesty. The whole point of my writing is to show the good and the bad of mental illness and how it affects my life.
It's not always glamorous. My eyes are puffy. My cheeks are streaked and I'm wearing pjs. I don't look beautiful tonight, but that's okay. I'm trying to be patient with myself for the times I don't have it all put together. Considering what I have going on in my life I am doing pretty well. I'm choosing to celebrate my little successes each day while still being true to the reality of what I'm going through. I'm taking it a day at a time. That's all I can do.

The Balancing Act of Chronic Illness

It is 2:30am on a Friday night. My body has been screaming at me for hours. My pain level canceled out my sleeping meds. Yet still it is just now that I have gotten up to take a pain pill. 

I have been taking psychiatric medications since I was fifteen. Medications do not bother me. I know they are sometimes necessary. 

I am not worried about what other people will have to say. I have gotten unsolicited advice many times before. It does not phase me. I don't care what other people who are not inside my skin have to say. 

So why won't I take the pain meds that are in my cabinet?

I honestly don't know the answer to that question. I think part of it is because they aren't prescribed for the reason I'm taking them. They are left overs from my surgery and my car accident. When I saw a pain management doctor I was told I was not in enough pain for him to manage me. 

If I was not in enough pain shouldn't I be able to handle it? Shouldn't I be able to do like he says and exercise more and it will all be okay? 
The logical part of me says no. I know my body. I know he didn't understand how bad my pain was. I know the exercise I'm capable of and what I'm doing. 

Maybe it's a denial thing. I'm worried that once I start taking pain meds I'll never be able to stop. Not in an addiction sort of way. I'm not worried about becoming addicted. I am very careful and the medication I have is non-habit forming. More in a "this is my life now" sort of way. 

I guess I'm still learning. I'm still learning how to manage my pain. I'm still learning how to listen to my body and answer its needs. Chronic illness is a whole new rollercoaster I have never ridden before. I'm still learning what are the acceptable changes that I can make without doing something that will take away my independence in the long run. I've had two experiences with this lately. 

I stopped using the crutches I had been using for the past few months in hopes that walking more would help build the muscles in my legs. I'm training my Psychiatric service dog to do some mobility tasks for me and she's doing awesome, but she can't take the pressure off my worse hip the way the crutches did. Due to this my hip joint has slipped out of place a couple times this week. I knew this would happen. I was prepared for this to happen, but it's caused my pain levels to be higher than normal. 

This is the first week this semester that I have walked around campus without the crutches and I'm hoping that with time it will get better. 

The second experience happened last week over Spring Break. I've been having a lot of muscle weakness in my legs lately especially in the mornings. I have to take a shower in the mornings and sometimes my legs just don't want to hold me up. This leads to me missing a shower sometimes (thank you dry shampoo and wipe baths). 

When I was home for break a couple days I sat down in the tub for my shower. This helped when my legs were weak and it helped with the fatigue that comes after taking a shower. 

I mentioned to my mom that I wanted to take a stool back to school to sit on in the shower some days. Trust me, no one wants to sit on a dorm shower floor. She really urged me not to, worried that if I start sitting to do the things I usually stand to do that I would lose the ability to do them standing. 

I understand her concern. I know it's a lot easier to lose muscle than it is to gain muscle. I'm doing physical therapy exercises everyday trying to gain muscle and it doesn't come easy. I'm still trying to find a balance though between what I should and should not do. 

It's the same with the medication. I'm trying to find a balance that will work with my life. I know I will find it. I know it's possible for me to have a good, happy, and productive life. All things in time. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Johanna Basford's Inky World Calms My Own

I plan to do a whole post on coping skills because...come on, they're coping skills. I could talk for days about coping skills. However! That is not the point of today's writing adventures. No, no, today the focus is on one favorite coping skill I have: coloring.

(Side note: For those of you who know me well or know my writing well might notice that my tone is a little off at the moment. I'm very excitable right now. Probably because I forgot to take my 5pm anxiety med until 6:30. Sorry mom. Anyways, back to coloring.)

Now I am not talking about a little kid getting out their princess coloring book and jumbo crayons, no. I am talking about the art craze that hit the world in the past couple years. You guessed it: adult coloring books.

I am a fan. I am a fan of one artist in particular. Her name is Johanna Basford and she lives in Scotland. She is a cute little mom of a toddler and an infant and in the past four years she has released five adult coloring books and it working on a sixth.

Johanna's art is unique because all of her work is done by hand. Everything in the book is done by hand and let me tell you it is amazing. I can't use any other printed coloring book now after using hers for so long. You can go to to check out her books. They even have an art gallery on the website where you can send in your own art.

I go to my coloring all the time to use as a coping skill. I, at times, have really bad anxiety or restlessness, but sitting down to color can always calm me down. I use different books depending on the mood I'm in. If I need to focus hard and lose myself in the details I will use the Lost Ocean book because it is very intricate. If I want to just relax and fade away I will use Secret Garden or Magical Jungle, which happen to be my two favorites.

Coloring allows me to relax, breathe, and launch myself into an inky world of flowers and animals in any color you can imagine. I love being able to use my emotions to create something beautiful. It brings some calm into my otherwise chaotic world.

Coping skills are so important. I cannot say that enough. Coloring works well for me and I will always suggest you try it. Pull up a seat, grab your colors, and lets dive into an inky adventure.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

I Met With A Sexual Assault Prosecutor

I had the enlightening opportunity yesterday afternoon to meet with a Deputy District Attorney. I have known Tamara since I was in Elementary School and she was the mother of a friend of mine. After I released my post Why I Never Reported My Rapist to the Police she reached out to me and invited me down to her office to learn more about the process of reporting and convicting domestic violence and sexual assault cases.

I found our meeting yesterday to be very informative. I have to be honest, I was a little anxious leading up to it, but when I first saw her and we opened with a hug all of my fears went out the window. It was like meeting up with an old friend.

I enjoyed learning about the process and specifically the many steps and programs in place here in Bakersfield for the victims. All of my knowledge came from my initial experience reporting and statistics I had researched.

She was able to explain to me more in depth how the process worked and why at first glace some of those statistics can be misleading.

Tamara works in the DA's office and specifically handles domestic abuse and sexual assault cases. She told me how the team she works with was brought together and transformed about seven years ago when her new boss came in who has a passion for prosecuting these crimes and helping keep victims safe and comfortable.

One of the first things Tamara taught me about was the Victim's Services Unit. This unit is full of advocates whose sole responsibility is to the victims. A victim is always allowed an advocate. They can be there from the initial report all the way through to sitting with them on the witness stand in court. The Victim's Services Unit is separate from the DA's office and if it is the victims wish they even uphold their rights when it comes to engaging with the prosecutor. To top it all off, they have a dog! Legend is a sweet dog who is able to sit with victims on the stand and help them feel safe when they have to testify. Tamara has worked with Legend on multiple occasions and she reports he is especially helpful with children she has worked with.

We also talked about some statistics that I found from RAINN about how few rapists are ever convicted. The report stated out of every 1000 rapes, 310 are reported, 57 arrests will be made, 11 cases will go to prosecutors, and 6 will lead to incarceration.

I was understandably concerned when reading these statistics, how can so few rapists go to jail? Tamara was able to answer some of my concerns about this. Part of the reason is another thing their office does to help victims of sexual assault have the power and feel safe. A lot of victims don't want to go to court for a variety of reasons. One way they always have the control is that the choice is up to them. Tamara told me they will never prosecute a sexual assault case without the victim consent.

I learned that all the detectives in Bakersfield always want the case to get prosecuted and work tirelessly to make that happen, all the prosecutors she works with want the rapists punished, but they will not force the victims into a trial. That is a big reason those numbers are so low. I do want to be clear. I am in no way blaming victims for this. There are a whole list of reasons why a victim would not want to report or prosecute and I understand all of them, so does the DA's office.

I asked Tamara what she would tell a victim who was afraid of the process. I loved her answer; it came in a couple parts. She would, of course, let the victim know that they had the choice. It was up to them. She would also tell them that even though it's about them, it is also about others. Tamara informed me that many times it has happened where one girl reports and with that the police are either able to connect other reports or through investigating find other victims. Both of those things make the cases stronger. A big thing she told me she would tell them was that she has seen so much empowerment come to the victim through the court process.

A lot of the times for people I have talked to and in my own experience when I think of court  I think fear, but Tamara let me know that while there can be some scary instances in her experience it empowers victims more than anything else.

One of the last things I learned yesterday was that it's never too late. Sure reporting right away and getting a rape kit done and potentially having DNA makes a case strong, it's not the only way to get a case done. Tamara let me know that both her team and detectives who handle sexual assault cases have had extensive training and understand how reporting works. A lot of times reporting is done late, sometimes stories are inconsistent. They know this and are patient when working with victims. The police also have many tricks up their sleeve for investigating these cases and can a lot of the time make a case even if there is no DNA. Bottom line: don't give up.

I am so grateful to have been able to meet with Tamara yesterday and learn about reporting and prosecuting sexual assault cases. I learned this and so much more. This information helped me and I hope that it is able to help some of you out there who are going through this process, know someone going through this process, or are considering starting the process.