Monday, November 20, 2017

I Might Have Limitations, but I am Still Superwoman”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Saturday, November 4, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Mental Illness Should Not be a Halloween Costume

Happy Halloween everyone!

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

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

These are some of them:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 28, 2017

An Eternity with Mema

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choosing Not to Tell My Friends I have Chronic Illnesses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 27, 2017

To My Suitemate Who Sees Me as More Than My Illnesses

Dear Suitemate,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caitlin




Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Recovery Conference Speech

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

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


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

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

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.





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 PsychologyToday.com. 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.

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.

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.

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. 


Caitlin