Saturday, January 28, 2017

Fight for the Next Good Day

Recovery is often unstable. It is not a straight, flat path. There are valleys and hills. You might have to cross a river and climb hand over hand to reach the top of the mountain. Don't worry. All the scenery is building the strength inside of you.

Recovery doesn't mean you are always doing good. It just means you're still fighting. You might get stuck in a depressive wave or have medication trouble. The road ahead might have fog so thick no light can make it through.

Keep fighting. Fight for the next good day. This is the hard part where trust comes in. Personally, I don't trust easy. PTSD killed that for me. Luckily it was only mostly dead and my therapist and I are coating up a miracle pill. (If you don't get that reference you need to take a step back, re-evaluate your life, and watch The Princess Bride)

Trust that the good day will come. Trust that there is happiness ahead and that you have warriors fighting beside you.

It can sometimes be hard to see those fighting with you. If all you can see is those who have left, take a step back. In the event that you have no one, know that I am here. I am fighting right beside you.

Fighting for the next good day.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Chronic Illness. Chronic Pain. Chronic Questions

I saw a new doctor today. Down in LA. He is probably the best doctor I've ever seen. He knew his stuff, his credentials are crazy, and he was my last shot for my hips. He was going to be the one to help me.
And he did. He did all he could and he gave me some advice. It just wasn't what I wanted to hear.
In a way I feel like I shouldn't be writing about this because I don't know a lot about it all yet, but writing is how I process. So this might be choppy, but it will help me.

I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. I'm very bendy. It's more than that though. EDS is a connective tissue disorder that affects collagen. Collagen is like the glue that holds everything in your body together. Mine doesn't work properly. Right now that is causing a lot of problems with my hips.

This doctor today told me that I have great hips structurally. There's nothing for him to go in and fix. The problem lies in the instability caused by my EDS. My hip is very unstable and has caused a labrum tear and cartilage damage. All in all, pain.
The problem is that I have one of the few things he can't fix. His advice to me (as a surgeon) was to never ever let a surgeon operate on my hips until I have a hip replacement. Because there is nothing they can fix.

I like that he told it to me straight. I got information from him. The end result was just that I need to learn to live with this. Pain meds don't work for me. I'm trying physical therapy, but struggling with being hopeful about it.
This was not what I wanted to hear. I'm wondering where to go from it.

I've been using forearm crutches to help get around and especially at school. Really the only place I don't use them is at church. It can be difficult enough managing four 3-year olds with a dog. I don't think I could do it on crutches.
They help. I feel more stable than I have in months. It's kind of an amazing feeling not worrying when I'm going to fall next. It worries me though that I'll have to rely on a walking aid for the rest of my life.
I'm working on physical therapy to build my muscles. That should help, but I don't know how much.

What do you do when there is nothing to do?
You keep pushing. I know I can't give up. I know I have got to keep moving forward with what I have. Right now I have physical therapy.

Have any of you experienced anything similar. I am more than open to any tips or help.

For now I'll continue one assisted step at a time. I know I'm not alone. I have great support around me. Right now I'm sitting on temple grounds. I know my Father in Heaven is watching over me, sending help my way.

I might bend, but I won't break.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

College and Mental Illness

I started my second semester of college yesterday. I'm incredibly excited for it. I got to move back into my dorm and I actually genuinely love to learn (unless we're talking about Chemistry, because who really needs Chemistry--not me).

As much fun as college is, it is also undoubtedly tough, stressful, and busy. College can be difficult for anybody, but struggling with a mental illness makes it that much more difficult.

It is only the second day of my second semester so I have not perfected these steps by any means, but I have found some ways that work for me to make going to college with a mental illness just a little bit easier.

1) Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD)
The very first thing you should do is talk to your schools disabilities department. They have measures put in place to help you succeed. This will probably need to involve getting a note signed from your doctor. Then you can meet with their accommodations representative who can help you get the extra help you need. I go to Cal State Bakersfield and they personally have an amazing SSD department. Everyone has been so great at getting me the extra help that I need. I personally have time and a half testing, I get to take my tests in their quiet testing center, I can have a notetaker take my notes for me if I need, and I am allowed to tape record lectures. I highly suggest going to see your disabilities office as early as you possibly can.

2) Know Your Teachers
Last semester it was vital for me to know my professors. It even came down to whether or not I passed a class. This is something that should be done at the beginning of the semester. Go introduce yourself, give them a copy of your SSD report, and let them know what's going on if you feel comfortable. They will be much more inclined to help you if you talk to them earlier rather that when you're struggling or already behind.

3) Counseling Center
Every school has a counseling center that should be free to all students. It is one of those costs that are covered under your tuition. I highly suggest that you make an appointment with a therapist and work with them, especially if you are struggling. Even though I see my outside therapist I meet with one in the counseling center about every other week or so. My outside therapist is wonderful, we just often don't have time to go over all of my personal issues and then add school on top of it. The therapist I see at the counseling center covers my school needs and problems. They know the school extremely well and can be a huge benefit.

4) Get Enough zzzzzzz's 
This is so important as I know that for me and many others I know with mental illnesses if I don't get enough sleep it exacerbates my symptoms greatly. It may be very tempting to stay up and do homework, hang out with friends, or go to that party everyone's talking about, but your mental health has to be placed above all. For me, I know that the absolute latest I can stay up if 11pm and that can sometimes be pushing it. You know what's right for your body. Take a minute and listen to what it's telling you.

5) Get Plenty to Eat and Drink
My therapist has pointed out to me on more than one occasion that when I am experiencing a rise in symptoms I need to evaluate three things: how much I'm sleeping, eating, and drinking, because it is likely one of those three areas are suffering. If you are not taking care of the vital needs of your body it will affect your mind. I've tried to make excuses before like I can't go to sleep yet I need to study, or my hips hurt I don't want to walk all the way to the dining hall, but in the long run if you take care of your body then your body will take care of you.

6) No Alcohol
College is a time where a lot of people start drinking for the first time. For those of us with mental illnesses this is a bad idea. I personally don't drink anyways, but I have seen how it has affected people around me. Especially if you take medications they should not be mixed with alcohol. It is still possible to have fun without it. You're friends will understand.

7) Find What Works for You
These are just some of the things that work for me; however everyone is different. Experiment with different techniques and different coping skills and you will find some that work for you. Above all else listen to your body, and prioritize your mental health above everything.

Friday, January 20, 2017

You Will Never Be Who You Once Were

I have never been one to sugar coat things very much. I'm not a bakery. With that preface one thing you need to understand is that you will never be the person you were before your illness, attack, or whatever life changing event happened in your life. With that out of the way the more important thing to understand is that this is not a bad thing. 

For the longest time I kept thinking that I would get a hold on all of my struggles and be able to go back to my old self. It was one of my therapists in Residential who made me see the importance of grieving my old self to prepare for who I would become. It took me some time to do this, but eventually I realized that I don't want to be the girl I was. 

This doesn't mean I don't still miss her sometimes. I go through periods where I long to be the young, innocent girl who felt so safe, but who I am now is so much stronger. I have faith in a merciful God who has walked me through my trials. I know I can survive whatever he sends my way. I have grown and learned too much to ever go back. 

It is impossible to go through trials and come out the same person who walked in. They are tests; they are lessons. Whatever you may have to face will change you forever, but this doesn't have to be a bad thing. Let it change you for the better. Let it make you stronger. 

It's not always easy, but I promise you it is possible. We do not have the privilege of choosing all our trials, but more important than what we go through is how we choose to deal with it. Take your trials and let them make you strong. I'll be right here cheering you on. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Why I'm a Rape Victim not a Survivor

Almost immediately following a sexual assault blame is placed, generally on the victim. Blame is placed on the victim by her attacker, by the media, possibly by friends and family, and by herself.

For the longest time after I was raped I blamed myself. It lured me into this false sense of security. If I had fought harder and screamed louder then I could have stopped him. If I could have stopped him then I can stop it from happening again. Shifting blame to the attacker forces the victim to acknowledge that they were completely and utterly powerless. That is a very scary place to be.

The issue of blame is a big reason I choose to identify as a rape victim rather than a rape survivor. Don't get me wrong, I am a survivor. I survived and I continue to. However, I think when we try to tell victims that they shouldn't call themselves victims it takes some blame away from the attacker. He is able to be forgotten.

I understand that "victim" is not as cheerful as "survivor," but rape is not cheerful. We need to face reality as it is. I became a rape victim the day a man bigger and older than me decided to use me as a toy for his amusement. I am not turning myself into a victim by not "reclaiming" my trauma. He did that.

Identifying as a victim not a survivor does not mean that I will not go on to live a wonderful life and accomplish many things. It simply means that I am choosing to start and end the blame with my attacker.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Fight Song: My PTSD Anthem

Like a small boat
On the ocean
Sending big waves
Into motion
Like how a single word
Can make a heart open
I might only have one match
But I can make an explosion

I love music especially songs with meaning. I have adopted "Fight Song" by Rachel Platten as an anthem for my life through struggling with anxiety, depression, and PTSD. The upbeat rhythm and powerful words demand that I sing along. I have a feisty side that this song feeds into well. The lyrics seem to follow a path that I also went down. 

And all those things I didn't say
Wrecking balls inside my brain
I will scream them loud tonight
Can you hear my voice this time?

I go through these moods where I want to make a change. I want to do something that matters. That's one reason I started writing. It's always been a great way for me to use my voice. "Can you hear my voice this time?" 

This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I'm alright song
My power's turned on
Starting right now I'll be strong
I'll play my fight song
And I don't really care if nobody else believes
'Cause I've still got a lot of fight left in me

This chorus is what really gets to me. I am ready and willing to fight. I've been doing it for years. I have fought for my health and my life in ways you couldn't even imagine. I fight for myself in order to advocate for my needs. I am taking back my needs and proving I'm alright. I have power. "And I don't really care if nobody else believes, 'cause I've still got a lot of fight left in me." 

I've gotten to this point in my life where I am starting to be okay with all of who I am. Excluding a few friends and family I'm closest to I don't care what other people think of me. This is my life. This is who I am. If you can't accept that, if you can't make time for me, if you can't support me, then I don't need you in my life. "Like how a single word can make a heart open. I might only have one match, but I can make an explosion."

Do you have an anthem? 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

We need to talk about suicide

We need to talk about suicide. This is one of those taboo topics that shall too frequently gets shoved under the rug. I understand it's not fun; it's not pretty, but you're not going to save a life if you're too busy picking out rug colors.

When I was seventeen I became suicidal. The weight of the assault had finally caught up to me and my depression skyrocketed. The thing about suicide is to that person it is anything but selfish. You honestly believe that those you care about would be better off in a world you no longer existed in.

Thankfully my parents were aware and attentive. They took measures that kept me safe. I hated the lockdown back then, but now I am so grateful my parents cared enough to keep me safe.

The first thing they did was lock up all the sharps in the house. They changed the door knob on the pantry so it could lock and all the sharps got put in the pantry. They also bought a small safe to keep in their room where all the medication in the house, even Tylenol got locked up. Also in the safe went razors, sewing needles, and anything else I could possibly use to hurt myself with.

It wasn't convenient for anyone, but it kept me alive. Another step to keep me safe was talking about it. I saw a therapist every week and I also had to rank my severity of symptoms once a day for my mom. I hated doing this so we texted it to each other. When I got to the point I was no longer safe at home I was sent to the hospital. Whatever works.

It is vital to keep the communication and safety steps happening. So often people are suffering and no one talks about it. I have no clue where I came from but there's this idea out there that you can give someone the idea to kill themselves if you ask if they are feeling suicidal. That's ludicrous. I promise you by asking someone you only have the opportunity to help, not hurt.

So I challenge each and every one of you to start talking. If a loved one is struggling with depression open up the door to that conversation. Be willing to have the hard talks. You might just save a life.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A Crazy, Fun, Exciting Opportunity!

First and foremost I need to thank all of you for the immense support you have given me over these past few days. I came out about my change in diagnosis from Schizoaffective to PTSD and what caused that change. If you missed those posts you can read them here My Journey to a PTSD diagnosis and here God Was There When I Was Raped I was nervous about the reaction I was going to get, but you guys have been so kind and wonderful. I can not thank you enough.

I have already had a few people reach out to me sharing their story, asking advice, or telling me I have given them courage. To anyone out there who has been through something similar I want to say that you are so much stronger than what happened to you and you can do anything that you want to do. You can be anything you want to be. I will be standing right here supporting you.

Ok, on to my crazy, fun, exciting announcement. As part of my efforts to continue talking about mental illness I have the opportunity to be in a documentary!! I finished filming for it yesterday. The documentary is being done as a project by an amazing lady, Jacki Ochoa. She is a mental illness warrior who is doing so much to spread awareness. My part in it includes talking about my journey from start to end, why it's important to talk about mental illness, and coping skills.

I will be featured in an 8 minute segment in February, then the full documentary will be out later this year. Our local news channel 23 ABC will be airing it. For those of you who do not live in Bakersfield I will provide a link so you can watch.

This is a topic I am so passionate about. Mental illness needs to be talked about. I am so incredibly excited for this opportunity to continue talking about mental illness and spreading awareness. I will keep you all updated.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

God Was There When I Was Raped

Throughout my life I have trusted and believed in a loving, gracious, and merciful God. He has helped me through the hardest times I've ever been through. I took comfort in knowing that He is always with me. Until one day in Residential after I had finished my school work.

I was reading about Jesus in Matthew and it came to the part where he gives the promise "I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." (Matthew 28:20). That's when it dawned on me. God was there when I was raped. I was in his house. He saw it happen, he heard my cries, he knew my pain and he didn't stop it.

I didn't understand. I had always been taught that we were never alone and I had faith in that, but coming to the understanding that he was there made me feel more alone than ever. I didn't understand why He would allow that to happen to me.

I took my question to Heavenly Father. I asked him why he would stand by something that terrible. He spoke the greatest peace to my heart. I understood that he is my father. I am his daughter. He loves me more than I could ever comprehend.

I realized the only thing worse than God being there would be if he were not. Even in the worst moment of my life when I was faced with horrors one could only imagine I was not alone. More importantly than that I was not left alone in my recovery.

I have seen my Heavenly Father's hand in my recovery every step of the way. He has put me in places I need to be with the people I needed to help me. During times I could not walk, he carried me.

God allows terrible things to happen to us. He lets natural disasters happen. He lets people become terminally ill. He let a very bad man do very bad things to me. We need to have trials in our lives. They are what test us and make us grow.

Through this trial I have come to understand that Heavenly Father didn't want this to happen to me, but we all have our agency and he couldn't take away that from my attacker. What he could do was stay with me then and every day since.

Monday, January 9, 2017

My Journey to a PTSD diagnosis

I have written and rewritten this a hundred times over in my head. Even when I thought this was a story I would never share I wrote it out. Somewhere inside me I knew that as part of my healing process one day I would talk about it.

That being said I know there will be some of you who don't agree with my decision to speak out about this on this platform. You have your own opinions and you are entitled to them, but with all due respect this is my story. It is a story that needs to be shared.

I had a secret, something I held inside me for years. Until recently I held so much shame over this secret, but I've come to realize that my life doesn't have to be a secret. Speaking takes away the secrecy and the feeling of shame. So here it goes.

When I was 15 I was the victim of rape.

Wow, that's quite a sentence for me to say. I'm not speaking out about this to shock you. I'm not looking for sympathy. My only motive is for spreading awareness about sexual assault and mental illness.

I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from my assault, however, I was not diagnosed with PTSD when I was 15. The trauma I suffered was so severe that it fractured my mind in a way. Our brains are marvelous things and mine knew that I could not handle the trauma at that time and it took the memory away from me. This is not uncommon.

I had suffered a trauma though and the changes to my body and my brain couldn't forget what happened and it came out in different ways. I became extremely anxious, depressed, and I experienced psychotic symptoms. My doctors didn't know why these symptoms were happening so suddenly and I was misdiagnosed as Schizoaffective.

About a year and a half ago the memories had been coming back to me and I gathered up the courage to tell my therapist and parents. Suddenly everything made sense. The Schizoaffective diagnosis was changed to PTSD and I started trauma therapy. I went to a residential treatment program for 10 weeks. When I started getting help for the rape I started making progress. I became stable for the first time in years.

I am still recovering. I see my wonderful therapist every week, I am in a support group for women of childhood sexual abuse, and I practice my coping skills everyday. I will be in treatment for a long time, but I have absolutely no intention of letting what happened to me ruin my life.

I am taking back the control that was taken away from me.

One important way I am doing this is by writing. Writing and speaking is very theraputic for me and it is so important that we start speaking out about sexual assault. I get it, it's not a fun conversation to have, but it is so incredibly needed.

The stigma is so strong around those people who are victims of sexual assault. I have supportive parents and a loving family and I was terrified for the longest time to put this out there. I'm still nervous about it.

Stigma breeds shame which breeds silence.

So I am breaking my silence and I am spreading awareness. If not me, then who?

Survive then Thrive

When mental illness and depression come knocking it can sometimes be all one can do just to survive. When my own struggles were at their worst my day to day goals involved things like getting out of bed, taking a shower, or eating all three meals. Anything beyond that was unfathomable.

I thank my Heavenly Father everyday that I am no longer in that spot. From the time I was sixteen to eighteen my efforts went only to surviving.

I am now nineteen, in college, and further along in my recovery. I still struggle. I still see a therapist. However, I have been able to move on from simply trying to survive.

I don't usually make New Year's resolutions, but at the beginning of this new year I have been thinking about what directions I want to take my life. One thing I know is that this year I don't want to just survive, I want to thrive.

I will do that by continuing to take care of myself. When you start to see progress it can be easy to drop some of the coping skills and routines that got you there. I will be focusing on those little things while also pushing myself out of my comfort zone. My therapist has a saying that if I feel uncomfortable doing something I'm probably exactly where I need to be.

This year I am not going to let anything hold me back. I am taking steps to acknowledge myself and accept myself where I am and as I am.

We are all in the places we are for a reason. Whether it be our own actions, the actions of another person, or God's will that got us here there is a reason for it. It can be so easy to use the past as a reason to be afraid and not do what we desperately want to. Let go of that fear this year. Let go of all the voices around you telling you that you can't do it and that you aren't good enough. You can do anything that you put your heart and soul into.

It might not be easy. It might be the hardest thing you have ever done in your life, but I've never met a strong person who had an easy life.

Surviving had its place. It got me to where I am, but now I'm ready to thrive. Who's with me?

Saturday, January 7, 2017

10 Things I Learned in a Mental Hospital

Shortly before Christmas when I was 17 I was admitted to UCLA's Psychiatric Hospital again. This was during my Junior year of High School. At the time I was an active member of my school's Speech and Debate team. When I returned home I wrote this speech and competed with it for the rest of the competition season. 

10 Things I Learned in a Mental Hospital

Want to know a secret? I’m not who you think I am, not entirely, but that’s okay. How about we be honest with each other today? I’ll be honest with you, and then you be honest with yourself. I’ll go first. Over the past year I have been in two different mental hospitals (or as my mother would prefer me to say, psychiatric hospitals) three different times. The two most recent times I was in the neuropsychiatric hospital at UCLA but I have also spent a little bit of time in Good Samaritan here in town. Each time it was for anxiety, depression, and psychotic symptoms. Now I would bet that your perception of me has already changed from what it was originally because of this stigma attached to what I just said.
  Patrick W. Corrigan, a professor of Psychology at the Illinois Institute of Technology, informs us that “Stereotypes” depict “people with mental illness as being dangerous, unpredictable, responsible for their illness, or generally incompetent” (citation)
There are many misconceptions people have about mental illness and mental hospitals. Today I am going to prove all those people wrong. I learned a lot on the psych unit and that is what I am here today to share with you.
The very first thing I learned was that it’s not like it is in the movies. Have any of you seen “A Beautiful Mind?” Well, about a month before I went into Good Sam my therapist had me watch that movie; I’m not really sure why. About half-way through the movie the main character, who is Schizophrenic, gets carted away to a mental hospital. Shortly after that I shut the movie off without finishing it. I didn’t like seeing him restrained and drugged. That is what I thought going inpatient was like.  When I think of B Unit, the unit I was on in UCLA, it looks to me kind of like a college dorm floor. Up two of the halls are a bunch of rooms. Everything is centered around this big room that we call the Day Room where we spend all our free time. In it there are comfy chairs, a big table and chairs where we ate our meals, a tv we could watch movies on during visiting hours, and off to the side is the nurses station. There were no empty white bedrooms, no people muttering to themselves walking the hall, and definitely no straight jackets. We did have a Seclusion Room, located in the Day Room where if a kid got uncontrollable and became a danger to himself or others they would give him a PRN, (PRN means “As Needed” so when you asked for a PRN they would give you a medication, such as Thorazine, that just helps to calm you down) so they would give him a PRN and put him in there until he calmed down.
The second thing that I was happily surprised to learn is that you can have fun in inpatient and you can even make friends.  The morning before I was first admitted I was talking to my Aunt and I said to her, “Well maybe I’ll make friends.” She replied back saying, “Okaaayyy, but is that really the type of people you want to make friends with?” What I don’t think she understood at the time was that “they” are people like me. They are people like me and they are people like you. The kids I met in UCLA weren’t crazy, or scary, or bad. Some of the sweetest, more caring people I have ever met, I met on Unit B. There were all different types of people there, an unlikely group out in the real world, but we all generally got along. Some of the kids I still talk to.
There was work involved on the unit, we were there to get better and we had to go to groups, and meetings, and see doctors, but we also had fun at the same time. We had access to a deck with tables and chairs, balls, and a ping pong table. Some of the groups we did were fun too like cooking group, Recreational Therapy, Occupational Therapy, and Art Room.  I’d like to point out that while we made friends and could have fun in the hospital, being there was not fun. It isn’t a place to be glamorized and glorified. It’s a hospital. The kids there are there to get better.
Number three. Community. Community was a group and how we began our day. It goes a little like this. The staff running it picks someone to keep the journal and then we’d all go around and when it got to your turn you would have to set a goal for the day and a coping skill. While I was there one of my Communities might be “to communicate better to the staff when I need something, and for a coping skill I would color” Today it would look something like “do my best in all of the rounds I compete in, and a coping skill would be to shuffle cards.” Setting a goal like this is great for anyone to do.

Four. No, your mother’s not Bipolar…..unless she is. I don’t know? Here’s the point I’m trying to make. During my time in UCLA I saw people with many different disorders. I remember that one time I was there a discussion that came up was that we all hate it when someone uses disorders as adjectives. “Ugh, my mother is so Bipolar, “I got so depressed in class today.” “Haha, you’re so OCD” These words hold more weight than you think they do. You never know if when you use these words in the lunch room if someone at your table happens to be bipolar. You don’t know what others are dealing with.
Number five. Pain is universal. Almost everyone you know is dealing with something that you don’t know about. I would bet that some of you probably know at least one person who has been in a mental hospital. When I was in Good Sam here in Bakersfield, I was in an all-girls unit and from our group there were girls from a large variety of high schools. You normally can’t tell by looking at a person what is going on inside their head. Of the kids I met in my inpatient stays: the saddest girl tried the hardest to make everyone else happy. The boy who was on a court mandate was the gentlest person there. The girl with stitches holding her arm together could make anyone laugh. The girl who screamed at night could calm anyone down. I have found that in a lot of instances the gentlest, most caring people are the ones with problems haunting them that you couldn’t even imagine

Numbers six and seven kind of go together. What I learned was that someone always has it worse than you and that the pain doesn’t go away overnight. Good Sam was more of a psychiatric hold facility. I was the only person there who wasn’t on a hold for a suicide attempt. UCLA is a more long term care facility. Most people stay about 2 or 3 weeks. Some stay less, some stay more. Most people don’t leave completely better either. Actually, nobody leaves completely better. Something people need to remember for themselves and for those around them is that recovery is a process not perfection.
The 8th thing I learned was taught to me by D, my favorite staff, she taught me to be my own advocate.  I was so used to other people saying what I needed that I wasn’t accustomed to doing that for myself. But when you’re living in a hospital there’s no one there to tell the staff or the doctors if you need something. You have to speak up for yourself. You have to fight for yourself.

Perhaps one of the best lessons I learned from my stay in UCLA was that people care. The last time I stayed there it was for about two weeks in December of 2014 and while there that time my favorite nurse was J. I knew J from when I had been admitted there a couple months earlier and when she saw me she was like, “Caitlin!” and I was like “J” and then we gave each other a hug. She hadn’t seen me in months yet she still remembered my face and name. When you stay in the “normal” hospital you have nurses but you don’t get to know them the same way you do your staff when you are in a psychiatric hospital. They are there most days, all day long with you. They know you. It wasn’t just the staff that cared. All of us kids there took care of one another. If someone needed something we did it. If someone need to talk we talked. If they needed us to just be there we were there. If they needed a hug they were out of luck because of body boundaries. We lived there, some of us for a while, so the staff and the other kids on the unit became our family.
The 10th and most important thing I learned and I hope you learned from this speech is that you can’t judge people because they are in a mental hospital. Mental hospitals get a bad reputation. People get  stigmatized for being there but there doesn’t have to be that stigma. I see me and the kids I met in UCLA as smart and brave. We needed the help and we knew it. Mental hospitals are a good thing. I learned a lot there and I hope that you learned something too.

Friday, January 6, 2017

How the Movie "Frozen" Helped Me With Depression

There was an absolute craze when Frozen was released to theaters. I understood the appeal. I loved the movie as much as the next person. It was well played how the sisters ended up saving each other. I am all for empowering women and I think that movie helped. However, all of these reasons are not why the movie meant so much to me.

The first time I saw Frozen was with my big sis and nephew while I was visiting them in San Luis Obispo. I worked hard to hide my tears from them as Elsa was struggling with her powers.

I felt as though I could relate to how she was feeling. At the time this movie came out I was struggling immensely. I was still hiding my anxiety and depression from most of the people around me. My own sister whom I was staying with at the time did not know the extent of what was happening inside of me. So when Elsa was singing, "Don't let them in, don't let them see. Be the good girl you always have to be." I felt like I could have written that song myself. 

I was struggling with depression and I had not come to accept it yet. I felt so much shame from what I was dealing with. I was scared that if I let those in my life know what was going on they would see me the same way I saw myself. 

I am working on projects right now where I will be speaking out more in depth about my mental illnesses and where they come from and that is still a fear; however, I've come to understand now that if I choose to tell someone and they don't accept me then I don't really need them in my life. 

When Elsa's secret came out she went through a dark period when she felt all alone. She didn't know her sister was coming to find her. All she knew is that those around her found out about what was different about her and they did not accept it. It hurt. 

The pain I have felt when an important person in my life did not accept or believe me about my mental illnesses is incomparable to anything I have ever felt. 

But then....

That Perfect Girl Is Gone! When I finally let go of the idealist view I had of needing to present this perfect image I felt as if a year of held breathes was finally released. It was difficult. By no means was this the answer to everything, but boy did it help. 

I could focus on just being me instead of what I thought everyone wanted me to me. I had this idea that I needed to be the "good, little Mormon girl" for the people at church. I thought I needed to be as perfect as I could be at home so as to not give my parents extra to worry about. That was not the answer. The best thing I ever did was coming out about the struggles I face and try to be as authentic as I possibly could. 

Now I am at the point Elsa was when she had accepted herself and was using what made her different to "rise like the break of dawn." Being different doesn't make you bad. 

I watched this movie probably a half dozen times after it came out and listed to Elsa's soundtrack more times than I can count. Each time I hear the song it can bring me to tears. So much of it I can see in myself. 

I think this year I am coming out of the last bit of "don't let them know. Make one wrong move and everyone will know." I am so glad the perfect girl is gone. I like the real me so much better. 

If you haven't watched Frozen in a while I suggest you get it out of the cupboard and push play. Look for the hidden meanings behind the princess. They are there and maybe they can help you as much as they helped me. 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Depression Lies: You aren't Alone

Whether physically heard or not, everyone has different voices inside their head. Some may call this a conscience. I prefer to think of it simply as different parts of me.

If you have ever experienced any form of depression whether it be Postpartum, Major Depressive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, or Dysthymia, you know that Depression has it's own voice.

Depression talks to you very different than you would normally talk to yourself.
Depression is not kind. You would never speak to someone you love the walk depression talks to you. Depression lies. These lies feed into the sorrow it has already placed on your soul.

I have struggled with major depression since I was 15. I tend to think of my depression voice as a male. For a long time he haunted my mind. Though he wakes up on occasion to rear his ugly head I have surrounded myself with ways to take back the reins and people who help me do it.

Depression has lied to me many times before. He has told me that I am stupid, ugly, not good enough, and unworthy of love. Perhaps one of the biggest lies depression has told me is that I am alone.

During my senior year of high school I lost my best and only friend. It was a complicated split up that took me a long time to get over. This fed into depression's voice. He loves to tell me I have no friends.

I have learned over time a very valuable skill of talking back to my depression. It isn't always easy, and I don't always remember to do it, but this reality checking is vitally important.

When depression seeps in and tries to tell me that I am alone I need to stand my ground firm and talk back to him. I am not alone. I have my family. I have my therapist. I have an aunt who I know loves me. I have a wonderful best friend and though I do not get to see her often, we talk every day. I've made a couple friends at school. I have people I still talk to from my Forensics team. I have a church family. I am not alone.

It is easy to believe depression's lies when we feel so much ache within. It is not easy to talk back to him, but you are so much stronger than he is. This is your body. This is your mind. I know it isn't enough to will him away. It takes time and it takes work, but let talking back to the lies depression tells you be the first step in taking yourself back.

Look around you. Do some reality checking. You will be amazed by what you see. I know I was.

My Job is Surviving

There is an unbelievable amount of work that goes into being a college student. Between classes, homework, and studying it's a wonder I get much else done. However, life does not stop based on our school schedules.

Many students who are in college also have to work to help support themselves. That is simply not an option for me right now. It would be too much for me to handle if I tried to work even a part time job while simultaneously doing school. I am so very fortunate to have wonderful parents and my grandpa who help me out with living expenses and books. I also have a tuition fee waiver grated by Cal Vet for my Dad being a disabled veteran of the Army.

I do volunteer each week, but there have been quite a few times when I feel guilty for receiving so much help and not working, but I have to take a step back and look at the things I do have responsibility for. Taking care of my mental health is like a part time job for me.

Scheduled around my classes I spend five hours each week with therapists or in groups, plus the weeks I travel 30 minutes one way to see my psychiatrist. I have multiple times per day where I stop what I'm doing and take a coping skills break. Jenny is part of my mental health care and I spend time each day with her working on her training, playing, and making sure she gets the proper amount of exercise. I also have to go to bed by 10 each possible night so as to avoid exacerbating symptoms needlessly.

For any of you who struggle with a disability of any kind and feel guilty because you can't do as much as some other people: don't. Do as much as you can and remember how hard you fight for your health and the things you work for that people can't always see. It isn't always as simple as that and I know how easy it is to feel guilty. For me though, I am working on accepting the things I can do.

In my religion we don't say recited prayers, however, when I was in Residential the Serenity Prayer was used in a few different settings. I grew to love it.

God, grant me the Serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can
and the wisdom to know the difference. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Insomnia: The Silent Killer

It is 11:12pm. I have already taken my nighttime pills, gone to sleep, and woken up.

It is 11:12pm. I am wide awake and have no idea of when I am going to fall asleep again.

You know what that means? That's right. It's time to talk about Insomnia.

I have had Insomnia for the past three or so years. About as long as I've been struggling with mental illness. Although many of us who struggle with various forms of mental illness also deal with Insomnia, anyone can struggle with it at any point in their lives.

No one is safe!! (You'll have to pardon me on this post. I get a bit goofy when I'm tired.)

Speaking from a medical standpoint Mayo Clinic defines Insomnia as such, "Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep, or cause you to wake up too early and not be able to get back to sleep."

At various points over the past few years I have struggled with all of these different ways Insomnia can present. Unfortunately for me good sleeping habits and sleep health was not enough to help with me and I have to use medication to aid my sleep.

When I tell someone that without my meds I don't sleep, I think a lot of the time they feel as if I am exaggerating. Do not get me wrong. If I do not take my sleeping meds I do not fall asleep. Ever. I will lay in bed, awake, all night. This was tested one unfortunate night in college where I was having a particularly rough time on a paper and stayed up too late to be able to take my meds. I had a class at 7am the next day and knew that I would not be able to wake up for it. So I did not take my pills and I did not sleep that night (Sorry mom and dad).

This is not good to do. Not sleeping often exacerbates my symptoms. I try my hardest to keep to a very strict sleep schedule even while in college. I try to be in bed by 10 most nights.

However nights like tonight that doesn't help much. I am not sure what it is about 11pm, but I have been waking up about now every night for a couple weeks. I will get a few hours of good sleep and then I am awake and in and out for the rest of the night. If I'm lucky between 4 and 6 I will fall asleep again.

Insomnia is a silent killer. It slithers in unsuspectingly and screws with your entire life. My therapist says eating, drinking, and sleep are the three keys to physical health and when one of those is going haywire then my mental health symptoms are soon to follow.

Thankfully I have developed some useful coping skills and I am doing pretty well at the moment. Sleep is always something to watch out for though. It does not happen often, but I know that if I am ever awake all night even with taking my pills then we have a problem.

Those of us with insomnia are usually always tired. For me personally I always feel tired and I never wake up refreshed. I can only imagine how people who have it worse than me feel. When a person does not sleep it seeps into their life and they do not perform as well during the day, their work may suffer, they might be agitated or irritable, and depending on how long they have gone without sleep cognitive functioning can be affected.

As always, I try to find the good in problems. Now that I'm in college if I need to stay up a little later to work on as assignment, because let's be real, as hard as we try late nights happen, all I have to do is not take my pills for an extra hour or so and I can stay up no problem.

For now though, I should probably try and go back to sleep...or go downstairs and get a bowl of sherbet. One of those two things is about to happen. I'll let you decide which one.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Don't Call Me Crazy: The Link Between Speech and Stigma

Crazy, psycho, nuts....we've all heard names get thrown around when mental illness is being discussed. I've had personal experience on this front.

I used to have a diagnosis of Schizoaffective Disorder. What this means is that there are both psychotic symptoms (schizo), and mood disorder symptoms (affective) present. After about a year passed my treatment team came to the conclusion that this was a misdiagnosis. However, I still had people who knew of my history or who simply knew that I was struggling with mental health conditions make snap judgments against me. Both at church and school I was called names like "crazy."

I used to joke to my mom, "I'm not insane. I'm psychotic."

Oh, how I wish the difference in these two terms was common knowledge. Psychosis, or any mental health condition does not make a person crazy. When terms like this are used to label people with mental illnesses it sticks in people's minds. That becomes the first thing they see when looking at us.

Words like crazy and psycho have a negative impact. These words create a culture of fear and stigma. It is not right, but words with a negative impact often overshadow those with positive such as mother, father, wife, news anchor, businesswoman.

It can't be laid out more simply than when Mahatma Gandhi said, "Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.”

If we change how we think about mental illness and the words we use when talking about it, it could change all of our destiny. It won't happen overnight, but if each one of us makes a conscious effort to think of people based on who they are becoming, rather than the struggles they are overcoming, it has the power to create change in the world.