Sunday, March 26, 2017

Why I Choose to Utilize Psychiatric Medications.

I always hate it when I see those articles entitled, "How to get through anxiety or depression without medication." For a couple reasons. One, I always feel like they're looking down on those of us who do take medications. (I know this isn't always the case, so sorry if you've written one of these posts) And two, because those of us who do take medication for our mental health aren't cured be it. We still have to fight and struggle and utilize the same exact coping skills they are talking about in order to get or stay healthy.

I view medication as a helpful tool, but only a tool. I am not naive enough to ever consider it a cure. Choosing to take medications is a deeply personal choice that everyone needs to make for themselves and with their doctors. I am not a professional, just a 19 year old college girl, with a list of diagnosis, who has been on medication since she turned 15.

For my mental health journey medication wasn't a choice. It was a necessity. I do believe that there are some cases where medications are a necessity. Two of which I encountered were suicidal thoughts and hallucinations.

Medication did not cure me, it still hasn't, and it sadly never will. Such is one of my trials in life which I will endure until I meet my Maker. What medication did do is keep me alive and help me to stabilize in times of crisis.

It wasn't all good. I have had side effects from certain medications. When I went on one antidepressent it made me suicidal, as sometimes happens with SSRI's and adolescents. I went on one medication and didn't sleep for 76 hours straight. That was a bad one. These are just some examples. I am fully aware that psychiatric medications are not fool proof.

It takes time to find the right medication treatment. When you're stable for a while one might stop working and you might need to find a new one. I, for some unknown reason, tend to develop a tolerance to medications very very quickly. I'm always upping doses and maxing out so we have to switch to a different one. This is why it is extremely important to find a psychiatrist you like and work well with - not an easy task.

What I choose to focus on is the good that they do me when they're working. I focus on the good days. I take what I learn from each medication and add that knowledge to the ever-growing file folder that is my brain.

I don't want to be on medications forever. I, personally feel like I'm taking too much right now, but that's because I'm switching between a couple. However, I know that I need to be on medication right now. One day, after I've been stable for a while we will talk about weaning me off of my meds, but for now they are one coping skill I choose to use.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Why I Never Reported My Rapist to the Police

My trauma story is complicated. I'm sure many are. In all actuality I was raped almost four years ago, shortly after Easter of 2013. However, our minds are incredible things that can do amazing work in the name of protecting itself.

I had something called Dissociative Amnesia which I will probably write more on at a later time. Most simple what it means is that I forgot about my attack. I forgot everything as a coping skill. My brain knew I was not capable of processing the trauma that had occurred so it took it away.

It does not feel like it has been four years since my attack happened. I first told my therapist about it September of 2015. That day I was placed, terrified, into UCLA's psychiatric hospital.

I did speak to a policeman. As mandated reporters they had to call the police and a man came down to take my statement. At that point in my life it had been a day since I had told anyone. I was terrified of everything. I didn't yet have the full memories of my assault like I do now. I didn't trust anyone. I didn't trust myself.

Out of fear and shame I did not speak to the policeman very much. I don't actually remember what all I told him. I remember bits and pieces. I remember I had to take two breaks between talking to him. I remember I couldn't have done it without my amazing Social Worker, Megan, by my side. I also remember that I didn't tell him the whole truth. I down played the attack. I didn't want anyone to know what had happened. I had not processed or accepted it yet.

That was the one and only time I spoke to any law enforcement because after that I went to Residential for 10 weeks. When I came home, together with my support system, we decided I would not go to the police right away.

One of my main concerns throughout the whole process was not being believed. I have heard the horror stories of women who tried to report their sexual abuse and were made into the problem, not seen as the victim. Plus I already had a mental health background which I feared would make me automatically dismissed.

Instead I opted to go the church route. I reported within my church. Due to the time that had passed there was no evidence left. Due to the nature of the assault there were no witnesses. Due to my rapist being a sadistic monster he denied it outright. Through absolutely no fault of my church leadership nothing was able to be done about it.

That absolutely crushed my heart. In my head I knew it was the likely outcome, but had let myself hope for a better one. For the longest time I blamed the wrong people. I was hurt. I thought my leadership didn't believe me when he was unable to tell me what I wanted to hear. I was wrong.

That set me back pretty far and after that I would not go to the police for fear of the same or a worse response. I didn't know if I could take it again.

For a few months now I have wanted to go to the police. I know that nothing will happen with my case. It is too late, but I also know that there will be another girl like me and if the police already know my perpetrators name she will be more easily believed.

Different fears hold me back now. Sure, I still have the same fears of not being believed, but now I'm worried they will take action against me if I try to change my story. If I add to it and take away from it. I was very honest about my lack of a complete memory with them, but I'm sure very few police are familiar with Dissociative Amnesia. Heck, the word "dissociative" shows up with a red squiggly line under it when I type it because my computer isn't even familiar with it, but I digress. I'm afraid of having lied to the police. It wasn't major, but it was there. The hard part is not remembering what I said, mainly I think I just downplayed everything.

If I could go back and do it all over again I would report everything the minute I knew it. The day I could finally say "It was Him" I would go to the station. Not having that report, not having been able to at least try to go through a court process, not facing my attacker is one of my biggest regrets. I know I didn't do everything possible in my power to stop him from hurting another little girl.

Reporting a sexual assault is not something that is an easy decision. If anyone out there is struggling to make that decision know that it is completely your choice. If you want my advice you can take it, if not that's completely your decision, but I would report. I would do it. It won't be easy. You may not be believed, but that would be the fault of others. Looking back you would be able to tell yourself that you had done everything in your power. Whatever you choose, I'll be standing right here beside you.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

To My Rapist: This is What You Made Me

A Letter to My Rapist "This is What You Made Me" written January 30, 2017

I am not yours. You do not own me. You do not claim right or responsibility over any part of me.

You are a sadistic animal who takes pleasure in raping little girls. You will never be anything more than that.

But I will be so much more than that.

You talked to me of all the ways you would change me. And you did change me, but let me tell you how.

Because of you I learned how to defend myself with force and with word. I made my body stronger.

Because of you I started learning about advocacy work. I made myself louder.

Because of you I gave myself a voice. A voice to scream with. A voice to say no with. A voice to fight back with. I made myself braver.

Because of you I built myself up from under the table I learned how to survive. I made myself more powerful.

You had control over me for a day. The power of a child who could not fight back. That does not make you strong. That makes you a coward.

You had power for a day, but my power will last a lifetime. You did not break me. You are not that strong.

I am like a willow, bending with the wind, but standing firm on solid ground.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

No Goal is Too Small

My goals used to look like: write a speech in a day, go running with Jenny, clean my room, get straight A's in all my classes. I look at those goals now and need to remind myself to take a breath, and then two steps to the side--maybe three.

I say take steps to the side because I've moved away from where I used to be, but I refuse to move backwards. There are a lot of things I have had to get used to with my new found chronic illness  and a big one is accepting the things I cannot do. You might be tired of reading my writings about this. It comes up a lot, but I've always heard the phrase "write what you know."
Well, like it, love it, want to chuck it out the window, this is my life and this is what I know.

Today's goal was successful. However, I did have a day last week, maybe two I can't remember, where the same goal was not successful. What was this goal? To take a shower.

Yes, yes, I know. Mundane. Simple. My dad can crank out a shower in like four minute and be clean as a whistle. However, the life of a person with chronic illness is not always easy.

The car accident I was in on Saturday triggered my Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome to go into another flare. At least I'm pretty sure that's what happened. I'm still figuring all this stuff out too. Moving on, what that means is more pain that normal and more fatigue than normal. What that means is that easy tasks like taking a shower leave me out of breath.

It took me until this afternoon before I got in the shower and I had to rest for about 40 minutes afterwards just to recover from that. I'm not complaining, on the contrary. I was so proud of myself! I did it. I accomplished my goal. So what I had to rest afterwards. That's life.

I don't know what tomorrow's goal will be. That will be decided when I open my eyes. It will probably involve going to my morning class. Whatever it is will be good enough. My goals don't have to climb mountains. That's not my job. My job is to do what I can to take care of me. Today that meant taking a shower. It may seem small, but it was good enough for me.

Don't worry about your goals. Don't compare your goals. No goal is too small.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Relief Society: The Women of my Church

One of many amazing things about my church is out emphasize on service and striving to live as the Savior lived. I had a first hand experience with that yesterday.

Yesterday I was in a car accident. The driver of the other car made an illegal U-turn without looking. I tried to swerve but couldn't avoid them hitting me. My car spun around a few times before coming to a stop. Due to experiencing sharp pain in my back along with muscle spasms I went to the ER to make sure everything was okay.

Normally my mom or dad would take me, but they were out of town. I didn't want to go alone and didn't feel like driving at that moment was the safest thing for me to do so I started calling people for rides.

It was a Saturday afternoon and people were busy or out of town. Thankfully it turned out that my brother could take me. That isn't the point though. The point is that I had a list of about ten women from my church who I could call to help me. I am not super close with all of them, but they all would have been more than willing to help me if they could.

Through my church I am apart of the largest women's organization in the world, the LDS Relief Society. I am so grateful to be a part of something so wonderful. I felt so loved yesterday when I had so many people I could call for help. They truly strive to live and love as Christ himself taught by example.

I'm happy to report that I am doing well today. I'm safe. I wasn't able to go to church today and will probably just spend the day resting, but I am so grateful to my Heavenly Father for keeping me safe and for allowing me not to be seriously injured.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Why I Say "I'm Fine" When Asked How I Am

I've written before about having Ehlers-Dablos Syndrome. It's a connective tissue disorder that affects my collagen and it causes chronic pain. For some reason the last part of that sentence is hard for me to write. Maybe it's because I'm still coming to terms with my illness. Maybe it's because I feel like I'm complaining. Maybe it's because I feel like people will feel sorry for me and I don't want that. Maybe it's all of the above.

Except for with a select few people I tend to minimize my pain. I say "it's okay" i say "it's manageable". Even in physical therapy. I push myself through the pain because I feel like I have to even though I know it's bad for me.

I understand that when I come out and talk about hard topics on such a public platform I'm going to get questions. I understand when I'm walking with crutches, but there's no cast on my leg people are going to take a second look. I should be used to questions and most of the time I am, but I need people to understand that they need to accept my answers and accept that they fluctuate.

Last semester I made a friend with one of the ladies who works in the cafeteria at school. She took a liking to me. Well, she took a liking to Jenny and by extension me. She is as sweet as she could be and I honestly believe she does everything she does from a place of love, but every day when I see her she asks me when I'm going to be better. I've tried to explain that it's a chronic, life long illness and that I'm not going to get better. That day I made her cry. The next day she asked when I was going to be feeling better. This was taxing to me. I can go through most days not thinking about the fact that I'm not going to get better, until someone reminds me.

I've just started telling her that I am doing good. Everyday when she asks I say "Oh I'm doing good today. How are you?" Even when I'm not doing good. Even when I'm in pain or dizzy or fatigued. I'm always doing good.  This extends beyond her as well.

I've found it easier to just tell people I'm fine rather than explain how I'm not. Even with my friends who know about my diagnosis I do this. No one wants to hear that you're sick or in pain all the time. It would be fine if I had a broken leg  and was going to get better, but spread it out over a life time and I'm just complaining.

I understand not all people are like this. Some really want to know how I'm doing, but it's too difficult to weed out the few from the many. Ultimately it's just easier for my sanity to keep my answers to "I'm fine. How are you?"

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

My Realities of PTSD

I woke up this morning with a black eye. This isn't the first time this has happened to me. One symptom of PTSD that I struggle with is nightmares, because of them my sleep is never restful and sometimes violent.

I'm not sharing this for pity. I don't need or want it. I'm sharing this to show the realities of living with a mental illness.

For those of us with PTSD we relive the trauma over and over whether in our dreams or in flashbacks. Something that I call a "side effect of being me" is that I tend to fight back during these times. I think it comes from when I did kickboxing. My instinct is to fight. While I'm on that topic that is also why you should never ever sneak up on me. I have almost punched several people who startled me without meaning to. It's just my first instinct.

Thankfully as I have progressed in my therapy and treatment these instances are becoming fewer. I haven't had a black eye in months, but I did almost break my hand a couple weeks ago when I punched a steel door during a flashback.

This is just my reality. It's not beautiful, it's not glamorous, but it's my life. My life which I'm learning to love and learning to live.

I have accepted what happened to me. I have accepted the challenges that come from it. I have accepted that some of those challenges may never go away. I grieved the life I used to have and the life I always dreamed of. Once a was able to do that and accept who I am I started to see all the wonderful things I have made myself into because of this struggle.

I don't know why I woke up with a black eye again today after months of not having one. I don't know when my next flashback will happen. What I do know is that I'll deal with it and I will survive.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Accepting That I Need to Rest

I was never big into napping. On the contrary, I struggle with Insomnia and it used to be if I slept at all during the day I would not sleep at night, even with my sleeping meds. Lately, one of the more difficult things for me to come to terms with is how incredibly fatigued I get.

Over the last three months I have had to lay down and rest at some point in the day every day. Sometimes I sleep, sometimes I just lay there. On a good day I can go all morning without having to rest, but will inevitably need to lay down when I get back to my dorm. On a bad day I need to rest after taking a shower. Due to this I often become upset with myself for having to rest when there is work I really should be getting done.

Going from having PTSD to a chronic illness hasn't been easy. For a long time I was not a fan of my body. I felt like my body was the enemy, the scene of my attack that I couldn't escape from. I had spent years ignoring the needs of my body. Now I am having to learn to listen to it and care for it.

I am learning that my body, though it doesn't always comply with what I might want, is not the enemy. I am learning to remind myself that I am not less than for taking the time to rest and give my body what it needs. I am learning that advocating for my physical health is no different than the advocating for my mental health I have grown accustomed to. I am learning it is okay to ask for help. I am learning it is okay to not be able to do everything everyday.

I am no where near perfect at this yet. I'm not even good at it yet. The days I am angry with myself out number the days I am patient. Some days I need to seek out help to remind me of these things when I simply can't convince myself, but I am trying and I will continue to try because this body's not going anywhere. So for now I will write this mainly so I can reread it.

 I went back and forth debating whether or not I would post this because I have a big problem with feeling like I complain too much, but maybe just maybe it can help someone else.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

To My Ex Best Friend, I Wouldn't Change What We Had For Anything

I've heard it said that true friendship can make it through anything. I always thought that would be us. You were be best friend, the twin sister I never had. We planned our futures with each other in it. 

I had never had a friend like you before. Someone I could talk to about anything at anytime. We always knew what was going on with each other. I think that is what hurts the most. When I miss you and can't text to see what's new in your life. 

They say if you love someone you will let them go. Well, I loved you and I had to let you go. It absolutely breaks my heart to know what I did to you. It hurts worse to know you'll never know the reason why. 

I think about texting you all the time, but I have to move on and I have to let you move on. We had a good run, you and I, but our lives took us in different directions. You may be the hardest thing I had to give up. 

Due to our mutual love of musicals it seems fitting to end this with a quote from Wicked's "For Good," "Who can say if I've been changed for the better? I do believe I have been changed for the better and because I knew you...because I knew you...because I knew you...I have been changed for good." 


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

There Is Only Honor in Being a Survivor

With all the negative media attention and the stigma of sexual assault I love it when TV shows get it right. From everything I've heard Law and Order: SVU gets it done right. I don't often watch this show as I am still easily triggered by themes of sexual assault; however, I do sometimes read articles about it. I read an amazing article about their most recent episode "No Surrender," which lead me to actually watching that episode.

It revolves around an Army Captain, Beth, who was brutally attacked and raped. My favorite part of the episode was the last scene where Captain Beth Williams gives a press conference. I absolutely adore what she had to say.

"My name is Captain Beth Williams. On January 8th I was raped. This does not lessen my ability or worth as a soldier. It will not define me. It will not break me. I'm not ashamed of what happened. I stand here with one mission only to encourage other survivors of sexual assault to do the same. There is only honor in being a survivor."

Ah!!! Doesn't she just say that perfectly. That is exactly what I try to live by and emulate. I don't always do it fully. I struggle with feeling shame or embarrassment, but in those moments I remind myself that the actions of another do not dictate my character. My worth comes from God.

It is not always easy to speak out about such topics. My stomach flip flops every time I press publish, but this needs to be talked about. I have had so many people come to me and tell me something similar happened to them. I love that. I love that more people feel safe enough to share and talk. The more we do the less stigmatized sexual assault will be.

Just like Captain Beth said, my rape will not define me and it will not break me. To all other victims and survivors, I stand with you.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Sometimes You Just Need a Break

Sometimes you just need to get away. This weekend was one of those times. I had the opportunity to go with my mom, dad, and grandpa to Montana for an extended weekend. I wasn't planning on going until two days before we flew out, but I am so glad I did.

Life can be challenging. Right now I consider myself to be doing well because I've been a lot worse off than I am now, but I still struggle everyday with either my mental or my physical health. Add in college and everything gets bumped up a few notches.

Don't get me wrong. I am extremely grateful to be in the place I am now. I have an amazing treatment team for my mental health. I'm still getting set up with doctors for my physical health, but I have faith that everything will work out there. I'm doing well.

It's okay to need a break still. It's okay to need to get away. When I left for Montana I wasn't looking at it as a means to get away. It wasn't until I was there and I felt such a sense of peace that I realized that was why I needed to come.

It is so important when you are battling your health that you take some time for yourself. You cannot pour from an empty cup. Whether you hop on a plane and fly a few hours to visit family in a tiny little Montana town, or have a "me day" taking time away is important.

One of my favorite places to go is Walmart. I know, I know, shocking. We have a huge Walmart superstore by my house and I will often go just to walk up and down the aisles. The thing I love about Walmart is that you can be by yourself without ever being alone. So I don't have to handle people, but I'm also not isolating either.

I am fully understanding of the fact that Walmart is not for everyone, but find your Walmart. Find a place close by where you can go to get a little escape. You deserve it.

Monday, March 6, 2017

I Struggle with Anorexia

I'm pretty open about a lot of struggles in my life. This is one I have never talked about before. I felt guilt and shame. I felt alone with this, but that was just my eating disorder talking. For the past few years I have suffered on and off with anorexia.
It all started when an antipsychotic I was put on caused me to gain 35 pounds. It started as trying to watch what I ate in a healthy way, but that spun out of control. I used it as a way to find control when my PTSD was at a head and I had no control. I started restricting. I didn't think it was bad. Definitely not "bad enough" for treatment. That was another lie. Any disordered eating or eating disorder is bad enough for treatment.
I hid what I was doing. I brushed it off. I down played it when I was asked about it. I wasn't diagnosed until I went to residential. Even then my therapist told me I had anorexia as did my family therapist and I knew they were right. I was still in denial. I didn't think it was "that bad" I told my parent I had it under control. When I came home I told my dietician I had it under control. I told myself I had it under control, but an eating disorder is never under control.
When I started my first semester of college I was underweight. Thankfully I have an honest relationship with my therapist and she helped me. I looked for a dietician but the options in Bakersfield are limited. The one I called wasn't taking new clients. I worked on my own and with my therapist.
Over time I stopped restricting so much. Now I am only a few pounds shy of my goal weight and a few more pounds shy of my therapists goal for me. I don't skip meals anymore. I don't hide my struggles. I am not fully recovered, but I'm doing a lot better.
This past week was National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I am choosing to speak out now to show anyone else who may be struggling that you can get better. It may be hard but you are worth it. Don't do it alone. You don't have to. Help is out there.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

You Matter, Yes You.

Hey you, yes you. You are special. You are important. You matter.

This is to every man, woman, and child who has ever dealt with mental illness, chronic illness, or any trial in your life that left you feeling worthless and like you didn't matter. I know mental illness so that's what I normally choose to write about, but this can go for all of you.

You matter. Any voice in your head that tells you different is bull. You are not your mental illness. 

I know it seems like your life is made up of symptoms and doctors appointments and daily fights with your own mind. That's not all you are.

You are the people you love and those who love you.
You are the quiet rise and fall of your chest as you sleep.
You are the slight smile of your lips that you can't catch.
You are apart of everything you touch.
You impact the world everyday of your life.

You are so much more than your mental illness.

You matter. Don't ever forget that.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

PTSD and the Freeze Response

For the longest time I berated myself because I didn't feel like I fought back hard enough when I was raped. If I look back, in truth I did fight back. I tried to get away, but he was bigger than me. He was taller than me and he was stronger than me. There was nothing I could do so I stopped fighting. I stopped fighting and just froze.
This wasn't me saying it was okay. This wasn't me "giving up" as I had thought for so long. No, this was me doing what I had to do to survive and protect myself.
We've all heard so many times about the fight or flight response. That's what I thought I had to do. I didn't really fight back if I didn't fight or flight. What most people don't know, what I didn't know, is that the fight or flight response has a third option: freeze.
In situations where you can't fight the attacker off or when you can't run away, the only option you're left with is to freeze. When it showed that fighting back would make my attack worse I froze. This wasn't me giving in. This was me surviving. When you freeze your mind takes you away from the situation you are in. You dissociate as a survival technique to get through whatever is happening.
The world needs to remember that the freeze response is totally motmal amd should be an acceptable response to trauma. When I was questioned by the police one of the first questions he asked me was "Did you fight back?" "Did you scream?" "How hard did you fight back?" "Did you try to run?"
I understand the police need to know these things to get the full picture, but he made me feel like I didn't do enough to prevent my attack.
This was not true for me and is not true for any other victim of sexual assault. It is never the victims fault no matter how much she fought back. Freezing is a normal brain response to trauma and for me was safer than fighting back.
So next time you hear "fight or flight" remember the third 'f', freeze.