Saturday, May 20, 2017

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

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

I want people to know that I am competent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Accepting My Cane as a College Student

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Finding a Balance with my Weight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 8, 2017

When An Illness Warrior Gets the Flu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 5, 2017

My Dorm and How Psychosis Changed My Safe Places

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 4, 2017

When Insecurities Collide with Friendships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Last Night I Dreamt of my Pain

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

Last night I dreamt of my pain. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 1, 2017

Jenny as a Mobility Assistance Dog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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