Friday, June 16, 2017

What it is Really Like in UCLA's Mental Hospital

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Why I Don't Hide the Bad Parts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, June 11, 2017

I Fear my Illnesses Make me Hard to Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Is a Day of Fun Worth the Pain?

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

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

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

How a Burglar Triggered My PTSD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 5, 2017

Another Step in Recovery from Sexual Assault

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, June 4, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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