Day Three, Meds Free

Three days without meds.

Three days where my anxiety, already heightened because of stress, kicked into high gear.

Three days of paranoia.

During those days, small things set me off. Feeling like a failure at everything I tried, even if it was successful. Being fatigued after working a normal 8-hour day. Forgetting to call my doctor for several days because I couldn’t follow through on my thoughts. An imaginary vice grip squeezing my chest in the shower that caused burst of sobs with no trigger. Projecting onto people negative feelings towards me without any indication they were real feelings.

Anxiety is physical. Depression is real.

Let’s back up. After a series of terrible coincidences and awful memory retention, I found myself running out of my anti-depressants over a weekend I was traveling with no refills to order. I had enough to get me through half of my trip, but I would be out for the last day of my trip. One day turned into three before I finally got the prescription refilled and picked up.

For the first time in more than a year, I felt the difference between the unmedicated me and the one on “crazy pills.”

I want to make something very clear – I don’t need my pills. I won’t keel over if I don’t get them. I’m not addicted to them. I didn’t go into withdrawal without them. I halved my dose after the first year of taking them without side effects.

I simply cry less, feel in control of my emotions, am easier to live with, cope better, and enjoy life a little more when I take them.

I don’t pull my hair at the roots while driving, unable to see the road through the tears (this actually happened). While taking my meds, I don’t feel like yelling and screaming gibberish daily in public places (this actually happens occasionally while on meds). On my meds, I leave work with enough energy to cook dinner and enjoy my time out of the office.

Today is day three back on my anti-depressant, and I’m now starting to feel like a better version of my true self. Is medication for everyone? No. But I’m a better person for taking my medication, and I’ve got three days in my past to prove it.

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What Mass Effect Andromeda Got Right About Mental Illness

I’m a gamer. To be specific, I’m a die-hard Bethesda fan since 2011 when I started playing Fallout 3. But this isn’t about that – it’s about a video game that I’m TERRIBLE at playing.

Mass Effect Andromeda may be all the things I’m awful at in games (3rd person, party management, the list goes on) but it got something right that’s very close to my heart.

That, my friends, is this message on a terminal (text written below since it may be difficult to read):

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Subject: Mental Wellness

Body:

Given recent events, this seems like a good time to refresh you on the Andromeda Initiative’s mental wellness program. This states that mental disorders are…

  1. REAL. Stress, PTSD, anxiety, and depression are not “just being tired” or “making something out of nothing.” They are complex conditions that require proper attention and care.
  2. RELATABLE. At some point, your colleagues have likely experienced the same feelings. Regardless, those around you are supportive and sympathetic to what you’re going through.
  3. TREATABLE. A broken leg takes special treatment, rest, and an adjusted workload to properly heal. Mental disorders are no different, and can be alleviated with medication, therapy, and support.

Come by medbay if you have questions. [Lexi]

To clarify, this is in a AAA game about exploration, fighting, and soldiers.

It got this right.

As someone who has experienced the full gamut of what is described above (extreme stress, PTSD, anxiety, and depression), this nails how we should think about mental illness/mental wellness.

So even though I don’t play the game and never will, Mass Effect Andromeda will be one of my favorite games until the end of time.

Let’s talk. What other examples of video games, books, and TV shows have you seen mental illness/mental wellness portrayed WELL? Comment here or find me on Twitter – I’d love to hear from you.

Poem: Swagatam, Chicago

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Image source

Swagatam Chicago

Namaste.

A spare room, bare bulb,

spicy curry: dama bat.

Smiles, laughs,

languages collide

between the Bhutanese,

the Korean, and me.

A stuffed monkey,

an English book.

This is how it feels–

America, new to them

and me.

Swagatam, Chicago

I wrote this poem in 2011 after a semester of visiting a Bhutanese refugee family in Rogers Park, Illinois. They had lived (grown up, married, and had a child) in a Nepalese refugee camp for about fifteen years before being granted refugee status by the States.

As a college student, I hadn’t thought much about the experience of coming to the US for the first time, but this family, whose names I never wrote down but whose faces are burned into my mind, changed how I looked at our world.

I’ve lost contact with the family but I hold onto the memories of this Hindu Bhutanese family (three generations in a one-bedroom apartment) and the smiles on their faces and hope in their eyes.

I weep for the refugees being turned away at airports, immigrants being told they can’t come to this land of freedom, and permanent residents being questioned about their nationality or citizenship.

Refugees are seeking a better life; let’s welcome them. Regardless of the country/religion/background they come from, let us be swagatam, tarḥāb, welcome.

Translation guide for Hindi:

Swagatam: welcome

Namaste: hello

Dama bat: thank you

Featured Page: EndTheStigma

UPDATED 1/4/17: There has been some confusion about the End the Sigma page – I am not the creator, but after I published this blog, I was accepted as part of the Facebook and Twitter moderation team. Please direct any questions about the End the Stigma badges to the Facebook page!

A new Facebook page has been born, and already its effects are felt around the Facebook community. End The Stigma is a Facebook page created on January 1 and has rocketed to over 9000 likes in three days (as of this writing) and continues to climb through shares, comments, and likes on its beautiful images.

It means what it says: the goal of the page is to end the social stigma surrounding invisible illnesses, particularly mental diseases and neuro-divergent disorders, by creating and sharing square “badges” with the hashtags #endthestigma and #youarenotalone. Also included are #1in5 (referencing that one in five people will be diagnosed with a mental disorder at some point in their life).

According to the first post on Instagram, the founder Kat was inspired by Carrie Fisher and her mental health advocacy.

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Hello, I am Kat. I personally have struggled with my mental health for many years. It wasn’t until I was 19 that I received my first official diagnoses, #bipolar 1 with traits of BPD. Almost 10 years later I still have frequent struggles in maintaining my mental health. When @carriefisherofficial passed, I was heartbroken. Leia was my childhood hero, and Carrie’s outspokenness about her own struggles with Bipolar made her my adult hero as well. I decided it was my turn to step up, and make any increase I could in mental health advocacy. I never imagined that my small post on Facebook would grow by thousands. You are all strong, and you are all brave. Thank you for being a part of #endingthestigma #endthestigma #mentalhealthawareness #1in5 #youarenotalone #endthestigmabadges

A photo posted by End The Stigma Official (@endthestigmabadges) on Jan 2, 2017 at 5:20pm PST

After a terrible 2016 for mental illnesses (politics, shootings, stabbings, and court cases all vilified or laughed at people with mental disorders), we need this. We need to stand up all around our family and friends and declare that mental hospitals aren’t fodder for Halloween scares, that not everyone who is depressed is a school shooter, that PTSD happens a lot to veterans but can happen to rape victims, crime victims, and after other traumatic events too.

Let’s start off 2017 by showing our scars in the most vunerable way possible – by broadcasting it on social media and having brave conversations with families, friends, and strangers.

You can find my personal story on the End The Stigma page along with my 8-badge image and an older photo of me.

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Forgot Password, Remember Memories

It’s been too long since I’ve blogged. You know how I know this? I forgot my password.

I’ve forgotten a lot of other things lately, a side effect of an eight-year-past concussion, but there are some things I don’t forget. Some memories that warm me from the inside every time I think of them and keep me going when I think my voice is too soft in a world of hate and judgement.

Memories like when one of my close friends told me that medication would make me a better version of myself when I was so scared to consider the idea. She was right, and a year after started medication, I am a much healthier (but not cured) version of who I wanted to be all along.

This little pill keeps me going daily. Click for source.

Memories like lunch yesterday with a new friend expressing how great it was to talk with someone else about our invisible illnesses – different though they are, we have a lot in common.

It’s so much more than what you see on my face. Click for source.

Memories like women I’ve seen only a few times come up to me and thank me for sharing my struggles with depression, PTSD, anxiety because it wasn’t kosher to talk about when they went through it or are going through it right now in their lives or in their family member’s life or in their friend’s life. They took strength from my testimony, from my voice shouting that I have been broken by something that doesn’t have a face and I live to tell about fighting it.

This is me on a good day. I struggle with my mental illnesses, but they have not won yet.

Memories like the #BraveChat on Twitter two weeks ago where we spoke truth and praised each other for words. People connected over the internet in a small, helpful corner of the world where we felt safe to express what was going on in our heads, bodies, families, workplaces, therapist chairs, and worlds.

Do you want memories like this? It’s not easy, but it’s definitely worth it. Reach out – dm me, call a friend, write a journal entry – and don’t forget that you are worth so much more than your invisible disease.

Join others like us tonight in a Twitter chat about mental health from 9-10PM EST by following @ThisIsMyBrave or searching #BraveChat. Tonight’s topic is “Why selling mental patient costumes & mental hospital themes for is not ok” with picture of what mental health looks like.

A Year Past

There’s no point in ringing in the new year now. It’s midway through January and I’m far too jaded to stretch on a one-second event for weeks. I slept through the midnight-tolling festivities, fending off a sinus infection and laryngitis, and I’m quite content to leave it in the past.

The month January holds bittersweet memories for me. A year ago, my grandmother passed away, and it was one of the most terrible experiences I’ve lived through (if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know that’s not a small statement).

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The punctures of grief have lessened, I feel along the same pattern as a Fibonacci spiral. They start so small, so tight together, but gradually the time between choking up grows longer, and the pain dulls. It’s not really ever gone, but as the raging river of daily life pulls me further away, it becomes easier to manage.

Nautilus Cutaway by Chris 73, modifications by Roberto // posted under Creative Commons

Perhaps “easier” isn’t the right word since in the process of writing this post, I’ve used a half dozen tissues and even more tears.

My therapist asked me a few weeks ago how I was going to mark the week, and I answered immediately. Mulling over my answer, I’ve come to the conclusion that it won’t be a single thing, but a wide variety of ways to remember my grandmother. I follow a long tradition in my melodramatic flair, Disney-inspired-names, red-head-wanna-be, recipe-be-scorned ways I inherited from Grandma Mickey.

So this week I’m still going to mourn her passing and all the moments I never got to spend with her. I’m also going to laugh, to cry, and to cook because I like to think that’s what she would have wanted me to do.

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The tightness in my chest

The air is still. My heart is thumping. The space in my chest collapses in on itself, constricting tighter and tighter. There isn’t any emotion or feeling or thought behind it. It doesn’t have a name.

But I know what it is.

Fear of everything and nothing and all the things running through my head.
It fills me with sadness and despair.

Fear and anxiety have followed me for as long as I can remember, but this tightness in my chest is new. I couldn’t say where it comes from or when it started, but I also can’t make it go away.

My heart aches for those just like me. I have many dear friends who have admitted they struggle with depression, and it looks a little bit different for everyone.

For me, depression looks like isolation, despondent thoughts, and restlessness with my current situation. And this seething snarl of sadness beneath my ribs, sucking out my life.

Tonight I’m going to put on my shoes and brave the cold. It’s my second meeting with a new therapist because I can’t make the tightness go away on my own.

My fear is my shame. And this is me, getting help.

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This isn’t me.

There comes a time when the tension can no longer hold: earthquakes, tsunamis, that Yates poem, myself. Everything safe falls away and what is left is raw and exposed; everything hurts and soon there is too much to focus on any one thing, and too little left to grasp everything.

This is what craziness must feel like.

But I’m not crazy. Sure, I’m slightly askew, my logic isn’t always sound, and my jokes aren’t always funny, but I’m not batshit, nuthouse, call-the-asylum crazy. Except in these moments, that what it feels like. I’m falling apart from the inside and I don’t know where to start.

I’ll wake up tomorrow and do it again – I have to, for the sanity and the customers and the paycheck. There is no choice because to not do it is to admit defeat, and I won’t be defeated by my own mind. They call it coping mechanisms. I call it survival.

Image from: Not Just About Wee // http://www.notjustaboutwee.com/

I didn’t create this word cloud, so not everything pictured applies, but you get the idea.

I took one step forward today and I’m proud to have reached out to professional help for the first time in years. It’s several weeks away, but it was a decision a long time coming.

I’ve been to therapy before – three different counselors in as many years – but over two years have passed since I stopped and my coping techniques that worked wonders don’t help anymore. I’m at a different stage of life now, and it’s time to update my repertoire.

Tonight, I don’t feel like myself. I’m not who I want to be. But I’m scared of the future and who I will become if I let go of what I have let define me for years.

So instead of wallowing, I’m doing something about it. I’m asking for your prayers and thoughts and good vibes. Thank you.

White Hot Panic

http://www.biopticdrivingusa.com/

*trigger warning: anxiety*

I got in the car and turned on the headlights as the engine hummed to life. Even in the city, side streets aren’t well lit and the headlights looked like floodlights against the darkness.

I knew he wouldn’t be far behind in his own car, but since he was inside still talking, I wearily left the in-laws and turned onto the main road. Thoughts were floating here and there like clouds on a summer day – oh, that one looks like this, gee I haven’t looked at it that way in awhile, and over there is another thought.

A few blocks away, a red light brings me to a halt.

The car behind me is stopped so close I can’t see his headlights even though I’m in the right lane and the left is empty.

My heartbeat picks up. Maybe he’ll peel off at the next turn, or maybe he’s trying to turn left – this is a major intersection after all. Nothing to worry about.

Green light.

We speed along like we’re connected. He doesn’t race past, but he’s pushing me.

Are the headlights the right shape? I can’t remember. Could it be him? Probably. Will he pass me and beat me home?

What if it isn’t my husband? I hit the gas. The car is still there, riding in the right lane.

I could call him. My cell phone is within reach, and it would solve everything.

But if it isn’t him…

My pepperspray is at home. I wouldn’t have time to find it if he followed me in.

We ride on some more. My knuckles are turning white as I twist my hands along the top, undecided between gripping for dear life and nervous shiftings.

Four miles down, one to go.

I turn onto the busy street – just 2 lefts and 2 rights until I’m safe. He gets in the left turn lane behind me. I can’t make out the color of the car, even with the streetlights. I’m going to be jumped by a stranger – I’m going to die in my parking lot before I can get in my apartment – I’m going to…

I grab my phone and dial the number.

“Are you the car behind me?”

“Of course.”

I breathe again, but my hand grips the phone. “I was afraid you were someone else.”

He soothes me, his voice all I needed to rationalize the irrational. “I’ll see you at home in a few.”

I hang up and want to laugh at myself. I desperately want to laugh, scream, run, and collapse. Words start formulating in my head. I know I will write about this, even in that moment, because tonight I gave myself a panic attack so bad I couldn’t breathe and my husband thought I was crazy.

Maybe that’s just it. Maybe I’m crazy. But if this is what it takes to cope – a phone call, words of reassurance, words on the page – then so be it.

I’d rather be crazy and know it than deny it’s happening again.

Oh, Brother! (An Ode to Siblings)

I often read or hear a great deal of Christian women talk about this fantastic bond between them and their sister(s). I can rarely identify with those feelings. See, I grew up with two brothers – both younger, and both very different from me and each other.

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Imagine my panic when I moved an hour away from home to live with 17 other girls in a single suite plus a roommate. (Kudos to Meagan for putting up with me for so long. It’s totally true that we’re closer now than we ever were then.)

But more than anything, I missed these goofballs.

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(Okay, maybe we’re not that different after all.)

And then I got married. These two kids were champs and the best ushers I could ask for. And (BONUS) they got another brother out of the deal AND I got 2 more brother-in-laws too.
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But there’s something about blood and being raised in the same house with the same pets and dinners and family vacations. That’s a bond that we’ll never be able to quantify.

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Handsome, isn’t he?

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Today is the older-younger brother’s birthday and I miss him terribly.

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All this to say…I miss you a lot. Happy 19th year, B.J.! See you soon.