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):

17858547_10154348084022341_806833760_o

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

swagatam

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.

endthestigma-me

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.

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.

#1000Joys // orangelikejazz.wordpress.com

Back on the Grateful Train

It’s amazing what you can believe so deeply in when it’s fresh and new…but when you feel you’ve learned your lesson, it takes a back seat.

I’m talking about #1000joys here. It’s been a whirlwind of a year since I started this in February, but that doesn’t mean I get to stop.

And somewhere along the way, I decided I didn’t have the time anymore to tweet the joy in my life.

I was wrong.

#1000Joys // orangelikejazz.wordpress.com

So this is me, getting back on the grateful train after a month wandering the wrong direction.

(Exactly a month since I last tweeted about #1000joys. Yikes.)

Not because I feel guilty or weak or sad. But because I’m not better than I was when I’m started – in many ways, I’m worse off now than when I stopped.

Want to follow along? Follow @orangelikejazz on Twitter.

Marriage as an Idol

Ivy Covered Wall by Nicolas Raymond | freestock.ca

About a year ago, one of my husband’s gal friends bought one of her friends over for dinner and a movie. We chatted like two in-college and one post-college girls are wont to do – life, love, and the pursuit of happiness. (This may be over-simplifying things just a little, but you get the idea.)

The friend-of-a-friend started asking questions about what it was like to be married. It’s pretty good, I said (with only a year-and-a-bit of experience) but has its challenges, like anything in life.

And then she said something I’ll never forget: “I think your house is the first I’ve been to that doesn’t make a shrine out of your wedding.”

I was a little take aback, and proceeded to point out the giant banner, guestbook-poster, and Aragorn’s sword leaning around the living room to prove her wrong – there was evidence of our wedding all around her (and it wasn’t exactly subtle decor). Her point has been dwelling on my heart ever since. Whether you have a wall-sized enlargement of you and your beloved hanging in the living room, or just a 7′ banner of the Tree of Gondor, your home reflects your souls as much as it does your hearts.

Abstract Acrylic Icon - Home is Where the Heart is by Nicolas Raymond | freestock.ca

The home is a very personal space, but what we bring into our homes and living spaces also reflects what is going on inside of our souls. This transcends personality or style, and echoes what we value as people. Our apartment is not a shrine to our enduring love; it is not a sacred, untouchable bubble of love/peace/joy/happiness that is exclusive to us. There are huge tributes to our marriage in our house and also to our ever-growing passions for books and comfy furniture, but there is also space for family and friends to feel that this is their home too, as long as they are here.

But that friend was also wrong. While our house may not be a shrine to our wedding, I often inwardly idealize and idolize marriage.

  • I idolize marriage when I see a single friend and pray that they could be happy with a spouse and devalue their singleness to push my own agenda on their lives by thinking that marriage will make them happier.
  • I idealize marriage when I talk to my girlfriends about how life isn’t how I planned it and gripe that we are in a bad place when we are doing just fine.
  • I idolize marriage when I bash or obsess over the newest wedding crazes.
  • I idealize marriage when I get frustrated with my husband for not holding me accountable to the piles of bills and paperwork I’ve let accumulate.

When I let my own thoughts and feelings get in the way of our relationship, I’ve either torn down or elevated marriage to a place where it doesn’t belong.

Love - it's a beautiful thing. This is David and I a year into our engagement.

I fully understand that I am still a newlywed in many ways. Two and a half years seems like yesterday, but I can hardly remember a time when we lived separate lives. My status as a married woman completely changes how people interact with me, and at the same time does not change my status with God. I am the same broken, sinful, redeemed daughter of God as I was when I was 7 years old.

My prayer this week will be for God to show me how to value the life He’s given us without giving our marriage more credence than it’s due. Maybe this will be a focus on contentment – maybe it will be focusing on someone else’s struggle with singleness – maybe it will be planning someone else’s wedding so they are freed up to live their life fully. Marriage is a learning process, not a trophy, and I’m still very much a student as we work out these lessons together.

I hate rollercoasters

Roller coaster // clipartbest.com

The past month or so, I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster with an unexpected 180 turn from contentment to anxiety, cresting to exhilaration and plunging back into despair, and bouncing around the emotional spectrum at breakneck speed.

This rollercoaster ride culminated in a long conversation with my husband last night as I brought up being torn between academia and motherhood. To be fair, neither are in the immediate future, but I know I want them both. I know a great many strong, capable women that have managed both at the same time – my mother, my professors, my friends – but I know my limits. I’m not strong enough to juggle both roles of a teacher/life-time student and mother at the same time without cracking.

I highly value David’s insight into me and what makes me tick or break. (That saying that you know someone better than they know themselves is oh-so-true in our marriage.)

This guy gets me.

I also know what I want, those big dreams I’ve carried for so long. I want to be a book editor. I want to travel the world. I want to own a restaurant. I want to publish a book. I want to be a mother. I want to be out of debt. I want to plan weddings. I want to…do it all.

And this is where my limitations conflict with my dreams. I could try to do all those things (because I know people who have and who tell me I can), and I would fail miserably.

So we talked it out. I expressed what I felt and how I couldn’t reconcile all these dreams together. He helped me realize that an online degree wouldn’t fulfill my need for academic exploration, and that I wasn’t really cut out for a tenure-track professorship career either. Talking about our future helped me to realize which of those dreams others were suggesting to me and which dreams I really wanted for me.

And then, being the planner that I am, we had to address how we were going to get from Point A to those dreams.

Keep calm and change the plan

We didn’t plan down to the last detail. I didn’t write any of it down. It’s not a strict 10-year plan. But we did address some issues including my feelings of being all over the place and I feel more at peace about our lives.

I’ve been able to look back at the path I’ve been on for years and point out all the things that I felt but had not spoken, and once I laid them out, they weren’t so scary any more. In fact, we were able to agree on a few major milestones and laugh at the sillier suggestions.

The future feels less like a rollercoaster and more like an Indiana roadtrip – mostly flat with a few interesting things along the way with really good company and a lot of laughs.

And for today, that’s enough.

There’s a lesson I learned in college and it can be distilled to this: I can make plans, but it is God who decides what happens in my life. I can rest in having a direction and an idea of what I want in life, but I also need to be ready for God to change my plans into his (infinitely better) plans for our lives. And that is where I am once again – heading in a specific, concrete direction while I wait for God to direct our future.

rain and clouds // orangelikejazz.wordpress.com

April Showers bring May Flowers [#1000Joys 110-166]

I have a lot to be thankful for the past few weeks. It’s been a rough rollercoaster but I think it’s about to hit a gentle uphill climb to a fun summer and some really big events (weddings and graduations and vacation, oh my).

Here are a few of things I’ve celebrated in small (or big) ways the past few weeks.

You can view the whole list of my journey to tweet #1000joys or read how it all began.

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