Dancing in the Dark

Last night, as I was dancing with depression, she said that I had no blog topic for today and that I should just take the day off and stay in bed.  She said a lot of things yesterday, and they all sounded pretty good.  By the end, I found myself huddled under a blanket doing worst-case-scenarios and having a literal screaming match in my head between Sane Brain and Crazy Brain.  After about an hour or so, I took my sleeping pills.  Sane Brain was getting quieter, and tired.  Crazy Brain was raring to go, and needed medical intervention.

When I woke up, I felt a lot better.  I sat down to write, and briefly considered ignoring last night’s darkness, until I realized that it is Mental Health Month.  Two years ago, I wrote a series of blogs about breaking the stigma of mental health, using one of my diagnoses as a jumping off point each week.  I received some lovely feedback from family and friends.  I hope I broke a couple of stigmas for someone.  One can dream.

Anyway, it’s two years later and I write about my mental health all the time, and not just in my blog anymore.  I have had three articles published at Mental Health Crisis Angels, which is a peer support group, mental health blog, and all-around stigma bashing organization.  The first was about my struggles with Severe Anxiety Disorder.  The second, about tips to deal with anxieties, big and small.  And the last was about Trichotillomania, which I developed when I was eleven. 

And then there is my chapbook.  The whole thing is about chronic illness and, by default, depression.  Now, I have had symptoms of depression since I was around 8 years old, but it didn’t go full-blown until I was sixteen and diagnosed with diabetes, which is where my chapbook begins.  Some of the poems in it are new.  Some I wrote 15-20 years ago.  All of them are about battling the depression caused by illness and trauma. 

Then my blog, where I write about mental health on a personal basis.  When I was first diagnosed, I was scared to share my experiences because of what other people would think of me.  I’ve had people call me a liar.  I’ve had people tell me I’m making up symptoms.  I’ve lost friends because I’m “too complicated.”  I’ve had to regain the trust of people I love.  I’ve worried about employers not wanting to hire me.  It seemed for a while that telling people about my illness made me lose them, so why share?

But then one day, about fifteen years ago, I posted something about Trichotillomania.  Just a logo or something from the TLC Learning Center, which was the only resource for TTM at the time.  A friend emailed me: she saw the logo, and decided to take the leap and tell me that she, too, had Trich.  I had known her for years, and had no clue.  She asked me not to tell anyone, as we had many mutual friends, and she was embarrassed.  I understood.  I, too, had been so ashamed of it, once.  However, it was that day that I realized we should not be ashamed-how much easier would my life have been, had I been able to confide in her?  How much less lonely would she have felt, knowing there was not only another person who was going though this, but someone who was already a friend?  Youth could have been a little different for us.  A little less lonely, at least.

Anyway, from that point on, I started sharing my experiences, opinions be damned.  I didn’t want to feel how I felt anymore.  I didn’t want to feel how my friend felt.  I wanted to stand up: for her, for myself, for everyone that was too scared. 

The stigma of mental health is, thankfully, changing rapidly.  Especially in our current climate, when people are getting whacked in the face with anxiety and depression on levels they have never known.  I still find solace in my professional-cynic status; I was anxious and depressed way before this whole shebang.  I will be when it’s over.  Right now, I’m kind of doing well because as I’ve said before, to me, the world has always been on fire.

So happy Mental Health Month to all of you.  It isn’t just those of us who live with mental illness that need to be celebrated and lifted up right now.  It’s all of us, because we are having a worldwide mental health crisis, whether we acknowledge it or not.   

Please please please, stay safe, stay sane, stay healthy.

World Mental Health Day

I’ve got a few prepared blogs ready to go, and I should definitely be using one today as I spent yesterday at Mercy hospital puking my guts out.  However, I also had a special topic to post about today, as it is World Mental Health Day, and while my physical health is kicking my butt I will try to expound on the other side of wellness.

I started my journey with mental illness at a young age, but wasn’t diagnosed with anything until I was nineteen.  Then they decided that I was Bipolar and loaded me up with medications.  Never mind that I was NOT Bipolar, and did NOT need those meds.  I became a zombie.  Everything somehow got worse instead of better, and I lost whole chunks of time from being so heavily medicated.  Eventually, my mother got me to a clinic where a doctor told me I did not have Bipolar Disorder, and gave me one pill.  One little miracle pill that lasted me very well for a very long time, until my insurance pulled it out from under me.  I went on its sister drug, Celexa, and yes, I do have a couple of backup singers now, but it is nowhere near the fourteen pill a day diet I used to be on.

My diagnoses have changed many times as well.  Now I am diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Severe Anxiety, Trichotillomania, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  These feel the most accurate, I must say, and are much better than calling it all Bipolar and moving along.  It took the time and energy of many medical professionals to figure out what was really going on with me, and I am forever grateful to them.

I tell you these things in the same way I talk about diabetes or gastroparesis, because to me they are no different.  Yes, my pancreas is sick and therefore I have diabetes.  Well, my brain is also sick and therefore I have depression.  I do not believe in the stigma of mental health, so I treat its discussion no differently than that of my physical health.  Sometimes this really surprises people.  There have been many moments when I have received messages from both friends and strangers telling me that they are proud of what I have done, just talking about mental health.  I don’t know that it’s something to feel proud about, because it’s just a piece of myself that I express to the world, just like the other pieces.  I’ve had people write me with “me too.”  This is when they realize that they have the same condition, but couldn’t put a name to it.  Or when they’ve been diagnosed as well, but afraid to tell anyone.  These little messages make me feel special, because my words on mental health are breaking a stigma for them.

It’s the stigma that is the worst bit, in my opinion.  It’s the fear that we have, that someone else might think we’re wrong in some way.  We’re scared of the reactions of other people, and that forces mental illness into hiding.  It shouldn’t be hiding.  It should be worn loud and proud.  If you have a mental illness, you battle with that monster daily, and no one sees it.  You fight wars against your demons constantly, even when you’re wearing a smile on your face.  You know pain in a sense where physical pain would almost be a relief.  And still, we hide this debilitating bastard behind so many veils of self-doubt that we become another person, almost.  There’s the person you present to the world, and the person you are on the inside.  I say no.  I refuse to be two people, living half my life in shadow.  I would rather throw it in your face and if you don’t like it, the problem lies with your own fears and neuroses.  Mental illness is not contagious.  In my experience, it really only scares those that already have it, and are doing nothing to help themselves.  So, shout it out!  Scare those people into getting help.  Scare the people who think mental illness isn’t real-be their proof!  Stop letting stigma hold you back.  Other people do not dictate the course of your healing, you do.  Talk about it.  Laugh about it.  Just don’t let others tell you your experience.  As my father would say, “Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.”

So, on World Mental Health Day, I will be taking care of my physical health, by lying on the sofa and watching Parks and Rec and drinking a smoothie.  It’s not what I had planned, but it’s what needs to be done, so that my mental health can realign as well.  The two are very connected for me.  When I’m in the hospital I become instantly depressed, and it takes time for that feeling to fade away.  So today, I will do all I can to make myself feel better, inside and out.  I will also, as always, continue my fight against the stigma of mental illness and tell you, my reader, that if you ever need an ally in this battle, you have one right here.

Stay safe, stay sane, and have a good Thursday.

Fancy Doctors

I just discovered that if I have work on a WordPress site, I can reblog it to my site.
I probably should have figured this out earlier.
That said, enjoy some poetry on how mental illness sucks.

Madwomen in the Attic

Fancy Doctor

I’m spiraling and my mother made me

See a strange woman with a spiteful stare

And I used big words like

Trick-o-till-o-mania and she laughs…

She thinks I make things up.

I think she isn’t worth the frame holding the degree on her wall.

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Breaking the Stigma, Part 4

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and so I am doing a series of posts about my own mental health, to help break the stigma of mental illness.  Part 4 is about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

It’s not the kind where you wash your hands all the time.  It’s not the neat-freak kind either.  I mean, I kind of wish it was, but it’s not.

It’s the counting every step, obsessing over something tiny, having intense phobias kind.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts and feelings.  This, combined with my previously touched on Trichotillomania, are two of the disorders that make up my Anxiety.  Trich is actually connected to the OCD as both illustrate compulsive behaviors.  So, it’s like OCD’s baby.

As with previous disorders I have discussed, many people claim to have OCD.  Many people are lying.  What they have are quirks: “I can’t go to bed without doing the dishes,” or “I always have to double check that I turned off the coffee pot.”  That’s lovely, but how many times did you check it?  Seven?  Fifteen?  Just the once?  Cute.  I’m pretty understanding, but I cannot suffer that crap.  So, the stigma of OCD is tainted, because everyone walks around claiming they have it, and when I say something about having it, they assume I just have a few quirks, not an obsessive need to do something over and over, or an inability to stop thinking an unwanted thought.

I don’t remember how old I was when I started with the counting, but it was in my adolescence.  I know that by seventeen I was sure that my thoughts were obsessive, and I have always known that my fears are mostly invalid.  When I was twenty I was diagnosed with OCD, and it made all sorts of sense to me.  When they put me on meds, I saw immediate improvements.  For one thing, the bout of Trich I was suffering passed.  I stopped counting everything: cars, steps, stoplights, houses.  I overcame some silly fears, though I will say some are yet to be conquered (one day I hope to do a full load of dirty dishes.  As of now the only dishes I wash are for other people’s children, and it is agonizing.)  Some things I still work on, like said dishes and my fear of fireworks.  They no longer leaves me paralyzed, but I still don’t like them.

The only time OCD was really a problem for me was 16-21, and that was because of obsession.  Let’s use M as an example here.  M loves Godzilla, hardcore.  He doesn’t care what it is, if it features Godzilla, it’s right in his wheelhouse.  He knows everything he can about Godzilla and keeps an eye out for new movies or memorabilia.  This was my life, but with everything, every day.  The world was my Godzilla, the people in my life my Mothras, and everything was Tokyo under fire.

After a while with therapy and meds, most things straightened out.  I still count, but only my steps, and I have like 50 tricks to stop doing it in my emotional toolbox.  I still can’t do those dishes, but I can clean the toilet, so some improvement is obvious.  Mostly, I try to control my thoughts, so that I don’t hover on a topic for too long, and I find that nine times out of ten, I am in control of what I think.  As with my other disorders, OCD is not who I am, just a fragment of my personality that needs to be ironed out.

So finally, if you, my reader, have any questions about life with OCD, please comment.  It is important to me to connect with others who have suffered similar issues, as well as those who have questions and want answers.  I am thankful to have had the chance to share my experiences with you, and I encourage you to share them with others.  If you have read all of my Breaking the Stigma series, or just some of it, I thank you for taking the time to understand mental illness and help me break the stigma.

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Breaking the Stigma, Part 3

I am nervous to write this post.

Maybe someone will read it that I’m trying to get a job from and they’ll think I’m crazy and can’t take care of their kid.  Maybe someone will read it and think it’s garbage and leave a mean comment.  Maybe no one will read it at all.

And that is how the brain of a person with anxiety works.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and so I am doing a series of posts about my own mental health, to help break the stigma of mental illness.  Part 3 is about Anxiety.

Do you every get anxious?  Of course, you do.  It’s a totally natural human emotion that we all have.  Do you ever get so anxious that you are physically paralyzed?  No?  Lucky.

For years my doctors thought I had bipolar disorder, despite my virtual lack of mania.  Then they changed it to Intermittent Explosive Disorder, which is a disorder where one can explode in rage or sadness at anytime for any reason. This also didn’t fit me.  Finally, my current doc diagnosed me with Severe Anxiety.

I don’t like the word “severe,” but I guess it does apply.  I really have been so upset I couldn’t move my muscles.  I have had a panic attack that resembled a heart attack.  I have had disproportionate reactions to small problems, and I have obsessed about everything, always (Pt.4, OCD, coming soon.)  I have spent a lot of my life bathed in worry and fear, and a lot of it has to do with losing my grandma.  I have found, through therapy, that many of my problems trace back to this time.  I have spent years working through it, and I believe I have.  However, I am left with the residual anxiety and depression, and that makes things difficult at times.  I have many irrational fears, I have many worries, and am always thinking of the worst-case scenario.  I would say my anxiety is probably the most annoying of my issues, because despite taking my meds regularly, it can still get out and mess up your day.  Once I had a panic attack on the way to a cousin’s baby shower and threw up all over my dress.  I don’t know why.  Just because my nerves felt like acting up a little.  Another time I was out with some friends and suddenly became so overwhelmed I made my friend pull the car over to let me out, because I couldn’t breathe.  These things happen every once in a while, but leave their mark when they do.

A lot of people seem to claim they have anxiety these days, which I’m wary of, because I wonder if they have anxiety like me, or if they have normal everyday anxiety.  However, the amount of people who claim to suffer from it is so high that the stigma associated with it is changing rapidly.  For instance, despite the second line of this post, I would not worry about a potential employer finding out I have anxiety.  If you think about it, that can be beneficial in a job position.  I will constantly be worrying that your kid is well taken care of, thus providing my utmost in care, that’s a guarantee.  I think a lot of people identify with anxiety because it is a normal emotion.  Most seem to understand that those diagnosed with it just live in an anxious state more than others, and that is true.  I am always worried, and yes, it is exhausting, but I no longer have terrible panic attacks every few days.  I see constant improvement in myself, and that makes me proud.  Every day is a new one with new challenges, and I try my hardest to face them all head on.

As always, if you, my reader, have any questions about life with anxiety, please comment.  It is important to me to connect with others who have suffered similar issues, as well as those who have questions and want answers.

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Breaking the Stigma

Did you know that May is Mental Health Awareness month?

Well, now you do.

I was 19 the first time I saw a counselor.  I was going through some stuff and having a really hard time, and my two friends dragged me to our colleges mental health department and made me talk to someone.  That was the beginning of a long and amazing journey to wellness for me (not that I consider myself well; I consider myself well-managed.) At first, I was ashamed.  I think we all feel that way a little when we admit there’s something wrong in our minds. We think we are less than, that we have something unfixable in us that others will judge and misunderstand.  I despise this idea.

Eventually, I started to think of my mental health in the same way I think about my physical health.  I have diabetes, which I manage, and when people hear that they don’t think of me as a lesser person. Ergo, I do not expect people to respond that way about my mental health.  If they do, they are telling me two things about themselves: they are uninformed, and they are scared. So many of our bad reactions are done out of fear, and that is probably the biggest problem that people with mental health issues face.  I might cry at weird times, and I might have days where it’s hard to get myself out of bed, but I’m not going to go crazy and murder you with an ax. That’s not how this works.

The only way I can think of to combat this fear is with information, and since May is mental Health Awareness Month, I am going to use it as an opportunity to talk about mental health, mine specifically.  I want to be that person you know who has that thing you heard of, and who explained it to you.

Today I’d like to talk about Trichotillomania.

My friend Sahar always called it “trickatillawhatnow,” but most people refer to it as Trich, or TTM.  Trich is a compulsive hair pulling disorder. I mention this first for two reasons. One, it’s an often misunderstood disorder, and two, it’s still considered to be a mostly unknown disorder.  When I was 20 I saw a doctor that flat out did not believe it was a thing. When I was 12 and was first afflicted by it, my doctor thought I was suffering from alopecia. Of course, I didn’t come out and tell her I was doing it.  I still didn’t know at the time.

See, it starts young.  I was in maybe second grade when I started pulling out eyebrows during Math class.   At the end of class I would have a neat little pile of hairs on my desk and wonder how they got there.  In fourth grade, it was eyelashes. In sixth grade, it was hair from my head. Each time I would observe the growing pile of hair, unsure how it came to be.

My mom took me to the aforementioned doctor, and I was instructed not to pull my hair back as my penchant for ponytails must be the root cause of the problem.  Of course it was not. I remember one day in sixth grade when I pulled my hair back and my teacher yelled at me, telling the whole class that I wasn’t supposed to wear ponytails because my hair was falling out.  

Adolescence was garbage.  But I digress…

My Fortress of Solitude as a child was the local library, so I spent some time researching what was up with me.  Then in high school, when internet access became a thing, I found the Trichotillomania Learning Center, which helped me understand what was happening.  Which also led me into the office of the doctor who knew nothing, and then off to greener pastures with a clinic that knew EXACTLY what I was talking about.  

New doc put me on one pill (I had been on 14 at that time) and symptoms stopped almost immediately.  I am still very self-conscious about my hair, and I still pluck my eyebrows almost daily, but otherwise I leave it be, and am thrilled to never find tiny piles of hair lying around.  

In my life I have encountered many people who have had Trich.  I have had friends confide in me, I have had others who didn’t know what it was be so grateful to put a name to the weird thing they were doing. In fact, this is the rarest of my disorders, but it is the one I have identified the most with other people.  

I refuse to give into the fear of misinformation.  If you read this and you have questions about Trich, feel free to ask them.  I am an open book on my mental health, and I do that to help inform others, All I really want is to take away that fear.  Fear is what motivates us to hate, and judge what we do not understand. So if I can do my part to remove that fear, I’m doing what is needed, in my mind.  I hope that this, and future blogs on mental health, open someones eyes to the fact that we are no worse, just a little different. At least, that’s what I believe.

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