What a Difference a Year Makes

It occurred to me yesterday that it had been exactly one year since I had been hospitalized. One year since I had felt the bottom drop out and sought help. And it got me thinking of how far I had come, how far I still had to go, and the journey thus far.

At first, I thought I haven’t come far enough. I’m still struggling. I still have some very bad days, and I still have some emotions and thoughts that overwhelm me.

And then I realized that I was being really unfair to myself, and negating what progress I have made. When I actually compare where I was and how I felt last year this time to where I am and how I feel this year, I couldn’t ignore that I had made way more progress than I gave myself credit for.

Last year I was teetering on the edge, and was thisclose to standing on a ledge. I was inconsolable and suicidal. I was self-harming and doing anything I could think of to ignore and suppress all the pain. I was sleeping fewer than four hours a night and eating everything in sight. My dreams were killing me, with images and ideas that left me disturbed and scared so bad that they would wake me almost every night. I was afraid, hopeless, helpless, and I felt more alone than ever. I couldn’t even imagine seeing the next day, let alone a year later.

So I asked for help. I took myself, in my pj’s, crying my eyes out, down to CAMH 24-hour emergency down at College, and I asked them for help. I told them that I was afraid for myself and that I wouldn’t make it if I was left alone any longer. And just like that, they took me in. They said they could help and they wanted to. That floored me. They wanted to help me?! Why? Well I still don’t know why, and frankly I don’t need to know anymore. All I know is they did.

I spent six weeks in their care, and the team that was built around me, saved my life.

To be clear, they had saved my life, but I still wasn’t totally sure that life was worth living. And I was pretty sure that I would end up right back where I had started. It was only a matter of time.

I had very few illusions about my prognosis. I had been low before and somehow managed to claw my way back. Several times. Granted it wasn’t really ever a recovery so to speak, it was more just getting to a point where I could function. Enough to work and pay bills and keep a home, but just enough.

My relationships were stressed, at best, my health was on a downward spiral that I’m still working to manage, my work was a joke with no purpose or enjoyment on any level, and my thoughts were slowly deteriorating my will and my sanity. I wholly assumed that this time would be no different.

But…it was.

I don’t know exactly why this time turned out differently. I just know that it did. Maybe it was the team I had behind me, maybe it was the medication, maybe it was me, or maybe all of the above. Whatever it was I had somehow found a path towards living a life worth living. I was able to get into, not one, but three different programs that would help me work through my destructive coping methods, address my overwhelming thoughts and emotions, and teach me how to build a life worth living.

Every day poses an obstacle that can still stump me, and there are days where I am filled with uncertainty and anxiety, but I am learning, and despite the uncertainty and anxiety, I am making changes that are positive. I am learning better ways to cope that are not destructive.

It is by no means, an easy journey, and there are no guarantees that everything will turn out okay, but it’s farther than I’ve ever come before. It’s far more progress than I’ve ever made before. And the changes, so far, have stuck around. I can only hope that this is a turn towards a better life that will last.

And hopefully, this time next year, things will have improved from today, and I can tell of all the latest progress I will have made. At least, that’s the hope.

Until next time… 🙂

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There Is Nothing Wrong With Having Mental Health Issues

This past weekend brought up the conversation of mental health issues in a number of ways for me; from hearing about Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Roberto Osuna speaking publicly about struggling with anxiety, and not feeling himself, to conversations I’ve had with family and friends. I feel like it needs to be said again, and again, that there is nothing wrong with having mental health issues. I’m going to be repeating this often throughout this post, THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH HAVING MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES.

I think Roberto Osuna’s decision for opening up about what he is struggling with, which is no doubt much more common in baseball, and sports in general, than is reported, was exceptionally brave. It isn’t easy to open up about something so personal and something that can be subject to judgement, criticism, and misinterpretation.

Mental health is absolutely vital to our well-being. Without it, we are open to literally falling apart. Mental health is just as important to our being able to function and cope as physical health is. In fact, there are a number of situations where mental health may be even more important than physical health.

The dozens of disorders and diagnosis that encompass mental health are never something to be taken lightly, no matter how, where, when, or why, a person finds themselves struggling with them. Whether it’s a disorder that has been a part of your life since childhood, or whether it’s something that pops into your life in later years, it is always, repeat always, something to be taken seriously. And at no time is it ever a reflection on what kind of person you are, nor does it ever mean that something is wrong with you.

Admittedly, you may need treatment, you may even need medication, but that does not mean you are broken, or flawed, or weak, or a bad person. It doesn’t mean you should be treated differently nor does it mean you should be shunned, judged, ostracized, or criticized. It means that you need help and support, encouragement and compassion, and understanding and patience for a difficult situation or period in your life. That’s really all it means, that you need help. And there is nothing, NOTHING, wrong with that.

I can understand that there are people who have not struggled with mental health issues and may not be able to fully grasp what it means but that is no excuse to treat someone with mental health issues any differently than had they been struggling with something physical that can be seen or quantified. People struggling with mental health issues are still people.

You don’t have to have mental health issues to be compassionate.

I think it’s great that the conversation of mental health is fast becoming more mainstream, and less a “closeted” discussion, saved only for professionals. With places like CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health), here in Canada, CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association), also here in Canada, the annual Bell Let’s Talk campaign, and several sports and television personalities opening up about their own mental health struggles has made a HUGE impact in people starting to realize and understand that mental health is something that can affect anyone, in any capacity, or social standing, and that it is NOT something to be ashamed of.

I firmly believe that places like CAMH and CMHA are leading the fight in bringing awareness to mental health, bringing the discussion to the masses, and especially with bringing help to those in need. Addressing mental health openly has come a long way in starting to lose the stigma that has been attached to it for so long. But there is still more work to do. And it starts with us, talking to someone when we need help, and not feeling ashamed about what we are going through.

I’m not saying that you need to speak about what you might be struggling with to everyone you know and everyone you meet. It may mean only sharing it with one person, it may mean sharing it with a group of strangers at a support group, it may mean sharing it only with a professional. It isn’t about who you choose to share it with, it’s about owning that you are struggling right now with mental health issues, and that is nothing to hide or be ashamed of. I’m going to repeat that, “struggling with mental health issues is NOTHING to be ashamed of.

Life is hard. Very hard. This is not new information for anyone. Sometimes trying to handle all that life throws at us, and coping with difficult situations, emotions, and difficult people can be more than just a challenge at times. It can be something that permeates your whole being, and for some, it may also mean using more destructive than constructive methods to cope. It can be something that filters down into your relationships, your work, your interests, your family and friends, and even your ability to function at a basic level. Mental illness can grip you like a vise and twist itself around you so that you feel like you can’t breathe. It doesn’t care if you have the time, or the space, or whether you’re ready or not, it can come on without warning and take you over, or take you down. Regardless of who you are, where you’re from, what you do, where you work etc, you could be someone who finds themselves struggling with mental health issues just as easily as anyone else.

Mental health isn’t selective in who it affects. No exemptions or discrimination here. Mental health is an equal opportunity assailant.

I don’t want to compare mental health to physical health because I don’t think they really can be compared. The each have their own struggles, symptoms, treatments, and perspectives. But I will say that with as many differences that lie between physical/medical issues and mental health issues, there are also a number of similarities between them too. There a lot of physical illnesses or disorders that can often strike at will to whomever, whenever, without warning or cause, and mental health issues can be just as arbitrary and random in who becomes affected too. There are a number of physical/medical issues that cannot be seen just by looking at someone, and that cannot be measured with a blood test or x-ray, just like not being able to tell just by looking that someone is struggling with mental health issues.

Someone struggling with a physical/medical issue is as important to address as someone struggling with a mental health issue. One issue is not necessarily any more urgent to address than the other. Of course I understand that there are some serious medical issues that can be life-threatening and are important to treat as soon as possible, and that there are some mental health issues that are not as urgent in the moment to treat, but they are still important enough to treat, regardless.

Someone struggling with mental health issues may be able to wait a few more days for help than someone requiring urgent medical assistance, but it doesn’t mean that the person struggling with mental health issues should be dismissed or indefinitely delayed in getting treatment.

All issues that can befall us, whether physical, emotional, or mental, each have their own urgencies or not, in how and when they are addressed, but the important thing to remember is that they ALL deserve addressing.

Repeat: THEY ALL DESERVE TO BE ADDRESSED.

I would like to close this by saying to all those struggling with mental health issues, please seek help if you need it, don’t wait. And please don’t be ashamed or feel less than because you need help. Talk to someone. Share with those you trust in your own time. You don’t have anything to be ashamed of, nor do you owe anyone an explanation. You are struggling and you need help. Please remember that. You are struggling and you need help.

For those who have a loved one struggling with mental health issues I would encourage and hope that you give as much time and space to your loved one as you can for them to deal with things as they need. Be compassionate and patient. You don’t need to understand someone to be kind to them. You don’t need to have experienced it to have patience for it.

Your loved one may be struggling to live at some point, and this is NOT a weakness, nor is this something to be taken lightly. Anyone feeling like life isn’t worth living anymore should ALWAYS be taken seriously and at their word. They need help. Please do what you can to help them get help.

Most importantly, for all, please remember that there is nothing wrong with having mental health issues.

 

If Wishes Came True

When I was a little girl I used to pretend that I was an actress. I gave myself a stage name and I even had an imaginary manager, and secretary. I drew posters for my movies, and I even released some albums as a singer. And I would draw the album covers too. I would play for hours by myself as an actress slash singer in my room until it was time for bed. I didn’t even like stopping for dinner, or anything else. It was all about me and all the great things I could do. I would have loved to continue playing after it was time for bed but at the time I had to share a room with my brother and he really crimped my style.

But during the day, when my brother would go out, and my mom would be busy or sleeping, I spent hours, days, weeks, and months just playing my imaginary role. Sometimes I would bring in other imaginary people to play secondary roles, like friends, or boyfriends. It was very elaborate. Everyone had a role and a background. Not that I knew what to do with a boyfriend at that age. I imagined that basically he was just the guy there, and that eventually we would end up married and have kids. He played a really small role. Mostly I just had lots of friends, and lots of admirers, and lots of fans. In my imaginary world, everyone loved me. And everyone wanted to be friends with me.

I believed that I was special. I believed that there was just something about me that everyone liked, and people would gravitate towards me, and they would all want to be in my life. I was like this shining force that people loved. I was the person they turned to when they needed a friend, and I was a great friend. I was the one they would always want to call. I was the one they all wanted to spend time with. My time was so valuable to everyone that it was like being mobbed by fans to find time for all my imaginary friends.

It was a great feeling, to be loved, and admired. I felt like I was this great, special person. I was this important person to all these other people. I was one person they thought of often. whatever party, or event, birthday, or celebration, it didn’t matter, my “friends” always made sure to invite me. It wasn’t a party without me. My imaginary friends would be heartbroken when I had to say no to their invitations. They would beg and plead for me to be there. Me being there was what would make it great. And that feeling, it was so nice. I never wanted that feeling to end.

But then, one day, it did. Because I grew up. We moved, and I got my own room, which was great for helping to build the imaginary world, but slowly my imaginary world started to change. Real life filtered in a lot and it was getting harder and harder to maintain my magnificent world.

And then one day I stopped believing that I was special.

I don’t remember what happened, or the moment it changed, but around the age of 13 or 14 my world turned from sparkly to dark. It went from full of friends to no one. I went from being the important one, to being the forgotten one. It went from everyone likes me, to people not seeing me at all. Not only did I not see myself as special anymore, but now I was starting to believe I was never special in the first place at all, and that I wasn’t worthy of living.

I wish I could pinpoint where it crashed. Or why. Maybe then I could re-trace my way back to feeling special. Maybe then I could have some friends back. Maybe then I would be seen and I would be important, to someone. But I have a sinking feeling that path is long gone, never to be found again. I miss the days when I felt special, and that everyone liked me, and everyone wanted to be my friend.

Now I believe the total opposite of every person I know. Whether they are already in my life or not. That no one likes me. No one thinks of me as important. I am not special. Sometimes I feel like a fool for ever having believed it in the first place. I am not special.

I wish I was though.

*TW* Old Faithful

Today I had reached a breaking point. I couldn’t hold out any longer. So I went for my usual. Cake. I had been thinking about it all day. For several days in fact. Just imagining how good it would be. Imagining how great it would taste. Imagining how it would make me forget everything but the cake. Imagining how it would numb me out. Imagining every little piece right down to the last bit of it, the last detail, and the last bite.

I even tried to placate the urge with several substitutions since eating a whole cake is not the best idea. I tried donuts. And I have to laugh at this attempt because in no universe is a donut as good as a cake. And not just any cake. But a Sobeys cake. A creamy, soft, sweet Sobeys cake with their icing that tastes like whipped cream. (For those of you who are vanilla cake fans I highly recommend their cakes and cupcakes.) And I had tried to trick myself with donuts. Idiot. Unless they are Sobeys cake in the shape of a donut with Sobeys creamy icing on top then it’s a sad effort, although that would be a great donut. Donuts for cake? Please. Don’t even try.

I looked at the bakery shelves again. Nothing. It wasn’t there. None of them were. There was nothing. And something inside me not only panicked but cried.

How could there be none? How could they be all gone? How could there not be one cake here for me? Not one cupcake? And don’t even try to pawn off those custard or raspberry or rich hazelnut cakes on me. As far as I’m concerned they aren’t cakes to begin with. So as far as I was concerned Sobeys had no cakes out. But that can’t be? There had to be some somewhere, right? In the back, maybe? But no. They couldn’t be out of cakes? I asked. And they said, what they had out was it and it was gone.

No. No, no, no, no. It can’t be. None? What do I do? Okay, what do I do? I’m a little unsettled. I look around wildly, trying to figure out my next move but I’m lost. What do I do? What can I do? I’m stuck.

I feel my heart racing and my cheeks are starting to get warm. What do I do? I feel close to tears by now because I really am lost. I really don’t know what to do. I hadn’t considered this. I didn’t have a ‘plan b’.

Some people might call that a sign. They might say that that is the universe’s way of telling me that I shouldn’t binge. Pfft. Please. I call it poor planning on the part of the Baked Goods department manager. If I were feeling in a more optimistic, philosophical place I might agree but I’m not. As far as I am concerned the universe is telling me that he sucks at his job. That’s what I’m getting from the universe.

Baked Goods guy had one job. And he failed. And now I am stuck. I felt a fear creep over me because I felt so lost. I hadn’t made any backup plan. It hadn’t once occurred to me that they would be sold out. Every other time I was there they had cakes. Even the cupcakes were good enough to suffice but they were all gone too. There was nothing.

I looked around at the people nonchalantly shopping and tried to at least look calm. But inside I was freaking out. I wanted to grab the girl behind the bakery counter and shake her, find me a cake woman! Go bake it right now if you have to, I’ll wait. Ooh fresh Sobeys cake. Sigh. But I couldn’t do that anyway because I already knew from past visits that they don’t bake their goods on site at this location. What kind of a bakery does this?

You’re telling me out of this whole store you don’t have one oven? I looked around again at the other shoppers and the bakery girl, trying not to lose it. It wasn’t her fault. Well it kind of was because she sold them. Her and the Bakery Department manager guy. Together they had thrown a big wrench into my plans.

I started to roam the store like I was looking around and shopping but I registered none of it. I didn’t even realize how far I had wandered trying to figure out my next step until I found myself three aisles over in the frozen foods. Oh look, frozen pies. I don’t even like pies.

I knew I should just leave and try to figure something else out. How far was it to another Sobeys? I calculated where I was and how I would get to the other location but it wasn’t close, and would require a few transit transfers. And I felt stupid to go all that way, and out of my way, just for cake. But this isn’t normal cake. It’s Sobeys delicious, soft, and creamy, make-everything-better cake. Didn’t that deserve some travel effort?

But I knew it didn’t. Deep down I knew that as much as it felt like it was worth it, it really wasn’t.

I found myself circling the store and ended up back at the bakery again staring down the empty spots where the cakes and cupcakes had been, willing a package or a small cake to suddenly materialize. Hoping against hope that maybe they would get a fresh shipment in and I would get my cake. But no. Nothing.

Now what? I knew I had to leave, and soon, because I was starting to feel the panic really grip me, and it would only be so long where I could hide it from other people. And the only thing worse for me than no cakes or cupcakes was passing out in the grocery store because there were no cakes or cupcakes. Sure they wouldn’t know but I would. And I couldn’t live with that. I had passed out or collapsed or freaked out because there was no vanilla cakes or cupcakes? No thank you. That really would be a new low for me. And frankly I was already low enough.

In the end I numbly walked from the store to the nearest bus stop and somehow made my way home, although I don’t remember any of it. I know I tried to think of what other baked good I could substitute in the meantime but nothing measured up to what the cake was going to give me. I actually felt disinterested in all my other go-to goods that I finally went home empty-handed.

I felt so lost and alone and disappointed. I felt like crying. I felt like I had lost my armour and my safety net. I felt like a friend had a stood me up. I tried to talk myself into taking it slower and trying to work through the pain of being exposed and vulnerable but it just left me more anxious.

It was then that I turned to my other outlet, and I self-harmed. It was the only thing I knew would work. It was the only way I felt I could cope. No cake? Then it’s time to self-harm. I couldn’t help it. It was a bad night. I wish I could have made it through somehow without resorting to self-destruction but I just couldn’t do it.

I feel ashamed and like a giant failure. I am learning skills that should help me with this and yet my mind blanked and all I could see was the cake and then the self-harm. I’m hoping that the next time, and there will be a next time, I will be able to draw on the skills, even if only for a moment, and try to get through it without hurting myself.

Examples of Emotions that Fit the Facts

Module: Emotion Regulation

Handout:
Emotion Regulation Handout 8A – Examples of Emotions that Fit the Facts

When checking the facts, it can be hard to determine if what you’re feeling is justified or not. I know for myself, sometimes what I’m feeling is so strong that I think I’m already working the facts. I believe they are justified. So I wonder what do I need to do this step for?

Obviously you need to be honest with yourself when checking the facts because without it you’ll end up in the same spot as you started with nothing to work with to change or resolve the emotion or situation.

I can personally attest to this because at first I wasn’t that honest. Not because I wanted to lie about it but because I felt the fear of people not liking me so far that it was a fact. The truth is though I have no evidence to support this belief. I mean, maybe everyone might not like me, but frankly I don’t really care about everyone. I’m worried enough if the people I like, and my friends like me. I just wanted to believe that the people I liked, and my friends liked me. When I checked the facts, and was honest about it, it turns out I didn’t have much to fear in terms of rejection. My friends, they liked me.

One thing that helped me to determine what the facts were, and if they fit was reading the Emotions Handout 6, their prompting events, and interpretations that made me realize I was feeling a lot of unjustified fear and shame.

Since it would take up a lot to list each of the emotions from Handout 6, their respective prompting events, and interpretations etc., is first of all a copyright issue, but also it’s a lot to paraphrase, and I’m not sure I can do it.

It’s much easier to use examples of emotions that fit the facts, to see if it’s justified or not, and then whether to do Opposite Action, or Problem Solve.

The following are examples of emotions that fit the facts:
Fear:
There is a threat to you or someone you care about.
There is a threat to your body, health, well-being, or property.
There is a threat to the body, health, well-being, or property of someone you care about.

Anger:
A goal is being blocked, or prevented from being attained.
Something you enjoy doing, or pursuing is blocked or prevented from being attained.
There is a threat of attack to you or someone you care about.
You or someone you care about is insulted.
You or someone you care about is offended.
Your integrity, status, or well-being is attacked or threatened.

Disgust:
You come into contact with something that can make you sick.
You listen or witness an opinion or behavior that goes against your own moral code.
Someone you dislike speaks to you or touches you.
Someone you dislike speaks or touches someone you care about.

Envy:
Someone has things or privileges that you want.

Jealousy:
Someone or something you care about is being pursued by someone else.
Someone or something you value is in danger of being taken away.

Love:
You cherish, adore, or connect significantly to another person, or animal.

Sadness:
You have lost something or someone you care about.
An expectation of a person or situation has fallen short, or has not been met.

Shame:
You or something about you (personality, behavior, values, opinions, etc.) is rejected, insulted, or offended by another.

Guilt:
You do or say something that goes against your own moral code.

It helps a lot to have these to refer to when figuring out if an emotion fits the fact. A number of times now I’ve referred to these examples and realized I was kind off the mark.

Bye for now!

Skills, Handouts, and Worksheets from DBT Skills Training Manual, Second Edition, by Marsha M. Linehan. Copyright 2015 by Marsha M. Linehan.