Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

My Recovery=My Responsibility

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Since I wrote my previous blog post, “To the Bone” has continued to stir up controversy and anger.  Project HEAL, an organization that supports eating disorder recovery, has fielded a lot of angry questions about how the organization could be on board with a project that is potentially triggering for people with eating disorders.

In addressing the potential for triggers, their cofounder writes, ““Eating disorder recovery was the most challenging journey in my life, and in the early stages, I was triggered by many things—friends from treatment, diet talk amongst peers, stepping into a gym, and seeing very underweight people. I had to understand where I was in my journey and avoid those triggers. As I progressed in recovery, I was able to be around those triggers, and now, facing them solidifies how strong I am in recovery and how I never want to go back. I hope that our community can keep this perspective in mind when carefully evaluating whether to view this film.”

One of the most difficult things in my own recovery was acknowledging, and eventually accepting, that other people aren’t responsible for my behaviors.  Although I wasn’t triggered by seeing underweight individuals, I was triggered when my friends would talk about exercise, especially about running.  Sure, it would have been nice if the whole world stopped talking about exercise; then I wouldn’t have had to face the negative consequences both negatively idolizing and obsessing about an activity that other people enjoyed.

What was worse than talk about exercise, though, was the actual act of eating.  Meals, snacks, coffee house trips–all had the potential to bring up bad memories and connotations.  But I kind of had to eat, and I kind of had to eat and drink around other people.  If I had chosen to eat in isolation, I would have been giving in the distorted thoughts in my head that made me miserable.

So did I grab a whole bunch of friends and invite them over for a feast that rivaled Thanksgiving dinner?  No.  I started by eating meals with a close friend or family member at somebody’s house before I went out to eat in public and chaotic restaurants.  With peers and colleagues, I went to grab coffee with them before saying, “hey. Let’s grab some lunch before our workshop.”  As I felt more and more comfortable, I gradually began to expose myself to other difficult eating situations.

The same happened with exercise.  I didn’t just jump right in to discussions about someone’s specific training schedule, but observing my friends discuss exercise helped me see the positive and healthy role exercise played in their lives.  I didn’t go from not exercising for a whole year to training for a competitive half-marathon.  I had to learn how to approach exercise in a completely different manner than before, and I did so gradually.

During recovery, especially the early stages, I had to make some very difficult choices.  I had to ask myself what would be upsetting and potentially triggering and what would be upsetting and uncomfortable and what would be upsetting but okay.  And what would bring me joy.  At first, I did choose not to engage in some activities for my own well-being.

I do that still today, and this extends far beyond food and exercise habits.  If I know an upcoming event will be lots of people talking and laughing in a rather small room that amplifies all the chaos, I have to decide ahead of time whether or not I want to go, or if I want to go for a short time and then leave.  I find that when I am physically exhausted or under a lot of stress, my social anxiety flourishes, so I take into account all aspects of my health.

And there are times that I have no other choice but to walk into a room full of chaos and act like my brain isn’t sending me millions of messages that tell me to run and not look back.  But because I have learned to take care of myself, and because I have learned new coping skills, and because I have learned how I react in different situations, I know I can face upsetting environments without being tempted to use unhealthy coping skills.

There are shows and movies I choose not to watch because they are too close to home.  I cannot tell other people what to read or watch or listen to because it is triggering for me.  I am responsible for my own actions.  If I choose to watch something that I know will be more upsetting than I can deal with, I am responsible for my state of mind afterwards, and I am responsible for any and all actions that could result from that state of mind.

A movie itself is not responsible for my mind state.  Upsetting thoughts and emotions arise from a seemingly endless number of situations and images and words and people.  But thankfully, thoughts and emotions do not “make” me do anything.  What I do, I choose to do.

 

 

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June 28, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, exercise, family, feelings, guilt, health, identity, images, movies, progress, recovery, responses, To the Bone, trauma, triggers | Leave a comment

To the Bone: An Uncomfortable Necessity

Please remember that these thoughts are my own personal opinions.  I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist, and I haven’t performed my own research in order to analyze  statistics.  I am someone who had an eating disorder for a decade.  I am someone who struggled though the initial stages of recovery and have been fully recovered for ten years.  My experience should not be equated with either your personal experience or with academic research.

I think “To the Bone” is a necessary movie, to be released on Netflix in July.  

I think “To the Bone” will be a disturbing movie to watch.

I am sure that some individuals will use the film as “thinspo,” or motivation to continue with their eating disorder.

I still think this is a necessary movie, and I hope that more and more people hear about it and watch it, even if it is triggering and disturbing.

Here’s the reality: Eating disorders existed before movies and social media.  Characters with eating disorders are scene in literature throughout history, even if the modern vocabulary of “eating disorder” and “anorexia” and “bulimia” are employed.

Thinspo existed before the internet.  Thinspo existed as soon as two individuals who were struggling with an eating disorder discussed ways to lose more weight, or be stronger, or look more muscular, or cancel out calories already ingested.

Yes, some individuals will use the film to “get sicker,” but we cannot let fact cancel out everything else this film offers.  If people want a trigger-free environment then don’t read anything, don’t listen to music, and don’t watch movies.  And you might want to stay at home and completely isolate yourself so you don’t come across any upsetting sights or upsetting people when you go to get a cup of coffee.  Don’t bother taking a literature class, since I’ve come across more disturbing scenes and people via our classics than walking around this world.  And don’t bother looking into medicine or psychology or social work or history.

Life is triggering.  That’s not going to change.  Every time I see a television show that uses “cardiac arrest” incorrectly, I feel intense anger.  And that leads to some tough sadness, and then a good dose of guilt.  I feel these things observing various ads and billboards.  But just because they make me uncomfortable, I know the signs need to be there because there is information that more people need to know, no matter how it makes me feel.  So I choose not to watch the cheesy Hallmark movies about terminal illnesses in which the ending is somehow always happy, with great insight gained for each character

Similarly, I don’t watch fashion runways or browse through fashion magazines.  A) It’s not what I’m interested in, and B) I find some of fashion quite upsetting.  I am responsible for not picking up that magazine.  While I was still sick, Girl, Interrupted was a movie I’d watch for “motivation.”  I was the one putting the DVD in my player over and over and over again.  That doesn’t detract from the intelligent, thought-provoking movie that it is.  We need to take more responsibility for our own actions, and that includes how we respond to images that seem perfectly normal to most people.

This film will contain images that aren’t seen as “normal” in the general public.  I’ve only seen the Netflix preview of the movie To the Bone. There are the stereotyped images of anorexia, so yes, it has a character who is female and underweight as the lead.  But there are also characters that aren’t either of those things.  There are male eating disorder patients, and there are patients who aren’t emaciated.  They show the intense obsessiveness of exercise addiction, something that hasn’t gotten much media attention.  There is a scene where the family of the patient responds.  I don’t expect to watch that movie with a whole bunch of warm, fuzzy thoughts that make me smile for days.

And maybe we need that.  Maybe more people need to see the severe emaciation that can result from an eating disorder.  Maybe people need to see the endless sit-ups and stair repeats.  Maybe people need to see someone terrified of a plate of food.  Maybe we need to see someone break down because of that fear.

There is a general thought that “eating disorders are bad for your health, of course, but it’s really just high school girls losing some weight and caring too much about their size.”  Those of us who have struggled or are struggling or have lost people to these illnesses already know this to be a radically false claim.  The general public does not.  The general public sees people who are recovered talking about their experiences.  The general public see individuals in early recovery discussing why they sought treatment.  In most cases, the general public sees individuals after they have received or started treatment,  after some of the severe consequences of eating disorders aren’t so obvious.  If the general public never sees the full reality of eating disorders, why would they fully realize the severity of these illnesses?

And maybe, the general public needs to see how this film impacts those of us who are recovered, are still struggling, or are mourning the loss of loved ones to this illness.  Maybe, it’s time to discuss these illnesses more fully than we have in the past.  The public should be more alarmed if this film isn’t uncomfortable to watch.

 

June 21, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, death, depression, diversity, exercise, feelings, guilt, heart, identity, images, movies, publicity, recovery, responses, shame, therapy, thinspo, To the Bone, treatment, triggers, weight | 2 Comments

Sometimes, We’re Just Human

Scrolling through Facebook the other day, I came across this post on how bodies look at different weights.  Yes, there are pictures.  No, they are not posted to feed into the pro-ana craze.  There are all different weights represented and all types of bodies.  The post pairs them up in twos: Two women who weight the same amount and have very different body shapes.

“Eh,” I thought.  “I already know people have different body shapes and sizes. I know weight is just a stupid ass number put on earth to drive us all nuts.”

But I thought I’d take a look at the post anyway.  Here are some things I loved about this post:

  1. The photographs don’t include the person’s  face, and the women aren’t posing in some so-called-sexy-come-hither pose in front of the mirror.  We can’t tell what they are feeling if we can’t read their faces. These photos are more objective than subjective–no special lighting, no special outfits, no special poses.  Just the shape of an unknown person at a given weight.  Because how someone feels shouldn’t be based on their weight.
  2. Also–the women aren’t photographed side by side.  Two different photos of two different women are place side by side.  They weren’t in a position of trying to look “better” or “thinner” or “fitter” or “happier” than  a person standing next to each other.  Because it shouldn’t be a competition.
  3. The post gives us no other information about the women.  Not their age, lifestyle, fitness level, etc.  There are no judgments or subjective comments posted about any photo.  Because you can be fit and strong and healthy regardless of your weight.

I know all of these things.  Most of the time, I even feel these things.  But sometimes, say, at the end a semester of teaching and the end of another very busy track season and after submitting what feels like 500 million thousand job applications in all different types of formats–sometimes I can feel a bit tired and overwhelmed, and my logic isn’t so logical.

And then I try on a pair of shorts that should have fit me but didn’t.  This bothered me.  Even with all my rational statements that are supposed to make me realize my faulty reasoning, I felt crappy.  I wasn’t thinking, “Now I have to lose weight” or “I hate the way I look” or “I’m too big for this world” (a significant phrase from the days I struggled with anorexia).

I just felt wrong somehow.  I was happy with my appearance before I put on those shorts.  I haven’t thought about losing weight in ages.  I know I’m healthy right now–healthier (physically and emotionally) than I’ve been in awhile.  Winters are tough on my body; it’s as if the cold sucks all of the vitamins that contribute to energy levels out of my body and blocks those vitamins from getting into my body.  I thought to myself, “I shouldn’t weigh this much.”

Not because I had stepped on a scale and saw a scary number, but because of the way a pair of shorts fit.

The end of this previous winter and throughout this spring, I have noticed I have more energy and I feel stronger than previous winters.  I was taking care of myself ignorant of all numbers relating to my size–and this led to more emotional and mental strength as well. 

I immediately worried if I was overreacting and if this was a sign that the eating disorder was sneaking into my thoughts and and and.  But this post is a good reminder, that not everything relating to my body comes from the old history of anorexia.  Sometimes, it’s just me having a crappy day, combined with being surrounded by media that tells everyone they need to lose weight or gain muscles or lose inches.

These thoughts can be persistent and stronger in people struggling with an eating disorder, but this is not just an eating disorder issue.  It’s a cultural one that affects all sexes, all ages, all weights, all lifestyles–and, as a whole, we need more posts such as this one to open up communication.  A scary monster in the closet can’t remain a monster if we are willing to bring it into the light of day.

May 21, 2017 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, diversity, Eating Disorders, exercise, feelings, guilt, health, identity, images, progress, publicity, recovery, responses, shame, treatment, weight | Leave a comment

How Much Do We Share?

how-much-is-too-much-coffee-for-health-benefits_0A couple of weeks ago, I spent an hour and a half speaking with one of my colleague’s course sections.  It’s a course that speaks openly on death and dying, and I shared my experiences as someone who woke up and lived after attempting suicide.  I’ve spoken to her classes before and I speak to health classes about my recovery from anorexia.  It always brings up one significant question, one that I think about even after my guest speaking:  Did I share  enough or did I share the right amount or  did I share too much?

When owning our stories and sharing them, how much do we tell?  Of course, this is different for each individual, and it depends on the context and the recipient.  When an eight-year-old asks me why I have so many scars, I’m extremely careful about how I word things.  Think, “Sometimes I get very sad for long periods of time, and when I was younger, I didn’t know how to handle all those painful feelings, so I didn’t cope with them in the best way.  Now I have people to talk to and I have a bunch of different things to do when I start feeling bad.”

I am not ashamed of my past, of having attempted suicide, of beginning self-harm so young, of needing multiple hospitalizations for anorexia, of needing ECT as maintenance therapy for the bipolar disorder.  But it did take time to go from hiding everything from everyone to admitting things to myself to honestly answering questions.

But there are things, especially concerning the eating disorder, that I don’t share, that I knowingly withhold from anyone who isn’t one of my doctors.  I don’t want to have someone use my story to “get sicker.”  I read all the eating disorder memoirs and blogs I could, and I watched certain movies over and over.  I didn’t care how the author/subject got better.  All I cared about was how she got sick in the first place.

When I talk to groups of people, I say I was hospitalized.  I don’t say how many times or for how many months.  I may discuss refeeding, talking about the pain of refeeding and how scary it was emotionally.  Depending on the context, I may address tube feeding and explain it.  I don’t tell people what my mealplan was or how much weight I gained at what stage.  I don’t tell people how much I lost.  I don’t discuss the ways I used to purge, just that I did.  I don’t want to be “that girl”–the one someone compares herself to and then thinks, “I’m not as sick as she was, so I must not be all that sick at all.  I’m fine.”

Many sufferers grew up on competition, via sports or clubs or school.  Many of us used the illness as competition.  And many of us walked away thinking, “I’m not doing it right” or “I’m not good enough.”

It’s so easy to walk into Target and compare yourself to everyone else there.  It’s easy to take sneaky, sideways glances at other people and judge them.  It’s easy to judge ourselves and come up short.

I still compare myself to other people; in some ways, we all do.  “I wish I could speak French.”  “I wish I could knit that fast.”  “He’s a really good singer.”  “I really like the way she handles a classroom.”  But these things no longer determine my worth.  Yes, I have a horrible past, but I’ve chosen to keep moving forward.  I may strive to be better is some areas of my life, but my happiness does not depend on these things.

My happiness is here.  Now.

 

 

May 14, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, death, depression, Eating Disorders, ECT, exercise, feelings, guilt, health, identity, mindfulness, progress, publicity, recovery, responses, self harm, shame, suicide, treatment | Leave a comment

past lexie vs. present lexie

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Someone asked me this morning about a bit I had written yesterday.  “What do you mean when you said this whole grace and gentleness thing was relatively new for you?  What did you do before?”

“Exercise Addiction.”  The phrase is misunderstood sometimes.  Yes, you can be addicted to a behavior.  Especially when said behavior provides the results you wanted.  In part, I was addicted to the endorphin high after a good cardio workout.  And, honestly, I still miss that feeling.  I’m just not willing to risk my cardiac health anymore.

Another part of the whole exercise addiction was, of course, all part of the eating disorder.  Any calorie I took in had to be “accounted for.”  Gotten rid of. Exercise allowed me to do just that–and feel the endorphin high.  Double win, right?

And then there was this part of me that mentally thrived on extreme exercise.  I wasn’t exercising to feel good or anything like that.  I defined myself by how much exercise I completed every day.  By the end, I was only “good enough” if I had completed at least four hours of aerobic exercise a day.  And exercising enough on Day One meant nothing for Day Two.  No carryover.  No rest.  Just a clean slate.  Or, rather, a slate that said, “You are a horrible person. Get your ass moving and prove that you’re actually okay.”

So I had to prove myself–to myself–each and every day. And if I did X amount of exercise on Day One, then I must be able to do XandY on Day Two.  And then XandYandZ on Day Three.  And so on.  Eventually, I admitted this was not a healthy way to approach exercise.  In mid-2006, I realized that for me to get to a healthy point, I needed to do away with exercise all together for a period of time.  That turned out to be one full year.  I would walk to the bus stop or metro stop, but I no longer ran, did yoga, stretched, lifted weights, or rode my bike.  Nothing.  For one full year.

When I began exercising again, I was closely monitored by my treatment team.  Not just to what and how much I was doing, but also regarding how I felt while exercising.  In the past, a sore muscle or joint wasn’t worth “taking it easy” let alone taking a day off.  In the past, I did the primary series of Ashtanga Yoga every day.  Start to finish, exactly as laid out.  Now?  If I notice my hamstrings are tight, I don’t stretch as hard, especially in the beginning of fthe practice.  If I don’t feel like doing a certain pose, I don’t.  That would have been unheard of back in 2005.  I do “poses” that just feel good–even if they aren’t officially a yoga pose.   If I want to rest in savasana or child pose in the middle of my yoga session, I will.  Or I can walk off the mat and call it a day.

All of these thoughts and behaviors took time.  Sometimes I still catch myself falling into the old mindset of “If you did this amount yesterday, you can do more today.” I was exercising for the sake of exercising.  Not really as a punishment, but as one more chore I needed to complete each day.  I set myself high standards in every aspect of my life, and not living up to them always led to huge amounts of guilt and shame.

Now, my worth is not defined by my body or by how much stress it can take.  My self-worth has nothing to do with exercise at all.  I determine mt self worth.  And each day is a new day.  I am not restricted by who I was anymore.  I am Lexie.  In this present moment.  That is the only standard I set for myself now.

 

March 17, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, exercise, faith, feelings, guilt, health, heart, identity, images, mindfulness, progress, recovery, responses, self harm, shame, therapy, treatment | Leave a comment

I’m Sorry and I Thank You

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These are things I remind myself of almost every day.  It’s difficult to examine my life and realize that I’m not where I was supposed to be.  According to my own expectations, of course.  I do look at my life and am content–I never really planned to end up where I am, but it turns out, I like it here!  But I also like finishing what I’ve started, and there are a whole lot of things I started and never finished.

I often take stock of my life in this manner–and around this time of year, I get even more introspective.  Thinking about what I’ve accomplished in the previous year, but also since I left Missouri, since I left Washington, D.C., since I left Pennsylvania.  Since I used to work for Certain Company and taught at Certain University and climbed rocks as a hobby.

Since I knew various people that once were a significant part of my life and no longer are.  I wonder how these people are doing.  I wonder if they are still angry with me.  The ugly truth is that I lied to people, manipulated them, and screamed horrible things I don’t even remember.  I hurt people.  I wish I could contact each and every single person to apologize, to say that regardless of my pain, I should not have said or done those things.  I’m aware of that now.

I also wish I could thank these people.  The ones who walked away out of exhaustion and frustration and confusion.  I may have hurt them, but I am here because of them, and I wish I could let them know where I’ve been and where I am now and what I’m doing.  I’d want them to know that some of my dreams have come true and that I’ve been dreaming new dreams.  I’d like them to see me as I am now, because I hope they’d agree that I’m a better person–and that I’m a better person in part because of their influence.

I’d like to know I’ve made them proud, even if it’s just a little bit.

I think one of the most difficult things that people struggling with recovery face is the knowledge that we’ve let people down along the way.  It’s not easy to own up to this, to honestly admit to the dark parts of our pasts.  I think hearing “I’m proud of you” is the greatest phrase because of this.  Each time I hear this, in sincerity, I chip away at the dark parts of myself that I fear so much.  Each time these words are spoken, I heal just a little bit more.

Remember to thank those you love.  Remember to let people know when you are proud of them.  You never know what they might be carrying inside.

January 10, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, feelings, guilt, identity, mindfulness, progress, recovery, relationships, responses, self harm, shame, suicide, therapy, trauma, treatment, well earned pride | 1 Comment

pituitary, prolactin, procedures, and . . . possibility?

Early this morning I had my first CT scan with iodine contrast.  I don’t like the iodine bit, but lying motionless for several minutes with noises around my head–I’ve got that one down.  Three or four weeks after I moved back home, I started experiencing a cluster of symptoms that I have always associated with iron deficient anemia–and I’ve always been really good at knowing when I’ve been anemic.  Well, Doctor #1 told me that all the symptoms were from depression.  Doctor #2 believed me when I said this was different from depression.  Psychiatrist Doctor agreed with me.  So they took several vials of blood, and anything pointing to anemia was good. 

My prolactin level was off, however.  By itself, not really that big a deal.  Elevated prolactin levels could be caused by two of my medications.  But my psychiatrist is doubtful since I’ve been on those medications at those doses for a rather significant amount of time and all my levels have been fine in the past.  So we went ahead with further testing.  The CT scan was looking for a pituitary adenoma, which would explain every symptom I’ve been complaining about.  Almost all adenomas are benign and can be treated with medications. 

I’m not worried about having an adenoma.  I’m worried about not having one. 

During the CT scan, I kept repeating, “Please find something please find something please find something.”  I’ll be relieved if the scan comes back positive.  I want something to be wrong with me.  Something I can point to on a picture and say, “Right there.  That is what’s causing everything.  And this is how we’re going to fix it.”  Sometimes I am so tired of having Bipolar Disorder.  I want something concrete to point to and blame for all the ups and downs.  I want to be able to say, with some assurance, that this is what we’re doing to treat it–and it’s working. 

I know that mental illnesses are “real” and that they are just as “physical” as my heart disease.  I advocate for mental health parity and try to encourage individuals to seek treatment and be open about their struggles.  But sometimes to not have to explain everything, to say “I’m Bipolar” and have the other person nod in understanding would be nice.  It would be nice to have everyone believe me when I say that I can’t just will myself out of it, that I can’t just smile and pretend everything’s fine, that some medications work and some medications don’t and it depends on the particular doses and the combination and they can just stop working at anytime. 

Sometimes this whole journey is so exhausting and my motivation starts leaking out of me.  Maybe some day, they’ll be able to diagnose and cure Bipolar Disorder with a CT scan and a given medication that has proven reliable and effective.  And maybe someday insurance companies will agree that mental illnesses are actual illnesses and will agree to cover them equally. 

Until then, I’ll probably just keep hoping for positive tests results.

August 22, 2014 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, depression, faith, health, heart, identity, Mental Health Parity, progress, recovery, responses | Leave a comment

suicide

This post is partly stole from Facebook.  These are two of my comments in reply to a friend’s discussion about suicide:

 

 What do we say when people die of cancer? “At least he’s not in pain anymore.” That doesn’t mean we condone cancer. Depression, like X has said, is an illness. A physical illness caused by chemicals that can be genetic. And yes, because depression originates in the brain, being severely depressed affects the brain. This is why “children at risk” are often failing in school–not because they’re dumb or stupid or lazy, but because the signs of childhood and adolescent depression are different and people are ignoring the problem, and then the student can’t focus in class, or doesn’t have the motivation to read “Great Expectations.” And depression is known to affect memory, so tell a student with depression to memorize Spanish conjugations and see how effective that is. And yes, severe depression–in all ages–affects the ability to reason and think through situations. And I’ve been there multiple times, where suicide seems like THE LOGICAL choice, and the only reason I’m here is because my treatment team stepped in and took me to the hospital, and as the depression was treated, I began to think “THAT was a logical option?” I like to explain it to people this way: 99% of my brain absolutely knows for sure that I never want to commit suicide. But severe depression sneaks in and convinces that other 1% that it’s the best option. So now I’m not only fighting depression, but I’m fighting suicidal thoughts as well. And as time goes on, I get more and more tired, more and more confused, and less and less attached to reality–and I do mean that literally. I CANNOT process what is real and what is not. I cannot understand the ramifications of suicide at that point; all I know is that I am in such intense pain that I crave release and freedom. No, I don’t endorse suicide. But like, X, I empathize with the sufferers. And I don’t judge them. I judge the society that thinks depression can just be controlled by the mind. I judge the society that makes finding treatment so difficult. I judge the society who calls suicide selfish–which only makes the people suffering from mental illness feel shame and guilt and results in them keeping their shame secret until they can’t hold onto it anymore. We NEED to talk about this. We NEED to listen to what the victims are telling us. We NEED to find a way to be courageous enough to step up and help them.

  (In response to a comment that implied I had called someone judgmental.) I didn’t mean to imply that you in particular were judging people. But I do know that society as a whole judges people with mental illness, especially those who commit suicide. I’m not advocating for suicide; I’m advocating for reliable, adequate, and available treatment for those with a mental illness so that they stand a chance of fighting hell. Because I do think that suicide is unavoidable for some, because they do not receive support, care, treatment, or other options. But telling people suicide is selfish or implying that people who attempt suicide are weak hurts the general population because it only incites the current stigma attached with mental health. perhaps if Mental Health Parity actually existed, we wouldn’t be having these discussions. But until Parity is an actuality, we need to discuss this in an open manner.

(now non-facebook rambling)

When I say that “I do think that suicide is unavoidable for some” I am not encouraging suicide.  But imagine being diagnoses with rare genetic heart disease (oh.  wait.  that’s right–I have been diagnosed with just that very thing) and then being told, “I’m sorry, there’s nothing we can do to help you, either in this very moment or in the future.  Please figure this out on your own.”  I have had friends with heart disease that could not be treated and death was just a matter of time.  But doctors jumped in anyway and monitored progress, trying to make life as pain-free as possible, trying to give the patient as much life as possible. 

But here’s the scary thing:  I have walked out of a doctor’s office after telling him I was thinking of suicide, listening to his words over and over: “It can’t be that bad.”  Nothing to help me deal with the immediate stress.  Nothing to help treat the underlying problem that could possibly prevent future moments of such stress. 

This happens more than one would think. My immediate thought was: what can I do to show the doctor I mean it?  How could I prove that it really was “that bad.”  My thoughts generally ran along these lines:  I could cut myself and then go to the ER for stitches.  I could take some extra meds that will make me sleepy but not kill me but go to the ER and say I overdosed.  I could lose more weight.  If I do kill myself, at least he’ll believe me.

Judgment and stigma do exist.  (I have been told many times that it doesn’t exist, I’m just over-sensitive.)  Here are comments I’ve had thrown at me:

  • Can’t you just smile for awhile?
  • Is it really all that bad?
  • You’ve got to choose happiness over sadness.
  • You’re doing this for attention.
  • You know you’re going to hell for attempting suicide.  (said by a nurse on the night of my suicide attempt as I was throwing up charcoal.)
  • Well, I don’t know what to tell you.  Seems like an easy decision to me.
  • Buck up!

There are more.  And I’m sure others have heard similar comments, either by the general public or from professionals. 

Someone should not have to prove he’s in pain.  And yet the majority of society expects just that. 

I read one article that said we should glorify Robin Williams’ life and not discuss his suicide on social media in case it encourages copy-cat suicides.  I agree.  We need to glorify Robin Williams’ life.  But I do not agree that we should be silent about the suicide.  We need to be careful about how it is presented, but if we don’t talk about it at all, we don’t start talking about solutions.  And shove mental illness into the dark, bringing up shame in those suffering from it. 

Suicide needs to be discussed.  Not by judging or shaming those who have attempted or committed suicide.  Suicide needs to be discussed because people need to be aware that our schools–K through 12–are filled with students who have already considered suicide as an option, but don’t dare talk about their pain. 

It is not going to go away if we sit here in silence.  No one will get better.  No lives will be saved. 

 

August 13, 2014 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, death, depression, Eating Disorders, guilt, heart, identity, Mental Health Parity, progress, recovery, responses, Robin Williams, self harm, shame, suicide, therapy | 1 Comment

the pleasures of shame and guilt

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A–Let’s see if I remembered how to insert a picture into a post correctly!

B–Now that I am blogging again, I have like a zillion and one topics in my head to write about.  So please accept my need for a creative outlet.

Shame and guilt.  Let me tell you about my heart.  First, let me address a private message I received regarding the last post that told me I should not make fun of people with heart problems because their heart may actually be dying.  So for those who have just started reading this blog–my heart actually is dying.  Or, to be specific, the right ventricle is dying.  The rest of the heart works pretty well.  It’s a genetic form of progressive degeneration, AKA Arrhythmic Right Ventricular Dysplasia (ARVD), which means that the muscle cells of my right ventricle are slowly dying and are being replaced by fat cells, thus enlarging that portion of the heart and affecting the electrical functioning, causing dangerous arrhythmias such as Ventricular Fibrillation (VFib), or the always fun Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA), which I have experienced.  And honestly, it wasn’t all that fun.

BUT.  In the process of seeing doctor after doctor and getting test after test done and finally being diagnosed with the actual illness (it’s really kind of rare and not the first illness people look for, especially since it’s particularly difficult to see) I was never once asked any of the following questions:  “Why is it happening?”  “What did you do?”  “How could you have prevented it?” and further along:  “Why aren’t you better yet?” “Are you working yet?”  “Why aren’t you at least volunteering?”  What I did hear was, “OMG, I am so sorry!”  “Is there anything they can do?”  “is there anything you need?”  “Is there anything I can do to help?”  and further along the road: “How are you feeling?” “Are you getting rest?”  and “Will your brother be okay?”  (he was tested and he does not have the gene)

People were supportive and as understanding as they could be and dropped off meals for me to eat and took me places when I couldn’t drive due to my arm being in a sling after the surgery.  The cause of the distress wasn’t wonderful, but my friends and family were.

Change the scenario just a bit and tell people you have Bipolar II, and while the doctors feel that it can be managed, they have realized that–in my case–there is a high chance for relapse and that our job is to catch those relapses sooner than before and treat them effectively sooner than before.

Questions I was asked:  “What did you do?”  “But you were fine last year.”  “Aren’t you taking your medication?”  “Why is it taking so long to get better?”  “What haven’t you done to help yourself?”

In other words:  This is obviously your fault and why aren’t you choosing to get better?

I realized while journaling the other day some things about my therapist in MO.  A) I made a shit ton of progress with him, more so than with any other therapist.  B) I thought he was the best therapist I had ever worked with and was sorry to have to terminate with him.  C) There were times I would walk out of his office and start crying because I was so ashamed and guilty, and also pissed off at him for bringing up these feelings.

One of my problems/addictions since I was in junior high has been self-harm.  I “discovered” DBT therapy in 1999 and it helped a great deal.  My therapist in MO used DBT therapy with me while I was in MO.  Part of doing DBT requires doing a Chain Analysis if you do engage in self-harm.  Basically, you write down every single little thing you did leading up to the event and then go back and write down what you could have done differently.  This can be helpful.  It can also make someone feel like, “Holy shit.  Why didn’t I do that?  What is wrong with me?  When am I ever going to get this right?  Why didn’t I think of that?”  Going through a chain analysis typically made me feel worse and worse as the session went on because I really did know the skills I should have used but didn’t.  And near the end of my time working with him, it made me feel even worse.  Once, I went eight months in between instances of self-harm, and his first question was, “Why didn’t you _______?”  He did not say, at any point, “Wow.  Eight months is a long time for you.  Good job for making it that far.  How can we do that again?”

Then I was hospitalized in May of this year.  Again.  And I was there for a full month.  I was ashamed to walk back on the unit because the staff all knew me, and what would they think of me being back yet again?  My favorite nurse saw me, said, “Hi stranger! It’s been an awful long time since I’ve seen you here!”  And then she gave me my night meds and said we’d talk in the morning.  She said she was proud of me for seeking help, and that she had seen an amazing amount of progress since the first time she met me nearly six years ago.  I was ashamed because I was even there at all.  She said it showed progress because I didn’t go jump off the bridge and realized I needed help and asked for it.  I would come to her on the unit and say, “I feel like cutting.”  And she’d say, “I’m glad you came to talk to me.  What can I do to help?”  There were no recriminations, or questions of why.  Just an acknowledgement of the fact that I asked for help before things got to the point of restraints and IMs, thus avoiding those situations entirely.  When I told my psychiatrist I had cut, I was scared about the lecture I was sure to get.  Instead, he said, “Huh.  Well, you haven’t done that in a long time.  How is this current medication regimen helping or not helping?”

What I learned is that it is much more helpful to hear someone tell me I’ve made progress than to hear someone ask me what the hell happened.  I don’t mean to say I want all that fake bubbly-all-positive-self-esteem bullshit, because at some point I do have to talk about what happened and all that.  But hearing someone say they’re proud of me?  That does a whole lot to push away the shame and guilt that come with many mental illnesses and addictions, and makes it much easier to discuss things openly.

People did not choose their illness or addiction, but recovery is, to some extent a choice.  one hell of a terrifying, difficult choice.  And there will be set backs.  We know when we take a step backwards.  We’re not stupid.  What we need to hear, without judgment, is encouragement to get back up again.  And along the way, we need to hear that we’re doing the right thing by taking our medications, going to the doctor, avoiding bars or anywhere that triggers an addiction.  Saying, “Thanks for taking your meds lately.  I really hope they’re helping” is actually a nice, comforting thing to hear, and a reminder that someone’s got our back.

 

update:  thank you to all my friends and family who have been supportive and encouraging and have stood by me through all of this without making me feel any guilt or shame.  Because of all of you, I wear short sleeves in public (and a bikini when I go swimming!) and am learning not to be ashamed just because I have Bipolar II.  Thank you to anyone who has helped me see that mental illness is a physical illness and needs to be addressed and talked about.

 

August 1, 2014 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, family, feelings, guilt, heart, progress, recovery, relationships, responses, self harm, shame, suicide, therapy | Leave a comment