Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

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.

 

 

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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

Whatever You Want

JUST TRY HARDER!!

If you wanted it bad enough, you’d have it by now. All you have to do is try. It’s easy once you decide to really go after it.  Give yourself some credit and just do it already! 

Anyone else hear these, or similar, sayings while struggling with an eating disorder or addiction or trauma or depression?  Or life in general?  I *think* they’re supposed to be motivational. How many people actually find words like this motivating?  How many people feel guilty after hearing words such as these?  I’ll raise my hand to the latter.

I’ll admit, those early hospitalizations for the eating disorder and self-harm—I didn’t want it.  I had no intention of wanting it.  I had every intention of following the program’s rules in order to be discharged so I could go home and get back to the weight I was before admission.  I was there because my treatment team told me to go.  I played nice so I could avoid involuntary commitment.

Then there came the stage when I began considering recovery.  I began wanting it.  I knew people in varying stages of recovery, and I was starting to see just how miserable the eating disorder was making my life.  But at the same time, I began to notice how difficult recovery was.  How many daily choices I would have to make to stay on that path.  How exhausting those choices could be.  How exhausted I would be.  And how terrifying everything in front of me was.

I wanted recovery.  But I was already exhausted and frightened and overwhelmed.  How was I supposed to take on even more exhaustion, terror, and change?  I really had no faith that I could do so.  I mean, I had an eating disorder.  How strong could I possibly be?  How could I be strong enough to overhaul my life?  I knew how easy relapsing after treatment was.  Fighting that felt like too much for me.  So when I heard someone say “You just have to want it”, I felt like a total failure.  I thought that I obviously didn’t want it enough, or else I would be choosing recovery.

Yes.  I think you do have to want it.  People can’t make you recover.  They can force you to eat and gain weight and they can monitor your diet and when you use the bathroom and how much you exercise, but that can only last so long.  Eventually, it will come back to you again.  And if you don’t want to change, you won’t change.

But desire is not enough.  If you are so exhausted and physically compromised that you can’t think through the decision of what movie to go see, how can you be expected to make a serious life decision?  If you really do want recovery but have absolutely no idea how to even begin walking that path or whom to talk to or where to go, how can you be expected to “just” get better.  And if you know you want a better life but don’t honestly believe you have an eating disorder, how can you choose not to have one?

Sometimes, someone else will have to step up and make decisions for you.  They may have to force you to go into treatment.  A doctor may have to initiate involuntary feedings.  And you may hate those people and be angry and bitter and swear you’ll never talk to them again.  But because of these people, you will have a chance to regain enough strength and mental clarity to make the decision for yourself.  And even then, you may well need those same people to help keep you on that path of recovery.

After I choose to recovery, I didn’t immediately begin eating 100% of my meals and calmly sit in the hallway afterward without yearning to get up and pace for hours to burn all of that food off.  I struggled against my treatment team.  I tried to “make deals” with them to get out of certain parts of health.  I was confused as to why they were demanding so freaking much out of me.  I wanted to get better, but I just didn’t want to put forth the required effort.  For a while.  Then I began *gasp* working with my treatment team and making choices for myself that supported a healthy lifestyle.  And after I regained enough strength, I found that it was easier to make those daily choices to recover than to make the choices to relapse.

If you are at that stage of wanting it but are completely exhausted and don’t know what the hell to do, tell someone else and tell them you need their help because you can’t do it by yourself.  And then resent that person with all your heart as they help you get to the point where you can thank them with your life.

January 26, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, family, feelings, guilt, health, identity, progress, publicity, recovery, relationships, self harm, shame, therapy, trauma, 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

Regarding Relapses

885e88637cb1b2389902f7c29db65ddbThis may sound surprising–but this quote is actually one of my least favorites.  Even though I believe it and know it to be true.  Now.  But then? Back when I was still convinced I could live with anorexia with no repercussions?  When people threw this quote in my face, I wanted to scream and call them names.  And a little after that?  Back when I had decided to recover and was really, really trying but it seemed like there were more bad days than good days?  When people used this to motivate me, I only felt guilty and ashamed because obviously it meant I was choosing to have a bad day.  Which made it my fault.

Now?  Now I look back and can see that recovery was a series of choices.  Millions of them.  Every single day.  Overall I decided that in order to live, I needed to recover.  But some of those millions of daily choices?  They weren’t exactly made with my best interest in mind.  And each time I slipped and made the wrong choice, I felt as if my chance at recovery was thrown out the window.

In the beginning of my recovery?  Yeah, I made some shitty choices.  Frequently.  And then less frequently.  And then rarely.  And then once in a blue moon.  Now?  I don’t need to make daily choices about eating and exercise to stay on my path.

There are debates about the different definitions of “recovered” and “fully recovered” and “recovering.”  But I think we’d all agree that recovery is not one choice.  It’s many choices.  This means that when you slip or relapse, you still have that choice open to you.  No matter how big or small the slip.  Neither does a slip or relapse automatically throw you back to the very beginning of your journey.  “You start from where you are” is true for each of us, no matter where we are in our individual journeys.  All of those skills you learned to get this far?  You still have them. You can still use them.  In fact, you might have even picked up a new skill or two in the process.

A relapse, even a significant relapse, is not the end.

Not if you choose to stand back up and walk forward toward recovery.

July 11, 2015 Posted by | Body Image, coping, Eating Disorders, progress, recovery, self harm | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Trigger Warning

Trigger-warningIf you’ve been reading this blog, and you’ll know I try to limit any obviously potential triggers, such as the use of numbers, sizes, weights, etc., and I usually avoid pictures focusing on weight and size.  When I posted the link to the documentary clip a few entries ago, I made people aware that the video would include sensitive topics.  In general, I don’t want people to take what I write and find justification for an eating disorder in it.  I am not in support of the Pro-Ana “movement” or websites.

Here, and on my facebook page, I don’t generally use trigger warnings that often.  Hopefully, because of the above, people don’t find my blog too triggering.  After all, it is an eating disorder blog, so if you are venturing inside, you should be expecting some mentions of eating disorders.  And like I said, hopefully I do so in a sensitive manner.

I think our overuse of various trigger warnings and ways of avoiding the obvious on social media may actually be a problem.  I don’t tell people personal information that could upset others, such as my weights, specifics of the childhood abuse, or pictures that seem to glorify when I was sick.  I try to avoid using the word “fat” in descriptions because of the inaccuracy of the word and the negative stigma it promotes.

And I do encourage people to limit their exposure to known triggers, especially in the beginning stages of recovery.  It’s been over a year since I’ve self-harmed, but I still do not feel ready to read Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects.  I’ve read Gone Girl and Dark Places. I thought they were excellent books, and I hope to read Sharp Objects one day for its literary value.  But for now, I do not know if I could read descriptions of self-harm and be okay with it.  But other people seem to like the book, and if they want to read about it and post about it and talk in general about it, that’s their choice.  It is my responsibility to determine what I can read and what I can’t.

Here’s the thing:  you will not find trigger warnings in life outside of a treatment setting, a Safe Environment, or a website, blog or chatroom specifically designed for those in recovery.  You will open the daily newspaper and sexual abuse will be mentioned in an article.  It will not come with a warning.  Hopefully, specific details will not be mentioned, but you will see the word rape.  They will not write these words without vowels:  s*x, ab!se, or r%pe.  I am not sure what good comes of this.  If, given the context of the article, you already know what the word is, then your mind will associate that word with the actual word, and your mind will still jump to the same thoughts as before.  Seeing “s*x” instead of “sex” does not protect the reader from the word’s meaning.

My intention is not to criticize where you are at in your recovery if you rely on trigger warnings.  At some point, however, you will find yourself in a situation where things are not censored for you.  If an article title includes the words “terrible abuse” and you know you are struggling with coming to terms with your own situation, then you should assume the article will mention things such as abuse and make the choice not to read further.  If you start reading an article and discover the topic to be too upsetting, then stop reading.

If you are with friends and they start talking about diets, if they are good friends they won’t mind you saying, “Hey, do you mind if we talk about something else for a bit?”  But if you are standing in line at the local coffee shop and two other customers are talking about their diets and mention their weights, it would be impolite to turn around and ask them to change the topic of their conversation.  You will need to find a way to distract yourself from their discussion.  While in a waiting room, if a news channel issues a special report alerting people to a suspected child predator and other people are watching this, you might not want to get up and turn the television off.  You might want to pick up a magazine and try focusing on those words instead.

I guess my warning is this:  the general population will not respect your individual needs relating to your recovery.  This does not mean they are intentionally trying to sabotage your recovery, but it does mean that you will need to know how to cope in those moments.  If you find that you are easily triggered, or triggered by specific things, then I suggest talking with someone about ways you can safely deal with these situations.  I wish we all had a mute button to use when the world gets overwhelming, but we don’t.  (It would make writing in public spaces a lot easier!)

I am very very grateful for the treatment I received in hospitals for self-harm and anorexia.  I felt safe on those units.  But neither was I prepared for discharge and re-entering society.  I’m not sure what the solution is to this, if there even is a solution, other than giving people the knowledge that world outside their doorstep is not always a safe place to be, but it is a place we must go.

May 12, 2015 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, Eating Disorders, mindfulness, recovery, self harm, trauma | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Slow Progress is still Progress

Om Namah Shivayah

Om Namah Shivayah

I’ve posted this picture before.  Om Namah Shivayah.  I respect the divinity within me.  I got this tattoo when I knew I would never ever go back to the eating disorder.

The previous 16 months have been 16 of the most difficult months I’ve lived.   Sorry for any repeated info:  the depressive cycle I was in was the most severe and the longest I have ever had, and I had actually scheduled out all the details of my suicide attempt in my weekly planner.  I moved from Missouri to New York to live with my parents–at 37 years of age.  Although the depression began improving, my physical body was being hit from wrecking balls on all sides, and no one could figure out what the hell was going on.  I am not able to work a “real” job with regular hours.  I certainly could not handle a full teaching load right now.

I had thought things would be different.  I’d move to NY, get better, apply for jobs, and be looking forward to a new teaching position for the fall semester.

I get frustrated with “where I am at” quite often.  I’m almost 38; I hadn’t planned on needing to live with my parents at this age.  I am not working, aka contributing to society.  I am a track and field official, which is a “real job” but it’s so far from where I wanted to be at this stage of life.

But I was reminded by a friend yesterday that, compared to ten years ago, none of this would have been possible.  I was sick with the eating disorder and the bipolar disorder was not controlled.  I wasn’t ready to start the PhD program I had dreamed about attending, but I went anyway–and then had to withdraw two years after I started.  One year ago, I pulled out of teaching–and I only had one class.  In May of 2014, I lived in a psych hospital.  Last summer, I slept more than I was awake.  This past fall found me fatigued and sore and in pain and going through medical tests almost every week.  In January, I wouldn’t have been able to officiate, but now I can do four meets in four days (with a lot of sleeping in the following mornings–but I can still officiate).  I am looking to see if any area colleges need a professor to teach one section of Freshmen Comp.

So no.  This is not my dream.  In fact, I am no longer sure if I will be able to ever meet that dream.  But right now, in this moment, I have much to be thankful for in terms of how far I have come compared to 16 months ago.  I am healing.  Maybe not as fast as I would have wanted, but I am healing.  And as another friend told me, “Slow progress is still progress.”

April 27, 2015 Posted by | 1, addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, feelings, guilt, health, mindfulness, progress, recovery, relationships, self harm, suicide | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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

grief and . . . anger

Warning: another controversial post ahead!

Robin Williams has always been one of my favorite actors, and his comedic roles always manage to make me laugh, something that recently only The Big Bang Theory has been able to do.  It saddens me that he had to endure such pain on a daily basis and fight so many demons.  I feel sorry that he had reached a point where the demons won and he no longer saw a strong enough reason to continue fighting that pain.  I do not judge him, for I have been there.  I wish no one ever has to experience such pain.

 

But I am also feeling angry right now.  Not towards him.  But towards the media.  Robin Williams will be The Thing on news channels and talk shows for a bit.  A psychologist will say how someone in his position was still vulnerable to depression and addiction and they will praise Williams for openly speaking about these things. 

But what about all the “normal” non-famous people who experience this same pain and fight these same demons on a daily basis?  What about the individuals who fight so long that they cannot endure anymore and commit suicide?  Why is there no media attention there?  Why doesn’t a talk show bring a psychologist on to discuss how depression affects children, teenagers, adults, and geriatric patients in all walks of life and in all careers?  Why does no one talk about how sad it is that someone feels that suicide is the only option every single day? 

Maybe I’m being too harsh, given as how it is just “the next day.”  But I’ve watched a lot of news channels and read the newspapers.  No one is mentioning that this is a world wide epidemic that is killing people every day.  No one is discussing how extremely difficult it is for us non-famous, non-rich people to find treatment.  Mental Health Parity hasn’t been discussed.  Neither has the fact that some of these deaths could be prevented if the individual had appropriate treatment?  (I realize there is no 100% cure rate for mental illnesses.)  When I moved to New York, it took over six weeks to find a therapist who was taking new patients and was willing to deal with my insurance.  And these six weeks in New York had followed two months in Missouri of searching online and getting referrals and making phonecalls and not ending up with a single lead.  I’d find therapists who would treat me if I paid $180 dollars per session, but that is just not an options for me.  “Funny”–I get a bad sore throat and I go to the doctor and my insurance covers most of the bill and most of the necessary prescriptions.  But when I start feeling suicidal, if I don’t already have a team in place, I can either go to the ER and be admitted for the mandatory 72 hour observation period or I can stay in bed and cry.  I can’t just “go to a doctor” unless I have around 300 dollars for a psychiatric consultation, and it’s rather iffy if my insurance will cover the psychiatric medication I’m prescribed. 

I hope that after this initial period of grief, someone is going to stand up and say, “Hey we can treat these illnesses and we can prevent suicide . . . but we need money to do so.”  I hope someone calls their congressional representative and pushes for Mental Health Parity.  I hope someone organizes a walk (there’s a heart walk every weekend) to raise awareness and raise money.  I hope that something good can come of this tragedy.  But I’m not all that hopeful, because we’ve all read about the stars going to rehab and needing to take psychiatric medication–and while it’s news for a week, nothing happens.  Nothing changes. 

Yes, his death was a tragedy, but now we need to talk about all the other people who are also in that same position and don’t have access to care. 

August 12, 2014 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Communication, death, depression, feelings, health, Mental Health Parity, progress, recovery, relationships, Robin Williams, self harm, 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