Posted in Uncategorized

On-Off-On: Medication, Stigma, and Side Effects

During an ensemble rehearsal in the spring of my junior year, a professor I respected and trusted got off on a tangent about medications in the music world and how ridiculous and overused they were. At the time, I was taking medication for depression.

The time for the next refill came and went, but I never called it in. I was feeling better at that point (you know, because the medication was helping), and ashamed to need medication, so I let them run out. That summer and early fall were mostly okay. The seasonal influence on my depression worked in my favor. After the clock change for Daylight Savings Time that fall, though, things headed back downhill.

I was exhausted all the time. I didn’t enjoy doing anything; in fact, I didn’t feel much of anything aside from exhaustion. Keep in mind I was exercising regularly, eating right, and taking better care of myself than I ever had been prior to a depressive episode before. I really thought I was going to keep myself okay through self care alone. Consequently, it took a while to admit that I needed outside help again.

I finally went to the health center for counseling in January, after a rough Christmas break of hidden panic attacks, secret meltdowns, and suicidal thoughts. After resisting medication for several weeks and continuing to feel worse and worse, I finally caved and was put back on the medication that had helped the year before.

Only this time, it didn’t seem to be helping as much. The nurse practitioner overseeing my meds upped the dosage. As I waited for the increased dosage to help, I started experiencing intense anxiety, disassociation, nausea, and periods where I couldn’t fall asleep, which took away one of my few remaining escapes. When I did fall asleep, I had weird, suicidal dreams that started bleeding over into my waking life.

One Wednesday in April, I reached the breaking point and told the counselor I wanted to die and couldn’t keep myself safe anymore. At that point I hadn’t slept or eaten anything other than Gatorade and crackers in several days, and had visited the health center several times for these symptoms only to be told it was “just stress” and “normal for a senior college student” so I should “try to relax.” Fortunately, the counselor took me seriously and called a hospital, where I was admitted to the psychiatric wing.

There, the psychiatrist switched me to a different medication, nurses monitored my symptoms until the first medication had cleared out of my system, and the social worker coordinated with the health center at the college to develop a plan for if and when I could return to classes.

Turns out that sometimes when people stop a medication cold turkey, the medication has the potential to cause severe side effects when they try to take it again. Not every time, and not enough that people are usually aware of it, but it happened to me. All of which could have been avoided if I hadn’t been ashamed of the medication that I needed, if the authority figures in my life promoted a positive, supportive outlook on mental health.

With a lot of support from family and my true friends (the ones who stuck by me), I did return to college that spring, I finished my work, and I graduated with honors despite believing my life was over a month before. Life has been good since then. I have a job in my field, I love my work, and I am taking medication regularly. I’m not ashamed of it—getting the right medication can be life-saving. Because shame and stigma impacted me so greatly in college, I’ve been sharing my story in hopes of raising awareness and encouraging others.

Saying Goodbye

Trouble, the beloved matriarch of my goat herd, passed away today at the age of twelve.  After over a decade where she was part of the family, it’s hard to say goodbye.

I wish I could take the time to grieve.  With two jobs, it feels like I have to always be focused on my work and being prepared for lessons, and if I step away from those thoughts even for a day, I feel like I will be lost and unprepared.  She was important to me, even if no one around me knows or understands that.

Over the years, my goats knew more of my struggles than people did.  I would go out with them and lean against their warm sides and cry even when I had no humans to turn to and talk to about what was going on.  The goats don’t judge, or tell me it’s all in my head, or invalidate my feelings.  They’re simply there, listening, and present.

People could learn a lot from goats.

Posted in Uncategorized

A Time to Mend

One of my first diagnoses was Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Naturally, while preparing for the time change from Daylight Savings, I am worried that the severe depression that has been haunting me the past winters will return with a vengeance from the change in light.

This year was different than the others in some important ways.  My depression hit new lows and I was hospitalized for the first time, but I’m also now on a medication that seems to be working better than anything I had tried in the past.  Until I’ve made it through this winter, though, I can’t fully trust that my medication is really truly working.  Because I didn’t get relief from depression until mid-April, I can’t be sure that the improvement in my symptoms was not merely seasonally linked.  I want to think the doctors found something that worked, not that I just managed to pull through another winter, but I’m scared of believing it too soon and being let down.

This time change in particular is an important test, because I remember last year around this time was when I really started to fall apart again.  This year, I’m beginning a second job in addition to my first, in places I really like and want to do well, and I don’t want depression to catch me off guard and ruin that for me.  As I move forward, I’m praying that after many years of a time to tear down, this will be a time to mend.

“There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Posted in Uncategorized

Six Months Later

“I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
    he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,
    I will call on him as long as I live.

The cords of death entangled me,
    the anguish of the grave came over me;
    I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
    Lord, save me!”

The Lord is gracious and righteous;
    our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the unwary;
    when I was brought low, he saved me.

Return to your rest, my soul,
    for the Lord has been good to you.

For you, Lord, have delivered me from death,
    my eyes from tears,
    my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before the Lord
    in the land of the living.”

Psalm 116:1-9 (NIV)

Six months ago, I got out of the hospital after my first (and hopefully only) hospitalization because of mental illness.  This marks six months I can hold on to, no matter what, that show me the hope of what recovery looks like.  In some ways, looking back, the whole experience and the weeks surrounding it seem surreal.  Yet, in many ways, that period forms an inextricable part of who I am now.

In both positive and negative ways, the experience of hospitalization lingers with me. Visiting a geriatric rehab center and waiting for the receptionist to press a button to allow me out through the secured doors leaves me vaguely anxious, wondering illogically for a split second whether or not I am still confined to the psychiatric wing.  Pens hold a special significance now, since they were banned from the wing.  I don’t like pencils as much as I once did.  I take a unique delight in wearing drawstrings.  Puzzles soothe my mind.  I like being able to shut people out, not having to respond to knocks on the shower door or a flashlight shown in my face every half hour at night.  On the other hand, I’m so much healthier now, with a medication that works and which isn’t causing adverse reactions, and dismissal from counseling.  I learned who my true friends were, and experienced unconditional love and support.  Without that week, it would have taken much longer to stabilize me and find the solutions I needed, if I even made it that long.

Sometimes I find the phrase, “When I was in the hospital…” springing to my mind and being halted by my lips, unsure where or how to go from there.  How much of my story, the parts that shaped me and defined me and kept me alive, can I allow to flow freely?  So much of it seems dammed up by the people around me, their expectations, and their unspoken rules for me in the weeks and months following my hospitalization.  No one needs to say it directly for me to hear as long as you pretend this never happened, we can all continue as normal. I don’t think the people around me recognize how formative this experience has been, that it is part of who I am now.

So I am celebrating here.  For me, this six month anniversary feels like a victory. Even if I have done nothing else commemorative and no one else knows, I know that this date has significance for me.

Posted in Uncategorized

Try to Remember: Suicide Prevention

September 30.  Suicide Prevention Month is drawing to a close.  Awareness campaigns are wrapping up.  For most, the focus on suicide prevention is over for another year… if they ever really focused on it to begin with.

But for many, suicide prevention is not something that can be packed up at the end of a month, set aside for another year.  For many, suicide prevention is a constant companion.  We live with it, cherish it, cling to it.

I am in recovery.  Yet even for me, suicide prevention is an ever-present concept.  I know how important it is, how easily the wirings of my brain can misfire and turn against me.  I know suicidal ideation is not simply a plague of the weak, but of anyone with the misfortune of being attacked by the body’s most complex organ, whose functionality we expect and rely on the most.

I will never be able to set aside my personal attention on suicide prevention at the end of an arbitrary division of time.  This month of focus and awareness is ending, but please keep in mind that those around you who are suffering and fighting do not have the option to pack it away for another year.  They need the support of those around them as much on the 1st of October as they do on the 30th of September.

Start conversations.  Educate yourself on symptoms, warning signs, and resources.  Reach out to your friends and family.  Let the people around you know that you are a safe and non-judgmental listening ear and follow through on that promise.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental illness, please seek help!  You can text “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 at any time for free and confidential help, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.TALK (273-8255).

Posted in Songs for encouragement

Just Be Held

Hold it all together
Everybody needs you strong
But life hits you out of nowhere
And barely leaves you holding on…

The words resonated through me in the midst of my depression.  I felt like I couldn’t hold on and the pressure to be strong was too much, but I didn’t dare give in to the rest I needed.  I didn’t understand how this could be God’s plan for me.

…So when you’re on your knees and answers seem so far away
You’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held
Your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place
I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held…

God spoke to me through music.  One night, I ended up listening to “Just Be Held” by Casting Crowns.  The line “Your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place” became the anthem of my fight, a source of hope when I didn’t understand what was happening to me.

…And not a tear is wasted
In time, you’ll understand
I’m painting beauty with the ashes
Your life is in My hands…

Though at the time I could not see it, God gave me the strength to trust; and here I am today.  I see the beauty God has made out of the ashes of my life, and I’m trying to share that.

The ashes are dancing.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Don’t Be That Guy ^

The image above is currently at the top of my list of Things That Make My Blood Boil.

As you may have heard, a “Big Brother” contestant spewed forth a bunch of vile nonsense about depression recently on Twitter.  It’s sad to see stigma promoted through the platform of fame, reinforcing people’s misconceptions.  However, a lot of people stood up for mental health awareness in response, which was encouraging!

What is also sad is how many people in our everyday lives still think exactly what he said, people who don’t support our healing and recovery, who don’t understand and aren’t willing to learn.  It’s honestly scary to realize how commonplace and accepted and normalized mental health discrimination is.  I’ve met people who thought it was okay to harass, invalidate, isolate, and emotionally abuse others if they were mentally ill.  This is NOT okay.

To those who don’t understand mental illness:

Don’t be like that guy. You can be part of the solution! When you find something you don’t understand, humility and willingness to listen and learn are a far better response than arrogance and ignorance. Especially when it comes to mental health–there is so much stigma already.

Past, Present, Future: Hopeful Thoughts

Five months ago, I was hospitalized.  I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t keep food down, and was experiencing extreme suicidal thoughts.

But today?  Today I am halfway through my second week as a professional in my field.  I am a college graduate, despite it all.  I have my joy back.  I love what I do.  My faith in God is my guiding light.  I discovered some true friends throughout it all who are still there for me, and I have a loving family supporting me as I move into the future.

Recovery is possible.  Hope is real. ♥

How?

I don’t understand how people I once considered friends could be so cruel during my mental illness, and yet still carry on with their lives as though they are good and blameless and never hurt anyone… how???

Posted in Uncategorized

An Allegory

Once upon a time there was a woman who, like everyone else, had preferences about food.  Though she was willing to try almost any food once, she had discovered a few things that she found pretty unappetizing, and tried to avoid those.  Namely, tater tots, papaya, and yogurt. Her family and friends accepted this because they also had preferences about food and considered it normal.

Then one day, she came down with the flu. For days, a fever raged and she couldn’t keep anything down.  Nothing tasted good–in fact, the very thought of food made her heave.  For the first two days, people stopped by to help with ginger ale and Gatorade.  The third day, she realized she was becoming dehydrated and couldn’t keep enough fluids down.  She called a friend for a ride to the hospital.  “You really should have been drinking more fluids, ” the friend commented as she dropped her off. “I really expected you to pull it together by now.”

The woman felt ashamed. Maybe this was her fault.  Certainly if she had tried harder to fight her gag reflex this wouldn’t be happening.

“It’s a good thing you came in when you did,” the doctor remarked. “Dehydration is one of the biggest dangers of the flu and can become life threatening if you don’t seek help.”  Despite hearing this from an expert, the woman struggled to believe it after the words of her well-intentioned friend.

The woman was in the hospital for a week, hooked up to an IV, before she finally began to feel better.   Friends stopped by to check on her and cheer her up.

“It’s wish I had known you had the flu,” one said. “My grandmother swears by herbal tea. Flu is over hospitalized and over medicated when it really isn’t that big of an issue.”

One of her friends refused to come and tried to get others to not go as well.  “Don’t reward her for having the flu,” she urged. “Giving her attention for being sick will only encourage her to dehydrate herself again.  No, it’s best to ignore her until this is over.”

A week after being discharged from the hospital, the woman was feeling like her normal self.  She decided to host a get together to hang out with friends and celebrate her recovery.  Although she offered to do all the cooking, they insisted on making it potluck style so as not to overwhelm her.  They were enjoying the foods of their choice and having a good time, when a friend brought her a plate of seconds. “Here, I saved you some of the yogurt and papaya fruit dish.”

Confused, the woman tried to find a gracious way out without drawing attention to the mistake.  “That’s so sweet of you, but I’m actually full.  Someone else can have the last bit.”

A friend frowned at this response. “Are you sure you’re feeling okay? I thought you were over the flu.”

“I’m fine,” she insisted bewilderedly.  “I just don’t want to eat anymore.” She also couldn’t believe they were trying to get her to eat a dish combining two of her least favorite foods.

“Maybe we shouldn’t be here yet,” remarked another friend. “You clearly aren’t eating like normal.”

Pressured and defeated, the woman took the plate, feeling like she had to eat it or be discredited by her friends.  But the combination of two unappetizing foods and having already eaten her fill led to a wave of nausea as she tried to choke more of it down.  She tried to excuse herself gracefully, but it was too late. Everything she had eaten that night came back up all over the kitchen floor.  As it happened, she heard the people talking around her.

“We should go. She obviously isn’t normal yet.”

“I’m sorry, but the flu has changed you. I can’t do this anymore,” the friend who had forced the plate upon her said, and walked out.

“I told you not to give her attention,” the friend who had ignored her during the illness remarked.

“It’s too bad you’re like this. We could have had a really good time.”

I hope that it is immediately apparent to anyone that this is a terrible way to treat someone suffering from a disease, yet many people still treat those with mental illnesses like this all the time!  People with mental illnesses deserve respect and compassion just like everyone else.  They are not defective or inferior for getting sick.  Illness is something that happens to a person, not a character flaw or something that is inherently wrong with them.  It is not the person’s fault that they are ill.  Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness—recovery IS possible and asking for help is brave, NOT shameful.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental illness, please seek help!

You can text “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 at any time for free and confidential help, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.TALK (273-8255).

Please feel free to share!