mental illness

Mental Illness….

Most people assume that means someone is unstable, crazy, sick, psycho, disturbed, mental, disturbed, insane, nuts….. the list can continue for days.

Statistics regarding how prevalent mental illnesses among those in the United States are:

Children and Adolescent Mental Health Statistics

Mental Health Statistics

I personally believe the numbers are higher but many still lack the self disclosure due to the negative stigmas still associated with identifying with a mental illness.

20 years. More than 20 years I have been struggling with various mental illnesses. At times I still feel shame stating that. I hate coming to terms with the fact that there are some things that I will deal with, probably until I die. It took about seven years for me to get formally diagnosed with clinical Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) aka depression. I remember feelings of severe worthlessness, loneliness, suicidality, sadness, and just plain emptiness by the age of 8. Age 11 was when I first wanted it to be over. Done. Finished. I found a release for my pain at age 14/15 when I started self-injuring (cutting). That was the same age I was finally diagnosed. Things started to make sense.

Depression is one of the things that I may struggle with for the rest of my life. I am classified in the clinical aspect, meaning it is not situational, it is the way my brain is wired. I have tried going off medication before to have horrific events occur.

Last November, I decided to give my body a break from birth control/artificial hormones. December I started going into severe lows for 4-6 days. I hadn’t had that in a long time. Starting in January I started going bed bound for a couple days with it. I was at a complete loss as my depression hadn’t hit that low in a few years. In June I had gone to my doctor, I had realized that there was correlation between my severe lows and hormone levels. Considering I will soon be a clinician, I knew it meant….. PMDD aka Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. Leave it to me to still get severe symptoms like that WHILE on antidepressants 😐

Fortunately, I am able to state that I am in full remission with polysubstance dependence and bulimia nervosa which means they technically don’t have to be on my diagnosis anymore. PTSD usually still climbs onto my list as my symptoms still technically qualify me there but I manage.

So, even though I have been able to eliminate some diagnosis from my label…. it doesn’t mean I still cannot have my struggles.

The thing about me, I hate admitting my struggles. I have come so far that I want to be fixed damnit. I should be able to say that there no more problems ever! Even when I was sick, I severely struggled asking for help or assistance in any form or fashion. Every clinician asked me to come up with people to reach out to when I struggled. Every time, I would list off people. Every time I had a battle going on, I couldn’t call someone.

It took me years to identify why I couldn’t call on people to help me when I needed it. I always was there for others when they needed help. They offered me their help, why wouldn’t I take it? The answer became simple. I am unworthy. Every time my excuse would be, “I don’t want to bother them, they have to deal with their own things in life.” Now, my AA friends it was easier for me to reach out to them when I struggled with the desire on using. But when it came time for when I was literally dying from my eating disorder and I attempted to get help from my sponsor, “who are you trying to get attention from?”

Now as a mother, mental health worker, and counseling student I don’t have the time to lose my shit. So when I have my days where I am struggling, I don’t know who to call. I have a best friend who has been nothing but supportive for me. She doesn’t understand one ounce of my issues and that is okay! But she is there for me. I still feel like I overwhelm her and I feel utterly guilty for that as I know how much my past and life shit can be for someone. It’s hard for a “normal” person to hear, “hi, I am having a rough day… I really want to eat as much food as possible then go vomit until I taste acid because I know it will make me feel better for the 20 minutes.”

I know how overwhelming I can be. So because of that, I choose to stay silent. So when people ask how I am doing, if I am okay, what’s been going on, if work is going well, etc…. I smile and say it’s fine. It is much easier than trying to scare someone by stating, “I’ve hit my limit for right now. I need someone. I don’t know what I need, but I need it.” I physically cannot express my needs 99% of the time because I blatantly don’t know how. Whenever I have expressed my needs in the past, they have followed with a “no”.

Getting raped. Saying no. It happening anyways.

So many things stem from this it’s quite comical.

Several severe injuries. Expressing physical pain. Told to play sports anyways.

My first form of understanding that my voice doesn’t matter.
So, I sit here today as a clinician and tell my clients to reach out to others to prevent themselves from acting out on negative coping skills. Yet I cannot reach out to others. I cannot tell someone when I am struggling. I cannot tell someone when I need help. I cannot tell someone that I need a hug. I cannot tell someone that I am not okay. As I type this, my brain automatically goes to negatives as that is how it was originally trained. “You’re worthless to not even be able to do it yourself, yet you expect others to listen to you?”

This is why I state that some mental illnesses I may struggle with for a long time. I have to consistently remind myself that, I am enough.

 

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Scars

I choose not to hide my self injury scars. Granted, a large tattoo covers my upper arm-

Those were the scars that I was the most self conscious about as they were keloid scars. I have scars on my left forearm, only 2 on right forearm and about a dozen on my ankles/calf. The rest, most people do not see as they are on my upper thighs, hips, lower stomach, and ribs. Some blend in with my copious amounts of stretch marks from my pregnancy… thanks kid…. but many are just blended in with my skin tone-uber white.

Most people see my one forearm and assume I went through a “teenage emo phase wanting attention”. If people assume things, I never correct them unless they say something. When I was actively self-injuring, people would ask often, “what happened?” More often than not, I was a smart ass and responded in a manner such as “I got in a fight with a bear and lost.” Or something of the sort….

Even though I am not ashamed of my past or my story, I know many do not understand. I would much rather have an individual ask questions than assume.

As I went to visit a kid today in a school, one of the staff members noticed my scars and my tattoo on my forearm.

She had asked to see the tattoo, I showed it. She then stated, “I like your scars”….. that’s one comment I have actually never heard from my scars? She had stated she had them too, but on her legs. I understand if you aree trying to connect but that was definitely the strangest way I have ever had someone try to connect with me on my self injury scars!

Moral of the story, you never know what someone is going through. Just because I have external signs of pain doesn’t mean my pain is any different than the next person. Many people live their pain alone, some choose to but some have no other options.

Just because someone has a smile on their face does not mean life is full of rainbows and butterflies. Reach out to someone you might not normally speak to. Talk to someone about deeper things than the weather.

You never know. Your words may save someone one day.

Crazy

Crazy.

Psycho.

Unstable.

Mental.

The list can go on for labels for those who are diagnosed with a mental illness. What constitutes someone as crazy? 

While co-leading a group the other day, a gentleman spoke about the label of crazy. Many clients who step in the doors of th county mental health clinic fight negative stigmas not only within self, but within their community as well as people from the ‘normal’ world. Just because someone has a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, PTSD, Depression, etc does that automatically make someone crazy?

While some can embrace a diagnosis and not place it as their identity, some can grasp on too tightly and hold too much value to it. As I reflected after group, I realized I had placed too much emphasis at times. I feared labels at times. I was scared what people thought at times. I no longer care what other people think about me and my life. I hid my story. I had always been open identifying myself as an “addict, alcoholic, junkie, coke head” you name it. Identintifying as one with bulimia? Self-injurer? PTSD? Depression? NO. Know what’s also wrong with those labels? They are for an individual to identify. “I am bulimic.” Instead, the phrase needs to be “I have bulimia.” The disorder does not take on to the individual’s identity. 

I now try to channel my energy towards helping other individuals get to the place in their life where they can embrace who they are, even if they have a mental illness diagnosis. 

Prayin’

I have started and stopped a blog post about 258964.77 times over the past couple weeks. I just haven’t been able to find the words to put together to sound…. right? It’s hard because no matter what, this blog is for me.

This all being said, August has been… rough for me. Not only have I started a brand new job, I have had some difficult anniversaries.

8/8/10 was the original due date for my first pregnancy. That was one of the posts that I attempted to write multiple times. I will end up posting something about it but wanted to touch base on it. It is a bitter sweet date for me. While it hurts my heart knowing that I would have had a child on that date, I wouldn’t have Asher.

8/16/05 & 8/18/05 were first dates of sexual assault. These are the most difficult for me to talk about and even admit to this day, 12 years later. Unfortunately, there was a strong grip on me from this and I held a lot of responsibility from this.

8/18/06 exactly 1 year later from the first guy, I was sexually assaulted again by a different male. In other words, “how did I allow myself  to become a victim again?” is the spot I found myself in. Which is why I chose to not speak about those two men.

So when I had my son’s father come about, 3.5 years later, and abuse me mentally, emotionally, sexually, AND physically? NOPE…. no thanks. How can I admit that I was THAT stupid to become yet victim again yet towards something 10x worse. The damage that was done from people around me, I was scared was irreversible. While it has taken me years, I still have areas that will never be fully healed over. I still have things that cannot be said or done to me.

When I originally heard the song Prayin’ by Kesha, I immediately fell in love.

Well, you almost had me fooled
Told me that I was nothing without you
Oh, but after everything you’ve done
I can thank you for how strong I have become

‘Cause you brought the flames and you put me through hell
I had to learn how to fight for myself
And we both know all the truth I could tell
I’ll just say this is “I wish you farewell”

I hope you’re somewhere prayin’, prayin’
I hope your soul is changin’, changin’
I hope you find your peace
Falling on your knees, prayin’

I’m proud of who I am
No more monsters, I can breathe again
And you said that I was done
Well, you were wrong and now the best is yet to come
‘Cause I can make it on my own
And I don’t need you, I found a strength I’ve never known
I’ll bring thunder, I’ll bring rain, oh
When I’m finished, they won’t even know your name

You brought the flames and you put me through hell
I had to learn how to fight for myself
And we both know all the truth I could tell
I’ll just say this is “I wish you farewell”

I hope you’re somewhere prayin’, prayin’
I hope your soul is changin’, changin’
I hope you find your peace
Falling on your knees, prayin’

Oh, sometimes, I pray for you at night
Someday, maybe you’ll see the light
Oh, some say, in life, you’re gonna get what you give
But some things only God can forgive

I hope you’re somewhere prayin’, prayin’
I hope your soul is changin’, changin’
I hope you find your peace
Falling on your knees, prayin’

These stood out to me tremendously:

No more monsters, I can breathe again
And you said that I was done

The reason being- “no more monsters, I can breathe again” stands for, for me, that I no longer have to deal with the demons of abusers. I have the ability to notice my value and worth as a human. I know how to stand up for myself. While I can still find my voice to be shaky, I know how to express my needs and wants even if I have a fear of repercussions. “And you said that I was done” the night that R had his final attack on me, I knew I was done. The type of abuse that R had escalated to, suffocation and strangulation, causes a victim to go unconscious within 10 seconds and will die within 4-5 minutes. That night when I escaped one of the rounds of the strangulation and beating, I finally sat down on the floor admitting defeat. The look in his eyes stated that I was done. I was not going to get out alive. As he rocked back and forth, I asked him why he was drawing my death out. His only response, “it doesn’t have to be this way, Nicole”. Right then….. I started praying my goodbyes.

Today, I drove my 200 miles around DFW. I have felt “off” all day. This song came on at least 7 different times today on various stations. Finally by the 7th time, I remembered that even though, as the song states, “you said that I was done….” “Well, you were wrong and the best is yet to come….”

Panic attacks

You’re living your day just fine then all of a sudden an intense wave of anxiety flushes over. Hands get fidgety. Heart starts racing. Unsettling feeling sets in the pit of the stomach. What is it? Dots cannot be connected of what is going on. 

Warmth floods outward from the center of the chest. Tears involuntarily start streaming down rounded cheeks. I am not feeling emotions that should be equated with tears. Confusion sets in. Palpitations start occurring. Damnit. Not again.

I sit in the chair and lean back. My 6 year old is in the bathtub playing with a boat he made listening to kids radio. I want to ensure he doesn’t witness me losing my shit. I must try to shelter him from the possibilities of my emotional pain (totally realistic right?). 

As my head is tilted back, my eyes are open and tears flow out the sides. No blinking is involved, how are they just flowing? I consciously focus on breathing in and out. It’s so restricted. My pants are too tight. My shirt and bra and suffocating me. I can’t move. There’s no way I am going to be able to keep this up for much longer.

15 minutes pass. Heart rate is extremely high as well as respiration rate. Feels like someone is sitting on my chest. Nausea settles. I hate feeling nauseous. I need to go vomit just to make it better. No, not worth it. I should probably call someone. 

Almost 45 minutes of symptoms. About 30 minutes in, I hit the peak of running out of breath and feeling as if it were to last hours. I lay on the bed, hands over my head taking long deep breaths focusing on the feel of my wrought iron head board to keep me present. 

Even after the bulk passes, anxiety is high. I am supposed to go out and that is definitely not an option! Wait… What will I do internally if I don’t go out? I have to go…. 

I can’t wear what I was going to wear. I need to hide myself. I don’t want to be looked at or touched. After going through my closet, I realize I truly don’t have too many options and wearing an oversized t-shirt isn’t truly plausible. I settle for a light cover-up jacket to wear when I’m not feeling comfortable. 

The day after, I am completely emotionally hungover. I can barely function normally. There are so many things I need to do but I can’t do any of them. I am utterly drained. I hate feeling so useless. Why can’t I get my act together?

You see… PTSD panic attacks are strange as a phrase can be said and one time it affects me and another it doesn’t. Same with sounds, smells, songs, people, actions, etc. It’s odd as I never know 100% what could trigger it. But with me starting a new job, having the long hours, feeling bad about being away from Asher more, etc my stress levels have been higher. This means I have been more likely to experience symptoms. When I don’t take proper care of myself, shit happens. 

While I have been dealing with this for 10 years and can handle what’s going on, it’s still inconvenient. I found a good site that’s simple to understand- Panic Attacks

Reach out to others. Have support. Don’t do it alone ❤

good enough

I have a severe fear of “fucking my child up”. I expect a LOT of myself as a mother. When I first had my son, I felt I had to make up for the fact that he had no father. I lacked severely in discipline because of this. I felt awful for disciplining him, so I wasn’t that harsh in my tactics. Eventually, I was able to notice that I was doing not only a disservice to myself but to him as well. I was able to change my parenting techniques and structured things better.

Keep in mind, parenting does not come with a handbook. When I was handed my son at 22 years old, the thoughts that crossed my mind were along the lines of “now what do I do?” and “why would someone trust me with this for the next 18 years……”

Sometimes I feel like I am just winging it and praying I am doing something right. The past 7 years I have spent most of my time making sure he is taken care of no matter what it costs for me. No matter what, this is always the story that I tell to show people where I have come from and where it is possible to go.

The years 2010-2014 were extremely rough, especially financially. 2013/2014 was some dark times and it was more apparent since I had a tiny human to take care of that could talk. At the time, I was donating plasma twice a week to make ends meet as I could barely afford rent. I had just enough money for the grocery store to buy milk. I take Asher to the grocery store and he asks for oranges. I had to tell my child “no” to oranges. My heart sank so low. He couldn’t understand why he wasn’t able to get oranges, he was 3/4. The fact was, I was willing to go without so many things to provide the world for that child…. yet I still couldn’t even buy damn oranges?? It was utterly defeating as a parent to feel that.

Within a year and a half, my financial situation did a complete turn around. Not only was I able to buy oranges, I was able to buy apples if he wanted them too ;). Slowly but surely, I no longer felt regret of not being able to provide little things for him and I was able to focus on the big picture. He had a roof over his head. Food in his belly (and NEVER went hungry). Clothes on his back. A mother who loved him beyond life. Nothing else mattered.

You see, my son has meant more to me than my own life. But that is the problem….. You can never put someone else’s value above yourself. Period. If I were to tragically lose my child, what would happen? My life would probably not go on. I am confident in knowing that is where I am at. That is not okay. As much as it hurts to say that, he cannot be the center of my world. Over the past 8 months, I have finally started putting myself on the list of things to care for. I cannot adequately take care of that boy whom I love deeply, if I am not taking care of self.

So as I sat in my car driving in traffic on my way home today, I felt defeated. As a mother. A student. A human. I didn’t feel good enough. I let out a few tears primarily for the fact that I feel like I am not doing enough. I hate that my son has to spend so much time away from me for the next year as I finish out my last year of graduate school while I am working full time. I feel utterly guilty as it is MY responsibility to do it all. I shouldn’t have to rely on others to help me. That is when I had to stop and realize that my independence will kill me. I have my parents and best friend offering help for me to achieve my dreams and goals. I don’t have to walk this life alone. This also means that I am setting my expectations of myself way too high. I will continue to feel not good enough if I continue to do that. Something has to give, otherwise that decision will be made for me.

 

Suicide

That’s never an easy word. I was 11 when I first wanted the pain to end. I didn’t know that it had a name to it. I was 16 when I first was personally touched by suicide. July 29, 2004. 

A girl about a year younger than me that I had met through soccer took her life. 15 years old. She took her last convulsing breaths in her dad’s arms that night. She had decades ahead of her but she only could focus on the pain that occurred now. 

July 22, 2009 a young girl who was like a little sister from treatment the year before took her life after battling anorexia, trauma, and depression for years. 13 years old. She is still the one who has impacted me the most.

August 8, 2008 while I was in treatment, another young girl contacted me after she attempted to overdose and realized she wasn’t sure she was ready to go. Luckily I was able to call her dad who got upstairs to her to take her to the hospital. The pain i heard in that dad’s voice will forever be in my memory. To hear him thank me letting him know that his daughter was in the same building as him dying. 

Those who die by suicide just cannot fathom the fact of living in pain for the rest of their life. The statistics are real. They will continue to rise if it is not talked about. As stated below, 90% of those who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric illness. This means that with proper help, there is hope. 

If you or someone you know is struggling, please seek help. 

Nationalsuicidepreventionlifeline.org

1-800-273-8255