In a Nutshell: My Week in Review

This is going to be short and sweet. This week we’re moving into our new house, so I probably won’t be posting much.

I’ve been packing and organizing all weekend long, and I’m not even halfway finished. I’m not looking forward to this week but I am dying to be in the new house, so it’ll be worth it.

Last week, my mental health series ended in the local paper but I’ve got some more articles being published later this month.

I hope you all are doing well and getting in the holiday spirit. Y’all have a good week!

Stay in the light.

Five Lessons Depression Has Taught Me

I’ve been battling major depression and anxiety for decades now. Only recently (the past two years or so) have I talked about it with my family and friends. Creating my blog was a huge step in accepting my fate that I’ll be dealing with this for a lifetime and saying, “Screw you!” to the stigma that surrounds mental disorders.

It hasn’t been easy, especially talking about my suicidal ideation that I still struggle with today. But I have learned a lot.

Here are some lessons having major depression, anxiety and a personality disorder have taught me:

  1. Being forthcoming about my illness makes some people uncomfortable – I don’t really understand this fully, but I make people feel uncomfortable when I talk about depression, anxiety, etc. so openly. This is especially true if I talk about suicide, which I can kind of understand…maybe. But I’ve been asked more than once if I could write about something other than suicide. The problem with that is that suicide is shrouded in stigma and that’s why people don’t talk about it to begin with. By shining light on the subject, it helps people come forward when they’re having suicidal thoughts and it could save lives. Literally. And it’s no different with depression and other mental disorders — the more we normalize it, the more people will feel like they can seek help. There’s no need to struggle in silence. It can do some real damage if you do.
  2. I’m stronger than I think – I want to acknowledge that I have an incredibly strong support system, and I’m very grateful for that. But when you’re in the midst of a depressive episode and suicidal, it feels like it’s only you. In my case, I fight with my brain, trying to determine if it’s lying to me, because it often does. It tells me I’m useless, I should die, nobody loves me, etc. And when it’s your own brain saying these things, how do you not believe it? But even in my darkest moments, I somehow find a reserve of strength. I do stand up to those ugly thoughts and prove them wrong. I do let light in. I fight, tooth and nail.
  3. Humility – I’m not going to lie, depression humbles you. It can make you incapable of taking care of yourself, and sometimes it’s just embarrassing. For me, it’s hard to brush my teeth and take a shower. I’ve gone at least a week without doing those seemingly easy chores. And it’s hard to not be able to do the simplest of personal hygiene chores. I mean, I can’t stay indoors all day, everyday. I have to take the kids to school and run errands. So, when I am able to shower and brush my teeth, I appreciate it to the fullest.
  4. You are your best advocate – Nobody can fight for you the way you can, meaning you know what your needs are and what’s best, even if your illness debilitates you. Stand up for yourself, express your needs clearly to doctors/therapists and always ask questions. Make sure you find a doctor who listens. Feel validated in your emotions. You’ve go this.
  5. Compassion – Dealing with depression definitely has helped me be more compassionate toward others, because I truly know what suffering is, whether it’s physical or mental. If you’re struggling with depression, you see first hand that it’s like any other disease — you can’t control it and there’s no cure. The problem is that depression is an invisible disease and others won’t always understand. But you will. Remember to be compassionate to others and to yourself.

If you have any lessons you’ve learned from depression, drop them in the comments. And as always, stay in the light.

This is the last blog I’ll write before Thanksgiving. I hope you all have a great holiday and take care.

The unReal World

Depression and anxiety are liars.

Now, I consider myself a somewhat-smart person, but there are times when it’s hard to determine which of my thoughts are the lies. Sometimes, I can tell the difference, but my stupid brain chooses to believe the lie anyway.

Lies, such as:

I’m a loser
I’m ugly
I’m fat
I make too many mistakes
I’m a bad mom
Nobody likes me
I’m a bad writer
I should just die

Why is it so much easier to believe the bad things than good?

The problem with this flawed thinking is that if you think these things too much, you start to believe them.

My anxiety is just as bad as my depression, telling me that something bad is going to happen and that I should be worried. For example, my husband and I got into an argument on Monday and my thoughts were racing, telling me that my husband was going to leave me, that he didn’t love me, that he resents me for being sick, etc. I made the argument out to be bigger than it was, and I eventually became borderline-hysterical.

It ended up fine, but I’m just worried that one day I’ll be full-blown hysterical and say or do something I don’t mean, because depression and anxiety are liars.

Not only are they liars, but they steal precious time from me — time away from my husband, kids and friends. I constantly talk about my feelings, moods, etc. and I hate to say it, but a lot revolves around how I’m feeling. Thankfully, my husband helps me quite a bit, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t resent me for it.

I wonder if I will ever be at a place in my life where my mental disorders don’t totally own me and everything I do. And maybe I have a part to play with that because I do write about mental illness quite a bit, but I feel like I’m helping people — and myself.

In the world I live in now, there’s so much darkness and self-hatred. I know that if I do want things to change (things I can control, anyway), I have to do the work. I can change the way I think, right? I can turn negative into positive and criticism into love.

Because I don’t want to be a prisoner of my own brain anymore. I want the world I live in to be a happy one, where I can see that I’m beautiful, smart, kind and a good writer — one that (hopefully) helps others who are hurting just as badly. I want to be a good mom, one that takes care of herself as much as she takes care of her children. I want out of the muck, out of the unReal world where I’m a loser and all my bad decisions and embarrassing moments aren’t playing on a loop in my head.

Surely, I’m not the only one who does that?

So, what I’m going to do is repeat one affirmation about myself every time I say something negative. I’m going to start with these:

I love myself.
I am smart, capable and beautiful.
I can do hard things.
I choose to see myself through my loved one’s eyes. I am loved.
Give yourself some grace.
These are temporary feelings, you won’t live with them forever.

Do you have any affirmations you’d like to share? Drop them in the comments, and as always, stay in the light.

Why People Self Harm

The first time I cut myself, I had the same thoughts cycling through my brain.

“You’re a loser. Nobody likes you. You’re worth nothing.”

I don’t know if a certain event set off my anguish or if it was just another depressive episode. Either way, I grabbed a knife from the kitchen and retreated to my “Woman Cave.” I dragged the knife across my skin until I drew blood.

I felt instant relief, as weird as that sounds. I was in so much mental and physical pain from depression, and all I wanted was to feel something else. Anything else. This is called self-harming. By definition, self-harming or self-injury is the deliberate act of harming your body, such as cutting or burning yourself. It is not intended to be a suicide attempt.

Usually, people tend to self-harm when they’re experiencing overwhelming emotions and don’t know any other way to cope.

Research shows that self-injury occurs in about 4 percent of adults in the U.S., according to Mental Health America. The most common methods of self-injury are cutting (70 to 90 percent), head banging or hitting (20 to 40 percent) and burning (15 to 35 percent).

Obviously, this isn’t a health way of coping, but I understand all too well the need to escape intense pain and doing anything that might make you feel better, however temporary that is. But evidence shows that over time, those emotions, along with guilt and shame, will continue to be present and may even worsen, according to Psychology Today.

The roots of self-harming behavior are often found in early childhood trauma, including physical, verbal or sexual abuse. It’s also an indication of serious mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety or borderline personality disorder. I had zero childhood trauma, but do have major depression and anxiety.

It’s important to note that self-harm occurs most often in teens and young adults (I was in my early 20s when I started self-harming). Data shows that 6 to 14 percent of adolescent boys and 17 to 30 percent of adolescent girls are self-harming.

Just reading that overwhelms me. This is an issue that we can’t just skip over. Every adult needs to be educated on the warning signs, symptoms and treatment. Early intervention is crucial when it comes to mental health.

Failure to respond to this behavior when it firsts starts could lead to a lifetime of mental illness, and I definitely don’t recommend that.

I was lucky taht I only had a few instances of self-injury. Some get addicted to hurting themselves or develop other reckless behavior to help cope. Fortunately, this is something that can be treated and people can make full recoveries from.

Here are some symptoms of self-injury:

  • Scars, often in patterns
  • Fresh cuts, scratches, bruises, bite marks or other wounds
  • Excessive rubbing of an area to create a burn
  • Keeping sharp objects on hand
  • Wearing long sleeves or long pants, even in hot weather
  • Frequent reports of accidental injury
  • Difficulties in interpersonal relationships
  • Behavioral and emotional instability, impulsivity and unpredictability
  • Statements of helplessness, hopelessness or worthlessness

Warning signs/risk factors:

  • Unexplained frequent injuries including cuts and burns
  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficulty handling feelings
  • Relationship problems or avoidance of relationships, and
  • Poor functioning at work, school or home

If you are suicidal , please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

In a Nutshell: My Week in Review

I had an exciting week this past week.

Our new house is closer to completion and they showed me a picture of my sunroom where I’ll be doing all my writing and it’s stunning. I picked out a colorful bird-print wallpaper and it looks so good.

Just a couple more weeks, then we can move in.

On Friday, I was a speaker at Rep. Todd Hunter’s Suicide Prevention Symposium, which was open to the whole community. About 100 people were there, and even though I was very nervous, I think I did an OK job. I spoke about my experience being suicidal and gave a few statistics as well.

I’m hoping to work with Rep. Hunter more on mental health initiatives — I’m really impressed with his dedication to mental health and to the community as a whole. He’s not a politician, he’s a public servant and it’s obvious. Very admirable.

This week, I’m hoping to get more packing done and set a date for the movers.

I hope you all are well.

Keep reading, and stay in the light, friends.

My Husband Fights My Depression, Too

Sometimes it feels like I eat, sleep and breathe my mental disorders. My depression is all consuming — how do I feel today? How about now? Am I anxious? Will I have a panic attack today? Will I have suicidal thoughts?

In order to maintain my mental health, I have to adhere to a strict routine, and any interruption — big or small — to that routine can cause me to fall into a depressive episode. It’s like I’m walking on a tight rope, and it’s a lot to deal with, to say the least.

I don’t mean to complain, only to emphasize that it’s a lot just to keep me feeling OK and functioning at the most basic of levels. As hard as it is for me, it’s has to be even harder for David.

I imagine him each day gauging what mood I’m in, how fragile I am at the moment and whether he has to come home early to help me with the kids, because I’m overwhelmed. It happens every week. Some of you will say it’s his job as my husband, that he’s not fighting mental illness, but he is.

He is right alongside me every day, battling depression, anxiety and my binge eating disorder. He takes me to doctors appointments, to get ECTs in San Antonio every four to six weeks and he’s there advocating for me and picking up the slack. And there’s a lot of it.

Even in the midst of being suicidal, abusing my meds and self harming, his love has never wavered. I don’t mean to make him out to be perfect, but he has been there for me and the kids through the worst of my depression.

He is living this disease just as much as I am.

Nobody ever talks about how spouses/significant others struggle with this — the other side of depression. Often, they play the role of caregiver, and even if it’s necessary, it’s not sexy. Nothing about depression is. Spouses should be recognized for their sacrifices and struggle, too.

The truth is David must be weary. I know I am. But everything he does is to support me and literally keep me alive and functioning. How tiring that must be, because I live in a dark place. My brain is not my friend, often telling me I should die. It’s so dark sometimes I feel blind, lost in despair and destined to suffer.

But then there’s David, with enough light for the both of us.

Addiction: Pills, Sedation and Numbness

It started with wanting to escape – the need and yearning to feel something other than pain every single day. At least, that’s how it was in my case.  

When I first tried Klonopin (Clonazepam), I truly needed help with my anxiety, which got worse after having my two kids, but it didn’t help with my anxiety, so much as it made me avoid my anxiety. With it, I became a more tolerable version of me – a sedated one. Klonopin is categorized as a benzodiazepine, which works to calm or sedate a person by raising the level of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA in the brain.

With Klonopin, I didn’t care about my flaws, but looking back I see that I didn’t care about anything. It all just melted away. After a while, I began taking the pills to feel nothing and not for my anxiety, and it was always more than I should’ve taken. My depression and anxiety kept worsening.

I eventually built a tolerance to it, and after the kids would go to bed, I’d take six or seven a night just to get a high. I should say a low, because no matter how many pills I’d take, I’d always return to myself, where I didn’t want to be.

I didn’t mean to get addicted. I don’t even know if I’d use the word “addicted” so much as I’d say I abused the pills. I just couldn’t stop chasing that delicious feeling that I wasn’t actually myself and the warm flush of the medicine wiping away my dark, and sometimes scary, thoughts.

It’s sad when I think about it. I wonder if all addicts feel the same way, that they just want to be someone else. They just need to escape.

Even now, I catch myself longing for those pills, or rather for the ability to escape. It’s so alluring, going to a warm, happy place inside of you. But that place doesn’t really exist. Any happiness I might’ve felt was always frustratingly temporary. At midnight, I’d just turn back into a pumpkin – a sad, rotting pumpkin, with no glass slipper to speak of.

Now that I can’t rely on pills to make me feel better, I try to find other ways, but it’s no different than the pills. Everything is temporary. I might binge eat and take pleasure in the food that I eat, but that pleasure doesn’t last. Just another failed escape. It’s the same way with compulsive shopping – I always feel guilty for spending money, and the high of buying something disappears.

I’m sitting here wondering why the hell do I feel the need to escape? And I truly don’t know. I have a great life, with a great husband and amazing kids. We have a new house that’s truly a dream and I’ve never wanted for anything in my whole life. I’ve been fortunate, yet I know tonight I will take one of my anxiety pills (that I’m not abusing), and I’ll wish it would take off the edge.

My therapist has asked me the same question – why am I always trying to leave? Why do I crave a dissociative state?

And for once, I have no words.

Does anyone out there ever feel the same?

Stay in the light, friends. Stay present.

In a Nutshell: My Week in Review

This past week was very stressful and anxiety-inducing. On Tuesday, the day of the election, I was a ball of nerves and after putting the kids to bed, I glued my eyes to the TV to watch the returns.

I was shocked. I thought it would be a landslide for Joe Biden. For a while, it wasn’t looking good and I flashbacked to four years ago as Trump won the presidency. I cried. I cried, and I lashed out at my parents and brother, who voted for Trump. I remember feeling so much disappointment because it felt like hate had prevailed over love. I watched over the past four years as Trump erased what I considered progress. It felt like evil had trumped (get it?) good.

As the election dragged on, I felt so disappointed there were still so many people who supported Trump, for whatever reason. I had resigned myself to four more years of disappointment.

And then, the mail-in ballots started to favor Biden, and Trump’s lead in battleground states dissipated. It felt like a miracle.

Yesterday, news outlets called the election in favor of Biden/Harris, and the two spoke that night. I listened to their speeches, and I cried happy tears. I’m happy that my kids get to see a woman as VP. I’m so happy for little girls of color who now have someone who looks like them in one of the highest offices in this nation. I’m happy that Biden mentioned LGBTQ+ people in his speech. I’m happy for progress.

Some negative comments have been made on Facebook about a Biden/Harris picture I posted, including one comment my aunt left that said, “Disgusting” but I don’t care. There’s no home for negativity in my heart, and if others want to live that way, that’s fine by me.

Love always wins.

Validation and Judgement

Last week, I asked my husband and best friend if they felt my blog was repetitive. I don’t know what made me ask, but I think I already knew the answer. 

They told me I repeated a lot of material, namely how I spent time at a psychiatric facility. 

I looked over my blog posts and realized they were right. Though it’s pertinent to some of my blogs, I realized I talk about it a lot. 

I ruminated about this for a couple of days, and then it hit me: I talk about my time at The Menninger Clinic so much because a stay at a psychiatric facility must mean I’m really sick, right? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve known I’ve been sick for years, but to others who don’t understand depression, it was validation, at least in my eyes. Depression and anxiety, while debilitating, are invisible illnesses. Unless you have a front-row seat to someone’s struggle, most don’t understand just how debilitating it can be. The stigma and stereotypes about depression have often left me feeling like I was less than, lazy or like I wasn’t trying hard enough, so I imagined others were thinking the same thing. That’s how shitty our society portrays depression (and other mental disorders).

How many of you have been brushed aside, misjudged or been treated badly because of depression? It should not be this way; we deserve better. I shouldn’t have to go to a fancy psychiatric facility for someone to only then believe I’m really sick.

More than 17 million people in the U.S. have depression. Anxiety, which often accompanies depression, is the most common mental disorder, affecting more than 40 million adults. These are not rare conditions. They should be widely understood, and the way to make that happen is to talk about it openly, disintegrating the stigma and educating others.

I know that not everybody needs educating; I’ve noticed that attitudes toward depression vary by generation. The younger generations, who are more sensitive in my opinion, are typically better at accepting the diagnosis and acknowledging depression as a legitimate disease. But the stigma still lurks, and we should still continue to fight it until there are no repercussions of admitting that you have depression. For example, telling your boss you have depression and/or anxiety. Many people keep it under wraps so they’re not judged.

And we have to stop judging ourselves. I don’t know why I would talk about going to a “mental hospital” so much, other than to prove to others that I was really sick, and that’s sad as hell. But maybe I don’t need to convince others — maybe I need to convince myself.

My struggles and pain are real. Depression is real and debilitating at times. Anxiety is real. My feelings are valid. I am not lazy — I hustle to make sure I’m maintaining my mental health. It is a full-time job, and it is exhausting. But still I hustle, because I’m strong and resilient. We all are.

To all of you who are suffering in silence or who don’t feel validated in their illness, I’m sorry. I know you’re hurting. I know it’s frustrating to fight antiquated ideas about depression. I know it’s more than the “blues.” I see you.

Keep fighting. You don’t have to prove a damned thing.

My Eating Disorder in a Pandemic

I’m struggling.

Recently, I blogged about gaining 15 pounds (thanks, COVID) and how discouraged I was. I know it’s not the end of the world, but I ruminate about each pound every day. It makes me feel ugly and unworthy. I try to make healthier choices, but I get dismayed any time I veer off my healthy course.

And then another part of me takes over, and I’m empowered. I tell myself that I’m beautiful no matter what. That I need to learn to love myself despite what the scale says.

I’m battling low self-esteem and an eating disorder (Binge Eating Disorder). A year ago I had the gastric sleeve surgery, hoping it would physically limit the amount of food I could eat, but I didn’t resolve my issues with my eating disorder, and I pushed the limits of my smaller stomach, eating so much that it was hard to breathe, not to mention painful.

Now, I can’t stop bingeing. I feel like I always need a treat, something to escape into, but I can’t figure out why I feel the need to escape so frequently. Maybe from stress of the pandemic? And my “treats” often turn into a punishment because I eat so much, too much for my stomach to hold. Too much shame to derive any pleasure in the binge. So, maybe it’s all punishment — for what, I don’t know.

It definitely doesn’t feel good, aside from the initial pleasure of the food hitting my palate, but it never lasts. It’s temporary, but the shame and pain from doing it is often permanent.

And then, in between binges, I stare into the mirror and try to love and appreciate my body, which has birthed two amazing kids. I breastfed them, sustained them with this body. I live here, in this 180-pound body that holds all my essence and what makes me me. I reject the idea that I’m ugly, fat and less than. I’m a child of God and wonderfully made. I’m just as beautiful outside as I am inside, and my light shines regardless of my weight. My worth is not tied to my weight.

But I get lost navigating the conflicting messages these two polar-opposite sides of me are sending. And for some reason, it’s easier to believe the negative ones: I’m ugly, I’m a fat ass, people are judging me, nobody loves me because I’m fat, etc. But I do feel like the other side of me’s voice is growing louder. It’s not a distant whispering anymore — she’s getting stronger, and I pray that she continues to do so, because I’m weary from fighting this division inside me. I wonder why everything has to be so hard. Isn’t having Major Depressive Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder and Avoidant Personality Disorder enough? Why are there so many things wrong with me? Maybe I don’t need to pull at that thread, but I’d really like not to collect any more diagnoses.

I want to find a balance where I can eat healthy, occasionally indulge and truly appreciate my body. I don’t want to tiptoe around the house anymore, thinking my footsteps are too heavy sounding.

I want normalcy. I don’t mean to complain and whine — I know that I’m the only one in charge of what food goes in my mouth. But it’s still so hard, and not just for me — about 30 million people have an eating disorder in the U.S., according to U.S. News and World Report. That roughly 20 million women and 10 million men. That’s a huge number, and eating disorders, like mental disorders, are often unreported so you can expect those numbers to be a little higher.

A lot of those people also suffer from a mental disorder. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reports that 33 to 50 percent of people with anorexia also have a mood disorder. I don’t have numbers of what percentage of people with Binge Eating Disorder have a mood disorder, but I’m confident I’m not the only one.

Another alarming statistic is that 26 percent of people with an eating disorder attempt suicide. It’s beyond hard to have an eating disorder — you can’t give up food like an alcoholic can give up alcohol (Do not get me wrong. Battling any addiction is very difficult. I do not mean to imply otherwise). You have to fight your brain while learning new methods on how to nourish your body in a healthy way (such as intuitive eating or mindfully eating). It’s hard as hell for me to break old habits when it comes to food, but I know I need to do it if I want to be around for my family and friends later in life. Having an eating disorder is so hard on the body and mind. With everything else I’m battling, my body could use a respite.

I know a lot of us are in the same boat when it comes to weight gain during the pandemic. I don’t have any pointers because I’m still learning, but I do want to say be patient with your body. Give yourself some grace. Try to love the body you’re in, because you’re not getting another one. Weight can come off, and maybe it’s OK if it doesn’t.

You are not your eating disorder.

I hope y’all stay well and in the light.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, please reach out to your doctor or visit the National Eating Disorders Association website. They also have a crisis text line — just text NEDA to 741741.