The Personality Disorder I Didn’t Know I Had

In 2019 I went to a psychiatric hospital (The Menninger Clinic) after battling suicidal thoughts, abusing my anxiety meds and hitting a low I didn’t know was possible. For six weeks, I was away from my family, which is almost as painful as fighting depression and anxiety.

While I was there, I was assigned a psychiatrist, social worker, therapist and a psychologist. I underwent many psychiatric tests and was taken off all my psychiatric medications. It was rough.

I knew I had major depressive disorder, because I’ve struggled with depression for almost two decades. I knew I had anxiety, because of the crippling panic attacks and intrusive thoughts – thoughts telling me I should kill myself or that my family was going to die.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the diagnosis of Avoidant Personality Disorder. I had never even heard of it. Avoidant Personality Disorder, which affects about 1 percent of the general population, is described as having feelings of extreme social inhibition, inadequacy and sensitivity to negative criticism or rejection. It’s more than being shy or awkward in social situations (which I am). It makes it hard for those suffering with the disorder to interact with others and maintain relationships. It’s also common for “us” to avoid work or school, mostly because of extreme low self-esteem.

It was hard hearing this new diagnosis. For one, I already felt saddled by depression and anxiety. I wasn’t fond of the idea that I had this disorder, another albatross around my neck. And yet, I couldn’t deny it. Reading about the disorder was like reading from my memoir; I knew the symptoms and behavior well. I’ve always been social awkward. I avoided school like the plague, and later when I worked, I avoided that, too. I haven’t worked outside the home since 2013.

There was no denying the diagnosis. And, even though I’d probably been dealing with it since adolescence, I felt more broken because my many flaws were well documented and it was “official.”

But that’s bullshit. I was broken but not because of the diagnosis. I was broken because I had kept my struggles to myself and hadn’t reached out until it was almost too late. I was stifled by the stigma that surrounds depression and other mental disorders. The stigma and keeping my struggles to myself almost killed me.

Having depression, anxiety, a personality disorder and binge eating disorder is nothing to be ashamed of. That’s what I have – not who I am.

Now, I blog about my troubles and speak freely to others about anything and everything mental health related. I’m no longer afraid of being judged. The weight of others’ opinions is far too heavy to bear.

Now, I’m free.

Reject the stigma. Be proud of the fighter that you are. Seek help if you need it. By doing so, we help eradicate the judgement and stigma. Be free with me.

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, go to the nearest emergency room or call a trusted friend. You are not alone.

Radical Acceptance

I had an epiphany today. I was watching an episode of Bones where they were talking about young girls being in beauty pageants. Please note that I am not judging that — I mention it because it got me thinking about all the things girls and women go through to appear beautiful. In that episode, young girls were dyeing their hair, wearing corsets to define their waistlines and watching their weight. It depressed me, honestly. It brought back memories of being called fat when I was in the 5th grade — 5th grade, people! I should have brushed the comments off, but there were already seeds of fatphobia planted in my little head — from society, friends, family, etc. That seed grew and now is a full-blown eating disorder (Binge Eating Disorder).

I’m only 12 here, but this is when I really started to worry about my size.

My worth has been tied to my weight. The way I feel and care for myself is tied to my weight. When I’ve gained some extra pounds, I punish myself…hate myself.

I eat my feelings, which leads to more weight gain. Which fuels more self-destructive behaviors. It’s a vicious cycle. To help break it, I signed up to do one-on-one coaching on intuitive eating with my beautiful and sweet cousin, who’s a registered dietician. On our last call, she told me to get rid of the ideas of “bad foods” or “being bad” or “cheating” on a diet. There are no forbidden foods. There’s fueling your body and doing everything in moderation.

I have a lot more to learn and I’m eager to do it.

But here’s my epiphany — what if I just accept who I am? What if I give myself some grace — some compassion? What if when I gain weight, I just buy bigger clothes and focus on my health and not my caloric intake?

What if I practice radical acceptance? I learned about radical acceptance in therapy. It’s a skill or tool that can help people face painful emotions and experiences by accepting them fully WITHOUT JUDGEMENT.

This may not sound much different than a blog I previously posted about loving myself and body positivity. But the thing is, I’m still struggling and writing helps me come to terms with my feelings. And this is a topic that can’t be fully explored with one blog. Or three. Maybe 10. And that’s OK, too.

My point is that maybe I don’t think I need to focus on losing weight or looking a certain way, so much as I need to reprogram my brain. And those of you who follow me should know — my brain is a stubborn asshole. It’ll take time. So much time.

But I’m done with fatphobia, fat-shaming and all that judgement that goes along with it. I’ve had gastric sleeve surgery and a tummy tuck. Guess what? I’m still not skinny and I don’t think I’ll ever be. Why has that plagued me so much?

Why are people so afraid of being fat?

The Art of Being Uncomfortable

After MANY therapy appointments, my therapist and I have discovered that I don’t like to be uncomfortable. Of course, I’ll write about it and I’ll be the first one to tell you that real growth starts by being uncomfortable. But holy hell, I will go to great lengths in order not to feel discomfort in almost all aspects of my life.

This “ah-ha” moment came yesterday after telling my therapist that if I eat something and it gives me pleasure, I will continue to eat that thing over and over in order to feel the pleasure. I’m always chasing that high you get when your pleasure center is activated. We then jokingly decided that I would make a fantastic drug addict. Maybe not that funny but it’s true. I wasn’t far off when I started abusing my anxiety meds in 2019. I would take six or seven a night — six or seven benzodiazepines. It’s a wonder I didn’t do serious damage to myself. But I’d take all those pills so I wouldn’t feel what I was feeling. And guess what that was? Discomfort.

When I went to The Menninger Clinic, a psychiatric facility in Houston, I didn’t have any choice but to be uncomfortable. I was hundreds of miles away from family, I couldn’t abuse my meds and I was forced to come face-to-face with all my demons: depression, anxiety, a personality disorder, Binge Eating Disorder and my medication abuse problem. And when I became uncomfortable, I had no excuse but to cope with what I was feeling in a healthy way. But out of that feeling of discomfort came growth.

And as previously mentioned, personal growth can be so annoying. But necessary. I’m by no means cured of all that ails me, but coming face-to-face with my demons has forced my hand — I have to grow. I have to survive. I guess I don’t have to, but that’s what I choose. It’ll take time and practice but I’ll do the work. I’ll be freed from the bondage of mental illness that’s had such a tight hold on me for the past two decades. My liberation — I already feel it. I see it.

Here’s what I want to work on: breaking the self-destructive cycle of binge eating, being compassionate and appreciative of my body (and even my weight), being mindful all times when it comes to eating as well as identifying and experiencing my emotions. I don’t want to bury or ignore my emotions. That’s just part of being free, in my opinion.

I want to feel unencumbered, empowered, in control of all my mental disorders. And I’m hopeful that I will. I’m looking froward to the journey and I’m glad you’re along for the ride.

Stay in the light, my friends.

Painting Memories

We just moved into our dream house about a week and a half ago, a year after the contractor said it would be ready. We started packing more than a year ago, so honestly I had forgotten the contents of many, many boxes.

Once we started opening boxes in our new home, I found a box of ceramic figures our family painted at the mall. There was this cute store where you could pick out a figurine then paint it, and the kids loved it. We would have to go to that store every time we went to the mall, which was a lot.

I loved going myself, too. Painting the little figurines was calming and it was a great way to spend time as a family outside the house. Last year, when we started packing some non-essential items, my housekeeper started to pack those and I had forgotten just how many we had. I opened box after box after box of ceramics, colorfully and messily painted by my kids (and a few David and I had done). It made me smile, and I was quick to include them as decor in my sunroom. My husband didn’t want them in the Great Room (he’s more formal than I), so I placed a few here and there, just as a reminder of my kids’ whimsy.

I’m so glad I did, because I recently learned that the store, Paint It, had closed. Another victim of COVID-19. When I found out, I was crushed — I’d never see my kids concentrating so hard, with their tongues stuck out, painting a princess or some type of vehicle. Another place could open up, sure, but I’ve so missed seeing them channel their artistic ability and proudly give it to me, a cherished token.

So many things have changed because of the virus, and I’m so mad that it has affected my kids’ childhood so much. I know I shouldn’t worry — kids are far more resilient than adults — but I do worry and fret over the changes and obstacles we’ve faced this year. The closing of that beloved store is just a reminder that we’re still in the thick of it, and there will be long term affects of this pandemic. We’ve lost so many people and so much time with family and friends — when does it end?

It may sound silly to be waxing poetic about some ceramic figures, but they were a part of my children’s childhood. We weren’t just painting figurines, we were painting memories, and I will forever have a place for them in my home.

In a Nutshell: My Week in Review

Me getting ready for family pictures.

This past week I have done nothing but unpack boxes in the new house. We’ve gotten a lot accomplished for having just been here a week. And I truly love it. Everything in this house makes me happy, and I’m so glad we decided to build.

The kids are getting more used to their new rooms and they’re sleeping through the night again, without much interruption.

I still have some work to do on the playroom, but for the most part, everything’s done. My sun room is the most beautiful room in the house — it’s where I’ll do all my writing and reading. We had a photographer here earlier doing our annual family photos and she took some of me in the sun room because she loved it so much. I can’t wait to get those pictures back.

There’s not much else to tell. I did get some bad news this weekend, but all I can do is take it in stride and keep going. If I think too much about it, I just get sad. But oh well, there are good things to concentrate on.

I hope y’all have a wonderful week. 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.

In a Nutshell: My Week in Review

Nothing too big to report this week. Halloween was fun, but I’m looking forward to cooler temperatures and moving into my new house, which should be before Thanksgiving. Allegedly. I’ll believe it when I see it.

My series on mental health is still running in the local paper, and my third piece runs tomorrow. I’ve gotten some great feedback, and I hope I can do more in the future. Also, and I can’t remember if I’ve already mentioned this, but our local State Representative has asked me to speak at a Suicide Prevention Symposium, so I’ve been preparing my speech for that.

As far as my mood, I’m OK to good (depending on the house, lol). I made real strides last week in making healthier decisions, so now I just have to follow through. I still miss Diet Coke so much, but I’ve gone 8 days without it, and I’m proud of myself for it.

I hope you guys have a great week. Stay in the light.

Love,
Heather

In a Nutshell: My Week in Review

This week was a challenging one, but overall, pretty good. I’ve been spending most of my days packing up the house, as we’ll move into the new one next month. There’s a ton to do, but I’ve been staying on top of it pretty well. I’m really excited about moving in. It’s been a long two years since we broke ground.

Today has been challenging because I threw all my Diet Coke in the trash, and I’ve started doing a “pouch reset,” which is a diet that will help me get my stomach back to post-op size. It’s very restrictive, and I’ve mostly drank protein shakes today, so I’m a little irritable. I love food. And Diet Coke, but I had to move on and make a concerted effort to take care of myself, really take care of myself. You can read all about my self realizations here.

Today my family went to the yacht club to do pumpkin carving and swimming, and I really enjoyed myself.

Tomorrow I have another article coming out in the paper, so I’m looking forward to that as well. I think it’s going to be a good week. At least, I hope so.

I hope all of you are doing well and staying in the light.

Personal Growth is So Annoying

I’ve found myself saying “personal growth is so annoying” all week — to my husband, therapist, best friend. It’s been a week of intense introspection where I’ve realized I haven’t been taking care of myself as I should. I’ve fallen off the wagon of self care, careening right into binge eating and negative self talk. All these negative thoughts have been ruminating in my head.

I’m beautiful, and my body is beautiful.
I need to appreciate and nurture it

But the thing bothering me the most is my binge eating. Last year I had weight loss surgery — the gastric sleeve — and I really can’t eat a whole lot. But I find myself pushing my limits, eating until I’m uncomfortably full and can hardly breathe. I’ve gained about 15 pounds since the start of COVID-19, and I’m so ashamed. I should be thinner almost a year after my surgery. I shouldn’t be drinking Diet Coke. I shouldn’t be eating junk all day long — so long that sometimes my jaw hurts from chewing all the crap I put in my mouth.

I feel like a failure, but today I hit a breaking point. I’d been eating all day. It felt like my skin didn’t fit anymore and suddenly I was aware of every inch of my skin. I took a bath and tried to wash away my overeating sins and shame.

Then it hit me. I have to stop doing this. There was a reason I got the weight loss surgery, and it shouldn’t be a quick fix, it should be a tool, and I need to start using it as such. I’m not a lost cause. Sure, I’ve gained 15 pounds, but who hasn’t in the midst of the pandemic? Not that it’s an excuse. But I have to start eating more healthily or I truly believe I’ll put myself in an early grave.

For the first time in a long time I feel hope. I told David what I was thinking, and he was very understanding as always. I know sometimes I put him in a hard spot because I ask him to help me be accountable but then get mad when he tries to help.

He told me he believed in me and had a suggestion: I need to quit Diet Coke. This hit me hard. I’ve struggled for a decade trying to quit Diet Coke. When I got the surgery, I did for a bit, but then started taking sips here and there, which turned into a 12-pack every week, then two 12-packs.

I love Diet Coke. I love that when I come downstairs in the morning with the kids, who are usually arguing and not telling me what they want for breakfast, that the first thing I do is grab a Diet Coke. The first few sips are the best — it burns all the way down and is so crisp. I usually down the first one fast, then maybe one or two more before I take the kids. Then a couple throughout the day. It feels like a treat. Why I feel I need a treat that often, I do not know. It almost feels like a security blanket.

But diet soda just isn’t good for you (especially if you’ve had the sleeve), and although I love it, I must say good-bye. I need to bid farewell to disorderly eating. Logically, I know it’s not good for me, but in the moment I think it will be great. And it might taste amazing, but any pleasure I get is temporary.

Any pleasure I get is temporary. What’s not is the shame I feel. The discomfort and pain, too. That seems so permanent.

After my discussion with David, I threw out all the Diet Coke I had in the house, even the ones that I just bought today. It’s silly, but it made me so sad. I threw out the Butterfinger I had hidden in the fridge, the bag of white cheddar popcorn and a box of Fruit Roll-ups. The food I don’t care about. Eating healthy seems so much easier than forgoing my diet soda habit.

But I have to do what I have to do, because isn’t that all a form of self-harm — bingeing on junk food and chugging Diet Coke? I’m only eating my feelings, trying to bury them down deep and hoping for the best. I think it’s safe to say that this is not a healthy or productive way to deal with life. And someone like me, whose brain doesn’t function properly, can’t live that way. Nobody can, actually.

I have to learn to sit with my feelings. I have to retrain my brain on what constitutes as a “treat.” I have to rein in the negative ruminations. I have to get uncomfortable, be more vulnerable and let go of these actions that once served me but now do not.

Personal growth is so annoying.

But necessary.

Stay in the light.