Sail On

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So, here is basically how I’m handling this most recent bout of depression.

1. Coloring.

I’ve set up camp in my bed with my adult coloring books and pencils and I am distracting myself with this. Pretty much, I am coloring an animal or two a day, and that is the most productive thing to report.

2. The Office.

I am watching copious amounts of The Office. It’s a little ridiculous. I’ve watched this show probably four times already, but keeping it on is keeping my thoughts from spiraling. Also, Michael Scott is perhaps the closest thing to a cure for depression.

3. Breakfast food.

Usually, I really don’t eat when I’m depressed. The last time this happened, I think I ended up losing somewhere near 13 pounds before my brain totally resurfaced. I’m trying to be better this time, though, so I’m eating my favorite food and that’s it. Pancakes, eggs, waffles, etc. You name it – if it falls into the realm of breakfast, I’m probably eating it (or at the very least, making it, and then staring at it on the counter).

4. Talking.

I’m a pro at isolating myself. Ask anyone – I really don’t need a phone, because I rarely answer it anyway. However, I’m doing what I can to fake it this week. I’m answering when people call and responding when my roommate talks to me. That’s a step forward, right?

5. Dealing with it.

In the past, I’ve denied all symptoms of my disorder and tried to carry on like normal. I’ve pushed myself too far and too fast and made things worse for myself. So, this time, I’m just dealing with it. I’m taking the time to let myself sit on the shower floor and just be, and curl up under my blankets and cry.

It’s okay to be depressed. Just keep yourself safe. There’s nothing wrong with you, I promise. It’s a condition millions of people are dealing with and it is treatable, but it takes time. Be patient with yourself. You can’t think the chemicals in your brain back into  order, but you can allow your mind the time to heal. It’s going to be okay. Just find a way to cope for now – something or somethings that can get you through one hour at a time.

The waves are unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean they’re unsurvivable. You can do this.

Head above water.

Way Down We Go

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Have you ever woken up to find that your mind has been replaced by a black hole?

That’s how my week started.

I haven’t seen a mood swing since January, but lo and behold, the disorder is ever present. The moment my eyes opened, I knew my mountains had been cut down and my valleys hollowed out. All that exists for me in this black hole is emptiness and apathy and agitation and mists of despair.

To be honest, I should have seen this one coming. My lithium levels got too high, so my doctor pulled me off of my meds for a few days and then lowered the daily dose by 300mg. I don’t even know why the thought didn’t cross my mind that hey, maybe this might disrupt the waters, I was blissfully ignorant until this week.

I’ve found myself entirely incapable of communication beyond leave me alone, I have a headache, which doesn’t quite sit well with most people. Truthfully, if I try to even think about communicating the fact that I can’t communicate, my mind launches into an anxiety-riddled shame spiral. Which, in turn, just makes me more agitated, so I turn up my music and bury myself deeper underneath my covers and refuse to answer my phone.

Clearly, I’m a load of fun to be around right now.

I do have something positive to report, though.

Yesterday, I fled to my dad’s house to ugly cry on his shoulder about how I suck at life and how screwed up my brain is (you know, the standard depressive apocalyptic pity party). Two years ago, when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, my dad and I suffered a major rift in our relationship. Suddenly, it was like we didn’t know each other. He couldn’t understand my behavior and the scars on my arms terrified him when they now had a name and a story.

Fast forward to now, I found myself crying on his couch, feeling like he was the only person in the world I could incoherently sob to. You know what he did? He made me a PB&J sandwich and held me like I was a kid again. I’ve never felt more loved in my entire life. Truly and honestly.

Bear (the service pup) is laying on my feet right now, where he’s faithfully been since the mood swing set in. He keeps the self-harm thoughts at bay, and at least gives me a reason to get out of bed. My head is still an abyss, but between him and my dad, I’ve got a couple life preservers to hold onto in these waves.

The sea doesn’t always stay calm. I relearned that lesson the hard way. Just remember that eventually the waves will pass again and you will find yourself on the other side, stronger for it. Find your lifeboats and hold on tight. There is safety in the storm.

Keep your head above water, okay?

Addicted

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So, I figured I’d address one of the darker parts of mental illness. I mean, it’s really all pretty dark, but this was the shadowy, really secretive abyss for me, personally.

I found myself addicted to a couple prescription medications as a teenager.

They were prescribed to treat a very real condition, but I found myself abusing them on particularly bad days. Eventually, it wasn’t just the really bad days, it was when minor inconveniences came up. I found myself unable to tolerate stress without a pill or two and eventually four or five.

In college and working in a professional environment, that was difficult to hide. I thought I was being careful around roommates and friends, but apparently many were aware that I either was developing or already had developed a problem. Things slowly, and then very quickly, spiraled out of anyone’s control.

When I overdosed the first time, it was a major wake up call for everyone…except for me, I guess.

I mean, I thought I was pulling it together. I got out of the hospital after a week and went back to work and found a new apartment (with friends) and got my dog back. I was actively involved in sorting out my life. I even called two friends to help me go through my medications in order to take away anything that I didn’t need any longer or that could be potentially dangerous. Except…that vice still had a hold of me. I kept a secret stash, just in case. I hid it in case of a bad day.

I told myself I wouldn’t use it like I had in the past. I would be careful.

I overdosed again one month later.

One more week in the hospital and I had to figure out real quick what my next step was going to be.

I could allow myself to continue down this path, or I could choose to make it to next year. With the help of good friends and doctors and therapists, I am still here. I am clean. I have been for months. It hasn’t been easy. I was on heavy painkillers after surgery, and the thoughts were definitely there. My body wanted that feeling. I knew, though – I knew how dangerous that path was, and so I chose a different way.

That is so much easier said than done. Addiction is a disease within itself. It is the farthest thing from easy to fight – especially when you’re suffering. The thing is, everyone is scared to talk about it. I know I still am most days. My family knows nothing about any of it. They think the overdoses were purely suicide attempts, and not the result of long-time abuse. I’m comfortable letting them believe that for now. That doesn’t change the fact that addiction is still a prevalent issue for those dealing with mental illness.

Working in mental health, I’ve seen it time and time again. Patients struggle and fall and fight and succeed and stumble again. It’s a constant fight – but it’s one you can win. I’ve beat it, am still beating it, and know others who are doing the same. There are so many resources out there available to you if you need help. I know it’s not easy admitting that you may have a problem, but you can’t keep secrets from yourself. Fight for your life and I’ll always be here, doing what I can to help.

Remember, head above water, no matter what.

Emma.

6 Years Ago & Today & October

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Today…is not a good day.

Today marks 6 years exactly since I held my mom in her hospital bed and felt her heart stop beneath my fingertips. I was only 15 at the time. I don’t know why I was even allowed to be there for all of it. I don’t know why I stayed other than the paralyzing fear of walking out of that hospital without her.

I’m at my dad’s house – well, my step-mother’s house – because Easter and family dinner and blah. I’m hiding in the office and writing because my brain isn’t really working quite right today. I want to be held so badly, but I also want nothing more than to be alone. My service dog is laying on my feet right now – very alert to the fact that my emotions are only being contained by my pale skin and pursed lips. He’s looking up at me like I might shatter or breakdown any second. He might be right – this is his job, after all.

This anniversary has been the hardest one yet, I think. Which, considering the timing, might be odd. Six years? That’s quite some time. In those six years, I’ve gone to college, moved almost ten times, lived in 3 different states, and started my career. This last year was different though – and she wasn’t so distant over these last 7 months.

If you’ve been around here, you know that in October I attempted suicide by overdosing. It happened over a three day period. What very few people know, however, is what happened on that third day. I don’t even remember the majority of the 48 hours leading up to it, but I do remember the last pills I took. I found my last two pain pills in my bathroom drawer and took them without water, just desperate to finally fall asleep and not wake up.

It was all a haze. I couldn’t walk straight or see beyond my own two feet. I remember falling into the wall between my bedroom and my bathroom. I couldn’t breathe. I could feel everything in my body shutting down.

And then, I heard her.

I heard my mom’s voice clear as day.

If you don’t get help right now, you are going to die.

I panicked and the tears came to my tired eyes. This isn’t what I wanted. I didn’t want to leave this world behind just yet. Not like this.

By some miracle, my phone was close enough, and with just barely enough battery life. I texted three friends – the most recent three in my messages. I could feel myself fading, and so I crawled to my bed and pulled myself onto it. I remember looking at my phone one last time and then it falling from my hand.

Then I felt her. I felt her all around me. Maybe she was there to take me home or to make sure I stayed put long enough for help to arrive. I don’t know. But there she was, and I can’t deny that it was her that saved me.

So, this year’s anniversary of her death is fresh. It hurts. It feels like I’ve lost her all over again because she was just so close.

I’ll be okay, though. I’m not thinking of anything other than her, and I’m doing my best to make her proud. So, I’m taking my medication, using my therapy skills, and asking for help when I need it.

And I’m praying that she stays close by, if she can.

I don’t know what your religious or spiritual beliefs are. You can call me crazy for putting so much stock in this. Maybe my mind made it up to safe itself. I don’t really care. What I do hope is that you have your own lifeline when you’re at the end of your rope and about to descend entirely into darkness. Whether it is a person or a dream or a feeling – I hope you have that.

Keep your head above water, today, yesterday, and always. Hold on when the waves rise and don’t let yourself be defeated. There is still so much more world to experience.

 

How To: Inpatient Stay

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Inpatient care for mental illness is beyond stigmatized. It is almost demonized, at least where I come from.

When I was told I was being to a behavioral health center following my first overdose, I went into full panic mode. Every alarm was going off in my head and all I could say was no.

If you ever talk to Mariah, she’ll tell you how I clung to her so hard that I nearly pulled her shirt off. She can tell you all about how I sobbed and begged not to go. This was my worst nightmare coming to life.

I was transported by ambulance with an officer in attendance. I was very blunt with him about my distaste for his presence, but he told me something that saw me through my time in the hospital. When we arrived, I was a sobbing, shaking, anxiety-riddled mess.

He looked at me and said very softly and seriously, “Grab your blanket and pull it together. You are here to get better. Take advantage of it.”

So, I listened to someone else for the first time in weeks. I wrapped my green, fleece blanket around my shoulders and followed him inside. He said goodbye to me at the front desk when a psych tech came to escort me, and I watched him go, filled with panic. The psych tech – Mike, I think – walked me back to my unit and that is the moment I discovered a whole new world.

Here is my advice for your time in inpatient care:

  1. Pay attention to level systems – Most treatment programs assign level privileges based on behavior and participation. By attending my groups and complying with my treatment plan, I was able to work my way up from eating meals on the unit, to the cafeteria, going to rec. therapy, and then eventually I was moved to the more progressive unit.
  2. Go to groups – You’ll learn so much, I promise. Some will be boring and there will be times you honestly just want to stay in bed. If you go, though, you’ll start developing coping skills you need to function outside the hospital. The doctors will also take note and this was can help speed up your discharge date.
  3. Make a friend – Hell, make ten friends. The hospital can be a lonely place and no one knows this better than your fellow patients. Visiting hours are often odd and short, so it may be difficult to see family or friends. In order to help yourself and others, talk to other patients. I learned more from them than some of the doctors.
  4. Relax – the world outside the hospital walls does not matter right now. You are in this place to get better. Don’t fret over bills or social obligations. Allow yourself this time to get better.
  5. Color –  I spent the majority of my second hospitalization coloring. It kept my hands and and my mind occupied and kept me out in the common area rather than isolated in my room. It lightened my mood and even gave me a goal some days. It sounds silly, but it really works.

I know it seems daunting, but take it from someone who not only once was a patient in the psych ward, but now works in one. This will be good. You will learn and grow in ways you can’t outside of the hospital. If you need this level of care, don’t be ashamed. It exists for a reason and those of us working in these hospitals want nothing more than to help.

Be brave, speak up if you need help. Don’t be afraid. You will be just fine.

Head above water, okay? Remember, it’s okay to use floaties to stay up.

Emma.

Life After (attempted) Death

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When I woke up in the ICU after my second suicide attempt, I looked up at the ceiling tiles and just wondered…how?

How could I possibly live my life after this? I hadn’t planned for after because there wasn’t supposed to be one. I wish someone had told me then that there was a whole world waiting for me.

In the months following, I have moved to another state, landed a job I thought I would never be qualified for, and made the scary leap back into dating. I run primarily on tacos and pop-tarts, and I don’t sleep a whole lot. The side effects of the overdose are still prevalent, but I’ve learned to live with them. The nightmares haven’t stopped, but I’ve developed coping skills to handle them. Life is by no means perfect, but it is more beautiful now because I looked death in the face. Before I passed out, everything in me was screaming with regret. But…I’m alive, and I’m living, and life has gone on.

People ask questions and undoubtedly make judgments, but I try to face them as bravely as I can. I am honest when asked about my numb, shaking hands and mixed up speech. I give the most appropriate explanation possible for my scars. I don’t cower when spoken to or hide in my apartment.

My life has gone on, even after I attempted death.

Yours will too.

Whatever tragedy or illness or heartbreak has set you back, I promise it is not your ultimate end. There is more. Don’t give up. You will find a purpose in each day if you just search for it.

Keep your head above water and carry on.

You’re so brave.

Emma

The Difference

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On the left, you can see what a bad day looks like for me with my lungs. On the right, you’ll find what it looks like on a bad day with my mental illness.

The difference? One is being treated with a mask and inhaled medication, and the other with my emotional support animal and anti-anxiety pills.

And that should be the only difference.

The thing is, most people can’t see it that way. If I post a picture on social media of me getting a breathing treatment, the immediate response is support and well wishes. However, if I post a picture of me curled up with my ESA, eyes bloodshot from obvious tears, the reaction is very different. It becomes something to mock or laugh at or judge or label.

The thing is, though, both have the power to keep me in bed for days. They are both capable of landing me in the hospital – as both have. They’re both significantly debilitating in their own ways. On bad days with both, I find myself exhausted and resistant to the idea of company, dependent on medication, and potentially in need of additional medical help. It’s just two different organs malfunctioning – that’s it. My airways swell, or the chemicals in my brain misfire, and I can’t control either one. I can treat them, but I can’t cure them.

So, why is one so heavily stigmatized over the other? Why do my poor lungs warrant more compassion than my struggle with bipolar or PTSD? Why are flowers sent and shifts at work covered when I struggle to breathe, but I am avoided and gossiped about when I can’t think clearly?

It shouldn’t be this way – not for anyone. We shouldn’t be so ashamed to admit when we’re having a bad mental health day. It doesn’t mean you’re weak – not in the slightest. You’re brave – so incredibly brave, no matter what anyone else says. Whether you’re facing a physical or a mental illness, you are doing incredibly well and no one else gets to judge you for it.

Keep your head above water. You’re stronger than you think.

Emma.

Post-Atom Bomb

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Hey you,

Stop.

For just a moment, pause and take a deep breath.

I know what’s happening in your head right now. You can call BS on that, but I’m telling you honestly, I get it. It’s like an atom bomb has gone off. There’s been a massive explosion of emotion and it’s devastated all clarity and rationality in its path. You may be still suffering the blast, or sitting in the wake of its destruction. Everything – every thought, every feeling – is spiraling. Your nerves are completely frayed. The only way out that you can see is down.

Look up – I am begging you, look up.

Don’t give into that voice that is telling you that hurting yourself or offing yourself is the only solution. It’s lying – it wants you to hurt and to suffer and to give up.

Maybe you’ve already slipped into that numb stage of acceptance. You might have minimized all remaining emotion, crammed it into a box, and buried the stupid thing. You might already feel at peace with your decision to be through with it all. Just take a moment and listen to your body. It doesn’t want to die or hurt anymore than it has to. There’s a small part of you that is reeling with anxiety over this decision – find it. Hold onto it. Survive tonight because of it.

You might still be in the midst of the explosion. The waves may be slamming into you, over and over again, each worse than the last. Your mind is hardly functioning – it’s crossed the threshold of chaos and gone into oblivion. All you can do is hyperventilate and shake and watch your tears hit the ground. Breathe, darling. It’ll pass. It hurts – holy hell, it hurts – and the panic is all-consuming. You can survive this, though. It will end. Just brace yourself. Weather the storm. You will resurface stronger than ever.

I want you alive – I need you alive. This world needs you. There’s still so much you have yet to experience and oh my love, you deserve so much more than you have now. Please, don’t allow this to crush you before you’ve truly lived.

I have so much faith in you. I do. I wish I could be right there next to you, holding you and crying with you and promising that everything will be okay. But the thing is, I can’t. I’m here and you’re there and that’s what life has dealt us. That does not, however, mean that you are alone. Not in the slightest. In mind and in spirit and in heart, I am with you until the bitter end. I am thinking of you, praying for you, pleading for you.

Just stop. Stop what you’re doing right now and allow yourself to know that I love you. Whoever you are, wherever you are, you mean the world to me. Please, don’t go.

Survive tonight – hold onto me and survive one more night. I promise morning will bring something so much better.

All my love,

Emma

Survive

img_3920.pngI am a survivor of things most people will never face and will never understand.

I have been pinned down, struck, mocked, lied to, shared, and traumatized. I have looked into the eyes of men who felt nothing but pleasure as they took what was mine. I have iced bruises and fat lips, soaked in hot baths to ease unmentionable pain, and covered scars to keep them hidden from my loved ones.

I have forgiven those men time and time again, without question, because at my core I know that surviving this hell comes by maintaining who I am as a human being. I have wounded myself more than once in my own fight to allow only myself to hurt and no one else, not even them.

I have survived two overdoses, and an attempt at cutting my wrists, abusive relationships, assault, 4 mental illnesses, and the very bloody death of my mother.

Excuse my language, but holy shit, I should not be alive. The odds of me walking away from all of those things relatively unscathed, still capable of going to school and working a full time job, had to have been so slim.

But look, universe, look what I have done.

I want you to know something very important – you are a survivor, too. I don’t know what your battles are or what your war is. I don’t know what demons you lie down with at night and what nightmares you face.

What I do know is this…

You have come this far. There have been nights you have sobbed yourself to sleep. You have lost people along the way. You bear scars both seen and unseen. You are human. You struggle and you fight and sometimes you fall down. You’ve been hurt and you’ve hurt and things aren’t always black and white. Maybe something very important was stolen from you, too. Maybe you’re feeling lost right now, or alone and afraid.

You are a survivor, though. Don’t forget that. When the waves feel like they’re pushing you down and it’s like you can’t breathe, think of all the times you swore you couldn’t go on and how you’re still alive today.

I have faith in you – more faith than I ever had in myself. Keep pushing and keep fighting. Keep your head above water because dammit, you are the storm – not them, not it, not work, not him, not her…you are. 

Emma.

Dear Mom

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This April will mark six years since we said goodbye.

I have a hard time grasping that, because in my head, we’re still in the backseat of the car on the way to the hospital. You’re crying and I’m singing our lullaby and trying to stop all of the bleeding. You can’t move very much because you’re in so much pain. Dad is still driving as fast as he reasonably can in Sunday traffic, and I think we all know that this is it.

You’re still beautiful, though. Your eyes are that dark green that just kind of stops time if you stare for too long. The little hair you have is soft and that pretty blonde I always envied. I’m learning to look past the blood in this memory. I’m learning how to remember you and not the scary parts.

See, mom, I’ve had a really hard time forgiving myself. I’ve felt like this was all my fault since the day it happened. I was supposed to be right behind you; supposed to catch you..but I wasn’t and I didn’t. I’ve allowed that guilt to consume me and fuel 90% of my choices since that day. I know that’s not what you would want for me, though.

So, I’m making a choice – to stop running, to stop being afraid, to stop doubting. Since I felt your heart stop, I’ve been running. I haven’t stopped. From person to person, home to school, apartment to apartment, and city to city. I haven’t paused for more than a moment  because when I do, that’s when I have to start caring again and that’s when the hurt comes back. I’ve been so afraid to get close to anyone, and that’s not your fault, but I need to get out of the back of that car. I need to wash the blood off my hands and move forward. I need to stop doubting everything I’m capable of because the fact that I am alive still seems to be a miracle to me.

I love you, mom. I love you so much, and I miss you every day. I’m sorry that I couldn’t do more.

In my mind now, though, it’s you and me and no one else and nothing else. It’s nine in the morning and we’re laying in your bed holding hands, talking about life, like we always did. You’re not sick and I’m not scared. It’s just us.

I love you, and I hope that wherever you are, you hear that.

Always,

Emma