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Halfway through Mental Health Awareness Month and I’ve barely posted anything specific about it. I feel like I totally should. Why not celebrate my mental illness (sounds like a weird thing but I meant more like, celebrate the fact that this month is supposed to highlight mental illnesses and how they affect people so more people are aware and therefore can be more supportive…ya know). Aaaaaanywho, here’s a Van Gogh quote because I love examples of people who created beautiful things even while struggling with mental shit. Being “normal” (whatever that means) is fine, but I’m glad I’m unique in the ways that I’m unique because it allows me to see things like the flowers along my life’s path. Also, I’m pretty sure this painting is on the wall in my therapist’s office (haven’t been there in like two months ugh quarantine lol) and I know that when I was in the hospital, we had to recreate a famous piece of art and I chose this one, so I like Starry Night a lot 😃

enjoy the little things

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Thought this quote was fitting because good little things are what’s getting me through the all-consuming boredom (things like fancy coffee from my own personal at-home cafe lol, finding and downloading and playing new games on my phone, infused water, and video calling my family♡ every day).
I’m telling myself to focus on these awesome little things because I just regained my mental stability and I don’t want unending boredom and the looming feeling of uncertainty to uproot that. The second part sounds dramatic, but seriously, the world is a mess and the uncertainty is a trigger (for lots of people!). The first part sounds like it shouldn’t be a big deal buuuuut
Boredom makes me feel super shitty. I want to be motivated and productive and feel accomplished (and not because the world is telling me I have to, it’s just an internal feeling of calm I get from it that I want). I need structure (I am clinging to my morning routine bc I like the way my mornings go, and that helps, but still, I don’t have places to BE). Oh hang on, I started writing this wanting it to be a positive rant lol so yeah, focusing on the little things and enjoying them to their fullest and doing what I can to combat the negativity that comes with the quarantine (that’s an absolute necessity still, by the way) and thinking good things.

Mental Health Awareness Month

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 I took this selfie on the 1st, found a mental health sticker for it, & I wanted to post it but couldn’t think of a perfect caption for it. Because I wanted it to be about something important. Because mental health is HEALTH, not something separate but a portion of the whole piece. The conversation about mental health is for all of us, just not those of us with mental illness, although I guess sometimes the term “mental health” is used to mean the absence of illness, which I don’t love.

But I do think if you have issues it’s more apparent that you have to focus on mental health since your life revolves around it & you weren’t given a choice in the matter. Basically, mental health is “cognitive, behavioral, & emotional well-being.” Health in how we think, act, & feel.

I’ve been thinking about what that random sticker I found says. It’s good advice, but what does it mean to ❝make your mental health a priority.❞

Here’s a brain-dump I came up with:

↳ ᴅᴏ ᴅɪғғɪᴄᴜʟᴛ ᴡᴏʀᴋ
-think about things you have to process
-get things done when they need to be done
-ask for help when you need it

↳ ʟᴏᴏᴋ ᴏɴ ᴛʜᴇ ʙʀɪɢʜᴛ sɪᴅᴇ
-part of doing difficult work
-try to find the good thing even during bad times
-be grateful for those good things

↳ ғɪɴᴅ ʏᴏᴜʀ ʜᴀᴘᴘʏ
-and hold onto it during the craziness we call life
-do more of what makes you feel good ⠀⠀⠀

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
↳ ᴄᴜᴛ ʏᴏᴜʀsᴇʟғ sᴏᴍᴇ sʟᴀᴄᴋ
-be gentle with yourself
-take a break
-it’s okay to make mistakes
-you’re only human⠀⠀
-don’t feel guilty for needing to rest
-you’re trying your best

Happy things to appreciate 💙 (updates!)

Random acts of kindness 💕

Cloud watching ☁️

Giving something my all💯

The tippytap of my dog’s paws as he comes to me when I call him 🐾❣️

Family!! 👨‍👩‍👧‍👧

Fairytales about princesses and castles 🏰👑

Classic Disney movies °O° 📼

Waking up without an alarm ⏰ 🌅

Selfies when I’m really feeling myself 🤳🏻

Coffee ☕️ enjoying that first cup in the morning 🙂

Meeting up with friends 👭

Getting stronger 🏋🏼‍♀️ (physically or mentallyyy)❗️

Proving my resilience ⬇️🆙

Beer with friends after a long week 🗓🍻

Going on a trip ✈️

Pretty bows 🎀 (and other accessories) 💍

Smiling for no particular reason 😃

Roller coasters!🎢 the anticipation at the top!

Fruit salad 🍒🥝🍍🍎🍉🍇🍐🍌

When it all comes together like a puzzle 🧩

Old school video games 🎮

Leaving love notes (or any notes!) 💌

Gettingggg love notes (or any notes!) 📬

Good news in the paper 📰

Enjoying nature 🏔🏕

Karaoke 🎤

Flowers on a spring day 🌷🌻🌺🌿🌸

Cookies and milk 🍪🥛

The smell of rain/ thunderstorms ⛈⚡️

Balloons 🎈

Tea 🍵 with honey 🍯

Binge watching a good show on Netflix/Hulu 🖥

Tropical vacations 🏝

The smell of mom baking apple pie on a fall morning 🍎 🥧

The sun, rising every day 🌅

A fresh notebook waiting to be filled 📓

Cute puppies 🐶

Cute cats 🐱

My favorite music 🎼 🎶🎵

A stack of books waiting to be read 📚

Seeing a rainbow 🌈

Photography that captures feelings 📸

Improving myself 📈

The sun coming out 🌥⛅️🌤☀️

Fireworks 🎆🎇

Cosmic phenomena 🌙💫 -notice the miracles

Getting a good night’s sleep 💤😴

City skylines 🌇 🌃

Office supplies 📎✏️ 📋

Magic✨/ unicorns 🦄 / etc 🌟

Being alive!! 🌎 appreciate that 👈🏻

Shooting for the moon 🚀 🌕

Hot chocolate 🍫 on a cold winter day ❄️

Making someone happy 😃

Deep conversations 🗣 with close friends 👥

My perfect nephew 👶🏼

Learning something new about science 🧬

Comfy pajamas ✔️

Jeans that fit just right 👖

Frantically writing ✍🏻 getting ideas💡 on paper

Pride 🏳️‍🌈 for whatever I am

Connecting w people I love on social media 💻📱

Self-care 🕯 🧼🛁🧖🏻‍♀️

Really appreciating stars 🌟 in the night sky 🌌

Good fortune 🔮

Getting into a video game 🎮 (or watching one)

Shopping sprees! 🛍

Fall 🍁🍂🌾🌼 bonfires 🔥

Achieving something to be proud of 🎓

A big paycheck 💵

Late night car rides🚙 with Andrew🥰 singing🎶

Funny memes 😂

The incredibleee excitement the night before a Disney trip 🔜

Waking up on Christmas morning 🎄🎁

Feeling lucky 🍀

Winning something 🎰

Classical music that brings back memories 🎻

When things fit together perfectly 🔐

Making art 👩🏻‍🎨🖍🖌🖊

Appreciating all the world’s differences 🗺

Becoming the best version of me 🏆

Learning 👩🏻‍🎓

Books 📖 & how so many of them exist📚

Making wishes 🧞‍♀️🧞‍♂️✨

Things that comfort me 🧸 🐘 (my stuffed elly!)

My favorite perfume 🥰

The first snow ⛄️ of the season 🗓 [peaceful!]

Singing in the rain ☔️

Checking something off my to do list ☑️

Tattoos 🌀

Ice cream (size congruent with my mood) 🍦

Parties 🥳

Quiet mornings 🔇

Crocheting someone a hat 🧶

Ska shows 🏁

Facing fears 🕸

My infinite internal power ♾ 💥

The journey 🛤

Climbing into bed feeling accomplished after a long day 🛏

A new haircut (or color!) 🆕👱🏻‍♀️💙

Reliving memories 💭 / looking through keepsakes 🎟🎫

Being the perfect amount of energetic🔋

Finding light in the darkness 🔦

When good things fall apart but better things fall together 💔➡️❤️

Counting down on New Year’s Eve just like the entire rest of the world 🎆🎇

Making someone proud (even if it’s myself)☺️

Late night adventures 🌙

The fact that I kicked the fucking shit out of anorexia once and I can fucking do it again 🍽

It was dark.

The only light in the room was coming off the clock on the nightstand, which indicated that it was 4:02am by way of a dull blue glow. It was too fucking early. And too fucking dark. And cold. Fuck the cold.

Insomnia ravaged her. Again.

The grunting snores of her boyfriend, fast asleep next to her, sent her temper spiraling but she was comatose despite the succession of jittery shockwaves pulsing through her body. She didn’t get up. She didn’t move. No matter how hard she willed herself to, she didn’t so much as roll over.

Why bother?

She didn’t want to wait til dawn to break. She wanted it to come now. She needed it and needed it now, in this moment, because waiting is the worst and she didn’t have the patience for it. This sucked.

It was her fault, she hated to admit. She’d drugged herself to sleep (thank you sleeping pill, melatonin, and cbd oil) at 6:27 because she couldn’t stand the thought of being awake for a moment longer, staring blankly at the wall. No, her brain was too loud but it wouldn’t allow her to move and her stomach growled angrily but it couldn’t bear the heaviness of food and there were texts to answer but no words were available to her. No, fuck that. Time to fucking sleep.

At two in the morning she’d opened her eyes but forced them shut again. Forced her brain into a quasi sleep mode by having made up conversations in her head, half concentrating on them until she couldn’t any more and the fake attempt at batting away the longing for a friendly voice, a friendly presence, faded into unfulfilling sleep.

Two hour of tossing and turning and it brought her to her present wide-awake state. Fuck.

Get up and do something, she berated herself. Get to your headphones, blast some metal, or open your laptop, do some writing.

No amount of internal urging seemed to be enough to summon the motivation to move.

She was just about to attempt to get another round of restless sleep in, but the thought of doing so was more exhausting than actually doing it. So she finally got up. Cold enveloped her.

She paced. She paused. She stood motionless like a confused zombie trying to get her thoughts together but it was a messy, tangled web up in her mind. Wires were twisted. None of them were plugged into the right connections.

Gravity amazingly pulled her to her desk, where her headphones thankfully sat on a pile of books, which thankfully was next to her laptop. A sweatshirt was thrown over the back of her chair, and she used what little energy she had to pull it over herself. It was a miracle that the setting was now one that allowed for a meager amount of productivity to take place.

A miracle. That’s what’s worth calling a miracle? How stupid. How pathetically stupid. But whatever.

Headphones on. Music loud. Laptop open. Document pulled up. Aaaaand, go!

“Going” took another few minutes of zoned-out staring, but somehow her fingers were brought to the keyboard and somehow they started moving and somehow the movements formed words that appeared on the too-bright screen in front of her.

Why is this happening again? Why did I let this happen again? Why did I make this happen again and why am I continuing to push myself father into it. Again. I’m guilty as charged. I hate myself.

It went on like that for a while. Her words chased themselves in circles. Negativity. Self-hate. Anger. It went on until she began to write fervently and passionately and quickly, so quickly, her fingers barely keeping up with the pace at which her brain threw thoughts into formation.

She shrugged her sweatshirt off. Rolled up her sleeves. Was it getting hotter, or was she becoming overheated like a computer that’s been on for too long? Did it even matter?

Her eyes flicked away from the computer for a fraction of a second.

Bad move. Losing the flow was always a bad move. She lost the momentum and let her thoughts wander and…fuck, no. Why did she let her thoughts wander?

But the tattoo on her left forearm shouted loudly from its type-written font: Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise!

Fucking positivity.

Yet there was a pale light in the distance now. It fell through the window as if by accident but it stayed like it was comfortable in the bedroom. Morning had come. She shut her laptop.

She collapsed back into bed, weary from the exertion of being awake and alive.

But at least she got an hour and a half of sleep.

*

“If you have the courage to make it through a lonely night with nothing but your self destructive thoughts to keep you company, darling, you have the courage to make it through anything.”

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Bipolar and the senses

So last year, or maybe it was two years ago, I was sitting cross-legged on my bed, laptop propped up against a pillow, listening to Duel of the Fates from the Star Wars prequels on repeat. I remember it rather vividly. I’d had a huge mental breakdown the night before, where my then best friend and soon-to-be-boyfriend drove me until one in the morning as we listened to music and I alternated between crying and singing along to the loud punk rock hitting me in waves out of the speakers. I was home from work, having called out by leaving a frantic voicemail detailing how I was insane and the thought of coming in to work made me want to die. So appropriate, I know. But there I was, sitting there trying to hold on to some semblance of calm, the vague, fleeting feeling that came and went throughout that entire day. I hadn’t eaten. I’d barely had any water. I was just existing, trying to write just to be doing something, thinking about something. Not one of my better moments.

And here I am now. That same Star Wars song on repeat. And it’s weird because I can taste the insanity of my past. I taste the feeling of hunger, acerbic in my mouth, just like I tasted two years ago. I can feel my insides grabbing for what little bit of calm it can grab. The memory of the thoughts I thought are echoing through my head, bouncing off the walls of my mind like that someone slammed a super ball as hard as they could in a gymnasium, the ball going going going with seemingly endless momentum. Or maybe it’s more like a balloon flying every which way after someone untied it and let it loose. The point is that I’m there again. I’m sitting on my bed, legs crossed, laptop in front of me, fingers flying frantically over my keyboard just because. I’m there again. Because of this song I’ve got on repeat.

It’s weird how that happens. The taste of my gummy melatonin does the same thing. That strawberry-esque flavor melting in my mouth, even now, transports me back to the nights I was plagued with what I’ll call violent, agitated insomnia.

On the flip side, I have this one roll-on perfume that calms me down. I always put it on before therapy and now when I roll it on before work, I smell the panic going the fuck away and my chest easing up. I feel full, deep breaths steadying my heart rate as I take actual air into my lungs (as much as I’m able to, at least).

I have an elephant stuffed animal that I hug close to me when I sleep at night. And I have a mini keychain with the same elephant on it. And I make a point to take out that little keychain and rub the elephant’s ears when I start to lose my cool, when I feel the anxiety bubbling up from my stomach all the way up my esophagus and ultimately reaching my head, dizziness ensuing.

And lastly, I’m comforted in the best way possible when someone I love wraps me in a protective hug, sending love vibrations into my being with the pressure they put on me, squeezing my broken pieces together with a strength that can only come from true care and concern.

It’s amazing how this shit works. What our sense can do for us.

How to know it’s coming on again (short version)

  • No matter what song I put on, it doesn’t feel right
  • No matter where I go, it doesn’t feel homey or safe or okay
  • So much dread
  • The fact that I have to get through a whole day (and subsequently a whole night) feels like I have to scale a mountain
  • “Life hurts”
  • I’m overwhelmed by everything
  • I’m having trouble doing small, menial tasks
  • I want to drive really fast so the anxiety can’t catch up to me
  • I can’t decide what mood I’m in or how I feel, I just know I don’t feel right
  • Oh dear GOD the irritability

How are names, a Harry Potter quote, exorcisms, and mental health related? Well I’m glad you asked…read on:

I think it’s obvious to anyone reading this that I have a natural affinity for words. Finding vocabulary that fits certain feelings I want to convey, finding phrases and linking them with other phrases that capture the essence of a particular topic, grouping sentences that are applicable to certain experiences together with one another…I fucking love that shit.

I like metaphors, I think in terms of them often, but still, whenever possible, I strive to call things what they are. There’s always been a particular kind of power in doing so. There always will be.

Yet calling things what they are can be scary in some situations.

Which brings me to a certain Harry Potter quote, naturally: “Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.” Said by none other than the wisest of wizards, Albus Dumbledore, it refers to calling Voldemort (a dark wizard, a totally evil-as-shit kinda dude, if you haven’t read the books) by his actual name as opposed to “he who shall not be named.” When I read the books growing up, it never occurred to me to question the fact that everyone and their mother was afraid of saying his damn name. It drove the point home about what a scary, inhuman motherfucker Voldemort was. As I got older it definitely seemed silly and almost childish to dance around calling him his real name. But as I was coming to such realizations about Harry Potter, I was simultaneously struggling with calling my own shit what it was.

As I began to develop the anorexia that ultimately had me in its grasp for three years, I truly didn’t realize what I was doing had a name. I was just stressed and nauseous and upset and anxious and overwhelmed and sad. And therefore, couldn’t eat. The disorder gathered speed slowly at first but gained momentum rather quickly once I came to understand that, “holy shit, there IS a name for what this is.” I remember the exact moment. I was standing on the scale in the bathroom on December 23rd, 2007. I remember sneaking in there to step on what would define my self-worth that day, I remember that I’d faked my way through eating half a bagel with my parents, sister, and grandparents who were visiting for the holiday. I remember gently putting the scale on the floor, ever so quietly so no one would know what I was doing. I remember stepping on, I remember what I weighed. And I remember when truth knocked the innocence out of me, stepping off the scale, and staring into the mirror at myself, looking gaunt and pale and fearful. There was a fucking name for it.

I spent two more years hiding the name and accompanying behaviors from anyone and everyone. I didn’t say the name, I didn’t write the name, I tried not to think the name.

When I eventually had no choice but to acknowledge said name (and subsequently be hospitalized and treated for anorexia, something that literally saved my life), it was revolutionary. There was a certain freedom in saying it around other kids and teenagers like me. It was phenomenal to say it and be heard saying it and to be proud of saying it, all while trying to rid myself of it. To top it off, I discovered the language behind it. The medical terminology, the psychological terminology. Even slang used by the other patients, my friends. There was power in saying those names and those words.

Because by saying them, by naming things what they were, I regained control. I wasn’t afraid of it anymore. Or, I wasn’t more afraid than I had to be; yeah, it was pretty terrifying to have to face this brand new concept (recovery), but I didn’t have the additional fear of a simple fucking word. And furthermore, I had the language to explain it all and described it so it would be understood. I had the tools to fight it.

For some reason, that had always reminded me of exorcisms. Go with me here. If you’ve ever seen a movie about that nonsense, you know that the priest always tried to get the thing that’s possessing the human to say it’s name. I just checked it out in some religious website, so look:

“Naming something (the demon), or knowing its name, means having power over that thing. In fact, God gives Adam the power to name things. At the instant that the demon reveals his name, it shows that he has been weakened; if he doesn’t say it, he is still strong.”

Now, I’m not religious. But I like the analogy here. Because as I said, naming things puts the power back in my hands.

When I call my anxiety what it is and just allow the use of its name to settle, I feel like I have at least a sliver of an ability to make it go away. It’s anxiety, that’s all. It’s real and it’s there and it sucks, but it has a name and other people know its name. It’s okay.

If I call my depression what it is, if I declare that I’m in a bipolar depression, it isn’t as scary bc at least it’s a legitimate thing that has some potential to be managed. If I call my hypomania what it is (if I make myself acknowledge that I’m going a mile a minute and it’s not because I’m superhuman), it’s a real thing that I’m going through and it has an end, because it is defined, and I’ll make it to the end without seriously attempting to fly.

If I’m suicidal, I have to call it that. I have to label the sinister desire within me with a word that matches it in strength and character. I have to call these things what they are.

I’m not saying this naming business is the end all be all for recovery and mental health management. I’m not saying emotions and behaviors without names aren’t legitimate. I’m not even saying you can’t pull yourself out of a dark spot without being honest about it all (although I wouldn’t advise going that route). I just mean to say that there is so much fucking good that can come out of naming things what they are and not fearing what doing so may mean.

Hope.

“Do you hear the people sing
Lost in the valley of the night
It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light
For the wretched of the earth
There is a flame that never dies
Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise”
—Finale, Les Miserables

I hadn’t even checked to make sure that one was actually from Les Mis. I remembered hearing the line on broadway one of the many times I was lucky enough to see the production.

It turns out it’s a small little line, very near the end of the last song of the show.

“Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.”

I got it tattooed on my left forearm, over faded and non-faded self-harm scars. It was a day or two before I was propelled into yet another major mood episode. It was literally so close to the edge of where I was thrown into the abyss and dragged through the tormenting hell that has been such a part of my life marked my bipolar.

Throughout my agitated hypomania and the subsequent major depression, I didn’t see how the tattoo I’d previously been so excited about could possibly be true. I was tempted to take a sharpie and cross the whole thing out. In my darker moments (of which there were many), I contemplated cutting it off my goddamn body.

I’m glad I didn’t.

Although I am literally, truly, 100% incapable of finding the light in the throes of my major depressions, the ones that seem to be getting worse and worse and worse, I know that positivity is one of the few answers. It’s a fucked up joke that such positivity seems to allude me so, but maybe that’s why I’m supposed to rely on others in those moments.

And there are other things I can do, of course. I mean, I was doing all of them: taking the meds and the supplements, eating healthy, drinking water, sleeping and waking at the same times daily, keeping a routine, moving my body as much as I could, doing the breathing and mindfulness things, using the apps that help me cope, distracting myself, going to therapy, asking for (begging for) help, journaling, tracking my symptoms, etc etc etc. You name it, I was doing it.

(As a side note, I stopped eating gluten. I’ve heard a few times now that the rash I’ve had or my arms and legs since forever could be related to gluten intolerance, and after a few days of doing the whole gluten-free thing, the rash is a lot better. And I’ve also heard this can affect moods, which makes sense. You know, the whole gut-brain axis, serotonin being made in the stomach, blah blah).

I don’t know what sent me spiraling into chaos this last time. I don’t know if it was random, if it was having gone through a time change because of a vacation, if it was me “thinking myself into it” (I’m still not certain that is an actual thing)…I don’t know. I can’t know. I shouldn’t care so much about knowing.

But, for better or worse, there are a few things that are known:
-This will happen again
-I will survive it again
-My doctor and therapist know how to help me better now that they’ve seen me cycle a few times
-There’s something out there that’ll help me make these episodes fewer and farther between and less fucking intense
-Even the darkest motherfucking night will end and the sun will rise

And by the way, how poignant that my tattoo should heal completely on the day I emerge back into the light. The night has ended. The sun has risen. All is well.