Author: Cierra

October Warrior – Ashley M.

October Warrior – Ashley M.

Hello all! Welcome to our next Warrior of the Month post.

This month, we have a brave woman named Ashley sharing her story with us. She is fairly newly diagnosed and still working through the emotions that come with that, so please show her tons of support!

Hey, hi, hello.

I’m Ashley. I’m 26 years old. I’ve recently been diagnosed with depression and anxiety.

Honestly, I’m still coming to grips with my diagnosis. For years, I’ve wondered if I had undiagnosed depression. For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt like I had a dark cloud following me everywhere I went and clouding my thoughts. Mental health is becoming less of a taboo than it was when I was a (pre) teen. Don’t get me wrong, we still have a long way to go. Mental health was never a topic of conversation at home in my younger years and the very few times I did bring it up, I was told, “you’re not depressed, and you don’t need any drugs – it’s all a crock of shit”. It’s no wonder I didn’t bring it up much after that.

I believe that my depression stems from all the deaths I witnessed as a child. By the time I was about 16 years old, I’d attended 11 funerals; most of which happened before my 10th birthday. I know it’s no one’s fault but I feel like it really scarred me. All my grandparents with whom I had the closest relationships, passed away when I was a little girl and I even watched a couple of them take their last breaths. Since I grew up feeling surrounded by death and watching my mom’s stoic expression every time it happened, I felt hardened. To me, crying was a weakness and I was not weak. I refused to let anyone past the walls I’d built because I knew that one day, they would leave. Whether it be through death or not, I felt that I had witnessed first-hand that every single person in my life would leave me.

Because I’ve always bottled up all my emotions, my depression only worsened the older I became. In middle school, I was like a lot of pre-teens and started acting out. Partly, I think it was because I couldn’t handle bottling everything up anymore. In grade seven, I had a friend who self-harmed just about every day and she seemed to brag about it just as much. Being around that kind of influence, I don’t think anyone would be surprised to hear that I followed in her footsteps. However, unlike her, I kept solely to scissors; she moved on to burning and other forms of self-harm but I couldn’t bring myself to do anything more extreme. Scissors were good for me and I didn’t care; I had found my release.

I continued this addiction (because that’s what it is, an addiction) steadily for seven years before I finally asked myself what I was doing to myself and why. It took a lot of effort, but I finally quit, though it wasn’t easy, and I’d be lying if I said I don’t still struggle with it to this day. But just because I stopped self-harming didn’t mean that the depression had gone away. It just changed. Now, when I fall into a depressive episode, as I call them, I find myself lying in a dark room with melancholy music wishing that I would just cease to exist. I can’t ever pull myself out of it, no matter how hard I or anyone else tries. It was during one of these episodes that my now fiancé, asked me the dreaded question: “Have you ever considered seeing someone?” My answer was yes and no. I’d thought about it a handful of times over the years, but truthfully, I’d never acted on it.

This past May I finally made an appointment with the mental health counselor at my new doctor’s office. During my first appointment with her, I told her that I was feeling fine. The depressive episodes I’d been having had stopped, partly because some issues that had been putting a lot of stress on me had been resolved. However, I knew it wouldn’t last and this is what I told her:

“I’m okay right now but I know it’s going to come back eventually. It feels like I’m swimming in the middle of the ocean. When the depression hits me, I feel like I’m drowning and no matter how hard I try, I just can’t break through the surface. Eventually, when I do manage to break through, I’m relieved to breathe fresh air again and I feel okay but I’m still in the middle of the ocean and it’s only a matter of time before I get sucked back under.”

It was also during this first appointment with her that she told me that I have anxiety. This is what I’ve really been struggling with since that day, but after talking with my fiancé, I really shouldn’t be surprised. I’m constantly worried about everything and I’m not exaggerating when I say that I over-think everything. I’ve been known to put others’ wants and needs before my own and I will go along with whatever everyone else wants to do, even if it’s not something that I want to do. At times, I’ve made myself miserable because of this and I put their happiness above my own. Instead of speaking up for myself, I get anxious and just go along with whatever.

This past Labour Day weekend, I went to a big festival in Toronto and the first stop we hit was the food building. Since one of the things this festival is known for is the food, I wanted to try something different. But what ended up happening was that I got so overwhelmed by the amount of food vendors that I had an anxiety attack and I shut down. I couldn’t handle it, and someone had to order my food for me because I just couldn’t do it myself. Even though I was with family, I was still a little embarrassed and I felt so defeated. I didn’t want to ruin the rest of the night but I felt like I had let myself and all of them down.

It’s obvious now that I don’t do well when I’m given more than a few options. Only now, I finally have a reason why this happens. Now that I’m starting to get a better idea of what’s going on inside my brain, I’m starting to notice when I’m about to lose control. I’m starting to learn when my brain is telling me it’s getting overwhelmed and I’ve already noticed a few times when I’ve started to spiral and was able to catch myself before I lost control completely. I’m also getting better at opening up when things are bothering me or when I can feel an episode coming on, whether it’s because I’m feeling overly anxious or especially down.

I still have a long way to go and I’m looking into getting a proper therapist whom I can talk to, which I feel will help me keep myself in check. If I can have someone to talk to with an outside perspective who’s not completely immersed in my life, such as my fiancé, then I really do think and hope that I will be better able to learn what makes me “tick”, for lack of a better phrase. The mental health counselor suggested I try group therapy but the more I thought about it, the more I felt it wasn’t for me. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t right for you. Do what feels right to you and keep on keeping on.

 

Thank you Ashley for opening up and giving us a look into your life. While it’s never easy to “come out” about mental illness, especially so recently after a diagnosis, I’m so proud that you decided to reach out and share your story with me and my readers. I wish you all the best in navigating through life with this disease, but am sure you can handle the challenges ahead.

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September Warrior – Anonymous

September Warrior – Anonymous

Here we are again! It’s the 15th of the month so let’s dive into someone’s story of mental health struggles.

This month is a little bit different but I could not be more excited for you to read it. This month we have an anonymous submission about schizophrenia. I’ve been wanting to have someone write for me with with illness for quite a while as I feel it’s very important to discuss. The media has portrayed schizophrenia as a very dangerous and violent illness, when that’s really not the case. It saddens me that we judge so quickly the second we even hear the word. So, here we are, with an explanation as to what it’s really like to suffer from this mental disorder.

** If you have any questions, please comment and I will gladly pass along the question and add the answers to this post

 

Saturday morning. September 2014.

 

I wake up one morning, hungover as fuck because it’s Saturday. But something’s wrong. Something isn’t right.

Then I remember.

Last night, I was raped. But not only that, I killed someone.

Over the next couple weeks, I begin piecing it together. I was raped by at least a dozen people. And the person I killed?

She was an infant.

It was an accident, I dropped her because I had become so paranoid from all the events that happened that night, I had become convinced that no one could be trusted, everyone was trying to fuck with me.

I go see a psychiatrist. I’m only able to tell him a little about what had happened, it was still fresh in my memory. I only get as far as telling him I was raped when he cuts me off.

“None of this was in the news. You’re schizophrenic. It’s very serious.”

Over the next four years, every time I tried to talk about what happened, my psychiatric nurse would try to poke holes in my story, and convince me that it didn’t happen. I turned to drinking, no one would let me acknowledge my emotions and identify them, so I chose to numb them with alcohol. One day I wake up with tremors and decided that drinking wasn’t going to bring her back.

I stopped drinking 70 beers a week cold turkey.

3 months into my sobriety, it hits me.

 

I didn’t just kill a baby girl.

I went on a killing spree.

A year prior to sobering up, I had gone on a second killing spree in the bar I worked at. But why wasn’t I in prison? The story got a lot more complicated. Each time I had tried to reach out to people and get them to tell me what happened, they pretended not to know what I was talking about.

 

I black out for a month. I stupidly was mixing antipsychotics. Part of alcohol withdrawal is psychosis, and that’s how it expressed itself. Towards the end of that month, I raped and murdered a woman I liked.

 

My psychiatrist gave me an ultimatum.

 

“Either you commit yourself voluntarily to the psychiatric ward, or we’ll be forced to Certify you.”

 

I spent a week in the psych ward.

 

A week after I’m discharged, I go to the hospital to pick up a friend. A familiar car parks beside mine, and out steps the woman I had murdered a few weeks prior. I chat with her, briefly, and get into my car and ask my friend if she saw me talking to someone just now.

 

“Yeah, why?”

 

Then it all makes sense.

 

I never killed anyone. What I had experienced were psychotic breaks.

 

Dreams can happen at any point, not just when you’re sleeping. These are called psychotic episodes. My psychiatrist explained that when I black out, I can’t remember a thing from those moments, and my mind frantically tries to piece together what happened based on what’s happening before and after the episode. People who develop schizophrenia often have vivid imaginations as children. That’s essentially what a memory is, your imagination recreating those events. But as with dreams, it’s not during the dream we acknowledge it, it’s when we wake up. What happens in my episodes is basically what’s going on in my subconscious. The word “schizophrenia” means “split mind”, referring to how the mind is split between the conscious and the subconscious. Episodes themselves have a dark cloud over everything, they feel like repressed memories, but they aren’t. They’re just like any other dream, except much, much more vivid. The scariest part about them is total loss of self control. Any thought gets either expressed verbally (side note: what is colloquially referred to as “truth serum” is any drug or combination of drugs that induce a psychotic break) or acted upon. Or so I perceive. In reality, I’m catatonic. Psychotic breaks happen when the brain shuts off.

 

So what actually happened in September 2014?

 

“You were extremely drunk, started yelling at people, then *roommate* took you home and you passed out on the bathroom floor.”

 

There was no killing sprees. I was likely never raped.

 

I don’t know why my episodes are so violent. I’m the least violent person I know. That may be why; all my violent urges get suppressed until I express them in my schizophrenic nightmares. Or it could be because the media loves to report on violent schizophrenics, subconsciously telling myself and everyone else that schizophrenic people are violent. In actuality, schizophrenic people are just as unlikely to be violent as the average person. If anything, they’re more likely to be taken advantage of. The people who do get reported in the news are usually people who have a history of being violent.

 

Depending on the source you read, the prevalence of schizophrenia varies. The DSM-V says anywhere from 0.3-0.7% of the population suffers from schizophrenia spectrum. Some sources say as much as 2% of the population suffers from it.

 

As far as living my life, I can be quite reclusive. I can be a little (read: very) eccentric. My medication has helped immensely, as well as abstaining from alcohol and drugs. I’m all for marijuana being legalized, I used to smoke it heavily. However, if you look at those lists at pot shops at the conditions weed can medicate, you will NOT find schizophrenia or psychosis. Here’s why: weed exacerbates psychotic symptoms. It makes me revisit my episodes and add more to the already horrific story.

 

I’m happy to answer any questions. The two most common questions are “Do you take meds?” and “Are you violent?” In respect to the first question, that’s like asking a diabetic if they take insulin, the second question is just plain ignorant. My grandmother had schizophrenia as well, she was the nicest person in the world. She also believed she had done terrible things, but she hadn’t.

 

Thank you for reading, and I hope I’ve shed some light on the nature of my illness. Feel free to ask Cierra any questions and I’ll be happy to answer them.

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August Warrior – Isabelle

August Warrior – Isabelle

Hey There! And welcome to my next Warrior of the Month. This month comes to you from one of my favorite #bookstagrammers! Isabelle!

I can relate to this girl in so many ways it’s insaaane. She is such a brave soul for sharing her story with you all and I hope for a great reception for her. Not everyone wants to share these details for good for her for doing so.

Hello! My name is Isabelle, I’m 28 years old and I suffer from anxiety disorder and depression. I wasn’t always aware of the name of the labels but I know I always suffered from it. For as far as I can remember, this ball of anxiety has been a part of me.

I remember being very young and telling my mother I was nervous about going to school the next day. Some kids lie about being sick because they don’t feel like going to school, I lied about being sick because I was too scared of going to school. And so that’s how my elementary school years went on, I was this overweight stressed out girl who wondered why it was so hard to be happy like all the other kids. They made happiness seem so easy.

Then high school started and like everyone else I thought I was entering the best time of my life, because that’s what they tell you. They tell you they would do anything to go back to those years and relive it. But the truth is, my truth anyway, is that I still have nightmares about it and I would give anything to just forget. See, I started hanging out with those girls. The kind of girls that don’t quite make you feel good about yourself but are able to make you believe you need to hang out with them to be accepted and happy. Until they get tired of you. And they got tired of me alright. One day, just like that, they turned on me and I became the number one target for every bully. I missed 2 weeks of school because everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, turned on me. I would receive threats at home and my parents ended up calling the police because the threats just kept on becoming more serious. Calling the police helped stop the threats but it didn’t give me my acceptance feeling back. For months I ate my lunch in the bathroom because it was easier than having to face everyone. Once again, I was that overweight, unhappy, anxious girl.

You need to know that I come from a family where everyone suffer from anxiety. Both of my sisters and my mother suffer from it. At that point my sister would have full blown panic attacks and my father didn’t understand it very well which led to a lot of anger in the household. So I thought it better to just keep my feelings to myself because why throw oil on the fire?!

Then high school was over and I thought “This is it, I got through it and I will finally get to be happy”, if only it was that easy. I started smoking a lot of weed because I thought it was helping me relax and that went on for years. I had a hard time working and had to quit a lot of jobs because my anxiety prevented me from getting to work. And then I met this guy. The kind of guy who doesn’t really make you feel love but knows how to manipulate you into thinking you need him to be happy. That’s when my anxiety disorder and depression got out of control. I spent those endless evenings waiting for a call and wondering why he wasn’t calling. Why wasn’t I enough? Why was I never enough? Why do they always end up turning on me? But then he called and the worst thing that could happen, happened. I got pregnant.

I knew right away that I couldn’t have that baby. I was a 20 years old girl with no job, an addicted absent boyfriend and panic attacks all the time. I had nothing to offer that baby. How can I be enough for a baby when I can barely live with myself? And so I got the abortion. And it destroyed me. I remember coming out of the clinic and thinking I have never felt this alone in my life. And so I became numb to the world. All I wanted to do was sleep all day and cry all night. Every time I crossed the street I would think about how comforting it would be to be hit by a car and be done with it. Because not feeling at all is easier than living with this pain, right? So one night I was in my room and something inside of me clicked. Why not be done with it? I picked up those 2 bottles of pills and gulped them down. I still remember the feeling of the pills going down my throat. I don’t remember much about what happened next but I called a friend to say my peace and that friend called my house to tell my parents what was going on. One of the few things I remember about that night was my father asking me if I was happy with myself while waiting for the ambulance to arrive. The thing I remember the most is that feeling of not caring at all. For once in my life, I didn’t care about my father’s yelling because it would all be over soon. But it wasn’t.

The years after that were spent trying to survive depression and anxiety. I spent most of the time out, smoking weed because it was the only thing that made me feel good. Until about 3 years ago, when smoking weed became a source of anxiety itself. I started having panic attacks every time I would smoke and be around people. So I locked myself inside my room.

But something in me changed at that moment. I decided I wanted to live and I wanted to survive these diseases. So I seeked help and decided that this time, I would accept the help I would be given. I stopped smoking weed, I even stopped drinking alcohol altogether because any kind of high would make me feel anxious. I turned to books to replace that high and oh, did books become my safe haven. I started seeing a psychologist, taking medication for my mental health, went back to school and started dating a nice guy who was there for me and encouraged me to become the best version of myself, one I didn’t even know could exist. My sister gave birth to an amazing little boy and being present for her and for him gave me the opportunity to grief for the abortion I’ve gotten and got me to realise there was good things in this world. My nephew will never know just how much he helped me only by existing.

Most people think anxiety means being over stressed and depression means being sad, but the truth is anxiety means being afraid to get out of your room, it means not being able to be with other people because you feel like you might die, it means over thinking every little details of your day because what if you did something wrong that leads to catastrophic consequences, it means not being able to take the bus or work because you can’t help but think of all the things that could go wrong. Depression means losing all your vitality, it means losing motivation and wanted to stay in bed because it’s the only place where people don’t expect anything from you, it means bursting into tears for irrelevant things like being out of milk for your coffee but mostly, it can mean losing your will to live. 

I fought this battle for as long as I can remember and I still fight it on dark days. I’ve hit rock bottom a few times but I kept on fighting and was able to crawl my way out of this dark hole. There are days when I still want to say screw being strong, screw fighting back and just let the darkness engulf me. But if you’re not fighting for yourself, at least fight for the people who love you. So I will keep on fighting for the people who love me but mostly I will keep on fighting for me because I deserve to be happy and I deserve to have control over my life. 

So today I’m asking you to stand by my side and fight back with me, as long as we stand together we are not as alone as we think we are. And when you have dark days, think about me. Know that I’ll be there standing strong with you. And if the days get too dark, know that I’ll be there fighting for you.

Isabelle.

 

Thank you lovely, for sharing your story with me and my readers. This is still a controversial topic and the fact you were brave enough to share really inspires me.

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Mental Health Resources in Edmonton

Mental Health Resources in Edmonton

Hello all! Unscheduled blog post, but I’ve been inspired to make a write up with some details about the mental health resources here in Edmonton in the hopes that it can help someone start the right steps towards recovery. So here we go. First off, I’m going to outline the steps to getting help in our healthcare system.

The best thing you can do for yourself is find a good family doctor. Having a family doctor that you trust and is informed of your situation is the first line of defense. I didn’t realize how many resources out doctors in Edmonton really have. One of the main ones being – the PCN, or Primary Care Network. I have personally used this resource quite a few times and I can’t say enough good things about it. They have psychiatrists, dietitians, counselors, etc. And the best part? It’s all free! This is paid for by our government here in Alberta. The other aspect of finding a family doctor is they have to be the ones to refer you to a psychiatrist. So, this is the first and most important step.

Next step would be getting the psych evaluation done. This is important for an accurate diagnosis, as there’s only so much our doctors know about mental health. Psychiatrists are specialists in mental health issues and therefore it’s best to be diagnosed by them. The other great part of getting this evaluation done is that they can give your doctor medication recommendations. This is important in sustaining and stabilizing your mental health problems. Sometimes it takes a while to get in to see a psych, so while you’re waiting for that appointment, start seeking therapy from a counselor or psychologist.

Now, I’ve discussed this before but I’ll go over it again. Counselors are great, don’t get me wrong. But I do believe they are better suited for people with more generalized issues, such as general depression and anxiety. Another thing they’re good for is stress management. However, for people with more intense problems such as myself, who deal with childhood trauma or PTSD, or specific mental disorders such as bipolar, psychologists truly are the better way to go. Yes, they are more expensive. But I’ve personally found it so much more beneficial to my mental health. They also are a lot more trained in specific disorders/issues which is a comfort to know you’re in the hands of someone who is very experienced in your particular area you have to work on.

Alright, let’s discuss medications folks. Patient compliance is so freaking important. A lot of people have the issue where once they start feeling good on their medication, they stop taking it. They feel as if they do not need it and have cured themselves. Now, I have issue with this. The reason you are getting better is because of the medication my friends! PLEASE do not stop taking medications unless advised by your family doctor or psychiatrist. Do yourselves that favor. Because medication withdrawal is a real issue.

These are the first steps to maintaining a health mind! I’ll follow up with a list below of specific resources here in Edmonton and make sure I include price points where applicable.

 

Suicide Crisis Lines:

(780) 342-7777 or 780-482-HELP (4357)

Therapy options:

Community Counselling Centre http://www.communitycounsellingcentre.ca/

(780) 482-3711

10534 124 St #202, Edmonton, AB

($120/session but work on a sliding scale depending on your household income)

Equinox Therapeutic https://equinoxtherapeutic.com/

(780) 885-6454

Multiple locations throughout Edmonton

(beginning at $95/session-$180/session based on sliding scale)

Group Therapy:

Momentum Walk-in Counseling https://www.momentumcounselling.org/#

  • Have a variety of drop-in support groups for different disorders/mental problems

CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association) https://edmonton.cmha.ca/

  • Have a variety of support group options

Royal Alexandra Hospital 

10959 102 St NW, Edmonton, AB

Addiction and Mental Health Access 24/7

Recently the Royal Alex opened up their addiction and mental health center that runs 24 hours a day. They have on site counselors and doctors.

Finding a Family Doctor

Go to https://search.cpsa.ca/physiciansearch and find yourself a family doctor to help you through your mental health issues

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July – Dissociation

July – Dissociation

July Mental Health Discussion

Dissociation

It’s that time again folks, welcome to our next mental health discussion! This month, my suggestion comes from a new friend of mine, Danielle. Thanks girl!

Today we’re going to talk about dissociation. Now, many of you might not necessarily know what this means, especially if you do not suffer from mental illness (or a mental illness that can cause these episodes). So, let me explain what dissociation means and try to give you insight into how it feels.

Dissociation is defined as: a mental process that causes a lack of connection in a person’s thoughts, memory and sense of identity.

Now, some people think that this is the same as psychosis. But it is not. Psychosis is defined as: an abnormal condition of the mind that results in difficulties determining what is real and what is not. Symptoms may include false beliefs (delusions) and seeing or hearing things that others do not see or hear (hallucinations).

Personally, when I am dissociating, I have a hard time connecting with my emotions. I feel a lack of anything, which includes fear. This becomes very dangerous, as I get suicidal thoughts/ideations and am not afraid of the consequences of my actions. I forget all of the reasons I have to live. I forget that I don’t actually want to die, that death actually scares the heck out of me. This has always been what has held me back from choosing to end my life, so when those fears go away, it’s not a good situation to be in to say the least. As my friend puts it, “It’s like the worst auto pilot ever and you can’t get access to the controls”.

Another symptom of dissociating is not understanding time. Not knowing how much time has passed, what day it is, or even what season it is (for me anyway). This can be really unnerving, especially if you’re alone. Sometimes I’ll be sitting on the couch, head in my hands, trying to calm my breathing during an episode. I’ll look up and see 3 hours has gone by since I last looked at the clock. It almost feels like time stands still, but the world keeps going on without you. Time is frozen, yet it’s also moving way too fast. I even forget sometimes that I’m in my own apartment.

Now, lastly, here’s something I’ve touched in briefly before about dissociating, and it very common in people with bipolar disorder like myself. There is a lack of identity. You feel as though you’re meant for more or meant for greater things. For me, this comes out as an obsession of mythical creatures. A want for them to be real so you can be a part of something bigger than yourself. Something that explains why you’re “not normal”. For me, I start to feel like I’m waiting for someone to just show up and tell me there’s this secret and hidden world that I’m being called to, like out of a weird fairy tale. You have a hard time identifying with other people around you or who you identify as when you’re not going through an episode. The person you were, is left behind. You feel like that’s not even the true you.

I hope I was able to shed some light on what dissociating feels like so you have a better understanding of how people feel when it is happening. It is just as scary as it sounds. In the event that someone you know is going through this, the best advice I can give is make sure they are not alone. There’s no telling what someone will do in that state and most cases require hospitalization until it passes. Thank you for taking the time to read today.

 

I was hesitant to write about this subject. There’s still a little bit of shame in me regarding dissociating. It makes me feel like I’m “crazy”. Like there’s something wired wrong in my brain and I should be committed for thinking a vampire is gonna come up to me one day and say “Hey, where have you been? We’ve been searching for you”. Those aren’t “normal” thoughts. It’s scary and confusing and weird all in one. It can be very hard to explain to someone, so I hope I did an okay job expressing myself today. And please remember that I am writing based on my own experiences/symptoms.

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July Warrior – Paula

July Warrior – Paula

Hello all! And welcome to my next Warrior of the Month segment. This one is pretty personal for me, as she is my junior high bestie! We used to spend countless hours in her basement drinking Dr. Pepper and eating popcorn twists, singing karaoke like we were professionals. Everyone meet Paula! Paula has had her issues with anxiety, but today she’s going to talk about how that affected her during a very upsetting time in her life. Read her story below.

I didn’t think writing this would be hard but I’ve opened up this document at least five times and left it blank…  My name is Paula, I’m 26 years old, and I guess I’m here to tell a bit of my story.  Growing up I was a social butterfly, outgoing, and always needing to be the center of attention. I’d been around a familiar group of people from the age of five to seventeen, so after high school when I dove into university I learnt a lot about myself… I discovered that even though I could hold a conversation with a classmate I just met, I hated the thought of doing it.  Even though I could stand in a room and public speak, I wanted to DIE at the thought of it for days prior. I would spend unreasonable amounts of time wondering if I would look okay, sound smart enough, or impress my peers and professor. I found myself worrying about the “what ifs” that came about in my daily activities or following an event I’d attended. I became really insecure with my ability to socialize and “look good” in other’s eyes.  I realized that fixating so intensely about the smallest details of a moment was not common behavior. I didn’t know that what I was experiencing was anxiety. Growing up in a generation where “anxiety” is a word thrown around so loosely, I would never want to classify myself as having a disorder, so of course I went to my doctor and spent some time learning about it. We live in a social age that is filled with many new platforms for a widespread of people to develop unhealthy levels of worrying, fear, and obsessions that can ultimately lead to an anxiety disorder. FOMO (fear of missing out) is a direct result of the development of social media where everyone is showcasing their best selves (no judgement, I use these platforms myself). It has contributed to some of my growing insecurities and enhanced my social anxiety as I believe there are expectations that are personally unattainable.  I force myself into social situations because it is good for me but I also feel sad when I decide to sit something out. So, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword.  I try to empathize with others more when they don’t want to engage because maybe they are experiencing some of the same inner conflicts that I also have. I know that the only way for me to overcome this is to practice being more social (I wish this was as easy to do as it is to type). These are some general thoughts based on my experiences with anxiety, but I’ll transition into the topic I really want to discuss which is grief coinciding with anxiety.

 

In 2013 my dad was diagnosed with cancer. The big “C” word. I know.  Nobody wants to talk about it, and everyone just says “awe” while throwing you a look of pity knowing how sad it is, and yes, it is sad. Pity is the last thing I would ever want.  The years I spent with my dad while he was sick provided me with some crucial life lessons. I learnt not to take time for granted, that it is important to say how you feel and speak honestly, because time in this life is conditional. I learnt seek out a silver lining on a hard day, and that hope and positivity will carry you further than you anticipate. All that being said, watching my dad struggle was hard and it took a toll on me as a young adult.  He was my best friend, and something that makes me sad to think about is that as a young adult we were just getting to that point in our father/daughter relationship where we could actually be friends.  During his last years of sickness, I invested my time and energy into being present with him because that’s exactly where I wanted to be.  It’s where I felt safe and comfortable (It was also easier for me to justify not going out and engaging in social situations with people my age).  Even when I did feel like being social, I felt scared to go out because I didn’t want the stress and sadness that I was feeling to somehow impede on anyone’s good time (this sounds silly but it’s really just how my anxiety makes me feel sometimes). I separated what I was living through from certain parts of my life because it was not a common experience for people my age and it felt weird to talk about. I felt so insanely un-relatable for the things I was going through, and still do to this day.  Isolation is not healthy, but it does help me cope when my anxiety is escalated. I would spend nights awake going through a list of “what if’s” that included wondering how I would hold up when he passed away, and how our family dynamics might change.  If I was frustrated or angry I would feel insanely guilty and have a full-on breakdown for feeling the way I felt even though I know it’s perfectly okay to be frustrated with someone, sick or not.  Sometimes it was so bad that I would be lying in bed making a list of the things that would be most important to include in his eulogy. It was torture induced by myself and my own anxiety that caused me to spiral into a deep sadness at times. My social anxiety skyrocketed not only because I felt like I was living a life with different priorities then those around me, but also because I constantly feared that someone would bring it up.  I just wanted to feel normal around my peers, something of which I didn’t, and still don’t, feel sometimes.

 

My dad passed away on August 16th, 2017 when I was 24 years old.  I am now 26.  Grief is tough. Grieving with anxiety feels amplified because the symptoms of the two can often intertwine.  I had a plan on the ways that I would go through it. That’s what us anxiety folk do right? Plan out everything even though we have zero control (speaking for myself obviously, I always need a plan and structure to feel less anxious). So, I had a plan. What I didn’t realize, and what changed the plan, was that I had been experiencing anticipatory grief.  This means that I was already processing and grieving my dad’s death before he had even passed away.  For anyone that has grieved before, you’ll understand me when I say sometimes it just smacks you in the face like a ton of bricks. I find my moments of grieving to feel more dramatic because they’re often intertwined with my everyday anxiety. I cry. A lot. I also get pins and needles in my hands, I sweat, I grind my teeth, I have heart palpitations, I isolate, I worry, and I panic. All of these are regular symptoms of anxiety but mixed with the grief feels different. It’s a strange added heaviness that is hard to explain. The thing is, I never know when these days are going to happen, they just happen.  Not having a plan is something my anxious mind can’t handle so when it does happen, I feel distraught; like something is wrong with me for feeling the way I do. Those are the moments that I need to make sure my self-care is given extra attention. I am learning that not everything in my life gets a plan… I get uncomfortable when my dad gets brought up in conversation because I really don’t have an answer to explain what grieving with anxiety feels like and “how I’m doing” which is the common question. It’s hard because I’m always worried that I’m not grieving “the right way” so I don’t think I know how I’m doing. I’m okay? I’m good? I’m sad? I don’t know what I am so I don’t know how to address the question. I want to have an answer because my dad was awesome and I don’t want to feel scared to talk about him; I actually love talking about my dad.  It’s tricky to explain but sometimes I feel frustrated with myself for having intense moments of grief.  I feel guilty when I have a bad day because I don’t want to give off the impression that I am not grateful. I’m learning that I can be grateful and still feel sorrow and pain. I’m learning that I’m allowed to have a breakdown and it doesn’t make me stupid or weak. I strive to be kind and generous to myself; allowing my grief to come and go.  A goal I have is to be more present because the things that make me feel the most anxious, overwhelmed, and worried, come from looking too far into the future.

Thanks Cierra for letting me share some thoughts and a small piece of my story.

 

Thank you so much Paula for sharing your story with me and my readers. You have always been a little light in my life and I’m so glad we’re still in touch. Your strength has always inspired me and I love you girl.

 

Kevin Yule

June 5, 1964 – August 16, 2017

Growing up, Kevin was like a father to me. I had a very turbulent household and a terrible relationship with my dad. Kevin, thank you for always being there when I needed a father. Your love always meant the world to me and I can never thank you enough for all of the times you picked me up at midnight, sobbing uncontrollably, because of my circumstances. For always opening your home to me when I needed somewhere safe to go. And for showing me what true love looks like. You always loved and respected your wife, Debbie, so much and it truly showed me what I needed in a man. Thank you for always loving everyone around you and being a beautiful human being. I miss you often.

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June – Not Letting Mental Illness Define You

June – Not Letting Mental Illness Define You

June Mental Health Discussion

Not Letting Mental Illness Define You

 

Hello all! And welcome to this month’s mental health discussion. This month was a suggestion by quite a few of the readers over this last year. I haven’t written about it until now because honestly, I’ve let it define me and who I am as a person. It’s been the sole focus of my life for a long time but I’ve finally learned how to let it be a part of me without it being the whole of me. Now, let’s get started.

Ahh good ‘ol mental illness. Sometimes it can feel like you’re not even in control of your own thoughts and emotions. It can feel soul crushing, quite frankly. Some days it’s all I can even think about. How do we go about changing this? It controls every second of our lives it seems and I never really knew how to think of myself as more than just somebody who suffers from Bipolar Disorder and anxiety. It just seemed like such a huge part of me that all the others aspects of my personality kind of faded away. Personally, I’m not the best when it comes to not letting mental illness define you. I’ll be the first to admit that. However, I’ve definitely improved over the last 6 months. It’s been a work in progress but if I can do it, so can you! I think the biggest struggle I have in not letting it define who I am is the fact that I am such a huge advocate for mental health and talking about the tough things. It’s such a main goal and focus on mine to destigmatize mental health. Now, when you’re this passionate about something, it can be hard to remember I’m an average person with every day interests. Yes, I suffer from mental illness. Yes, it affects me every day. No, it does not need to be the sole focus of who I am.

One of the first things that really helped me get out of my slump of letting it define who I am was finding other interests outside of my blog. It’s so nice to get lost in something I enjoy and take my mind off of the struggles. Personally, I enjoy painting, drawing, writing, and reading. These are things that are not only therapeutic and good for my mental health, but it lets me remember that I’m good at things! I’m not an artist by any means but I would say I’m pretty okay at the hobbies I have and enjoy. It gives me a sense of purpose and makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something once I’m done. I think it’s so important to have hobbies and interests. It gives you an escape from your own head and I think it’s really beneficial to everyone, not just people suffering.

Now, the biggest things that helps when it comes to this topic honestly, is just being open about your struggles. Tell your friends and family that you struggle. Tell your doctor and health care professionals. Tell the whole world! I know this is so much easier said than done to be this vulnerable, but it’s so important. One of the reasons mental illness has consumed my life so significantly is because the only person that really knew how much I was struggling for a long time was my mom. I didn’t really tell my friends that I was depressed or potentially had bipolar. I didn’t tell them to reason I don’t drive is because of anxiety. I was not ready to tell the world. Looking back on it now, it really hindered me in so many ways. It put distance between me and my friends, it affected my grades and motivation, it even affected my sleep. It’s hard not to let something define you when it’s this big secret. When it’s something that is out there and in the open, it just becomes common knowledge. The “coming out” if you will about mental illness can be very uncomfortable. But I really encourage people to do so. It completely changes your head space and feelings about it.

Now this part is going to be some tough love, so get ready. SUCK. IT. UP. Let me explain. Sometimes you have to have the tough conversation with yourself. While I do not want to belittle mental illness in any way, I think we really need to lighten up the situation sometimes and count your blessings. When I feel really overwhelmed by my disorders, I like to count out the things I have and am thankful for. I have a roof over my head, food to eat, a partner who loves me, amazing friends, a great therapist, my mom, etc. It gives a lot of perspective into how lucky we truly are, despite our stupid chemical imbalances. When we’re struggling, it’s hard not to feel like the victim. It’s so easy to say “poor me, this is so unfair”. I am the first to admit I am so horribly guilty of this, but I’m doing my best to work on it. But honestly, you have to just deal with the cards you’ve been dealt in this life. No amount of self pity is going to change your reality. The best you can do is pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and say a big “fuck you” to your mental illness.

Lastly, one of the things to do if you’re really struggling with this is to seek therapy. Therapists and psychologists have so many amazing tools and knowledge on a wide variety of things, including how to help with issues regarding your identity. I think it can be hard to do without professional help, so don’t be afraid to bring it up in your next session. I think everyone who suffers from mental illness struggles with letting it completely consume them. And it’s hard to fault them for that. Mental illness dictates your whole life. It affects relationships (with yourself and with others), emotions, trains of thought, etc. It literally affects you every second of every day, even if you’re managing it well. It’s always there, lingering, waiting. So please, see if your counseling resource has any tips and tricks for you, or even just talk about it. Sometimes it’s just nice for people to listen. It brings this big weight off your chest and afterwards you feel a little freer.

Thank you so much for reading this month’s mental health discussion. I hope it’s been a helpful read for those of you who were requesting to hear about this topic. The main take away – only you can control how you feel about yourself and your illness. Remember to be kind to yourself.

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How to Make Friend with the Dark by Kathleen Glasgow

How to Make Friend with the Dark by Kathleen Glasgow

How to Make Friends with the Dark by Kathleen Glasgow

Rating: (4.5 / 5)

Genre: YA Contemporary

Content: Grief, teen struggle awareness

Synopsis: It has always been Tiger and her mother against the world. So what happens when you lose the one person you thought would always be there? Darkness begins to surround Tiger as she navigates through grief, the foster care system, and deciphering the mystery around who her father is.

 

This book had me hooked right from the beginning. One of the things I really enjoyed was that it never felt like there were “filler” chapters. All of the content was written with a purpose and it made it such an easy read, while still having a lot of depth. The author covers a variety of issues that teens go through; loss of a parent or loved one, addiction, the struggles and downsides of the foster care system in the United States, as well as dealing with the darkness that comes with it all. The darkness that falls on your mind and your body. I think it definitely helps that the book is based on true events, the authenticity shines through every page.

The characters in this book were all very enjoyable. There was a lot of development in each of them and you get lots of background into what made them the way they are today. Our main character, “Tiger” aka Grace, goes through so much development and truly does go through the 5 stages of grief. Her mom is the only person she has ever really been able to rely on her entire life. They are living paycheck to paycheck and that comes with it’s own struggle once her mother passes away. Since she has no other known family, as her mom kept her dads identity a secret all these years, she ends up in the foster care system. She meets some other kids and teens along the way and truly has to find out who she is without her mother there to take care of her.

I wish I could go into more about what I loved about this book, but I don’t want to give anything away and think you should discover all of the wonderful things about this book on your own. So go read it, now!

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June Warrior – Lauren H.

June Warrior – Lauren H.

This next Warrior is someone I am in awe of. I reached out to Lauren back in April after coming across her page on Instagram. Seeing how open she is about her mental health, I knew I had to ask her to share her story with you guys. Although she suffers from a variety of mental ailments, she is so strong and using her platform just like me, to raise awareness about the issues surrounding mental health. She immediately accepted my offer and here is her story.

During the first week of grade eight, I suddenly felt very down. I lost all my motivation, and cried. I barely slept which made it almost impossible for me to get up and go to school in the morning. After a week of staying in bed, my mother brought me to the clinic, and they assumed I had mono. The following Monday, as my mom attempted to get me to go to school again, I experienced my first panic attack. Later, I was then diagnosed with anxiety and depression. My mother decided it was best to homeschool me until I could cope a little better. My life was a constant rollercoaster. Some days I could go to school and others I could barely function.

I ended up being homeschooled for over half of the year from grade eight until grade ten, when I was put into the dropout program with the school board due to my lack of attendance. Throughout those years, I was put on many different medications and tried multiple forms of counselling. Unfortunately, nothing seemed to work. I struggled badly with my mental health. And I used very bad mechanisms to cope with life. The main things I did to cope included self-harm, isolation, pushing away everyone I loved, crying, and eating. My life had gotten to the point where I had to be hospitalized twice because my life was at risk and I was extremely suicidal. I was very alone and afraid. All my friends had either abandoned me, or I was being severely bullied by them. I barely left my room. If I happened to go out in public, I would experience extreme panic attacks and would draw a lot of unwanted attention to myself.

Years later, at the age of 17, I was graduating from a new high school. My life had finally seemed to turn around and became okay. I convinced myself to get my driver’s license and apply for post-secondary school. I was accepted into my program of choice at the local university during early acceptance.  During the summer, I experienced severe anxiety around the idea of going to university as I believed I wasn’t smart enough. So, I decided to go to the well-known college in my hometown.

When post-secondary started, my life went downhill. I was put back on medication. This medication ended up reacting negatively with my body, therefore, making me go crazy and caused me to contemplate suicide. I also developed an eating disorder which lead me to lose an unhealthy 20 pounds off my already small body. I realized I hated the program I was in. I felt like my life was ending. I ended up dropping out of the program and studying general arts for a few years. As schooling continued, my eating disorder got worse. I ended getting down to a weight of 80 lbs and being admitted to hospital. I spent 3 months on the medical unit on an IV and NG tube, and after gaining some weight, I was sent to the states for another 4 months for residential treatment.

Life after treatment was great, I thought I was improving, and I was finally happy. A little too happy. I wouldn’t sleep because I had so much energy, I was doing impulsive things like getting tattoos and piercings, and I wouldn’t stop talking. Little did I know I was experiencing a manic episode. That fall, I was diagnosed with bipolar and borderline personality disorder. We all know that when there’s a high, there eventually has to be a down. And mine just happened to be a crash. I ended up relapsing in self harm and doing other impulsive things trying put myself at risk. To this day, I am still trying to figure out which mixture of medications work for me. And I am happy to say that after dropping out of school for a year I am finally going back in the fall for social work. My ultimate dream is to become a public speaker, I hope to bring awareness to mental health issues and help people understand how real they are. I want to bring light into the eyes of those who only see darkness, like I have in many times in my life. I am already starting this process by sharing my story on my recovery account, @laurenhourtovenko, on Instagram. My goal for this platform is just to give one person a reason to continue fighting. Now, go be a wildflower.

 

THANK YOU Lauren, for being one of the bravest souls I have met. Not only were you courageous enough to start your social media profiles about your life and your struggles, but you were willing to share your life with a total stranger when you sent this to me. I can’t express how much that always means to me when my Warriors do that. It is such a privilege to share your stories.

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Pillow Thoughts by Courtney Peppernell

Pillow Thoughts by Courtney Peppernell

Pillow Thoughts by Courtney Peppernell

Rating: (5 / 5)

Genre: Poetry

“There are things I cannot control

and memories I can never erase,

and in the times I don’t feel whole,

I will always search for your face.

You are every star burning in the sky,

you are every golden leaf in the tallest tree,

you are a pattern, a snowflake, and every firefly,

and I will still love you even when we’re eighty-three.

I will stand by you in every new day

even when people seem so unkind

because you are beautiful despite what they say

and you are everything I’ve wanted to find.

For all the places in which we go

for one day you might be my wife,

I think we both already know

I am yours in every life.”

First off, I am obsessed with this collection of poetry. There is Pillow Thoughts I, II, and III (to be released in Aug).

One of my favorite things about this poetry collection is that the author has divided them into categories depending on your mood/what you’re going through. Heartbreak, being in love, losing yourself, etc. I feel like anyone can relate to her poetry in their own way. I love authors that do this division because it makes it easier for me to read only poems that I need during that time. It’s a great strategy.

The other thing I enjoy is that this book is written by a member of the LGBTQ community. And it is insanely successful! Look how far we’ve come, reading about the love between two women. It really makes my heart whole. While I can’t relate to certain words or phrases depending on the piece, I can still relate overall to most of the poems. I’ve loved and lost, I’ve had my heart broken, I’ve felt a little lost sometimes. Overall she does an amazing job making the poems personal, while still expressing herself in a way that others can sympathize with.

Lastly, I just love her writing style. Poetry is very hit or miss for a lot of people based upon what style of writing they enjoy. Personally, I really enjoy her writing style and the way she verbalizes her thoughts and feelings. I love the flow, I love the way the words form together into something beautiful and heartfelt. That’s what poetry is all about – making you feel something.

I highly recommend these poetry collections for all ages/stages of life.

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