Author: Cierra

July Warrior – Shealeigh

July Warrior – Shealeigh

Hello, and welcome to my next Warrior of the Month! This month’s guest post is very special to me because it’s written by one of my best friends! Shealeigh is literally one of my favorite people. While she has had her struggles, she never ceases to make me laugh and smile and she’s infectious to be around. I hope you all enjoy reading her very raw and real story.

March 2019 Edmonton Alberta

Hello! My name is Shealeigh and I am a 27-year-old woman living in Edmonton, Alberta. I am an energetic and passionate high school English teacher, empathetic friend, Bachelor franchise binge-watcher, and enjoy being creative by painting the afternoons away. Despite the qualities I love about myself, I have had a lifetime of uphill and downhill battles dealing with mental illness. I am currently living with borderline personality disorder (BPD) but have also been previously diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and have symptoms of binge eating disorder. I was diagnosed with BPD a year and a half ago, and am proud to say that I am in remission after therapy and medical intervention. After a lifetime of struggling to control my emotions, I can happily say I no longer meet the essential criteria for BPD. Today, I hope to share my story and to give others struggling to control their emotions reassurance that it can, and will, get better. 

What is Borderline Personality Disorder?

Let’s start with a definition of borderline personality disorder. BPD can be exceptionally misunderstood and stigmatized due to representation in the media and medical community. BPD can also be referenced as emotionally unstable personality disorder. This definition is from the DSM 5, which is essentially the psychiatry bible and helps identify mental illness. I’ve changed some vocabulary to make it more digestible, something I wish someone had done for me when I was researching the disorder.

Borderline Personality Disorder: A reoccurring pattern of unstable interpersonal relationships and sense of self, marked impulsivity beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following: 

(1) frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. 

(2) a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships, alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation 

(3) identity disturbance: persistent unstable self-image or sense of self 

(4) impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating). 

(5) recurrent suicidal behaviour, gestures, threats, or self-mutilating behaviour. 

(6) constant instability due to rapid changes in mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, depression or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and rarely more than a few days) 

(7) chronic feelings of emptiness 

(8) inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights) 

(9) stress-related paranoia or severe dissociative symptoms

At the time of my diagnosis, I identified with all 9 symptoms. Persons with BPD are often painted as being manipulative, emotionally inappropriate, crazy, attention-seeking, and have dangerous black and white ‘all or nothing’ (splitting) thinking. Undiagnosed and untreated, these symptoms are a cry for help and are often the cause of childhood trauma, abandonment, and learned behaviour. However, persons with BPD can also have extreme compassion, heightened creativity, superior emotional empathy, great curiosity, immense passion, and a whole lot of love to give. Believing persons with BPD are dangerous, untreatable, or attention-seeking reinforces stigma which places significant barriers to getting the help that is so desperately needed.

My Story with Borderline Personality Disorder

Diagnosing my disorder was a long road as I am a very high functioning individual. Because of this, I fell through the cracks of the system for almost a decade. I aimed to be ‘perfect’ in every aspect of my life: friendships, relationships, and careers. Curating the most perfect image of myself to my friends, family, and followers became an obsession. Behind the facade, however, I was fragile and unable to answer the question of who I was, what I liked about myself, or what I wanted in life. 

From a young age, I knew that I felt emotions more deeply and strongly than a lot of my peers. A stubbed toe, failed test, or a broken friendship would cause meltdowns and a roller coaster of feelings that I could never identify. Mixed with an unstable sense of self, body image issues, and a plethora of out of body experiences, I thought my dramatic and dichotomous thinking was just who I was. I was raised in a household with two loving parents that, despite their traumatic and difficult upbringing, did the best they could. Though not always a healthy environment, I believe I developed BPD as a cause of genetics and learned behaviour from my parents, who had been abused and abandoned their entire childhoods. 

By its definition, holding stable emotions and relationships has always been difficult for me. As a teen and young adult, I felt inconsolable loneliness and felt abandoned by the smallest comments or slights, immediately burning bridges at the first sign of a disagreement. Being called ‘dramatic’ by partners, family, and friends had become a personality trait. My disorder became heightened during my first year of university when I was thrust into a world alone with no coping skills. I felt no validation except for fighting, drinking, and sex during these first two years in university. After a suicide attempt in my dorm room, unbeknown to my friends or roommate, I got into therapy and was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and immediately put on medication. 

This was the first time I faced a barrier to my diagnosis in the medical field based on the stigma of BPD. I asked my therapist about BPD after learning about it in a psychology class. Every symptom resonated with me, even as a 19-year-old. My counsellor told me I couldn’t possibly have the disorder, as one can ‘feel the evilness in the room’ when someone with BPD walks in. She discussed how I, as a functioning, kind, and compassionate young woman could not possibly have the disorder. I had been lying to my counsellor for two years about my suicidal behaviour, cheating, stealing, and lack of sense of self because I didn’t want her to believe I was evil or manipulative. My desire to curate a perfect life continued even in a space that was supposed to be safe. 

Years passed and the negative coping mechanisms got worse. I continued to cheat, lie, fight, steal, self-harm, and manipulate as a way to cope with my guilt and shame. I hustled to be a successful young professional with a squeaky-clean resume and a forged fake personality. I was constantly petrified that the ones I loved most would leave me if they knew the truth of my imperfection, and the cycle of abuse on myself continued. I was engaged and trapped in an unhealthy, co-dependent, and physically/emotionally abusive relationship. Both of us suffered from serious mental illness concerns that went ignored. After threatening to leave me in an ultimatum, I abandoned family, intuition, and supports to move to a new city as I was manipulated into believing I would not survive without him. At this point, my symptoms became unbearable. I went to multiple counsellors and psychiatrists who all reiterated the same stereotypes as the first, even when I vowed to be completely honest in my struggles. More invalidation continued: I was too high functioning, too successful, too empathetic. After a suicide attempt and psychotic break in December of 2018, my then-partner called the police and took me directly to the hospital. This was the wake-up call I needed and I was, at last, diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. 

At my worst was when things began to get better. I got a new psychiatrist and psychologist at the Grey Nuns Hospital who work specifically with BPD

December 2018 – Home from the hospital after diagnosis

patients. I sobbed in their office as they validated that I was worthy of help. I began my journey through Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) which teaches practical coping mechanisms to deal with extreme emotions. This therapy truly and honestly saved my life and I would highly recommend it to anyone struggling with extreme emotional responses. After being thrown on to the streets and homeless after my then-partner discovered my infidelity after reading my journal, I continued to work hard knowing that my life had meaning, despite what he had told me. Over the last year, I have completed DBT therapy can fully manage my emotions and relationships to a point in which I never have before. I lived alone, cut off toxic relationships, focused on my wellness, practiced my skills, and seriously invested in my happiness without the fear of looking imperfect. 

A year and a half after getting diagnosed, I am nowhere near perfect and for the first time in my life, I don’t want to be. I feel freedom like never before and am exponentially happier in life. I’ve lost very important people to me along the way, but it truly showed me the tenacity of my spirit. There is nothing in life I can’t conquer, because instead of trying to suppress and hide my emotions, there is power in learning how to control and express them. 

July 2020 – Happier and healthier than ever!

Resources

– Meme Pages (laugh to keep from crying and know you are not alone)

    • Instagram: BPDepresso, BPD_beautiful, BPD_warriors, emotions_therapy, bpdmatters, lindsaybraman
    • Facebook: Therapy Memes Group, BPD memes and support.

– Support Groups

    • Facebook: We’re Warriors ‘BPD’ support group, BPD partner/family support group.In person support groups are limited due to COVID19

– Alberta Resources

    • Famialberta.ca – leap training and support groups for persons with BPD and family members who want to support
    • Family Connections Program – free course to help you or loved ones deal with BPD. My family members have completed this course.
    • OWLPOD.ca Mental Health Clinic – free and covered by Alberta health with no referral from a doctor. 587-834-6704.
    • Dialectical Behavioural Therapy Program – Sheldon Chumir Health Centre. 403-943-1500.
    • Emotions Anonymous meetup.com/emotions-anonymous-edmonton (online classes – highly recommend)
My Journey with Sobriety

My Journey with Sobriety

Hello all, and welcome to my next blog post. This month, I wanted to write a post about my addiction and sobriety. It is something I felt ashamed of for so long, and now I’m embracing it as part of my journey, and I want to share my story for others who might be struggling. So, here we go.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been addicted to alcohol. Starting from the first time I used it to numb my feelings. I was 14, and my dad had just left a few weeks prior. I was so confused and angry and, well, an unmedicated bipolar teenager. I wanted to forget my problems. I wanted to escape.

An older boy invited me and my friend over to hang out, so we went. And I got drunk for the first time. We drank rye. An entire bottle between 3 teenagers, me having had a bit more than the others. I remember watching a movie and then it all goes dark. I have bits and pieces from the night; being half dragged home, trying to get to my room and not wake up my mom, and puking. A lot. I had the worst hangover the next day and I got in a huge amount of trouble, as my mom had walked in on me throwing up the night before and knew what had happened based on the smell. I remember thinking “I am never drinking again”. And I didn’t, for a while. Until I realized I missed being drunk. I missed the freedom I felt, I missed feeling numb to what was going on in my life.

By 16, I was drinking fairly regularly. Whether it was at a party, at a friend’s house, or sneaking alcohol into my own home. At this point, being 27 now, I barely remember my life before alcohol. It has always been a part of how I dealt with my emotions when it all became too much for me. And once I turned 18 and could buy my own alcohol, everything changed.

I don’t recall a lot of my early twenties. Ages 18 to 24 honestly are a bit of a blur for me. I was so drunk all the time, that I have holes in my memory. Most nights I drank, were to the point of being a stumbling drunk mess. I said and did things I would normally never do. I would drink every day, and it would always be in large amounts. I didn’t understand moderation. I chased the numbing effect alcohol gave me, as I had not confronted any issues from my past. I was in total denial that I even had a problem. I always had the excuse that all my friends drank as much as me, and as often. I kept bad company and fed off their addictions too. All I ever wanted to do was drink. I stopped having other interests.

I spent my mornings hung over and embarrassed. I was so humiliated by my actions the night before and it seemed every day there was a reason to be ashamed of my actions. I hated the feeling, but I was addicted so I kept drinking. Once I turned 24, I started trying to get sober. Trying and failing, many times over. The longest I could seem to stay sober was a week. I struggled for 2 years, when finally, as we all know, I started having some terrible stomach issues. I had caused permanent damage to my body and could no longer drink in excess. I physically couldn’t anymore. While I was annoyed at the time, it ended up being the biggest blessing. I HAD to stop drinking. I no longer had a choice, because I physically couldn’t keep it down long enough to get drunk.

Alcohol had its claws so deep in me, I literally never thought I would be able to get sober. It seemed impossible, and the temptation would always be there. In some ways, I was angry when I thought about getting sober. Angry that I would have to be “different”, even more than I already was. I was so annoyed that I wouldn’t be able to have a glass of wine at a nice dinner or have a drink when I went camping. I was so angry at the world for dealing me these cards; bipolar, GAD, childhood trauma, AND addiction? It felt so unfair. I spent so many years fighting the urge to drink and being told by every single program that it had to be all or nothing.

When I started therapy in November 2017, I was so damaged, so broken. And it took almost 2 full years of therapy to prepare me for sobriety. While I had tried and failed many times to be sober, this time was sticking. My stomach issues started March of 2019, and by August, I was so ready for sobriety. Since August 23rd 2019, I have had 3 relapses. 3 relapses in 10 months. I didn’t realise I had progressed so much in therapy until I tried to get sober this one final time. I had learned to regulate my emotions, I had learned a bunch of different coping tools, and overall, my mood had improved thanks to medication and therapy. I was no longer depressed. There literally just stopped being a reason for me to drink.

The fact that I have been “mostly” sober for 10 months feels surreal. I don’t identify with the girl I was before. It feels like a totally different past life of mine that I don’t care to remember. I’ve truly grown so much, maturity wise and in how I deal with my emotions. My last relapse was in mid February this year, so I am 4 months sober now. 4 months is the longest I’ve been sober since I was 14 years old. And I am extremely proud of that. I have a long way to go still, but I’m so happy with the way my life is going and how much my outlook has changed.

For anyone trying to get sober, it’s going to be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. But I can tell you that it will be worth it.

May Warrior – Danessa

May Warrior – Danessa

Welcome to my next Warrior of the Month! This month, we discuss ADHD, anxiety, and depression. Danessa reached out to me a few months ago wanting to share her story with the world. She is extremely resilient for such a young age and I’m honored she chose me to share her journey. Read her story below:

Hi, I’m Danessa and I’m 18 years old. I struggle with Anxiety, Depression, and ADHD. I’ve struggled with them for most of my life.

When I was about a year and a half my parents noticed that I was constantly hitting my head off of walls, floors and basically whatever I could find. They thought it was just behavioral issues so they just followed discipline protocols until I hit about four years old. They noticed that it was getting worse. I not only hit my head off of things, I started to do other risky things such as lay in the middle of the street and wait for a vehicle to come.

My parents both decided to take me to see a pediatric psychiatrist where I underwent multiple test and then put on medication that didn’t seem to work. Things were getting progressively worse; I felt as if everyone was against me and wanted to hurt me. At the age of twelve I was hospitalized for attempting suicide three times. Being admitted wasn’t the best thing for me at that time. I wouldn’t eat, or sleep or even talk to the doctors. I felt like I was being isolated and that I was a bad kid who deserved anything but love. After seeing many doctors about these issues, at the age of 13, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and a severe depressive disorder and put on another set of medication that, yet again, didn’t work.

Fast forward to age 15 when I was faced with one of biggest challenges of my life. My dad passed away and my mom met another man. We moved five hours away from all of my family. My dad and I were super close so I took the loss of him very very hard.

After my dad passed away, I felt as if there was no point in trying or it’s never gonna get better so I tried to take my life again. I was hospitalized yet again for another suicide attempt. After being put on another kind of medication, I was put into therapy to learn how to cope with these high emotions. Those medication finally decided to work and I started to feel okay again. And then I entered High School. My senior year of high school was anything but good. I couldn’t focus, I was getting into fights and constantly in the principals office. I even tried to end my life by sticking a paper clip in a electrical socket in my physics class, My Guidance Counsellor suggested that I speak to the psychiatrist about further testing. I did, and a month and a half before my 18th birthday I was diagnosed with severe ADHD.

Multiple teachers, parents of friends, and even family members were telling my parents that all the signs I was showing were ADHD, but my parents decided that it wasn’t ADHD. They thought I was just attention seeking. They use to make me feel like my feelings didn’t matter and I had to grow up. The way my parents acted about my feelings and emotions made me feel like I was worthless and that I shouldn’t be here. There has been and still are nights that I lay in bed and cry to the point where my body goes numb because I feel like I should just end it and there’s really no point in being here.

Just this past February I tried to take my life again. I was basically just there; I was breathing but I didn’t feel alive. My two year old nephew looked at me and asked if I was okay, and it broke my heart to know that a two year old little boy could notice that something wasn’t quite right. He looked at my arm where the cut was, and he took that arm and kissed it and then said that aunties boo boo all better. After that experience I decided that I was time to reach out of help because there’s someone who looks up to me. So that’s what I did. I went to counselling and therapy which helped so so much I felt that there’s other way to escape theses feeling and thoughts without ending my life. I started to feel alive again. I was happy, I was socializing more, and I didn’t feel like I was isolated. I finally felt like I mattered!

After being put on yet another medication, I could focus, I wasn’t fighting as much and I didn’t get sent to the principals office as much. I was a happier person. I still struggle today but I know that there’s light at the end of the dark tunnel because I’ve been stuck in that dark tunnel for many years, I reached out for help and spoke up. And because I took that step I am now a much more fun, energetic and lovable person!! It gets better I promise.

Danessa, you’ve been through so much in such a short amount of time. Thank you very much for sharing your story with me and my readers. I wish you nothing but the best and hope you’re able to continue on the road to recovery.

April Warrior – Hope

April Warrior – Hope

Hello! And welcome to my next Warrior of the Month. This month’s Warrior, Hope, is a friend of mine. We met on instagram and we quickly connected over our love for literature, and our mental health struggles. Read Hope’s story below:

I was a pretty emotional kid – I cried easily, took everything to heart, and cared too much what people thought of me. I was told I was too emotional, to lighten up, or that I was over dramatic.When I went into high school, I started having episodes of insomnia that would last for days –  sometimes I would be awake for so long I would start hallucinating. Other times I would crash into a sleep so deep I lost whole days, sleeping through alarm clocks and every attempt by my mother to get me out of bed to school (including her destroying various things in my room). I lost control of my emotions, would cry or suddenly be enraged at the slightest provocation. After repeatedly telling me that I was lazy and she wasnt tolerating it, my mother took me to the doctors to “prove” that there was no reason for me to be like this.
I was tentatively diagnosed with type II bipolar, also called hypomania, and referred for counselling.

As I was still a minor, my mother had full control over my health care. She accompanied me to therapy where my illness was explained to her in detail. The therapist went on to explain how her methods of “handling” my manic and depressive phases were not only unhelpful, but harmful, and could exacerbate my symptoms. My mother proceeded to lose her shit on my therapist, told them that they were “making excuses” for me and that we would not be coming back.
I was a minor – I had no say in the matter.

For the next ten years I struggled on my own trying to manage my highs and lows. In retrospect I should have started looking for my own care as soon as I was old enough to be medically emancipated, but it is hard to see and think clearly when you’re in the thick of it and have been made to feel that nothing is seriously wrong and you’re just a terrible, lazy, burden on your parent.

When I became a parent myself, I started to notice my mood swings becoming less aggressive, but my anxiety suddenly was front and center. I catastrophized everything, and saw the inevitable dangers of life everywhere. It felt like living in a Final Destination movie waiting to happen.
What if we get into a car accident and the car catches fire and I can’t get the baby out of her car seat in time?
What if we are walking to the park and a car jumps the curb and hits the baby?
My brain cycled and cycled with all these terrifying thoughts and scenarios. I would randomly be overcome with anxiety so extreme that I couldn’t breathe. I would have to leave places to go sit in the car and cry. And the more this happened, the more my mood deteriorated.

I didn’t even realize I was depressed until after I had my second daughter. I remember lying in bed calling into the school for my oldest, saying she was sick, when really I just couldn’t face the day. I kept her home for a whole week. I don’t remember doing anything, just floating down to the kitchen in a daze to feed my kids and then went back to bed. I don’t even know what my oldest did to occupy those days, she was only 6 years old. That week was the lowest point, when I finally realized I needed help.

I went to the doctors and after several visits, was re-diagnosed with severe Generalized Anxiety Disorder and depression, and I started my uphill battle with medication. One thing that I have always had problems with is medications. I am allergic to most major antibiotics, and over the years have developed a theory that I may be allergic to something in binding agents for pills because I vomit 20-30 minutes after taking anything from vitamins, supplements, or medications. So I was wary about starting any medications knowing I was likely to have problems, but I was so desperate for help that I had to try.

First we tried Cipralex. I was told it was a new medication, well tolerated with minimal side effects. The first week on it, I was sick to my stomach with nausea and dizziness. The doctor said that would pass as my body adjusted. After the sickness went away I was exhausted. A deep bone tired, like I spent the day walking around with led weights strapped all over my body. The exhaustion was so all-consuming that I became a shell. I started falling asleep on the couch as soon as I got home from work. I tried going to bed earlier at night but it didn’t help, my husband had to shake me violently in the mornings to wake me up for work. I was so tired that often, just breathing felt like an effort, that I didn’t even have the energy for autonomic responses. My brain was in a constant fog; I would ask the same questions repeatedly and I had trouble recalling common-place words. I started to forget things, like as soon as they happened my brain would just let the memories go rather than convert them to long-term storage. We realised how bad it had gotten when I forgot my oldest daughter’s ninth birthday, and couldn’t understand why she was telling me she was turning 10. That was the moment that broke me, that I knew I had to come off of this medication. My anxiety wasn’t better, I was just too exhausted and out of it to feel anything. I was numb.

We went back to the doctor and he switched me to Wellbutrin, hoping maybe things would get better. My fatigue did improve even though it never fully resolved, but it was burning off to reveal something even worse: rage. I was so angry all the time. I was shouting and throwing things, I would scream until I could taste blood in my throat. I broke down in self doubt so badly, thinking I had to surrender my kids to CAS because I thought anything would be better for them than me. I cannot imagine what would have happened if my husband hadn’t been there to reassure me that this wasn’t who I really was, and suggest that maybe I wasn’t tolerating the Wellbutrin either.

My doctor weaned me off Wellbutrin and referred me to a psychiatrist hoping that an expert could provide some insight and come up with a medication solution that would suit me. I met with a psych and he confirmed my diagnoses of severe GAD and depression, but he also diagnosed me with something I had never heard of before: obsessive compulsive personality disorder. The biggest problem with OCPD he explained, is that our society values the traits of this personality disorder so highly that people do not even realize that anything is wrong. Extreme perfectionism, extreme organization, high grades, hard worker… all of those things sound great, but the problem with OCPD is that we strive to achieve these accomplishments and successes even if it sacrifices our health and well being. I walked away from that appointment with a new diagnosis, a stack of reading materials about my disorder and CBT and DBT techniques to manage it, and a new prescription for Effexor.

The Effexor was probably the least problematic of all the meds I had tried, but it gave me such bad heart palpitations that you could see my pulse jumping in my throat, and it would get so string that it would set off my gag reflex. So off the Effexor I went.

It has been about a year since I came off my last medication, and I have been managing as best I can with talk therapy and CBT/DBT techniques. It is not perfect. There are still nights I lie awake with racing thoughts, or times I am so depressed I cancel all my plans and cry and cry. I am still fatigued although it is not as debilitating as it was. My doctor speculates that my issues with Cipralex caused a permanent Chronic Fatigue Syndrome that I will likely struggle with for my whole life. I never did get back whatever memories I lost during that period of my life. And although maybe my mental health isn’t stable, it is getting better. I am learning to recognize my feelings and do what I can to prepare myself for the wave that is coming. My husband has learned how to watch for my tells when my mental health is suffering, and tries to effectively disrupt my negative thought processes or give me an out to extricate myself from a potentially triggering situation.

My mother is still a major stressor on my mental health, and that will never change. No matter how many years we put between us and that first doctors visit, she still refuses to admit that she was wrong, or that she was ever part of the problem. She stands firm in her belief that my doctor encouraged me to continue my destructive behaviours, and refuses to acknowledge that therapy and medication could have made me much more capable of existing without struggle. I do my best to emotionally remove myself from her, and I monitor her interactions with my children carefully to ensure she keeps her manipulative behaviour to herself. She will never change and in therapy I have learned that to try to change her is only detrimental to myself. 

I have come a long way from where I started, and having others to talk to who suffer from similar disorders can be so empowering. To hear that others have been through or go through the same things I do helps me to realize I am not a broken human. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with me as a person, and after spending the first 14 years of my life being made to believe that I was the problem, it has been so healing to learn that there are others on various stages of the same journey and that I am not alone. 

I enjoy spending time with my family and I no longer feel the need to separate myself from them to protect them from my mood swings. If I have taught my girls nothing else, it is the importance of mental health, and of saying your sorry when you make a mistake. I am trying every single day to be a better person, a better parent. I don’t always succeed and sometimes I have bad days, but at least I am trying. And I think that counts for a lot.
Miss Hope, I love you girl! Thank you so much for sharing your story with me and my readers. You’re such a trooper and I truly am inspired by you. Your strength and persistence never ceases to amaze me.
See y’all next month..
The Reality of Concurrent Disorders

The Reality of Concurrent Disorders

Hello & welcome to my totally unscheduled blog post!

I’ve debated sharing this information with not just my readers, but my friends and family who follow my blog. However, in my opinion, sharing the information and spreading the message far outweighs any negative impacts this may have. So, here we go.

I’ve spoken about concurrent disorders before – a concurrent disorder is when someone struggles from both mental health issues and substance abuse issues simultaneously. As most of you already know, I not only have bipolar disorder and anxiety, but I am also an alcoholic.

Now you may be asking, if we already knew this about you, why are you so nervous to share about it? Well, alcoholism is something I am extremely ashamed of. It is not something that I take lightly and I’ve been a not so great person in the past because of my alcoholism. But recent developments have made me decide I needed to make a post about this, and spread the word on the dangers of being an alcoholic. Here’s my story:

In March 2019, when I was on a trip with my husband to Toronto, I started spontaneously vomiting. Waves of nausea would hit me, and I would throw up almost immediately. Now, projectile vomiting is not something I was used to, so I knew something was wrong. This continued my whole trip, and when I returned home. I saw my family doctor who assumed, because of my alcoholism, I was experiencing alcohol induced gastritis (essentially my stomach was swelling and red and irritated). I decided I needed to try and get sober, for real this time. After some ups ad downs, and dealing with these stomach issues almost daily, I decided in August 2019 I would no longer drink excessively. I had been “sober” (still having an occasional glass of wine) starting August 22.

Fast forward to February 2020 – my relapse. I was hanging out with friends and I genuinely forgot for a minute that I was an alcoholic. I over drank and have been paying for it since. Time to see the doctor again. My doctor decided to do a blood panel in January (for other reasons) and unfortunately, the results were abnormal. So, I was ordered some more specific testing to recheck some values and hopefully see what was going on. Well, this week, I got a call saying my results were in, and my doctor needed me to come in and see him.

The results of my blood work were consistent with liver damage.

I am a 27 year old woman, who has drank so excessively that I am already damaging my body.

While my doctor suspects it is reversible and likely just alcoholic fatty liver (as my values have gone down since my Jan blood work vs. my March blood work), it was still a very scary reality check. You never think you’ll be the one these things happen to. And being only 27, I figured there was no way I would be even close to liver damage yet. I was extremely wrong. I  now have to get my liver enzymes checked every 3 months, and potentially get an ultrasound to get to cirrhosis.

So, why am I telling you all this story that is my unfortunate reality?

I am hoping by sharing my experiences, I can persuade others to truly think about how damaging alcohol is. While not everyone is an alcoholic and plenty of people drink in health moderation, not everyone is so lucky. In 2018, Stats Canada recorded that of people between the ages of 18 and 34 in Canada, 28.7% were heavy drinkers. That is a pretty terrifying statistic in my opinion. More than 1 out of 4 people has an issue with alcohol consumption.

Alcohol is literal poison to your body, and I think I realize that now more than ever. PLEASE consider what you’re putting into your body and how it can affect you. And if you are an alcoholic like me, please seek help and get sober, before it’s too late. Being young does NOT exempt you from the health issues that occur from excessive alcohol consumption. Alcohol is not worth losing your life folks, no matter how dark times may get.

  • Cierra

March Warrior – Courtney

March Warrior – Courtney

Welcome to March’s Warrior of the Month! This month we’ll be hearing about Courtney’s story. Courtney is a brave warrior who reached out to me, looking to share her story with the world. She has an instagram page that she runs called chronically_courtney where she discusses chronic illness (both physical and mental). Read her story below:

My story is a different one, I think, but maybe everyone feels that way.

I can’t honestly remember a time where I wasn’t in my head; feeling like I was different, something was different, or wrong, with me.

I knew for certain that something was wrong with my dad. He had these mood swings that kept him away from us a lot, saying he was working late (and maybe he was) more often than not. 

And something was maybe wrong with my mom, when for a period of time when I was a kid, I noticed she would cry any time she had to drive. But she was strong. And pulled herself together because nobody else was there to take care of us.

I was 13 when my parents finally split up and it was more of a relief than anything. Dad had left and came home so often we just needed normalcy and stability. By us I mean my 2 sisters and I, and I am the middle child (go figure).

That same summer that my dad left I had been sick. I felt fatigue that I couldn’t put into words, nausea, and like something was definitely wrong with me. My mom took me to doctor after doctor who wrote me off as a ‘tired teenager’ or that it was ‘possibly mono’ or I was ‘severely anemic’, before taking a good look at my bloodwork and sending me urgently to a hospital 2 hours away because I had leukemia. There it was. Something was wrong with me. And it was cancer. Getting cancer at 14 when you’re supposed to be entering high school is the definition of unfair. I missed that entire year of school and more than one friend seemed to forget I existed. There was no social media in 2001 and we didn’t have cell phones to text with. It made sense that I was depressed, the hospital psychologist told me, and it would probably go away when all of this was over.

But in December of 2003, when I finally finished chemotherapy, the depression wasn’t leaving.

And by summer of 2004 anxiety joined the lack of party in my head. I had watched a stupidly scary movie; When a Stranger Calls Back. A made-for-tv film about a ventriloquist who painted himself into walls and could throw his voice to confuse and lure his victims, and man oh man, this movie did some damage to my psyche. I had nightmares about it and told everyone I could talk to about how stupid this movie was, trying to convince myself that I was crazy for being scared of it.

I was 17 when I was babysitting 2 small boys a couple houses down from mine when I had my first panic attack, not even knowing what it was. I was terrified; I couldn’t breathe and I was just crying, almost paralyzed in fear. I called my mom, my friend and lastly, the parents of the children. I told them that everything was fine but my friend was going to come sit with me until they came home. They didn’t know what to think, and the next day they fired me because my panic attack scared them. 

I called my doctor and made an appointment with a psychologist and psychiatrist. I needed to get this under control. I was then diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Panic Attack Syndrome. I began medication for it and, thankfully, never felt any sort of stigma about taking this medication. Mainly because I was used to taking medication for my health, and secondly because my mom took medication for her anxiety as well. When I was struggling through this, my mom disclosed to me that she had panic attacks when I was younger, and that was why she cried when she drove. It was nice to not feel crazy, and now I know I have a little extra in common with my mom now.

I found out when I was older that my dad has bipolar disorder, and his mother did too. I guess mental health disorders are really genetic, aren’t they?

My health trials haven’t stopped as I’ve aged, but thankfully my mental health has at least remained stable. My disorders are still there, and they pop up a little extra hard every now and then, but hey, mostly consistent is nice. They’re like these little monkeys that just live on my back, but they’re not attacking me anymore. I have changed medications over the years (and stopped the medication for a few years when I got cocky in university), but I know I need them and that it’s okay. It keeps the monkeys docile.

I still have panic attacks from time to time, but they’re less screaming and crying and more internal and hard to explain. But I know I will be okay, even when my brain tries to convince me otherwise. I’m going to be 33 this year, and I still remember that first panic attack like it was yesterday. But I’m a huge fan of scary movies now, even though I will never watch the one that shall not be named ever again!

Thank you for letting me share my story!

Courtney

Thank you so much Courtney for sharing your story with me and my readers. Mental illness really is a matter of genetics in a lot of cases so thank you for bringing that to light. I personally got bipolar disorder from my grandmas side of the family, and remember her erratic behaviors. My hope is the more we end the stigma around mental illness, the better we can take care of ourselves and make sure our children grow up informed.

Thanks for reading folks, talk to you again soon.

Building a Safety Plan

Building a Safety Plan

Building a Safety Plan

 

Hello! And welcome to my new website.

As part of my new and improved website launch, I wanted to write a post about how to build a safety plan. I want to spread the knowledge that I’ve learned in the hospital with my readers. So, first things first, what is a safety plan? A safety plan is a document that you keep on hand with guidelines on what to do or who to call when suicidal thoughts or ideations hit. This way, while you’re in the middle of an episode, you have all the resources right there in front of you.

The first thing I want you to do is write down the local numbers for the Crisis Lines and hospitals, as well as your therapist and family doctor’s information. This is one of the most important sections of any safety plan. It’s hard to reach out for help in the moment, but sometimes having the information readily available can help.

Next, I want you to write down the signs and symptoms that occur during a suicidal episode/when you know it’s coming. These are things such as irritability, disassociating, anxiety, and any physical symptoms as well, such as heart palpitations. It’s important to be able to identify when things are starting to go sideways in our brains.

The next step is writing down things that help you cope or can take your mind off of suicide. For me, these are things like painting, drawing, hanging out with a friend, having a bath, listening to music… Anything that you find helpful to keep your mind occupied while you work through what you’re going through. Hobbies and activities are very important for people suffering with mental illness, I can’t express this enough. So if you’re at a loss of what to put down, start thinking about things you’ve always thought of trying and give it a go! See how you like it.

Along with the numbers of crisis lines etc., I want you to write down a few numbers of friends or family members you can call to talk to. As nice as it is to have the crisis numbers, sometimes you just need to talk to someone who knows you and can talk you down. One thing I would recommend is asking before putting someone’s name down – it can trigger someone else into an episode when they are dealing with someone else going through it, so make sure you’re checking that the person is comfortable with talking you down when you’re struggling.

Lastly, I want you to list places you can go when you’re feeling suicidal. Whether it’s someones house, or a river close to your house that has your favorite bench, pick places that make you feel at ease. Surrounding yourself with a positive feeling environment is key when you’re feeling lost.

 

Hopefully there’s someone who will find this information helpful, and thank you so much for checking out my revamped website! Until next time..

 

February Warrior – Paulla

February Warrior – Paulla

Hello, and welcome to my next Warrior of the Month post. This month, we explore postpartum depression and the medical effects of cannabis. Read Paulla’s story below:
I never quite understood mental health…in 2000 as a college student I was introduced to my very best friend. She was the first person I ever met who openly spoke about mental health and I really appreciate what she had taught me. In 2012 I had the most joyous and painful year… my fiancé moved from the UK to Canada in May 2012 but by Nov of that year I had lost the youngest member of our family to suicide (My fiancé lost his father to suicide when he was six years old) My brother and his dad both chose the same route… That was when my own mental health took a swift downturn. Upon reflection this was the beginning of my mental health shift, however, I wouldn’t become aware of it until much farther along…
 A year later we find ourselves with the news that a baby boy is to join my fiancé and I and we become a family of our own!! What joy, and terror it brought me… this was the first pregnancy I have ever had that carried to term. I developed severe anxiety during the first few weeks of pregnancy and I hate to admit.. throughout both of my pregnancies I was quite detached… in post-partum I was so happy with our little family although, I remember regularly calling my mom, crying, to tell her that I was going to run away. That someone else would be much better at the job than I was or ever could be… with my first, Orin, I didn’t leave the house for three months. I couldn’t even bring myself to put him into the car… I was so scared something would happen to us while out!!  With help from my mom and my fiancé we eventually got out and about and really enjoyed ourselves, the relationship between my fiancé and I began it’s new settling in stage amongst my parents (we lived in their basement) six months post partum, I am starting to feel better… I finally left the house, started working, got into a routine and … we are pregnant! 
I was a little less anxious this time around, had a good idea of how pregnancy goes… and then there’s post partum anxiety!! I couldn’t even have a bath without checking the locks three times, despite my parents having a very large, very protective black lab and they, themselves are within ear shot… I spent many days on the toilet thinking… how fast can I get things together if someone breaks in, if there is an emergency or a fire… I was constantly on watch!! 
With my daughter I was much more adventurous but detrimentally so… I pushed myself and two weeks after she was born I was attending the Calgary Stampede!! Looking back that is insanity to me! It was 30 degrees and I was ten days post partum! With my second child, most of my anxiety came when we were at home. Was the stove on? Doors locked? Panic almost every night when my fiancé had to go to work… it really had me trapped for so long and that turned into a bit of codependency between my partner and I which we have since sorted out. 
This was when I really took notice of how my mental health had changed from happy and free to constrained and fearful. After having experienced the discomfort in my mental stability after my first pregnancy I was quick to look for options for mental health.
It was during this time that I was recommended taking my cannabis medication, that I was using to control my nerve pains in my stomach from IBS, and utilized it during my times of extreme anxiety. To my surprise, combining the new medication with counseling helped me overcome the anxiousness and the isolation that I had been feeling for years!! 
I regularly consume cannabis and have found this to be the most effective treatment for me to quiet the anxiety. It allows me to engage, interact, plan and dream with ease. It has given me back the life that I once knew, before my responsibilities had changed. I am so grateful and so blessed to have come out of the challenges that mental illness presents, with a clear strategy for my own mental health.
The fluxes that happen with our hormones during pregnancy and breast feeding really have a large impact on our mental health. Once the hormones balance out there is a calm but for me the anxiety and guilt of how I felt during this time kept me feeling locked in my reality. Since doing the healing work on the inside I’m noticing how much it is repairing the bonds in our family and it has me on a really positive upswing! I do a lot of breath work, meditation and self care combined with my cannabis use and the intentional combination of all helps me to maintain a balanced and healthy outlook on life!
Thank you so much for allowing me to share with you, this has been an incredibly healing opportunity!
Thank you Paulla for sharing your story. Nobody’s journey with mental health is linear, and you have definitely brought that to light. Things come up as your life progresses, and we just have to manage as best we can.
Thank you for your honesty and bravery.
Update – February 2020

Update – February 2020

Hello all! It’s been a hot minute since I’ve written a blog post so I figured, no better time than the present. Let’s dive right in..

I have not been okay. I have not been myself. I have not been thriving.

I have been broken. I have been tested and challenged. I have been, well, depressed. Again.

People sometimes say to me, “I don’t know how you do it”. If I’m being totally honest with you guys and myself, I don’t know how I do it either. All you can do is survive. All you can do is take it day by day and hope that you’re strength doesn’t waiver. All you can do, is live.

Some of the darkest days of my life have happened recently. I genuinely didn’t know how I would make it through the day, let alone having my whole life ahead of me. Sometimes, I didn’t know if I would make it through the hour. When you’re in a depressed state of mind, you truly don’t see an end to it. You don’t remember all of the other times you’ve gotten through it; they seem so far away, they feel like a different life almost. All you feel is pain, sadness, and sometimes, you feel nothing at all. And sometimes, feeling nothing is the scariest feeling of all.

Now, I’ve talked about this before, but here’s the reality of mental illness;

I haven’t showered in 4 days.

I haven’t had a well-balanced meal in a week.

I haven’t exercised in months.

I have recently lost 12 pounds, without even getting up from the couch most days.

I have been cancelling 90% of my plans.

Right now, all I’m focused on, is surviving. And you know what? THAT IS MORE THAN ENOUGH.

Society puts so much pressure on us; we have to work out regularly and have an “accepted body” (because god forbid you don’t fit society’s mold), we have to work over 40 hours a week, we have to eat and cook only organic, we have to keep a spotless house otherwise we’re “slobs”, and we have to be full time parents on top of it all.

Well, you know what, I reject all of it. You do not have to work in order to be successful in life. You do not have to be a specific size in order to be worthy of love and acceptance. You can eat whatever the fuck you want. You can put off your housework for another day or another week, who cares.

It has been so ingrained in us that we HAVE to do or have certain things in order to have a good life. And I refuse to partake in that mindset any longer. All it has done is hinder me in so many ways. It has made me feel unworthy, useless, and just flat out terrible about myself.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked this dreaded question.. “When are you going back to work?”

The short answer, I’m not. Would I love to go back to work and contribute to my household finances? Absolutely. Can other mentally ill people who are struggling maintain full time employment? You bet. Am I one of those people? No. So please stop asking. My full time job is working on myself and prioritizing my mental well being. And guess what? That usually takes up my entire day.

So all I can ask is for people to be more sensitive to what others are going through. You don’t know what we go through every day. You don’t know the kind of internal battles we’re struggling with right now. We may look polished and fine on the outside, but I can tell you right now, we are great actors. So let’s all be a little kinder to one another.

January Warrior – Kaylie

January Warrior – Kaylie

Hello! We took a break last month but we are back with Warrior of the Month!

This month we have miss Kaylie. Kaylie reached out to me on Instagram a few months ago wanting to be a part of my Warrior of the Month, and of course I said yes! After reading her story, I’m so happy to share it with everyone. Anxiety is becoming more and more common and I’m happy to be sharing a story that revolves all around GAD.

I’ve always been an anxious person. Growing up there were so many things that would cause me to worry; weather was a big trigger for me and I would often hyperventilate and hide in our basement with a few of my favourite belongings when we would get a thunderstorm. I would worry about everything and anything and I attribute this to watching my mom worry about everything and anything. I found comfort in biting my nails to the point where they would bleed and become numb, and I would snuggle my favourite stuffed rabbit. I still do both of these things today even though I’m almost twenty-five, but they are coping mechanisms that I’ve known my whole life. As I got older my worry about weather slowly went away but that was quickly replaced by newer and bigger worries.

 

Before I go any further into my life as someone who lives with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and how that became more than just regular old anxiety, it’s important that I talk about the difference between the feeling of anxiety and an anxiety disorder. The feeling of anxiety is completely normal and something we all experience in our daily lives. Whether that is feeling anxious about a job interview, to getting married, to having your first child, anxiety is normal but there comes a point when it becomes abnormal. “The term ‘anxiety disorder’ refers to specific psychiatric disorders that involve extreme fear or worry, and includes generalized anxiety disorder (GAD),  panic disorder and panic attacks, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, selective mutism, separation anxiety, and specific phobias” (Understand the Facts, n.d). Okay, so now that we know that there is a difference between anxiety and an anxiety disorder, I’m going to focus on what generalized anxiety disorder is and how it affects my daily life.

 

“Generalized anxiety disorder is excessive worry around a number of everyday problems for more than six months. This anxiety is often far greater than expected—for example, intense anxiety over a minor concern. Many people experience physical symptoms too, including muscle tension and sleep problems” (Anxiety Disorders, 2016). I can pinpoint the exact time when my GAD began, even though it wasn’t diagnosed until January of 2019. In 2014 I had many stressors occurring in my day to day life that forced me to recognize that life truly is hard sometimes. I was in the middle of my first year of university when my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, my paternal grandpa had passed away literally days later, and then my boyfriend at the time admitted to being emotionally involved with another woman. All of these stressors happened within days of each other and I had no idea how to deal with all of these things at once. I was also busy with university and work that I didn’t have a chance to truly process all that was happening around me, and naturally I bottled up the feelings I was dealing with. I continued about my life but struggled with feelings of intense worry, chest pains and heart palpitations, mood swings, muscle tension, and panic attacks. I dealt with all of this on my own and hid it from the people in my life who were close to me. To be completely honest, I was embarrassed. How could I go about life unhappy and be worried about everything when things were so good otherwise? Let me tell you why: mental illness does not care about your socioeconomic status, or the colour of your skin, or your gender, or how wonderful your life is or isn’t. Mental illness is just an illness and it attacks our brains in the same way that bronchitis attacks your lungs.

 

Fast forward a couple years to the summer of 2017. At this point (and for three years) I was living with this unbearable anxiety that I kept trying to push further and further away from my surface. I would feel all of these intense physical symptoms but I never went to the doctor for them because again, I was embarrassed. In the summer of 2017 I had to deal with the attempted suicide of my youngest sister along with the death of my maternal-grandma, who was such an important person in my life. The anxiety continued to get worse and I felt as though I was walking on eggshells around my own home in anticipation of my sister committing suicide which is no way to go about your days. Around the same time I experienced my first (of many) ovarian cyst ruptures and with my mom’s background with ovarian cancer, I was naturally quite concerned.

 

Now, let’s take a look at the summer of 2018: the height of my anxiety. Colin was in Quebec for four months of training for his new job and I had to plan a wedding with him being far away, we found out that he had to move to a new town for work, I had to get laparoscopic surgery and then move literally two days later, and then Colin’s paternal grandma passed away. I was living in a new town where I barely knew anyone and I was unable to leave the house because I had just had surgery. I was isolated (big time) and my anxiety began manifesting itself in new ways. I would constantly be feeling around my body looking for lumps and I was afraid to go to bed because I was convinced that I was going to die in my sleep. Every time we got into the car to make the trip back to our hometown I would have visions of dying. I remember breaking down and telling Colin that I was thinking about death constantly, and that I was scared about getting married because the person that I was for the past twenty-four years was no longer who I was today and I was going to have to learn to live with an entirely new identity. (This is something people don’t talk about when you get married, the ugly thoughts. Getting married is a huge deal and if you’re freaking out because you will no longer be who you once were, just know that it’s totally normal and it does go away).

 

I talked to Colin about the panic attacks, the heavy feeling in my chest, the heart palpitations, being unable to sleep, (and that I was sleeping too much), my muscle tension, my never-ending sadness, and my debilitating, intense and constant thoughts of excessive worry that really made no sense. Finally, it all came out. Five years of holding in all of this built-up anxiety that my body couldn’t handle anymore. Colin helped me get the help I needed and I went to see my doctor and blurted out all of the things I was going through. He wanted to see me again a few months later to see how things were going and to try some online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which is something that I really enjoy doing. Colin and I decided to move me back to our home town because we thought it would be best while I learned to cope with my anxiety and while it did work for a while it didn’t change my anxiety.

 

Colin and I returned to my doctor’s office in January of this year and I talked to him about my symptoms as I knew something was wrong and that that these feelings of worry shouldn’t be as intense as they are. I told him straight-up that I felt crazy. We chatted and decided that it was best to put me on medication to help alleviate the symptoms of my anxiety as well as continuing the online CBT. I was prescribed Escitalopram Oxalate (Cipralex) 10mg and was told it would take about a month to begin working and to watch for any serious side effects. About a month later, I noticed (out of the blue) that it had been three days since I had heart palpitations and a panic attack even though I was still dealing with my anxiety. I continued to take my medication until I noticed a severe drop in my anxiety and began experiencing all of the symptoms all over again. I made an appointment with my doctor and while I handled the medication well, we decided to up my dose to 20mg, and it was at this time that I was given a formal diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Finally, I had an answer to what was going on in my brain and I could begin healing and learning how to cope with this illness.

 

Lastly, I wanted to touch on a topic that may be sensitive but I felt like sharing my opinion would be beneficial. There are a lot of posts out there today that talk about “high-functioning” mental illnesses. Straight-up, I don’t believe in this at all. I am not “high-functioning” because I’m able to live a somewhat normal life and hold down a job despite my mental illness; I’m able to function because I can afford the medication I need to thrive, I have access to various methods of therapy, I have an amazing support system, and I have various ways to cope with my mental illness. Sure, it may appear that I’m “high-functioning” because I’m married, leave the house, and can hold down a job, but when it comes down to it, I’m not “high-functioning” at all. I’m learning to live alongside my anxiety instead of letting it consume my entire life and I think that’s the difference between being able to function and not function. I go through periods of time that can last for weeks where I cry for no reason, have panic attacks for no reason, and I’m not able leave my bed because I’m so sick and tired of battling my own thoughts every single day. Living with a mental illness has vastly changed my life and how I focus on things. It’s a huge reason that I turned to Intuitive Eating and joyful movement in my life because they are not anxiety provoking and I can focus on different aspects of my life. I’m not ashamed of having GAD; in fact, I embrace it because it is a part of who I am. Maybe one day I won’t need medication to thrive and I’ll be able to go about life just dealing with everyday anxiety, but until then I’m going to let my GAD come along for the ride and live my life despite of it.

 

Thank you so much Kaylie for sharing your story with me and my readers. Anxiety is one of the hardest parts of my mental illness and one of the hardest to address. I truly commend you for seeking the help you needed and doing what was best for you. That can be really tough to do so I’m so glad you’ve taken those steps.

Until next month…

 

References

Anxiety Disorders. (2016, February 28). Retrieved August 2, 2019, from https://cmha.ca/documents/anxiety-disorders

  1. (2016, March 14). Normal Anxiety Vs Anxiety Disorder [Cartoon]. Retrieved August 2, 2019, from https://twitter.com/mpowerminds/status/709612686791864320

Understand the Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved August 2, 2019, from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety

Resources

https://www.camh.ca/-/media/files/guides-and-publications/anxiety-guide-en.pdf?la=en&hash=DEEF0BBD7FC131D116F13D4DFF609D93B726C210

https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-health-101

https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/generalized-anxiety-disorder

https://maps.anxietycanada.com/courses/my-anxiety-plan-map-for-adults/

http://www.crisisservicescanada.ca/

https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/ask-and-learn/resources