Author: Cierra

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

November Warrior – Carole

November Warrior – Carole

Hello, and welcome to my November Warrior of the Month post! This beauty reached out to me on Instagram wanting to share her story with you guys. She’s been through so much and I’m so glad she is still here with us today after going through some really dark times.

Depression is a fickle bitch. It hit me like a bus full of convicted felons, careening out of control.
The aftermath of that crash was the direct result of those evil..things wreaking havoc on my
life. I don’t really remember much from the Pre-Depression days, except for having two loving
parents. A sister I (shouldn’t have) idolized. A kickass dog or two thrown in the mix. To other
people we probably seemed like the perfect family and for the most part we were. There was
always unconditional love and we never wanted for anything. Then the prison bus crashed.
Murderers, drug dealers and rapists. All those bad things just scattered into the darkness.
Laying in wait to attack me when I least expected it. If only I could have predicted my own future
back then, maybe I would have tried harder to end it. Just set off on that last journey into the
cold abyss… even now I’m bundling up, trying not to let the icy depths pull me back under.
I spent so many years in that frigid, numb state emotionally and physically. I couldn’t remember
how to feel anymore. The first time I remember feeling something again was when I met my
first boyfriend at age 14. I got bored of him soon after but the damage was already done. I was
hooked on that tiny sliver of warmth he provided. Lost my virginity at 15 and proceeded to leave
a long line of broken hearts behind me. I didn’t know how to care about me, so why would I care
about them and their feelings? For the next year I played with the boys in school. Made them
fight for my attention, rewarded the good boys and let the bad ones do things to me I won’t
repeat on the internet. When I finally did drugs for the first time when I was 16, that’s when the
convicts started emerging from the shadows.
Partying, doing drugs, staying out all night in the woods sounds like wonderful time to a
teenager. Until your best friends 21 year old brother and his friends crash the party. Let’s just say
my last clear memory from that night is getting yanked out into the woods by a force I couldn’t
fight. The rest is history. You would have thought I had learned my lesson at that point but nope..
i spiraled. More drugs, more sex. People calling me a slut, bitch and all kinds of names. But
jokes on them, I called myself those names so often they just joined in and became a swirling
vortex inside me, hell bent on destruction. I started cutting myself and burning myself trying to
feel something. I was so desperate for anything other than the absolute agony of nothingness I
constantly experienced. I was out of control.
That’s when I discovered online dating and unknowingly met my second rapist. I’ll spare you the
details, but after that my soul was just obliterated. A couple years and lots of therapy later I was
in an okay place. In a stable, long term relationship and graduating college. I was really happy,
until my family decided to move to another country and I chose to stay behind. Well, the prison
bus came back with such force it completely annihilated my relationship. I ate more, he drank
more. I cried more, he drank more and we finally pulled the plug on our relationship 2 years past
the expiry date. The relationship rot was suffocating. Now my self esteem was broken along
with my scale. I had gained almost 100lbs in 2 years and for the next 4 I battled with my weight,
my mind and my disgust with myself. Swiping on Tinder, cruising POF, craving that warmth and
attention I knew I deserved but still couldn’t care enough to give myself. And that’s when I met
him. No, not the happily ever after kind of him. Life wasn’t done fucking me yet. That my dear friends, is when I met the murderer. I had dated sociopaths and probably a handful of psychopaths by this point in my life, but this man took the cake. Sitting beside me on his couch with a steak knife clutched in his meaty palm. Eyes boring holes into me, telling me how lovely my blood would look decorating his living room. That night I thought to myself ‘well, if I’m going to die here like this, it probably serves me right.’ I deserved to be the sad news story of a young woman found hacked to pieces in a burnt up apartment building. You could probably imagine a thousand scenarios on how that night played out, but you would be wrong every time. I’m believe my actions that night saved my life. My dumb brain froze and I started laughing at him, told him he’d never get away with it and went back to watching our movie and that was that. But boy, did that night ever change me. There are so many steps I took to get as far away from that point in my life as possible. I changed jobs and eventually moved cities and can happily say I am so in love with myself and am planning on marrying the love of my life soon. I just want everyone to remember that even in the darkest, coldest times when you don’t think you can go on, please remember to laugh in Deaths face and tell that bitch to get back on the bus with all the other assholes and shove off.

 

Thank you so much Carole for sharing your story. You know, it’s not easy to come out about mental illness and the choices you’ve made because of being mentally ill. I truly value each and every one of my Warriors and applaud them for being so brave and sharing their past, present, and future with not only myself, but my readers.

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.