Healing

So, we have a situation. My body is out of whack, and I don’t know why. I’ve been piecing together fragments to make sense of this all, but I’m not a practicing licensed medical professional. There is only so much I can determine with the amount of undergraduate education I’ve recieved.

[P​lease note that this post was originally written three weeks ago.]

C​alifornia is up in smoke. This is nothing new. She has been up in smoke since 45 took office. It’s been a year and a half. My body is reacting to all the ash that we cannot escape. I’m having trouble breathing, my throat is constantly irritated, I am always congested, and when I blow my nose, there’s always blood. The thing is, there was blood even before the fires. The wave of ash we got in the Bay Area has just amplified the amount of blood that is coming out.

I​ have delicate tubes connecting my ears, nose, and throat. I always have. As a child, I was prone to murder scene nose bleeds, ear infections, and snot that looked like brain matter (to quote my family). When I was a child, I hated blowing my nose, and it was a battle that almost always ended in tears. There were times my parents had to use tweezers to dislodge dried mucus. Having someone you love come at you with tweezers for something other than hair or splinter removal is traumatic, especially as a four year old.

T​o this day, I still dislike blowing my nose. Honestly, it’s not the act of forcing snot and foreign objects out. I don’t like the sensation of having anything blocking my nasal passages, nor do I like the sensation of itchy nostrils. I mean, who gets joy from having a congested nose? I highly doubt anyone finds that pleasurable.

M​y ear, nose, and throat issues are not the point, though.

T​hrough the years of my life, I’ve learned that I live with polycystic ovary syndrome, major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder. I would like to make it clear that I have a problem with the word disorder, especially when it comes to my diagnoses. I am in no way incapable of being a well functioning part of society. At first glance, none of these are apparent.

W​hile not apparent to the naked eye of a stranger, those diagnoses are there. They are a part of me. And, they were triggered by some biochemical reaction in my body. Science. She is a beautiful thing.

I​ wouldn’t have polycystic ovaries if I wasnt a biological woman who went through the natural process of puberty. I have ovaries that function, even if they aren’t very efficient. Puberty and PCOS triggered a hormonal imbalance which caused my brain to process my moods “abnormally”. With the hormonal imbalance came the depression. With the depression came the anxiety and OCD.

H​aving all of these formally diagnosed by licensed medical professionals and licenced psychologists has helped me understand my body and mind. I’ve gained a wealth of information from them, including self-care and holistic treatments, such as proper nutrition, sleep, and exercise.

L​ately, I’ve been experiencing joint pain that seems abnormal for my life. For two months, the mornings have been dreadful. The knuckles in my right hand feel like they have been smashed, and my left wrist feels like it did when I fractured it 25 years ago. Both of my shoulders feel extremely tender. My hips have been in immeasurable pain, and my ankles swell, even if they’ve been elevated. I get fatigued quicker than usual, and my mood has a harder time to shake.

O​f course, I went to the internet. That’s what we do in 2018. The first thing that popped up was lupus. Immediately, I convinced myself that I had lupus. That rash across the nose and cheeks? It seems similar to the redness that is constantly present. The pain that is its worst in the morning upon waking? Yes, that’s me. Am I constantly tired and do I feel emotionally low? Of course. Am I sensitive to light? Yes, I hate bright light.

T​he internet has made us all hypochondriacs. After a few sessions with my therapist, she helped me down from my lupus ledge I had found myself on. She asked me if anything else came up during my search. I said, “yes, there was one thing that actually makes a lot more sense: rheumatoid arthritis.” As I described my findings, we combined our knowledge (and she has a lot more than me), and agreed that RA is far more plausible than lupus.

T​his was in September. It’s now November. I have yet to see a doctor, and that was because I didn’t have health insurance. I’m insured now, so it’d be wise to get my body checked out, right?

The fatigue is getting worse. While the joint pain might not be as severe as it was a couple weeks ago, it is still there. There is something happening with my body aside from the ash inhilation and wacky, mood altering hormones. My body is unhappy with itself, and I’d like to be just a bit more comfortable every day. I’d like to be able to have a 13 hour day and have the energy to clean the kitchen when I come home. I would rather not slowly hobble up the short flight of stairs to my apartment and fall right into bed in the clothes I’ve worn all day. I’d like to, at the very least, drink a glass of water and eat an apple or a cucumber before falling into bed, but I don’t have the energy or painless range of movement to pour a glass of water or simple chopping of a cucumber. The feat of doing both seems too mighty. Neither of those are difficult, and an able bodied 36 year old should not have trouble doing either.

S​o, to a doctor it is. Blood needs to be drawn and looked at. All the normal things they check should be checked, and they should look at other things not normally ordered. I’d like an explanation as to why my body seems to hate me right now. Our bodies are intuative. They tell us when there is something not quite right. Scientists have come up with ways of looking at what is inside us for answers. The sooner I get answers, the sooner I can heal myself.

W​hen we take care of ourselves, we can take care of the world around us.

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So Far…

I wish getting a job was a lot easier than it is. I also wish that I had an advanced degree that would make getting a job easier. And, I really wish getting a higher education didn’t make people bleed money. It’s such a shame that education is so expensive. I’d have gotten a Masters a decade ago if higher education wasn’t so expensive.

And, if I had taken care of my mental health.

May is mental health awareness month. It’s no secret that I live with major depression and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Life is no picnic for me, and part of living with these is the constant, nagging thought “there are actually large communities of people out there in the world who actually have serious issues, so get out of bed and be happy.”

Yes, I think this very regularly. It is a common thought that many people with lifelong depression (may) think. The people I have spoken to with similar mental health concerns can empathize with this train of thought. It has the potential to be detrimental to our healing and self-care, as it minimizes our health.

One thing that I have learned over the course of self-care is that I “can’t heal the world.” Really, I can’t. I am one person in an aquarium full of 6+ billion people. And, the best thing that I can do to help people who I feel have it worse than me is take care of myself to the best of my ability.

When I take care of myself, I feel like a productive part of the community. I believe that my efforts have an effect on the immediate world around me. When I make other people happy and/or create or fix something, other peoples’ lives are easier. When their lives are easier, they can pass that flame on.

Something that I rarely talk about is that I have borderline personality disorder traits. We have a tendency to over-overthink things and see the world in only black and white. Mix this with obsessive compulsive disorder, and life gets real tricky. I am constantly having to remind myself to calm down, take a step back, and think in the grey.

This is why I get fixated on people who have it worse than me. The guilt is something that has been ingrained in my psyche. It’s what I have known for twenty years. My mind can go in a guilty loop for days, until I do something good and I’m shocked that I’m an okay person. It’s an extremely annoying cycle.

So, after 36 years, I’ve had enough. That’s why I started seeing a therapist and got on an anti-depressant. I’ve chosen to stick with both, because both are tools for success. It is important that I take care of myself, so I feel comfortable in my skin. A byproduct of this is that I’m more pleasant to be around and people will enjoy my company more. When I am a pleasure to be around, I feel better about myself. This is a cycle that I can get used to. But, I need to not think of it as a cycle. I just need to go with the flow.

Because not everything is black or white. Most things are grey and grey is a pretty color.

Change is Inevitable

Here I am, still unemployed. I am also very hormonal, or so it seems.

My weight seems to drastically fluctuate daily, and even something low calorie, like cucumber or spinach makes me extremely bloated and uncomfortable. This is always a sign that my flow is about to start. But, I’m 36 and have never had a naturally regular cycle. So, this could just be my body rejecting change.

Whatever the case, I had two phone interviews yesterday, both of which seemed promising. One lead to an actual onsite interview (and was told I needed to ensure I had two free hours to do so). This morning, I let someone know that I would like to rent the room she has available. It’s the most expensive room I looked at, but it’s a nice room with a large private bathroom.

Here’s a secret: I am a bathroom fanatic. I love large bathrooms that are light and welcoming. The larger, the better. And, a bathtub is essential.

When I was a teenager, my parents let me have the master bedroom. This meant I had a private entrance to the house, as well as my own private bathroom. High school was great, because I got to sneak out whenever I wanted. I could take a shower when I crept back in at 4:30am to wash the night’s fun off. But, there wasn’t a bathtub.

I am absolutely excited for the bathroom that will be all mine. The bathtub is perfect! As soon as I am all moved in and settled, I’m going to light a few candles and toss some essential oils and salts in, and luxuriate in this new journey I am embarking on.

The next couple weeks are going to be jam packed with packing, storing, interviewing, exercise, mindfulness, eating well, and moving.

I do still have my GoFundMe active, as well as an active Patreon page! Please visit both. Any donations are greatly appreciated. Please know that I will keep all donors updated on my progress with moving and job hunting, as well as any exciting events in my life!

The Stories We Tell

Each line tells a different story, their histories equally unique and identical. Without them, who would I be? I could tell you who or why or what was the root for every line.

It started soon after I hit my teenage years. I felt I had no ability to voice what I was feeling. Life was scary and confusing (it still is, at times). At that time, I believed I had no way of speaking up. Many of you understand that feeling, and lived that in a deeper way than I.

The first time I did it, there was a momentary internal sigh of relief. The tension in my neck loosened. My forehead no longer wrinkled in confusion. While the weightlessness was fleeting, it was real and exciting.

Over the space of a decade, these moments started off few and far between. In times of internalized crisis, I found solace in this secret time with myself. That momentary rush of endorphins got me through the night. Just like an addict, that chemical reaction in my brain was a quick fix to a deeper problem.

Over the years, the time between each moment grew shorter. Finally, I found myself focusing on seeking relief most of the time. While I was in the throes of it, I was acutely aware of how damaging my behavior was. But, I was addicted. During that time, the only coping mechanism I knew and had was my behavior. At one point, I was able to count 37 fresh marks on my body. That number scared me and the palpable guilt was hard to shake.

It took removing me from the environment I was in and being physically near people who I felt I could give permission to monitor me. Another decade passed. During that time, the desire to seek out temporary moments of bliss melted away. It is rare for me to have that desire, and if I do, I have learned how to cope in healthy ways.

Twenty years of learning how to love myself and finding my voice has left me with scars. Each one happened for different reasons; ultimately, they are all rooted in the same place. At 34, I embrace my scars. They are a part of who I am, and the shame I attached to them no longer exists. With that lack of shame, I’ve found that people no longer ask about them. I used to tell some people I was a highly adventurous child and teenager. I would tell others I couldn’t remember how I got them. And, there were some days I’d simply say “I get that you’re curious, but we’ve never met before and asking me about the scar on my wrist isn’t very polite,” because, really, it isn’t polite to ask a stranger about scars that are clearly self-induced.

So, I am happy to talk about my scars. But, I have to be in control of the conversation. It has to be on my own time and in an environment that lacks judgement and full of compassion.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing any kind of self-harm and/or addiction, there is a multitude of resources available. A couple posts back, I listed some sources for mental health help. There are so many more options, including (but definitely not limited to) the following:

National Alliance on Mental Illness: Self-Harm
HelpGuide: Self-Harm
Self-Injury Outreach
S.A.F.E Alternatives
Selfharm.co.uk
Harmless
The Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury & Recovery

This only skims the plethora of online resources. But, this short list is a great starting point. Remember, we all deserve care and compassion. We deserve to find our voices and speak our truths. Be kind to yourself and share love with others.

Scars

It Always Takes Time

All of this will be old news to many people by now. But, sometimes, the world needs a little help remembering important things. Right now, Earth has approximately 7.4 billion* people roaming her (the world’s birth rate is just over twice the rate of deaths), and a sizable number of her inhabitants live with some sort of mental disorder or illness.

“Just snap out of it” and “do something about it already” are two incredibly insensitive things that one can say to a person living with a mental illness or disorder. We’ve heard it countless times, and often from loved ones.

One of my biggest pet peeves is hearing from family members that my depression will pass and that I’ve just got to get over it. There seems to be a lack of understanding or compassion when statements like these are given to me. Yes, they might feel like they mean well and it might actually be coming from a place of love, but the choice of words often can do more damage than good. Another thing that bothers me is that I can be, at times, treated with hostility, rather than love. When that comes from strangers, I am not effected. But, if and when the hostility comes from someone in my circle, naturally, I hurt.

I’ve spent twenty years dealing with depression. This clearly should tell my loved ones something. One does not just “get over” depression, nor can one “snap out of it.” If it was that easy, I would have been free of it 19.5 years ago. Mental health is a daily task for every human. It is in everyone’s best interest to check in with themselves every day, whether mental illness exists or not. For those of us who live with any kind of mental health issue (depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, PTSD, obsessive compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, dissociative disorders, etc.), we do have to be diligent about monitoring our environment, our nutrition, and our moods in order to maintain our health. When we don’t, the disordered mental health we live with can take over.

For the last three months (maybe four?), I’ve been going to a therapist. The time I’ve spent with her has been incredibly helpful. Not only am I learning a lot about myself and humanity in general, I am learning how to live with the mental health of others. Someone in my life has finally gotten the DSM diagnosis he deserves. An actual licensed psychiatrist said “you fit the criteria for this mental disorder and these are things that can be done to help manage it.” It’s a relief that he now has an official diagnosis and seems to be, at the bare minimum, attempting to manage it. Frankly, I feel that this person could benefit from weekly counseling sessions and other mindfulness based therapies, but I am not a licensed therapist or psychiatrist, so I can’t (won’t) consistently urge him to follow through.

It’s not my place to tell a person how to manage their mental health, especially if they don’t ask me how they should. I have always believed that it’s improper to hand out advice willy-nilly to people without being asked. If someone wants advice from me, I am happy to give it.

So, I am learning how to live with a person learning how to live with their own mental health concerns. I am also learning how to be mindful when I am given unwarranted or unnecessary advice (that is often lacking compassion, empathy, or validity). And, I’m learning how to let go of any hurt that may have previously been caused or continues to be caused at the hands of someone’s altered mind. One person’s experience usually doesn’t reflect my own, nor does it need to dictate my own. How I choose to react in a situation is my responsibility, and the reactions of others are theirs.

We should all be treating each other with kindness and compassion. It can be difficult at times, especially for those of us who sometimes find it difficult to feel love for ourselves (or even understand love and care).

Mental illness is rather common. This is why I am a huge supporter of mental health advocacy. [I’m also a huge fan of preventative and holistic health care. I’ll talk about my favorite places for healthcare, Northern & Western Europe, in another post.] If you or someone you know lives with any kind of mental disorder or illness, there is a wide array of information out in the world for you. By doing research, not only will you become better educated, you will be able to care for your community with compassion and an open mind. We appreciate people who are willing to take the time to understand where we are coming from and how we live our lives. Receiving compassion and love does actually alleviate a lot of stress we deal with. The less stress we experience, the easier it is for us to focus on being as healthy as we can be.

Here are some great resources to get started with:
Bipolar Disorder: Effects on the Family
NAMI: Mental Health Conditions (I love NAMI. It’s a fantastic resource for everyone.)
National Institue of Mental Health: Topics & Info
NIMH: Depression
NIMH: Borderline Personality Disorder
NAMI: Borderline Personality Disorder (Again, a great resource, especially for something that is under diagnosed, but more common than people realize.)
NEWSWEEK: How Colleges Flunk Mental Health (An interesting read, and has light a fire under my bum. I’d love to finish my college education with Social Work and do advocacy on college campuses for students.)
An Open Letter From Those of Us… (This is a go to piece for me; it might be BPD specific, but the soul of it can be applied to many mental health experiences.)

There are so many other resources out there, but these are trustworthy resources that can get you in the right direction.

Seriously, if you or anyone you know is experiencing any kind of mental health issue, help is out there. I promise, it doesn’t matter how large or small the issue is. There are a lot of trained professionals and support groups out there in the world. Utilize them! You and your mental health are essential and important! I know, first hand, that one can never just snap out of their mental illness. It takes time, care, compassion, and love.

*Worldometers: World Population

Wait. Stop.

Here you are, you beautiful, bright eyed babes. I applaud you for dreaming big and wanting the world to be your oyster. And, I’m not lying when I say that the world is everyone’s oyster. Most of you will go on to be successful in your careers. You’ll fall in love and create a beautiful family in a wonderful house. Your lives will be rich with all of the important intangible things.

But, let’s be real for a moment. Not everyone is that grain of sand that will produce a smooth, creamy pearl. In fact, many of us aren’t. Ouch. That’s intense…

With that said, I urge you to be the best pearl making grain of sand possible. Try your hardest. You’ll have days that knock you off your feet. There will be moments that make you feel like you’ve conquered Everest. Sadness is inevitable. Happiness is common. Joy is something we all deserve. Laughter is essential.

Let me tell you a story.

When I was young, I was overcome with a depression seemed to have no exit route. My entire high school career could have been much different had I gotten the help I needed. I would have succeeded in my classes, instead of barely scraping by. I would have gotten into more than one college I had applied to. And, I probably would have been far better equipped to handle going off to college.

I was a confused teenager. My only focus was wondering why I was angry and sad, and wanting to be the opposite. This isn’t new. It certainly isn’t unique. Millions of people in the US have experienced similar emotions. Listen to this, approximately 12.5% of adolescents in the US are clinically depressed. That number doesn’t sound big, but that’s one in eight adolescents.* These people have gone weeks, months, even years feeling lost, confused, sad, and hopeless. My situation wasn’t unusual, but like plenty of people experiencing depression, I remained silent out of fear that I would be judged or wouldn’t be taken seriously.

Twenty years and plenty of mistakes and wrong choices later, I have finally figured out what I want to do with my life. Also, I know what I need and deserve. Like every human existing, I deserve to be nurtured, not only by myself, but by my community. Remember, a nurtured person is a caring person.

I am going to be that 38 year old taking undergraduate classes with people like you. I’m proud that I plan on finishing my Bachelor’s degree (some point before I turn 40). My journey has been rocky. It hasn’t been pleasant and it definitely hasn’t been remarkable. The last decade of my life has been an interesting experience, and one that I’d love to take back and redo. But, I am where I am now and I don’t regret anything. As long as I am alive, I strive to keep learning about myself, my community, and the world that I live in. I’m aware of the fact that I won’t be the next Gloria Steinem or Eve Ensler or Hillary Clinton. I’m one of billions on this planet. I might not be a trailblazer or innovator or leader of the free world. But, I can make an impact in my community. More so, feeling good at the end of the day means that I am being the best person I can be.

Some of you might find yourself in the same boat as me. For those of you who are feeling blue, lost, or confused, please know you are not alone. The world is yours. Live in it. Experience it. Know that the hurt can be temporary if you allow yourself to find the help you deserve. Remember that therapy is an amazing tool. Also, finding a group of your peers allows you to build a safety net. Call your friend(s). Tell someone you’re hurting. A true friend will listen and help.

Plenty of you have a plan set out for your lives. I commend you for that.

When I was 18, I had a plan. I wanted to be a stage actress, churning out quirky roles in Off-Broadway indie pieces. That hasn’t happened… Yet. I also wanted to be a writer. I still do, and I am a writer. At 34, my plans have changed. I want to help people. I want to make one person genuinely smile every single day. I plan on giving back to whichever community I am, and that includes all of humanity.

Some of you with plans will stick to those plans, and that is a beautiful thing to do. You are the future of medicine, arts, law, athleticism, and all around world domination. I’m proud of you and wish you great success. And, some of you with other plans, please don’t get discouraged if life throws curveballs your way. Bumps in the road are inevitable. We cannot avoid them, nor should we ignore them the moment the appear. Also, plans change. It is incredibly natural to not have things set in stone. The world we live in and our lives would be very boring if plans didn’t change or get upended.

Take this time in your life and enjoy being young. This is an awful cliche, but you really do have the rest of your lives to live. Relish every moment. Laugh. Love the ones you’re with. Hug someone. Say “thank you” five times a day, even if it’s to yourself for waking up that morning. Wait a minute and think before doing something dangerous. Go slow, unless, of course, you are competing in a sporting event that places a lot of importance on speed. Don’t make a hasty decision, especially if your gut is telling you not to. Listen to your gut; we have instincts for a reason.

We all can be successful in our own right. Remember, money isn’t the only factor in success. A lonely, unhappy billionaire is less successful than a joyful sanitation worker who has a huge circle of loved ones.

Do what you want in your life, as you only have one. Let your actions create positive reactions. Be kind. Smile. Go forth and be the best pearl producing grain of sand you can be.

*Depression Statistics – DBSAlliance

Alma Mater

When Time Stops

It’s been sixteen months since I created this blog. I started it with the intention to document my journey with PCOS. That, unfortunately, didn’t happen. For the last year or so, I have barely taken care of myself and been focused on plenty of things that didn’t directly heal my heart and mind.

Six months after creating this blog, I decided that I would focus on every aspect of healing myself. Instead of just talking about my experience with PCOS, I decided to branch out and discuss my experience with my relationship with food. Well, that didn’t happen. I let this blog lay in wait, gathering dust.

So, sixteen months after setting up this blog, I’ve made an actual, logical decision. I commit this blog to the discussion of my experience with PCOS, my (physical and emotional) relationship with food, my relationship with exercise, and my take on my own mental health.

I plan on making time each week to write one new post. Who knows? I might even write two! Currently, I am reading a lot of daily meditation books, including ‘Beautiful You: A Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance’ – a book that was waiting around for months to be used. This is a book I highly recommend to anyone working on their self esteem. I’ll be sharing some of the activities or questions that I find most poignant.

Disclaimer: I am not a trained and licensed therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker. All of what I discuss is in regards to my own experience, research, and education. When talking about someone else’s research or experiences, I will respectfully and legally cite them. If I misquote someone or cite incorrectly, please let me know and I will correct my error. Don’t sue me, please! Give me a chance to correct any honest mistakes.