Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month 2018

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I wasn’t sure I wanted to write this blog, but the more I stewed on it, the more I was certain I needed to. I didn’t want to cause drama, or make people worry, and I certainly didn’t want to admit it to myself. But here goes.

In the course of law school, you are told on the first day that a majority of your year will end up as alcoholics or with depression, and maybe a few of you will even die from these. A bunch of cocky 1Ls will think “I’m a smart person, I’m sure that couldn’t be about me.” Some may even laugh about already belonging to those groups and being “ahead of that curve”.

In the course of life, each person may be called to face their own traumas-maybe even secondhand. And there is no weakness in not feeling like you’ve got a grip on it. It’s human to reach your depth and feel like you’re drowning. I think of a quote that a professor once told me on Suicide Prevention Day: “I won’t tell you that it gets better. But you don’t have to face it alone.”

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I lost a friend in June, the third friend I’ve lost to depression. I say “I” because these are only my thoughts-but truthfully, more than just “I” experience this loss. She was a friend from law school, and we were so alike that it just felt more personal. I want to talk about the four things I learned since then, and why they’re important.

  1. Shallow Self-Care Won’t Heal the Painful Wounds

When I first started the summer, I spent a lot of time doing things that I wanted to do-art, writing, tai chi, “spa days” and the like. I wanted a full emotional reset from my academic year and I picked my favorites from a list of suggestions. When I lost my friend, I wondered why those things didn’t help. Everything I wrote was empty, art felt more sad than healing and even my beloved face masks did nothing to fix the way I felt lost.

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As it would turn out, the only way to deal with those big emotional issues is the hard way. The late-night-crying-for-no-reason way. The grapple-with-big-questions-that-don’t-have-answers way. The look-in-the-mirror-and-just-feel way. As it would turn out, not one of my coping mechanisms tools was helpful in processing the loss of my friend. I had to reach the end of my shallow fixes to really understand that I needed to work on myself. That’s not to say that all those self-care things aren’t worth it. When I get stressed, I still engage in those beauty-creating moments. But when the hurt is deep, your self-care needs to be that much deeper.

2. Suicide Fear for People Who Understand (The “Will I Be Next” Debate)

If you have ever been suicidal, you may very well have experienced this. I wouldn’t say that it’s Survivor’s Guilt, but more like Survivor’s Anxiety. At some point in the coping process, you start to wonder what makes you so different from the person you lost to depression (suicide). And if you can’t find those differences, the all encompassing question then becomes “Am I next?” Now, at the surface, it sounds very self-absorbed. But it’s much deeper than that.

My friend had many of the same characteristics I did. Emotional trauma, a history of assault, a heart as big as the ocean with enough emotions to cause hurricanes, law stress, being in a state that wasn’t welcoming to our identities, and more. She was brave, and she fought hard. She had battles not many people knew, and I’m sure some that even I didn’t know. But when the news came, I wasn’t mad at her, I didn’t judge her for it. I sat and cried and wondered about what had led her to that point. And seeing the similarities, I began to wonder that all important question.

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Because if I were in her shoes, as I have been from time to time, I don’t know that I would have made a different choice. And knowing that, what was it that would be my “moment”? Would it be a large, life impacting event? A bunch of small things that I couldn’t control that became too much for me? One poor choice? I became so engulfed in this paranoia that I would be next, that the spirit of death was coming for me, that I think I extended the grieving process far longer than I otherwise might have. I isolated myself, because I didn’t trust myself. I wasn’t suicidal, I was afraid that I would become so.

3. Taking Care of Yourself is Selfish-and It Has to Be

At a certain point, the tie that binds people who have suicidal history and those who we’ve lost from it becomes lost on people who have never contemplated or lost someone before. A good friend graciously agreed to go to the funeral with me, and at the end, I found out this was the first time they’d ever been to a funeral for someone who died from depression. I remembered what it was like for me that very first time and I wept for them. I wanted to make sure they were okay, but I was so entrenched in my own grief that I couldn’t step out and make that effort.

I remember I panicked for the first week after she died and sent every “strong person” I knew a message, asking if they were okay. They didn’t know why I did it, I just tried to carry on a conversation with them to make sure they knew I cared. Every person who had ever admitted they were depressed, anxious, or otherwise emotional got a text or message. I was scared. I was scared that suicide had become an infectious disease that would take away all of my friends (or me) if I didn’t actively try to stop it myself. And I grew so weary that I collapsed into myself.

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A couple friends asked if I was okay. I lied to them, because I didn’t want them to worry that I would, indeed, be next. I spent a lot of time avoiding calls, messages and social media in general because I couldn’t take any more bad news. And that was when I realized that my self-care needed to really focus in on self. I allowed that isolation. I took a chance on letting myself work through the grieving process. I stopped communicating with everyone for two months. (With the caveat that I still texted my parents to let them know I was doing okay.) And I broke down. I cried, I existed, and at times, I didn’t sleep for days at a time. I checked off the stages of grief when it was time-not when I thought it was time. And that meant that life kept on going while I was stuck.

When I finally began to reemerge, I was more honest. I told friends that I spent time grieving, about all the emotions I’d felt. And even though I knew I’d been selfish, I knew that it was because I had to be. I had to spend that time focused on only me because I wouldn’t have survived it else-wise.

4. You Can’t Do it Alone

This may seem like it flies in the face of the last point. It was at the end of the two-months recovery time that I began to seek out friends. I chose to go (the very first day) to see counseling services to prepare myself for reintegration into life as I had come to know it. I started going on friend dates. I put myself out there, because I knew that I needed to. The truth is, without my husband covering for me, I wouldn’t have been able to heal this summer. Without counseling services, I’d be a wreck right now. Without those good friends, I would be alone. And those are just small snippets of the network I have amassed.

I chose to get off of social media, and I told everyone that I was stopping this blog for a while. And all of those things are true. I need to learn how to be my own person, not someone who compares their successes and failures against the polished social media posts that make everyone seem perfect.

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But it’s September, and that means it is Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. And although those we have lost will not read these words, this blog is for the people who are left behind. The people who are still fighting in the trenches. The people who are still wondering if they will be next.

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I know that it’s hard. And I know it’s scary. I’m not going to lie to you. Life sucks. And then it gets better and then it sucks again. But you don’t have to face it alone.

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Why Seeing Isn’t Always Believing

I don’t know about you, but I look through Pinterest and there are days when I get so revved up about what I see that I have to stop looking at it for a few hours, or I’ll keep going back to it and get all worked up. Especially when I look at the feminism stuff or mental illness pins. And I am very much for both of those sections. But you know as well as I do that any old fool can post things without having an inkling of knowledge to back up those words. And it is that ignorance that gets to me. So, let’s jump in the time machine and I will tell you all about why.

I’m a proud Pinterst fanatic. I have over 20 thousand pins. It’s taken LARGE amounts of my time to get that far, but I consider it an invaluable resource to my life. For those of you (are there any?) who don’t know what Pinterest is, it’s kind of like a networking site for ideas. You “Pin” ideas to a “board” and save recipes, DIY projects and so many things. But it can also be used for keeping ideas together. I belong to both camps. Today, I’m going to focus on how social media (specifically Pinterest) perpetuates incorrect information about mental illnesses and disorders: namely EDs (Eating Disorders).

I doubt there are in here, but I know how this works, so just in case.

***TRIGGER WARNING*** Some symptoms, stories and elements may cause flare ups of conditions. The author does not condone or suggest any actions which may cause bodily harm.

I know that if you go into Pinterest and type in “Eating Disorders” into the search bar, you will most likely get a different result list than I will. So I’m going to do this the only way I know how: screen shots! I will caption them with WHAT I want you to pay attention to and then WHY it’s important to today’s blog. This is going to be a personal one today, and I hope that means it helps more than I rant.

  
First off, I like this. I mean, I’m not really sure why I couldn’t immediately connect to Pinterest, but I’m ultimately glad I didn’t. And it goes to show, that the moment I try to prove my point, something inevitably happens that changes my mind. Sort of. So thank you, Pinterest for being on the ball. I appreciate that.

  
 
I want you to look at the top left “hand” picture AND the one right beside it. Those two pictures I am calling into question because although you cannot sum ANY disorder up into a single picture, these only scratch the surface. ALL of these pictures do. The focus is on being skinny. But this screen shot shows my point as well. Looks can be deceiving. And the truth is, you really may not ever know who you are until you break away all of the pieces you thought you were made of.

  
 
This time, focus on the gentleman , and the woman at opposite corners. The great thing is that it highlights men having EDs too; a topic we need to focus on more! The problem with the gentleman’s picture is the same as above: it focuses on the skinny issue. And granted you could argue that that is the “basis” of eating disorders, but I would argue it is merely a facet of some of them. The problem I have with the second one actually requires more than a caption so I’ll bump down a paragraph.

Yes you do. You absolutely do decide one day that that is the course of action you are going to take. It may be subtle, like backing off, extreme dieting or eating less and less. It may be abrupt and one day you just stop eating solids, or anything at all. But you DO decide it. And it basically happens in a day. You just can’t take the pressure or the shame or the guilt and you decide you’re going to do something about it.

I was 14 when I first started dabbling with EDs. Almost a decade later, I’m not sure I’m any better.

The first thing I tried was Bulimia. I can make myself purge on demand and I enjoyed the taste of food so I thought: At least I can still taste the things I love. But the thing is, I HATE puking. I really do. And no matter how much I convinced myself that it would help, I dreaded each meal for the sole reason that I would have to throw it up. I maybe lasted in this phase a grand total of 2 weeks. Any extraneous symptoms were not entirely present. (Or had been present BEFORE onset.)

  

So I moved to Anorexia. By the “height” of my time in this disorder, I was only eating an apple a day and that is why I became a caffeine addict. I fought so hard to stay awake every day. And since I have many years worth of experience in this disorder, let me tell you some things.

  

First. While the motivation to be skinny is a big draw into this disorder, it isn’t the thing that keeps you there. You become trapped, like you cannot stop. You feel like it’s your life now and that is all there will ever be. And did I mind that my collar bone stuck out, that my ribs were exceptionally visible? I lived for those signs that I was making progress. But those are the “sexy” side effects. I’m here to tell you about the not-so-sexy ones.

I began to pass out. Sometimes at home, sometimes at school, always without knowing it. It was kind of like narcolepsy-it just happened. And on top of the literal black outs, I began to loose whole chunks of time. There are, even still, very large portions of my memory that are not clear because I didn’t feed my brain enough to make them last. On top of that, I have little hairs all around, which were not there before. You wouldn’t know it, because I take care of it, but even now, they remain. And the hair on my head falls out in great clumps, just as it did before. I missed menstrual cycles-sometimes for 6 months or more. Not because I was pregnant, but because my body couldn’t succeed in normal functions. My fingernails would constantly chip and break, but the worst thing was how weak I felt. I felt slow, my head felt too big, it was like being stuck in extreme gravity for months on end.

And the thing is, no one even noticed. I wore baggy clothes, bundled up, and tried to hide from everyone. This photo was taken of my in my junior year, I believe. I was trying to catch up on some caffeine, clearly. (I said I was a caffeine addict. And I remember this. It was during prom planning, when I had to try hardest to fit in.) The shirt I was in was a medium. 

  

I was 5 foot 9 inches (1.75 meters) tall at that point, as I am still,  and “look healthy”. But what you can’t see are the constant struggles with food, the endless exercises,  the constant state of pain. All you can see is laughter. A facade.  The me that I outwardly projected. Which is exactly what my primary care physician saw when I went in with the complaint of forgetting chunks of time and passing out. She told me that it was all menstruation related and that I needed to “focus harder”. She could have inadvertently killed me with those words, but luckily I saw a psychiatrist soon after.

And now?

That’s what everyone wants, right?  The triumphant “I survived. And now I’m better. ” story. But I don’t think that’s the story I have for you.  Not today.

I currently fall into the “obese” category of the BMI chart. And does that bother me? A lot. I stay so far away from the starvation diet that I jumped right into the other band wagon. 

  
Puts an interesting spin on things, doesn’t it? Like a big fat slap in the face. I didn’t even know there was a name for what I was doing to myself. And the thing is: I’m not so different than I was before. I spend a day eating whatever I want followed by a day of not really eating, or by a week of heavy dieting. And the people who know me know that I diet a LOT. We’re talking everything shy of weight loss pills. And the cycle repeats. And I’m almost afraid to call it what it is, because I still can’t decide if it’s a lack of willpower, self control or if it’s just lazy, “emotional” eating. With Bulimia and Anorexia, I could relate to 90% of the psychiatrist’s symptom list, but only about 80% of the list I supplied. (More with AN than B.) But I can check off every single symptom up there for BED) and if that’s not saying something, I’ll tell you what is.

I’ve had some variety of ED for HALF MY LIFE (almost-we’re short by 2 years). My hair, even though it is thick (as we discussed a couple posts ago) falls out in large clumps. My nails break often (but I try to compensate with the vitamins I take). My body still has little hairs from being anorexic, I feel sluggish and exhausted a LOT, and I cannot say that I enjoy these decisions. By being anorexic, I ruined my body. I broke who I was as a person and watched the pieces slip away. But with B.E.D., I’ve hidden any growth behind a wall of food, shame and pain trying to avoid crushing my soul into oblivion (all while sabotaging it instead). 

So all in all, what I have to say can be boiled down into two parts. First, the Pinterest issue. Not all EDs are about being skinny. I didn’t even touch on orthorexia. Not all EDs are publicized, but ALL of them need to be taken seriously.

And second, I make a public promise to myself, that I will never stop fighting for people who need it, even if they do not look like anything is wrong. Because for years the only thing people were concerned about was the physical harm I was inflicting on myself, and noone even saw the neglect and torture behind it.

So although this isn’t an update for you all, I’ve been working on this post for over three weeks, and I want everyone to know that I am getting help I don’t know the future, but I have to take back control.

What an Effing Nightmare

I’m fat is the stupidest sentence on the whole damn planet. I am not a blob of blubber, just as I am not strep throat or bipolar. I have those things (except for strep-I have had but do not currently). Anywho, I have spent over a decade telling myself this stupid sentence. If you notice, I have no pictures of myself on this blog, I have maybe 3 selfies on Instagram and overall, I really don’t do photographs. But why? Because I’m still trying to figure out how to define myself according to rules which are not that sentence.

  (This picture drives me crazy. At least we’re active, dammit.)

 I have fat. Mostly a lot of it. It’s kind of a big deal. And I hate it. I’ve been weaning myself off of soda (Dr. Pepper is my weakness), and I added a small but intense workout to my daily routine. It’s planks, wall sits and low cardio. And I have chosen to be open and honest about it. Not because I want you all to laugh at me, but because I have a message that others need to hear.

  (These aren’t me, but I think they’re a pretty solid representation of the parts that I keep hidden.)

 I decided I’d had enough of being fluffy. I want to look healthy, not like I do now. I feel embarrassed, and it’s a great source of sadness. I made myself this way, but I also didn’t. I was put on the birth control that allows for 3 periods a year because mine were really painful. And while I was on that birth control, I gained 80 pounds. That’s 4 times more than I gained from mood stabilizers and anti-depressants. I stress ate and that didn’t help at all. But after that, I continued to be large and in charge. Only I wasn’t in charge. I was out of control.

  But what is it that I ate? Salads mostly. And coffee, soda, pizza, spaghetti. My calorie intake was between 1300 and 1600 per day, over half of that was drinks. I ordered low fat coffee from Starbucks if I chose to get anything other than tea. Even now, I eat maybe twice a day, I drink coffee like it’s going out of stock and I drink water, between 2 and 3 bottles a day (unless it’s a hard day and then only 1-which is bad, I know). My calorie intake recently has been between 1400 and 1650, with most of it being creamer and dinner. My breakfast is usually peanut butter toast. Is it super healthy? No. But I should not be obese.

Did that word startle you? It did me too. But it isn’t a death sentence unless you make it so. Which is where we find me this past week. I decided I was far too stressed and I was going to try to get into a regular workout routine. And so far, I’m doing great. But it’s because I know the shitty parts have to end sometime.

  (This is a plank. It’s also called pain.)

 It started out just feeling tired. I felt like my body was at the point of sheer exhaustion. Then came the nausea, the light headedness and the muscle pain. The latter I had expected but the first two I hadn’t. This came on slow and then got worse the more days that passed. Fast forward to today (Okay fine. Today is day 3, but I’m trying darn it!) and I feel like I can only keep water down. Food turns my stomach, I feel really icky on the inside and my muscles are aware that I mean business. And it was in that line of thought that I recalled watching several seasons of The Biggest Loser a few years back. A lot of the people were really sick while they were beginning their workout routines. I remember watching an episode where the woman had to keep stopping to puke because her body was detoxing.

  I brought this up to my husband and he reminded me that I hate eating fast food and that I always get salads and I should be fine. But the thoughts persisted. He asked if I wanted him to work out with me and I said:

No. It’s embarrassing.

He then asked why it was embarrassing that I was making myself into a better me. I shook my head and got down to business. 

  But really. Why is it that I felt like it was embarrassing that I struggle? I’m doing something. I’m trying, which is more than I can say for the old me. It’s really hard. I feel sick, my tummy hurts (because I’ve been doing abs) and I feel all around like a big ball of crap. But I’m already more dedicated than I was in the past, because I’m pushing through the pain and working out anyway. And yes, I still feel a little embarrassed that I can only hold a wall sit for a minute and a half before it feels like someone is sawing off my thighs or that I can only hold a plank for 30 seconds before my flabby arms buckle from stress. But you know what? I’m doing something about it. And maybe today I will go for 2 minutes straight, or learn how to use an elliptical. And the fact that I’m still trying is worth more than the pain.

  

Or at least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

What I want people to take away from this, more than anything is that it’s hard. Change always is. And we can sit around waiting for life to correct the travesties it has enacted upon us or we can get up and kick it in the face. I really hate working out. I hate running, I hate lifting, I hate all of it. But I’m not doing all this because I really want to look at the number on the scale and smile. I am, we are so much more than a number. I want to look myself in the eyes in the mirror and be attracted to myself. I want to learn how to take myself out on dates, and have the confidence to walk into the mall and get my hair done or my nails (am I even that person?!) without feeling like everyone is staring at me because my stomach is round. I want you to take away that this sucks worse than anything I’ve ever purposefully done to myself, but I turn my music up that much louder and scream over how much it hurts. Because if I want to be around to see all my reams come true, or to survive the zombie apocalypse, I’m going to need to practice my roar.

  

(I would like to thank Google for always having the pictures I need to make my point.)

I Just Can’t Even

The thing about life is that it throws you curve balls and you think you have a handle on everything and then there’s another curve in the road and your car topples over, down a cliff and you think “Oh crap! This is it!” And then you wake up and realize it’s not it and you have to keep living each day, even if it’s hard, because you’re still alive and that’s all there is.

I have always been honest about the fact that I am opinionated. But what happens to opinionated people is that they take a stand, and occasionally because of that, they take a fall. I live in the state of Ohio, as I have all my life. And it’s like living in the middle of a political hungry, hungry hippo game, and the people are the balls. Seriously, if there isn’t one thing in the news, it’s another. For example, I go to The Ohio State University (yes, the “The” is capitalized). In this semester alone, we’ve had a bomb threat, a suicide and an accidental death, which resulted in the end of a tradition. Now, that isn’t to say that I do not feel safe, because I went to classes on the day of the bomb threat and came out just fine. However, it seriously has been the worst semester as far as bizarrely awful things. And I mean, with this being a hot spot for political rallies, our campus has been a zoo on the worst days, and little better on the best days. We’re a bunch of kids and early adults, and as developmentally immature future generations, I would like to speak up and say “What the hell?!”

I didn’t come here to complain. In fact, I’ve stayed away from my blog for the past couple days because I just wanted to be alone. I’ve been mad, sad, grumpy, selfish, whiny and a whole host of other not-so-graceful things. But when I started this blog, I said it was my outlet and while I GREATLY appreciate each of you who have followed me, I am not writing for you but rather, for me.

So here’s why I’ve been so angsty. I was writing my book for NaNoWriMo and reached 50k words (yay!). But as December 1 rolled around, I found myself unable to continue. I hadn’t hit a creative block, because I know where my story is going,but I hit a different kind of pause, one where I actually kind of hate my book. I can’t even look at it. So I thought “Hey! I’ll just start a new one!” And when I got to work, I was trying to figure out a working title so I googled my ideas and lo and behold, someone already wrote the damn thing! I was so happy to have come up with a new idea and then so furious that someone beat me to it without my knowledge. So I stopped writing, which led me to not blogging. And now I have returned, idea-less and a little wispy.

I don;t know what to do. Writing has always been “my thing”. I turned to it when I was blue, when I was happy. Words have been my walls, the things which keep me in and others out. I sound so much more elegant when I write than I do in person. And to have no motivation to even catch a line of poetry has been a new experience for me.

It’s like having an itch on your back at that spot where you physically cannot reach so you scratch around it, and it subsides, but you can still feel it. It’s like finally deciding what you want to eat, being able to taste it in your mouth but knowing you don’t have any of it. It’s like waking up mid-dream and vaguely remembering this great idea, but you’re forgetting a really important part. It’s like going into a room and forgetting why, then leaving without remembering it at all. That’s what this feeling is. And it’s so ungodly frustrating. Writing has been my sole way to escape, to create and process. I never thought I was decent at visual art, music is far too personal to be anything less than a blissful experience. Writing was the way I broke through to the inner me and expressed all the things I didn’t want others to see for the exact purpose of letting them see.

So I’ve been on a break from myself. And I want to reconnect, but maybe I just need to let go first.