Cranberry Juice

It’s been a while since my last post, in short because of my health. While usually that means the mental flavor, this time it was physical health. But because it ties in really nicely with a conversation I had recently, I thought I’d pop down some thoughts. This ties into a lot of what I’m about: education, mental health, self-care, and well, let’s just get to the point.

I tell this story more frequently these days, but perhaps it just feels that way because everyone who knew it is several states away. I was a freshman in high school. I was still in the process of being diagnosed (mental health) and the professional assisting me asked:

“What do you do when you think about suicide and self-harm?”

To which I replied,

“I go drink a Dr. Pepper.”

And the advice I received was:

“Then every time you feel depressed, why don’t you go get one and drink it? That will take your mind off of those thoughts long enough to change your mind.”

And that’s where my story begins. What I’m sure was supposed to be a distraction from the thoughts which pervade the angsty teenage years, quickly became a self-medicating venture. Each time I felt sad, down a can would go. That quickly became bottles, which soon became liters. If Dr. Pepper were alcoholic, I would have died of liver failure. But we’re not to that point yet.

Because I drank so much of that delicious goodness (and it’s still my very favorite drink today), I developed a tolerance for caffeine. I was growing more and more tired as the days wore on and soon discovered the mystifying effects of energy drinks. By the time I was a senior in high school, I’d become a connoisseur. I absolutely adored Venom Black Mamba’s, but even those didn’t have enough caffeine. I started undergrad in the fall of 2011 and that was about the time that I’d finally graduated to the Monster BFC’s.

Now, for those who never got into energy drinks, or just simply don’t know, the BFC (Big Fucking Can) contained 32oz or 4 full cans of Monster in one. And I would drink it in one go. This is about the time that organ failure came into play. I didn’t make it through my first semester of undergrad because my kidneys began to fail. I spent a great many days in the hospital because I couldn’t process water. Water. And I learned that I would need to do a great deal of care to rebuild what I had damaged.

My symptoms were fairly simple and were immediately confused with stress induced fainting spells mixed with a cold. But the fever, the fainting and the dehydration were incredibly strong indicators that I wasn’t just stressed. Even so, it took a long time before someone took me seriously. What had begun as a UTI became a bladder infection, became a kidney infection, became almost death. All from the things that were supposed to stop me from thinking about dying. Huh.

I’m not saying that I blame the healthcare professional who told me to drink a Dr. Pepper each time I was in a bad place mentally. What I’m saying is that for a teenager who wasn’t in a good place, vague instructions like that nearly killed me.

So zip to more recently. During my finals, I met the wrong end of a cross-contaminated batch of food and ended up taking a law school final with a fever so high, I was delirious. I drank water and gatorade until I felt like I was going to burst. But not once did I think about how what was going on would affect my kidneys.

This would end up being my mistake. And I’ve spent the past week and a half chugging water and cranberry juice, mixing essential oils and all kinds of medicines. And I remembered what it was like to be that teenager away at college and not understanding what was happening to them. This time, I knew the signs and knew how to fix it. I’m feeling better (finally) and I’m looking forward to the new semester.

You hear a lot about eating disorders being food. And obviously that makes sense. But I wonder how many other people out there are medicating not with chewables, but with soda and energy drinks and the things that simply don’t require a legal age-but are absolutely just as destructive as the things that do. Perhaps we need studies on this.

So folks, I’m not going to say not to drink these things. I’m going to say treat your energy drinks like alcohol: one can + one bottle of water. Your kidneys will thank you!

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Life Hands You Lemons

Never apologize for burning too brightly or collapsing into yourself every night. That is how galaxies are made.-Tyler Kent White

I promised myself that one thing would happen when I went to law school: that I would become comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable. Here’s my reflection so far.

One of the first things a person learns after a bout of depression, or a suicide recovery is that waking up each day often requires a constant choice. I’m not talking about “I will live today”. I’m talking about “I will get out of this bed and keep fighting, even though I’m exhausted and I really would rather just go back to sleep.” And it’s hard. At first, it’s like listening to the most grating sound on repeat inside your head. “I will get out of this bed…I will get out of this bed…I will get out of this bed…” And you have to keep updating it as the day goes on. Getting out of bed soon becomes “I will make myself look professional and keep fighting…” which in turn becomes “I will keep fighting.”

Then one day, you don’t have to scream those words at yourself so loudly. It becomes less of a command and more of a mantra. “I will keep fighting.”

So too it is, as I found out, with my current life choices. I chose to go to law school, and suddenly I found myself in a world I didn’t seem fit for. I feel like an outsider, like everything is designed to keep me out. And each day I woke up with my mind screaming at me “I will get out of this bed and keep fighting, even though this is really hard, I’m exhausted and I really need more sleep.” Each day felt a little bit more like a battle and a little less like an academic exercise. Until it didn’t.

I woke up this morning and sat in silence for a moment. I had spent the past two weeks drowning out the fear that I felt bubble up from the moment I woke up. And I stopped and listened to it. Why was I afraid? Why was I struggling?

The quote at the top of today’s blog comes from a poem (which I heard about from one of my favorite celebrities). Fear and shame are some pretty powerful things when it comes to the human condition. They will trick you out of opportunities to change the world by simply making the world uninviting to you.

But here’s the thing.

The world isn’t unwelcoming to you. The world is everything you are willing to be uncomfortable enough to do. And trust me, it will be uncomfortable. But it will always be worth it.

 

Te Cuidas..En Dos (o Mas) Idiomas

I read an article once about a man coping with his wife’s mental breakdowns and how she would switch languages whenever she became depressed. I remember thinking “Wow! I can relate!” and not really understanding that there were people who suffered in only one language. I mean, obviously it’s entirely acceptable and completely normal to use the language you are comfortable with and fluent in to express yourself.

For me, bilinguialism is a tip off that I’m about to become depressed.

Think of it like listening to the radio. When you’re happy, you listen to songs about fun and happy times. When you’re sad, like when you’re getting over a break up, you listen to sad songs, songs you can cry to and scream at. But my “playlists” turn to a whole different language.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being able to use multiple languages in a general setting. It helps me professionally, it gives me access to other cultures and some really excellent foods. But when my heart is breaking, when the deep clouds of depression are hovering, my own language fails to live up to my needs. English leaves something to be desired.

I notice the change very abruptly. Instead of involving myself casually in another language, I will switch entirely from English into the other one. My music will become entirely Latinx, for example. Or I will only read in Cyrillic. Sometimes it will be a little more gradual and I’ll switch my recipes to all Kenyan, then start writing myself notes in Swahili. And then I will refuse to speak in English, I’ll write my grocery list in something else and I will immerse myself in this entire other state of being. It is then that I realize I need to double-down for some self-care time and take care of myself. When I start pulling out of my depression, I can go back to enjoying those same activities, but without the despair that anti-mania brings. Those extra cultures give me a safe place to go so I can start to heal.

In the realm of mental health and self-care, it’s really common to hear about things to look out for: an increase in impulsive behavior for mania, apathy for depression, paranoia for psychotic episodes and more. Physical symptoms take a really forward presence in your overall health, the life threatening symptoms next and then the ongoing symptoms. Signs you’re about to enter into a “danger zone” come in lists, self-help articles and off-handed comments. But it’s much harder when no one talks about potential tip offs that aren’t as common-but still just as serious.

When I was learning other languages, I was told that they would be keys to a door. I didn’t ask what that door would look like because I thought it was “to other cultures”. It turns out, it was a door to self-expression and the way I know I need to prepare myself for the pending breakdown.

Whatever your tip offs, you shouldn’t doubt yourself. And you should always invest in your own self-care. You know yourself best.

Frankly my dear…

I’m a pretty complex creature. I have good days, bad days, days of all kinds of things. I’m an extroverted introvert and I could list a ton of labels that would go on for days. What I wanted to be, for a very long time though, is frank. Just very up-front, not wishy-washy. i want to call things like I see them, and have other people understand it as I meant it.

Which is why I started blogging in the first place. It’s why I tell the hard stories, the ones that are personal, the ones that enrage. Because if no one else will say anything, I have to. And that goes double for the topics I am passionate about: mental health and ending rape culture. This should come as no surprise-I talk about pretty much nothing else.

Something came up recently that crossed my mind and I thought I’d share it here. It’s a mental health blog day, so I want to be upfront with that. I’ll be talking about self-harm (although only about scars-no descriptors or pictures) and I will be talking about moving forward and healing. I’m going to start with the story I just submitted to The Mighty.

“My self image has always been a love-hate relationship. I grew up in a world where a woman who was headstrong, opinionated and loved herself just didn’t exist. That’s not to say that I had no support to be those things, but rather that I listened to everything else. Everything that was telling me how not good enough I was, how unacceptable it was to be me.

“I started self-harming as a freshman in high school. It wasn’t a cry for help, or a plea for death. It was a desperate attempt at a reprieve. I didn’t want to die, I just had no other way of expressing the pain and the level of emotions I felt on the inside. And although my skin has been forgiving, I avoid looking at my arms. I can see each and every scar and I think that hurts more than it did making them. The few people who know say that they can’t really see them, but it doesn’t matter-because I can.

“So I decided I was going to get a really pretty tattoo-something to cover them up. The most of them were on my left arm, so the location choice was easy. I spent weeks designing, critiquing and reworking until I had everything I wanted. It was a beautiful representation, the most lovely piece of artwork I’d ever made. I chose to remind myself that if I am unhappy, I can change. So I made a promise to myself that whenever I was frustrated or I didn’t like the choices I’d made, the situations I was in, I’d move on to something I did love, and that made me happy.

“When I was explaining my choice of design and placement, I picked my words carefully. I wanted to remind myself that life was beautiful. I picked the placement so that I would never self-harm there again. Why? Because I’d worked so hard on that art and destroying it was something I absolutely could never do. The hope and love that it represented were things that simply had to last much longer than the pain of a blade, or the pain on the inside.

“Later that night, as I reflected on what I’d said, I cried. If I could have such reverence for art-why couldn’t I have it for myself? I’ve spend decades becoming the person I am. A piece of art that takes that long is something that should be treasured far more than something that takes a few weeks and yet I’d spend half that time tearing it down, devaluing it and ripping at the very fabric of its creation.

“The thing is, I only let four people know I was getting my tattoo. I told two of them the meaning behind it and I kept the final design a secret from everyone except the artist. I sat down in the chair and when I got up again, the art on the inside was finally reflected on the outside. I keep looking at my arm, not seeing the scars that reminded me of how sad I was, how fragile and full of self-hate I was. Instead, I see hope and the promise I made to myself that unless I can say “I wish for this” to my choices, I have the power to change the situation, the duty to make myself happy, and the courage to be exactly the wonderful artwork of a person that I am.”


With that in mind, I went to work yesterday and my arm was uncovered-so everyone saw. I’m quite frankly very proud of the art, and the meaning and I had no problem telling everyone about it.  I even told them why. And the looks I got back were, well, they were interesting. And that’s what got me thinking.

I wanted to tell them the story of courage and beauty and love–self love. And the reactions were varied-usually some place between a pitying “I understand” or a shocked “I didn’t know that about her”. I’m not upset at either of these, but it made me think about why I was telling people in the first place. I’m not a “sharing” person, but I wanted everyone to know about it. So where was the disconnect?

I was so frank about what I wanted people to know because if no one is going to start the conversation, then I will. And as I said, if that means people give me looks, ask nosy questions or change their opinion of me, then that’s fine. Because maybe it’s the first time they’ve come in contact with these issues-and I want them to know that their preconceived notions might be wrong.

**Disclaimer-my work people are really great. They weren’t judgy or nosy, nor did they look down at me-I’m just saying that those are the reactions I’ve had from others.

 

 

 

 

Micromanaging-Coping Mechanisms from Hell

The worst thing about residing in my mind is having a million things to say, but no way to put it into words. I’ve been typing and retyping this blog, hoping to get something down of merit-something I wouldn’t just comb over and ultimately delete. Each day I open WP and decide to work on something, but as you can see, nothing has come out (save the update). It’s not that I’ve wanted to be away, it’s because I can’t.

micromanaging

When I get stressed, I micromanage. Turns out, it’s a coping mechanism from some trauma that I hadn’t dealt with. But it’s bloomed into much more than that. It hurts my relationships, it hurts my self-image and it hinders my ability to be a human being. So of course, I want to blog about it. I don’t want to talk about it, because it feels like a weakness, but I think that’s exactly why I have to-because somewhere out there, someone else is also suffering through it and I understand.

So. Micromanaging. Literally- control every part, however small, of (an enterprise or activity). (Thanks, Google.) You see, when I get into a situation which pushes me a little (or a lot) outside my comfort zone, I immediately flip the switch and micromanage. It could be something like keeping Google Maps pulled up on my phone-even when I know exactly where I’m going, just in case there’s a detour I didn’t know about. Or it could be making a meal plan for an entire month so that I feel useful. And then scrapping it because I could do better and doing it again. And again. It involves me circling my car to make sure everything is off and locked when I park. It involves me making a nightly sweep of my apartment to ensure that everything is off and locked before I go to bed (I even press the buttons on the microwave).

Let me run down a scenario day, so that we can discuss.

Get up, take the dog out (if Ben doesn’t beat me to it). Grab one poop bag from the box, open it, put it in my hoodie pocket. Then grab the leash and clip it to our dog. Look out the peephole and unlock the door while I’m looking. Go outside, look for murderers and ruffians. Look both ways before crossing traffic areas. Go back inside-holding my breath up the stairs in case someone tries to chloroform me on my way back in. Lock the door behind me.
Grab coffee-if I’m microwaving it, put 1 cup on for 1 minute, making sure the microwave reaches 1 second left before I pull the door and remove my cup. Make sure coffee/creamer combo reaches the top of cup.
Leaving for the day-check bag twice, key in hand and leave. Lock the door and test the knob. Walk across the landing, check the knob again. Make it to the car, making sure my ankles can’t be sliced by someone under my car.
Get to destination-do car check. Get to bus stop, look at car to make sure that everything is kosher. The key has to be in my hand until I reach the bus stop-to make sure I didn’t leave it in my car.
Text Ben everything I have to do that day. Then update him every time I complete or add or modify an item.
Get in car to leave-pull up Google maps, plug in home address. Set up music, drive home. Reach home, park and do car check with key in hand. Go to apartment.
If dog needs taken out-repeat morning ritual. If not, run down list of everything that happened at destination, everything that needs to happen and everything that will be optional (even though I already texted that list and all the modifications).
Make dinner (which was pre-planned, and prepped ahead of time). While dinner cooks, make sure to check planner for anything missed.
Eat dinner, update planner, move things into next day if necessary. Plan other things-like novel, blog topic, crafts, etc.
Watch TV or play iPad games. Listen to music. Cross date off on dry eraser board calendar (that I made with color coded events at the beginning of the month).

I think that gives you a basic idea. There’s a lot more planning and checking involved, but this is the basic skeleton. And it happens each and every day. If I take an outing last minute, I plan it before I leave. If I’m walking to a class, I probably have Google Maps open-even if I’ve been there before. If things get changed before I can prepare for it, chances are I will flake on it-bailing completely.

I made a bullet journal for the year, and it’s awesome, but I’ve already filled it with ideas for better bullet journals to make. I do a budget nearly every other day. I write and then rewrite emails and letters-even if they’re to myself.

Like I said, this began as a coping mechanism for something that happened a couple years ago. It wasn’t this bad at first, but became a progressive part of me that now runs my life. I’m not saying it doesn’t have perks-I’m super prepared for law school because I’m always taking notes and doing things to help me in the future. And thanks to my bullet journal, I’ve been adequately hydrated every day this week, as well as working out much more regularly.

Micromanaging is a blessing and a curse. It puts extra stress on my life and my relationships-and that I can’t deny is a real problem. But it gives me the guise of being in control at times when I feel like anything but. Any major change or anything that feels too big for me to handle can be broken down into manageable chunks that I have control over. And having control over situations means that it’s not an impossible task, it’s just something that I need to put more work into.

In the end though, I know this has to be dealt with. I just want you to know that if you’re working through this too-I understand. And if you want to talk about it, at least you know I understand.

You can do this. You’re not broken-you’re exactly the person you need to be at this moment.

Scheduling a Breakdown

(I submitted this to The Mighty a couple days ago, but I know they’re busy, so I thought I’d share it here. I’ll snag the link if/when it goes live. Until then, you can find my articles here.)

It seems like the minute I have a hundred things to do, my brain decides it’s the perfect time for a breakdown. Even though I have no time for it, it’s not convenient and I really don’t want to think about all the things my depression brain focuses on, I find myself doing all of those things instead of my full calendar. So I’ve put together a list of things that help me put a pin in my symptoms momentarily so I can finish up a few things.

1. Set aside time for yourself.
Trust me, as someone who understands all about
procrastinating, this can seem like both an obvious thing and an impossible
thing to do. But I’m talking about a five minute break here or there. Drink
your cup of coffee, slowly. Smell the steam, watch your creamer swirl in the
cup. Live the experience fully. Go get the mail. Do you hear any crickets? The
sound of ice crunching beneath your feet? This little break reminds you to catch
a little perspective and maybe distract you long enough to work through it.

2. Let yourself be upset.
Telling yourself that you’re not that upset only makes you worse. If you
absolutely can’t be upset-do math. It can be simple, like 1+1, 2+2 and so on.
As it turns out, your brain doesn’t like feeling emotions and doing math at the
same time, so you can usually stall your tears for a moment. But if you have
the ability, just be upset. Again, it can be a little five minute moment in
which you feel like the world is crashing around you and all hope is gone. I
ugly cry, take a tissue and blow my nose then get up and grab some water. I’m
not saying I’m done being upset, but if I let myself be upset in little bits,
then it doesn’t come out in a marathon. It’s your right to be upset. Even if
you don’t think there’s a reason. The way you’re feeling is completely valid.

3. Find something you wanna smile about.
I hate the advice “just turn that frown upside
down”. Sometimes that’s the absolute last thing I want to do-and even then it
just makes me angrier, or cry harder. But what I’m talking about is finding
something that you know you enjoy and experience it. If you think penguin’s
laughing is cute-find a video (I think it’s fantastic). If you know you smile
when you make chicken parmesan, make it. Like bubble baths? Take one. Because
finding something to enjoy usually results in some kind of self-care and let’s
be honest-is that ever a bad thing?

4. Take a deep breath.
This isn’t a novel idea, but it’s important.
Your whole body needs oxygen to function. Your brain is absolutely no
different. Think about how hard your brain is working, trying to manage
everything, fix problems (especially the ones you’re worrying about “for
nothing”). You need air. Plus, if you take a moment and focus on your
breathing, sometimes you’ll find that you already knew the answer to the
problems, you were just so focused on everything all at once that you didn’t
notice.
While you’re breathing, try this little
exercise. Take one breath in and list five things you see. Breathe out. Take
another breath and list four things you hear. Breathe out. Take one more breath
and list three things you smell. Breathe out. One more breath and list two
things you can feel. Breathe out. Take another breath and list one thing you
can taste. Breathe out. Take another breath and carry on about your day.

5. Get a validation outfit.
This is one of my favorite things, and it
happened completely on accident. I got a sweatshirt a couple sizes too big and
washed it and decided that I would only wear it when I felt like a terrible
person. I told myself that while I was wearing it, I wasn’t allowed to degrade
myself. The shirt itself has a graphic about always loving yourself, so I
thought I’d wear it when I needed a reminder that I’m not a monster, and that I
matter. It hangs in my closet until I feel depressed, or feel worthless and
then I put it on and read the words. And when the thoughts popped into my head
like “I’m an idiot.” Or “I’m unlovable.” I look at the words on my shirt and
force myself to take ten seconds to say something nice about myself. “I am
fierce. I am valid. I am irreplaceable.” The nice thing about validation
outfits? They can be anything: a business suit, a pair of shoes, earrings, a
bracelet, a pair of socks. The important thing is to remember to love yourself.
Soon enough, it’ll be your favorite piece of clothing.

Life is hectic and hard sometimes. But the important
thing to remember is that you can do it-even when you’re convinced you can’t.

My Gal Kesha

My life started down the SJW (social justice warrior) path nearly 9 months ago. I came across an article about Kesha (the pop star), watched her video (on Instagram I think) and became outraged at the way she was forced to do something she so clearly should not have been. And a follow up article came up in my life today.

I was listening to the radio on my morning commute (like the old person I am) and I heard the report that Kesha was panicked that her medical records were going to be released. Naturally, I did a little digging.

Kesha’s Concerns This is the link to the Rolling Stones article. In it, the point was made that Dr. Luke’s lawyers requested (and were granted) 10 years of gynecological, psychological and rehab records for Kesha. The lawyer representing Dr. Luke requested that the court (Not Kesha’s lawyer) decide if they could release the records to the public.

I know, my blood was boiling by that point as well. Because this is the Kesha I know. I am familiar with the easy-going, wicked smart woman who stood out and embraced diversity.

And then you have people like Donald Trump. (Did you think I’d forgotten?)

I saw the video, I watch all of the debates. And let me tell you something. One of the best things I heard in response came from The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. And I have to agree with one part in particular.

People are conflating sex talk with sexual assault talk.

And that’s a REALLY big problem.

I’m not saying that sex talk is “to be expected” or “just what guys do”. Because I find that offensive and belittling to the men I know and trust. I’m also not saying that I am willing to wipe clean my ideas about sex and gender.

What I’m saying is that sex talk I can disagree or agree with. Sexual assault talk is something I CANNOT and WILL NOT accept or let slide.

And I know, as well as you, that I’ve tried to keep my blog a pretty anti-political zone unless it directly affects the issues I’m bringing up.

But in this particular moment, I honestly cannot accept that there are still people who would vote for Donald Trump. I won’t change paths and devote the rest of the election season worth of blogs to anti-Donald campaigning, but just know that it will come up as it has. Because a vote for Donald is a vote against everything I am. And probably a fair amount of who you are as well.

So what do these two have in common?

Men in power who think they can get away with whatever they want simply because they’re rich.

And that’s what I’m trying to stop. We are all equal-regardless of ethnicity, orientation, categories we use to define ourselves. Vote. Please vote. Learn from Brexit-don’t be apathetic, don’t give in to “it could never happen”.

This is how freedom dies. With little bits of loss and unacceptable actions made acceptable.