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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But it’s who we are.

Kesha put out her newest song this week, entitled “Praying” and I will be the first to admit that I ran the whole gambit of emotions listening to it, including the compulsion to listen to it on repeat for hours on end. Although the song itself deserves more words than I could give, it actually made me think about a different post I’ve been chewing on. (But don’t worry-there will be a Kesha post before I leave this state.)

I met up with a friend this week for coffee before I make the journey. She and I have been friends since second grade-making that just about 18 years. We’ve been strong friends since freshman year of high school and I consider her one of the people I hold most dear and close to my heart. It was during this coffee meeting that we talked about our lives, the directions they were heading and without breaking the level of commitment to each other, we spoke of doubt and concern and fear.

I told her that we didn’t have to tackle the heavy stuff, and she told me that that was who we are. I don’t know about you, but having a friend who you can make jokes with and take on the messy bits with-without fear of judgment or losing conversation flow is one of the nicest things I think a person can have. She makes me so sad that I’m actually leaving this state, because I won’t get to see her face.

But I had a point.

Sometimes you have all these external battles you have to face. Work, school, bills, moving, other people. And these battles can take the form of physical, mental and spiritual ones. But sometimes you have internal battles. Depression, anxiety, doubt, fear, a lack of self-care. And those battles are no less important. They just also happen to be really hard to fight, because sometimes they coincide with external stressors.

Life is hard. I’m not going to sugar coat it. And so many times I have a heart to heart with myself about what it is I’m doing. Because it feels like I’m just a drop in the ocean of chaos. There doesn’t seem like there’s a meaning, a purpose to everything. And that’s such a hard place to be-because you’re the only one who can pull yourself out of it, but you’re the one in there fighting.

Love doesn’t mean coddling and over-protectiveness. Love isn’t shielding you from every bad thing that can happen. It doesn’t mean you’ll never be in pain, be scared, be sad. Love isn’t something that covers everything in bandaids and rainbows. Especially when your heart is in the right place.

Love is the thing that keeps you from giving up because it’s hard. Love means letting yourself get hurt because that’s how you grow and that’s how you learn to be a light for others. Love is the reason that you wake up every day, facing those battles that feel like they’re too much to handle.

I saw a post the other day on Facebook that said something like: “You were born to bring love to someone else. They need your laughter, your kindness, your hope. That’s why you make it through the tough times-so you can be a light for them.”

And I made a comment on that post that said just five words.
“And that person is yourself.”

So many times we forget that if we don’t pay attention the our own needs and our own brokenness, we can’t possibly do all the good we aspire to do. You are worth every ounce of love and laughter and empathy that you give out to others. And it’s not being selfish-it’s your duty.

I’ve spent a long time angry at the idea of God. I felt abandoned, I felt forgotten. I ran so far in the other direction that I passed deity and went straight to bitterness. And I spent a long time there. But bitterness can only take you to the rock bottom you were so desperately trying to avoid. I spent a long while looking for answers to those big questions, those “Why?”s. And I can’t say I have the answers. But I have the ones that keep me going, hoping for a better tomorrow. Religion and self-care have a lot in common. And whatever the “truth” looks like to you-if it isn’t wrapped in unconditional love, it’s just not the truth.

I think that each person has their own idea of truth, the truth that is true to them. And if that’s Christianity, that’s okay. If it is Islam or Judaism or Buddhism or Paganism, that’s okay. Because at the end of the day, you can only do your very best. And that very best is love. The love that doesn’t prevent pain, but endures it. The love that doesn’t disguise fear and doubt, but prepares you to battle it. The love that reminds you that you are just as worthy of happiness and empathy and care and hope as everyone else. No matter where you find that kind of love, it has to start within.

“I’m proud of who I am
No more monsters, I can breathe again
And you said that I was done
Well, you were wrong and now the best is yet to come.
I hope you’re somewhere praying, praying
I hope your soul is changing, changing
I hope you find your peace
Falling on your knees, praying.”
-Praying, Kesha.

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.

 

 

 

 

It’s been a long day.

I’ve spent the last few weeks being less active on social media and more active in the political realm. I’ve learned a lot, been frustrated a bit and gained some clarity. Words are such powerful tools. We use them, we don’t think about it. And you know, that seems awfully silly coming from me. I sit on my pedestal and preach the power in intention and am blown away by the way language is used to convey meaning.

But I want to focus on something that happened in my personal life a week or so ago. Because I’ve been reflecting on it so much.

As a kid, I wasn’t super close with my parents. I loved them, to be sure, as all children do. But I don’t think I appreciated them as much as I do now-which is very typical I think. Anyway, since reaching this weird age, I’ve grown to be more appreciative.

Anyway, cut to last week when I had a break down in front of my dad. How mortifying. I told him that I was struggling, and that I didn’t understand why everything seemed so hard. I told him that I saw how hard he worked and how I thought I was making all the right decisions and still things weren’t working out. And he said to me

You can do all the right things for all the right reasons and things still might not work out. It doesn’t mean you failed, it means you’re not done yet.

As I said, I’ve reflected on that every day. I wrote it down in my bullet journal because it was something I needed to hear.

I get so wrapped up in things that I don’t always see the big picture that I’m wrapped up in. It’s the forest for the trees scenario. I want so much to for things to be balanced. Each time I try to look at the big picture, I ask for just one thing. Not for my life to turn out the way I want, with no worries and no troubles. But for balance. You see, somewhere along the way I decided that for each bad thing that happened, there would be a good thing to counteract it.

So for example, saving money and being responsible instead of partying and splurging should mean that I have money to cover all the bills without being stressed out.

But that’s not how it works. And often times it doesn’t account for emergency situations. And I think that’s why I needed to hear the message above. I’m just not done yet. I have to keep going. And believe me, it’s not something I think about with glee. I’m worn out. I’m exhausted. I want things to be okay.

But I’m not done yet. And that’s okay. I’ve just got to keep fighting and everything will work out.

I suppose this blog today is for my own benefit more than anything else. I know that life is hard. And I know that sometimes you just need a break that you can’t have and that more than anything it’s all about endurance. Taking a moment to make sure you’re okay before you keep pushing forward is important and I know I need to hear that. I’m a give-until-there’s-nothing-left kinda person. I get used up and then I don’t know what to do. So it’s time for me to unlearn that and figure out how to make my own balance.

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.

These Days Are Ours

Hey all! I’m in the process of moving and as I’m sure you can all relate to-that means I’m busy, a bit frazzled and somewhat lost in time. Today’s thoughts aren’t a lecture per se, nor are they really anything more than just my thoughts. But they’re good’uns and it’s about one of my favorite topics: self-care!

I came across a note I’d saved in my phone and was blown away by my younger self. The date on it was 27 June 2015 and it reads like this:

I’m glad I’m heavier than who I was. It teaches me to be better: to redefine myself every day. I’m glad I threw out that damn dress, because it teaches me that I don’t need to be blonde to be beautiful. I’m glad I change my mind every time I change my mood. It teaches me to be flexible. I’m glad I’m not the girl I used to be. It teaches me that all things change and I must learn to adapt. I don’t have to have everything in the world. I just need to be me. I know some days I’m going to be so depressed I can barely move (and maybe a lot of those days) and some days I will stay awake for hours and be manic (and maybe I’ll be super productive). But I’ve been looking for reasons why I can’t improve my life. I stress about money, I stress about life. So now, I have some things that are going to happen.

I go on to list about a dozen things which I wanted to accomplish in the upcoming year. I managed to get about a third accomplished. But I’m not here to talk about the list.

I could not possibly have known all of the changes which were coming to me this past year. But it coincides with an event that happened yesterday and I thought that it was pretty nifty serendipity.

I send all my packages to my parents’ place because that is the only place that mail is reliable. And I hadn’t picked up my mail since about Christmas. I got my mail yesterday and opened it. I had a bunch of clothes I’d ordered, but hadn’t needed immediately.

I fall into the trap of thinking that I can wait for things. I delay so long that I usually talk myself out of the purchases with sentences like “Oh, well, now it’s not on sale.” or “I’ll buy it when I lose fifteen pounds.” And I neglect myself. I tell myself that I don’t need to buy clothes because the ones I have are still functional. I use my electronics until they can no longer function at all. And I’m proud of that. I feel that I am incredibly thrifty.

But I splurge on other people. I delight in being the one who looks completely together, completely giving. People from my first job can attest that if I had the ability, I would drive from my house to the nearest Starbucks (a 35 minute drive) at 6AM to pick everyone up a drink. And I love looking at people who receive my birthday presents. I love it all. I crave those moments.

But I deny them to myself.

Why would I do that? Why would I abuse myself and neglect myself when I put so much value in others?

The long and short answer? I’m still learning how to love myself.

I know that’s a story that a lot of people can relate to. It’s not something that our society values. The line between self-care and narcissism is muddled. Self-care is preached to people with medical conditions, to nursing students, to a variety of people. But it is often the people who are doing the preaching who lack the ability to fulfill their words in their own lives.

That’s so sad.

As I’m going through my stuff, in order to pack it up or recycle it in some way, I realized I was holding on to a lot of baggage with my possessions. I have a great giant pile of “If i lose X amount of weight, I can wear this.” I have a stack of “If these conditions are met, I’ll use this.” and the occasional “I don’t want to get rid of this because I got it from blah.” But all that translates to one basic thing: I’m holding on to this because I’m not happy enough to let it go. My husband can attest-since coming to that realization, I bagged up 6 bags of stuff and got rid of it. Clothes that were too small, too big, too old. Knick knacks that I’d held on to for the sake of holding on to are gone.

Sometimes loving yourself means giving yourself the same luxuries you give other people. Sometimes loving yourself means cutting yourself loose from unnecessary burdens.

Just a thought for today. See you all soon!

 

Aftermath

Self-care is a topic I’m pretty annoyingly new to. And the sad thing is, I think there are people here who are in the same boat. It’s one of those things that you think “BUT OF COURSE” when someone explains it, but you never think about it until then. And it can also be one of those things that grips you tight and raise you from depression (or mania, as the case may be). I know that I’ve been unusually quiet this last week, and I must say that it was for my own good. I’ve mentioned it to a couple people privately, but I absolutely needed to focus on some self-care this week and although I’m far from the end of needing it, I at least want to get some thoughts put down. All about the story, after all.

you

It’s not funny, but I guess it’s more ironic than anything-the fall from happy. I usually know when it’s coming, I can feel it like I can feel a cold coming on. I’ll slowly lose interest in an activity, become more and more tired for no reason, desire to seclude myself. And then just as I’m prepared to fight my way to the top, depression sets in like a fog. It is that cycle that I have come to expect my entire life. It is the time when I am the most creative, but lack the desire to create. It’s a million conflicts, a thousand contradictions.

I’ve ALWAYS been a high-functioning depressive. During my largest, most deeply depressed state I was spiraling out of control and no one even knew. My grades didn’t slip (I had a 4.0 all the way until my last semester of my senior year-that’s why I hate calculus. It brought me down to a 3.98.) I was involved in every creative activity I could be involved in and I thrived. But I was dead inside. Completely and utterly dead inside. I wrote a 75K word book in one month followed by a 50K word book the month after and another one the month after that. I was self-harming, I was in the middle of switching from bulimia to anorexia, I was a zombie. And not one person would have ever guessed it.

I grew used to depression. It seemed to be my “default setting” (which is what I call it) and it was something I knew how to work through. So imagine my surprise when there were no warning signs, no subtle hints and one day bam!

color fade

It literally hit just like that. I was fine, I was happy and then by that evening I was crying on the couch (and by crying I mean sobbing in the ugliest, most desperate way) because I couldn’t find the light in the dark. I became a reflection of the lost girl I had been in high school-broken, confused and desperate. I watched the world shift to grey (I see the world in higher amounts of color and their hues when I exit depression. I can literally watch the colors fade when I get depressed.)

I texted one of my friends the words:

I know that I cannot possibly do all the good I want to if I neglect myself…It’s hard, but I know I’m not alone…I’m trying to find my path in the dark.

And that’s really when I knew I needed to retreat and regroup. So that’s exactly what I did. I’m not here to tell you that I’ve made a full recovery. I’m not even here to tell you that I’m back to myself. I’m merely stopping by to tell you all that as long as there is breath left in me, I will not die while I yet live. I will say though, I believe that I am out of the worst of it and that I do know that I have a plan in place for such a time as this and there is no need to worry. I may be slow to regaining my blogging pace, but I will return, as I always do.