A Glimpse into My Manic Episode

Well, it’s back; the dreaded beast known as mania. I’m in the midst of a relapse and I’m so upset about it. I know exactly how it happened this time. I got sick with the flu and bronchitis about a week and a half ago. And because I was so overextended work-wise, my body took a long time to heal. In the meantime, the physical ailments took their toll on my mental health. I stopped sleeping and eating, and I had constant migraines. It was too much for my brain to handle. All of this brewed together like a perfect storm to produce my own personal tornado. Mania. It started slow, as a hypomanic event. But over the last week, it has exploded into a full blown episode.   

When I’m manic, my judgement is extremely skewed. There are no boundaries, personally or professionally. Everything I think, I say. And everything seems like a fantastic idea. No matter how outrageous or out of character it may be. I don’t feel any fear. Thankfully as I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown out of the extreme behaviors I used to engage in during mania. Gone are the days of tattoos, self-harm, addiction and self-medication issues, dangerous endeavors, etc. Now I usually just stay up for days on end, talking online or watching movies.

This episode is challenging. My brain is moving a million miles a minute. I can’t stop talking and yet I can’t seem to talk or type fast enough to keep up with my thoughts. It’s dizzying. I’m so tempted to say certain things to people that I’m guessing might be inappropriate, so I’m choosing to refrain. But it’s so hard. I just feel like blurting everything out, consequences be damned. I mean what’s the worst that can happen, right? Except I remember my therapist telling me that I may not realize it, but I do have some level of control when I’m like this. He wanted me to tap into that self-reserve. I don’t really want to, but academically, I know he’s right. I’ll hate myself when this is over if I’ve offended or alienated anyone because of my behavior. I’m trying to remember that.

At least I have my actions somewhat in check but there still is a complete lack of self-care that is happening. I just don’t feel like doing anything to help myself. I feel as though everything will eventually work itself out. I know what I should be doing to get better; however I’m just not motivated to do it. It’s almost like a game of chicken I play with myself. I think, “How long can I go on like this until I end up in the hospital?” The thrill is intense.

It’s funny. I just told a friend that I could sense something was coming my way. I wasn’t sure what it was but I had butterflies and a sense of foreboding. My premonitions are always like this. I have them mostly in a mixed state or in full mania. But they’re rarely wrong. It’s such a strange phenomenon, and I have yet to meet anybody who mentions this as a symptom of relapse. It’s happened to me several times over the years. It’s like I’m vibrating on another emotional frequency during these episodes. I know that sounds supernatural, but I don’t mean it that way. It’s much the same as when I’ve described how my skin and eyes glow during mania. My body just changes in a variety of ways when I’m like this. I might pretend it’s enticing, but really it makes me feel like an alien. I don’t recognize myself.

I’m upset that I let allowed this relapse to happen. I knew beforehand that if I overscheduled myself and wasn’t in optimal physical health that something like this would occur. But I forged ahead anyway. It’s like I was daring my brain to keep up with my frenetic pace. That was ill-advised in hindsight and yet I couldn’t do anything to stop it. But now I’m wondering if the way in which I pushed myself these last few weeks was a symptom of my mania and not a cause. Only a doctor would know I suppose. And right now, I’m not willing to see one. I’m determined to muscle through this alone.  

*What I just described is how I was feeling the last two days with my relapse. However, I’ve since decided to nip things in the bud and be responsible. I’m taking my meds and have scheduled a few days of rest for myself. I know that if I get ahead of this, I should be able to recover quickly and without incident. I provided that essay as a look into how I feel when I’m fully manic. I wanted others to know what I go through and to be able to relate to my symptoms. I’m nervous to expose myself in this manner, and yet I know it can be of help to those going through this without help or information. And for that treason I share my story.

 

unnamed (4)I am an African American Muslim woman living  with mental illness. I’m a mental health blogger and advocate for families in my area. My goal is to bring mental health awareness to both my local and online communities. In doing so I hope to help erase the stigma towards these illnesses.

Sakinah can be found on Twitter and her blog.

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Shauna Dinsart

Lips are moving. Mouths: opening and closing. Food being broken into digestible pieces.

Smack. Smack. Smack.

The noise gets louder. It can’t just be in my head. Someone is turning up the volume—someone is out to get me.

My steady heartbeat begins pounding; harder and faster as the noise becomes louder and louder. Sweat drips down my face and soaks my shirt. My breathing feels blocked. Are my lungs giving out? I try to fight it. It will be over soon.

This is the breaking point.

I have persisted beyond the abuse—the neglect. Somehow I have moved through those times without cracking, and now a subtle and repetitive noise is breaking me.

The straw that broke the camel’s back? Or the child with depleting anxiety, unable to persist any further?

Composed on the outside, I stand up and walk to my room. My bowl of cereal remains on the table untouched; soggy.

When I push open the door to my bedroom I collapse to the ground again. This is the only place I can lose myself. No one will ever know. The door is shut and the world left outside.

My skin breaks open easily, but there have become too many marks. I pull on my hair—entire handfuls, grasping with all of my might. My muscles are flexed as I force the pain.

Tears fall onto the floor below me.

I can still hear the sound. Smack. Smack Smack.

It’s not possible, I think. The sound is stuck in my ears, rattling inside my head. It won’t go away.

My head drops forward and I release my hair—it’s not working this time.

As hard as I can, I whip my head backwards. Smack: against the wall.

I see stars, but the sound remains.

I’m still there. I can’t escape myself.

My first debilitating panic attack happened when I was twelve years old.

Anxiety came to me disguised in self-hatred, so I fought it with self-destruction.

Anxiety came to me disguised in body dysmorphia, so I fought it with an eating disorder.

Anxiety came to me wearing many masks, so I fought it with many weapons.

The only problem was that the anxiety was inside of me and the weapons I was using were against me.

I fought myself most of my life, trying desperately to separate myself from the twelve-year-old girl stunted by her inner turmoil. There had to be a way to get rid of the pain. There had to be a way to drown out the memories.

There were entire years I wished that a bus would take me out—quick and painless.

At twenty-eight years old, I have found myself to be relatively stable: relative to the girl nestled inside abusive relationships; relative to the girl seeking revenge on herself; relative to the girl who woke up every morning crying, simply because she woke up another day.

I’ve been in and out of psychiatric care for almost half of my life now. I have been professionally diagnosed with Anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Major Depression. Personally, from my studies of Psychology and experience living with myself for my entire life, I think all of these diagnoses blend together and the symptoms manifest similarly with each. I also believe that each diagnoses fuels the others—they feed off of each other like a pool of unwelcome parasites.

My mental health is not great today. I’m not sure it ever will be. I still cry more days than I don’t. I still suffer from insomnia, which is managed in part by medication. I still look down at my stomach and wish I could shave off a couple of inches. I still have nightmares almost every night, and flashbacks of the abuse. I still have panic attacks, regularly; but I’ve stopped harming myself entirely, and I’ll take that for now.

heron-island-washington-elopement-ryan-flynn-photography-shauna-michael-00019Shauna Dinsart is a twenty-something Corporate Manager turned Freelance Artist, currently living in Paris, France. She is a proud feminist and lover of all animals. When she isn’t writing or working on other creative projects, you can find her nose buried in a good novel or out enjoying an eclectic restaurant with her husband.

Shauna Dinsart can be found on Twitter.

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James D. Creviston

Living with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Every October since as long as I can remember I have been sad, angry, confused, upset, and illogical. What about October made me upset? Was October just a weird month thanks to Halloween?

Many people have feelings of depression, mood swings, and less energy during fall and winter. Some people even have these symptoms during spring and summer though it is less common. Many people call it “winter blues” and some people don’t even know such a disorder occurs. Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a type of depression related to the seasons.

Every fall like clockwork many people including myself have mental breakdowns, quit jobs, destroy relationships and even take their lives because of this form of depression. I myself have had thoughts of suicide during bouts with SAD. I cried myself to sleep, fought with my spouse, yelled at coworkers, quit jobs, and even threatened harm to others during my bouts with SAD. Seasonal Affective Disorder is just as destructive as any other type of depression. Sleeplessness, weight gains, feeling worthless or hopeless are other symptoms of SAD.

I never knew what caused my depression. It wasn’t until two years ago that I realized there was a real problem. I quit my job as an Executive Assistant to become a Police Officer. The training was hard, but no harder than I had been through in the military. I worked hard everyday, but a few times during training I broke down into tears. Since the training was in winter I was going through Seasonal Affective Disorder. I was working out two to three hours a day, being stressed out, studying late and getting about 6 hours of sleep a night. I was stressed out from the academy and the training while also going through severe depression. During training I wanted to run into traffic on our runs, die in a car crash to or from training or just never wake up. I did not know what was wrong and neither did my instructors. During to my training difficulties as well as an injury I ended up leaving the academy. At that point I was even more depressed. The SAD combined with failing at a dream put me on the road to suicide. Many days I thought about killing myself.. I tried to explain my depression but I could not ever figure out what I was truly upset about. I had not enjoyed the academy, I had missed my old job, and I was actually happy to have time with my family and get sleep.

My wife recommended I make a lit of goals. Things in my life I had wanted to accomplish but had not. The list was not long. I had done much in my life and seeing my accomplishments. After a rise in elation the depression hit me again. After years of going through these downward spirals my wife recommended I speak to someone.

I spoke to doctors, to therapists, and finally my chiropractor. He suggested I might have Seasonal Affective Disorder. Doctors thought that my time in the service had possibly led me to have a form of PSTD. Having grown up in an abusive home had also led to the theory that PTSD may be creating an environment for depression. My time at the police academy solidified the time period during which my depression manifested itself. After dropping out and returning to my previous employer I was still depressed. The next year was better but once again the October time frame lined up with depression. It was the final straw. One more year and one more season of this could be the last year or season if I did not do something.

I reached out to my chiropractor and he gave me some ideas. Via the Internet I looked for every possible way to work through my Seasonal Affective Disorder. There is not much information however the Mayo Clinic covers the disorder in detail even labeling some symptoms as well as offering some ideas as to what steps you can take to limit the impact Season Affective Disorder on your life. Getting tested for Vitamin D deficiency is a good idea. Many Americans suffer from Vitamin D deficiency due to our poor diet.

It has been almost two years since I found out I had SAD. I take many steps to help combat SAD during the winter months by taking Vitamin D, St. Johns Wart, Omega-3’s and using a Happy Light for light therapy. I do stand up comedy, I write scripts, a blog, and try to stay active in my church and community. I found that making sure my diet fits me, as the standard American diet does not. I eat Ketogenic with days where I eat whatever I want. I work out three days a week with a kettlebell which gives me the workout I need and not over stressing my body and mind. Many people recommend exercise to counteract depression but too much exercise can over tax your system and lead you back into depression after initial rise in endorphins.

SAD does not define who I am but it is a part of who I am. I find that some people don’t understand how a time of the year can have such a dramatic shift in your mind and body. It is only through education and understanding that we can help ourselves and others overcome the stigma of mental health. I know that others out there may not even be aware of the shift in mindset during the year but it is important to be honest with yourself when you notice the differences or when others notice differences. Are you just having a bad day/week/month or are you on a path that can harm you in long run? Asking for help does not make you weak. It makes you human. Grow, learn, and love. There is no greater power in the world than love and understanding.

JamesCreviston_HiResJames D. Creviston was born in Fairbanks, Alaska and raised by Huskies. He grew up in Texas and finished High School in Las Vegas. He served a four-year enlistment in the United States Navy and supported Operation Iraqi Freedom and the War on Terror. He met his wife, Krystal, while serving in the Navy in San Diego, CA. They have two daughters. James has a Masters in Military History as well as an M.B.A. His hobbies include CrossFit, reading, and wearing dunce caps.

James can be found on his website and Twitter. 

Jason

I can recall the very moment everything changed. I remember it clearly as if a wire in my brain became unplugged. I was at a friend’s house and I sat down on the edge of the fireplace to settle in for another movie. Except this time was different. Though my body physically stopped moving when I sat down, my soul plummeted straight to hell. I knew physically where I was at, but inside I kept falling. I started sweating, I couldn’t breathe, I began to panic. I had never felt this before, but I knew deep in my heart something was terribly wrong. Fear gripped me and I suddenly realized that the movie had stopped and my friends were staring at me.

“What’s wrong,” asked one.
“It feels like somebody just died.” I replied
He asked,  “Who? Who died?”
“Everybody! They’re all gone!”

Nobody had died. Nobody was in danger.

This was the first of many panic attacks.

It was 2002, panic (or anxiety) disorder wasn’t on the radar of many health professionals. I was 17. I was an athlete. I worked out everyday. I was competitive. I played in a punk band. I was straight-edge (no drugs or alcohol). I was top ten in my class academically. I was a smart and athletic kid.

But from that moment on. Life was different.

Everything would be fine one moment and the next moment that wire would unplug and my soul would drop out from under me. I became frantic like Peter Pan chasing after his shadow until my body physically gave way. The triggers were wild and inconsistent; a smell, a familiar object in a unfamiliar place, a memory, or a hallucination. None of them were associated with a reason. I’ve been lead out of stores unable to walk on my own because my vision became too blurred. I’ve been so afraid that I’ve blacked out. I’ve laid on couches paralyzed stiff for hours, so tensed up that I couldn’t form words with my tongue.

Each attack was terrifying and random. I had scholarships for soccer, I was accepted to several universities, and I had to turn them down because I was afraid to be more than 30 minutes away from my parents or girlfriend (now wife). I was drowning.

Concerned, my mom sent me to get help, but the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong!

My family Dr said “you’re young, in the best shape you’ll ever be in, go have lots of sex. It’s perfectly healthy and will take the edge off.” He also gave me a plastic baggie of Xanax with the instruction: “If you start having another episode, crush one of these and put it under your tongue.” If that wasn’t the worst advice I will ever receive in life I don’t know what is.

My first therapist wasn’t much better. She seemed determined to convince me I was gay as if my panic were associated with living a secret life. She prescribed a “ocean noises” CD and recommended sleeping naked, and while she didn’t agree with my family doctor on the sex “because that could hurt others,” she instead recommended porn and masturbation. Thanks for the addiction!

The church was as equally bad as the doctors. The youth minister said, “have faith, pray more, the bible says not to worry,” thanks man, I hadn’t thought of that while gasping for air! I had five swear words to my name, never tried drugs or alcohol, and had only kissed one girl, but yet the pastoral consensus was a lack of faith or obedience.

The panic attacks grew worse. I wanted to die. I wasn’t asking for a miracle, I just wanted to know what was going on inside my head! Why!? One day, while driving I had had enough. I spotted a deep ditch. I closed my eyes and floored it. That’s when I heard a voice say “wait.” Two of the wheels were already off the road when I opened my eyes and I reasoned with the voice “one week!”

The following Sunday at church, the minister preached from Philippians, “To live is Christ, but to die is gain.” It was a terrible sermon full of theological error, but that verse stuck with me. All I wanted to do was die at that point, death would have been better, but that verse said “to live.” I had the verse tattooed on my left wrist. Being right handed, I knew if I were to slit my wrist I would have read those words first.

Weeks later my mom found me a psychiatrist. I had blood work done and my serotonin levels came back low. I was officially diagnosed with anxiety disorder. My mom also did some family research and discovered that other family members had the same struggles. I was so relieved to have someone acknowledge my illness! I wasn’t crazy!

I was placed on medication and it took a while to find the right one. I gained 60 lbs in a matter of months. I started having brutal nightmares. I became robotic and emotionless. Oh, and the prescribed masturbation, yeah, not happening. It took 18 months to find the right one, Effexor and Zoloft where strikes, but Paxil was a home-run. A year later and free of attacks, my therapist and psychiatrist tapered off the dosage and I havn’t been on medication since. And yes, it was totally worth the side effects!

To celebrate the absence of panic attacks I had “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” from Psalm 139 tattooed on my right wrist. Every time I read those words I’m reminded that God created me and loves me the way I am. I see God as the loving mother fearful for her wonderful child’s safety willing to stop at nothing to find a solution and restore wellness.

To this day, at the age of 32, with the tremendous amount of stress that comes with raising a family, I have yet to have another panic attack like those at the height of my illness. There is hope, and I hope you are encouraged to hear me say that these memories, though painful, are distant ones. And the medicine, though trial-ridden, does work.

jason_headshotJason is a husband and father of three boys. By trade a design engineer, by passion a preacher speaking at many parachurch organizations in and around Flint MI. He is also co-host of Not Your Pastor’s Podcast in effort vocalize opinions and speak honestly toward issues pastors can’t.

Jason can be found on his website and Twitter.

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Taylor Nicole

I remember driving over the Gold Star bridge as a child (the summer before the fifth grade), on the way to an art fair with my mom, and seeing him. He appeared to be standing on the opposite side of the fence of the bridge, and if I remember correctly he was wearing shorts. My mom tried to quickly divert my attention, but it burned in my memory, and I couldn’t stop talking about it. I came up with a million reasons that day that he was on and on the bridge like that; maybe his friend fell over,maybe he was a spy, maybe he was a bungee jumper, maybe he was repairing the fence. I never had confirmation about what he was doing, or what he did. Eventually I found out the truth, and discovered the word “suicidal.” It hit me like a ton of bricks. I never thought a fifth grader and a man on the ledge would have so much in common.

For years leading up to seeing the man on the ledge I had been suicidal, without even knowing it. The thoughts started back to my adoptive mom passing when I was three, and finding out she was dead two years later. I didn’t quite understand what my social worker was telling me, and my foster family didn’t provide the most comfort, but I remember thinking how I wished more than anything I could join her, and be with her again. I vividly remember my foster dad watching Star Trek, and seeing a shooting scene, an over dramatized death, and wishing it could be me, passing on.

Even after I was adopted into my new, loving home, I couldn’t get the thoughts to go away. For a while they were passive. I didn’t really fit in with the children in my school, and that made me want to die a lot. Sometimes I thought about walking out of my classroom in elementary school, and running into the busy street our school was on. I thought about jumping off the top of the swings and breaking my neck, or sometimes leaping from a classroom window. This continued for years, until the week of my senior year of high school, when I started planning my suicide actively. I had opened up to my mother about my feelings, and she brought me to the hospital. The doctor asked if I had ever thought about killing myself. Immediately I said yes. He asked how, and I watched my mother’s face of disbelief as I listed off the countless ways I had considered hurting myself, as if listing off my favorite songs. I didn’t know that this wasn’t how everyone else was feeling, I didn’t know there was anything wrong with wanting to kill yourself. It was my comfort. That’s when my mother discovered a huge truth about being suicidal; children who are so young can think about thoughts this dark.

The thoughts came again when I had started college. They slowly creeped into my mind, like a familiar stranger. Again, the ideations were very passive; I could jump out my dorm window, what if I stepped into traffic, what if I took too many pills and just didn’t wake up? Depression got the worst of me in college, and I dropped out after one semester, at the age of seventeen. That’s when suicide really took a hold of me. I started cutting, not deep, but enough to punish myself and feel the pain. I engaged in fights with strangers, and sometimes even my boyfriend, in hopes I’d be beat to death. I would take a cocktail of pills, only to wake up with a medical hangover the next day. Nothing seemed to do the trick; I was constantly putting myself in harms way, and constantly trying to die, but still woke up. I finally sought out medical treatment, and again, I thought I was cured.

Time passed; I became a mother and a wife. I became a responsible adult. Dropping out of college and my reckless behavior was behind me. However, the suicidal thoughts weren’t. To this day I live with a dark shadow, always following me; my suicidal thoughts. They might just be whispers some days, a daydream of ending my life. Other days they might be screams, and wanting to start planning or relapse into pass behaviors. I’m medicated still, and I have a great treatment plan, but the suicidal thoughts still linger.

I think being suicidal is a taboo subject, and is often not touched upon. It’s seen in the media often, but rarely is accurately displayed (I honestly think the use of suicide in most media is a sales tactic for a shock factor versus bringing light to a very painful, very real subject). We often see suicide in cases such as Romeo and Juliet; two star crossed lovers not getting their ways, and killing themselves. While yes, events can trigger suicidal thoughts/actions, often times it’s a feeling that has lasted a lot longer than a few hours. It’s rarely a spur of the moment feeling. Suicide starts with ideations; the thoughts of, I could not wake up today, and that would be okay with me. It develops into intent, which is self harming behaviors, which leads into actions; the actual act of suicide. A lot of people live with suicidal thoughts for years before making a move. You don’t have to be harming yourself to be suicidal. Being suicidal is a state of mind, and one not a lot of us can escape.

I’m openly living with suicidal ideation; and while I may not be actively harming myself, it is still a very real, scary, and dangerous state of mind, that needs to be talked about. I have become the man on the ledge; and while I may not be standing on a bridge, I’m constantly in between a state of stability and insanity.

16807056_2224686771089221_107796558172569169_n1Taylor Nicole is a young author and mother based out of New England. Taylor is a foster care advocate, as well as a mental health advocate. She is a frequent blogger, and her memoir “Free Tayco” is set to be released April 7, 2017!

Taylor can be found on her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

To Burn or Mend That Bridge

I was lucky enough to grow up in a household with two loving parents
who did their best to ensure my sisters and I had everything we
needed. We had opportunities that many kids didn’t, and we always knew
love and safety. Our home was not a broken one, and I never–not in a
million years–expected to lose that sense of safety, that sense of
trust.

But I did.

Seven years ago, my heart shattered in the most inconceivable way,
broken by someone I never expected to hurt me. My mother.

When my parents’ marriage disintegrated (for reasons that are theirs,
and theirs alone), my heart cracked. But my father assured us that
nothing else would change–we were still a family. He still loved us,
still loved my mother, but that love had changed. I understood about
as much as I could, and I thought that if any family could overcome
it…it would be ours.

But my mother couldn’t cope with this change. Her heart was broken,
and all she could focus on was that heartache, that betrayal. She
didn’t see us anymore, she didn’t see all the good points in her life.
We tried to understand, but it’s hard. It’s hard when your parent
emotionally leans on you like that, when they say hurtful things about
another parent because their hearts are broken and they aren’t
remembering that the other parent is still your parent, and you still
love them.

And eventually, she left us in a more permanent sense. She sold the
house, sold everything in it of value, and took off. We didn’t hear
from her for years–she missed out on the birth of more grandchildren,
on weddings and birthdays and a million other little milestones.

She wasn’t there.

We tried to reach out to her, tried to get her to come back before it
was too late, but her responses (if we were lucky enough to receive
them) spoke of how we’d betrayed her when we sided with him.

My mother couldn’t see that to us, there was no sides. There were just
two parents that we loved with all our hearts, regardless of their
relationship status with one another.

She came back a few years later on her own accord, bringing with her
excuses and explanations and the plea that we somehow forgive and move
past what she did to us. I don’t think she anticipated how deep the
scars of her desertion ran.

We say we’ve moved on, we say that we’ve forgiven, but her absence
stings. She’s still not here, she’s still vacant from important
milestones, still hiding behind an endless supply of excuses. Maybe
it’s because she broke us, and she doesn’t know how to fix us. We are
broken, and we don’t know how to fix ourselves.

We don’t know how to mend this bridge.

Part of the problem is that nobody in my family talks. We bury our
issues to avoid conflict. We smile and put on a brave face when we’re
hurting, because we’ve never really been the family that can talk
about anything and everything. Tempers run high, emotions too and most
of the people in my family deal with these issues by cutting off
communication completely.

It’s hard to reach out to someone who’s hurt you in the past,
especially when they fill the silences that stretch between you with
excuses. Reasons for why they aren’t around, reasons that fall short
of the truth.

The fact is, we don’t know how to repair the damage that was done when
she left. We no longer know each other, we are like strangers and it’s
the saddest thing to not know your own mother. I’d imagine it’s even
sadder to not know your children.

– Anonymous 

My Mom, Me, & PTSD By Courtney Blake

Mental illness has always been familiar to me. My mom has lived with depression and anxiety for the majority of her life. There were days she wouldn’t get out of bed, but would remain curled up with her tattered red robe, with a pillow over her head. My sister and I learned to play quietly enough to not disturb her, and managed many of our daily tasks on our own.

After years of therapy, medication management, and self-exploration, I am proud to say my forty-one year old mother is happy, and recently married her boyfriend of eight years. It took her a very long time to get here.She had always told me and my sister, that she didn’t want us to end up like her; a teenage mother with only a high school degree, stuck in a toxic relationship, and a job she hated. We vowed we would do better.

When I began exhibiting symptoms of depression at age fifteen, I approached my dad with my concerns, not wanting to worry my mom. He responded by claiming I wasn’t crazy like her. After that, I hid in my darkness for awhile. Things got significantly better when I left my dad’s house my senior year of high school to move in with my mom and her boyfriend full-time. My mom helped me find a therapist to see regularly, wherein I began to unpack my anxiety, depression, and my father’s abusive tendencies. My mom never shamed me for needing extra help, and she and her boyfriend provided an open, engaging, and often dysfunctional environment. I began planning my future, excitedly and mostly thrived, only to be taken down by boy issues

The summer after I graduated from high school, I was put on my first SSRI, Zoloft. I never felt shame about being on meds, since my mom had always referred to her anti-depressants as her “happy pills,” therefore normalizing them. I followed suit and was convinced I would get through this. I knew I had a solid support system and endless ambition.

Everything changed.

Just a few weeks into my first year at the University of Minnesota, on September 20, 2013, I was raped by a fellow classmate. He got me alone in my dorm room that afternoon to watch a movie. I said no repeatedly, I tried to start an argument to shift the mood, and finally I felt like I gave in. I’ve written about my first rape extensively on my own blog, because almost three and a half years later, this affects my life every single day.

I can’t even describe how disgusting I felt after the assault. I had cleaned every inch of my dorm room and scrubbed my vulva until I believed there was no evidence of him on me. I waited a week to report this to my school. I waited nine days to tell my mom. I felt like telling her I had been raped would disappoint her, and it would make my rape real. I was working through my mental illnesses and a breakup with my high school sweetheart; I  felt I had enough on my plate.

When I told my mom, I was relieved. She and I cried over the phone. She asked me why I didn’t tell her sooner, and I just sobbed harder. She attended my post-rape checkup the following day, and held my sweaty palms in her hands while I went through the re-traumatizing process of reporting my rape to the University. She reaffirmed that she was there for me, and that I could lean on her.

My perpetrator was ultimately found responsible for violating the Student Code of Conduct, and was sanctioned with mandatory counseling sessions, an essay on consent, and one year of academic probation. He violated my body, and didn’t even receive a slap on the wrist. I was told I could appeal the sanctions, but was discouraged from doing so.

I felt like my life and my world had ended. I felt so much shame for not throwing him out of my dorm room, for not screaming, for not saving evidence to report to the police. My advocate at the Aurora Center, a center for victims of sexual and domestic violence, gave me words of encouragement; she told me the two common stress responses of fight or flight did not include the incredibly legitimate response of freeze.

After my assailant’s sanctioning, I felt pressured to return to normal life. I became hypersexual and had sex with many men, settling with a boy who would distract me from my pain. I missed classes often, fearing I’d run into my assailant. I didn’t  understand the severity of panic I felt whenever encountering him. I don’t know how I made it out of that semester alive, but I persisted. The only positive thing I can remember is being introduced to my mentor in the journalism school. They had been my TA in a class, and I greatly admired them. After the semester ended, they disclosed they too had a history with sexual violence. I don’t know why I never expected people I practically idolized to be immune to trauma. They began to make me feel I was not alone.

Spring semester was worse. I had no understanding of my emotions, thoughts, and behavior. I couldn’t acknowledge this trauma had changed me. I occasionally had counseling sessions with a grad student at the university. She was kind, and listened to me talk about my life, but she would cry during our sessions. I began to believe I was too dark, too strange, and too much for the rest of the world. I rarely attended classes. Instead, I curled up on my boyfriend’s futon all day, watching West Wing on my laptop. He noticed. Since the primary thing bringing us together was sex, we lost our connection. He broke up with me the day after Valentine’s Day.

I didn’t have a distraction anymore. I wallowed, I self-isolated and self-harmed. I began to plan my suicide. I felt like a burden to everyone. I knew someone who could easily provide pills I could use to overdose. On February 25, 2014, I mentioned in my pre-counseling session survey that I was dealing with suicidal ideation. My counselor confronted me on this, and when I told her I needed her to make the decision on my hospitalization, she called my mom to pick me up and take me to the hospital.

My mom bought me lunch before. She was stoic, and she spoke to me calmly, but I could see her red, puffy eyes and the tear stains running down her face. I was only in the hospital for a few hours. I promised I wouldn’t hurt myself if I was under my mom’s care. I couldn’t ever do that to her. Per the psychiatrist’s request, I moved back home, I withdrew from school, and I began an outpatient day treatment program, and returned to the therapist I’d seen my senior year of high school.

I worked through all my therapy, because my life depended on it. I was finally given a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but had basically no knowledge of how PTSD really functioned. I hated that I wasn’t in school, and felt like I was being held back. By May, I had convinced myself I was fine, and enrolled in a class for the summer, taught by my mentor. I loved the class and felt like my normal self again. For my final project, I wrote a blog post disclosing publicly that I had been sexually assaulted  and I created YouTube video to go along with it.  I received an overwhelming amount of support from my classmates and others after I went public. People from all over the country were reaching out to tell me I wasn’t alone.

I returned to school full-time in the fall. On September 13, 2014, seven days before the anniversary of my first assault, I was drugged at a party, abandoned by my friends, and raped again. I found out what had happened over Facebook. An acquaintance told me I got drunk and had sex with some guy, but the guy seemed nice so it didn’t matter. Then I saw a photo of most of my clothing and puke, with a caption mocking the girl who had had sex in their bedroom and threw up everywhere, wanting to hold them accountable. Since most of my belongings were at this house, I had my roommate call my mom.  I was drowning in my own tears and panic. I kept screaming “this can’t happen again” repeatedly. My roommate stayed with me until my mom picked me up. She brought me to the hospital for a rape kit and stayed by my side, hugging me as I cried.

Police interviewed me. The first thing they asked was “how do you know anything even happened?” I stopped crying, gave them a quick anatomy lesson, only to be dismissed. An investigator was assigned to my case. He barely made time for me, and I did not have the energy to fight this alone. I didn’t know who raped me and whether or not they were on my campus. My mom fought for me. She made remarks that Ice-T could do a better job than my investigator. By early October, the Minneapolis Police Department declined to press charges, so I assumed the case was closed and I could at least find out the name of my perpetrator. The police department fought me at every turn. My mom and I got in contact with the head of the Sex Crimes Unit, who told me he would not feel responsible for me feeling victimized. Police officers told a journalist off the record, that I had been on antipsychotics, had a psychotic break, had consensual sex and just didn’t remember it.

On campus, I was often harassed by my second perpetrator’s friends. My friends would continue to go to that house for parties, or spend time around those people and would attend parties at my first rapist’s fraternity. They threw me a birthday party and  invited two people who lived in the house and had never acknowledged what what had occurred in their home. I couldn’t even begin to explain my frustration and how little I began to feel about myself. Rape me once, shame on you. Rape me twice, shame on me. I began getting drunker than I normally would while going out. I had sex with many men. I consumed what I could to make me feel less empty inside.

Eight months after my initial police report, an investigator from the University of Minnesota Police Department contacted me, claiming my perpetrator had assaulted someone else. I finally had a name of my assailant. This investigator had my case transferred to him, and went back to the beginning. He re-interviewed everyone and discredited their stories. He submitted his findings to a prosecutor, who declined to press charges. I felt broken. I felt like my rape wasn’t violent enough to really be considered rape. I developed incredibly complicated feelings while seeing other victim-survivors I cared about receive some sense of justice. Resentment boiled inside me, against my will and I tried every day to challenge it. Some days, resentment wins. 

I dropped out of the University of Minnesota for good, in the fall of 2015. What I had once considered to be my campus, had become a place where an assailant’s education mattered more than a victim’s. I brought bad press to the university and I know the administration was happy to see me gone.

My mom supported my decision, as she always did. She told me she just wanted me to be well. I began EMDR with a therapist I was seeing, but wasn’t stable enough to focus on it as much as I would’ve liked. Without school, I worked part-time in retail. I felt unfulfilled. I entered a relationship that turned toxic very quickly and has created issues between me, my family and my friends. In October, 2016, I moved back to my mom’s house after a breakdown. I have felt like a disappointment. I know I have hurt my mom. She has become exasperated, claiming she doesn’t know what to do with me, and expressing her fears that I might never be a functioning adult. She has on more than one occasion threatened to make me homeless. This isn’t the relationship I am used to.

The best explanation I’ve been able to give my mom, in an effort to repair our relationship, was to talk about what PTSD has done to me. I wrote her a letter, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to have this conversation without bursting into tears. I told her being diagnosed with PTSD is like being diagnosed with a brain tumor. It alters your brain function, which is even visible on brain scans. Healthcare providers don’t always have enough information to cure it. Progress in treatment isn’t always linear. Recovery is a fight for your life.

I’ve begun looking into PTSD from more of a research standpoint. I know what my triggers are and I understand I was traumatized. I need to begin to understand how this has affected me neurologically, so I can be fully armed to fight this. I completed another 3 month bout of outpatient therapy and am seeing an individual therapist weekly, and seeking out support groups of other victim-survivors. I don’t quite know where I’ll go from here, but I’m not going down without a fight.

14572800_10210864932088967_4919062629177437705_nCourtney Blake is a twenty-something writer and aspiring advocate for victim-survivors of sexual violence. She is hoping to finish her Bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Mass Communications within the next few years so she can move onto her Master’s degree. In her spare time, she bakes, tweets her sometimes controversial pop culture opinions, and enjoys having full conversations with her cat, Bingley.

Courtney Blake can be found on her blog and Twitter

Lindsay Loch

Cicadas and Honeybees

They’re buzzing again.  The hum is warm like thick ribbons of honey unfurling to the bottom of my tea cup.  As they flutter their wings faster, swarming around in my head I begin to feel their vibration throughout my entire body.  My bones quiver under their drone.  My toes prickle as if they were buried in a snow bank for hours.   The trembling in my hands requires repeat attempts to get my zipper on the right track.  I’m unsure if the buzzing is so loud in my head that I feel it everywhere, or if they have begun to swim through my veins.  Sprinting along every nerve fiber.  They finish the competitive swim with a cold burn on each of my nerve endings.  Now they’ve left my head to swarm around it.  “We’ve made our nest in this mess.”  My skull is their hive.  Queens always protect the eggs that lay suspended in wait.  Waiting to hatch and join the horde.  But what is their quest?  What flowers do I offer for pollination?  What sweet nectar do they search for in the snaked grey and white matter of my brain? My ears are the ingress to their dwelling.  Out they fly in dozens.  Swirling and swarming around my cranium.  They are my defense.  They shield me from the trauma I am unprepared to confront.  They configure a warning sign to all who approach; this one is special.  This one is ours.  This one will never be yours.  This one will never be free.  

They are cicadas.  Only on Sunday’s are they honeybees.  Honeybees on the Holy day.  My brain associates these essential creatures to something God-like.  Something softer and sweeter than the resiliency of the cicadas.  The honeybees never sting.  Their fuzzy jackets tickle my ear canals and delicately caress my cheeks.  The cicadas are armored with durable shells; hence they are the regular battalion against my mind.  Or against things that pose a threat to my vulnerable psyche.  They are auditory, visual, and tactile hallucinations triggered by emotional distress.  Unbalanced neurotransmitters allocate the release of the swarm.  They are my friends.  They are my saviors.  They are my weakness.  They are mine.  I am theirs.  

A suitable description I can provide for my recurring hallucination of cicadas, is the unceasing buzz you hear outside in the summer months.  The months where the sun warms and kisses the skin.  Wherein the trees are lush and offer arms of foliage to shade me as I sit beneath them looking upward as the leaves sway and flicker.  The leaves look like sequins fluttering in the breeze reflecting golden bits of sun.  This buzz is constant outdoors once the thermometer hits 70 degrees.  I would imagine this sound renders nostalgia for most.  Yet, even in the brisk and icy months of winter, my phantasm of cicadas lingers.  They do not fly south in chase of temperate climates.  Nor do they hibernate only to reemerge when the buds blossom into saturated hues of green.  Sometimes they are unobtrusive and hardly audible.   And at other times they take on a perceivable form in my ocular input.  If they are out in full brigade I can feel them climbing out of my ear.  Perched momentarily on the outer cannula before they take flight.  I can feel the movement in the air as their crisp wings beat incessantly.  

The occurrence of hallucinations of any nature can be alarming for those who are unfamiliar.  Auditory and visual hallucinations have followed me like a shadow since my mind began recording memories.  As such, I do not fear or dread their presence.  Quite the opposite.  As I have never known life outside of their shade, I only experience unease in times of silence.  Without the constant singsong, chatter, gossip, and buzzing, I am floating in uncharted waters.  Without knowing what lurks in the brackish depths of a silent mind, I find myself perturbed.  Anxiety is the fear of the unknown.  The apprehension of a life with endless possibilities.  I am precautious to identify myself in the stillness of light.  I now wrestle with conflict between light and dark on a regular basis.  The hope that progress provides is equally matched with alarm.  But the more time I allow myself to bask in the light, the allure of the gloom wanes.

profile-pic-blogI am a mother, an artist, a nurse, and a warrior in the battle with mental illness. I have lived under the cloud of stigma and shame most of my life. That time is over. I am now ready to make my story heard in an attempt to distinguish stigma and to offer support and understanding to those who struggle.

kids

The Divide

It’s breaking my heart…this divide.
It’s tearing me apart. The drama, the perceived slights, the resentment, and bickering…this isn’t what I imagined we would become.

Growing up, it was always us. Sisters. Blood is thicker than water. Our parents raised us to look out for one another, to support one another in each new endeavor. I knew my sisters would kick the ass of any guy who hurt me.

I thought our bond was unbreakable.

I thought we could withstand the abandonment, and we did for a bit. We were strong. We tried to make new traditions for each other. We made playlists filled with songs that spoke to us, like Darkest Before the Dawn by Florence and the Machine, and Who Knew by Pink. It’s been hard for us all, but we are mostly okay.

When I pictured us in our adult years, I pictured us happy. I imagined our kids would spend endless hours together, playing and exploring the world with one another. Born best friends, a net of family to catch them whenever they need it — like that group of kids in Cheaper By the Dozen, holding hands and braving scary new things together.

But now there’s a divide.
I’m reaching out, trying to hang on to one sister who is so consumed by perceived slights that she “barely considers” our other sister a sister.

It’s unfathomable to me. People are imperfect, we’ve literally known each other our whole lives. It’s always been us so we should know our imperfections and flaws a little better.

I get that my sister is hurt, but a lot of her hurt is imagined. I don’t say that to be mean, it’s true. She’s a mental illness warrior, fighting the battle that never stops — but sometimes she lets the darkness of her illness consume her and instead of asking for clarification, asking “is this real or not real?”, she lets it encase her. She lets walls get built and gets hurt when people don’t know how to tear them down to get to her, to help her.

And we want to help her.
We just want her to be happy.

Mental illness is one of the hardest hurdles a family can overcome. It doesn’t just affect the person with the diagnosis, it affects the entire family unit.

It’s something I have to tell myself when I get frustrated because I’m not being understood. It’s something I have to repeat when I see the ones I love most making mistakes that can cause permanent rifts.

You’re not supposed to give up on your family. You’re not supposed to wash your hands of someone simply because it’s hard.
You’re not supposed to stop loving them because you do not agree with them.

When you close doors on people — especially on family, it’s hard to come back from.

I know this because I live it — we’ve lived it. We’ve been abandoned, doors have closed on our faces. We’ve had to pick up the pieces of our shattered hearts when our parent decided leaving us was better for them than getting the help they needed to deal with their mental illnesses and their grief.

They say history is doomed to repeat itself, and the pattern in our history book doesn’t dispute this fact.

Don’t forget who was there for you in your darkest hours…
Don’t forget those who raced to your side when you needed it…
And don’t forget those who remain. We may not always have the reactions you’re looking for, but we love you. We care about you. We want you to get better and we want you to know that we love you more than anything and nothing your mental illness does or says will change that for us.kids

Lindsay Bissett – Anxiety Blog

The rock. The warm hug. The one you call. The one who would listen. The one who didn’t judge. That was me.

I wasn’t a person with mental illness. I was a person who had friends with mental illness. Amazing, one of a kind, incredible, motivating, strong friends that I loved and admired very much. I was a good friend and I was one of the lucky ones.

Until one day I wasn’t the lucky one anymore.

Several years ago, a series of unfortunate events occurred in my life which triggered the beginning of my journey with anxiety. This series of unfortunate events was nothing like the books by Lemony Snicket and were seriously lacking Neil Patrick Harris. I had handled tough times before, I was the person that could get through anything. I was the strong one, right? My story is about what happens when a strong person feels like they can’t be strong anymore but are called upon to be stronger than they’ve ever been. In my eyes, people who battle mental illness are like mystical phoenix birds. To rise, brighter and stronger, we must sometimes fight through crumbling ashes and times of darkness.

So, big ugly anxiety marches into my life and it has shitty timing. Not to worry, I had experience with mental illness, some of my best friends battled anxiety and depression, I read endless articles and supported them through their times of darkness, surely, I would be able to recognize this in myself and get help, right? Nope. I was in complete denial. Those same friends and my incredible spouse continually reached out to me and all I did was deny deny deny.

Now, I don’t want to talk any more about the stages of grief, (denial being one of them) although it’s a fascinating thing to look at if you’re interested, or about how long it took me to come to terms with having anxiety; I want to talk about what helped me. You can read a million articles about what anxiety feels like but I’m going to guess that if you’re reading this you already know what being in the dark feels like. What lit my fire and brought me back to life was talking about it. One day, finally, I caved. I told one friend. This was a big risk for me, I felt like I was exposing myself, my weakness, ugly anxiety was telling me constantly that no one cared, everyone would just think I was a whiner, people would turn their backs on me and I’d be more alone than ever. Luckily for me, my friend was an absolute hero. I really should have known she would be, why else had a chosen her as a friend? She embraced me both literally and figuratively. Then, I began to rise. I had proven to myself that not only was I not alone but anxiety was a liar.

Talking about anxiety was the best medicine for me. Once I admitted I was struggling, my spouse took on the task of learning everything he could about what I was experiencing; I slowly told more people and they helped share strategies on how I could build myself back up.

Today I still battle but I feel like I’ve have a whole tool kit of ways to stay burning. On days when I crumble into ash I am now able to hang on to a shred of hope -fire- that reassures me I can make it to the next day. In 2017 my friendships are strong; my marriage is something I am grateful for everyday and I eagerly await welcoming my first child in July. My message to anyone in the dark is that you are still you, you are not alone, anxiety is a liar and your fire lies in your hope and your story.

Twitter HeadshotLindsay is a formerly non-anxious person who learned to be anxious. She enjoys trying new foods, wines and places with her husband and two dogs. As well as advocating for mental health awareness, Lindsay is passionate about inclusion and poverty reduction. In her spare time Lindsay sits on the Board of Baobab Inclusive Empowerment Society in Surrey, BC Canada. 

Lindsay can be found on Twitter