Category: Mental Health

My Post-Medication Rehabilitation Journey

My Post-Medication Rehabilitation Journey

When I quit my antidepressant medication, I was mostly hopeful but a little afraid. Would this be the time my boyfriend gives up on me being a dark-thought disaster queen? Would I spend my days in the black pool of despair that is my depressed mind? Would my anxiety keep me from leaving home or making a phone call?

So much uncertainty.

I’ve had to take a lot of steps to deal with this medication-free. I’ve had to develop vigilance and advocate for myself. I have to make decisions daily that will be better or worse for my mental health and well-being.

Quality Time – I’m spending more quality time with my son and it has been amazing. We’ve been playing more video games together and having more really good talks.

The News – I’ve been avoiding the news entirely. I don’t click on news stories or read about the goings-on of a society that seems very much in ruin. For me, right now, it’s important to steer away from doomsday and try to make some sort of mentally productive life and a triumphant return to my creative self.

Social Media – I’ve been limiting my interactions on social media and it’s been going really well. I check Facebook daily but I don’t spend all day refreshing it like I used to. Occasionally I catch myself being a little too invested and when I do, I close the tab.

Entertainment – I try not to waste as much time on YouTube watching things that don’t challenge me. I unfollowed a lot of accounts that created mostly garbage content that pandered to the lowest common denominator and I’ve been quite happy with that decision.

Reading – I spend a lot more time reading these days. At this rate, I should double my reading goal. I’ve made a return to my lost love of learning by reading more non-fiction. I’m also stimulating my brain by reading more imaginative fiction.

Writing – I’ve been pouring a lot of my strength and time into writing. When my son goes to bed at night, I try to divide my time between reading and writing. I’m still editing my novel but I’m working on setting a goal to be done my second draft by the end of April, at which point I am hoping to let a few people read it so I can get some valuable feedback.

Relationship – I’m learning to ask for what I need, and when the answer is no, to reassess its importance and work on compromise. I know I need to put myself first and to spend time with people who elevate me rather than push me down.

Toxic People – I’m getting better and knowing when to remove toxic people from my life. Difficult decisions need to be made at times, but I remind myself to be vigilant about my mental health and self-care.

There are probably thousands of other little things, but overall my mind is in a pretty good place and things are only getting easier over time as I develop healthier habits. I know now without a doubt that medication is not the right path for me in combating my mental illness, and that I’m capable of handling things myself with the right skill-set.

Living in the Age of Distractions

Living in the Age of Distractions

We live in a fascinating era. We’re in the age of intangibility, of information, of personal branding. We have apps for everything: finance, social media, productivity, meditation, and travel. We even have apps that are supposed to help us have fewer distractions from other apps.

The times they are a changin’.

Every generation has a big struggle. The great wars became the struggle of many generations all over the world: they toiled and scraped together what was left of a bombed out and hurting nation. Here in North America, us Generation X and Y people, we have no great war. Our great struggle is one taking place in our minds.

Technology is an amazing thing. We can do so much with so little now. A few decades ago, having a wireless phone was reserved for high powered businessmen on Wall St., or the CEOs of major companies. Now, I know 5 year old kids with their own cell phones or tablets. There are more connected devices on the planet than there are people to use them. The Internet is this colossal monument of information, digital interaction, advertisements, photos, and people’s lives, and it’s available to us 24/7. It’s becoming hard-wired into our collective psyche.

The scary part, is that we don’t really know what it’s doing to us yet.

My generation was the last to really remember what it was like to come of age without the Internet. I was 15 when my mom bought us our first computer, and we had dial-up Internet. Depending on how old you are reading this, you may or may not remember what that was like. For the uninitiated, dial up Internet took forever to connect, made horrible noises while it was doing so, and if your mom needed to use the phone it disconnected. Myself and each of my sisters were allowed 1 hour a day. The Internet was a lot smaller and a lot slower back then. Outside of my one hour online (which I mostly used to build and manage my first website and chat with my friends on MSN Messenger) I had to do… old fashioned teenage things, like brood in my thoughts, listen to music (from CDs), or write in my journals (with pens). I couldn’t even live stream it.

I watched the world change, the coming in of a new age. I got my first cell phone (they didn’t really have data yet when I got mine) at 18 and watched most of my friends do the same. Over the next decade, technology progressed and we’re more connected now than ever before. We’re bombarded with glowing screens and advertisements everywhere we look. We’re so distracted and busy with everything. If we don’t have an online presence, do we even exist? Everything is personal branding and Wi-Fi connections. Everyone has a hook or an edge. Your self worth is your follower count. The latest device is a status symbol: which phone better represents you as a person? We store our lives in clouds. Human interaction: everybody is awkward now. Everything moves fast; our minds move faster to keep up. Check your email. Check your notifications. Did you get enough likes to feel validated? Rinse and re-Tweet.

Stop.

If we try to focus on everything, we won’t see anything.

This is the first time in history that the human mind has been this crowded. We’ve gotten so used to being “on” all the time, that we’ve forgotten how to turn it off. Breathing room. Quiet contemplation is interrupted by anxiety: isn’t there something more productive I could be doing? We’re constantly clinging to and grasping for what comes next. We forget about now. We forget about this moment, and enjoying it as a breathing human being.

It’s difficult to say what the future will look like or which dystopian novel will most closely resemble the lives of our grandchildren. All we can do now is be mindful about how we spend our time. Make an effort to take time away from all the screens in our lives. Appreciate them for what they do for us, but at the same time, make room for quiet contemplation. Meditate. Go for a hike in nature. Spend time with people just having a conversation without emojis. Now more than ever it’s important that we look after our mental health, and practice self love so we don’t fry our brains on information overload. I miss being able to walk down the street and smile at a stranger without them looking confused like maybe they know me from somewhere. They don’t. I was just trying to share a tiny moment of the human being in me recognizing the human being in them. I see you.

The Problem With Trigger Warnings – Thoughts From a Person With PTSD

The Problem With Trigger Warnings – Thoughts From a Person With PTSD

If you’ve spent an iota of time on the Internet, you’ve likely seen trigger warnings. Trigger warnings are, as far as I can tell, a social construct used primarily to advise you that something you are about to read, watch, or listen to, contains content that some may find offensive or “triggering”. You may also have seen people lambasted for their failure to use a trigger warning by someone who deemed it necessary. So, what is a trigger?

The first time I ever heard the term “trauma trigger” was during a counseling session when I was 7 years old and newly diagnosed with PTSD (for the uninitiated, that’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). I continued to see this term and grew to understand what it meant through the magnitude of reading on my condition I did while growing up. Until relatively recently I had never heard the term used in relation to anything other than PTSD. Simply speaking, a trigger is something that brings forth memories of a traumatic experience in someone with PTSD. This can be in the form of flashbacks, panic attacks, or other mental symptoms.

The difficulty with triggers is that they are often things that are difficult to pinpoint and impossible to avoid. They can be things that wouldn’t make sense to someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to be genuinely psychologically triggered. I’m not talking about people who think that “triggered” is synonymous with “uncomfortable” or “offended”. I’m talking about the folks out there who have real mental health consequences to triggers.

My Own Triggers

I’m triggered by the obvious ones, like rape, pedophilia, domestic violence, etc. And then I’m triggered by the ones you wouldn’t expect, like the cologne that my dad used to wear or the smell of sawdust. I’m triggered by certain words, toys, and books. I’m triggered by moustaches. I’m triggered by old carpet. I’m triggered by guns. I’m triggered by high winds or heavy snowfall. I’m triggered by being a passenger in a car. These are just a few examples.

Now, I’m going to say something that seems to be contrary to popular opinion: I am responsible for my triggers. Me.

I don’t believe it’s the responsibility of writers, filmmakers, bloggers, or educators to tell me I might be triggered by something they create for consumption.

Crawling Out of the Darkness

Back when my PTSD was at its worst, I spent nearly 2 years without leaving my home. I had between 3 and 5 panic attacks per day, oftentimes more. I was triggered by everything. Like most people, my safe space was my home, and I was afraid to leave it. If I had continued on that path of avoiding every single trigger to my PTSD, I would still be locked away. Instead, I started to face my demons, and closely observe my reactions to them. I had to if I wanted to survive. What I learned was that by exposing myself to these triggers and learning to cope with them, I took the power away from them. I stopped letting them control me, and it saved my life.  

The problem with trigger warnings is that they make PTSD worse, not better. By avoiding everything that makes you feel uncomfortable, you can never overcome your affliction. You can never face your demons and you will never really get better. You’ll just get better at hiding.

I think most people who use trigger warnings are genuinely caring people who don’t want to hurt anybody. The main problem I have with trigger warnings, however, is that I don’t think they’re helpful. I think they’re a cute way of saying, “Look here. See? I care about your mental illness. I am enlightened. I’m talking about rape but warning you that I’m doing so.” It’s saying, “I’m putting you in a box and protecting you.” as if sheltering a life has ever been productive to growth or healing. I think building these larger safe spaces is counter-productive. You can’t learn to swim if you avoid the water.

So, how did I keep myself safe without trigger warnings? I took responsibility for myself. I didn’t expect my friends to tip-toe around me. If something was triggering me, I’d remove myself from the situation, or I’d sit with it until it went away. I spent time educating myself about my illness until my smarts outranked its strength. Most importantly, I dealt with my demons instead of letting them chase me.

Now

My triggers still affect me, but they don’t run my life or dictate what I can and cannot do. I’m not going to pretend it was easy to get to this point. Facing the things that trigger you and asking them questions rather than closing your eyes is so empowering and healing, but it’s also scary as hell. I learned more about myself doing this than anything else. What’s more is that I stopped letting my abuser and my trauma win. While I did do most of this without any professional assistance, there is a lot of help out there if you look.

If people want to use trigger warnings on their writings? By all means, be my guest. On their own, a trigger warning is little more than a disclaimer and not harmful by itself. It’s just information. The real problem arises with the talk of mandatory trigger warnings, or when people allow themselves to become upset at content creators who don’t use the warnings. It’s simply unreasonable to expect the world to contort and become your personal Safe Space. Living with that sort of mentality will only hurt your mental health in the end. A large number of triggers are unavoidable out in the real world anyway, no matter how many people vigilantly use trigger warnings. Sooner or later, a person needs to take responsibility for their own healing process rather than expecting everyone around them to act as an emotional airbag.

Steady Your Hands, There Are Miles Still to Go

Steady Your Hands, There Are Miles Still to Go

 

I find myself needing a reminder every now and then that it’s not a failure to feel this way. It’s okay to feel like you’re a piece of shit sometimes. It’s okay to feel like giving up – roll credits, the film is over.  It’s okay to be weak, to feel ashamed and fall inside myself to drown a while.

Sometimes I forget that I’ve had a hell of a ride and that I’ve been dealt a really difficult hand to play. In some ways, I think I forced myself to heal too quickly after Dave (my partner and son’s father) died shortly after our son was born. I had to, of course, for my son’s sake, but sometimes it feels like I forgot myself in the process. Something inside me still feels unresolved. Something inside me feels dead. I worry that there is some part of me that is irreparably damaged, and, even when my goals are reached, maybe I’ll still feel unhappy and incomplete.

Sometimes I feel like I haven’t been patient with myself, or like I haven’t healed from my traumatic past the right way. I underestimate the impact living through what I did as a child can have on me: the adult. Does being deprived of food as a child have any bearing on why I struggle with overeating now? Is it why I struggled with not eating enough in my early twenties?

There is so much inside me that has been broken. I feel like I’m in a constant state of transition and trying to fit the pieces together. I have a difficult time pinpointing who I am sometimes because maybe I don’t really know who I am anymore. If someone asked me to describe myself, I wouldn’t know what to say. I feel like I’m detached. I’m on autopilot. I’ve spent so much time smothering the parts of me that feel pain that I worry I’ve lost my ability to feel in the same way I used to.

Depression gets worse for a while and then it gets better for a while before getting worse again. I know medication isn’t the answer for me, but keeping up with everything that keeps me sane sometimes feels like it’s doing the opposite. I feel like I need to step back and take my time; be patient with myself.

I just hope I can pull myself out of this fog soon.

We’re All in Transition – Embracing Change

We’re All in Transition – Embracing Change

Do people change? I think there are always some aspects of ourselves that we can change, and others that are hard coded into our DNA. One thing that’s for certain is that each and every one of us is always evolving. We gather new information about the world and draw from our experiences, and we grow. Sometimes this happens slowly and gradually over the course of many years, and other times a significant event can cause us to change immediately the way we do things.

It’s common to be afraid of change and to reject it when possible. Most of us would be more comfortable if our lives were to remain static; everything in its place; predictable days. Most of us can also agree that would be pretty boring. When you’ve had a lot of negative change thrust upon you in your life, you eventually learn to just roll with it. Why resist change when it’s inevitable?

We all want to pursue happiness in our lives and most of us have goals that, once reached, will get us one step closer to just that. The perfect job, the perfect relationship, the perfect home, the perfect family, the perfect vacation… yet so many are afraid of the little changes that will bring them closer to reaching what they want.

Time and time again, I’ve watched people I care about (as well as myself) shy away from success in all aspects of life, and for what? Some may say it’s a fear of failure, others may say they’re more comfortable not taking any major risks. Some get caught up in their unhappy little lives the way they are because the familiarity of mediocrity is somehow more comfortable than taking a chance.

There is obvious appeal to wanting to stay in one place, but attempting to do so is only ever as successful as the deceit it takes to convince yourself that you’re not moving. Because the world doesn’t stop. Time ticks on. We’re all in transition, all of the time. When you allow yourself to become content with less, you’re creating your own tomb. You’re placing yourself in a cycle of being unhappy and unfulfilled, but never doing anything to change it.

Will there be obstacles? Absolutely. Any number of horrible things could happen to you in your life, and make you want to just give up; throw in the towel and settle for life in a box. You might get fired from your job, or the love of your life might leave without explanation, or a loved one may die. You could have an addiction or otherwise poor health. You could suffer any number of accidents, bad luck, broken hearts or rejections. You might look at any or all of these things as a reason to sit in a corner, cross your arms, and refuse to see any potential in your life.

Or-

You could stand. You could learn and grow and adapt. You could use these negative circumstances as an excuse to try something different this time. Step outside your box and smell the fresh air, ripe with opportunities if only you’d recognize and reach for them. As long as your heart still pumps blood, you have the ability to change your circumstances and create the life you want for yourself.