September 17, 2017

Keeping Track...


Recently I decided to make a list.  It's a list of all the little things I might accomplish on any given day, and each task is worth one point.  This list doesn't include to-do's that need to get done, it's more like this:

  • Take a shower
  • Brush teeth
  • Brush hair
  • Work 1 hour
  • Leave the house
  • Return a text
  • Make a phone call
  • Trim fingernails
  • Trim toenails
  • You get the idea...
Simple things, you know?  And each day I tally up how many things I've done.  It's not to see if I've done enough- that's important to note.  It's to give myself an idea of how I'm doing mentally and emotionally.  I don't usually count every day, but since I'm seeing a brand new doctor on Wednesday (FINALLY), I've been trying to keep notes on how I've been doing for the last couple of weeks so I can more accurately describe my situation to her.  In the last two weeks, I've averaged a score of six points per day (low of four, high of nine).  That means I've accomplished around six things a day.  For instance, last Monday this was my list of accomplishments:
  • Worked one hour
  • Dried a batch of apples (with help, 20 minutes' work)
  • Went to pharmacy
  • Emailed doctor
That's it.  That's all I could do.  Four points.  And it exhausted me.  That's all I had in me.  The average Joe's list probably looks more like:
  • Shower
  • Brush teeth
  • Brush hair
  • Style hair
  • Do makeup (ok, this is more of an average Jill than an average Joe usually)
  • Leave house for work
  • Work 8 hours (8 points)
  • Text multiple friends
  • Cook dinner 
  • Clean kitchen
  • etc.
That fairly minimal list there is worth at least 17 points.  And many people also exercise and go out with friends and have kids and run errands.  But just writing that list tired me out.  I'm not using hyperbole, I legitimately couldn't write for a minute or two because concentrating is hard lately.  That fairly 'minimal' list is literally three days' worth of points for me.  

I guess the reason I'm saying all this is that I want you to know that it's been good for me to keep track.  It's been good for me to think about what I'm accomplishing and to think about whether or not I can accomplish more.  The answer is, I can't.  It's good to really know where I am in terms of my health.  Once I tally up my points each day, I realize that I really am doing my best.  I really can't do more.

What about you?  How many points are you averaging?  Remember, don't compare yourself to me, compare yourself to you.  Are you doing ok?  Is your 'score' consistently under ten?  Do you need help?  I know I do.  That's why I spent a lot of points last week calling and emailing doctors and trying to get an appointment to get some help.  That's why I'm going to the doctor Wednesday.  I need help.  I need to get better.  I want my life back.  Do you?

Do you know someone who needs encouragement?  Ideas for recovery?  Just to know they're not alone?  Please share.  It's hard feeling alone.  It's better to know you're not!

August 28, 2017

Skeptical about trigger warnings?














For those of you who don't know what a trigger warning is, it's a statement at the beginning of an article (or movie or book or college course) that warns vulnerable consumers of content within it that may cause them distress.  That vulnerable consumer can then choose whether or not to proceed.  Over the last few weeks I've heard a lot of people making fun of "trigger warnings" and ridicule those who advocate for them.  People scoff saying that life is not a "safe space" and that the world will always present triggers that can't be avoided, so people should just suck it up and deal with it.  But before you dismiss trigger warnings as millennial snowflake garbage, I want you to hear a part of my story.  I can't speak for many of the kinds of trigger warnings people advocate for, but I can speak of one from very personal experience, and I am actually going to preface it with a trigger warning: 

TRIGGER WARNING: The following story has to do with self-injury.  If you are feeling vulnerable, you may not want to proceed.  If you need immediate help, you can call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255, or you can text 741741 to be connected to a crisis counselor.  Even if you're not suicidal, they can sometimes help talk you through urges to hurt yourself.

From about age 15 to age 25, I struggled with self-injury.  If you don't know what that means, the Mayo Clinic describes it this way:  "Nonsuicidal self-injury, often simply called self-injury, is the act of deliberately harming the surface of your own body, such as cutting or burning yourself. It's typically not meant as a suicide attempt. Rather, this type of self-injury is an unhealthy way to cope with emotional pain, intense anger and frustration."

From personal experience I can tell you that self-injury (specifically cutting in my case) is an addictive behavior, and because it is so visceral, seeing images of other people's cuts, self-inflicted or otherwise, often triggered a deep emotional response in me.  I'll tell you a story.

I had been in remission from self-injury for several months.  One day I was having a hard day, but I was keeping things under control, when suddenly one of my coworkers accidentally cut his finger.  It was a deep cut, and it took a lot more time and effort than it should have to stop the bleeding.  I was deeply triggered, and the combination of an already stressful day and the intense visual stimulus put me over the edge, causing a relapse that lasted several weeks.  I tell you this story so you'll understand the power of visceral visual stimuli.

Another time I was watching a movie and suddenly one of the main characters grabbed another character's arm and forced her sleeve up, exposing dozens of self-inflicted cuts.  Again, it affected me deeply.  If there had been a trigger warning at the beginning of the movie warning me of the self-injury-related content, I could have A) mentally prepared myself for the scene, or B) chosen not to watch the movie at all.  Either option would have resulted in fewer scars that remain on my body to this day. 

I'm not saying that everyone should be legally required to warn of every type of potentially triggering content in every situation they're in.  I'm actually an advocate of freedom of speech and freedom of expression.  What I am saying is that I am so grateful when people do use trigger warnings.  I have no problem with a college professor using a text that has intense content in it.  I am grateful when they warn their students of said content and let them make an informed choice as to how to proceed.  I don't mind at all when authors choose to write about sensitive subjects.  I'm grateful when they warn us that they're going to do so.  I'm ok with people choosing to portray graphic content in movies and television.  I have personally benefitted from the times when they've prefaced the content with a trigger warning.

I understand that it's not possible (or even desirable) to sanitize the world, and that people will always come across triggering situations that can't be anticipated.  But why wouldn't we want to offer support in the places where we can anticipate the trigger?  Why wouldn't we want to prevent suffering when we can?  Why do we ridicule people who are hanging on by the skin of their teeth and who are begging for our help?

I hope the next time you want to make fun of people asking for help, you'll remember my story,  remember the scars I bear.  I am not ashamed of them.  I want to use them to make the world a more compassionate place.

August 1, 2017

Learning to let go

I'm just going to be real for this post, no warm and fuzzy advice.  I feel like I've had to let go of a lot of things over the years.

When I was younger, my dream was to be an actress.  I had enough talent to get into a top acting school in New York City on a partial scholarship, but it wasn't meant to be.  I had to do something more 'realistic.'  Even though it was my dream.  I let that go. 

When I was in high school, I was one of the 'smartest' kids around.  My test scores were always high, and I never had to work for it.  I got into a great college, but my mental health tanked and took my plans of finishing a degree in four years with it.  I let that go. 

In fact, to a large degree I've had to let all that super-intelligence go.  I'm pretty average these days. It's part of the price I have to pay to stay sane.  My medication slows my brain down a little.  But I'd die without it, so I let that go. 

I have a great job with a company that I love.  I was a top-notch full-time employee, I was good at my job, and I loved doing it.  But I had a bit of a breakdown and I can only work part time now.  I loved my job.  But I let that go. 

And I have been blessed with so many wonderful friends and family members I can hardly believe it.  But I'm not functioning well enough to stay in touch with all of them.  I have a few good hours a day, but I get exhausted so easily.  I don't get depressed per-se, but I'm just still not capable of doing a lot.  I want to be a best friend, cousin, sister, daughter, niece, granddaughter, and wife to all the people I love.  But I can't juggle it all right now.  I've made peace with a lot of letting-go, but I don't want to let that go.  I just don't know how to hang onto it.

The only pic I could come up with that felt real.

July 24, 2017

My Medication Journey ~ Worth It!

I've been on psychiatric medication off and on for over half my life. I have treatment-resistant depression, which means that it takes a LOT of work to stay on top of things. Medication is a journey, and it doesn't feel like there is really a destination, only the journey and making that journey as easy as possible.

A story:
When I was a teenager, I wasn't self-aware enough to really pay attention to how my meds were affecting me. I just knew when I was miserable and when I was a little better. My psychiatrist was kind of awful, but he was the only one in town. We tried a few different medications. One day I was reading in the DSM and thought a particular paragraph in the bipolar section might describe something I experienced from time to time. I told him about it and he didn't even ask me more questions, he just let me diagnose myself (at age 14 or so) and gave me a medication for it. That medication caused me to sleep away a couple of years of my life. My record was 22 hours straight, awake for two hours, and then asleep for 13 more. And it was a medication that required regular blood tests to make sure my liver was still functioning. Every single mental health professional I've talked to since then (and there have been upwards of a dozen) has said that there was absolutely no way I have bipolar disorder. Eventually I quit seeing that psychiatrist and quit taking me medication and I was fine for a while. Until I wasn't. 

A story:
My next psychiatrist was fantastic. I had come home from an awful first semester of college and was really devastated, but she really listened to me and talked to me and worked through all my medication concerns with me. By this time I was around 18 and quite a bit more able to monitor how I was feeling and what was helping. I ended up on a combination of two antidepressants (the first one alone made me anxious, but both of them together were a perfect combo), and I took them for a couple of years. They worked pretty well. Until they didn't. 

After that, I don't even remember how the journey worked out. Over the course of the years, I tried a LOT of different medications in a lot of different combos. Paxil, Prozac, Lexapro, Celexa, Wellbutrin, Depakote, Adderall, Stratera, Lamictal, Xanax, Clonazapam, Gabapentin, Remiron, Ambien, and Abilify. And I've probably forgotten some. There have been a lot of times where things were great. Until they weren't.

See, what you need to know is that the medication journey will never end for me. We find something that works for a few years, and then it becomes less and less effective until some sort of major stress hits and I'm back at square one. But I can not survive without medication. I need you to understand that. I need you to understand that I would be dead without medication. I am being completely serious and very literal here. My brain has a disease, and it just doesn't function without treatment. It's like how a diabetic needs insulin to stay alive. I need medication to stay alive. And I'm ok with that. 

It can be a really frustrating journey. It is devastating every time my medication stops working, because I know how long it takes to get back on track. It is weeks, sometimes months before things get better. And I'm always scared that we won't find the next magic combo. At one point a few years ago my doctor told me that we were on our last option. You see, there are only so many classes of drugs and combinations you can try and we have tried them all. We're still on that final option with dosage tweaks and supporting medications along the way. It's really scary. But it's worth the fight. 

The moral of the story is this: medication is hard. It's not the magic fix you hope it's going to be, and it can get discouraging when it takes a long time to find what works. But it's so worth it. It's worth the struggle every time I hear my nieces laugh or share a dorky moment with my husband. I'm writing this for me too, because it really doesn't feel like it's worth it sometimes and I need a reminder. Looking back from a healthier place, I assure you; it's worth it.


June 8, 2017

13 Reasons Why ~ Don't watch it!



Trigger Warning: Victims of sexual assault and those who have struggled with self-injury and/or suicidal thoughts probably shouldn't read this.  All you need to know is that I don't think you should watch the show.  If you are currently struggling with suicidal thoughts, PLEASE call 1-800-273-8255 (USA) or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org to get help.  The world needs you!


13-reasons-why-netflix-01-1200x800

13 Reasons Why, a Netflix original series about a girl who ultimately commits suicide, has been blowing up my news feed lately.  It came out a couple of months ago, and I'm still seeing videos and blog posts about it.  I was hesitant to watch it because experts said it was bad news, but curiosity finally won out and I watched it.  I knew I probably shouldn't, but I did anyways.  I wish I hadn't.

The first few episodes were relatively innocuous.  They were about the more minor slights that ultimately drove the main character to suicide.  I can actually see the value in showing these episodes to teenagers to give them an idea of the impact their thoughtless words can have on others.  Past that, though, the show went way too far.

One of the main things I hated about the show was the fact that it showed two different rapes happening right there on the screen.  A) That can be very traumatic for survivors of sexual assault to witness, and B) those are not images that I can easily get out of my head.  They flash by at unbidden and have even interfered with my connection with my husband in a small way.  It's not a major problem, but it's one I wish I had avoided.

The rape scenes were hard to watch, but I got through them.  What broke me was the graphic on-screen suicide.  It shows her very violently slitting her wrists.  I watched the first slash and covered my eyes, suddenly and completely devastated.  The depiction touched a nerve so deep I didn't think it was there anymore, but I fell apart for hours.  I couldn't function.  I was lucky enough to have a loving, compassionate husband there to hold me, but a lot of people aren't that lucky, and they would have to go through that alone.

Many of you know that I used to suffer from self-injury, something that hasn't been a part of my life for over five years now.  But knowing that I have held a knife to my own skin and watching her wreck hers was hell.  They should not have shown it on screen.  Experts warned them not to, and they did it anyways, probably for shock value.  Well shock it did.  It's been something I've been actively fighting to get out of my mind for days.  (Don't worry, I am completely safe and not in danger of a relapse or of committing suicide myself.  I'm just feeling deeply disturbed by what I have seen.)

In short, don't watch this show.  It's so graphic and so devastating, and you just don't need to see it.  ESPECIALLY if you have been through any of the things the main character went through or felt any of the things she felt.  Be good to one another.  Set an example for teens in your circle of influence and teach them that their actions can have grave consequences.  Listen to and love anyone who is hurting.  And skip 13 Reasons Why.

May 4, 2017

"May Flowers," or "I'm feeling better?"

Tonight as I was praying, I spent some time thanking God for the month of May. It means so much to me. As I prayed, I went through the list of things I love about May:

1) It's Mental Health Awareness Month, which is the cause most dear to my heart. 
2) It has Star Wars Day (May the Fourth Be with You!), which is also important (obviously ;) ). 
3) It has my wedding anniversary, and finding David was one of the biggest miracles I've ever seen. 
4) It has my birthday.....

As I thought about my birthday, something occurred to me; I'm glad that I was born. To the average bear this may seem like a "Duh" moment, but for me it represents a real, tangible step forward in my journey towards feeling better. I honestly haven't felt truly positive about life in months. Yes, there were fleeting moments and joyous things that happened, but when I'm depressed, I can't really feel that joy. I know it should be there, and I mark the moment, but I can't feel it. There's something interfering with the signal. But tonight I felt it. I felt something positive. It spoke louder than the lies depression keeps telling me, and I wept for joy. So here's my message to you for when you're suffering: 

KEEP FIGHTING! IT GETS BETTER!!!

❤️
AR

April 19, 2017

Star Wars: A New Metric for my Depression??

What you need to know about me to understand this post is that I am obsessed with Star Wars.  I'm wearing a shirt that says "Star Wars" in two languages and a BB-8 bracelet.  There are two Star Wars posters above my computer screen and countless action figures and books all around me.

I know it may seem frivolous (obsessions with sports teams seem similarly frivolous to me but I don't judge), but I love Star Wars.  It's my happy place.  It always makes me happy.  Or at least I thought it did...

The day the trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out two and a half years ago, I must have watched it at least thirty times.  I grinned ear to ear the whole time.  I couldn't have been more happy, and I spent the next 392 days in blissful anticipation.  Of course I had hard times, but none of them were so bad that Star Wars didn't make me smile.

Last Friday the trailer for the newest Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, premiered.  I watched the live-streamed convention panel where the stars and director talked about it, and then they streamed the trailer for the first time!!!!!!  And I. Felt. Nothing.  Nothing at all.  And then they played it again and I thought, "Oh I must not have been paying attention well enough" (as if) "or I'm just tired but I'll be more alert this time.  Surely it will be better."  And I felt nothing again.

As I stared at the screen and listened to all the convention-goers cheer, I finally realized just how depressed I am right now.  All of the struggles we (we being my husband and I) have had over the last few months (I'm looking at you tiny angry landlady with the roofless apartment) are resolved.  There are no major problems in our lives right now.  And yet I can barely get out of bed.  I can't manage to work more than an hour or two a day.  Phone calls go unanswered.  Texts go unread.  Smoke signals go unreturned.  All of the people who have asked me about my reaction to the new Star Wars trailer have been lied to.  The truth is that I am currently broken.

It took me too long to acknowledge this bout of depression, and that's a huge problem.  I tried alternately to ignore what was going on or to attribute it to other health issues I was having.  Guys, that is a PROBLEM!  I feel like I'm sort of an expert on this whole surviving depression thing, but I ignored all of my own best advice.  And I've been afraid to publicly acknowledge the current struggle because I was afraid it would be seen as a failure and that all the people who have told me they look to me for inspiration would feel betrayed.  But I'm speaking out now because I think you need to know that this is not a fight that goes away for me.  I'm never speaking out of a place of "I've been there" wisdom.  It's always a place of "I will always sort of be there."  It ebbs and flows, and right now it's worse than it's been in a few years.  But it will not win.  I will keep fighting, as must all of you in whatever battles you face!

I have a therapist, I go for walks when I can, I take my medication, and I just saw my doctor again (new medication regimen starts tomorrow).  I wear my Star Wars shirts and bracelets and try to smile.  I am doing everything 'right.'  But the insane stress of late 2016/early 2017 (details unimportant) broke me and exceeded the limits of my old medication, and it's just going to take as long as it takes to pull myself out of the hole.

There's nothing anyone can do right now, and I promise I'll ask if something comes up.  If you have reached out to me any time this year and I have not responded, please know that it was NOT an intentional slight!

Please keep reaching out, but please don't expect a response.  I do deeply appreciate knowing that people care.  Know that between an awesome therapist, a competent doctor, and a loving husband, I am being well cared for.

Holding onto happiness

April 6, 2017

How to find a therapist:

I get asked all the time how to find a therapist; I have seen at least ten different therapists over the years, so I have a little experience in the matter.  Some I've found through school and church, some through the community counseling center in Jackson, WY, and my current therapist I found online.  It can be really daunting to find a therapist, so I thought I'd break down some of the options I know the most about here:

  • For EVERYONE:  I recently found and started using a service called BetterHelp.  It's an online therapy program that allows you to send messages and have voice or video sessions with a therapist.  As I mentioned, I just started using this one less than two months ago, but here are my thoughts:
    • Pro's:
      • You don't have to leave your house.  All you have to do is turn on your computer or phone.  That is SO nice when I'm having a day where I don't feel like I can get out of bed!
      • They have over 700 therapists, so you're matched with one within 24 hours.  You just fill out a quick survey and they pair you with someone who will be a good fit.  Also:
      • If they're not a good fit, you simply request a switch and get a new counselor within a matter of days.  At other counseling centers, that process can take weeks.
      • You can do your scheduling through the app or website, or your counselor can take care of it for you.
      • Even if you move, you can keep the same therapist.  Not an option with non-online counseling!
      • The first week is free, so you can try it out without committing to pay anything.  After that, you get unlimited messages and video sessions for $45 a week.  I know that can feel like a lot of money, but it is SO much cheaper than most places.  Your mental health is worth the investment!
    • Con's:
      • There are a LOT of bugs with the video chat on the iPhone app.  Until they get them worked out, use a computer for the video chats.
    • Click here to go to their website and get signed up!
  • For BYU* students:  The BYU Counseling Center (in the basement of the WILK) is A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.  It's totally free, and they have truly amazing therapists there.  If you see Russ Bailey or Marlene Williams, tell them hi for me!  *Many universities have counseling centers.  It's worth checking to see if yours is one of them!
    • Pro's:
      • Free
      • Conveniently located
      • Amazing therapists (between individual and group therapy and going to school for a billion years, I've worked with five different counselors, all of whom were wonderful.)
    • Con's:
      • Counselors are often so busy (because they're awesome) that you can only get an appointment every week and a half to two weeks.
One of my favorite therapists, Russ Bailey.  He's at the BYU Counseling Center.
  • For Mormons*:  Ask your bishop if there is an LDS Family Services office near you.  I know many people who have used them, and they're awesome.  *Do other faiths have anything similar?  If so, please leave a comment and let me know!
    • Pro's:
      • It's often helpful to have a therapist who understands your belief system and can integrate those beliefs with your therapy.  
      • I'm not sure about pricing, but I'm sure it's at least on an income-based sliding scale.
    • Con's:  
      • You need to talk to the bishop to get a referral.  The only reason I put this in the con section is that I know when I'm depressed, it's so hard to get anything done; that includes making appointments with bishops and counselors.
  • For everyone (sort of):  Most communities have community counseling centers that accept clients, many of whom offer a sliding pricing scale based on income.  You can also ask a health care professional for a referral.
Basically I am an enormous advocate of therapy, and I hope that you'll get help wherever you are!  Was this helpful?  What other questions do you have about therapy?  Leave a comment below and I'll do my best to answer!

February 13, 2017

The duality of living.

I could write two posts about my life right now, and both would be true. I could tell you about getting all settled in to our new apartment. I could tell you about the blessing of finding new furniture that fits just right in the space and is right within our tiny budget. I could tell you about how grateful we are that Dad and Stu braved the avalanches to bring us the rest of our kitchen supplies and how grateful we are to friends and family who have helped us move and get organized. I could tell you about the sunny weather and sleeping with the windows open in February. I could tell you about weekly family dinners with good food and great company.

I could also tell you that I've been to see two new psychiatrists and a new psychologist. I could tell you that I haven't been able to work for a week and a half because I've temporarily (I hope) lost the ability to perform basic tasks I used to be able to do in my sleep. I could tell you how I have to choose between showering and having dinner with my husband because I don't have the energy to do both.  I could tell you that I can only make it to about twenty minutes of church each week before I have to go lay down. I could tell you about all the tears of frustration I've shed because I'm so off my game and I so desperately don't want to be. 

I could write both of these posts. I could pick which one to share. I could pick which me I want you to see. But I think it's important to share both because they are both true. There is no good without the hard, and the hard is bearable because of the good. None of us are just one or the other. You are not alone. 

January 13, 2017

So long, Carrie, and thanks for all the fish!

In trying to fulfill my New Years resolution to write more in my blog, I stumbled across this unfinished post. The timing seems uncanny- Carrie has been gone for just a few weeks now. But I'm going to publish what I had two years ago and then officially finish it off. The interesting thing is it starts like this:

For some reason this post is being difficult and I'm having trouble making the writing flow.  Bear with me.  Or just scroll down and look at the pictures :)

When I was a little girl, Princess Leia was my hero.  She was awesome.  Her main motivation wasn't finding a boyfriend.  It was freedom.  She fought for what she believed in.  (She found love anyways though, which was cool.)  And she was sarcastic and hilarious and held her own with all the men running around the Star Wars universe.  Eventually, she even became a mom (I loved the Star Wars books as a kid... ok, I still love them), but she kept fighting for freedom and family and wielding a blaster (and occasionally a lightsaber!).

Now fast-forward twenty or so years.

I still love Princess Leia.  But Carrie Fisher is my hero now.  I've been suffering from mental illness for over half my life.  I have severe depression and anxiety that sometimes makes me have to put my life on hold for months at a time.  Well, Carrie Fisher suffers from mental illness too, and....

And that's all I wrote back then. The experience was too hard to capture. So I'll say it now: 

Two years ago this month, I met Carrie, and I gave her a medal. I made a matching one for me, too. They're cheap plastic medals that say "MENTALLY ILL" in crooked, glued-on stickers on the back. 

 
         Carrie with Gary, her partner in crime

She mentioned in one of her books that everyone living with mental illness deserved a medal, and I wanted to make sure someone got her one. Anyways, I gave it to her, and then I talked to her for a few minutes and thanked her for helping me learn to talk about my illness. I never thought in a million years I'd get the chance to do that. And she wrote on the title page of my copy of The Best Awful, my favorite book of hers, "For Ashleigh, my heroine and fellow tribe-member, Love Carrie." And now she's gone. 

 
                 This means SO much to me  

My tribe member is gone, and I am grieving. I never would have learned to talk about mental illness if it wasn't for her; even the other author who helped inspire me was herself inspired by Carrie. Carrie's courage changed my perception of myself and of my illness.  I now proudly proclaim it. I shout it from the mountain tops, because I now have the power to climb that high. The freedom from stigma. The strength to stand. I owe it to Carrie, and she's gone. 

So I'm going to stop feeling awkward about grieving someone I only met once. I grieve for my tribe member and am humbly grateful that I got the chance to tell her what she meant to me. 

 
                  Thanks, Carrie. Give 'em hell!
Thank you for coming. I hope you get something out of this. I hope you learn about yourself. I hope you get help if you need it or give it if you can.