BACKWARDS

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womensmarchI am not one to jump up on a soapbox and make unsolicited arguments and offer my opinion regarding political issues of late. This is in large part due to the fact that no one wants to listen, process, and intelligently rebuke. Instead, whoever can yell the loudest and make the biggest scene, no matter how irrational or absurd their argument may be, are deemed the “winner” because our culture is so wrapped up in the drama of it all and not the boring actual facts. It is this type of thinking that has rendered me silent, unless someone asks. Otherwise, there is no point.

However, I find that when presenting written information in a more casual published manner such as this, people tend to listen and really hear what you are saying at least a little better before raising the pitchforks and throwing out obscenities to “strengthen” their argument. So, I am here, on my personal blog, to share with you a few thoughts as a woman living in the United States of America in the year of 2017 after seeing what has gone down in the last 4 or so days, because if there was anything to make a gal’s anxiety spike, it’s the direction this country is headed – backwards.

My dad recently emailed me this link, where you can scroll through some of the best pictures taken at the Women’s March that took place this past Saturday, January 21, 2017 – the day after Donald J. Trump was officially sworn in as America’s 45th president. I was actually given the opportunity to attend this powerful protest with my school’s Feminist Club, but decided it best to pass on the basis that my anxiety and the amount of people expected to attend didn’t look like they were going to jive.

There were more in attendance than at Trump's inauguration

There were more in attendance than at Trump’s inauguration

Swiping through these pictures you will find a common theme of words that would not typically be used in polite society (is that a thing anymore?) and for a second, my gut twisted, particularly to the usage of a certain “C” word, and I wasn’t sure what to think. Then, I looked at the big picture. I saw the sign, the saying in its entirety, the person holding the sign, the image I had in my head of the aerial views of the masses of people that attended the March, and finally, Donald J. Trump sitting like a King on his throne, surrounded by his wealthy white male counterparts, signing “a ban on federal money going towards international groups that preform or provide information about abortions” (quoted from BBC News article discussing the event in further detail).

That’s when I put it all together. These women didn’t flock to D.C. to “sit pretty” on the White House lawn singing “Kumbaya” hoping against hope to be heard and understood.

Instead, the women of 2017 America stampeded to the streets of our nation’s capital with the roar of a thousand lionesses demanding to be heard and showing they weren’t backing down. This brute yet peaceful approach that included the crude signs shown, is how these women turned Trump and company’s own words around and back at them. In some cases, using direct quotes from Mr. President himself. This is how we will be seen and heard because this is what our opposition understands, and that in itself, is a depressing thought.

After this realization of the reasoning behind the language and images used, I saw the grace and beauty in the whole thing. These weren’t words said “in a locker room” by backwards thinking oafs with bad comb overs. These were words that were used as weapons on women who then walked forward and picked them up to throw right back, only better, with style and flare. These women made them clever, made them mean something more than they did when spouted by an overcompensating member of the opposite sex. And for that, I applaud them.

All of that being said, I don’t want to cast an umbrella over the entire male gender.men_womens_march

Sifting through thousands of these photos on the internet, you will find that there are quite a few husbands, fathers, brothers, and just plain decent, intelligent gentlemen who showed up for the demonstration as well, and carried some pretty awesome signs themselves. And to you sirs, I applaud even more enthusiastically. You all show that there is still hope.

With all of these thoughts being provoked from a brief website browse, you can imagine the intense analyzing I have been doing pretty much since it became clear at around 4 AM that fateful Wednesday morning, that Trump would be our next president. Through all of these thoughts, fears, prayers, and seemingly useless hoping, there is one question that I have still yet to be able to answer, even after having civil conversations with Trump supporters (or at least, Hillary haters to the point that they became Trump supporters):

HOW COULD ANYONE HEAR THE RACIST, FEMINIST, FASCIST, AND DOWNRIGHT HATEFUL WORDS THAT LEAVE THIS MAN’S MOUTH AND THINK THAT THIS IS A STEP FORWARD? THAT THIS IS RIGHT?

When you can make campaign flyers and arguments solely based on direct quotes from the opposition that should and normally would be damning to any political candidate running for any office anywhere, how can they then go on to succeed in winning the highest seat of authority in a nation that prides itself on being everything that this man does not stand for?

How can half the population not see that we are moving backwards?

 

Putting Yourself in Someone Else’s Shoes

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I have decided to touch on a topic a little different than the norm today because this is an issue that was brought to my attention recently. In addition to blogging about it being an actual graded assignment, I think that we all need to be made aware that there are many different types of struggles in the world that tend to be forgotten about not unlike how mental illness is often cast aside by those who don’t suffer from it.

As many of you know, I am currently enrolled as a professional writing major at Slippery Rock University, and for this week’s assignment for one of my courses, I was introduced and told to research “web accessibility”. When hearing the word, “accessibility” I think of making something accessible to everyone and not overlooking the fact that not everyone is the same and has the same capabilities. I think of handicap parking spaces, I mentally chide buildings that lack ramps or elevators, I whisper words of disapproval when a clerk lacks the patience to properly wait on an individual who is hard of hearing and is themselves trying hard to bridge the communication gap. These are scenarios I think of when I think about accessibility. The web was not even a part of this list until this assignment was given by my professor and I am slightly ashamed of myself for that.

For those who are deaf, hearing impaired, blind, or have difficulty seeing, a simple browse on the web becomes something much more complicated then simply popping up Google, hitting search, and cruising through the results to find what you are looking for. As a person who herself has what some may describe as a “disability” and who strives to make others understand her own struggles, how could I not consider other struggling communities around me and make sure to account for their own hardships?

After researching the basics of what it means for the web to be accessible, I found that even if you aren’t a web designing savant, you can still make some small tweaks to whatever web content you do create in order to make it more readable for everyone. For example, I learned what the field “alt text” in WordPress is actually for! Essentially, it is an area for you to add one or two lines about what is going on in the picture. This text will not be seen on your actual website (like a regular tag would) but when someone who is blind or has difficulty seeing goes through your webpage, they can, with certain computer settings enabled, have your lines read out loud and therefore can still appreciate the image and whatever it is you were trying to emphasize by including it. These lines shouldn’t be complicated and don’t overthink it. Check out this blog by Catharine McNally where she helps you to create the perfect and most effective alt text.

Other very obvious elements to keep in mind are the fonts, font sizes, and colors that you use throughout your webpage. As Caitlin Geier discusses in her blog, 5 Things UX and Visual Designers Can Do to Get Started with Accessibility, we all love to experiment with different, crazy fonts and colors, and sometimes it ends up working out fine, but other times not only does your webpage look like a hot mess even to those with 20/20 vision, but it is impossible to read to those that struggle to see. Never underestimate the power of a simple, classic design regarding anything you do creatively in your life.

For anyone and everyone that reads this blog post, I challenge you to return to your blogs, your own web content, and see what you can do to make it more accessible to all of your potential readers. Check out the links I have included here for you and go through their checklists of easy ways to improve the readability of your sites. These adjustments may be slightly off the beaten path, but they are minor and easy tweaks to make.

If we want the world to show us patience and understanding with the struggles that we face , we can’t forget about those who also have challenges everyday with things that we tend to take for granted. Always remember, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes can be a most enlightening experience and you might be very surprised by what you find.

How Did it Come to This, America?

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I realize that this topic as of November 8th has been thoroughly beaten to death and some may even call it “old news” in the fast-paced, digital world that we live in. Everyone has already moved passed the initial shock and insanity of the moment to protests, school children writing letters pleading our future president to “be nice”, and the latest administration member he has chosen, but I am still reeling from the election itself and the dreadful night, the exact moment actually, when I realized that the United Staes of America was going to implode in on itself, and there was nothing anyone could do about it now.donald-trump-kids-letters-school

As an individual who has always struggled with anxiety, the last 3 months or so have been a nightmare seeing all the headlines and news stories about the latest stunt our now president-elect has pulled. But it wasn’t his actions that necessarily had me so anxious. It was the fact that so many people could look at him and be “ok” with what he was doing and saying. That there were so many people in this country backing him, raising him higher, looking to him for all the answers and their own salvation. How did it come to this, America?

I remember sitting in my summer class in 2015 discussing the election with my fellow classmates. I was in New Jersey at the time (where political views are much different than my current location of Western, PA) and we joked about how Trump does this all the time. He throws his name in and ruffles a few feathers and then pulls out. He’s in no way a viable candidate.

As the months came and went and it was clear Trump was here for the long haul, I recall saying to my dad one evening, “How can people not know how utterly and completely wrong Trump is in what he says and his actions?” I didn’t mean “wrong” in the sense that he was incorrect, I meant it in the respect that it is wrong to push down another kid on the playground or it is wrong to steal.57ab1c93eaaca68858a1bf6aaba5a83b The basics of correct and incorrect behavior that most people would agree upon. And yet here is this man, so devastatingly wrong and spreading nothing but hate while so many people find him to be “right”.

And then fast forward to 2 weeks before election day and that’s when the anxiety and the reality of it all kicked in. This was really happening. Donald J. Trump was not only going to be on the 2016 presidential ballot but he also had a real chance at winning it. He spent over a year traveling and spreading hate and bringing out the worst emotions and thoughts in people and fueling their fear and now, he could very well be sitting in the iconic Oval Office come February, 2017. How did it come to this, America?

Finally, the fateful day arrived. I made plans to watch the results come in with 2 friends in my apartment complex and I vowed to myself to remain quiet, no matter what happened being that I would be in the company of not diehard Trump fans, but definitely diehard “down with Hillary” fans. I had honestly thought I would be biting back a grin and a gloat, but as the night dragged on, it became clear I would be holding back tears.

The next morning (after staying up until 4AM, willing the results to change), I woke up and got ready for class and made my way to campus. I felt as if a nuclear bomb had been dropped on New York City and I was just expected to continue about my normal routine, my everyday life. How did it come to this, America?

Now, ten days after everything crashed down around me, I am just starting to come out of my numbness that I encased myself in in order to continue living my life. I had turned off the news, avoided political websites and magazines, and I quietly mourned for my country and for the future. So yes, some might think that this post comes a bit late, but for me, it isn’t.

I am scared. I am panicked. For me, for this country, for the children of this country, and for the rest of the world that is forced to have to deal with this mess we have made. I ask again, to anyone that thinks they have an answer – How did it come to this, America?

Vacationing with “Normal” People

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Cruise ships at the port in the Bahamas

Let me start this entry by explaining what I mean by “normal.” For the purposes of what will be discussed here, I am using “normal” to describe those who do not suffer from and have very limited knowledge of mental illness of any kind.

I was given the amazing opportunity to go on a vacation cruise to the Bahamas for practically nothing after a member of the original group of 4 friends backed-out. I was of course delighted and signed right up to go. I worked my butt off the 2 weeks before we left to get everything squared away with my classes and Luckie and everything else and when the day finally came, I piled into my car for the 5 hour drive back to Jersey to then start the all together 20ish hours down to Florida.

First 24 Hours

We left late and luckily my name was not on the rental and therefore I didn’t have to drive so I was anticipating being able to sleep. And then I got into the car and quickly realized this trip was not going to be as simple as falling asleep and arriving in the sunny state of Florida.

The four adults plus one 4-year-old strapped into a carseat were all meant to fit into a Jeep compass (a 2 row small SUV), and we did. But not even remotely comfortably. My anxiety spiked then for the first time with the realization that I was not going to be able to sleep this ride away. Staying awake in the dark in a tight space for 16 hours seemed like the makings for a nightmare.

Then I found myself faced with my first decision that I know no one else in the car even had to worry about while on vacation – should I take all of my pills, including the one that helps me to sleep? Now, this may sound like a no brainer to some, but for me, when I take my sleeping medication, I need a solid 6 hours minimum before I am able to be even remotely functioning again. What if something happened? What if we crashed? What if there was an emergency and I needed to drive? All, especially the last worry, are not entirely rational (I mean, what are the chances that everyone in the car would be completely incapacitated and unable to drive??), but still, they raced through my mind. When the seating arrangement became so unbearable, however, I caved and popped my sleeper along with my other pills and to my pleasant surprise, was able to get a little sleep, albeit extremely uncomfortable sleep, but sleep all the same.

Other than a few bumps (like a tire blowing on a semi-truck and the rubber hitting our car), the ride was pretty uneventful. We made it to the parent’s house of those I was with around 1:30 PM on Thursday (we left Wednesday at 8:00 PM), and I was exhausted and starving. They had all stopped briefly for breakfast at about 8 AM at a McDonald’s drive-thru. I, however, get sick from anything served at McDonald’s (no, I’m not prissy and refuse to eat fast food when it is necessary, I literally become extremely ill) and therefore ate nothing. When we arrived, I had hoped we would be going somewhere for lunch, since we hadn’t even stopped for that meal. Lunch, however, had been made in anticipation of our arrival – a big pot of corn beef.

Now, I am not one to be rude or be “that person” who makes people go out of their way for me, so I piled on some corn beef (skipped the pot of baked beans) and gave a good faith effort to eat it. And I did get several fork-fulls in! But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t eat enough to kill the grumbling in my stomach and the migraine that was brewing. My anxiety spiked once more, knowing that I need to eat on somewhat a regular basis to keep my ‘sanity’. My sleep schedule had already been thrown out the window (as to be expected) so I needed food more than ever.

There seemed to be no alternative given even when they had asked if I hadn’t liked it and when I reluctantly confessed that I had not, and they were very understanding. I guess I was suppose to wait until the next meal which, apparently, was the rest of the corn beef that sat warming on the stove through the evening.

Luckily, I was able to go duck out under the guise of needing a few items from the store and stopped at a Burger King and finally filled my tummy.

So now we are 24 hours into this vacation, haven’t even made it to Miami and the cruise ship, and my anxiety is already in the danger zone for sure. But, I kept quiet and kept my head up remembering that I was with ‘normal‘ people.

The Ship

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A towel origami frog left for us in our cabin!

After another 4 hours in the car Friday morning heading down to Miami (this time no carseat as the little girl had stayed with her grandparents at our first stop), we had made it to the port and boarded the ship with minimal anxiety other than worry about them not accepting my birth certificate and ID in place of a passport, even though I had checked and double checked that it would be fine prior to leaving.

I was elated to find that I did not need any type of anti-nausea remedy! Score!

That first night, however, I began to come down off of all the tension and stress I had felt for the last 2 weeks in preparation for this trip and then the drive to get here. I began to feel a migraine coming on and the sleepiness kick in. Here, I was faced with decision #2 – Do I struggle through it in order to not be the ‘party pooper’ and end the night early when there was so much still to do? Or do I not worry about what my companions would think and slipped back to my cabin for a rest?

This was extra hard because my best friend that I was there with would of course not let me go back to the room by myself, even though I pleaded with him to stay and have fun. His cousins were our other companions and I didn’t want them to think I was making him leave the fun or keeping him from them. But he wouldn’t have it. He brought be back to the room and the night ended with an early bedtime for us both.

The Bahamas – Nassau

The next real problem did not come up until Saturday, when we woke up nice and early, ate a good breakfast at the free buffet, and left the ship to explore Nassau.

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Nassau Bahamas

It started off great with a tour of the city given by a local, some souvenir shopping, and eventually ending at the Atlantic Resort Beach where the plan was to spend the rest of our time until we had to board the ship again.

We arrived on the beach around 1:30 PM (after an 8 AM breakfast being the only food we had eaten all day) and I was not only starving, but really starting to feel it from the heat and sun. My pasty white complexion is not conducive to the conditions of the Bahamas and I was with others who heritage gave them advantages, not pain when out in the blazing sun all day.

My anxiety rose once more seeing no place in the immediate vicinity to get some decent food. However, I once again told myself I would be alright, don’t whine, we got this. I purchased a bag of chips and a coconut that contained a pina colada (not the wisest choices I have ever made, but it was a real coconut that they knocked open in front of you!) and sat down to try and bring my energy back somewhat.

It wasn’t until around 3 PM that we made it back to the ship to consume lunch. I was lagging majorly from heat exhaustion and hunger and distress over feeling like I was the only one who required these human needs of food, water, and rest, when the rest of the group seemed perfectly fine and ready to do another round with the waves in the ocean. Am I really that different from these people?

The Return

The rest of the trip went relatively smoothly. I made it back to my PA abode around 11 AM on that Tuesday after pushing through and being in a car 27 straight hours, just to get home to sleep in an actual bed.

Reflecting on my trip overall, it was a nice time. I got to see and experience things I never had before. I got out of the States (other than Canada) and got some sun, although my ‘tan’ had disappeared the morning after the day the on the beach. Did I mention how pasty white I am?

I just couldn’t help but wish it had not been with ‘normal people’ but instead a group that understood and could even relate to my struggles. Although my companions were so generous and really did try to make me feel comfortable, I could never really be at ease, and isn’t that what vacation is for?

And then I questioned, is this how my life will always be? Do I have to plan not only the trip, but everything about the trip around me having a bipolar disorder? I feel like I do that now with my life on a day-to-day basis. I feel like it is engrained in me to plan for any and every contingency. Even a day spent entirely on campus for classes and studying and meetings, I have to make sure I am prepared with snacks, Excedrin, a Xanax or 2 that remain in my purse at all times, a water bottle, the list goes on.

I try to remember that the pool of “normal” people in the world we live in is dwindling and of course, highly subjective. I may have this piece of me of me that struggles, but it is still a piece of me and makes me who I am which is someone that I am proud of. So this is my normal and at the end of the day, I wouldn’t want to be any other way.

The Other Side

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Last weekend I had the pleasure to speak with a young woman who lives in my apartment complex in an almost one-on-one setting. She sat in front of me on the concrete outside of my apartment, weighing 90 pounds soaking wet, trembling and chain-smoking, trying desperately to cope with the withdraw still left-over from her self-inflicted detox. I had seen her around and knew that she and her boyfriend had a problem with heroin, a drug that seems to be ravaging through my State and the country, but I had never had a real conversation with her. Then, Saturday night, two days before she would be checking herself into rehab, that would change and I would come to realize that she was yet another victim of a broken mental health care system that we have here in the U.S.

We began to talk and she became more comfortable with me and started to open up a bit. I made a few comments about my own story, although drugs had never been my issue, she was still able to relate to the mood issues and she explained more of her own background and how she ended up here, her boyfriend already in rehab and she heading there Monday morning.

It turns out that drugs had not been really a part of her story until the last year or so. She had been a habitual pot smoker (are we really considering pot a drug these days?) but had never tried anything harder until she ran into problems with doctors trying to help her with her diagnosed mood disorder. She explained that after she was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder and a touch of OCD, she was put on several different kinds of medication. One of which she was given for anxiety and told to take when needed, however, she began abusing it in an attempt to feel better when she found that her doctor did a poor job at monitoring her use of it. This began the downward spiral.

In addition to this, she told me that the everyday meds she had been prescribed were constantly changing. Not just in dose but the whole cocktail itself after giving her body barely a month to react properly to it. From what I have always been told and have found through my own research into my condition, any antipsychotic medication needs anywhere from 60-90 days of close monitoring to see the true effect it has on a person. This is not to say that if there is a serious side effect that occurs early on that a doctor won’t remove you from that track of medication. But if minor side effects occur that are to be expected, you may not see the benefits for weeks, depending on the medication. However, I am hearing more and more stories of people who have been so turned off at the prospect of medication because of a doctor trying too many medications at once and switching them up too rapidly.

This young girl couldn’t find relief when she went to “professionals” and so she began to self-medicate with heroin and other illegal drugs in an attempt to escape her pain. This story, as terrible and upsetting as it is, is a common tale in recent years and something has got to change.

Health professionals need to stop looking at mental illness as quick and easy cash and start actually seeing the broken person that sits across from them begging for help. But, with medication sessions only required to be 15 minutes, how could they possible understand what that person is going through or what medication (if any) they are in need of?

So many people need help, but it might not even been the kind that involves medication. We are human and we all go through tough times, some worse than others. But that doesn’t mean that popping a pill is the course of action to take. Doctors need to be able to evaluate this with more accuracy and not go to medication as their default. That being said, there are those who, of course, need medication who have a chemical imbalance in their brains (such as myself). These individuals require carefully monitored medication in order to lead a healthy, functional life, and that is OK. The problem is that so many are sent to the pharmacies for a quick buck that not only are they suffering, but those who actually need that kind of help are suffering, as well.

The saddest part of all is that once a person has one bad experience with a doctor, they are not easily convinced to go back and try again. I found this to be true with the girl in my apartment complex. She was scared to go back to a doctor with her problems because the way they had handled her medication the first time has caused so many problems with her physically, that she just knew it would never work, she was “unfixable.” And that thinking is the true tragedy here.

Before you make any final decisions about receiving professional help and of what kind, take the initiative and do your own research. Getting help regarding your mental health is not just like going to a doctor with the sniffles. You have to feel comfortable where you go and with the people there. You have to feel like you can trust them and be open and honest. One bad experience can understandably turn you off from a particular doctor or even the entire office, but don’t let that stop you from seeking help elsewhere. Hit the books, browse the web (on credible sites preferably) and find out all you can and then find another office, another doctor and try again. This is an intimate process and everything isn’t going to change for the better overnight. You will have hard times, maybe some of the hardest you’ve ever had, but once you are out on the other side, you will realize it was all worth it. And I can tell you this because I have finally found the other side, and take it from me, it was well worth it.

Try starting here to learn more about mental health and the treatment of. You owe it to yourself to find the other side.

Trigger Recipe

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I made an interesting rediscovery over the last 3 or so weeks and I feel obliged to share with everyone with the idea that you won’t have to also learn the hard way. So here it goes:

Remember that post about feeling homesick and losing my “marbles” a bit? Well, I found the trigger of that whole mess and it is a trigger that more often than not I have to find the hard way after my marbles are scattered because I am too stubborn to listen to the lesson from the last time.

Let me offer some context:

When I finally made some friends out here in good ol’ rural PA, I was thrilled! They were fun and easy-going and we had some good times just hanging around, talking. I spent 8 straight nights staying up until 1:30 AM or later while enjoying a cocktail or two…or several with my new neighborhood buddies. Nothing crazy or illegal, but definitely not part of my routine. I will offer a slight pat on my own back, however, for not missing a SINGLE day of classses in the midst of this lesson-learning experience.

It was soon after this and a few more nights of staying up late and drinking more than probably should have on a school night, that I lost my marbles.

So, let’s analyze this together, shall we?

  1. I was WAY off my sleep schedule and my normal nightly routine.
  2. I was drinking alcohol, ALOT. Which, by itself and in moderation, is not necessarily a bad thing. But, alcohol and the medication I am on do not exactly mix well and it tends to lessen the benefits that I receive from them (such as keeping my marbles and coping with every day life)
  3. Sleep is also a key factor in being able to cope with daily life when you have a mood disorder, especially bipolar polar disorder. Everyone has that friend that can get by on 3 hours of sleep all week and still be annoying productive and sane. Science has proven, though, that those with mental illness require a solid 7-8 hours for best coping abilities. I was definitely not getting 7-8 hours of sleep.

Take all of these point and throw them into a huge mixer and voila! Ladies and gentlemen, you have your very obvious, definitely avoidable trigger!

Now, this is not the first time I have cooked up a similar if not exactly the same kind of trigger recipe and I am sure that it won’t be the last given my stubborn nature. But, recognizing it and understand it are both very important. I haven’t had an episode like this in quite some time and that is something to celebrate! And ultimately, that is the goal to strive for. You are never going to have 100% perfect, happy, skipping on the sidewalk kind of days. No one does. But the more you learn about yourself and how you handle and cope with certain situations, the farther apart the bad days will be. Being self-aware and taking those long, hard looks in the mirror is what’s going to help you pick yourself up and move on to a better tomorrow.

Never punish yourself for a “bad day.” No one is perfect and putting yourself down for not being is counterproductive. Take a deep breath and remind yourself, there is always tomorrow and that is a good thing.

Control

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Why do we let people have such control over us? Family, friends, people that aren’t even worth our thoughts let alone our anger or sadness. We end up becoming self-destructive and some even throw their lives away after one stupid decision made out of the hurt they received from another human being. Well, I can tell you a fact that will never change – no one is worth it.

I could sit and rant about how unfair the world is or how awful that chick that broke your heart is or how rude that guy that yelled at you on the street was, but I’ll let you in on another secret fact that will never change – no matter how hard you try or how rational an argument you make or even how nice you are to some people, you can’t change them. You don’t have control over anyone else’s thoughts or actions. You can only determine what you do and what you think. And why would you want to waste your precious time and energy on something as immovable as a stubborn, bitter human being?

HEARTBREAK

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(Get more quotes at thedailyquotes.com)

Everyone has seen someone go through a heartbreak and has most likely gone through one themselves. Women and men can both have their hearts broken and can hurt and yes, even cry. And all of that is inevitable when someone that you put your faith and trust in tramples over all the past memories and possible future ones you have and could have shared. We are human and we are more fragile than many of us care to admit. The best way to combat this is by taking back control of yourself and your life.

I realize this is easier said than done and in order to accomplish it, you have to take a long hard look in the mirror and within yourself and this is not easy for some people. It can actually be a scary thing, like a full-on Halloween special on an old, fuzzy T.V. in the dark, in a cabin in the woods, by yourself kind of scary. And that’s ok. A way that made this a little easier for me was to keep reminding myself about how much that other person is not worth it. How much satisfaction they would get if they knew how many nights I spent awake or how much energy had been consumed by crying. Seeing that smug look on that person’s face was able to light my fire just enough that I was ready to take back control and feel better. Because remember, they are not worth it.

Grief happens in stages (well, that’s what they say at least) and it takes time. But don’t let it take so much time that it ends up consuming you and your life. Realize that they don’t deserve you and they certainly have no right to control you, and never forget that. Take back your life and also remember – Karma’s a bitch!

“Oh, well, it’s therapy!”

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I come from a very creative family. We have a little bit of everything. Music, sewing, jewelry making, painting, drawing, graphic design…the list goes on. It is this instilled ability given to me by my parents and other influences that gave me the power to cope. I’m sure that you’ve heard people say, “Oh, well, it’s therapy!” when discussing talents, obsessions, or something they have created and you have complimented. Some people really are just aiming for a chuckle, but for others, like myself, that statement couldn’t be more true.

Singing competition in high school

Singing competition in high school

When I was in high school, I was in an almost perpetual state of depression. I would barely get up for the bus, skim by in my classes, and then I would come home and nap. That was my escape during those years – sleeping. I loved to snooze during the day and then when night would roll around, I hated to climb into bed because the faster I fell asleep at that point, the quicker the morning would come and I’d have to start the whole soul-numbing process over again. It was a vicious and extremely unhealthy cycle but it was my way of coping when I was at some of my lowest points.

In my personal experience, I have seen many forms of coping, most of which were not the healthiest, such as my constant napping. I have relations on both sides of my family that suffer from addictions that I believe stemmed from an undiagnosed mood disorder (it’s all in the genes you know!). Given this, you can see where I get my charm from!

However, watching these family members struggle with addiction, impulsivity, and self-destructive tendencies, it did help me become more self-aware of my own potential fate if I tried to hide away and not deal with my disorder head-on. These experiences led me down the path to my own “at-home therapy” so-to-speak, and each session always started at one place – A.C. Moore!

A drawing activity I learned in HS and found very relaxing.

A drawing activity I learned in high school

Throughout the years I have tried it all. Scrapbooking, polymer clay figurines and beads, jewelry making, cake decorating (a very brief stint), origami, paper quilling, drawing, painting, crocheting, knitting…I could be here all day recalling every activity. Some I found I had talent in while others I laid to rest rather quickly (origami is not as easy as they make it seem!). I found a couple that I could sit and do for hours – jewelry making and scrapbooking mainly – and I had my perfect escape. My ideal therapy whenever I was struggling. Case-in-point: even when I moved to Slippery Rock, it was a stipulation that my beading supplies had to fit in the car. It was non-negotiable.

Recent bracelet creations

Recent bracelet creations

Finding these outlets, I think, contributed to literally saving my life. I still did some pretty stupid things when the low lows set in and I wouldn’t take care of myself properly, but I was so lucky to have that escape. Between that and being practically born a bookworm, I have made it this far.

The moral of the story is that whether you have a mood disorder or not, there will always be situations that you are faced with and decisions you have to make where one path will domino-effect into a crashing spiral while the other will keep you steady. Just because something feels good for the moment, doesn’t mean it’s going to feel good in the morning or even further down the road. Find a healthy release, a productive escape, your own means of “therapy” to get you through daily struggles. However, this approach is in no way an alternative to professional help. This is simply a tool to add to your arsenal of ways to cope, along with all the other work that you may be doing with a regular therapist or doctor.

Marbles

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There are few things more nerve-wracking or stressful than being a junior or senior in college. It took me a little longer than most to get here, but I finally am. I am a Professional Writing Major at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. I am 7 hours away from everything that I have ever known (friends, family, the house I grew up in, my 2 darling puppies) and am tackling the task of starting a new life along with finishing my degree. Add on top of that struggling with a mood disorder and keeping track of all my marbles has quickly become a full time job. And some days, it’s harder than others.

Scattering

Recently (about 48 hours ago recently), I had my first real bout of homesickness. My days usually go pretty well, no real moments of doubt or intense sadness. And then nighttime rolls around and I am in my little studio apartment, sitting on my bed with my cat off being crazy somewhere and that’s when the thoughts startup and the marbles start to scatter a bit.

I am very lucky to have two extremely supportive parents that when I call a blubbering mess at midnight they pick up to talk. Either my mom or dad, depending on whose exhaustion level is less, field the phone call and talk me off the ledge. After this, I end my night with a headache and some snuggles from Luckie (my kitty) and pass out hard.

Morning comes and I feel fine. Refreshed even. And everything is right with the world. But it got me thinking. I struggle with keeping track of my marbles every day and thankfully I am able to do it now, but it’s not without the help and support of my parents and friends and other family, including my two sisters. I couldn’t imagine going through this alone, but so many do. Why? Why should anyone have to go through the tough times alone?

Collecting

The truth is, no one is alone. If you are sitting in a crowded room by yourself, chances are the person right next to you, studying just at the other end of the table, is going through something, too. All it takes is one “Hello” and two more people in the world don’t have to be lonely. We all come from different backgrounds and experiences, have different likes and dislikes, varying home lives and personal situations, but we all have a common ground – we are all human. We all need a little companionship every now and then and guess what? That’s OK! That’s not a sign of weakness, but a show of strength and courage when you take the initiative to strike up a conversation with the girl who is always sitting alone or the boy that everyone thinks is a little strange.

Everyone has struggles and tough times and therefore we all have some form of common ground. If we keep this in mind before we think about all the differences between us, the whole world would be a lot less lonely with a lot fewer marbles rolling around.

The Basics of Me

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For the past week I have sat starring at a blank white digital sheet of paper trying to come up with exactly what my first blog post would be about and how I would go about writing it. I have about 7 unfinished drafts sitting in my que, all not quite hitting the point I was aiming for. Then it hit me last night, I need to start from the beginning. I need to introduce myself and start my story with the basics. Which is precisely what I decided to do.

ME, MYSELF, AND I

My name is Kelsey. I am 24 years old and a Gemini through and through. I won the parent lottery and was born to 2 of the most loving, understanding people I have every known. I was also blessed (or cursed depending on the five year span you are looking at) with 2 older sisters.

So, given this 4 sentence intro, I really can’t start this story with a terrible tale of grief of a young girl orphaned at a young age or of 2 unloving parents who cared more about a score than my homework every night, and I definitely can’t describe ever being physically abused or ever wanting for the basic needs in life.

But, let’s keep moving along…

A PROFESSIONAL

At the age of 12, I informed my mom while we were driving in the car one evening that I needed to speak to someone. A “professional” I clarified. Startled at my straightforward demand, she asked why. I explained to her that it was, in fact, not normal for a young girl to have thoughts of suicide and sadness every day of her life.  She of course agreed and promised to find me someone.

The hunt for a person to help treat a young child for some type of mood disorder or depression was a long, tedious, and expensive one in the early 2000’s, but my parents went about it fiercely. The timeline and description of all the places and people they found and who all ultimately failed to be what I needed is a story within itself, so we can save that for another time…

I was finally with a therapist that I would work with for many years and would, in the end, have helped me very little. During this time with her, I was also referred to a psychologist to look into the possibility of medication as an option to assist me with dealing with my roller coaster of emotions and cries for help. Another long and difficult search landed me with a woman who I would ultimately see until I was 20 years old (even though she technically treats only adolescents).

I was never given a label and was always encouraged that I wouldn’t have to be on medication forever, that it was just to help me while I learned other ways to cope.

Fast forward a bit to the age of 21…

MEDICATION

I began seeing a new therapist who started out by giving a written test to access my levels that would indicate any type of mood disorder or learning disability.

The results were added and analyzed and I was officially labeled as having bipolar II disorder. Along with the news of this diagnoses, I was also informed that I would have to be on medication for the rest of my life. It was no longer a temporary bandaid while I learned to cope. It would be the staple holding me together. This was the piece of news that hit me the hardest.

When you are on most psych drugs you have to be very careful about how you live your life. One stipulation that I am still trying to find peace with is that I cannot get pregnant while taking my medication because of the adverse affects it could have to the fetus. When the day does come that I would like to have kids and start a family, I will be required to have been off my pills for at least 3 months before even starting to try and I will, of course, have to stay off of them until I have given birth and am done with breastfeeding. To me, this is terrifying.

Luckily, I have finally found a combination of medication that works perfect for me. It took a lot of patience and many days of feeling lower than low, but now, I actually know what “happy” is for the first time since before I can remember. The downside is, going off of them makes me even that much more afraid and the thought is one that I struggle with often.

TODAY

It has been a long, emotional, terrifying journey to where I am today. But, I have never in my life felt better. Sure, there are still hurtles I have to work out and I have bad days along with the good (who doesn’t?), but I can officially say, “I am happy.” And now, I hope to offer a friend, a confident, even just some understanding to those of you who are on your own leg of your personal journey. You are not alone.