Sometimes really annoying things happen, and they make you want to give up. You say “well, it’s a sign I should just call it quits… obviously the universe is against me.” Or you can swallow the big knot in your throat, take a deep breath, and say “this is life; this is how it goes. BUT I will not be stopped.” – #fighterstatus
My cells have detached from my body and I cannot feel my organs. I’m weightless. My heart races and my nails are digging into the palms of my hands. My brain is numb and my body hot.
Have you ever experienced panic?
The physical sensations of mental illness are real.
I have never forgotten the three little words she said to me that night. It had been a long day. We arrived back to our apartment in the wee hours of the morning after returning home from the hospital.
“Thank you for driving me to the ER. I’m sorry that you had to do that. That you had to give up your night to be there with me. But I want you to know how much I appreciate it.”
Beth was my roommate and best friend at the time. We met our freshman year of university, and decided to live together during our sophomore year. Beth was extremely confident in how she spoke to people envied her boldness. Except this time, I couldn’t believe what she said to me that night. Those three little words I will always remember no matter how much time has passed since then.
“To be frank Rachel, I’m having trouble finding empathy for you. I know you had a panic attack, but I think you’re just being dramatic. I have problems of my own you know. And frankly, you just need to get over it.”
Get over it.
I was devastated. I couldn’t just get over it. If it were as simple as that, believe me I would have done everything in my power to just “get over it”.
My sophomore year, I was diagnosed with panic disorder, a physical symptom of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). That year I found myself experiencing a panic attack almost every day. I was too restless to sleep. Insomnia and OCD thoughts consumed my mind that I slept on average 4 hours a night. I was too tired to attend classes. My friends didn’t seem to understand. I lost my appetite for food, for life in general really. All because anxiety disorder and panic disorder had become my new reality, and I at twenty years old, was trying to pick up the pieces and attempt to cope with one the most debilitating conditions while trying to earn a university degree. The task ahead of me seemed unimaginable and the obstacles were almost unbearable. The last thing I needed to hear from my friend, my support system, were these three words.
Get over it.
Words are extremely powerful. Proverbs 18:21 speaks about their power to bring life or death. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Words can speak truth into someone’s life, or falsehoods from which they may never shake.
“Sticks and stones” are indeed a universal mantra. We all, at one time or many times perhaps, have been there. We all have experienced the blunt of cutting and unhelpful words. As someone who has battled anxiety disorder and depression; however, I can assure you that the whole: “sticks and stones” mantra does not – under no circumstances – apply here. If you ever find yourself offering advice or encouragement to someone battling a mental disorder, do just that – encourage them. And trust me, “helpful words” like get over it will not resolve the problem. It will only intensify it.
People who have loved ones battling a mental illness fit into one of two categories: either they find themselves in a position where they are impatient and too frustrated to think carefully about what they should or should not say; or they are completely ignorant of the appropriate response to encourage their loved one. The kinds of unhelpful and damaging words I have heard first-hand or have heard others use are listed down below, along with an explanation as to why I believe these are not only discouraging, but could exacerbate the situation even more.
“I don’t really care”
This is self-explanatory. Expressing your apathy and lack of concern to me is completely unsupportive. Your response makes me feel hopeless, and unwilling to seek help or continue the healing process.
“You’re just being dramatic”
Let’s not be dramatic ourselves now. This is not a matter of Stephanie flirting with my boyfriend, or feeling overwhelmed about essay deadlines. Even if these were my “triggers, it is in no way your responsibility to label them as “drama”. This is my battle, a battle you are not fighting, nor know nothing about. My individual experience, no matter how confusing it may appear to you, is very real to me. Labelling my panic attack or breakdown as “drama” is insensitive and minimizes the severity of struggle. This is very severe to me, even if you don’t think so. Labelling my disorder sends the message that “Your struggle isn’t a big deal. It’s a just a matter of you being dramatic. If you weren’t so dramatic, maybe it would go away.” Don’t minimize, just empathize.
“I have problems too”
Yes, you do. And your poor communication is one with them. Let’s be real here. Everyone has their cross to bear. Let me repeat that. EVERYONE has problems, and everyone must learn to manage them in a way so it doesn’t affect their life in a negative way. But pointing this out to me doesn’t make me stop having problems. Sure, I know you are saying this to put things into perspective for me. The art of keeping things in perspective is something I need to learn to master myself. In the meantime, this kind of response leaves me feeling a sense of guilt. I now feel as if my disorder has become a burden for you because you have taken the trouble to inform me about your own problems, and you don’t know if you can handle a heavier load. To remedy this feeling of guilt, I may begin to close up to you. I hate the idea of burdening you, probably even more than having anxiety disorder. Don’t push me to the point where I don’t want to talk to you. Lack of communication halts the healing process. It’s already difficult enough being honest with you and asking for help.
“It’s all in your head”
Yes, thank you for pointing out the obvious. My anxiety originates in my mind. But my mind and body are inter-connected. “As a man thinks, so is he.” You can’t separate the mind from the body. My anxiety attacks are very real with very real physical symptoms: heart palpitations, sweating, trembling, trouble breathing, dizziness, fatigue, and headaches. If you believe that stress can deprive me of sleep and give me headaches, it’s not difficult to understand that anxiety affects my body in a physical way.
“Just suck it up”
This is the antithesis of seeking treatment from anxiety disorder. To overcome anxiety, I go to therapy and talk about my problems to a complete stranger. I go to therapy for me, but it does not give me that buzz like after drinking a caramel macchiato or that thrill after getting a good deal on summer sandals. This is mentally and physically draining, typically resulting in me leaving the office with puffy eyes, and smeared mascara. You would think I just had a fight with my boyfriend.
“Sucking it up” would be the opposite of this. If I “sucked it up” whenever I had a panic attack or experienced anxiety, I would have no reason to go to therapy. It would simply not speak to ANYONE. I would close off entirely from the world. Furthermore, most people who struggle with anxiety have “sucked it up” for quite some time. The reason they are in therapy or need to talk about it with their loved ones, is because they have “sucked it up” for too long. And guess what? “Sucking it up” doesn’t work.
Words have the power to be life altering. Words can re-traumatize and minimize the nervous system further delaying the body’s natural healing process which can cause further leading to further injury. Choose your words wisely. You never know how inspirational or damaging your words are to someone. I have never forgotten that night three years ago. Those three words left me feeling as small as humanly possible, more than I ever thought possible. Instead of holding a grudge however and writing a post bashing an old roommate; I want to write to you – the loved ones of people battling a mental illness – and encourage you that I understand the pressure you are under. You feel frustrated that I don’t put things into perspective. You are impatient because it seems like one panic attacks sets back a week’s worth of progress. You are tired because the number of times I have needed you is starting to wear on you. But you love me. You care about my comfort. Despite the imperfections, you know my mind is beautiful and capable of producing beautiful thoughts.
“Be careful with your words, once they are said, they can be only forgiven not forgotten”
In the land of black and white there is no grey.
There is a great day or a terrible day.
There is skinny or there is fat
There is happy or there is depressed
There is yes or there is no
In the land of black and white there is no grey.
I want things now, or I don’t want them at all.
I feel safe or I feel scared.
I am proud and accomplished or I am completely worthless.
I know I can or I know I can’t
I live in the land of black and white.
something more stable
something much more like….
The Voice Within…Listen
Are you there? Can you hear me? Can you see me? What are you doing? Why do you continue to do this to us…to me? You know what I am talking about. You are using behaviors again. How many times are you going to put me through this? Commit to recovery and just stop this.
I know you are unhappy, but you need to stop taking it out on me. I understand that you are upset that we didn’t have children when we always wanted them. I know that hurts deeply. I know you wish you had stood your ground when he asked you to make a choice. But remember you were young, and in love. You did what you thought was right at the time. You cannot keep punishing us. I know your heart hurts. I can feel it and I understand the pain. I hear your thoughts…
“we will never know what it feels like to be pregnant…we will never be able to announce, I’m having a girl…there will never be a child who has a piece of us inside of them… our mom and dad will not be a grandma or grandpa to our children…there will not be a baby naming, a Bat Mitzvah, a college graduation, or wedding of our own child…we will never wipe away the tears of her broken heart…”
I know the thoughts are endless. They are real and the pain you feel is real, but they are feelings. There will be days when they are strong and days where they are just a subtle whisper. But if you are punishing us for this, I am asking you to please stop. Hurting me, starving me will not heal your heart nor will it change the past.
The past, Denise…that’s what this is about. Isn’t it? This is why you cannot fully commit to recovery. I know your secret. I know it is fear that stops you – a fear of failure, rejection, depression…A fear of being completely and utterly alone…A fear of experiencing such intense hurt, pain, and disappointment that you lose all hope.
Most of the time you don’t even know the fear is there. Most of the time, it is buried so deep under the layers of our eating disorder and anxiety that it is silenced. It is your secret and I know you would rather not talk about it or even think about it. It is why you will not let her go. It is why you put me through this hell and it is why we live life as a functional anorexic.
You say, “I don’t want to look fat.” Denise, our weight does not determine our worth. Our weight has nothing to do with you, our true self. You are a confident, independent woman who is witty, empathetic, and thoughtful. You are outgoing, sensitive, and intelligent. You love to create, paint, write, and read. And most of all you love to dream. Let yourself dream again…let yourself have hopes. Yes our life took an unexpected turn and has led us down a different path, but that path doesn’t have to be a path to misery. Stop focusing on the negative and see the positives… You, Denise, ended an emotionally damaging marriage to a narcissist, and not only did you leave it, but you have persevered! You took those years, those experiences and have transformed us into the woman we are today. The woman I described. If you could only see this…it would free you from the bondage of fear. It is that fear that leads you to sink into the loneliness of what ifs….
what if I let go of ED and I am still unhappy… what if I let go of ED, how will I handle pain, hurt, disappointment…what if I make another mistake that harms me… what if I can’t handle life…
I know…those thoughts are terrifying to think about, but you can’t live our life behind these shadows. It’s not living Denise. We are not living.
I am not asking you to change overnight. I just want you to see that what happened in the past, does not have to dictate our future. What happened in the past is not doomed to repeat itself. You are not that 22 year old who fell in love with the wrong man…you are not that 28 year old who followed her heart instead of her desire to have children… They will always be a part of you, but they are not who you are now. Please see that, please believe that. Open your eyes to the sky, the blue that offers you so much comfort. Let that comfort ease your fears enough so that your heart will open to the possibility of love. Let that protection soothe your mind and have hope for your future, our future.
The fears will always be there, just stop letting them drive you. Allow us to have hope and to live. Allow me to get stronger so I can help you as we take the lessons from the past and move towards a future filled with hope, love, faith and recovery. Trust me, you and I can do this… trust me and love me as I am your body.
My name is Denise and this is where I stand.
The Importance of Being Thankful: What Scottish Octobers Have Taught Me
“I’m so cold” has become an all too common phrase just like “I love you” or “I need my coffee” (you can tell where my priorities lie). As an US expat living in Scotland for over a year now, I have grown accustomed to the dreaded winter weather. The 40 mph wind gusts, cold pellets of rain (I swear the raindrops here are the size of quarters or 10P pieces if you’re a Brit!), and the grey clouds that seem to hover over your head. The weather is a “hot topic” (oh, the irony) in this country. I have never lived anywhere before where people genuinely want to talk about the weather, and not just because it’s the go-to topic on an awkward first date. Just like an overabundance of cheddar in the Tesco cheese aisle, the weather is something you are signing up for when you decide to live here. This fall in particular has witnessed a plunge in temperatures much sooner than I would have liked, giving my pea coat and mittens the chance to make their first appearance this year.
So why would you put up with this, Rachel?
Many people from home have plagued me with this question (often over skype) taunting me with their Starbucks Frappuccino’s and flowery sundresses (I’ve only worn a sundress for two weeks this July when the high was 80 F).
While I crave the warm sunshine and convenience of driving to the market when I’m out of milk, I would not be the same person had I never ventured to the Motherland. The Scots have taught me something valuable about life that I could have never gleaned from any other human species.
Let me explain. There is a reason Scottish men have recently been labelled “the manliest men on the planet”. If you just have a look at the Scottish landscape – rugged mountains, Artic conditions, harsh wilderness – it is no wonder that the Scots are some of the most hardy and rugged people to exist. Hard work, a what-you-see-is-what-you-get persona, and thick skin are common traits of the common Scot. When I first met my fiancé, he introduced me to the phrase “touch luck”. Hardships and setbacks were viewed as mere inconveniences and met with a “tough luck” let-it-slide-off-your-back attitude. My initial shock at his behaviour had me conflating his determination with insensitivity and complacence.
How can you just “get on” with life when life is giving you a giant kick in the pants? Uncomfortably at first, yes but after a while you learn to make use of what you have and “get on with it”.
This valuable life mantra came particularly into play this October. Having recently finished my master’s degree, I was interviewing with a consulting firm anticipating that a graduate position would be offered to me. My plans fell through one morning as I walked to get a cup of coffee at Starbucks. I nearly stopped in the middle of the street whilst glancing down at my iPhone to read my rejection email (to the annoyance of local drivers). Along with four other job rejections, a council tax bill, and an expiring student visa, I was spinning several plates, and in the midst of life, all of them came crashing down at once. Already struggling with high anxiety, my instinctive response was to lose it. My pride was certainly humbled and my faith put under fire. I was experiencing what I would like to call a “quarter-life-crisis”. I still didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, and after all of these years, after building up my CV, earning good grades, and achieving two degrees…I was found wanting.
I think it is no coincidence that grey skies and winter winds were looming during this period of my life. Just like the winter air, feelings of hopelessness permeated my down jacket and down to my toes. I was truly experiencing the “harsh” side of life, and I was left feeling like a failure. I am not going to say that rejection is fun, as the past month was very troublesome and dark and I would not want to romanticise any feelings of hopelessness. However, experiencing rejection this October has been one of the most beneficial times in my life. I stopped pretending to be someone I was not; applying to jobs I wasn’t passionate about. I began to direct all my energy into pursuing the only career that mattered to me – teaching students. Had I been successful at securing a corporate job, I may have never found the determination to pursue the one area of life where I felt like I actually belonged. I was set free because my greatest fears, failure and rejection, has been realized and yet I was still alive. Rejection taught me how strong I was, and that I had possessed more determination than I suspected. It revealed to me the true feelings of loved ones, how loyal they really proved to be. Rejection taught me things about myself that no degree or qualification could have. I would have never learned this vital lesson in the comfort of my Toyota in the bright Virginia sunshine. Underneath grey skies, I have learned perhaps the greatest lesson of all and that is something to be thankful for.
““I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” Anne of Green Gables
Turning 20: Life Reflection
I turn 20 on November 17th. It’s strange reflecting on 2 decades of life. My life has changed so much over the years. Before 3rd grade I was young and innocent with not too much to worry about in life. Starting in 3rd grade, I was introduced to the world of learning differences (ADHD, etc.) and anxiety disorders. From that point on it was a new diagnosis every few years. One year it was depression and social anxiety, the next it was a physical condition known as POTS. Then it was an eating disorder and my senior year of high school it was high-functioning Autism (Asperger’s Syndrome). With each new diagnosis have come more and more opportunities for me to learn about the illnesses I live with and to become a greater advocate and voice for others. Over the last 20 years, I’ve been through so much more than I ever could have possibly imagined going through. At the same time, all that I’ve been through over these years has made me a much better, much stronger, much more companionate person. I never would have truly been able to understand mental and emotional pain if I hadn’t been diagnosed with my mental illnesses. I never would have really understood struggle and frustration had I not fought through my learning differences in order to become the person and particularly the writer that I am today. I never would have known my own physical strength had I not been forced to learn to live with the constant dizziness and vertigo that comes with POTS. And of course, recovery from my eating disorder has taught me more than I ever imagined possible. I’ve learned patience, both with myself and with others over the course of my time in treatment. I’ve learned to appreciate and celebrate the little successes and accomplishments in this process. I’ve learned to be proud of myself. I’ve learned that yes, I can maintain my recovery outside of the treatment center environment, though difficult it may be at times. I’ve learned to appreciate and value my support system even more than I did before treatment. I’ve learned how important it is to have people in your life who personally understand what you’re going through. I’ve learned what it’s like to accept who you are and to begin to actually like who you are too. I’ve learned not to freak out when I go up a clothing size, because for me, right now, that’s healthy. I’ve learned how to embrace my body for what it is and for what it will continue to change in to. I’ve learned that I must love myself in order for others to truly and fully love me in return. I’ve learned to be grateful for the struggles and challenges that life has thrown my way because I’m a better person because of them than I believe I would have been without them.
My name is Hollyn and this is Where I Stand.
As far back as I can remember, I have had the need to be perfect in all ways, in everything I do.
Mary Poppins was my ideal, as she was “practically perfect” in every way.
I was an honor student. I excelled at everything. I was an exemplary volunteer in school, in my religious community, in my community helping elderly, tutoring, babysitting for free.
As an adult, I have recently become aware of fulfilling the same patterns of perfection.
I am forty-five years old and still nothing I accomplish satisfies my drive for perfection.
When I am recognized for my achievements, and awarded or honored, instead of feeling a sense of pride or accomplishment, I feel like I have to work even harder to fulfill the expectation of perfection.
I suffered from eating disorders as a teenager and young adult because of the need for perfection.
Now as an older adult, I am sickly and overweight, and I hate myself for it. I have tried starving myself in hopes of obtaining perfection again. Nothing seems to work.
When your outside is not perfect, no amount of hiding or covering up can conceal the obvious.
It has been a very humbling experience. The world can see my imperfection on display every single second of the day.
Does that fuel the need for perfection in every other aspect of my life?
Every day that goes by is a practice in humility, and it is so very tiring.
I am trying to accept the fact that I not Mary Poppins. I have to learn to accept my limitations, my imperfections. I need to know that I can be accepted and even loved without being perfect.
Other people do not view me as I view myself. That negative filter that I use is not realistic.
For all fellow perfectionists, join me as I try to embrace imperfection in it’s truest form-the struggle to not be perfect at accepting imperfection.
My name is Audra and this is Where I Stand.