Ringing in the New Year

Happy 2015!

Seems crazy that it is already a new year. So much has happened this year. The family and I traveled to Disney World at the beginning of last year. My youngest started Kindergarten. I tested for my black belt. My oldest delivered her first in-class science presentation and nailed it. I started a little blog called Serotonin Junkie….

It really was magical. ;)

It really was magical. 😉

And here we are: ringing in 2015 on that little blog.

2014 wasn’t always the sweetest year. There were a lot of times that kind of sucked, actually. But all in all, I look back with happiness at a year of accomplishments and hard work.

Probably the hardest thing I did this year wasn’t on the karate mat. It wasn’t that four hour black belt test. It was starting this blog and coming “out” to family and friends about the struggles I’ve faced in dealing with depression and anxiety. It’s been a bumpy road, but I haven’t regretted one moment of it.

this is hard for a lot of people. but it is very true. i am the same person.

this is hard for a lot of people. but it is very true. i am the same person.

I started this blog right around the time of Robin Williams’ unfortunate suicide because I found that I had a lot to say about mental health. I’m not a mental health professional; I just have a lot to say about my own battle with mental illness and how the stigma surrounding it has affected me.

Apparently, what I have to say makes a tiny bit of difference. This blog receives more traffic than I ever envisioned and for that I am profoundly grateful. I never expected more than a couple of people to stop by. But now that I’ve connected with people from around the world, I realize that I want this little blog to succeed. I enjoy reaching out to people, hearing their stories, and sharing their struggles with them. It gives this often difficult journey a purpose and meaning that I find exhilarating.

So, one of my New Year’s Resolutions is to post here every three to four days. I wrote up a calendar for January, complete with blog titles for the month. I also sent the calendar to my best friend and asked her to ride my ass to make sure I stick to it. And stick to it I shall, with her keeping me honest.

So what do you want from this new year? Either from me, here on the blog, or out of life in general? Any good goals or dreams you want to share? Any hopes for your year, either mental health wise or other? Feel free to share here in the comments or on Facebook if you so choose.

See you soon and many thanks for taking this journey with me.

no, but we are. seriously. we. are. fabulous.

no, but we are. seriously. we. are. fabulous.

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Still I Rise

My heart is bruised, broken, and so very sore. Over the past week, I have lost things that defined who I am: my character, my very essence and the core of my being, and my most basic purpose. All of those things have been ripped away, leaving this empty shell that I don’t even know what do with. Friendships have been called into question; ties that I thought were unbreakable are showing rust and evidence of cracking. I feel as though I have been caught, unaware, in a vicious rip tide of changes, a cycle that keeps knocking me down every time I think I can stand up for air.

knocked down

I want to throw my hands up and just give in, let that tide carry me out and just give up. But I can’t. No, I won’t. With every fiber in my being I want to break down, but somehow I’m still walking. Still smiling, even though it burns.

People say it’ll get easier, the smile will begin to feel real. But the losses that I’ve accrued this past week will haunt me forever. I feel as though my smile might never be the same. I feel as though I might never be the same.

And is that a good thing? Honestly, I don’t know. I had a home, a place and purpose there that defined who I was striving to become. It was a purpose that had pulled me out of the darkness so many times. There, I was surrounded by people who saw in me all the good, the spark of potential that I needed to come out of the other side slaying the demons in my own head. And for all of that, I was better.

It’s gone now, that shelter. It was ripped away in that current of change and I am left standing here amid the ruins. I keep looking around, waiting to wake up from the stupid nightmare. Waiting to know that the shelter and home I’d relied on hasn’t really been taken away.

I’m not going to wake up. The nightmare of it all is so real and I have to begin again. Suddenly and without so many of the tools I’d used to get where I was.

broken heart

Rock bottom. I thought I’d found it before, but I realize now its transient. With every wave that hits me I realize that I can always go lower. Those angry waves seem hell-bent on proving that point.

My heart is broken, shattered into a million pieces and I don’t know that it’ll ever be whole again. But I’m choosing to move on. I’m choosing not to make myself available to further insults. As hard as it will be to let go of the ties that I thought I had, I need to remember that if they were real, they never would have been so easily severed. I need to define my self-worth outside of that former home and remember that the people who love me, love me for the person I am and there are no strings attached to that love. And I need to know that I will begin again.

The truth is, I’m not okay. No matter how many times people I love ask me that question, and no matter how many times I give a false smile and say I’m fine, the fact that I am not okay hasn’t changed. And the people who really love me, know the truth. They call me a liar to my face and hug me tighter because they know. Truthfully, I don’t even know what okay looks like anymore. The face of it has changed so drastically, I might not even recognize it when I see it again.

But that? That is okay. It is fucking hard to admit, but it is going to be okay that “okay” has changed. I can redefine okay. I can take in the changes, breathe, and come out the other side a stronger, better person. Some of the things I thought were permanent may be gone, but I am still intact. I may be shattered inside, but the shell is still there waiting for me to put the pieces back together in a new and wonderful order.

I will rise, just like that phoenix tattooed on my side, and nothing is going to stop me or hold me down. People will catch me, hold me while I need it, and then they’ll be there on the other side waiting to say, “See, we told you you could do it.”

I’ll make it through. And those have to be my last words on the subject.

best for me

Airing Out the Bunker

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I realize that is stating the painfully obvious, but I want to acknowledge my absence. I could blow it off on mundane crap and say that I was too busy, but the fact of the matter is I didn’t make time amid the crap to sit down and write. And I have paid the price.

I sat down yesterday and tried to just breathe. My therapist right now is really into mindfulness exercises, and truly, they work well for stopping a panic attack in its track. That said I suck at doing them on my own. Especially when I look around and it seems like the whole of humanity’s shit is piling up around me. Instead, I girder myself inside a bunker, wait for the shitstorm to pass, and inevitably focus on all of the bad things.

... again.

… again.

There is something broken or in need of fixing in every part of my life. Literally everywhere I look, I see something that needs attention or fixing or healing. When I sat down to do my mindfulness exercise, I minded my way right into a full on panic attack. Go me!

The point of this veritable pity party is that I need to draw a line somewhere. I cannot let this get to me the way it has. I’ve been moping, wrapped up in the thoughts of what is going wrong and where I am failing, unable to see anything positive. There are rays of light, for sure. But for the most part, I haven’t let them touch me. And I am worse for that.

Perhaps the mindfulness exercises are working better than I give them credit for because I can see now that it’s a choice. I’m choosing to wallow in the impossibility of my current situation instead of letting the light shine through. Instead of valuing the things that go right. I may not be able to will myself out of a deep depression, but I can choose to open up a freaking window in my bunker and let in the air.

So, that is what I’m doing. Airing out the bunker a bit. Things may in fact be fucked up all around me. There may be more to fix than I am humanly capable of handling at this point, but that doesn’t mean that I am without hope. It doesn’t mean that I have to sit in a cold room wrapped in the thoughts of what is wrong. I can take my own advice and let small victories lift me up.

 

So … Good news: My mom, who had major surgery on Monday is now home and resting comfortably. Though she’s going to need more PT and recovery time than we anticipated, the surgery itself was a success. She’s in less pain now and on her way to recovering fully.

More good news: I opened an Etsy shop offering cross stitch patterns and hand stitched items just in time for the holidays. It allowed me to take something that was just a little hobby and make a bit of money from it. And since it’s my shop, I can be as irreverent as I want to be. For instance, I can sell bookmarks that are lacy and delicate and read “bookwhore.” Because I want to and I think even lacy, delicate people should be allowed to love the dirty words. You feel me, I know you do.

Even more good news: I was nominated for a blog award! Despite my absence! I will be adding a post on Monday describing the blog award and nominating some other blogs that I would recommend to my followers.

It feels fresher and brighter in here already. Little bit of air, little bit of sunshine … it clears the bunker right up, doesn’t it? When I’m in a rough patch, I often find it very difficult to breathe and accept any good. It’s so much easier to focus on the negative and let that stack of bad grow to monstrous proportions. I’m not negating the bad stuff. I’m not saying I should just blithely ignore the problems. But I do need to work on ways to refocus myself. I have friends and a therapist who can help me with that, but honestly? This is something I need to work on for myself. I’m not always going to have someone around who can refocus me and help me breathe.

What do you do when the bad stacks up and looms over you like the big, bad wolf threatening to blow down the walls of your safe space? Does meditation work for you or do you prefer heavy metal blaring in your headphones while you work out? I often prefer the latter, but have lately been unable to work out due to some health issues. It sucks. But, in keeping with allowing in the light, I’m also getting a great chance to heal. <~~~ Look at me all Zen and shit.

and that shit has just GOT to stop.

and that shit has just GOT to stop.

If you’d like to share your secrets, please feel free to share them in the comments. I think this is a problem many who suffer from mental illness face on a regular basis. I’d love to have a conversation about what we can do individually to combat the problem. I will see you soon with my next blog post. Feel free to poke and prod me if I leave you hanging for too long. The bunker can sometimes suck you back in if you’re not careful.

Reaching Out and Being the Light

So someone you love has a mental health diagnosis. They are struggling. They may or may not have reached out to you for help. You want to help. Now what?

This honestly was my favorite part about Eeyore and the 100 acre wood gang. They accepted all of Eeyore and loved him totally.

This honestly was my favorite part about Eeyore and the 100 acre wood gang. They accepted all of Eeyore and loved him totally.

I think one of the most important things that family and friends of those with mental illness need to do is be honest with themselves. Dealing with a mental illness is hard; no one knows this more than those who suffer with it. Being the “go to” person for someone who suffers can be just as draining as dealing with the actual disease. That is why it is so important to be honest with yourself and your loved one about what you can handle.

Support can come in many forms: an ear to listen without judgment, a shoulder to cry on, the extra push someone needs to attend therapy, tough love when it comes to taking meds… We need all of that at different stages in our illness. But dealing with all of that can be exhausting and overwhelming and you might need to take a step back for your own mental health. How you step back can make or break your loved one, so I’m going to talk a little bit about that here.

When someone you love is in the midst of a crisis, obviously you want to be at your best. Completely on top of your game and there for them 24/7. The reality of crisis is that it doesn’t know timetables. My crisis might come at the same time that your youngest starts teething, your dog starts vomiting, and your car gets rear-ended. You’re stretched to the limits, but I need you. What do you do?

Your first instinct might be to hide all of the other shit and try to be on for me. It’s a noble act. But it can’t last, can it? We are not made of elastic and we can break if we try to stretch ourselves too thin. The best you can sometimes do for a friend in need is to tell them the truth: this is my life right now. These are my challenges. Tell me what you need most and I will do my best to cover that need.

I’ve struggled tremendously through my battle with depression and anxiety. I love the people who walk by my side, but I have never expected them to go down with my sinking ship. I would much rather honesty from them than to watch them slowly burn out as they try to be my everything.

So what else can you do? Your friend is cutting. You notice they’re not sleeping. Or you notice sleeping is all they do. What can you do?

Leave it to Hyperbole and a Half to sum up what NOT to say. Don't be this chick, mmmmkay?

Leave it to Hyperbole and a Half to sum up what NOT to say. Don’t be this chick, mmmmkay?

Ask.

They’ll probably lie.

Ask again.

And again.

I do not mean bombard them with a Spanish Inquisition style interrogation. I mean remind them of your love and of your acceptance. And ask them what they need. Ask what they are missing. Ask how you can love them better.

It might not happen right away. It might not happen in a week. But if you can prove to your friend that you will not judge them, the gift of trust is immeasurable.

depression_helpfriend

Below are some resources for talking to a loved one about mental health issues. If you truly believe that someone you love is suicidal however, the time for gentle prodding is over. Call the suicide prevention hotline listed below and talk to one of the counselors immediately. They can give you the words you need to give your friend help. They can help you save a life.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255 (http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/)

How to talk to a friend who is depressed: http://www.wikihow.com/Help-a-Friend-with-Depression

Talking with a friend or family member: https://www.lundbeck.com/upload/ie/files/pdf/leaflets/How_to_say-lean_on_me.pdf

Specifically for younger readers: http://www.youthbeyondblue.com/help-someone-you-know/supporting-a-friend

Shining a Light on My Truth

This is a special week: Mental Illness Awareness Week. While I have some issues with including “Illness” in the name instead of “Health,” I think this is one truly important week. And I am honoring this week with daily blog posts, guest writers, and lots of real talk. It’s time to speak the truth, my truth, and not be afraid of the stigma. I hope you join me.

stephen_fry_on_mental_illness___by_rationalhub-d5ebmuz

Today as we kick off the week, I want to answer a really important question: What IS Mental Illness. It’s not an easy question, and so I’m going to start with defining what is NOT Mental Illness.

  • Mental Illness is not the result of personal weakness.
  • It is not the product of poor character or dodgy upbringing.
  • Mental Illness is not a bad day or even a bad week.
  • It is not crying for no reason once in a while.
  • It is not an isolation sentence.
  • It is definitely not a death sentence.

Those “nots”? Those are characteristic of the stigma that surrounds Mental Illness. Those of us who suffer from invisible illnesses, like Mental Illness, bear the burden of that stigma daily. It’s why we are often silent. It’s why we shy away from telling people we see a therapist, or take medicine, or cut, or have suicidal thoughts. People hear those things and assume SO MUCH. Giving up on assuming is the first step in truly helping your friend or lover with their struggles.

Mental Illness is unique for every sufferer. There are endless combinations of diagnoses that someone can hold and every diagnosis manifests itself somewhat differently for each person. I can only talk about my own illness, but for once I am going to be painfully honest. Here goes nothing.

I have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Syndrome with Acute Panic Disorder and mild Agoraphobia. And I am a cutter. Big words, those. Basically, I struggle daily with every blasted thing I need to do. It’s hard to get up sometimes. It’s really hard to be in a crowd. It’s hard to settle my own mind and stop it from racing. It’s just hard. And sometimes, when I can’t take it anymore, I physically hurt myself in a twisted attempt to make the invisible pain stop.

surviving

Outside factors absolutely weigh on my mental health issues. When my kids are sick, when I argue with anyone, when things don’t go as planned…. I suffer. These are issues that medicine helps, but cannot control completely. We all want a magic pill that we swallow and become normal. It’s a pipe dream and it is discouraging to know that we can’t have that.

A depressive episode or a panic attack is not something I can snap out of at will. Adding pressure to act normal only exacerbates the issues in someone who is suffering. When I am told to get over it, to fake it till I make it, to just deal…. Immediately I’m filled with a sense of overwhelming disgrace. I’ve let someone I care about down. I’ve burdened them. I need to try harder.

The fact of the matter is this: I can only hide for so long. I can only fake it for so long before I burn out and crash even harder than before. It’s at those times that I am most at risk of cutting. It’s really not easy to admit that I do this. SO many people look at cutting like an emo fad. That people who cut are just looking for attention. Time for a little bit of honesty. Are you ready?

So fucking what if that teenage girl with cuts all up and down her arm is doing it to get attention? Imagine the deficit of attention she must be feeling in order to slice her own skin to get you to notice her pain. When you hurt so bad that you take a razor, or a needle, or your own nails to yourself in order to escape the pain, you are in terrible shape. The last thing you need is judgment. But that is so often what we receive. Harsh judgment. Derisive laughter. Painful sarcasm. Easy answers that mean nothing. And people who think you’re going to kill yourself.

I don’t cut because I want to die. I cut because I hurt so bad that I need an escape. It is twisted to a normal brain, but the reality is that cutting helps diffuse the inner turmoil for just a second. And then the guilt piles on and it is even worse than before. But for a moment, the cutting helps. It is an attempt to care for myself in the most unnatural way possible. And I have scars on my body now that remind me daily of that pain. Harsh reminders of why I need therapy and good friends and a daily cocktail of meds to keep me stable.

rough days

I haven’t cut in four months. I’m damn proud of that, but it has been really hard. There are days when every moment requires concentration NOT to scratch at my own skin. I’ll finger my scars. I’ll text my friends. I’ll keep my hands busy with cross stitch. ANYTHING to keep from allowing myself the opportunity to slip up. With counseling and a lot of vigilance from a good friend, I remain self-harm free. For now.

But the monster is always there waiting. And frankly, it’s terrifying.

Tomorrow, I’ll explore ways friends and family can support those with mental health issues in a healthy way. If there are any topics you feel should be touched on, please let me know here or privately via email. I’ll do my best.

Writing Out my Demons

I told you that the beginning of school years were a bitch. The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of deadlines, doctors’ appointments, paperwork, and obligations. Balancing all of that crap has been overwhelming and for a while, I didn’t know if I could juggle it all. I can and I feel as though I’m headed toward an even keel. I’ve decided to celebrate by writing, my favorite thing to do!

image (8)

One of my four tatts. Maybe someday soon I’ll share all of my ink on here….

I have a tattoo on my left arm of a feathered pen. Around my wrist are the words “Writing out my demons.” I got that tattoo when I finished my first book (unpublished and likely to stay that way. It’s a great story, but it’s not saleable. I’ve made my peace with that and there will be other books). Those words sum up my experience with writing and depression. At times, I need someone standing over top of me, holding my head in place and forcing me to write each word until I’m in a better place.

Starting this blog was a huge step for me. While I adore writing, my forte is in making up stories. I spin tales of fantasy and horror that emerge from the ether of my subconscious, spawn characters from the depths of my dreams. And I’m not going to lie; a lot of that comes from the pain of depression and anxiety. Many of my stories were born from a panic attack or a night terror. It’s therapeutic to write about fantastical horror to ease the real horror of suffering from these illnesses.

It’s not as easy to hold a mirror up to myself, take a snapshot, and then show the world. This has been hard. Posting things that I usually only share with my closest friends and knowing that anyone who wants to can access them has been …. well, it’s been a bit surreal. At first, I panicked every time I posted, afraid that I would be judged, that people would look at me different or treat me different.

I still have moments like that. When things get bad, as they did over the past two weeks, I can grind myself into complete inaction. I was unable to write a single word without worrying what the world might think.

The experience of sharing my stories, though, has been completely positive. So many people, people that I never would have told about my struggles, have told me that the blog has helped them. Hearing that they both understand and can relate has been extremely beneficial for me. And realizing that they don’t judge me for my demons? Well, that has been eye-opening as well.

hiding

I think all of us who suffer with depression and anxiety worry that people will judge us for our illnesses. I know that for myself, I worry that people will only see the illness and miss the rest of me. I work very hard at that mask I put on for the world. Though it hides me and gives me the comfort of putting up a wall between myself and the rest of the world, it really isn’t designed for my comfort. The mask is designed to protect those around me from what I go through every day.

Opening up and letting all of my readers see inside has been difficult, not just because my wall is gone but also because there are now so many people on the inside. So many people look at me after reading these blogs and know that I’m struggling. I worry constantly that they are going to feel like they need to take care of me. Or treat me differently. Or stay away. I struggle with that constantly.

It’s been nice, though, to know that reality is so much different from my worst fears. People in my life who are now reading the blog are learning so much about depression and anxiety. And in learning, they are not distancing themselves from me or treating me any different. For the most part, people have been truly excited to learn. A surprising number have also come forward and said, “me too.”

I started this blog on a whim, realizing after Robin Williams’ death that I had a lot to say about mental health and the stigma surrounding it. I never expected it to be “big,” nor did I expect that I would want it to be “big.” The truth is, it hapurposes become extremely important to me and I do want that. I like reaching new people and knowing that my words have touched them. I like knowing that my struggle means something, in a bigger way than just getting through the day. I like helping people. And if I’m able to do that with my words, with writing which brings me so much pleasure, all the better.

Thank you for taking this journey with me and holding my virtual hand as I take these first shaky steps at opening up. It’s been a pleasure getting to know all of you and I hope that we can continue to open up together.

A Happiness Interlude

I’ve been quiet this week. Sorry about that. Been busy pretending to be extroverted. ha. But actually, the meetings have gone really well thus far. The kids’ teachers are fantastic and I didn’t have to engage in long, drawn out schmoozing. WIN!

I thought that since it is Friday and I’m in need of a huge dose of happy right now, I’d share with you some things that float my boat. Something you should know about me right off the bat is that I have an obsessive personality. When I find something I like, I freak the fuck out about it and find out everything I can about it. Same goes for hobbies. I don’t dabble; I go in whole hog.

obsess

this right here? this could be me.

Anyway, I thought I’d share some of my obsessions likes. Prepare for a picture heavy post.

I’m a SuperWhovian. That means, I watch Supernatural and Doctor Who like it is my job. For the record: Dean girl, Sam curious, and I ship Megstiel; imo, Dean and Cas are like brothers, not lovers. Nine is my Doctor. Love Rose, but River is just the shit; seriously, no one has ever been better for the Doctor than River Song. (If you’re not in those fandoms, I apologize for the gobbledygook that you just had to read. But in all seriousness, what the hell are you waiting for. Put on Netflix and start watching those shows.)

sexy and baby: two of the most important objects in the universe. in their female forms of course. it makes sense if you're in the fandom. sorry...

sexy and baby: two of the most important objects in the universe. in their female forms of course. it makes sense if you’re in the fandom. sorry…

This leads me to my next thing: Cross Stitch. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, Jen. How does this even relate to your nerdy fandom? I’m glad you asked! I’ll show you the project I’m currently working on in just a second. But the real reason that cross stitch is one of my favorite things is that it does wonders for my sanity. There are many, many people who have watched me counting out stitches and told me it would drive them batty to do what I do. I get it. It takes a lot of counting and patience. But that is exactly WHY I need cross stitch. When I’m working on my projects, my brain doesn’t have a chance to work overtime. It calms and quiets my mind and lets me breathe again.

image (2)

brand new aidia canvas and all those colors. *sigh* happiness.

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what i’ve done so far. i know. doesn’t look like much yet. but wait until you see what it’ll be!

yup. exploding TARDIS, baby. told you i was an obsessive fangirl...

yup. exploding TARDIS, baby. told you i was an obsessive fangirl…

Happiness to me is a cup of coffee, a good book, and my animals curled up at my side. These little rascals are my furry children. Meet Dug the Chocolate Lab and Hermione the Tortie princess. Yes, they live up to their names. Dug loves everyone he meets, just like Dug in Up and Hermione is practically perfect in every way, just like her namesake. 😀

image (4)   image (5)

If you’ve read my profile, you know I’m a black belt in karate. I started practicing about three years ago now and earned my black belt this past June. Teaching those kids gives me immense joy and being able to hit a heavy bag to the point of knocking it over ain’t too bad either.

black belt 057

this is the day we got our black belts. some of my best friends are pictured here, faces obscured to protect the awesome. 😉 i’m the one with my back turned on the right, with the pig tails and tattoo showing.

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And last but certainly not least, my family. These smiling faces bring me joy all the time. Those people in the middle? They’re my mom and dad, two of the best people I know. I am, and always will be, Daddy’s little girl. He’s a superhero to me and no one has ever been able to prove any different. And that lady right there is my hero in every way you can imagine. She makes me proud to be her daughter, and now that I’m grown, her best friend as well. And those kids? Well … they’re the apples of my eye. Little man can pull a smile out of any one with his quirky sense of humor and little laugh. And he’s scary smart too. And that lovely little lady is my baby girl. I couldn’t be prouder of the brave, smart young woman she’s becoming. She’s on her way to be a kick ass ninja just like her mom too. 🙂

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Thanks for allowing me this time to share some of the things that make me happiest. I hope you enjoyed learning about my favorite things and got to know me a little bit better in the process. If you have things that make your day brighter, I’d love to hear about them. All of you readers out there and another part of my happiness and I’d love a chance to share in yours.