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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 😀

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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.

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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.