Christmas Spirit

I feel this external pressure to be happy and cheerful during the holiday season.


I get caught up with the holiday bustle, and I forget to slow down.


I want to be present when I’m with my family, but I also need to take time for myself and remember that it’s okay if I don’t always feel positive.


Even though it’s the holiday season doesn’t mean that my mental illness goes on holiday. Because of this, I need to set boundaries with myself. Taking breaks, going on walks, and most importantly, trying to keep a schedule.


Last year I was hard on myself. I wasn’t feeling particularly cheerful, and that made me feel selfish and ungrateful. This year, I am removing the pressure and expectation. How I feel is how I feel, and I can be grateful and full of joy even if I’m having a stressful day.

Difficult Conversations

I remember the conversation. I hadn’t planned on having it and I did not fully understand my thoughts and goals, but I knew it needed to come out. “I don’t think I want to go back to school.”


When I began, the words spilled out. I explained how on-edge, irritable, and depressed I constantly felt. I worried about my safety and future. How could I enjoy life and take care of myself if my future career is taking 110% of my energy?


Tyler was immediately supportive. He suggested alternative careers and options for me.


That wasn’t what I wanted either. I realized it wasn’t about a specific career, I was taking on too much. I just needed a job.


I don’t think I processed my thoughts before having this conversation, but I don’t think it mattered. When I said what I needed to say, a weight was lifted off of me.


Life is all about having these difficult conversations. Putting yourself and your thoughts out there, being vulnerable, it’s awfully uncomfortable. Although, these moments and those conversations are periods of growth and development.


When we push our feelings down and don’t have the difficult conversations, we become stuck. In situations, jobs, relationships, and life.


We owe it to ourselves and our happiness to have difficult conversations. I know from experience how uncomfortable being stuck feels.

Allow Joy

There was a point where I didn’t want to accept moments of happiness because I feared my illness wouldn’t be accepted by others. I feared that if I expressed these moments, my depression would be overlooked and forgotten. That I would be forgotten. I feared that these brief moments would be mistaken for my entire reality. I didn’t understand that I could feel happiness without necessarily being happy.


It wasn’t until someone suggested that I could call it something other than ‘happy.’


This small suggestion shifted my perception. I can be unhappy and experience joy. I can be happy and experience joy. I can be however I am and still experience joy, but only if I allow it.


Currently, I am at a place in my life where I can say that I am happy. Yet, this does not mean I am always happy. This means that I am now able to allow joy in my life without effort.


Happiness is not an end goal, but if often mistaken for one. By acknowledging moments of joy, instead of happiness, this end goal perception is diverted.


So I will leave you with this. Be happy, be unhappy, be angry, excited, and sad, but remember to allow and acknowledge joy. Because without joy, life has no meaning.

You Should Be Happy

I remember going to a psychiatrist appointment, maybe two years ago, when she asked me if a student could sit-in on the session with us. As a student myself, I understood how valuable hands-on learning is, so I agreed. The student, an older woman likely in her 50s, greeted me as I walked in. We exchanged hellos and commented on the weather. I could feel and see her examining me- well dressed, clean, and tense maybe what she saw. I looked put together, I knew that. I hid behind my name brands and job in mental healthcare. I wanted to appear like I had my life together, and I wasn’t crazy.


The student asked me about my education, job, and personal relationships. Then she looked me dead in the eyes and said: “Wow, with your Kate Spade bag and getting accepted into graduate school, you should be so happy.”


I looked at her, stunned by both her ignorance and bluntness, and replied: “Yeah, I should be.”


My psychiatrist quickly tried to descale the tense situation: “Well, that is why she is here today.”


The problem with the student’s comment has to do with one word: should. I believe she meant to say something along the lines of you have wonderful things in your life, and I can see how depression must be impacting your mental health. Instead, the comment sent a different message. By saying I ‘should’ be happy, it implies that the reason I am unhappy has to do with me and not something out of my control. The comment suggested that I am ungrateful for the wonderful things in my life because I ‘should’ be happy, but I wasn’t.


I was not hurt by the comment, but I was surprised. I was surprised because even in the mental healthcare field, there is still a skewed perception of mental disorders. Even someone studying to prescribe medication FOR mental disorders is lacking basic knowledge about mental health. This is a bright red fluorescent sign that mental health education is severely lacking. How we are taught to talk about mental health as a society is flawed, and change needs to occur.


This was a very minor experience for me. I was not hurt or set-off, and I quickly forget about the comment after I left. Yet, I still remember that comment like it was yesterday. it stuck in my mind so clearly that I am able to write about it today.


I want to reflect on this moment not only because it is a sign of how mental healthcare needs to change, but also because I know I will be told something along the lines of this again. Next time, I want to be prepared. If I were in that situation again, this is what I would say: “Just because I am in extreme pain and suffering does not mean that I am simply unhappy with my life. I want to be able to love and appreciate what I have, but I can’t. This does not mean that I am ungrateful or an unhappy person in general. This means that I have a severe mental illness and I am struggling right now. Which is exactly why I am in this office today. So no, I shouldn’t be happy. I SHOULD be exactly as I am right now, regardless of how it makes you feel.”

 


 

 

Setting Boundaries

I just turned down a job. It paid really well, was only for a few hours, and it was doing something I love. I said no without a second thought.


I know my limits, and I understand that my current schedule and mood is enough for me to manage. Could I use the extra money? Absolutely. However, my mental health and personal wellbeing are much more important to me than money.


This is what setting healthy boundaries looks like. I am using self-awareness and reflection to understand where I am and what my limits are. I understood that my plate was full. I didn’t have the energy or mental stability to “just add one more thing.” Although, a year ago that is exactly what I would have done. I was driven by money and success. I believed that doing this gave me worth and purpose. What I didn’t understand was that my life already had purpose and I was already worthy, just by being me.


I am a recovering people pleaser. I believed that I needed to meet other’s requests in order for them to accept and value me. It turns out that the people I want in my life are the ones who can accept ‘no.’ The people I was trying to please, were already pleased. They want what is best for you, so if you have to tell them no, that’s okay. They will recognize your self awareness and healthy boundaries.


I was influenced by social media. I thought I had to be doing something everyday, and if I didn’t document my life, how would people remember my existence? I saw others “living their best lives” and I felt horrible about myself. The problem was with me, not them. I was believing my negative thoughts and what they were telling me about myself. I accepted that I was boring, unwanted, and that everyone else in the world was doing better than me.


It has taken a lot of self reflection and mental work to get to this point. I guess I had to realize both my worth and my limits. I had to recognize and accept – I mean fully and truly accept- my own worth. I now understand that taking on more than I can handle is not a reflection of who I am. My level of importance does not change because my schedule is packed.


Learning how to say no gave me the freedom to heal. I am consciously choosing how I spend my time. I am observing my thoughts without accepting them as truths. I am setting myself up for success by saying ‘no.’

 

 

How to Support Someone Struggling

Support is essential for someone suffering from a mental illness. However, it is important that you are making sure you’re caring for yourself before caring for another. I believe that it is also crucial that you have a general understanding of the illness as well. Questions can always be brought to the individual about how they’re doing and in what ways they need support, but specific questions about mental health or their diagnosis may be better answered by professions or reading educational texts. For me, this means asking my family members to read ‘Loving Someone with Borderline Personality Disorder’ by Shari. Y Manning. This book has allowed my loved ones to gain a better understanding of what it is like to be me and the best ways that they can help.


The easiest and sometimes the most helpful thing you can do is be there. Remember to stay calm and keep your own emotions in check. Stick to one topic at a time. If you want to talk about their mental health, ease into it. ask appropriate questions, but don’t pry. This is where having done research becomes helpful. You will have some background knowledge of how they may be struggling. By having this information prior, you may have a better understanding of what they are saying, without requiring them to say very much.


When discussing mental health, inactivity, or change of behavior lately, use “I” statements – “I have been thinking of you.” instead of “you have not been reaching out or as involved.” Remember to talk about positive aspects of their life, separate from their mental health. “I really enjoyed when we did this, would you want to do that again sometime?” “I am looking forward to this mutual gathering we have coming up, I am so glad you will be there.”


Avoid comparing the individual’s experience with another’s. Your intention may be to normalize their experience. “I know my neighbor has depression too, it is so common now.” This can come off as invalidating and lessens the individual’s experience.


When in a social situation and you are with someone may struggle with that, there are additional ways you can support them. Help make sure the individual doesn’t find themselves alone or withdrawn in a group or crowd. Talk about safe topics you know they are comfortable discussing. Allow them to be present without always interacting. They may want to listen and observe, but it is important that you are still checking in to make sure all is well. Lastly, give them the ability to leave the situation or take a break if necessary.


There are some important things to keep in mind when supporting someone. First, make sure you know where your intentions are at. Are you reaching out because you need something or for their best interest and to help them. Be mindful of this and understand that it is important to process your own thoughts and emotions before trying to help others with theirs. Secondly, be consistent. Try to be aware of how often you’re reaching out. If life gets busy and you become more distant and busy with life, no worries. However, letting the individual know that it has nothing to do with them is crucial. Lastly, take care of your own mental health. you will not be able to effectively help others unless you are also caring for yourself.


Supporting someone with a mental illness comes down to one thing – validation. Validate their pain and experience. This does not mean agreeing with skewed perceptions or negative thoughts, but instead simply acknowledging their existence and how difficult it must be to manage that. Remember, your support saves lives.

Authenticity

Aspects of ourselves that we once viewed as weaknesses can become our greatest strengths. For a very long time, I hid my true self. It can be frightening being authentic and vulnerable. By putting ourselves out there, we are showing the world who we really are, but we are also opening ourselves up to criticism. However, there is another side to this. By showing our authentic selves we are allowing the possibility for deeper and more authentic relationships. Others will love these aspects of ourselves because they are what sets us apart and makes us unique.


I am extremely emotional and these emotions are intense. I am also very sensitive and reactive to my environment and personal interactions. I once believed this made me lesser than others. I felt like a child because everything upset me and I couldn’t control my emotions like those around me. now, I recognize what strengths I have because of these strong emotions.


I am empathic. It comes naturally and s always present. I care deeply about others and their emotions. I can empathize with others because I have felt these strong emotions, every day.  I can feel the room and pick up on these emotions as well. I feel with people, and their emotions become my emotions.


I thought these were flaws, but now I view them as strengths.


I want the same for you. Embrace what you once viewed as a flaw. Be unapologetically authentic. This self is exactly who you’re supposed to be. Others want to get to know that person, so be that person. Be you.

Distress Tolerance

When I was in an inpatient program I would hear this Dialectic Behavioral Therapy skill mentioned daily. I have not been focusing on my skill use recently. I get distracted by life and caught up with emotions. Life passes by and I forget these ingrained skills that I sue daily. When I focus on my skill use, I use my skills more often and validate my own success.


I am reactive to my environment, and the smallest things can send my day downhill. Over time, I have learned how to ride this emotional wave instead of allowing it to crush me. This is distress tolerance.


This skill allows me to take a step back. I observe what is triggering me: a conversation, an overwhelming stimulus, a sudden change. I feel these strong emotions and acknowledge them. However, instead of allowing these emotions to control me, I accept them. They will not immediately disappear, but they will lessen over time.


Earlier said than done, I understand that. At times, I still let those little bumps ruin my day. Although since I’ve begun to recover, the days I am able to use my skills outweigh the bad days.


Recovery and the use of skills take time. Life will not get easier when practicing unhelpful coping mechanisms. This is something I have had to learn the hard way. However, with time and hard work, recovery is possible and so worth it. Hang on and ride the wave.

Asking for Help

Asking for help has always been something that I struggle with. I used to believe that reaching out meant I was admitting weakness. I would push it off, telling myself that I was fine and I would reach out later. This made it easy for me to not reach out. I thought this made me strong and independent in some way.


Reaching out is still difficult for me, but I realize how important it is. A few months ago Tyler took a side job as an assistant golf coach. This means he had to travel on occasional days and weekends. At first, I felt abandoned. This is a common feeling for me, and a large part of my diagnosis. I constantly feel that those I love no longer care, and will eventually leave.


When he was away I struggled and it was easy for me to get into that dark place inside my head. I blamed these feelings on Tyler – if he would just come home I wouldn’t feel this way. I soon realized this was not helpful for either of us. It would be easy to say “just get ahold of yourself, you’re 23 years old and should know how to be okay by yourself.” However, I cannot put blame on myself for struggling to manage my symptoms when I am alone. I must accept reality and find an effective way to cope.


Our relationship took a hit from this. Tyler felt guilty each time he had to leave, and I was overwhelmed with pain and loneliness. After a lot of fighting and talking, things became clearer. When Tyler traveled for coaching, I needed to ask someone to stay with me. This brought up a feeling of immaturity and shame. I didn’t want to feel as if I had a babysitter.


Since then I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting. I now feel grateful that I have the support system I do, and they are willing to stay with me. I also appreciate how they never make me feel dependent or immature. I feel like I am spending time with a loved one, rather than on crisis watch.


I am proud of myself for pushing past my fears of abandonment. No matter how irrational my fears are, they still exist and feel incredibly real to me. I can now make the most of my weekends away from Tyler. I have worked through my feelings of guilt and shame, and I am happy Tyler can enjoy his time as a coach. I can see how happy and fulfilled it makes him.


Needing help and support from others is nothing to be ashamed of. Humans are social creatures and need one another to survive and thrive. Next time you’re feeling lost and alone, don’t sit with those feels alone. It is okay not to be okay, so reach out to your support system.


One of the ways I work through this second-guessing is by journaling. I realized that I hold myself to very unrealistic standards. I would want and expect my friends to reach out if they were struggling or needed help, yet expect myself to do it alone.


We all go through roadblocks. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but strength. Knowing when help is required shows self-awareness and maturity. Take care of yourself and reach out to a friend. They want to help you, so let them.

My Diagnosis Saved Me

After my second suicide attempt, I accepted that something has to change. Medication  changes and weekly therapy were helping me cope, but not enough. My life as I knew it was fading away. I was fading away.


Around the same time, my psychiatrist suggested psychological testing. By this time I had two mental illness diagnosis on my mental record, Depression and Anxiety, but I had never gone through formal psychological testing.


From an outside perspective I had it all together. I was high functioning and successful. I graduated with my BA in Psychology. I was accepted into a counseling masters program. I was in a loving and committed relationship and was close with friends and family. While all this was true, I was also hiding the chaos and suffering within.


For most of my life, I didn’t have the vocabulary to fully explain how I felt inside. Being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder helped me understand how I had always felt, but could never name or describe.


Now I understand why my body feels raw with emotion. Why I wakeup in paralyzing fear for no significant reason. I now understand why I quickly get attached to people, but once they’re in my life, I struggle attending and keeping the relationship. I push and pull people away using emotions. I now understand my impulsive self-harm urges and suicidal thoughts even when I’m not depressed. I can recognize the dissociation, splitting, and over the top emotions. Now I understand why I’ve always felt like I experience emotions differently than others, because I do. I’m emotionally sensitive and reactive, and now I have to vocabulary to express that.


I began to understand myself. For the first time I felt heard, understood, and validated. I had hope for recovery, love, life, and a future advocating for myself and others like me. I discovered my true self and all the wonderful skills, talents, and dreams that came along.


Don’t let the stigma of your diagnosis present self-acceptance. Understanding your true self is the first step to acceptance. I accept you just as you are and you can too.


My diagnosis saved me. I don’t know id my suicide attempts would have been controlled if I hadn’t been diagnosed. It allowed me to discover who I am, and be proud of that person.