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.

Sick Enough

There will always be someone who doesn’t understand. Someone who rejects and invalidates your pain. Someone who judges your choices and actions.

Mental illness attacks from within. It changes a person in a way that many will not understand. Symptoms can be easily misjudged as rudeness, awkwardness, or unintelligence. This leads to continued stigma because many are unable to accept it as an illness and not a character flaw.

Your pain is enough. Your suffering is enough. You are sick enough.

You do not need to prove your pain. You do not need to cut deeper, eat less, or withdraw more to prove your illness. There will always be someone who is unwilling to accept what you’re going through.

Everyone experiences mental illness differently. For some, symptoms are easily recognizable, but for others they are hidden.

Remember, no matter the stigma, no matter the judgments, no matter the illness- you are enough. You no longer need to prove your pain; you are sick enough.

*This post was written to someone who needed to hear: “you are sick enough” Hang in there, you got this.

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.’

 

 

Discovering Your Reason

I am not under the belief that everything happens for a reason. I am under the belief that we can find a reason or a positive aspect for almost everything. That reason may be difficult to discover initially, but as time passes, the reason becomes clearer. For a large portion of my life, I wanted to become a therapist. I loved deep conversations and helping others. I thought this career was something I was supposed to do.


Leaving graduate school left me with a lot of unanswered questions. Why was I so set on becoming a therapist? Were my four years undergrad and one year in graduate school all for nothing? It was easy for me to reframe my undergraduate education. It was then that I became my own person, separate from my parents. I was pushed and shoved out of my comfort zone, and met some of the most important people in my life.


My year in graduate school was much more difficult to reframe. My end goal of becoming a therapist was not accomplished, so what was the point? What was the reason?


I met some wonderful individuals in school and I am extremely grateful for that. Specifically, I met a very close friend of mine. I know that our friendship is deeper than someone you would just meet in class. She understands me in a way very few people do. There are definitely reasons I am happy I went to graduate school, but this wasn’t yet my reason.


One day while meditating, it came to me. The reason isn’t in the goal or accomplishment, but the experience. I grew into a strong, resourceful, confident individual. Someone I wouldn’t have recognized two years ago. Someone who knows what she wants in life and is not afraid to work hard to get there. I came out of school with a greater knowledge of people and mental health. More importantly, I came out of school happy, something I don’t think I’ve truly ever been.


So I don’t have a master’s degree, but I have something even better – myself.


Imposter Syndrome

I think part of me has always wanted to be a writer. As a child, I had endless story ideas. When we began to write papers for school, I noticed how effortless it was for me. I discovered I could write quickly and when I got started the words would flow as if a part of me was awakened.


Writing became an outlet for me, but as a child, I listened to my severe anxiety. I would ruminate and obsess over my negative thoughts. I have always been very critical of myself because these thoughts gave me every reason why I should. The thoughts would repeat through my head, and I was controlled by them.


I guess my dream of writing was lost when I accepted my thoughts as truths.


Writing was where I began to understand and cope with my thoughts and intense emotions. What was overwhelming became more manageable on paper. I could write anything – all my fears, regrets, irrational feelings of guilt and shame, and my dreams for the future. Whatever was on my mind, I could tell the nonjudgmental piece of paper. I did not realize that I was actually processing my thoughts and helping myself heal. All I knew what that when I wrote, I could survive, for just a bit longer than the day before.


When I began this blog I was full of passion and drive. I got lost for a while and I began to have negative thoughts about writing. I felt like an imposter. Writing is not what I went to school for. I know that because of school I hold a lot of knowledge about mental health from my degree in Psychology, but writing has always just been a passion of mine.


Suddenly, I could not wrap my head around why people would want to read what I was writing. I have never felt particularly special in any way. All I know is that I have a lot of feelings, like a lot, writing helps, and I have a narrative inside of me waiting to come out.


What has helped me cope with these signals of imposter syndrome is writing about it, and I believe that is a good sign that I am on the right track.


We all have something in our lives that we enjoy doing and may even experience some of these same thoughts about that. It is important to remember and acknowledge what they really are – thoughts.


 

Stand By Me

 

I have been asking my close friends to be my bridesmaids. It is such a monumental step in your life, planning a wedding. I have been doing a lot of reflecting on the past three years. I’ve been reminiscing on Tyler and I’s relationship, remembering the suffering and struggle we’ve endured, and the support and love of our friends who’ve helped us as a couple.


 

I remember the night Tyler and I met. I was at a Halloween part with my close friends. Honestly, I did not want to go in the first place. I had no costume ready and I was exhausted. Flashforward to learn I actually had mono, no wonder I was exhausted. Anyway, I ended up at the party. It was your typical college house, sticky floors, loud music, and tacky beer signs. The house was packed so we found ourselves in a backroom in the basement. Tyler happened to be in the same room. Conversation flowed effortlessly. I noticed his eyes, kind and curious. He had a smile that made my heart warm.

 

After that night, I brushed him off. I didn’t want to get hurt. I was mentally struggling and knew I couldn’t get attached and lose something special. I believed my mental health was too much for someone to handle. He persisted and I finally caved. I decided to give him a chance. That was the greatest chance I ever took.

 

What made fall in love with Tyler, like really fully fall for him, was how and accepting and supportive he is. My darkest thoughts are never too much for him. I push and pull a lot in relationships. I go through periods where I accept and value his support. I pull him close and get attached. Suddenly, I can be set off. I push him away, reject support, and obsess over stupid mistakes. Things get messy, quickly. This has never sent him running. I push him away and he pulls me closer, knowing that this is the time I need support the most. When the dust clears, Tyler accepts what happened and helps me externalize the symptoms from myself. He helps me cope and thrive.


 

Our relationship is not perfect. Yet, we build up this image of perfection in our minds. We only see aspects of other’s lives and we use their highlights and compare it to our toughest times. I want others to look at my life just as they look at theirs. My life is like yours: messy, difficult, loving, joyful, and full.


 

What gets me through these ups and downs is my support system. My friends have always been there to talk and listen. They support and help when they can, with what they can. We all need this support in our lives, even in our relationships.


As I ask my remaining friends to be a part of our special day, I will continue to reflect. I admire our strength and determination to work on and better our relationship. I know that because of this, and our support system, we will make it.


Removing Blame From Symptoms

I struggle to differentiate my symptoms from myself. The symptoms of depression and anxiety are easier for me to identify and externalize. When I am depressed I feel empty and unfulfilled. Anxiety puts me on edge and makes me light-headed and nauseous. However, personality disorders become messy. The symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder are normal human responses, intensified, with a greater difficulty to control these emotions and emotional responses. My symptoms are intertwined with myself. These symptoms are how I’ve always felt and reacted. When I was diagnosed, I was given the ability to externalize these symptoms.


Borderline Personality Disorder causes difficulties in relationships. Honestly, that is an understatement. It feels as if I have this internal drive to sabotage what’s good in my life and make me feel safe. I am aware of how often I overreact. I have the responsibility to try my best to recognize when I’m overreacting. However, the other half of the disorder is how easy it is for me to not notice the overreaction. This is because my response is a normal reaction to how I feel inside, the intense emotions I have. As you can guess, it’s difficult to allow me not to react to how I initially see fit. Now not only is my reaction intensified, but my threshold to reacting is much lower. Rarely can I brush off little things. Instead, I must allow myself to react, but I try not to externalize my reaction to these little things.


This overreacting, lashing out, and getting my feelings hurt easily, leaves me with two emotions that linger – guilt and shame. Read any book on Borderline Personality Disorder and you’ll see them mention guilt and shame. It makes sense though. People with BPD do not lack self-awareness, and therefore often feel guilty and ashamed for how their illness influences them to react. , mental illness required care, from yourself and from others. Sometimes this means doing or making requests that could be considered selfish. However, we need to be selfish sometimes, it saves lives. This is not to suggest that self-care is selfish, but what I am saying is that if you need to be selfish for your health, sometimes that is necessary and 100% okay.


When my symptoms are difficult to recognize at the moment, I must reflect with a clear head. I take a deep breath and I honestly look at myself. I reflect on my actions, emotions, and beliefs. I process what has been going on by journaling and meditation. I often find that my pen and paper discover my true intentions and feelings before my mind does. This reflection allows me the opportunity to recognize my symptoms and remove blame. Additionally, I am supported. My fiancé, Tyler, is often good at removing blame from my symptoms. When he approaches the situation with a clear head can point out my symptoms and tell me that those are not me. he validates my difficult experience and my effort to hold myself together. However, this is an example of an ideal situation. If Tyler approaches the situation with his own emotions, it escalates the situation and my symptoms. Sometimes this happens, we are human, but when I acknowledge how helpful Tyler is when he approaches the situation with a clear head, I am validating his effort and making it easier for him to help me.


Being diagnosed with a mental illness is like being given a car manual, but discovering it is blank inside. You think you’re being given an explanation for why you work the way you do and how to help yourself when things are no longer working properly. In reality, that information is not given, its discovered. Instead, you are being given an opportunity for deeper self-awareness and understanding.


This impulsivity, reactivity, and sensitivity are not myself, these are symptoms. They may appear difficult to recognize, but taking the time to reject and recognize is essential to growth and healing. This is the core of my recovery.

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.

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.