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.

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.


 

Someone I Used to Know

My brother recently got married. It was a beautiful day filled with love, laughter, family, and friends. I wish I could end on that note, but unfortunately, the world is more complicated than that.


My grandpa was at the wedding, although he didn’t realize he was my grandpa, because he didn’t remember who I was.


Every time I see my grandpa I am flooded with wonderful childhood memories. As a child he was my hero, supporter, friend, and protector. He was everything a grandpa should be, and so much more. He volunteered for the Department of National Resources and truly cares about the world. He taught me how to love and appreciate nature. He showed me how to support your friends and family. Basically, he taught me how to be a genuinely good person who cares about the earth and everything that lives on it.


The memories and lessons are priceless, but I want more.


Without these memories, are we ourselves anymore?


I look at my grandpa and I only miss him more. I want him back, the person he used to be.


Physically he is still here, but I understand that part of him isn’t. Inside I feel that loss and mourn the one I have not yet suffered. I feel guilty because he is still here. Yet, I struggle to fully except this, knowing that the parts of him I loved the most are now just memories.


The illness surprised us all. It came fast, took over quickly, and no one saw it coming. He was in great health: physically, mentally, and spirituality. My grandpa lived life to the fullest. He has the biggest heart and wore it on his sleeve. I relate to him in this way. I guess all I can say is he lived a full and healthy life.


He began to fade away over a year ago, but at that point, he was still my grandpa. He was there to watch me graduate college. I remember he saluted me as I looked up at him from my seat. I thought he would always be around. I envisioned him at my wedding. Now only a year away I am still unsure if he will be there. I thought I would introduce him to my children one day. It really seemed like he would be around forever, or at least longer than this. 


I know I’m not alone in these feelings. My entire family is learning how to deal with this reality. It’s almost too much to talk about. Nobody knows what you say or how to accept that this is our normal for now. I think we are all trying to be grateful for the person we have now, but remembering someone we used to know. Someone we miss so much.


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.


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.