The Fight Goes On

Today I felt hopeless again.  I always think I’m ‘recovered’ from depression, then I have a day like today. I’m reminded of all the subtle symptoms that are lingering in the background. The ones I’ve either had so long that I forgot they were symptoms, or I’ve learned to manage so well that I forgot they were there. But they are! (Depression doesnt want me to forget that!)

It can come on so sudden! Yesterday, I had even thought about doing something new and big that would really challenge my OCD.

Then today was filled with 50 ‘I can’t even’s. There was mood swings like you wouldn’t believe. I cried for over an hour until I finally just fell asleep. At one point I even got so angry that I threw things! I had the whole day for homework and I really only got about an hour of work done because I couldn’t concentrate. I was so overwhelmed with the few events I have on this week that I felt ‘paralyzed’.

I can relate all of that to just a bad day with depression, yet, I still feel so embarrassed by all of it for several reasons:

1) This is out of character

2) Even when I recognize that I’m feeling like this -I can’t control it

3) I did some of the things that help but they didn’t work right away

4) No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t control it

5) Not only couldn’t I control it-but I also couldn’t hide it (for some reason I still feel the need to hide my negative emotions)

Anyone who lives with mental illness knows how treacherous the path to wellness can be. It’s rarely linear. There are ups and downs, potholes and slippery surfaces, all just waiting to trip us up. Living in this precarious state of semi-recovery is exhausting. The fear of relapse casts its shadow over every single day, and when your mood dips, it can be extremely difficult to keep things in perspective.

I’ve had a pretty rough past with my mental health and I’m terrified of ending up in hospital again. So, when I wake up in the morning and realize I’m feeling less than brilliant, it’s hard not to fear the worst.

I run through a mental checklist of what might be the problem. Did I forget part of my routine? Did I sleep badly because I had a lot of seizures? Is it the time of the month? Am I stressed about school? I’m desperate to find a logical reason for my low mood. But often, I can’t put my finger on anything concrete, and I begin to panic that I’m at the beginning of a downward spiral.

I start to analyse my own thoughts. Just how bad is it? Will I feel better if I get up, have a shower, get on with some work? Or does even getting off the couch seem impossible? I’ve learnt from experience that my mental health can go downhill frighteningly quickly, so perhaps it’s no surprise that bad days in depression recovery fill me with dread. My anxiety levels escalate, and thoughts of self-harm and even suicide can become overwhelming.

Sometimes, I’m able to see a bad day for what it is: a temporary blip, to be expected in mental health recovery, and not a major setback.

I know what sort of things I can do to stop it spiraling out of control, and I actually do them: I draw, play with my dog, or make plans with a friend.

But at other times, I’m just plain scared. I convince myself that I’m relapsing, and nothing I can do can make it any better.

I know I should get a bit of exercise or tell someone how I’m feeling, but I can’t. I’m paralyzed by the fear. I don’t want to worry anyone or be a burden on them, so I keep it to myself.

‘I’m just tired,’ I say, if anyone asks what’s up. And it’s true. I’m tired of living with this hateful illness. I’m tired of being such a needy, negative person. I’m tired of never having any confidence in my mental state.

On top of that, sometimes I really am just tired. It’s hard, even for me, to know what’s really going on.

When you’ve lived through the experience of a mental breakdown – especially one that happened quickly and unexpectedly – it’s hard to escape the knowledge that your illness could come back and overwhelm you with terrifying speed.

I wish I was better at taking each day as it comes, and being able to see all bad days as just that: an isolated occurrence, not an indication that things are going horribly wrong again.

But I can’t. Will I always dread bad days in depression recovery and fear the worst, or will I eventually learn to live one day at a time, confident that setbacks are just minor blips? I don’t know. I hope that as time passes, I’ll become better at keeping a sense of perspective.

But today is a bad day, and it’s hard not to be scared.

Tomorrow, I am going to wake up, and start again praying this:

  • Isaiah 43:18-9 ESV
    “Remember not the former things,
    nor consider the things of old.
     Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
    I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.
  • Isaiah 65:17 NIV
    See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
    The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.
  • Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV
  • The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
    23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
  • Ezekiel 11:18-19 ESV
    And when they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations. 19 And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh,
  • Ezekiel 36:26 ESV
    And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
  • Romans 6:3-4 NIV
    Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV
    Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
  • Ephesians 4:22-24 ESV
    to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
  • Philippians 3:13-14 NIV
    Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
  • Colossians 3:9-10 NIV
    Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
  • 1 Peter 1:3 ESV
    Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
  • Revelation 21:4-5 ESV
    He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

*EDIT: I am not suicidal. I’m completely safe. I’m just raising awareness that there are still bad days in recovery (and I am still recovering). This was just one of those days. It will pass. Thank you for your continued prayers.

Chapter Twenty-Three

** WARNING: This post contains a section that discusses suicide and depression. It could possibly be triggering. If you are struggling with these issues I would suggest either skipping this post and reading others or skipping to the end of this post. I promise there is a happy ending. **

 

Today I am twenty-three.

For some, birthdays are no more than a regular day, maybe some presents, or good wishes and cake. Nothing ever really changes when you turn another year older. It’s not like you wake up and suddenly have matured a year. It’s a gradual process, and your birthday is just a marker along that path.

My family has made a big deal out of birthdays for as long as I can remember. We (the whole family) would wake up and open presents before we all went our separate ways to work or school. We would pick out a special birthday dinner – whatever we wanted – and probably have a party (or two…or three) at some point.

This year I have a different outlook on my birthday than I ever have. I have never been more thankful to be alive.

I’ve never been happy to be alive.

I mean, I probably did when I was younger, but at that age you don’t understand the whole “life” thing yet.

As a child, I remember that I had this vague idea in my head that I wouldn’t live to be 18. I had a small voice in my mind that said by the time I reached 18 I would have gathered the courage to end my life.

I had a twisted sense of hope that came from knowing my life would end soon enough, ending the consuming fears and misery. I thought it was just a feeling or maybe my fragile, mental state saying that it was “Gods will,” however, I can now recognize it as depression. On some level, I must have known that it wasn’t completely normal, because otherwise I’m not sure why I never said anything.

I woke up on my 18th birthday. I felt shocked, relieved, hopeful and distraught, all at once. I pulled myself together enough for the next year and a half to make the world believe I was OK, to make me believe I was OK. That’s when things started to unravel. I began spiraling downwards, convincing myself this time I wouldn’t live to see 20.

I was 19 when I first attempted suicide. I cringe thinking to those days. Thinking the words: I am unlovable.

The years that followed my whole family was in continuous crisis mode. They never knew what the next day was going to hold. Heck, I was so far removed from reality that I didn’t even know what the previous days looked like never mind the coming hours.

Somehow [clearly through the grace of God], I made it through countless life or death situations.

I don’t know how many times I have tried to end my life, nor do I know the exact number of streets I’ve crossed, [purposely] without waiting for cars to pass first.

I can’t count the exact number of scars on my skin from each time I carelessly slid a piece of metal through, silently hoping I would bleed to death and never wake up.

I don’t know how many hours I have been lost along train tracks waiting for a train to come and end it all.

I have walked across this train track bridge [the view now terrifies me!]:

*Bridge photos from London Free Press

If a train had come while I was walking across this bridge I would have not survived. I had hoped I would slip through the holes between the pieces of wood I walked over or through the sides.

*But this excruciating, long chapter of my life is closing.*

I’m well on my way to recovery!

Twenty-three is fresh.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have been working towards bible college for as long as I can remember. I am moving into a transitional chapter of online courses and I am already halfway through my first course: Intro to Old Testament Studies. I’m loving the content!

I have said this is a transitional chapter because I’m practicing the coping skills I’ve perfected while living a very simple, low-stress life, now in a more stressful life. It’s proving tough but I’m happy to report that there have been no suicidal thoughts that have come with any intent. The thoughts are more fleeting. They come almost out of habit.

My brain doesn’t work the same as it used to, nor does the rest of my body. I have been out of school for 4 years. Those things themselves throw some consequential challenges into life.

I got a 77% on my first midterm! I’m proud of that. I worked extremely hard and did not think I could manage more than a 60.

Good & amazing things have come from this chapter!

LIST OF GOOD THINGS/ACCOMPLISHMENTS DURING “DISABLED” YEARS:

I had extra time to spend hours reading Gods word and just resting in His presence.  Not everyone gets this wonderful opportunity.

My personal relationship with God is stronger than ever. My desire to experience Him, love Him, and obey Him, is sometimes more than I can handle (In a good way)!

I was diagnosed with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder that had been going on for 11 years before diagnosis. I don’t know when/if I would have been diagnosed had I not started having seizures.

I have overcome treatment-resistant major depressive disorder, after the better part of three years was spent in a psychiatric hospital.

I’ve overcome some intense psychotic episodes.

I have a better ability to empathize with other people’s sorrows. It’s the kind of empathy that you can only gain from going through a dark and difficult time.

I have completely stopped self harming. (Nearly 2 years without cutting!) Just a day ago, an ER nurse even commented on my scars looking old.

*I also now view self harming as a completely ineffective coping mechanism, but because of the addictive nature it is still tempting.

About 4 years after the OCD diagnosis, the disorder is almost managed now!! **HUGE HUGE ACCOMPLISHMENT THAT REQUIRED AN CRAZY AMOUNT OF WORK**

I have my own website/blog that actually gets a large number of views (that is if I actually post…oops…)

I have been doing a lot of painting and drawing **even with a tremor!

I have trained a service dog! (With a lot of help from family, a friend, and a trainer). Now I have an incredible, life-saving dog! I wish I didn’t need her as “medical equipment”, but she keeps me laughing and I constantly talk to her. (I have learned that when you are alone in public, it’s much more fun to pet a dog than to awkwardly pretend you are texting someone…)

I have had time to draw, write, and spend time with my family before I prepare to move away for school.

Now I see that this life I live is actually so wonderful! So long as God continues to use my struggles for His glory (I have no doubt He will), I don’t mind them being there.

For a long time, birthdays acted as a sort of ‘countdown’ of my life, filled with nothing but doom. Now, they serve as a source of hope and strength, reminding me I have – and will continue to – overcome.

I have come a long way in the past few years. Now I’m able to look back and say I survived. Now I’m able to look forward and say I can continue surviving and thriving.

My child self never thought I would make it to 18, but here I am, almost five years after 18, with a desire to keep living as long as God allows, so I can do and accomplish all that he has planned for me.

Today I begin chapter twenty-three.

For This Season

I’ve been so embarrassed to ask for prayer lately because sometimes it feels like my life is just a never-ending drama. With all the seizures, OCD, depression, PTSD, new symptoms, other health illnesses we’re still trying to diagnose, and then the most recent OCD worsening, a new stomach issue, and over a week long lingering migraine thats the result of a head injury: it just feels like it should be the end of the ‘hard stuff.’ That there shouldn’t be more and if there is, it’s somehow my fault.

I have this little voice inside of me that tells me I’ve used up my entire allotment of sympathy and prayers; that life should be easy and painless and perfectly put together now because I’ve maxed out my quota for pain and people are tired of hearing about it already.

(Never mind that I am tired of living it already!!)

Against all the blaring sirens in my heart and soul telling me I am “too much” and “out of turns to ask for help” and I just need to “be quiet, suck it up and handle it on my own”…

I’m saying:

I need prayers in this season because my heart is breaking in a new kind of way that I didn’t know was possible. Who knew there were more ways for it to break? And I cringe asking for prayers, because I wish more than anyone that it was all put together already and I didn’t need them. But I do. So can you please pray for me? Again?

As I wrote in my journal God so tenderly seemed to respond in my soul, “Who put a limit on mercy, Summer? Was it me? Did I say you were out of turns for compassion, grace and love? Who told you that you were a burden and that people were weary of walking alongside you?

Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive this brother who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus looks Peter in the eye and blows his mind. “I tell you not just seven, but seventy times seven.”

Jesus looked me in the eye and whispered the same thing over my heart this week.

Who am I to limit how many times I can be on the receiving end imageof mercy and grace and forgiveness and prayers? Should I receive the tenderj and fierce prayers of my community only seven times? Or seventy times seven?

God himself is reminding me: if forgiveness is not limited, neither is mercy.

Or prayers. Or grace. Or love. Or compassion.

Do I deserve it? Have I earned it? Do I need to re-pay it? Will I have to ask again? Am I a burden? This week I am practicing the art of silencing all these questions and leaning into the grace of friends who have not once shamed me and told me to “just be well already.” Friends who have stood beside me and not grown weary in their love and prayers.

And I am standing in awe of a God who keeps whispering “seventy times seven” over me.

Maybe you need to be reminded today that seventy times seven is for you too.

Maybe you need to offer more than seven shots at grace to someone in your life.

Maybe God needs to step into your shame and fear and “people are SO tired of hearing this story from me” thoughts and remind you that this whole Gospel thing? It’s about mercy…

and mercy and mercy and mercy and mercy… the unlimited, never-runs-dry, seventy times seven kind.image.jpg

#GetLoud

The lives of people with mental health conditions are often plagued by stigma as well as discrimination. People with mental health conditions are often depicted as dangerous, violent, unpredictable, manipulative, fakers, dramatic, or exaggerated. This stigma is a reality for many people living with a mental illness, and it’s one of their greatest barriers to living a complete and satisfying life.

This week, this very stigma prevented me from getting proper medical care.

I went to see a specialist who I had been waiting a VERY long time to see. Her resident came to talk to me first then he went to talk to the Dr privately. She came in and told me that the only possible reasons my thyroid levels could fluctuating is because I’m either not taking my medication regularly or its not being absorbed properly (but she’s “pretty confident that that’s not the issue”).

I TAKE MY MEDICATION EVERYDAY-WITHOUT FAIL!!
…Sometimes an hour or so late…but I never miss it…
Then she tells me we should stop focusing on my symptoms as medical symptoms and start looking at all my other diagnosis’. (Clearly, referring to the mental health piece.) My mom asked, “So you looked at her mental health records and assume that’s all this could possibly be?” To which the Dr bluntly responded, “Yes, that’s exactly what I think.” She repeated over and over and OVER that we should get blister packs (prepackaged scheduled pill containers from the pharmacy). We told her that we put my meds in a pill organizer that is just as effective but cheaper. The Dr insisted we use blister packs because “The pharmacist puts the exact doses of medication in each day.”

Seriously!? You’re saying that you think we are COMPLETELY incapable of putting my meds in the pill container?? And WHY would I purposely take the incorrect dose!? I KNOW how sick I feel when my levels are off! And if we’re not doing it properly then why are the rest of my meds dispensed, absorbed, and working right?? If this is all a mental health problem, why am I doing so well mentally, right now, while my symptoms are so bad?

And to top it all off she told me, “There is absolutely no connection between mental health and thyroid function.” Really!? What about when my depression got really bad in December and January when both times my thyroid was extremely low? Then as soon as my TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) went back to normal I was FINE mentally! How do you explain that? Coincidence? Probably not.

What doctors need to realize is that we, as patients, don’t expect them to know everything. We really don’t. However, we do expect them to listen and treat us like intelligent, rational people. Maybe some of us are square and don’t fit into the round holes most doctors see everyday; but that doesn’t mean our symptoms aren’t real.

I also believe that this Dr may not have had any other ideas as to why my thyroid levels are fluctuating and I have all these other symptoms. She may not have an answer…honestly that’s ok.

What is not ok is her treating me like dirt.

It is not ok for her to completely write me off (before she has even met and talked to me!) just because I struggle with mental illness and my symptoms and labs are not textbook.

I am not just “a mentally ill” person. I am not my illness. I have a mental illness, yes. But I am so much more than it. I will not stand to let my mental illness be all that other people, including health care professionals, see.

This stigma is NOT OK!

 

So, how are we going to change it? 

We are going to bring as much awareness to mental health as we possibly can. We are going to shout it from the rooftops! (Too much?)

You, my faithful readers, are all going to tell your neighbours, friends, brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, and especially your children, that:

Mental illness is not something to be scared of. It can be scary to go through, certainly, but it is only a chemical imbalance in a persons brain. Make sure you tell them (this is important!) that it is not a personality flaw or character trait!! It is not fake, exaggerated, or dramatic. Tell them that, any type of mental illness can be serious, debilitating, and in some cases the person may even put themselves in dangerous situations (again, remember that this is not for attention-it is a sign that a person is ill and needs some form of treatment). Tell them that mental health problems are VERY common. Try to find a story of someone who has struggled with mental health and have recovered or are recovering. It can be mine, another friends’, a family members’, or anyone’s really. Just share a story of hope.

If you have struggled with anything mental health related I strongly encourage you to share your story with people!

~If you have been open about your struggle, than I am so proud of you! I know just how difficult that can be; the uncertainty of people’s reactions can be utterly terrifying! Please keep sharing your story-make sure to keep it as hopeful as possible!!

~If you haven’t told many people about what you have/are going through, I encourage you to tell at least 2 people-anyone! Start with me if you have to. You will be surprised at how many people will be supportive, how many people will be encouraging, and how many people have their own untold stories that you would never know about otherwise.

~If you are struggling silently, please, please, please, talk to someone! It’s extremely scary to open up to someone about something so personal, especially to a stranger, but it’s so freeing. Through talking to someone you will learn ways to deal with or manage your symptoms, and that is a wonderful feeling.

 

 

It will do the world so much good if we all could talk freely about mental health, without talking in hushed tones.

It is crucial that those on the front lines, who may be working with people who have a mental illness, receive the education and support needed to help manage bias. Programs need to be developed to teach health care professionals to identify and manage their biases toward mental illness and the people who have the mental illness, so that it doesn’t interfere with clinical care.

Training more people across the medical field in mental health issues creates the possibility of incorporating mental health screening in primary care settings, promoting early treatment and emphasising the physical component to a mental illness. There also needs to be education about the physical-psychological connection of mental health conditions and physical illnesses.

People most definitely should not be discriminated against because of their mental health conditions whether past or present. And certainly not by so called “health care professionals.” It’s just not ok.

This isn’t the first time I have been discriminated against and I don’t think it will be the last time but this time, I’m not letting it just slip by.

We need change and to get there I need your help! Please do your part to help raise awareness! Time to #GetLoud!

**THIS IS MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS WEEK!! (May 2-8th)** So even more reason to #GetLoud!

 

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