Recovery is a verb: It’s what you do!

a cure for what ails you, anxiety, call for submissions, medication, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, relationships, three hopeful thoughts, Uncategorized

I’m not going to lie–moving to Baltimore has been a bit of an adjustment for me. The whole new city, new places, new people thing doesn’t faze me, partly because I’m here with someone I love and care for deeply and can lean on, and partly because I was so desperate to get away from the Midwest, to start fresh and re-invent myself again.

The part that’s scary is not having much of a support system yet. I’ll admit it; I’m frightened because right now I don’t know many people and the ones I’ve met (and like immensely!) are my fella’s classmates. I’m in that awkward transitional phase where an introvert suddenly has to start over and find friends in the area to hang out with, and as someone who’s generally a homebody, it’s tough. It’s especially hard right now because I’m taking a gap semester to adjust, work on the blog and CTL, and find a grad school down here to continue my work toward a Master’s in Counseling Psychology. What that translates into is a lot of long days where I have to figure out what to do with myself.

I’ve had a rough few days. It always seems to hit around this time of year–I love autumn and it’s always been my favorite season, but as someone with relatively severe bipolar disorder, my brain chemistry doesn’t like the changing of the seasons so much. I’m hopeful that this year it won’t be so bad, as I’ve heard the seasons are a lot milder here in the Southeast. Still, I came to the realization last night that I need to change my meds a little bit, which is nothing unusual for me. (I have some beef with the texture of my uncoated lamotrigine tabs, which makes snapping them in half to add a half-dose for nighttime a little unpleasant texturally-speaking, but that seems pretty minor in the grand scheme of things.)

Important side note and disclaimer: I don’t recommend anyone tweaking their meds without the express permission and guidance of a psychiatrist–luckily, mine helped me develop a seasons guide to use in situations like this, where I’m unable to get in to see a doctor to make adjustments. I’m still within the prescribed dose range and am only doing this to get myself through until I’m able to start seeing a psychiatrist down here.

The other night, I finally opened up. My last relationship–a five-year marriage–was somewhat disastrous and left a ton of emotional damage. As some of you may remember, I was out of work for thirteen months because I was simply too ill to hold down a job with regular hours, and staying inside most of the time with little to do means I got a lot worse before I started getting better. I don’t want to become a dependent. I don’t want to be needy. I want to be a partner, a strong woman who is capable of supporting herself and living her own life and not feeling sad and lonely and, perhaps worst of all, soul-crushingly bored when I’m alone during the day.

To counter this, I’ve been making myself a little “schedule” for each day, just little things I can do to keep myself busy so that at the end of the day, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. It helps a little; I don’t feel as melancholy and like I wasted the day. But it’s still very much a process. Recovery is not something you either have or you don’t. It’s not like you either are or aren’t “recovered.”

Each of us has natural ups and downs in life, regardless of how well-medicated we are. We can take our pills every day and go to therapy and exercise and be social and do everything right, and we will still have low periods. It’s the nature of the illness. It doesn’t mean that we’ve failed on any level or that, as I believed for years, that we’re unsuitable partners, sons, daughters, friends. It just means that we have an illness and we’re doing everything we can to fight it. Despite our best intentions, it is always going to be there, and I’ve found that accepting that fact has it a lot easier to live with.

I’m trying to make friends with my brain again. I’m trying to make friends with the ugly voice in the back of my mind that tells me I’m not enough. It’s the same one that brings up such tiny, insignificant things from decades ago and nags me about how these events, most of which I had little control over, make me bad or less-than in some way. I talk to the negative thoughts. I tell them to shut up if I’m feeling peevish or overwhelmed, but I also try to be sympathetic. I try to rationalize with the parts of me that are still trying to drag me down.

I still externalize what I’m feeling and pretend I’m a therapist and my client is me-but-not-me, a person who has the exact same concerns and emotions and neuroses that I do. If I separate myself from the negative feelings and thoughts, it’s easier to cope. I feel a sense of power over the thoughts. I counter them with the A-B-C-D-E method of learned optimism, which, thankfully, is effective more often than not.

And most of all, I am still working hard to be kind to myself every day. When I’m feeling bad, I try to remind myself of everything I’ve accomplished so far in spite of these huge obstacles and the weight I’m still carrying around.

On a happier note, I found out that Johns Hopkins offers free counseling to students as well as family members and significant others, so I’ve put in an appointment request for short-term counseling to get me through until my Medicaid (ugh) paperwork is finished and I can find a long-term therapist and psychiatrist again.

In the meantime, I’m trying to practice good self-care and take pride and enjoyment in the little things in life, whether it’s nailing a tough piano piece or simply tidying up the apartment. I don’t want to go back to my life being all about pain. I want to keep moving forward, to keep doing more. I have huge goals for myself in life, and I refuse to let this illness keep me from accomplishing them. My stubbornness has kept me alive for 27 years, and I need to harness that and use it as a recovery tool.

Where are you in your recovery, readers? Do you have any helpful tips to share?

As always, stay safe and lovely and well. I’ll see you all again next Tuesday for another exciting News Day! And keep those submissions coming–I want as many unique voices and stories on the blog as possible!

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News Day Tuesday: Press Release – CPTSD.help

News Day Tuesday, ptsd, stigma, three hopeful thoughts

Greetings, readers! It’s News Day Tuesday once again, and I have something exciting to share this week. A little over a week ago, I was approached via email by Adriaan Bouman,  a web developer from Holland who’s created a new online community called CPTSD.help. The following is the press release I received:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

CONTACT:
Adriaan Bouman
CPTSD.help
info@cptsd.help

https://cptsd.help/

Introducing CPTSD.help

– Community-based recovery –

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: Knowing the name of it helps. Knowing that you’re not alone helps even more. CPTSD.helpis a secure, online, real-time chat platform where members can share experiences, offer support and discuss recovery topics in a safe space.

“Recovery can only take place within the context of relationships; it cannot occur in isolation.”

– Judith Lewis Herman

While C-PTSD is not yet recognised within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), it is defined as a psychological stress injury, resulting from continuous or repeated trauma over which the victim has little or no control, and from which there is no real or perceived hope of escape.

Web developer, Adriaan Bouman, created this open-source chat site not as a substitute for traditional therapy, but to establish a community that could help others on the road towards recovery. “In my own personal discovery and research I found that there are three main phases,” Bouman explains. “The first is diagnosis: identifying your condition as C-PTSD. The second phase is the journey towards recovery: a very personal journey. And the third is the period after recovery.”

This platform is for the many individuals within the middle phase. It’s for those who have identified their condition and are embarking on the journey towards recovery. Although that journey is always incredibly personal, it does not have to be taken alone.

CPTSD.help also links to many of the online resources that already exist, but what sets it apart from the rest is that its interactive nature encourages the dialogue necessary for understanding, grappling with, and hopefully overcoming C-PTSD. Discussion topics range from managing emotional flashbacks, finding the right therapist and mindfulness, to relationships, family, work, and even politics and philosophy.

Counsellors and therapists are also encouraged to join the community,” states Bouman. “The future aim is to have regular online Q&A events with experts; not only therapists, but also community members who have recovered from C-PTSD.”

– MORE –

While we may not know how many people suffer directly from the condition, we do know that there are millions out there who have been exposed to trauma on a continual basis. CPTSD.help allows us the opportunity to share valuable information, gain insights, and develop a community voice to demand a space in the DSM in the near future.

ABOUT CPTSD.help

Adriaan Bouman is a freelance front-end engineer and web developer from Holland, working out of Barcelona. He is not an expert in C-PTSD. His vision is simple: by building the platform for community engagement and support, those experts will eventually arise and help guide those still starting their recovery journey. No stranger to the power of online communities and international collaboration, Bouman brings a wealth of expertise in terms of digital and user experience design, to ensure CPTSD.help remains a secure and interactive platform for safe chat.

– END – 

I’m intrigued, to say the least. In general, I don’t jump into online spaces about mental illness because I usually go online to distract myself from whatever’s going on inside my head. However, this community is one to watch and I’m definitely going to be checking it out.

What communities are you into, readers? Have you had any experiences with targeted sub-Reddits (r/bipolar, for example)? What are your thoughts on an online community that includes patients as well as mental health professionals?

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I can make it through anything.

self-harm, suicidal ideation, three hopeful thoughts

I can make it through anything.

I lost my job on Friday due to excessive absences…too many doctor’s appointments, and I was unable to make up my hours. It’s very upsetting, but I understand the decision.

Yesterday, my best friend took me to Ultimate Arts to begin my thigh piece. I sat for six hours and started the color work before my body had had enough; I started getting shooting pains up through my hip and decided it was time to call it quits. I’m going back on September 16th to finish the color. I think I’ll go with bright blue, green, purple, and perhaps a bit of yellow as well.

I woke up this morning feeling very depressed, like I’m a burden to my husband and a failure for losing my job. But then I looked at my thigh and the tattoo on my wrist and realized that I’ve made it through so much already…this is hardly the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.

I’m feeling a little emotionally raw but still hopeful.

It’s been a full week since my last suicidal thought.

a cure for what ails you, major depression, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, self-harm, stigma, suicidal ideation, three hopeful thoughts

I can’t say I’ve been happy, but I haven’t really been super-depressed, either. I feel content and more at peace; for now, things are pretty quiet inside my head. There have been a few instances of the “dark core” piping up, but I’ve been able to shut the nasty automatic thoughts down with an efficiency I’ve never experienced before.

Is this what recovery feels like?

I’ve been getting out and taking a walk every night, at least 30 minutes at a time. Sometimes, I go out multiple times, usually when I start feeling restless and trapped in the apartment. It’s such a relief and so freeing to know that I’m not helpless, I’m not trapped. There are places I can go, things to see. I am becoming more comfortable with being alone with myself and just sitting with my thoughts—and my diagnosis.

There’s this huge misconception that people with bipolar disorder are loose cannons, that we’re violent and unpredictable. Crazy. Out of control. I’m learning that while it may happen to the best of us from time to time, it’s certainly not the norm or the default state.

I met a lovely gentleman, also bipolar, on Monday night. We took a walk to Mendota Park at dusk and sat on the rocks by the water, discussing our respective attempts to eliminate our own maps. Just being in the company of someone who knows what it’s like and being able to speak frankly about the ins and outs of this illness was incredibly healing for me, and I found myself able to really relax for the first time since my diagnosis.

There’s not much else to report right now…I have therapy tonight, my first session in three weeks, and I have plenty of things to discuss. A dear friend of mine and D’s is coming into town on Saturday and accompanying me to my tattoo session on Sunday afternoon. I can’t wait to cover up these ugly scars, to remind myself that although it’s a part of my past, it’s just a story now—it’s not happening to me anymore. The worst, for now, seems to be over.

A change in the weather

a cure for what ails you, major depression, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, suicidal ideation, three hopeful thoughts

I was out for a walk yesterday when it hit me: I haven’t felt actually depressed since Thursday. Occasionally anxious and agitated? Sure, but mostly in response to external stressors. I’m mostly flat/content, but have had a few moments of what I think is mild happiness. The climate in my head isn’t quite sunny and 75 yet, but it’s slowly improving.

The lamictal seems to be doing its job, but I’m still living in fear of the rash. Every time I feel itchy (which happens frequently, considering how much I’ve been outside lately and my allergies to tree pollen), I freak out and pop allergy pills and repeatedly ask D. to check and make sure I’m not getting blotchy. The actual rash doesn’t scare me—it’s the prospect of having the one thing that’s finally making me feel stable stripped away from me without warning.

Being outside, going for long walks around the pond (especially when D. works nights, when I get too anxious and lonely to sit in the apartment by myself) has been incredibly therapeutic. In Middleton, there are so many places to walk to, so many things to see. It’s not a large town, but it’s a step up from Cross Plains, which was tiny, and my hometown of Dubuque, which was not exactly what one might call “pedestrian-friendly.”

How do you all feel about being in nature? Does it help your mood to just get out, even if you’re alone?

Recovery is an ongoing process.

major depression, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, self-harm, stigma, suicidal ideation, three hopeful thoughts

It’s been a week since my last slip-up.

Last Wednesday, due to a combination of preexisting emotional rawness and the news that a relative had been saying some less-than-complimentary things about me, I had a breakdown and ended up self-injuring. D. caught me before I was able to do too much damage, but it was a reminder to both of us that no matter how “okay” I seem, this is going to be a tenuous, ongoing process. There will be setbacks. It is going to be a struggle for a very long time. Just as a recovering alcoholic fights cravings, I’m going to have to fight against the urge to harm myself. I refuse to beat myself up over setbacks, however, because it requires an immense amount of strength to get better and stay well, keep my thoughts bright and positive and healthy. Some days, I simply do not have the strength, and that’s okay. I’m human.

Please excuse the fact that I have my legs splayed like a hussy in the background. 😛

On Friday, one of my very best friends from college came into town to help us move. Before we all headed to bed, he presented me with a lovely gift: a rubber band he’d decorated with his signature art style. I honestly didn’t know what to say—I was deeply touched by the gesture and really appreciated it. It’s a bit large, but I can wear it up near my elbow. (Snapping there hurts less and causes smaller welts, anyway.)

A close-up of the design.

I’m seeing my new psychiatrist for my second evaluation this afternoon, so I’ll put up a longer post about that later. But I wanted to acknowledge the overwhelming kindness of my friends and family and say that I am incredibly grateful for the people in my life who influence me in positive, life-affirming ways.

Ink.

self-harm, stigma

I have a consultation at Ultimate Arts for my thigh piece tonight at 6:00. Rad! As I mentioned in a previous post, I have some self-harm scars on my right upper thigh. The habit was actually very recently acquired (January of this year) and aside from two slip-ups, I haven’t done it since mid-April, so I’m making progress. However, I want to get a big, colorful tattoo to cover the scars and also to deter myself from doing it again.

My therapist was pretty surprised to hear I hadn’t started earlier. She thinks that the tattoos (the one on my wrist was basically a “suicide prevention” tattoo) are more of a Band-Aid than anything. However, I think anything that will keep me from hurting myself while I work on addressing the emotions that prompt the self-harm is a good thing.

I’m planning on getting a big paisley cluster with floral designs and tree branches/roots worked into the shapes, as well as the first stanza of “Elm” by Sylvia Plath. I’m thinking 5″ x 9″ is a good size, though I might go larger depending on the artist’s ideas and guidance. I know fuckall (pardon my French) about tattooing, so I prefer to defer to the experts when it comes to the specifics.

I know the bottom, she says. I know it with my great tap root:

It is what you fear.

I do not fear it: I have been there.

Aside from the text and the concept, I’m giving the artist free reign to experiment with paisley as well as colors. I have absolutely no color preference (aside from not-orange and not-yellow). Blues and greens might look nice, but I’ve been drawn to violet lately. It’s an adventure!

Readers, are you painted? Do your tattoos have any special meaning?

Learning to create rather than destroy.

ptsd, self-harm, stigma, suicidal ideation, Uncategorized

I cut for the first time in early January of this year. It happened almost as an accident, and I immediately told on myself (to my husband), vowing never to do it again. Three months later, I’ve done it countless times despite promises to myself and D. that I wouldn’t.

The last time I hurt myself was Tuesday night, two days ago. I want that to be the last time forever and when I was trying to think of alternatives, I looked at the tattoo on my wrist (done shortly after the New Year as a promise that when I die, it’s not going to be by my own hand, and an acknowledgment of my struggle with suicidal thoughts and depression). The answer was so simple…I’d been thinking about eventually getting a large thigh piece in a few years as an apology to myself and my body for the hell I’ve put it through, not just through cutting but through other self-medicating, self-destructive habits.

I can’t, for the life of me, remember what triggered me earlier, but I do know that instead of cutting, I decided to draw a big, colorful design on my thigh, which is where I always self-injure. It actually worked–the urge went away and now I have something cheerful to look at when I get low. When it washes away, I’ll create a new one. I swear I’ll keep doing it until I conquer the urge to hurt myself when I feel sad, lonely, frightened, ashamed, or angry fades away for the last time.

DSCF8438 DSCF8436