Recovery Diary 10/29/18

Stick with it. It gets better. Trust me. -Note to self

Everything is different moment by moment. Things peak and then crash each time I open my mouth to breathe. My lungs are unstable pipe bombs that vacillate between filling with fire or cotton, leaving me to either breathe out sparks or clouds. Waking up usually begins with a neutral emotional radar, one in which there is no attachment to how the day is going to pan out. But, then somewhere along the passing moments I feel my thighs rub together or my stomach crinkle into a cascade of rolls. Something, anything – a memory, a song, a smell- could set off the pipe bombs of my lungs. Then I breathe out fire and heat and rage and despair. Internally I spiral, slowly unwinding everything I knew to be truth only moments before. Everything becomes bleak and hopeless and relapse feels like my only option. I become flooded with memories and past mistakes. I am haunted by the voices of past selves whispering of my worthlessness and failures. Essentially I explode. My lungs pop, ricocheting debris and destruction through my throat and out my mouth. Through my eyes, the entire room crumbles, I melt, and everyone around sees this dramatic decline, but, in reality, it’s invisible. The whole explosion that is causing my complete emotional breakdown, only I can see. I am alone. Completely alone in a war that no one knows anything about. And that is worse than swallowing your own bombs.

I could open my mouth. Tell those who love me when I am at war. Explain to them what it feels like, how I am truly doing, what is going on inside my brain. But it feels like betrayal. Betrayal of my mind, my recovery, and most importantly their trust because bombs go off all the time. I don’t know when the bombs will be triggered. I can’t predict why, who, or what will cause the warfare. So, fear keeps me from believing that loved ones won’t be overly worried when they discover how violent my internal experience can still be. I believe that they believe that things are now calm, neutral, and stable- which they are in comparison to where I have come from. I have moved from the front lines to- I don’t know- an army base, one that is targeted regularly but not under an immediate death threat? But that’s the reality of recovery from any addiction. It’s a constant battle and I’m not sure that anyone who has not walked through the struggle could understand. It’s not hopeless. Those of us in recovery know this. It’s not always bleak and dark. But, how can you explain that war isn’t always terrible? There are moments of joy, freedom, love, community, confidence, and hope. Even soldiers find a family away from home. They eat meals together, they find the joy of the sunshine. There is a sense of accomplishment when they go to bed at night because, hey, they lived. They lived another day. Addicts, when we lie down sober from our addictive behaviors, we feel the same. We lived. We lived another day without destroying ourselves.

As the months pass and I get farther into recovery, I start to forget I am at war. I believe that one day the war will come to an end, that true freedom comes when the my flag is planted into the ground and all my demons retreat. I kill more with each passing day. I become stronger. My enemies grow more fearful. The war has been going on for so long, but I am finally on the winning side. Some demons are even converting and beginning to fight on my behalf. Even they are tired. We all just want some peace. Peace comes sometimes now. I think you innately begin to manifest the things you desire most.

Peace comes in the form of car rides with the windows down and the music up loud. Joy is when Erik and I dance through the streets at night in the rain critiquing societal standards simply by being alive. Freedom comes during midnight custard runs or pie parties with my roommates. The brick wall that kept me from life is breaking down. I am getting more and more tastes of the other side. This is why the moments where my lungs explode and fall deeply into myself through a battle of fury and rage are bearable. I take them with stride. I welcome them in the same ways I have learned to greet rejection.

One more battle with my mind brings me one step closer to total freedom in recovery.

Recovery Diary 09/24/18

Sounds of a rushing stream trickle out of my phone, trying to trick my brain into thinking I’m not actually in my bedroom on the third floor of an apartment complex in downtown Chicago. My roommate isn’t vacuuming and my downstairs neighbors aren’t blasting shitty pop music. It’s the illusion of calm- the roaring fan blowing cold air, the phone singing of rushing water, the candles flickering offering up vanilla and toasted coconut. I trick my mind into believing I’m somewhere in the forest burning incense and sleeping under the stars while my mind tricks me into believing I am fat, unwanted, and all alone. It’s a trade-off, an unwritten contract, an agreement made some time ago that neither of us can seem to let go of. It’s a habit at this point, one that I am slowly trying to break.

It’s like trying to stop biting your nails. At first, you don’t even realize you’re doing it until your thumb is between your teeth and the top part of the nail is ripped off. Awareness is the first step. I tell this to the girls I work with all the time. We don’t want to hear that because it suggests that the process standing in front of us is far more intense than we expected. But, awareness is the first step. It was and always will be my fall back point. I find myself day-dreaming about losing weight, I light the candles. I start heading towards the scale at the gym, I listen to the stream in my headphones. I lie in bed reminiscing on depressed thoughts, I turn on the fan and allow myself to fall asleep and reset.

I trick my mind to keep my mind from tricking me. I used to believe it was a trade-off, a balanced relationship, one that would always leave me on the same level as my mental illnesses. I thought recovery was just about managing symptoms and thoughts and behaviors. Take my meds, eat my food, go to therapy, wash, rinse, and repeat.

I started to lose track of the days, but somewhere through the last couple of months I have risen above the tricks of my mind. I have found ways around them. Awareness became planning and planning became actions towards fighting back. The sounds of the stream, the candles, the fan, my art, my books, my snacks, the pool, the medication in my cabinet- these aren’t tricks anymore. These things are my safety net. They make me feel safe when my mind is a battleground. I have found weapons to quiet the cannons and gunshots. I know the secret now. Sometimes I just forget I have the tools.

Recovery Diary 09/16/18

When I was in Costa Rica in February, everyone gathered on the beach with drums and ribbons to dance, howl, and sing as the sun set. There was a loud roar from the entire crowd when the sun made its final descent along the horizon. When the party slowly faded and the sky turned from pink to purple, we all packed up and started filed like little ants back into our tents in the forest before it got too dark to see anything.

When I was in Thailand in June, we sat on the beach singing mantras and strumming guitars while lying on our backs in a circle. We sang louder and howled as the sky turned pink and the sun dipped away for the night. We stayed on the beach until twilight and the mosquitoes became unbearable. Then we went back to our bungalows, made curry, and danced with our host families young daughter.

Today, I was sitting on a deck in Key Largo watching the sun set over the ocean’s horizon line while listening to Tash Sultana and laughing with my best friends. We smiled and argued over whose picture captured the sky’s beauty the best- even though the pictures were nearly the same. Then we sat in rocking chairs and talked nonsense before coming inside to prepare for tomorrow’s day full of adventures.

Nighttime tends to be the most difficult for me. It is the time when urges are heightened and nightmares come to life behind my close eyelids. It is where I lie in the dark afraid of the hurt child inside me. It is when my stomach is bloated from a day’s food and I take another sleep aid to try and calm my racing mind- which has suddenly convinced me that I am nothing but cellulite. The dark brings the demons out in me. The shadows of the night and the demons from my past are best friends. The speak to one another underneath the black sky like old lovers- embracing and precious.

Some nights are full of tender moments. Moments that make my soul smile and my heart race. Like last night when my friend and I stayed at this man’s house in Coco beach. It was just a room that he rented out for $25 a person. He was older and single. He said he gets lonely and likes meeting interesting people. There was another guy staying in the back room. We all chatted, ate rice and beans, watched Avatar, and swam in the pool. The night was peaceful. It was free of the voices in my head. But I woke up the next day to my friend telling me I kept hitting and pushing her away in my sleep. I shrugged it off, but there was a sinking in my stomach. Even on nights where I believe the peace I always pray for has finally overtaken the demons, I am reminded of those memories in my head.

“Nightmares…I have nightmares sometimes,” I explain, “I’m sorry.” Suddenly I am embarrassed and hurry to finish Charles’s dishes.

I don’t want people to know I still struggle.

I am still hesitant about breaking the illusion of perfection in recovery.

Two nights ago I was in the forest, dancing to Ben Howard at midnight in this room called the Glass Castle. As the music continued, the harder I danced. There was passion pouring out of fingers, anger expelling from my feet. I felt powerful. I felt so damn powerful. Then the music stopped. I noticed the sweat covering my legs and stomach. I noticed the dark. I laid down. I closed my eyes and listened as the next song began. I sang along, humming mainly because I didn’t know the words. A peace rushed over me. A sensation of gratitude and longing. Longing for time to bend and swallow me into this memory. Everything just felt right because while completely encapsulated by the music and night, it all made sense.

Recovery, like everyone always says, is not linear. There are ups and downs, twists and turns. Sometimes you go left when the map wanted you to take a right, but you get rerouted and everything turns out in the end- if only you keep moving. But, recovery is so much more than that.

Recovery is simply life.

The sunsets, the nightmares at Charles’s, the dancing in the forest, these were all moments that reminded me what it means to be human. You have these divine realizations of the beauty of each passing day, the celebration with communities about the coming night and the promise of the next sunrise. You have dark moments like the nightmares that keep you grounded. They remind me where I come from. They remind me of my strength, of my resilience, of my continued hope. Then there is the dancing and the freedom of my movements. The sweat, the heavy breathing, the music, the ground beneath my body, and the intensely black forest sky above my head- these are the moments of understanding. These are the moments when this crazy recovery journey I have been on, for a second, appears in my mind as a cohesive narrative.

 

 

Recovery Diary 09/12/18

It’s 8pm but it feels like 2am because I spent all of last night tapping my foot against the wall and counting the shadowy lines through the window panes. I’m in Florida, somewhere in the woods, in a cabin by a underground cave that I’ll be scuba diving tomorrow. I love it. I love the taste of adventure fresh on the tip of my tongue and the promise of the water that the next sunrise is going to bring, but I also struggle, even on vacations, even on adventures.

I forgot all of my medication in Chicago. I realized it at 11pm last night and my heart sank. Of all things, of all the damn things I could have forgotten, it had to be the medicine. The one thing that isn’t easily accessible to me when I am driving around the southern forests looking for random caves to jump in to. I had to make frantic calls and find a CVS the next morning. I felt nauseous from the lack of medication last night and my heart was racing because I didn’t take the pill that keeps the arrhythmia at bay.

I have a chill personality, but a racing mind. I have so many ideas and thoughts and plans and dreams that jump behind my eyelids with each passing moment. The tree on my left inspired a short story playing out behind my right eyelid while the song in my ear plays a modern dance piece behind my other eye. Call it the syndrome of a creative. Call it the artist’s madness. Call it whatever you want, but there are moments where I lose it. Not externally, no externally I have never been calmer, but internally I am a bucket of boiling lava that is raging a war against my intestines and throat.

I started making a list of all the things I needed to accomplish when I got home. At what point did my racing thoughts turn from creative to anxiety? I couldn’t tell you. Perhaps somewhere between arguing with the pharmacist and incessantly calling my psychiatrist hoping that she would call back. But, there was a switch and suddenly the adventures of my friend and I in the forest, scuba diving, and camping in tree houses became an obsessive search of the vaccines I never got and what diseases I am now going to die from. I don’t know why, of all things to worry about, vaccines popped into my head. Maybe because I had been dealing with doctors to try and figure out my medication? Who knows why the mind does what it does? But either way, I googled Walgreen’s clinics next to me and tried to make an appointment. I mean, might as well go in tomorrow so that I don’t worry for my entire trip right? Plus if I wait another day before being vaccinated, I could be infected tomorrow and I’d never forgive myself.

The mind is a crazy machine. It needs to be carefully watched and attuned or else it may run rampant and convince you that you should spend your time in rural Florida searching for a Walgreen’s clinic instead of diving the underwater cave 100 yards from your cabin.

Flash forward to passing out around 8:45pm and waking up to the 90 degree heat of the morning. Flash forward to a night’s rest and the magic of sleep. Sleep has a remarkable ability to reset the mind and challenge my irrational thoughts, worries, and obsessions.  I decided the mix of sleep deprivation and forgetting my medication resulted in the panic. I’m sure anyone reading this would have been able to figure that one out. But when you’re trapped in that moment, everything feels so real, so heavy, so extreme.

Yesterday was a day heightened by anxiety. Today was a day enlightened by adventure.

Diving into that cave…breathtaking.

The thrill of swimming through those smalls crevices…heart-stopping.

The beauty of the pictures….unexplainable.

The moments…cherished.

Recovery Diary 09/05/18

Recovery is not linear.

Recovery is not linear.

Recovery is not linear.

Recovery…..is…..not…..

I have heard it a thousand times. In fact, I have heard it so much that the words have started to disintegrate the minute they fall out of professionals mouths. I’m not asking for linear. I just want relief. I want a surgeon to go into my brain and remove the parasite that has made its home between my sanity and freedom.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am in recovery. I am the farthest I have ever been in recovery. Months are passing and I am slowly becoming more and more of myself, but I have these nights. These god-forsaken nights where everything folds in on itself and I am left curled into a little ball of confusion and desperation. And then what happens when I feel small, conflicted, and stressed? I want to lose weight. I dream about it, fantasize about numbers, I pinch at my skin, I revel at the release that removing this layer of cellulite would give me. It’s my default. Same as a drug addict craving a hit. I crave emptiness, numbness. I am addicted to food. I know that. I am constantly reminded of this fact.

My day was perfect. The morning was great, peaceful. I went to a bookstore and spent way too much money on books that excited every cell in my body. Books are my high. They have always been there for me. The stories can bring me far, far away from my reality. I could read for weeks, never speaking to anyone, and be the happiest girl in the world. Of course, that would be unhealthy and weird by societal standards so instead I limit myself to hours at a time with incense and jazz music playing the background. My safe place. Therapists always tell you, you need a safe place.

Anyways, the morning was great. Had some avocado toast that was bomb. Listened to a Trevor Hall’s new album, and drank a latte that was poured by the gods. Then I walked into therapy and everything started to shift. The air in the office was thick. I felt suffocated, uneasy. I wanted to turn around and run away, but I always feel this way when I walk into therapy. It is in this tiny little office on the third floor, that I am confronted with all the issues I ignore throughout the week. I am asked how I am, what I need to talk about, and I shrug. It is the usual routine. I never know. I always feel fine like there’s nothing to be discussed. I am eating and apparently that translates as nothing is wrong in my life.

Therapy leaves me walking like a maniac down the sidewalk. I am checking my email, Instagram, texting people back. I can’t do one thing. I have to have my mind racing with many many thoughts in order to keep this panicked energy at bay. I am manic. I am manic. I am sure that I am manic right now. But I just had a session. It could be anxiety. It could be mania. I could be dying of some brain tumor that is pressing on the sanity part of my mind and turning me crazy. The possibilities are endless, but my doctor just increased my meds so I rule out mania. I have no other symptoms of a brain tumor, and I fall back on I am panicking. Suddenly I wish it was something more because I have no idea what to do with this moments of sheer anxiety. I turn on my car. The gas light is on. I can’t pay for gas. The prices are so high right now. But I Google gas stations and pick the one with the lowest price. I start driving. Traffic is awful, my hands are shaking, but I make it to the gas station only to realize it is the Costco one and the line is crazy long and I am not even sure that I can get gas here because I am not a member of the Costco tribe. So I go to the next gas station. There’s another line. I wait and wait and wait. It starts pouring. Traffic is getting worse. I need to get to work by 5. I will never make it by 5. I call my boss. She doesn’t answer. I call the house. My co-counselor picks up. I tell her to ask someone to help her make dinner. She says no one else is there. I swear. I tell her I am sorry. I’ll be there as soon as possible. I beat myself up about being an idiot for spending so much at the book store. I put the gas on my credit card. At least I’ll get rewards points for traveling. I get on the highway. Suddenly everyone has forgotten how to drive because of the rain. I try to sing to music. I am still panicking. Nothing is helping. I roll into work a half hour late. I frantically start preparing dinner and things seem okay for a moment. I start to get in a grove. I talk to the patients. They make me feel at home, they make me feel welcome, they make me feel like I have a purpose. Work is good. It keeps me busy. But then as the shift comes to a close I start to spiral. The panic I shoved down the moment I walked into work resurfaces and all I can think about is the eating disorder. I start dreaming about it, planning my relapse, how to get to the grocery store, how to lose weight, how to binge, how to get a scale, on and on and on. My mind is relentless. I can’t turn it off. I start pinching the dimples on my thighs and panicking about how large I have gotten. Everything feels bleak and hopeless. I drive home. I listen to Julien Baker’s “Turn Out the Lights” and everything changes…

Do you ever have those moments where there’s the perfect song at the perfect time? The song is a little bleak, but it spoke to me in that moment. Then I was reminded of tomorrow. That even these hard moments in recovery, even the worst days are only 24 hours. Ride the wave. Come on Morgan, ride the wave. Don’t do something you are going to regret in the morning. I drive straight home and immediately get into bed. I close my eyes and sigh. I made it. The demons didn’t catch me. I made it another day. I made it through another battle. And I fall asleep exhausted from the war I had been fighting for the years and years and years.

Bee’s #myunpolishedjourney Story

#myunpolishedjourney stories are stories individuals share about their journey with mental illness and recovery. Interested in sharing? Email us at info@unpolishedjourney.org.

Tell me a little about yourself. 

My name is Bee, and I am 21 years old. I am hoping to return to education in September to study Psychology after taking some time off to focus on my mental health and to truly start to put my all into recovery. I love reading, writing poetry, spending time with the people I love, and spending time advocating and talking about what I am passionate about (which is a big part of @madetobebee). I’ve also recently started doing yoga and incorporating more activity and exercise into my life, which I am doing gradually and carefully due to living with chronic illness (fibromyalgia). But so far, I am enjoying it!

What has your mental health journey been like?

I was trying to find one word to sum up my mental health journey, but it’s not possible. I have felt the most shattering depression and hopelessness imaginable, but also the most overwhelming happiness and joy that I would not trade for anything. I first started experiencing mental health difficulties when I was 11 years old and just starting secondary school. I remember feeling all of these heightened, intense emotions and not knowing how to deal with them or what to call them. It wouldn’t be until 8 years later that I would be diagnosed with Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder. And so I turned to self-harm, which became my coping mechanism when all of the emotions became too much – that is, until last year.

For around a year now, I have been clean from those kinds of behaviours as my emotions and moods have become much more regulated by taking a break from education and focusing on my mental health. Leaving University was an incredibly hard decision for me, and one that I was pretty much forced to make; I was in a dark, dark place and was phoning crisis numbers practically every other day. I was holding on as hard as I could for the people around me – but I was falling, deep and fast.

I ended up coming home for Christmas break early and was put under Home Treatment care with a crisis team, as an alternative to hospitalisation. At first, nurses were coming out to see me every day or every other day to make sure I was still here and to monitor my mental health. This saved my life. I’m here now, and I aim to do my best to help others in similar places because I want to show them that living with a mental illness is entirely possible.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced in pursuing recovery?

I’ve always compared myself to other people – which isn’t a surprise, considering that’s what we are all encouraged to do. We’re never good enough, pretty enough, funny enough, thin enough. We’re never enough – we are always told we have to strive for more. This has been one of the hardest things for me to overcome; in fact, I’m still learning how to. It’s a process, and that’s okay. At the start of my recovery, I was constantly comparing myself to my friends and the people around me. “They’ve all nearly finished university, and now I’m a dropout. I have no job, I have nothing. I’m a failure.”

But now I know that’s not true. Sometimes my mind tricks me into believing it’s true. But most of the time, I can talk myself down from it. I left education to focus on myself and my mental health. I’ve come so far in my own mental health journey and recovery, which you might not be able to see on paper, but that’s not important. What’s important is how I feel, and the progress I’m making. I’m hopefully returning to education later this year, which, yes, is later than my friends. But that’s not important either. We shouldn’t compare our journey’s to others. All lives and all journies look different: that’s the beautiful thing about them. I’m not a failure, I did what is best for me – and that self-awareness is something I’m incredibly thankful to have developed and will continue to use to my advantage. I will access the help I am deserving of instead of believing I am not worthy, I will pace myself and take breaks when I need to, and, most of all, I will be kind to myself. And if I do not achieve this all of the time, that’s okay. We are doing our best, and that’s all that we can ever do.

What helps you maintain recovery?

Writing has been a massive help to me. I love poetry; listening to spoken word, reading poetry, and writing it. It helps me release a lot of emotions I may have been suppressing, and I can come to terms with them in a way that I find productive and helpful. Listening to and reading poetry also reminds me that I am not alone in my pain, or my struggles, because it helps unite me with others that are experiencing similar things in words. Using our energy for things that make us feel whole and happy is something we should always make time for.

What advice do you have for someone in the early stages of recovery?

I know that this is difficult, and believing that things can possibly be different is harder than anyone can ever imagine. I know that sometimes it is easier to live in darkness than to risk finding light and losing it. But you are worthy of living a life of love, and hope, and happiness, and joy with meaningful relationships. One with the kind of good moments that make things worth holding on to. Yes, there will be sadness too. But the love, the hope, the good moments we bank, we can use them. We can hold on to them. So know that it’s okay to feel and express all of the feelings. Recovery and healing are not linear. There is no right or wrong way to heal. Go at your own pace – it isn’t a race. Take as much time as you need to focus on yourself, on your mental health and wellbeing. Prioritise it. Don’t ever feel guilty for learning to put it, and yourself, first. You are important, you always have been and will continue to be. It’s time you know that.

Imade’s #myunpolishedjourney Story

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m Imade, (pronounced ee-MAH-day), a 30-year-old black woman who deals with severe depression. I grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina.

I’m a writer. After ignoring this for years, I realize writing is the primary way I process my experiences and share them with the world.

I also have a passion for mental health and centering African-American narratives. The black community is often left out by the mental health system through expensive and overly complicated health insurance, insensitive mental health advice, and criminalization as well as mass incarceration.

Personally, I’ve gone through so much pain trying to fit into what a black person is supposed to be. I don’t want anyone else to go through that. I hope my platform, Depressed While Black, liberates black people to be their most authentic selves, even in their mental health life.

What has your mental health journey been like?

My mental health journey has been really hard and it is still hard. I had the toughest winter of my life this last season in experiencing the loss of relationships, the loss of my grandma, and some pretty significant work stress that exacerbated my depression. I was in a really dark place.

Since then, I’ve tried to change my life to make my life worth living. I’m investing in self-care which for me, looks like weightlifting and building skills in areas I want to grow in. It also looks like leaving my job and searching for a career change in a field that is more sustainable for my mental wellness.

So my mental health journey looks like a lot of tinkering, a lot of falls, a lot of mistakes, but also a lot of recovery as well. It’s messy and non-linear. I have not overcome depression at all. And I feel that is my strength as a mental health advocate: to reveal what ongoing mental illness is like as a black person.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced in pursuing recovery?

Institutional racism to be honest. And it’s not always in your face. Institutional racism can look like a psychiatrist telling you that you’re bipolar because you write in your notebook. That happened to me. This made me wonder if my psychiatrist, who was a woman of color but not black, was unable to perceive my black intellect because she didn’t see black people as being capable of having intellect.

I’ve had therapists ignore the cultural context that I live in. I was told to leave school without them knowing what my home life is first.

There are so many blind spots in the mental health system that ignores what black people go through. That feeling of being invisible when you need to be seen is so painful. I’m so glad for mental health resources like Therapy For Black Girls that connect black people with mental health professionals that see them and affirm them.

What helps you maintain recovery?

I’m in a period of transition right now, but I’m hoping to get a therapist once I move. I need a long-term therapist and some stability because it’s been tough bouncing from therapist to therapist.

I enjoy taking voice lessons. It’s nerve-wracking and weird but when you feel you progressed, it’s an incredible feeling.

Since I’m a writer, I have a difficult relationship with writing as self-care because writing is my job. But I hope to journal more, and in a non-judgmental way. That’s really hard for me but I want to do this.

What advice do you have for someone in the early stages of recovery?

I would say to not be afraid of your rock bottom because you can get through it. The fear of my lowest point made me do a lot of harmful things like act impulsively in my personal decisions. Sometimes you just need to be patient with yourself and realize you can’t always speed up your recovery. Sometimes you just need to do the same small, empowering steps you did yesterday. And with that repetition, you get better. There really isn’t a magic pill for mental illness. Recovery often comes from the mundane things.

It’s Okay to Struggle to See the Good

Written by: Zoe Speirs, contributing writer.  Follow more of her journey on her Instagram, @boporecoverywarrior.   

In a day and age where self-care is finally being made a priority, we find ourselves bombarded with messages of how we should practice gratitude – and whilst practicing gratitude is important and feeds the soul, it’s pretty hard to be grateful for things when life is hard.  It’s hard to be grateful when the world feels like it’s against you, but you know what? You know what we don’t get told? It’s okay to feel this way. It’s okay to struggle to see the good and be grateful for the small things – your feelings are valid, and sometimes it’s not easy to see beyond the clouds and find the rays of sunshine.

I’m a strong believer that everything happens for a reason, no matter how painful it might feel at the time.  Despite this belief, it can still be difficult to see past the pain you’re currently in. We are told to be grateful, but also be present – sometimes, doing both can be painful. You can lose a family member, and although you have an incredible support network around you and amazing opportunities coming your way, it can still be pretty impossible to feel grateful for anything. Seems valid, right? But with pressure to constantly show gratitude and see good in situations, there often comes feelings of guilt, a feeling that you’re drowning when you can’t seem to find the good. This guilt of not being some radiant, positive person all the time. Of not being like that really zen Instagrammer that has her life together.

When you feel this way, you need to hit the brakes on and take a step back. We are all human, and we feel. If you can find gratitude for the little things in life when things are tough, that’s something worth celebrating. But we need to take the pressure off to constantly find the good. Picture this: if you miss an episode of your favourite programme, is it okay to beat yourself up about it? Or are you going to accept that you had a fun dinner planned with your friends and just live in the moment? The same applies here – you’re trying to find gratitude in your day-to-day life, but when you can’t because life happened, why should guilt be the predominant feeling when this practice is meant to be uniquely good for the soul (and mental health).

So lovelies, take a step back, breathe, let yourself feel – the rays of sunshine will find you once again.

 

Featured image by Johannes Plenio

Maybe I Don’t Know

Written by: Emily Blair, Director of Operations

Image source

Riding home on the L from my karate class this week, Jon Bellion’s song “Maybe IDK” came on shuffle.  The song states a variety of “I wonder why statements…”. Here are some that Bellion mentions in the song:

I wonder why I say yes to everyone in my life.

I wonder why I can’t run that fast in my dreams.

I wonder why I miss everyone and I still don’t call.

As I sat listening to the song on the train, I thought about how I would finish those “I wonder why…” statements.  The theme of the song touches on questioning why something is the way that it is or why something happened – something we all have probably done.  Sitting on the train car, I started to think of my mental health journey and started to finish those “I wonder why” statements in this framework.

I wonder why I still get anxious when I go to karate.

I wonder why I still have difficulty setting boundaries and saying no.

I wonder why my depression still creeps in.

I wonder why I’m not as bold and confident and sure of myself as her.

I wonder why I put up walls when I know vulnerability is so important.

I wonder why I even struggle with anxiety, depression, and body image issues in the first place.

This list could go on and on and on and on.  That would be an uplifting post, wouldn’t it?  

The truth is, I think that in our journeys’ with mental illness and recovery, we often get bogged down with figuring out everything from A to Z.  What is the root cause of my anxiety and depression, what are strategies to saying no, how can I stop comparing myself to other people, etc., etc.  We create plans, attend groups, take our medication, and when we still have a panic attack or when we still struggle with that one fear food, our head becomes filled with “I wonder why” statements.  This cycle is so dangerous because mental illness will always be an “I wonder why.” I wonder why people have to struggle with it to begin with, so where do we get ourselves if we just keep asking why?

The song is not solely about questioning why certain things are the way that they are.  The pre-chorus and chorus say this:

Although I guess if I knew tomorrow

I guess I wouldn’t need faith

I guess if I never fell, I guess I wouldn’t need grace

I guess if I knew His plans, I guess He wouldn’t be God

So maybe I don’t know, maybe I don’t know…

But maybe that’s okay.

I can’t help but sit back and marvel at how true these statements are.  Now, I believe in a higher power, a God whose fingerprint is always at work in our lives.  In fact, spirituality is a core value of Unpolished Journey. In recognizing this, I think there are some things we may not understand for a long time or possibly never understand in our journey with mental illness and recovery.  And if we constantly question why we are still struggling, we’ll be left walking in circles, because, while there may be some behaviors someone is partaking in that are feeding his or her mental illness, the truth of the matter is we will never really know – we’ll never know why he struggles with bulimia or she turns to alcohol or he has manic episodes.  

I think of it this way.  Say someone gets a cancer diagnosis.  The doctor may explain the diagnosis at a scientific level – maybe it was genetic or maybe the individual smoked a lot.  But the question is a deeper why.  Why that person, that individual, that human being.  

And the same goes for mental illness. We will never know why [insert what you struggle with] has to be an issue for us.  We may never really uncover the exact root cause of our depression that we are so intent on finding or read enough self-help books to create a perfect, foolproof plan for recovery.  

I want to take a moment to say that taking medication, attending groups, reading books, creating coping ahead plans, and everything that you do to help your mental illness is beyond necessary, in the same way that someone with a cancer diagnosis needs to get radiation and chemotherapy or whatever the treatment might be. The point of this post is not to discredit any of those things.  The point of this post is to remind us that even while doing those things, we may never fully understand parts of our journey.  And that’s okay. If we let these “I wonder why” statements cloud our thoughts, we will never fully experience recovery.

As I see it, Bellion reminds us that without these struggles, without these hardships, we wouldn’t truly appreciate faith and grace and all of the beautiful things that exist in this world.  So, while we’ll never fully understand our journey, we can be patient, watch it unfold, and appreciate faith and grace in the process.

P.S. I highly recommend listening to the song.  Click here to do so.

Kenzie’s #myunpolishedjourney Story

#myunpolishedjourney stories are stories individuals share about their journey with mental illness and recovery.  Interested in sharing?  Email us at info@unpolishedjourney.org.  

Tell us a little about yourself. 

Hi, I’m Kenzie! I’m 21 and a senior Spanish and Social Work student at Loyola University Chicago.  I’m originally from California but absolutely LOVE the Midwest. I adore penguins, dogs, coffee, and travelling. I’m a firm believer that people need other people and am aspiring to work in clinical mental health to promote hope and help.

What has your mental health journey been like?

I have struggled with mental illness for most of my life but never prioritized mental health until college. I didn’t grow up understanding mental illness and wasn’t aware of treatment or resources that were available. Untreated depression, anxiety, PTSD, disordered eating, and more had been building on each other and getting worse until the beginning of my junior year of college I was hospitalized for a suicide attempt. In my two-week hospital stay I knew I was ready to do whatever I could to prioritize myself and my health. I became super outspoken about mental health and my current mental health journey. I joined a therapy group at the wellness center on my campus and met with multiple therapists and psychiatrists until I found some that seemed to fit.

During this time, I had many different diagnoses and medication plans thrown around, and I was overwhelmed and confused. Things didn’t feel like they were getting any better, and I didn’t know what to do. Second semester of my junior year I realized I needed a higher level of care than I was getting and started an intensive outpatient program (IOP) to focus on trauma and substance abuse. I balanced IOP, individual therapy, work, volunteer and school for four months until the semester ended. School was not something I was willing to take a break from unless it was completely necessary and IOP was the most that I could do while still in school so when summer started I started a partial hospitalization program because I needed a higher level of treatment than I had been getting. I took half the summer to completely dedicate my entire days to recovery, while still maintaining freedom at night, which was exactly what I needed. I came into senior year much more grounded and rooted in my mental health than ever before.

I have a therapist I love and trust who pushes me to go deeper and grow more than ever before. I have a psychiatrist who I feel genuinely listens to me and isn’t quick to overmedicate or misdiagnose. I am part of therapy/recovery groups on my campus that help me feel belonging, while allowing me to continue to learn and use skills. I have community that supports and encourages me and my mental health journey. My mental health is still a struggle.  Most days are a lot better than before but to be honest there are still some that really suck. These are so much easier to get through with the resources I am connected with and by knowing how strong and resilient I have been and will continue to be. For so long I felt silenced, isolated, powerless, and alone because of mental illness.  Now, I try to combat those feelings not only for myself but for others too, by sharing my experiences and journey.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced in pursuing recovery? 

To be completely honest, the biggest practical obstacle has been insurance/financial situations. My insurance plan cut out halfway through my planned time in PHP, which wasn’t the first time it stopped covering treatment. I say this not to scare you away from getting treatment for financial reasons but to encourage you to find the resources. I want to affirm that mental health coverage in the United States is often less than desirable but there are tons of resources our there if you search for them (or ask for help to find more). My current therapist and I have a sliding scale agreement that is totally doable for a self-supporting college student.

The biggest personal obstacle for me has been shame/honesty. I spent a long time wearing inspirational t-shirts from To Write Love on Her Arms and talking about wanting to work in mental health without being open about my own struggles. I felt ashamed not only because I was struggling with mental health but because I never felt like I was far enough in my recovery. I struggled to know how open and honest I could be with myself, my treatment team, and people in general. As someone who wants to work in mental health, it’s easy for people to say that I’m not capable if I’m not “recovered” and that makes it really easy to want to stay silent about struggles and pretend to be okay all the time.

What helps you maintain recovery?  

COMMUNITY. Recovery is choosing every day (or every hour) to heal and grow and without people supporting me it would be so easy to give up. People, especially other people in recovery, are huge part of my personal recovery because they show me that recovery is possible and important. Honesty and authenticity are also huge parts of keeping on track with recovery. Having people with whom I can be unfiltered and honest about the authentic highs and lows of life is essential.

On a more practical level I love using various creative outlets as self-care activities. Some of my current favorites are: coloring (mindful coloring books and swear word coloring pages are amazing), watercolor painting, collage making, tie dye, and dancing. I’m not very creative but I love looking up different projects on Pinterest or Tumblr that can allow me to be artistic without feeling pressured to come up with something new myself.

What advice do you have for someone in the early stages of recovery?

Be gentle with yourself.

Know there are resources.

Ask for help when you need it. Please never feel like you’re asking for too much or too often because you are deserving of recovery no matter what.

Find support systems and treatment teams that fit you. It’s always okay to switch therapists, psychiatrists, and friend groups.

Know you are someone loved and worthy even when you feel you do not deserve to be.