Think before you speak.

We all know the internet can be a hive of chaos. People are always at each other’s throats, throwing cheap insults back and forth, deriding and degrading and dismissing others and their feelings. We all should know by now that cyber-bullying is a real problem, not only at school level but generally speaking, as well. The internet provides not only a mask but a barrier, a wall: You can hurt someone without being caught, you can hurt someone without punished, you can hurt someone without seeing them cry.

I have to wonder if people saw the effects of what they do, if they would continue to do it. Looking at a still of someone crying or watching someone crying in a video against multiple attackers is different to most people than being in a room with only themselves and someone else, hurling insults at that someone else until they see them break down.

Would it be different?

Hurt people hurt people

I just read in a specific article that “trolls” are more likely to suffer from mental illness. I can see this as being true but extremely irresponsibly written. Many people think of mental illness rarer than it is or of it being different than it is. Up until 12 years old, I thought going into partial-hospitalization or full inpatient would mean seeing kids my age in the corner, rocking to and fro, and sobbing to themselves. Turns out, I’m the only one I’ve known who does that. Ever.

But I know I wasn’t alone in my gross stereotyping. When NAMI itself points out that 1 in 5 adults in the USA are expected to struggle with mental illness in any given year, you have to start rethinking it.

When I first heard that statistic, I fervently disagreed. I disagreed because so many consumers of mental healthcare are so fiercely misunderstood and ostracized, that I couldn’t wrap my head around it being so common.

But a lot of people go undiagnosed or without help.

And I could talk about this forever, but what I’m trying to get at right now, is that so many people are lacking in happiness in health. Everyone’s so angry. People are acting out with rage towards strangers. It’s not because they are mentally ill. It’s not that the mentally ill are somehow “worse” or more “evil” than “neurotypicals.” It’s that there is a ton of unresolved pain and malnutrition in the world, both of which literally lead to depressive symptoms. The problem is not the mentally ill or even mental illness. The problem is how we approach pain; how we deal with it; how we don’t–how so few people get help.

One of my counselors in partial told me when I was around thirteen or fourteen years old:
“Hurt people want to hurt people.”

See though, I don’t believe that. I myself am in a lot of pain and while I admit to vengeful impulses, I rarely ever actually want to hurt someone. It’s more a matter of “hurt people hurt people.” It’s often subconscious, e.g. someone having a bad day goes to a grocery store and flips out on the cashier because the cashier dropped something. Normally, they wouldn’t give the cashier a hard time. But they let themselves be influenced by this bad day.

Taking responsibility for your actions is always important. But when people refuse self awareness, it becomes more complicated to them, and they are likelier to hurt someone out of retaliation for something else.

The goal is to be assertive. You have the right to express your needs and express your feelings. But next time you have an impulse to lash out or say something hurtful, remember to ask yourself why and ask yourself what effect will it have. We are all hurting, mental illness or no mental illness. We all have bad days. How are you so much of an exception that it’s okay for you to spit venom and for no one else to spit venom on you? 

Think about it.

 

 

For the Qs: Why? Why me? Why this?

Pain at its roots is neither test nor punishment. It is trial we are guaranteed simply by existing. Nothing greater than ourselves doles it out. Nothing greater than ourselves cares if we overcome it–so we must care ourselves if we do.

It varies by degrees and duration. It’s a war sometimes; an onslaught. Sometimes it’s an inconvenience. Sometimes it’s something in between and it exists for no other reason than “we exist.” We live. It is not the price of living, as pain in itself bears its own independent value. It just “is.” It exists with us. It offers opportunity, change, growth, and new perspectives. That alone makes us better than our suicidal thinking and our suicidal urges. Because there’s always a part of our pain that challenges us to make ourselves better. We just have to find it.

The puzzle is not pain. We may always be in pain while we live, discrete pain or concrete or conspicuous or not. The puzzle is the reaction. The puzzle is the loss and gain and how the pain is handled. Stop asking yourself, “Why?” and “Why me?” and “Why this?” There is no good reason except that it is proof we are alive. Don’t think too much on it–for, really, what better reason would there be than that?

Questions that are important to ask, questions with more productive and concrete answers, are as follows:

1. What can my pain teach me?

2. How can I make peace with my pain? and

3. How can my pain help me grow?

This is how healing begins.

Love always,

V.

For the Q: What are my coping skills?

When I was a kid and growing up, I often seemed to almost drown in this question. They’ll ask you in therapy or hospitals, “What are your coping skills?” “How do you cope?” and for me, the answers were ambiguous and nearly unreachable.

“I write,” I’d say, “but it hurts to write. I love art, but art hurts.”

I focused on this one subject so much: Something I value above most other things–creative expression–and how much it hurts to commit to but how much it hurts not to. Art and I have always had a tumultuous relationship. It has saved a lot of people, but truthfully it has only complicated and added weight to my life. It’s okay. I love it. And I feel great sacrifice often comes with great commitments.

So what are my coping skills? Some hospitals will give you print-outs of suggestions that I often found sometimes silly or counterintuitive–holding ice cubes in your hand or snapping rubber bands against your wrist, (which in itself is still self-harm.) I’ve known from an early age that different things work for different people, but nothing seemed to work at me.

I cried a lot. I still cry a lot. Many times it’s worse than crying. It’s that shrieking that accompanies a lot of internal violence and darkness, throwing oneself at a wall and the floor. But crying doesn’t help much, either. In fact it literally physically hurts and ties me too tightly with my pain.

But I have become much more self aware since I was 7, 12, 15, et cetera and have realized I’ve had a really high standard for coping skills. Many people, even professionals, like to act as if coping skills are “it.” They’re “survival things;” “things that make you feel better.” I didn’t really understand this concept, because I felt nothing really helped and that I’d just have to wade the pain out.

Then I started looking at three major elements:

1.) What are my instinctual responses to negative feelings and/or situations and why?
2.) What is something healthful I should try? and probably most helpfully:
3.) Is what I’m doing now something that will bring negative repercussions?

I struggled with self-hatred for a long time and still sometimes do–or, nowadays, low self-worth I guess. Self-hatred is something I feel I had to absolutely shut down some years ago, and I’ve worked really hard to do that. But, speaking of it then, many of my urges to were to act on negative or harmful behaviors that more often than not had negative consequences and added more stress. E.g. although self-harm made me feel calmer, it was something I was obligated to report to my doctor or my mother would see it or I’d have to wear long sleeves in summer to cover it up or et cetera, and truthfully, just pragmatically, it was more trouble than it was worth.

Let’s look at #2 now. We’ve more or less covered #1 and #3, so two is, again: “What is something healthful I should try?” Trying is a key thing in not just therapy but progress and development. It’s important–always–to keep going and to keep trying. If something doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work. Move on. Go to something new, something healthful and helpful. I prefer coping skills that work things “out.” They’re rare. I don’t count “venting” because honestly, for me, talking about the thing directly sometimes stresses me out further. And as I’ve said, writing’s not tremendously healthy for me in these situations.

There is something about art I didn’t factor in though–until I tried painting with an OSP (Open Studio Process) therapist. More on the process itself later, but painting was something I had never truly done much of. But when I tried it–awesome. I was 19 and in this therapy session, I was basically asked to use any colors I felt I “jived” with and paint anything I “felt” like painting. OSP helped me to be non-critical of myself and considering it is not a major art of mine, I quickly unlearned the pressure to be good. I bought some acrylic paints, cheap canvasses, cheap brushes, and then realized how freeing it was to paint with my hands. I further connected to the canvas and to my “inner eye” and now in hard times, it is my best coping skill. I can use it to express the pain, to work some of it out. It’s creative, which is something I appreciate and flourish with. So it’s great. And things that have come into play also have been warm showers, although with body image and PTSD that has taken a while to develop into a coping skill; taking walks; adding things to a “beautiful things” list which I suppose is my equivalent of a gratitude journal, etc.

Many of the people I have talked to in the past have gone right along with my old mindset and have said, “Well, nothing works.” But I’ve learned: something’s gotta work. Something. And it doesn’t always have to carry negativity with it. Something positive has got to work. But you have to keep trying and thinking outside the box. With depression, it’s something that is often very hard to do. But you’ll find something if you keep trying. It’s not as unreachable as you might think it is!

 

Quick thought tip!

Yesterday was hard for me. I had a lot of bad crashes and cried a lot. Today I was faring better until some intrusive negative thoughts began and started me on a downward spiral again–but then I stopped that spiral, crumpled it up, and threw it away.

It takes a lot of practice to manage your thinking, especially since most of our thoughts are automatic. And considering a single thought can change your entire mood and demeanor, that’s pretty scary and overwhelming. It can ruin your motivation and hope, and even when temporary, it’s still dangerous.

So let’s start fighting together today. I challenge you to try to be self-aware and for the love of all that is good in the world, routinely practice telling yourself:
“I am worthy of good things,”
“I get stronger every day,”
“I survive to make tomorrow better,” and possibly most importantly,
“I am more powerful and more significant than this negativity.”

If suffering from a mental illness–and truthfully, even if not–you are awesome for getting this far. Surviving is hard. I imagine it will always be hard for me, and it may be for you too. But we have a lot more control over our lives than we think.

So take it.

And make living better.

Love and strength to you always.

 

V.

For the Q: How do you set goals?

This is kind of long so while I hope you’ll read all of it, I’ll write key sentences in bold. 

They often suggest goal-setting in psychiatric environments, and I have to say that this is one totally generic, simple thing that has effectively worked for me. For two years now, I’ve used “resolution” binders in which I try to set goals daily in accordance with my New Year’s resolutions. I feel like the biggest problem with achieving New Year’s resolutions is not necessarily motivation (or lack thereof), but the fact that people so often lack a formula or plan to achieve those resolutions. There’s additional complication to that.

In 2015, I set goals such as “lose weight” and “live in less clutter” and wrote down ways to achieve them in bulleted lists. The only goal I accomplished in 2015 was “read 30 books,” which was fairly easy-ish for me, since I love to read, counted some children’s books, and I had just bounced back from a long period of not being able to focus and was so elated that I could. But the way I worded the goals by and large was the problem. 

Continue reading “For the Q: How do you set goals?”

For the Q: What is PTSD?

03 August 2016.

As mentioned in a prior post, one of my major illnesses is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s an almost-common topic now in the U.S., what with the wars raging in the Middle East and the deficits in help for the veterans of both Iraq and Vietnam. My heart goes out to the people who have gone through such hells, but mine stemmed from different hells than theirs.

Currently, PTSD is a big issue for me. It used to run my life, but now it’s basically only a monthly visitor, for probably obvious(?) reasons (as a victim of childhood sexual assault.) I figured I should write about it and describe it clinically. I will talk more about this illness of course and write about the useful things I’ve learned to manage it healthfully, but for now, this is purely just: What is PTSD?

So what do you know about PTSD? I maintain that mental illnesses all affect us differently, and PTSD is one of those that has many different sources. There are common traits that give us the label, sure, but there is only so much likeness from one brain and life to another. For me, a victim* of varied both long-term and short-term abuses, this is what PTSD largely means but is not limited to:

  1. flashbacks
    For me, there are various kinds. How I perceive “traditional” flashbacks are the flashbacks in which I am–in what appears to be 3D, full surround sound–removed from my current reality and thrown back into the events; re-traumatization in which the emotional aftermath of the event(s) overwhelm(s) me again, and while I can acknowledge where I am in both time and place, I feel great distress and cannot psychologically function; and “body memories,” which are physical reminders of what has happened to me.
  2. self-hatred, low self-worth, and/or extreme feelings of inadequacy 
    I think nearly anyone who has undergone abuse(s) experiences this at some point in their lives. One of the results of this for me was starving myself (“restricting”) and forcing myself to vomit after meals (“purging”). An eating disorder not on my own “label list,” and I don’t think it should be. That is another topic for another time.
    Other results included: feelings of worthlessness which led to actions that reflected my lack of self-worth, (which as illustrated in the next bullet can be extremely dangerous), re-traumatizing myself and staying in abusive situations, etc. 
  3. distrust and paranoia
    With Schizoaffective Disorder, it is normal to experience paranoid thoughts. But this distrust and paranoia are different. This is the terror I feel when near (a) group(s) of men, leading me to leave wherever I am. This is the set up for flashbacks. This is the thing that pays unusual and greatly cautious attention to words like “I like you,” “I love you,” “You’re beautiful,” and “Let me help.” This is the pressure and ultimately the resignation I used to feel when approached by a man at a bar, because in my head it was better to agree against my feelings and better judgment than to be raped again. We live in a world where this is an important issue, PTSD or not, but that is a different topic I won’t touch upon at this moment.
  4. numbing, blacking out, and vomiting
    It used to be that whenever I was in a sexual situation, I would literally get numb and black out. After the situation was over, I would go into the bathroom and throw up. This was a painful process that purged nothing, but I guess to my brain, it was the purging of the night. The re-traumatization would still occur so I don’t know exactly why my physiology thought it would be effective.

* The reason I prefer to say “victim” and not “survivor” is because rape, abuse, and war trauma are not things you “survive.” They are things that eat away at you and you must spend your life countering and fighting against. I make it sound hopeless, I guess. It isn’t. But it’s not something you outlive. It is something you live with.  “Victim” is also a word that needs to be repaired. It has connotations of “giving up” or “‘allowing’ to be taken over” etc. when “victim” is a way of saying “Something negative has been done to me.”

These are obviously not all the symptoms, but these have been the most pertinent for me in this lifetime. I would like to add the obligatory “if you identify with these symptoms, seek help from a safe place.” I am not against self-diagnosis, but it’s smarter of course if you do something with it, such as contact a therapist or even just search for and implement healthful ways to cope.

I welcome you to share your experiences with PTSD, regardless of the source and/or trigger. I request you to add a trigger warning in the beginning of your post if you go in-depth with your experiences as to respect visitors, and I advise having coping skills and/or a safe space in place prior to sharing.

Thank you to all readers. I wish you an enriching day!

Intro

How familiar are you with sleepless nights? I sometimes feel like they’re inside me already, waiting perched with their talons hooked into my heart. The nighttime birds open their eyes when I make the realization I may not sleep, and I soon find myself staring at the walls with the eyes of owls.

It is two hours until midnight, which might not sound late to you. It is for me. One conscious Vital Change I’ve made for myself is setting early “curfews.” I am more active by dawn than dusk, and that in itself took me almost two decades to learn.

While encouraging myself to sleep would be wiser, I will introduce myself instead. I go by “V” out of ease. I am an INFJ. I love to read and find books to be great messengers of important perspectives. I love artistic expression, and I constantly break down with and fear the human experience. But it is something I try to cherish every day. The most important thing about me at this time in my life is that I am currently crippled by two mental illnesses: Schizoaffective Disorder (depressive type) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and one physical illness: fibromyalgia. I have been chronically suicidal for most of my life, which meant for me that every day was “my” day to die. Suicidal urges and suicidal thinking destroyed what little left I had of a childhood and adolescence. It was an obsession that took my life before I had the chance to. I’ve got quite an inpatient rapport and a lot of scars. But there are times now in which I feel hopeful and even excited for the future. Those times increase in duration and power all the time, and I am learning how to live my life.

I believe we create our own purposes. They don’t, in a big sense, “call” to us. We are drawn to them, but I strongly believe we have to act on them before we can establish them. I am a strong believer in experiences and development. There are always circumstances outside of us, but we control our own selves, and I believe that counts for more than people believe.

I have been in therapy for thirteen years now, in and out of hospitals and partial-hospitalization programs. It wasn’t until April of this year that I realized what I want to do. I realized at that point that what I want to do with my life is what I want my life’s work to be: Making the world a better place for others and myself.

This blog will be a testament to that endeavor.

As I said, for thirteen years now (almost fourteen), I have been in/out of therapists’ offices, inpatient bedrooms, and partial classrooms. Very little worked for me. As a teen, I was angry and stubborn and the suicidality was too severe for me to imagine myself growing to adulthood. However, that doesn’t change the fact that a lot of the worksheets and quotes and recycled ideas that were given to me would’ve not been of much use otherwise anyway. I’m picky and heavily a seeker of knowledge; both a student and leader. The field of psychology is terribly generalized, and people have to remember that every diagnosis belongs to a human being and not vice versa. But the mental healthcare field is so crowded with demand and gives too little in supply and it’s already complex enough that tailored therapies are not possible. So instead, you have CBT, DBT, etc. I find that for me, blends of everything are best, and I’ve also found that the worksheets I design on my own are usually my best tools. So I want to share.

Everyone is different. Everyone experiences pain differently. So add this website as another resource, another safe place, if it helps, which it may not. (But try it!)

I am not a licensed therapist or psychiatrist. I’m the “coucher” in this situation who has lived lifetimes of madness. Proceed at your own pace and at your own risk. I will mark intense triggers if they come up and of course everyone has a different idea of “intense.” So please be aware of this.

I hope your day is enriching and positive. Sending love out to all, and may we share this incredible journey forward.

 

V.