Guest Blog

Trypophobia: WTF is it? A Guest Blog by Lue

Trypophobia is a condition I’ve had since I can remember. In a nutshell it is a nervous, flesh crawling response to particular patterns and textures, typically organic and often involving small holes. It’s especially bad when associated with skin. It’s a known condition (although obviously I’ve never Googled it, lest I turn inside out), however it’s not recognised in the DSM. This is probably because of the large pool of possible triggers which are different for each person. So, it’s not like being deathly afraid of a single thing, say, snakes or cotton wool, And this is one of the particularly awful things about it – you never really know when you might come across a trigger. They often come out of the blue, you might come across something in the street or scrolling through images online and completely by accident trigger yourself.

My Mum has it too, although because I also have anxiety and depression it can be much more acute for me. If I see something particularly bad, it can put me out for two weeks or more. So that’s like 2 weeks of prickling skin, adrenaline rushes, flesh crawling sensations, obsessively imagining the trigger (where my mind very helpfully transposes the pattern onto my skin because why not?), panic attacks etc. I only know one other person who has symptoms like mine and who experiences it so acutely. But it’s really hard to talk about because even talking about it can be triggering! There doesn’t seem to be any specific treatment for it, other than anxiety management.

Having spoken to  few people, I get the feeling that lots of people have this condition to some degree or another, it’s just that my symptoms are really severe. I spent most of my life not knowing it was even a condition with a name, I came across it through a friend when I was about 26. Before then I just assumed it was a weird quirk that just me and my Mum had.

I have two distinct memories of trypophobia as a child. The very first was at a natural history exhibition, I was very small, maybe only 4 or 5. There were pictures and information about a species of frog whose female incubates and carries it’s young inside it’s back. I remember seeing a picture of it and feeling immediately terrified. Prickles ran up and down my spine and it felt as if my flesh was crawling off my bones. My Mum leaned over and asked me, “Does that picture look a bit weird-y to you?” weird-y was the word my Mum always used to describe her trypophobia triggers and now we both knew this was a shared experience.

The second and more acute attack from my childhood was on a camping holiday in Spain with my parents and some of our close family friends. My Dad was explaining to me how taste buds worked and what happened when they ot burned (I must have burned my tongue) and his description of them as little pots with lids just sent me into this insane flesh crawly, panicked state. I remember telling my Mum that his description had upset me – it wasn’t my Dad’s fault, how could he have known? – and she reminded him that I too was afflicted with the ‘weird-y’ disease and to be careful. Unfortunately, it was too late. the entire 2 weeks we were away on that holiday I woke up and went to bed feeling panicked, my skin tingling and being utterly unable to stop thinking about this trigger as my mind festered on it and bent it into all sorts of things. After initially telling my Mum that it was upsetting, I don’t think I said anything else. I don’t think anyone had a clue what was going on in my mind and my nervous system that holiday.

It’s only in the last 6 years that I’ve had the word trypophobia in my vocabulary. As you can imagine, the idea of trying to research this bizarre quirk is less than appealing, both online or in books. I have no doubt that any information would be associated with triggering images. By chance, a friend of mine who had experienced one or two very minor triggers had looked it up online and discovered there was a name for it. It felt good to finally have a real name for it and to know that someone else at some point had recognised it as a state of mind. Being able to label any illness is immediately less isolating.

Phobic spells, some lasting only a few hours and others lasting for up to two weeks, occurred sporadically throughout my teens. Trypophobia triggers are like literal tigers in the bush, pouncing on you from out of nowhere when you’re minding your own business. Looking back on it, I think my acute reaction to these triggers and my inability to stop obsessing about them were probably the first signs that I suffered with anxiety, but nobody was really thinking about these things in the late 1980s.

As an adult I’ve suffered on and off. As I become better at general anxiety management, I can deal with the triggers more proactively. The last time I had a really acute attack was about 7 ago. I was dealing with a string of panic attacks around Christmas 2010 and completely by accident saw one of the worst triggers I’ve ever experienced. The panic attacks, which were already causing visual distortions because they were so acute, became enmeshed with this trigger and I completely fell off the edge. For a few days I couldn’t even leave the house because more and more everyday patterns were becoming triggering for me. Brickwork on the side of buildings was the worst – living in London means you can’t walk down the street without seeing brickwork. Luckily I was able to get some emergency Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which helped to reduce the intensity of the panic attacks and the trypophobic responses became less difficult to handle and eventually dissipated. My sensitivity to triggers is definitely increased when my general anxiety levels are up, so the two are certainly intrinsically linked.

I would love to know if there’s anyone out there researching this phenomenon and to understand more about the mechanism underlying it. I have a few evolutionary-developmental theories of my own, but for now this is just another brain quirk I have to manage as and when it comes. I hope that anyone experiencing these symptoms can find comfort in this shared experience and to know that CBT and other anxiety management tools can help to reduce the response.

You can reach Lue at  www.mentalbits.co.uk

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Witness PTSD : Guest Blog by Michelle H.

*Disclaimer: There are some parts to my story that are pretty out there, new agey, woo-woo if you will. Some may call BS, perhaps I would have called it that at a time in my life too. But it is my truth and resonates with me to my core. Believe what you are able, it is my hope you gain strength from my story. There is one of you who needs to read it.

 

Growing up, my parents never fought (that I knew of), I lived on a small farm, raised rabbits and chickens, went on family vacations, took swimming lessons and had parents who loved me. I’m married with a four year old daughter and have lived/worked around the country and have travelled internationally. Pretty bread and butter white girl Midwestern upbringing.

 

But the more I listened to the podcast the more some things started to resonate with me. Co-dependent, what was that? Feeding off the emotions of others to fit in and feel good about myself? Yeah, I could be that. The guy (in the older podcast intro) who lay in the mud for 6 hours? That sounds so wonderful to me, even better if it were raining. I believe he was just grounding himself. There are countless other bits of your experiences which I couldn’t ignore that I too, had felt or thought about but was not able to feel or articulate until I heard someone else explain it to me.

 

I wasn’t expecting the universe to slap me awake and change my world July 3rd, 2016. But then again, who expects that kind of thing to happen? It was a bright, warm sunny southern Wisconsin day; the kind of day where you turn up the tunes, roll the windows down and speed along curvy backroads. I was en route to my parents to pick up my daughter from a sleepover. Half way there I approached the scene of an accident. A fresh one-no paramedics or police were there. I pulled over, grabbed my phone and ran to the first victim who had a woman performing CPR on him. I told her I knew CPR (I had just been certified for the first time in my life the week before). We took turns pumping his chest for what seemed like forever.

 

Time was behaving very strangely. I will always see his black t-shirt, his broken leg, missing boots, white tube socks and eyes staring blankly up at the sky. I wondered if it was natural for the eyes to crinkle up or maybe he was wearing contact lenses and they were drying up. The smell of stale booze, cigarettes, automotive grease and sweat will forever be imprinted in my brain.

 

There were other people attending to the younger female. I wondered if they were a couple. He was much older than she and they were riding a motorcycle with no helmets, crossed the center lane around a blind curve and hit an oncoming vehicle.

 

Finally, a squad car arrived and the cop calmly gets out of her vehicle. I recognize her and I say, “hi Jen”. I graduated high school with her 20 years ago and hadn’t seen her since then. She replies with a hello and takes over administering CPR. She asks me to get the defibulator out of her car and I help her apply the patches and start the machine. Take note, it may seem as though I were calm, but I’m shaking, and there is nothing but sheer adrenaline running through my veins. There was no electrical activity coming from him. I knew the man was dead before I even touched him, but you do everything you can to try anyway. It is what had to be done.

 

The rest of the paramedic team arrived shortly thereafter and the people who stopped to help either stood aside or left the scene. I stood off to the side.

 

Two men arrived on scene coming from the same direction as the victims and one man approached the girl. I instantly knew he knew her. She was his daughter. I made an unconscious decision at this point to stay and comfort the man. I made phone calls to notify family. I hugged him. I asked him questions about her.

 

Officer Jen came over after the blankets were draped over the lifeless bodies, hugged me and gave me a debriefing of sorts. I asked her lots of questions, like what happens next? How do cops prepare for this sort of thing?

 

There were two old men standing stoically as people rushed about. I thought that was odd. They said nothing. Later I wondered if they had been in war, their life experience was very different from the rest of the group.

 

Two hours had escaped in Earth time. I couldn’t tell you how long it felt like it was, maybe five hours? When I returned to my car, it was still running.

 

The remaining hour long drive to my parents was harder than the event that just happened. All I wanted was to hug my mom and cry in her arms. When I arrived, she was sitting outside on a porch-swing.

 

I went to her and the thing I wanted most in the world was a huge heartfelt hug from her while I sobbed in her arms. What I did get as I reached in for that hug, was a one armed half hug and “what’s wrong?” I didn’t answer for a second for two reasons. One, I felt rejected she couldn’t see there was something so wrong that I just needed a full hug even though she is not a “huggy” type. And that she hadn’t tried to text to see what took me so long to get there as I had let her know when I left my house. Thankfully my daughter was napping and I did get the chance to tell her what happened. I also let out a bunch of other things I had never told her before as well. Things I never planned on telling her just came out. She didn’t say much but insisted I spend the night instead of driving back that evening as planned.

 

My husband made the trip down to see how I was. We walked about in the fields as I retold the story. It was calming to be amongst the tall grasses, the birds and seeing the sun set slowly. I told him about the omen in the clouds I saw two days before. After work as I sometimes did, would go to my backyard and look up at the clouds to relax. That day, I looked up and saw a skull and cross-bones which evaporated after I saw it.

 

As this all happened on a Sunday, I had Monday off and my employer insisted I take the following two days off. I took one, thinking I was going to be ok. I had the strangest and worst neck pain I have ever had that wouldn’t go away. My boss set up an appointment with the yoga/dance instructor at the daycare where I am employed as a chef. She also does intuitive/energy/massage work and I was told she was amazing. The appointment was set up for Thursday, my birthday. (Turns out I have a thing for special dates…) During my session, I began to tell her a little about what happened, my neck pain, the cold lifeless heavy daze I was in. The first thing she said was the neck pain was not my own. I give her a strange look, a pause and ask whose it is? And proceeded to answer my own question by saying, “it’s his, isn’t it.” My mind raced and knew in that instant the man had broken his neck at the spot I felt this strange pain. I was intrigued and she had me lay on a yoga mat while she performed reiki on me. She told me that my spirit had gone. I couldn’t fathom that was a something that could even happen. I asked where it was and she said she didn’t know but she was helping to ground it back into my body. I asked if it were at the accident scene and she asked if there was any point in my time there I made a decision to stay. I said yes, to stay and comfort the father of the deceased woman. She told me that is when my spirit stayed and didn’t come with my physical body.

 

My husband told me during this time I felt cold and lifeless. I’m a little weirded out by hearing all of this, but something rang very true. I questioned, but it just felt right even though very “woo-woo.”

 

I was told I would actively have to ground myself in the next few days, keeping my diet very clean and that I would experience a whole slew of emotions that day. My mantras-which I wrote in sharpie on my arms, were: Spirit Stay and Light Surround. It worked, and still does when I need serious grounding. I laughed, I cried, I shook and it was a rollercoaster of emotion all day. I am very grateful I work alone in a kitchen where I could fully experience these emotions without having to hide from others while I let them flow out of me.

 

In addition to the energy session this day, I also had a chiropractor appointment to put me in skeletal alignment and my boss offered to do a ceremonial sage cleansing for me. She had me create an affirmation and performed the ceremony. I have never witnessed or experienced anything quite like this and was willing to try anything to get to some sort of normalcy and further myself on this new path. I enjoyed it and felt more at ease than I had all week.

 

To close out my day, a sandhill crane visited me that evening during dinner. We live in the city, but have backyard space. The crane peered into our dining room window while we were eating. The bird spent around 10 minutes walking around before it disappeared into the brushy overgrowth.

 

I continue to have therapy sessions with Elizabeth. I don’t have a set schedule as I make appointments when I feel I need them. Some have been mind-blowing. My first one in her office was spoken only. I felt like my hair was blown back by the things she said. She asked me if I loved myself. I said I think I do, I wasn’t sure how to answer a question like that. She said she didn’t think I did. It scared me to hear these words. What did that look/feel like? How could I have not known all this time? I’m 37 and didn’t know or experience this reality? She also asked if I was abused. I was terrified at this point. The only type of abuse I assumed was sexual. I couldn’t think of any time in my past where that happened. I poured over childhood photos to see if I could find a trigger. Nothing resonated.

 

Over time, I discovered it was emotional abuse from my parents and verbal abuse from my spouse that I was suffering from. Although my parents love me very much, they have their own set of emotional issues that hide below their surfaces. I am not sure they acknowledge them or not. I have my own theories as to why and how they are the way they are, but I’m not ready to have that conversation with them yet.

 

It is still difficult to rethink moments of my life where I was emotionally alone. My high school graduation, where my fellow classmates had their parents hug them, my mom shook my hand. I nearly lost it when my dad hugged me after that. During a particularly rough time a few years ago when my grandma told me that she could see how different my younger brother and I were treated as children. How in 7th and 8th grades, I desperately wanted to go to the junior high dances, but was only allowed one per year. My brother on the other hand was encouraged to go, but didn’t want to. When in kindergarten I was relentlessly teased for having a friend that was a boy (we both shared a love of He-Man.) And being made to sign a paper in first grade stating I wouldn’t date boys until I was 16. At the time I wholeheartedly agreed, but they brought that paper up the older I got and as far as I know, it still exists in their fire safe.

 

Now that I have had time to pour over the past and reflect upon my current existence. I am ready to acknowledge that I felt lonely and lost, but that does not define me today. I have the ability to mentally go into my mind and hug the kid who needed it. I can write scenarios where my current self can give advice to my younger self. It is very comforting and healing for me to do this and allows me to let go of the hurt so I can become a whole, capable loving being.

 

 

The more I continue therapy the more I open up. I am building layers of trust with Elizabeth. The things she speaks and my energy sessions are sometimes strange, but they hold true and allow me to open further into a dimension that is new to me, yet always been there. I look forward to my sessions as opposed to getting anxious a few days prior. I asked about this anxiety and she explained that the ego can become defensive and fearful of change. I can understand that and the anxiety lessens, unless it has been awhile between sessions, then I can’t tell if I am coming down with a chest cold or I’m feeling anxiety. (It’s usually anxiety).

 

Since starting my sessions July of 2016, I have come a long way to understanding my existence. I know that we are capable of creating our own realities. Each one of us has our own unique and valid beliefs. We are capable and deserving of love. We are all the same.

 

I heard something amazing recently on another podcast; let’s just for a moment assume that reincarnation is true (even if that is not part of your belief-just entertain me please), each and every person alive right now is you at another time in history. So the person that gets you irritated and the person who loves you and the person at the bank or the person you secretly lust, you once experienced life as they view the world and we are all carved from the same universal fabric of life energy. When I think of that, I feel more compassion for others.

 

I wish the world had more compassion for this. Much of the garbage we live through would just evaporate if this were true. But, I have also resonated with another saying: “Choosing to be a human is one of the hardest things a soul or spirit can do.” I’m in a good place now even though I continue to struggle sometimes.

 

I am doing my best to accept each moment as a “present” and enjoy it for only what it is. I am putting more trust in myself and the love of the universe. It feels good and I’m going with that.

 

A Phoenix Tale: one girl’s spiritual awakening, by Michelle H.

 

I am a professional chef, natural enthusiast, moderate neat freak who is just learning what it means to be a part of humanity in a new plane of thought. My titles may say Mrs., mom, daughter, granddaughter, chef, but I feel like a young student where the more I learn, the more I do not know anything. My hope is that there is one person out there that can gain a taste of love for the world and find healing in my words. Feel free to find/contact me on:

Instagram: 365_days_to_take_today

Facebook: Michelle Hinze

I have many resources which has helped me in my journey, journaling being one of the most powerful, meditation through the app Insight Timer, therapy and websites that explain a lot of what I experience. Please reach out if you would like to know more.

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My Brain Helped Me As a Little Girl By Leaving My Body: Guest Blog by Ashley B.

This is a typical night when I was a little girl. I am describing the night backwards chronologically. Dissociating distorts a sense of time and so often people who experience it find themselves going backwards chronologically, not only in their mind but sometimes temporarily in how old we feel. It seemed appropriate to share it this way.

 

He is gone now and it takes all of my will power not to scream out loud or vomit or both. But I keep it all in and I feel proud of myself. I turn to look at my clock and fall asleep to its flashing lullaby, dreaming of floating in space and running through fields of sunny flowers and trying to pretend it won’t happen all over again tomorrow night.

My eyes are closed but I can tell he is standing beside the bed now. I can feel him staring at me, looking me up and down. I am 4! What could there be to look at? I can hear him breathing heavily as he gets himself ready, taking off his briefs and touching himself. There is an electricity in the atmosphere flowing directly from his excitement and it is too much for me.

Tonight I feel tired, more tired than any child should have cause to feel. No amount of running around outside in the yard or swinging on my swing set could explain the deep down heavy exhaustion in my soul. I sigh inwardly and think to myself, “Oh well. Here we go.”

I know I am not really free. I know the difference between real and pretend, even if my father does spend so much time trying to confuse the two in my still-forming mind. I know.

Still, it makes life easier to act as if I did not know. So that’s what I do. I go about my daily life at home and at school and with friends, pretending. I pretend that I am ok, that I am not frightened and lonely and confused all the time.

I jump slightly as I hear the doorknob turning but quickly still myself again. No matter what, I cannot let him know I’m awake. This is only a little game I play with myself, the challenge of not letting him know I’m awake. I know from experience it won’t change his actions, but it makes me feel like I have a little bit of control.

Not to mention, I am getting really good at going away. Every now and then he touches me in a way that hurts, or worse, feels good, and it brings me back momentarily but I always find my way out again. Out from underneath his too gentle hands, out from under the heaviness of his body and the smell of his breath. Out of this room, this house, this life. Out into the open where I can fly free.

I try to sleep but I’m too anxious and on edge, instinctively listening for his bare feet shuffling down the carpeted hall towards my door. I hear him coming now.

…flash 12:00 flash 12:00 flash 12:00 flash…

Those flashing red numbers deserve my gratitude, as they probably contributed to keeping me sane throughout my childhood in that bedroom. Staring at them night after night, I hypnotized myself into a state of calm nothingness, as my father used my tiny body to satisfy his desires. I was lying there, but I wasn’t really there.

I’m lying in my bed. It’s a beautiful bed- made of wood and painted white, with a yellow checked canopy that matches the curtains framing the large window in my room. I glance to the left and see the white wooden desk I love so much, the one that has a top that lifts up so I can store paper and markers and crayons neatly inside. I turn my head slowly to the right and stare at the clock sitting on the bedside table, getting lost in the red digital numbers flashing 12:00.

I feel proud of my brain for knowing how to dissociate to protect me as a child, but it’s been something I’ve had to overcome as an adult. After years of therapy I have learned how to recognize the signs that I have been or am about to “check out” and I’ve developed ways to keep it at a minimum. Still, it’s my first instinct when faced with hard things and personally I find that pretty cool. My brain loves me.

 

Ashley Bayley

 

I am a writer, storyteller, and recently out of the closet lesbian from the deep South. I have a Master’s degree in counseling but currently work as a legal assistant. Before that I delivered groceries. Before that I was a barista. And before that I was an escort. I feel compelled to tell my story so others may be comforted, inspired, or just feel less alone. You can find me on social media if you want:

Instagram: @disappearingviolet

Twitter:     @brooksiecola

Facebook: facebook.com/Ashley.bayley2

Websites: iamthefbomb.com

disappearingviolet.wordpress.com

 

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The Negative Voice in My Head: Guest Blog by Carly C.

Occasionally when I’m writing, I run into a mental roadblock. It starts innocently enough: what’s the point here, why am I writing this, what do I want the reader to gain from this? This is common for writers or creators of any type, and it’s healthy. It helps us stay relevant.

But I’m also a master of finding the unhealthy. This line of thought frequently warps in my mind, becoming: why am I trying, this is crap, I am crap (except worse because I can’t be flushed down a toilet), no one wants to read this, none of this is important, I have nothing important to say, it would be offensive to ask someone to read this because I am not worth any amount of time from anyone, I am worthless.

Besides being a writer, I’m the worlds foremost expert on precisely just how much I suck. I compare my work to the work of others in unforgiving death matches that lead to me lying on the couch staring into space trying to justify to myself why I should continue living. I don’t know why I go through this, or why I can’t stop it, but it’s a something I deal with daily. I compulsively read CVs and Wikipedia articles and interviews with writers and creators that I love, trying to figure out the formula to their success—of course, I do this instead of writing.

They always have interesting lives. They’re high achievers, they overcame steep obstacles, they have some interesting life quality that gives them the perspective they’re famous for. I don’t see this in myself. My life’s not interesting, I live it and I’m bored with it, so I must not be important or interesting in any way. Pretty much everyone’s life can be interesting when distilled to a CV, or a Wikipedia page, or an interview. But mine wouldn’t be, even if I were important or interesting enough to have a Wikipedia page. I’m a piece of garbage and no one cares about me.

This voice in my head breaks down under scrutiny. For starters, it’s only triggered when I try to write, which is something I care about more than anything in the world. I’ve never contemplated suicide after over-cooking my spaghetti noodles so I know I have an off-switch somewhere. It’s also very easy to argue with: am I really producing crap? Probably not, and it’s disingenuous to compare my tweets to King Lear. Am I really a piece of garbage? I mean, I guess I might have value as a person that isn’t dependent on my writing. Am I really a failure? No, not really. Most of the time, I’m so afraid to fail I stop myself from even trying.

Despite knowing the counterarguments, on some level I still believe the things my inner voice tells me about myself. If the key to succeeding as a writer is working hard and being fearless, it feels more comfortable to have control over my own failure than leave it up to chance. So I’ll verbally abuse myself into stagnation before I allow myself to earnestly try. Every success is cast off as chance and every failure, no matter how small or imagined, is held up as the emblem of Truth. My own mind is the biggest obstacle to me. Even now, I’m fighting the urge to throw my computer into the path of an oncoming train rather than finish writing this essay. Every word is a grapple with my emotional center, which is setting off fireworks inside my head and screaming no one cares, stop writing, don’t even try because no one cares, you will never be successful at anything because you’re not worth it. Self-doubt is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In dark moments with thoughts like these, when the voice wins and I stop writing and curl into a ball on my couch, sobbing at the injustice of my own self-hatred, I wonder if my heroes ever felt this way. I wonder if Shakespeare contemplated killing himself because he thought Macbeth was just that offensively bad, how many times F. Scott Fitzgerald burned manuscripts of The Great Gatsby and vowed to never write again, or if Lin-Manuel Miranda ever looked up from his computer while writing Hamilton and asked himself why he was even trying. I don’t know the answer, but somehow my heroes were able to overcome and if I really want to be like them I suppose I’ll have to find a way also.

 

Carly is a writer from Indiana. You can follow her on Twitter @neutronsoup

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I Can’t Stand Up To My Sexually Abusive Dad & I’m 29: Nikki’s Story

I think most people are aware of or can imagine, how awful it is to experience abuse. For me and a lot of survivors that’s just the beginning of a long, isolating, painful journey. My dad started sexually abusing me around 10, I’m 29 now. I was a pretty quiet, shy, nervous kid naturally but that became debilitating once the abuse started. I was sure my mom was going to blame me and I would be in trouble if I told her what my dad was doing. I was the type of kid that hated getting in trouble so I usually followed the rules. 

My mom was extremely critical and judgmental. A lot of mundane problems were a lose-lose situation for me. I felt like I had to hide everything from her. Confiding in her either meant she’d brush it off, “your too young to be stressed”, or telling the extended family that came over for lunch, and having a good laugh. Even something as human as covering my face when I cried, got ridiculed. 

Whenever someone asks “when did the abuse stop?”, I can’t really answer that question. I feel so frustrated and ashamed that I don’t have the right answer. There’s hasn’t been a defining moment where I stood up to my dad or told my mom. To me it feels like it hasn’t stopped.

The circumstances are different and the abuse has evolved but I can’t seem to stop it. My dad is still inappropriate whenever he gets a moment alone with me and even if he isn’t it’s always in the back of my mind. I feel completely responsible for how many years this has happened. If I had told my dad “no” whenever he asked if I was ok with what happened. Or confided in my mom it could have stopped a lot sooner. I let it go on and still do. I feel like a traitor and so pathetic by being in therapy or sharing my story when I do nothing to keep it from happening again. 

I’ve told myself I didn’t speak up as a kid because my dad would go to jail, ruining their marriage and leaving my siblings without a dad. That’s easier than admitting I was too scared and powerless to say anything. There’s so many “what ifs” that keep me quiet today. What if no one believes me or thinks it wasn’t inappropriate and I’m just exaggerating and need to get over it. Or worse what if they do believe me and it tears apart my whole family. 

I’m not really sure where I go from here or what path I’ll end up taking. I wanted to end this on an uplifting, positive note about my story but it’s still unfolding. For now it’s just one day at a time. 

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Inside the Mind of a 27 year-old with BiPolar II by Hannah Blum

 You are coasting along a straight path, then you struggle to get up that hill. The pain is almost a high. In a moment you have no energy, another too much. You feel like you are about to break, but you don’t stop, you know you have to keep running…

There are nights that turn into dawn in what seems like an instant. From reorganizing my closet to writing in my journal for hours, there are moments your mind is running so fast it is almost painful. You close your eyes, but your eyelids jolt, begging you to open.

So what do I do… 

Learning to harness my thoughts hours before sleep and avoiding stimulation. It works. It fails. A few solid nights of sleep is better than none.

Never content.

If God had bipolar, He would not have created the Earth in seven days. He would still be in the creative process. The day I graduated from the college, all I could think was “You can do better! You have to do more, Hannah!” Nothing is ever good enough, and relaxing while patting yourself on the back is nearly impossible. Being content in my mind is one step from slipping off the balance beam.

So what do I do… 

I breathe more often, and I breathe deeper. I have added exercise of mind and body like yoga.

Emotions run deep.

I hear a song and feel the pain inside the singer’s voice. I smell a flower and can feel its growth. I am sensitive to other people’s pain and hurt, to the point it keeps me up for nights. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night crying so hard I cannot breathe. I laugh as hard as I cry, I hurt as hard as I love.

So what do I do… 

I turn my pain into art by writing, drawing and creating to express these emotions.  Exercise gives me a healthy release.

Treading Water.

Every day my eyes open, and I have to tell myself to do everything I can to keep my head above water. I am one slip from falling to the bottom on a daily basis. Some days are harder than others, but I refuse to drown.

So what do I do… 

I keep moving forward. I keep active. I do not talk about my “struggle” often. I volunteer to help others outside of myself.

The lows are beyond explanation.

You are screaming at the top of your lungs but no one can hear you. It is not a headache, it is a cloud in your head that makes it almost impossible to see. You have no energy to speak. You are empty. You are numb. The light at the end of the tunnel seems so far.

So what do I do… 

Again, I turn these moments into some form of art. I set a goal for myself every day, and hold myself to it. I remind myself that tomorrow is a brand new day.

a self-portrait of the author with the words: Broken Mirror

The picture above is a picture from my journal days before I was hospitalized in 2010.  I have never shared it with anyone until now. Sending love to all my mental health warriors. You are bold. You are brave. You are brilliant. 

Follow this journey on Halfway 2 Hannah

This piece was published as a collaboration with The Mighty

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What Not To Say to Someone Who Has Depression: A Guest Blog by Dr. Susan J. Noonan

 

I was recently asked by a journalist what I would recommend “never” to say to someone who has depression. That’s a very good question. In my recent book When Someone You Know Has Depression: Words to say and things to do (2016), I focus mainly on the positives. By that I mean statements that are encouraging and received well by a person in the midst of a mood disorder. Today I will turn things around and give you some examples of what doesn’t work, and why.

 

There are about three dozen negative comments I can think of off the top of my head, and they fall into several categories. Most family members and close friends mean well and are trying their best. It’s hard to stay positive when you are fatigued, stressed, or frustrated in dealing with the illness, but you want to avoid accidentally saying these things or blurt out snap clichés. They are not helpful to the person and often times make things worse by breaking down the trust and communication you are trying to build.

 

The first is to avoid saying anything that is dismissive or invalidating. Your family member who has depression has a right to his or her feelings and thoughts, even if you don’t agree with the content. When you recognize and disagree with the person’s impaired thinking, negative or distorted thoughts, don’t tell him how to think and feel. Gently show him that the errors in his logic are inconsistent with his life experiences. Instead of saying “No you don’t’”, or “How could you possibly think…” in response to something he says, it would be preferable to respond with “I hear you feel you’re ___. That must feel awful. Where do you think that comes from? What about the time___?” and offer some concrete evidence in his life that counteracts his statement.

 

Invalidating statements are things like “There are people worse off than you,” or “It’s all in your head.” This disregards her symptoms as being valid and imposes guilt upon the person for having them. It ignores the fact that 41,000 people who have depression died by suicide in the United States in 2015. Minimizing her thoughts and feelings by saying something like “Oh, everybody has a bad day” or “I was depressed for 3 days once” is another way of sending the message that her situation is not serious and legitimate. Another, “Don’t be so depressed,” “You have it so good – why can’t you just be happy?” or “Snap out of it” gives the message that he or she could just “will away” the illness, and dismisses it as the biologically based medical condition of the mind and body that it is.

 

Another category to avoid are statements that are judgmental, blaming or critical. These are comments such as “It’s your own fault,” “You’re just looking for attention,” “You need to get a job [or hobby, boyfriend, volunteer].” Or “You should get off those pills and stop seeing that quack doctor,” and “You should go to church and pray.” Try not to impose your personal opinion on your family member’s life and decisions during an episode of depression.

 

It is also not helpful for you to make assumptions or jump to conclusions about the person who has depression, how or what he feels or thinks, especially without the full facts. This is definitely not helpful and can ruin your relationship with him or her. One example is “You must have your period,” or “It’s PMS.” The comment “Just try a little harder” assumes that the person is not making an effort, which is also judgmental, critical and dismissive.

 

Here are a few additional comments in the “DON’T DO” list that you would do well to avoid.

 

  • Stop feeling sorry for yourself
  • Pull yourself together
  • Get your act together
  • Lighten up
  • Have you tried herbal tea? [or vitamins]
  • Just don’t think about it
  • Quit whining
  • But you look so happy all the time
  • This too will pass

And top on my list of personal disliked comments, merely saying…

“Hang in there!”

Susan J. Noonan MD, MPH is a physician and certified peer specialist, author of two books and blogs on managing depression for her own website, Psychology Today and The Huffington Post, and a patient with firsthand experience in mood disorders. Her recent book, When Someone You Know Has Depression: Words to say and things to do (JHUP 2016), is a companion to Managing Your Depression: What you can do to feel better (JHUP 2013). She can be reached at www.susannoonanmd.com.

 

 

 

 

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A Letter To Her Suicidal 16 Year-Old Self: Guest Blog by Katie Hirshberg

A Letter To My 16 Year Old Self

In four months I will be 20 years old. Two decades.

This is an important year for me. Four years ago, I couldn’t see myself where I am today. Four years ago I didn’t have much hope.

My 16 year old self almost didn’t make it.

I wrote this letter for her. It’s extremely personal.

I like to think she’d be proud of the person she grew up to be.

Dear 16 year old Katie,

You’re in your junior year of high school and it’s proving to be just as difficult as people told you it would be.

For you specifically though, this year comes with a unique set of challenges.

This year you have developed depression only you don’t know that it’s depression you just think you’re a failure. You’re sad. You sleep a lot. You don’t eat enough. You hate yourself.

It’s hard. Actually hard is an understatement. There isn’t really a word that describes what you’re going through accurately. It feels as though life is a mountain that you’re trying to climb with flip-flops on. You can’t get very far.

In the middle of the night one Sunday in April you will wake up and write a suicide note. You won’t end up going through with it. But you keep it on your laptop and read it every single day for a week. You will lock yourself in the bathroom one afternoon, bottle of pills in hand clutching your laptop reading the letter to your parents over and over. You think you might do it. But your mom comes home, knocks on the door, and makes you realize that she will lose everything if she loses you.

That night you tell your parents you want to go to therapy. You make a silent vow to yourself to make it to your 20th birthday. If you can just make it to 20, maybe things will be better. It’s only 4 years away; but it feels like a lifetime because every single day is a battle.

You go to therapy. You start to get better. You stop wanting to die. But, you still don’t really want to live either.

I’m writing this to you, my 16 year old self, who is caught somewhere between life and death, who hates herself, who is looking for love in all the wrong places, who doesn’t see a happy ending. Who doesn’t believe she will go to college. Who doesn’t think she has a future. Who thinks that when she does make it to 20 life will still be just as hard. Who thinks that her life will be cut short after only 2 decades on Earth.

I’m writing this to you now, 4 months before my 20th birthday.

16 year old Katie, I wish I could actually send this letter. I wish that there were a way for you to know that it will all be worth it.

I want you to know that, as cliche as it sounds, it does get better. As I write this I am sitting in my apartment in college over 300 miles away from home. I am happy. I am not just existing, I am alive.

When I celebrate my 20th birthday in four months, I won’t just be celebrating another year of life. I will be celebrating for my 16 year old self. I will be celebrating her choice to stay alive despite the weight of her pain. I will be celebrating the fact that I am still here, and that I want to be here.

16 year old Katie, I know that you are unhappy. But this unhappiness will be short-lived in the grand scheme of things. You will get through it. You will learn self-love. You will learn self-acceptance. You’ll learn to live.

It will all be worth it. And I am proud of you.

Love,

Your 19 year old self.

P.S – Surprise! You’re bi.

To read more of Katie’s blogs go to https://katiehirshberg.wordpress.com/

Follow her on Twitter @Rosearium

 

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Losing a Parent When You’re Four: A Guest Blog by Cassie Heath

Losing a Parent When You’re Four

When I was nine years-old I was rummaging through a clothing rack at Kohl’s  I came across a T-shirt that read “Daddy’s Girl”.  My throat burned.  I began to sob in the middle of Kohl’s. My mother frantically ran over to see why. I pointed to the shirt and in between breaths muttered, “I’ll never be a ‘Daddy’s Girl’.”

Five years earlier, on May 29, 2004, my father began to have what would be his worst and last asthma attack. My mother had to hurriedly take control; she gathered me and my younger brother into the backseat, and helped my struggling father in the passenger seat of our Lincoln.

Just keep him breathing. We’ll make it there soon.

We sped to the hospital, but not in time for his weak lungs. He was so tired, so feeble; the asthma attack was so great that he went into heart failure. My mother swerved the car and everything seemed to go in slow motion and white noise, like in those dramatic war scenes in action movies.  To this day I have never heard a scream with the kind of pain my mom had in her voice.

She gave him mouth to mouth; she yelled for help. The ambulance was called, and a nearby woman who came to support me and my brother told us to be strong, like Spiderman. She gave us Sprite.  Since then I’ve never liked Sprite very much.

The ambulance soon arrived, and the police drove us to the hospital. I remember being surrounded by a lot of family, and walking around outside with my aunt. She bought me an ice cream sandwich– I wasn’t able to eat one again for ten years. When returning inside, I pleaded with my mother to let me talk to him. She tried explaining to me that he wouldn’t be able to speak to me or hear me. I was so confused and hurt.

At the funeral he looked so perfect and porcelain; and then he was gone.

I am now seventeen and have relived his death every single day.  It will probably never leave my head. It plays repeatedly like a record. Some days, I can keep it to background noise, but on others it takes center stage and I have no choice but to surrender to it.  Since that day I have battled feelings of worthlessness and abandonment, depression, anxiety, and many others. I’ve been left with a barren emptiness in the pit of my soul.  Half of me feels gone. There’s no replacing that. No matter how hard I try.

Is there a happy ending, or a light at the end of the tunnel? I don’t know. I’ve cycled through the five stages of grief, even after twelve years, and I probably will for the rest of my life. Was there some greater purpose in my enduring this cruel experience? I don’t know. I’ve always told myself that I’ll somehow use my experience to help other people, but I guess I won’t know until my purpose greets me. If I am sure of anything, it is that my father would want me to utilize my potential, do great things, and attempt to heal my soul. With that, I just have to devote myself to becoming a stronger version of me, one step at a time.

Email- casscassmarie123@gmail.com
Twitter- @cassieheath

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