The Perfect Mental Health Day – My Unicorn

Does the perfect mental health day exist? What does that even mean?

I have been thinking a lot about this idea that there could be a day where I am free of all mental health issues– even if it were just for a day. It is an exciting thing, is it not?

The Perfect Mental Health Day

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Google defines mental health as the following: “a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being.”

I was writing the other day about my recent struggles with social anxiety, and a thought occurred to me, “What would a perfect mental health day be like? Is that even achievable in this mental illness life?

The second thought in my mind was, “I am chasing a unicorn.”

I started to imagine it. No anxiety. No depression. No mania. No insomnia. I would sleep the night before and, for the first time in my life, not wake up feeling dread for the “where will mental illness take me today?” It would be no anxiety and no fear that my anxiety will lead to a panic attack. No feeling of dread that walking out my door and getting into my car to go somewhere without worrying about my anxiety or the possibility of a panic attack. A day without a mental illness. 

I am not sure that such a day existed in my life, but I wasn’t always depressed. Up until about three years ago, social anxiety was not as much of an issue in my life. I have had days at a time without depression, anxiety, or even insomnia. But, I have had days where all my mental illness issues are fighting the battle for my soul. I can make the argument that it has all made me a stronger person, it is the truth, but I still struggle. I still have to remind myself to always keep fighting.

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The truth is there is no cure-all for mental illness. How we continue to fight is by talking about the issues in places like WordPress. We figure out what triggers of our mental illness and find ways to better our mental health.

The “perfect mental health day” is a great idea, and maybe one day I will achieve this after this long road.

What are your thoughts about if “the perfect mental health day” is possible? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I wanted to end this post with some positivity.

Love yourself first. Always Keep fighting.

James

Photo Credit:

ashutosh nandeshwar

A Swim Upstream And Lessons Learnt

As the year comes to an end, I would like to recap what 2018 has been for me. This year was filled with so many ups and downs. Tears have been cried and my faith has been tested on so many occasions. There were a lot of lessons learned, despite my heartache.

It has been a year since I was diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and My Bowel Disease. This time last year, I was so malnourished because my gut was extremely damaged and I couldn’t absorb nutrients. It has been such a struggle to get to a point were my bowel disease was at bay. I was also diagnosed with severe depression, anxiety and panic disorder about three years ago. I struggled to keep the ship sailing since my malnutrition and my bowel disease made my mental health conditions worse.

I lost so many friends due to us growing apart. I was no longer helpful in their journeys and them in mine. I grew into what I am today because I was shaped by my circumstances and experiences. I became who I was destined to be. I fell in love with myself again, despite having lost myself in the storm of circumstances I had no control over. I gained new hope and I started traveling the world again, with friends and on my own.

For the first time in a year, since my diagnosis of CPTSD. I started living for myself and not being defined by doctrines that people tried to instil in me. I overcame my self harming strategies, my suicidal thoughts and most importantly the guilt I have carried for so many years. I always struggled with guilt and self-hate. Because I was taught by my abusers that I was not worthy of love and that I wasn’t deserving of life. I still struggle with my negative inner critic from time to time but I learnt how to cope and tackle this negative inner critic.

I am grateful for all that Life had to offer me in 2018. Most importantly, I found the new me!

Thank you for being with me. I look forward to seeing you here again soon Let us rebuild a healthy state of mind.

Love,

Francesca

My Last Panic Attack – An Anxiety​ Story​

aaron-blanco-tejedor-768029-unsplash.jpgA Christmas Eve Panic Attack Story

Last night sucked.

I found myself lost in the clutches of a panic attack–again. I hate the winter months. I am not sure if it is the cold or something else, but my anxiety spirals worse at this time of the year.

Last night was a culmination of a lot of things, but my thoughts were the all-consuming the previous night. I could not find a place where things were good. The main issue on my mind… my ongoing struggles with my Seroquel. It has been on my mind a lot lately. I rely on it do the most important thing when it comes to my mental health–sleep. Sure, it helps keep my mania and depression in check as well, but as I can track my thoughts over the past year, it has become clear that a part of my night time panic attacks happen after I take my Seroquel for sleep.

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The worst part for me when it comes to panic attacks is losing who I am, and a part of me leaves me–hope. I can feel myself losing control, and when I can’t breathe, I feel helpless. I hate anxiety and panic attacks because of the loss of control. I need to be in control of myself to feel right. It is the only way that I survive the daily grind of anxiety.

From the moment that I wake up in the morning, I fight a battle with anxiety. I have the occasional moment of peace, but these are a rare thing. There is something about this time of year. It has been that way the last three years. The crazy thing is my anxiety was not always consuming; there was a time where anxiety was just something that happened on occasion.

I can trace my current issues back to 2016. I had my first massive panic attack in years. I was driving, and I lost control. I was hospitalized. It sucked in the worst way. Before that moment I had relative peace with my anxiety. As I began to conquer my depression, my old friend anxiety decided it was time to come back into my life.

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I remember early on in diagnosis when my anxiety was this bad. I understood anxiety less than I do now, and what worked was an increase in my Ativan. I eventually got to a place where anxiety was not an everyday thing.

I know this is not a forever thing. I know I have to do better in 2019 to finally tackle these issues head-on because there are so many positive things for me coming in the new year. There is always hope and fighting for better mental health. Yesterday is not today, and I can only go up from here.

Stay strong in the fight.

Always Keep Fighting

James

Photo Credit:

Jéssica Oliveira

Aarón Blanco Tejedor

Hailey Kean

Jon Tyson

When I Was Not Enough: Death of A Friendship

Seeing a friendship that was once vibrant with life and laughter die in front of your eyes can be a sad sight. As it takes its final breath, I have to remind myself that it could not be saved.

This friend tried to control me and when I did not do as she demanded, she would get angry with me. Looking back, I now see that I was not enough in her eyes and I’m alright with that.

My former friend and I were best friends since 2013 when we were roommates in university. I felt like I could tell her anything, that she would always be my right-hand woman on Team Megan.

Until 2016.

From then on our friendship began to die.

She did not approve of the man I started dating that year which brought distance between us. After my now ex-boyfriend left for Army basic training, she said that I had to either dump him or marry him immediately.

Those words furiously buzzed in my brain, I was so upset by them that they induced my first panic attack.

After that she and I didn’t spend time together for months until the guy dumped me.

She was present until I began my downward spiral of suicidal thoughts, severe depression, almost daily self-harming and intense anxiety. She refused to listen to my struggles, she couldn’t understand so she closed her ears.

From there I began to distance myself even more from her.

In June 2017 she asked if I would move in with her. I told her no because I just started a new job in April and did not want to leave my boyfriend that I started dating in January. Neither of these things she approved of in the first place.

She was angry with me. She was irritated that I did not drop everything for her. She wanted me to follow the path she was trying to establish for me.

The final straw for me was when she came up to visit me this May. She bought me coffee at my favorite local coffeeshop, sat me down and came for my throat. Figuratively.

She told me how she missed “college Megan” and that she could help me get “back on track” with my career. She began listing off mutual friends saying, “They are doing so well for themselves.”

I understood that as, they are doing great while I’m a loser.

I on the verge of bursting into tears. I couldn’t believe the person who was supposed to be my best friend was saying such hurtful words.

Once she finally left later that afternoon, I laid in my bed and cried.

The next day I texted her, I knew if I called I would cry. I told her she upset me with everything she said and that she made me feel like a failure.

She pulled a Kanye West! She said, “I’m sorry but…” My jaw dropped as she began to justify why she said those hurtful things. She was not sorry at all.

I was not enough for her.

My anxiety tells me that I’ve made a horrible mistake in losing her as a friend. That “if I only listened to her” I would somehow be better off.

My rational self says that I am doing fine without her.

Thank u, next.

Why Saving Private Ryan (1998) is My Favorite War Film

The first time I saw this film, I enjoyed it but I always wondered why they never explained the shaky hand that Tom Hanks’ character Captain Miller had in a few scenes.  The most memorable scene with this was at the beginning just before the soldiers storm the beach of Normandy, France. Captain Miller’s hand starts shaking, as if he has had too much coffee and little food, but it seems like he ignores this and the viewer assumes it will be explained later.  They never mention it and only use it as a visual.

I did not understand this when I first saw the film because I was about 12 years old.  I understand now that it was intended to visually show the post-traumatic stress Captain Miller had experienced.  I would also consider this a physical symptom of a panic attack.  I never knew I had anxiety and depression as a child.  I only discovered this recently and I am 31 years old as I write this article. Within the last couple years, I learned what a panic attack really was with first-hand experience.  My attacks were never as severe as others I read about but it was still real.

For almost 5 years, I was a bouncer at a nightclub.  This job came with lots of stress having to babysit 250+ drunk adults.  I have been puked on, pissed on, punched in the face countless number of times, had a homeless man pull a knife on me, and someone tried to intentionally run me over with their car.  All this stress added to my anxiety.  The last 2 years as a bouncer, I noticed that my chest would start pounding if I thought something serious was happening.  A balloon popped during New Year’s Eve and I spent 10 minutes trying to calm down.

I checked my heart rate one of these times and noticed that it was still within the normal range.  My heart rate was not elevated but my chest was pounding.  I looked up what this could mean and everything said this was a symptom of a panic attack.  I had never had a panic attack before and these had been going on for about 6 weeks before I looked it up.  When I have a panic attack, or if I think my life might be threatened, my chest starts pounding and I become hyper alert looking at and listening to everything.

I do not know if I have post-traumatic stress but I do have anxiety and some of the symptoms are similar.  This film resonates with me more and more each time I watch it.  I can relate to Captain Miller even more now than I did 20 years ago.  I understand the emotions and thoughts that are going through his mind before storming Normandy beach.  I understand why his hand is shaking during certain scenes of the film.  I understand why he still gets out of the boat despite the threat of losing his life. Courage does not mean you are not afraid.  It means you go anyway.

Learning to Accept the Small Victories

Sometimes I don’t know where I get the strength to go out into the world. I have days where it feels like everyone startles me. My chest pounds the whole day and I don’t know the cause of my panic attack. I still have night terrors. They aren’t often but the nightmares are always the same. I’m trapped or paralyzed and some creature, always something different, comes after me. My interpretation is I feel trapped everyday like I’m submerged in quicksand slowly being swallowed and sinking into darkness. Some days nowhere feels safe.

During those day long panics, I try to say busy. Sometimes this helps distract me to get through the day. Other times the distraction is enough to stop the panic. If I don’t have work, I devise projects to stay occupied. I write fiction and poetry, I read, binge watch TV or movies while cooking. I feel accomplished when completing tasks, but then I worry that I’ve run out of things to stay busy. I’ve run out of distractions. So, I have an unending list of projects and ideas. A To-Do List that never ends. Unfortunately, my distractions rarely involve people.

I hear people talk about their best friends they see every week or every day. I’ve only recently started talking to someone regularly and that’s still new for me. The people I see the most are coworkers and roommates, back when I had roommates. Otherwise, it’s like I don’t exist if people don’t see me. Other people usually don’t offer much for distractions. I rarely get invites, and if I do, I often don’t go. Most of my hobbies are solo tasks like reading or writing. I want to share experiences with someone, but most people irritate me or cause panic.

Some days are better than others. On good days, I can be super productive, have a positive attitude, and get a full night’s sleep. Not every day is bad and not every day is good. Most days are somewhere in between. I accomplish some things and sleep more than half the night. The small victories keep me together. Always appreciate the small things. Most days that’s where my strength come from. I have more average days than I used to. Every day that isn’t bad is a small victory. I hope that leads to more good days. Those days where my chest isn’t pounding for unknown reasons.

Photo Credit: rawpixel

How Sharing My Traumatic Stories Helps Me Heal

How Sharing My Traumatic Stories Helps Me Heal

I never realized I was struggling with mental illness until I started having panic attacks. A month passed before I realized these were panic attacks. At first, I thought I had anxiety, and the stress from my job made it worse. I was a bouncer at a nightclub surrounded by drunken fools, many of which used alcohol to overcome their own anxieties. I removed myself from that situation and eliminated many other stresses in my life. I felt I was improving but still had a long journey ahead. I felt good and optimistic until the repressed memories resurfaced.

I hadn’t fully looked at the trauma from my childhood. It was worse than I remembered and what I remembered was worse than I thought. The only true memory I have of the trauma was the first incident. I was 4, my father was drunk and beat my mother. I have no memories before this and only a few spotty memories shortly after. I thought lack of childhood memories was normal, but most of mine are repressed. The epiphany came when my sister shared her memories. She is 4 years older, and her memories from that long ago are clearer.

She told me about a time when she was 10. She sat on the couch watching cartoons as our mother sat next to her reading. Our father came home and started screaming at our mother. She screamed back. My sister turned up the volume on the TV and continued watching cartoons. Our father sat on the other side of my sister, and our parents continued screaming at each other. The argument became so heated, our father put his arm in front of my sister to choke our mother. My sister sat up a little more to look over his arm so she could continue watching cartoons.

This is a perfect example of how common violence was growing up in our home. My own memories returning and hearing my sister’s memories created an existential crisis. Everything about my personality I felt made me unique and set me apart from everyone else were only symptoms. Most of my personality traits were caused by Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’ve had to search for new ways to identify myself. I didn’t know who I was for a brief time. I’m doing better, but I’m still re-establishing my personal identity.

This can make it difficult to make connections with other people when I’m still trying to reconnect with myself. When I do make connections, I fear they’ll leave like so many others have. I fear they’ll push me away or I’ll push them away. Talking about and writing about my experiences helps me reclaim ownership and identity. Some people don’t like talking about their trauma, and that’s okay too. I need to tell people about my trauma, or I’ll feel I have no purpose. I write to have a purpose. I write to feel I belong. I write to be identified. Everyone’s healing process is different.

By James Pack

Photo Credit: Elijah O’Donell

A Chapter From The Bipolar Writer

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“It is life, I think, to watch the water. A man can learn so many things.”
Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook

My Strange Obsession With Water

I have this strange obsession. One that the only one way to explain it is like this. A need to always not only have water on hand but to drink water excessively throughout my day. I guess its an obsession or a part of me that will stay in my life? I will explain.

Over the past ten years, a lot of strange things have become a part of my daily ritual. It takes me on average two hours to get to sleep from the time I take my Seroquel to the time I get to sleep. What one of these strange things revolves around my many medicines is drinking water. It sounds weird, but it all started when I began to take lithium at the beginning of my diagnosis, my dosage was the highest it could be because of the dangerous place I was in during my first suicide attempt. Those who have taken lithium know that it dries you out like there is no tomorrow.

From the beginning, I would drink copious amounts of drinking water every day. When I would wake after finally sleeping my mouth would be so dry that I started keeping water next to my bed. It didn’t matter as much when I wassteve-johnson-625117-unsplash.jpgn’t leaving my house, which I didn’t do for many years. When things in my life improved and I got to place where, at least for a few hours, I could leave my house, things changed. About two years ago I had one of the worst panic attacks in my life. I thought it was a heart attack.

The ambulance came, and it was a big thing. I couldn’t breathe, and I was hyperventilating so bad I almost passed out. I spent the night in the hospital. When my social anxiety had hit its peak for the first in years, it became clear what things worked. I still don’t know precisely why my social anxiety began to spiral. What I do know is that certain things since this event contribute to my social anxiety today. What was strange about this event was that water became what helped me through this panic attack. The Ativan helped in the end, but drinking water helps to keep me centered.

My story only gets stranger. After that incident, I had to have water with me at all times. When my social anxiety gets out of control or when the feeling of a panic attack overcomes me, I drink water. It is strange, but it helps. I can’t explain it. Part of the routine I go through every time I leave my house is making sure I have several bottles of water with me. My mind knows, and it won’t let me mentally prepare to leave the house until I have packed liquids into my backpack.

In my mind, every time that I leave my safe place (my house), there is a possibility of my social anxiety leading to a panic attack. When you look at my experiences with panic attacks, it makes sense, because it has happened so many times since late 2016. I have even left my house and gone a mile down the road, before having to turn around fearing that my anxiety would lead to a panic attack. Even when I am at my favorite coffee shop where I have spent so many hours writing, I always order large water with my coffee so that it is there in case I have a panic attack.erik-odiin-444889-unsplash.jpg

I make sure always to have cases of water in my room. I never allow the water cases go in one case. I even have a small refrigerator in my room so that I always have cold water on hand. It has become my weird obsession that has also become a big part of my life. I will still feel dehydrated because of the medications. But when I am in full panic attack mode, my mouth gets dry. When this happens, I start to hyperventilate, and water is what helps.

It is one of the worst feelings if I forget or run out of the water. I even take a water bottle with me in the store because it has to be with me to make me feel better.

Water. Who knew?

I would have never thought that water would be such a big part of my life. It is now essential to get through my daily life. It’s another thing that I have picked up over the last ten years.

It’s an obsession that will never go away.

Always Keep Fighting (AKF)

James Edgar Skye

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Fátima Fuentes

Steve Johnson

Erik Odiin

When Things Don’t Sparkle Like They Used To

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We are all a little broken. But last time I checked, broken crayons still color the same. – Trent Shelton

This is a letter to anyone who has been recently diagnosed with a chronic illness or a mental illness. This  letter will contain all the things I wanted to hear from someone when I initially got diagnosed. When I needed to be comforted and when  I was experiencing inner turmoil and conflict. I hope this letter comforts someone in need of a shoulder to cry on.

Dear Lovely Friend,

It took me forever to get a diagnosis. For all the hospital trips that I made whilst seeking help made me feel worthless. I was being told from time to time that what I thought or felt “was all in my head” and that it meant nothing. That all the pain that I felt will be melted away by the pills that I was prescribed. Deep down in my heart, I knew I meant more than a diagnosis and a hand full of prescription pills. I thought that I would be happier after knowing what was wrong with me. Little did I know, I had so much work to do, so much healing to do. Not only was I unwell but I had no sense of self and I had no idea about who I was.

After being diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD), Depression, Panic Disorder and chronic migraines. I really felt like my past did define me. That I never knew who I was outside my trauma. For a while I felt like a label predicted my future and I felt so much shame because of it. “I am a failure and I would never amount to anything in life“, my inner critic would scream at me from time to time. I never knew who I was outside of what my abusers thought of me and outside the seed they decided to plant in me. I had never used my own voice for such a long time, I became so familiar with speaking in silence that I really expected other people to interpret my silence and have them possibly “read my mind“.

I was living most of my life feeling benumbed and not understanding how I could exist each day without true connection with my body, mind and soul and also with other people. My soul ached and craved to connect to those who have walked in my shoes, to those who were in similar situations as me but still I struggled to find them. I had felt so disempowered for so long that I forgot that I was my own safe haven and my own source of strength. I had lived a lie for so long because of what I had been told I would amount to, and how much of a failure I was. That I lost sight of my life purpose,most importantly I lost my spark, my self-esteem and my voice. I longed to be comforted and held by someone who could sympathize with what I was going through. I truly needed healing from someone’s soothing words. I needed a hero but little did I know I was the hero I was searching for my entire life.

To the everyone who struggles to get up in the morning, to the old me that was seeking comfort from all the wrong places because I could not find my own way. Here are the things I wish I knew then :

Nothing is more powerful than your own voice:

The biggest mistake I made was to allow my own voice to be drowned by the opinions of others. This was mainly due to my low self-esteem and the programming one endures during  trauma or prolonged trauma.beach-dark-dawn-39853 I learnt not to listen to my own voice, and I deemed my voice as something that was illogical or absurd. I did not understand that one uses their voice to express emotions, that emotions were meant to flow like water in a river. I was always surpressing my emotions and I had issues expressing negative emotions. Looking back now I wish I never bottled up any emotion. Emotions are meant to come and go and if one delays that process, emotions tend to lead to psychosomatic symptoms or other health problems in the future. Emotions are not abnormal, they are peculiar but they deserve to be expressed. Let them sift through your body without hindering that process. This most definately had to be the most difficult thing I had to relearn, I still to this day, struggle with handling my emotions.

Healing is not linear:

Living with chronic or mental illnesses entails dealing with flare ups. There will be bumps along the road, I mean this is part of life and life is very unpredicatble. It was really difficult for me to accept the fact that I have no control over certain situations in my life, especially with my health. art-artistic-bisexual-1209843The uncertainty made me feel uneasy, I wanted to feel safe. My constant need to control things was due to my fear of being harmed. I always felt a need to look out for myself even when it wasn’t necessary for me to do so. I do experience sparks in my life, where im really happy and content with my life. I have always tried to embrace those experiences. When I feel blue, working with a team of mental health professionals and a support system that are in sync with my personality often improves my optimissim and helps me create a frame work that keeps me sane. Meditation, soundness and yoga have helped me calm my mind and have helped me become more aware of how I present myself in this world. I became more aware of all the people around me and my surroundings. They have also helped me realise that I shouldn’t allow the future to collapse under the burden of my memory. The battle of man to seize the ear of his kind is one of the most important things I learnt. People with Mental health issues and Chronic illnesses deserve to be heard, they deserve to be understood and not cirtisized for their suffering. They should not be judged by the chapter of their stories (their lives) that people walk in on.

Missing who I was before My diagnosis:

I will admit that at some point in time I had issues accepting my diagnosis. This was due to the stereotypical and cultural stigma that forced me to discredit my diagnosis. This hindered my healing and led me to spiral out of control.city-lights-close-up-dark-1096060 At some point I was filled with so much anger and wanted to work towards being the person I was before my diagnosis. I also thought that what happened to me was not part of me at all. I battled against so many people that tried to help me. I pushed so many people away because I could not trust them; even when they meant no harm. I lost so many friends and this made me feel lost and lonely. I thought something was wrong with me. I truly yearned to be who I was before my diagnosis. My life had changed so drastically after a couple of labels that were thrown my way and were now apart of my life forever. It was only when I grew to realise that everyone is a little broken; some people hide their brokeness by disparaging how broken other people are. I decided to begin loving myself, loving how my body was unfolding, loving my empathetic and altruistic way of living despite what people had to say to me and about me. But most importantly, accepting my diagnosis. Looking back now, I realise there was truly nothing I did wrong. I am only human, failure and success are birth rights and there’s absolutely nothing I could do to change these. I am choosing to never let a stumble in the road be the end of my journey. I will not believe everything that I think because some of my thoughts were programmed in my brain to ambush me of my dreams. These thoughts contributed to my loneliness, led me to further isolate myself from people and led to my feeelings of unworthiness. I will follow my intuition and live my life the way I know how.

To the old me that was recently diagnosed, to the person who needs to hear this right now. Please note that:

Children never look back and this means that we must never allow the future to be weighed down by memory. For children have no past, and that is the whole secret of the magical innocence of their smiles. – Milan Kundra, The book of Laughter and Forgetting

Embrace your inner child and remember to laugh is to live profoundly despite whatever you go through.

i love our story. sure it's messy, but it's the story that got us here. (1)

Thank you for being with me. I look forward to seeing you here soon. Let us rebuild a healthy state of mind.

Francesca

i love our story. sure it's messy, but it's the story that got us here.