GIVING BACK

Being in recovery from mental illness doesn’t mean you’re cured, but it does mean you’re in control of your illness. Once you know how to handle your bad days and enjoy your good days, you find yourself stronger than ever. It takes strength to reach recovery and to stay in it. Things change when you’re in recovery. You take new steps, you take on new roles, and you step out of your comfort zone into new beginnings. You find yourself able to give back to those who helped you when you were at the bottom of your hole.

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Almost 19 years ago I was deep into my mental illness. The only thing I could see was how awful I felt and how awful living seemed. I couldn’t focus on anyone else’s problems but mine. During that time I leaned heavily on my friend Cheryl. She was my support and strength. I called her in the middle of night when I wanted to injure. She’d talk to me, even if it was at one am, until she got me to laugh. Sometimes we talked for hours. I cried and then I laughed. She knew what to say and what to do. She made herself available at any time.

When my ex-boyfriend couldn’t handle my illness or sudden emotional episodes, he called Cheryl. She was even there when I struggled to get through a day of work. One day I stood out in the middle of a road ready to die and Cheryl pulled me off. She has always been at my side when I needed her.

We lost contact for a few years, but once I found her again on Facebook, I was much stronger and happier. I had reached recovery, yet she picked up from where she left off. Instead of calling her to keep me from self-injuring or attempting suicide, I text her for advice on my bad days. When I started writing this blog, she began to use my post to help me, but suddenly roles have changed.

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Lou, Aimee, Cheryl and Cheryl’s boyfriend, Kieth. Peeking in from the back is Brianna Cheryl’s daughter. First time we saw each other face to face after reconnecting.

Cheryl has dipped into depression and is struggling with anxiety due to a situation in her life. Instead of me leaning on her, she is now leaning on me. Instead of her using my blog posts to chide me, I am now using them to child her. Being in recovery and going through years of therapy, I am now taking on a new role. Instead of me turning to her at my lowest, she is turning to me at her lowest. I am finally strong enough to be part of her support team. Roles have reversed. Now I am the strong one.

Many times I texted Cheryl, “It’s not fair. You’re using my own blog post against me.”

Now Cheryl texts, “Hey, it’s not fair, now you’re using your blog posts against me.”

When I started this blog I never considered that my posts could be used to not only help others, but also for others to use it to help me. I never thought I could actively put them to use on my own friend. I never thought I could be strong enough to be Cheryl’s shoulder to lean on. It is a good feeling to be able to help a friend in distress.

Cheryl messages me in tears and when she is at her lowest. I text her back or use Marco Polo to give her words of comfort, to encourage her, and to use what I’ve learned in therapy and what I have written in these posts to help her. This time I’m able to give back to her, by being her shoulder to lean on and cry on, to talk to her until she laughs, and to encourage her to fight for recovery. I’m more than happy to be able to be there for her like she has been for me.

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Once you reach recovery, your life changes and you change. You learn to manage your illness each day and still find the strength to be the friend you couldn’t be while you were ill. You take on new roles and you make big steps into new beginnings. Instead of being the person in need you can be the rock others are leaning on and standing on. You can give back to those who gave selflessly to you while you were at the bottom of the hole. Instead of the person needing support you can be the person giving support.

I still need to lean on Cheryl from time to time, but I am so happy to be the one she can lean on right now. I’m giving back to her what she has given me so many times. I’m giving her strength like she gave me, I’m giving her support like she gave me, I’m giving her a shoulder to cry on like she gave me, and so much more. I will stand at Cheryl’s side until we both can dance in the light of recovery.

 

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HAHA I DON’T HAVE BREASTS

While going through mental illness, I learned that during the saddest times I needed to look for something positive. My therapist had me keep a journal where I wrote down something positive each day. In time the list grew. I was also taught even during bad situations, there is something good. Adding humor doesn’t cure mental illness, but helps make the good things shine even more. I have also found these methods work for when you go through other illnesses. I have looked for the positive while struggling with breast cancer.

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Cancer is an awful illness and it affects its victims not only physically, but also mentally. Due to breast cancer and the BRCA gene, I had to decide to have a double mastectomy. While struggling with accepting myself as a beautiful woman without breasts, I found that looking at the positive side helps. I decided to add a little humor to my bad situation and this has lifted my spirits and helped me accept myself.

When my friends complain about their big breasts, I can now laugh at them and say, “Haha I don’t have breasts anymore.” I no longer have those giant melons hanging from my chest wreaking havoc in my life. I fought like heck to keep them, but now I am free. I no longer sit at the kitchen table in the morning to find my boob bathing in my bowl of cereal. I no longer have to worry about pulling it out to make a big splash and have cereal with milk dripping, spilling and soaking my table and me.

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I am also free of those sling shots they call bras. They never fit right, they stretched out of shape, and they came undone at the wrong moments. I can’t count how many times I tucked, squeezed, and pulled a bra over my breasts because the ones that fit perfectly don’t exist. Then suddenly I’d unintentionally pull that wandering bra strap up. In time the sling shot stretched to the point my boobs dangled like pears on a tree and at the wrong time something is poking me in the back. I could be in a crowd of people and guess what my bra came undone. Do I try to reach back and fasten it or run for the ladies room, making up some crazy excuses on the way?

I also no longer have to worry about those pesky heat rashes that taunted me every summer. I can remember the itch that drove me crazy to the point I would do anything to relieve it. I remember gently reaching under my breasts to scratch it to only realize people were standing in front of me looking at me oddly. I quickly pulled my hand away and greeted them with a smile.

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I no longer have to worry about my melon wiggling free of that contraption called a bra and my loose-fitingt shirt so it could go streaking in public. I tried hard to keep it under control, but at the worst possible time it would decide to show itself to the world. Of course having a double D made it hard to keep it from dancing out of its hiding place, especially in a swimming suit.

I am now free of bouncing bosoms threatening to give me a black eye when I run. I no longer have to worry about trying to explain to my coworker why I suddenly got a black eye running to the bus stop. Sometimes I lost track of time and found myself running to the end of my road to catch the bus. Up and down they bounced like basketballs. I had to concentrate on holding my head high so one of those wild things didn’t jump up and sock me in the eye. My husband loved to watch them bounce, but I hated how those big things thought they were made of rubber.

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I’m happy to no longer have these heavy melons dangling from my chest like someone taped fifty pound weights to me. Sometimes they were so heavy I thought I needed a walker for them. They weighed me down and pulled at my back. Carrying them around was a task of its own. So many times I wished I had something to carry them in. Unfortunately no one ever evented a walker with wheels and baskets just for the breasts.

The most positive thing about no longer having breasts is being able to rub it in with my friends. When they complain about theirs I just laugh and say, “Haha I don’t have breasts.” I had planned on burning my entire stretched-out sling shots, but I think my neighbors would be calling the looney bin on me. So instead I resorted to putting them in a bag and doing a dance while I stood over the garbage can we have outside tossing them in one by one.

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If you are facing breast cancer, mental illness, or some other illness, find the positive hiding behind the darkness. Have fun with the positive; add humor to it. A little laughter helps lift the spirits and makes things seem less awful. Laughter is no cure, but it helps. Sometimes when we are in the hole it’s hard to laugh, but don’t give up. Keep looking for ways to find the good during the bad.

I’m in recovery from mental illness and breast cancer because I worked hard at finding the brighter side to my ordeals. I’m laughing and enjoying life within the light.

 

WRITING, LEARNING, AND GROWING

Not everyone has the ability to write, and no one starts out as the perfect writer. Writing is a God given–gift that needs lots of fine tuning and learning. Published writers have a wealth of information to share and techniques to try. No author knows everything there is to know about writing and everyone has a different technique. The learning process is endless. Writers participate in workshops and conferences to better their work. They also read books on different techniques.

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Back in seventh grade I found I had a talent to write. Writing became my therapy to deal with bullying and it became my passion. In school I bought books on writing and read them religiously. My high school English teacher signed me up for a summer program for talented writers at Chautauqua Institute. I loved it. A bus took us there and home each day for a week. I lived a half hour from the institute.

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Bell tower at  Chautauqua Institute

Then my teacher gave me information on a writing conference for high school students at Susquehanna College. My parents scrounged up the money for me to go. My science teacher took me for a weekend writers retreat in a small town called Findley Lake. In eleventh grade I raised enough money to go to Washington, DC for a journalism conference. Yet I still had a lot to learn.

Going to writing workshops helped not only my writing, but it also helped lift me up during some depressing times in my life. Every time I came back my parents and teachers said I was glowing. I was learning about what I loved and I was making friends with other people who loved the same thing. The conferences took me away from my sad, lonely world for a little while and they helped me grow as a writer. In high school I felt like a nobody, but at the conference I felt like somebody.

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Me and friends I made at Susquehanna University writing conference.

As an adult I joined a writing critique group called Pennwriters. I began to learn and improve my writing even more. Much of what I learned about writing in high school was obsolete. Learning to be a professional writer was a whole new experience. I had lots to learn.

I started going to Pennwriters writing conferences. I had made some friends at my group and I shared a room with my friend Jan. I was pretty shy and I stuck to her like glue. Then Jan introduced me to Saint Davids Christian Writers conference. Again I stuck to Jan, but in time I blossomed. I broke free of my shyness and began making new friends. When I returned home I was glowing.

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Jan and I at Pennwriters conference

Going to the conference helped me shed the chains that were holding me down since high school. It helped me break free of my silence. I made some really good friends at Saint David’s that have been my friends for years now. I met my friend Kelly who helped me invite God into my life and my friend Roberta who edits these blog posts. Now that I am married and we own a home, I no longer can afford the Pennwriters weekend conference, but I go to the one day conference. I go to Saint David’s when I can get a scholarship.

Writers never stop learning and improving their abilities. Writers have their own techniques. At the conferences I learn something new from each workshop. I take a little bit from each workshop to improve, to grow, and to develop my own technique. There is always room for improvement, for learning, and growing as a writer.

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Saint Davids Christian Writers conference attendees years ago before I was married. Can you find me?

Right now I am packing to go to Saint Davids Christian writers conference. I am very excited to see my friends and to learn. I sold copies of the book I’m published in and raised enough money to get a partial scholarship. A lot has been going on in my life with being a cancer survivor, two people I love very much having a rough time, and having my own health problems. Last week I was sick in bed with a sinus infection and not too long ago I dealt with plantar fasciitis. I need this conference. It’s my therapy.

I enjoy every minute of learning about my craft and I love meeting new people who also have the same passion as me. I also love to buy books and have the author sign them. I can’t wait to be signing my own book at Saint David’s in the future. I can’t wait to see my friends and to talk about something I love, writing.

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God gave me a wonderful talent and I will continue to work on improving it so I can use it to help others. I have noticed since I started this blog my posts have gotten better. I will continue to work on improving them. My writing is my heart and soul. I always tell people if you really want to get to know me read my writing. I pour all of me in every word. My writing keeps me in the light of recovery.

Since I am going to Saint David’s Wednesday there will be no new blog post next week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHICH CAME FIRST?

     This week I have a guest blog post from a good friend. Enjoy.

 

By: Julie Lynn Haibach

 

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? That is what comes to mind when we think of mental illness that may lead to self-medication with alcohol. The alcoholic dabbled with other substances, but nothing seemed to cure anxiety and depression like a good bottle of wine. Yes you read right; the alcoholic will need at least a bottle.

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The alcoholic would like to believe he or she is a huge advocate of mental illness, but like the majority of the country, he or she was taught if the pain is internal, then it is not real.  A broken arm will get you sympathy; a broken soul will hide in shame, holding back, pretending to be strong. The alcohol will help the alcoholic share his or her inner pain by allowing the person to finally scream out his or her internal madness with words and actions. The problem is when the alcoholic is so suddenly irrational and out of character, that is when he or she is shunned, at least in his or her own anxiety-filled mind. The alcoholic will slowly start isolating him or herself out of fear of what he or she will do next.

Looks like I stole the first two paragraphs from a medical journal, huh? I swear I didn’t; I am Julie, a 46-year-old recovering alcoholic who is just starting to deal with the anxiety and depression that has plagued me my whole life. The first two paragraphs would be something I would read and say, “No, everyone knows I have issues.”  I just visited my best friend last night. What did we talk about? The only way I could survive was to keep myself in complete denial. I was truly scared of what I had become which finally made me scream out, “HELP ME, HELP ME,” with true emotional devastation. It was brought on by an eye-opening somewhat fog–induced, remnants –of—pills—and—too—much—wine– minded panic attack, by an angel asking one simple question, “Where was Dad through all this.” I had isolated so much that even the person I lived with and loved the longest had no idea.

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I trusted no one, especially myself. I started drinking at age 14 and didn’t quit until September 2nd, 2018. Fast forward to June 2nd the end of a perfect day. I was given the opportunity to make my last drunken word garbage blog disappear. Aimee asked me to be a guest blogger. Because of this and still thriving on the glow of a Woman’s Retreat, I spent my third night in a row not sleeping . The next day, Monday, I knew what I was going to write but only got a couple of pages done. My idea was all based on one single moment of my life. I pulled this idea out of the deepest darkest corner of my mind. It was making me uncomfortable. Man, I glimpsed at the black blob a couple of weeks ago. I remember how ugly you are.  I really hope I can make you shiny. I kept working on it and I just kept getting more anxious. Finally, after talking to my Mom and telling her this deep dark secret sober, I just started bawling. Why am I crying? This happened a lifetime ago. But I wouldn’t let it go. I texted the woman that would be hurt most by this backlash the most, trying to convince her that if I share this deep, raw, secret it would be for the greater good; also it would have played well in my original fictional story woven with the truth. The worst part was I couldn’t share with her what happened. I just expected her to see how this would affect the greater good, the women in general. I saw my insanity when I was going to apologize for the 100th time.  I exaggerated, but it was probably the longest text conversation I have ever had with her.

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I just had contact with a couple of people and portrayed myself as perfectly fine. How do I take that back? Jerry is golfing and he deserves to. A few minutes ago, I talked to the one person that knows almost everything about me, “Do I call her back?” No, then she will see my real shame, the turmoil of my mind with anxiety filled depressive issue, and how I am failing at handling it. “I AM NOT DRINKING, THIS IS NOT FAIR, I AM DOING EVERYTHING RIGHT,WHY AM I FEELING SO MUCH SHAME!!?!!”

Screw it, get away from that uncomfortable black blob, is it getting darker? I know another safe place. I went and all of a sudden, my safe place didn’t feel safe; I was cut off before I even began. I walked out and couldn’t breathe, I was shaking and sobbing trying to light a cigarette. A woman came out to talk to me; well, I did most of the talking. If she interrupted me, I would cut her off and scream, “LISTEN TO ME!”

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Finally, she very timidly asked, “Can I talk now?” I laughed a snotty face laugh and said, “Yes.” She convinced me to come back and listen to everyone else. In the back of my mind, I was thinking, “ I can’t promise to listen.” I went back in angry and emotionally drained, I slumped as far down in a chair as I could and crossed my arms. Then a magical thing happened: a dear friend grabbed my hand and I couldn’t let go. His hand felt safe, warm, and dry, and I held on harder and started listening to the people around me.

I am shining already, and I am becoming shinier every day. Another friend told me that I shone like a diamond, hence the diamond theme of this blog. I went on to the person I trust most and we settled the issue. The black blob was going back on the shelf, not the box, and will be thoroughly examined, then put back in the box. It happened, this tragedy, but so much else has happened as well. I can put this to rest on my own, and when I am done, I will give it to God.

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I really tried to fix the original post so I could at least keep the fictional concept, t but it still keeps coming out wrong. Finally, I took the first two blogs and pulled the truths and raw honesty out of each one. What I realized was that by sharing how my internal madness went from 5 to 100 in what seemed like a split second. my anxiety med did nothing.  If I didn’t have my safe places and safe people who knows what I would have done. I do know that it would have included a visit with the very nice lady at the liquor store, who would tell me the best deals on chardonnay wine for the week. Oh, I wonder if they two pack cellophane bottles. You get a lot for your money, and I was always trying to save money on my drug of choice. I didn’t and I don’t think I ever will. I did learn a lot this week. The depression and anxiety did come first, second the alcoholism, third the shame of both.  I realized I can say that I am a proud recovering alcoholic, but I still haven’t figured out why I am not proud of my mental illness. I deserve an Emmy for how well I have hidden it. What broke my acting career was the medicine I was taking. Now that I don’t drink anymore how do I hide my inner demons? I can’t hide it anymore. I can’t blame other people for who I am, but I also need to start trusting that people do listen to me and I will keep listening to them. Someday, I will receive the shiniest award possible, my peace of mind and the knowledge that my illness isn’t shameful.  I am sick, and I am still recovering. I am recovering, and I am finally truly happy, just a little broken.  Aren’t we all?

 

 

DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS

Mental illness is one of the most misunderstood illnesses out there. It’s hard to understand what is going on in a person’s mind especially when that mind is sick. Many jump to conclusions and make the wrong assumptions. Making assumptions can be insulting and frustrating to the person suffering with this illness. It also leads to prejudices and the wrong treatment of a person who is struggling. Before you draw a conclusion, it’s best you know your facts.

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I have had many make the wrong assumptions about me just because they knew I had mental illness. It has made me angry and hurt, and it has also led me further into my dark depression. Below are some conclusions people make about a person going through mental illness. This is only a few and isn’t ones made of all types of mental illnesses.

  • Don’t assume because a person with mental illness is crying really hard during a rough time he or she needs to take an antidepressant to feel better. When I went to my grandfather’s viewing years ago, I started crying very hard at the sight of my grandpa’s body. Someone I knew asked me if I needed to take an antidepressant. I was insulted and hurt. I was just grieving. Only a psychiatrist can tell a people when they need an antidepressant and when they don’t.
  • Don’t assume because someone is a self-injurer you have to watch them around sharp objects at all times like at a work place. When I returned to work after being hospitalized, a so-called friend told everyone I work with to watch me around sharp knives. This led to a lot of prejudice. When I got upset at work, I had a box cutter in my hand. I was just holding it, but my manager accused me of injuring. I was forced into an office and made talk to crisis worker. Crisis is a hotline you call when a person with mental illness needs someone to talk to or is in dire need of help. If my manager had educated herself on self-injury, she would have known self-injurers do not hurt themselves in public. My fellow workers also questioned me every time I picked up something sharp at work. I was humiliated and it threw me deeper into my dark hole.
  • Don’t assume you know what it feels like to have depression because you went through a sad time in your life. There is a difference from having a period of sadness because of a rough time and having a chemical imbalance in your mind. When I was deeply depressed a person told me she understood my depression because she got depressed after she cheated on her husband and he found out. It wasn’t the same thing. She was depressed because of a situation I was depressed because of an illness. I couldn’t fix my sadness without medication and therapy. She could fix hers by working things out with her husband.
  • Don’t assume that watching a funny movie or thinking happy thoughts will magically make depression disappear. I went to a therapist who told me if I thought happy thoughts and watched a happy movie I would feel better. I was angry with her. Why would I seek out a therapist if it were that easy to get better? I couldn’t feel happiness, no matter how hard I tried. I had to find another therapist because she was not helping me. The funny thing is when I went to a service my job had to help employees find a counselor, the person whom I talked to about my incompetent therapist was my therapist’s husband.
  • Don’t assume when a person is depressed he or she can just snap out of it. Depression is a serious illness that takes lots of work, therapy, and medication to get out of. The one who is depressed can’t just snap his or her fingers and she or he will be happy again. If it were that easy there wouldn’t be therapists, psychiatrists, and psychologists. When I was in deep depression a friend kept telling me to snap out of it. When I couldn’t she got mad at me. She in time ended the friendship. I was very hurt and I fell further into my darkness. I wanted to just make my illness go away for her, but I couldn’t. It took years of therapy, hard work, and medication for me to find happiness and even at that I am not cured. I have to constantly manage my illness for the rest of my life to stay in recovery.
  • Don’t assume the person’s feelings and illness is all in his or her head. He or she is not making up how he or she feels. His or her feelings are very real and so is his or her illness. The person is not making it up for attention. I was once told I was making up my feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and sadness. It made me angry. I was furious that someone I cared about wasn’t taking how I felt seriously. This made me feel more alone and I felt I couldn’t share how I felt with anyone because they wouldn’t believe me. I then internalized my feelings and it made me fall deeper into sadness.

 

Instead of making assumptions about mental illness, try to educate yourself about it. You can be a big help to a loved one who is struggling if you understand mental illness. Making the wrong conclusions can send your loved one deeper into his or her illness. You can hurt him or her deeply. If you want to truly help him or her, educate yourself and find him or her the proper help.

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Even though lots of people have made the wrong assumptions, I also had people who were willing to learn about my illness and stand at my side as I fought to find recovery. Because of the help of friends and family who cared enough to help me the proper way, I am standing proudly in the light of recovery.

SIGNS OF CRISIS

Many people and work places don’t know how to handle mental illness. They often misinterpret signs of a person in crisis needing help. This can be detrimental to the person struggling with mental illness. Telling someone he or she needs help when he or she dosen’t can cause the person embarrassment and anger. Handling a person in crisis improperly can lead him or her further into the darkest part of his or her hole. It’s not only important to know the signs of crisis, but it’s also important to know how to handle a person in crisis.

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Below is a list of signs of a person in crisis.

  • Talk of taking one’s own life and making attempts
  • Becoming withdrawn from family, friends and co-workers
  • Frequently calling off from work or canceling social plans
  • Sudden changes in mood
  • Neglecting to take care of one’s self
  • Inability to do regular duties at home and work
  • Easily agitated and bursts of anger
  • Often making mistakes on regular duties at home or at work
  • Deep sadness, hopelessness, and crying
  • Inability to make decisions or handle minor problems
  • Incoherent statements or writings

When you notice these signs, don’t over-react. Be kind and gentle when talking to the one suffering with this illness. Never assume you understand what he or she is going through unless you yourself have been through mental illness. A moment in your life when you dealt with deep sadness is not the same as an illness that doesn’t go away without help.

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Don’t confront the person about what you have noticed in front of others. Take the person to somewhere private. Tell him or her what you have noticed and ask the person if he or she needs help. Never force help. You can’t make a person who doesn’t want help get help. Making someone talk to a crisis worker or go to counseling when he or she is unwilling can only make the person more upset and lead to irrational behaviors such as self-harming, suicide attempt, or a violent outbreak.

If the person agrees he or she needs help, then be willing to assist him or her. If he or she is at work, then be very discreet. Take the person to a private room and call the crisis hotline. Don’t have a crisis worker come to a place of work. If he or she does come to the work-place, take the worker to a private room.

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When I was at my lowest point, a manager called crisis on me and the worker came to my department. I was embarrassed and my fellow employees formed judgments of me. This forced me deeper into my dark hole. Later that night I went home and injured myself.

Don’t assume because the person has mental illness he or she is dangerous unless the person becomes violent and begins to make threats to other people. The majority of people with mental illness are only a danger to themselves. There are some who go through psychosis that commit awful acts, but that is only a small percentage.

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When I was going through crisis I was told I was a danger to others around me. The only person I have ever hurt is myself. Anyone who knew me knew I could never harm another person. I was self-harming at the time and had no desire to hurt anyone else. Being accused of this made me angry and hurt my feelings. I was a victim of prejudice and I couldn’t find the words to defend myself. All I could do was cry.

If you know someone who has mental illness whether it be a friend, an employee, or co-worker, educate yourself about the illness. Be supportive and willing to listen anytime he or she needs to. Know the signs of crisis and how to help when the time becomes necessary.

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Many work places are not educated in how to handle mental illness or a person in crisis. This can lead to inappropriate actions and further anguish and pain to the person going through the illness. I myself have suffered the wrong treatment and it led to further problems.

I was accused of hurting myself at work when I didn’t. I was forced to sit in an office and talk to a crisis worker when I didn’t need to. If my manager knew anything about self-injury, she would have known self-injurers never hurt themselves in public. Harming oneself takes place in a private spot and the person goes to great extremes to hide it. I was hurt and angry.

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The proper treatment of someone with mental illness can be a life saver. Because of friends and family who knew how to help me, I am in recovery. I stand in the light of recovery sharing what I have learned with others.

A CELEBRATION OF MOTHERS

Most mothers are a gift from God. There are so many kinds of mothers, ones that are not related in any way, but take on the motherly role: grandma’s and aunts who take over when a biological mother can’t, owners of pets who love their animals like children, women who lost their babies, women who give birth and raise their children and so on. Mother’s Day is a celebration of all mothers who give endlessly and who love a child, an animal, an adult, and a lost one unconditionally.

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My dad, and five mothers.  3 generations of love. One fur baby mother.

 

I never had children of my own. With my mental illness I thought it would be safer for me if I decided not to have children. I don’t handle stress very well and couldn’t risk being off my antidepressants during pregnancy or going through post-partum depression. I didn’t want to put a child through the ups and downs of my illness when I couldn’t handle the responsibilities of motherhood. I don’t regret my decision. I have had four special dogs through the years that I have loved like children and one who is still with me. I also have six nieces, five nephews, and two great nieces I love like my own.

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My fuzzy child with four legs. Esther my sweet, sweet little girl.

I was and am very lucky to have a very special mother who stood and continues to stand at my side through some very rough times. When I was bullied as a child, it was my mom who held me after school while I cried. When everyone thought I was stupid, it was my mom who told me I was smart and could do anything I put my mind to. When I broke into angry rages as a child, it was my mom who rubbed my back and talked to me until I calmed down. When I first realized I had mental illness, it was my mom who searched long and hard to find me help. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was my mom sitting beside me comforting me until my husband came.

My mother also waited with my husband while I went through a mastectomy and hysterectomy. She isn’t just my mother, but she is also my best friend. I can always turn to her when I need advice or an extra shoulder to lean on. She has dealt with a lot from me and has watched me go through a lot. No matter how impossible I was at times, she never stopped showering me with love. She gave me the confidence and encouragement to keep fighting even during times it seemed like I was battling the impossible fight. She encouraged me to never give up even when I felt like giving up.

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My Mom with my dad. A mother who was made with all the beautiful stuff God could fill a woman with.

I don’t think I would have overcome mental illness, breast cancer, and other health problems without the encouragement, support, and love my mother gave. She never let me give up on myself and instilled in me the belief I could do anything I wanted to as long as I believed in myself. She taught me to see everyone as equal and to never judge anyone.

I have risen above the obstacles in my life because of what my mother has taught me. No matter what lay ahead of me, I accomplished my goals because my mom taught me to put my mind to it and fight to make it happen. I put my mind to overcoming mental illness and I’m in recovery, I put my mind to fighting breast cancer and I am cancer free, I put my mind to proving people I was smart in school and I graduated with honors, and I put my mind to be a writer and I am published. I put my mind to many more things and I have reached them because of what my mother taught me. I am a strong vibrant, determined, and compassionate woman because of the lessons my mom taught me throughout my life.

My husband was raised by his grandmother. She became his mom. She took care of him through his childhood and raised him into the wonderful man he is. She molded him into a strong, hardworking, and compassionate man. When she passed, his Aunt Fay became a motherly figure to him. She always supported him and loved him unconditionally and he could always turn to her when he needed a shoulder to lean on. His biological mother failed him, but his grandma and aunt stepped in.

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Aunt Fay. A woman who gave endless love and compassion.

 

 

Do you have a mother or a special woman in your life that has been motherly? Did you celebrate her Sunday? Mothers of all kinds are special and deserve to be celebrated not only on Mother’s Day, but every day. If you haven’t told your mom you love her, tell her today. Even if she’s not blood related, let her know how special she is each day. You don’t need a special day to celebrate mothers.

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4 generations of mothers and 3 generations of grandmothers.

I am who I am because I have a wonderful mother who molded me as a child and stands beside me as an adult. I tell her I love her each time I talk to her. I could never tell her enough how grateful I am for having her as a mother. My mom is part of the reason I stand in the light of recovery from mental illness and breast cancer.

 

 

 

IS THAT A NEW STYLE?

How many of you who have never been through breast cancer or who are new to the disease know what a compression sleeve is? Not a lot of people have heard of compression sleeves or lymphedema. When you’re diagnosed with cancer a lot of terms and information are thrown at you. Your mind becomes over-loaded. You hear a lot of stuff you never heard of before, like lymphedema. The doctor describes it to you, but the words whirl around in your mind and never sink in. You never even think about having to wear a compression sleeve for lymphedema. You don’t even know what one is.

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So is a compression sleeve a new style? You can order them online with different styles or get them in different colors through a medical supply company. Is lymphedema a fake condition or a real thing?

A fellow employee pointed at my arm. “What are you wearing that sleeve for?”

“It’s for lymphedema. It’s because they removed some lymph nodes from my under-arm to check for cancer,” I told her.

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She shrugged her shoulders. “Never heard of that; it must be fake.”

She walked away before I could explain to her what it was.

Before I got breast cancer, I never heard of it either. I was totally confused when my doctor explained it to me. I had to go to physical therapy before my mastectomy. Why would I have to go to therapy when there was nothing wrong and I hadn’t even had my surgery? I even had to answer a questionnaire about my pain level in my arm, and what I could do without or with difficulty. I had no pain and no problems using my arm. It didn’t make sense. Why was I going to physical therapy when there was nothing wrong? Didn’t I need to have surgery first?

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I met with a nice lady who measured my arm from the wrist to my shoulder. She told me they would see me within a few weeks after surgery to measure my arm again. Then she explained to me what lymphedema was. The physical therapist gave me a list of things I couldn’t do after surgery like shave my under-arm with a razor, wash dishes without gloves, carry heavy bags, and so on. I had things I also had to watch out for like cuts, scratches, bug bites, and sunburns. It all seemed scary.

I learned that the lymph nodes in my under-arm filter infections and waste fluids from the tissues. When the lymph nodes are removed, they can’t properly filter the fluids and it causes swelling called lymphedema. When the arm starts swelling, then a compression sleeve is prescribed to help ease the swelling. You can learn more about this at MedicineNet https://www.medicinenet.com/lymphedema/article.htm#lymphedema_facts.

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After my surgery, my physical therapist found a slight difference in the measurements of my arm. So I was prescribed my stylish compression sleeve. My insurance company covered three of them. I got one tan and two pink ones. My therapist told me I had to wear it at work and anytime I did heavy lifting or strenuous work with my right arm. I’ve worn medical boots to work, ankle braces, and a knee brace, so why not a compression sleeve?

My fashionable sleeve became a hit fast. I was bombarded with questions. Most of them thought I hurt my arm, and some thought I was wearing it to keep my arm warm. My favorite question was, “Is that sleeve a new style?”

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I just smiled. “Yeah it is, but only for breast cancer survivors.”

The customer looked confused. To avoid further questioning, I just told her it keeps my arm from swelling because lymph nodes were removed, and it makes me look stylish. I don’t have a lot of time to go into long explanations while waiting on customers and my comment seemed to satisfy her curiosity.

The truth is that a compression sleeve is very important to many women suffering with lymphedema. It may look like a new style or a strange bandage, but it is very important. It helps prevent further swelling and gives comfort when an arm is swollen. My fellow employee calls it a fake sleeve, but it’s very real and necessary.

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For new cancer patients, I suggest that when your doctor hands you a pamphlet on lymphedema, read through it, and do what you are told to help prevent it. If you need to wear a compression sleeve, wear it with style. A compression sleeve is a small compromise to being cancer free or in cancer treatment. Wear it with pride. Don’t be afraid of the questions. It doesn’t hurt to educate others about lymphedema and the purpose of compression sleeves. People don’t learn if we don’t share our knowledge with them.

I’m ten months cancer free. I’m not sure if I’ll have to wear my compression sleeve forever or not, but I’ll do what it takes to prevent lymphedema. I wear my sleeve with style and I’m proud to be standing in the light of recovery.

 

 

MENTAL ILLNESS AND BULLYING

A large number of children in our schools are being bullied. Some of the children, after years of being put down, pushed around, and teased, decline into mental illness and even commit suicide. Bullying is a form of abuse that not only affects children in their younger years, but also follows them into their adulthood. Mental illness can be a combination of an imbalance in the brain, genetics, or an unhealthy family life along with the continuous belittling happening at school and online. We look up to our teachers for protection, but they can also be bullies.

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When I was in school, hardly anyone had computers at home. We went to the computer lab in school to learn how to use them and how to surf the internet. There were no laptops, tablets, or cellphones that connect you to social media. There were also no anti-bullying rules or movements to bring awareness to bullying. It was a big problem in and out of school.

The bullying began for me as early as first grade. A teacher called me a retard in front of my classmates when I couldn’t learn like the rest. The name retard stuck to me like fly paper. That’s when the sadness slowly began to creep in. Year by year the bullying by my classmates and teachers continued. Slowly the self-hate, sadness, and hopelessness increased.

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By the time I was in high school, I had sunk into a world of deep sadness and silence. I coped with the pain of the bullying in school by imagining awful things happening to me, like being hit by a car and going into a coma. I even imagined my own death. I day-dreamed of any way possible I could avoid school and the constant taunting, but the teasing didn’t just happen in school.

I was harassed on the bus and even while playing in my own yard. One day a group of kids threw rocks at me while I was playing. They called me dummy, stupid, and retard while the stones flew through the air hitting me. My mom had to chase them away. I didn’t feel safe even at home. I even became sensitive to my younger brother’s, brotherly teasing. One little comment and I burst into a violent fit. I hit my brother, screamed, and threw things. It didn’t take much to send me into an angry fit. After I calmed down, I fell to my knees cried and pulled my hair.

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By the time I graduated from high school, I was slipping down into the darkest hole of depression. I struggled with mental illness throughout college. I began cutting and attempting suicide. In college I was diagnosed with major depression and had to take a year off.

The mental illness continued into my adult years. After a bad relationship, I was told I had depression, anxiety disorder, and borderline personality disorder (BPD). There was a history of mental illness in my family, but according to everything I read, BPD usually happen when a child suffered from some form of abuse. The only problem with that theory was I had very loving parents who would have never laid a hand on me. They were always supportive, loving, and encouraging. So what abuse could have triggered BPD? When I told my therapist about what I faced in school, she concluded my borderline was brought on by the bullying.

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It was believed that my mental illness was a combination of genetics and the abuse I faced by my classmates and teachers. It took me several years to undo what they did to me. They tore away my self-confidence and self-esteem. I had to rebuild it. The bullying from my childhood led to bad relationships in my adult years and struggles with my inner anguish. I struggled for years to learn to love myself and to realize I deserved to be treated well by others.

“Childhood Bullying Can Have Lasting Effects on Mental Health,” an article by Cari Nierenberg, states, “Bullying can have a lasting effect on a person’s mental health: A new study finds that children who were bullied frequently when they were 8 years old were more likely to develop a psychiatric disorder that needed treatment as an adult, compared with kids who were not bullied.” You can find this article on Live science at https://www.livescience.com/53034-childhood-bullying-lasting-mental-health-effects.html.

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Bullying is a form of abuse. It can lead to mental illness and suicide. It’s up to us to bring awareness to bullying and to push schools to enact stronger anti-bullying rules. We can save children from years of mental turmoil. If a child is being bullied, it’s important to get her or him help before he or she falls into the dark hole of mental illness or before he or she takes his or her life. Bullying is not a joke. It is a very real problem. Let’s save our children from struggling with the wounds bullying causes, not only in their childhood, but also into their adulthood.

I struggled for years to overcome the damage bullying did to me, but I am now in recovery from mental illness. I work with the National Youth Internet Safety and Cyberbullying Taskforce to bring awareness to bullying. If I can help just one child avoid years of struggling like I did, I am making a difference. Let’s make a difference together so children and adults can stand in the light of recovery from mental illness brought on by bullying.

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I overcame the damages caused by bullying I am standing in the light of recovery telling my story and speaking up for those who can’t.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE DETERMINATION?

With the holiday and my husband and my anniversary falling on Easter I was unable to write a blog post. Here’s a old one. I hope you enjoy it.

 

In many of my blogs, I mentioned determination, but I have not talked about what determination is. How do you define determination? Is it the ability to make it through one more day of sadness? Is it the choice to face daily struggles? Is it the ability to stand up to life’s challenges? Or is it how you stand up to all of these challenges?

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To me determination is to face life’s challenges with all the strength and willpower within you. It’s not giving up when everything around you seems dark and hopeless. It’s pushing forward when you feel as if you cannot go on anymore. It’s surpassing all odds and reaching forward when others have lost faith in you. Determination is the key to recovery from many disabilities, illness, and specially mental illness.

In grade school and high school, I struggled with a learning disability. My classmates and teachers thought I wasn’t smart enough to pass my classes or to have a future. In elementary my school teachers assigned a student to give me answers on tests. I was told that I would be pushed from one grade to the next because I couldn’t pass on my own.  I decided to prove to them I could pass my classes on my own. In high school, I found ways to work around my disability and pass my classes with A’s. I pushed forward against all odds and graduated with scholarships and honors. I decided I was going to prove to my classmates, teachers, and the world I was not stupid. With determination, I went to college, earned a degree, and held a job for twenty-four years.

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I applied this same determination to my mental illness. My life seemed hopeless and the dark hole endless. I lost faith in myself and when I was hospitalized, I dug deep down inside for the strength to climb out of the hole. I decided I did not want to live my life in darkness. I wanted to find happiness and to live a normal life. I felt like I was dying inside, but I pushed through it to reach towards the light. I mustered up all the strength I could to stand up to my illness. I pushed onward even though I could barely get out of bed or face the next day. It was the hardest challenge I ever had to face, but with determination, I reached recovery.

I’m now using all my inner strength to face physical health problems and to keep within the light. It would be easy to get depressed at the thought of facing another surgery and waking up each day with pain, but I will push forward.

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It’s determination that has helped me through all my life challenges and has helped me grow into the person I am. If you’re not determined enough to stand up to your illness against all odds, then you’ll sit at the bottom of the hole in complete darkness. Stand up, take control of your life and your illness. Push forward against all odds and climb the walls of the hole. Because of my determination, I stand at the top of the hole and I bathe in the light of happiness.