ISO: Clarity for Younger Me

In one of my first posts, I gave a brief rundown of my life story, and in that, said I would go into more details later. Well, here are the details. If you’re interested in understanding my motivations behind blogging and reinforcing positive mindsets about mental health, here’s a taste of it. Before we begin, here are a few disclaimers:

  • I am in no way stating my own trauma is worse or more notable than anyone else’s’.
  • In posts where I mention my personal life, I will use the terms biological parents and adopted parents. My adopted parents did not legally adopt me, but took me in and assumed all of the responsibilities of an adoptive parent.
  • In no way is this post intended to belittle or degrade anyone mentioned. It is simply my perception of the things that happened in my childhood.
  • With its length, I know this post seems like a bill proposed to Congress, but I feel I should state there’s still more to the story. This is just all I can handle divulging at the moment.

My connections with my biological family members as a child were few and far between, with the main influences in my life being my biological mother and my grandparents on my biological dad’s side. My bio parents divorced when I was a baby, so I have no memory of any issues they may have had.

I’ve always thought of myself as a sensible and logical person. I’ve always been one to notice patterns in behavior (trends, if you will), and became fixed on finding the solution. First, I would notice the pattern. In my childhood, I first noticed them with mother, my grandparents, and myself. Let’s break it down for a moment here.

My Mother
I first started paying attention to my mother’s patterns when she lost a stable job with a health insurance company. The reason being is that she directly blamed me for losing this job because I caused her too much stress. I remember sitting in the passenger seat of the car thinking ‘Am I really that much of a problem?’ 

She would sleep any time she wasn’t working and only get up to use the restroom or eat. When she was working, she would quit or get fired from every job she got. When she was looking for work, she would always go to our local Unemployment Office.

I always knew money was a problem for us. We moved all the time – I actually went to 4 different elementary schools – and being the logically minded child I was, I knew you can’t pay rent without a job.

We had multiple pets at different times growing up. Before I moved out at the age of 16, we lived in a 1 bedroom studio with 3 cats. Being that my mom would only get up in the house to sleep and eat, things were in a constant state of disarray. All of our dishes would be piled up in the sink, there’d be very little food in the house, and cat hair covered everything. EVERYTHING.

My Grandparents
I also noticed a pattern with my grandparents. They were, and still are, highly religious. They are Pentecostal Christians (or “Old Testament” Christians, as I’ve also heard it described) who practiced legalism in their beliefs. Shorthand, this means men wore pants and women wore skirts/dresses. Also, women didn’t cut their hair, paint their nails, show too much skin, curse, or get tattoos. Those are just the basics. They owned their own church up until about 2 years ago, where my grandpa pastored and my grandma led worship and ministered as well.

I spent nearly every weekend up until middle school at my grandparents’ house. I always felt a strange sense of calm in their home, and my grandma would dote on me, as grandmas often do. Compared to my house, their house was like heaven. I know you feel the “but” coming, and trust me, it’s coming.

While I felt incredibly secure and loved, I also constantly felt insecure and afraid. My grandma would always make it a point to have serious discussions with me (where she discussed and I listened) about everything I was doing wrong in my life, and what I needed to do to make things right. To get saved. To go to heaven. Here were my basic instructions for doing so:

  1. Dress the part – stop cutting my hair, stop wearing pants, stop wearing any type of fitted or revealing clothing (especially when I started developing as a pre-teen), stop painting my nails, do not (under any circumstances) wear makeup
  2. Do my research – start reading the bible, listen to more talk radio (Art Bell on KMJ 580, anyone?), listen to all of the “Left Behind” series on cassette
  3.  Pray constantly and unrelentingly – pray for forgiveness for all of my sins, all the time
  4. Speak in tongues – this is a requirement of Pentecostal Christians, according to my grandparents, to be considered saved, and you won’t get into heaven unless you can

We would “discuss” all of the above every single time she felt the opportunity present itself (it presented itself a lot). She instilled in me a spirit of fear. I remember being in constant, paralyzing fear that I wasn’t saved.

In my teen years, it got to where would have panic attacks if I called my adopted family and my grandparents in the same day and no one answered, thinking God had come back and I had been left behind.

Oh, and I almost forgot. My grandpa hated me growing up. I never understood it. I cried so many tears over this. I learned only about 5 years ago he’s only my grandpa by marriage, which I suspect had something to do with it. Spoiler – my bio grandpa is worse than my grandpa in that if you’re not a classic car or super into classic cars, you’re a waste of time.

Myself
So, here I am, introspective little Sam (pictured above happily enjoying an Otter Pop – that’s me, so just add 5 or 6 years for timeline purposes). Seeing and understanding all of the above before I even had my first real crush. At a very young age, I understood that I was a problem, as were my thoughts, actions, and beliefs. Every time I would do something to try and make things better, it would either have little to no impact or make them worse.

I can say undoubtedly that I spent all of my formative years trying to be good enough for my mother and my grandparents.

With my mother, I kept to myself. I stayed in my room, listened to the radio, read tons of books, organized and reorganized, moved and moved and moved my furniture around. Anything to keep myself busy and not disturb her. As you can probably see, the parent-child dynamic was lacking at best. Her and I had basically 3 versions of our relationship.

  1. The one where I would keep to myself, as described above, for agonizingly long periods of time
  2. The one where we would have dinner together on the occasional Sunday night and watch Desperate Housewives while talking, getting along like normal people
  3. The one where we would have extremely horrible fights that would end in hysterical crying on my end

I wouldn’t touch any part of the house aside from my room until it got so dirty and gross that I couldn’t stand it. Then, whenever I was home alone, I would clean everything. You should know when I say clean, I don’t mean just picking up. I would deep clean. I’d do the dishes, sweep, mop, vacuum, clean the fridge, clean the cat’s litter boxes, get out the cleaners and go to town. I made myself into Cinderella. I have literally been on my hands and knees with a rag cleaning individual tiles.

When I started understanding our financial struggles, I would try and help by finding apartments for us or jobs for her, which only angered her. Nothing made a difference. 

With my grandma, I made changes to my appearance, my actions, my statements. I tried to read the bible, even though I didn’t understand it and it scared me. I would try with every fiber of my being to make all the changes she wanted me to make. I would pray and cry and beg God to let me speak in tongues and it never happened. It hasn’t happened to this day and my grandma has made it known she prays adamantly every single night for my salvation so I won’t burn for eternity in hell. I went to camp meetings, revivals, church camps, and attended faithfully every time the doors to their church were open. Nothing made a difference. 

With my grandpa, I tried everything in my power to not annoy him or be a burden. I took extra measures to clean up after myself, do quiet activities, and be the model grandchild. I did every single thing I could think of. Nothing made a difference. 

All of this seemed to happen simultaneously and I began feeling increasingly upset, scared, out of control, and resentful. None of this made any sense to me. I knew what the problems were and I was doing everything that made logical sense to solve them and nothing was working. Cue a constant state of extreme anxiety and depression that would go unnoticed and untreated for years to come.

Things finally reached a turning point when I was 16. Following what I considered to be one of the biggest fights my mother and I had ever gotten into, I was issued an ultimatum. She explained she was leaving the house for awhile (I assumed to just go on a drive), and when she came back, my mind was to be made up. I had 2 choices. The first was to continue living with her, and the second was to pack my things and move into the foster care system (side note: I’m really not a fan of ultimatums).

In the heat of the moment after she had left, I did a quick recount of my experiences with her throughout my childhood. I decided I was tired of it. All of it. I was tired of not feeling good enough, for not being able to make things better, for making things worse when I just wanted to make them better. I had my mind made up. And I started packing.

I’m not sure how everything that followed came about, and I’m not sure I want to know at this point, but when my mom came back, she loaded me and my stuff in the car. She drove me to my now adopted parents’ house and she left.

That’s where I’m going to stop, for now, friends. The purpose of writing this was to share a bit more about myself and my background with you, and I’m hoping I’ve accomplished that here. Writing things out that you’ve experienced firsthand is cathartic, in a way, but also incredibly painful. If you’ve read this far, thank you.

If you’ve experienced something similar in your childhood, or any trauma in your childhood that you’d like to talk about, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Anything sent to me will be kept completely confidential. I value your story and your experiences and know there are ways to use those things to help better understand ourselves and have a more peaceful future.

Have a wonderful weekend ahead, everyone.

 

Changing Mental Health, One Hashtag at a Time

I didn’t wait for rock bottom. I decided to dig my heels in and stop falling.”

When people think of social media, they automatically think a few things – viral posts, scathing celebrity/political gossip, and funny animal videos/gifs. A lesser-known community of people are those who participate in games on Twitter, known as hashtag games. There are tons of hosts and games, seemingly around the clock, mostly managed by Hashtag Roundup. A few days ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with Amanda, host of the hashtag game #mandasheadgames on Hashtag Roundup.

This game, which she started in 2015, was inspired by the hashtag game she hosted, #theworstpartofdepressionis. “The response I got was incredible,” Amanda said. She explained when hosting that game, she hadn’t expected a response like that, and it prompted the creation of both a new tag game and a partnership – #mandasheadgames with Hashtag Roundup.

Over the past couple years, the game has evolved into something incredibly powerful – a platform for people to start a dialogue on the issues dealt with on a daily basis by someone struggling with mental illness.

Amanda herself has an incredible story. She was diagnosed with ADHD as a child, and dealt with a horrible tragedy not long after that, losing her father to suicide at the age of 10. For years, she was miserable and angry. She didn’t know what to do or who to turn to. Finally, after 3 suicide attempts, she found the strength to seek help and was prescribed Prozac.

“When I first got on it [Prozac], it kind of blew my mind. I felt like I was seeing the world for the first time. It was so eye-opening and amazing that I just wanted to tell everybody. I went 30 years thinking there was no hope.”

Our Biggest Contributors to Stigma
When asked what she thought the biggest contributor to stigma today, she responded it was really the notion of perpetuating the mindset of “it’s never going to get better”. A lot of people who struggle and have sought help, either with medication or therapy (and sometimes both) have had really negative experiences that have set them back even further. I, myself, have had those experiences with both medications and therapy. It gets to the point where you kind of ask yourself ‘Wow, can ANYTHING help me at this point?’

This mindset, while sometimes unavoidable, is one of the reasons stigma is still so strong because people tend to share their bad experiences more than their good ones. While talking with Amanda, she mentioned a lot of people seem to want something like an opiate that will have more of an immediate impact on their mental health. The thing it’s important to understand about treating mental illness is that it’s a process – things don’t change immediately. Most antidepressants, for example, could take 4 to 6 weeks to take full effect. It doesn’t help, though, that some people tend to experience positive effects sooner than others.

If you’re one of many who takes about the average time or longer to respond to a medication, you’re not flawed and you’re definitely not doing anything wrong. Our bodies are so incredibly complex, even down to our genes (different genes turning on and off again and creating different proteins at different times), and there is no exact science. It’s a worthwhile trip to take to find what works best for your health – both physical and mental.

When starting a new medication, keep these in mind:

  • Keep your doctor involved
    Your doctor will prescribe you medication they think will ultimately benefit you, based on your medical history and current life circumstances. That’s not to say all doctors are always right, because this part of medicine is not just a science. It’s trial and error.
  • Be honest with yourself
    You know your body and your mind better than anyone else. You’re the only one who will know truly how a medication is impacting you. Pay attention. If you’re forgetful, like me, try other methods (like writing it down).
  • Be patient
    Understand healing from or dealing with anything is a process. It does take time. Be patient with your body.
  • Keep a dialogue going
    Just because you’re seeking treatment doesn’t mean you should stop talking. Talk to your loved ones, your religious leaders, people you trust. Participate in games like #mandasheadgames. Find your community. It will make this journey so much more rewarding than you can even imagine.

More of a Buzzword than an Issue?
Another infamous contributor to stigma is the politicizing of mental health. “It’s become more of a buzzword instead of an issue,” Amanda said. The issue with discussing mental health politically is multi-faceted because the true issues of mental health are never addressed. A lot of people make satirical statements about it, like, as Amanda’s heard, “liberalism is a mental disorder”. When used as a tool for gun reform, it’s often used to deflect. She explained the key thing people need to understand is that mental health is not something that can be regulated.

I asked Amanda if she thought participating in tags (like #mandasheadgames) were a good way to spread awareness and start a dialogue about mental health. “Absolutely,” she responded. “Any way you talk about it helps.” She mentioned sites like Twitter are powerful platforms in that, with one simple tweet/hashtag, you can reach anybody in the world. This is a fantastic way to find your community, especially when you may not feel up to actually talking to people (I’m all too familiar with this one).

When it comes to understanding the reasons people tend not to reach out or seek help for anything mental health related, we talked a lot about control. No one wants to feel out of control, especially in today’s society. We’re constantly scrutinized about everything we have control over – what we eat, what we wear, what we say, what we tweet (and more). So when mental health is mentioned, it’s unsurprising there’s judgment. It’s like stating you have control over everything else – why not this?

“It’s like telling a blind person ‘If you want to see, just open your eyes!”, Amanda told me. And it’s entirely true.

One thing she said during this interview really stuck with me.

This incredibly powerful statement is truly telling of the inner strengths we all have, whether or not we acknowledge them.

“I didn’t wait for rock bottom. I decided to dig my heels in and stop falling.”

She believes this is one of the many reasons those affected tend not to reach out. While there are multitudes of resources at the press of a key/the tap of a screen, many people often use them as a last-ditch effort. See some common reasons explained below:

The “Rock Bottom” Mentality
I’ve been guilty of this myself. You think, ‘Well if it gets worse, I’ll talk to someone.’. You talk yourself out of asking for help because you really don’t think anyone will take you seriously, or that you’re just seeking attention, or even that others have had it way worse (insert many, many other excuses). And it’s true. There’s always someone who will have it worse than you. That is no reason you shouldn’t be able to get the help you deserve as a human being.

Mental illness inherently causes those affected not to want to seek treatment.
This is where loved ones come in. Common mental illnesses, such as depression, will most likely cause a person to not want to ask for help, even when it’s really bad. If someone you know struggles with depression, keep that dialogue open. Make sure they know you’re someone they can trust and who will take them seriously. Be their advocate when they feel they have no one.

Amanda’s advice for those who ask for help is to learn about what you’re going through and what it does to your body. That’s one of the main reasons I started this blog. The internet, as Amanda so accurately explained, is an ever-present source in our lives. The wealth of information at our fingertips is nothing short of amazing.

That being said, I know how hard it is to look up things like depression and read about what it is and how it affects you. Sometimes the sites are hard to find, and they don’t always provide accurate information (while the sites that are accurate read more like a textbook than anything else).

We both agree information about mental health should be easily accessible and understandable to the average person. If there’s any mental health topic you’d like more information on, please do not hesitate to email me! I want to share what you want to know.

I want to close today by creating our very own Mental Health Bill of Rights. This doesn’t just apply to folks in the United States either – this is for literally every person in the world.

MH Bill of Rights

If you need to ask for help, but you’re unsure, scared, or don’t feel safe doing so, please reach out to me. All conversations received through my blog remain entirely confidential.

If you’re on Twitter, please join Amanda, myself, Hashtag Roundup, and many others every Sunday at 9pm PST for #mandasheadgames. Also, follow @shutupamanda and @hashtagroundup for fun around the clock! Have a wonderful week ahead, everyone!

Why It’s Not “All in Your Head”

“It’s all in your head.” 

You’ve heard this said before of depression and other mental illnesses. I want to start this post out by stating I, myself, the owner of a mental health blog, used to stand behind this statement before I was educated on the difference between normal sadness and actual depression.

Depression is not “all in your head” as most would have you believe, though your brain does have a significant impact on your vulnerability and reaction to events/genetic pre-dispositions that leave a person susceptible to depression. Continue reading

What’s Your Story Going to Be?

Death comes as a reminder. It grabs us and shakes us. Opens our eyes and our focus is changed – shifted, revised. 
– Chris Evans, Playing it Cool (2014)

I’m writing today with a bit of a heavy heart, in honor of my grandma. As some of you may know, I moved back home to be her full-time caregiver as she struggled with end-of-life dementia and congestive heart failure. She passed peacefully on May 7, 2018, surrounded by loved ones. She made an incredible impact on so many people throughout her life, and I feel greatly honored to have been a part of it as her “bonus” grandchild for the last 12 years.

About a month before she passed, she said something profound to me that really made me think. She looked me in the eyes and told me “Everyone writes a story with their life. What’s your story going to be?”

My… my story? What does that mean?

We live under this insane impression that our lives are just happening to us, and we have pretty much no control over them.

That being said, I understand lots of things that happen in life are out of our control. It’s inevitable, really. From natural disasters, diseases, or traumatic experiences to simply bad decisions (I’m extremely familiar with the latter). While you can’t necessarily stop those things from happening to you (unless we’re talking about bad decisions – please learn from and prevent them whenever possible), you can control how they’re going to affect you. How they’re going to change/impact your story – negatively, positively, or even both.

I suffer from depression, anxiety, panic attacks, OCD, and PTSD. I’m a survivor of both child and early adulthood trauma, abuse and neglect. The list goes on and on and on and on. I feel like I’m constantly making bad decision after bad decision and not even realizing that until it’s too late. I feel completely and utterly behind where I “should be” at this point in my life. To the naked eye, I’m honestly a disaster. I’m unstable. I’m medicated. I’m unpredictable. I’m broken. I’m impulsive. I’m irresponsible. I’m crazy.

But here’s the AMAZING thing about all of that. This is my journey. These are my experiences. And this is my story. Every unpredictable, broken, and crazy piece of it. It’s mine in its entirety and it is beautiful.

Whatever you’re going through, whoever you’re dealing with, no matter how flawed you feel you are, you and your story are both amazing and completely yours! The things that have happened in your life do not define you. Other peoples’ opinions of you – their labels – don’t define you. Stigma does not define you. Hell, your medical diagnosis does not define you.

You are the author of your life. You are the author of your own story.

So, the question I have for you today is this: What’s your story going to be?

 

 

It’s OK Not to Be OK

One of the more positive aspects of our society today is the message of being strong in the face of adversity. We share a worldwide idea that no matter what happens, you can be strong and come out more fearless in the face of tragedies/struggles in your life. While this is an incredibly encouraging state of mind that I do support to an extent, I’m afraid it, in many cases, does more harm than good with regard to our mental health.

This idea – this mindset – is so widespread, well-known, and automatic to us that it truly causes people who may have reached out for help in desperate times to stay quiet, because they’re expected to stay strong. A lot of mental health issues have been overlooked or ignored for this reason.

Broken hearted woman is crying,silhouette,Valentines day conceptThis is why I’m writing today. I want to tell you – whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever has happened in your life- it’s ok not to be ok. It’s ok to ask for help when you need it. It doesn’t make you weak or broken to reach out.

As a matter of fact, it’s completely normal not to feel OK or to feel broken. It’s human nature. It’s your mind and body telling you there’s only so much you can withstand before you need to release it.

I’ve been blessed to meet many people, both online and in person, who have shared their experiences with me on the topic of mental health. One story shared by a friend last night really resonated with me, as I’ve recently gone through something similar. This is her story, names withheld for privacy reasons:

My teenage daughter has been experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts. She wrote me a note on March 7, 2018, asking for help. She’d been hiding her depression and anxiety from us for about a year. Since she told us, we have been active and trying to find her the help she needs. Medications are not a fun experiment during this hormonal phase of her life, but we fight the fight.

Fortunately for her, she doesn’t have to fight alone. 

Reading this made me realize a couple of different things. One, I commended my friend’s parenting because her daughter felt safe enough to be open about what she was struggling with. Now they can make sure she gets the help she needs, and she has the full support of her family behind her. Because of the way this friend handled her daughter being open with her, she will feel comfortable doing that in the future if she needs to.

Another heartbreaking aspect, though, is one of the things that really prompted this post. She had been struggling for a year before feeling able to ask for help. I struggled for 8 years before feeling comfortable enough to be vocal about my struggles with depression and anxiety before asking for help. In both of our cases, once we were vocal and brave enough to be honest, our worlds were opened up to an entirely new way to deal with these mental health issues, and while there is still an element of self-guilt (we should know how to handle this ourselves without asking for help), our families have consistently let us know it’s ok to talk about this.

That being said, I want to take a minute to say it’s definitely normal to want to hold feelings in. In some situations, it’s healthy too. Hold it in if you need to. Have that alone time. Listen to music that makes you feel better. Draw, paint, sing, play hashtag games on Twitter – whatever you normally use to cope. But when it all starts feeling like too much, like you’re caught in a riptide and hit the surface for even one breath – when it feels too heavy to even move – find the strength within to say something. It’s there – believe me.

Even if your saying something is like my friend’s daughter above, who wrote her parents a note explaining what she was feeling. However you’re able to reach out and talk to that trusted someone, I can guarantee you it’s worth it. There is no wrong way to ask someone for help or support.

What I want to resonate with you today are these things.

Honor your limitations.
Instead of adopting the mindset that no matter what happens or what we feel, we always have to have this unwavering strength to save face, let’s change the way you think about it: If you’re able to be honest about how you feel and what you’re struggling with, you’re much more strong than someone trying to hold everything in always to appear strong. The problem with trying to appear strong to everyone else by holding everything in is that we’re all human, and eventually, we will break. Someone I met recently online said it best: honor your limitations.

Be stronger together.
Being truly strong starts with honesty. Honesty with yourself, and honesty with the people you trust and/or a mental health professional. In my experience, it’s usually easier to find someone you trust to talk with first. If you need someone to talk to or don’t know where to start, please contact me. I’m here for you.

Lift each other up.
I’m very familiar with the use of satire, sarcasm, and cynicism we use daily in real life and on social media. It is a fun and quirky way to express your feelings and gain likes/comments/RTs/followers, but this is not the tone we want to use when talking with those we care about.

For no reason today, or without looking for anything in return, say something genuinely kind to someone you care about. Say something kind to a stranger. Lift them up for no reason. In a world filled with communication at the tap of a screen, you’d be amazed how many people crave that kind of personal interaction with others and/or people who feel like they’re fighting the fight alone.

Offer support where it’s needed.
If someone you know comes to you looking for support, listen with purpose. Offer them your support and if you’re not able to help them, look into getting help together. If you know someone who needs help but doesn’t know where to start, or you don’t know how to help them, contact me. I’ll help point you in the right direction.

Check in with a friend just because.
All of us have a friend or two (or more) we know struggles or has seemed off lately. Reach out to them today just to see if everything’s ok. It could be a call, a text, a PM/DM, an email… Just be sincere. Let them know you’re here for them if they ever need to talk and that they’re not alone. You’d be amazed what difference a message/call like that will make in a person’s life.

Instead of giving off this bogus facade that we’re always strong, happy, healthy, funny, and otherwise always OK, let’s honor our limitations – honor ourselves. And let’s show this world what we’re really made of. We are stronger together.

The Great Glass House of Stigma

Mental disorders are one of the leading causes of illness and disability in our world today. In the United States alone, 1 in 5 adults will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their lives. With all of the research available and proven science available to us, how is it there is still such a stigma surrounding mental illnesses and treatment of such illnesses?

The answer to this question is both multi-faceted and complex, and in my writing, it’s my goal to break down these issues into easy to understand posts. I’ll also be providing links and resources for those seeking treatment/support for mental illnesses, whether for themselves or someone they love. I hope you’ll join me on my journey as I help reveal the real hindrances of present-day healthcare and the stigma tacked on to the terms “mental health” and “mental illness”.

I’m here to make sure people are getting correct and complete information with regard to mental illness. Additionally, as someone who has suffered more than my fair share of mental illnesses, I want to provide you with the resources I wish myself and my family/friends had when I was struggling.

If, at any point during my posts, there’s something I didn’t address or you’d like more information on, please contact me and I’ll be happy to do some research on it.

ThinkstockPhotos-506122072-609x419
There is no health without mental health; mental health is too important to be left to the professionals alone, and mental health is everyone’s business. – Vikram Patel