Major depressive disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder
There it is, folks.
Those are my diagnoses. They don’t own me and they certainly don’t define who I am, but they matter.
So, this is my message to each of them…
YOU. You have impacted me in more ways than you can imagine. My feelings toward you have changed over the last year and a half but I really hated you at first. I can remember my first thought when I was told that you were a part of my life. “Damnit. Not me.” I was pissed, I was scared, I was unsure of my next move. I didn’t know how people would respond to you. I was even skeptical of your existence in my world. Surely, there must be some mistake and yet, it made so much sense. Can you sense the confusion?
I had no idea how to interact with you AT ALL. I panicked. I kept thinking, “I can’t feel like this forever”, “This can’t be it for me”, “I have to drop out of grad school”. Catastrophizing to the max. You brought out fears in me that I didn’t realize I had. Because of you, I was experiencing 2-3 panic attacks per day. I was isolating. I was missing class. I was cooped up on my couch begging for the panic to subside. You sucked so badly (you still do sometimes).
Until I met you, I had never felt so low, so insecure, and so unsure of myself and my future. You brought out the worst in me. I was irritable. I was annoyed. I was projecting hardcore. I knew a lot about you. I had studied you in school and I had experienced you through some of my loved ones, but I never expected you to be this intrusive. You’re powerful, I’ll give you that.
“How am I supposed to help people if I can’t get my shit together?” “What am I going to do if I have a panic attack in class or on the job?” “How am I supposed to live this miserable?” The most impactful thing you did to me was steal my self-worth, my vision for my future, and my desire to keep moving through life. You made me want to go to sleep and not wake up. You made me think death was an option.
You told me to miss my psychiatry appointments. You whispered in my ear that the best thing I could do for myself was hide. When I found the courage to drive to therapy, you told me to stay in my car a little bit longer until I was too late to go inside. You made me doubt my abilities and truthfully, I’m still learning how to fully trust myself again.
Even though you can be wicked and ruthless, you’ve taught me a lot. Once I started crawling out from under you, I realized that there was no need to fight you anymore. Instead, I found myself wanting to learn how to integrate you into my life. I didn’t want to keep running. I didn’t want you to enjoy the chase any more than you already had. I wanted to rip the power away from you. I wanted my life back. What I came to realize is that I didn’t end up wanting my exact same life back. Instead, I wanted a life that included more self-care, self-love, healthy boundaries, honesty and transparency. I built (and am still building) a life where it’s okay to not be okay; a life where I forgive myself and treat myself with respect.
You did all of that for me. Without you, I’m not sure when any of that would have happened. Maybe it wouldn’t have ever happened. But I genuinely think that something had to give. I was carrying way too much for way too long. You forced me to see something that I chose to be blind to. You inevitably forced me to stare my past experiences dead in the eye. You forced me to confront the darkest parts of my life; the fears that were buried deep down and walled off.
You are the reason I started this blog. Well, one of the reasons. I’ve always been an open book but I would have never had the courage to start something like this if not for the BS you put me through. I learned all about my resiliency and strength because of you.
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is thank you (you still bug though, so don’t get too excited). Thank you for forcing me to change my life and change the way I treat myself. Thank you for expanding my knowledge and giving me extra insight into what some of my clients might be thinking and feeling.
You’ve humbled me to my core. You’ve brought me to my knees and shown me what it means to crawl out of a daunting and seemingly never ending hole. Because of what you’ve put me through, I’m no longer afraid to speak my truth and be authentically me.
All that being said, you still manage to stump me from time to time. When I start to notice you creeping up, I freeze and I’m left wondering whether or not I’ll be able to climb out of the hole again. I notice myself wanting to control what I’m experiencing and immediately change how I’m thinking and what I’m feeling. I begin to fight you all over again.
This brings me to my hopes for 2019.
Firstly, I hope for more acceptance. Acceptance is key. Relinquishing control is important for my sanity. I want to continue gently reminding myself that life is fluid and that my experiences with my mental health are not either “good” or “bad”.
Secondly, I hope for connectedness. I want to continue sharing my story and more importantly, I want to continue hearing YOUR stories. You all inspire me more than you know. You’re all so special and so important to me.
Thirdly, I hope to learn more skills that help me manage my day-to-day anxiety so that I don’t always go straight to “oh shit, it’s happening again.”
Lastly, I hope to inspire others to speak their truth and reach out for help. I know this is cliché, but it truly gets better. It can be a lonely and disheartening process- I get that. But there’s a lot of support out there and even when you feel like no one else cares, just know that I do. I care so much.
I see you. I hear you. I accept you. I honor you. I love you. You are so enough.
As always, thank you for reading this post and for checking out our blog. Your support means the world to us. Happy Holidays, friends.
Wishing you all love and light.
Dear mental illness,
I didn’t really know what I wanted to say to you for the longest time. You’ve been with me since the beginning, and you’ll be with me at the end. I know that you’ve taught me so much and have most certainly also been a challenge. I think we can both agree that I have undoubtedly detailed most of my reflections about you and the experiences that we’ve had together. But what I really want to say is how I want our future to look starting next year in 2019.
Last year showed us where we came from and taught us who to trust. And who we can’t always trust; definitely who not to trust. It ultimately taught us to trust ourselves. You and I.
I have more peace with you and less shame. In the future, I don’t want this to turn into minimizing or ignoring you. Especially when I have a job wherein so many of the people I work for have mental illnesses far more debilitating and far more exacerbated than mine.
I want to use you. I want to forge you into something useful, that will create my long-awaited goals, hopes, and dreams. I want to move us into the next level, where I immerse myself in the parts of you that have been too scary or too unknown, so that I can befriend you. Because who has ever regretted befriending a powerful force that is actually on their side?
I think the way to do that is going to be me acknowledging to both of us that I am the person. Not you. I am the sentient being with autonomy and free will. And as difficult as it will be, I want to unlearn parts of you that, like a parasite, have been trying very hard to hijack me.
In 2019, I intend to find ways to replace those parts of you with self-generated chemicals of my own choice and doing. I intend to no longer waste vast amounts of time being paralyzed by you because of the lies you tell me that you know better and the lies I tell me that you do too.
I intend to not waste another year complaining and whining about how abusive and confusing you can be. I don’t need to contribute to that path toward a guaranteed black hole.
I am going to get moving. I am going to run. I am going to meditate. I am going to create a scintillating, passionate, connected relationship with my body, in spite of the shame you have so long engraved in me.
Your words are not true; I AM worth it. I AM going to allow myself to tap into my inner warrior, creator, and leader. I do not intend to play small.
I intend to play very, very big.
I will stop trying to label you into so many categories and subcategories that act as a semblance of control over my identity and self-imposed glass ceiling: OCD, GAD, BPD, Bipolar Disorder, Dysmorphia, PTSD, Excoriation Disorder, Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder, blah, blah, BLAH.
I intend to no longer intellectualize and self-harm as baseline defense mechanisms. I vow to only use these terms to educate and advocate for mental health awareness and de-stigmatization of mental health care. Much like picking up my Queer Vegan Feminist flag, I will wave these flags of my mental health conditions until they are no longer needed, until the societal norm is inclusion, acceptance, and understanding.
I vow to get up out of my chair, that I land in every night and fall asleep in, and take action; and not give in to feelings of exhaustion, defeat, surrender, and mental death.
I will re-define what recovery means. I will re-claim what being in the moment means. I will set myself free from pain and nothingness. I will open up my heart again, and soothe the tearful, weary, tender spots that are fearful it will all be a mistake. But I will open it up in ways that feel safe and comfortable to me.
Dear mental illness, I look at you like Magneto in X-Men. I have compassion for you, and I understand where you’re coming from. And there’s no “but”. I just do. We are one in the same. I’m not saying I’m any Professor X or Storm. I look at myself as a Wolverine. As a Jean Grey in her Phoenix form. Containing both extremes, and having one foot in both sides. Fusing the two. Forging that middle. Not fighting them. Accepting them. And using that forged line down the middle as my path.
I have to believe that Spirit created my soul for a purpose, and I believe wholeheartedly that this is one of them. I was meant to be created with these “conditions”. They were instilled in me for a purpose. And like Edward Scissorhands, whom I mentioned in my last post, I will use these often-feared blades to create beauty and uniqueness.
I don’t know what has been harder. Having “mental illness” or living among humans. It may sound strange to some, but I know there are those who get it. I prefer to think of myself as having quirks and a sensitivity/connection to deeper frequencies that are often invisible to the naked eye. I have to revere that.
Much like Two Spirits are revered in Native American culture, yet have historically been brutalized in the non-indigenous Western culture, I think there is a deeper, spiritual meaning in the experiences that those of us with mental “illness” have had. And that helps. Having a sense of connection and meaning helps. Whatever that looks like, whatever that means.
So dear mental health, I intend to use you for good. You can bring it. Let’s play that game. You want to cause fire? Out for a run I’ll go or out comes the ink and paper to flow. Transmutation baby.
So that’s my decree to you. Welcome, instead of denial. Embrace, but not drown. And transmutation over a white flag. We are one in the same, and we are all part of this circle, of this home of a body and web of a mind. We have de-constructed this home; now it’s time to re-build it stronger that ever.
And one last thing. I accept you as you are, all of the moving parts, even the ones I absolutely hate. I accept the losses of battles to come, but I do not accept any kind of defeat for the overall war. Let’s coincide, you and I.
I’ll walk the line.
My name is Kristen, and I will not be afraid.
“I exist as I am, that is enough”
It’s something I say to myself over and over again. It’s something I have tattooed on my body. It’s a gentle reminder that I am worthy of love, acceptance, and happiness just as I am.
I practice self-love frequently through positive affirmations, empathizing with myself, and practicing gratitude for myself and my body. Without these practices, my depression wins. But sometimes, at the end of a long day, I walk through my front door feeling less than, drained, and definitely not enough for anyone. I sit on my couch and run through the day in my head- wondering what I could have done or said differently. More often than not, there are tears involved- tears that represent feelings of shame and disappointment. Tears that allow for me to express myself when I don’t have the energy to do so any other way.
As a professional, I’m constantly searching for areas of growth. I want to see everything, talk to everyone, form relationships and connections that better me as a human and sharpen my skills as a therapist. I want to help people. I want to remind people of their strengths- help them get to know the parts of themselves that they lost or haven’t been able to tap into. Sometimes, I fall short. I’m learning how to accept that and still view myself as being enough. It’s defeating to feel as though I’m not providing the care I know my clients deserve.
Sometimes I’m tired. Sometimes I’m frustrated. Other times I’m consumed by paperwork. I’m human. I get overwhelmed, overrun by grief and sadness, and unsure of what to say or do. Sometimes I’m triggered while working with a client and I have to find a way to ground myself and continue on with the session. Countertransference is real, folks.
In the moment, I feel crappy for experiencing my humanness. Sometimes, the crappy feeling lasts for the rest of the day/week. I’m hard on myself- I’m very aware of that.
When I’m having one of the nights that I mentioned above (sitting on my couch, tears flowin’), I can feel myself start to spiral. My thoughts start to wander. Am I good enough to be a therapist? Maybe I should have taken this class instead of that one. Maybe I should have focused on sharpening my clinical skills more. What did I do wrong then that has led me to feeling like this now? So on and so forth. How am I supposed to help someone reach their self-identified potential when I can’t even reach mine?
How am I supported to walk with my clients through the trenches? Am I doing them justice? I begin to wonder if someone who struggles with self-worth is fully capable of being an effective therapist.
Here’s what I remind myself of whenever I am flooded by uncertainty:
I don’t have all of the answers and that’s okay. What I do know is that I’m not afraid to admit my faults and share them with others. The possibilities are endless as long as I continue to check in with myself and find the strength to move forward even when I’m lacking in the self-love department. One thing I do know is that running doesn’t work for me. Here I am, standing as tall as I can with an open mind and heart.
I exist as I am, that is enough.
As always, thank you for reading. I’m wishing you all love and light.
It was last Tuesday when I had an emotional breakdown in my supervisor’s office.
I had just come back from transporting one of my team’s most challenging clients, and on the way back, another client detonated a full-out verbal thrashing into my ear over the phone. Those of you who work with high-risk clients know: we get called every name in the book.
And in that moment, it was just too much.
I literally had tears in my eyes as I was on the phone with this client because I felt so hurt. Being called a fucking cunt, the fucking devil, a worthless piece of shit, among other things, just hit every tender, insecure button I had in me. And after a while, I just sort of dissociated- just a little- and gave up. I just let this client keep yelling, and I said nothing.
I let them have it out. I let them have at me. Like target practice. Like a doormat.
I was so mentally and emotionally exhausted from the first client that day- not to mention that it had been an especially busy week in general- and my mental/emotional threshold had simply been maxed out.
In case I haven’t mentioned it yet, I began a new job recently with a completely different level of clients than I had previously worked with for the past eight and-a-half years. I work with people who are chronically homeless, have severe, pervasive mental illnesses, and usually a long-term polysubstance addiction. Not to mention complex, deeply saturated trauma histories. And as much as I understood where these particular client’s behaviors were coming from, I just felt paper-thin, and I couldn’t take it anymore.
So I walked into my supervisor’s office and awkwardly blurted, “Do you have a minute?”
Then the waterworks came. And not the cute, glazy-eyed ones; I’m talking awkward AS FUCK, heaving sobs- the ones when you’re sharply, breathily inhaling words that you’re attempting to say out loud. I was absolutely mortified.
Thank goodness I have an AMAZING supervisor who is actually trauma-informed. Her response was to omit empathy, kindness, and support, not to mention the fact that she didn’t look scared, disgusted, frozen, or annoyed. Instead, she helped me process where my response was coming from. This ultimately led to me saying the things that most employers would recommend you never utter aloud...especially to your boss.
“I just feel like you hired the wrong person.”
“I don’t know if I can handle this.”
In response, she told me that she did NOT think she hired the wrong person and that she, instead, was wondering what made me think that. She told me that I had to give myself some time, seeing as that I was transitioning to a completely different population in a completely new role and that it takes time. She asked me what I thought specifically triggered those thoughts and if it was certain statements this client said.
She even told me that she still has breakdowns sometimes, and that she will still cry to her supervisor too, the last time being last week!
I was SHOCKED.
How could this experienced, level-headed, respectable, intelligent professional experience these things? That should only be something a naive and total NEWB like me does. Someone not as smart. Not as experienced.
Not as “tough”.
Not as tough, i.e. “too sensitive”, “soft”, “naive”, “weak”. Not as, AKA not enough.
And that’s when it dawned on me. I’ve always felt “not enough”. I’m always trying to prove something to someone else. Even if that means telling little white lies. Even if that means my own health is put on the line as an expense. And I usually pay with it.
I don’t really know where this feeling of not being enough came from. It’s definitely a belief that is heavily tied to, if not entirely bred from, my anxiety and depression. It often seems linked to my anxiety, because the antecedent to that thought is usually what if I’m not enough? What if I’m no good at this? What if people judge me? It’s so anxiety-based!
I have mixed attachment styles, including with myself. I question myself almost all the time, and the questions tend to birth full-blown monsters of doubt, paranoia, and persecution. It’s exhausting.
The truth is that one of my ultimate fears is that I’m weak. Yet, I didn’t come from an ancestry of “weak”. I came from warriors and survivors. And I fear I won’t amount to them.
So when I think of clients (and staff I supervise) and my role as the person that’s supposed to help them, maybe it’s my own expectation(s) of what I’m supposed to do. Or who I’m supposed to be.
If I’m not helping you and you don’t need me, then who am I supposed to be?
I’ve gotten so used to having clients- PEOPLE- come to me for help healing from their trauma, who are in the mental headspace of knowing, let alone wanting, therapy. And the clients I have now? Most of them are in the pre-contemplation stage; the world has wronged them so much that they easily view people like me as part of who’s out to get them. It’s still trauma-based, just not in an obvious way.
Maybe when the roots of clients’ behaviors aren’t obvious to me or known to them, my own power feels challenged, and I don’t know what to do with the unknown. Maybe that’s when I don’t feel like I’m enough.
And I honestly think this touches on my own past history of feeling powerless. In my childhood when I would feel powerless to help, specifically around violence, I would just sit, stare, and cry while hiding.
I would dissociate. Because, really, what more could I have done?
All of these realizations right now are 100% being realized in this moment as I’m writing this, and it’s a trip! I had to process through all of the high-falutin stuff to get at the meat: being around volatile, disruptive people triggers my own childhood freeze and surrender response. You guys, I was not expecting this just now. Shit man.
So there it is. It’s not about the clients. It’s about me. Well, it’s a little to do with the clients- I have to give myself the grace of acknowledging the challenge of working with people who have so many challenges. It’s only natural. But it’s also about this blending with my own unresolved feelings of not doing enough or being enough to stop what’s coming, or what’s already happening.
There are parts of me, bigger parts than I want to admit, that are still that little kid. And it’s okay that she still needs healing. It’s okay that I give her space to do that. It’s okay that I’m human.
In the words of one of my favorite characters, Edward Scissorhands, I’m not finished. And that’s okay too. Thank goodness I’m not! Otherwise, there wouldn’t be anything more for me to learn. And I would likely be so complacent and bored out of my mind!
My supervisor said that there’s a reason for the term growing pains. Growing hurts. Maybe the muscles in our limbs don’t twist and transfigure, but the neurons in our brains certainly do. New connections, new emotions, deeper ways of thought, the works.
I don’t want to be the person who always plays it safe, I want to be the person who is fearless. And yeah, there’s still a part of me that wants the fearlessness for selfish reasons, and there’s part of me that definitely enjoys playing it safe. Again, all okay. All human.
What’s been helpful for me throughout all this has been to know I had safe people to talk about it with, who I knew wouldn’t judge me or minimize my feelings. My supervisor was one of them. And Natasha was the other. It’s nice to have someone who understands that not only does the feeling of not being enough come up, but who also understands what it’s like to experience this WITH emotional dysregulation, ruminations, and chaostrophic, all-or-nothing thinking!
I HAVE to acknowledge those things, because they’re part of my mental health condition, and I won’t get better if I don’t accept that they impact how I experience the world. I still have more growth to do, and I know there will be more growing pains to come. But I know now- thanks to this blog!- that I DO have power over one thing at all times: how I speak to myself.
I can choose to be kind to myself and not be The Judge. I may not be able to control what emotions come up or how my client felt or reacted, but I know now that I can absolutely choose what I tell myself in those moments. I can choose to reframe. I can choose to empower. I can choose to switch my thought from I am a worthless DUMBY of a supervisor who knows jack-shit to DAMN, I’m a badass for making it through that!
I can also change how I perceive what’s happening in the moment. With the client I was talking about before, my mindset was about ME, MY feelings, MY reaction. It turned inward, and put ZERO attention on noticing what my client was doing. I’ve said it to interns I’ve supervised hundreds of times, and now it looks like I need to take my own advice:
If I simply just notice how the client sounds, what the client is saying, and how they’re saying it, it becomes something to watch, instead of something to absorb.
That is HUGE for me. What someone says/does to me, or around me, says so much more about them than it does about me. And as someone who is so quick to come to conclusions and spurred by emotion, this will be so beneficial for me to keep in mind for the future. Something to notice, not something to identify with. Something to watch, not something to absorb.
I hope this helps for you too. Especially all my fellow courageous empaths out there. We can do this work. As long as we give to ourselves.
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