An Inside Look

As you are all aware, I try to be very open about my mental health. I’m honest about my diagnosis and delve into my past experiences with it without holding back. The reason I do this is to try and end stigmas surrounding mental health. When I am honest about what happens in my head, but still show that I am able to function normally (for the most part), it helps people to see that mental health is not who someone is- it’s just a small part of them. With that said, I’d like to use this post to dig a little deeper into the inner workings of my twisted brain.

When people hear the words “depression” or “anxiety,” certain thoughts and images tend to come to mind, but often times, it’s so much more than what we commonly understand. There are symptoms that you wouldn’t even think are a part of a disorder, but rather a mere flaw in personality. There are so many parts of life that can be impacted by these things that most people may not have noticed or even heard of. This post is about the deeper symptoms I experience as a result of my disorders, but also ones I have found, through research, to be quite common. My hope is that by learning these things, people can start to better understand people who struggle with these symptoms everyday of their lives, whether you notice them or not.

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To give you a better understanding of my personal story, my official diagnosis is Severe Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Severe Social Anxiety Disorder, Moderate Depression, and Obsessive-Compulsive-Like Symptoms. I don’t have OCD officially, but I do experience some of the symptoms that tend to be associated with the disorder, such as an intense need for order and an obsession with the feeling of my hands that can cause me to be unable to function if they don’t feel “right.” Because my anxiety affects me so much more than my depression (most days), my psychiatrist (who I no longer see) seemed to think that my anxiety fuels my depression. While each disorder comes with its own list of common telltale signs and symptoms, many of which I experience, there are also many that run much deeper than what you may see on the surface. There are also symptoms I experience that you may notice, but never realized were a part of a deeper problem. I would like to add that these are symptoms from my own personal experience. While I have found a lot of them to be quite common, I am in no way saying they affect everybody. This is purely based off of my own personal experiences. With that said, I’m hoping that me being open and honest about these things can help others better understand their own disorders or that of someone else.

The most noticeable one would be my picking. I have gotten a lot of comments on this, because it is obvious for a lot of people. What this means is that I pick at myself; I pick at the bottom of my feet, my cuticles, and my face. Others may pick other places, but these are my hot my hot spots. I have taken chunks of skin off my feet so big, that it hurts to walk. I have picked my cuticles and the skin around my nails until it bleeds. I run my fingers over my face to look for even the tiniest bump and claw at it until I can’t feel it anymore. There are times that I claw at my face so much, the skin becomes completely red and angry and even bleeds. A lot of times, I’m not even aware I’m doing it. I’ve since discovered that this is a side effect of anxiety, and I’ve realized I do it most when I’m feeling anxious. I know a lot of people find this habit gross, but I can’t seem to stop it.

Another thing I tend to do a lot is catastrophize. While this probably sounds familiar, I feel that not a lot of people really understand how it can happen. For me, it mostly comes from unanswered text messages. I will text a friend and he won’t respond, and I’ll start feeling like something is wrong. When I can’t take it anymore, I’ll send another one. When no response comes I start spiraling down by thinking I did something to make them angry. I analyze everything I’ve said to him in the past few days, looking for where I might have made a mistake. I’ll take every tiny little phrase that has the tiniest possibility of being the culprit to try to figure out where I went wrong. I start obsessing over how I can make it right, and drive myself crazy thinking they are mad at me and that I’ve ruined everything and they will probably never talk to me again. The hardest part is that the logical side of my brain knows there is most likely a simple, harmless explanation for this, but no matter how many times I tell myself that, I can’t seem to stop the part of my brain that is creating scenarios in which I am the bad guy who needs to beg for forgiveness. This can make life extremely stressful, especially when it’s multiple people at once. If I do finally get a text back, I am filled so much relief, it’s like I wasn’t able to breathe normally until that moment- like whatever was squeezing my chest has finally let go. But when they don’t, I get an overwhelming sadness that takes hold, because in my mind, I’ve lost another friend and it’s all my fault. Catastrophizing happens in all sorts of situations, but this particular one seems to happen the most.

Going off of that point, another thing I struggle with is abandonment. I am constantly afraid of losing the people of care about, whether it be literally or figuratively. I try extremely hard to keep my friends happy, but I mess up and make mistakes. When I do, I freak out at the thought of losing them and find myself consumed in a full blown anxiety attack. I often feel as though I am being replaced by someone “better than me,” or cut out of a group to be left on the outskirts. I got to extensive lengths to try and prevent this from happening, such as not using a certain spoon because a friend mentioned it was her favorite, or never giving my opinion on simple things like where to eat for fear of picking something someone else may not want. I adjust my lifestyle to fit others’ wants without even discussing it, even when I don’t want to. I try really hard to be this perfect friend in hopes I won’t lose someone, but I always seem to inevitably fail.

I get into a period of sensory overload where every little noise irritates me. Sometimes this gets so bad that someone clearing their throat or shifting in their chair makes me want to scream. The ticking of the clock gets so loud that I can’t hear anything past it. Every tiny noise sounds like thunder in my brain and I just want to yell at everything to just shut up. This tends to happen when I am extremely anxious or depressed, especially when I’m a store that’s more busy than usual or something along those lines. Noises make me feel like I’m going insane. It tends to go away within a few minutes, but that doesn’t make the minutes it’s there any easier.

I get physically exhausted. I’ve written a post on this before, but I still wanted to include it to reiterate how important this is. Having anxiety and depression is unbelievably draining. Simple tasks like getting dressed or taking out the garbage suck up all my energy. Too much time spent in an anxious state can wipe me out completely for the rest of the day. When I’m depressed, I’m too tired to eat or change my clothes or even shower. Every little task feels like running a marathon. When it’s really bad, I get muscle aches from being so tense. My legs ache to the point where walking is a pain and my head feels too heavy for my neck to hold up on its own. I am so drained, I don’t want to do anything but lay down and maybe watch T.V. Even sitting up feels too difficult. A lot of people will perceive this as laziness, but in reality, fighting a battle inside your mind sucks the life right out of you. It bothers me when people comment on how I’m not doing anything or that I just lay around, but some days I don’t have any energy left to give.

Mental illness can creep up in a variety of ways that run so deep, it’s amazing to learn that it is a side effect of a disorder. There are things you thought were just your personality that can end up being another symptom. The good news is, the more we understand about mental health and how it affects people in different ways, it’s easier to recognize the signs and do our best to maintain better control over them. I hope some people found this post helpful, whether it helps you discover things about yourself or helps you to recognize these symptoms in someone close to you. The more honest we are about mental health, the more we can destroy stigmas that hold us back.

 

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#97: Raising Awareness and Ending Stigmas

  In recent years, the NFL has been plagued with a variety of scandals and controversy. There have been reports of teams cheating, referees being paid off, players accused of abuse, and, of course, the heated debate of players taking a knee. Lately, it seems the NFL is always under fire, but instead of focusing on that, I want to reflect on something I feel an NFL team did right.

            Many people know I have always been a ride or die Vikings fan, no matter what kind of season they have. I absolutely love Vikings season, often get a little too into the games, and find myself in a lot of overly excited discussions. No matter the outcome of a season, the Vikings have always been my number one team. For the most part, the Vikings have steered clear of scandal. With the exception of a few incidents, such as the Adrian Peterson scandal, the Vikings seem to avoid the drama spotlight. But in spite of recent events, I think they deserve it.

            I have been watching Everson Griffin’s impressive career as a defensive end for the Vikings since his rookie season. In that time, he’s made some questionable life choices, but he has still done amazing things for our team. This past week, it has reached the news that Griffin is being banned from playing for the foreseeable future, despite the Vikings rocky start to the season. The reasons surrounding this decision all stem from Griffin’s struggle with his mental health that have been prominent in his angry outbursts at practice, as well as incident that occurred last Saturday that ended with Griffin being taken by ambulance to a mental health facility, where he is hopefully receiving the help he obviously needs.

            While I love my Vikings, Griffin being a part of that team is not the reason I want to shed more light on this topic. Instead, I see this as an opportunity to not only shed light on mental health, thus helping to end the stigmas surrounding it, but also to give credit where credit is due.

            The thing that no one wants to say or believe is that mental health does not discriminate. Everson Griffin shows that it does not matter if you are a successful man that is following your passions and making a ton of money while doing so- mental health doesn’t care. Many like to think that mental health is something you can simply grow out of or be too successful for. They think they are immune to it. But Griffin shows that you can do everything right- you can get a well-paying career in something you’re passionate about, get married, have kids, buy a house, and all things we are taught will make us happy, and still end up struggling with mental health. He shows that no one is immune to it, but also that people can still go on to have successful lives despite it. It doesn’t have to define anyone and it’s not something people should fear and look down on; it’s just part of some people’s lives. Having a mental health issue does not make Griffin “crazy” or “psycho,” it just makes him a human being that has an extra barrier to work through and has hit a minor setback. It doesn’t negate all the things he’s done and all the things he will do in the future.

            I also want to comment on the beautiful way the team is handling this. Sadly, people seem to like to make men feel like they are above mental health. All too often they are told to “man up,” “suck it up,” or “get over it.” We live in a society that loves to portray mental health as something that is only for females. Men aren’t supposed to talk about their feelings, have mental breakdowns, or seek help- they are supposed to grin and bear it. For this situation to occur in a setting as “manly” as a football team is nothing short of incredible. To see a coach step up and ban a player from playing until he had a better handle on his mental health is not something many would expect. It would be easy to discredit Griffin, call him week, or bash him into the ground, however I am inspired to see his team rallying behind him to let him know he has their support. Seeing a group of football players offering support for someone who is struggling with mental illness is honestly something I was surprised to see. To see Coach Zimmer and his teammates continue to talk up Everson Griffin without trying to cover up his struggle is inspiring. To hear them say that sanity and safety is a priority above football is shocking in the most beautiful way.

            While I’m sure this is far from their intent, I think what the Vikings team did and continues to do is a huge win in the ongoing battle of mental health. I don’t see a team that is weak or trying to cover their asses- I see a team that is saying “It’s okay struggle with mental health.” All throughout the country, there are grown men seeing this happen and maybe seeing these symptoms in themselves. How the Vikings are handling this could very well be the nudge those men needed to go seek help. Little boys who dream of playing in the NFL are seeing that mental health doesn’t have to stand in their way; that their heroes struggle to and there’s nothing wrong with that. Mental health doesn’t discriminate, but also doesn’t have to consume someone’s life and it definitely does not need to be kept quiet or ruin someone’s life. The more awareness we raise, the more when can educate about it. That’s how you end stigmas. I didn’t think it was possible, but this story makes me love and respect the Vikings even more. As for Everson Griffin- I hope he gets the help he needs and I cannot wait to see what else he is capable of, on and off the field.

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings

Reaching Out

Lately, there seems to be an abundance of messages telling people who are struggling with depression to reach out. Reach out to friends and family for help dealing with the overwhelming sadness that plagues their mind. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, part of depression is inhibiting the ability to reach out. People are who are deeply depressed often find themselves unable to leave their house and unwilling to talk to anyone. A common side effect of depression is participating in isolating behaviors. Because of this, it’s important to know that if you see someone struggling, it’s important for YOU to reach out. Sometimes that’s what a person needs- someone to reach out and remind them that someone is there for them. If someone seems depressed or seems to fall way out of touch for no reason; reach out to them. If someone who used to be around a lot is suddenly not around at all, reach out to them and let them know you are there for them. It may take some effort, but it’s important to remember how hard sending a simple text message can be for someone who is deeply depressed.

With that said, there’s another side of reaching out- one that may not be as well known. There are messages telling people to reach out, but what happens when people who are depressed do reach out, and they people they reach out to don’t get the memo? Often times, someone who feels like they are slipping into depression will try to reach out to others because they know what’s coming. People who have suffered a long battle with depression tend to have a better understanding of their symptoms, including when they are dangerously close to isolating themselves. They know that if they put off talking to people, they may be too depressed to even pick up the phone. So, they try to reach out, but sometimes reaching out simply does not work.

Sometimes reaching out is sending messages to five different people within an hour and getting no replies. Sometimes reaching out is sending message after message to the same person day after day and never having them respond. Sometimes reaching out is sending an outrageous picture that made you laugh to someone and waiting hours for a response that never comes. Sometimes reaching out is desperately trying to spark a dying conversation back to life because you can’t stand the silence in your own head. Sometimes reaching out means continuously finding yourself at a dead end. Sometimes, you reach and reach and reach, but no one notices. And when this happens, it can reiterate the feeling that no one cares. All those thoughts about how you don’t matter to others that come with depression seem to solidify with each unanswered message.

This is why it’s important to be aware of the fact that someone may be reaching out to you. Most likely, they won’t say “I’m reaching out to you because I’m starting to feel really depressed again and I’m trying to let you know so you can help me before it gets bad.” They aren’t going to say, “I really need you to respond because I feel unwanted by everyone in my life and your response reminds me that I’m not a burden.” You won’t read the words, “Please don’t let this conversation end because your messages are my life line right now.” It will be much more subtle than this. Reaching out is someone continuously trying to make plans with you, no matter how many times you bail. Reaching out is someone who sends you several messages even though you never respond to them. Reaching out is someone who won’t seem to let a conversation end, despite the fact that you’ve been giving one worded replies for over an hour. When someone is trying to reach out to you, it can be frustrating and just plain annoying.

It’s not your responsibility to help someone who is depressed. It’s not your job to make them feel better and it’s not your job to “fix” them. You do not have to take on the responsibility of supporting someone who is depressed. However, if someone you care about seems to be blowing up your phone for no real reason, you might just want to reply. If someone you know is sending you a boatload of mindless texts or messaging you on a regular basis, they may just need you to respond. They know you can’t take away all their problems and often times, they don’t expect you to save them. More often than not, those who are depressed just want to be reminded that they matter; that people want them in their lives. They just need a little support to help them from spiraling downward into depression. Reaching out isn’t easy for those who depressed, so if someone you care about seems to be reaching their hand out to you, you may want to reach out and grab it.

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To the One Ready to Give Up

Many of us have moments in our lives where we feel like the world is crashing down around us, and we are powerless to stop it. We feel stuck in a hole with no way to claw ourselves out of it. These are the times where the pain is so intense, we are desperate to do anything to make it stop. It is these moments where we surrender ourselves to our own minds, and devise a plan to end it all permanently. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and the second leading cause of death for adolescents. Obviously, there are far too many people who feel this way; who feel that death is the only way out. So this post is for anyone who feels this way. To anyone who has felt this way in the past, and survived. To anyone who has ever seriously considered or attempted to end their own lives. This post is for you.

You may be wondering who I am to think I understand what happens when the world is too much. But the thing is, I know how that feels. I know what it’s like to feel like the pain will never stop piling up and to see only one way out. I know how it feels to want to give in and stop fighting for a life I don’t want anymore. I know how it feels to want to die. A little over a year ago, I was consumed by my depression. There was so much happening in my life; I didn’t want to face it anymore. I just wanted to be done so it would all be over. I had given up on my life, because I didn’t ever see it ever getting any easier. I know what it’s like to just feel empty; to be so tired of “getting through it” that you don’t feel anything anymore. But it’s at that moment when you are ready to just let the world slip away that you need to fight your hardest, because I promise, even if you can’t fathom it, it gets better.

I know you’re tired of hearing that. I know you want to scream “When?” at the people who say it. I know you don’t believe it, but take it from me. A year ago, I thought the same way; that nothing would ever get better. But a lot can change in a year. Despite the fact that at this time last year, I was at my lowest point, today, I am happier than I have been in years. I have seen with my own eyes and felt in my own heart that it does get better. Things will start to fall into place and people will surprise you. You will find new things to make you happy and you feel yourself being brought back to life in the most unexpected ways. People will come into your life and others will leave it- both for the better. Changes happen that are scary at first, but turn out to be amazing. One day at a time, the tightness in your chest starts to subside, and you remember how to breathe. Weight starts to fall of your shoulders, and you are reminded of the things that kept you fighting for so long. You remember what it means to be alive.

I know it’s hard; it’s the hardest thing you will ever do, but you have to keep fighting. Keep fighting for your life, no matter how bad you want to give up. Ending your life is a choice you can never take back; a mistake you can never make right. You will be missed by so many more people than you could ever imagine. I know life is cruel and unfair, but you were not put on this earth to just exist. You deserve to live. If you need help, tell someone you trust that you need help now. Call or text the national suicide prevention line. Drive to a hospital and check yourself in if you have to. Do whatever you need to do to stay alive, even when all you want to do is stop living. I promise you, it is worth it. I didn’t think it was a year ago- I didn’t think it would ever get better, and I have wished a hundred times since then that I had gone through with it, but now, a year later, I’m so unbelievably grateful I didn’t. Never in my life did I think I would be this happy again; that so many parts of my life would fall into place. Yes, there will still be hard days and mountains to climb. I will still be knocked down and feel powerless against my own mind, but now I’ve seen the other side. I’ve seen how fast things can change and I’ve seen what happens when you hold on just a little longer. I know you can do the same- I know you still have it in you to fight for your life, so do it and never stop. Stay alive. I promise you, it’s worth it.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

National Crisis Text Line: text CONNECT to 741-741

All I Could Have Missed

So often it happens that we become so consumed by our minds, we are unable to see past all the things we don’t want to deal with. If we could just give in and surrender, we wouldn’t have to worry about paying next month’s bills, fixing the broken stove, affording groceries for the week, finishing homework, going to work, dealing with loss, trying to find love, and a million other things we just want to escape from. If we could only just give up the fight, there are a million things we would never have to deal with again. These thoughts fill up our minds when we are at our lowest, when we are a breath away from letting go. So many of us have been here, that it’s hard to fathom someone who hasn’t. We have all been enticed by the sweet release of death.

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While it seems second nature to come up with the list of things you would be free from, I can’t help but think about all the things I would have missed if I had given in to my mind, and just let the world fall away. When the want was so desperate, I could hardly breathe. When all I wanted was for the world to stop. If only I had given in then, there would be so much I wouldn’t have to deal with now. But then again, I would have missed some of the best days of my life.

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I would have missed chanting songs with my team and dressing up in a group costume with my friends. I would have missed countless nights on the couch, watching movies and T.V. shows with my roommate. I would have missed teaching my dog to dance for a treat, and all the times she jumps with joy from seeing me walk in the door. I would have missed helping my little brother with his history paper and congratulating him on passing his driving permit test. I would have missed the hours I spent talking to my mom on the phone. I would have missed the family dinners where we laughed until we had tears in our eyes. I would have missed watching my plants grow from freshly planted bulbs to beautiful, blooming flowers. I would have missed a night out with my friends where we drank too much and laughed too hard. I would have missed sitting in front of a mirror with two of my best friends, as we all did our makeup together. I would have missed a friends Thanksgiving, where we all ate until we were ready to burst. I would have missed laying on the floor watching bad American Idol auditions with two people I love. I would have missed cowering in fear from a scary movie with my roommate, as we sandwiched the dog between us. I would have missed countless days at work, while I felt happier and more alive than I had in long time. I would have missed meeting my coworkers, who are some of the best people I know. I would have missed ER coming to Hulu, and finally being able to binge watch one of my favorite shows. I would have missed the second season of Stranger Things, and discovering a coworker who likes Game of Thrones as much as I do. I would have missed the countless Will & Grace references my coworker and I share. I would have missed the Minneapolis Miracle, and the amazing season the Minnesota Vikings had. I would have missed hilarious text messages and Snapchats. I would have missed the Wonder Woman movie and Pitch Perfect 3. I would have missed Taylor Swift’s new album and seeing Queen in concert. I would have missed Christmas with my friends and Christmas with my family. I would have missed the excitement of a new crush and the warmth of a new friend. I would have missed talking about football games, plans to be made, movies we’ve seen, and nothing at all. I would have missed my entire life.

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It’s so easy to get caught up in the things we wish we could make disappear, but we forget about the things that make our lives worth fighting for. As bad as today may seem, the best day of your life can always be just around the corner. It’s exhausting to keep fighting, but our lives are worth it. The hardest battle you will ever fight is the one you have with yourself, but it is also the one we must never surrender to. Just because things are bad now, does not mean they have to stay that way. I know how hard this can be, believe me, I know how exhausting this fight is. I know how it feels to be constantly at war with your own mind; to have your own brain convince you that your life is no longer worth fighting for. But it is these moments in which it is vital that we don’t give in, that we fight back no matter how tired we are. Because someday, you will look back on this battle, and be unbelievably grateful that you didn’t surrender; that you didn’t give up on yourself. Whenever you think about giving up, remind yourself of all the things you would have missed if you had surrendered the last time.

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The Side Effects of Suicide

We would be foolish to ignore the ever-increasing rates of suicide that have become so prevalent in our society. As of today, there is an estimated average of 121 suicides per day; that averages out to approximately 5 per hour. Every hour, there are five people who no longer see a point to their life, and make a choice to end it. For every successful suicide, 25 people attempt. That means that every day, 3,025 people try to take their own lives. That’s more than three times the population of my home town. These are startling statistics- that’s no secret- however there is a side of suicide many don’t know. A side that affects those of us left behind after someone we love makes this decision. The side effects of someone else’s suicide.

Many who know me also know that I lost my older brother to suicide in June of 2009. He was 17 years old when he made the choice to end his life by using a shot gun. That’s the thing we aren’t told about suicide; more often than not, it is extremely graphic and horrific. Over half of all successful suicides are carried out by a firearm. Experiencing the loss of someone by suicide changes you in ways no other cause of death does. When someone you love chooses to die, you are never the same. From what I have seen, read, heard, and experienced, I have discovered that there are certain things we all seem to experience after losing someone in such a brutal way.

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First of all, you feel a deep sorrow for anyone who chooses to take their own life. Just hearing about a complete stranger committing suicide can draw a tear to your eye, because you feel for them. You wish you could go back in time and stop them just to spare them from such a dark fate. You may have never met them, but your heart still aches for them. You grieve the loss of someone you don’t really know without even understanding why, because the truth is, everyone who is lost to suicide becomes a small part of you.

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You also feel an unfathomable connection with anyone who has lost someone to suicide. You know how much it hurts, how much the guilt weighs on you, how much you scrutinize every little thing you could have done differently, and you would give anything to keep another person from ever feeling that way. You understand that losing someone to suicide is so different than losing someone any other way. You understand the pain it brings in a way other people can’t. You empathize with people going through this loss, because you’ve been there. Again, even when it’s people you’ve never met, you feel for them. You sympathize their pain, and wish you could take it from them, because you understand the way it destroys people. You instantly become connected with the friends and families of people who fell victim to their own minds.

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You feel a small prick of pain whenever someone utters the words, “I’d rather die,” or “I’m going to kill myself if I get another assignment” or even when they mimic blowing their head off when something annoys them. People say and do things like this in passing all the time, never thinking anything of it, but it hits you every single time. Many people don’t even notice the reaction you have, but you feel it. You don’t understand how people can joke about something so awful, especially when they don’t understand how painful it is to lose someone to suicide.

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You take every threat of suicide seriously. You worry relentlessly about people who show the signs that you are now hyper-aware of, and you can’t just ignore what other people deem to be idle threats. You instantly are called to action, and will do whatever you can to prevent it; to spare another person from going through with it. You take these things more seriously than the people around you, because you have witnessed the aftermath and would do anything to stop it from happening to another. If you’re like me, you carry a suicide prevention card in your wallet just in case you find someone who needs it, but also to remind yourself that help is still out there for those who seek it.

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You suddenly find yourself with an intense drive to educate yourself on the topic and spread awareness. Ironically, you learn all the warning signs and the best resources after it happens to you. You learn the statistics and the stories and you have an internal need to spread this knowledge to others to try and help prevent it from happening again. You immerse yourself into the topic of suicide and will enlighten anyone who listens. You make it your mission to end the shame that surrounds it and try to gently force people to talk about it. Because deep down you know the only way to prevent it is to stop pretending it doesn’t exist and talk about it.

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Suicide is never easy to talk about, but it NEEDS to be talked about. Ignoring it will not make it go away; we need to start opening up the conversation with our kids, our parents, our friends- everyone. Nothing will ever change if we keep shoving it into the background and pretending it’s not an issue. Suicide is a prevalent issue that is affecting thousands of people daily; never in history has it been more relevant. If we continue to disregard it, it will only get worse. It’s time to take it seriously, and not just after you lose someone. Because I can tell you from experience that you never move on after a suicide. You never stop feeling guilty. You never put it behind you. You never go back to being who you were.

Suicide has side effects that alter the people who are left behind. Those who lose someone close to them to suicide are forever changed in ways we don’t expect. I lost my brother eight and a half years ago, and it still affects me. This post was still hard to write, because the emotions are still so raw, and I know it is far from my best writing, but it’s also something that weighs on me. There are so many people who do not understand the side effects of suicide; so many who don’t understand suicide at all. As I said above, people who lose someone this way have a need to educate others in hopes of raising awareness and encouraging others to take preventative measures- that’s why I chose to write this post. A suicide changed me; I hope it doesn’t change you too.

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*Statistics listed are from The American Foundation of Suicide Prevention website at afsp.org

Pleasantly Medicated

I want to take this time to address an issue I have noticed these past few weeks; the issue of shaming people for using medication for their mental health disorders. First of all, unless you have a mental health disorder (or have a PhD in the field), you cannot understand what it’s like to have one. I don’t care how many psychology classes you’ve taken or how many people you know that struggle with mental health- you will never understand what it is like until you have lived it first hand. Your internet research does not give you the right to tell people the right and wrongs ways to treat their disorders. Forcing people to do things that make them uncomfortable does not help them “get over it” because it is not something you can just get over; it’s a disorder, just like lung cancer.

Secondly, those of us who struggle with mental illness are just as fed up with it as you are, in fact we are 100 times more fed up with it. We are constantly begging our brains to just give us an hour, a minute, even a second of peace. We are well aware that our brains are broken, but that doesn’t mean we know how to fix them. We are extremely aware of our disorders, but that doesn’t mean we can make them stop. You’re annoyed that your friend can’t go out to dinner because she is too anxious? Think of how annoyed she must feel. You don’t want to invite your friend along because you are sick of him always being depressed? Do you honestly believe he isn’t sick of it too? You wish your friend would just stop having mood swings all the time? So does she! We do not choose to live this way, but that doesn’t mean we are able to just turn it off.

Now, I know that some people are able to overcome their disorders without the use of medication. Some use different types of talk therapy, some use meditation and other relaxation techniques, some engage in self-help type things, the list goes on and on. But some of us use medication to treat mental illness. I am one of those people. I want to tell you my story and how I got to where I am, but first, let me make a few things clear. I am not ashamed of who I am. My brain has limitations that most people’s don’t have. It happens, and that’s not a bad thing. If people are going to treat me differently, judge me, or avoid me because of this, then that’s fine; those are not the people I need in my life. I do not want to hear how I should “stop taking that crap,” and how “medication is a ruse created by doctors to get more money,” or “how mental illness is all in my head.” Yes, it is all in my head; that’s the weird thing about mental (which means brain) disorders. My disorder is a part of who I am, and people will just need to accept that.

I sought medication to treat my anxiety and depression a little over a year ago. I had tried just about everything else, but nothing was working. I had even made a list of “Anxiety Accomplishments” in one of my journals, where I wrote down the things I had done despite how anxious they made me. What was on that list? Things like “Went grocery shopping alone, even though the store was busy,” “Made a doctor’s appointment,” and “Ordered at Subway alone, even though there was a long line.” These are the types of things my anxiety inhibited me from doing; simple, everyday tasks that most people don’t think twice about doing. I decided something more needed to be done, so I went to get a prescription for some kind of medication to help.

According to my screening, I had severe anxiety coupled with moderate depression. It is likely that my anxiety caused and fueled my depression, but that wasn’t definite. However, it was clear that something needed to be done about my anxiety, because even my doctor couldn’t believe I had been functioning as well as I had been for so long. After nearly a year of trial and error of different drugs, different dosages, and even a different doctor, I know take 60 milligrams of duloxetine every night before I go to bed. I have been on this medication with this dosage for almost a month, so it’s not definite yet, however I have noticed many changes. The most obvious being that I can finally sleep. I used to toss and turn for hours before finally falling asleep and wake up several times during the night. Now, I fall asleep at a decent time and stay asleep. This alone has helped me immensely.

Other things I have noticed? I can talk to people, I can order my food without panic, I can sit next to a stranger in class without freaking out, I can go my chiropractor without thinking about it obsessively, I can actually say how I feel about certain things, I’m not afraid to disagree with my friends, and that’s just scratching the surface. I haven’t had an anxiety attack since June, which has to be a new record for me. I don’t get stomach aches every day, and I can finally breathe without feeling like something is sitting on my chest. I can sit alone without feeling self-conscious, and I can share my blog with people I know. I can talk and write about my anxiety and depression without fear.

I know medication isn’t for everyone, and there are side effects- some of them scary ones. For some, they just don’t work very well. Sometimes other options work better for some people. I’m not saying medication is the greatest thing ever and everyone who struggles with a mental disorder should try it. All I’m saying is that it is perfectly fine to need it. It is fine to feel better from it. It is fine to take it in order to function normally. There is nothing wrong with using medication to treat your mental illness. We need to stop making people feel like there is. People aren’t ashamed to need allergy medication, because allergies is something they can’t control. It’s the exact same thing with mental illness; you can’t always control it, so you shouldn’t have to be ashamed of it. You shouldn’t feel the need to hide the fact that you need medication for your own mental health. People without these disorders have the same neurotransmitters in their brains as the ones that come from your medication; you just need a little extra help getting them. Stop worrying about becoming reliant on your medication, because neuro-typical people are just as reliant on their neurotransmitters as you are on the ones in your medication. If you can’t make your own neurotransmitters, store bought is perfectly fine.

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You’ve Won

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According to this, you’ve won. I blocked and you won. It seems so simple and straight forward; you clearly won. So why is it so difficult for me to understand? There’s no doubt that I feel like I’ve lost something, but what makes you the winner? Usually winning comes with a prize, so, what have you won, exactly? Are you elated by the thoughts of how much you got to me? Does the fact that you nearly caused me to end it all give you feelings of excitement and power? Did you enjoy tearing me apart, piece by piece? Are you satisfied with the fact that you started a chain reaction that makes me feel more alone than ever before? Have you enjoyed watching me struggle to pick up the shards of myself? Do you relish in the thought that I am unable to leave my house without constantly looking over my shoulder for you? Does the fact that simply walking to my car fills me with panic make you happy? Are you pleased with yourself now that I am terrified of seeing you? Are you proud of yourself for giving me nightmares nearly every night? Do you feel that you’ve accomplished something by making me feel unsafe in my own home? Do you feel like winner? What did you win? Because I still can’t figure it out. My sense of security? My peace of mind? My sanity? Help me to understand why you’re a winner, because I can’t seem to figure it out. But maybe that’s because I’m the one who’s lost.

The Physical Side of Anxiety

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            While the world still has a strong stigma against mental health, there are more efforts today being made to understand many of the different mental health disorders. Much of the younger generation has worked to help the older generation understand how things like depression and anxiety effect the lives of people who have these disorders. More and more people are beginning to understand the effects of these things on the mind, but what about their effects on the body? How does something that is entirely brain related effect your physical being? These are the things we often don’t think about, unless of course, they are things that affect us personally. Mind aside, what are the physical effects of anxiety?

            When you have an extended period of time where your mind is riddled with anxiety, it can begin to take its toll on your body. I’m not talking about the migraines and digestive issues that are extremely common side effects of chronic anxiety (both of which I experience on a regular), I’m talking about common things people feel all the time… from physical activity. Anxiety is exhausting. All you want to do is lay in bed, because even the simplest of tasks completely wear you out. Your arms and legs feel like you did an intense work out, your feet ache with every step, your neck is sore, your shoulders throb, your back is stiff, and that’s the stuff easiest to manage. Soon after, your heart is racing, your head is throbbing, your whole body shakes and twitches, and you can hear your blood pounding in your ears. Your throat and mouth are dry and your body can’t seem to decide if it’s hot or cold. It leaves you feeling drained, and it seems like there is a fog surrounding you, dulling your senses. All you want to do is sleep, but you’re far too anxious for that. So, there you sit, trapped in your own mind, feeling your own body slowly turn against you.

            Anxiety is far more than a simple disease of the mind; it effects every single part of you. So, don’t say that anxiety is an excuse to lay around all day. Don’t say that anxiety is easily overcome. Don’t say that anxiety is all in your head. It’s draining and exhausting. It’s unbelievably difficult to manage. It goes much further than just the brain. Instead of belittling us for falling down, applaud us for having the strength to get up.

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