Breaking News here on Air it Out

For the two or three people subscribed to this blog, I want to let you know that Air it Out is closed and it’s posts are being migrated over to Tuxedo Cat News, my new blog that will encompass not only mental health, but recipes, Kitty Tails (purposeful misspell of Tales, lol), tips on saving money and living on a super low income, and more.

>> Tuxedo Cat News <<

I hope to see you over there. 🙂

– Crysta

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When the Cruelest Person in Your Life is You

I debated for a couple weeks now on what I wanted to write about next. I don’t want to write just for the sake of getting out content. Content without heart and meaning is poor content.

Earlier today I tweeted about the vicious voice that is my constant critic and, probably, the voice of all my insecurities.

critical voice tweet

I’m working on ways of muting that voice and telling it to shut up, and therapy is helping.

Then, just an hour or so after posting that tweet I realized that I missed a spot while I was sweeping and mopping, and I thought to myself, “you stupid filthy idiot, look how nasty you are!” I didn’t think, oh oops, I made a mistake, let me get that real quick. I didn’t think, oh, I’m human I miss things. My first reaction was to insult and berate myself.

That isn’t a mean and critical intrusive thought that just pops into my head, that’s how I talk to myself.

It’s a learned reaction. That was how I was talked to so many times. It was how my mother talked about herself. Although he never verbalized it, I kind of think that’s how my father treated himself as well. I learned how to think like that, and even as an adult that kind of thinking has been heavily reinforced by some family and some coworkers.

Every mistake was somehow a major tragedy that was near unforgiveable, even when that mistake was trust.

When I worked at a major American department store, my first year there I will ill prepared, mentally, for Black Friday and I asked my Department Manager if I could work clean up instead of the main event. I knew that the department would virtually destroyed and that nobody was scheduled for that shift, so I thought it was a good compromise. My department manager agreed. Or, you know, so I thought. She told me to come in at either noon or 2pm, I can’t remember which anymore. I thanked her profusely and thought no more about it.

Then, a few weeks later at my eval, the assistant manager who was doing my eval with my department manager said that I was making my own schedule. Confused, I asked for an example, and she cited Black Friday.

My department manager said nothing, except to nod her head, and I had no idea how to argue my case.

After the eval was over, and after I got done crying in the ladies’ room, I confronted my department manager. I said, you told me I could work that shift, we agreed on it.

She told me, “You should have known I was kidding.”

And here’s the thing, I loved her, platonically, of course, but until that moment she had been a person I looked up to. When her son died, I ran interference for her when people were overwhelming her, often making myself look like an idiot in the process.

“Oh, hey, I’m so sorry to interrupt, but you asked me to do this thing and I can’t remember how.”
“Sorry, but I need to borrow [manager] for just a moment, I’m not sure how to do [whatever].”

In that moment, when she told me, “you should have known I was kidding” I felt betrayed and like a fool. This trust I had in her was shattered and I felt like an unforgivable fool for the effort. I felt like I wasn’t worthy of honesty or even basic decency.

So, how I talk to myself is a learned thing.

I feel badly about myself and I take it out on myself.

Let’s be blunt here. Let’s be honest. I’m abusive to myself because I don’t always believe I’m worthy of good things.

I’ve never thought of myself as an abusive person and the idea is horrifying, but sadly, it’s less so because the person I’m hurting is me.

And I’ve heard all the affirmations, I say them to others. “You’re worth it.” “You deserve good things.”

What I need to hear, what I need to believe, is that I deserve good things not just as basic human decency, but because I am not a bad person.

Calling myself a good person feels weird. It feels like I’m being egotistical or bragging and then I punish myself for being bad.

Sometimes I’m so disgusted with myself, I deny myself food. I tell myself that I can’t have anything to eat until I get this done, until this time, until I’m ready to stop punishing myself. I’ll go a day without eating, maybe two, because I don’t deserve it.

And looking at it clinically, that’s abuse. It’s self-harm every bit as much as when I cut.

I never wanted to be that person. I never dreamed I’d ever be as bad as the people that mistreated me, but here I am, treating myself just as badly.

I don’t really know how to correct my behavior, because it’s me that’s it’s hurting and a lot of the time I don’t care enough about me to walk away from hurtful behavior, and because it’s me that’s doing it.

How do I defend myself against me?

It’s interesting too, in a sick sort of way. If I denied an animal food, it’d be criminal. If I denied a child or somebody under my care food, it would be criminal. If I talked to another person the way I talk to myself, it would be verbal assault or abuse. Because it’s me against myself, it’s… nothing.

So, all that said, what do I do? How do I fix how I see myself? How do I fix how I treat me? How to I tell myself that I’m sorry about how I treat me and then not do it again?

The truth is, right now, I don’t know. I’m still figuring things out and I still don’t really know how to be kind to myself and mean it.

I just don’t know.

Self Care is Personal to Each of Us

I’m having a rather bad day today. I’ve got all these scenarios running through my head thanks to anxiety and I’m struggling with sleep. I’m angry and anxious and frustrated and I can tell that my depression and PTSD are being more symptomatic at the moment.

i am a piping hot mess
Tony Stark being totally relateable.

It’s in moments like these, when I’m starting to feel at my lowest that self-care and coping techniques are really important.

Probably one of the first things you’ll ever see on a self-care post anywhere is ‘take a bath’. It’s almost always on the list. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing that. Baths are awesome and there’s a really good reason why they’re on the list. Water is soothing. Heat is soothing. The self-massage of washing your body is soothing. The time to your self is soothing.

There’s only so much you can shower or bathe though.

One of my favorite self-care techniques isn’t even a technique. It’s my cat. I try not to make this a cat blog, but Loki is not just an extremely beloved pet whom I refer to as ‘my son,’ he’s also an Emotional Support Animal. I’ve got a note from my therapist and everything.

Loki is soft. Soft is soothing. Loki is openly affectionate towards me. I like that. I need that. Loki makes soft purring sounds and vibrations and it tells me that I’m making him happy. That feels good. Sometimes he does super sweet things like gently touching his paw to my face, like he’s petting me back. He’s unconditional love.

There’s other things I tend to do when I’m anxious or feeling low.

I like to organize. I group things by color and put them in a rainbow formation. ROY G. BIV as I learned to remember the colors. (Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.) I do this a lot with my clothing, but I’ll also do it with things like cleaning supplies.

rainbow colors
How is this NOT soothing?

Books I like to arrange by size. Big to little in terms of dimensions.

I’ll arrange movies by genres then alphabetize the genres.

I may or may not even arrange my Roku channels if the mood hits.

Sometimes I clean and try to create order from chaos.

Now, for me, the cleaning, organizing, sorting thing is more of a solution for when I’m low-to-mid-grade anxious in an effort to distract myself and try to keep things from reaching high-to-crisis level anxious.

A lot of times I go on Pinterest. Sometimes I look at recipes, sometimes funny Tumblr posts, a lot of cat pictures, and I’m a Marvel fan, Iron Man in particular, so sometimes I look at funny Iron Man or RDJ pictures. Really, when it comes to Pinterest, it’s whatever you like that soothes you and makes you feel happy.

Classical music helps me to some extent. Music touches the entire brain, and classical music or film scores are a particular go-to of mine lately. I love Moonlight Sonata and Lamke Flower Duet and as far as far as film scores go, the Downey Films Sherlock Holmes film scores are really, really fun with a funky violin addition.

If I’m not too off kilter and I can tolerate vocals, but still want something soothing, I like to go for artists like Enya or Loreena McKennit.

Sometimes I go for something completely mindless and head over to YouTube. I’m a huge fan of Top Ten lists – may I recommend Matthew Santoro and Most Amazing? They’re my absolute favorites. I love random trivia on all different topics, so that’s a huge go-to for me. I also sometimes like watching speed runs of Mario or Pokémon games. In particular I love the segments from Summer Games Done Quick (SGDQ) and Awesome Games Done Quick (AGDQ) which brings speed runner gamers and their fans from all over the globe to benefit charity, primarily Doctors Without Borders and Prevent Cancer. AGDQ2018 raised $2.3mil for Prevent Cancer, and the games have, so far raised $14 for charity according to their website. I love watching the games and I love knowing that it was all done to help people.

Even without all the great things, watching somebody blast through Super Mario Bros. in under thirty minutes is never not entertaining.

I like teas. Hot tea, cold tea, I don’t care. I just like tea. You can call it pretentious leaf-water all you want, but I like how it tastes (even if coffee does have the corner in the scent department) and mint tea is my absolute favorite, with black tea and honey being a very close contender.

I also have found a love for documentaries. I spent most of the night watching Murder Maps on Netflix last night. Is the topic of murder in 1900’s-1950’s Britain a good topic for my anxious and depressed brain? Yeah, probably not, but it was super interesting, and I love history and crime dramas. You couldn’t pay me to watch a nature documentary though. I love animals and plants are great, but no. That’s like an infomercial; I watch it to bore myself into sleeping.

For me, personally, it’s got to be about crime or medicine or psychology or history or I don’t really find any interest in it.

Worst Cooks in America is another favorite, particularly the seasons with Anne Burrell and Bobby Flay. Their rivalry is hysterical, and the first episode of any season is usually enough to have me almost crying with laughter.

I also love a dreary, rainy day. So long as it doesn’t affect the power, it could rain and storm day in and day out and I’d probably be fine with it. I love the break from the harshness of the sun, the scent of the earth and air as it rains, the wind, the way the leaves look greener against the gray sky, the gentle rumble of thunder and the way it’s just cooler and darker.

That said, I’m less fond of the horrible stickiness that comes when the sun comes out directly after rainfall. To me it’s a gross, nasty feeling.

I know there’s a lot of rambling there, but I want to explain why these things are soothing or why they cheer me up. Self-care is a personal thing and what works for one person may not work for another. These are all things I go to, to help create some measure of peace in my head.

I like information. I like organization. I like things that are soft and sweet and a little silly.

One thing you may notice, however, is that these are all solitary things, that’s just what I’m the most comfortable with. I have and do call a friend or text my cousin when I need communication. Often times I do just what I’m doing now; write to you.

Now, personally I prefer that probably 95% of my time is alone. I like people, but I have a very limited capacity for socialization, even with people with whom I love and am comfortable with. People are chaotic and loud even when they don’t mean to be, and I usually need some way of distancing myself somewhat.

For all that people complain about ‘millennials and their obsession with their phones’ I really don’t defy the stereotype. I need some barrier, even if it’s imaginary, between myself and others or I quickly become overwhelmed and panicky. Maybe it’s a crutch, but crutches were created to keep you stable.

The point of this post, now that I seem to have found it myself, is that self-care is personal to who you are. We’ve talked before about how there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment because there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all person. We’re all different and unique and what comforts us and soothes us is probably going to be different.

Maybe you don’t find tea soothing and you prefer coffee. That’s great. Just keep it reasonable like I do with my tea. Tea and coffee contain caffeine, which is a stimulant and can aggravate anxiety.

Maybe you prefer nature documentaries. Awesome! Go for it!

Maybe you like a little creative chaos. You do you.

The point is, find things that ease your symptoms. Write them down in a list. Think about what makes them comforting to you.

I know all this was long, and I hope you’ll forgive me for not putting it all in a list, but I honestly feel that understanding why we react in specific ways to specific stimuli is really important. I explained my feelings about the things that soothe me in an effort to help you think about why your self-care techniques work for you. When you understand why one thing works for you, you can look for other things that share that similarity and increase your arsenal against bad moments and days.

We all have bad days and many times finding things you can do for you helps make them a little less bad. I know that there are days, though, where nothing you do works, when everything is just too much and you feel like everything is too much in too little a space.

Reach out on days like that. Call a loved one. Text a friend. Call or text a hotline if you need to. It’s okay. It’s okay to not be okay. As long as you don’t give up, it’s okay. Your most important responsibility is making sure you’re okay. You can’t take care of anyone or anything else if you’re coming apart at the seams.

If you need to talk, make a comment on any one of my posts, I’ll get an email and I will come and talk to you. If you need it to be private I will direct you to my Skype or Twitter DM’s. I’m not online every second of the day, but I will reply to you and I will listen. I’m not a medical professional in anyway, so I can’t give you advice beyond common sense, but I will be there in any way I safely can.

Take care of yourselves, loves. You can do it!

Deciding to Apply for Disability

Some of us who suffer from chronic illnesses may end up facing a decision one day. It’s not a decision that we want to make. It’s a humiliating decision, one that feels a lot like giving up. It may break us financially, force us to humble ourselves before family, friends, and debtors. It’s the decision on whether or not to file for Disability benefits.

Now, I’m not going to lie, I have no idea whatsoever about Disability in any country other than the United States. I don’t know if other countries have Disability, even. That’s ignorance on my part, and I’ll eventually get curious enough to Google it, but I can only talk about what I know.

Disability is something that is paid into. How much you can potentially get depends on how long you’ve worked and how much income you made during that time. What I can potentially receive is about $996 per month based on my work time and previous income. That’s about 739GBP at the current exchange rate for any UK visitors, and 1,285.00 Canadian. It’s not much, but I’ve been living on about $300 per month plus SNAP (Food Benefits) for a while now. It’s how you look at it, I guess.

The decision to apply for Disability was not easy. It was gut-wrenching and fills me with anxiety when I think about it. I’m not old. I’m not really even at middle age yet. The fact of the matter is, however, that I am currently incapable of maintaining a job. Physically, I’m capable. Intellectually, I’m capable. Mentally and emotionally, I can’t do it.

Some people see this as weak and lazy. “Oh, you just don’t want to work,” or, “oh, you’re using your depression as an excuse. Buck up. Grow a pair. Get a grip. Grow up.” I’ve heard it all. If my therapist didn’t agree with my decision, if my best friend, who is always honest and up front with me, didn’t agree with the decision, if the lawyer, who doesn’t get paid if I don’t win the case, didn’t agree to take the case, then I would have to really look at myself and ask if I’m really thinking about things. The thing is though, my therapist firmly believes it’s the right thing for me right now and she’s not going to lead me down a bad path or let me lead myself to destruction. The lawyer did take the case.

I’ve worked, you know? I’ve held down jobs for significant periods of time. I worked at Walmart for eight years before I quit. I attended online college courses, though was not able to finish for various reasons, and I worked for two and a half years, give or take, at my last job. I worked in retail at both jobs.

At my last job, I started out as a cashier, and in all the technical aspects I was excellent at it. I knew what to bag with what (put the bread on top of the eggs, since they’re both fragile, don’t bag chemicals with food – duh – bag meat separately, chicken in one bag, beef in another, pork in another to prevent contamination). My till was never more than a few pennies off – some customers didn’t want their pennies as change. I knew how to operate the register quickly and efficiently. I was comfortable with the old system and was rapidly comfortable with the new one when we switched over. By almost all accounts I was an excellent cashier.

Almost all accounts. I was drowning in anxiety and sensory overload. I felt exposed and flayed open. My heart raced, I would sweat uncontrollably sometimes, hell, sometimes I had flat out panic attacks. Several got me sent home, one sent me to the ER.

It isn’t like my manager didn’t try either. He eventually moved me to stocking. When the store was closed, I was fairly calm, I could drift off mentally and just get my stuff up and once all the aisles were done, I went home, but sometimes even that would get so overwhelming that I could barely function. I’d say I was sick when in honesty I was panicking.

The dread I felt even going to bed the night before work was unbearable. Sometimes I would force myself to stay awake because at least the time passing felt slower. Sometimes I’d have to double up on my medication and deal with the side effects because there was no other way I could force myself to show up for work.

Being gregarious, being cheerful, smiling at the customers, approaching them to see if they needed help finding anything, even talking to them was sometimes impossible. It reached such levels of impossible that I would claim laryngitis for a couple of days just so I had a legitimate excuse to be silent because the effort of communication was so draining I could not do it. Again, I was in retail, 75% of retaining customers is friendly service.

My depression grew worse, my anxiety grew much worse, I was on medication and attending some therapy and I still couldn’t get through my day without tears towards the end of my time there. I started self-harming to get through the day. I would take a box cutter that somebody left in my office. A filthy blade, sticky with tape residue and I’d drag the blade over my hands and watch the blood bubble up.

Finally, I went to my doctor’s office fighting tears and asked to speak to my ARNP, but she was gone for the day. Another nurse called me back to speak with me and the therapist that was there made some time to talk to me, but I couldn’t bear it.

I was in the hospital the next day on an involuntary hold.

What an eye-opener.

I was there about five days and there wasn’t a lot to do, so I thought about things a lot. I was not stable, at all, I couldn’t bear the noise, the chaos of the controlled environment I was in. The thought of going back to work was devastating, but at first, I was determined, no matter how ill it made me. What else could I do?

At first, I thought to myself, maybe it’s just this job that’s getting to me. The overlord (store owner) was a mean man who treated his employees as disposable commodities rather than the people who were the face of his business and without whom he would have no business. All of us were afraid of him.

So maybe it was just that environment. So, I made the decision to quit. It felt so good. A ball of anxiety that was my constant companion at that point just… eased. It was like cold water after a sweltering day. When I left the hospital, I felt good, and I thought okay, this was the right decision, but now I need to find another job.

Then, a little more than a week after I was released, I was in the hospital again.

And again.

And again.

I felt like I was drowning and suddenly getting well became my priority.

One night, after a lot of consideration and agonizing over the decision, I got online, and I filled out my application for Disability.

A couple of days later, I called a lawyer.

It has not been an easy decision and it continues to not be an easy decision. It is a long, long process. Around 90% of people who apply are initially denied, if they choose to appeal, only about 5% of people are awarded benefits. Then it goes to hearing, which takes forever. In my area the average wait time for a hearing is 19 months. If I try to get a job, and it fails, I have to go right back to the beginning of the process.

I’ve discussed trying to go back to work with my therapist, and she didn’t tell me not to, but she asked me questions and gently steered me into really thinking about it, and through talking to her I realized that my thoughts about going back to work were an impulse decision caused by fear and humiliation.

There’s no money saved up. I’ve been at the mercy of my relatives, who help me but make it known that it’s unwanted and the bitterness is only increasing. I’ve started cleaning houses. Not many, I can’t do it more than twice a week and no more than three or four hours a day before it becomes too much and the anxiety and the fear becomes overwhelming.

Just the little I do is having negative effects on me. I’m considerably more anxious. I’m having trouble with insomnia, I’m more depressed, I’m more fearful about leaving the house and much less tolerant of stimulus. I don’t want to leave the house, not even to run out and take out the trash or check the mail. It’s just this whole giant ball of too much.

I don’t know what else to do.

I feel like I’ve made the right decision, but I don’t know.

All I can do is pray and wait and hope that it doesn’t completely destroy my already rocky relationships with family.

In the end, we have to take care of ourselves. I’m not saying that family doesn’t matter, because it does. Here’s the thing though, if the situations were reversed, I’d help with a glad heart, a grateful heart even, because helping somebody in need feels good and in the end, they’re family. I’d be sad that my family member was suffering, and I wouldn’t add to it by making them feel badly.

Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. The Golden Rule.

Some decisions are hard, loves, really they are. Some decisions are agonizing. Life is made of up choices, pathways with forks in the road and some are clear and obvious choices and others make it look like you’re just going to get lost if you go down them. They look dark and ominous and are filled with hills and valleys and are rocky all the way through. Sometimes those scary paths are the right one.

You’re not alone. We’re all traveling down paths towards a future that we can’t predict. Some we travel together and some we travel alone.

Reach out. If you can afford it, get a therapist, they’re such blessings. Reach out to your peers. I’m on twitter @crystawrites I’m no therapist or anything like that, but I’ll listen to you. Sometimes with just talking to someone you can guide yourself to the decisions you need to make, all you need is a person to listen and a little validation.

Keep on keepin’ on.

“I Just Don’t Get Why You’re Like This”

I’d like to address this post not just to people with mental illness, but also to the families of people with mental illness.

A letter that my aunt sent to me a few weeks ago has been rattling around in my head and it just won’t leave me alone. I mentioned it in a previous post, but the jist of the part that’s been bugging me is (again, paraphrased), “I don’t understand what you’re going through and why you think the way you do and it’s hard on me. I’m sorry it’s like this, but you have to get a grip on life.”

It’s hard being the family member of a person who is sick, whether it’s a chronic physical illness or a mental illness or a life-long disability or really anything. I know that because I’ve been that family member. I’ve directly dealt with the consequences of being in the orbit of a mentally ill family member, far more closely than my aunt is to me.

My first inclination was to write back and say something to the nature of, “I’m sorry you don’t understand,” and try to explain things more than what I’ve already tried to do. I didn’t though. I’ve hesitated and not written back.

See, the thing is, I’m glad she can’t understand. It’s extremely difficult to understand the horrible thoughts that come with depression and anxiety and BPD and bipolar or any other mental illness unless you actually have experienced those thoughts. As a child, I couldn’t understand my mother’s wildly swinging moods. I couldn’t understand why she had to go to the hospital so often. I couldn’t understand why she’d yell and scream and berate me. I couldn’t understand what she was going through and thinking the day Daddy and I came home and found the police there only to find out she had been suicidal.

Other than saying she was sick, Mama never really tried to make me understand either, and now, as an adult with similar illnesses, I get that. I chose to not bring a child into this world, for multiple reasons, but now as my symptoms are so unpredictable, I’m even more grateful that I’m not putting a child in the position that I was once in.

But that’s a child. We’re meant to protect children. What about adult family members? Well, the thing is, at least for me, I’m glad my aunt doesn’t understand, because it means she hasn’t experienced this. My aunt doesn’t know what it means to hate herself, to doubt every single decision, to doubt and question every action, every facial expression, every change in the tone of voice of everyone who speaks to her. She doesn’t know what it’s like to be in so much pain that she wants to die. She can’t grasp the idea that sometimes ending it seems like the best option, not for yourself, but the people around her, the people in your orbit, the people you feel are most hurt by you and this illness that haunts you like a particularly malevolent ghost. She doesn’t understand what it’s like to feel like poison, seeping into every pore and rotting everyone she touches from the inside out. Malignant ooze that destroys everything good.

And thank God for that.

Goodness knows she’s experienced pain and loss and maybe even some situational depression, but in this, she’s innocent and untouched.

True understanding comes from experience, so yeah, I’m glad she doesn’t understand.

What I don’t appreciate, what bugs me, what I don’t get, is that she’s chosen to remain uneducated. My mother was her sister. Mama dealt with mental illness from her early-to-mid teenage years. Granted, back in the 60’s, mental illness was still highly stigmatized and mental health care could be vicious. It just wasn’t talked openly about.

That was then, though, and this is now. I have given my aunt a list of my diagnoses, I’ve tried to explain that they affect the brain and how a person thinks. Maybe it’s just me, but when faced with something I don’t understand, my first inclination is to go online and research it. Find out all I can and stop being ignorant.

It’s so easy to Google depression, or anxiety disorders, or PTSD, or any other mental illness and get an idea of what people go through. To see that it’s real, that it’s not laziness, that it’s not something made-up and overdramatized.

My illness is not about her or anybody else. It’s a combination of environmental and biological factors that I can seek treatment for, but I can’t strong-arm it away. I can take my medication and go to therapy and even seek hospitalization should I reach a point where I’m in crisis. I can find ways to sooth myself, but I can’t will away PTSD. I can’t tell the hormonal imbalance in my brain to just get over it and straighten up. I can’t wish away my symptoms. I can’t even pray them away. Real life just doesn’t work like that.

I’ve been told to grow a pair, to get a grip, to just ignore it. I wish that worked, but this is real life, honey, and it doesn’t.

This is an age of information and discovery. If you’re totally ignorant about something so common, and you take no steps to correct that, if you remain willfully ignorant, then that’s on you.

If you’re blaming your lack of information and understanding on your chronically ill family member, then I have this to say to you: stop. Just stop it right now and open a new tab and open Google. Educate yourself. If you choose not to educate yourself, then shut up about how you don’t get it and how that’s so hard on you. You’ve chosen to remain ignorant and you have to deal with the consequences of that.

And there are consequences. Your family member may pull away, then you’re going to get even more upset, because you still can’t understand even a little, then there’s going to be more fighting, more conflict, and that stress is just going to worsen your family member’s symptoms and they may even start to dread or even fear your presence.

The attempt at gaining information and compassion means so much. You’d never tell somebody with pneumonia to just stop coughing. You understand enough about the disease not to. You’d never blame a kid with Chicken Pox for itching. You’d put calamine lotion and oven mitts on them to ease the symptoms and reduce the damage they might do to themselves. You’d never tell a person with a broken arm to just grow a pair and ignore the pain rather than seek treatment.

Chronic, invisible illnesses are every bit as real and valid and difficult to deal with as their visible counterparts and, in someways can be even more difficult because there’s no visible sign.

Now, to those of you who are reading this and are dealing with mental illness or chronic illness of any kind, especially those that are invisible, then listen to me. How people react to you isn’t your fault. If you’ve given your family and friends information and they choose not to learn and then whine at you that they don’t get it; that’s on them, not on you.

You are only responsible for your own actions and how others act or react is on them.

An initial lack of understanding is acceptable and understandable. We’re not born knowing everything and neither will we die knowing everything. Staying ignorant is neither acceptable or understandable for either those who are mentally ill (assuming they have the capacity and competency to retain information) or their competent family members.

That said, if a person really is trying to learn and understand, but they lack the experience to really get it, do be patient. They’re trying for you, so try for them as well. Your illness doesn’t give you the right to be a jerk.

Some resources that you may find useful – and please note that I haven’t thoroughly researched all of them – include, but are not limited to

www.invisibledisabilities.org

www.caringvoice.org

www.butyoudontlooksick.com

www.mdjunction.com <– My personal favorite.

Also, it never hurts to talk to your doctor or ARNP. You can say, “hey, my family member/friend was just diagnosed with insert-illness-here and I’d like to better understand it. Can you point me towards some resources so I can do some research?”

There are loads of communities online and even in the ‘real world’ that you can look for. You just have to do it.

Best of luck loves, stay strong despite it all. Or in spite of it all. However you like.

PTSD is a Strange Experience Sometimes

PTSD is, I have found, a very strange animal.

I was diagnosed with PTSD back in October of 2017 during my very first hospitalization. Before then I had never considered that the anxiety that I felt could possibly be something like PTSD.

Like many people, I thought that PTSD was a disorder limited to those who had experienced the horror of war, of slavery, of kidnapping, and rape. The truth is, though, that trauma is trauma and it doesn’t discriminate and what one person finds traumatizing may not be traumatizing for another and visa versa. I found out that it can be caused by a car accident, a tornado, a mugging, abuse, the death of a loved one, by anything that is traumatic for a person.

Please note that going through trauma doesn’t automatically mean you will suffer from PTSD, it means you may.

Another thing I thought is that something really, really relevant to trauma must be experienced to trigger symptoms of PTSD. Like a soldier may hear fireworks and be reminded of gunfire. Like TV and the movies show, right?

No.

The truth is that sometimes the strangest things can trigger the anxiety.

I just found out that one of mine is dirt.

Yes, dirt.

I’ve been aware for some time that my reaction to dirt on my person and in my house has been becoming more extreme and, again like many people probably would, I thought it was a manifestation of the mild OCD I sometimes deal with.

(I’m fairly convinced that if my closet and drawers aren’t organized and color-organized that I’ll become a hoarder and the filth and clutter will take over and I’ll die alone buried in the chaos and be eaten by bugs and rodents until my dried-out body is found weeks later by family needing me to pay a bill. Is it logical? No. Does keeping my closet and drawers organized very neatly alleviate that anxiety. Yes. So, I do it. It’s pretty. And I won’t die buried in filth and clutter.)

I digress, a lot.

So, yes, I thought my aversion to dirt was a little bit of OCD peeking through chaos and clutter that is the rest of my mind.

I talked to my therapist about it, about how, after doing some housecleaning for somebody, I went home that evening and as I tried to rest, suddenly, I couldn’t breathe for the anxiety in my chest. About how I’d noticed for a while that I was getting more and more offended by dirt on my person. How, even though it’s so hot, because Florida, and I sweat buckets, I have to wear long pants when cleaning because if I have to get on my knees to clean something I might get dirt on my legs if I wear shorts. How I can’t go barefoot in my own house.

She asked if maybe it had to do with the house I used to live in and if I had ever gotten in trouble for not cleaning at some point.

The answer, actually, is yes.

The house I used to live in, that I lived in from 1993 to 2015 was a condemnable disaster. Literally infested with German cockroaches and filthy from their droppings and the black mold that covered the kitchen and bathroom from their leaky ceilings, it was a horrifying place to grow up in.

As a pre-teen and early teenager, I spent a lot of time alone. It was around the time that my great-grandmother was getting weaker and Mama spent days, sometimes a couple weeks at a time out of state taking care of her, and Daddy worked an hour and a half away on the Beaches. I was responsible for my studies for taking care of myself, and for keeping the house clean.

Well, there was one incident where I failed on that last account and Mama was MAD. Grandma had brought her home and Mama was humiliated by the state of the house and since it had been my responsibility she yelled and screamed and berated me. I never forgot that, and I made certain that the house was clean when she came back.

Now, I can admit that, eventually I stopped caring and frankly, so did Mama. The house was literally falling down around us and there wasn’t anything we could do, and the house just got worse and worse from lack of care and both of its occupants being more and more depressed.

When I moved into my own place a few months after Mama died, that’s when things changed. It started out as this awesome fresh start and I vowed I would never live like I had again. I would never be threatened to be buried by filth and clutter. I vowed I would never live with roaches and wake up with sores on my legs where they had bitten me in my sleep again. If it couldn’t be washed or immersed in water, it did not come with me. When I moved I left with my DVD’s in a binder because I wasn’t risking anything hitching a ride in a case, my clothes, my shower supplies, my laptop and not much else. Not even my bed. That’s how determined I was to not live like that again.

I’m not a perfect housecleaner. When I get depressed the dishes and the laundry fall to the wayside, but I keep my house pretty neat and clean. I’m not ashamed for anybody to come in unless I haven’t done the dishes in a couple days.

However, as I said, I do some housecleaning to make enough to pay what I can, and I think this one house triggered me without me even realizing it. While it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the house I grew up in, it was… pretty bad and needed a lot of attention and even then, things were in a state of disrepair.

That combined with a fear that I wouldn’t do a good enough job and get yelled at has really increased my anxiety in a way that has made me focus even harder on cleaning my own home in an effort to avoid the screaming and hurtful words of a person now long dead.

I’ve got to clean the porch because what if somebody sees all the leaves and thinks I’m filthy. I’ve got to make sure my closet’s organized, because of the completely rational reasons I listed above. I’ve got to make sure the cat dishes are symmetrical because… well because it MUST be that way. My cabinets have to be a certain way because otherwise it’s not right and I’ll get in trouble.

Sometimes when I clean I hear a voice in my head telling me it’s not enough, I have to do better, it’s filthy Crysta, DO IT BETTER.

And then there’s the yard. I need to pick up limbs, but I can’t find my gloves and I can’t deal with the dirt.

So, yes, PTSD is a strange animal and it affects people in strange and confusing ways. All this fuss over housework and dirt. It’s ridiculous. Objectively, it’s stupid and absurd, but it’s still my reality.

I’ll end this by saying I just realized that I unconsciously arranged my cleaning supplies in rainbow order. Red, yellow, green, blue.

Honestly.

Keep fighting through it, loves. Life’s weird but it’s the only one we’ve got.

Until next time.

Self-Care is So Important

Let’s talk a bit about self-care today, because honestly, it’s so very, very important for everybody, not just people with mental health issues.

Self-care is about taking care of you and doing good things for you.

There are days that are so bad that the best you can do for you is make a smoothie. That’s great. Fruit and maybe greens is super healthy for you and even if that’s all the getting out of bed you can do, even if you don’t get dressed or brush your hair or wipe the crusties out of your eyes, at least you got some nutrition.

And I get it, sometimes you’re so, so exhausted that a smoothie is all you even have the energy to digest. When I’m super tired or super depressed eating is really hard.

You can do other things though, even things in preparation for a bad day that you hope you never have but know you will.

Pre-make some kind of light vegetable soup and keep it in the freezer. It’s not just a great way of self-care, but if you have a real busy day and don’t feel like cooking, all you have to do is defrost it and heat it.

Keep a treat you love kind of hidden away to have on a rough day or after a super great day to reward yourself. I have a serious weakness for Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Chocolate bars. It’s the only chocolate I like, so once a month I buy a bar just to treat myself.

Do a photo shoot with your best friend or your fur-baby.

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I am adorable, soft, loving, cuddly, and clingy and in exchange you give me pets, snuggles, and keep my food bowl full. That’s our deal, human.

My therapist and I both agree that pets are one of the greatest forms of therapy. I sometimes feel like Loki keeps me alive. I love this little furry friend so much and in my darkest moments when I want to end it I think of him and how he needs me as much as I need him. Who would I trust to care for him if I died? Who would love him and let him sleep on their pillow or right beside them?

Pets are such a wonderful form of therapy and self-care. It’s somebody who can give you some motivation. Kitty needs fresh water. Puppy needs a walk. (Why is my cat trying to bite my laptop? Questions only pet owners will ask.) They give so much love and I truly believe that they can tell when Mom or Dad is sad. When I’m especially depressed or anxious, Loki is more clingy and cuddly. Sometimes he brings me his toy and asks to play fetch, and since Loki is a cat, that always makes me laugh.

I have a board on Pinterest called Cat Attack and it’s a board filled with pictures of happy or silly cats or drawings of cats as the crew of the Enterprise or as Avengers. It’s a board I can go to and see something that brings me joy.

That’s self-care.

It’s skipping the short perfunctory shower and luxuriating in some bubbles or a bath bomb.

It’s washing your face or using a facial cleansing cloth because those make your skin feel so soft.

It’s doing your nails, it’s making sure your sheets are clean and soft, its doing things that are healthy and feel nice for you.

Are you weird like me and like rainy days, but there’s no rain to be found? There are loads of hours-long rain sounds on YouTube and Roku has a channel called Rain.tv. Close the curtains, turn out the lights, maybe light a scented candle and turn the air on cooler and cuddle under a soft blanket. Take a nap.

One of the most important ways you can practice self-care, and something I need to really work on myself, is if you’re on medication, no matter what, no matter how bad your feeling, no matter how little energy you have, take your medication.

Wait, louder.

TAKE YOUR MEDS NO MATTER HOW YOU’RE FEELING.

So, in conclusion, take your meds, cuddle with a teddy or your fur-baby, do nice, healthy things for you, do things in preparation for rough days, because we all have them. Keep your area clean and clutter free because studies have shown that a messy house/room and clutter increase depression and anxiety symptoms.

Even if you hate affirmations, even if they seem cheesy (and I think they do), they all point to one important thing: be kind to you because you deserve kindness and softness.

There’s hard, difficult parts of life that we can’t escape, and we can’t always depend on other people to provide counter-balance to that.

Be gentle with you. Be soft with you. Be kind with you.

Keep on fighting, loves.