What’s Inside

Today, it has been exactly one year since beloved actor, comedian, and Genie Robin Williams took his own life.  I’m still not entirely over it.  I realized that I haven’t watched one of my favorite Disney movies, Aladdin, in over a year because I’ve been afraid it would make me sad.

In the past year, my friends and I have opened up a lot to each other about our struggles with anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, etc…  Our discussions have lead me to look back on the lowest point in my battle with mental illness and to realize and be thankful for how far I’ve come.  But the thing is even though I’m being treated and doing 100% better than I was back in the darker days, it still hasn’t entirely gone away.  Most days I’m fine.  But I definitely still have moments of anxiety, of doubt, of fear.

I read an interesting quote the other day.

“You cannot always control what goes on outside.  But you can always control what goes on inside.”

This might be true for the lucky ones out there, but it isn’t true for those battling mental illness.  It definitely isn’t true for me.  There was a time in my life when I could control it.  I could control everything.  That’s the way I like it.  I’ll be the first to admit I have major control issues (not when it comes to other people, but when it comes to my own life?  Oh boy…).  But try as you might, you can’t control the little voices in the back of your head telling you you’re not good enough, you’re not smart enough, something terrible is going to happen, no one wants you around, you’re just getting in the way, you’re annoying everyone you love, on and on and on…

It’s horrible.  It’s impossible to feel good when you have this constant nagging.  The worst part is you know that it’s irrational.  It makes no sense that you should feel that way.  But that doesn’t make it go away.  If anything, it makes you feel worse.

I know it sounds like i’m not better.  I promise you, I am.  We all have days.  I’ve had a few over the summer.  I’ve become more susceptible to social anxiety, which is more annoying than anything, but it’s something I’m trying to work through and understand.  But I’m much better than I was back in 2012, when I was at my absolute lowest.  I didn’t even realize how bad it had gotten until recently, when I went back and read a few journal entries that i’d written before I went to get help.

10/3/12

The low self esteem is back, and this time, it’s not going away.

I’m trying.  I’m really trying to make it go away.  I’m trying to be positive.  I’m trying to engage in things I love.  I’m trying to tell myself that one day, I’ll be exactly what I want to be.  A writer.  A traveller.  Independent.  Confident.  A girl worthy of love.  

But I don’t feel any of that.  I feel immature and scared and crippled.  I feel even worse because I’m reminded constantly that I have no reason to feel all these things, that I’m a grown up, twenty four years old.  I see people all around me confident and happy and able to be happy for other people.  When I realize that I’m not like that, it makes me feel even worse.  

I want to be happy with who I am.  I want to feel proud of myself.  I want to be happy to be me.  I want to be the person I dream of being.  But I’m a time-waster.  I’m selfish.  I wallow in self pity when I have no reason to, and being reminded that I have no reason to makes me feel so much worse.  I try to deny all these things, because I know it will upset people around me if I act on them.  I don’t want to hurt anyone.    

I’m scared because I’ve never thought I would be one for depression.  I wish I could just run away, take some time for myself, stand on my own two legs.  Take some time from everyone I’ve ever known, everything I’ve ever been and I’m expected to be. I don’t feel free.  I constantly have this voice in my head.  “Loser! Worthless! Never amount to anything! No one should love you!”

I wish I had someone I could talk to, who understands what I’m feeling.  I need to grow up.  I need to let go of everything holding me back.  I need to go out and have fun.  I think that’s what really hit me in the face.  That I actually have to be forced to go out and have fun.  Something’s not right. When I struggle to get out of bed every morning, when the thought of living my day to day routine brings tears to my eyes, it’s time to do something about it.  

I want to finish my novel.  I want to feel worthy of love.  I want to feel like the happy, carefree girl I once was.  I want to enjoy life.  I want to be optimistic.  I want to like people again.  I want to feel that life is always worth living.  I want to be genuinely happy for my friends and not always thinking about all the bad stuff that could happen.  I want to stop looking at the world subjectively.  I want to stop thinking I know best.  I want to learn to love myself again.

Okay, so again, this is from three years ago.  I’m a very different person now.  I’m happy now.  I am all the things I wanted to be and more.  I barely recognize the girl who wrote all of that.  But I’m sharing it because I think it needs to be shared.  If I can help one person who is feeling the same way but is afraid to get help, then it’s worth it.

Like I said, I still have my days.  I’ve recently opened myself up to something that I think (or I hope at least) will be a very good thing.  I’m very, very happy.  I’m also terrified.  I’m scared to death that I’ll do something wrong.  That I won’t amount.  That I’m not worthy of this good thing.  One of the my biggest obstacles in my fight against mental illness has been learning to trust.  To put my faith and hope and love in other people.  I can be guarded.  I put up defenses because I’m scared to death of being vulnerable.  But I think I’m getting there.

Living with mental illness, be it anxiety, depression, OCD, what have you, is difficult.  I don’t think anyone who’s been there will tell you otherwise.  It’s draining to constantly be in battle with your own mind.  But you can overcome it.  It’s possible.  Believe me, it’s possible.  And it’s worth it.  Life is good.  Life is so good that sometimes, it makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time.  That sounds hokey, I know.  But it’s the truth.  Promise me you’ll never forget it.

Rest in Peace, Robin.  Your legacy lives on.  We love you.

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You’re Okay

This is a post I’ve been thinking about writing for a long time. I’m not sure what’s been stopping me, really. Maybe because it’s another one of those personal things that really doesn’t have much of a place on this kind of blog. But in wake of the apparent suicide of Robin Williams, it’s something that’s weighing heavily not only on my mind, but on everyone’s.

I’m not saying anything new when I write that depression is an unpredictable disease, or that its victims often take friends and family by surprise. The illness itself is bad enough. What’s worse is being afraid to confide in anyone. That shouldn’t be the case, but it often is.

I can’t speak for all victims of mental illness, but when my symptoms began, I tried to convince myself that it was nothing.

Mind over matter.

I just have to will it away.

You’re just being silly.

Telling myself that was hard enough. It was even harder to hear it from the people I loved. I was told that I was just hormonal. I was told I was just being paranoid. I was told that I didn’t need to see a doctor. I was told that I didn’t need medication. Hearing all of that made me feel crazier than I already did.

I should probably stop right there and tell you that I am not clinically depressed. My mom’s side of the family has a history of mental illness, mostly anxiety. My mom and my sister have both suffered panic attacks in the past and have been treated for anxiety. As for me, I’m more on the obsessive compulsive end of the spectrum. As I got older, it got progressively worse until finally, I would completely shut down at the thought of last minute changes. On top of that, I began suffering from PMDD. Long story short, those few days of depression a month were absolutely miserable. I felt worthless, pathetic, and worst of all, unworthy of everything and everyone I loved.

If those few days were unbearable, I can’t imagine the toll chronic depression takes on its victims. Seeing a doctor and getting on anti-anxiety/anti-depression medication was one of the best things I’ve ever done, not only for myself, but for my friends and family too. I became the person I was before the anxiety and the compulsions started. I’m myself again. I love my life and everything about it.

No matter what anyone says, there is no shame in seeking help. Being on medicine doesn’t mean you’re weak. It means your brain chemistry just needs a little help to balance itself out. It’s time we stopped treating mental illness as something that can be overcome by sheer willpower or by pretending it doesn’t exist. It does exist, and it claims victims, more now, perhaps, than ever before.

If you are suffering from any sort of mental illness, know that you are not alone. You’re okay, I promise. I know because I’m right there with you. If you know someone suffering, listen to them, support them, and encourage them to get help. It might just save a life.

Phobias and How They Actually Can Ruin Your Life

I had thought about writing a post kind of like this one when I heard about that cruise ship that had been overrun by the norovirus, but I thought it might be better to let you all keep thinking that I am a totally sane and mentally stable individual.  Well, tonight, I’m saying “to heck with it,” and I’m just going to tell you.

I have a phobia.  Of vomit.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t handle it well.  That’s a lie.  I don’t handle it at all.  You know how some people are so deathly afraid of spiders that they can’t handle being in the same room as one?  That’s how I am with puke (but in case you’re wondering, I’m totally fine with spiders).

I know a lot of people will try to empathize and say, “Oh, I get grossed out too,” but it’s not the same.  I get grossed out when I see a bug or when someone sneezes without covering their mouth.  When regurgitation, it’s an entirely different reaction.  Long story short, you can’t get me away fast enough.  My irrational and admittedly ridiculous fear of people throwing up around me can be crippling.

I won’t go into details about it because, quite frankly, the details are disgusting.  No one likes being sick or being around people who are sick, but it was actually a really big issue for me in high school.  I have gotten (a little) better about it as I’ve gotten older, but tonight, I’m afraid I feel a relapse coming on, and I’ll tell you why.

My mom and I had plans to go see a musical tomorrow at my sister’s old high school.  A lot of her friends are in it and since she can’t go, we wanted to at least make an appearance, go support her friends, and it’s Sherk the Musical.  I’ve been wanting to see that for ages!

However, about thirty minutes ago, she called to inform me that her Twitter feed was exploding with reports of the #Plague going around her high school.  It just so happens that #Plague = STOMACH FLU.  The really bad kind that hits you without warning and spreads like wildfire.  If reports are to be believed, dozens of kids were sent home this afternoon.  They were literally dropping like flies.

As I’m listening to her reports of the #Plague, I can actually feel myself pulling away from the phone, as though just talking about it will somehow infect me.  I’m trying really hard to remind myself that I haven’t been exposed and that I am meticulous about my hand-washing and personal hygiene, but it’s not doing me a lot of good (hence me complaining about it to all of you here online).

You can probably guess where this is going.  Thanks to this virus, I am absolutely terrified of setting foot in that auditorium this weekend.  It’s like asking an arachnophobe to go sit in a room infested with spiders for three hours.  Although I am fairly certain no one will get sick in the theater, I am convinced the entire place will be crawling with germs with the potential to make me sick.  Yeah, the fear of puke doesn’t just apply to people puking around me.  I’m equally (if not more) terrified of catching it myself.  I will do whatever it takes to avoid getting sick.  I am a stickler when it comes to expiration dates.  I won’t eat certain things at certain restaurants.  I’ve never had more than two alcoholic drinks together in my life because I am so scared of hangovers and throwing up.  And I certainly make it a priority to avoid sick people and places where I know people have been sick.

People ask me all the time if I based any of my characters in Cemetery Tours off of myself.  The answer is usually “no,” but the truth is that I base certain aspects of all my characters’ quirks and traits off of my own.  For those of you who’ve read Cemetery Tours, you’ll know that Kate, my female protagonist, is something of a germ-a-phobe.  That’s her little bit of me.  I am a germ-a-phobe.  Actually, the technical term is “Emetophobe,” because I don’t have a fear of catching colds (though I really hate them) or even the seasonal flu (though that sucks also), just the stomach stuff.

I don’t want to not go see this musical that I’ve been looking forward to for so long, but I’m going to have to really get a grip on my anxieties if I’m going to make it through the whole three hours.  That, and pack a LOT of hand-sanitizer.  And maybe a breathing mask.  And gloves.

In other news, Cemetery Tours got another great review on Amazon.

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I’m still having a lot of fun with the sequel.  I’ve also really been in a de-cluttering mood, so I’ve been cleaning out shelves and drawers and trying to transform my home into something you’d seen on Pinterest.

That’s all I’ve got for tonight.  I hope everyone stays healthy, because if you’re not, then I do not want to be around you.