Mental Illness is Not Math

One plus one might always equal two, but people and mental health can’t be measured like math, so it frustrates me when people who have absolutely no experience with mental illness act like it can be—like we are all the same or should all be the same.

One of my daughter’s school teachers recently made a bunch of inaccurate assumptions about her and her mental health, then gave his own son as an example of how he is thriving under the same circumstances. I’ve had others who have done the same thing. They expect everyone to be exactly the same—a “1+1=2 for me or this person I know so 1+1=2 for you and this person you know” type of thing. But that simply isn’t the case when it comes to mental health.

Just because medication works great for one person doesn’t mean it will work great for someone else. Just because one person gets a lot out of therapy doesn’t mean this other person will. Just because one person thrives under pressure doesn’t mean everyone will, can or even should be expected to.

The reasons for mental illness are also varied. This same teacher made the assumption that stress from this one extracurricular activity is what is causing my daughter’s mental health struggles right now and that she just shouldn’t do it again next year. In fact, my daughter really enjoys the activity and is having fun doing it right now. Her mental illness is genetic. There is a lot of mental illness on my side and her dad’s side. She has a genetic predisposition towards it. And just because she enjoys this activity doesn’t mean it’s going to cure her. There are other things that do help her, though, so it’s important that she has the ability to do those things.

This is why I keep blogging about mental health and mental illness, why I feel so strongly that I need to keep trying to educate people. Despite how far our understanding and acceptance of mental illness has come in recent years there are still way too many people who have such an archaic belief and understanding of it. Rather than trying to put everyone is a small, tiny, tight, too-cramped box, let’s open our minds and try to be more loving and understanding.

Advertisement

Time Flies

I’m working on normal blog stuff, but for now, here’s another poem.

Time Flies
by Tacy Gibbons

Two kestrels dance beneath a gray-clouded sky,
swooping, swerving and swirling around one another.
A display of timeless beauty,
over in seconds as one bird flies away.

They say the days are long, but the years are short.
Yet most days go by in a blur of have-tos, need-tos and must-get-dones.
The years fly by in the blink of an eye.

A snap of the fingers, and I am old
and no longer dancing like a pair of kestrels.

Healing Through Writing

A friend recently posed a question on social media about writing and if it has helped heal or ever hurt you. I immediately thought about how healing writing poetry was for me in high school. It truly was a form of therapy. Being diagnosed with depression was scary. Living with depression was even more scary, as well as confusing and lonely. Writing poetry helped me make more sense of what I was going through. Being able to express how I felt and what I was living through brought comfort.

Writing, especially poetry, was based a lot on inspiration. I know some people who can sit down and just write a poem. I could only do it if inspiration came to me. One day the inspiration stopped. So I stopped writing for a long time, and it was incredibly painful. Years later, the inspiration started coming back to me, and in the last few years I have written a lot of poetry. Once again it has been therapeutic to me.

I’ve shared a lot of my poems here, but they never get many views and rarely any kind of response. Maybe people don’t like poetry. Maybe it’s because this isn’t a poetry-specific blog. I don’t know. What I do know is the sense of contentment and healing that has come with being able to express myself through poetry again. It may not be good or anything worthy of praise, but I write and share it for myself and anyone else who may have felt the same healing power through writing—or reading—poetry.

Dark Place
By Tacy Gibbons

Hiding out in the bathroom.
Shame, blame, not a game.
Don’t know how to face
the race of time
and the mountains that stand in the way.

Fear, tears.
Just wish I could disappear.
Don’t want to see
who’s looking back at me in the mirror.

Guilt, wilt.
Mom, c’mon, wife, life.
Can’t shake my own expectations.

Get up, get out.
Run all about.
The bathroom will be waiting another day.

In a Funk

The last couple of weeks have been tough. For lack of a better description I guess you could say I’ve been in a funk. I’m not sure if it was a recent event that triggered emotions from past trauma, but my anxiety has been nearly paralyzing and my depression, while not as horrible as at some other times, has been a weight on my shoulders. A weight on my heart. I tried to deal with it, told myself I could do it on my own, but finally decided I needed some help and guidance. I felt too lost to keep attempting to navigate the fog on my own, so I tried to get an appointment with my therapist. I felt stupid, though. The whole point of therapy is to get to a point where you don’t need therapy anymore, right? And I thought I’d about gotten to that point. Things have been really good. I’ve been doing good–until a couple of weeks ago.

Unfortunately, my therapist got sick and ended up in the hospital, so no appointment for weeks. I’m trying to use the tools she gave me to get through this. I keep telling myself I need to stop being so pathetically weak. I need to be strong. Others rely on me to be strong. If I’m not, everyone else suffers. But maybe that’s not strength. Is it really strength to ignore our own needs? To ignore our own suffering? Or is it just the same as hitting your head against a brick wall and pretending the throbbing bruises and blood dripping in your eyes isn’t there as we go about business as usual?

At this point, I don’t have any answers. It’s easy to tell someone else it takes strength to admit you need help or that you shouldn’t ignore your needs; you should take care of yourself, even if that means letting it all out in tears or staying in bed all day or taking a long bath while ignoring all the housework. It’s easy to tell someone else that it’s okay to call your therapist when things crash after being good for so long. It’s harder to tell myself those things, especially when I don’t know how long this anxiety and depression will last.

A Change In Perspective

A few months ago my therapist gave me a new perspective that really helped me deal with trauma that was triggered by yet another toxic person in my life. I’ve been in so many toxic or abusive relationships (family, friend, romantic) and had so many people treat me so horribly that it was hard, yet again, not to wonder if it was my fault or if I deserved it.

My therapist told me to imagine each of those people and their history, their upbringing and possible trauma they may have been through. She told me that it didn’t excuse them from the way they treated me—there is NO excuse for that, she said. But thinking of those other things could help explain why they treated me the way they did. It helped me see that it had nothing to do with me and nothing to do with me deserving to be treated that way. Shifting my perspective, being able to see it from a different angle, truly helped me move past the previous and current trauma I was going through. This is the power of perspective and the power of a great therapist.

Doing Better

It has been awhile since I posted. I’ve been doing pretty well. I truly think going to a therapist has helped so much. I usually only go every other week now, but having a person I can talk to, who can help me work things out, who is very solution oriented has given me the tools I need to heal, cope and live has made such a difference.

There have been some really difficult things going on, though, as well. It seems like almost every time I go to my therapist I tell her, “Well, the drama of my life continues.” I definitely hope that the day comes that I don’t need to see a therapist anymore, but while the difficulty and trauma continues I will keep going to see her, even if I feel that I’m doing better now.

One of the worst things we can do when we have mental illness is say, “I’m all better. I don’t need to keep going to a therapist,” or, “I’m all better, I don’t need to keep taking my medication,” or, “There’s nothing wrong with me, it’s everyone else!” Sometimes, we do get well enough to stop going to a therapist or stop taking medication, but it isn’t something that should be done without serious thought and consulting a therapist or a doctor.

My daughter was on anti-depressants and was going to a therapist for her depression and anxiety. Luckily, she was able to stop both. She still has some anxiety, but she is able to work through it thanks to the tools her therapist gave her.

Unfortunately, too many times I have seen people who quit doing the things that were helping only to crash and go right back to where they were before they got the help. And the vicious cycle repeats.

Some of us may need to be on medication for our mental illness our whole lives. That’s okay. Some of us may need to see a therapist our whole lives. That’s okay. Some of us may need to exercise, do yoga, use treatments like EMDR or ART our whole lives. That’s okay. If I had a broken bone that just wouldn’t heal, I wouldn’t stop wearing a cast or wrap or sling or whatever was helping it. It may not be fun to have to wear one forever, but if it helped me live a better life, if it helped me accomplish what I needed to in life, I would wear it forever.

I’m doing a lot better. But I know I still need help with the difficult things going on right now and with past trauma that I haven’t completely worked through yet. Until then, and even after if I need to, I’m going to continue going to therapy. I’m going to continue to recognize and acknowledge that I need help. That’s okay too.

PTSD and EMDR

Back in March I went through an incredibly traumatic experience that gave me Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had never experienced this before. Living with PTSD the last several months has been hellish, heavy and dark. I didn’t completely understand what was going on until I started going to counseling. My amazing therapist was the one who recognized the signs and symptoms and why certain things were triggering such horrible and immediate panic attacks.

You know that saying, Time heals all wounds? It’s not true. Time can help, but it doesn’t just end the suffering. I hoped time would help with the PTSD, but it didn’t. I needed something more. Enter EMDR. After even the first session, it started to help. Now, after three sessions and a couple of months of counseling the things triggering my PTSD are no longer affecting me—at all! Sometimes the EMDR can be really heavy, as you dive into those difficult, traumatic events and the feelings associated with them. But it also gave me the tools I needed to recover. It may sound too good to be true, but it is true. It has worked, and I feel so much more light, hope and happiness in my life.

As I have often stated in my posts, everyone is different and what works for one person may not work for someone else. But you’ll never know unless you try. My therapist has said it takes courage to admit you need help and courage to actually get help. I’m glad I had the courage because it has changed my life already. For anyone out there who is suffering from PTSD, there is hope. You have the courage inside of you. I know you do. Give EMDR a try. If it doesn’t work, keep looking. Time probably won’t just heal it, but there are things out there that can.

My Experience With EMDR So Far

I want to talk about my experience with EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. I started it with my therapist a few weeks ago and so far the results have been amazing! If you’ve never heard of EMDR before it is a type of therapy used to help people heal and recover from traumatic events or things such as PTSD, anxiety, depression and panic disorders. It involves a lot of visualization and the therapist using side-to-side eye movements, sounds, taps or some sort of stimulation (my therapist uses buzzers I hold onto in each hand).

I’ve only had a couple of sessions working on EMDR with my PTSD and a little on my anxiety, but I’m already seeing the difference. Not only has it helped me get over panic attacks that have been triggered by PTSD faster, it has also helped diminish the severity and the feeling of panic had at all. I went months being severely affected by my triggers to almost not being affected at all anymore. I know I’m not completely out of the woods yet, but I have so much hope as I feel my quality of life improving.

If you are someone suffering from a traumatic event, PTSD, anxiety or depression or are struggling to heal wounds from your past, I suggest looking for a therapist trained in EMDR. Everyone is different and all therapies, medications, etc. work or don’t work for every individual, but I highly recommend this form of therapy. I am a skeptical person, but I also believe in giving things a try. If it works it is absolutely worth it. If not, you move on to find something else.

I will give updates on EMDR as I continue to work with my therapist on it.

Crisis Response Plan

I started going to therapy again. It has been many years since I’ve gone, but I really like my therapist and think she’ll be able to help me. It feels wonderful having this kind of hope again!

One of the first things she had me do was make a “Crisis Response Plan” card. It’s for times when things get really bad, when I might want to hurt myself or think of taking my own life. It has been awhile since I have thought of that, but I think it’s a good idea to have this just in case.

The purpose of the card is to help me identify warning signs that I’m getting to that bad, low place, what I can do to help myself out of it, who I can go to (who I really, deeply trust) if I need external help and professional help (hospitals, crisis lines and apps, etc.) if it comes to that point.

One reason why I love this idea and am grateful my therapist had me do it is because it’s hard to always remember those things in times of crisis. There are people who have told me I could reach out to them if I get to that point, but when I’m at that point I can barely, if at all, think straight. Remembering this one simple thing–go grab your card–is easier. I also told my husband about it so that if he sees those warning signs he can ask me if I’ve looked at my card.

Another reason I like the card and the idea is because some of the things I can do for myself in a time of crisis are the same as helping me out of a panic attack. I had one at work recently when my PTSD was triggered. Just sitting at my desk, telling myself to power through it wasn’t working. I thought of my card and something on it that I could do even here at work. I went into the bathroom, sat on the floor and played a game on my phone for awhile. Did that fix the trauma or PTSD I have as a result of it? No. That will take more time. But it did help me focus, which got my breathing under control and my heart-rate down enough that I could go back to my desk and keep working.

For anyone who may be at risk for a crisis or who just needs a reminder of warning signs and things they can do to help, I highly recommend having a Crisis Response Plan. It is helpful and hopeful.

Writing Poetry

I used to write a lot of poetry when I was in high school. It was a form of therapy for me. I think writing is therapeutic for a lot of people. There’s something about getting our demons out on paper that helps to heal.

I went years barely writing anything and never writing poetry. But the last few years my muse has come back, or at least the need to put my feelings in words. Some days are just bad. Some days I lose hope, and I feel worthless. I try not to stay there. I think getting the words out still helps. It helps me process, and it helps me heal and move on.

Shroud and Shadow

I look out the window,
hoping to find you pulling into the driveway.
Every hum of a car engine I hear
makes my heart jump.

Even though I know you’re not coming,
I still wait for a knock on the door,
still imagine opening it to see you standing there,
surprising me like you have before.

They say, “All good things must come to an end.”
I didn’t believe them.
You made me believe anything was possible.

But as day turns to night,
casting its shroud of darkness,
I wonder if I, too, must fall
and remain in shadow—
alone forever.