Categories
depression Gastrointestinal Problems Grief Hope Mental Health Psychology

Ruminating

How I Stop Myself from Spiraling

Maybe you’re in a low mood or you may be in a the midst of a deep depressive episode. Either way, ruminating on the past can be destructive to your well-being. You may find yourself wanting to focus on the present, but all of a sudden the mind gets triggered and goes down a dark road. Some days, it feels impossible to turn off the rumination.

In today’s post, I’m going to share with you a few tips on how I stop ruminating on the past. I hope they help!

As many of you know, my father died when I was twelve. I constantly thought about the days when he was alive. I didn’t want his memory to fade away, but it felt like I was living more in the past than in the present. Whenever things got hard, I would think to myself, “My life would be so much better if Daddy were here.” Or, “It’s not fair that he’s not alive anymore.” I would bury myself in schoolwork, but in my free time I would let my imagination run away with me. “If I could trade my arm for my dad’s life, would I give it up? What if I had to swim across the ocean? What about if I had to eat ten thousand live ants?” Every time I heard a song, went to a restaurant or park, or ate a new food, I would think, “The last time I did this my dad was alive.” I spent a lot of time reliving the past and letting my imagination concoct a strange dystopian world where my dad was alive if I had given up my eyeballs or my kneecaps. I ruminated on how good things were back then and how sad things were in the present.

Another time when I got caught up in rumination, was when I was sick. My teeth hurt from gritting down on them in fear and anxiety. Every muscle in my body was sore from clenching so hard, bracing myself for the worst. I wondered if this was my life now- bed ridden, diarrhea 15X per day, fainting from loss of electrolytes, malnourished, not being able to enjoy a bite of food, pain so bad I shouted once per day, crying myself to sleep, not seeing my friends, not doing anything but reading, watching Netflix, and waiting for my mom to deliver a few bites of white rice and a hardboiled egg to my room. Each night I cried about the life I used to have – one where I was healthy. With each month that went by, I wondered if this would be forever. I spent my time researching godawful, life-debilitating diseases to prepare myself for the worst-case scenario. I wouldn’t be able to sleep because I would tremble in my bed. I google imaged pizza, cake, and pasta. It felt like delicious food, or any food at all really, was a distant memory. Because eating food was my main coping skill (not a healthy coping skill, but hey, that was the reality) it was an especially hard blow. I got down on my knees and prayed to a God that I hoped was listening. I ruminated on my past health, unable to accept my dire circumstances.

A few months later, I moved back to Ann Arbor with my sister. Yes, I was still pooping my pants from time to time and couldn’t walk more than half a mile without having diarrhea, but life seemed a bit better. The GI specialist said I would be completely better in six months. A naturopathic doctor found a powder that I could mix with water to keep me nourished. I decided to enjoy life for what it was. I was as skinny as an Instagram model and I had just gotten into grad school. I felt proud of myself for accomplishing my goal. I was finally going to live up to my potential and study interesting things again! The weather was sunny and gorgeous. I spent my days working at a chill gelato restaurant, tubing down the river with friends, and dancing at bars. As shallow as it sounds, I spent the summer showing off my new rockin’ bod and dating cute boys.  And then six months rolled around… I was still sick. Not only that, I hated the counseling program so deeply. I couldn’t handle the burden of everyone else’s emotional trauma. I couldn’t focus on lectures, textbooks, or class discussions. All I could focus on was trying to get better. I spent hour after hour, night after night, ruminating on my Hot Girl Summer in Ann Arbor with my sister where I felt confident in my body and my capabilities. Can you believe it? I missed that time in my life when I was sicker than all get out. Also, I began thinking long and hard about my year in California. The ocean calmed my soul in such a profound way. All I wanted to do was move back. I began hating my life so much that I wanted it to end. It was nuts because I was falling in love, had amazing friends, and was living in a buzzing city- Boulder, with a view of the striking mountains from my apartment.  

Here are a few ways that helped me stop ruminating on the past. Let’s be honest, ruminating doesn’t help anything. It makes everything worse.

  1. Write, write, write!

Writing helped me make sense of the world. I carved out a time to ruminate on the past, but made it beautiful. I have an incredible memory, which helps me as much as it harms me. It allows me to write specific details and scenes. Writing is therapeutic for me and helps me better understand my feelings. When I wrote about my dad, I felt his spirit come alive. I wrote blogs about the awful symptoms of my gastrointestinal illness. After I wrote, I felt cleansed. I had purged all of the foul-smelling gunk. I no longer needed to dwell on it because I had just spent an hour writing about it. Sharing it with others has been empowering. I feel as though I might be making a difference to someone.

*Tip: Chronicling all of the negative things in your life will NOT help. Ex) My dad died, I got sick, I dropped out of grad school and feel like a loser. In order to move through it, you’ve got to talk about your feelings

2. Focus on your strengths

It will definitely boost your self-esteem to make a list of your strengths. For me, it’s making art through writing, my motivation to exercise, my vulnerability. Still, how does this help with rumination?

Let’s spin this into a strength. So, ruminating may lead to depression. When you do finally come up from this low episode (and you will! If you don’t believe me read my blog called A Glimmer or Sunlight…no matter how long you’re under there, you’ll ALWAYS come back up) how will you be a better person? You’ll be more understanding, empathetic, and compassionate. People may tell you that you’re a sourpuss or have a person filled with sorrow and melancholy by nature. This is NOT true. You’re just going through something right now. From the bottom of my heart, I am so sorry you’re dealing with this. Don’t let anyone tell you that your sensitivity is a weakness. Also, if you spend a lot of time ruminating, you probably have a great memory. Having a good memory will help you out in life, trust me. You do well on tests, you can remember all those background details that your friends tell you, all of the great memories of your life stand out to you, and the people who have passed away will never truly die. Why? Because your memory never fades.

Gaining a new perspective on rumination empowers me.

Summary: Try to view your rumination as a strength

3. Let go of expectations

Expectation is the death of happiness. Having goals for yourself and living up to your full potential are both great! However, when your expectations get too high, it’s a recipe for disaster.

You know Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? First, on the bottom tier, there’s physical needs – food, water, shelter. Then there’s safety needs – to not feel like you’re going to die on the streets or feel scared in your home. Moving up the ladder, there are belonginess needs- intimacy, community, friendships, love, belonging, connection. After that there are esteem needs – recognition, respect, prestige. If you’re lucky you may tap into self-actualization where you’ll live up to your full potential and understand the true meaning of life.

Many of us are caught in the esteem needs. This is where the ego dwells. Though Maslow may believe it’s a necessary experience that may propel you toward self-actualization, maybe it’s not so great after all. Letting go of your ego may be the best thing for you.

It’s easy to get caught up in the rat race. Let’s be honest, being hot and successful is intoxicating! We always want more and more – a new and better place to live, more money, to look thinner, a marriage to someone attractive and successful. This can all get shattered at any moment… Before you enter what I call “more-mentality,” think it through. You’re setting yourself up for disappointment. You’re on the hedonistic treadmill… Your brain adapts to your current circumstances. After you hit your goal, you’ll make an even loftier goal.

You’ll find that it’s never enough.

When you let go of expectations, you may find that you’re happier.

I am happiest when I let go of my goal to be thin or attend graduate school. When I had those things, I wasn’t that happy anyway. I wanted more – to be thinner, to move on to a better program. Sure, I miss feeling hot and accomplished, but it’s time to let that go. I don’t expect to be as emaciated as I was when I was drinking water and powder or to be a therapist where I’m depleted of my emotional strength. Those expectations have come and gone. I don’t want to be a shallow egotistical person anyway. I’ve let my expectations sail away to make way for bigger and better dreams.

It’s time to appreciate what you do have. Which leads me to my next point.

4. Gratitude

Think about what you do have in the present moment. You may be overwhelmed with gratitude.

  • Maybe I don’t have a thin body, but I am healthy.
  • Maybe I have a GI issue, but I’m alive.
  • Maybe my family is far away, but I feel their love, support, and connection from afar.

You get the idea. In fact, don’t even list the negative part of that phrase. Just list the positives.

  • The sunny day
  • My sister’s laughter
  • The phone call with my friend

There is so much scientific evidence and empirical data on the power of gratitude. Studies show that those who counted their blessings felt happier than those who listed the negatives.

Let the gratitude course through your being. Keep a gratitude diary. After a few weeks, you may feel grateful to be alive.

Gratitude has the power to stop rumination in its tracks.

5. Appreciate the fragility of life and health

The truth is, we are human. Appreciate your vibrant life right now, because it’s fragile. We are mortals; death and illness are inevitable. It’s time to accept this. It won’t be easy, but it’s the truth. Getting caught up in circumstances is harmful.

It’s natural to not want to think about death and sickness, but it’s part of our reality. In the same way that you can’t be happy without the contrasts of low moods, we can’t have life without death. All of this energy will be recycled for the next generation, the next life. All you can do is be your best self and try to make a difference while you’re here.

6. Meaning

Victor Frankl once said that if you can find meaning in your life, you can get through most anything.

He lived through the Holocaust and developed a therapy – logotherapy- where you find meaning in your suffering.

I finally got to a place where I found meaning in my suffering. My dad died and my physical pain has shaped me into the beautiful, creative, sensitive person that I am. Readers, YOU are my meaning. I am here for all of you. When you read my words, you’re helping me feel that my life is meaningful. If my words helped one person today, I have had a meaningful existence. If someone out there relates to my grief and chronic pain, I will feel even more worthwhile than I did before I began writing this post.

Find your meaning!

7. Find the comedy

I’ll keep this one short and sweet. Yes, there was a point where I was barely hanging on by a thread. I literally sent stool samples to countless doctors and google imaged pizza. Yes, pizza. WOW. If that isn’t sort of funny, it’s time to lighten up! I pooped my pants at work and my sister had to bring me a new pair of underwear! When my uncle was alive, he put a funnel down my dad’s pants when he wasn’t looking and dumped water in it! My body went from Barbie to blahhhh. OH WELL. HAHA! Find the humor in how much it sucks. It’s not eloquent, but it IS funny. I am so thankful for my sister for helping me laugh instead of cry or ruminate about all of this.

We’re all on a weird journey together…and it’s sort of funny.

8. Awe

Fill your world with wonder and awe. Seeing a sunset or going on a stroll through the woods can do wonders. I find that when I see beauty in the world, my ruminating stops. The pacific ocean, the pink sky after the sun sets, the majestic mountains, or even the bird tweeting out of my front window.

When I’m awe-struck I remember that the world is a beautiful place filled with magic and miracles.

Instead of dwelling on the past, look around.

When you see all of the gifts that this world has to offer, you’ll feel connected and present.

One last piece of advice- I just want you to know that I still struggle with all of this. And that’s okay. It’s all part of the journey.

Thanks for reading, best of luck!!

Categories
depression Hope Mental Health Resilience Worthiness

Glimmer of Sunlight

“Nobody can protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away our punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was build by your own desire to heal.”

~Cheryl Strayed

We all run as far as we can from suffering. Feeling the pain is unbearable, so we do everything we can to run in the opposite direction. That’s natural, that’s human nature. After all, who likes pain and suffering?

Here is my secret : I want mental peace so so badly that sometimes I want to die to get there.

At times, I want the anguish, guilt, physical pain, anxiety to HALT in its tracks and take me out of this life.

I feel at times that I would break the hearts and crush the souls of loved ones to get what I’m after- for the pain to stop.

We all have our way out, often times that way is self-destructive. For some, it’s drugs and alcohol. For me, I eat and eat, mainly sugar and processed foods. I eat so much that I cry from stomachaches. I eat it when I’m happy because I want so desperately for the positive feeling to last, I want to chase the bliss. Also, I eat to numb my suffering. I head to the grocery store to get a cart full of cookies, pretzels, ice cream and doughnuts, when I sense that achey feeling in my body.

What is that achey feeling?

It’s the knowledge that this life will not last forever. It’s the realization that there is unspeakable suffering that takes place in this world.

Maybe depression is being unable to separate from that sense of suffering.

Everyone says “it’s okay to not be okay” or “feel the hard feelings,” but no one says how.

One day I was driving and I saw a dead deer on the side of the road. Chunks of its body was strewn around everywhere, but I could tell it was a deer because of its head. I felt deeply saddened and disturbed by this image, this dismemberment. For a few seconds I couldn’t help but imagine how much pain that deer endured. Tears erupted down my face.

Other times I feel blissed out by the world that we live in- babies growing inside mothers, seeds sprouting up into trees, examples of human compassion, like people helping other people out with nothing to gain for themselves. All of this reminds me that miracles do exist.

Normally I feel like I’m swimming around in this great big beautiful ocean. I pass dolphins and angel fish, I feel the sunshine on my back. Life feels utterly lovely. Then a storm comes and I get swept underwater. Pain seems to surge through every pore. Whether or not I thrash around or stay still, I’m held under the surface in the murky darkness. One thing I can count on is that the ocean will always spit me back out. Soon enough, I feel the sun on my back once again. I splash around again and everything goes back to normal.

But then a big storm comes and I’m swept away in the current, caught in the undertow. Moments pass, but I have faith that I’ll return to the sunny surface once again. Then hours and hours pass. I’m in the Depths of Despair. It feels unfamiliar…it feels unknown.

This time I go deeper and deeper. The water is so frigid that my skin turns blue. I see the monsters of the abyss feeding on lost hope down in the bottom. I begin to relate to them because I am losing hope that I will ever surface again. I’m deeper then I’ve ever been and I’ve been down here for way to long. I lose faith…

This is the new normal and it’s lonely and awful down here, in the Depths of Despair. Pure pain, total suffering.

And then seemingly out of nowhere, I surface. The goose bumps evaporate as the sun’s rays hit my skin again. I take a sigh of relief. No matter what I must never lose faith again.

But then another storm comes in…

It keeps happening over and over again, but each time those ominous, dark clouds roll in, I go under and this time for longer and longer. Attempting to surface feels like swimming through some gunky combination of molasses and glue. It’s too heavy, it’s too much, and it’s too hard. I’m sick of fighting. People say things like…

  • “Don’t give up. Become a fighter. You can do this!”
  • “Attitude is everything! Change your attitude and perspective and you can overcome anything.”
  • “It’s really not so bad. Do all of the things you love and you’ll start to feel better.”

I believe all of these things. But the problem is, when I’m down here in the blackness of the ocean floor amongst the bottom-feeders and real-life nightmares I’ve lost all faith, all hope, my strength, my identity, my passion, my will to live.

I lay in bed, watching reality TV, guzzling coffee and munching on chips and cookies. I don’t move for hours and hours, glomming onto any fraction of an endorphin rush. When I was sad before, I released the emotion through tears or sweat, but now, it feels impossible. It’s as though a dam was built, blocking me from letting the pent up emotion and energy course through my body. Instead it stagnates into a cesspool of filth. It’s become a breeding ground for lost hope, apathy, numbness, self-loathing and hatred.

If you haven’t guessed, this is what depression looks like.

When you’re down in the Depths of Despair for too long, your brain gets used to it. You begin to wonder, “Is this the new normal?” All of the surfacing and drowning again feels like too much to bear all alone.

I’ll tell you my story:

I’ve had some hardships in life- my father lost custody of my sister and I when I was ten or eleven due to his drug use and then died of a drug overdose when I was twelve. I had panic attacks as a teenager and went to a therapeutic boarding school my senior year.

Still, I’ve also had an overwhelming amount of support from my amazing mother, doting grandparents, sister, and my mother’s partner. I feel eternally thankful for their unconditional warmth and love.

I’ve seen the magic of life when riding my pony, hugging my mom, skipping through wildflowers, and catching glimpses of the twinkle of lighting bugs. But I’ve also grieved an immense loss and felt unspeakable pain. When my dad died, my heart changed for a long, long time. It went from a solid and sturdy organ that reverberated trust and lightness in the world into a heavy one that sank and pulsed with absence and grief.

Things seem to be going so well, but then I begin to have strange thoughts: I imagine myself at my own funeral, when I walk outside I imagine my body hanging from trees. I obsess about it all of the time and I begin to feel heaviness, I go under. First it’s for hours, then days, and then weeks.

When this happens, I tell my mom that I’m feeling unstable and then I go home and seek therapy and medication, which always helps.

One time I let it go on for over a year. I told myself, “This time will be different.” This time you’re in sunny California where the waves of the ocean evoke feelings of bliss and joy, where the Redwood trees bring a sense of tranquility, peace, and calmness. I remind myself that back when I was 23 I went a whole year without these weird thoughts, without feeling low and unstable. I hula hooped at festivals and hung out with my best friend everyday. Life felt simple and easy.

Here I was in California once again, paradise, heaven on earth. And still, it came. I felt the clammy hands of Despair beginning to pull me back down. I kept oscillating between feeling happy, social, receptive to the beauty of the world and then feeling true gnaw-at-your-skin deep depression that slams into you and hits you in your core. I told myself that I would be okay, I could handle these shifts.

But really, I wasn’t okay.

I wanted to jump off a bridge so the pain would end. That’s my dirty little secret that I’ve never told anyone.

I felt like a fool. Here I was without a problem in the world in California, living in a cottage beneath the gorgeous Redwoods for crying out loud with my boyfriend that I love to the moon and back, with a writing job that allows me to be creative, and still, still I feel this pain. What the hell is the matter with me? Why can’t I snap out of it?

Here is the thing-

Sometimes you can be beneath the surface for so so long that it rocks your world. It nearly shatters you.

But then, you surface again, and you feel the warmth of the sunshine. Oh, and look, there’s a pod of dolphins that makes your heart leap. All of a sudden, you hear a faint sound. It’s the chorus of loved ones at the island nearby cheering you on.

Moments like these make all of the unbearable darkness worth it.

If you’ve ever felt like me, get help. This is your depression, not your identity. There is help for you- be it therapy, medication, a shoulder’s friend to cry on, a beloved pet, or what have you.

But let’s get back to that Cheryl Strayed quote about suffering. There will be hardship and pain. You will suffer because of it. These are just the facts of this unpredictable life. Unfortunately, that gnawing achey feeling will return and you will be swept under the surface again.

If you let the years roll by, life teaches you how to live it. It’s about maintaining hope and faith. It’s not about turning blindly from suffering, but is instead about your journey.

Your journey and your life is meaningful, even if you may not think so right now.

When you get the help you need to get off your bed for a second and move through your emotions, maybe you’ll be able to express them. Maybe even share them.

Trust me, someone will benefit from your story. You’re not alone in this. That’s the fatal flaw: depression makes us think that we’re all alone. We’re not.

When the storm comes in, you’ll suffer, then you won’t, then you’ll be happy, then you’ll thrive, then you’ll go under once again, then you’ll come up once again- that’s life.

Don’t let your brain trick you into believing that you’re stuck- that’s depression. It’s all a trick. You’ll never ever be down there forever.

I can promise you this, that glowing morning sun will continue to rise each morning.

With love,

Annie

Categories
Mental Health Worthiness

Getting Held Back

I want to tell you guys about the time that I first felt unworthy, not good enough, “less than,” and stupid.

The impressions we form about ourselves when we’re very young can be difficult to shake. From time to time, I felt like I was on the outside at the age of 11. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling this way.

Sharing this story may not be the easiest thing ever, but being vulnerable is helping me shake that worthless feeling.

Readers, all of us are worthy, smart, and beautiful on the inside and out.

You are beautiful. You are enough. You are worthy.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, that’s my mantra, ya’ll!

Read, whisper it, scream it from the rooftops, do whatever you have to do until you believe it in the pit of your core.

If you don’t feel worthy right away, that’s okay. It takes A TON of practice to unlearn these cognitive errors. But…. I believe in you 

***

I grew up going to a Montessori school. It was really lax, in that all students could pick out what and when they wanted to learn. We had a list of our weekly projects and we would unroll a big blue rug and get working. A few times throughout the day, the teachers would ring a big bell and all of us (usually three grades would be all together in one room) would sit cross-legged in a circle and listen to the lesson.

It appealed to all types of learners – kinesthetic, visual, tactical, and auditory. I didn’t realize how lucky I was. I am one of those people who learn by writing something down over and over until I’ve got it down. If you give me verbal directions, you might as well not tell me at all. I have a hard time absorbing auditory information. If my mom wants me to do something, she has to have me repeat back to her what she just said because it goes in one ear and out the other.  Anyway, my school was a welcoming space where kids were encouraged to be themselves.

My best friend, Sydney, played with me at recess every day and listened to me as I talked to her about what I was going through with my dad. At that time, my parents had separated. It had been brought to my mother’s attention that my dad was smoking crack at night when Emily and I were sleeping. I missed my dad so much. I would have given the thing I loved most in the world – my stuffed animal, Bun Bun – and thrown her in the ocean if it meant I could spend one weekend with my dad again. I don’t know what I would have done without Sydney’s friendship. I wanted to do anything and everything with her.

She wanted to continue her Montessori education (our school ended after 6th grade) and therefore so did I. My mom was on board. However, my grandpa, Pipa, really wanted me and Emily to go to a private school. (Whenever I say “we” or “us” I’m referring to me and my sister, Emily.)

My grandparents, Mima and Pipa, played huge roles in our lives. During the happiest moments of my life, Pipa was right there, front and center. For my birthday each and every year, me and my friends would pile in his old World War II jeep and laugh gleefully, as he switched it into second gear. He taught us how to play tennis and avoid poison ivy. He rode horses with us, kayaked with us,  and picked us up after school all of the time. When my father died, he consoled me in a way that will forever warm my heart. There was a period of time when I moved in with Mima and Pipa. I was so thankful that they took me in.

While Pipa has amazing qualities, he was also stubborn as all get out! He was one of those people who gets what he wants.

Yet, my mom pushed back. Emily went to this private school and I started off at the Montessori public school.

Sydney and I started a new school together. Back then I was a pretty awkward kid who liked to dress up in head turning outfits. I am not sure why… let’s call it creative expression. I’m hoping they weren’t desperate attention-seeking moves. Anyway, I was made fun of and bullied a little bit. Some part of me wishes that I stuck it out because that school actually seems pretty awesome.

There was this girl who I thought was my friend who I invited over for a sleepover. She told everyone that I was a rich snob who had a maid. Actually, she’s a cleaning lady, but okay.

One time I was wearing flip-flops that my friend Sydney gave to me. She tied a bunch of ribbons onto the line strap. They were funky but stylish, they were so ME. (Remember, I was wearing the WIERDEST stuff. My worst (or best) fashion move (or disaster)   was a denim skirt over jean pants. YIKES!)

So this mean girl that I invited over says, “Your shoes are so gross and weird. I seriously hate them. Ew!” My cheeks burned crimson as everyone turned to stare me. Some people giggled, others averted their eyes. I felt like a zoo animal.

Unfortunately, that day was the same day as a parent-teacher conference. When I saw my Mom coming down the hall, I burst into tears. All of the sadness came bubbling up to the surface. I missed my old school, I missed my dad, I missed feeling like a normal kid.

That day, we decided that I should go to the private school.

Here’s the catch: I failed the entrance exam.

The admissions people told me that I would have to repeat the sixth grade in order to be admitted. I had been in seventh grade for a few months, so this was a huge blow to my self-esteem.

They told me, “You have a June birthday. You’re too young to start in seventh grade, especially mid-year. This will be an easier adjustment for you.”

I knew the truth though: it was because I failed.

I know there is a lot of research on brain development and whatnot. Many people appreciate being on the older side when they begin school.

For me, it was extremely detrimental for my self-esteem. For the rest of my childhood and young adult life, I would feel less intelligent and less capable.

I began sixth grade in October at this private school. All of these students who were months younger than me were so concerned with grades, homework, and studying. I was not used to the hours and hours of homework and studying. I struggled to keep up, but felt that I had to prove that I was smart.

I wanted to prove it to my teachers and myself that I CAN do this.

I gave up sleepovers, hanging out with friends, and a lot of afterschool activities. I remember one time when my family went out to see a play, but I stayed home. I was miserably studying plate tectonics in a lit corner of my room.

It felt like a nervous dark cloud of energy consumed my formerly happy-go-lucky self. I become obsessive and constantly wondered if other people thought I was stupid. I thought about this constantly- even when I went to the dentist’s office! Does this person think I’m dumb? I couldn’t just calmly exist, I had to explain myself to anybody who would listen.

Getting held back was damaging to me for a plethora of reasons.

  • I had already started seventh and had to go back to sixth.
  • Adolescence is a rough time as it is.
  • I went to an extremely competitive school.
  • I actually passed sixth grade.
  • I was having a hard time at home, missing my dad.
  • I have an anxious personality.

The whole time I was in grade school, I felt like a fraud when I excelled at something. I may never have admitted it, but I felt dumb. Intelligence is rewarded in our society.

From families to businesses to schools, we all praise intelligence. No one wants to be the person who gets it wrong, who doesn’t know something. I always felt like I didn’t know enough to do well.

Then, I went to college and things changed for me. 

My sophomore year at Earlham College, my professor, Vince, approached me about an essay I wrote for my Cradle and Grave class (a human development class that focused on infancy and death.)

Vince’s lectures were intoxicating. I couldn’t wait to tell all my friends what I had learned. I left his classes, pondering existential dilemmas, my identity, and flow. Even though I learn in a different way, I was able to follow along comfortably. He demanded a lot from you. Once I forgot my textbook to class. Let’s just say, I would NEVER make that mistake twice. Still, he was also a really funny guy. Once, he brought these cookies with graves and babies on them. He said, “You can imagine the expression of the baker when I told her I wanted babies and graves on the cookies.” Hah!

Anyway, Vince told me that my essay was outstanding. He said I nailed it.

It was a model essay that showed exactly what he was looking for in a paper.

Wow! I was beaming wider than I ever had in my life.

That little comment changed the way I perceived myself. Hey, maybe I’m not that dumb after all. This person BELIEVES in me.

For the rest of my time in college I felt like a pretty smart kid. I proudly graduated with honors. It seemed like nothing could get me down.

When I failed the GRE after I graduated and later dropped out of graduate school, I have felt the unworthiness creep back into my life.

I am doing my best to try to get rid of these thoughts. The critical voice in the back of my head is just plain WRONG.  

If you don’t have that person in your life that believes in you, you’re going to have to DIG deep and believe in yourself.

Hey, if it means anything, I believe in you.

Don’t keep your story bottled up- sharing what you’ve gone through really help with feelings of unworthiness. Being vulnerable with all of you really helped me.

Thank you for reading my story.

Best,

Annie

Categories
Anger Mental Health

How to Express Anger

If you’ve read my last blogs, you know that I got pretty angry over my medical traumas (my appendectomy and mysterious GI illness.) My anger was directed at insensitive doctors with no bedside manner at all whatsoever.

I thank you for not judging me because it was not easy to open up about that. I felt pretty vulnerable. Confessing my disdain for a myriad of doctors is not exactly light. 

Let me take the time to say that I am very thankful for medical workers in general. I don’t want you guys to think that I hate all doctors. That’s not the case at all. They are lifesavers. Many of them are extremely kind human beings with nothing but benevolent intentions. I’m lucky that I have had a handful of those gems caring for me.

Anyway, let’s get back to the point at large: Anger. It’s completely normal to feel anger. Have you ever had your wallet stolen? Have you ever gotten a parking ticket? Have you ever stepped in dog doo? It would be weird if you didn’t react with some anger. Plus, righteous anger can lead to positive change in the world- women’s suffrage, Civil Rights Movement, same-sex marriage, etc.

Unfortunately, anger gets a bad reputation. People fear anger when it leads to violence. However, anger that is expressed in a healthy way does not have to be synonymous with aggression.

Anger is energy. How you deal with your anger says a lot about you. I’ll share a few times when I’ve experienced prolonged anger.

When I was seventeen years old I went to a semi-restrictive therapeutic boarding school in Connecticut. While I wasn’t forced to go, I was not exactly stoked about the idea. I left my life in Cincinnati and came to live with students who were diagnosed with different mental illnesses: depression, general anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, and more. I was pissed at the world back then. I was mad that I was away from my friends back home. I was mad at the staff members for not letting us have cellphones or internet in our rooms. I hated that I had to be checked on every half hour, night and day.  At first, I missed reading quietly in my bed, rather than sharing a room with two other girls. I felt like a failure and a loser. I couldn’t control my circumstances and I was MAD about it. 

I shared in my last blog how angry I was at doctors for treating me like a spec of dirt on a rug. It felt like they saw me as another patient. “Here comes the 25th patient I’ve seen today. Let’s try to get her in and out.” Some of them didn’t even make eye contact with me. They patronized me and made me feel like my pain wasn’t real. I imagined them getting fired every single night before I went to bed. Each time I felt a pang in my stomach (like 30 times an hour) I prayed that they would lose their job. Sounds dark, right?

Before my dad died, I felt anger that my dad lost custody of my sister, Emily and I. Why was he continuing to use drugs? Why was he being so mean to Mommy? Why did Mommy only let us see Daddy at supervised visitation clinics? When he died from a drug overdose, I felt grief and anger overwhelm my body. I felt like God had spit in my wound. My life seemed like a sick joke. I couldn’t control what was happening to me. I felt like a feather getting blown around in the wind.

What is the common theme in all of these stories? A lack of control. There was something getting in the way of my desired results- independence, my perception of a “normal” teenage life, health, respect, absence of pain, to be taken seriously, to embrace my loving father, for my dad to be happy and alive. What was getting in the way? Circumstances that I could not control.

Let me repeat that…. I was angry that I could not control the world.

I.

Cannot.

Control.

The.

World.

That’s a really hard pill to swallow. We all want our hard-work and charming personalities to get us places. That’s the American dream, right? Well, sometimes you’re dealt a bad hand. Sometimes it doesn’t go your way.

You’re going to get angry in life. Let’s talk about how to deal with that anger.

  1. Time

In time, you will no longer feel the way that you’re currently feeling. Whether it’s joy, sadness, grief, excitement, or anger. Eventually, the tide always comes in. There is no universe where things stay the same. If you need proof, go out your front door and check the sky. Knowing that your anger will not last can help you instrumentally.

That said, if someone told me that I would “feel better soon,” after my dad died, I would *want to* deck them in the face!

It may take seconds or it may take months, but your emotions will change. The thoughts that are driving the anger will not be at the forefront of your mind as much after time passes.

Am I still mad about the boarding school, the doctors, and my dad’s passing from time to time? Yes, of course. The difference is that so much time has passed. Other things consume my mind. I’m more easily able to think of something else. Even if I wanted to spend all day thinking about these things, I just can’t. The first year, I pondered my circumstances and became red hot angry, maybe fifty times per day. With every month, it decreased a little bit. 

  • Notice the Change

Notice the intensity and temperature of the emotional change. Are you bubbling with anger for a whole hour or does it simmer down a little bit? Notice the rollercoaster ride of your anger.

One moment, I feel like my ears are steaming with fiery anger, but I notice that this lava-burning energy doesn’t last. Feeling so pissed can really wear you out! So, after a spike in cortisol, I feel a bit sleepy. After a few hours pass, I feel a low-grade anger in the pit of my stomach. Then maybe it gets more and more intense, like the sun at its peak in the afternoon. Soon I can’t focus on reading my book or watching my show. Then, in time, it dissolves once again.

  • Write down your bodily sensations

Jot down all of the bodily sensations you feel. Are you fists clenched? Are your cheeks flushed? Is your chest tight?

Move away from your thoughts and go into your body. This can help bring you back to planet Earth and away from the angry thoughts.

  • Movement

Moving through your emotions is so SO important. I cannot stress this enough. When your emotions are stagnant and festering within your body, you’ll feel terrible. You’ve got to let the emotions go in any way, shape, or form.

  • Dance
  • Workout
  • Paint
  • Scream
  • Journal
  • Cry

You will feel a powerful release once you get this intense energy out of your body. You’ll be able to take that much deserved sigh of relief and approach this situation more calmly. Sweat it out or cry it out! If you want to go for a run, write about it, or call a friend, I encourage that!

  • Have a conversation

Sometimes, it can help to talk about your issue. You can talk to a therapist, a friend, a parent, or you can even have an imaginary conversation.

In my mind, I screamed expletives at the doctors. Then, I was able to have a calm conversation.

To the doctors: it hurts my feelings when you write off my feelings and pain. It feels like you’re not really listening to what I’m going through.

To my dad: I wish you were alive. I wish you were around to meet my boyfriend and see me grow up. I wish we could go to New Jersey and hop in the ocean, eat hard rolls, go for a bike ride, and watch Indiana Jones together.

To the staff members at my boarding school: It’s really hard to be seventeen and not have any privacy. I know you’re just doing your job, but it really sucks. Please acknowledge my pain.

Thanks for reading my blog post, guys! Remember, anger is normal. Feeling angry doesn’t make you an aggressive or weak person. Make sure to move through your emotion. My favorite way to work through an intense emotion is to hula hoop. I hope this post helps you out. You’re not alone in your feelings. Understanding that the emotion will eventually fade may help.

Sending love and strength,

Annie

Categories
Gastrointestinal Problems Mental Health

Food Poisoning (Part 2)

Hey guys. Where we were?

Let’s see, I was livid with the gastroenterologist specialist, staying up at night googling worst case scenarios, drinking soup, reading novels, listening to my stomach make noises that resemble a barnyard animals, watching a lot of Netflix, and spending 50% of my time on the toilet? That sounds about right!

Meanwhile, I was losing so much weight that I was becoming malnourished. A naturopathic doctor gave me some powder that I mixed with water to keep me healthy. They insisted on running all of the tests again. Blood work, urine samples, stool tests, allergies, etc.

At one point I somehow made it to Florida with Mom and Matt. I couldn’t actually go to the beach because I couldn’t predict when the urge for diarrhea would hit me. I remember sobbing one day, as Mom and Matt packed up their beach chairs and headed to the ocean. All alone in the dark corner of my room, I got down on my knees and prayed. I begged for mercy. That was one of those wall-spinning moments that I will never forget. I’ve only ever felt that low a handful of times in my young life. Once was when my father died and once was when I left home when I was seventeen. 

Over the next twelve months, I got 30% better. Instead of having diarrhea 12 times per day and pooping my pants at work, I only had diarrhea 6 times per day. Initially, I felt happy about this progress, but then I adapted and soon felt discouraged once again.

 “So, you’re better?” friends and family asked gleefully. Sure, sure, whatever helps YOU sleep at night. Eventually, they stopped asking. I was both grateful and resentful.

Many doctors had competing views on treatment. Some straight up didn’t believe others. “Those test results aren’t worth the paper in which they were printed on,” one doctor told me about a certain food allergy test. He told me to never bring this paperwork into his office again. Great, I guess I’ll scrap those.  One doctor who was supposedly the most knowledgeable person at the clinic told me to go on the BRAT diet, but then said apples had too much fiber and may cause more diarrhea.

“Oh, and don’t eat toast because it has gluten.”

“So…bananas and rice?” I asked. Was this some sort of sick joke?

“Yeah. But don’t eat too many bananas in one day.”

Great.

Friends had all sorts of advice for what to eat and what not to eat. I stopped listening to people’s strange anecdotes after awhile. So-and-so stopped eating this and it really helped her. Maybe you should try to stop eating this or that because it helped ME. I tuned everyone out.

I learned that if you eat a certain food it can take up to three days before you get an adverse symptom. Also, it can take weeks before certain foods leave your system. Apparently, the amount of food you eat matters. When it comes to food issues, it’s pretty complicated!

One doctor advised against the naturopathic route. He said that naturopaths will do a bunch of tests and find something that is wrong, but it won’t have anything to do with the actual problem.

Still, I couldn’t give up, right? It took weeks to hear back from these tests and the results were negligible. Get your thyroid tested. Have you heard of SIBO- Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth? Maybe you have leaky gut. I wasn’t really looking forward to going down those rabbit holes.

I moved to Boulder to start graduate school and needed to find a new doctor. It took weeks before he could see me. He wanted to run all of the same tests because of course, certain tests couldn’t be trusted.

I was put on six or seven supplements that I had to take a few times per day. I had to take some on an empty stomach and some with food. One supplement- that looked like gunky lip balm – made me gag in my mouth every time I took it.

I decided I was finished with doctors for a while. Screw them and their condescending attitude. I’m sick of dealing with the emotional rollercoaster. Maybe this person will be able to help me. Maybe my life will finally get better! No thank you, I’ll just have my diarrhea 6 times per day in peace.

It dawned on me that five medical workers had failed me. This sent me sent me into a tailspin. When medicine and science fails you, your mind goes to a dark, dark place. Is this how it’s going to be forever? Will I have diarrhea on my wedding day? Will I have to pull over as I drive my kids to school and have diarrhea in the gas station? Will I be able to eat at restaurants with my family or will I continue to have to have powder water forever?

I wallowed in despair. Graduate school was sucking which definitely didn’t help things. I couldn’t even go on hikes up the beautiful mountains because the altitude made me scream in pain. My classmates had to counsel me down the mountain. Luckily, we were all aiming to be therapists. Hah!

If it hadn’t been for my boyfriend that I met at a coffee shop in Boulder, I think I would have lost my mind. He was my saving grace, my bit of joy in the sea of despair.

I decided that maybe I should try out a nutritionist. I found one in Boulder that greatly helped me. She immediately told me to stop taking the supplements that were mimicking antibiotics, saying that my gut needed a break. She gave me supplements that would help my mucosa lining. She told me to get a crockpot and eat soup for every meal. Everything I ate needed to be soft. I was eating baby food from a jar at this point, so soup was a welcomed delight. She gave me information on a probiotic enema, castor oil and heat applications, and told me to eat way way slower. All of this helped me heal another 50%.

My boyfriend, Eric, and I bought a crock pot and a giant sand timer and began chopping up our soups each night. I was so grateful to finally feel some relief. Ahhh, it felt so good to be able to go through the day without having diarrhea. I’m so thankful that I have made almost a full recovery. I was overwhelmed with love for my boyfriend that he would eat soup with me at home instead of going out on dates.

Thank you for reading my blog post on my health journey! Chronic pain is not easy. I often grappled with the question of, “Should I give up hope?” I thought back to a time when my dad died. There was no hope that he would come back. I had to accept my new reality and learn ways to cope in his absence. I wondered if reaching an acceptance would help me finally move forward. This way, no one could let me down. I would get my hopes up so high, and then I would have explosive diarrhea yet again. This emotional rollercoaster killed me. Maybe I should give up hope….

Yet, I could not.

I could not accept the limited life I was living.

There is always hope for you. Hope can be healing. Nothing in life is stagnant. Days, weeks, and months of suffering can go by but this does not mean that you’re going to feel this way forever. Eventually, the winter ends, the sun comes out, and the flowers bloom once again. 

Annie

Categories
Gastrointestinal Problems Mental Health

Food Poisoning (Part 1)

For two years after that hellish appendectomy, I was completely fine, other than my twenty-five pound weight gain. Maybe it had something to do with all of the sugary Moscow Mules and dinners out, but my sneaking suspicion is that it had to do with my body growing more and more inflamed.

But otherwise, things simmered down. I took a probiotic every day, but that was my only supplement. Things pretty uneventful, at least as far as my gastrointestinal life. If you asked me about my relationship, my job, or my plans for the future at the time, you would get an earful of DRAMA.

In January 2018, I got “food poisoning.” I was visiting my then boyfriend and we feasted for days. I’m not sure what exactly did the damage. I had rounds of sugary cocktails. “Keep em’ comin bartender!” We shared a plate of ceviche and pork dumplings one night and rolls of sushi the next. Then there was the night where we gorged on raw oysters, and of course chips and guac. If I didn’t get “food poisoning” (you’ll see why I keep using quotes later) from one of these dishes, I would simultaneously feel my mouth water and experience nausea from the description of this smorgasbord.

The next day, I had diarrhea every hour. I’d never gotten food poisoning, but I figured it would go away in 24 hours. Hey, I’ve had C. diff for a total of eleven days back in the day. I can handle anything!

Unfortunately, this diarrhea day coincided with a breakup and an emotional conversation with my sister. I remember walking along West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz staring at the gorgeous sunset, crying. I watched a surfer catch an enormous wave before it crashed onto shore. The dazzling pink and plum-colored clouds swirled around the pods of surfers as the bright orange sun slowly nestled down behind the horizon line. Seagulls squawked, the yellow and purple flowers danced in the wind, and tears slid down my cheek as I thought about all the people that I had hurt that day.

Suddenly, I had the urge to poop again. I ran back to the Airbnb praying that I would make it. Thank god, I did. I went to sleep, thinking that this would all be over tomorrow. It didn’t go away the next day, or the next day, or the next. I went to the doctor (Yes!) and they took blood and urine samples. I ended up having to call my ex to help me walk to the bathroom because I was feeling so faint. I felt light-headed, dizzy, and nauseous. I realized that I needed to go home. I booked an expensive flight for the next day.

Thankfully, my ex drove me to the San Francisco airport. We had to stop once at a random gas station because I was exploding with diarrhea. When we got to the airport, I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye or to thank my ex because again, I had to relieve myself. The car stopped and I booked it to the bathroom as soon as possible, not looking back. The flight was awful. I used the bathroom six times. People stared, but I didn’t care. I quietly moaned the whole way. My Mom and Matt met me in Cincinnati with hugs.


We went straight to the emergency room. When I finally saw the doctor he said, “It’s only been six days! You’re fine. You’ll recover soon.” They tested one of my stools for parasites, but found nothing. I could tell by the way he talked to me that he thought I was a hysterical woman who went to the emergency room all of the time.

Not at all, buddy. Not. Even. Close. I felt judged and misunderstood by this guy. I felt like a kid again when an adult would tell you that you were in fact, wrong. No, actually, you don’t know anything. Nope, not even about yourself, your own body. I know it feels like you’re going to die, but you’re fine. I’m right. You’re wrong. End of story.

For a brief moment, a dark fantasy came into my head. I imagined that something was very wrong with me. That way, I could shove it in this medical worker’s face. “Hah! See I told you, you ignorant scumbag. There is something wrong with me!” I quickly and shamefully pushed this wicked and sickening thought out of my head. What the hell is wrong with me? I want to be healthy. I want this to end. I wanted this to end so badly. I sent a silent prayer into the universe, “Please make this pain go away. Please, please…”

My stomach was in knots and making all sorts of weird sounds. It sounded like a dying herd of goats. It felt like someone was wringing out my intestines like a towel. OUCH! I could barely tolerate this pain. It wasn’t as bad as my ruptured appendix “leaking for days,” but it reached a point that was concerningly close to that level a few times an hour.

We left the emergency room and booked an appointment with my PCP (the same one who gave me those c. diff meds!) She told me that I most likely had a parasite. At that point, I was discovering long and white threads in my stools so it made complete sense. She said that a server probably didn’t wash his or her hands after using the bathroom. I had most likely ingested the fecal matter that landed on the food. It didn’t matter that no one else got food poisoning from the food. Since I swallowed the fecal matter, I got sick. If that doesn’t make you throw up in your mouth, nothing will. So, I took the parasite antibiotics. I took a few rounds of it each day for four long and agonizing days.

At the end of this course of antibiotics I felt a whole new level of pain. Let’s say the pain I felt before was like getting stepped on by a horse that weighs half a ton. All you want is for that horse to MOVE! Get off my god**** foot! But it won’t. This post-parasite-antibiotic pain was like getting hit by a bus. I actually screamed in pain at the top of my lungs. I rolled back to my PCP (my mom pushed me in a wheelchair because I couldn’t walk.)

Welp, it’s not a parasite. Who knew what the hell it was. Sorry, thanks for coming. See ya later! Best of luck!

We went to a GI specialist. He told me that I had a 99% chance of having Chron’s or colitis based on my severely inflamed colon. To be sure, we scheduled a colonoscopy and endoscopy for one month down the line. (You have to be off of probiotics and such for a few weeks before.)

So, how did I cope that month? I read like ten books and watched hours and hours…and hours of Netflix. My mom would climb the steps to the attic to give me food, a few asparagus, a hardboiled egg, and soup. Thanks for carrying soup up two flights of stairs, Mom. Yikes! Matt (my mom’s boyfriend) made sure I was drinking two giant jugs of sugar-free electrolyte juice to keep me from fainting.

I stayed up at night googling worst case scenarios. I began following people on Instagram with ostomy bags or who had Lyme’s Disease. I cried, imagining how I would hula hoop with an ostomy bag. “What if this never goes away? What if this is my life now?” My heart thumped loudly beneath my tightened chest. I felt so alone in the world. Friends and family called, hoping for good news. “You’re better by now, right?” NO! I wanted to yell. I know you want this to be over, but it’s not effing over with. I’m in agony. True agony.

I had the colonoscopy and endoscopy. To the doctor’s surprise, he found nothing wrong. Apparently, the inflammation in my colon was gone. It had returned to normal levels. He told me that if I wasn’t better in six months to come back. He gave me some sort of anti-cramping med and said I had post-traumatic IBS.

He basically told my mom and I to beat it, insinuating that I wasn’t that bad. Get over it, move on, don’t be such a cry baby. Haven’t you heard? Life is painful and unfair. He expressed ZERO empathy and was a total you know what. For the next year, I felt so much anger toward him that I would scream his sorry name in my car whenever I drove somewhere as loud as I could. I couldn’t fathom why he would behave in such a nasty way toward me.  Did his mom not teach him any manners? Did he see so many patients each day that he became apathetic as a coping skill to get by?

I had never felt such anger in my life. I imagined trashing his name in my memoir and ruining his career. I listened to angry music with dark lyrics. I shouted at him in my car for weeks, months, a year. Now, the only thing I wish now is that this idiot would stop treating people. You may be good with illness, but you suck with people.

Though I was filled with outrage, vitriol, and anxiety, but I also felt an overwhelming gratitude for my mom and Matt. They showed their love and support every day. I am thankful for our close relationships and the bond we developed during this time. Thank you for making me smile.

Thank you for reading Part 1 of my “food poisoning” blog post. Stay tuned for Part 2!

If you’ve experienced this type of pain, confusion, and disrespect, I am truly sorry for you. From the bottom of my heart, I’m sorry.

Life is full of pain and suffering, but it’s also full of miracles and beauty. It can be hard to find the glimmers of beauty when you’re deep in the bowels of emotional and physical pain.

I see your pain. I see you hurting. You’re not alone.

Annie

Categories
Mental Health

Annie Vs. Appendix

The day after I graduated from college in May, 2015 I expected to feel elated- Hello, I just graduated from college! – but instead, I immediately noticed a sharp ache in my stomach, though I couldn’t pinpoint where exactly it was. Somewhere in the stomach region. This wasn’t one of those relaxed mornings where you smile as you wake up, say some self-affirmations as you reach over to play your favorite song and daydream about a café latte. Instead, I opened my eyes in a crazed flash, as if I had been bitten by a wild dog. I fought through the pain and decided to go out and hula hoop- my favorite pastime.

 “Maybe I ate too much cake at graduation yesterday,” I thought to myself. Who knows…. I pushed the thought out of my head. I wanted to celebrate Day 1 of summer vaca!

With each rotation of my hoop, my stomach ached more and more. I had only been hooping for seconds, but I felt sweat pool behind my hair and trickle down my face. Chills ran up and down my body, sending me into a fit of dizziness. I immediately stopped hooping and sat down. I knew that something was wrong when I told my mom on Mother’s Day that I wouldn’t be joining my family for dinner. Instead of doing what I should have done (go to the doctor), I sat on my couch and tried to distract myself.

Fast forward to 3AM: I woke up my mom and her partner, Matt, because I was in severe pain. I felt a serious stabbing pain in the lower right quadrant of my abdomen. We drove to the E.R. at Christ hospital in my hometown of Cincinnati. To my utter misfortune, the surgeon didn’t operate for 13 hours. Was he operating on someone else? Polishing his new Porsche? Who knows.  

The third round of morphine did nothing for me at that point. Unfortunately for me, I remember every detail. I screamed louder than I have ever screamed in my entire life. You would definitely be able to hear me across the entire floor. I feel so sorry for the eardrums of my kind nurse. Imagine how you would scream if someone held you down and dumped a coffeepot full of boiling water on your abdomen, times that by ten, and that was me. It felt like someone uncoiled my intestines and slowly jammed each inch down the garbage disposal. It felt like someone mistook my stomach for a block of parmesan cheese and began grinding it into a cheese grater. I’ll spare you the rest of my gruesome metaphors.

As I was shaking and screaming I felt a deep sense of regret down to my core. I should have come in sooner, I cursed to myself. What the hell was I thinking? I felt red hot fiery anger at the medical workers. I guess they’re going to let me die a slow and painful death with my family watching! There were a few more expletives going through my head, but I won’t mention them here.

Help, help, help!

No one helped.

No one.

Minute after minute went by, and no one came to help me.

After hours and hours of excruciating pain, the light dimmed within my soul. The appendix had won the battle. I was tired of fighting. The toxins had seeped into my body and sunken their teeth into what was left of my life. I recognized that I would die soon so I said my goodbyes to my mother and sister, who were in hysterics, begging someone to DO SOMETHING!

At this point, all of the emotions I was feeling – the desperate need for relief of the insurmountable pain, pity for my family having to watch me go through this, fear for my life- had vanished. A chill of calmness washed over my shaking body that felt like a pulse of light. I was on heavy pain meds, but I felt more clear-headed than I had in awhile. In my mind’s eye, I was in a receptive posture. I was ready for anything- whether that be help or death.

Well, I guess the doctors came in time. Thank you medical workers!  Hey, it’s always sorta fun to dash in 13 hours late and save the day, right? We all like a little drama. Will she live? Will she die? We’ll see!

They told me that they had to vacuum puss up that spilled onto my other intestines. They said my appendix looked like it had been leaking for days. Oops, I definitely should have come in sooner! So, looks like we both were a little late to the game, right doc? But hey, thanks for the $15 gift card that the hospital gave to me as an apology for being so late and negligent. Every time I look at the headband my mom picked out from the giftshop, I get nauseas. Remind me to throw that away….

Thankfully, I recovered normally. My uncle said, “You replaced that superfluous organ with a degree!” I laughed and moved on. I thought that the medical trauma was completely behind me, but I was wrong. That summer, I got C. diff twice, (Clostridium difficile.) I had to take so many nauseating antibiotics that my good bacteria was wiped clean. The symptoms of this life-threatening illness include deficating 12-15 times per day. That’s a lot of diarrhea! My 22nd birthday was spent on the toilet. The whole day…on the toilet.

It (you know what I mean) burned and itched so badly that I cried and writhed on the couch in misery. After ten days, I went to the doctor. I’ve really got to stop putting off going to the doctor! You would think that the near-death experience would have taught me. Nope! Immediately the doctor told me that I had C. diff and gave me antibiotics. If you don’t know what C. diff is check out the hilarious memes. They mostly highlight the fierce STANK. Also, word to the wise, the spores on surfaces can live for up to six months, making it highly contagious. Not to mention, the rate of relapse is fairly high.

A month later I got it again, but I knew what it was this time so I didn’t have to suffer for long. I called up my PCP again and she gave me a stronger course of C. diff antibiotics. Lucky for me, it went away this time.

I wish that my health journey ended there, but it’s not even the half of it.

If you take one thing away from my post: go to the emergency room when you’re in severe pain. This is your body’s way of sending you a signal that it’s in danger. I could have saved myself a whole lot of pain, from the appendix rupture and the C. diff by getting help sooner.

Thank you for reading my blog post! Stay tuned for my “food poisoning” incident that turned into a mysterious gastro-intestinal illness.

I hope that someone has benefitted from my story. If you’ve experienced a medical trauma, maybe this hits home for you. I hope my story helps you feel less alone.

Please stay safe and healthy in the world right now.

Best Wishes,

Annie

Categories
Mental Health

The Pros and Cons of Labels

Labels are truly paradoxical. They are both beneficial as well as destructive to the person that is being labeled. 

When I was sixteen a full-blown depression swept over me. Like a tornado, it wreaked havoc on my spirit, destroying my ability to think clearly. My personality, sense of self, and energy were somewhere out of reach, buried in the rubble. 

Moving my muscles felt like a herculean effort. I listened to sad songs, took warm bubble baths, and ate peanut-butter chewy granola bars. Over and over…and over again. I would tear off the wrapper and gobble them up by the box. Eating sugary snacks and taking scalding hot baths reminded me that I was alive. They sent a fraction of pleasure to my brain for a few seconds, but soon I would get pulled under again. It felt like sinking in a swampy pile of muck. Eventually, I just wanted to stop fighting to keep my head above water. I wanted to drown. More than anything, I wanted this to be over. Give me mercy….

I spent a lot of time in the bathtub thinking about death. What would happen if I used that razorblade to slit my wrists? Was it possible to drown myself in this bathtub? My mind was a messy array of dark thoughts. I wondered where the smiley skinny girl with no worries in the world had gone. I loathed myself in a way that made my insides ache. I felt all alone in the world. I wondered if anyone understood me. 

When I figured out I was depressed, I felt less alone. I felt relief knowing that there was help out there for me. There are other people who get this! The label was comforting in this way. It didn’t feel like it was my fault that I was depressed. It was out of my control. I can’t help this affliction

Our society understands this neat little label. When people can understand things, they’re more compassionate. I would take all of the compassion I could get at that point.

The world can never have too much compassion for those who are suffering. 

Still, from then on, I would always wonder if depression was part of my identity. The answer to that is no. Being in a temporary state of depression is not part of your identity the way the flu isn’t part of your identity. You get help and move forward.  It may be part of your timeline, but do not make the mistake of enmeshing depression with your cardinal personality traits.

Your mental health issues are not who you are. 

Does this mean I have a dark resolution for life? I guess I’m a naturally melancholic person. 

No. 

I do not claim this to be true, though for a while I believed it to be. 

I had an adverse reaction to a heightened dose of an anti-depressant- a full-blown panic attack (more on that in a later post.) I started feeling and acting weird and unlike myself, so my therapist said this meant I had bi-polar disorder. 

This informal diagnosis did not help me at all. While the antidepressant may have lifted my mood and kept me focused, the mood stabilizer and antipsychotic that I took for the next five years were probably not necessary. The antipsychotic made me feel drugged and mindless. Thinking about it now brings a tear to my eye. I can still feel the injustice. My brain is still trying to recover. 

I wish my therapist told me that this was not permanent, rather than saying “you’re going to have to be on medication for the rest of your life.” 

I felt less at-fault and less guilty with the mental illness labels. Yet, I mistook these labels as part of my identity.

Another time, a label offered me community and relief.

I was so relieved that I became giddy. Someone out there gets it! I am desperate for recognition. I scour the world for recognition. I search for it in people’s expression, catching that glint of “I know what you mean.” There lips turn upward, their eyes glimmer a bit, and they nod in understanding. “You’re not alone.”

I have something called Directional Dyslexia. If you haven’t heard of it, that’s okay. The world doesn’t recognize this condition yet. It’s an inability to form cognitive spacial maps. In other words, it takes me a really, really long time to get around anywhere. I had to drive to the mall and movie theatre in my home town twenty times before I was able to get there without a map. I was unable to reverse the direction in my head, so then I had to memorize the reverse route a million times. I got my license a year before the GPS came out, so my Mom had to draw pictures every time I left the house. Thanks Mom!

I have gotten lost in my own neighborhood many times. If I turned right at the second stop sign instead of the third, I wouldn’t have the slightest inkling where I was. I would have to call my mom to come help out. I knew that I was different than others, when I got lost in my neighborhood when I was twelve. My friend lived around the corner. Instead of turning left, I turned right. I didn’t have a cellphone back then, so I was going to have to figure this one out on my own. I wandered around for a few hours before I finally walked by the police station and found my panicked mother. 

When I was a teenager, I searched the internet for my symptoms. It was after a really embarrassing incident where I got lost from my friends after going to the bathroom. I pretended that I was looking around for cell service, but everyone knew that I was lost. My sister and friends laughed at me. A shameful pang stabbed me in the chest as I tried to swallow the lump in my throat. 

I went to the internet and found out that other people had this issue as well. I joined a chatroom and felt comforted by other people’s stories. At that point, I had a GPS. Some of these people grew up before technological advancements and had to draw pictures to get ANYWHERE for their entire adult lives. Apparently, it’s genetic! My grandmother has it as well. Both of us always turn the wrong way when we step out of our hotel room. Our family has to call to us from the opposite side of the hall. 

Before Dyslexia was recognized, people just thought that these kids were stupid. They thought they were unteachable. No, actually neurons aren’t firing in a certain part of their brain. You can see this difference on a cat scan. They’re just as smart as you or me, but they need to learn to read in a different way. The traditional way simply won’t work for them. Now, because dyslexia is in the DSM, people recognize dyslexia and understand that these people are intelligent. 

I’m sure there are countless issues that are not recognized by the DSM. That does not mean that they are not real. Just because YOU don’t get it, doesn’t mean it’s not a thing. Just because professionals in a lab haven’t figured in out yet, doesn’t make it fake. 

It’s unfortunate that society has to have a palatable answer for everything. Maybe labels wouldn’t need to exist if people just understood that all people’s brains work a little differently. If someone goes against the grain a little bit, society needs to find a way to neatly describe this irregularity. This way they can put all of the misfit puzzle pieces off to the side. 

I’m so thankful to have a smartphone with a navigational system! I can disguise my issues pretty well, but I still get made fun of. And because society doesn’t yet understand directional dyslexia, people just say, “Oh you’re just bad with directions.” Yeah, no kidding! I still don’t know how to get to downtown Cincinnati from the suburbs where I grew up, even though I resided there for my entire childhood. If you don’t want to believe me, fine. People may think I’m just dumb, but I know that I’m not. I’m grateful that I’ve read other people’s accounts of this problem. 

So, in this instance my directional dyslexia label helped me. It gives me peace of mind. I felt like less of a freak when I realized that I wasn’t alone. I have only met two other people with this issue, but I believe that it will be recognized in my lifetime. Maybe the reason this label was so beneficial for me was because I gave it to myself.

This label helped me to make sense of the way my brain works.

Another time when I felt confined by a label was when I began dating women. Nothing physical ever happened, but I wanted to experiment with my sexuality. I felt emotionally and physically attracted to women, so I figured that I owed it to myself to go on some dates. People asked me, “So are you gay? Are you bi?” 

No. I’m just me. I felt confined by these labels. Can’t I just follow my curiosity without having to box myself in? When it comes to sexuality, we’re all a little bit different and the same. It’s so personal and unique to you, yet it’s universal. When you have chemistry with someone, you know it by the sensations in your body and your beating heart. That looks different for everyone. 

I literally don’t know how to describe my sexuality. If I’m attracted to one out of thirty women, should I say I’m bi? What if I don’t want a relationship with a woman? I don’t think about my sexuality anymore because I’m in a loving and committed relationship with my boyfriend. 

You can label me as the girl with the wild imagination, talented hula-hooper, college graduate, blonde white chick, introverted writer, crazy festival goer, grad-school dropout, older sister, daughter, girl who moves every single year, fake bisexual chick, or the girl with the dead dad. Call me anxious, call me depressed, call me crazy, call me manic, call me CRAZY, I don’t care. 

One thing is for sure- worthiness is my label. 

I’m worthy when I’m so depressed I can’t move, when I’m thick or thin, when I’m in school or not in school, when I’m wearing make-up or rocking the bare-face, when I’m productive or watching Netflix, when I’m working or unemployed, when I’m sick or healthy, when I’m creative or foggy, when I’m anxious or not, when I’m stuck in a rut or living up to my fullest potential. 

I’m worthy no matter what. 

And so are you all of you. 

For me, labels have been a blessing and a curse. What’s your experience? Tell me in the comments below. 

Sending love and strength,

Annie 

Categories
Mental Health Resilience Worthiness

Introduction Post

I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story — I will…I stand here and I am amazing, for you. Not because of you. I am not who I sleep with. I am not my weight. I am not my mother. I am myself.”

Amy Schumer

Dear reader,

 I want to remind you that you are worthwhile. You are enough. You are beautiful. You know what helps lift my spirits when I am deep in the pits of a major depression?

Reading inspiring accounts of human resilience. I read memoirs of people who have been through absolute hell and back, and they still want to live. They might be hanging on by a thread, but they still muster up the strength and courage to share their story and live their true purpose.

After days of peeling my dirty, crusty hair off of my face and force-feeding myself some bone broth so I don’t keel over, I give up on cutting myself with the serrated kitchen knives. I drive to the nearest Barnes and Noble and scour the non-fiction section in hopes of finding a relatable memoir. In that instant I decide to make one choice driven from self-love rather than self-dread. Why?

What compelled me to change my usual pattern of self-destruction to an action that could be beneficial? I am not sure, but I know that if I can do it, you can do it too.

Once I get my hands on this memoir, I know that it will feel like getting chicken noodle soup in bed when I am sick. It’ll feel like getting a teddy bear to snuggle with during a nightmare or a hug from my mom after I slipped and scraped my knee back when I was little. I love that seemingly serendipitous act of opening a page to read about a relatable character.

This person gets me. They get me! Me! Sloppy-Total-Mess-Me.  And that connection is hard to come by. I can’t wait to purchase it and get the hell outta here! I want to go back into my bed and read about somebody else who gets it.

I want to feel less alone in this world. Doesn’t anyone get what it’s like to want to die? Not all the time, just sometimes. There are times when I am tired, so tired of being beaten down with what feels like the weight of the world.  I want peace.

But let me tell you, there are other ways to finding peace besides offing yourself. I promise you that this is true. Think back to a moment in your lifetime when you felt happiness. If you felt happy then, can’t it be achieved again? Nothing in this life stays constant. Even in the midst of immense anguish, there has got to be one thing, it can be tiny, that brings a smile to your face. Dwell on that for a few moments. I know it’s not that easy though.

You deserve peace. I am writing my story in hope of finding my own peace. I know that my true calling is to share my story and write every day. If my story helps one person feel like they are less alone, than I have lived my true purpose.

I will say this again for those who didn’t quite get it the first time, you are worthwhile no matter what you say or do or don’t do. No matter what. I know that reading some random person’s book won’t necessarily change your mind, but imagine what it would be like to live in a world where you felt like there were no contingencies on love.

You are worthy of love even if you’re imperfect; even if you ate way too much last night, didn’t do your homework, messed up your last memo, didn’t buy your mom a Christmas present, did some drugs last weekend, got in a bar fight, broke a promise to your friend, cheated on your partner, you are still worthy of love. Should you change? That is entirely up to you, but shame has absolutely no motivating influence.

Be yourself, your true self. Find what you are meant to do and go for it. Go all in. There will always be excuses, but the time to live the way you want to is now. 

 I see that you have suffered deeply. I don’t know exactly what it’s like but I can imagine that you have been in pain. It’s okay to feel however you feel. You can be resentful, angry, bitter, and you’re still lovable and worthwhile. Even if no one else thinks so, I think so. I know so. How do I know? Because I have been there.

I believe that you and I are not so different. We’re all just trying to find our way in this world. There are things in this life that bring to mind deep sorrows and heartbreak and there are things that remind us that life is a miracle and a gift. I hope my blog serves as a glimmer of hope.

With Love,

Annie