Opening the Door for the First Time

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Hello!

My name is Julia, I’m a 19 year old college student, currently living in Southern New Hampshire, and I am clinically depressed.

Not your average introduction, but if I am going to accomplish what I have set out to do with this blog, then we are going to need to be open and honest.

I have been experiencing depression and anxiety for most of my life, but have only been receiving treatment for a few months. One thing I have noticed time and time again is that people don’t want to talk about mental health.

Depression is an icky word. It’s meant to be whispered, to be thrown in a box and shoved under the bed. But here’s the thing: depression is a grower. And depression feeds on the darkness. The further you shove it down, the bigger it’s going to get.

So, that’s where the goal of this blog comes in. I want to open the doors to a wider discussion about mental health, so that those who suffer from mental illness can face their daily battles without shame or fear.

So feel free to introduce yourself, and look forward to some more content in the near future!

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“The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.” – C.S. Lewis
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Observations between Treatment

As many of you know, I recently moved back home to Connecticut after having gone to school in New Hampshire for a year and a half. Since moving home about a month ago, I have yet to receive treatment for my mental health in my area. So, today I want to talk about the difficulty of going from having treatment to having none at all.

Moving home was a huge transition, which is the time when you should probably have the most support. True, I had lots and lots of support from my friends and family, which I am extremely grateful for. But unfortunately for me, none of my friends are trained mental health professionals, and none of them could provide me with the medical support I had while I was seeing a therapist and psychiatrist.

So, it’s been rough… Here’s a few reasons why:

No Safety Net / Crisis Plan

When I was at school, I had a very specific plan for preventing or encountering a mental health crisis. I had a number to call, people to talk to, an office that would be willing to see me on short notice. I had my therapist on speed dial, and my psychiatrist next in line. Not to mention, I lived with my best friend, and as such she came to understand how to address my depressive episodes and anxiety attacks better than anyone else.

Now that I’m home, I am alone a lot more than I’m used to. I still have my therapist’s number, but I don’t call it because I feel guilty bothering him, since I’m not a consistent patient anymore. My friends are supportive, but I am able to isolate myself from them more easily since they don’t live 10 feet away. And I get that that’s on me, and it’s a self-destructive behavior I’m working on. I have no plan for when things get bad, and they have gotten close to bad a couple times since the move. I feel lost and alone a lot of the time because of this.

Finding Treatment

The process of finding treatment has been really tough for me. I started calling psychiatrists the week I left New Hampshire. I called probably close to 20 numbers, maybe more, all of which either turned me away or ignored my messages. Luckily, I got an appointment just a few hours ago, after a month of frustration and constant phone calls (a nightmare for someone with an Anxiety disorder).

The worst part of this process was watching my medication gradually dwindle and realizing that if I didn’t get a doctor soon, I would run out. I frantically researched withdrawal symptoms and how to prevent them. For those who don’t know, it can be extremely dangerous to stop taking psychotropic medications without help from a prescriber.

Making Decisions Alone

I have joked to friends about how fast I messed things up for myself in the short month without a therapist. Not that I was over-dependent on therapy, but going to therapy helped to remind me every week not to make destructive decisions. So, without that, the depressive part of me had free reign to decide to psychologically harm me in whatever way possible. I jumped right back into my old habit of overloading my schedule, and leaving no time for constructive and productive self care.

Despite all this, I am doing my best to seek treatment and handle things on my own. Transition can be difficult, but that doesn’t mean that the end goal won’t be worth it.

Shower Thoughts – Sitting Down Edition

Have you ever felt so drained taking a shower that you had to sit down? Just letting the water wash over you, feeling weak and small?

I have. As a matter of fact, that’s where I am right now.

Here is my train of thoughts live as I sit in this shower.

Thought #1: I am weak.

I can’t even stand on my feet long enough to take a shower. This could barely be called showering. I am ashamed of who I am and what I do. I am the only person in the world who does this. I shouldn’t be allowed to write about mental health when I can’t even pull myself together.

Thought #2: At least I’m trying to take care of myself.

I knew I needed to shower. Am I kinda failing? Yes. But am I trying my hardest? Also yes. It’s actually pretty strong of me to have overcome that depressed feeling for long enough to get into the shower at all.

Thought #3: This is a symptom of a disease I can’t control on my own.

The stigma around mental illness and its symptomology has led me to feel guilty for showing symptoms of a diagnosed illness that I have. Blaming myself for this is subscribing to the very stigma which I try to fight every day.

It starts with me, with all of us. We can’t expect people to understand and change their mindset unless we lead by example when we can.

If you’re reading this from the floor of your shower, from an empty McDonald’s parking lot, from the inside of your closet with the door shut tight, just know you’re not alone. It’s okay to be a “sad person” doing “sad person things.” No one is allowed to judge you for showing symptoms of your illness. You will overcome it, and so will I.

You may have thought I would end this post telling people to stand up out of sad showers and live their lives. But the truth is, sometimes that just isn’t possible. Sometimes we need to live in our illness and learn not to blame ourselves.

It is not your fault.

Panic Attacks – What Are They and What Can We Do?

I would like to preface this post with the statement that everyone experiences panic differently, and as such it is difficult to write a piece that demonstrates all sides of it. So, keep in mind that I am writing from my personal experience, and it may not represent the full depth of panic disorders.

I felt inspired to write this post because I saw a piece of “advice” somewhere online that baffled me. The post said that if you encounter someone having a panic attack, you should grab them and hold them tightly, even if they resist.

No.

This is the absolute wrong way to handle this situation, unless the person having the panic attack has told you this helps them. And that right there is the key. We must listen to each other’s needs and wants, and understand that these matters are not always cookie cutter situations. Nevertheless, there are certain ground rules which apply to most situations involving panic.

1.) Be Present

By being present, I don’t just mean to be physically close. I mean to stay vigilant and in the moment. It is your job as a caretaker in that moment to notice what is helping and what is hurting.

For example, you may note that a noisy and chaotic atmosphere is making things worse for the person in panic, and use this insight to relocate to somewhere quieter.

2.) Be Calm

You may be tempted to latch onto your friend’s panic and become a bit crazed yourself. However, it is important that you do your best to remain calm. People often mimic the behavior of those around them, so by remaining calm, you are encouraging your friend that everything is okay.

3.) Be Helpful

Panic attacks are often centered around rapid and shallow breathing. Something that might be helpful is sitting the person down in front of you and asking them to mimic your breaths. Breathe deeply in for four counts through your nose, then out for four counts through your mouth. Repeat for as many times as it takes to regulate breathing.

If you are not physically there, there are some animations that help with breathing, such as this one.

I had a friend online when I was in high school who suffered from panic attacks frequently. Often she would Facetime me when they happened, and we discovered that the most helpful thing I could do was tell her stories. So, I would sit with her and tell her stories, sometimes for hours. These are the kinds of things that are specific to individuals, that you should have a discussion about prior to a panic attack occurring, if possible.

4.) Don’t Be Judgmental

This is perhaps the most important piece of advice. Never tell a person in panic to just “calm down” or “stop panicking.” It’s not helpful, and is actually extremely rude and demeaning. They can’t help how they feel, and they don’t want to be dealing with it either.

5.) Don’t Try To Solve the Problem

Thinking about something is likely what got your friend into this state. So, forcing them to think about it more is not a good way to get them out of it. There is a time for problem solving, but during a panic attack is certainly not that time. The focus should be on creating a calm and comforting environment while the person is going through this.

Below are some common symptoms of a panic attack:

  • Shaking or Tremors
  • Rapid, Shallow Breathing
  • Blurry Vision
  • Dizziness
  • Throat or Chest Tightness
  • Feelings of Dread or Doom
  • Nausea and/or Vomiting
  • Crying Spells
  • Dissociation
  • Inability to Perform Basic Functions

Moving On, Letting Go

I have recently decided to transfer schools because of circumstances discussed in my last post. And I’ll be honest, I cried like a baby the day I moved out and said goodbye to my friends. I felt so sad and felt like maybe I was making the wrong decision. But, here’s the thing:

Just because a decision hurts, doesn’t mean it’s the wrong choice.

Feelings are important and should be paid attention to. However, they can be deceitful, especially if you are suffering from a mental illness. The way I like to think about feelings is like they are a smoke detector. You should always address them and take care of them. When they start beeping you should absolutely go look at what’s going on. But you know how a smoke detector will sometimes go off, even when there’s no fire? You’re just boiling a pot of water and your smoke detector gets a little too sensitive and suddenly the alarms are going off.

Your emotions can do the same thing. Sometimes something silly sets off the Big Deal alarm in your head and you get disproportionately panicked or sad. We should trust our emotions like we trust a smoke detector. Pay attention, but only use them as an alarm reminding you to check on the facts.

So when I cried about transferring schools, I had to use my sadness as an alarm and analyze the facts. And when I did that, I realized that the facts show that transferring was the best decision for me, even if it hurt in that moment.

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The fact of the matter is, in the year 2018 (soon to be 2019!), moving on doesn’t have to be an ending. I have constant means to contact all my friends that I will miss so dearly. I have a car that I could use to visit them every once in a while. It will be different for sure, but different doesn’t always mean bad. Sometimes different is just different.

So, even though I haven’t been able to fully convince myself yet, I’d like to remind you all, and also myself, that change isn’t bad. Change is new opportunities, new lessons to learn. Change is a chance to grow and flourish. Change is natural and beautiful and exciting. Try to embrace the changing tides of your own lives.

Mental Health on Campus

Today, I want to talk about something deeply important to me, especially at the current moment. I want to talk about how Saint Anselm College, and I’m sure many other colleges too, does not value mental health or take concerns seriously.

As my readers know, I have decided to take a leave of absence next semester. This morning I received an email from Residence Life, in which they told me that I am not guaranteed housing upon my return. Yes, that’s right. A girl who lives three hours away from school is no longer guaranteed housing for her Junior Year because she is taking time off to address substantial health issues.

In her email, the woman from Residential Life wrote, “Students take leaves for a number of reasons.  We do not make it a practice to determine the merits or drawbacks of those reasons.”

I think this is wrong. I think it should be taken into account the reason for taking a LOA. Even if that means providing documentation.

It is not only this absurd policy that angers me, but also the fact that this information was kept from me until I asked a question about participating in the housing lottery in the Spring. I was in contact with multiple offices on campus months ago, each of which said that everything was taken care of, nothing to worry about.

It might seem childish, or bitter, or downright whiny, but I simply don’t understand why students studying abroad face no complications in terms of housing, yet people in my scenario have to jump over all these hurdles just to be taken seriously enough to “merit” a semester off.

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I do not receive counseling on campus, but I have heard lots of information from other students who do. This past year, the school got hit with budget cuts that affected essentially every department on campus. One of these departments was, of course, the counseling center in Health Services. With the new system, counselors are less available to students in need of guidance, with appointments being held on a biweekly basis, unless there are serious safety concerns. Not to mention, the selfless staff in Health Services agreed to take pay cuts in order to continue providing even this much aid.

I think Saint Anselm College should be held accountable for their harmful policies. I love this school, and it hurts me to feel so disrespected by certain administrators here. This blog is called “Open Doors” for a reason. It’s time to get this out into the open. We should all be aware of the injustices happening, even in our most favorite places.

Thanks for reading, and I will keep you posted on any developments that may occur.

Sometimes There Isn’t a Reason… Or 13 of Them

CW: THIS POST WILL HAVE MANY MENTIONS OF SUICIDE, NOT IN DETAIL.

Less important, but this post will also contain spoilers of the show.

Recently, I started watching 13 Reasons Why. I had heard reviews, both positive and negative, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I regret watching it. More on this later.
Pinpointing Reasons:

My main problem with this show is that it’s entire premise is built on the “blame game.” Everyone’s big question is “whose fault is it? Who killed Hannah Baker?” While environment and social life do play a huge role in suicidal ideation, it is an unfair association to make that it has to be someone’s fault.

The thing I have against shows and movies like this one (think Cyberbully) is that they make it seem like bullying is the only true cause of suicidality. This is just not the case. Of course, bullying is a huge issue and often is a factor in people, especially adolescents, attempting suicide. But, it is dishonest to say that if bullying is obliterated, no one will be suicidal.

To ignore the other causes, is to diminish the stance of mental illness as a real diagnosis with real symptoms, one of which could be suicidal ideation. Even people with good relationships commit suicide, because of depression, hopelessness, anxiety, or a million other reasons.

Revenge

Another problem with 13 Reasons Why is that with it follows a revenge narrative on the part of Hannah. She wants her “killers” to deal with guilt and humiliation. Maybe they deserve it, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make. Suicidal ideation is self directed. Even if you are blaming others for the way you feel, ultimately the act is directed against yourself. To show a suicidal person acting malicious against other people does not seem true to the core of suicidal ideation. Yes, it does happen, but I, and I’m sure many others, would like to see a show that describes some of these issues in a way that is more accurate to a greater amount of people.
Triggers:

Yesterday I watched the last episode of 13 Reasons Why. Yesterday I learned what it was like to be triggered by something. See, I read the content warnings at the beginning of each episode, and I assumed it wouldn’t affect me. And up until the last episode nothing did affect me in any meaningful way. But, as soon as the suicide scene started, my heart started racing, I threw my laptop across the room, and couldn’t catch my breath. I was having a panic attack.

I know they gave a trigger warning, that’s what they were supposed to do. But to show a suicide on screen in the first place was completely unnecessary and uncalled for. I’m sure others feel the same way about the multiple sexual assaults that were shown on screen. These graphic images were not needed in terms of the plot or artistic effect. Clay’s monologue was striking enough without watching the suicide on screen.

If you need help working through any of these issues, reach out to a crisis helpline, or you can reach out to me, and I will do my best to find you help in your area.

Medication: Low Lows, High Highs, and Medium Mediums

I promised a long time ago that I would post about medication. Now that I have been on medication for a few months I feel a bit more qualified to speak on it.

antidepressants-and-a-definition-of-depression

Low Lows:

My first medication, like for many others, was not the right drug for me. I immediately got all the negative side effects with none of the relief from the symptoms of my depression. I’m not going to name any of the drugs I mention here, as I don’t want to discourage people from taking them if they are prescribed to them. What works for some does not work for others and vice versa.

An excerpt from my journal the second week into taking this medication:

“I need to change my medication. It’s not working. I actually feel more depressed than ever. I’ve been having really bad and scary thoughts over the past week.”

I was one of the unlucky patients to experience the black box warning side effects, meaning that in addition to the expected physical and emotional side effects, I experienced increased depression which posed a real safety hazard to me. These effects led to a meeting with my campus’ Health Services, a few off hours phone calls with my therapist, and a new appointment with my psychiatrist to address these problems.

Luckily, as soon as my safety was brought into question, my therapist and psychiatrist jumped into action and worked together to establish a plan. I would be changing medication ASAP, keeping in frequent contact with both of them, and would have a plan in case negative thoughts got extreme. This also meant that they would keep in contact with each other, to make sure the emotional revelations from my therapy sessions were reflected in my medicinal treatment.

My short time on this medication was the darkest I have ever seen.

High Highs:

My current medication is not an anti-depressant, but a mood stabilizer. And this is the one that worked. The key for us was to tackle the symptoms themselves with the medicine, while attacking the root causes of the depression in therapy.

I went through a week of feeling truly awful when I started this medication. Everything was blurry, my brain was full of fog, and I couldn’t even try to concentrate on anything. I was constantly dizzy and confused. Then, one morning, I woke up and I knew something was different. My head was clear for the first time in months. I got out of bed and got dressed and ran errands.

Now, it’s a week later, and I still feel clear and energized. I finally found the one.

Medium Mediums:

There are two parts of this process which I would describe as mediums.

Firstly, there was the time in between when I started taking the first medication and when I started to get the extreme side effects where I felt exactly the same as I had before. It was incredibly frustrating to not feel any better despite all my efforts.

Secondly, there is now. Now, although my new medication works well for me in terms of mood, there are some aspects which are pretty “medium” in nature. The pill, since it addresses the physical side effects moreso than the emotional ones, leaves me feeling energized, but still battling negative thoughts and all the underlying problems. The good part of this is that having energy and motivation puts me in a better position to work through these problems.

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If you haven’t had luck in your medication journey, don’t lose hope. It’s an incredibly frustrating and ever-changing game that takes almost everyone a lot of time to get right. I wish you all the best of luck, and as always my inbox is open for anyone who needs to talk through anything.