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!

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

TMS: Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Hey everyone. Because I am me, I am going to preface this post with yet another apology for not writing. I’m sure most of you don’t care whether I write or not, but I still feel guilty for intermittently abandoning this blog and returning. My posts have been sporadic for months now, and I have completely given up on trying to keep a schedule for my posts. Good thing I don’t get paid to do this.

To be completely honest, I haven’t had any desire to write. I have had no inspiration for topics, and even if I did, I haven’t had the energy to write. I don’t even want to write today, but I want to address the recent steps in my treatment. So let’s get started.

Today I am going to tell you a little bit about the latest update to my treatment journey for depression.

What if I were to tell you that there is a treatment option for those with treatment-resistant clinical depression that has proved effective in 70-80٪ of those who have had it? What if I were to tell you that this treatment is less invasive than a dentist appointment?

A couple weeks ago, I met with a very kind psychiatrist, who was recommended to me by one of my treatment providers. I sat with him and his TMS technician in a cozy office for an hour and a half and discussed my history. My life, my childhood, my medication trials, everything. When I left, he promised to be in touch.

Sure enough, a couple days later I got a text saying my insurance paperwork was sent in. A few days after that I was ready to start treatment.

After years of suffering, and over a year of psychiatrists and therapy and medication, this life-saving treatment was promised to me in just over a week from my first appointment.

TMS is a fairly new treatment for depression. I am no scientist or doctor so I won’t go into detail on the treatment itself from a clinical perspective. If you are interested in that kind of stuff, I definitely recommend looking it up. It’s pretty remarkable. In short, an MRI magnet is held up to a certain part of your head and sends pulses through your scalp to a particular part of your brain. The pulses only go a few centimeters in, which makes for a treatment that is just powerful enough to cause a positive reaction, but not so strong that it causes damage. Typically, the patient has 36 sessions over a 6 week period, with treatments being given 5 days a week.

So yesterday, I sat in a chair (imagine a cozy, upright dentist chair) and wore a silly cap that made me feel like an alien. The doctor and the tech spent about a half hour measuring my head (turns out I have a very symmetrical head which is pretty neat) and figuring out the correct placement and voltage that the magnet should be administered at. This takes a surprising amount of trial and error in which the goal is to target the part of the brain that specifically makes your right hand twitch. Part of the error included incorrect placement that made my whole face twitch. That was the most uncomfortable part of the session by far. Neuroscience is weird.

Once the doctor made my hand twitch to his liking, he measured 6 centimeters down from that spot, and apparently this is the perfect target for the magnets to wipe out my depression.

Then, the doctor turned on the machine and showed me how it worked. Between the humming electricity of the magnet and the whirring of the fans keeping it cool, I really felt like I was in a space ship now.

He asked if I wanted to do a trial run so I know what to expect when it was time for the real deal. I agreed and they positioned my chair meticulously. He counted down, continuing my scifi theme, and then commenced the magnet. The best description I could come up with is that it feels like a brain freeze. It’s a moment of pain, but then it eases and you get used to it. It definitely caught me off guard, but I was able to adapt pretty quickly.

Today was my first real session. Now that I knew what to expect, I wasn’t as nervous. And really I had no reason to be. The tech is maybe the sweetest person I have ever met, and she hung out and chatted with me about random stuff the whole time. It was almost easy to ignore that I was wearing a ridiculous alien cap and getting magnets blasted into my brain. I’m not exaggerating when I say I have had dentist appointments more eventful than this.

The appointment took 17 minutes. It took me twice as long to get to the office than it did for the magnets to do their thing. In the beginning, the doctor who prescribed the treatment came in to check on me. He smiled and told me he felt very optimistic. He looked me in the eye and said “This is it. You’re going to get better. I’m betting on it.”

I will try to update throughout, especially if I notice any big changes, but I will definitely write a big update after the 6 weeks are through.

Treatment-Resistant Depression and Its Difficult Choices

I want to talk about what I’m being faced with right now in my life. This feels like the dramatic climax of the story where the main character needs to make a drastic decision that could either solve everything or make things far worse. The decision must be made and she is running out of time to make it.

Since being diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder about a year ago, I have spent hours in offices, doing therapy, trying medications, crying, breaking down. When you break down often enough, it can, for lack of a better term, break you down. I have been on approximately 8 different medications over the past year, as well as combinations of each. 3 psychiatrists and 3 therapists later, and I am still lacking relief. Still no answers.

I have often chosen to define the feeling of depression as the intersection of hopelessness and percieved helplessness. You feel that you cannot be helped, and therefore there is no hope. This leads to despair and suicidal ideation, and so on. Imagine feeling this way, practically all the time, for years of your life. Now imagine you get a new diagnosis: Treatment-Resistant Depression. How’s that for hopelessness?

My psychiatrist confirmed all my fears when she told me that I was indeed treatment-resistant. She suggested we continue on the current medication I have been trying, and then try one more. Then we could talk about alternatives.

Alternatives in this case means more radical forms of treatment, namely Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT). Formerly known as Electroshock Therapy, ECT is a treatment that has a long and painful history of use. Most who have heard of it associate it with patient abuse in mental hospitals, or gruesome depictions in movies. However, the modern procedure is much safer, and very much unlike these horror-inducing images.

In ECT, the patient is put under general anesthesia and given a muscle relaxer. Then, electrodes are applied to the head to send a course of electricity through the brain, firing neurons and inducing a small seizure. The patient wakes up 5-10 minutes later, rests for the day and gets back to their life. Usually a treatment series occurs over about 2 weeks, with treatments 2-3 days per week.

It sounds crazy, but the statistics don’t lie. ECT’s effectiveness is unmatched by other forms of therapy, such as medication or talk therapy.

I learned all of this through extensive research, reading through success stories, and even watching one such procedure on YouTube. Most of the content I found was largely in support of the treatment, stating that its effectiveness and benefits outweigh the risks and side effects.

It is a well known fact amongst people considering this procedure that ECT causes some degree of memory loss in most patients. However, for the majority of those who experience memory loss, it is temporary and spans only along the timeline of when you recieved treatment. You may have trouble remembering going in for the treatment, what you did afterwards, or things that happened in the days between treatments.

Others aren’t so lucky. In my very extensive search for information, I found a group of people who were adamantly against the treatment, claiming it took away their dearest memories, even starting from childhood. Furthermore, others even shared their stories of brain damage and disability following the treatments. These seem to be rarities in my findings, but what a terrifying thought, that these things might happen to me.

Yesterday, I woke up late. I went to therapy, came back home and went right to bed, where I stayed until the next morning. While laying in my bed, feeling utterly fatigued and hopeless, I realized how many days I have spent like this. How much time I have wasted living less than half of a life. I began to think again about ECT.
Yes, it is a radical treatment. Yes there are serious risks. But isn’t doing nothing more of a risk? Is suicidality and hopelessness not a recipe for the most radical “solution” of all? I decided right then. If it means getting my life back, becoming a person I could be proud of, a person I might even learn to love, I am willing to endure any side effects. I want to get better. I say that as honestly as I ever have, and at this point in time, I am willing to do whatever it takes.

Cooking with Love

Some of my greatest memories take place in my family’s tiny upstairs kitchen, an afterthought of a room that juts out of the house, crafted haphazardly in a way that perfectly mirrored the family that inhabited it. It was in this kitchen that I was taught the love language that is food. I was taught the joy that a homemade meal can bring out after a long day at school or work. I was taught the correct spices to use to make your chicken “with love”. I was taught all of these things by the master of love-cooking, Carol Cyr – my mother.

Three days ago, I moved out of the house I called home for the first almost 20 years of my life, and into the new home I am building with my boyfriend, Nelson. I am learning now what it is to put these skills to the test. Sure, I’ve baked cakes for loved ones and even the occasional dinner, but now it is my turn to truly show my love through the food I make, and to show it towards the person I have chosen to create a home with.

So today, I am going to be trying my hand at food blogging, which I know is a bit different from my usual content. I wanted to share a recipe that my mom made for our family dozens of times, that I am now making alone for the first time. I hope I am making her proud. So without further ado….

Salsa Verde Chicken Baked Taquito Enchilada Things

Yes, this is what we call this recipe. To claim it to be any one thing would be inauthentic at best, insensitive at worst.

First, put the chicken breast into a pot of water. Season the water with salt, garlic powder, and black pepper.

How cute are my labeled spice jars!!

Next, bring the water to a boil. Once it begins to boil, cover the pot and wait 10-15 minutes, until the chicken breast is cooked through.

(My mom would have used a crock pot for this step, but I don’t have one yet.)

Take the chicken out and allow it to cool on a cutting board. Once cool, use two forks (or your hands!) to shred the chicken into small pieces.

After the chicken is all shredded, move it to a bowl and mix with some jarred salsa verde, like this awesome one from Trader Joe’s

You should probably use a larger bowl than the one I used, but seeing that I moved in a few days ago, this is all I have.

Once it is all mixed, you’re ready to roll (literally). Place a tortilla down, sprinkle some cheese on (I used a pre-shredded Mexican blend, sorry mom.), and then put a few spoonfuls of your salsa chicken in a line across the center of the tortilla.

Then, roll your tortillas, and place them with the seam down.

The best part: load on remaining salsa and cheese.

Now it’s time to bake your tortilla things at 375° for about 25 minutes, or until the cheese starts to brown and get crispy.

And voila! Cut into rectangles and serve with sides of your choice! For mine I chose some roasted carrots and zucchini along with rice.

So there you go. I hope to someday master the love language of cooking like my mom, but until then I’ll continue to learn from her however I can.

ARFID and Me: A (Not So) Brief History

For some backstory, I wrote this piece when I was starting my Freshman Year of college at Saint Anselm. It is a personal reflection of my time living with ARFID.

I want people to understand ARFID. I want people to understand that I did not choose this and that I am trying to fix it. I want to eat like normal people. I want to stop skipping meals and events out of fear that there won’t be food for me. I wish I could tell if ARFID causes anxiety or if it’s the other way around. Or if neither causes the other. Why do I have this disorder? What could I have done to prevent this. Not much; it started when I was 2. I have constantly felt bad that I can’t eat normally. I am often met with the choice between sitting out a social gathering and going, but being incredibly anxious the whole time/starving/faking a stomachache/hiding in the bathroom. The list goes on and on.

The last time my eating could be described as “normal” was when I was 2 years old, or so I’ve been told. I had no problem eating anything and everything. Then, it just changed. I went weeks where all I would eat was a fingerful of butter and a few baby M&Ms. I stressed my mother out to no end and she took me to the doctor, who told her not to force me to eat and that I would grow out of it and eat when I was hungry. That experience as a toddler began my less-than-friendly relationship with food.

Through my early childhood, I remember eating a very limited selection of foods. Most of these foods were bread/carb based with a crunchy texture. No one could convince me to eat a vegetable. Despite these limitations, I seemed to be growing like any other normal, healthy child. Family meals were embarrassing, when we did eat together, because my mom would have to make me a separate dinner almost every night. My sisters made fun of me, made me feel like a freak. I don’t blame them for that; they didn’t understand. Hell, I didn’t even understand yet. “She’s a picky eater.” Is a sentence I must’ve heard a million times. My parents tried every picky eating solution in the book.

“No leaving the table until you eat your vegetables”

“Try this one bite, it’s not going to kill you”

“Gabby is eating it, why can’t you?”

And on and on and on and on.

I distinctly remember being taken to the doctor once when my parents felt my eating habits were out of control. The doctor gave some tips to combat my “picky eating”.

“Try one new food every day/week”

“Prepare a familiar food a new way”

“Write down the food you eat every day and think of some foods you’d like to try”

Nothing worked.

When nothing worked, the doctors decided that since I was healthy, there wasn’t much else for them to do. This was long before the DSM-5.

Not too long after this fruitless attempt, I had my first allergic reaction. After blood testing, I was discovered to be allergic to nearly all the “big 8” major allergens, to varying degrees. As if my relationship with food wasn’t bad enough, this created major food anxiety for me. I was terrified that everything I ate contained an allergen. I only ate meals that my mother cooked, after asking her to wash her hands multiple times and after multiple reassurances that it was safe. I started washing my hands a ridiculous amount, looking for allergens in every item I encountered. The anxiety triggered fake instances of anaphylactic shock where I convinced myself that I couldn’t breathe and that I was having a reaction, even when I hadn’t eaten anything. I still have this problem now to7 a much lesser extent. At one point, this food phobia got so out of hand that I reserved my right hand for eating, and did everything else with my left hand, to avoid contamination. I am right-handed, so it was difficult to hide this habit and I was often questioned by teachers and family, to which I replied that I was “trying to make myself ambidextrous.” No one bought it.

The lowest point of my food anxiety was the week of my sister’s wedding. The wedding was in North Carolina and we packed up the rental van and took off for the 13-hour drive; my parents, 2 sisters, and me. I complained of a stomach ache on the way there, so I nibbled on rice cakes and didn’t eat anything else. No one thought much of it; they just assumed I was carsick. That changed when over the next days, I starved myself out of fear of a reaction. In our hotel room, my mom cried and begged me to eat goldfish crackers. She tried to bribe me at first, saying I couldn’t go to the wedding if I didn’t eat. When that didn’t work, she pointed at the hospital across the street and told me if I didn’t eat they would have to take me there to get food pumped into my stomach through a tube. She had my sister, a registered nurse, confirm this to me. I don’t remember when I finally gave in to eating a meal, but I’m sure it came shortly after nearly fainting at the hotel pool with my sister and brother-in-law. It must’ve been 2 or 3 days of eating almost nothing.

BIG DEVELOPMENT: I found one vegetable: cucumbers!! Mom and dad must’ve been thrilled. I was forced to try a piece of cucumber with some salt on it. I didn’t gag, and I got it all down. There were a lot more cucumbers in our house after that day. That’s still more or less the only vegetable I will eat, other than peppers. I don’t enjoy either, but I don’t choke when I try to eat them.
School lunch was always a challenge. Kids are brutal to each other, sometimes well-meaning, but often not. I would get harassed, even by my friends, for not eating normal food. I was constantly bombarded with questions from everyone around me about my eating habits. It made me incredibly embarrassed and I felt like it was my fault that I was such a freak. While everyone else would cheer about a pizza party, I would sit silent, already coming up with excuses to get out of it. In 6th grade, I stopped eating lunch. My friends knew I had a “weird thing” about people touching my food (fear of contamination), so they thought it was funny to mess with me and touch my food before I ate it. In another situation, this would be harmless, but it nearly always ended in me not eating anything. I didn’t want to seem dramatic, so I silently went hungry and tried to laugh along with them. Even when they got tired of the bit and stopped, I was still often too paranoid to eat my lunch.

The best thing to happen to my diet: hot sauce. Frank’s Red Hot drastically changed the way I eat. The strong flavor of hot sauce, which I love, helps to mask other flavors that I previously found hard to stomach. It can’t fix everything, but it definitely broadened my food horizons.
Because of the new discoveries about hot sauce, I decided to add a new, normal lunch food to my list of safe foods. Buffalo chicken cold-cuts and cheese on a roll, with extra hot sauce. I was happy and proud of myself for this step, until people started making a big deal about it. “Oh my goodness, is Julia eating a sandwich?!” bellowed Mrs. Glynn, causing everyone to look over at me. My face turned red and I faked a smile, but couldn’t eat with this much attention on me. There goes that attempt.

Things continued on more or less the same from that point. I had pretty much given up on new foods and stuck with what I had. I was at a standstill. Nothing was getting worse, but nothing was getting better either.
Then came middle school. I looked around and saw my friends and the other girls at school. All tiny, skinny, small, and pretty. I looked in the mirror. I was pudgy, chubby, and ugly. These thoughts about myself festered for most of middle school. It didn’t really change my eating habits. This was the time of “eating disorder culture” on sites like Instagram. Girls would create secret accounts where they posted black and white photos of girls with thigh gaps, with captions outlining the ways they planned to starve themselves to achieve these “body goals”. They posted pictures with captions like “for every like I will fast for one hour”. Some people I knew even had accounts like these for anorexia or self-harm. I spent a lot of my nights scrolling through these pro-ana pages, feeling guilty for envying the bodies and lifestyles of the sick girls I saw. I probably tried one or two times to starve myself, but thankfully, I didn’t have the will power. The self-esteem issues were pretty serious, and I have definitely suffered mentally as a result, but I never developed anorexia (even though a cruel part of me wanted to). That could’ve gone a lot worse, but I narrowly escaped the grasp of a negative body image induced eating disorder.

Entering high school, I was coming to terms with the clear signs of mental illness I displayed. I didn’t do anything about this, but I acknowledged it was there. I was depressed and anxious. I tried to cut myself once in 9th grade, but it was an almost pathetic attempt. I knew in my heart I didn’t want to do that, so I couldn’t bring myself to make anything more than an indent in my thigh. That’s another example of a situation that could’ve turned out much worse than it did. It’s another reason I’m grateful. I had friends who self-harmed and I knew I couldn’t help them if I fell into the same hole. So, I stopped trying.

One of the most refreshing and liberating moments I can remember was the day I came to a self-diagnosis. I was deep in a “What’s wrong with me?!” Google search, like so many times before. Unlike the other times, however, this time I found something. I came across an article about Selective Eating Disorder (SED), also known as Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). The more, I read this article, the more I realized that every single sentence described exactly the nameless food problems I have been dealing with my entire life. This was no cure, not even a solution, but it was a name. It was the first time I realized I am not alone. I had never met another person with the problem I had, but now my computer screen opened wide a door leading to the stories of dozens of people who had the same experience as me. I immediately sent this link to my mom, who was just as excited as I was.

I never got a formal diagnosis. I’ve never said the word ARFID to a doctor. I’ve never seen a specialist or a therapist or talked to anyone professionally about this. I’m not sure why. I guess I just have been living with it for so long, that it didn’t feel necessary. Just like the doctors said when I was a kid: I’m healthy, it’s under control. I’d like to get help eventually though. Until then, I’m living and I’m doing okay.

As I got older, my intense food anxiety reduced, but I still ate a very limited selection of foods. I still avoided going to friends’ houses for dinner. I still faked illness and made excuses at every opportunity. I explained it to some of my close friends in high school, but it isn’t an easy topic to bring up. Now I’m in college and no one here knows. No one has made the connection yet that almost every night for dinner I get a piece of grilled chicken and a side of fries. Or maybe they have, and they don’t want to be rude and bring it up, which I appreciate. It’s not a conversation I’m willing to have right now. I know I shouldn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed of it; but I do, and I don’t want to deal with the awkwardness of telling people.
I’m getting better. My boyfriend is supportive and wants to help me. My parents continue to be very understanding. I have tried a few new foods since college started. I ate a hot dog last month. If you know me, you know that’s a huge step. I’m taking steps and that’s what matters.

Floating

One of my favorite activities on a hot summer day used to be floating on a raft in the pool. Just passively laying, soaking in all the Sun and the Earth had to offer me. I was utterly content to lay still and let life happen to me.

Credit: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/407646203754040407/

So why does floating now feel like drowning?

I’ve touched on this in previous posts, but it’s so important that I’m going to mention it again. I have always been on a very clear cut path and told that the only way to achieve success was to stay on the path. Every part of my life was a stepping stone that would lead to the next. I was to jump from school to school, and eventually climb a career ladder, with no foreseeable end in sight.

Well, needless to say, I stumbled off one of those stepping stones when I dropped out of college. But rather than try to climb back up, I decided to explore the wilderness around me.

Not being on a path feels like floating to me, and like I said before, floating feels like drowning.

I was discussing this dilemma with a dear friend of mine, and she said something so profound, I felt like I was reading a self-help book.

Why can’t your path just be towards happiness?

I never realized that could be a path. Perhaps it’s not the path in the long term, but for now, I am making the decision to pursue happiness.

I’m not certain what that means yet, but I know it probably involves a lot of therapy and a lot of introspection. Pursuing happiness sounds easy, but it’s going to be the hardest thing I ever have to do, and I can tell it’s going to be a lifelong pursuit.

I can only hope it pays off, and I learn to love floating again.

Off the Beaten Path

Hello everyone! I apologize for my blogging hiatus over the last few weeks. I have been busy making some rather large changes in my life, and I wanted to get some of the chaos settled so I could write with a clear mind. So let’s get started.

Like most children, I was raised from a young age with a certain expectation of the path my life would take. This path consisted of working very hard in school, going to a good college, possibly grad school, getting a good job, settling down, marriage, kids, retirement, etc. For most of my life, I thought these things were what I wanted for myself as well. My unstable sense of identity due to mental illness combined with the ideas about my future that were being spoon-fed to me gave me the illusion that I was making my own choices. These things gave me the illusion that I knew what I wanted out of life.

When I was a little kid, I was really good at school. It came naturally to me. I was a teachers’ pet, straight A student, you name it. My biggest dream in elementary school was to go to Yale. Every subject was my favorite. When I learned how to read in Kindergarten, I would choose reading books over playing with my friends at recess every day. Learning excited me.

As the years went on, however, school became less fun and exciting. With middle school approaching, I was unable to ignore the social chaos that surrounded me. It was suddenly clear that school was not just about learning. Now it was a competition. And being an academically “gifted” child meant that I was expected to be a frontrunner in this competition. The idea was implanted in my small head that success would not come unless I “won”, whatever that means.

This is when panic attacks started. This was my first introduction to sleepless nights spent studying and reading and writing just to get the grades, not to absorb interesting information. This was when I learned the difference between sneaking under the covers with my flashlight in the middle of the night to read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and sitting at the kitchen table until early morning reading a history book with tears in my eyes.

When I finished 8th grade, Valedictorian pin in hand, I thought I had won. I was proud of myself. All my hard work had been worth it. I made the connection that when I overworked myself and deprived myself of sleep, I was rewarded. Since I liked the feeling of validation, I made the subconscious decision to bring this same behavior into high school.

The first two years went about the same as middle school. Panic, anxiety, great grades, etc. Sometime during my Junior year, Depression came out of the shadows. Depression and Anxiety fought in my head every single night over whether I would sleep or do my homework. Whether I would skip school to stay in bed or go to school and suffer. Nothing I did was good enough, but I didn’t have the energy to do it better.

I’ve always thought of having anxiety and depression at the same time as watching life’s deadlines and chaos pass by you rapidly but you are paralyzed with your eyes open and no ability to do anything but watch the world burn.

Those of you who knew me in high school might be thinking, but Julia you had a 4.0 all four years of high school. Yes, and there’s a reason for that. I had given up on the pursuit of knowledge. I opted instead for the art of bullshitting. I didn’t have the energy to perform well, but I was still intelligent. So, I figured out how to do exactly enough to keep my grades high with minimal effort. I would do most of my homework in the car in the morning. I would memorize when the teachers would most likely be checking and I would only do homework on that day. It didn’t hurt that I am a naturally good tester and tests tended to count for the majority of my grades.

When it came time to choose a college, I was terrified of rejection. So, while a lot of the people around me were applying to 10-15 different schools, I applied to 2 random schools that I was relatively certain I would get into. When I got into Saint Anselm, it seemed like a pretty good fit.

I decided to study Education. This is where my unstable sense of identity comes back into play. I never had any clue what I wanted to do. But, some of the people who inspired me most. who cared about me, and who I looked up to as role models were my high school teachers. Subconsciously, in a way I didn’t realize until very recently, I clung onto the idea that I wanted to be just like these people who I idealized, and in doing so I began to mold my own identity after them.

Well, you already know what happened with Saint Anselm. Due to my poor mental health, I began therapy while there and shortly afterward had to come back home and go to community college instead.

Remember what I said about my identity building itself around my role models? Well this came into play again when I decided to change my major to Social Work. I realized recently that this choice was a means of idealizing my therapist and subconsciously wanting to be like him.

So now after a lot of failure, and dropping out of college, I’m left with a huge question: Who am I?

That is the path I’m on now. For the first time in my life I am pursuing a path that is entirely of my own choosing, and it is not the one a 19 year old is expected to be on.

I am on a training program to go full-time at work, moving up and building my skillset while I try to figure out who I truly am.

I am moving in with my boyfriend and we are starting our life together in a more serious way.

While I may not be able to envision myself in any career path long term right now, one thing is clear. I want a family. I have always wanted to be a mother, ever since my pre-school friends and I would play house together. Being a mom is my greatest dream, and I think as long as I have that, I will consider myself successful.

Perhaps most importantly, I am focusing a lot on treatment for my mental health. I’m working on speaking up with my providers about my needs and concerns. And I am devoting a lot of time and energy into working through some of the issues I have been facing.

So, as you can see, I have been busy. I hope you can forgive me for the delay in posting.

Thanks for reading.

The Bottom of a Spiral

Have you ever been in a situation where a simple thought like “I forgot to do my homework” quickly turns into “I am a complete failure and I deserve to die”? If your answer is yes, you, my friend, may be a victim of spiraling.

Spiraling describes the process by which a person takes a thought or event that is not very serious or important, and overthinks it until they work themselves up, often to a point of panic. This is very common practice among those who suffer from an anxiety or depressive disorder. Spiraling can be extremely exhausting for the person experiencing the spiral, and can also make them appear “crazy” or “irrational”.

What causes spiraling?

Spiraling can be caused by a number of things. Most commonly, spiraling occurs when a person is overwhelmed by their situation and cannot handle a stimulus that they experience. This is especially true when the situation or stimulus involves something that triggers the symptoms of your mental illness.

For example, a major trigger for me is academia, or school in general. (For more about this, read my previous post on the topic here). As a full time student, you can imagine how difficult this is for me. So, for some people, answering a question incorrectly out loud in class may lead to minor discomfort and shame. For me, however, if I raise my hand and am told I’m incorrect, my brain immediately goes into crisis mode. I’m stupid. Everyone is laughing at me. The professor hates me. I should just drop out. I’ll never get anywhere in life. Etc. Etc.

This type of mindset can easily turn into a full blown panic or anxiety attack if you are unable to stop a spiral in its tracks.

How can you prevent a spiral?

It is not always possible to stop yourself from spiraling. However, there are a few tips you can try if you notice you are entering spiral territory.

The first step, as is often the case with anxiety, is to regulate your breathing. A large portion of an anxious reaction has to do with breathing. So, if you feel the spiral taking hold of you and you are in a position to do so, follow these steps for calm down breathing.

  1. Breathe in for 4 counts
  2. Breathe out for 4 counts
  3. Breathe in for 4 counts
  4. Breathe out for 5 counts
  5. Breathe in for 4 counts
  6. Breathe out for 6 counts

Continue this pattern up to 7-9 counts, depending on what is comfortable for you. Releasing air slower than you take it in is an easy way to calm down. Doing this process backwards (taking in air slower than you breathe it out) is a natural way that you can wake yourself up if you’re feeling sluggish.

Once you control your breathing, you are in a better state to think about the spiral that is occurring. One way you can quell those irrational self-hateful thoughts is by taking yourself outside of the situation. Imagine that the triggering situation that just happened was happening to someone else instead. Think about what your reaction would be. If you saw someone answer a question incorrectly would you call them “stupid” or “worthless”? Probably not. So consider why you are okay talking to yourself that way.

You can also look at those around you, and chances are none of them are looking at you or laughing at you. And if they are, that says a lot more about their character than it does about yours.

What does lie at the bottom of the spiral?

If you find yourself unable to prevent a spiral, don’t fret. There is still something valuable there. Once you have calmed down (and you will calm down – the body is only capable of panic for up to 20 minutes), you can spend some time analyzing what just happened. Really looking into your worst spirals and darkest moments can give you insight into what your triggers are and what issues you need to work on. The simple question, “well why did that upset me so much?” often has an answer that can be reached with the help of a therapist, and this answer could lead to some great breakthroughs in your recovery.