I should really do an entry on how mental illness “awareness” is usually useless inspiration porn. But I’m in the middle of a career change, which is keeping me pretty busy, so have the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge created by Marci of “Marci, Mental Health, and More”.
Day 1: What is/are your mental illness(es)? Explain it a little.
-MDD (major depressive disorder), characterized by low self-esteem (and self-hatred in my case), suicidal ideation, self-harm, sleep disturbances, false beliefs (e.g., my existence is a cosmic mistake), and low energy
-GAD (generalized anxiety disorder): constant excessive and irrational worrying about everything
-CPTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder): unstable sense of self/lack of sense of self/the personality is subsumed by reactions to trauma and the need to avoid further trauma, nightmares, flashbacks (may or may not involve full-blown reliving trauma; may just be flashbacks to feeling unsafe), dissociation, hypervigilance, tendency to view people and situations in black and white, tendency to idolize and cling to people I feel are “safe”/intense fear of abandonment by said people, rage in response to feeling unsafe/controlled, and chronic feelings of emptiness
-OsDD (otherwise specified dissociative disorder): trauma-related dissociation (best described as “my soul fucked off”) in response to stress
-BPD (borderline personality disorder): unstable sense of self, unstable interpersonal relationships, self-harm, self-hatred, splitting (black and white thinking)
…it’s a miracle I can do anything ever.
Day 2: How do you feel about your diagnosis?
What a weird question. Mostly I’m glad I’m properly diagnosed, so I’m aware of the shit my brain likes to pull and can as such address it properly.
Day 3: What treatment or coping skills are most effective for you?
EMDR. EMDR is my shit. It has done more for my flashbacks than any other form of treatment. This includes techniques I learned in EMDR such as grounding and going to my safe place. Also, cognitive behavioral therapy has been very helpful for my depression.
Day 4: What are the pros and cons of having a mental illness(es) or your specific illness(es)?
Being mentally ill turns you into a badass. You have to fight with your brain, sometimes daily, in order to get through the day. If you can do that and survive, you pretty much have to be a badass.
On the other hand, I have to fight with my brain over things that neurotypicals find easy, which leaves me exhausted at best, and at worst, there are things I’m unable to do or only able to do while suffering. Which does suck.
Oh, and saneism. That’s a real bitch and a half. Especially in the field where I work.
Day 5: Do you believe nature (biology/physiology), nurture (environment), a mix, or something else has an impact on mental health?
Wait, really? This is a question? Mental illness can come from nature, nurture, or a combination of both. That’s just a fact.
Day 6: Do you have a family history of mental illness or mental health issues?
Yes. I’m fairly sure I inherited a serotonin imbalance.
Day 7: Do you think there are any triggers or patterns to how your illness(es) effects you?
Yes. My depression and anxiety rear their ugly heads when I’m already under a lot of stress, especially when I’m having interpersonal struggles or I’m feeling a lot of impostor syndrome. My CPTSD symptoms show up when I am reminded of the person who caused it. That means I have some pretty weird triggers, unfortunately.
Day 8: What age you were diagnosed at? At what age do you think your symptoms began? (You can make a timeline)
TW: suicide, self-injury
I learned what suicide was when I was ten, and I found the idea of it comforting. I’ve never been afraid of death. I think that was when I first told my parents that I felt like I wasn’t in control of my life and that I wasn’t happy. I started self-harming about a year later. So I think my serotonin imbalance started kicking my ass right around puberty.
I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder at 19 when I ended up in the psych ward due to suicidal ideation. My next diagnosis was borderline, at 22. After that, I was diagnosed as Autistic and with GAD and CPTSD at 23, then I was diagnosed with OsDD at 26.
Day 9: What are some of the important events in your life, that may have effected your mental illness(es) for the worse or better? (You can make a timeline)
There are too many events that affected my brain for the worse. Complex PTSD comes from repeated trauma.
I spent four days in the psychiatric unit of a hospital once. That got me on medication and helped affirm that my problems were real and I wasn’t just “throwing pity parties” or being overdramatic.
Day 10: What is the best thing in regards to your mental illness(es)?
I’ve learned a lot about myself and how my brain works. And I have really made some great breakthroughs with my mental health that made me…realize how strong I can actually be. See my earlier note about how being mentally ill makes you a badass.
Day 11: What is the worst thing in regard to your mental illness(es)?
TW: suicidal ideation
The near-constant need to tell myself I deserve to live kinda sucks. And ugh so do the flashbacks. It’s a tough call.
Day 12: What do you think about your diagnosis in general? (Some ideas are: stereotypes, commonalities, misdiagnosis, over diagnosis)
Content/TW: self-injury discussion
Ohhhhhh boy. Let’s go over the diagnoses one by one, in chronological order of diagnosis:
-MDD (major depressive disorder): Oh man I’m such a stereotype here. I’m a white woman with a socioeconomically privileged upbringing who self-harmed in high school. While we’re talking about stereotypes, I’d like to debunk some. I like debunking stereotypes. Self-injury does not just take the form of white women cutting their wrists. It can be depriving yourself of something you enjoy, triggering yourself, restricting food intake or purging, exercising past what you know you can handle, or any other number of things. People of genders other than “female” can self-harm.
-CPTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder): More stereotype debunking! You don’t have to be a veteran to have PTSD! Also, there’s a difference between CPTSD and PTSD. Many differences, actually, but the main one is that CPTSD is caused by repeated, similar traumas and PTSD is (usually) caused by one event. CPTSD flashbacks can also be different; they can involve reliving only the feeling of being in danger or out of control, instead of the full-blast reliving-the-memory-in-its-entirety flashbacks you see in movies. I’ve had flashbacks I didn’t know were flashbacks until later.
-BPD (borderline personality disorder): Borderline people are not any more manipulative, selfish, or abusive than neurotypicals. Personality disorders do not inherently make people abusive. I REPEAT, PERSONALITY DISORDERS DO NOT INHERENTLY MAKE PEOPLE ABUSIVE. If you disagree with this, stay a good distance away from my fists, or they may collide with your face.
-GAD (generalized anxiety disorder): Yes, anxiety is an actual mental illness that can be very debilitating. No, it isn’t just being nervous about stuff. No, it can’t be overcome with kale and yoga. If someone with anxiety says they can’t do something because of they’re anxiety, they’re not overreacting or being too sensitive, and if you push them to do it anyway, you’re being a cockwaffle.
-OsDD (otherwise specified dissociative disorder): This is more of a side effect of CPTSD than its own thing, hence the label “otherwise specified”. Um…hmm…oh, here’s a misconception I can debunk. Not all dissociative disorders are dissociative identity disorder. I dissociate when I feel threatened, but I don’t have alters.
“Mara, you forgot autism!” you might say. No, I didn’t. That’s not a mental illness, it’s a neurodevelopmental disability. And good thing too, because if you got me going about autism and stereotypes, I’d type out a post longer than my grad thesis.
Day 13: If you know the criteria of your illness(es) which ones do you think you meet? Or what are your most common symptoms?
Well, this is gonna take a while.
Major depressive disorder:
-depressed mood: yes
-loss of interest in usually fun things: not really
-suicidal ideation: yes, often; probably my most common symptom
-self-harm: yes, from age 13-19
-sleep disturbances: kind of
Generalized anxiety disorder:
-fatigue: eh, kind of
-stomach upset: yes
-body aches: sometimes
-inability to control anxiety: I’m gonna say yes
Complex post-traumatic stress disorder:
-“classic” flashbacks: yes
-emotional flashbacks: yes
-lack of sense of self: yes
Otherwise specified dissociative disorder:
-dissociative trance: I’m in one now
-identity disturbance: yes
-depersonalization/derealization: sometimes, usually depersonalization more than derealization
Borderline personality disorder:
-impulsive behaviors: thoughts, yes; behaviors, no
-substance abuse: no
-unstable sense of self: yes
-unstable interpersonal relationships: kind of?
-splitting: ohhhhhh yeah; probably my most common symptom after suicidal ideation
-“favorite person” attachments: yep
-self-harm: we’ve been over this
-being constantly convinced that everyone I love hates me: and here we have another super common symptom
Day 14: Have you ever experienced stigma?
“Stigma” is a manifestation of saneism and, more broadly, ableism. I feel like that’s important to mention when talking about stigma against mental illness.
And yeah. Yeah, I’ve experienced it. Every time I hear some fucker calling immoral behavior “cr*zy”, it feels like I’ve been fucking stabbed. Need I say more? Actually, I could, but I won’t. It’s been bad and I don’t feel like talking about it right now. Maybe in a later entry.
Day 15: How has your life been effected by your illness(es)? (Some ideas are: relationships, career, school)
TW: mention of suicide
My illnesses damn near ended my life. Or at least, they made me come pretty close to ending it. They also seriously affected my attendance in college and grad school, and they’re kicking my ass so hard now that I’m seriously considering (read: desperately aching to do so) leaving my chosen career for something less flagrantly inaccessible.
Day 16: How many people are you “out” to with your mental illness(es)? Why?
I’m out to basically everyone because I’m naturally open about mental illness. And it’s kind of hard to combat saneism while hiding that one isn’t sane.
Day 17: If you could get rid of your mental illness(es) would you? Why or why not?
I wouldn’t get rid of the BPD because it’s an inherent part of who I am. I wouldn’t want to change who I am. The others can fuck right off, especially the ridiculously inconvenient CPTSD.
Although that brings up an interesting quandary, come to think of it. I wouldn’t be who I am without the trauma I experienced, and CPTSD means a huge part of who I am is a reaction to trauma. But I’ve accepted that. I amend my statement: in terms of the CPTSD, my personality can stay the way it is, but the flashbacks, hypervigilance, and nightmares can fuck right off. So can the anxiety, depression, and dissociative disorder.
Day 18: What do you wish people would understand in regards to mental illness and/or mental health?
I could write an essay longer than my grad thesis on this topic. I’ll just make a list of my top 10:
- When a mentally ill person says their illness is keeping them from doing something, they are being truthful. They are not being “lazy” because their disability is not immediately visible. (Not that physically Disabled people don’t get called lazy too, but you get my meaning)
- Yoga/kale/acupuncture/exercise/acai berries/nature walks will not cure a mental illness. Full stop.
- Medication isn’t right for every MI person.
- Therapy isn’t right for every MI person.
- It should be more acceptable for MI people to not seek treatment. The medical-industrial complex is ableist and violent. That I choose to make use of it doesn’t mean all MI people should. Also, there are a lot of shitty therapists out there. Trust me. I’ve had plenty, and heard horror stories. Try finding a good therapist while being queer outside a liberal metropolitan area. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
- Mental illnesses often have measurable and statistically significant effects on the brain. On one hand, this demonstrates that mental illnesses are valid…and on the other hand, rights and respect should be granted to MI people regardless of what an fMRI shows.
- Personality disorders don’t make a person abusive. Don’t “what about ASPD” me. No diagnosis means a person will become abusive.
- No mental illness makes a person violent.
- Functioning labels are used to deny agency to “low-functioning” people and legitimacy to “high-functioning” people. I see this all the time with autism and now I’m seeing it with mental illnesses, especially anxiety. Can we not?
- Instead of flat discouraging unhealthy coping mechanisms, healthier alternatives should be offered. That’s more helpful.
Day 19: Have you ever read a self-help book or a book related to psychology? What is your opinion on them? If you have read them do you have a favorite?
Self-help books. Ohhhhhh boy, that’s a lot to unpack.
If it’s written about a particular disorder and it’s not by someone with that disorder, I don’t trust it. If it’s about a personality disorder or other “scary” disorder and it’s not by someone with that disorder, I REALLY don’t trust it. The only exception to this is The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk, which was recommended to me by one of my few therapists who wasn’t shit.
Why am I like this? Because mentally ill people are the real experts on our conditions. I’m not saying neurotypical psych professionals can’t have helpful insights and ideas, but damn have they given me no reason to trust them as a group.
Day 20: Where do you get your support?
My friends! And the awesome woman I’m dating. I have an excellent support system. Unfortunately, no family members are in it, but I deal.
Day 21: Many people say stress triggers symptoms, do you agree or disagree?
…seriously? Of course stress triggers symptoms. What the hell kind of question is this?
Day 22: What is your opinion on medication used to treat mental illness(es)?
I think it’s an excellent tool that helps many people and saves lives, but that it isn’t necessarily right for every mentally ill person.
Day 23: What is your opinion on therapy?
I recognize that the medical-industrial complex is ableist and violent, and sadly, that can bleed into therapy, especially when it comes to involuntary commitment *shudder*. Also, there are a lot of shitty therapists out there; neurotypicals who went into psychology because they find mental illness ~fascinating tend to make terrifyingly bad therapists. It can also be terrifically hard to find an intersectional therapist; I could tell horror stories about therapists who were shitty about my sexual orientation. And heaven knows that more MI therapists need to exist, because the real experts on mental illness are MI people. Still, I think that therapy is a good idea in general and that many MI people can benefit from the right form of therapy. Often one can go through multiple therapists or types of therapy before finding the right one, and I feel like many people don’t understand that. Some people think the therapist/patient dynamic is always toxic and abusive, and I wonder what life is like on their planet.
Day 24: What is your opinion on alternative treatments or treatments that aren’t commonly used? (Some examples are: EMDR, hypnotherapy, herbal or vitamin supplements, acupuncture, massage therapy, art, music, or recreational therapy, ECT, VNS, TMS, DBS)
Okay, this list puzzles me. There’s total pseudoscience in there with techniques that have a legitimate scientific basis. Being a scientist, I think that people are welcome to seek “alternative” treatments if they really like the placebo effect that much, and as for less common but scientifically backed techniques (like EMDR, which has done wonders for my CPTSD), well…they’re right for some people and wrong for many.
Day 25: What is your opinion on forced/coercion in mental health treatment? Can be legal (law enforcement or psychiatric holds) or a “helping” friend/family member.
It should be considered a civil rights violation.
Day 26: How is your day-to-day life effected by your mental illness(es)?
Well, right now I hate my job so much I’m fighting off suicidal thoughts every day, so that’s annoying. Usually the only mental illness of mine that has a profound effect on me is the CPTSD, and only when it’s triggered (usually by someone yelling at me or getting me in trouble).
Day 27: Explain a “good” day.
Um…I don’t have any symptoms, I guess? I don’t think I understand this prompt.
Day 28: Explain a “bad” day.
There are plenty of ways I could have a bad brain day. The most common one would be that my CPTSD is having such a field day that I can’t go to work because I will definitely be triggered or because I’m dissociated and having trouble grounding myself.
Day 29: What are a few of your goals regarding your mental health?
TW: suicide mention
The main one is to die by something other than suicide. I don’t have any other particularly concrete goals with mental health.
Day 30: What does recovery mean to you?
I don’t think being fully cured is ever possible, so not that. Recovery for me would mean no more flashbacks or dissociation, or at least being able to deal with them promptly if they happen. I also don’t think I’ll ever be free of suicidal thoughts, but I am in a good place regarding how I deal with them.
Carrie Fisher quote of the day: “I really love the Internet. They say chat rooms are the trailer park of the Internet, but I find it amazing.” I know, not mental illness related, but this is a blog on the Internet.