Life Sucks and Then You Die

life death.png

This is my new motto. A terrible way to live my life, I know. Sometimes, it’s the only thing that keeps me going though – knowing the futility of life. I believe in some kind of organizing force in the world. Sometimes I call it God, sometimes I call it the universe, sometimes I don’t call it anything. I guess I am more agnostic than anything else. I believe there is something, but I don’t know what it is.

Anyway, the point is, if I don’t have a clear idea of a higher power, then how am I supposed to believe there is a point to this life.

I believe in doing good in the world, in being a good person, in helping others. But for me, these things don’t always bring a sense of purpose or hope for the future. I am alive, I stay alive for my loved ones. Perhaps that is enough, to know that I have people who love me and to live for them. Perhaps it is enough to know that I am part of a greater community.

Is that enough for you? Do you remember that there are people who love you even at your darkest times? Make a promise to someone. Promise them that you will hang on even when you are at your darkest hour. This promise will help. If you don’t think you have anyone else, make the promise to me. I care about you.

I’ll keep writing. You keep reading. That will be our agreement.

The Dilemma

Hi Everyone,

I’m a graduate student now. I’m studying Counselor Education to become a Licensed Professional Counselor. Can you see the dilemma already?

Most people know that many counselor’s have a lifetime of therapy experience and that some of the best therapists are the one’s that have done the most work on their mental health. But there is a difference between knowing this and Knowing this. One day in the not so distant future, I am going to be a counselor. I will judiciously share with my clients parts of myself and my past that help develop the therapeutic relationship and advance the client’s own therapeutic work. I will not give them all the gory details. I will not give them my diagnoses, my list of medications, my history of hospitalizations. But that is exactly what this blog does. It gives the world my whole sordid past.

Now, I and many others would argue that my past and the work I’ve done and continue to do on myself will make me a good therapist. It takes one to know one, as the saying goes. But the ethics of self-disclosure are specific. Therapy is about the client, not about the therapist. So what happens when my future clients hop onto the internet and google me? What will they think when they find these stories that I have written, these truths that I have revealed about myself? Will they find me more or less worthy of being their confidant? Will they find me more or less relevant? Will it impede their progress or advance it?

I have been a student since June 2016. I haven’t written much since then because of this dilemma I am feeling. I built this blog to be honest about my experience and maybe help some people feel less alone in the world. I hope that I can find a way to continue to do this while also serving my clients’ best interests. Thank you for continuing to support me as I figure out this new chapter in my life.

 

Suicide Prevention: Get Educated

Recently, someone I love tried to commit suicide. Suddenly, I was reminded of both our connectedness and our profound separateness. Someone close to us called the act stupid and I had to dig deep to find the words, to explain that attempting suicide comes from a place of pain and desperation, not weakness and stupidity.

Yesterday, roughly 117 people committed suicide. For every person who completed suicide, approximately 25 people attempted. Approximately four of them were under the age of 20, thirty-seven were between the ages of 20 and 44, twenty-two between the ages of 45 and 64, and forty-two were over the age of 65. 14.7 percent were White, 10.9 percent were American Indian, and 6.3 percent were Hispanic, and 5.5 percent were Black.

There isn’t a demographic of society that isn’t vulnerable to suicide. Chances are someone you know has been touched by suicide or attempted suicide. There is value in being educated and informed about suicide. Are you prepared to handle this kind of crisis? Here are some tips on what to do if you are worried about a loved one:

  1. Show you care and are available to help.
    • Ask questions: How are you doing? Is anything bothering you?
    • Listen actively and empathically, express concern and caring.
  2. Ask specific questions about thoughts of suicide.
    • It can be difficult and awkward, but only one in five people seeks help for suicidal thoughts. If you don’t ask the question, you’ll never know the answer. Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
  3. Encourage them to seek mental health services. Tell them seeking help takes courage, but it will also help them feel better. Help them find a counselor and/or psychiatrist in their area. Low-cost options are available in most areas.

If you think a loved one is seriously considering suicide:

  1. Take the person and the risk seriously.
  2. Tell them to call or call for them the National Suicide Prevention Lifelife at 1-800-273-8255.
  3. Help them remove any means of suicide from their home (i.e. pills, weapons, etc.)
  4. Do not leave the person alone under any circumstances. Escort them to an ER, counseling service, or psychiatrist. Under immediate threat, do not hesitate to call 911.

Remember that caring for a person who is suicidal or who has attempted suicide takes a toll on you. Make sure you are paying attention to your own self-care throughout the process. Make an appointment with your own counselor, talk to friends and loved ones, and make time for yourself even as you help care for the person at risk.

All of the statistics and information for this blog post were taken from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website. Please visit the website for more information on suicide prevention, how to help a loved one, what to do if you are feeling suicidal, or if you have experienced a recent lost or attempted suicide of a loved one.

Please remember, you are not alone.

Dear Mom, You Did Good

Lying in bed the other night, I was thinking about when this all began. “This”: My lifelong battle with mental illness in its many varied forms; showing up as depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, panic attacks, and finally, bipolar disorder. This past Spring my mother and I had an enlightening and healing conversation in which we both agreed that it was around the age of seven that I changed. I became, somehow, an unhappy child.

I was laying in bed, thinking about this. This pivotal year in my life. Thinking about how there was no rhyme or reason for this sudden shift of brain chemistry and fate and then it occurred to me: why my mother had, during that Spring conversation, said to me, “I always thought it was my fault.”

The year I was seven was the year she and my father first separated. Is it possible that somehow my mother had convinced herself that if only she had been able to make her marriage work, I wouldn’t have developed a mental illness?

The thought brought tears to my eyes, and then a sudden and profound healing and gratitude. I realized what must have been the depths of my mother’s guilt and despair over my years of struggling, diagnoses, and hospitalizations. I realized that while I had spent years trying to understand why my parents hadn’t done more to help me, my parents had likely spent years trying to understand where they had gone wrong.

Mental illness is no one’s fault. There are contributing genetic, environmental, and neurobiological factors (among other things) that interact to cause mental illness. There is no one thing that can predict whether one person or another will develop a mental illness. Two people with the exact same genetic and environmental factors can experience the same life events and one will develop a mental illness, while the other won’t. Science can’t tell us exactly why.

I have never once in my life thought to myself, I have a mental illness because my parents separated when I was young. Sure there were years when I wished they had gotten me more or different help, but it never occurred to me to blame them for the illness itself. When I was teenager I remember people telling me that someday I would realize that my parents had done the best they could, that I would no longer blame them. At the time, I couldn’t imagine ever feeling like my parents had done the best they could. But over the last ten years, this idea became so ridiculous as to feel obsolete.

The idea that my mom could have somehow saved me from mental illness is too ludicrous to even consider. But it wasn’t until the other night that I realized my mother might not know this.

Mom,

Mental illness has tried to kill me over and over again. It has tried to convince me that I am crazy, worthless, stupid, fat, lazy, unloved, and fundamentally unlovable. It has twisted my thoughts, my beliefs about myself and made me believe that my friends and family would be better off without me. But the things I learned from you have kept me alive.

I learned from you that it is not only okay to take of yourself, but necessary. And since we are not always good at taking care of ourselves, it is sometimes okay to let others take of us. If I hadn’t learned this from you, I never would have survived this. I am strong, resilient, and brave because you raised me. I am still alive because you are my mother.

Thank you for doing the best you could in the face of this senseless and life changing illness. There is nothing to forgive. Thank you for being my mother. I love you.

Maybe there’s someone in your life who blames themselves for something between you. Maybe they have reason for blaming themselves, maybe they don’t. Think about the people in your life, take the time to thank them today. It will do you both some good.

Person-guilt

We give ourselves a hard time. Women. It’s what we do. Almost exclusively, without exception. There are few among us who can sit down at the end of the day and guilt-free think to ourselves, I am going to sit here and relax for however long I want. We suck at giving ourselves a break, letting ourselves off the hook. No matter what we have accomplished in any given day.

I feel like I have to earn the right to sit still, to do nothing. I have to earn the right to just be. Where does that come from? When as a society did we decide that we as individuals had no inherent value? That our value lay in doing rather than simply being?

I am guilty of posting only my most successful, proactive, and accomplished moments on Facebook. And still, when I scroll through my newsfeed, I sometimes feel bad about my life because everyone else’s life looks so glamorous, productive, and full of love.

Mom-guilt. Woman-guilt. Person-guilt. It feels like a lie to even just write the words, just being is enough. I don’t have to do anything to be enough.

Do you give yourself a hard time? Let’s all take a few deep breaths through our guilt today.

Guest Post: Bipolar Transgender Life

Hey Everyone,
Below, you’ll find a fantastic post from my friend Danni. I invited him to write something for my blog because of his unique perspective as a transgender man who also struggles with Bipolar I. I hope you enjoy his post and that you have a fantastic week. Please show Danni some love!

My name is Danni, and I came out on Facebook as male on May 1 of 2014. I had told many friends and family in the months leading up to that, but it was an important step to announce it online. I have a lot of online contacts that I don’t see regularly and that might have missed it otherwise. I lost a few friends, but mostly ones that I didn’t realize were missing for months. It was empowering to change my pronouns and gender identity on Facebook.
I was diagnosed with Major Depression at 17, and then later it changed to Bipolar 1 when I was 19. When I started to come out as transgender, at 27, people doubted my sincerity because I was also struggling with my bipolar symptoms. It added to the struggle of people not taking me seriously. My updated diagnosis has become Bipolar expressive. It was a really hard time for me, and it took months before that got settled.
Being bipolar and transgender brings its own challenges. Last week, I wondered why I was getting more depressed. I had run out of lithium and missed three doses, so it could have been that. I recently switched from biweekly shots of Testosterone to weekly shots, hoping that would make my moods more stable and not on a two week long roller coaster ride. The depression was bad a day after the lithium had been reintroduced into my system, and also during the last day before my next Testosterone Shot. Sometimes there is no reason for my feelings, but other times it is worth examining what is going on with me chemically.
Sometimes things people say to me can set off my bipolar symptoms even though the reason they upset me is due to disrespecting my transgender status. When I get mis-gendered, it feels like someone is looking at me and not seeing me for who I am. When it happens on the phone at work, I just correct them and it doesn’t upset me very much, but when it happens in my personal life it is harder to deal with. I tend to be very open on Facebook about this, but at the same time I try not to call people out in that way, especially when I know they don’t mean to be malicious.
One of the things I do to manage my bipolar is to keep a mood chart, which can directly assist me in figuring out why my moods have changed.  Changes in medications are recorded, as well as other stimulants/depressants. I often see that if I have an alcoholic beverage, that I will be more depressed either that day or the next day. My mixed episodes tend to appear the same way… once I experience hypomania or mania, usually I will experience depression of the same extent within 48 hours. I have talked about this on Facebook, but it usually leads to people judging me for giving up instead of trying harder during the depression part. I talked to some in more detail about it, but it was clear they haven’t experienced mania and I let it go.
I have been at my current job for a year now, and most of that time I have been pretty stable. However, January and February were particularly hard, and I had a lot of mixed episodes during both months. I tried changing meds, which made my insomnia worse. I also got a nasty case of the flu in there, so I missed a lot of work during that time. My employer was upset at me, but I was not reprimanded officially. During that time, I might post about how I was having trouble with my mental illness, but other times I was too ashamed to say anything. A lot of coworkers are friends with me on Facebook, and I wanted them to know what was going on. However it also can lead to rumors and meanness because I choose to share personal details on Facebook.
For the last few months I’ve been depressed a lot. I miss the mania a little, because it makes me feel alive… afraid, but alive. The depression is numbing, and when it is so constant, it gets worse with time. Right now my coping mechanisms that I’ve been using haven’t been enough to really curb it. I woke up one day last week with soul-crushing sadness and I was too paralyzed with it to move for a while. I ended up coming to work more than an hour late. I have tried really hard to be better with my attendance, and aside from the panic attack that caused me to miss work a few weeks ago, I had been doing much better. Last night I was looking at my charts and noticing how the depression is less debilitating than the mixed episodes, as far as making it to work goes.
The internet has been very helpful in communicating how I’m doing, keeping track of how I’ve changed, and as a source of information. I have been able to direct friends and families to sources that can help them understand my dual diagnoses. I have support groups on Facebook where I can talk to about symptoms and experiences, and reading what others are going through helps me as well.
I recently learned about the spoons theory for those with invisible illnesses, (http://www.butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/) and it has given me a new way to view and communicate my limitations. I shared it and a lot of my friends thanked me for it. My journey as a bipolar trans man is enriched by my online interactions, and I am honored to be a guest blogger for my old friend, who I haven’t seen since we were in high school over a decade ago. We’re not alone in our struggles, even when it feels that way.

Dropping the Ball

Enter: Vacation, medical procedures, and my first week of school. (School! Did I mention I’m going back to school? Ackkk!)

I’m still here. Still thinking of you all. Still wanting to share my life with you. I’m running short on time these days, so here’s a quick run down of what’s up.

  1. I spent two weeks visiting my mom in Florida. It was gorgeous and fabulous. It mostly looked like this:IMG_2566
  2. Shortly after I got home I had a minor medical procedure from which I am still recovering. I’m okay!
  3. Monday was the first day of my first semester at Adam’s State University in the Master’s of Counseling Education program. Ahhhhh!
  4. I’m learning how to be a student again. This is what that looks like (multitasking):IMG_2621Lecture on the left and blog on the right.  I can do this!
  5. After two weeks and a half weeks away from my hubby (he was away when I got home!) we’ll be taking this long weekend in front of us to spend some quality time together. Which means, I need to finish all my homework before the weekend begins! Guess what? I already did that! I’m working on next weeks assignments. Woohoo!

I’ll be back with something more substantive. Soon. I hope.