Top Reads of 2017

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2017 was a light year for reading.  I had to make my way through several lengthy textbooks and that plus the struggles I had with my mental health led to not reading nearly as many books as in recent years.  Thus, I only found three to be highly recommended.

  1. The Buddha and the Borderline by Kiera Van Gelder – A memoir about recovering from Borderline Personality Disorder, this book artfully describes the reality of living with the disorder and how Dialectical Behavior Therapy (and its roots in Buddhism) led the author to a more manageable life.
  2. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green – This is a mystery in the vein of the author’s past book, Paper Towns, only the main character spends much of the time caught up in “invasives” – the obsessive thoughts that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is named for.  The descriptions of her thought processes are very poetic and insightful.
  3. No Mud, No Lotus by Thich Nhat Hanh – Inspired by The Buddha and the Borderline, I began reading books on Buddhism.  Among several books I read in a short span, this one on relieving suffering helped me the most.  In DBT group we often discuss how rumination turns pain into suffering, and I have a strong tendency toward rumination.
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Running

I haven’t blogged in 3 months. When last we met, I had recently been released from the local inpatient unit where I have always gone for treatment. While there, I ran into one of my former clients, and the on-call therapist who had admitted me didn’t seem to care.

Fast forward to October and my former employment was suddenly a problem. I went for so many emergency assessments and kept being sent home. At one point I ran away during an assessment and was certain the police were chasing me. My mom took me back, but after a long wait, when they were just about to admit me, the receptionist butted in to say I was supposed to call a facility 2 hours from home for a phone assessment so they could transfer me there. Ages later, that place hadn’t returned my call and mom stormed out, taking me with her.

Not long after that I overdosed on 3 days worth of my meds plus a handful of Valium. I was not conscious enough to know what I was doing when I signed paperwork in the ER and agreed unwittingly to go to a facility 1.5 hours from home. It was much like I imagine prison life, and I mainly got through it because Bree was there too. I put in my mandatory 5 days and was offered a choice between going home and checking myself in. Obviously I went home. The only benefit to that facility was that my aunt and uncle lived nearby.

The next month was October. Sadie wanted me back in the hospital and this time I was prepared to choose one for myself. I went to a very well-known and well-respected facility in the next state, less than an hour from home, and it was a great and helpful place. However, I was discharged as soon as I rated my depression a zero one day. I know my moods don’t work that way, but I didn’t argue because I had a wedding and an honor society induction that I didn’t want to miss.

When I admitted to Sadie that I had left too early she sent me back. My moods were all over the place. I ran away from the ER while waiting for transport, so they took away my clothes. I came down with a nasty cold the day of my admission and I was badly behaved while there. I’m so ashamed of how I acted and the fact that I left too soon again and turned down the follow-up treatment I was offered. It was hard to be both mentally and physically ill at once.

I managed to complete 7 of my 12 credit hours without losing my 4.0 GPA. The other professor gave me an incomplete and I have until the end of Spring semester to finish.

Lately all I’ve done is wish I were back in the hospital. The last time the on-call therapist arranged a transfer for me she said, “We have to break the cycle of you taking up a hospital bed every time you want to run away from your life.” It hurt a lot and was the reason I ran away from the ER. My irrational brain twisted that into thinking someone else would die if I took that bed.

I have an appointment with Sierra tomorrow since Sadie is on vacation and I really don’t know what to expect. I run from my life but I also run from treatment and Sadie has no idea what to do with me anymore.

Bree

Every time I have a stay in the inpatient unit there are one or two people I really connect with and we exchange contact information to stay in touch.  In my most recent stay, one of these was an 18-year-old girl I’ll call Bree.  Bree was depressed and suicidal and had a tendency toward self-harm.  She had been there for two weeks, and spent the past week sleeping in the “quiet room” so she could be monitored more closely.  I shouldn’t be impressed by this, but she fought the staff and it took four of them to hold her down – she had a real fire in her, despite the depression.

Nearly another week later, on Thursday, Bree was released despite telling the staff that she wasn’t ready to go.  She immediately began messaging me on Facebook to talk about how scared she was to be at home because she was still suicidal and didn’t understand why they sent her home.  I talked with her nearly continuously all evening, and again the next evening.  On Friday night she attempted suicide while talking with me.  She had taken an unknown quantity of an unknown combination of pills, and the moment she said she had taken them I called for help.  I didn’t know her address, but I called the inpatient unit and asked them to call 911.  13 minutes later she stopped responding, after sending a final message of “I’m started to feel funny.”

I have to assume that the inpatient staff took me seriously and that help arrived.  I have to assume that she was taken to the hospital and her physical symptoms were managed and she was readmitted to the inpatient unit.  I have to assume these things because the only way I’ll ever know that she’s okay is if she messages me again, which could be weeks or even months from now.

I know that I did everything I could, yet I still feel like I failed her.  Like when she refused a ride to go back to inpatient, I should have offered to come sit with her.  Or when I woke up Friday morning, I should have messaged her immediately instead of waiting until she decided she wanted to talk.  I feel like there was something I said, or something I didn’t say, that would have made a difference in her decision.  I know this is unreasonable.  I know she was in pain she thought she couldn’t bear anymore, and nothing I said in a Facebook chat was going to magically fix that.  It doesn’t prevent me from thinking about her non-stop, unable to concentrate on anything else.

This Isn’t an Empty Box

I created this collage about the experience of recurrent mental illness: how it destroys the positive aspects of me and how even when I do just what the doctor ordered I still have symptoms.

The blank space is for anyone else who is struggling to tell your own story. Make your own collage. Draw. Write poetry. Keep the conversation going about how mental illness impacts your life.

Vacation Valium and College Chromebook

Late Saturday night I returned from a week+ vacation to Walt Disney World.  I had planned very thoroughly to fit in all the rides and shows and parades and random street performers, and then my mom encountered a medical issue and plans flew out the window.  We still had fun, we just didn’t get to do nearly as many of the fun things we expected to do.

Two days before vacation I had finally managed to get my follow-up appointment with the psychiatrist, and she prescribed Valium.  I was very nervous about taking it, fearing that she’d think I was taking too much, even though in reality I kept it down to less than half of the amount I was allowed and haven’t touched it again since returning home.  I really just needed help getting through all the crowds and stress of vacation.

My other stress was that I originally was scheduled to be taking a class right up to early August and we planned vacation in the short gap between the end of that class and the beginning of fall semester.  It turned out I couldn’t take that class and had a couple of months off, but vacation was already scheduled and paid for.  So I spent a lot of time receiving e-mails from professors about syllabi and Blackboard sites, and panicking that I couldn’t be at home preparing for the new semester to start.

On our way home we spent the night with my grandmother’s cousin and her husband and they were kind enough to let me print my syllabi and start writing assignments in my planner.  I still have one class in which the syllabus is not available (the semester starts today!) and my planner is already crammed full and I don’t know where I’ll fit those assignments.  I’m feeling very overwhelmed by the fact that I decided to enroll full-time this semester.

As we were riding in the car and I was trying to look at e-mails and Blackboard on my tiny little phone screen, I got very frustrated.  There was a simple assignment that needed to be written in Microsoft Word and uploaded, and I could have done it in the car if I could just figure out how to actually edit a Word document on my phone.  I also remembered that even as a part-time student I have struggled a lot with access to the computer.  I’m at my best academically when I first get up in the morning, but that’s the same time that mom plops down in front of the computer and goofs around online for 2-3 hours straight.  When I have to watch hours of video lectures and write on discussion boards and write papers for 12 credit hours of classes, there is no way this is going to work without me wanting to strangle her.

So I did the one thing I could do on my phone: read a bunch of articles and selected a convertible laptop/tablet.  I had very quickly decided it would be some sort of Chromebook, and my criteria were that it needed both keyboard and touchscreen, needed to be as small and lightweight as possible, and needed to be capable of running Android apps.  I found the Asus C100PA-DB02 Chromebook Flip.  It opens as a laptop but can be bent all the way back to use in tablet mode, or left partially open in a couple of ways so that it will stand up.  With a 10.1″ screen and weighing 2 lbs., it definitely meets my easy portability requirement.  And this is one of the few Chromebooks that has access to Android apps built in without having to enter a special Developer mode.

Our mail was on hold during vacation and I’m supposed to go pick it up this morning.  The Chromebook just arrived at the post office a couple of hours ago so it should be in the delivery that comes out around noon, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to snag it from the mailman when I pick up everything else.  T-minus 65 minutes until the post office opens!

Unmanageable Binders

In therapy today, Sadie asked if I look through my DBT binder when I’m feeling distressed and can’t think of what skill to use. I said no, that the size of my binder had become overwhelming and I don’t even like to flip through it to find the week’s homework for group. I have both editions of Marsha Linehan’s handouts, plus handouts from Moonshine Consulting and all the mindfulness exercises from group. She suggested I remove the extra material that we don’t use in group, but I frequently reference those pages during group and it gives me positive feelings about having contributed.

Sadie’s alternate suggestion was to create a miniature version with only the material that would be helpful to me in a crisis. I printed and assembled it this evening and am working to write in my answers on the blank handouts. The size is much more manageable.

Aside from DBT skills, the new binder includes a copy of my safety plan and several copies each of the Pros & Cons and Thought Diary worksheets I use. I plan to add a few coloring pages and some kind of word games that I can easily pull out to use for distraction.

I thought this new binder was just to make things easier at home, but mom assumed I was planning to take it on our upcoming vacation. I am hoping it won’t be needed, but it’s probably a good idea to pack it just in case.