Rest in peace Amy Bleuel: The Semicolon Project

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” A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life. ”

It is heartbreaking to think that Amy is no longer here with us. She has been out in the world constantly trying to raise awareness and educating people about the importance of overcoming the deep rooted mental health stigma. Whenever I have tried finding some resources online, I have read a story or two about how this project saved someone’s life and gave them hope.

Thanks for all that you did Amy. We know there is long way to go, but your efforts will not go in vain because your story isn’t over;

Rest in Peace. Love ❤

Mental health over every damn thing

Do you know that ideal image of a ‘self made person’ ? How about we stop celebrating that?

We talk a lot about mental health stigma these days, but isn’t an important piece missing in those discussions? The stigma inside our heads? The voice that keeps us from reaching out for help? The voice that tells us constantly to be an adult and get over it? To try a bit harder?

One of the hardest challenges I have faced in the past seven months of organizing a support group is convincing people that it is okay to get some help. No one, not one person who showed up believed that they deserved  help. The discussions always went in the direction of ‘there are so many people in the world that have it worse, maybe I should stop complaining’. This involved a girl who wanted to die at the age of seven because her alcoholic parents threw her out of her home, not that you need such a reason to feel bad, just so you get an idea of how far the stigma goes!

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Found here

May be you are right, things aren’t so bad for you now. But does that mean you should wait until it gets worse?  If you were having a flu would you feel guilty for taking a day off?  Would you feel guilty going to a doctor if the flu doesn’t get better after a few days? Imagine that you mind had a small flu if it helps.

May be it is not that you are not trying hard enough, may be you are not getting the right kind of help.

Let me tell you a story, there was a time when self harm was my answer to pain. I found refuge in that. I didn’t know it was something other people also did. I felt ashamed, and  told myself a million times not to do it, it didn’t work, people told me not to do it, it didn’t work. Then I went to the clinic and there they asked me to try holding an ice pack, or to try drawing on my body with a red pen, or to put a cream on my skin that gives a burning sensation but doesn’t do any  real damage, and some of those things worked and they still help me when I get that urge again.Do you see what I am trying to say? There are a lot of resources out there that you might not know of.

Don’t get me wrong, we all have strengths within us to do every fucking thing, but does that mean we always have to do things alone?

I cannot think of many things that are important than your health and that involves your mental health as well. Please put it above every damn thing!

Love ,

Jo

 

 

Survivor’s arrogance

Let me put it out there, there is no shame in getting help for a psychiatric illness. NONE!

Mental health is fluid, it can change for a myriad of reasons. A shitty childhood, genetics, trauma, biology, circumstances, sometimes all of it but most importantly  sometimes without any recognizable reason whatsoever. So when you say things like ‘What do you have to be depressed about?’ or ‘Get your shit together’ or ‘I have it worse than you, but I am handling it’, you aren’t helping. If you are handling whatever it is that you are handling, then good for you, but everybody has different sensitivities and past experiences, it could also be that someone is tired of having had to handle themselves over and over again.

When a person had been living with a psychiatric illness for a long time, they also develop a kind of bullshit sensor, simple definition- we will know bullshit when we hear it! That comes from having to listen to the plethora of ‘advice’ that come our way on a daily basis. And, hence the above-mentioned sort of statements are only going to keep people from coming to you for help.

 

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Credit: roommatediaries.com

 

There are a group of people out there who have decided to make a race out of who has had the most fucked up life. They want to tell you that they had been through a lot and survived, not with the intention of letting you know that there is hope for you too, instead,they just want you to know that your problems do not measure up to theirs. When the language of survivors go from ” If I could get through it, so can you ” to ” If I could get through it, so SHOULD you ” then we have survivor’s arrogance. And, that should stop!!

So be very clear on one thing folks, you don’t have to earn any right to feel the way you are feeling. You don’t owe the world any explanation for your demons. And, don’t feel smaller for having to take your meds. We all need help at times.

There is a great chance that you cannot fix somebody using just your words, think of it as trying to put a band-aid on an internal wound. But you might be able to make them feel a bit better in that moment by listening without judgments. And, ask questions to know things, don’t just make assumptions. Here are are some statements/ questions my  friends and family used that has helped me in the past – ‘What can I do to help?, ‘I am here for you’ ‘I am sorry you feel this way’ and finally one of the simplest and  powerful, ‘How are you today?’

Let’s all be kind with our words today.

Good day everyone

–Jo

PS: A person on the verge of suicide can looking absolutely fine on the outside.

 

Life after Major depression (updated)

Note: Yesterday I had a blogger’s worst nightmare of hitting the publish button on an unfinished draft, so to people who read it yesterday, this is an updated version.

How do I put this?

Imagine running into a friend after a long time. You knew her really well, you remember how her relationship status was, “in a domestic partnership with coffee”, you laugh and hug and go to a cafe because of course, coffee! and then you see them ordering  green tea with honey, and you go WTF!  You start to think, maybe she has changed completely, but then she orders burger and fries with extra fries and you think, okay maybe she hasn’t changed all that much. The rest of the time you spend with her is a mix of faint nostalgia and delightful surprises. And by the end of the day, you have brain freeze from getting to know a person you already knew well.

Mmmm, It was a very lousy example but that was the best I could come up with. It has been two months since I started a regular 8-4 job. I could also say it is the second month of my life after major depression. That has brought back a whole lot of normalcy to my life. But I also seem to have forgotten what my life was like before the episode. Because during the last two years, I was on survival mode and most of what I did were just meant to get me through a day. And, during my time at the rehab I took up a lot of activities, not the ones that were interesting but the ones that were helpful. Now is the time I decide whether I want to keep doing them or not (Dancing- yes, jogging- No No No)

It also means that I am finally starting to accept that depression is really gone- this time for good!

Now that the grey cloud is lifted I am at the liberty to live and not just survive. The funny part is, a lot of what I do surprises me on a daily basis. For example, I exercise every morning without somebody holding a gun to my head (!), I swear a whole lot more, and apparently I like tomatoes now.  On the other hand, a lot of things are the same, its just I haven’t been doing them for a while now so I am not sure where I stand.  It is a lot of getting to know yourself again, like going through your old journals and junk and reminiscing what your likes and dislikes were back then.

My mind is like the first day of spring after a long dark dreary winter. I remember one of my fellow bloggers writing about how she felt after getting glasses. Everything that was blurry until then became clear and vivid  before her eyes in an instant. It took a lot more than an instant but that is exactly how I feel now. Like, having granted access to my senses again. I cannot get through dinners without repeatedly telling  my roommate how delicious food is because food tastes like food now.

But, most importantly I am filled to the brim with gratitude. Gratitude for not having to put an effort into simple acts like walking, reading, showering….,  for having woken up from a failed suicide attempt, for being able to show up at a job, for not breaking down on subway cars. Gratitude, not to any unknown forces in particular but just to life itself.

This feeling of elation might be short lived but as long it is here I am hell bent on enjoying it. So if you see any starry-eyed girl  walking around like her first day on this beautiful planet earth, come say hi.

Can you relate to this feeling?

Love

Jo

 

Working with BPD and AVPD (Tips)

Here are some of the things that have helped me at work

  • Have a routine- try to start and finish at the same time every day. If the mood swings are very frequent this would bring a semblance of normalcy to your days.
  • Talk to your boss- It has helped me greatly that my boss knows about my BPD. It does not mean he will tolerate if I slack off at work but, he has been asking questions to understand my triggers and symptoms and has generally tried to make the office environment more inclusive. Share only if you are comfortable
  • eg: If you are uncomfortable bringing out your ideas in a group discussion format try to think of an alternative that would work for you and tell your boss about it, chances are, you are not the only person with that problem.
  • Take each day as it comes- let us face some days are going to be shitty, it is okay. Let it be
  • Make a safe space- If you have an office room, try to put up some pictures on the wall or spruce it up with some DIY decor that appeals to you, if your work space is a desk maybe you can keep some framed pictures of your loved ones.
  • Leave some distress tolerance tools- Keep some things around that could help you in overwhelming situations. I keep an ice pack in the office refrigerator, a small vial of lavender oil (the strong smell gives me a distraction), a red marker and white paper because, see picture below.
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Suggestions: Stress relief balls, rubberbands

  • Taking walks- If you think it is inappropriate to go outside, just a 5-minute stroll in the corridor?
  • Take time to have a proper lunch- It is better not to eat at your work table. If going with colleagues for lunch is too overwhelming, try looking for a place where you can relax and eat in peace
  • Find what works for you- Concentration is hard to come by sometimes. So I try to  break down working hours into small chunks of 1.5 hours. After every 1.5 hours, I read a WordPress post or read few pages of a book or journal a bit or just get up and stretch.
  • It takes an average person about 23 minutes to focus again once distracted, so try to leave your phone away and all the mail notifications off while working. They will only make work more difficult
  • Tackling the open office- I honestly hope you don’t have to work in one but if you are then it is essential to have a space (worst case scenario, bathroom?) where you can sit and unwind.
  • Don’t be intimidated by others work routine. They don’t know your struggle and you don’t know theirs (most probably).
  • Keep a journal, track your distraction triggers.

 

What are the things that help you at work?

–Jo

What is your support system?

I have a new therapist, Dorothee. With the help of German- English translators we have managed to work together just fine so far. Last week she asked me to tell her what my support systems are, it surprised me that it took a full ten minutes to describe all my support systems. Maybe I am one of the lucky ones to have so many people and things to count on if things were to go south again. Even with all of this, in an episode of depression, I feel utterly and hopelessly alone. I almost never reach out to someone on a bad day, partly because I am ashamed to ask for help, also because I don’t think a person can walk into the room and take away my depression.

As it is evident both these thoughts are not really logical. First, There is no shame in asking for help, period. I preach that very often but fails miserably when it comes to putting it into practice. In the case of physical ailments, no matter how big or small they are, it is relatively easy for me to reach out for help. ‘I have a headache, can I leave early today?’, or ‘Can we meet on a later day because I have the flu?’ or ‘There is a tumor in my breast, I need to have a surgery immediately’ . But when it comes to problems of mind I hide in a cocoon, The thought that constantly nags me is, ‘What would they think about me?’, so I try desperately to pretend to be that person who has their shit together. After a lot of thought I have narrowed down two arguments that could ease up the reaching out process, 1) people don’t think about us nearly as much as we imagine 2) People appreciate it if you ask for help, it makes them feel important and better about themselves and believe it or not there is a lot of kindness left in this world, empathy hasn’t left the planet yet.

As for the second thought, that nobody can walk into the room and take away the depression, it is true to a certain extent. You and only you know the extent of your depression and hence there is a limit to which even a qualified professional can help you. But, having an understanding person at the receiving end of your loud thoughts can make you at least momentarily better. And, recovery is a lot of these small moments added together.

Well, the whole talk with Dorothee also made me think about people who cannot boast of having such a strong support system or any at all for that matter. No matter what I was doing this thought bothered me like an itchy cut. I had the privilege of having a closely knit circle of friends in this foreign land, who I chose not to ask help from but what if you don’t have anyone to reach out? What if you don’t have an insurance that will pay your hospital bills? What if you don’t speak the local language?

I lived in a shelter for ‘women in distress’ after my stint at the rehab and there I met a girl. She was a refugee from Tanzania, with long curly hair and colorful clothes. In a sea of visibly distressed people, she was the only one who smiled at me. We used to make small talk during the five minutes it took us to heat up the flavorless soup they gave us. The day I was moving out, I went to her room to say goodbye but she wasn’t there. The social worker gave me her telephone number and I send her a goodbye text. Two months went by and there was no reply from her. Then, last Thursday evening she replied, we chatted for a little bit but something seemed off. I took it as her disinterest in talking to me, so to wrap up the conversation I send this message ‘Nice talking to you again and if you need any help you can ask me anytime’. After ten minutes she asked me if I could buy a sim card and take it to  her room if it wasn’t too much trouble. It wasn’t any trouble so I went to the address she gave me.

Instead of an apartment, another closed psychiatric ward welcomed me. She had tried to kill herself and failed. She broke down when she saw me. We sat in silence for a long time. Then she started telling me her story, of losing her parents at an early age, a kind neighbor taking her in as part of his family, his passing away last year, her move to another continent as a refugee, a life in complete isolation, a meagre support money that got delayed in the strings of bureaucracy, a govt who wants to take her refugee status away, depression, rehab…….’ You are my only friend here she said’. Me, who hadn’t made a real conversation with her until then was her ONLY friend in this foreign land. I didn’t know what to say to her. ‘You can count on me, reach out whenever you feel low’ I managed to say after what seemed like an eternity.

Sometimes support is just being there.

I couldn’t sleep for two days after. On the third day, I created a local chapter for a mental health NGO (No stigmas) on a social media website , I asked them to fill up ‘your expectations from this group column to sign up’, overnight 18 people joined, all of them hope to have a support system. We are meeting each other for a coffee on Wednesday.

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I am too much of a mess to support anyone but Sometimes support is just being there. 

Tell me what are your support systems?

Love

-Jo


I will post a list of things I told Dorothee in a few hours.