Choose Your Battles: How to Tell When You Should Call in an Army of Pros

As someone who was a bit mentally under the weather the past few days, I can definitely feel anyone out there who is biting their tongue and wondering whether they should put out the little fires springing up—or, more concretely, whether they should give the psychiatrist a ring or even check into an inpatient facility. So here are six questions to ask yourself when choosing your battles with bipolar disorder and determining whether or not it’s time to get some extra help.

1. How long has this problem been going on? If this is only a one or two day thing, it might just be a fluke. But if it’s been a solid month of mental yuck, it might be time to bring out the big guns and get professionals involved.

2. Could this be a physical sickness? Headaches, sensitivity to light, nausea, and fatigue can all point to a physical ailment rather than a psychological one. If this has persisted for several days, a visit to your general practitioner might be in order.

3. Could something in your situation be the source of this?
Ruling out contributing factors will help you determine whether this is situational or chemical. Are you PMSing? Are you in the midst of financial difficulties that are stressing you out? Are you fighting with someone you’re close to and therefore emotionally fried and irritable? How long has it been since you switched medications or adjusted your dose? And to follow that, is what you’re experiencing a potential side effect of your medication? If you believe that it is a medication thing, I would advise you to contact your psychiatrist in case it could be a permanent or lethal reaction.

4. How severe are your symptoms?
Write out a list of your symptoms and rate their severity on a scale from 1-10. If you’re not sure where to start, you can find a list of bipolar symptoms here. If most symptoms are in the 8-10 range, a medication change might be in order. If suicidality is in the picture and you cannot get those thoughts out of your head/feel like you could act on them, contact a suicide hotline, like this national one at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

5. Are you a danger to yourself or others? If you have a plan or “method of choice,” as I used to put it, you should definitely consider checking yourself into an inpatient unit. Take it from someone who has been at that side of rock bottom–the longer you let yourself go down that road, the harder it will be to get back on track and start enjoying life again.

6. Are the symptoms interfering with your social life, work, school, and/or personal or professional relationships? This is a big one. If your struggles are impacting things and making your life altogether more difficult, you owe it to yourself to seek out the right treatment. Whether that means scheduling an extra appointment with your therapist or heading over to the emergency room to take a bigger step that you indubitably need, there’s no shame in reaching out when you aren’t 100%. It can do wonders for a person’s mental and even physical health. No one deserves to live a life where their illness is holding them back. So if this is a battle that you can’t fight on your own anymore, don’t be afraid to call in a whole battalion who are ready and willing to help you put up the good fight.

Over-Identifying with Your Shiny New Diagnosis

So, it’s official. It’s been jotted down in black ink in your medical records. Your insurance approved the medicine that can only be covered if you have the professional’s stamp of approval. After weeks or months or years of struggling, you have the paper detailing the doctor’s ruling—your shiny new diagnosis—clutched in your freshly validated fist.

I know from personal experience the relief that this can bring. It means you’re not “crazy,” you do have a legitimate problem. It also means that you can get help from people who know how to help you because they have more of a focus than “various mental health issues.” But I also know that you can fall into a trap that I most certainly did at first: over-identifying with your new label. And that’s a slippery slope that I might just be able to help you avoid.

So what is over-identifying? Simply putting all of your experiences, traits, thoughts, and feelings into the “illness” box and letting your illness dictate your plans and aspirations for the future. For me, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type I with psychotic features at 15. I flipped back through the decade and a half of my existence and began thinking “wow, this thing that happened must have been the product of my wonky brain chemistry!” or “I was really outgoing and happy today—I must have been manic!” I doubted that I could go to university because I was certain that my mind wouldn’t allow for it. When you feel like the rug has been ripped out from under you, it’s only natural to assume that everything on the floor that isn’t upright must have been taken down by the force of the pull, even if some of it was already positioned on its side.

To curb the natural inclination to credit your illness with everything you have, are, or will be/do, there are a several tactics. Here are four “Do’s” and two “Don’ts” to get you started.

1. Do: Ask your family members and closest friends to describe your personality. After a diagnosis has been slapped onto your forehead, and especially, from my experience, with bipolar disorder, it’s easy to feel at a loss for who you are. And it’s so tempting to scrawl “this is property of (insert mental illness name here)” all over every piece of yourself. But your family members and bosomest of bosom buddies have seen you in the good and bad and indifferent times, and they may be able to give you a starting point for building up your concept of what makes you, you.

2. Don’t: Read too much literature on your specific diagnosis (or others, for that matter). While it is a good thing to be informed and increase self-awareness through understanding, reading too much about what you’re dealing with can result in two unpleasant outcomes. You might find yourself experiencing symptoms that you didn’t experience before because the power of suggestion is, well, very powerful. And you might also not fully understand how different components of the disease, or others that you are researching, manifest themselves and apply them to yourself when a clinician would not determine that you meet the criteria for it.

3. But Do: Ask your therapist for symptoms and his/her take on which ones you present most. Bring up that you are worried about over-identifying, and your therapist should be able to take it from there and explain symptoms in such a way that they are clear and separate from healthy personality traits. This way, there can be a dialogue to discuss what is and isn’t a facet of the disease with which you share a head space. You won’t be left to your own imagination with no one to help you navigate things. The second part of this will take a while as you establish a relationship with your therapist and give him/her sufficient time to observe you in your various degrees of health and unwellness, but it is both interesting on a personal level and crucial to having a solid grip on how your illness manifests itself specifically in you.

4. Do: Know your limits and keep looking for ways to achieve your dreams that your mental state can withstand. If you know that you aren’t stable enough right now to go out on your own for college, try picking an institution or community college within driving distance of your home. If you know that your illness makes it so that you can’t afford to pull all-nighters, try scheduling a lighter load and brushing up on time management skills to avoid that. And if you have a dream–be it a career or becoming a parent or what have you–but the little voice in the back of your head is saying that it is off limits because of your diagnosis, tell that voice to kindly shut up and take 9 semesters to graduate instead of 8 or foster kids rather than having your own biological children if you don’t feel like you can handle going off of your meds for months or risking post-partum mental health issues/passing your disease onto your little ones. Work around it and build a life that makes you excited to get up every morning. You deserve the same shot at self-fulfillment that every other person has

5. Don’t: Beat yourself up if you catch yourself over-identifying. No one is perfect. I still find myself getting paranoid in moments where I am perfectly sane and searching for smidges of my illness that have fallen through the cracks. And at this point in my recovery, I don’t see it as the end of the world. What is important is that we catch ourselves in that mindset, take a deep breath, and say “you know what? I’m going to use my coping skills if necessary, but right now, I’m probably just overthinking things.” If little blips become waving red flags, then by all means, take care of it. But don’t live your life going over every thought and feeling with a fine-toothed comb. You deserve to enjoy life, just like everyone else, and that means giving yourself some room to just relax and savor the moment.

6. But Do: Take caution. Over-identification can wreak havoc on your self-esteem and drive you mad as a hatter as you obsess over even the faintest fingerprints your sickness left on your life. Your illness doesn’t define your future, and it also doesn’t define your past. What has happened has happened. Now, in treatment, you can learn how not to live in the chaos you did when your disease ran rampant, how to reign it all in and rediscover who you truly are in the light of a healthful psyche.

What do you do to keep your illness from defining you? Feel free to leave your story in the comments below.

Why You Should Parachute Out of that Plane

I am not a courageous person by nature. Until the end of last year, most of my life decisions were based in part on what the least scary option was. I refused to do the Big Scary Things. Every aspect of my life—social, academics, religion, the works—was influenced by a deep-seated fear of everything. You’ve heard of the “five seconds of insane courage” dare? That is basically the story of the past nine months of my life.

I spent the first 18 years of my life latched at the hip to my fellow triplet sisters, kindergarten safety rope-style. We took every class together, save one period of our senior year of high school (they registered for calculus; I balked at the pages of work just to solve one problem and opted for economics, and was subsequently the wiser, less stressed of the bunch). My sisters were a constant crutch. I can’t think of a single friend in high school or my short stint living on campus at college that I met on my own without being connected to them through one or both of my sisters.

The safety rope was severed when I found myself completely alone in the psych ward in October 2015, just a couple short months into what was supposed to be my freshman year of college. For the first time, I had to make friends. It was either that or have a miserable, awkward, lonely two weeks. So in that sink-or-swim situation, I chose to flail my limbs about and hope to stay afloat. Luckily, I wasn’t entirely inept. I quickly became best friends with my roommate, who arrived a couple days after I did. We were perfectly suited to each other as far as roommates go. She was also young, a writer, and she happened to also love an obscure indie song that I was pretty sure no one else on the planet had so much as heard of. I also fell head over heels in love. Asking my now-boyfriend if he wanted to walk with me during physical wellness group was one of the most nerve-wracking, courageous things I’ve ever done, one of the biggest of Big Scary Things, and boy, has it paid off! I’m happy to say that he is now my best friend next to my little sister, and he is my biggest supporter (not just because he’s a whopping 6’4”), a member of my elite team of go-to advice givers, and my absolute favorite dude under the age of 73.

When it comes to religion, fear was a major factor in my decision when I got out of high school. I attended a non-denominational Christian church in my small college town before I withdrew from university because several of my friends had convinced me that the Catholicism I grew up was as good as a straight ticket to H-E-Double Hockey Sticks. I didn’t feel comfortable at that church—it felt so far from home. But I let terror force me into spending every Sunday morning there. Skip on forward to right now, and I’m back to being Catholic, exactly where I feel at home, living out the faith that I know is right for me.

Many of my future-based decisions in the past were also driven by terror. During my senior year of high school, I didn’t apply for scholarships for which I could have very easily qualified because they required an interview, and the idea of interviews scared me beyond sensibility. I almost didn’t choose to follow my heart and be an English major because I was so worried about what my parents would think about such a choice. I heavily debated turning down the remote internship that couldn’t be a better fit for me because there was a conference call involved and conference calls scared me because I had never done one before. But while I didn’t apply for those scholarships, I did change my major, and I did take that internship, and defying the large part of me that shied away from that which gets my heart racing and hands shaking has proven to make my life so much richer and more exciting.

So what is the point of this post? Simple: it is documented proof that going the scariest route can pay off. Fighting through the petrifications and terrors, following through in those five seconds—or nine months—of insane courage might just be the best decision of your life. I know it’s been the best decision of mine.

We can’t stay wrapped up all snug and safe in our bubbles of security—that’s not healthy, and it’s not going to lead to an enriching existence. So do the Big Scary Thing: parachute out of that plane, ask out the person you’ve been crushing on since freshman year, apply for the job of your dreams, go out with your co-workers even if you don’t really know anyone and make friends despite your extreme social anxiety. It will be okay. Even if your heart feels like it’s jumping out of your chest for the first twenty minutes you’re in the terrifying situation, you will survive. I promise. Now get out there, and kick those fears to the curb! You’ve got this.

It’s Okay to Feel: Having Bipolar, Having Emotions

The kids have left their grimy sneakers all over the floor and you’re hollering for them to mop up the mess. Your favorite pet was found after days of being lost, and you’re jumping up and down, squealing with pure relief. A perfect stranger lent you a hand with your groceries, and you catch yourself smiling at random moments for the rest of the day. You’ve had a rough week, and the straw just snapped the camel’s back in two, and now you’re at the kitchen table sobbing because you can only withstand so much. But then it hits you—body slams you, really: you have bipolar disorder, so is this just another mood swing?

I’m going to stop you right there. I’ve spent much of my post-diagnosis days curbing every strong emotion, prodding and poking and getting up in the biz of every feeling that springs up in my heart, driving them all away. But let me tell you something that I needed to hear years ago: it’s okay to feel. It won’t hurt you. I promise.

If an occasion legitimately sparked something in your soul, and pure emotion is welling up in your chest, don’t question it. Don’t let it get out of hand and turn into a Level 10 Mood Swing, obviously. But also realize that there is no choice between having bipolar and having feelings—you can have both! You are still human; still subject to the full range of feelings that fill the human heart: anguish, exhilaration, despair, fury, good old fashioned happiness. You are still allowed to let tears of joy or sadness trickle down your cheeks, because you have a thudding rhythm beneath your ribs that allows you to have the full homo sapien experience.

If you spend every waking moment worrying that what you are feeling is just the result of wonky biochemistry, you will survive, but you’ll be missing out on the chance to truly thrive. You’d be a fool to chuck all caution into the wind, but try keeping the rule of thumb that if there is an event fueling the emotion, it is almost definitely you, and not your illness. So go feel the feelz to your heart’s content, and know that it’s not sickness—it’s what makes you alive.

Welcome, Newcomers!

Hello! Welcome any and all! Here is the new home of my old blog, The Deep End Diaries. It all started on a free WordPress way back at the end of January 2015, and now I’m proud to say that TDED is finally completely, totally mine.

So who am I? In one word, a verbivore. I love writing as much as my own kin—sometimes a little more. I am also a mental health advocate who happens to have experienced the mental health struggle firsthand. I’ve been tagged with a full rainbow of diagnoses: bipolar 1 disorder with psychotic features, generalized anxiety disorder, a history of eating disorders, and, most recently, OCD tendencies. But I don’t let all of these labels define me. I am first and foremost a person, then a sister, best friend, writer, artist, off-key singer, multilinguist—the list stretches on for eons and my laundry list of sicknesses are tacked onto the very end, almost as an afterthought. But minuscule as they are, they are still a part of me.

I could either spend my days wallowing in the unfairness of it all, or I could take these bitter cocoa nibs and make them into a delectable devil’s food cake that people can enjoy. I choose to do the latter.

So again, welcome! I’ve transferred all of the old posts onto here so, if you’re brand new, you can get to know me a little better by rifling through my previous brainchildren.

Have a nice day!

Big News!

From my earliest wordsmithing days (around the age of 12), I knew that if there was only one thing I wanted to accomplish with my writing, it was to have a distinct, strong voice. Somehow I had a deep-seated hunch that once a person had a one-of-a-kind personal touch to her writing, she could move mountains with her command of language. Seven years later, I hold this belief just as firmly, but I must add to it.

Apparently, I have a loud and clear stylistic voice in my writing. My former English teacher, current mentor and close friend has told me that she sees that in my work. But having a voice in my writing is more than just the way I strand sentences together and pair these adjectives with those nouns and the verbs for which I have a special place in my heart. It’s the sum of unique experiences, the verbal manifestation of my whole self–the combination of happenings and characteristics that has not existed before and will not exist again. Everyone has a voice that is theirs, and theirs alone. It’s just a fact.

At any rate, I’ve finally gotten a chance to start making waves with this tiny voice of mine. As some of you may know, I was recently published on The Mighty. I submitted an updated “Letter to My Future Husband, From Your Lover with Mental Illness,” hoped for the best and expected it to amount to nothing. Several hours later, I received an e-mail from the editor that it was “so honest and beautiful” and that it would be published. I was also invited to become a regular contributor on the site.

I was beyond floored to be blessed by this rare opportunity. I have been blogging for years and I have a wider readership than just two of my closest friends and my cats, but having the opportunity to reach an even broader audience is mind-blowing to me. And it’s not because I desire fame or feel like I’m entitled to it all because I’m the best blogger ever to spring forth from the Planet Earth. No, it is because writing about mental health has never been about me. It’s about having an outlet for my thoughts and feelings and ideas, for sure. But it’s first and foremost a means of connecting with people who don’t have connections, of squashing the mental health stigma into the pavement, and making this group of people, we who struggle with mental illness, heard and contributing my small voice into the sea of voices fighting tooth and nail to just be listened to. To know that I can do that on a grander scale now is just plain exhilarating!

Becoming a contributor for The Mighty has dawned on me the realization that I have a voice worth hearing and so does every other human being. We’re colored by every moment, person, event, and setback that has chanced upon us, for better or for worse. And because we have this originality, I would wager that each of us has something to say, a part of the bigger picture we are dying to talk about. Maybe it’s a disease or disability, maybe it is grief or a string of disappointments that led to a brilliant opportunity. Maybe it’s an accomplishment. Maybe it’s just the fact that we’ve breathed, laughed, and cried and survived to tell the tale.

One of my friends who read the story said that it made her laugh and cry, and that was the best response I ever have or possibly ever will receive for my writing. I am bent on making people feel something with my writing, and to know that I did that sent me over the moon. I’ve always known that it’s possible to dig deep into readers emotions with fiction, but I never realized that blogging can touch people just as much. It just confirmed my certainty that this is where I’m meant to be in my life. Dropping out of college almost robbed me of my dreams, but I am living the life I was destined to live, and I thank God for every broken road that forced me to swerve to this direction.

I may not be the world’s most influential mental health writer, but knowing that strangers and friends alike can get something out of one of my Brain-Children makes me a proud Brain-Mama. It’s just further proof that if you have something you’re itching to get out into the world, a message that refuses to stay bottled inside, don’t be afraid to put it out there and shoot for the stars. Even if you get hung up on Saturn’s rings, you’re still touching the sky.

I will still be updating this blog at least once a week and will probably share any writing I publish on other venues.

This Movie Saved My Life: The Road Within

For the past few years, I’ve been a sucker for artsy Indie films. I’ve always loved a good story. But give me something that digs deeper than the skin, makes me think, moves with a solid direction and pushes me to feel something and I’m sold. And the more relatable the characters, the better. With all that in mind, The Road Within was right up my alley. This film chronicles the journey of a band of misfits who escape from an experimental treatment clinic: Vincent (Robert Sheehan), who lives with Tourette’s Syndrome, Marie (Zoë Kravitz), an anoretic, and Alex (Dev Patel), a Brit with severe OCD. The film was based on the trailer for a German film, Vincent Wants to Sea.

I originally watched the movie because I thought it would be entertaining thinspo. Zoë  Kravitz actually dropped considerable poundage to dwindle down to an anorexic physique for the part, and knowing this, I buckled up for a one hour and forty one minute journey with ED triggers as far as the eye could see. What I did not expect was being struck by the cold, hard reality that the anorexic body is not beautiful, that the Pro-Ana lifestyle is unsustainable and ridiculous, and that there are only two options for the anorexic individual: recover or die. When I saw how sickly Kravitz’s body looked, how unnatural it was for her to throw away 75% of her sandwich when she had gone days without a single bite of food, how uncomfortable and terrified she was to be nourished via a tube through the nose, I didn’t want this disease anymore. Any appeal that anorexia held for me at the start of the flick was gone with barely a trace by the time the credits rolled in.

When I fangirled to my lovely boyfriend immediately after the end about my newfound insight, he quipped that he’d been telling me this all along, which is a fair statement. Ever since he knew that I’ve struggled with eating disorders, he’s encouraged me to eat more, insisting many a time that my hotness level skyrockets with every pound I gain, rather than every pound I shed. But being that I live with mild body dysmorphia, I didn’t see, when my BMI was well below the normal threshold, that looking as if I’m about to snap at the knees is far from attractive. Seeing Kravitz’s almost pre-pubescent figure convinced me for the first time in my life that looking seconds away from death is not desirable. I was filled with pride for my figure that boasts health, a feeling I haven’t known for the past 7 years of my life, if not ever.

The Road Within tackles a wide scope of themes: the need to fit in at all costs; the way dire situations can band together the most unlikely crew; the complexities of young romance, dysfunctional families and grief. It’s more than just a literal road trip. The characters’ development steadily scoots ahead with each scene. The chemistry between the cast is unbeatable, and the roles they play come to life and have an authentic feel. I loved this film and its inspiration is just the icing on the cake. And for once, I wouldn’t mind munching on that cake. Maybe I’ll even have two slices. And a tall glass of stone cold milk that isn’t fat free.

The Road Within might be a trigger fest for some individuals, so know yourself. But if you can make it through without undoing the progress you’ve made, this film is more than worth a watch. It saved my life. It might just save yours, too.

How Much Should I Weigh?

It’s the age of all-telling BMIs and limited plus size selections in boutiques and “fat shaming.” It’s the age of fat free and sugar free and guilt free, getting the most “bang for your buck,” so to speak—eating the most for the least amount of figure-related consequences to show for it. It’s the age of “Thinspo” on Tumblr and a wide selection of documentaries on YouTube that are meant to dissuade and inform but are abused by people like myself and used to fuel the obsession to spiral further down the path of sickness. This is the age of illness being idolized and set on a pedestal as the pinnacle of beauty. This is the age of anorexia, and for those of us who struggle with it, it’s one hellish era.

I’ve been thinking a lot about weight lately. And size. Shape. Food. All that good stuff. It’s inevitable, partially because it’s summer and every summer for the past four years has made my eating disorder break out of its hibernation full force. I’m at a healthy weight at the moment, just a hair under where I should be by most doctor’s definitions, but still, my body is functioning perfectly normally. Believe me, that’s been an uphill battle and no easy feat. I can still tell you my weight to the decimal from the last time I weighed myself, which was only a few hours ago. There are all these arbitrary numbers and calculations cluttering my mind. So the question of the day, and for many of us with EDs, the question of every minute, remains: how much should I (or you, or anyone, for that matter) weigh?

Despite what most of us believe, it’s not a number. It’s not even a range of figures. It’s enough to keep our body whirring in perfect efficiency. Enough to cushion the hug of a heartbroken friend. Enough to stamp our footprint indelibly all over God’s green earth. Enough to make the first thing people think of us be “Her eyes are brimming with light” or “His slow, lopsided smile is so sweet.” Not “How long do I have before I have to slam life back into his malnourished heart?” Enough to match the swell of our lioness spirit and the shooting star confidence we deserve. Not one ounce less.

And at the end of the day, how much we weigh doesn’t define who we are any more than whether we have long or short hair or the color of our eyes, although even those are far more interesting and telling of our glittering personality than a number on the scale. You might be healthy at a lower weight or a higher weight or right in the middle. But as long as we are healthy, the only one who cares about those two or three digits, is the small voice in the back of our minds that tells us it should. Seriously.

I’m still working on shutting up that voice, but I know that one day I can silence it for good. And I believe you can, too. So good luck. Stick with it. You’re going to protest when I say this (heck, my own mind is protesting), but it’s just a number. And it is not who you are.

Finding Your Own Path: Why It’s Okay if You Can’t Go the “Normal” Road

In a little over a month, it will be a year since I shook hands with the head of my teeny tiny high school’s school board and walked to the center of the gym with a diploma clutched at my side, and I must say, if I told my freshly graduated self where I am now, she might have gone into cardiac arrest. It’s so different—so much better—than what I had planned that I could never have envisioned it.

At that point, I planned to attend the honors college at a state university with my fellow triplet sisters and best friend to study English with a concentration in Writing. The days leading up to graduation were rocky. I was experiencing severe anxiety and a bipolar mixed state almost constantly: my mind’s reaction to the stress of final exams, end-of-the-year projects, and, you know, taking the training wheels off and diving headfirst into this freefall called “adulthood.”

Despite my psychological turmoil, I was stoked about going off. I had lived a very sheltered life, and while I had no intentions to party it up whatsoever, the idea of independence and freedom to do whatever I please whenever I please—and even stay up past 10:00 p.m.!—was exciting. I couldn’t wait to start taking classes, either. I’ve always been a lover of learning, and moving on to bigger and better things with tens of class choices instead of the assigned courses that I took every year because of the drastically limited selection my small town school offered sounded like a dream.

In case you don’t know, this dream life shattered almost instantly. In early October, I found myself in the psych ward for the first time since I was 16, which was probably partially due to the stress of school and the freedom for which I was sorely unprepared, but mostly parental issues. My parents have always liked control, and at the risk of vilifying them, I will simply say that there were some ugly fights when for the first time in our lives, my sisters and I broke free.

When I was released two weeks later, things seemed to be smooth sailing. This did not last long. In November, exactly one month later, I was yet again locked up. Between not even being caught up from my last break and having an avalanche of extra work piled on, there was no way for me to stay on top of it all, and I was forced to withdraw from university.

Six months later, I’m no longer in college and, believe it or not, I’m climbing the ladder to fulfillment and happiness. I’m a staff writer for a music reviews website. I’m working on setting up a fantastic life for myself filled with good-doing, people-helping, and creative juices flowing like Niagara Falls on steroids.

If I’ve learned only one thing, it’s that none of our plans can ever measure up to what is really in store for us. In spring of 2015, I was having the idea of college shoved down my throat. A year later, I’ve found my own path and discovered that while getting an education is a good thing and often times a stepping stone for success, it isn’t the only way.

I know I’ve gotten lucky. I know some people end up unable to handle employment at all, much less their dream job. But know that even if you can’t get that four year degree; even if you can only manage to work at Mickey D’s right now, opportunities will arise. Maybe you’re meant to take a gap year, or maybe you’re meant to go back to school in your forties and start up that bakery that you’ve always dreamed of in the meantime. Maybe you’re meant to change lives as a volunteer for your favorite organization and the Lord knows that you need to have less debt to work off in order to devote your time to charitable endeavors.

God is good. Don’t doubt for a second that if you trust in Him, the stars will align and everything will tumble into its place. Even if you’re not religious, things have a way of working themselves out. It will take time, but believe me when I say that it will be worth the wait.

So you aren’t taking the road that the majority of your friends are headed down. No big deal. You can still lead a joyful, fulfilling life brimming with great things. In the words of a great man, not all those who wander are lost. It may take some detours, some deviating from the norm, swerving off the proverbial highway of what we “should” do at -insert stage of your life here-. But you will find your destiny. Life is an adventure with infinite choices. So make mistakes, go your own way. If you follow your heart and dig deep to tap into your most hidden desires, your biggest passions, you can’t go wrong.

Downside Up: On the Benefits of Mental Illness

Often times, when we hear the term “mental illness” we instantly jump to a whole host of negative emotions. We think of all of the losses, crap days, impediments, and unpleasantness that comes with being psychologically unwell. Recently, I was diagnosed as being on the “OCD spectrum,” which means that, while I do not have full-blown OCD or OCD Personality Disorder, there are definitely some traces of these disorders in my genes. My therapist put two and two together when she found out that I process numbers and patterns specially in my mind and listen to music on repeat for hundreds of times in a row, which is not a major exaggeration.

At first, this had me down. It was yet another label tacked onto the list, among a mood disorder, an anxiety disorder, a psychotic disorder, an eating disorder, and now, a mild personality disorder. I take comorbidity to a whole new level, and while I could let it start a perpetual cycle of dissatisfaction with the “unfairness” of it all, I’ve taken a step back to look for the positives in this.

Yes, I have one more diagnosis, but there are more upsides to this than the immense empathy and unique insight into the human condition that this situation offers me. Because my mind has a thing for endlessly looping one track, I can calm myself just by listening to the same song over and over again. Additionally, I have a wicked memory for important dates such as birthdays; anniversaries; dates that mark personal achievements, such as being 10 days clean from cutting, which I am today. Even seemingly insignificant ones, such as the day I went to orientation for college or the day I met the nuns from the order that I planned on joining when I graduated high school from 9th grade to 11th grade. If I find a date or time significant in any way, that puppy ain’t going nowhere away from my mind. Sometimes numbers get transposed, but for the most part my memory is accurate when it comes to these things.

In many ways, mental illness is a burden, a dead goose hanging on your back for life and dragging you down. But this is not to say that there are no plus-sides to it. There’s always a silver lining, always a bright side—sometimes it just takes a little prodding and searching beneath the surface to find it. Yes, that goose is heavy and unwieldy and gets in the way, but it also shows you just how strong you truly are. And hey, maybe it could even be a fashion statement.


P.S. I’ve decided to try to turn out new posts at least once a week, so be sure to check back often for fresh content.

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