Mental Health

I start with forgiveness

It’s been a while since I posted anything and instead of a Book Fridays post I wanted to take some time to sort through some thoughts and feelings I’ve been having. The past month has been challenging for me. My son is going through some phase wherein he is almost unbearable at times. He’s defiant, he refuses to use the potty, and bed time is a nightmare. I want to preface this by stating that I am not looking for advice. I understand the place where such advice comes from but I assure you that I have people and resources to turn to. Basically, if I want advice I ask for it. I am sharing this because I need to vent and because perhaps somebody out there is going through something similar and they need to know they are not alone. Whenever difficult things arise in our lives we tend to feel isolated. We always think that nobody else could possibly know what we are feeling. The truth is that we are never alone and most of our troubles have been experienced by others at some point.

Parenting is not easy. I know this. I think most people know this whether or not they have ever been around young children. It’s exhausting at times and very frustrating. Like anything we choose to do in life it has its highs and lows. There are days when my temper is hot and my fuse is short. I try to be self aware because I need to keep my emotions in check. It’s not always easy and there have been times when I’ve raised my voice or even yelled. There have been long days where I’ve been up until 3am because my son refuses to stay in his bed and after two hours of walking him back to his bed I give up and let him crawl into ours. I then wake up early to eat breakfast with my husband and because kids are evil Diego wakes up as soon as my husband is off to work and gleefully asks for something to eat. So much for catching forty winks.

At my lowest points I feel like a failure (something I’ve talked about before) and I start to question myself. It’s easy to shoulder blame. Diego isn’t potty trained because of me. Diego doesn’t sleep through the night in his own bed because of me. Diego makes a fuss about going to bed because of me. Logically, I know that kids often go through these periods of pushing boundaries and defying authority. I know that but I still sometimes feel like my worth as a person is tied to my success as a parent. I grade myself and award low marks.

In a few months this will all be nothing but a memory but right now it’s my life and it sucks. I know it will pass and I know this is not going to last forever. Knowing that offers little comfort to me. The frustrating thing about all of this is that I don’t know how long it will last. There is no schedule. Things change quickly and randomly.

What I have found helpful is to exercise forgiveness. I read a wonderful piece about writing by Daniel Jose Older that stated that you must start with forgiveness. I think it’s applicable to life in general. Start with forgiveness. I forgive myself for not being perfect, for falling short, for making mistakes, for being hard on myself. I forgive my son for being who he is, for inadvertently hurting me, driving me up the wall, robbing me of sleep, and making me eye that bottle of wine lustfully.

Whenever I demand too much for myself I fail. There are such things as unrealistic expectations that we place on ourselves. When we don’t meet them we write ourselves off as failures. Why bother anymore, right? Whether it’s writing, doing laundry, sticking to Whole30 (I just did Whole30 and plan to write about my experience) or simply getting through a list of chores loving ourselves enough to forgive is paramount. Understanding that falling short isn’t a shortcoming. It means that we got out there and we tried. It means that we put forth some effort. Even if you only got as far as lacing up your shoes you still DID something.

Celebrating small victories has been the foundation of my journey to managing my anxiety and it’s something that I’ve applied to other areas of my life. I try to devote a few minutes each day to thinking about what I’m grateful for and to let myself feel and mull things over. These moments of introspection and self meditation are important to me. It helps me to process. Most of the time I do this quietly in the shower, or while laying in bed long after the house has become quiet. Tonight I am doing here in this blog post.

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Where did my anxiety go?

The past week or so has been taken out of a dream. My constant companion for the past eight years has seemingly packed its bags and left. Now, I am not superstitious so I don’t have any reservations about sharing my good fortune and I have experienced this before. Living with mental illness is exhausting. I hate having anxiety. I hate experiencing panic attacks. There is nothing about suffering from those two things that anybody enjoys. When I am not feeling anxious I am usually thinking about the next time I will be anxious and so the cycle continues.

Any sort of trip causes me a lot of anxiety. Being away from home (my home base) sends my heart rate soaring. New places are difficult for me to navigate because when I am home and I am feeling like the world is about to end I can somehow grab onto my reality to anchor my mind and settle my thoughts. It is difficult for me to do this on the go. Difficult, but not impossible. This past weekend we took a trip to Orlando for a wedding. Orlando is familiar. It’s far from home but I’ve been there enough times that I can’t justify classifying it as a new location. Weddings involve crowds of people, which I am not fond of but I can manage. Still, I was nervous and worried that my anxiety would rear its ugly head.

I can’t say what has changed over the past week. I haven’t done anything differently. I haven’t started taking medication. All I have been doing is what I have always done: following Dr. Liebgold’s book and holding on to hope that every episode of anxiety/panic attack will be the last one. I have been challenging myself more. Going out more and doing one thing that scares me daily. For me, it’s doing one thing that triggers my anxiety every day. I have been more diligent, more consistent and it has payed off.

This weekend I felt like myself. The way I felt when I was 22 and not yet suffering from mental health issues. It was glorious and I went with it. Did my boo try to crash my party? Yes, he did. He is an asshole after all. But I kept him at bay and enjoyed my vacation. I was present. I was not caught up in my own mind wrestling thoughts and worries about anxiety.

The thing about anxiety (and mental illness in general) is that it is not visible. Anxiety happens internally. Somebody can be having the worst panic attack of their lives and you’d be non-the-wiser standing next to them. Anxiety can take over your life and render you unable to function. I know that I am not magically cured. Anxiety is something I will always live with but anxiety can be managed and even though there will likely be set backs I know that I will be okay. And I will use these blog posts as reminders that there is respite. That I CAN and WILL feel much better than I do when my anxiety is at its worst.

I write about my anxiety because it is infinitely helpful to record and celebrate the victories no matter how small they are. It is also important to give a face and voice to these illnesses that are still so often stigmatized by society. It is important for me to be open about what I feel and how I am feeling. I don’t want the curtain to fall on me. I have a support system by design. I make sure to speak up and seek help when I need it. I have been to therapy and I am always actively combating my anxiety. I am not currently seeing a therapist but it is something I think of doing again eventually because I find it very helpful. I am fortunate in that I have the access and the means to do so.

If you have somebody in your life who suffers from anxiety or another disorder and are wondering how to help them just ask them how they’re doing. A sympathetic ear that seeks to listen without judgment or paternalistic advice is invaluable. If you are suffering from mental illness yourself, seek help. Talk to a friend. Don’t give up on yourself.

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I need to talk about harassment

When I started this post I was sure about what I wanted to write and how I was going to write it but the more I thought about it the more discouraged I became. I realize when you take on a subject such a harassment you are guaranteed to alienate some people. Men, those who are even remotely interested in reading about harassment beyond refuting the accusations and declaring “not ALL men!”, might feel attacked and women might just not agree with your position. After all, you don’t have to be male to uphold male privilege. Regardless, those readers who are here in good faith will hopefully read with the intent of listening instead of responding.

Social media can be filled with land mines. Some people never encounter any of them. I have been on IG for years and this is the first time I have been harassed but I know that it happens daily to women everywhere. We might not see it, or hear about it but it’s happening.  It’s a problem. I have been called names on Twitter, from bitch to an ableist slur. I had one guy tag his response to me with the gamer gate hashtag in the hopes that they would come after me. How is that anything other than violence? I reached out to someone who told me about blockbot and I now have all known gamer gate accounts blocked just in case. If you’re wondering what my offense was to incur this, you are likely part of the problem. What these men do is search keywords and hashtags on Twitter in order to harass women, threaten women, dox women. If you ever come across any such account you will see their TL is nothing but the same spam message copied and pasted to different women.

I’ve been on IG for a couple of years and I enjoy sharing photos, especially of food. It’s a fun community and because I like browsing and sharing to hashtags and the like I have never locked my account. Last Saturday I participated in Dewey’s 24hr Read-a-thon and as part of the event I posted several reading related pictures to my IG including this one:

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Six days after I posted said photograph I received various IG notifications from the same account. They liked a few of my pics, left a comment on this one, and followed me. I was not inviting men to look at my legs. I was not looking for their gaze. But of course this is lost on this guy. Initially, I decided to accept the compliment and be done with it. Not surprisingly he took that as an invitation to take things further (because complimenting a woman is a social transaction that requires payment in the form of attention paid to the man that bequeathed such a gift) and asked if we could “have a nice talk”.  I ignored him.

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Moments later I received a private message from him. I honestly don’t know why IG even has this feature but nevertheless he thought it appropriate to send me a photo of his naked torso.

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Notice how he downplays his actions. It’s nothing, just a picture. NO! It’s NEVER “just a picture” when it’s unsolicited. This is exactly the kind of behavior I am referencing whenever I speak about male privilege. He decided that he had the right to send me this uninvited.

I had clearly stated that I was not interested but again, unsurprisingly, he did not let up.

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I blocked him after this exchange and I set my profile to private because it’s not uncommon for this kind of person to create another profile just to continue where they left off. One of the reasons this exchange disturbed me is because it makes me wonder how he would behave with a woman to whom he had physical access to. No means no wherever we are. Online communication is not exempt from the rules of consent. What I experienced is not an isolated incident. Women experience this and much worse every day. That is why I deem it of extreme importance to get conversations going about this. I refuse to be silent.

Harassment is part of the female experience. When I was in sixth grade a new student joined our class. He pulled my hair, hit me, and stole my pencils. When I finally complained to the teachers she told me that he just liked me. She invalidated my feelings and excused his behavior. I remember feeling confused and let down. I went on to “date” this boy. He forced himself on me and put his tongue in my mouth. When I struggled and pushed him away he was upset. I overheard him and his friends refer to me as a bitch for not reciprocating. I felt sick and not long afterwards I broke up with him.

At a Guy Fawkes bonfire I had a guy walk up behind me and pinch my butt. I didn’t know him and he didn’t know me but he felt confident and comfortable approaching me like that. His friends laughed in the background. They didn’t touch me but are they any better than the guy that did? It’s too often that we sit in silence because we feel that it’s not our problem, it’s not happening to us.

In the backseat of a car while riding with two of my cousins I fell asleep. I woke up to my male cousin with his hand up my shirt groping me. I kept quiet. He realized I had awoken and removed his hand. Until recently I had never told my mom about the incident. A part of me felt I had been responsible. So well does society socialize women to take responsibility for the actions of men.

Dressing modestly never helped me avoid the situations I am sharing here. The fact is that only harassers, attackers, rapists etc. are responsible for their actions. There is always this habit to ask what did you do to invite this? The answer is always nothing. Nothing.

This post was difficult to write. More so than I thought it would be. Not so much because of what I am sharing about myself and my experiences but because a part of me is always worried about what other people will think of me and my opinions. I am working to overcome that. If you’ve read this far thank you.

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#ToTheGirls

You are perfect just as you are. Your feelings are valid. The books and movies you love are awesome. You don’t need to look or dress a certain way. You don’t have to be sexy, or feminine, or chaste. You don’t have to smile. You don’t have to be polite. Say that curse word. Flip that bird.

#DearMe

If I had ever found a letter from my future self I am pretty sure I would have believed it. I would have also thought it was cool as heck!

There are so many things I would tell my younger self. I would start by telling myself that contrary to what I was being told, I was not too fat to be loved. It’s funny, I have never been fat enough to draw attention from strangers (as far as I know) but from the age of 13 I was told I had a weight problem. I hate going down this road because in order for this to make sense I have to disclose the fact that I wasn’t fat at 13. I was just going through puberty, which was hard enough, but my dad made it harder. He coaxed me into trying so many diets. It made me miserable. I am not sure what I could have done at that age, but if I could I would tell myself to tell him to bug off.

Until I met my now husband I was pretty sure I would never have a serious relationship, much less marry and have kids. I felt I wasn’t attractive enough. I didn’t have the tight hot bodies that young women were supposed to have. I spent a lot of time hiding. I had resigned myself to be the ugly fat chick that tagged along with friends but nobody hit on her. Because I believed as I did I also shut down anything before it even began. I would tell my younger self to not miss out on life because of this. Maybe I would have dated more, I don’t know. I also don’t know that it even matters but I wish I had been more happy with what I looked like.

I think a letter to myself would read something like this:

Dear Abdelis, 

It’s me, you, an older you. I am writing to you (from the future) because even though I don’t want to change my past I do want to impact your present. By default, I suppose, any advice I give (should you choose to take it) could change our lives. I hope you’re still with me. 

Right now you’ve just moved back to PR and you’re faced with many changes. Lots of new things. You’re going to be okay. You’re going to make friends, you’re going to be happy at your new school. Your dad is going to continue nagging you about your weight. He is going to police your body and what you put in your mouth. As a result you will try to time your meals to when he’s not around. You will overeat and later on you will actually be fat, but that’s ok. I don’t think fat is wrong, or ugly but these maladaptive behaviors aren’t healthy. Keep that in mind. Also keep in mind that your dad is wrong. So wrong, and I would curse up a storm about this but I won’t. Be your own advocate. Own your body. It’s not his, or for him. It’s only yours. 

You are currently very averse to trying drugs. Keep that up. You will not miss anything by avoiding that crap. I realize this letter to you should be filled with things you should not do etc, but I feel strongly I should tell you that there are things you should absolutely keep up! You are a good student and this will serve you well. You will be granted a merit scholarship to the university you will end up at. 

You will meet your future husband at university, thus proving wrong your current belief that you could never possibly be attractive to another person. After graduation you will be faced with a choice. You can either stay in PR for a graduate degree or you can go against your parents’ wishes and move to Florida. Move to Florida. The fight is worth it. Your future is in Florida. Trust me. 

I don’t want to give too much away but I do want to leave you with the confidence that you are loved, you are wonderful and you will be happy. I am hesitant to tell you this, but I can’t not mention it: you will have a son. He’s beautiful.

I’m (you’re) still fat, and I’m (you’re) hot. 

If you’re wondering why I haven’t included any information that could possibly make you rich it’s because I am still as ethical as you are now. And like I said before, I don’t want to change your future. I just want you to run towards it with open arms. 

Love, 

You

Why you should keep a gratitude journal

Life can suck and I am not one to dismiss the negative feelings I have from day to day. Being perpetually optimistic and happy is unrealistic to me. Tune into current events and you will see how much work we, as a society, have ahead of us. It can be a real bummer. I believe in venting about the bad in our lives, not necessarily in public for all to see (unless you want to) but in a way that helps you get it off your chest. That being said, I also believe that “there’s something good in everyday”. Everyday we have something to be thankful for, something that we can look to and say, “That was nice.” It might be those amazing pancakes you made for breakfast and didn’t burn, the unexpected but welcome phone call from a friend, a polite smile and compliment from a stranger, or even the mere fact that you got half of one task complete for the day. Whatever it is, this little something should be acknowledged and recorded.

Negative stuff, thoughts, interactions, feelings can take center stage in our consciousness to the point we don’t see all of the stuff that is right in our lives. We tend to block out the mountain of good with a freckle of bad. I know that I am guilty of this. If say, I get feedback from ten different people I will give much more weight (emotionally) to the one negative response. I try not to do this but it’s difficult not to dwell on that one person. Similarly, whenever I’ve had a bad anxiety day I feel negative inside and look at all things through this darkened lens.

By taking the time to process our day in a manner that looks for something good we will be inclined to find it. It gives us a different way in which to frame our day. Small pleasures, and seemingly inconsequential happenings take on new life when we view them through the lens of gratitude.

A gratitude journal can take many forms. Each entry can be a simple sentence, a short paragraph, a picture or photograph, a quote or even a memento. I’ve even seen it in the form of a large jar into which you drop small scraps of paper on which you write something you’re grateful for and on December 31st you pick them out and read them. It’s a great way to look back on the year. I have a small notebook and I am trying to scribble something in it each night before I go to bed. I find that keeping this journal is even more important to me when I’ve had a crappy day.

Today is Sunday and I am going to share what I am grateful for right here in this blog post. We spent the day at home today. It was raining and it just felt like the sort of day to spend home. Nothing about today sticks out except that we finally purged the outdoor closet. It was such a mess and we had things we didn’t even know we had. I had mentioned to my husband that we really needed to sort that closet out but we just never got around to it. Today we finally did. It was warm and humid out there so it wasn’t comfortable to haul all of that junk into the porch where we sorted through it. The end result is a closet that is now usable and an item checked off my list. Looking at our junk in another way, I am grateful to have accumulated it all with my husband. In the mess I saw remnants of repairs and remodels we’ve done to our house and I know that I am lucky to have a place of our own.

I can’t really commit to a daily journal per se but a gratitude journal is something I believe is good for me and my mental health, and it could be good for you, too.

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There’s something good in every day

Content warning: the following post deals with the topic of mental health and mentions suicide.

“Every day may not be good, but there’s something good in every day.” I am not sure who said it first, but I love that quote. Finding something good about even the crappiest days can brighten the darkness. At least for me.

I suffer from mental illness. I have anxiety and experience panic attacks. I have probably been depressed at some point because of this. There are times when my world feels very small and hopeless. There are days when I feel sick of it, sick of feeling anxious, sick of the physical symptoms of anxiety, just sick of not feeling like myself. When I am going through a particularly bad period it takes a lot of effort to function, it takes a lot of effort to go about my day and do the bare minimum.

Before I had my son I worked at an office. It was exhausting to get through a day of work when I felt like a panic attack was looming all day long. For a while I saw a therapist and that helped a lot. In fact, I have never felt as awful as I felt when I started seeing her. My primary doctor prescribed a very low dose of Xanax which I took for less than a week. The fear of side effects made me more anxious and I didn’t feel that the pills worked at all. I was only too relieved to get rid of them. Medication is not for me. It might not make sense to others with zero personal experience with paralyzing fear or mental illness but medication was simply not for me at that point in time.

What I have learned about mental illness is that there really isn’t a cure. For the past eight months I have been employing the techniques set forth in the book Freedom from Fear, and even though Dr. Liebgold tells you that you will be “cured” what he is really giving you are tools to MANAGE your illness. Even when I am feeling good I know that my anxiety is there. Lurking under the surface.

There is a lot of ignorance regarding mental illness. As a sufferer I find myself surrounded by people who have no idea, no clue as to what mental illness is. It is still stigmatized and often treated in a blame-the-victim sort of way. Going to therapy and taking medication can help but they’re not necessarily going to. Some people try everything with little to no success.

Which is why instead of questioning people’s mental illness we should all be supportive. Listen, offer sympathy, give a hug if appropriate.  Suggesting that a person who suffers from mental illness is weak, defective, or not doing enough to get better is not only cruel and ignorant but also wrong. Similarly, when a sufferer succumbs to their illness we should not be calling them weak, cowards, or selfish. Robin Williams’ recent tragic passing has brought forth a lot of people who have expressed those things about him. He was not weak, he was not a coward, he was not selfish. Mental illness should not be considered any differently than any other disease. It should be treated with the same respect and seriousness. Mental illness takes lives.

Suicide leaves behind a lot of hurt and sadness for the family and friends of the deceased but it is not fair to call the person selfish. How insensitive do you have to be to overlook the amount of pain and sadness that drove this person to decide that suicide was the only way out? I know that in the past I have made the mistake of suggesting that suicide is a selfish act. I was wrong.

When you suffer from mental illness you often feel alone. I know I have. Let’s change that. Let’s talk about it. There is no shame in mental illness. There is no shame in being bullied, abused, or simply just confused. Talk to someone if you can, there is help out there. There is help here.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can help. Who should call? Their site says: “If you feel you are in a crisis, whether or not you are thinking about killing yourself, please call the Lifeline. People have called us for help with substance abuse, economic worries, relationship and family problems, sexual orientation, illness, getting over abuse, depression, mental and physical illness, and even loneliness.”

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

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