Alaura Filbin

@alaura-filbin | contributor
I’m a writer who spends far too much time watching TV, drinking coffee, playing D&D, and trying to find sushi. If I’m not doing any of those things, I’m either actually writing or working with the kiddos in an autism program as a paraeducator.
Alaura Filbin

My Migraines Came Back During the COVID-19 Crisis

Before the COVID-19 crisis, I went 433 days without having a migraine. That’s over now. I had been having migraines on a regular basis since 2016 and they stopped after January 13, 2019. I have no idea why, but they stopped and I was grateful. No more waking up in the middle of the night with a sharp pain behind my eye, no more overheating, nausea, light-sensitivity, noise-sensitivity, and so on. My life became a little simpler without migraines and I was able to sleep through the night and get through the day without resorting to Excedrin. When self-isolation started, I already knew it was going to be difficult for me emotionally due to depression and various other concerns (immuno-compromised family members, worrying about how this will affect the students in my autism class, etc.). However, I did not expect that my migraines would start up again just two days later. Quarantine started on March 19 and I’ve had 37 migraine attacks since the 21st. They have changed a bit. Rather than waking me up around 3 a.m., I’ve been getting my migraines just before I normally wake up, as if my body is punishing me for trying to sleep the extra hour. I also can’t stay in bed half of the time because my migraines have been triggering the need to use the restroom, which makes the whole experience extra fun (sarcasm, if you couldn’t tell). What does it mean? I still don’t know why my migraines began in the first place, whether it was genetics, my eating habits, stress, or some other factor. I don’t know why they stopped, and now I don’t know why they’re back again. Maybe migraines are my body’s way of responding to stress, but if so, it does not help. What does help is Excedrin, ice packs and a dark room. As the pain throbs behind my eye, it becomes another reminder of being stuck inside and wondering just when this will all be over. Will my migraines disappear with quarantine? Are they back for another three years with no clear explanation? I don’t know. My migraines bring more questions than answers during a time where we already don’t know much. I don’t know when things will safely return to normal (hopefully, a more compassionate normal), but until then, I will be washing my hands, staying home when I can, using a face mask when I have to go out, and taking Excedrin as needed. For more on the coronavirus, check out the following stories from our community: 7 Things to Do If Social Distancing Is Triggering Your Depression When COVID-19 Blows Over, Please Remember People With Chronic Illnesses Remember to Thank Mental Health Workers, Too An Activist-Therapist’s 15 Affirmations for Hope Amidst COVID-19 Hey You: It’s OK to Grieve the ‘Small’ Things You’ve Lost During the COVID-19 Outbreak 10 COVID-19 Emotions You’re Not the Only One Having What It’s Like to Be a ‘Highly Sensitive Person’ in the Time of COVID-19

Alaura Filbin

How 'Dungeons & Dragons' Helps With My Depression

I am a nerd. I watch lots of sci-fi and fantasy, I write, I love to read and I play Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). I also have depression. Something I wanted to explore, though, is how D&D itself — as well as the D&D community — contributes to my recovery from depression. My depression comes in waves. I’ll be fine for a few weeks, then one small thing sets me off and I’m in a depressive episode for days. Usually, I can still (mostly) function. I get out of bed and I carry on with my life, all the while feeling a weight on my soul. Sometimes, I can’t function. I lie in bed and stare at my phone absently, let myself go hungry and wait for something to compel me to leave my bed; usually, it’s because I have lain in bed for five hours and need to pee. D&D, however, has managed to keep me grounded. For those unfamiliar, D&D is a roleplaying game where you are placed into a fantasy world and the success or failure of your every choice is determined by dice rolls. There are rules that you have to follow (at your Dungeon Master’s discretion) and, at least for the game to be fun for those involved, you have to immerse yourself in the world and let your character take over. Ironically, inhabiting these different characters and focusing on their problems for a few hours instead of my own has allowed me to gain perspective on my own. Comparatively, not knowing what I’m doing with my life is a much smaller problem than killing the wrong god and unleashing gibbering mouthers onto an unsuspecting island. More seriously, when I’m playing D&D, I’m surrounded by like-minded individuals who are looking for their own kind of escape. We become different people and are allowed to be silly, outrageous and dark. Every fight is based on teamwork and communication. The relationships we build with one another and with the NPCs are genuine. As one problem is solved, another one crops up — but we (usually) level up and are granted a sense of accomplishment. Out of character, too, we engage with one another. One of my groups is constantly talking, sharing memes, sharing art of our characters, character playlists, and enabling each other to buy more unneeded but very pretty dice. We are there for each other. Early in the year, I got into a serious episode of depression and this group pulled me out of it. They had me watch “Repo! The Genetic Opera” and the next day, we all hung out and watched “The Devil’s Carnival” together. I wasn’t hungry all day, but by the time I got home, I felt so much better and was finally able to eat. Feeling that sense of community out of our game was exactly what I had needed, and they definitely delivered. As for my characters, each of them is going through their own issues that I have to work through, which in a way gives me practice to work through my own real-world issues, which are smaller in comparison but no less deserving of my attention. One of my characters is an ex-slave assassin running away from her organization because of the power of friendship, but she’s traumatized every other session. She often goes into her own depression, and the other characters have helped pull her out, just like they did with me. Another character killed her own mother as part of her backstory, but in the first game, she was killed. Now she’s a ghost who has to reconcile her mistakes and is doing her best to be worthy of a non-player character (NPC) love interest. She’s not perfect, but she’s trying to be better in her own way. I also see how D&D has helped those around me. One of my best friends had disappeared on us for a few years, but now he’s back and seeking out friendship through our D&D group. One of my Dungeon Masters has leaned on the group for support as he went through a rough breakup. We’ve gone through job losses together, depression, dating troubles and so much more, but being able to immerse ourselves in a different world has helped us cope and lean on one another. Each storyline has taught me something, and my friends have shown me support and love, both in and out of the game. Without D&D as an outlet for my emotions, I don’t know where I’d be right now. Chances are, I’d be in the exact same spot but feeling a sore lack of community.

Alaura Filbin

Why My Short-Term Solution to Depression Means I Struggle With Money

When I say I’m broke because I’m depressed, it’s not what you think. I’m not spending my money on therapy or medication or other treatment. I’m broke because when something makes me happy, my self-control tends to disappear. I will spend more money than I should because I am fully in the moment of, “hey, I like this thing and who knows when I will be able to have or do this thing again.” The problem is, I can’t get my own place if I’m spending my money on Pokémon Go raid passes or sushi every other week. I can’t afford to do the things I really want to do because I’m so focused on the instant gratification. Depression makes happiness feel rare. It’s a commodity I sometimes have to buy, despite the fact I can’t afford it. Paying for those small happy moments adds up to long-term setbacks, but if I don’t let myself spend money on what makes me happy, what’s the alternative? Lying in bed, apathetic, unable to do anything remotely productive? It’s not a long-term solution. It’s not even a short-term solution, but when I indulge myself, I give myself a little moment of happiness.

Alaura Filbin

Depression Keeps Me From Doing the Things I Want (and Need) to Do

“Executive dysfunction” is like being trapped in your own body. You want to do things. You know you want to do things. You are actively thinking “I want to do this thing” or “I should do this thing,” but you sit there and can’t bring yourself to really do the things you want to do. Like take a shower. Or turn on a show on Netflix. Or go to the gym. Or even reach over and drink the bottle of water that sits on your nightstand. You know you want to do these things, you know you could easily do them, but no matter how much your brain tries to convince you to do these things, your body still won’t budge. In my personal experience, executive dysfunction is directly linked to depression. My ability to force myself to do things plummets when depression takes over. Yes, I want to get up. Yes, I want to take a shower. Yes, I want to watch the many shows that are sitting in my Netflix queue. However, the most I can do is move my fingers to type this post and try my hardest not to let my eyes shut for an involuntary nap. I can’t even be bothered to lift my arms, no matter how much I want that water bottle sitting only two feet away. Will this pass? Yes, eventually. Until it does, however, I sit on my bed, trapped in my own body that is too tired to do any of the things my brain is screaming at me to do.

Alaura Filbin

How My 'Star Wars' Tattoo Is a Symbol of Mental Health Recovery

I recently got a new tattoo: the “Star Wars” Rebel symbol with Princess Leia and a galaxy design inside. Among being a representation of rebellion and feminism, a commemoration of Carrie Fisher and a best friend tattoo, it also serves as a reminder to work towards good mental health. As many of us know, Carrie Fisher struggled with addiction and bipolar disorder. The work she did in raising awareness and acceptance was highly appreciated by her fans and by those living with mental illness in general. Not only did she handle it all with humor, but she showed us that recovery is not always perfect; it’s a process that takes time and can have its setbacks and relapses. I have depression. While I did have a long period where I was seemingly unaffected by my depression, more recently I have begun to feel its grasp once again. I’ve felt numb and empty, tired and simply resigned to existence. It’s not a fun feeling. However, seeing how Carrie faced her demons head-on, just as Princess Leia had faced the Empire, was a huge inspiration for me. It made me love her more to see she was a flawed human, just like the rest of us, and she was still working towards recovery amidst her celebrity and success. Getting this tattoo is a very permanent reminder on my skin to not just fight against the injustices in the world, but also to fight against my mental illness. Yes, it’s a reality in my life that I need to face, but just because depression rears its ugly head again doesn’t mean I have failed in my fight. My tattoo may look like just another geeky “Star Wars” tattoo, but the meaning behind it shall hopefully keep me vigilant in my fight against depression. Leia never backed down from her fight against the Empire, Carrie was constantly fighting against her own struggles, and I will do the same in my own attempts to honor her memory. Rest in peace, Space Mom. You drowned in moonlight, strangled by your own bra, and I hope that fighting against mental illness will honor you in the way you deserve. If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA ‘s hotline at 1-800-662-4357. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .

Alaura Filbin

My Depression Is Like a Phone Battery That Drains Faster Than It Shoul

More often than not, when describing the energy it takes to be social or productive while living with mental illness, you’ll see the metaphor of “spoons.” As a person with a mental illness, I must confess this metaphor makes no sense to me. You see, I think of my energy as an old phone battery — it takes an extra long time to charge, the battery drains faster than you’d like and simply opening up the Snapchat app for two minutes drains the battery by 15 percent. I charge my “phone” all night, check my social media in the morning and then I’m already down to 87 percent. I go to work, and by 10 a.m., I’m down to 65 percent. At lunch, I’m at 53 percent. When I’m done with work at 3 p.m., my battery is down to 40 percent. If I have to go grocery shopping, I’ll be down to 30 percent by the time I get home. Socialization takes at least 50 percent of my battery, but to get up to that level of energy, I need to charge for an hour, an hour and a half. Of course, an hour of socialization brings me back down to 30 percent or lower. On my days off, I may be able to maintain about 75 percent of my energy before going out, but by the time the day is over, I’m down to a solid 20 percent. It’ll take a while for me to recharge enough to socialize again. Texting only drains me about two or three percent at a time. Talking on the phone takes about 15 percent of my energy, depending on how long the call is and who it’s with. Talking to my family at home only takes about five percent of my energy, but it’s draining nevertheless. I wish I could upgrade my “phone” so it holds a longer charge — maybe that’s what antidepressants would do, but I haven’t been on medication yet. All I know is that rather than giving out spoons (again, I don’t fully grasp the metaphor), my battery life is extremely low and if I spend time with you, just know that my “phone” may get to zero percent, which means I’ll need a longer charge time, at home and in my bed, doing something mindless like watching TV, before hanging out again. This isn’t to say I don’t want to hang out with you, but would you want to leave the house when your phone is at 15 percent? If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741 . We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Getty Images photo via Prykhodov

Alaura Filbin

Why the Cancellation of 'Sense 8' Hurts the LGBTQ Community

As many of you may know, June was Pride Month for LGBTQ individuals. As many of you may also know, “Sense 8” was cancelled on June 1st, which was a devastating blow to myself and other members of the LGBTQ community. There are many people who are left without a beacon of hope. “Sense 8” is a diverse, complex and beautiful show centered on the connection between eight people all over the globe. Among the main characters included a gay Latino couple, a transgender woman in a relationship with a woman of color who was raised in a poly (or poly-resembling) home, and six other characters who the writers think of as pansexual. So why is canceling “Sense 8” on the first day of Pride Month such a big deal? First of all, it is important to understand that many LGBTQ individuals have mental illnesses. When constantly facing pressures of heteronormativity and confronting constant homophobia, sometimes people resort to self-harm or suicide. Rates of suicide attempts are four times higher in the LGBTQ community than in the straight community. That said, canceling such diverse representation, where the queer relationships were healthy, loving, unapologetic and realistic, gives viewers the impression that society does not accept them. Rather than continuing to normalize these relationships and identities, people feel as though their relationships and identities are shameful. Doing such a thing on the first day of Pride Month is just a slap in the face. Without such representation to encourage LGBTQ people to be their authentic selves, it reinforces ideas and behaviors that are already prevalent in people who face depression: self-doubt, social isolation, hopelessness, frustration and guilt. If a person doesn’t feel safe enough in society to come out, they may choose to repress their sexual identity, which is a common factor in LGBTQ depression. So what can we do? First, we need to remember that our identities are valid and if we have any worries about our mental health, we should seek whatever help necessary, if possible. After all, we can’t fight heteronormativity and homophobia if we’re not taking care of ourselves first! That is priority number one. Also, remember there are organizations available to us: GLAAD, The Trevor Project, NAMI, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline and more. Reach out for help if you need it and know you are not alone. Finally, take Nomi’s words with today, and in every other day of your life, because they hold a beautiful truth we can all do well to remember: “Today, I march to remember that I’m not just a me. I’m also a we. We march with pride.” Update from the author: Because of the rush of support from fans, the creators of “Sense 8” are going to be releasing a two hour special next year to tie up loose ends. This show has made such a big impact and we will get the closure we all deserve. If anything, this proves that the LGBTQ community is a close family, just like us at The Mighty. If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 o r text “HOME” to 741-741 . Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Lead photo via Sense 8 Facebook page

Alaura Filbin

When Depression Makes the 'Good Times' Temporary

Things are good for me right now. I have a summer job and then I’ll be starting a more reliable job in August. I just bought my first car. I’m submitting my writing to publications. I’m getting paid to edit a book. I’ve graduated from college. I’m in a good place mentally. However, I’m scared of when it all ends. As a person who has depression, I know this is a high point that will soon be replaced by an emotional low. My mental state is in a constant flux and depression isn’t a logical beast. It rears its ugly head whenever it wants and makes me feel worthless, unwanted and empty. So what am I supposed to do when I’m in a good place and I know it’s temporary? I’m still trying to figure that out, but I try to remember that just like how my happiness will be temporary, so will the depression. I focus on the good while it is still in front of me. I tell myself I am worthy of happiness and that I deserve good things. I remind myself there is nothing wrong with enjoying what I have, even if it’s something small like a slice of lemon merengue pie. When it all comes crashing down, I will feel empty, fatigued, like I’m on autopilot, but it will end and I can find these happy moments again. Everything is temporary and somehow, that’s actually comforting. When something is temporary, there is always the potential for change, good or bad. While some may find change scary — and it definitely can be — it can also be a good thing that gives you the opportunity to do something new. For example, I graduated from college and that is allowing me to pursue an unexpected career as an editor and working in special education. My situation changed and so can my mental health. Change is good. Temporary is good. I may not always be this happy but that also means I won’t always be depressed. I’m embracing the reality of temporariness. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo via LanaBrest.

Alaura Filbin

How a 'Fidget Cube' Has Helped With My Dermatillomania

Editor’s note: If you struggle with a body-focused repetitive behavior, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can find resources at The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors . For years, I have dealt with dermatillomania and anxiety. Sometimes I pick at my skin because I’m anxious, and sometimes I get anxious because I realize I am picking at my skin. It’s a vicious cycle that leaves my skin raw and often bleeding. Anything that could redirect my unconscious skin picking would automatically be a godsend. Enter the “fidget cube.” When I first heard about fidget cubes, I didn’t automatically think about the possibilities this little gadget would have for me. I heard about how it would be good for people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or anxiety, but I hadn’t considered what it could do for my dermatillomania. Recently, however, I found myself dealing with a lot of family issues that gave rise to more anxiety and, consequently, more skin picking. I tried redirecting my skin picking to a different fidgety habit, such as pen-clicking. That just caused people around me to get irritated, so I finally decided I should look into something else. I looked up fidget toys and, lo and behold, the fidget cube was at the top of every list. Considering I’m a broke college student though, I wasn’t sure if I could justify the cost but I ultimately decided any price for an alternative to dermatillomania was worth it. It cost me $12 on Amazon and already, it has helped me so much. With six functions, I have my pick of what to fidget with, though the tactile gears are my favorite. Whenever I get the urge to pick at the skin under my nails, I can redirect that urge to the gears and pick at those instead. The ridges get under my thumbnail and provide enough resistance to mimic the feeling of picking at my skin. The other functions are great too, though the switch is not as quiet as advertised, the rotating dial has more resistance than I would personally like, and the rotating ball on my cube doesn’t click. However, the silent clicky buttons are more subtle than clicking a pen, the joystick is very calming to mess around with, and the rotating ball is still very soothing to move around, like a marble on a desk. Since buying it, I have used it at home, on the bus, in class and even in restaurants. Almost nobody has noticed, and if they have, they typically become intrigued. Even my friends have asked to try out the cube, just for fun. The looks of joy on their faces when they messed with the various functions was reassuring. They understood just how helpful it can be. Since buying the cube, my skin is slightly less marred and I feel much calmer knowing I can fidget with something in public that won’t bring attention to myself or cause me to bleed. Just FYI, this isn’t sponsored. The only compensation I’m getting from this is the satisfaction of knowing this could possibly help others with picking. Dermatillomania is a valid disorder and we all deserve a chance at recovery. If this cube can help someone else the way it has helped me, that is good enough. If you or a loved one is affected by body-focused repetitive behaviors, you can find resources at The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors . We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Images via Fidget Cube Facebook.

Alaura Filbin

Why I Love My Shirt From The Mighty

As a frequent contributor for The Mighty, I requested a Mighty t-shirt and was ecstatic once it came in the mail. Since then, I have worn the shirt quite often, partially because it’s comfortable and made of soft fabric, but also because the shirt has gained its own meaning for me. The shirt is bright red, just like the logo for the website, which makes it easy to spot in the closet, in the laundry or in a crowd. As some people may know, the color red can be symbolic of strength, power, determination, passion and sometimes even courage. At least to me, the color red is quite appropriate for The Mighty’s contributors and readers. Are we not strong and powerful for telling the world we matter and that our experiences are valid? Are we not determined to show the world that our illnesses, disabilities and diagnoses are not something to be ashamed of? Are we not passionate about showing our solidarity with others who have similar experiences? Are we not courageous for telling the world “I have XYZ” even in the face of misunderstanding and stigma? Another reason I love wearing this shirt is because it makes me feel like I’m publicly embracing my illnesses — I have depression, anxiety, dermatillomania and migraines — but at the same time, it gives me comfort to know that the shirt is subtle enough where people won’t confront me about what illnesses I have. I am not ashamed to have my illnesses, but I enjoy having agency over what I reveal, when I reveal it, and to whom. Also, as someone who was unable to stay home on the Day Without a Woman, I was able to wear my bright red shirt in solidarity with women all across the globe while simultaneously showing my solidarity with people in the Mighty community. It’s particularly empowering to know I can take part in a global protest just by wearing this shirt, particularly in the current political climate, where many of us are terrified about the future of our well-being. Finally, I love seeing the looks on people’s faces when they recognize the shirt, whether they’re also contributors or readers. I have friends who contribute and I have come across strangers whose eyes have lit up when they read “The Mighty.” It’s a great feeling either way. I’m proud to be a part of The Mighty. I’m proud to face my illnesses. I’m proud to be able be a voice with others who deal with the same things as I do. I’m proud to wear my shirt. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .