Chloé

@chloe-39 | contributor
Chloé
Chloé @chloe-39
contributor

Tips for a Healthy Friendship When You Both Have a Mental Illness

Maintaining relationships isn’t easy in the first place, but cultivating healthy friendships becomes even more difficult when you and your friend both struggle with a mental illness. When that happens, you have extra challenges to face. For example, there’s the risk of burning each other out. There is also the issue of accidentally triggering the other person, or relying solely on each other to provide emotional support. I am grateful to have friends with whom I feel comfortable setting boundaries, but I know that’s not the case with everyone. It was definitely challenging at first, but since then, I’ve learned a lot about how to navigate friendships that, at times, involve both parties being sick. If there’s one thing I learned, it’s that setting boundaries will undoubtedly improve the relationship and is a necessary component of any friendship. In my own personal life, I value close friendships; they are my main source of support. However, I never want my friends to feel like it’s unsafe for them to assert their needs and wishes. In a healthy friendship, both partners should feel safe enough to set and communicate their limits without feeling fear, guilt or shame. It took a lot of practice, but I’d like to believe my friends now feel comfortable communicating their boundaries with me, while fully knowing they will be respected. In fact, I love it when my friends say no or decline my invitations to hang out. Nothing makes me happier than seeing my friends taking responsibility for their health and prioritizing their self-care. I will always praise people who set boundaries instead of sacrificing their well-being. Here’s a few tips and tricks I’ve learned so far: 1. Know your own boundaries. The first step is to identify your own limits. Of course, if you don’t know your triggers and personal limits, it will be hard to communicate them to those around you. For me, it took a lot of trial and errors, insight and therapy. Getting to know yourself is a process and finding your wise mind can be hard, especially if you’re a people pleaser like me. If you don’t have access to a therapist or other professional supports, I suggest self-help books, self-reflection through journaling or even talking about it with a trusted loved one. You can start by asking yourself these questions: What do I need right now? What is my body telling me? If I say yes, will this damage my self-respect down the road? Do I feel overwhelmed right now? What are my boundaries? 2. Keep an open line of communication. The thing with limits is that they aren’t static. Like most things in life, they are constantly changing. It’s important to keep in mind that people have different limits depending on who they’re with, what time of the year it is, and how they’re feeling in the moment. For that reason, it’s crucial to keep an open line of communication. This means that if you set a boundary one week, it doesn’t mean you can’t change it a week later. It also means it’s OK to say yes, then change your answer to a no later. Moreover, when communicating limits, you want to aim for details. Be specific. So often we hear people say, “Call me anytime!” but that rarely happens. Why? Because it’s vague, and chances are the other person will never reach out. If you want to communicate to someone that you want to be there for them, try something like, “Feel free to give me a call after dinner this weekend,” or “I’m not available to speak on the phone this week, but we could exchange texts to check in with each other in the morning and at night.” On the other hand, if someone reaches out to you and you’re unavailable to support them, you can say something like, “I can’t be a support person for you right now because I have a busy week ahead of me. However, I could call you Sunday evening?” Or, “I can’t talk right now, but feel free to send me a text, and I’ll get back to you by the end of the day.” Tip: When you’re the person reaching out, check with your friend to make sure they’re in a good headspace before confiding in them. For instance, I always try to ask my friends, “Do you have the capacity to support me right now?” I find the simple gesture of asking speaks volumes. It communicates to the other person that you respect their boundaries, and are willing to back off if needed. It also shows them you value the friendship and don’t take their support for granted. 3. Reach out to professional supports. When most of your friends struggle with a mental illness, it can be easy to become trapped and reliant on each other. It’s helpful to note you’re not responsible for your friends’ emotional baggage and it’s not your job to help them process their trauma. Your task is to hold space for your friend until a professional steps in. Of course, because you want to be there for them, this can be easier said than done. I do want to point out, though, that in my experience, I have the healthiest relationships when my friends and I both have our own network of support that does not include each other. 4. Setting a boundary does not mean not seeing or speaking to each other. Lastly, I want to highlight the concept that setting a boundary does not equal a loss of communication. In fact, most of the time when I set boundaries with my friends, it’s about observing limits in the context of our present interaction. For example, I will agree to hang out with my friend but will warn her ahead of time, “I don’t want to talk about the deep stuff. Can we just have fun today?” I also think creating happy memories and going on adventures with your friends strengthens the relationship. I don’t think my friendships would be sustainable if all we did was talk about mental health. Although my friends and I spend a portion of our time discussing our issues, it is not the sole component of our friendship. So, we try our best to balance the hard conversations with lighter ones, because doing “normal” friend-related things adds a new dimension to our relationship. As a result, we get to know each other as people, instead of viewing each other through the lens of our illness. Because my friends and I will often be depressed at the same time, it can be extra hard to maintain a healthy friendship. In that case, we try to see each other because we know socializing helps reduce our depression. What often ends up happening is that we will end up doing self-care related tasks together. My friend coined the term “domestic hangout” and that’s what we do when we can both barely get out of bed. We go to the grocery store or buy bedsheets. Funnily enough, one of my most cherished memories from the past year involves us going shopping for new eyeglasses. My friend tagged along, and we ended up having a blast trying on different pairs and styles. I find that alternating between low energy and high-intensity activities provides balance in our friendship. What’s interesting to me is noticing how my friend and I have the healthiest friendship, despite both of us struggling with setting appropriate boundaries. Considering we’re both people pleasers and tend to sacrifice our needs for others, I think it’s remarkable we somehow make it work. It’s almost as if we both understand the risks, and therefore make extra efforts to be mindful and careful of each other’s limits. Although there are dangers associated with this sort of relationship (for example, suicide pacts), I’m confident that if both parties seek outside help, it’s totally possible to have a healthy, fulfilling friendship. In the end, I think what I love most about my friends, in general, is that they are like sisters and brothers to me. Yes, we do go out for drinks sometimes, and we study together like most college students. But we are also there for each other for the “simple moments.” We eat dinner together, grab a coffee, hang out at parks, visit each other in the hospital, go to concerts and shop for sneakers together. I think the best kinds of friends are the ones who are there for you through all the important, uncomfortable stuff, but also for the small, everyday moments.

Chloé
Chloé @chloe-39
contributor

When Staying Busy Is How You Cope With Mental Illness

I don’t have the best or healthiest coping skills in my emotional toolkit. In the past few years, I engaged in a variety of self-destructive behaviors, including cutting and picking at my skin. Those are the obvious ones, because not only do they function as an avoidance strategy, but they also leave physical scars. Recently though, I realized that even though I’m in recovery, I still manage to avoid my emotions using a more subtle, more socially acceptable strategy. That’s right, I’m referring to the idea of always being on the go, or keeping yourself “crazy busy.” Brené Brown, one of my favorite authors, sums it up perfectly : “One of the most universal numbing strategies is what I call ‘crazy busy;’ I often say that when they start having 12-step meetings for ‘busy-aholics,’ they’ll need to rent out football stadiums. We are a culture of people who’ve bought into the idea that if we stay busy enough, the truth of our lives won’t catch up with us.” This resonates with me, because I am also guilty of “wearing busyness as a badge of honor.” In fact, I started using busyness as a coping strategy when I was 14 years old and going through my first mood episode. I convinced myself that as long as there was another test to write, another event to plan, or another task to be completed, I’d be OK. In reality, I began running away from my problems, shutting down my emotions, and used busyness to numb the pain I was experiencing at the time. For the next six years, I did not allow myself to stop. I kept moving forward and refused to look back, despite the fact that I needed a break. In order to put as much distance between me and the trauma, I focused on external achievements instead of internal fulfillment. I wanted to forget, deny and avoid. Even during my first hospital stay, I found myself working on my academic papers in the patients’ lounge while wearing a hospital gown, when I clearly should have been resting. The rationale for my behavior was this: I feared that if I allowed myself to pause, I would be overwhelmed by reality and consumed with sadness, anger and shame. Like Dr. Brown states, “’crazy-busy’ is a great armor.” It also doesn’t help that our society often perceives “exhaustion as a status symbol” and validates productivity by tying it to our self-worth. Nevertheless, I think it’s important to distinguish healthy distraction versus avoidance as coping mechanisms. Distraction, in the short-term, can be adaptive and helpful. But when we constantly distract ourselves in order to run away from our story, or because we fear vulnerability, it can become an avoidance strategy. For instance, this past year I returned to school after a year of psychiatric hospitalizations. Even though going back to school part time in and of itself was a huge accomplishment, in my eyes, it wasn’t enough. On top of attending class, I just had to work 10 hours a week, volunteer with kids, be a peer facilitator, go to therapy, see my friends and keep in touch with my family. On top of that, I was expected to exercise, sleep eight hours a night despite chronic nightmares, and eat healthy. Despite my best attempts, I couldn’t maintain such a balanced routine. Looking back, I don’t know how I managed to get through the year without burning out. After my classes ended, I made a vow to spend the summer relaxing and “chilling the fuck out.” After all, I had not had a summer off since the eighth grade. Every summer onward had brought more stressful life changes or transition stages. I explained to my friends that I deserved a summer “off” to focus on my healing. So my plan was to work part time to stay financially afloat, go to my volunteering and support group, as well as continue dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Of course, in the eyes of others, this already sounded like a busy summer. But to my standards, this was the definition of a “chill” summer. I didn’t keep my word for long. A few weeks into the beginning of my summer vacation and I already found myself working two jobs, volunteering with kids, peer facilitating and writing a column for my school’s newspaper. On top of that, I still had to attend DBT twice a week, and insisted on making it to spin class. All of that while maintaining good relationships and figuring out what to do with my degree. Everything happened so fast, although looking back, it’s easy to understand what happened. It’s like Newton’s third law of motion: things in motion, stay in motion. When you’ve been using the “crazy-busy” strategy compulsively at the expense of other pursuits, it becomes a habit. After a while, when you’ve done it for so long, you often find it impossible to stop. And when you do stop, things get quiet and silence envelops you, and you eventually realize how fucking loud you’ve been screaming from the inside this whole time. Or, if you’re like me, you’re fucking angry and so done with being a chronic overachiever. The silver lining is that I am now ready to make some changes in my life. In the past, I would become aware of my issues, then promptly resume by ignoring all the warning signs my body sent me. But I’m tired of this cycle. I’m tired of making too many commitments, getting stressed out and risking burning myself out. This summer, I want to do things differently. I’m currently having an existential crisis, which I blame entirely on DBT, but I think it’s a good thing that my beliefs are being challenged. Therapy can be painful, because all the shit you’ve been running away from suddenly comes back up. Nevertheless, I plan on spending the next few months focusing on myself, my health and my happiness. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .

Chloé
Chloé @chloe-39
contributor

The Job Roles That Helped Improve My Mental Health

When I was 14 years old, I decided to apply for a part-time job. I wanted to purchase a cell phone and my parents wanted me to save up money for university. I was hired as a cashier at a local grocery store and ended up working there throughout the entirety of my high school years. My first week of training, I was shy and didn’t say much. I scanned items, learned how to pack groceries and tried not to look like a complete idiot. Eventually, I memorized a dozen codes, learned how to punch in bananas and iceberg lettuce, and how to tell the difference between the different types of apples. Working part-time as a cashier became a constant in my life. I worked a few days after school, and usually in the afternoons on Saturday and Sunday. It was fun because I was surrounded by a bunch of my friends, who also worked as cashiers. When customers left and things got quiet, we flipped through magazines and gossiped. The grocery store soon became my second home. It allowed me to form connections and gave me something to do after school and on the weekends. Basically, it got me out of bed. Even though it was a highly distressing experience at times, I have fond memories of my time working as a cashier. The position taught me how to interact with strangers. It allowed me to save up money for school, and the routine provided part of the much-needed stability in my life. I was glad to see my “regular” customers every week, and in return, they boosted my confidence and showered me with compliments. In our society, working a minimum wage position can be looked down upon, though I’d like to argue that they are quite respectable and a great opportunity to learn new skills. They are a stepping stone, and they allow young people with no previous experience to gain confidence. For me, working at the grocery store meant facing a lot of my anxiety. It taught me how to put my feelings aside when appropriate, and how to handle strangers raising their voices at me. I learned how to be assertive when asking my boss for time off, and overall, the experience made me a more empathetic person, especially towards people working in customer service. The bonus? As an adult, I know how to pack groceries so the eggs don’t get crushed! Then, the summer after my first year at university, I was hired as a server and worked at a private golf and country club in Vancouver. Again, the position had advantages and disadvantages. The environment was highly stressful at times, and some customers displayed an aggressive attitude. The shifts were long, sometimes ending around midnight, and rush hours were certainly anxiety-provoking for me. Nevertheless, I pushed through, and more often than not ended up having a great time. During my time there, I learned how to pour wine properly, gained a new appreciation for the food industry and made new friends. That particular summer, I happened to be increasingly suicidal; work provided a sort of weird escape, and allowed me to get “out of my head.” Dinner was also provided to staff members, which meant I ate at least one full meal a day. Even though I would not want to work there again, looking back, I’m grateful for the overall experience. The reason I left my job at the golf course was due to my first hospitalization. After that, I had no other choice but to quit my job and remained unemployed for the next eight months, from September to April. When summer peeked around the corner, I was freshly out of hospital for the second time, and desperately needed a job for financial reasons. I applied to work at Indigo, and that decision really kick-started my recovery. Working in a bookstore was oddly therapeutic. I loved recommending books and felt honored when customers followed my suggestions, especially when parents asked me for recommendations for their kids who were beginner readers. I liked to imagine their children’s reactions and hoped the book I recommended encouraged them and played a small role in their falling in love with reading. I also found that telling people about my favorite books was a vulnerable process because what someone reads can tell you a lot about what kind of person they are. Working at Indigo also gave me confidence. Not only was it good for me to socialize, but it was also good for my self-esteem. After spending so much time in the hospital, keeping a job was the one thing I wanted to be able to do. It was important I prove to myself I was strong enough and capable of handling such a responsibility. Not many of my co-workers knew about my illness, but I’d like to thank them anyway because they created a welcoming space and provided me with a fun work environment. They indirectly played a huge role in my recovery. My psychiatrist once said that too much freedom and flexibility can be stressful in some way. Having a routine is good for emotional stability, and I definitely believe work provides structure and balance in my life. This year, I was lucky enough to work as a peer writing consultant at my university’s center for writing and scholarly communication. I’m also currently working as a tutor at a private learning center for the summer. Even though these jobs are considered more “grown-up,” pay more and require difficult tasks, I’ll always be grateful for my experiences working as customer service representatives because they shaped a huge part of who I am today. 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 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Getty Images photo via Craft24

Chloé
Chloé @chloe-39
contributor

How Wise Mind and Dialectical Behavior Therapy Helps Me

In dialectal behavior therapy (DBT), used in the treatment of borderline personality disorder, it is assumed that every individual has three different states of mind. “Emotion mind” is hot, mood-dependent and emotion focused. Basically, when you’re in emotion mind, your feelings and urges overpower your logic or reason. You tend to act on impulse and your mood dictates your actions. On the other hand, when you’re in “reasonable mind,” you are cool, rational and task-focused. When I’m in “reasonable mind”, for example, I focus on doing rather than thinking or being. It kind of feels like being a robot. Finally, the third state of mind is called “wise mind,” and is the integration of both emotion and reasonable mind, the synthesis of the two. “Wise mind” is “seeing the value of both reason and emotion,” and “bringing left brain and right brain together.” “Wise mind” is “walking the middle path” and the wisdom present within each person. Wise mind is courageous. Wise mind is intuitive. Wise mind is confident. It is almost always quiet. It has a certain peace. “Wise mind is that part of each person that can know and experience truth.” Marsha Linehan When I experience wise mind, I feel grounded, at peace and comfortable in my own skin. For me, wise mind is all about coming from a genuine place. It’s about doing what I need, and not necessarily what I want. I believe every single one of us can access our inner wisdom. Marsha Linehan, the founder of DBT, says: “Learning to find wise mind can be like searching for a new channel on the radio. First you hear a lot of static, and you can’t make out the lyrics of the music; but over time, if you keep tuning in, the signal gets louder. You will learn to know right where the station is, and the lyrics become a part of you, so that you can access them automatically — just like you can finish the lyrics immediately if someone starts singing a song you know really, really well.” You have to be careful though. Sometimes, your emotion mind can trick you into believing you’re in wise mind. For example, when I get the urge to self-harm, my brain tricks me into believing it’s a wise decision, although rationally I know it’s not. One way to know whether you’re in wise mind or not is to adopt an objective point of view. Personally, I ask myself, “What would I tell a dear friend or family member? How would I advise them?” This works for me because no matter how many times I tell myself self-harm is OK, I know I would never encourage my friends to engage in that sort of behavior. “Wise mind is like a deep well in the ground. The water at the bottom of the well, the entire underground ocean is wise mind. But on the way down there are often trap doors that impede progress. Sometimes the trap doors are so cleverly built that you believe there is no water at the bottom of the well. The trap door may look like the bottom of the well. Perhaps it is locked and you need a key. Perhaps it is nailed shut and you need a hammer, or it is glued shut and you need a chisel. But, with persistence and diligence, the ocean of wisdom at the bottom can be reached.” Marsha Linehan So now, you might be asking yourself, “ This sounds great, but how the hell do I access my wise mind? “ It’s important to note that there are many ways to access wise mind, and what works for one person might not work for another. My two favorite ways to access wise mind include: 1. Mindfulness I like to use mindfulness skills to access my wise mind. Usually, when I’m sitting on the bus, I will take a moment to breathe in “wise” and exhale out “mind.” I find this to be a grounding exercise, and I can practice it anytime, anywhere. 2. Visiting My Therapist’s Office Inside My Head This is something I learned from a friend doing DBT as well. Whenever I want to access wise mind, I will imagine “going into my therapist’s office” and asking her what she thinks about a certain situation. I will then “listen” for an answer, and act from there. This works for me, especially because I consider my own therapist’s office to be a safe and sacred space. Lastly, I want to finish this piece by sharing a sweet, meaningful story. It was a spur of the moment thing, totally impulsive, but the other day I walked into Pandora, a jewelry store, and told the lady at the counter: “I’m looking for a thin silver chain necklace, with a letter W pendant.” Five minutes later, I walked out of the store having bought myself a necklace I plan to wear every day. The W pendant stands for wise mind, and the necklace is now my daily reminder to live my life from a place of wisdom, genuine kindness and love. Sometimes during the day, I will notice the sterling silver touching my skin, hold the W pendant close to my heart, and access my inner wisdom. How do you access your wise mind? We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Unsplash image via Yuni Stahl

Chloé
Chloé @chloe-39
contributor

Why a Sound Soother Is Part of My Mental Health Self-Soothing Care Kit

As a kid, I had a twirling ballerina figurine music box. Before going to bed, I would crank the handle three times in the hopes that the melody would help me drift off to sleep. Once, my therapist and I talked about having a proper, regular bedtime routine and covered the importance of having healthy coping mechanisms, such as self-soothing skills. “Think of your five senses,” she said, then made an analogy of a baby crying. “How would you go about soothing a screaming child?” she asked, and at the time, I had no idea what to answer. Yesterday though, I walked into the nearest retail store by my house, found myself in the middle of the baby aisle, and bought a sleep sound machine on a total whim. I have to admit that I judged myself harshly for standing in that aisle, surrounded by diapers and pacifiers. I thought to myself: “You shouldn’t be buying this. This product is for babies.” “You’re 20 years old and need a sleep machine? Please, give me a break.” “Your friends and family are so going to make fun of your purchase. Don’t buy it.” At that point, I told the voice inside my head to shut up, grabbed a sound machine on clearance from the top shelf and made my way to the cash registers. Written in bold and capital letters on the package, it read: “Tommy the Turtle Storytelling Soother.” When I got home later and tried the product for the first time, all my earlier feelings of shame instantly disappeared. As I discovered the different functions and pressed random buttons, I knew that I wouldn’t regret my purchase. Sure, the device was meant to help babies fall asleep and I was a grown up — so what? It was the perfect size, slick and modern looking and shaped like a turtle (honestly, this was by far my favorite feature). On top of that, the most adorable part was discovering that the turtle’s belly had the option of casting a gentle orange glow, therefore acting as a soft, built-in night light. I was delighted to learn that my new gadget could produce a vast array of soothing sounds, including white noise, trickling rain drops and ocean waves. I had a hard time containing my excitement when I listened to the preloaded lullabies, which included everything from “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” to “Minuet in G” by Bach and “Moonlight Sonata” by Beethoven. Then, I figured out that the device also contained preloaded stories and classic fairytales, such as “Little Red Riding Hood.” My parents had read to me every night as a kid, so I was thrilled to discover that I now had the opportunity to engage with the stories I had once loved a child. The sound machine also came with an app that allowed its users to sync extra songs and record their own stories. I assumed this option was meant for parents, so their baby could be lulled to sleep hearing the sound of their voice. In any case, I’ve been using my Tommy the Turtle for a few days now and I already love it. I find it has so many benefits. Not only does it help me fall asleep, but it is also a great tool in my self-soothing kit. Having calm music or sound in the background while studying is also beneficial to me. When I lie in bed at night and start to have intrusive thoughts about self-harm, having calm music to focus on is quite helpful and a great distraction. Most importantly, using this baby sound soother makes me feel safe, secure and in a way, brings me back to my childhood. It reminds me of my younger self, the little girl who would twist the silver winding key three times and watch the ballerina figure spin around, until her eyes closed and she drifted off to dreamland. I also want to say that you don’t need to go out and buy a sleep sound machine to benefit from calming sounds. There are a ton of videos on Youtube, tracks on iTunes, etc. that provide free or cheap melodies, calming sounds or white noise. Best of luck with your search! If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741 . For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here . We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo via Tan Jnr

Chloé
Chloé @chloe-39
contributor

How Narrative Psychotherapy Can Help With Mental Health

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), psychodynamic therapy… Over the past few years, I’ve been exposed to many different types of therapies. I’ve experienced snippets of several therapeutic methods and acquired a certain fondness for concepts inspired by sensorimotor and trauma intervention therapies, respectively. As an avid reader and aspiring writer, however, I was excited to discover the field of “narrative psychotherapy,” originally created by Australian social worker Michael White and New Zealand therapist David Epston. I was pleased to learn about how narrative therapy focuses on helping individuals feel empowered by assisting them in creating narratives in which they are able to reclaim their agency. After surveying the existing literature, I came across a book entitled “Retelling the Stories of Our Lives: Everyday Narrative Therapy to Draw Inspiration and Transform Experience,” written by David Denborough. The introductory chapter, A Life of Stories, begins with the following quote: “Who we are and what we do are influenced by the stories that we tell about ourselves. While we can’t always change the stories that others have about us, we can influence the stories we tell about ourselves and those we care about. And we can, with care, rework or rewrite storylines of identity.” Needless to say, the first few lines caught my interest, and the rest of the book ended up being a fascinating as well as satisfying read. Perhaps what I loved most about the book was this idea that in our lives, each one of us has “storytelling rights.” Each individual has the right to define their experiences, and to create a personal narrative they have chosen and written. How we view ourselves — and how others view us — can affect our core identity. Therefore, we have the right to generate “preferred stories” that ring true to us and the experiences we have been through. Like Denborough suggests, “In all of our lives, there will be events that make us cringe, those that bring heartache, those that bring sorrow, those that bring shame. If those moments are all linked together into a storyline, we can feel truly hopeless about life. But in all of our lives, there will also be events or small moments of beauty, or kindness, or respite, or escape, or defiance. When these events are linked together to tell a story about us, then life becomes easier to live.” The second concept that stuck with me was this notion that people are not the problem. You are not the problem. Instead, the problem is the problem. “When it comes to retelling and rewriting the stories of our lives, it makes a real difference how we talk about the problems in our lives. If we come to believe that we are the problem and that there is something wrong with us, then it becomes very difficult to take action. All we can do is take action against ourselves.” The idea of “externalizing problems” was quite appealing to me. For example, going from the mindset of “I am depressed” versus “I have depression ” was a huge game changer for me. Instead of feeling like my mental illness consumed the entirety of my identity, I was able to stop blaming myself for being ill and felt empowered to solve my issues. Moving on, I particularly enjoyed the section: “changing our relationship to the problem,” where the author lists action verbs to help you decide how you want to change the problem. For example, you might decide to “go on strike” against or “disempower” the problem. You might choose to “reclaim the territory of your life” against the problem, “decline invitations to cooperate” with the problem, or “steal your life back” from the problem. For me personally, I chose to educate and reduce the influence of my mental illness by writing a heartfelt letter to depression and anxiety, letting them know gently but firmly that they are no longer welcome in my life. Lastly, the author introduces the concept of “re-grading rituals.” The idea is that sometimes in life, we go through rituals that make us feel small, abused or disempowered, rituals that are otherwise considered “degrading.” In return though, we can engage in significant alternative “re-grading” rituals. For example, I enjoyed the story of a woman who chose to burn her rehab files to celebrate her recovery and her being free of addiction. She even planted trees — in honor of all the paper wasted during her case. In short, we can use rituals to mark the ending of bad times, and we can also engage in rituals to mark the beginning of hopefully better times. If there’s one thing I’ll always remember about narrative therapy, it’s that your story, and your voice, matters. The story I choose to tell today is very different from the one I would have chosen to tell a few months ago. Instead of feeling trapped by my illness and feeling hopeless about the future, I am now able to embrace and appreciate some of the “by-products” of my illness. Because of my mood episodes, I have learned to appreciate the little things, I have cut toxic people out of my life and I have formed meaningful friendships. I am more grateful for my health, more loving towards those who care about me, and more open to facing my fears. I live my life at times afraid, at times fearless, but always one day at a time, one baby step after another. Let’s end this piece with a quote: “Many of us have lived lives outside the ordinary. While some of our different experiences have been very difficult, we have also come to embrace some aspects of this difference. We have questioned a lot about life and have come to some interesting conclusions. We have come to value certain things that once we may not have valued. We have different aspirations these days, different ideas about what is a successful life.” What is your definition of living a successful life, a life worth living? We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Getty Images photo via KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Chloé
Chloé @chloe-39
contributor

Why I Miss the Psych Ward as Someone With Depression

I don’t know how to say it. I’m scared to admit the truth aloud. I’m afraid people won’t get it, and really, how can I expect anybody to understand? I miss the hospital. There, I said it. I miss it so much. I miss being a patient on the psych ward, and I feel nostalgic for all of my previous hospital stays. Perhaps the reason I cling to these hospitalizations is because they were such an important part of my journey. I miss the good, the bad and everything in between. In hospital, people attended to my needs and took care of me 24/7, seven days a week. I felt nurtured, cared for and protected from the rest of the world. Now that I’m back in the real world, I find it much harder to access the desired resources and support systems I desperately need. It’s hard for me to admit this, and as much I hated the fact I was on a locked ward, I was kind of grateful for it too. Even though I pretended to hate it, deep down I was relieved, since I was basically forced to relax and take care of my needs. In the hospital, I couldn’t leave, even if I wanted to. On the unit, I knew that I couldn’t get away with anything like self-harm, and as much as it was frustrating, it also made me feel safe. I felt like I wasn’t in control of my own life anymore, but it wasn’t so bad that others chose for me, since in stark contrast, it felt like my brain was trying to kill me, anyway. You may be burning to ask me, “But how the hell on earth can you miss such a place?” It’s hard to explain. The answer has multiple layers, but it starts with this: for me, the hospital was a place of both trauma and healing. Being certified, losing my freedom, rights and agency under the B.C. Mental Health Act? Not fun. Quite traumatizing, in fact. And yet, in a way, I’m glad I was not able to leave the hospital. I hated being admitted, but I was secretly thankful for it. I knew deep down that the hospital was where I needed to be. So when people ask me about my experience as a psych patient, I tell them that for every bad thing that happened in the hospital, I can also think of a good one. I hated the hospital, but I loved it all the same. What may be surprising to some people and what is confusing to me as well, is that what I miss most is being angry. I miss complaining about how much I hated the hospital, the blue and grey walls, the locked unit and unlocked bathroom doors. I miss complaining about the food, the lack of privacy and other people invading my personal place. I miss rolling my eyes at the nurses and shaking my head at the other patients. I miss being exasperated with the doctors and the ER procedures. I miss making a fuss about having to wear yellow cotton pajamas, pieces of clothing that were not mine and yet today, I find myself missing the soft fabric on my skin. In the hospital, I protested and whined and wailed about not having access to my phone and laptop. In the past few days, I found myself missing being in an environment with so little stimuli and distractions. In the hospital, I missed my bed at home, my duvet and fluffy pillows. I complained about the tight-fitted bed sheets and thin blankets, but months later, I found myself longing for them. It’s hard to describe the conflicted set of emotions I felt following my discharge from the hospital, and that lingered for months after. The paradox is that even though I desperately miss it, I’m glad I’m not there. For me, it’s simple: when I don’t want to be in the hospital, that’s when I need to be admitted. And when I want to be there, that’s how I know I don’t belong there anymore. I feel bad for feeling nostalgic and missing the hospital. After all, shouldn’t I be glad to be out there? I find it difficult to validate my feelings and allow myself to feel these confusing emotions. Every morning when I wake up, I tell myself that it’s OK to miss the hospital. I try to withhold judgment, ignore the voice inside my head that says, “You shouldn’t feel this way. You should be thankful you’re not there.” I tell myself that it’s OK to miss it, and at the same time make the wish to never return. I miss the hospital, yes. But that doesn’t mean I’m ungrateful to be out and about in my community, functioning like everyone else. The most embarrassing and comforting part is that I know the hospital will always be there for me if I need it. I know it’s possible to return if I ever find myself in crisis again, and that thought alone makes me feel better. One friend once told me that the hospital will teach you how to stay alive, but it won’t teach you how to live. She was right. It can protect you from imminent danger or harm, but it won’t help you accomplish your life goals or follow your dreams. The hospital was both a safe haven and a place of trauma. In the hospital, I felt trapped, alone, afraid and stripped away from my agency. But I also felt safe and cared for by strangers. I know the hospital was an important step in my journey. It was an experience to have, and a place to visit on my path towards healing. It was a shelter from the emotional storm I was going through. It made me feel protected and exposed, both at the same time. Like any other experience, it can be cherished, but it can also lead to feelings of loss. Now all I have to do is allow myself to grieve it, so I can move on. 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 ArisSu

Chloé
Chloé @chloe-39
contributor

The Biggest Obstacle In My Recovery From Self-Harm

Although I have always felt safe writing down my thoughts and journaling about my self-harm urges, for a long time, I couldn’t imagine speaking up and telling another person about my cuts. The thought of sharing these kinds of private details with someone else made me uncomfortable and even increased my self-harm urges. The catch-22 was this: I knew that in order to stop or reduce my self-harming behavior, I would need to be open about it in the first place. I told myself that this was an important issue to bring up in therapy, because how else were things going to change? I wanted to solve this problem on my own, but one day I had to admit defeat. The truth was, the only way I’d ever stop cutting was if I reached out to someone else for help. For months, I was too afraid to take that first step. Then one day, something clicked. I was ready. I made the conscious decision of not wanting to engage in self-harm anymore. I decided to recover and I wanted my visible scars to fade. Mostly, I remember thinking that I’d had enough and that I couldn’t go around the rest of my life self-harming every day, wearing short sleeved shirts and making up lame excuses. The thought of carrying packets of razor blades in my backpack suddenly seemed ridiculous and for a brief moment, this whole predicament appeared absurd to me. Still, I hesitated. I was ambivalent about my choice, and although I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life using unhealthy coping mechanisms, the idea of telling my therapist about my behavior didn’t appeal to me, either. For me, the biggest obstacle to my recovery was learning how to be comfortable talking about self-harm with another human being. For weeks, I sat in my therapist’s office, opened my mouth, but no sound came out. Every time I tried, my body tensed up and my mind shut down. After some time, I discovered that my self-talk was getting in the way. I thought: “If I talk about it, won’t people think I’m seeking attention?” “I can’t talk about it with my loved ones because surely they’ll get concerned. I don’t want them to worry.” “Nobody wants to hear about this stuff. It’s not anyone’s responsibility to hear me out, either. I don’t want to be a burden.” “If I tell people, they’ll want me to stop and I don’t know if I want to do that yet.” “I want to confide in my best friend, but it would be unfair for her to hear about this. She already has enough on her plate and I don’t want to trigger her with stories of my own dysregulated behavior.” “I wish I could talk about it in my mental health support group, but I’m scared that people will get triggered or see me differently.” “If I talk about self-harm, does that mean I’m giving the topic too much attention, enabling it and encouraging myself to continue?” “I don’t want to tell my therapist because I’m scared she’ll think I’m not trying hard enough, and I don’t think I could stand anybody’s look of disapproval right now.” So how did I manage to overcome or block these thoughts that were getting in the way? One by one, I examined each thought and learned how to talk back to the negative voice inside my head. It took a lot of time, effort and journaling, but I eventually came to the conclusion that it was OK to open up about self-harm and there was nothing to be ashamed of. I told myself that even if other people thought I was seeking attention, what mattered most was knowing I had valid intentions and motivations and no one could take that truth away from me. I told myself that my loved ones would most likely be proud of me. Surely, they would want me to take responsibility for my actions and hold myself accountable. And I was certain they’d worry more if they learned I was struggling in silence. I told myself that yes, it wasn’t everyone and anyone’s responsibility to hear about my self-harming tendency. But I also remembered that my therapist was someone who had been trained to hold that kind of space, so I felt relatively safe broaching the topic with her. I also remembered that in the past, no one had ever forced me to stop self-harming. Friends, family members and mental health professionals had always let me go at my own pace. Surely, they would once again do the same. I felt bad confiding in my best friend who also had a history of physical injury. But what helped me was knowing that we’d always been good at setting boundaries. We’d always had an open line of communication. And she had told me, over and over, that, “If there’s ever a time I’m not available and can’t be there to support you, I will tell you.” Next, I told myself there was no way around it. If I wanted to stop my self-harm behavior, I’d have no choice but to talk about it. I told myself that there was a fine balance between ignoring the issue and over addressing it. When it came to my fear of sharing during my peer support group, I looked back and realized that every single time another attendee had spoken up about self-harm, it had never changed my view of them. I hoped that others would feel the same way about me. Lastly, I came to realize that I wouldn’t know my therapist’s reaction until I took the leap and started sharing. I weighed the pros and cons and decided to be brave. I opened up to her, even though I didn’t want to. Her reaction didn’t let me down. There is so much stigma associated with the act of deliberate self-harm, and such a lack of understanding in our community. I hope that one day, we’ll be able to talk openly about self-harm, without feelings of shame or guilt. For me, opening up and allowing myself to be vulnerable was the first step toward healing. First and foremost, I needed to talk about it. You can too. If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741 . For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here . We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo via SergeyNivens

Chloé
Chloé @chloe-39
contributor

I'm a Mental Health Advocate, But I Still Struggle Too

This morning, I woke up and was pleasantly surprised to discover a message from the girl who happened to be my roommate during my previous hospital stay. She reached out to me and wrote, “You’ve inspired me to start reaching out and to become a mental health advocate too.” She told me I was an inspiration. She told me that my honesty empowered her to be open about her mental heath struggles too. But even though her words dripped with admiration, I couldn’t process the compliments. All I felt was a knot in my stomach,and all I could hear was the voice inside my head, whispering that I was a fraud and fake and had no business writing about mental health. You see, ever since I started being open about my mental health on platforms such as social media, I’ve received more than a fair amount of praise and compliments. Once, someone told me she was grateful for my posts because they helped her put things in her life into perspective. Another person said that my words were encouraging and that I was brave for sharing my story so publicly. Today, I’m writing this to remind people of my reality, so that next time they glance at my life, they’ll also be aware of what goes on behind closed doors. Here’s the truth: I’m open about my mental health struggles on social media. Most people who know me also know some of my medical history. My family, friends, coworkers and even some strangers are aware that I’ve been in the hospital before because of my mental illness. I write about my struggles on The Mighty and I’ve published articles for Thought Catalog before. I write a wellness column for my university’s student-run newspaper. I’m also a peer facilitator, which means I attend several mental health support groups on a weekly basis and support other people who might be going through similar struggles. I don’t consider myself to be “inspirational.” I don’t feel comfortable being a person others might look up to. I don’t think of myself as someone who has much to say. Receiving any kind of attention is stressful for me and I avoid the spotlight at all costs. Behind closed doors, I am not fine. So when someone sends me a nice message and reaches out to me, telling me I am wise and inspirational, here’s what I really want to reply: “You are talking to the girl who still cuts herself daily. You are talking to the girl who can’t sleep at night, who wakes up screaming from vivid, awful nightmares. You are talking to the girl who can’t feed herself three meals a day, who relies on frozen pizza and french fries to fuel her body. You are talking to the girl who engages in self-destructive behaviors, over and over again. You are talking to the girl who, after all these years, still has a hard time getting out of bed.” I’m just like you. We’re in the same boat. We aren’t that different. I want people to understand that I’m a mental health advocate, but I also still struggle a lot. I’m a good wellness writer precisely because I am an expert at being unwell. I am a good self-help writer because I know what it’s like to feel helpless and powerless. I am “inspirational” because I know what it’s like to be suicidal and how much effort it sometimes takes to stay alive. I still use unhealthy coping mechanisms. I still mess up, a lot. Yes, I write articles on self-care and how to cope with anxiety. But sometimes I feel like a fraud. I feel like I’m entitled and have no right to write about wellness. Why should I? I tell myself, “How dare you write about self-care when you can’t even take care of yourself!” It’s hard for me to believe this, but I’ve come to the conclusion that people can be both an inspiration and still struggle with their own demons. I know that for me personally, the people who I admire the most are the ones who have been there. The most inspirational people to me are the ones who have fallen down a cliff, and more than once. These people are more real to me. They don’t write inspirational stuff from the top of the mountain where they sit and watch the sunset, soaking in the pink tones and soft orange. No, these people are stuck at the bottom of a dark hole with the rest of us. And against all odds, they make it back up. With gritty teeth, fierce determination and a brave spirit, they manage to climb back up, one baby step at a time. Overall, I’d say that I’m a mental health advocate, and proud to be one. But I also consider myself to be someone who doesn’t have her shit together most of the time. I don’t want people to think that I’ve got it all figured out. That I somehow managed to overcome my illness and that now my life is filled with rainbows, bunnies and butterflies. The truth is that every day is still a struggle for me. I am 20. I am trying the best I can and I am striving to be better. I make mistakes, a lot of them. I am willing to share my mountain gear and help others carry their backpacks when they get too heavy. I am only human, just like the rest of my fellow climbers. If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741 . For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here . We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock image via Strekalova

Chloé
Chloé @chloe-39
contributor

Why a Sound Soother Is Part of My Mental Health Self-Soothing Care Kit

As a kid, I had a twirling ballerina figurine music box. Before going to bed, I would crank the handle three times in the hopes that the melody would help me drift off to sleep. Once, my therapist and I talked about having a proper, regular bedtime routine and covered the importance of having healthy coping mechanisms, such as self-soothing skills. “Think of your five senses,” she said, then made an analogy of a baby crying. “How would you go about soothing a screaming child?” she asked, and at the time, I had no idea what to answer. Yesterday though, I walked into the nearest retail store by my house, found myself in the middle of the baby aisle, and bought a sleep sound machine on a total whim. I have to admit that I judged myself harshly for standing in that aisle, surrounded by diapers and pacifiers. I thought to myself: “You shouldn’t be buying this. This product is for babies.” “You’re 20 years old and need a sleep machine? Please, give me a break.” “Your friends and family are so going to make fun of your purchase. Don’t buy it.” At that point, I told the voice inside my head to shut up, grabbed a sound machine on clearance from the top shelf and made my way to the cash registers. Written in bold and capital letters on the package, it read: “Tommy the Turtle Storytelling Soother.” When I got home later and tried the product for the first time, all my earlier feelings of shame instantly disappeared. As I discovered the different functions and pressed random buttons, I knew that I wouldn’t regret my purchase. Sure, the device was meant to help babies fall asleep and I was a grown up — so what? It was the perfect size, slick and modern looking and shaped like a turtle (honestly, this was by far my favorite feature). On top of that, the most adorable part was discovering that the turtle’s belly had the option of casting a gentle orange glow, therefore acting as a soft, built-in night light. I was delighted to learn that my new gadget could produce a vast array of soothing sounds, including white noise, trickling rain drops and ocean waves. I had a hard time containing my excitement when I listened to the preloaded lullabies, which included everything from “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” to “Minuet in G” by Bach and “Moonlight Sonata” by Beethoven. Then, I figured out that the device also contained preloaded stories and classic fairytales, such as “Little Red Riding Hood.” My parents had read to me every night as a kid, so I was thrilled to discover that I now had the opportunity to engage with the stories I had once loved a child. The sound machine also came with an app that allowed its users to sync extra songs and record their own stories. I assumed this option was meant for parents, so their baby could be lulled to sleep hearing the sound of their voice. In any case, I’ve been using my Tommy the Turtle for a few days now and I already love it. I find it has so many benefits. Not only does it help me fall asleep, but it is also a great tool in my self-soothing kit. Having calm music or sound in the background while studying is also beneficial to me. When I lie in bed at night and start to have intrusive thoughts about self-harm, having calm music to focus on is quite helpful and a great distraction. Most importantly, using this baby sound soother makes me feel safe, secure and in a way, brings me back to my childhood. It reminds me of my younger self, the little girl who would twist the silver winding key three times and watch the ballerina figure spin around, until her eyes closed and she drifted off to dreamland. I also want to say that you don’t need to go out and buy a sleep sound machine to benefit from calming sounds. There are a ton of videos on Youtube, tracks on iTunes, etc. that provide free or cheap melodies, calming sounds or white noise. Best of luck with your search! If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741 . For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here . We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo via Tan Jnr