Christen Bensten

@christen-bensten | contributor
I am a 40 year old mama of three struggling daily with anxiety and sometimes crippling depression. My mental illness stems from living with a mother with BPD and father with severe depression.

How Writing a Memoir About My Trauma Helped Heal and Free Me

If you have been struggling with mental illness for a while like I have, you probably have heard repeatedly that you should write down your feelings. I did this. I did this when I started purging every day before school at age 10. I have three huge storage boxes of journals. Did it help? I’m not sure. I was completely alone in my deteriorating world. My friends didn’t understand, and my parents offered me Bible verses instead of an appointment with a good therapist. I locked myself in my room for most of my teenage years and sometimes my only source of comfort was a blank page. Fast-forward and I am 43, a mom of three and still struggling with anxiety and depression. I have been medicated for the past 10 years and go to therapy weekly. I am in charge of my own mental health and you know what I do for comfort on a Sunday when I feel that debilitating anxiety creeping into my gut? I write. And what did I do when we locked our doors a year ago to quarantine while people around us were dying? I sat on the corner of my bed and wrote. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I always knew I was going to write a memoir, tell my story so others could see it, could see me. I tried to write it years ago, but the story had not cured. It was not ready, probably because I was not ready. But, when COVID-19 came and we were all in this mess, the boat, wondering if any of us would survive, I finally wrote my memoir. I started at the beginning. I started by talking about how much fear I had in the house with my mother who was so vacant, only to find out later she had undiagnosed borderline personality disorder (BPD). I always thought she just found me disgusting. I wrote about the evangelical church I went to every week and the exorcisms and the speaking in tongues. And I wrote about the private, Christian school where they paddled my friends, duct-taped our mouths shut and tied us to the chairs if we got up too often. All these things contributed to feelings of hopelessness and thoughts of self-harm. When I had my daughter, I found new courage. I put up healthy boundaries with my mother who was still trying to insert her will into my life. Yelling at her in the middle of my yard was the climax of my story — the point in which I said, “No more.” After that moment, I knew I had to fight for my health like my life depended on it. And it did. I had two more children, a husband and a life to fight for. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m not still struggling, waking up frozen or crying on the bathroom floor when I’m triggered, but I have gotten up and fought before, and I know I will again. Writing a memoir, my story, has released me from the prison. I feel like I have landed on the shores of the promised land; I have survived. The writing itself offered me clarity. The publishing and offering to friends is to show my vulnerability and quest for connection. But, most of all, it is holding a solid object, words describing my side of the story without interruption. For so much of my life, I felt misunderstood. Now, I stand in the light and say, this is how it was for me. My memoir is not reactionary, it is just my truth. I feel as though I can take in a breath for the first time in my life. I don’t have to live as the shy, fearful girl. I can live in the freedom I built for myself. “Starving: A Memoir” by Christen Bensten is now available on Amazon.

How Writing a Memoir About My Trauma Helped Heal and Free Me

If you have been struggling with mental illness for a while like I have, you probably have heard repeatedly that you should write down your feelings. I did this. I did this when I started purging every day before school at age 10. I have three huge storage boxes of journals. Did it help? I’m not sure. I was completely alone in my deteriorating world. My friends didn’t understand, and my parents offered me Bible verses instead of an appointment with a good therapist. I locked myself in my room for most of my teenage years and sometimes my only source of comfort was a blank page. Fast-forward and I am 43, a mom of three and still struggling with anxiety and depression. I have been medicated for the past 10 years and go to therapy weekly. I am in charge of my own mental health and you know what I do for comfort on a Sunday when I feel that debilitating anxiety creeping into my gut? I write. And what did I do when we locked our doors a year ago to quarantine while people around us were dying? I sat on the corner of my bed and wrote. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I always knew I was going to write a memoir, tell my story so others could see it, could see me. I tried to write it years ago, but the story had not cured. It was not ready, probably because I was not ready. But, when COVID-19 came and we were all in this mess, the boat, wondering if any of us would survive, I finally wrote my memoir. I started at the beginning. I started by talking about how much fear I had in the house with my mother who was so vacant, only to find out later she had undiagnosed borderline personality disorder (BPD). I always thought she just found me disgusting. I wrote about the evangelical church I went to every week and the exorcisms and the speaking in tongues. And I wrote about the private, Christian school where they paddled my friends, duct-taped our mouths shut and tied us to the chairs if we got up too often. All these things contributed to feelings of hopelessness and thoughts of self-harm. When I had my daughter, I found new courage. I put up healthy boundaries with my mother who was still trying to insert her will into my life. Yelling at her in the middle of my yard was the climax of my story — the point in which I said, “No more.” After that moment, I knew I had to fight for my health like my life depended on it. And it did. I had two more children, a husband and a life to fight for. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m not still struggling, waking up frozen or crying on the bathroom floor when I’m triggered, but I have gotten up and fought before, and I know I will again. Writing a memoir, my story, has released me from the prison. I feel like I have landed on the shores of the promised land; I have survived. The writing itself offered me clarity. The publishing and offering to friends is to show my vulnerability and quest for connection. But, most of all, it is holding a solid object, words describing my side of the story without interruption. For so much of my life, I felt misunderstood. Now, I stand in the light and say, this is how it was for me. My memoir is not reactionary, it is just my truth. I feel as though I can take in a breath for the first time in my life. I don’t have to live as the shy, fearful girl. I can live in the freedom I built for myself. “Starving: A Memoir” by Christen Bensten is now available on Amazon.

When Having No Family Affects Your Mental Health During the Holidays

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the elephant in my tree-trimmed, Christmas donned room — the deep, hot, monster pain that creeps into my body, tightening my shoulders, renewing my migraines and reminding me of the hole in my heart and ache in my head that can’t seem to be fixed no matter how many Hallmark Christmas movies I watch. Every year I think Mother’s Day is the hardest holiday to get through — those sticky-sweet cards that express everything I don’t feel about my own mother and the audacious idea that other people in that same card aisle might feel these sentiments. If Mother’s Day is a painful reminder of the lullaby-singing mother that I did not have, then the holiday season — all the way from Thanksgiving to the end of Christmas — is like stumbling through a deep, dark Christmas tree woods filled with murderous candy cane land mines and shiny ornaments waiting to explode in my face. It’s a treacherous landscape to navigate. One moment I feel the excitement of singing along to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” and in the next breath I feel that cozy Christmas rug being pulled out from under me. I have no family. To clarify, I do have family. I just don’t have people that have been in my life since I was a newborn that see who I am, get joy from my joy, spend time sitting and listening to my thoughts and feelings and are present with my life. That’s what I want. That’s what Christmas cannot give me. I end up feeling hollow when the cookies are not sweet enough and the tree is not bright enough to comfort me. I try every damn year to fill up. I watch “White Christmas” at least five times in the month of December, I plan a million holiday treats and activities for my amazing children and I have Michael Buble on repeat in the background. I try so hard. There’s a feeling of optimism followed by devastating sadness. The triggers come rapid fire, too fast to process — ground my feet and breathe through. My white bed becomes my lifesaver and days of collapse melt into imprisonment when I feel too emotionally heavy to get up and carry on. Since early November I’ve had four migraines, I’ve literally fainted three times, upped my antidepressants, started eye movement desensitization and reprocessing work (EMDR), on top of seeing my therapist twice a week now and attending a woman’s therapy group. I can’t. This is what I say when I want to slump into someone’s arms and have them carry me the rest of the way. I want to wipe out everything on the calendar that was put there for the intention of holiday joy. I want someone to say, “I see you. I see that this is really hard for you. I see you missed out on someone making you feel warm and safe. I see you desperately need some attention. I see how hard you are trying. I see you need someone to save you.” When this doesn’t come, I return to the white bed. If you know that red hot searing holiday pain, you know that it usually doesn’t get easier year by year. It doesn’t get easier hearing, “But look at your beautiful family,” or “Things could be worse,” or “You have so much to be grateful for.” I think people who say this have no idea what real family pain is. The quiet that comes when the kids head off to school and the chatter that begins to rock around in my head. I grieve at the holidays. As much as I want to be in the moment and I try and try and try, there is a reality that I cannot put aside because it comes from a place of a real lack of attachment to a loving, empathetic family. It is a burden I carry on Mother’s Day, birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter — the times when we should be wrapped in goodwill and love. I can’t help but think of all the people out there that might insist I need to just “let it go.” Then I think of all the people that are in the same boat as me. We are two different worlds that will never collide. If you are feeling that red hot Christmas loneliness, I feel it too. And I wish Santa could hug that away. But, if he can’t, then I invite you to wrap yourself in a cozy blanket near that beautifully decorated tree and practice self-care. Give yourself what you were not given by stopping and listening to your own needs and being present with care and a nonjudgmental attitude. We will survive this holiday season like we’ve survived all the ones in the past. I wish all you beautiful, war-torn souls in my boat heavenly peace. via contributor Follow this journey here and here. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Getty image via Kerkez

24 Ways to Magically, Totally, 100% Cure Anxiety

When you live with anxiety, it sometimes feels like everyone has an opinion about how you should manage it. So we asked our mental health community to share the the most cringe-worthy advice they’ve ever received about dealing with anxiety. Warning: These pieces of advice may elicit eye-rolling, head-shaking, sighing and laughter of disbelief. Hopefully, we can all find the humor in these attempts at helpful advice and learn to be patient with those who may not understand anxiety. Here’s what they shared: 1. “Put your big girl panties on .” — Nell Hoyle Causey 2. “Get over it .” — Cambry Clark Huaraque 3. “You’re an intelligent person, you can think you’re way through this.” — Kylie Wagner-Grobman 4. “Christians shouldn’t have anxiety.” — Michelle Oldenburg Fong 5. “Be stronger. It’s all in your head.” — Gabriella de la Vega 6. “‘Just get out of your head for a while.’ If I could, then this wouldn’t be an issue.” — Katie Sunshine Struble 7. “Suck it up.” — Serena Leblond 8. “ There’s someone out there worse off than you .” — Maria Kumler Mason 9. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” — Vickie Boyette 10. “Have a drink.” — Lori Simpson 11. “ Essential oils will cure you. ” — Misty Hyndman 12. “Get a grip.” — Jessica Coons 13. “Get a backbone.” — Heather Quintana 14. “Think happy thoughts . ” — Melanie Tapia 15. “ Just let it go.” — Sandie Soule 16. “A clinical psychologist once told me to, ‘Just shut your eyes and think of something else and in a matter of minutes it will disappear!’ I was stunned and simply smiled.” — Kimberley Giles 17. “ You do not look sick. Just take your mind off things. Anyone can do it.” — Mel Rowe  18. “V isualize the ocean.” — Amy Mae Tuininga 19. “Just don’t think about it.” — Tiffany Davidson 20. “ If you really wanted to, you could just snap out of it .” — Jessica Owens Lloyd 21. “ Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. ” — Penny Crittenden 22. “Grow up. It’s not like you’re dying.” — Ashley Martin 23. “‘Put aside your worries for a little bit.’ Oh, I cant just turn it off and on like a light switch.” — Jessica Ann Hardy 24. “Just try harder.” — Amy Coleman *Answers have been edited and shortened.

Jenna B.
Jenna B. @jenna-b
contributor

Mental Illness: On Days I Just Can't, This Is What I Need

Sometimes my brain can barely function properly. Sometimes it takes every ounce of strength to get out of bed and move to the couch. Sometimes taking a shower takes a Herculean effort. I can’t sleep. I can’t eat. Even when things aren’t that bad, I feel terrible because I feel terrible. It shouldn’t be so much work going about the business of everyday life. Why? Because I have a number of mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety. I’ve had many different types of therapy. I go to group therapy once a week. I learn “skills” as ways of coping with my emotions, interacting with others and improving my quality of life. I practice mindfulness and meditation. Yoga, aromatherapy, dancing, taking a bath or reading a book. I know what to do to pull myself out of my funk, and I use skill after skill after skill when I feel myself getting low. Many times the skills work. But there are times it feels like all the skills in the world will not help me. My mental health conditions are caused in part by a chemical imbalance in my brain, and without medication to address the chemical imbalance, there’s no way skills alone are going to work for me. I have one-on-one therapy, and I’ve been inpatient at hospitals as well. And I’ve noticed a viewpoint from the mental health community that really gets under my skin. I’ve heard this refrain in the hospital and among mental health professionals on an outpatient basis. They say people with mental illness have a responsibility to take care of themselves. To me, this seems wrong. Granted, if someone is a bit sad or down, sometimes there are things that can help. Maybe it’s meeting up with friends and socializing. But there are many times I’m beyond that sort of remedy. I do it anyway, and then feel guilty when it doesn’t work. And then I feel shamed for not wanting to get well, for not doing enough to take care of myself. Instead of blaming people with mental illness, why not improve their support systems? And if there is no support system, that would be a good place to start. It’s hard to pull yourself up out of the ditch alone. I’ve had to do it time and time again, and it certainly doesn’t help to be told it’s my responsibility to do so, and to feel like it’s my fault if I don’t. If you see that I’m struggling, ask me what I need. If I tell you I don’t need any help, meals and child care are always appreciated. Anything you would do for a friend with a physical illness, I could probably use help with as well. Laundry, cleaning and errands are impossibly hard when I’m struggling, and it’s great when people step in and get a few of those things done for me. Even if I don’t appear thrilled to have the help, I really do appreciate it. When I feel better I will let you know how much it means to me. And that’s what I can focus on, feeling better, when I just can’t do anything else. So on the days I just can’t, please don’t tell me to help myself, and instead find a way to lend me a hand.