Jenna B.

@jenna-b | contributor
Jenna B.
Jenna B. @jenna-b
contributor

How to Change Your Life After a Stay in a Psychiatric Hospital

I’m a single mom of three young sons, one of whom is on the autism spectrum and one of whom has anxiety. I have bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and agoraphobia, among other mental disorders. I work, take care of my boys and take care of myself. Juggling all of those while dealing with mental health issues can be exhausting.  I have been hospitalized more times than I can count, in four different facilities. I was just in the hospital for a week last month, and when I was discharged I was determined things would be different. I decided to take some conscious steps to turn my life around and start creating the life I want to live: 1. Asking for, and accepting help. In the past I was so cautious of asking for help with my kids and myself I would put myself in situations that seemed insurmountable. I would feel helpless and hopeless, and my depression would spiral even further out of control until I had no choice but to admit myself to the hospital. Now I ask for help when I feel myself starting to slide. When my kids get sick and I need to make it to a doctor’s appointment, I get a sitter or ask a family member to step in. I also have an au pair coming to stay with me for a year starting next month, so there will always be an extra set of hands to help out. Asking people to help so I can take care of myself has been one of the most important things I have done. 2. Pacing myself. Historically, when I’ve had the energy to get things done, I pushed and pushed until I burned myself out. After years of this, I figured it was not the way to go. I left the hospital feeling good, and I had a number of items on my to-do list. Instead of trying to do it all at once, I spread them out over the course of a few weeks. I got my graduate school applications done, found my au pair and finished a few work projects, but I did all of this on a reasonable time scale and set decent expectations. In this way I managed to finish everything on my list without destabilizing myself in the process. And here I must revisit the importance of asking for help. My mother came over to watch the kids so that I could work, and she did some laundry while she was over. This was all extremely helpful and not something I would have allowed her to do in the past. 3. Setting aside time for self-care. The life I want to live has dance and yoga in it. It also has time for socializing as well as work and responsibilities. I made a point of setting aside time for myself to do the things that make me happy and accumulate positive emotions. Those good feelings can carry over throughout the week and help me through the tougher times with the kids or feelings of boredom. In the future, I am planning more social outings as well as going out to get my nails done. When my au pair arrives, I will have even more time for myself. Taking care of myself means I stay happy, and when I’m happy I have even more energy and motivation to attack the things on my to-do list. I don’t have my ideal life just yet, but I am getting closer every day and every step I take means I am further away from the hopelessness and helplessness that characterized my worst days. I am closer and closer to finally having the life I want to live. The Mighty is asking the following: Are you a mother with a disability, disease or mental illness? What would you tell a new mother in your position? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Jenna B.
Jenna B. @jenna-b
contributor

Feeling Lonely While Experiencing Depression

You may think you know a lot about depression. You know people with depression can feel sad and empty much of the time, have changes in appetite or sleeping habits, be fatigued, have decreased feelings of pleasure in things that would normally bring them joy and possibly even have thoughts of death and dying. But the one symptom of depression you probably don’t know about, and one of the hardest ones to deal with, is loneliness. People thrive on connection. Even most introverts need to be social with small groups or one-on-one. But when I feel depressed, I can’t motivate myself to make or keep plans, to leave the house, or sometimes even to get showered and dressed. But this doesn’t mean I don’t want company. In contrast, I want company so badly it’sactually painful. But I’m afraid to ask. I know I’m a bother to people, and Iknow I’m not any fun to spend time with because I’m always sad and have a hardtime enjoying the things I used to love. I feel guilty for wanting that company, for needing to have somebody around. When I get severely depressed, I long for somebody to talk to, somebody who willunderstand and not judge me. But I can’t seem to open my mouth and ask for thehelp I need. I get trapped in my own brain, and I can hear myself screaming, but, unfortunately, nobody can read my mind. The more depressed I get, the more I isolate from the outside world, and the less motivation I have to reach out to people. But this is really the time I most need someone to see me, truly see what is going on, and reach out to me. It’s sad the symptoms of depression can drive so many friends away, because of the stigma of depression, or because they don’t understand, or are scared, or don’t know how to help, or are busy and can’t be bothered. Because sometimes the best way to reach a depressed friend or loved one is to simply spend time with him or her, doing whatever he or she feels up to doing. Even if that’s just an evening on thecouch with Netflix, or bringing over coffee or dinner, just showing that you care for your friend can help him or her start to feel better. Even if your friend doesn’t seem to hear your words of reassurance and comfort, there still can be a benefit to your presence. It always helps to know that somebody else cares, to hear love expressed in a genuine way. Love expressed by other people can help me so much when I’m depressed. It reminds me I’m worthy of such love, and can push me a little bit closer to working on the self-love that will pull me out of the depression. So if you do have a friend or loved one who is depressed, please remember, it is so important to spend time with him or her. Depression is a disease of loneliness, and connection with other people makes all the difference in recovery. The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a story about a time you encountered a commonly held misconception about your mental illness. How did you react, and what do you want to tell people who hold his misconception? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines. What’s one misconception about your mental illness you want to see busted? Tell us in the comments below.

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.