I am not a great friend.

No, this is not a self-depreciating post. Instead, I am objectively focusing on the facts and reasons why I could be a much better friend.

When I think of the qualities I would like in a friend, I go to past or current relationships and what made them meaningful. One of the most important aspects of friendship to me is that we are there for each other: to listen, give advice, motivate, and sometimes provide tough love. I don’t want to feel like I’m always taking, nor do I enjoy feeling like all is being dumped on me. There’s a balance that allows for a healthier friendship where each person is cared for. Another quality I value is honesty and authenticity. I want to feel safe to open up and be accepted for who I am. Spending quality time together is also important, even if that just means Skype calls every once in a while. This is the part of friendship that makes me feel connected and happy. It’s truly a blessing to get together with others. Consistency is an aspects that I’ve had trouble with in the past. I remember my mom describing someone in elementary school as a “fair weather friend,” someone who is there when it’s convenient for her or when no one else is around. This only leads to me feeling alone, which is pretty shitty when you expect to be close to a friend. Respect matters in any relationship. There are various areas where this comes into play, from viewpoints to lifestyle. I want to note that I absolutely do not expect anyone ever to meet all of these qualities. They aren’t full on requirements truly. I have never found someone perfect which is 10000% okay. There is no need to be perfect for someone to be an amazing friend.

Now that I’ve explained some of what I look for, it’s time to talk about how I often fail to meet these areas. Specifically, I am the worst friend when I am deep into the eating disorder, like where I am currently. I am unable to invest in the other person when I’m struggling so much. If I do end up sharing, I feel like a burden because of the sheer amount of stuff I have to unpack. I am rarely honest or real about what I’m going through. There are some people who know, but others I stay away from it entirely. This makes things more surface level and impersonal. I get that not every person is going to be right to share with, but I think as a whole I need to work on vulnerability more. I isolate all the time. I haven’t even spent an afternoon in the library or anything like that. I start feeling pretty low about myself and also avoid any situation with a .2% chance of food being involved. I have little consistency. I can go weeks or longer without so much as a hello text. Usually I don’t initiate contact, which I’m sure is frustrating on the other side. One area I don’t lack in regardless is respect. It has a lot of value whether I’m in a bad place or not.

I don’t want to use the ED as a scapegoat. No matter how much I’m struggling, it isn’t the sole cause of any negative consequences. The thing that actually affects my ability to be a good friend is my mental state. If I am withdrawn, depressed, anxious, and full of guilt/shame, how could I give to someone else?  Just like when I am physically sick, mental and emotional exhaustion takes a toll on my relationships. Some of this is specific to the ED, like avoiding social gatherings, but the rest just isn’t.

I don’t want to consider myself a bad person because of the situation I’ve been in. I know this isn’t the real me. My values are completely the opposite of how I’m acting. If I can work through these things and be healthier, I will give more into my friendships. It happened when I was further into recovery before and I believe I’ll get there again.

I take psychiatric medication and that’s okay

I remember back to the first time I ever went on psychiatric medication. It was shortly after starting therapy. I was at my yearly pediatrician’s appointment and it ended up being really awkward with some different mental health concerns, but in the end he prescribed an antidepressant. I felt very judged by him and that automatically went to shame. If I had to take this medication that even my doctor felt wary of, was I just defective?

Over the years , I’ve grown to be wary of telling anyone I’m on medication. The stigma of being “crazy” or abnormal because you take these drugs is pretty strong. Doctors are especially hard to tell, given my first experience. I would never even share this information with those who are well aware of my mental health struggles. That made me feel more alone and increased the negative belief I had about myself for needing this treatment.

I’m no longer afraid to admit that I take medication for my mental illnesses. In fact, I wanted to write this post because a change in my prescription (and a new psychiatrist) has greatly impacted my life. I have a ton more energy, less “blah” feeling, better mood, and I just feel lighter. My parents can tell a huge difference. Obviously the medication alone doesn’t get rid of my symptoms, but it has lowered the amount of distorted thinking significantly. I’m at a better functioning baseline level. As a whole, the various drugs I’m on have impacted me by significantly reducing sleeping problems, basically removing suicidal thoughts, lowering anxiety, preventing the lowest of lows, and generally making my thinking and functioning better. I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to fix my brain chemistry in this way.

It’s okay to take psychiatric medication. Someone with lupus wouldn’t want to avoid autoimmune drugs for any reason. Anything that helps reduce suffering is worth it. You are not alone in this. If you are considering trying out this form of therapy, I want to reiterate how much of a change they can make.

1 in 6 adults are on some form of psychiatric medications. We need to end the stigma that surrounds taking these sometimes life-saving drugs. They do not fix a flaw in character, just the biological brain chemistry imbalances. Everyone should be given support and respect for the brave choice to put their health first in this way.

Christmas/Holidays

First off, Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays! I hope that this time is filled with love, joy, friends/family, and goodness. I know that is not always the case, especially for those of you who struggle with an eating disorder or mental health in general. It’s okay if this is a hard time for you. Please, take time for yourself and take care of your needs, even if that means leaving a get-together early, avoiding one completely, or retreating to your room when people are over. Treating yourself well and focusing on your needs is so much more important than pleasing others. Know that you aren’t alone.

I’ve found some very good articles that I think are perfect for this time of year. I hope that these will help you ❤

World Mental Health Day 2017

I am so incredibly thankful for awareness days like today. They are an opportunity to change minds on what mental illness and mental health entail. It can erase stigma and prevent biases. People who are undiagnosed can recognize their symptoms and reach out for help. It is everyone around the world coming together for a cause that affects 1 in 4 people globally.

I have a ton I could say today, but I want to go with this: talking about my mental health has saved my life. Without therapy, psych meds, outpatient programming, partial hospitalization, inpatient, and residential treatment, I don’t think I would be alive right now. It took bravery to speak out and say that something was wrong. Even more strength was necessary to head into my first day of therapy. No matter how scary, treatment has been the best thing for me. The support I have received from family and friends is also invaluable.

If you are struggling, please reach out.

If your friend, family member, or loved one seems to be or is struggling, reach out.

Silence is not the answer.

No matter who you are, please take some time to learn more about mental health and mental illness. You DO know someone with a mental illness. Maybe that could be your significant other, classmate, child, sibling, coworker, relative, or friend. They need your support and they need you to be knowledgeable about what they’re going through. If you think that you don’t need any information on it, look at all the people you care for. Would you be willing to ignore them if they have a cry for help? Would you do the same if they had a physical diagnosis? Even for those without any mental illness, caring for our mental health is important. Everyone gets stressed, sad, angry, etc. Learning a few self-care techniques and coping skills can really go a long way.

Today may not mean a whole ton to you, but I promise it means the world to anyone who does struggle or will struggle with mental illness in their lifetime.

For more information:

I took care of myself today.

*written Monday, but didn’t finish/had a billion things going on

It has been forever, or so it feels. I’ve missed blogging so much. I planned to come back to it a thousand times, but now is that time. I will explain everything that’s happened in another post soon.

Today is World Mental Health Day. Whether you struggle with a mental illness or have a good handle on everything, self care and awareness is necessary. Today I have practiced many forms of self care and I can clearly tell a difference. On to what I’ve accomplished today:

  • destressed after a rough, long lab by taking a nap
  • had lots of yummy fruits
  • had all 3 meals and a few snacks
  • ate dinner after group because I woke from my nap with too little time to have it otherwise
  • watched some Youtube and Netflix (currently on a Private Practice kick!)
  • attended ED support group
  • shared in ED group (I was voluntold, but still)
  • used distraction to quiet maladaptive thoughts and behaviors
  •  gave myself grace

Today would have been much more sour had I not taken the time to care for my mind and body. These small actions, when combined together, have lifted me up to more growth. It was a really great day, the best in a while when it comes to self care. I yearn for this to be a norm and not happen once a week, month, etc.

Acceptance

For a long time I grappled with my mental health issues. Some were easier to deal with than others, but I still couldn’t stomach it all. I truly believed that somehow, somewhere I had just screwed up or thought too much about different things and that one day, it would be gone. I was embarrassed that I needed to see a therapist, start medication, and later enter into treatment. I’ve felt so many things regarding my diagnoses and tendencies: disgust, shame, disbelief. I’ve wanted them all to go away. In the past month or two that’s all changed.

I no longer wake up and hope or wish to be “normal.” My mental illnesses will always play a part in my life, whether that be big or small. They have shaped my past and will affect my future. I see them as a part of who I am. I can genuinely say that I am okay with all of this.

Now that I have come to full acceptance, I want to be clear on what this doesn’t mean:

  1. I am giving up hope of a better future. I know my mental health will always be clouded with irrational thoughts and behaviors. This does not make me hopeless, but realistic. I do have hope that things will get easier with time and hard work. I so desire that for myself and will do everything I can to get there.
  2. I define myself by my mental health. I am not the anorexic, depressed girl, anxious freak, compulsive exerciser, perfectionist, or self-harmer. I struggle with all of these with varying degrees of severity. They shape my actions and thoughts each day, but I will not be victim bound by labels. I am so much more than my diagnoses. I am Emily the college student, photography lover, girl in recovery, future nurse, etc.
  3. I am helplessly controlled by my disorders. Acknowledging the impact these have on me and that they won’t go away in no way leads to this belief. I have the power to recover and work towards quieting the bad thoughts. At times this may seem grueling and near-impossible, but I am never powerless.
  4. This is all the only/most important part of my story. Of course everything related to my mental health have significantly impacted my life. How could it not when I’ve spent the majority of my days battling irrational thoughts? Significance, however, does not mean governance. Playing soccer, attending the school system I went to, early college, and my faith are just a few influences unrelated to any of my MH struggles. They are important too.
  5. I will let any of this hold me back from my dreams. I will become a mother. I will work as a nurse. I will help support others who have the same struggles I do. I will move away from my family and other physical support one day. I will travel the world. I will create and keep meaningful relationships. I will have a better relationship with food and exercise. I will own prairie dogs, a papillon, an emotional support animal, and whatever other pets to make my heart content (not all at the same time aha). I will grow my faith. I will write a book or two or three. I will earn at least my master’s degree. I will love life. No mental illness, negative thinking patterns, or self-doubt is going to stop me.

Acceptance feels good. Its a starting point of understanding how I can manage all of this for the rest of my life. I feel so much better now. The weight of denial, uncertainty, despair, and shame have lifted. Yes, I struggle with mental health issues. Yes, I am going need constant self-monitoring and then working through each dark time I experience. Yes, I accept myself and how my mental health struggles have shaped me. I am okay with it all.

A friend no more

I’ve lost quite a lot due to my eating disorder. Other people around me have suffered as well. Its been really hard on my family, especially my mom. Even with all the hell an eating disorder causes, I never expected my illness to cause our family to lose close friends.

I’m going to call this woman Carrie. She is a mom of a guy who was in early college with me and two boys near my brother’s age. Ever since I began early college, my mom and really our whole families grew very close. I mean we switched to our church because they invited us first. My mom definitely considered her a best friend. I was also pretty close to her, even more so after I started volunteering so much at church. Her younger boys were friends with my brother and I. We had their family over for dinner and to swim and they even watched Milo for us.

This all came to an abrupt halt recently. At first, I was the only one treated differently. Suddenly Carrie wouldn’t talk to me anymore, even though I tried to be nice and friendly. I spent a long time thinking I’d done something wrong and not knowing what it was. It actually got so bad the youth pastor had to speak with her. After that she got a little nicer, but overall she was still extremely distant. At this point she also began to avoid my mom more.. This was at the beginning of last summer.

I made some posts one Facebook once I hit my one year mark from being admitted into PHP. I’ve been trying to open up more and more about it on social media because I want to spread awareness. Shortly after, I was admitted into FV once again for IP. Our church put this in the prayer chain (without my name) and I posted some more general “please be praying for me” type of things on FB. Even being so open about my mental health to people who ask I just didn’t want to make a big deal of it.

Since then, every time we go to church, the whole family ignores us. My mom was really torn up about it and didn’t quite understand what went wrong. I kind of had a feeling of why Carrie may have done these things, but one day a week after I was discharged she got the real answer: Carrie doesn’t believe eating disorders or mental illnesses in general are real and thinks that I am faking this all for attention.

I cried the first time I heard that. I immediately felt guilty that I had cost my mom such a close friendship. Soon after, I realize I shouldn’t be. I didn’t ask for these illnesses. Heck I really don’t want sympathy. All I do desire when it comes to my story is to promote awareness and help others going through these things. It’s views like Carrie’s that make it so much harder to live with these problems.

I’m angry. I can’t believe anyone could be so harsh about such serious illnesses! I also didn’t understand how she could justify being terrible to me and my family over this. While I may not ever accept that this severing of friendship had to happen the way it did, I have learned from it.

I realize now that there are more people like Carrie out there. And there will be relationships broken just like what I experienced. The only way to ever prevent this intolerance of mental illness is to push awareness even more. That’s exactly what I’m going to do until everyone sees mental illness as a flaw in brain chemistry, not character; serious problem not something to be brushed off; and a legitimate diagnosis, not fraud for attention. We have a long way to go to erase these negative mindsets, but it will happen, one person at a time.