Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Elections Hurt, Civil Rights Can Help

As we get closer and closer to Election Day, I see more and more people fighting over things that, in the end, are silly.  Unemployment rates, taxes, abortion laws... What most are over-looking is the fact that bills go through Congress to become law.  They do not have to be signed by the president to become a law.  Congress can override a presidential veto so long as 2/3 majority vote yes to the bill.  All of this is what keeps the president from being a dictator.  There are ways in which the president can influence and lobby for a bill, but ultimately Congress decides.  Many of the things brought up in the debates will be forgotten as soon as the election is over.  Some will come up once or twice, fail, and then be forgotten.  So why focus on the president, when our Congress members hold the power?

Many people do not even know what congressional district they belong to.  This is the first step in changing laws- find out what district you're in!  Then find out who is the current Congress person for that district.  Familiarize yourself with what they've done, what they want to do, and who else is running for Congress.  Make an educated vote, not one based on the party you affiliate with.  Sometimes Republicans can be very liberal and sometimes Democrats can be very conservative.  Do the same for your House representative  Once you've made an informed decision, find out how to contact both so that you can help them focus on the issues important to you.

Congress power aside, it saddens me to see how after the election others tend to forget what they were so incensed about prior to the election.  If you want to change how this country is run, you can't just complain during an election then give up.  One thing I do know: even if my candidate doesn't win I will continue to lobby for the causes I believe in.  I refuse to give up hope on the issues that are important to me.  Yes, I do fear all the good work being done to bring an end to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), but that doesn't mean I will give up if Romney is elected.  I'll work harder to fight for my civil rights.

So as the countdown to the election winds down, remember that YES, this election is important, but NO it's not the end of the world.

Friday, October 12, 2012

What Therapy Looks Like From My Side of the Couch

Every session starts out the same way, with a fireball of anxiety churning in my stomach.  No matter how many times I have sat on the same couch, I still have a momentary fit of anxiety prior to seeing my therapist.  It has nothing to do with her, really.  There is just that moment of fear that I am somehow not good enough to be there.  My fears are not that my therapist will laugh or judge, but that my problems don't really warrant therapy.  I go to therapy to learn how to believe I deserve to be in therapy.  Pretty crazy, right?

I'm beginning to realize that not only is this not crazy, but it makes sense.  If you've never been told you deserve help, you believe that you're not worthy.  I've mention before that accepting help from my therapist isn't easy for me.  The above-and-beyond lengths my therapist goes to makes it that much harder to be cared for. And it makes it hard for me to speak up about my unease surrounding that care.

In my latest session I once again found myself drowning in concern and care.  Before I could say anything, my therapist wanted to talk to me about our co-occurring internet lives.  The issue here is that I am on my way to becoming a social worker and my therapist is a social worker.  A very active, very outspoken social worker.  And I am a very active, very outspoken social work student and self advocate.  Our areas of interest are alarmingly similar.  So it seems her Twitter feed has popped up some of my tweets that have been re-tweeted by mutual followers.  In theory it is a non-issue.  Sort of how you may see a friend-of-a-friend or an ex's tweets.  Except that the minute she began speaking about it, I was instantly uncomfortable.  I ignored that feeling and said everything was fine and was honest about how I've seen a couple of her tweets also.  I don't know why I didn't speak up about the unease I was feeling or my lack of explanation for it.  Maybe it was embarrassment, or shame over the fact that I "shouldn't" be uncomfortable.  Whatever it was that I was feeling, I pushed through it.

The rest of the session I still felt that unease, but I continued to ignore my body.  Not a recommended practice.  After the session, I went home, watched a movie with my wife, watched CNN, and continued to try to ignore what had happened.  A sudden feeling of panic made me sit down and finally journal about what I was feeling.  I knew I wasn't worried about her reading my tweets or even finding my blog.  She knows a lot more intimate details than what I self-disclose on either of those accounts.  I went through all the things that could make me uncomfortable and while thinking about sharing followers I realized I didn't feel worthy of having the same followers.  Cue the self-bashing.  Suddenly the hailstorm of not good enough, only a client, I'm nobody begins.

Once that calms down another realization hit me- my therapist showing concern over inadvertently invading my personal life is because she cares.  And therein lies the problem: she cares.  Such compassion for my well-being is a foreign idea for me.  Even blogging about this makes me uncomfortable.  It feels taboo.  And that's the reason I'm sitting here nervously typing away my story: so eventually it won't be taboo.

I know that part of the reason I'm uncomfortable being cared for is because of childhood problems.  However, I also know that part of it is the fact that society tends to reinforce the detrimental messages I received as a child.  Crying, being emotional, and speaking openly are not things society values.  Those who can "be strong" and "push through it" are congratulated while those who are able to express their emotions are condemned.  I've long believed that mental health care professionals have the power to change this, but recently I realize that maybe that's not the case.  They have the power to give research-proven statements and to give advice within their scope of knowledge, but they cannot back up their claims without people who have LIVED IT and are willing to tell their stories. This isn't always easy, as some professionals have yet to see that working with clients is more helpful than working at them. However, it is possible to surround yourself with professionals willing to help you and help you advocate for yourself.  There is a lot of power in being a client.  Let's begin to take that back!

As more clients step up to the plate and put their experiences out there, society will begin to see how out dated the emotion-less belief system is.  And as clients begin working together with their providers, both parties can realize that the view is pretty much the same from both sides of the couch.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What Does Recovery Mean?

I blog for World Mental Health Day

I really can’t stand it when my therapist takes something I said and it turns it into something significant.  I wasn't attempting to be cared for or to have any sort of revelation tonight.  And yet, there it was.  It started with a private reading of my journal.  (I often type up and bring in entries from my journal, because sometimes I (gasp!) just can’t say what I’m feeling.) As we began to observe my thought patterns, my therapist asked a very loaded question: What does recovery mean?

As I stumbled to find the words to describe what I want my life to look like, she did this annoying thing where she made my thoughts sound coherent.  “So recovery means not abandoning yourself, validating yourself, and accepting that you’re important.” Wait, what?! This wasn't what I thought I was getting at, but it hit something tender deep inside and felt very accurate.  Instead of turning my journey towards recovery into a self-bash session, suddenly I was looking at attempting self-compassion.   It felt almost good.

Recovery means different things for different people.  No matter what, there is one underlying theme to the various beliefs in recovery: it is a goal that often seems too lofty for many with mental illness or addiction.  The truth is, once I defined it for myself, it felt a little easier to obtain.  Something I had overlooked was that I was using other people's definitions for recovery.  It doesn't matter what others think recovery is, because they are not living my life.  I am the one who has to live with myself.  

I'm not expecting to suddenly be rid of all the problems, worries, and symptoms of my mental illness just from one revelation.  I understand that if I uncover something important it does not suddenly make me "all better."   If that were true, there would be a lot more believers in psychodynamic therapy and a lot less people suffering.  Awareness is just part of the process, but definitely a major part.

Slowly I'm learning that in order for awareness to help, I must become comfortable with being uncomfortable. It's a long and sometimes exasperating journey, but well worth it.  

Dealing with self injury or know someone who is?  Check out these safety resources:  

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Taking Care of Me

It's hard to remember the benefits to therapy when you walk out of a session feeling beaten and broken.  Touching on the scary and uncomfortable feelings of inadequacy and guilt is not an easy task.  Often it seems as if my journey in therapy will never end.  I'm not even sure I want it to.  Sometimes it's tiring, frustrating, and almost feels hopeless.  Other times it's enlightening, comforting, and refreshing.  All of this may seem like too much work, but the outcome is something I never thought possible: I am taking care of myself.

From a very early age I had the notion that I had to take care of myself, but I didn't know how.  As I grew, so did my frustration with trying to take care of me.  At age 15 I entered the mental health system, which actually made my journey of self-care even harder.  I would muster the courage to tell one of the various mental health care professionals what I thought would be good for me and I was quickly told I didn't know what I needed.  I was a client not a professional with special emphasis on the lack of degree.

Finding the right fit for a therapist took four and a half years and very insightful social worker at a local inpatient unit.  I still didn't understand what taking care of myself, and asking others for help, entailed but I had someone willing to help me out.  Learning to take control of my life didn't mean I was crises-free.  Just the opposite: crises was how I knew to communicate "I need help."

I found myself recommended to a day program my therapist is associated with and I began my "speak up and speak out" campaign.  I had decided I didn't want to lie anymore to professionals and I wanted to take charge of my own care.  After all, my therapist said I could!  Not so simple.  I refused to agree to a safety contract because my therapist trusted me enough to not require one.  Also, honestly, a safety contract is something that I knew wouldn't stop me from self harming, so why lie that it would?  Unfortunately, the doctor working with me saw this as an admission to planning on killing myself.

I stood up for myself, demanded my therapist be brought in (she worked on another unit at the same facility) and we all sat down to agree that I could go home, get what I needed done, and I would bring myself back the next day for evaluation.  I felt great! I had stood up for myself and my therapist had stood up for me too. We get up from the meeting, my therapist asks me a few last questions and I watch as she walks off the unit, back to her regularly scheduled work day. Then I was captured.

Okay, not really, but it felt like it.  I was called into the doctor's room, then escorted through locked doors to Acute Psychiatric Services (APS).  I was devastated.  My attempt at being honest was thwarted by a doctor lying to my face.  And to make matters worse, to my therapist.  I ended up spending two weeks inpatient attempting to pick up the shattered pieces of my self esteem.  Suddenly all the beliefs about self care I had learnt were gone.  Even in-patient the same doctor caused problems for me.  Her underling (how I referred to the resident working with her) questioned my depression and insisted I should have no say over my own medications.  I was alone and afraid.

How did I make the 180 and regain my sense of self care?  Learning to use my support system.  My therapist visited me every single day during my inpatient stay.  She wouldn't let me think that she was as unethical as other staff members.  With the trust in my therapist fully in tact, I began to trust myself again.  It took small steps and some shaky moments, but now I'm toddling along, almost running, with my self-care knowledge.

The one thing I have learned from all of my adventures is that no matter WHAT others say or do, I deserve to stick up for myself.  Even if I can't do it all the time, I can take small steps.  Having resources at the ready, surrounding myself with a great support system, and taking the time I need for me.  And yes, going to therapy even if I walk out feeling like a wounded warrior.  In some ways I am a wounded warrior, but I know I will keep fighting.  And helping others to learn that they deserve to keep fighting too!

Keeping Yourself Safe Resources:
Recover Your Life - a site for people who engage in self harm and those who support them.  Distractions, information, and live chat

Reasons Not To Hurt Yourself - Author Cheryl Rainfield lists some very important reasons not to hurt yourself

Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 24 hour hotline to help those who need someone to listen.  Also has links to resources for supporters.

To Write Love On Her Arms - Resources, help, and support for those dealing with mental health and self injury issues.