Tag Archives: mental health

A Me Away from School

Do you realize that we spend approximately 20 years in some type of school setting? Daycare, pre-k, elementary school, junior high school, high school, college, and beyond (if you’re pursuing a higher degree). If we live up to 100, that’s a fifth of our lives!

Beyond that, the years that we’re in school are our formative years, the years we learn pro-social behaviors and develop our identities. It’s no wonder students have high levels of anxiety and stress.

I, for one, have a lot of my self-worth tied to school. To grades. To my lack of a college degree. I’ve let my academic mishaps define who I am, and let myself truly believe that I am a failure. Meanwhile, I tell the students I tutor that failing doesn’t make them failures; it is a way for them to learn and improve. Yet, here I am living the opposite.

After years of telling myself that school isn’t as “do-or-die” as I believe, I finally withdrew from college for an indefinite period in November. I tried doing so before, but I kept nagging myself into trying again before I was really ready. I kept doing the same ineffective thing time and again. All for the purpose of validation.

I used the excuse that the industry I want to enter requires at minimum a Master’s degree to justify my continuous stunts in school. It’s not untrue. There’s little one can do in human services without licensure in social work, especially in the clinical sense. But I knew, from the bottom of my heart, I was spouting bs. I’d say I was trying to rationalize because people pointed out the errors in the redundancy of my school approach, but I’m sure it was to convince myself I wasn’t just being stubborn. To pretend that the true motive wasn’t to make myself feel like I’m worth something.

It’s hard for me to take out the school element of my understanding of self because it’s so ingrained in me. The praises I received as a child revolved around my intelligence and speculation of what my future would hold. I spent years being in school being rewarded for good grades and being scolded or disciplined for poor ones. I compared grades with peers, believing that the number on the paper made the person. I couldn’t separate me, my intelligence and my capabilities from the scores on my exams and the grades on my transcripts.

I remember the first time I did poorly on my math test. It was in sixth grade and I got under a 70, maybe in the 60s range, but my standards were much higher at 11 years old. I bawled. I was so distraught and so upset. I also feared the repercussions of a failing grade. My classmates and friends tried to make me feel better, most also not doing very well on the exam. It didn’t work. I felt pathetic and worthless. I felt like a failure. Not doing well in what was one of my best subjects? Preposterous! Impossible! Pathetic! Stupid!

I wish I could say that I developed a way to cope and to dispel those feelings and thoughts, but I didn’t. I haven’t. To be perfectly honest, even now at 26 going on 27, there’s a chance I would bawl over a failing grade in a subject with which I feel confident. Even if I don’t cry, I would definitely despair and my thoughts would spiral into the dark negative side of things. I would jump from “Oh, I did poorly on one assignment” to “I completely effed up my chances at a degree and will fail out of school.” And it sure doesn’t help that I have legitimately been academically dismissed from a higher education institution. I know it’s not because of my intelligence or my ability to excel in a school setting, but logic doesn’t necessarily always go hand-in-hand with emotions.

So, because of this twisted self-defeating relationship with school, I decided to take some time in the workforce. Take some time to get to know myself better. Take time to write and go back to my roots and my interests. Go back to the very beginning of what I want to pursue academically. I hope that this is a worthwhile journey, and that I’m not “wasting my time”. It’s hard not to think that I’m just delaying the inevitable, especially with people from all around constantly pushing the importance of a degree in this current climate.

I have to be strong in my endeavor. Strong against the naysayers and the doubters. Strong against my own preconceived notions of success. It’s going to take a lot… I already want to sign up for the Spring semester. Not even a whole semester off from school and I can’t imagine not jumping back in. I really have to think, is that the best thing for me? Is it the right move?

I don’t want to keep repeating the same cycle as if I’m not learning from my past or my errs. I am. It’s hard though. It’s extremely difficult to not be in school when I don’t have a degree to show for it. It’s difficult because when I’m not in school, all I want is the academic challenge. Then, when I’m struggling with anxiety because of school (not the academics itself, but my unresolved feelings) all I want is to escape — to work and move forward with my life. It really is a vicious cycle… and I hope to break it soon.

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Negative Emotions

I wanted to share my thoughts on this because my friend spoke about it in a Facebook post. She said she was feeling sad, and that it’s not something we talk about. We don’t know how to deal with sadness, we’re just told that it’ll pass and good things will come. This is one of the heartbreakingly true things I’ve witnessed.

As a culture, we ignore or shun negative thoughts and feelings. We’re shamed if we have them, and they’re left unacknowledged and unaddressed. All that means is that they get worse or we become more confused and guilty for feeling bad. But the thing is, emotions come on a spectrum. We’re supposed to have bad, medium, and good. We can’t function on always feeling positively, just like we can’t function on always feeling negatively.

“Cheer up!”

“Be happy!”

“You’ll be okay!”

“Feel better!”

Why are those the things we say to someone who’s feeling down? Why don’t we ever say, “Do you want to talk about it? It’s okay to feel the way that you do, you know.”

Personally, there are times when I DON’T want to feel better. Where I just want to feel and be mopey because it’s been a while. I don’t want to cheer up or feel happy, because there’s nothing going on at the moment to elicit that emotion. What I’m feeling is a response to what I’m going through right now, I just need to be validated that it’s cool to have a bad time.

Have you ever felt badly about yourself because you felt jealous or clingy? Felt awful because you just happened to stumble into an episode of depression?

Why can’t we be sad? Why can’t we cry? Why can’t we be jealous because we want what someone else has? All these things make us human!

We shouldn’t be told to ignore these feelings and just leap into positive ones. We shouldn’t be made to feel bad because we can’t smile or be happy for something we’re not feeling. We shouldn’t numb ourselves to the bad in life. We should be aware of these negative emotions.

We should know where they stem from, just like how we can figure out why we’re happy or conjure happy thoughts. We should be able to treat these feelings as they are, feelings. All of our range of emotions and feelings should be treated and respected in the same way. Sometimes it’s okay to just be burnt out and want to be a potato… we can’t be an energizer bunny.

We should be allowed to just be.

 

 

Struggling with Empathy

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a blogpost. Even a longer time since I’ve had the desire to write one. But I’m trying to get back to my roots and writing is definitely the way to go, that’s what I’ve learned. After becoming more anxious over the recent years, I realized that the first thing to go was my writing. It used to be the only thing I had, and it became the thing I feared the most. Definitely something psychoanalytical about that… but that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about empathy.

Empathy is the ability of an individual to picture a situation in someone else’s shoes, to feel how he or she feels. Most people are capable of empathy, and often times, they are able to separate self from other.

I am not one of those people who can do the separation thing. This is a problem.

I always found it interesting that I could be extroverted for long periods of time, and people would automatically call me an extrovert because of how social I am and how easily I agree to hang out and do things with them. Meanwhile, I felt like I was an introvert because I felt like I needed a lot of down time in comparison to other extroverts I know. Yet, the amount of “recovery time” was always significantly less than my introvert counterparts… so I declared myself an ambivert. What I finally realized is that I AM an extrovert, but I’m also too much of an empath.

What that means, to my understanding anyway, is that I take on others’ emotions as my own, and since I don’t know how to distinguish mine from others, I end up internalizing them. Thus, as a natural way for my mind and emotions to re-regulate, I have those moments of introversion. Basically, in stressful environments (schools, libraries, meetings, etc) I become stressed even when I’m not. When people tell me things that happen in their lives, happy/sad/anything in between, I feel how they do and it sticks with me. This becomes a major problem in my day-to-day functioning.

Because, hi, not only do I struggle with my OWN mood disorders, I now have added emotions to figure out that don’t even belong to me! And this is a roadblock to my dream career, because… how do you become a social worker or mental health professional when you can’t separate yourself? You can’t. It’s game over.

So what I’ve learned is that I need to get my shit together (for a lack of better phrase) and address this issue. So my goal in therapy now is not to figure out how to cope with my depression and anxiety, though still very important and a priority, it’s to distinguish what is mine and what isn’t mine. Moreover, I have to learn to be empathetic without losing myself to some empathic struggle.

This is a new chapter in my road to self-discovery… because really, how can I discover myself if I can’t figure out what I’m truly feeling?

If I get any useful tips, I’ll be sure to share them!

 

-Ling

 

 

Understanding Depression

Understanding Depression

I want to start a non-profit organization to help people with mental illnesses, to help them move forward. It’s a personal interest of mine, so every Wednesday, I will share a post about different diseases. To start off my new Wellness Wednesday segments, I’m going to start with the mood disorder closest to me:depression.

Depression is probably one of the most prevalent mental illnesses out there. It affects 1 in 4 people in their lifetimes… That’s a lot of people. You could know someone who’s depressed, maybe that person is you, but he or she may never confirm it. There’s a shame associated with depression as there is with other mental illnesses. There are misconceptions, misinformation, and stigma attached to it that prevents people to come forward and seek help. People keep it hidden like a deep dark secret; and honestly, that’s what depression is, a deep dark secret. People would rather live a life of lies than to be recognized as abnormal in a negative light.

Everything I learned about writing comes down to one basic rule: show, don’t tell. That’s exactly what I’m going to do, to show you what depression feels like instead of telling you. Telling you would make no difference, you’ve heard stories before, you’ve witnessed people struggling, but you will never truly understand the experience until you’ve been through it.

You’ve seen those cliche scenes in movies where someone’s being bullied, he or she is surrounded by peers taunting, jeering at, and attacking them. The victim is always helpless on the floor while all he or she sees are the mocking faces of his or her attackers, that’s kind of what depression feels like. Except the bullies aren’t other people but yourself.

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(Image from charlesjturner.com)

Struggling with depression feels like you’re using your energy to charge pass these bullies only to be pushed down to the ground harder. You use all your energy reserves to fight and end up being exhausted. There are so many moments when you just want to give up. You just want to escape it all–that’s where self-medicating, hypersomnia, binge eating, self-harming come to play–you begin to depend on methods to help you leave it behind, hide it in the back of your mind. You end up fluctuating between feeling too much to feeling nothing at all. And while all of this is happening inside, you have to put up a front for everyone else so they don’t worry, so they don’t suspect anything. After all, there’s a shame to being a victim. It means you’re incapable and weak. Day in and day out, your completely drained, and anything else seems better. Wherever you look you see people happy and you just think, why cant that be me? Why does everyone else have it together while I’m breaking apart? You feel stagnant and there’s nothing you can do, you’re stuck in this rut. Some days you don’t even get out of bed, don’t eat, don’t take care of yourself because it’s all just pointless. In those moments death seems better than life, not because you want to die, but because you want the pain to stop. You want to stop facing these demons, your tormentors, that won’t let you have peace of mind.

And for those courageous enough to tell people that they are indeed depressed, they get these similar responses: “It’ll get better;” “Stop being so dramatic and get over it;” “You have too much free time on your hands;” You just have to change your perspective.”
Those words to the downtrodden don’t make them feel better, no, those words make them feel worse. It’s not that they don’t want to get better, it’s that they don’t know how or have the resources to do so. No one is taking their issues seriously and they feel alone. Depression is an isolating illness.

You go out with your friends because it’s a social obigation. While you’re there you laugh and smile and joke around. Everybody believes that you’re okay, that you’re fine and you’re enjoying being there. The reality is much deifferent, you sit there going through the practiced motions while on the inside you feel so distant. Even though you’re physically present and laughing, you don’t feel anything. Then someone says something wrong, a trigger word, and gone is your happy-go-lucky facade, no instead you’re bawling your eyes out. It’s like someone flipped a switch and you can’t stop the sobs wracking through your body. You realize your friends are looking at you, so you run. You find some deserted location like the bathroom and lock the door. You continue to cry and you don’t know when it’ll stop. You’re plagued by memories or feelings that those words brought up, and you’re back to square one. When you’ve finally calmed down, you return to your group. The atmosphere is tense and they look at you, expecting you to explain your outburst. Instead you smile and say that you’re fine, that it was no big deal. They look at you uncertain, but they shrug it off and decide not to push. Everything returns to before, but there is a tension in the air and you catch them sending you glances. You return home later and you cry yourself to sleep because you feel like a mutant.

As I mentioned before, people who suffer from depression often look for ways to take away the pain. What they’re feeling isn’t physical pain, but emotional pain, a pain that they can’t describe in words but know that it’s killing them on the inside. Sometimes these methods are healthy: drawing, painting, excercising, writing, etc. And other times, these escape methods are dangerous: self-medicating, self-harming, engaging in reckless behaviors, over-excessive eating or spending. All of the above are considered coping mechanisms, but people don’t realize that. There’s a stigma on those who follow the more dangerous route of escaping.

There are an insurmountable misconceptions about self-harm, and particularly, cutting. For the record, cutting is not the only method of self-harm but it is the one that garners the most attention. Other self-injurious behavior include scratching, burning, picking at scabs, pulling hair, etc. Basicaly, anything that you do purposely to feel pain would be considered self-harm. As I was saying, self-harm comes with a lot of negative stereotyping. Common beliefs about self-harm are:
1. It’s for attention.
2. It’s only a problem within teens.
3. All self-harmers are suicidal.
4. It’s a habit that can easily be stopped.
These statements are false. I will go through each of them individually and explain why these statements are not the reality.

1. It’s for attention.
Many people believe that cutting or other self-injurious behaviors are attention-seeking behaviors. This is untrue. More often than not, people who engage in self harm try to hide their scars, and are embarrassed by it. In fact, they’re afraid of what people will think of them if the scars are revealed. Self-harmers go to great lengths to cover their scars and hide them, and some even injure themselves in locations people will not see (the inner thigh for example). I am not saying that there aren’t people who may confess to self-harming as a way to seek attention, but that is definitely not the majority. Keep in mind that depression to the person suffering is shameful, and anything associated with it is shameful–especially self-harm.

2. It’s only a problem within teens.
False. Absolutely false. Self-harm, like depression, does not choose its victims based on age, gender, race, etc. Self-harm is a coping mechanism, it’s a way to stop all the craziness inside their heads. So it doesn’t matter if your fifteen or fifty-eight, the chances that you’ll engage in self-ham do not dwindle. Just because you know that’s it’s illogical and that it’s dangerous doesn’t prevent you from engaging in the behavior. It’s the desperation of the moment that takes over, and all rational though flies out the window.

3. All self-harmers are suicidal.
Some self-harmers may have suicidal intent or thoughts, but do not generalize those few to encompass everyone else. Most self-harmers are not suicidal. Sometimes self-harming is their way of staying alive. I like to believe that scars from self-injury are battle scars–physical manifestations of the inner struggle.

4. It’s a habit that can easily be stopped.
You would think so. Unfortunately, self-harm is not completely all voluntary, and like any other addiction, it’s hard to quit. Self-harm is addictive. It may seem bizarre to think hurting yourself would be something you’d be attached to, but it’s true. Humans are creatures of habit, and we often continue to engage in things that make us feel good. Self-harm for someone who struggles with depression does exactly that. As I said before, self-harm is an escape, and that relief that comes with it becomes ingrained. So, when things get tough, engaging in something that makes you feel better is the no-brainer.

I don’t encourage self-harm and I don’t romanticize it. I’m just trying to explain the reality of it. I don’t want people to judge someone who is already criticizing him or herself much more harshly than others could. When it comes to mental illness, we have to be understanding. I hope reading this post helps you understand a little bit of what it’s like to suffer from depression.

Depression is sometimes a precursor to suicide, so if you think someone may be going through depression, or is suicidal talk to him or her. Sometimes they just need someone there for them, because depression makes you feel a great deal of loneliness, so knowing they have someone can make a huge difference. There are also many resources available. Here is a link to the National Institute of Mental Health for more information about depression and resources you can seek or share: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/index.shtml