Sometimes asking for help is the bravest move you can make. You don’t have to go at it alone.

Everyone wants to know how I lost my weight. The number one thing i contribute to my weight loss is getting my mental health under control.

 

People who struggle have asked me where to start, what was the biggest help in that department? The number one thing i contribute to getting my mental health under control is my amazing support system.

 

I’ve struggled for many years with my mental health issues, but went over 20 years undiagnosed and treated. After I had my first child in 2010, it was suspected I had postpartum depression and I got short term help for a few months. I continued on for 7 years on my own, untreated. There were manic highs, extreme lows, panic attacks, total meltdowns and explosions of rage. There are so many mistakes I wish I could take back, things that could have been avoided if I had help- but they can’t be undone. I work everyday to make things better, and make sure I try my best to prevent future mistakes.

 

I’m currently watching someone I care about struggle with similar issues. As a family, we offer help but there also has to be a willingness to accept help. I can totally relate. I felt there was a huge stigma with bipolar disorder that I shamefully hid my condition and denied treatment. Things won’t get  better until you accept help.

 

I’m extremely blessed to have my husband. I don’t know how I got so lucky, but for someone who has never dealt with mental disorders he certainly has done everything in his power to help. He was the first person to look me in the eye and say, “I love you. I love you so much that I can tell you what’s going on isn’t right, and this is outside my realm of helpfulness. WE need to get some professional help. WE need to get better.”

 

I can honestly tell you that it didn’t go well the first time this was brought up. I had a total meltdown, feeling broken and like a burden. I thought I was sabotaging my marriage and my family, and I didn’t want to admit those things could be my fault.

 

He just kept being there. He’d wrap me up in a hug when the rage or anxiety were too much, he would literally hold me down until I could calm down, even when I hated it. He saved me so many times from being destructive or even harmful to myself. He asked questions, he reminded me time and time again how much he loved me, and he kept coming back to getting help.

 

When I did accept help, there was an immediate burden lifted. Just accepting that I was going to try to make things better flipped a light on in a very dark room.

 

It’s been over 2 years of therapy now, and I never thought I’d come so far. It was his push that got me going, and he’s been steadily fueling the process the entire time. He’s come to therapy sessions with me, asked questions and been involved in my treatment. He researches and understands my medication. He supports holistic tools and has come home with weighted blankets, a UV SADD light, a vibrating mindfulness stuffed animal, essential oils, and my favorite- halo top ice cream. He even follows a Reddit thread about spouses of bipolar patients. He’s learned to recognize my symptoms, and has the ability to pull me out of OCD cycling and panic attacks. He is absolutely amazing, and I wouldn’t have had any treatment at all without him.

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He’s not the only one who’s stepped up to support me. My sister suffers from anxiety, and has other untreated bipolar loved ones. She understands. She admires my willingness to accept help and never stops telling me how proud she is of me. Her empathy extends so much further than words can explain. She listens, she asks questions, she’s always trying to understand more, but does it in a way that does not pass judgement. She takes the kids when I need a break, or lets me come to her house so she and her husband can snuggle my sadness away. She researches my treatments, like EMDR. She tried things with me, like using jigsaw puzzles to meditate. She perpetuates my success.

 

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My mom doesn’t always understand mental health, but she supports my journey to getting healthier. She’s a nurse, and she’s seen many patients abuse their diagnosis. She’s skeptical that a lot of mental health patients are incorrectly or over diagnosed, and she proceeds with caution. She also has not had much exposure to bipolar disorder. One person in our family was diagnosed with BPD many years ago. This person also had many other diagnosis, but the family used bipolar as an umbrella statement to describe all of her erratic behavior. The story I remember hearing as a child went like this:

 

My mother and my grandmother showed up at this woman’s house to pick her up for a lunch date. They arrived to find this woman dangling her infant out of a second story window. In panic, the two rushed to help. The woman explained that she smelled poisonous gas, and was sure they would all die. She had the baby out of the window so she could breathe. There was no gas smell, everything was okay. A person with ‘normal’ mental health would have exited the home instead of dangling the baby out a window. From what I know now, behavior like this was driven out of something other than bipolar disorder. Most likely a type of psychosis. However, this is the kind of behavior that my family associated with BPD. It brought shame to accepting my own diagnosis, and for a long time I did not share my struggle with my family.

 

My mom has come around. Sharing the steps that I’m taking to improve myself has really opened her mind to understanding. She even watches my daughter so I can attend my therapy sessions. She’s always there to take the kids if I’m wound up. She supports me through feelings, even when she doesn’t say the words. Her actions are there. She is involved with my life, and my children. She makes herself available to help when she can. She tries her best to understand, and I’ve never heard her use a negative tone during my entire journey.

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My children each have their own struggles, and have had help with their mental health issues respectively. My son has anxiety, and has a tough time with sensitivity- he cries so easily. My oldest struggles socially, and sometimes with frustration issues. They’re both familiar with coping techniques and terms like “mindfulness.” I don’t find it necessary to give them the specifics of my diagnosis or symptoms. I sometimes use words like ‘overwhelmed,’ ‘nervous,’ frustrated.’ They get it, they’ve even been there. My son is 8 now, and can recognize when I have an OCD attack, even though he doesn’t know what it’s called. When he sees my head shaking, he likes to ask me a question to try to break me out of my own thoughts. He loves telling jokes, telling me he loves me, talking about his day, asking about our schedule for the weekend- anything to get me talking to him instead of being alone with my own thoughts. He also attends a lunch group with the school counselor where he learns about mindfulness, regulating emotions, and coping mechanisms. It’s great that he’s getting help with his own anxiety, but it also makes him feel like a little superhero when he can use these techniques on me. He is a little superhero, my hero.

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I’ve had a HUGE outreach on social media. I have an incredible support net within my own family, but I now know that my web stretches much further, even across the country in some cases. I have just over 18,000 followers on instagram alone, and everyday I have messages of support in my inbox. After Christmas I posted about how EMDR changed my holiday, and the reaction from family absolutely melted my heart. There are strangers in support groups with kind words and advice, there are blogs and podcast that I follow who are on similar journeys. Support comes in so many different forms.

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There is one person who is most important. I support myself. Accepting that things are not okay is the first step. Opening your mind to options is next. Asking for, or accepting help is the big one. The most daunting is following through: actually scheduling and attending appointments, finding supportive people that you can be honest with, not being ashamed of your disorder. Find things that make you feel good. For me, blogging has been so helpful. A huge burden is lifted every time I can get words off my chest, out of my brain and into writing. It’s a way to organize and process my feelings, whether my followers read it or not. (although I hope you are!) I’m currently working on mindfulness and meditation. One of the biggest hurdles has been learning to triage my issues. What is actually important for me to tackle, and what little things are dragging me down today? What are the things I can not change, and have to accept? Where can I move on?

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As you can see, support comes in many forms. Each person in my life has shown love and joined my journey in different ways. Each brings something unique to the table. Having a support system is the number one key to my success. Being able to talk it out, and blog about things makes me feel so much better, but it’s the returned feedback that really pushes me forward. There is a difference between blogging for attention, venting your problems and blogging for support. I hope my story and my struggles inspire people to reach out for help. I hope you know that you are not alone. There are always people who want to help you, even if they are strangers. My inbox is always open to anyone who needs to talk.

 

Once you accept that you have a problem, and you’re interested in getting help it can be overwhelming about where to start. Most people don’t know what options are out there, what they can do for themselves or what people can do for you. Find out. Get educated. Research online, ask your doctor, ask a good friend. Build a support net, and then expand your web. You are worth it.

 

With healthy hearts,

Kate and the Kids.

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OCD and jouska – finding meditation tailored to fit you.


Jouska is a term to describe compulsively rehearsing hypothetical conversations in your head. It also takes up about 90% of the space in my brain.



Not everyone who has OCD is a compulsive cleaner. I have a friend who’s compulsions make her unplug everything in her room any time she leaves the house. She even has to reset her alarm clock daily. Personally, Part of my OCD is fixating on previous conversations and rehearsing ones that I may have in the future. I obsessively fill my mind with list, scripts, planning, and retrospect bias.



So you’re probably thinking “everyone does this.” I would agree with you. Everyone tries to think of something to say before they talk to someone cute. Everyone’s had a “why did I just say that” moment. Jouska goes a little further.



I still beat myself up over an awkward response to a compliment way back in my figure skating days. A high school girl that I really admired complimented my new haircut. I had a hard time even looking up from the ice skate I was tying, and the locker room started to warp. I awkwardly responded that I didn’t deserve her compliment, and my hair didn’t look nice on me. I stumbled out of the locker room and onto the ice, not able to control my arms and legs during my dissociative episode. This was fifteen years ago, and I think about it daily. Being awkward sucks. Being awkward in front of someone you really admire, even aspire to be- that’s just crushing.



I play out conversations in my head over and over in preparation of attending a social event. Planning and rehearsing bring out severe frustration if someone does not respond the way I anticipated, and my rehearsal does not go as planned. I feel like this is still in the realm of normal. I cross the line into jouska when I can’t sleep all night because I have to go to the grocery store the next day, and I’m wondering what the cashier will say to me.



My jouska is worst when I’m alone with my own thoughts- I zone out when driving, showering, having quiet time, trying to fall asleep, and during monotonous tasks. Everything around me becomes white noise as I obsessively make lists in my head, remember and rehearse.



I try everyday to have a healthier mind. I see my therapist, I try my coping skills, do my yoga,  etc. Yet somehow still, I’ll feel mike gently rest his hand on my thigh to draw me back to real life when the jouska takes over. I’m not talking now and then, but several times each trip we make in the car. I don’t even realize I’m gone until mike physically touches me to ground me back into the present moment. He realizes I’m drowning in my own mind before I even can, and throws me a life preserver every time. ( I wouldn’t survive this life without his support- I really did find my 1 in a million. )



So what do I do about it?



Meditation for me has always been unsuccessful. As soon as my mind enters a peaceful state the obsessive list making sets in. There are so many benefits to meditation that I really, really want to make it work.



On Friday my therapist gave me an article about how building jigsaw puzzles stimulate the brain almost identically to meditation. Getting a piece in the right spot releases short bursts of dopamine for happiness. The light focus puzzle building requires keeps you mindful, and in the moment. I shared the article with mike after my session, and an hour later he came home with four puzzles.



God love that man.


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The article inspired me to research other types of meditation that may avoid jouska. The thing that jumped out at me most was candle meditation, where watching a candle flicker and burn induces mindfulness and calming.



Mike ended up having to work tonight. I was disappointed he wouldn’t be around to puzzle with me, but it gave me an opportunity to try candle meditation.



I put the kids to bed, got on my comfy clothes, and headed for the home gym. I first stretched out with my yoga strap (my bad disc has really been acting up) and got myself comfortable on the mat. I lowered the lights, put on shavasana radio, and lit a candle.
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So how did it go? I was able to zone out for a few seconds at a time. I loved watching the flame flicker, and I celebrated small bursts of happiness when the flame synced up to part of the song as if they were dancing. This is the closest I’ve ever come to meditation, and I’ll definitely be adding this method to my nightly routine. I feel much more relaxed already, and I’m looking forward to resting for recovering instead of sleeping to escape. The this meditation thing could really help me out here.

 

Trying new things is an essential part of better wellness. For our bodies we try new food or exercise. For our social health we make new friends, and try new places. For our finances we try different stores, sales, and coupons. Mental health is no different. There are infinite possibilities. If you’re not feeling right, get help. Maybe that means calling a professional for a session. Maybe it’s just starting by making time for yourself. Maybe it’s just a workout, or a meditative session. There is no right or wrong way to feel better. Do what works for you. Don’t know where to start? Try Pinterest! They make it super easy to discover yoga poses, alternative meditation, new trauma therapies, even recipes to make your body feel better. The options are endless. You don’t have to suffer. Help yourself.

 

With healthy hearts,

Kate and the Kids.