My pharmacy called me a drug abuser

I’ve had some events happen that have been weighing on me so I wanted to write a post to get a discussion going.

If you’ve read any of this blog, you will know that I have diagnosed mental illnesses – Bipolar disorder, Borderline Personality disorder, Generalized Anxiety disorder and a specific phobia. I’ve had these conditions for many years and am using several methods to help treat them.

Due to my many conditions and their severity, part of my treatment is a regimen of several medications. Over the years the type of drugs, dosages, and combinations have been changed more times than I can count. In fact, my doctor is still tweaking all these years later. This happens for several reasons but isn’t the point of my post, so I won’t discuss it here.

For these meds, I had been using a particular pharmacy near my home for years. They knew me when I came in and the assistants were always very friendly and helpful. Over the years, minor inconveniences happened. For example, they knew that I took a certain medication and filled it every month yet they never had it in stock when I was due for a refill, and the pharmacy owner changed a few times while I was a client there. But overall, I was happy with their service.

That is, I was happy. One day a few months ago, I went to the pharmacy to fill a prescription as I only had a few pills left at home. The assistant told me that I wasn’t due for a refill and when I explained to her that I only had a few pills left, she did her job and spoke with the pharmacist.

Instead of coming over to assist me, the pharmacist yelled over the counter at me, letting the entire store hear my business. Instead of admitting that they potentially made a mistake and gave me only a portion of my prescription (which they were known to have done), she accused me of abusing my medications. I was completely infuriated and embarrassed. She first asked if I may have made a mistake, I said that I had not because the pills were different colours so I kept track of what I took. She then kept proceeding with her questioning until she got to lashing accusations at me, including calling me a drug abuser.

I immediately left the pharmacy in tears and started looking for a new pharmacy. I couldn’t believe that someone would yell this at me across the pharmacy. It was extremely unprofessional and I was appalled at being accused and called an abuser when I had never once had an issue with taking proper dosages and I know I am very careful of my medications. Because of one error on their part, I was publicly humiliated. I will say that I am aware that it is possible for individuals to mess up their medications as much as it is possible for pharmacies to mess up dosages, but the fact that they went straight to abuse was insulting.

From there, I decided on a small pharmacy that came recommended by a friend of the family. I knew one of the pharmacy assistants and everyone I came in contact with was pleasant, so it started off well.

Gradually, the new pharmacy let things slip. They would fill my prescriptions and not be able to find them behind the counter. They would lose faxes from my doctors office (and admit they lost them). They would switch the dosage of the pills they had given me so I needed to take a different number of pills and forget to tell me, so I’d find out when the pills looked different and I specifically read the labels.

Because of these small issues, I made it a habit of reading the labels every time. In case you aren’t aware, many psychiatric medications are very dangerous. There is the possibility for bad side effects, withdrawal, addiction, and even overdose if the wrong amounts are taken.

One day I got home with my medications and was about to take my night-time dosage when I was reading the label of a newly filled prescription. The pharmacy had incorrectly done addition to make up a dosage on the label, making the total dosage incorrect. Had I not read the label and checked the pills, I could very easily have overdosed. It wouldn’t have been enough to kill me, but it would have been enough that I would have experienced side effects including no sleep (which is related to a manic episode in those with bipolar disorder), a horrible next day with shakes, stomach aches, and blurred vision, brain zaps, and more, due to the change in dosage.

The moral of this story is to be vigilant when checking and taking your medications. I lodged a complaint with the first pharmacy but nobody was held accountable because it was the pharmacy owner who accused me. My next move is going to be contacting the college of pharmacists to report the ineptitude of pharmacists in my area.

I am well aware that people make mistakes. I am also aware that I take many medications every day, so it is a lot for them to keep track of. But pharmacists need to be held accountable because people can die if they continue to make these serious mistakes. Luckily I have been able to stay on top of this but when I get into an episode it is much easier to make a mistake so I rely on them to be accurate and make it easier for me to take my medications properly.

What do you think? Should pharmacists be held accountable? How can we attack this problem to ensure that people don’t suffer consequences from wrong medications and/or dosages. Let’s open the dialogue!

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Coping Boxes – What are they and how do I create one?

*This is not meant to be medical advice or replace advice from medical professionals. I am simply sharing a coping strategy that I have adopted*

A coping box is a tool that a person can add to their mental health toolbox. It is literally a box of things that can help you to cope in a distressing situation. If you can, keep your box somewhere that you will see it frequently so that it comes to your mind when you might need it. I also find it helpful to periodically take out the box when you are in a stable mood – you will remind yourself about the tools that you have, you can add to it, play around with the items a little, and it will be more salient to your mind when you are in need of it the most.

Above is a photo of my coping box. I bought mine (a plain white photo box) at a craft store but any box will do.

I chose the following items to put into my coping box because I thought that they would benefit me personally.

  • A notebook and pen to write with. I chose a bright yellow, sunny coloured notebook that I had at home. I got this one in a pack from Walmart, but you can also find them at the dollar store, or even on Amazon.
  • A few colouring pages that I printed off from the internet. Colouring is soothing to many people, myself included so I thought that these would make a nice addition
  • Some Play-doh. This is included to help keep my hands busy in case I have any thoughts of unhealthy coping strategies
  • A squishy ball is another way to keep my hands busy if the Play- doh doesn’t work
  • Some calming essential oils. I chose a lavender and roman chamomile because they work for me personally but there are many to choose from
  • A tea bag. I’m a big tea drinker and chose a blend that I find calming. Many people find chamomile works for this purpose so consider that for your box
  • A jar of bubbles. These are included to help slow my breathing in cases when I start to hyperventilate. I bought mine at the dollar store.
  • Finally, I used a soft covered photo book and filled it with inspirational quotes, funny memes, pictures of loved ones, and pictures of the ocean (which I find to be very comforting)

These things may or may not work for you. There are other items that can be included in a coping box, depending on your own personality and needs. But have fun and choose items that will work best for you and your needs!

Exercise for anxiety and depression – what has worked for me

*This post contains affiliate links. If you order from my link it will not cost you anything extra but I will get a small commission*

My therapist has been telling me for years that I need to make a regular practice of exercising in order to help myself feel better. I always said yeah, yeah, I’ll do it, but I was so busy with life and feeling so horribly mentally that this felt like an insurmountable task.

Researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky also talks about this in her book The How of Happiness, which I recently finished reading. In one study, participants with depression were put into groups and the studies have found that exercise works better than medication at relieving depressive symptoms! Now, don’t stop taking your medication, but this is a huge finding!

When you aren’t feeling well mentally, whether that be a depressive low or a manic high or even a ball of anxiety, the last thing that you might feel like doing is starting a regular exercise program.

I know that for myself, when I feel depressed, just getting out of bed feels like it will take all of the energy that I have. Showers become few and far between. Meals become irregular and unbalanced. Housework goes untouched. And responsibilities can be left undone (see this post about depression for more about my experiences).

Similarly, when I’m experiencing high levels of anxiety or having a panic attack, surviving is where my priorities lie. Look for a future post about how anxiety affects me personally.

All this is to say that I finally decided to take my therapist’s words seriously and give this exercise thing a try. I had a really bad week, mentally, last week. I was full of anxiety, I had days of depression and days of hypomania – I was rapidly cycling through moods.

from Amazon.ca

One day, I was feeling particularly anxious so I hopped on to my mini rebounder (trampoline) that I used to use when I was a competitive dancer. I put on some music that made me feel like dancing (The Struts – my new favourite band). And I just started to jump! It was a good cardio workout and I could feel that my legs were a bit out of shape, but jumping felt good! I only did this for about 20 minutes. This is something that is totally sustainable for a lot of lifestyles, but you can start out small with even 5 minutes of exercise, every little bit will help.

My anxiety symptoms went way down immediately after this high intensity exercise. I was shocked. This worked better for me than taking a pill like Ativan or Valium.

Now, this feeling didn’t last all day. I had a few hours of feeling good before my symptoms started to return but that was a few hours I wouldn’t otherwise have been feeling good.

My degree in psychology has taught me to not take a one-time situation like this as conclusive proof. And I’m not trying to do an actual study with proper participants and variables, but I wanted to see if this was the real deal for me personally.

Over the next 10 days (up until today), I’ve been tracking my exercise and moods. I haven’t exercised every single day, as I probably wouldn’t if I was working full time and taking care of my daughter, but I exercised more days than I didn’t.

What I found is that I almost always felt better after a 20-30 minute cardio exercise routine than I did before working out. This is huge for me! One day I woke up feeling extremely irritable, which is a symptom I often deal with when I’m anxious. So I decided to exercise that morning, and the irritability went away.

I’m going to continue with this plan of exercising a minimum of 3 days a week and see how I’m feeling, but I have hop!

I’ll add a couple of caveats here. First, this is in no way intended to replace prescribed medication. This exercise plan is something that I’m doing in addition to taking my prescribed medications. Second, the episodes that I went through last week were pretty mild for me, so I don’t know that this would be as efficient if I were in a deep depression and had a hard time getting out of bed. Third, this may not work for everyone or every circumstance but it gives me hope and I wish that it will do the same for others.

Take care of yourselves!

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25 Simple Self-Care Ideas

I’ve put together a list of some simple self-care practices. Some of these I only use occasionally and some I use frequently. You can pick and choose what works best for you, or use this list as an inspiration for your own self-care routine.

Some examples of easy self-care:

  • Brush your teeth
  • Read a few pages of a funny, light, easy-to-read book (or if that’s not your thing, pick a book you will enjoy)
  • Take a walk in nature, even for just 10 minutes
  • Take a hot shower or bath
  • Do a home manicure or pedicure
  • Apply a face mask
  • Engage in a hobby you enjoy, start with 10 minutes
  • Cross something simple off of your to-do list
  • Brush your hair
  • Apply lotion to your hands
  • Write a thank you note to someone you love
  • Watch a funny movie
  • Organize one drawer in one room of your house
  • Draw or sketch something
  • Write 3 things in a daily gratitude journal (you can buy one cheap on amazon, or use a journal from the dollar store)
  • Colour a picture (you can find adult colouring books on amazon)
  • Watch a sport that you enjoy
  • If you’re struggling to get out of bed, just try moving to the sofa
  • Do an internet search on something you would like to learn about
  • Make a vision board – either with paper and glue, or on your computer
  • Buy yourself a fancy coffee or other treat that you like
  • Write in a journal
  • Pet an animal – if you don’t have a pet, visit a friend who does
  • Write a list of things that bring you pleasure (Tip: do this when you are feeling well so that you can refer back to it when you are having a difficult time)
  • Go to a local greenhouse and browse beautiful plants

These are 25 of my best self-care tips. I like keeping a list of ideas nearby so that I can turn to it in times of need. It takes weeks to develop a habit but it’s never too late to begin and starting when you feel well will allow you to have tools to use when you are unwell.

All of this information is especially important when you are in the throes of a mental illness. It will be even more difficult to engage in self-care when you are unwell, which is why it’s important to start getting into the habit when you are healthy.

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4 Myths Surrounding Self-Care

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “self-care”? It can mean something different to each individual person as not everyone has the same needs or interests. However, self-care is important for everyone, whether you have a mental illness diagnosis or not. Studies have shown the effectiveness of showing yourself the love and attention you deserve. Self-care is also something trending in the media right now, so people are aware of it, but there are still myths surrounding it. I hope to shed some light on my experience with these myths. 

The following information is not to be used as medical advice, as I am not a healthcare professional. I am simply writing from my own experiences. What has worked and been true to me, may not work for someone else.

There are many myths surrounding self-care that prevent many from partaking in it and these myths can come from various sources. I am going to focus on the four most common myths and what about them is untrue. 

To start off, some people think that self-care costs too much money.  Showing love to yourself does not need to be extravagant and cost a lot of money. Many times, people think of self-care as taking a day at the spa. This is time-consuming, expensive, and impractical. Caring for yourself can be something free that is done from your home, such as taking a hot bath. 

A second myth is that it takes too much time. Self-care doesn’t need to require an hour of private time a day, every day. It can be performed in small intervals a few times a week. Take a 10-minute walk somewhere in nature, three times a week.

Third, there are individuals who feel that it’s selfish to put themselves first. This is where the analogy of pouring from an empty cup comes in, or the one about putting on your own oxygen mask before that of your dependent. You need to take proper care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else. It is NOT selfish to take care of yourself. 

A final example of a myth surrounding self-care is that people feel that they don’t need it. Everyone needs to show themselves some care and love, no matter what their situation may be. Self-care is not just a way to prevent relapses of mental illness symptoms but is a way to maintain optimal mental health.

These four common myths may come from many sources – a person’s own ideas, things they have read, or even societal pressures. But the important thing is to debunk these myths and find a way to show ourselves love in whatever way we can. 

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How to make the most out of DBT

*This is not meant to be medical advice. I am not a licensed healthcare professional. I am sharing personal experiences with this mode of therapy and what worked for me. Tips that helped me may or may not work for someone else. 

*This post contains afflilate links. You can purchase items from my site and I will make a commission but you do not pay more for it

DBT stands for Dialectical Behaviour Therapy. It was created by Marsha Linehan and is typically used to treat Borderline Personality Disorder. I have done this program twice and found it to be much more helpful the second time. If you have the option to repeat it, do it as many times as you need to. Where I live, there is a free program offered through the local hospital system, so it doesn’t cost anything to learn new skills or take the program multiple times. All you need is a referral from your doctor.  

Distress tolerance is the first section of the second DBT program that I did. By the last week of this section and I found myself feeling very overwhelmed. In the full DBT program, there are three main sections – Distress Tolerance, Emotion Regulation, and Interpersonal Relationships. A different skill is taught each and every week. This means 24 total skills over the course of the program! With only a week spent on each skill, I found that it is difficult to become proficient in any of them. I’ve also found that when it comes time to use a skill, I felt too overwhelmed by choices and didn’t have any of the skills committed to memory well enough to use. 

I know that I can’t be alone in feeling this way so I decided to write a post about DBT skills and how to overcome the overwhelm that you may feel during a program. 

Here is what I suggest to make the most out of a DBT program. 

Participate Fully

First of all, it is important to participate fully in your program. There are several ways to do this. Listen while you’re in a group, ask questions, pay attention to the experiences of other group members, take the time to do your homework each week, and practice the skills as many times as you can during the week. 

Practice when you are feeling well

A lot of these skills – especially mindfulness – can be practiced at any time, in any situation. So when you are feeling good, take the time to practice them! This will make it so much easier to be effective when you are actually experiencing a difficult time. 

Keep your manual close by

If you have your manual somewhere that you can see it, you are more likely to use it. When you are experiencing a difficult situation, you can easily open your manual and find a skill that will work for what you are going through. If your manual is hidden away, you may not think to use it.

Use Mindfulness Daily

This is repeating some of the points from the “practicing when you are well” section but I really want to stress its importance. Mindfulness is a big part of DBT as well as mental health in general and it can be used in numerous situations with any type of mental illness. In a future post, I will go more into detail about what constitutes mindfulness and the best ways to practice it, but for now, I’ll just say to practice it daily and it will become a habit for many life situations. 

Use additional resources

There are many resources that you can use to compliment your program. Some examples are: finding peer support, purchasing a workbook (like the DBT workbook from Amazon), individual therapy, and books on Borderline Personality Disorder (e.g., I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me). 

These are some of the tips that have helped me get through my programs without being too overwhelmed and finish DBT with some usable skills. Contact your doctor or local hospital to find out if there are any similar programs in your area. 

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Loss

This event happened to me in 2012 but I haven’t really written about it and it’s a part of my story so I’d like to include it here.

In August of 2012, I found out that I was pregnant. We weren’t exactly trying to get pregnant but I had just gotten off of my birth control pills. I was over the moon excited. There were so many things in my life that I was clueless about, but one thing I have always known is that I wanted to be a mom. That lifelong dream was finally coming true. I didn’t tell many people, just close family, but I started planning right away. I made a cute Pinterest board of baby ideas, we talked about names and decorating the nursery and window shopping online for all of the things that a baby would need. I was incredibly happy.

On September 9th, 2012 (which also happened to be our second wedding anniversary) I started spotting. We decided to go to the hospital just to be safe. The doctor took some blood to test my HCG levels. It was Dr Chaudhry on call that day. She came back into the room to give me the worst news a new mom could expect to hear – I was losing my baby. It was early, I was 6 weeks and 2 days pregnant. But my baby was alive and real. The doctor had zero bedside manner and told me that everyone has a miscarriage and it’s not a big deal. That just about destroyed me. Michael turned white as a sheet and went into the bathroom connected to my room. My parents were there to comfort me. The doctor told me to just go home and everything would pass naturally. I walked out of that hospital like a zombie. I couldn’t believe that this was happening to me. My world was shattered. I remember going home and laying in bed and just staring at the wall crying. I cried like I’ve never cried before. Eventually I couldn’t cry anymore so I just laid there staring. Occasionally I moved from the bed to the recliner to put my heating pad on to manage the cramping. I went through the motions for a while. Not really living. I was angry at everything and everyone. I couldn’t understand why people were telling me that things happen for a reason. What reason could there possibly be for my baby dying? It wasn’t fair. I saw pregnant women everywhere and it just made me angry. When I heard a complaint about pregnancy or babies a fire burned in my soul. A school acquaintance of mine was due to have her baby the day before mine was due (which was May 2nd 2013), so I had to watch her healthy pregnancy progress as I sat there, empty. I remember doing a lot of walking. I would lace up my shoes, plug in my headphones and try to walk away my pain. My song of choice was The Funeral by Band of Horses. This song was written about seeing relatives at family events feeling like funerals, but for some reason the music really spoke to me. I tend to gravitate more towards melodies than lyrics. I played that song on repeat and angry walked around my neighbourhood day after day. Scarlett probably appreciated all of the walking, but she knew that something was wrong. She was a wonderful support during this time. I don’t think that Michael (my ex-husband) really knew what to do. He was upset but he didn’t take it as hard as I did.

I knew that I still wanted to have a baby so at some point we decided to try again. I had joined an online forum for support and learned more about fertility than anyone needs to know. I felt that the more I knew, the more I could control. I read books. I read articles. I read posts from other women going through what I went through. Looking back, I’m not sure how healthy the forum was. There was support there but I think it also kept me reliving the pain. And month after month (despite using fertility apps, ovulation kits and basal body temperature thermometers), I kept getting negative pregnancy tests. It was probably the stress because I wanted this so bad. When Mother’s Day came after my loss, my (insensitive) aunt – who we don’t speak to anymore – made some comment about me having to wait to eat my dinner because I wasn’t a mom. I just about lost it and had to leave the room to cry.

About 9 months later, I finally got that positive pregnancy test. It was May of 2013, around the time my baby should have been born. I was happy for the positive test, but sad about the fact that I should already have a healthy baby at that time. It felt like an absolute eternity but in hindsight 9 months is really not that long, and I needed the time to process my loss and be able to handle a new pregnancy. My youngest brother found out that I was pregnant and asked if that meant that I wouldn’t be angry anymore. Clearly my feelings weren’t just internalized like I thought. I was nervous every day. I was just waiting for bad news, I couldn’t just relax and enjoy the pregnancy. At 9 weeks, I had some spotting and went into an absolute panic that it was happening to me again. I vividly remember laying on my bed in the living room, elevating my feet and watching Murder She Wrote. Michael must have been working because I was alone. It turned out to be nothing but I was terrified the entire time. 9 more months later, on January 27th, 2014, my beautiful daughter Evelyn was born. There was some birth trauma that doesn’t have a place here, but when I finally got to hold her I just cried and cried. She had the most beautiful, big, brown eyes and she was so alert. We bonded instantly. To this day, that was one of the best moments of my entre life.

I felt a little guilty about being so happy. I had spoken with so many women who had stories that were so tragic that I don’t know how they had the strength to keep going. A loss at 6 weeks of pregnancy is different than a full-term stillborn or a baby who lives hours or days before passing away. But I still feel that any loss is a loss and moms are allowed to feel their pain. Miscarriage is something that happens so frequently and often for unknown reasons, but that doesn’t make it any less painful when it happens.

Evelyn is now 5 (almost 6!) and while this happened 7 years ago, I can still remember the pain like it was yesterday. I am grateful every single day for my daughter. I know how fortunate I am to have her. Not everyone gets a happy ending to their story. Through all of my mental illness episodes, Evelyn is what has kept me going. I had finally fulfilled my dream of becoming a mom and I was determined to be the best mom I could be, even when I was experiencing my darkest days. Sometimes I was in the depths of despair and it seemed like I would never see light again, but my daughter never was far from my mind and she has saved my life several times over.

I’ve struggled with how to end this piece. I would like to offer support to moms who have experienced loss, in a sensitive way. Everyone experiences their own stories and losses in their own ways, so I can only speak for myself. Loss changes you forever, but I also believe in hope. I’ve walked a difficult path in a few ways but I’m plowing through and blazing a new trail in hopes that others can take my experiences and help live their own best stories.

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Withdrawal

I’ve been debating a post like this for a while but wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. The experience I went through yesterday proved to me that I needed to write about this, so I’m just going to go for it and write what I feel. 

Withdrawal. 

What does that word mean to you? What kinds of things come to mind? For a lot of people, this word has negative connotations and is related to those suffering from addictions to serious drugs. 

What a lot of people might not know is that it is possible for people to suffer from awful withdrawal symptoms from the psychiatric medications that are legally prescribed to them. 

I have been on medications for more than half of my life, and my list of meds includes most of the drugs ever produced. My prescriptions are forever changing and the doses constantly increasing until I max them out and have to switch to something else. Finding a “drug cocktail” that works at an optimal level and doesn’t cause horrific side effects is akin to looking for a unicorn. It is a frustrating process to say the least. It makes you feel like a guinea pig. Your doctor is basically playing trial and error until something seems to click. And then you wait and hope that it continues to work. This is the best option that we have right now. Another huge gap in care for mental health. 

I’m normally very compliant with taking my meds. Even when I’m feeling good and sometimes have those thoughts that maybe I don’t actually need to take them, I still continue on my regimen. I believe that the meds are for my own good right now so I know that I must take them.  

But every once in a while for one reason or another I miss a dose. Sometimes it is just a matter of forgetting. Sometimes I simply feel too tired to swallow handfuls of pills. Sometimes I’m not feeling well and can’t get them down. Sometimes I just fall asleep too early for my nighttime dose. Whatever the case, just one dose missed is enough for me to experience withdrawal symptoms. 

This is what I experienced yesterday, after missing one single night time dose of several of my medications. 

I had a headache. I was hot and cold. My stomach was in knots. I couldn’t eat to keep anything down. I was tired but couldn’t sleep. I felt like my skin was crawling. I had the shakes. I was fuzzy and disoriented. My brain was foggy. Getting out of bed felt like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. I was anxious. My entire body felt horrible.

And these are just the symptoms that I can put into words. I wanted to write this post last night so that the desperation I was feeling would seep into my writing but I couldn’t function at a high enough level to get up and actually write anything. 

So why am I writing this? Why not just ensure that I take my meds and keep quiet about it? I feel the need to speak out because this is what so many of us are dealing with on a regular basis on top of mental illness. It’s not often that I let this happen (I set alarms on my phone and have a pretty good system in place) but I’m not perfect, so it does happen. I feel so terrible when I’m in withdrawal that I do whatever I can to not feel that way. 

Furthermore, there is a larger issue here. Many of these medications are old. They have been around for decades. Why do we not have better options now? Why do doctors still have to play trial and error? On top of that, why are doctors so quick to whip out their prescription pads and write scripts for these drugs that can be so harmful? What other solutions can we create for this mental health crisis that society is dealing with? We need to be creative here and work together. 

This is my purpose. I was put on this earth to go through these experiences so that I can use my unique gifts to speak out about what is happening and try to find creative ways to fill the gaps. I hope that you have learned something from this post or become inspired by it – together we can make change!

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What Depression Really Looks Like

This is me. A normal mom in her early 30’s. I look just like anyone else, and sometimes I even have a smile on my face. You may not know it to look at me but I suffer from mental illnesses, including depression.

People often imagine a depressed person as someone who is sad all of the time. But there is much more to it than that. Everyone gets sad or has “the blues” from time to time, and that is completely normal. It is also normal to feel extreme sadness and show other symptoms like crying when in periods of grief. Clinical depression is different and is not normal sadness.

A brief example of the criteria for depression from The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual are depression most of the day, every day, reduced interest or pleasure in activities, changes in weight (gain or loss), feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness, and thoughts of death or suicidal ideation. These are all clinical terms and can be very subjective. The terms are subjective and depend on honest reports from the patient about what they are feeling. But these criterion leave out so much of what a depressed individual’s life is actually like. Next, I’ll outline some of the lesser talked about symptoms from my own experience.

Exhaustion

First, not being able to get out of bed for days. Not for anything. Not to shower, not to eat, not to watch TV. Everything feels like a giant, exhausting struggle, and when you’re depressed, you don’t see what the point is in getting out of bed and engaging with life. This has obvious effects on weight, and personal hygiene, but when I am in a depression, I really don’t care about those things. I’m just trying to survive. The mental and physical exhaustion is overpowering.

Isolation

Isolation is a huge one for me personally. When I’m feeling a depression, I isolate myself from everyone and everything. No seeing family, no seeing friends, no social media. Being around people is exhausting. It is too difficult to put on a happy face and smile or act like my normal self. And I have no desire to engage in any social activity. I don’t feel like I’m worth it and nobody would want me there anyway.

Negative Emotions

Many other negative emotions come with feeling depressed. A couple of examples are guilt and shame. You feel guilty for not being able to keep up with commitments or being a good parent/friend/relative, etc. You feel ashamed for feeling the way you do and think that you should be able to “snap out of it”, which I believe comes from the stigma associated with mental illness.

Loss of Enjoyment

Finally, loss of enjoyment and pleasure or ability to carry out daily activities. I am a person with several hobbies, but when I’m depressed, I don’t engage in any of them. I also have my own home and have responsibilities to maintain it. Below I’ll show some photos of what my house can look like when I’m in the middle of a depression. Piles of unfolded or unwashed laundry. Dirty dishes for days without being washed. Floors that need sweeping and washing. Bed not being made. These are just a few examples.

Housework

Another thing worth mentioning is how difficult it is to maintain a household while depressed. I am a single mom so all of the household responsibilities fall to me. Here are a few photos from my house after a depressive episode.

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It’s really embarrassing to see these photos but I feel that they need to be shared so that people know that they are not alone. If it is so hard to have the energy to take a shower, imagine how difficult housework must be!

Conclusion

But this does not need to be your life!! I’m working on another post that is going to explain further, but give yourself lots of self-love when you are feeling this way. Ask for help if you have people in your life who can help you. There is nothing to be ashamed of, despite the stigma. You can beat the depression. It’s not an easy task by any means, but you can do this!! It has taken me years of work to try and improve my depression. I’m not perfect, and I still have my bad days, but I’m learning how to show myself love when I need it and get through a depressive episode much more easily than I could before. More to come!!

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Reiki and Unconditional Love

Today I had a rough day. I’ve been feeling pretty good the last couple of weeks and today put all of my coping strategies out the window. And you know what? That’s okay! It is going to happen sometimes. It is also okay that I didn’t quite know how to handle it, I have lots of supports in my life who I can turn to when in need.

I was dealing with a few pressures in major areas of my life – my finances, my home, and my job. Legal action was involved, and several distressed phone calls were made and emails sent. It was the making of a very stressful day, which is never good for your mental condition.

I really tried to keep a positive mind. I tried to think of all of the things that I have to be thankful for (and there are many!) but I still felt agitated, irritated, and out of sorts.

After speaking with one of my favourite people (who is a great support in my life), I realized that I need to let things be what they are and not fight it. It will happen as it happens. The worst case scenarios that I am imagining probably won’t happen but if they do, it’s for a reason. It will be for the best in my life and for a purpose (Read more great concepts like this from Eckhart Tolle’s book entitled A New Earth Find it on Amazon.)

My supporter also suggested that I try some reiki and send myself some unconditional love, which is what I did.

I normally feel cold all of the time but while I was doing the reiki hand positions on myself, I could feel the heat radiating from my body – energy!! When I run through the Chakra hand positions, I let my body determine how long I need to hold them. This session, I spent a lot of time on the crown Chakra, the third eye Chakra, and the heart Chakra.

The crown Chakra (top of the head) is the Chakra of divine purpose and destiny. It balanes interior and exterior and creates a whole. It connects you with messages from higher realms. I think I spent time here to balance myself and listen to the powers that be.

The third eye Chakra (forehead, between the eyes) is related to the Pineal Gland. It is a physical eye that can look upward. It is the Chakra of questioning, for example things such as the spiritual nature of our existence. It also contains our inner vision. I think that I spent time here because I was questioning my existence and spirituality.

Finally, the heart Chakra is the centre of love, harmony, and peace. Blockage in this Chakra can result in immune system problems, heart problems, or a lack of compassion. This Chakra is always one that I’m drawn to. I need to feel love and harmony and peace (and I often don’t). I also have troubles with feeling compassion when I’m going through something difficult, so I know this Chakra gets blocked for me and needs extra time spent on it.

While I had my hand on my chest, I also used the symbol of unconditional love. It is like the @ symbol but with an “e” at the centre, instead of an “a”. I traced it on my palm a few times. I wrote it in the air and pushed it out away from me (to send unconditional love to others) and brought the last one back into my chest to bring myself unconditional love.

When I first heard of reiki (years ago) I wasn’t convinced that it was a real thing that could actually help me, but because I had an open mind and experienced it, I’ve been able to examine all that it has to offer. I’d recommend looking for a Reiki master in your area to give you a level 1 certification so that you can practice on yourself at any time that you need it.

Information on Chakras in this post come from a Reiki Level 1 Manual that I got from my practitioner, Maria Fiordalisi.

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Review – Cancer: A Book of Hope

I just finished reading Cancer: A book of Hope by Lise Bourbeau (available on Amazon!) This book came recommended to me by my life plan specialist.

At first, I wondered why she recommended this book to me, as I do not currently have a cancer diagnosis, nor do any of my close family members. But I quickly learned why this was an important book to read.

Bourbeau discusses everyone having an inner light or “God” that they need to bring out. We are made up of physical, mental, and emotional bodies, but they are not always in tune with our inner light (or purpose).

She discusses how mental struggles and related events can manifest themselves as physical illnesses such as cancer. This statement may seem to be placing the blame on patients, but Lise is merely pointing out that we need to give ourselves more self-love and focus on bringing out our inner light in order to heal ourselves physically. Furthermore, she is not saying that anyone purposely brings the diagnosis upon themselves, it is most often done unconsciously, and if we look back, we can often find events that prompt it. She provides case studies of individuals whom she has worked with in the past that lend validity to what she is saying.

Bourbeau describes how we often have an inner wound of “rejection” that needs to be healed before physical ailments can be removed. This was the part of the book that spoke to me the most. There are many ways that this wound of rejection can be activated, and it can start from before we are even born! There are so many different factors at play and she writes another book dedicated to wounds such as rejection. I have added this book to my to-be-read list, so I won’t speak too much to it here.

This book is very much an alternative approach to diseases such as cancer, and it took me some time to appreciate what Bourbeau was saying. I wasn’t sure how I felt about people bringing these illnesses on themselves, however unconscious it may be. Because of my anxious nature, I also saw a lot of myself in the topics that this book was discussing and was feeling a bit fearful about bringing on a diagnosis of my own. But when I finished the book, I realized the importance of focusing on self-love and healing my own wound of rejection so that my physical body stays healthy.

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads and would recommend it to anyone who is working on self-acceptance and love, or anyone suffering from a debilitating physical illness such as cancer. It was an approach to physical illness that I’ve never experienced before but it really got my mind working.

Buy it on Amazon Here

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Living with a Phobia

Ever since I can remember, I’ve had emetophobia. For those who are unfamiliar, this is a phobia of vomit. It doesn’t matter if it’s myself feeling sick, someone around me being sick, hearing it, or seeing it on TV, it elicits the same reaction of panic. Now I know what a lot of you are thinking, so what, vomit is disgusting and nobody really likes it. But when you have this phobia, it is so much more than that.  

     When I experience vomit with any of my senses (by feeling it, seeing it, hearing it, smelling it, etc.) or if I think that it is going to happen around me. I get an immediate panic reaction. I’m talking blind panic. Can’t function panic. Loss of cognitive functioning panic. I have a sixth sense about it and can tell when someone else Is sick before they even know it because I’m so hypervigilant due to my phobia. 

     Imagine, if you will, being chased by a murderer who is chasing you specifically and you know that your life is going to end with horrible torture. Not a nice picture, right? But this is the kind of panic I experience every time vomit is around me. My heart rate quickens, my palms get sweaty, all of my attention turns to how I can possibly escape the situation, I’m forgetful, shaky, and feel completely out of control. 

     Sometimes I even have nightmares about it. It is usually the same nightmare. I’m trapped somewhere with vomiting people and I cannot escape. I panic, looking for any way to get away from sick people and not get sick myself. I wake up feeling terrified and exhausted. 

     Additionally, this phobia affects me in many areas of my life, it’s not just a phobia while it’s happening. I have a list of “safe” foods that I will order in a restaurant. Meat is not on that list. I’m terrified of it not being cooked correctly and ending up with food poisoning. I use public washrooms as infrequently as possible because I’m always afraid of hearing someone vomit or having the fear that someone was sick in the stall that I’m using. I panic when I’m in car rides with my daughter or other children for fear that they will get sick in the car and I’ll be trapped in there with a mess to clean up. I keep a bucket beside my bed in case my daughter gets sick during the night (we bed share). I have visions of becoming sick in public situations and not being able to make it to the bathroom. Cold and flu season is full of anxiety because there are always people around me who are getting sick. During the times that I do come down with this illness (or if my daughter or a family member is sick) – I do not eat. I will go days without eating, or eating only toast and drinking coke. This ends up making me feel worse because I have no food to give me energy. These are just some of the areas in my life that I avoid or make changes to in order to get away from my phobia. 

     I find this phobia to be very embarrassing because it’s not dangerous and I try not to tell people about it if I can help it, but I figure it’s time to speak out. A lot of people don’t understand what it’s like and try to make me feel better and say “oh, me too”, but I know that they don’t really get it. You cannot fully understand what a phobia feels like unless you have been there to experience it yourself. Especially when it is something like vomit that really doesn’t elicit any serious danger. 

     I’ve tried many things to help with this phobia. I take a daily anxiety pill that keeps some of the edge off. I often take Ativan when I’m feeling panic, but after taking it for so many years, I need a large dose for it to take any effect. I’ve been in therapy for many years, and we often talk about this phobia and how I can get over it. My therapist has recommended trying to visualize everything turning out fine, and telling myself that I can get through it, no matter how difficult it may seem. I’ve tried this and it helps slightly in certain situations, but it’s not been life changing. I have given some thought to exposure therapy, but my therapist pointed out that it is something difficult to do with my specific phobia because it involves health and hygiene. Furthermore, I’ve talked with my life plan specialist about this and she believes that this phobia may have come from a past life because I cannot pinpoint a situation in this life that caused it, and some of my earliest memories in this life are of vomit experiences (mainly other people). We are currently working on some ways to deal with it, including giving myself more self-love. What I would really like to do, is get rid of the immediate panic sensation, rather than learning to deal with the panic after it comes, but so far, I’ve been unsuccessful. 

     I hope that reading this has helped some of you feel like you aren’t alone. Many people suffer from phobias and they are difficult to treat. If you’ve been successful in treating a phobia, feel free to share in the comments. And WHEN the day comes that I get over this, I will post again with how I did it – because I do believe that this day will come. 

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Energy Work

On July 25th, 2019, I met with my life purpose specialist and a Reiki master to perform some energy work to help me with my mental health struggles. I had to drive over an hour to get to them and it was costing me money out of pocket, so I was hoping that this was going to be worthwhile. I had never done any type of energy work before so this was all new territory for me. I consider myself to be a spiritual person but I’m not religious. I believe in using essential oils, crystals, and in manifestation from the universe.

I drove up to the building with a feeling of anticipation and some anxiety about what I was about to experience.

When I got to the room, I could hear a few voices, I walked in and was greeted by one familiar face and two new friendly faces. The room looked as I expected it to. There was a bed in the middle, a couple of chairs around the outside of the room, salt lamps rested on counter tops, crystals were carefully placed on cabinets, essential oil bottles were nestled in a rolling cart. All things that I’ve experienced in the offices of other holistic practitioners. Even though I had never been there before, it felt like a familiar environment.

We started the session by having me lay down on the bed and the two practitioners used their respective techniques to examine the energy that was emanating from my body. They agreed that there was some coming from my crown but I had a huge amount of energy coming from the tops of my feet. There was also some stuck energy at my hips. My hands were also clenched (they always curl, it’s most comfortable for me). They practiced different modalities but both agreed on where the energy was surrounding my body. They asked me if I felt their assessment was accurate and I really did think so! My feet are constantly moving, so it makes sense that there is energy there.

The reiki master performed an attunement on me that took about 10 minutes. The purpose of this was to open my chakras and let the energy flow through my body. She had me close my eyes and rest my hands on a pillow so I wouldn’t have the urge to clench them. She worked from behind me and in-front of me. When she tapped my shoulder I had to put my hands in prayer position. As soon as she started working on me I felt a tingling sensation that started in my head and went down my spine. A couple of times it went right down to my feet. Towards the end I also felt a slight swirling of energy in my head as well. By the end I felt open and grounded.

After the treatment, she taught me some level 1 reiki. All of the hand positions that go with the 7 body chakras and how to use them to help myself.

The final thing that we did was talk about the trapped energy in my hip area. I have a history of self-harm and my right thigh is the location of my body that I choose to cut. I have physical scars on my thigh and a lot of negative emotions surrounding it. The practitioners had me place one hand on my thigh and describe how I felt about the area. For me, it was very negative and I associated the colour red with it. I also felt it in my chest, so they had me place my left hand over my heart. I closed my eyes and imagined the negative taking up as much space as it needed. I was told not to try and supress the negative like I normally do, but to allow it to hold space and just accept that it is there. I sat like this for a few minutes and just visualized these emotions taking up space. Then we decided to replace the negative with something positive. I was told to choose what I wanted to fill that negative space with and I chose love – I’m working on accepting myself and eventually loving myself. I imagined love but I couldn’t say out loud that I loved myself or that I was deserving of love, so the practitioners said it for me. They told me several times that I am deserving of love. Then I opened my eyes and didn’t feel quite as much tension in the area. I know that this is a sensitive area for me, so it is not going to go away after one treatment but now I know how to work through it when I’m feeling particularly negative.

Almost a week has now passed since this experience. I have used the reiki techniques that I learned, when I was having a particularly difficult day. I used the reiki chakra hand positions in a meditative fashion. It helped me to relax and allow the energy to flow through my body. I still have a lot to learn and will need much more practice to become proficient but I’m enjoying the process so far. I encourage you all to give this modality a try if you are able!

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Mama Meltdown

You guys, I’m going to get real here in this post – who am I kidding, this is a very real blog. But seriously, I want to warn you, if you’re triggered by talk of self-harm, please skip the rest of this post.

My daughter is 5. She is my reason for living. I don’t know of anything outside of her. She’s sweet and thoughtful and smart and creative. She takes dance lessons a few nights a week, following in mama’s footsteps. And she is the love of my life.

Today was her first competition at a highland games. She was up super early and was nervous because this was her first time dancing on stage with people she didn’t know. But she did it! She got up there and did her thing, and I was so proud of her!

When it came time for the awards it was long after she had danced. She was hot and tired and wanted to go home. I told her that she had to go on stage one more time to get her ribbon and gift and then we could leave. We got over to the stage area and she dug in her heels and refused to go on the stage with the rest of her group. She was crying and hugging me and pleading to be taken away from the stage.

What happened next was not my finest moment.

I wanted her to be up there so bad, I was doing whatever I could to get her up there, gently pushing her, pulling her by her hand. I raised my voice with her, which I never have to do. I let my emotions get in the way.

I was so angry that she wasn’t listening to me and getting up on that stage.

She didn’t win any medals and I was angry about that too. She deserved to win something but the judges didn’t agree. So she got her participation ribbon and we left the stage area.

We packed up our stuff and got in the car. She left with her father and I told her I loved her and was proud of her. And then I started crying in the car. All. The. Way. Home. 2 hours of driving. And then I cried more once I got home and was alone. This wasn’t just tears running down my cheeks, it was full-on ugly sobbing.

Why was I crying? I felt like the worst mom in the world. How could I get angry with a tired, hot, scared little 5 year old who is my whole world? Who was that person that got so angry? Then, as they typically do in my brain, the thoughts multiplied.

How could I have been so angry? What if she grows up with issues around being loved and supported because I didn’t support her? What if she doesn’t love dance like I do and I have to give up on having a dancer? Why am I being so selfish? Why am I failing her? We should have practiced more, but I’m too caught up in my own mental illness that I have been a less than stellar parent. Which then led me to thinking about how we barely read books at night anymore like we used to. She wants to be a doctor, how is she going to get through all of that schooling if I’m not supporting her? What if she turns out like me? (that one really scares me)

You get the idea. And this all made me feel so depressed and worthless. All I could think about was punishing myself. I knew that I had a shiny knife that I had previously used to cut myself, it was hiding up in my closet. I wanted nothing more than to hurt myself. I thought of death and what would happen if I died. Who would even miss me? The negative thoughts were swirling around in my brain faster than I could keep up with them.

But the light at the end of the tunnel is this. I reached out. This is something that is very difficult for me, especially at times like this. I always isolate myself and push down the negative feelings. But instead, I bit down on my lip and reached out to a friend on my “team” of awesome people who are helping me to get better.

They told me to make sure that I was safe, number 1 priority. And then to let these emotions sit, feel them, and let them go. This is a skill that is also taught in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy for those with Borderline Personality Disorder.

I cried some more, but I didn’t reach for that knife, and that’s a huge accomplishment for me. I thought about how to talk to my daughter about the situation so that she knows that I love and support her. I worked on distracting myself. I used some visualization techniques to imagine the negative emotions washing away like waves in the ocean. I also did a chakra meditation (I’m currently working on a post about this). And you know what? I started to feel better.

I know that I’m not perfect, no parent is, but I’m making a serious effort to better myself and crawl out of the dark hole that I find myself in and I think that counts for something. I apologize for my mistakes and learn from them. Self-acceptance and love is going to take time to develop but I don’t hate myself quite as much as I did earlier, so it’s a start.

So if anyone out there reading this has had similar moments, know that you are not alone and there are healthy ways for us to cope and then improve upon ourselves so that we don’t make the same mistakes again. Send yourself some love, no matter how impossible that may seem.

xo Krysten

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About me

I thought that I would start this off with a post about me so that you know who you’re hearing from. I’m going to try and keep this part as short as I can and add details through later posts.

I grew up in a small-ish town in Ontario, Canada. I had two loving parents and two younger brothers. My parents weren’t perfect and there was some dysfunction in the family (including mental illness) but they tried. My immediate family was also close with my uncles/aunts, cousins, and grandparents.

I was fortunate enough to take competitive dance lessons and spent the majority of my childhood and teenage years at the dance studio. I took my dancing very seriously. I can remember being in classes where all of the girls were laughing and having a good time while I focused on the steps we were learning and I was annoyed by their behaviour. While I didn’t have a diagnosis at this time, looking back, I can notice the start of symptoms from an early age.

I was bullied in elementary school and hated going to school. I had a few friends during this time but they never lasted.

High school was a miserable time in my life. I was trying to find myself, and through that process I made some bad choices that I still agonize over to this day. I knew for sure that I had anxiety and depression, but that was all that I knew at the time. Looking back, I can see that my symptoms of bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder started getting worse during these years. This is also when my paranoid delusions began. When I was 14 I officially started seeing doctors to deal with depression and anorexia. The anorexia didn’t last long – it was just a coping strategy for me. My mom found out what I was doing and got extremely angry with me so I moved to other coping strategies that were less noticeable to her. But the depression persisted.

I started University in 2006. I kept to myself and just worried about my studies. School was difficult with progressing mental illnesses. I ended up having to take time off from school and withdraw from classes because my symptoms worsened significantly and I just couldn’t deal with that along with school. I lost the honours part of my degree because of this so I cannot get my masters in Psychology unless I start a new BA. This is something that I really struggle with.

I got married in 2010. I was pretty happy during this time. I was on only one medication but it seemed to be helping.

In 2012, on our 2 year wedding anniversary I had a miscarriage. This was one of the most horrific things I’ve ever experienced. It put me into a deep depression and I was angry at the world for a long time afterwards.

I got pregnant again in 2013 and gave birth to my beautiful daughter Evelyn in January of 2014. There was some birth trauma that I still think about, but baby was healthy and that was my main concern. I also went back to school just before giving birth and finished my BA in October of 2014.

I was content with my new little family, but the anxiety and depression slowly started creeping back in. I didn’t have a regular psychiatrist at this time, so I went to my GP and got prescribed Cipralex. I had been off of all psychiatric medications while pregnant and breastfeeding. It took months, but it finally did start to help with my anxiety.

When my daughter was 2 years old, I experienced my first real manic episode. It lasted for weeks. I have a hard time admitting it, but in the end, this is what finished my marriage.

Over the following 3 years, I dated a bunch of losers trying to not be alone with myself. I experienced worsening symptoms of all of my illnesses. I got official psychiatrist diagnoses of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder. I was hospitalized 3 times in 18 months. And I had constant changes made to my multiple psychiatric medications.

This brings us to today. I just got out of a 10 day inpatient hospital stay. I’m on several psychiatric medications. I have poor coping strategies that include self-harm. But the most important thing here is that I am trying to get better. I’m not letting these diagnoses get me down. I am working with a team that consists of doctors, a naturopathic doctor, psychiatrists, a life plan specialist, a peer mentor, outpatient groups at local hospitals, and I’m reading as much as I can to try and dig my way out of this hole.

Why am I sharing all of this with you? This is my purpose. My life design states that I am on this earth to experience trauma because I am strong and I can get through it, and then help others to do the same. I’m not all of the way there yet myself, but my ultimate goal is to help people. If I can help one person, my purpose will be fulfilled. How exactly I am going to help people is still to be determined, but I’m hoping that writing is a start.

Welcome!

Welcome to The Path to Purpose! This blog will take you on my journey from mental illness to wellness while discovering my life’s purpose along the way. While I’m not a mental health expert (although I do have a BA in Psychology), I am a person with real world experience of living with mental illnesses. Please feel free to comment and add any questions I might be able to answer, or share your own personal stories if you are comfortable. My hope is to share my story and inspire others to work towards living their best lives. I’ll be posting personal stories, suggestions to help those who love someone with a mental illness, and any research or new ideas that I come across. Thank you for taking the time to be with me and I hope you get something from this blog. Have a wonderful day 🙂

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