Continue the Story

I wanted to write about the therapy session I had yesterday but a piece of news had shocked me so much last night that I feel it pertinent to address.

The mental health community has been rocked by the news that Amy Bleuel, the founder of Project Semicolon, has passed away from suicide. She had been an amazing advocate, a strong voice within the community against the stigma of mental health, a positive, and encouraging person to all those who struggle with suicide. So when the news came to me, I was shocked. Not only that she had passed, but that she had died from suicide.

I felt it ironic because just last night, when my temporary tattoo kit had arrived, I decided to tattoo my arm with a semicolon. When I have something tangible that I can see, touch, and read daily, it helps me keep going. So I figured if I had a tattoo of the semicolon, I’d be able to look at it and realize that my story isn’t over.

Then the news came.

It made me think.

I told my psychologist yesterday that sometimes I feel guilty for being an advocate, or for doing something contrary to what he and I have discussed because I know I shouldn’t beat myself up, I know I shouldn’t feel the way I do, etc, but I still end up in the anxious/depressed situation.
“S, sometimes I feel really guilty… I feel guilty because I hear your voice in my head saying, ‘Jules, these thoughts? They’re not your reality. They’re just thoughts. They’re fleeting, which means they won’t stick around for very long. But they don’t define your reality’ and I think to myself, ‘S’ is right. Why am I moping then? Why can’t I stop moping? Why do I want to just die?’ and I feel guilty,” I’d said to him.
He sat up. He always pays extra attention when I talk about something that relates to our therapeutic relationship. He’s always very conscientious of the fact that sometimes the things he says could affect me.
“Oh yeah?” He asked.
“Yeah… I feel guilty because I know that recovery isn’t a straight path upwards. That sometimes I may regress. I know that…”
As I said that, S smiled because I had answered myself. Recovery isn’t linear.
The news of Amy Bleuel’s passing gives a lot of clarity to the issue. It teaches me that every single day is a battle, and sometimes, you may lose but hopefully if you have a good support system, you’ll never have to consider losing. Or ever find yourself at a place where you could potentially do some serious harm.
 
It’s awful to lose someone to cancer, or a disease, or old age, or accidents, but how much more awful is it to lose someone to suicide? This is in some ways a wake up call because it’s telling us that if we don’t check in with the people we love or give them our support, we may lose them forever.
 
All it takes is for one person to say “I care” to the person struggling with depression, for them to realize that they are worthy of love, and life. All it took for me were people who cared. The staff at CAPS had been that for me, but since then, my support system has grown. I’ve slowly learned to start loving myself as well through that.
I know what it’s like to stand in the dark, feeling like I’m all alone and that my only choice is to kill myself. And now, I also know what it’s like to be in the dark, but then have someone reach out their hand to me to walk me back to the light. Knowing these two sides, I really want to encourage anyone and everyone who is reading this to reach out to their loved ones, to let them know how much you care for them.
If you’re hurting, afraid, or need someone to talk to, please reach out. Someone will reach back. Please stay. You are so deeply valued, so incomprehensibly loved—even when you can’t feel it—and you are worth your life. You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 (U.S.) or 877-330-6366 (Canada), or The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386. If you’d like to talk to a peer, http://warmline.org contains links to warmlines in every state. If you don’t want to talk on the phone, you can reach Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. (**Note: I stole this from Facebook, from Dese’Rae Lynn Stage)
RIP, Amy Bleuel, you have made an impact to many – and I was one of them.

Thoughts From Therapy – #85

S and I talked about what I did on Saturday at the event. I was filled with trepidation as I recounted what I did (for context, read this: Strange Social Behavior).

I was nervous because I was afraid that I’ll lose S; that he’ll be afraid of me and pull away. I didn’t want him to feel those things. I also felt bad because I felt like I had acted inappropriately.

Continue reading

Impassioned Desires and A Sense of Purpose

Psychotherapy, joining the Peer Educators’ Program, and the divorce are three things in my life that have changed me for the better.

I was talking to my friend, El, and I marveled at how much I’ve changed, and how much I’ve done just in the space of one year. I thought about how the divorce had been a catalyst of even more exponentially growing change for me. It’s only been 4 months but the kind of things that I started doing, and the way I’ve started behaving have improved.

A few days ago, while at work, I was able to stand my ground during a minor altercation with my co-worker who was accusing me of stealing his tables. I not only stood my ground and adamantly protested his accusations as being wrongful, I also yelled at the guy for being ridiculous, for not watching his section closely enough, and that because of his incompetence, that I had to greet a table for him and take their orders. I didn’t yell very loudly – I just raised my voice – but it was enough for him to recognize that I wasn’t about to be bullied by him – even if he stands a full head above me. He recognized that I meant business and quickly shrank back down and apologized. He offered me a handshake to signify a truce. I had half a mind not to accept it but I did because I felt that he had learned his lesson.

For the first time in my life, I was in a public confrontation with someone who is much bigger than me in stature, and who has a very strong personality, and I didn’t shrink. I mustered all the courage I had and stood up for myself!

The divorce hurts. And I use the present tense because it still hurts me to think about what I’ve lost. At the same time, it also has empowered me to do all kinds of things that I would have otherwise never have done because either I would have been held back, or that I wouldn’t have felt it was appropriate to be off gallivanting on an adventure without my husband.

I don’t think I’d have been able to spend as much time on campus as I have been doing lately because I’d be rushing home. Nowadays, I have the freedom of being single and doing whatever I want, whenever I want. Sure, many days, that is actually overwhelming because many days, I don’t know what I want. However, I’d like to believe that I’m getting better at that…

I also had a chance to speak to my Director about my time as a Peer Educator, what I’ve learned, how it’s impacted me, and how I want to continue to grow. She had taken an hour of her precious time off to talk to me and for an hour, I gushed about how amazing my experience has been as a Peer Educator, how great it is to be able to create change and make a difference on campus, how I now have a clearer idea of what I want to do in the future, and a little about my background and how much the Peer Educator Program has impacted my mental health as well. The Director was so happy to hear me share all these things. She in turn shared some wisdom and some of her own passion. She kept telling me how much she wanted to cry because of how amazing my story was – she also told me that I’m so resilient and so strong.

I also self-disclosed my suicidal tendencies and tell her more about how much I’m struggling. Despite that, I have also decided to keep pushing on and to keep fighting. The part of me that doesn’t want to get better still fights back but I feel like she’s getting weaker by the day. It seems like it at least, when I’m on a good day like today.

The Director then said to me, “You are a a woman of color, like me. You are going to make an impact in the community in ways that all the Caucasian Peer Educators can’t. You’re going to reach the women who never speak up or come forward as sexual assault survivors. You’re going to inspire a new generation of “Jules”. As a woman of color, you give a face to what is possible. I gave a face to what’s possible for the other Peer Educators who struggle to find their place. Take JJ for example, she came up to me one day and said, ‘What? But you’re a black woman. How could you be in such a position of power? Wow… That must mean that I can do the same too! I want to be just like you!’ You will do the same for someone else”

I was just so awed by her. She is only 4 years older than I am but her depth of experience and the wisdom she’s gained from her years of experience really shows. I was so thankful that she had taken her time to talk to me today. It renewed my passions, and made me even more determined to follow through with my recovery. I felt fired up.

Later, I felt even more fired up when an old high school friend of mine messaged me. She had been in contact with me for months now because she had wanted to improve her English skills. As I was the person who had constantly gotten really good grades in English back in high school (and was even the only person in my school to have gotten the highest grade possible during the Malaysian University English Test), she had contacted me for help. I agreed to help her on a regular basis because she showed so much initiative and so much drive to change. English is not an easy language to learn as a non-native speaker so I was awed by her desire to improve despite the difficulty.

Today, she messaged me and said some really inspiring things. It made me even more fired up!

With her permission, I post these screenshots of our conversation here:

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I erased her full name and photo just to protect her privacy.

This conversation was a God-send. I was just so amazed at the timing. It was what I needed to hear. It was validating and urged me on even more. It humbles me to know that I can inspire others just by being me. It humbles me whenever people tell me their story. This is one of the reasons why I keep doing what I do.

I want more people to be successful. I want more people to be cognizant and mindful of their lives, mental health, and emotions. I want more people to care about others and give to others the way I am doing. I want people to pay it forward and keep doing so until all lives have been touched and changed.

What a world that would be!

I’m inspired, fired up, excited, humbled, grateful, and hopeful today. Despite the end-of-the-day struggle with depression and suicidality, I had had a very good morning/afternoon. Although I grappled with the idea of self-harm tonight, I also had more strength to resist it because of the motivation I received this morning.

It’s amazing what just one person can do to another – in my case, I had two people do to me what I try to do to others all the time – they reminded me of who I am, what my purpose is, and how I can change the world.

Reflections From Today

So I saw Dr W today, my psychiatrist. I told her how I don’t like being on Strattera and how tired it makes me feel. I also told her that it’s not working all that well anymore because I haven’t been able to focus or concentrate on anything lately. She asked me about my stressors and I revealed to her that I have many.

It’s the first time I’ve ever really been that forthcoming with her. I usually withhold just how badly I feel or how depressed I really am. I don’t tell her how often I have suicidal thoughts. All this because I know that she will prescribe me more medication.

I was right in my assumption because today, she upped my Zoloft dosage to 100mg because of all the things that I’m suffering through lately – with my move, my divorce, my terrifyingly difficult semester (which is only going to get worse as the semesters progress), my abandonment issues, my fears, my hectic schedule, my unstable financial situation, and work. She thinks that my loss of focus and motivation is due to these stressors and she hopes that by fixing my mood and anxiety, that the Strattera will start working again. She told me to give it 3-6 weeks and if nothing changes, then we should reconsider the Strattera.

To be honest, although I hated the heart palpitations, the sweaty and cold hands, the constant sweating, the flushed face, and the anxiety that Ritalin brought on me, I liked the other more positive effects like how it boosts my energy, how it keeps me going strong despite not having had a meal, how it helps me stop my sugar craving, and how I can control my diet better. Strattera makes me exhausted – all. the. time. – and I feel sluggish, my mind gets foggy easily, and my dry mouth symptom is the worst thing to deal with since I have to talk a lot – being a server, you can’t not be talking to your guests.

Anyway, so now I have to give Zoloft another try. It hasn’t really been doing anything for me. I doubt it will do anything even with 100mg.

After the meeting with Dr W, I headed to group therapy in which because the lead facilitator wasn’t able to attend, the co-facilitator was more inclined to let us rant instead of just focusing on how we feel at any given moment. One of the group members was having difficulty letting go of an unhealthy relationship, and the rest of us fervently encouraged her to love and respect herself first. To put herself first. As the session grew, we all started getting more and more “rant-y”. Near the end, the group member who had brought up her issue of unhealthy relationships talked about her career fears and insecurities now that graduation is approaching. She is Asian, like me, and we both share starkly similar backgrounds where our parents were concerned. Her rant about her parents brought me into the fray and before long, the two of us  were pretending to be our parents and saying things that Asian parents would say (things that people usually turn into memes). This prompted another member, a Caucasian, to express how angry he was that any parent would do that to their children and how it must be that his lack of cultural understanding is what is making him so angry while the other member and I are just accepting it as a lost cause.

As the group filed out the group therapy room, I said to T, “You totally just let us rant, didn’t you?” while chuckling.

T smirked and gave me a mischievous look.

“Well, it just seemed like Steph (not her real name, obviously) really needed it…”

“Yeah… She did… And I guess we all did…” I said with a smile. Most of the time, T had sat back and just listened, from time to time, he had an amused look on his face. Sometimes I wonder what goes on in therapists’ heads. I know S smirks to himself from time to time as I speak – it always makes me wonder what it was that he was smirking at. I never had the guts to ask him. I’m building up to it. One day, hopefully soon, I’ll ask him why he smirked or why he looks so amused.

When group therapy ended, I felt a great tug in my gut – I wanted to see S so badly. I saw that his door was closed with the “Do not disturb” sign hanging on the doorknob. It meant that he was with a client. I was upset.

And of course, like always, whenever I’m upset, I spiral downwards.

I thought about the rope that I had. I thought about the noose that I had tied last night. I thought about the anguished email I wrote to S. Then I thought about something I read on PaperDoll’s blog about how she realizes that her therapist isn’t her crisis line and that she shouldn’t be messaging her during crisis. I thought about the email that I had sent S this morning at 3.30am when I couldn’t sleep and the suicidal thoughts plagued me. It was a wonder that I didn’t get up from out of bed and hung myself then. I realized that I shouldn’t be sending him emails like that. He can’t answer me through email and technically, I shouldn’t even have his email address.

I want to hear from him constantly. It kills me that I keep thinking about him because I know that I shouldn’t be relying on him all the time. I need to grow up. I need to be the support I need. But of course, it’s easier said than done.

I waited until S was done with his session with his client. When I saw that his door was open, I took the bundle of paracord rope and marched to his office. I was going to ask the receptionist, K, if I could go talk to S but there was a line at the reception counter. I figured that if I didn’t go see S then, I probably wouldn’t. Besides, I am at CAPS so much that I didn’t think that anyone would stop me if I went down the hallway towards S’ office.

I was right because although T was walking down the hallway towards me, he didn’t make any moves to stop me. Neither did P, another psychologist that I had seen before for a crisis intervention session. In fact, she smiled at me. I think both T and P, who were both S’ office neighbors, knew that I was headed to S’ office.

My hands shook as I lightly knocked on his ajar door. S was at his desk. He looked up from his work and smiled at me.

“Hey…” He said.

“Hey… Um…” I started, not sure if I should explain what I was doing there standing at his door. I decided not to because I already felt quite awkward to stand there. My hand shook as I showed him the bundle of rope. “Can you… Can you please take this from me?”

His eyes widened a little when he realized what it was that I was holding. He quickly sat up in his chair and leaned over to reach for the rope. I had half a mind to pull my hand back as he reached. I didn’t want to be out of that option – if I were to die, I wanted it to be my choice.

“Yeah!” He said, as he took the rope from me. He then looked a little concerned. I clenched my jaw. My hands continued to shake. “Were you waiting? I just finished with a client…”

I wanted to say that I knew that but I didn’t want to come across as a stalker. Yes, S. I know. I’ve been watching you from outside of your window. Eee heee heee heeee heeeeee….

“Um, no… Yeah, I know. I saw that your door was open. So I thought… I could try to see if you were here…”

He hesitated and looked like he was going to say something else, but he didn’t and I could tell that he was gauging my facial expression and body language. Probably trying to figure out what it was that I wanted from him. I wanted to say more but I realized that I was standing outside of his office which is inappropriate. So awkwardly, I said, “Yeah… Okay… See you”

“I’ll see you next week, Jules…” He said.

“Yeah… Yeah you too… Take care…” I said as I wandered away, my hands still shaking. As I left CAPS, I wanted to punch things and scream in anger. I think I didn’t want my autonomy taken away – despite the fact that technically, I was the one who decided to give up that autonomy. I knew I had to do it. I’ve been toying with the suicidal thoughts too much lately. So much so that I learned how to tie a noose.

My week has been terribly hectic and when I pulled into my parking space last night, I had promptly burst into tears because thoughts of my ex crossed my mind, and thoughts of me being so lonely crossed my mind. They triggered an outflow of tears that were uncontrollable. A friend said that I am stressed. I feel like I’m at the brink of a mental breakdown. It feels like it’ll happen soon and when it does, I’m sure people around me will be surprised.

Of Sex, HIV, and STIs

Promoting sexual health. (Note: I had to blur out my school’s name because this is a semi-anonymous blog)

So I performed my first duty today as a Health and Wellness Peer Educator. I was very excited and happy to be at the atrium of my college’s student campus center to promote sexual health by manning a booth for free HIV/STI testing. I told students about the Office that I represent as well as how important it was for us to get ourselves tested at least once a year – and perhaps more if engaging in higher risk activities such as unprotected sex.

I was happy to be there and to do my part in busting the stigma and myths surrounding sex, condoms, HIV, STIs and healthy sex. I even took an HIV/STI test myself because I wanted to show my peers that HIV/STI is no laughing matter l – that even if I wasn’t sexually active, that my wellness is important and getting tested just means that I’m ensuring my health.

While we promoted the free HIV/STI testing, we also handed out safe sex kits (which contained a pamphlet about safe sex, a couple of condoms, a mint, a business card for students who wish to contact our Office, as well as a packet of lubricant), and condoms. Some of the condoms were flavored, some were just very creatively wrapped.

As I did my part, one of my colleagues said to me, “Oh Jules! I just love how comfortable you are being you! It’s so amazing and I really want to be like you!” – I was taken aback.

Comfortable being me???

I’ve never been comfortable being me! Although, now that she mentioned it…. It made me think. I had never felt more myself than I have been for the past month now. My haircut, my new wardrobe (with my plaid shirt that I wear as outerwear, and my geeky t-shirts that I wear as innerwear, my skate shoes, my jean chain, and the occasional leather bracelet), my training as a Peer Educator, my growing boldness to speak as well as to disagree with people when necessary, my eagerness to help, and my changing perspectives have made me more confident. I guess that confidence is then deemed as my being comfortable being me.

And this is why people don’t believe me when I tell them that I struggle really badly with self harm and suicidal tendencies. How can you believe it when I’m always so happy, boisterous, excitable, and confident?

Anyway… When I came home, an old friend from church messaged me because she was horrified that I had been giving out free condoms. She told me that as a believer of Christ, that giving out condoms implied that I was condoning sex outside of marriage. I disagreed with her and told her that the Office of Health and Wellness believes in advocating for all available options and then letting the person decide the best option that suits them without judgment.

I told her that if I didn’t give out free condoms, educate people on safe sex practices, squash some ridiculous misconceptions about HIV/STIs and sex, and help destroy the stigma, then I would do more harm than good. If people want to have sex outside of marriage, they’re going to have sex outside of marriage regardless of whether or not I hand out condoms. However, I believe that if I can provide people with the safe options to do so, and help them avoid infecting others and/or contracting diseases, then I would err on that side.

I’m a little upset by our conversation, to be honest. On one hand, it made me wonder if I was suddenly less of a Christian because I was handing out free condoms and therefore would be seen as condoning sex outside of marriage, but on the other hand, I stand by my belief because I think it’s unwise to preach abstinence only when that doesn’t stop the spread of diseases and ignorance. I’m simultaneously proud of myself for being able to disagree, but also worried that I am now a bad Christian or that I’ve let God down.

Many days, I struggle with trying to live my life the way I think I should, and feeling condemned by people and by God.

Renewed Passion

After the amazing experience I had at the Office of Health and Wellness Peer Educators’ Retreat, I’ve added one more thing that I could potentially do as a future career. I’m looking at different ways I can combine Computer Science with my other passions and I think I’ve got some ideas what I want to potentially do in the future.
Here are some of the ideas that I’m thinking about:
 
1 – Work for my Director at the MAC to develop technologies to aid in education and to build educational resources for the masses (schools, colleges, community learning centers, etc).
 
2 – Pursue my PhD in Computer Science Education and open a Computer Science Assistance Center using a similar model that the MAC is currently using – it’s super effective!
 
And now, 3 – Work for the Office of Health and Wellness Promotion to develop technologies to aid the Peer Educators as well as the campus, to develop apps/websites/other forms of computer tech to disseminate health and wellness related topics and data to campus citizens, and help coordinate the infrastructure for such reasons.
 
I know all of them sound ambitious but it all really boils down to my passion of wanting to make meaningful connections, to educate others in topics that are important to me, as well as further my passion for mental health advocacy.
Now, I’m not sure exactly how to do these things yet but at least I have an idea what I want to do. I want to make a difference in people’s lives in the educational aspect because the most meaningful time of my life has been when I was a college lecturer.
It’s also made me realize that I have made an impact on others – even if it was just for a day. And that to me is more priceless than money. It’s so important to me to know and to feel like I’ve contributed to society – even if it’s just the campus I’m in.
I know it’s going to be a tough journey because Computer Science is kicking me in the butt hard, but I also know that I’m going to work my hardest to make this a reality. This means that I’m going to have to work even harder than I have to help myself through my recovery. I’m still dependent on S, and hopefully someday that’ll change because I’ll have learned to rely on my own strengths, to practice self-care daily, to self-affirm, to self-love, and to keep growing.
After 8 painful months of suicidal thoughts, self-harm, severe depression, anxiety, and emotional turmoil, I hope that I can cope better and really commit to my recovery.

A Comparison of Past and Present

This was me, a year ago.

I had long hair and a different mental state. I was often a little less aware of myself, a lot less mindful and I struggle with many things. I struggled with depression, anxiety disorder, and ADHD.

This is me today.

I have  a bald fade on my sides and back of my head, accompanied by a mohawk with a fading teal color. I have my left ear pierced two other times so now I have 3 earrings on my left ear and one on my right. I still struggle with depression, anxiety disorder, and ADHD. In fact, my struggles this year have been so much more severe – so much so that I’ve been close to suicidal attempts each time I was triggered.

So what’s the difference?

Besides the stark physical difference where my hair is concerned, I feel like looking at the current picture, I can’t help but feel more me than the picture above it.

People have been pointing out the same thing.

I had coworkers who have said, “You know Jules, I can’t remember you with long hair. Somehow, it always feels like you’ve had short hair all this time!”, and “Jules, I cannot imagine you with anything but the short hair!”, and “Your short hair really suits you! Brings out your personality!”

They’re not the only ones who have said that. The group therapy leaders in Spring 2016 had said similar things – B had said, “I feel like you have a sense of confidence in you that I’d never seen before!”, whereas C had said, “It’s not just hair! It’s you. The hair encompasses all of you”

Somehow, I feel more comfortable with my wild mohawk/shaved do that I ever did with any other haircut. No longer do I uncomfortably brush my hair away from my face or try to tie it up to keep it out of my ears and face. Instead, nowadays, whenever I reach up to touch my head/hair, it’s to admire the way it feels on my head. Nowadays, I enjoy touching my head/hair and I’ve stopped fidgeting with how it looks. I even like to stroke the back of my head because it feels good to feel the tiny hair under my fingers. It feels velvety, almost like stroking a soft short-furred animal.

When I look at myself in the mirror, I can’t help but smile. The number of selfies that I’ve taken have increased. Every single day, I want a record of how I looked that day. I know no one else cares how I look despite the fact that I keep posting my selfies on Facebook, but hey, I care.

Despite the similarities of circumstances and things that I’ve been struggling with as the me last year did, I feel different. I feel like I’ve changed so much, grown so much, learned so much. Like I’ve mentioned yesterday, I feel like I’m stronger. Even if it’s just by a little bit. I feel different.

I’ve also just deleted about 40 people off my Facebook list of friends because I no longer talk to any of those people. It felt like a burden had slid off my back. Somehow, just doing the mere act of clicking the “Unfriend” button had a significant mental health impact. It’s like I’m starting anew.

On my stablest and calmest days, I can do this without freaking out. I’m glad that I’m having a stable and calm day today. I’m glad that I am able to have a day like this to recognize the changes that I’ve made for myself that has led to a stronger me.