2017, I’m afraid to say goodbye. You gave me the best year of my entire life. Truly. It was a year of triumph, success, and pay off. I can not thank you enough for showing me what life is truly supposed to feel like.
Fifteen years of being chronically sick with my mental illness and fighting each day with limited rewards for my efforts was rough. If something great did come out of my hard work, in a few days it seemed to be tainted by a fallback. My successes never felt real. I didn’t feel as though they were given to me but I felt as though I was given slack. Either I had more help than the average student or I was given a pass. Sure, I need to remind myself that simple tasks were 10x harder for me than the average student as well but there comes a time it just feels like excuses.
2017 showed me who I really am when I am healthy, and I love her. She is capable of traveling to London and Germany. She is capable of spending hours lost in museums relishing in the history and cursing the rest of the group for being faster than her. She is able to receive her Bachelor’s degree, she is capable of being accepted into a Masters program and receiving a 4.0 in it. She loved the idea of moving to New York City not knowing a single soul but having the world at her fingertips. She learned that she has spurts of extroversion, but then wimps out after a few days and crawls back into her shell until the cycle can begin again. She’s learning how to try and get rid of the awkwardness that has always been present in her life. She threw herself into all of New York City’s activities. TV Shows, Musicals, Festivals, Parks, Markets, Tours. She holds back the urge to smile at every person that passes by. She still doesn’t know where to put her gaze when walking down a street. Should she look straight ahead? Should she look at the people passing by? Should she look at the ground?
2017 had its struggles, but they didn’t compare to my past struggles. Honestly, 2017, as I said before. I am scared to say goodbye. I’m afraid to lose this feeling of freedom. Of true happiness. I hope you put in a good word for me with 2018. I feel like my life has just begun and there is so much to do.
2018…Hello. I hope there are no hard feelings about my hesitancy towards your arrival. You understand, right? I did give you a warm welcome New Years Eve at Times Square, so I hope that gives me some brownie points. Last year was a year for me. This year I’d like to make steps towards helping others. I’d like to use this year to learn how to properly assist someone with a mental illness. Whether it is peer support, residential counseling, or some other job in the mental health field, I hope this year I can make someone feel one step closer to how I felt in 2017.
I am going to take you back in time. We are in the Fall of 2007.My parents only child has been very sick now for four years. She was diagnosed with Severe Tourette Syndrome in third grade. She has been on over 50 different medications. None of them easing the terror of the nights that are spent twitching and convulsing in bed. My mother would stay by her side all night as the tics were released, doing her best to sing soft calming melodies through the tears she held back. Just last year, 6th grade, my parents only child was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. She couldn’t leave the house without a panic attack. She hasn’t brushed her hair in over a month, she hasn’t showered in over two. The doctors try new medications, desperately trying to save the flame in this young girl that seems to be slowly burning out. 7th grade. She is experiencing new and scary thoughts. She doesn’t like them. The thoughts tell her she has to kill herself, but she doesn’t want to. She tells my parents and they move into action without her knowing. They secretly lock up the medication. They secretly hide the knives. They secretly tie a string to her door that leads into their bedroom with a bell on the end. This notifies them each time she opens her door to leave her room. She didn’t want to kill herself, but she felt she had to. The thoughts were so strong one night. She didn’t want to do it. She still saw so much hope in life. She loved her parents and her friends. She ran into my mother’s bedroom crying to tell her the thoughts were loud in her head and my parents took her to the ER. This young girl of 13 years old did not feel safe. She felt she had to die.
Just last year, 6th grade, my parents only child was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. She couldn’t leave the house without a panic attack. She hasn’t brushed her hair in over a month, she hasn’t showered in over two. The doctors try new medications, desperately trying to save the flame in this young girl that seems to be slowly burning out. 7th grade. She is experiencing new and scary thoughts. She doesn’t like them. The thoughts tell her she has to kill herself, but she doesn’t want to. She tells my parents and they move into action without her knowing. They secretly lock up the medication. They secretly hide the knives. They secretly tie a string to her door that leads into their bedroom with a bell on the end. This notifies them each time she opens her door to leave her room. She didn’t want to kill herself, but she felt she had to. The thoughts were so strong one night. She didn’t want to do it. She still saw so much hope in life. She loved her parents and her friends. She ran into my mother’s bedroom crying to tell her the thoughts were loud in her head and my parents took her to the ER. This young girl of 13 years old did not feel safe. She felt she had to die.
The thoughts were so strong one night. She didn’t want to do it. She still saw so much hope in life. She loved her parents and her friends. She ran into my mother’s bedroom crying to tell her the thoughts were loud in her head and my parents took her to the ER. This young girl of 13 years old did not feel safe. She felt she had to die.
In the end, she was admitted into a residential program for 14 days and it was discovered that Prozac was the culprit to these suicidal thoughts.This journey, however, was only the beginning.
It is crazy to look back upon my memories. To see such dark times. Times that do not even seem real. It is as if a film playing in my head and not real life memories. To think that now I am in my first year of my Master’s program, fighting the stigma of chronic OCD. Showing the world that there is hope, there is a life worth living, and there is a future for them. The fight is hard. It is a test created in a way that makes you nearly destined to fail. But if you put every ounce of strength you have into this war called Mental Illness, you can win it. Time and time again you will be enlisted in this mental health army, drafted into battle. Choose to fight, choose to learn, choose to make friends and be an advocate for your life and others affected, choose to win.
I have always been one for fresh starts. My go-to saying was, “this week is a new week, I’m starting over.” By doing this, I seemed to expect everything to be better. I expected smooth sailing. When the time came that I would fall back into my unhealthy habits, I would become disappointed in myself, in my circumstances, and in life. My lovely therapist and treatment team I’ve had over the years has given me a new mindset to use when I want to “start over.” Below I’ve listed what they have said and put my own spin on it with the ladder technique.
Create a destination. (Mine is overall mental health that I can live with more easily)
Remember that no matter how many setbacks you have, you will neve fall further than before. Each setback teaches you about yourself and your illness.
Look at treatment as climbing a ladder to your destination.
Realize that treatment is most of the time two steps forward one step back. Some days it may be two steps forward two steps back, or even two steps forward three steps back. My favorite days, however, are the three steps forward one step back. After a while, you may see more of those days. But it is important to realize that the steps backward are going to make an appearance and it is natural in treatment. Realizing this helps with that disappointment that sets in when having a fallback.
Evaluate each week how far along you are on yourladder. Remember that you can never start back at the beginning as you have learned more through the journey than you did at the start of it. There is no rush to get better. It is a slow process. Take time to appreciate the little victories.
There is exactly one month until I graduate from College! It is an unthinkable accomplishment if you look back on my early teenage years. A time where graduating middle school didn’t seem like a possibility. A time where I had to live day by day. A time where I had to push the thoughts of helping others away and worry about myself making it to the next day. As someone who has ALWAYS worried about others, it was hard for me to concentrate on myself. When my Tourette Syndrome was at it’s worst, I would spend hours upon hours at night convulsing and twitching. I looked as though I was possessed by a demon…I felt like it too. Although it was miserable for me, I remember crying, imagining another young boy or girl doing the same thing at the exact same time. It crushed my heart and made the experience of suffering from an illness even worse. It is one thing to suffer by yourself, and another to know hundreds of thousands of others are barely managing it as well. Research shows that 86% of Tourette sufferers have a comorbid illness. Not only are the majority being squished, pulled, tightened, and yanked by their brain, but 63% suffer from ADHD, 49% from Anxiety, 47% have a learning disability, 34% are on the Autism spectrum, and more than 1/3 suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. (Feel free to check out the other statistics Here) Ever since I was diagnosed in 3rd grade, I wanted to do something to help. It wouldn’t be until 8th-grade when I learned specifically how I wanted to help.
After receiving treatment at UPENN’s Center for Treatment and Study of Anxiety, I knew I wanted to be just like my doctors. That dream pushes me forward every day. Now, as I’m just over a month away from graduating, I realize how close I am to that goal. I am SO close and I want it SO badly. I’ve always known I would reach it one day, but it never felt truly real. I couldn’t imagine it becoming a reality. I have trained myself to live in the moment. The choices I make all lead towards that dream, but I didn’t allow myself to think about me actually reaching that goal. The times that I did, I was immediately overwhelmed by the thoughts that I could never reach it. I mean honestly, if you think about it, a girl like me who would have a panic attack at the mention of school one day receiving a bachelor’s degree. Attending the one thing that tortured my mind every day for four years. On top of that, going on to graduate school, receiving a Masters and then a Psy.D (Doctorates in Psychology), having an office and being healthy enough to actually help others instead of myself. It just wasn’t realistic…yet it was the ONLY thing I wanted to do with my life. I had to do it. The only option was to succeed. Here I am, already accepted into a graduate school and one month away from walking down the isle in my cap and gown led by the sound of bagpipes marching in front of me. Do you hear that? That’s me checking off a few more things on my checklist to success with Pomp and Circumstance playing in the background. Listen to it here 😉
My absolute favorite day of my trip to England and Germany was an excursion I took from London to Stonehenge and Bath. It was in the low 20s° F and it ended up being the windiest day of our entire trip. Stonehenge was absolutely amazing to me. I’ve dreamed of visiting ancient sites since I was old enough to understand the History Channel. I knew how much I would enjoy it. What I didn’t expect was how much I would enjoy Bath. Before planning our trip I didn’t even know what Bath was.
My story of Bath began with my small excursion group running back onto our tour bus out of the wind and cold, with hot chocolate in our hands. (Honestly the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had.) I took my hat, gloves, and scarf off and settled in for our bus ride to Bath. Our bus driver Lorey maneuvered the bus through the windy roads of the English countryside while our tour guide Leslie picked up her microphone and started pointing out a farm up ahead. She noted how she loved giving tours at this time because of the pigs. You see, the pigs are bred for meat, so at this time we were able to see the pigs walking about. I didn’t understand her fascination with the pigs. I’m a huge animal lover, but she was going on about the pigs as if they were the Queen of England. It ends up, the pigs play a huge role in the creation of Bath!
The myth states that in the 9th Century BC there was a king who developed leprosy. He was banished and forced work as a pig farmer. He raised them, fed them, led them to safety. Eventually, the pigs caught the kings leprosy. He and the pigs were on a constant journey to find acorns, the pig’s favorite treat. On their search, the pigs started to roll in the mud next to a hot spring. Immediately the pigs were cured of their ailments. The king was shocked and quickly followed suite…rolling in the mud near the hot spring. The king was cured of his leprosy. He was so thankful for the magical hot spring that he decided to create a city around it.
The Romans found healing in these waters as well and around 50 AD they built the famous Roman Baths. They built the temple and dedicated it to their healing gods. Crowds flooded to the baths seeking healing and long lives. The people faded eventually traveling elsewhere in the 4th Century AD. The stone structures were turned into wooden huts until it was eventually abandoned.
The Saxons took over Bath in the 6th Century and it flourished once again. It continued to be a bustling city through the middle ages. People still went to the hot springs for healing. Visions of angels were said to have come to some who bathed in the springs. Cathedrals were built and all was well until plague hit. The waters still were of interest to those who heard of it’s healing properties.
In the 1700s Bath was a fashionable place to live for the wealthy. There was beautiful architecture and the Pump room was built which allowed easier access to the healing water of the baths. Although it was a fashionable city to live in, most of its occupants were poor. The 1800s took the city of Bath in a new direction. It boomed like never before. It became a large and important town. It’s importance quickly faded with industry growing faster outside of Bath. It returned to being a market town for tourists and shoppers. Bath was very unsanitary at this time. It caused sickness in the town.
The 1900s brought to Bath the new technologies such as electricity, trams and eventually buses. World War II came in like a storm and damaged over 1,500 buildings. It recovered however, museums were built, and to this day tourism thrives. How could it not? It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited.
As I walked down the cobblestone streets taking in as many sites as I could, I stopped to take a picture of the Bath Abby Cathedral, I didn’t immediately notice the man with pigeons all over his arms and head. He called out to me, “Hey there! Would you like to try?” I laughed, shocked to see a man covered in birds and confused about what he was asking. He smiled at me encouragingly and said, “Just put your arms out!” I was in a daze, not understanding what putting my arms out would mean. I did as he said and in less than a second, a half a dozen pigeons flew on me. I couldn’t stop laughing, my smile brighter than the sun shining above me. My heart tingled with happiness. Here I stood in an ancient city, with marble buildings surrounding me, and The Pigeon Man smiling in front of me taking my picture. It felt like a dream.
Was it the bathwater I had just drunk with the hopes of a healthy future? Was it the magic of the acorns giving me this unbelievable feeling of happiness? Was it God looking down at me in front of his majestic cathedral in Bath Abby? I’m not sure what made me feel so light, but I can still feel my heart tingle with the memory.
As I write about that amazing day, I can’t help but do what I do best and connect it to my struggles. This amazing city has a historic and monumental past. The past full of ups and downs, victories and defeats, healing and illness. But what do we remember this city for? The healing of the bath water. Why is that? I think it is because we as humans always carry with us a hope for a better future.
Millions of people have stood in front of the ancient baths with hope bubbling up in their chests before taking the first step into the water. Hope. It is the most powerful emotion I have ever felt. It pulls me forward in my darkest of times and it happens to be the exact same emotion that founded the City of Bath. The joy I felt there represents the bright future ahead. There will be healing and illness on my way to that future, there will be victories and defeats before reaching that destination, but I will get there.
It has been way too long since my last post. Five months too long! A lot can happen in five months. For me, almost everything that happened was completely positive. I guess I’ll start with my most exciting experience since my last post. January 5th I left for an amazing trip through my college. I spent ten days in London and 9 days in Germany and one day in Austria learning about World War II, the psychological effects, and the countries. I couldn’t have had a better time. It was my first time overseas and I feel in love with all the different cities! On top of enjoying a once in a lifetime experience, I definitely overcame some self-image issues. When I started falling backward about two years ago, I gained over 40 pounds in a matter of months. Many psychological issues arose with the weight gain such as disordered eating and obsessions over the need to be thin. I was disgusted by how I looked and was ashamed to see myself in pictures. I didn’t feel pretty anymore. My first couple of days in London, I refused to take pictures of myself. I realized when my mom complained that she didn’t see any pictures with me, that I was letting this self-consciousness affect this once in a lifetime trip. These pictures were supposed to capture my memories of the trip and I was going to let my embarrassment take that away from me? I finally took the step and had my friend take my first picture. It was in front of a fountain on the way to the HMS Belfast Navy Ship. It was hard for me, but after taking those first few pictures, my self-confidence has definitely risen! I still feel heavy, I don’t like the stretch marks on my body or my fuller face, but I’m feeling much much better. In the end, I enjoyed an amazing trip, added three countries to my passport (four including a layover at the airport in Amsterdam) and I overcame one of my internal battles.
After returning home, I enjoyed two days of relaxing before going to New York City to see Josh Groban in Natasha and Pierre and the Great Comet on Broadway. Anyone who knows me knows I absolutely adore Josh. With a little help from my grammie, my cousin and I purchased seats on stage. My heart stopped when Josh was singing right in front of me. I don’t think my heart even recovered from such a severe case of melting. January was definitely the Month of Chelsea. Because school wasn’t involved in a way to trigger my OCD, I didn’t have too many mental battles to face. It was a well-needed break. February came as well as the start of my last semester at Hartwick College. This is the last semester of my senior year! I can’t believe it. What shocks me even more, is the fact that each semester I’m getting better and better. I overcome one challenge and face another which is slightly easier to manage. Of course, there are bad days, which I think too many people (including myself just a year ago) don’t expect. They expect after overcoming a challenge that it’s a fresh start. From here on they can handle everything. The fact of the matter is, life is always going to be two steps forward one step back. Every once in a while it may even be two steps forward three steps back. Although this post is 99% positive, it’s important to realize that there are struggles I face every day. I still have OCD, I still have Anxiety and Depression. That’s okay. It’s part of my life just like any other disease or disorder. The important part is that each day I’m learning new things about myself and my disorders that help me to manage it.
Classes have been going well, I’ve missed more classes than the average student due to Depression rather than OCD. I feel different. Especially when I’m alone. There are days I just have no motivation to leave my bed. In all honestly, it’s not too severe. I just feel it stirring inside of me. For the most part, I’m doing great. Much better than last semester! The fact that I graduate May 20th blows my mind, and the fact that I’ve been applying to Psy.D and Masters programs are shocking. Nobody could have imagined I would be where I am today. To be able live independently, to care for myself, and to be so close to the future I’ve always dreamed of. It makes me tear up every time I think about it…which is often. I’m just so thankful for this life I’ve been given, for the people in it, and the obstacles that have made me stronger.
Keeping a journal is a great way to organize your thoughts and evaluate what you are feeling. It is advice that doctors and therapists always give. In the past, when that advice was given I would brush it off. It seemed pointless and like a waste of time. I started writing quite a bit last January and continued it during my time in residential treatment in the summer. It was a perfect coping method. I would write just before bed and summarize my thoughts and feelings for the day. There were many nights I just wanted to skip, but I tried to push through. For a while I seemed to have pretty negative entries. That’s when I decided to create this blog. I would share my thoughts and experiences which I wrote in my journal and try to turn my thoughts into more positive ones. Not only did it help me, but I found that there were others that could relate to what I was going through and who found my blog inspirational. It helped me become a little more chipper during a hard time in my life.
When I was in residential treatment at Rogers Memorial Hospital, my therapist unsurprisingly had me write each night. But instead of using it as a way to vent and summarize my day, whenever I mentioned something bad that I did or that had happened, I had to talk about something I learned from that experience and something positive that could come out of it. I had a fear of failure. I used my OCD as a shield to protect me from taking responsibility for my actions. If I was sick, I didn’t have responsibilities, therefore I had no chance of failing. So each night I would use my journal to remind myself that each day is a learning experience. Every mistake is a chance to learn and grow. Let me tell you, when I remind myself that, it feels good. Same goes for writing positives that happened during the day. Some days when I’m really struggling, my entry for the day is lists of good things that happened. The sun was out, the wind blew against my skin, I saw a dog today, I know one day it will be easier. Isn’t that the perfect mood to fall asleep to? As much as you may just want to brush journaling off, I say give it a try. Below are some tips and topics I use when journaling.
If and when you miss a day journaling, don’t apologize. Don’t think of journaling as an obligation or a chore that needs to get done. Think of it as a way to unwind.
Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or writing quality. This is only for your eyes and for getting your thoughts on paper. Don’t be embarrassed.
Decide if you want to journal in the morning or night and be consistent. Many people say it is more beneficial to journal in the morning because you are more positive, but I like to summarize my day and list the positives. (I am also not a morning person and like my sleep!)
Set a reminder each day to journal on your designated time. Mine is every night at 8:00 pm!
Don’t just write about the good things that happened. Like I mentioned before, write about the bad things and how it made you feel, but at the end of that thought remind yourself that life is a learning experience, it will help you grow, and for me, I believe everything happens for a reason.
Decide if you want to journal in a notebook or an application. I’ve tried both but tend to stick to a physical notebook. If you want an application, DayOne was really nice. That’s on Mac and iPhone (Update, DayOne got expensive!! When I downloaded it, it was free!) Many people also use Evernote which is on all platforms. I’ve never tried that for journaling though.
If you’re artistic try an art journal!! I love looking at the different art journals on Pinterest but I’m not one bit artistic.
As suggested by Dr.Mike There is no right or wrong way to journal! These tips are based on how I write mine and some things I’ve learned. If you write differently leave a comment and share your tips! Have fun and use journaling as a time to relax. Write freely. It’s a no judgement zone.