Daily Archives: December 5, 2014

Tumble Damp


I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.  — Alice

After a very long spell of hypomania—a delicious month of productivity, creativity and blissful good-humor—I seem to have fallen into an industrial-sized clothes dryer set on tumble.  Rapid cycling wakes me up with hyper-vigilance and terror, then flops into stultifying depression, with a finishing touch of insomnia and obsession.  Tumble, tumble.

In times like these, it’s best not to take anything seriously—not the spiky little thoughts in my head, or any plan I had for the day, or misconstrued texts, or the dog barking across the street.  Better to put on comfy clothes and make popcorn.  Better to turn on all the twinkle lights in the apartment and light incense.  Better to read something like The Hunger Games that won’t tax my dendrites in the least.

And when the silly megrims come calling, better to smile at their oddness and offer raison toast.

Everything is funny, if you can laugh at it.  —  Lewis Carroll

I Believe in You: An Open Letter to Teens with Mental Health Struggles


Photo: unsplash.com

I can’t pinpoint exactly when my battle with mental illness began, but I do know that by the time I was a teenager, it was in full swing.

I can also say that when I was fourteen, I started to question if I wanted to be alive anymore.

Though I haven’t been a teenager in some time, I can still remember what it felt like to be that young and to be struggling with mental illness. It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever gone through.

I won’t claim to know exactly what you’re going through. I don’t know all the details and I don’t know what the outcome of all this will be. But as someone who was a teenager in the grips of mental illness, I wanted to write a letter to the folks who may be going through something like what I’ve been through.

Because, first of all, being a teenager struggling with a mental illness of some kind can be the loneliest feeling in the world.

Some of my friends told me I just wanted attention. Some of them told me I was “playing the victim.” Some of them told me I was crazy. Most people, though, told me that I was too young to know what mental illness was, too young to know what suffering was, too young to know my own reality.

I want to tell you that your suffering is real, and I believe you when you say that you are hurting.

There may be people in your life who are in denial, or who simply don’t understand what you’re going through. And I’m sorry that those people don’t get it. I want you to know that there are people who do get it, people like me and many others, too, who have lived through this to tell the tale.

As difficult as it is to face people who refuse to listen, refuse to hear you, refuse to acknowledge your struggle, I can promise you that there are people out there who understand.

When I was a teen, I started to experience deep, agonizing sadness. I didn’t know exactly where it came from. I just knew that I felt heavy and I felt hurt. Sometimes I cried for hours, and sometimes I cut myself. Sometimes I did both. And throughout these depressive episodes, I couldn’t explain why I was in so much pain. It seemed like pain had become my default setting.

And even though I felt all of this pain, I didn’t reach out for help for years. I didn’t want my parents to know what was happening to me, because I didn’t trust them. When I did have the guts to share, most people brushed it off, and told me I was being dramatic, or that I was too young to know what depression was like. A lot of people didn’t believe I could have depression if I didn’t fit their definition of what a depressed person looks like.

But we know ourselves. And we know when something is off. We may not be able to articulate or explain what’s happening inside, but as the experts on our own bodies and minds, we can tell when something isn’t right.

I want you to know that I believe you. Your pain is real, and no amount of denial from anybody else can change the fact that it’s really there.

Whether it is anxiety, depression, numbness, mood swings, whatever your struggle may be – I believe that it’s real, that it affects you, and that you aren’t making this up.

After one too many nights of self-harm, depression, and hopelessness, I decided to go to a teacher at school. She took me to a crisis counselor, who helped me find a therapist and other resources. The great thing about the crisis counselor was that she wasn’t required to call my parents, so I was able to talk to my parents in my own way, when I was truly ready.

Getting help was the best decision I ever made, though it didn’t feel like it at the time. I felt like I’d squeezed all the toothpaste out of the tube, and I’d never be able to put it back inside again. At least with my depression, I knew what to expect. It was predictable. But now I was going to have to learn to live my life another way. I was going to have to learn how to cope and get better. This was a big deal and it was scary.

But you know what? It was also worth it. Because eventually, I did start to get better. I also got a diagnosis – bipolar disorder – which helped me understand exactly what was going on. With a therapist and psychiatrist in my corner, and eventually family and friends, I was able to start putting the pieces of my life back together.

If I could say anything to teenagers with a mental health struggle, it’s that you don’t have to do this alone. You don’t have to suffer in silence. You have choices, even if it feels like those choices are too difficult, too scary, or too risky.

I am here to write this letter because I made those scary choices. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be alive to tell the tale. There is no doubt in my mind that, if I hadn’t gotten help when I did, I would have taken my own life.

When I was a teenager, I didn’t understand that the pain wasn’t going to be forever. Back then, I thought I would always be depressed, and that there wasn’t a future waiting for me on the other side of my illness.

But I was wrong. I pulled through. And I would like to believe that we all can pull through, especially if we look out for each other. I want you to know that I’m looking out for you. I want you to know that you are valuable and worthwhile. I want you to know that you belong here, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

Most of all, you need to know that your life can change at the drop of a hat. Everything you thought you knew could be proven wrong next week. Your life could change. Your life could change completely. And you deserve to stay alive to see it.

In the time since I was a teenager, I went to and graduated from college. I moved to California and became a writer. I got engaged to the love of my life. And along the way, I had the amazing privilege of touching hearts and changing lives in ways I never thought I would.

The amazing thing about our struggles is that we all have the potential to make something meaningful come out of them. Our journeys may not look identical, but I believe that we all have something special inside us that we can tap into to make this world just a little bit better.

So if you haven’t already, reach out. Keep searching for that someone who will understand, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Hang in there, and remember that the life you’re living as a teenager will likely not resemble the life you will live as an adult – you just have to hang in there.

I’m so glad that you’re here to read this letter – and I want you to be alive to write your own in five, ten years, even twenty.

I hope you know that I believe in you, and I want you to get through this. And even if it seems impossible, I hope you know that there are so many others who have struggled and have made it through. You can be one of them. And I believe that you will be.


Don’t be afraid to call a hotline if you need someone to talk to:

If you are feeling suicidal, please call the National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

If you are planning on taking your own life, please call 911. I can’t lose you.

If you are an LGBTQ teen who needs someone to talk to, please call the Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386

Check out these great websites, specifically for teens and young adults:

Teen Mental Health

Strength Of Us


Here are some other articles I’ve written about mental health:

From One Survivor to Another: An Open Letter to Suicide Survivors

So You’re Bipolar: Advice for the Newly Diagnosed (Useful advice for anyone with a mental health struggle, not just bipolar.)

8 Things That I Learned in Therapy

Feel free to share more resources, ask questions, offer advice, or write your own open letter in the comments section!

Sam Dylan Finch is a freelance writer and queer activist, currently living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, a queer and feminist perspective on current events and politics. His twitter can be found, unsurprisingly, at @samdylanfinch.

Visit his official website: www.samdylanfinch.com

Shopping for Christmas

Just returned from mine and Bob’s annual Christmas shopping excursion.  We take out a day during the holiday season each year to shop together for our family for Christmas presents.  It’s a massive undertaking–we not only shop for our girls but also for his immediate family and mine.  I have a sister, brother-in-law, a niece, and both parents, while he has a sister, brother-in-law, three nephews, and both parents.   We also adopt a Christmas Tree child or two every year.  So we do our bit to stimulate the local and national economy every year while shopping.

Today we hit six different stores and were finished with them by 1:30 p.m. before filling up the trunk and having to go home and unload everything.  Bob’s now gone to yet another store to get some leftover gifts that we can only find there.  We’re still short a few gifts that we plan to order online tonight, and I have run out of ideas for mine and Bob’s father,  So we will take another day later on and see what can be found looking at some other stores probably next Friday.

Typically we shop all year for gifts–we try to buy some on summer vacation depending on where we go.  One year we really scored big–we went to Gatlinburg, TN at the same time they were holding a huge regional craft show and got about half of our shopping done there, finding some truly unusual gift items.  We also have a statewide crafts show that we usually attend, but the past few years we haven’t had as much luck there since the same vendors come every year, and we’ve about exhausted our families’ appetite for their offerings.  But this year we had only done some hit-and-miss shopping, so the haul today was truly epic.

Shopping for our girls is often the easiest shopping we do–we usually don’t ask them what they want.  We collect hints throughout the year from things they say, then we fill in the blanks with things we want them to have.  :)  Then we have traditional gifts we give at certain ages, such as a smartphone at fifteen or a designer purse at eighteen.  Just one of the ways we have found to keep the bills manageable and keep me from spinning out of control with the check book and credit card :).

This year looks pretty good for everyone to enjoy thus far–we’ve bought some useful gifts as well as some that are unusual or simply for fun.  Bob going with me makes the whole trip a great adventure instead of a chore on the list–we usually have a lunch date during the day, and we always enjoy that.  One of the few holiday events I don’t have to stress over :).

Exercise Treatment for Mood Disorders

Exercise Treatment for Mood Disorders: A Neurobiological Rationale

Dr. Mohammad Alsuwaidan shares that evidence has shown time and time again that exercise is health-promoting for the body and the mind. More recently, studies have demonstrated positive effects of exercise in mood disorders (primarily unipolar depression). What remains unclear is the underlying brain biology. What are the neurobiological deficits that occur in bipolar disorder? Do we have proof that exercise works at these levels to alter brain function? How do we translate laboratory evidence into clinical realities? These are some of the questions that are addressed during this webinar.

~ http://isbd.org/education/webinar-series

Filed under: Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Mental Health Tagged: International Society for Bipolar Disorders, ISBD, Physical exercise, research

Roller Coaster

coasterRoller coaster. Yep, that’s what I’ve been on. I am trying and trying to get off of this Lexapro. It’s not working. I am not able to live a normal life. It’s been back to the couch.

There’s something about the couch. It’s like an island where I can be and I don’t have to be touched or bothered by anything. No shower, no regular clothes, no teeth brushing, nothing. I have my couch all set up. Plenty of soft blankets and pillows, a fan, my devotional book bag, my glasses, my meds, books to read, my phone, the remotes, drinks, etc. I’m all set here. And when I don’t feel good, I crawl right in to survive.

I don’t know what happened to me. I got through Thanksgiving and got the tree and decorations up. I was too tired for church on Sunday but that was okay. I got in the car by myself on Monday and did some errands. All was good. However, by Tuesday, I was back down and have been down ever since.

I’ve managed to feed everybody the last few days. I’ve talked to people. I’ve not taken a shower.

Life is actually good right now. If you overlook my excess weight I am doing well. The house looks beautiful, my kids and husband are good, I have friends, we have money, and well, you get the idea. But I can’t seem to get off this damned Lexapro. I keep getting brain zaps and depression. I just generally feel like crap. I feel like I am wasting my life. I really miss my best friend who lives a state away. She got a job and is so busy but I am happy for her. She seems to be doing well.

I’m going to the weight doctor for a weigh in on Tuesday so at least I’ll know the news then. “Never give up hope”. And I have a new weight loss buddy to talk to.

Tonight is a nightmare. It is the annual office party. My husband works for a tiny group of people (there are five employees). He makes amazing money doing this for the amount of work he does. This job is sort of a spin off of what he did before he retired. Anyway, this party is always held at this other guy’s house because he is allergic to our cat. This guy is a Disney freak. So we wind up playing Disney games all night. Of course, this man and his wife win all of the games. Now I don’t hate Disney, but it doesn’t figure much in my life. The man who owns this company gives the Disney guy a big allowance for food. So he caters it and then brags about how great the food is.

On a side note, I have to tell you how crazy this guy is. He told us that Steve Jobs wanted him to serve as a pallbearer but he was just too busy. (This man has a problem with reality.) Perhaps this is why the Disney fantasy thing is so attractive.

Now the people at this party all know I have MI. So if I didn’t show they would be fine. But I hate to send my husband alone. Cause this thing sucks. And the big boss is there and he is very nice.

My plan is to get a shower at noon. (It’s ten here.) And then just get dressed to go at six. I think I can do it. I can always drive home and let my husband catch a ride. But you know what? if I feel like shit today? I may just skip the whole thing. I’m doing what I can.

I get angry at myself and at the world. I just want a simple life where I get up and get everything sort of done. Not an award winning person, but just sort of getting through the day. I don’t even think it’s bad to spend the afternoon on the couch reading or napping. But the canceling social events and crap is ridiculous. I might as well just call all of my friends and say “Loved ya, but good luck…I’m out of here!”

But there is hope for the social scene. About October, I decided to have a Christmas open house. It’s the 14th from 3-7. It’s just dessert, snacks, and wine. It’s a chance to see all of my and my husband’s friends at once and get our social obligations taken care of from our side. And the house looks so nice with the tree and all. I will get the kids to help and also the lady that cleans our house. She will come and wash dishes as we go. So I just have to get dressed and smile. I can do that.

This whole cancellation thing with my friends. I think I may try something like this: Let’s say I make arrangements to go to a movie….”Cindy, I am excited to go to the movie with you. But I might cancel due to my depression. I never know how I will feel. Can we make a back-up plan for you in case I cancel? Could we invite a third person or could you maybe plan some fun shopping or whatever as an alternative plan? I just don’t want to strand you.” I’m wondering how people might respond to that.

Anyway, feeling like crap today but wanted to blog. Life really sucks when it is going really well and you should be grateful and happy and you still feel like shit. Good old depression.



Edited to add: I got the shower and went to the party. Stayed till 11:30 pm! (Couldn’t escape.) Will tell you about it next time.

Being organised about ‘Recovery’……….

What each of us needs to do to aid our own recovery will be different. What each of us is capable of doing to aid our own recovery will be different. What each of us would actually love to do … Continue reading


About three years ago, or so, I began lending my van to my then 18 year-old son to drive to school and work. That gradually expanded to his using it for other commitments as well. Eventually the van essentially became his vehicle. Truth be told, it would otherwise only have sat in the driveway collecting dust. I wasn’t going anywhere with it. I lived within four walls – my security. I was still quite sick. Enough so that I didn’t want to leave the house, let alone drive myself anywhere.

If I needed to go somewhere – mostly medical appointments – I would rely on my husband or my mom to take me there, wait for me, and take me back home – back to where I felt safe. This went on for about two years. But then something happened. I began to get well. Slowly but surely I began to venture out of the house for other things. I joined line-dancing. I joined yoga and attended rubber stamping workshops. Then I needed more rides. I needed my van back.

Well, the timing worked out. My son (now almost 21) just bought his first vehicle. I now have my van back. I’ve discovered it’s a double-edged sword. Yes, I have my own vehicle and I can drive myself wherever I need to go whenever I need to do it, but with it comes my anxiety of driving and of doing things in public – especially alone. People don’t always understand my anxiety, but it’s very real and very restrictive. With having my van has also come more responsibility – to drive my younger daughter places and to get myself to places, alone.

Some days I don’t want to go anywhere or do anything, but it’s nice having the vehicle in the driveway just waiting for me in case the urge strikes. I’m enjoying my new-found independence.


My blog has been nominated for a Rookie of the Year WEGO Health Activist Award. I started this blog in March 2014 and it has continued to grow with followers. If you like the content of this blog, please visit this website link below and “endorse” me for the award. (Purple button below my picture) Thank you for your consideration and support. 

Death By Chia Seeds

So recently, in an attempt to get my physical health under control I’ve gone all uber health freak on my autoimmune disease’s ass.

Raw food. Yep. Quinoa. Yep. Gluten free. Yep. Cutting out all (ok. MOST) packaged foods, caffeine and alcohol. Yep. Making bread. Yep. Milling grains. Yep. You may mock, but it’s pretty much the only control I feel I have over my disease. And I don’t do well when I feel I have no control. AND I feel a whole lot better doing it. Physically the eosinophil infiltration in my gut have gone down. “Keep up the diet!” my immunologist told me. So I shall.

Anyhoo, so the other day I was really craving a chocolate milkshake, so decided to make the next best thing: a raw cacao and banana smoothie. Now I don’t have the best record with smoothies. Sure, they are super healthy for most people. But for me, no matter whether they are green, berry, banana, or cacao, I always seem to end up praying to the porcelain Gods for approximately 48 hours after consumption.

The smoothie of doom.

The smoothie of doom.

Did this stop me? No.

The recipe called for a large number of chia seeds, unsoaked, which was kinda weird. But hey, I’m all for trying new things.  I made the stupid smoothie. Took a sip, and almost immediately my tongue and lips started itching and burning.

Hmmm. That’s weird. I thought, trying to SCRATCH my tongue. Never had a tongue itch before. Then I turned the page in my book and in a rather regrettably cavalier fashion took another sip.

The burning got worse, and now even my ears started to feel like they were on fire. Clearly I like to live dangerously so I took another sip.

Then my tongue started swelling up, and I completely flipped out.

Oh my God! I’m having an allergic reaction! My airways are going to get blocked and I’m going to DIE! I randomly ran around the kitchen. Why. I’m not quite sure.

I tried to contact my Mum. Naturally when I called her number, I heard her phone ringing right next to me. Next I sent Hubster a message asking whether he thought I was having an allergic reaction. He suggested it might be hay fever (probably so not to panic me, which didn’t work because news flash: I was panicked). I gave up on Hubster. He wasn’t any use anyway as he was working in the city and I knew he would never get home in time to administer CPR or call a coroner or whatever it was that I was going to need.

I really didn’t know what to do. I have plenty of allergies/intolerances but they tend to affect my gastrointestinal system, not my mouth. So I sat back in an armchair and thought. So, this is how it ends.

Luckily at that moment my Mum arrived. Almost simultaneously my tongue swelling started to go down. I felt a bit silly for the terror I had felt, and was actually pretty glad no one was around to witness my freak out. With venom I chucked out the rest of my smoothie, and went upstairs to lie down.

Then the vomiting started. Then the unbearable pain. I cannot begin to even describe the pain I feel when I eat something I cannot tolerate. But lets just go ahead with BAD. Mum came up with a glass of water and I told her I think I had had an allergic reaction to chia seeds and begrudgingly admitted that I may need to see a doctor.

Just for future note. If you ever want to get in to see your GP super quickly tell them you are having an allergic reaction. They will tell you to go to hospital, but once you convince them that that isn’t going to happen, they will take you in immediately, and you will even get to go and lie down in a germ infested bed as opposed to the germ infested waiting room.

The first thing I asked for was a vomit bag. Then a maxalon injection. My GP came in to see me, the GP who knows ALL about my health troubles. And she was all “Hello Rachael…what have you eaten now?”

“It was the damn chia seeds!” I told her.

“Chia seeds. That’s unusual!” She said.

“Everything about me is unusual!”

They wanted to give me an anti-histamine injection but couldn’t because of the Lithium. Which is pretty much the story of my life. So I had to lay in the bed for ages under observation, listening to an old guy in the bed next to me getting some sort of abscess cut out of his ear.

I must have looked pretty bad at one point because I had the nurse and doctor hovering over me. And the nurse was saying “Rachael? Are you still with us?” I didn’t want to tell them that I was actually trying to meditate, the way I did in labour, to get myself through the pain, and their questions were TOTALLY DISTRACTING ME. So I just muttered a grumpy “Yes. I’m still here.”

After a designated amount of time, Mum and I left the practice, me barely able to walk and clutching the vomit bag. On the way home, without a whole lot of warning, I puked into the bag, which was all very well and good except the BAG HAD A HOLE IN IT. I’m not sure I have ever vomited that much in my life. And believe me. I’m no stranger to the power spew. The holey bag was becoming a major issue.

Mum started winding down the windows and laughing (which she later told me was awkward laughter but at the time felt a trifle unsympathetic), and because I always get the giggles at inappropriate moments too I started laughing. It is almost impossible to laugh and spew at the same time. It was not a pretty sight.

We got home and since I was covered in vomit I was chucked out of the car to dispose of my vomit bag before coming in. I seized the opportunity to throw up in the hedge. I then spent the rest of the evening rolling around in agony and rushing to the toilet.

So, lesson learned. No chia seeds. No smoothies. And if your mouth starts getting itchy after eating, just stop (no matter how good it tastes).

Chia seeds 1: Rachael: 0.

Pink Hibiscus with Water Drops

Kitt O'Malley:

Broken Light Collective, an online photography gallery for people affected by mental illness, published my photograph. I am honored.

Originally posted on Broken Light: A Photography Collective:

Photo taken by first-time contributor Kitt O’Malley, a mother and wife who lives with bipolar disorder type II. Kitt is licensed in California as a Marriage and Family Therapist, but hasn’t practiced as a psychotherapist in over 20 years. She has a bachelors in legal studies from UC Berkeley, a masters in psychology from New College of California, and has attended Fuller Theological Seminary. Her career path has included working as a legal assistant, psychotherapist, and commercial real estate professional. Now, she advocates for those who, like her, live with mental illness, by writing and using social media.

About this photo: “I find nature, specifically flowers, beautiful. Always have. Taking photos of colorful flowers uplifts me, improves my mood, and gives me hope. In a flower, in a tree’s branches, in the sun breaking through the clouds, I see God and experience peace.”

Find more from Kitt at her website and Flickr.


Have you seen the new Broken Light Strength…

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Filed under: Gratitude, Mental Health, Mindfulness, Photos Tagged: flower, photography