A new approach

Taking a new approach to things and situations can be difficult, but sometimes it’s for the best. So in my attempt to do this, I’ve created a different way to get inspired to write more. This idea popped in my head randomly, even though I’m pretty positive others have thought of it before.

The idea is this: write down some writing prompts (it’s okay to get ideas from Google; write down the ones you’re most interested in) on some note cards, fold them up, and put them in a jar. When you feel uninspired, shake the jar, pick a lucky note card, and boom. Write about what’s on the note card. The writing prompt that I picked was “Find your most popular blog post and write a second series of it or an update on it.” For me, my two most popular blog posts are “Well, here goes…” and “Dear Kobe.” There is honestly nothing else I feel I need to write about Kobe Bryant because it’s still such a sad and tragic loss, and it’s still pretty fresh. This year has felt like two years to me, but unbelievably, at least to me, Kobe only died 5 months ago. Maybe next year I’ll have more to write. Until then, I’ll write about the first post I mentioned, “Well, here goes…”

Basically, in that post, I wrote about having trouble losing weight despite having tried everything to lose the weight. I talked to doctors, did tests, tried a million and one diets, and nothing worked. I decided to have weight loss surgery. This post was written May 11, 2018, and I had the surgery on August 10, 2018. I did the whole thing; the diet leading up to it, the psychiatric testing, the exercising, the seminars, the appointments, everything, leading up to the surgery. For the first few months after the surgery, everything was going pretty good. It was difficult, I won’t lie, but it was okay. I noticed I wasn’t losing weight as quickly as I expected, and frankly, as my doctor expected. I was doing everything right; my mom was helping with portion control, making the right food, and helping me mentally when I really wanted something unhealthy.

I went to the follow up appointments and my stomach healed perfectly. I was sticking to the diet and losing weight here and there. I lost right at 30 pounds. I loved the way I felt and even looked. My face was slimmer and I even lowered my blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. I was so proud of myself, but in the back of my head, the depression said it wasn’t good enough. The thing is, it wouldn’t let me do what I had to do to lose more weight either. Eventually, I had that first bite of unhealthy food. It’s gone downhill since then.

I gained those 30 pounds back, plus about 5 more. I’m disappointed, I’m ashamed. I started trying to exercise again and I just do not have the energy to do it. I love hiking, but I haven’t hiked all year.

I went to my doctor about a month ago and asked her to check my thyroid because it can have a huge effect on weight loss and weight gain. I was even hoping there was something wrong just so it could be the solution to my problem. The tests came back normal.

I am starting to look into a personal trainer of some kind or even a nutritionist to help me. I will find out what I’m doing wrong or simply not doing to lose weight.

So that’s the update. The surgery didn’t work for me, but I have seen that it works for so many people. I would never discourage it, but don’t use it as an excuse to not put in the work. Having the surgery means putting in MORE work. It was the ultimate last resort for me. I am discouraged because of my weight loss journey, but I am not giving up. I just need to find what works for me. I’ve tried a lot of different things, but I haven’t tried them all. Finding the approach that works for me can be a life changer and life saver.

Ali

Mental health is just as important as physical health

Mental health is physical health.

I preach that a lot on my social media because, simply put, it’s true.

At the risk of sounding educational and writing this like a school paper, I want to inform you of just a few things.

  1. Mental health is physical health. I said this already. Got it. But knowing this could help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. There are still so many people that believe depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, etc. are all made up and that people with those illnesses are crazy. And that’s another thing: stop calling people crazy that battle with mental illness. It’s not appropriate nor is it even remotely accurate.
  2. Mental illnesses are not only mental, they are physical as well. Ask anyone with an anxiety disorder. I’ll use myself as an example. I battle with pretty bad social anxiety. It keeps me from having a job like any other “normal” person. When I go out in public, I feel physical symptoms. It’s not just “Oh man I’m so nervous!” It’s also sweating, racing heart, and dizziness. That doesn’t even include the symptoms from a panic attack I may have.
  3. Depression can be fatal, just like any other physical illness. Yes for real. Suicide is not just something people do to “get out,” “get bailed out,” or do just for “attention.” I can promise you if someone dies by suicide, they suffered… bad. Suicide is the final symptom of depression, and some people never reach that final symptom, but that doesn’t mean they don’t suffer too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen on social media, even on my friends list on Facebook, that people still believe that suicide is selfish and that the person that passed away “took the easy way out.” Come on. That’s not fair and it’s undermining the battle that the person fought literally on a daily basis.
  4. “You’re making it up to get out of doing (this) or (that). Just smile!” Okay… first, that’s just not that easy and you know it. Second… don’t you think if we could “just smile” and everything would be fine that we would have done it a long time ago? Depression takes away your energy. You have to make yourself do anything. So no… we’re not just “making it up” to get out of anything.

Think of it like this.

There are people in the hospital with cancer and they of course are getting the help they need. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not taking ANYTHING away from anyone and their battle with cancer and chemo. But just like you can see cancer on an MRI or PET scan, you can also see depression in an fMRI or PET scan. The scan can pick up abnormalities or different brain activity in someone with depression compared to someone without depression.

princ_rm_pet_scan_of_depressed_brain

People with cancer go to the hospital to get treated, and so do people with broken bones. It doesn’t matter what the problem is, to the person battling with it, it’s big to them (Again, I know cancer is a major problem compared to a broken bone, I’m just using a broken bone for the example). Just because depression is “invisible” to other people (because as we know, depression shows physical symptoms as well), does not mean you don’t deserve the help, whether it be with therapy, medication, or even ecotherapy. Broken bones heal and they’re good to go after a month or two. But unfortunately, mental illness is an ongoing disease.

Please stop thinking depression or any other mental illness is not as important as physical health, but it is physical health. The brain and the body should not be categorized into two totally separate types of healthcare. Mental health is physical health and physical health is healthcare. Healthcare is healthcare.

The World Health Organization defines health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

There is no health without mental health.

 

February 2020 Contributor: Kayla McKern

Trigger warning: self harm, suicide, substance abuse, panic attacks, bullying

This is really hard for me to write because people only know part of my story, and I was terrified to share it. But I was given the opportunity to share my story thanks to Ali! I also wanted to share my story in hopes of maybe helping at least one person out there struggling.

For the sake of saving time, I will not go into full detail about my life and the things that happened, but this is my story.

I grew up like any other kid in the 90s for the most part, but I was shy. I always felt like nobody wanted to be my friend. I would try my hardest to fit in and it just wouldn’t work. I never hung out with kids my own age, but I would try my very best to get along with them. I’ve been told that I have an “old soul.”

I would draw and paint, and I loved music. I was bullied a lot in school; I wore super thick glasses because I have very bad vision due to having meningitis when I was four months old. I was called “four eyes.” I started to gain weight and I was constantly bullied for it. I cannot express how many times I came home crying because of people making fun of me. They would call me “stupid” because I had a learning disability and I would have to be pulled out of class during a test or just to get help in my classes.

I would try my very best to “fit in” and to make friends, but it just wouldn’t happen. In 2001, my family and I moved out of my Grandpa’s trailer and moved to our current residence. Again, I tried my very best to make friends in my new school, but I was the new kid in school and I was shy. I would have a few acquaintances, but they all had friends of their own and it wasn’t until 2004 that I had a real best friend. I was 14 years old.

In grade school, sixth grade was the absolute worst for me. Kids would make fun of me because I had glasses, short hair with bad highlights, and I was overweight. That’s probably the first time that I discovered self harming. I felt like I was ugly and that I deserved to feel the pain. Sixth grade was the worst for me, but I worked hard at passing all of my classes, because all I wanted to do was get out of that place.

I started junior high, and things were still bad. I remember on the first day of school I was made fun of and then going home and self harming. In the next few weeks, I met my best friend Ali (who created this blog) through a mutual friend, and we instantly clicked because we were both in band and we loved music.

My best friend and music were the only things that made junior high tolerable. Then Ali had to leave for high school, as she was a grade year higher than me. Eighth grade was the worst because I didn’t really have any friends, just acquaintances. They would say hi to me and walk off to their own friends. I didn’t fit in with any group.

I hated middle school so much that I would purposely miss the bus, pretend I was sick, or hide behind the shed. My mom would have to work from 6pm to 6am and she would be too tired to bring me to school. My dad would already be at work. To be honest, I don’t know how my parents and I didn’t get in trouble for truancy or how I passed school.

I managed to get through eighth grade with my grades; I was determined to get out. Soon after, I was in high school and reunited with Ali again. She made school bearable and so did band class. We were both in marching band and concert band. Once she graduated, senior year was hell for me. I was alone and I didn’t have any real friends; they were all come and go. I struggled hard in school with trying to pass everything and preparing myself for college, but not knowing what I wanted to go to college for.

I, once again, focused on graduating high school. I graduated, and I worked hard for my diploma that I’m still proud of to this day. Then I started college, and it was easier, because I learned that I didn’t have to fit in and it wasn’t anything like public school. I could truly be myself and there were others who didn’t care about how I looked or the way I acted.

I started off as an English major, but after a semester and a half, I found out that I hated writing papers and it just wasn’t for me. I wanted to be an English major so that I could write for the papers, magazines, and even writing my own novels. I changed to a graphic design major. In 2011, I joined the Spirit of Northwestern marching band. Art and music were the only things that I was decent at. I’m not really good at anything else. I loved being an art major.

In 2012 is probably when my mental illness “unofficially” started. Things were getting rough for me and depression was creeping in on me, and the old demons from middle school came back telling me that I wasn’t good enough and that I was a failure. I went to the doctor and I was put on different depression meds, but not a single one worked for me.

I took a job handing out samples in a wholesale store in 2012. It was my decision to work for this company. At first, it was okay; my bosses were nice for the most part. As the months rolled by, things only got worse at the job. I was made fun of behind my back and in front. I was bullied by adults twenty years older than me. That’s when the self harm and the self hatred got worse. I would come home from work and I would cry my eyes out and self harm.

Then, I discovered sleeping pills, and they were the catalyst for my addictions. I would take them; anything to make me go to sleep and forget about what happened that day, but I became addicted to them. I became addicted to sleeping and not being awake just to be away from the pain for a little while. I then started mixing them with alcohol and became addicted to that.

In 2014, I tried to end my life. I wasn’t thinking about anybody or anything; the only thing I was thinking about was ending my life, to end the pain, and to just end it all and not exist in this world anymore. I took a handful of sleeping pills and laid in my bed waiting for my eyes to close forever. My mom came in to see me, but she didn’t know what happened, and I never told her. I was in and out of consciousness and somehow, I made it out alive.

To this day, I don’t know how I lived after that incident, and as I think about it today, there’s some unknown reason for me to be alive. The drinking got worse; I would drink until I passed out. Just about every day I would show up to school or work hungover. Nobody said anything, so I continued on my destructive path. I eventually quit my job and I tried to find work, but nobody was calling me for interviews and my depression was getting worse. I eventually got a job as a cashier at a grocery store and I hated it, but I pushed through and now I’ve been at the job for about six years. I found a therapist, and it was what I needed. I needed to speak with a professional about my mental illness and the demons that reside in my mind. Everything seemed okay at first, but things were only getting worse.

I was becoming a monster and I was harming those around me. I indirectly verbally harassed people that I loved, making horrible, nasty posts about them and called them names. I was turning into the one thing that had messed with me since I was a kid. I became a bully.

On April 28, 2015, I had to go to the hospital. I took some sleeping pills and drank. I felt like I was dying; my heart was pounding, I was shaking, and my body went cold. I honestly thought I was dying, but I later found out I was hyperventilating. I’ve had panic attacks before, but this was by far the worst one I’d ever had. It got to the point where I had to go to the emergency room.

It all came crashing down in that hospital room. I admitted to everything. I admitted to the day I tried to kill myself with the pills, the suicidal thoughts, the self harm, and the demons that reside in my mind from the past. It was all exposed like a nerve. I was placed under a close watch so that I wouldn’t do anything to myself or others or that I wouldn’t walk out. I didn’t know that admitting all of it would cause me to be put in a mental hospital.

I won’t go into full detail about the hospital stay, but it’s what I needed. I was diagnosed with bipolar depression, borderline personality disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. Maybe this is why none of the antidepressants I was on weren’t working for me. I was released from the hospital, and as soon as I got out, I literally kissed the ground.

As soon as I got home, I had to adjust to life at home, work, and school. It was hard and my addictions and old ways of thinking were creeping back into my mind, but with therapy, I would banish those thoughts. In mid-2016, my therapist gave up on me. He told me to never come back. I was out of therapy for a while, but I started seeing a new therapist and I loved her. Eventually, my insurance costs were getting to the point where I couldn’t afford it anymore. A few months later I got new insurance, a new psychiatrist, and a new therapist. I absolutely loved them, but in 2018, I was admitted into another mental facility because things were getting to be too much for me. I had school, work, and my family life to deal with. All of it was taking a toll on my mental health. Luckily I was smart enough to sit in my advisor’s office and confess to him what was really going on.

I’m still very thankful to this day that he helped me out. He took me to my school’s on-campus therapist. I told them everything that was going on. They eventually deemed me unsafe to be by myself and I would later be admitted to another hospital. To this day, my advisor still checks in on me and asks me if I’m okay mentally.

In 2019, I discovered opioids such as hydrocodone and oxycodone. I would take them from family members who were seeing pain management doctors. I would mix these with alcohol. In June, I went on a cruise. My great aunt had oxycodone and I took at least 20 pills from her to feed my addiction. When we came back to the states, my Grandma and I had a huge fight. I called my therapist at the time and told her that I was starting to have suicidal thoughts. She said that she was on her way, but while she was driving, I did the unthinkable and I self harmed. It was the only thing I knew how to cope with everything going on.

As soon as my therapist arrived, she wanted me to go to the emergency room. From there, I was admitted into another hospital for my mental health and for rehab for opioids. I stayed a week to detox and to work on my emotional wellbeing. I was then released from there, and that’s when I would start going to NA meetings and meeting up with my sponsor.

As you are all reading this, on February 13, 2020, I will be seven months clean from alcohol and drugs and in July, hopefully, I will be one year sober from opioids and alcohol. Every day is still a struggle, and my mind wants me to go back to my old ways, but I know in my heart that I can’t do that. I can’t go back to my old ways and I have to keep pushing forward.

As I conclude this, I really hope that in some way, my story has inspired you in some way to seek help and to get the help that you or a loved one deserves. I want to thank Ali for giving me the opportunity to share my story.

If you are struggling, please seek help.

Thank you for reading my story!

Kayla McKern