How sleep has saved my life

Founder of Millennial Girl, Interrupted, a senior in a small Connecticut high school. I've been through many treatments and recoveries and am eager to share the lessons I've learned!
Latest posts by Olivia (see all)

There are a few things that have really made the difference in the fact that I haven’t once seriously thought “I want to die” in four months, or a record for me. After my departure from the hospital, my dad and I underwent a series of lifestyle changes that, in conjunction with medication changes, have revitalized my life and gotten me ready for college.

 

I’ll talk more about them in the coming weeks. They range from doing academic work of some kind, every day of the week, to working out a few times a week (such that my therapist approves of), to seeing the outdoors at least once a day, to making small advances towards cleanliness in my own space every day. I started a second sleep medication and upped doses on my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder-targeted medication. Most importantly, though, I intentionally crafted a healthy sleep schedule.

 

Anyone can do it; I just hadn’t done it. A year and a half ago I was staying up until 5 am talking to a sociopath I loved every night. Two years ago I was writhing on the floor of my bathroom until 1 in the morning, picking my skin and sobbing into a towel. That was a habit many years in the making. I’ve never had a good sleep schedule. There had always been more important things to build in therapy sessions, so I thought.

 

My dad was very scared by what happened in April. It was the closest I’ve ever come to dying, he was there minutes after it happened, he came with me to the hospital, and he had to talk to perhaps his least favorite person- sociopath dad- on the phone in order to help me. He swept me from the hospital down to visit his mother, and we walked the beach and discussed surviving. We build a plan that emphasized stabilizing my sleep schedule, and I didn’t quite understand the significance of it, but he told me that if I wanted to stay alive that this would be important. I trusted him, and here’s where we are!

 

Sleep medication is very powerful, and there’s something for everyone. I take two sleep-targeted medications now- Trazodone and Clonidine– in conjunction with the maximum daily dose of Fluvoxamine (OCD) and sometimes Xanax, all four of which induce tired-ness and sleep. I take my medication at 9 – 9:30. By 10:30 – 11:00, or sometimes earlier, I’m asleep. I wake up at 7:30 – 8:00 fully rested and ready for the day.

IMG_7966

My ridiculous self and my ridiculous dog (her belly, really), in my bed.

But it isn’t just getting those hours. I had little concept of how important getting the hours was to my mental health. 

 

In DBT- a therapy method I prefer less than others that I’m actually being treated with, but it has value and I digress- there is an acronym (of course) for keeping one’s body healthy. It’s in the emotional regulation module, and it’s called PLEASE.

 

PhysicaL (yes this acronym is garbage, utilize TIPP to deal with it) Illness: Treat any and all physical ailments as quickly as possible.

Eating: Maintain balanced and healthful eating habits.

Avoid substances: Avoiding illicit drugs and alcohol, within reason, will keep the mind at its best.

Sleep: Stay on a regular sleep schedule.

Exercise: Engage in the appropriate amount of exercise for your body.

 

It’s said that this skill will help create a baseline of physical wellness such that you will only have to work on mental challenges once these are taken care of. It can sometimes be hard to distinguish between a physical need and an emotional one. 

 

Take babies for example. When they have physical needs, like a desire for sleep or food, they will cry. Crying is an action typically associated with emotionality, but in the case of babies, they just have a physical need. Adults aren’t all that different; our emotions are played with by our physical needs, and everything negative, emotion wise, is exacerbated by a physical inadequacy. 

 

If I’m not being intentional about my sleep, in other words, I’m not giving myself a fair shot at getting better.

 

For a long time, I didn’t want to get better. I felt so overwhelmingly about everything, all the time, and I wanted that to be a part of my identity. I want recovery from illness to be a part of my identity, now, and I can proudly say that I’ve come a long way towards that, relapses and all.

 

It’s 10:28 pm. GO TO BED. I am!

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I’m So Happy

Founder of Millennial Girl, Interrupted, a senior in a small Connecticut high school. I've been through many treatments and recoveries and am eager to share the lessons I've learned!
Latest posts by Olivia (see all)

I have a bit of a different message for today. I’m happy. I’m really, genuinely, profusely happy in my own skin, for the first time in a large handful of years.

I adore my friends and relationships; I feel truly valued and important and heard within them. I adore my body and how it can perform tasks well for me, at this stage of fitness and nourishment. I adore my school, my roommates, my honors program, my classes. My therapy and medication are in the perfect spot. I’ve graduated high school!

I had my college orientation over this last weekend, and it was the best time of my life. I made some amazing friends, made my schedule, and learned about all of the resources that my school has for me.

To start, most if not all of the kids in the honors program with me are in the same boat. They got into traditionally “better” schools (the definition of which is fading into my rearview mirror more every day) but chose our school because of our massive scholarships, honors acceptance, and urban location. I’m thrilled to be with like-minded people.

I made my schedule. I’m taking as many classes as I can- five, exactly, equaling seventeen credits- because I need to keep my mind activated and busy. I love every class, even if my political statistics (not its exact name) course seems like drudgery, especially compared to my two philosophy related courses. I know that in order to keep my mind off of past trauma, one of the best coping mechanisms available to me is filling my time to the brim.

I learned about the mental health resources on my campus. Because the school is so big, it has a huge number of therapy groups, ranging from trauma to eating disorders, suicidality to general mental health and everything in between. Something I’m particularly excited about is trauma-focused yoga. My therapist has long been telling me to try this but I haven’t known where to go. Starting on August 21st, I’ll have that available to me, and four minutes’ walk from where I sleep.

Speaking of where I sleep, I’ll be sleeping within 500 feet of 6 of my close friends at the school. How lucky am I?

I’m eating and exercising right. I go to the gym either four or five days a week. It’s a 20 minute jog to the gym, I either swim or use the elliptical for 30 minutes once I’m there, and it’s a 35 minute slow walk back. I feel muscular and strong, and others who are important to me have noticed the change. I’m also mostly unconcerned with the quantity of my food, and concerned more-so about how my food makes me feel.

I’m on a good medley of medications. I recently started taking another sleep medication, and though it lowers my blood pressure and dehydrates me more, my nights are much more restful. Sleeping well is lifting my mood immeasurably, as is birth control, which targets the somewhat new theory that I become intensely hormonal at one point in the month, a point which has lead to suicidal ideation, intense emotions, and frequent panic when activated.

I’m still a bit stuck in past trauma, and I’ll cover that further another day, but I know that I’m doing better than the people who hurt me and that’s a kind of satisfaction that money can’t buy.

I just want to say thank you for your continual support, and I want you all to know that I’m doing really, really well, and I can’t wait for the rest of my life.

Booksmart and Female Friendships

Founder of Millennial Girl, Interrupted, a senior in a small Connecticut high school. I've been through many treatments and recoveries and am eager to share the lessons I've learned!
Latest posts by Olivia (see all)
I recently went and saw the movie Booksmart and I could not possibly more highly recommend it. It’s actress Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut and it stars Kaitlyn Dever as Amy and Beanie Feldstein (yes, like from Lady Bird!) as Molly.
Amy and Molly are best, tight-as-could-be, parents-mistake-them-for-lesbian-lovers (Amy is actually gay, Molly isn’t) kind of friends, and the story takes place over the last day and night of school. Molly is valedictorian of her high school class and Amy is salutatorian, so they both worked very hard in school, to the detriment of any non school related activities.
The plot, while intricate and hilarious, is less of my focus here, but I’ll briefly summarize it. Molly is horrified to, on her last day, find out that a lot of the party kids are also going to Ivy League schools (she’s attending Yale). They did so without sacrificing their social life, like Molly and Amy (who’s attending Columbia) did. So Molly decides that she wants to attend an end of year banger of a party at some kid’s house, with Amy. The rest of the night is filled with shenanigans as they run around town trying to find the party. We see a (almost?) lesbian sex scene, we see (hear, rather) the girls seeing pornography in front of their principal, we witness some beautifully shot scenes, like an underwater pool sequence that’s absolutely breathtaking (get it?). Finally, the girls have a big fight and reconciliation wherein they learn that everyone is great and nuanced in their own way and that the girls are a great pair for their differences. Did I mention that the movie is chock full of hilarity?
Now that you’re caught up, let’s get into why I love this movie SO MUCH.
I’m someone who is almost always either in a relationship or mourning a breakup. I’m also bisexual but have only ever dated men, and I don’t know if that’s ever going to change. I’ve always been surrounded by friends, but when I’m in a relationship I get tunnel vision and only focus on a partner. This has led to a vast under appreciation of female friendships.
Today, some of my most important relationships are my female friendships. There is so much that a boyfriend couldn’t possibly relate to in the same way as my female friends. My best friends have seen me through a roller coaster of drama and trauma, and been there for me in ways that I can’t say of many boyfriends (sorry!).

When I went into the hospital over the summer, partially as a result of the trauma that a deranged (I don’t use that term lightly) boy put me through, my girlfriends were there for me. The dear Katie Suss, who writes for this blog too, sent me a coloring book of animals and some coloring pencils. I was supposedly still dating the boy at the time- he was abusive during the relationship- and he told me that he couldn’t even make it to visit, nor could he write a letter. I was absolutely shattered when he told me that. A sham such as it was, my female friends were the ones who were there for me.

After seeing Booksmart!
Today, my female friends are some of the smartest people I know. My best friend of many years is utterly brilliant and I could listen to her talk about absolutely anything for hours on end. She always has marvelous advice for me and I know I could talk about anything with her.
Not to call out Katie too specifically, but Katie Suss is also one of my best friends and there is nothing I can’t say to her. I’ve never once had to walk on eggshells around her. I know she understands me inside and out and everything I have to say will be validated and listened to by her.
In past relationships with boys, I’ve never been able to say the same as I just did about those friendships.
Yet- and this is what this article is really about- how often do you see this POWER portrayed in the media?
My family was watching One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest the same night as I watched this movie, and what a stark contrast! In One Flew, the sympathetic characters all hate the villainous women of the story, who are overbearing, controlling, toxic, and weaponize their womanhood. Of course, this is a garbage (I wish garbageous was a word…) sexist trope that is weaponized against women to belittle their needs and desires. Sure, the movie is old. But it’s not alone. Many movies of its age are like that, and we have only come but so far.
Think back to the movies you’ve watched recently. How many of them featured leading women? Of those, how many of those women were heroes of the story? Of those, how many women exhibited more than two personality traits? Of those, how many had a female friend? Of those, how many were portrayed as catty and competitive, versus loving?
I’m guessing you’re at a loss. I am. Except for Booksmart.
Reality is chock full of women loving women. Women are societally reared to caretake, and while that’s both sometimes a blessing and often a great curse, it creates some beautiful dynamics when combined. This is perhaps best exemplified by the scenes in which Molly and Amy saw each other in the outfits each had just put on. They’d both launch into long odes to the other, saying things like “my eyes are burning with your beauty!” and “how dare you do this perfection to me!” These speeches would last for minutes at a time.
What amazing, unconditional support. They support each other’s outfits, but they also support each other’s romantic lives, sex lives, family lives (starring Lisa Kudrow and Jason Sudeikis), academic lives, and social lives, in all their forms and complications.
Previously, and now still, such supportive relationships, especially between women, especially non-fetishized and platonic, have been stereotyped as so unfunny, so unsexy, so uncool and plain, that they haven’t been translated onto the big screen. We’ve seen it before, recently only. Lady Bird actually comes to mind, as does Dumplin’. These are exceptions. Let’s make them the rule!
Female friendships are sexy! Lesbian relationships are sexy! Female friendships are complex. Lesbian relationships are complex. They’re also both soft, messy, weird, cool, and everything in between. What’s the point of a media, of entertainment, if we don’t use it to highlight the sexy, the complex, the weird, cool, soft?
Let’s start rewarding those who popularize the beauty of female relationships. Go see Booksmart.

Selecting language in mental health communities

Founder of Millennial Girl, Interrupted, a senior in a small Connecticut high school. I've been through many treatments and recoveries and am eager to share the lessons I've learned!
Latest posts by Olivia (see all)

I’ve been in a widely ranged swath of mental health units, wards, houses, groups and communities. They all have their own rules when it comes to what can and cannot be said: literally, what is allowed to be uttered. The folks in these communities go along with the rules most of the time, for there’s a necessary general sense of commitment to the rules of the treatment that persists in everyone’s heads. I’ve seen both ends of a spectrum, that being excessive censoring on one side and excessive relaxation on the other. Let’s examine.

When I first entered into serious treatment in 2014, I was jarred by how little we could say about our experiences. There was a rule against “war stories,” the definition of which is still hazy to me but which I think can be summarized as an excessively pornographic retelling of “problem behaviors,” a term that is also murkier than it should be but which can be aptly summarized as any behavior that is prompted by pathological thoughts and actions. Pathological, too, means something less nefarious in this world than in public, but I’m going to stop slicing the onion.

Discussion of cutting wasn’t allowed. We were a bunch of suicidal kids, we had all cut at some point, even if just to see what all of the hype was about. Is there something to this cutting thing? For me, cutting words into my legs had some merit but there generally was not much to the practice. Regardless, my cuts were obvious, as were the cuts of everyone else. But mentioning the cuts was seen as potentially too triggering (a word that, again, is much more meaningful and diagnostic/technical in the mental health world than in public).

Suicide was not a topic we could broach, either. I’ve seen this theme repeated several times in my life. My family has now learned to directly ask “are you suicidal,” “are you spiraling,” “do you want to die,” because they know that talking about it doesn’t increase the event’s likelihood. However, the hospital didn’t seem to concur in practice.

I understand where they were coming from. It’s very possible that a bunch of kids could have conspired to come up with better ways to engage in serious problem behaviors, such as “improved” methodology for cutting and suicide attempts, and especially between the patients who were not as healthy, who were destined for another year or more of inpatient treatment.

In fact, I don’t really have an opinion on the matter. I’m simply here to share with you. So here’s the other end of the spectrum.

I’ve absolutely nailed my old, therapeutic school, before. In a way, the lack of helpfulness of the school enhanced my appreciation for the seemingly tedious methods used in genuine therapeutic environments. I suppose the school tried its best, which is actually even more damning.

Racial slurs and ferocious bullying were both allowed in the school environment. Kids frequently shared not only methodological discussions about drugs and alcohol, but shared the substances themselves on campus. Cutting, alcohol, sex, drugs, suicidal thoughts and actions, missing school and therapy, mocking of therapy, were all common topics of discussion among the students, while the teachers struggled to even get half of their class to show up. They had no time to police wording, or actions outside of the classroom. The problem was a lack of healthy and thought out structure by the administration, who should all be replaced (they had asked, I think indicatively, my old psychiatrist, who used to run an adolescent unit in a hospital, to consult and help, but he/she turned it down).

I’ve also talked about my experience with a certain family who heavily polices word use within its walls. It’s an oppressive environment blanketed in eggshells and it’s counter-productive if the goal is openness and honesty which, if we take anyone in the family as an example, it is not. Repeat after me; self harm and suicide are not caused by the words “cutting” and “suicide.”

If you found this interesting, I also hope that you retain from this piece an alternative message. The term “triggering” has a whole different meaning outside of the so-called SJW community that many men mock, with limited to no validity. Triggering can mean something that sets off PTSD symptoms, one that fails to evade everyone from rape victims to war veterans. Triggering can mean intense discussion of hanging in front of someone who tried to hang themselves yesterday. It can also mean excessive censoring and walking on eggshells.

As always, I’ve provided you with the spectrum, and a balance is preferable.

A letter to myself, last summer

Founder of Millennial Girl, Interrupted, a senior in a small Connecticut high school. I've been through many treatments and recoveries and am eager to share the lessons I've learned!
Latest posts by Olivia (see all)

Olivia,

I know you’re going through hell right now. I hear it in your voice and I feel your loneliness through the recordings you made of just yourself, talking. Your brain’s on fire, everything hurts. I understand. I have a story for you. Your mother will tell you this in a few months, but I want you to her it now. I know you’re entirely alone these days, but I’m here now.

Your mom suffered a terrible heartbreak when she was young, a little older than you. Like you, she was traumatized and miserable. She thought she’d be with this person for the rest of her life, and his gross betrayal felt like the end of the world. I know that’s what you’re feeling now. There’s no mistaking your misery. Wanna know what happened to your mom?

She moved on. It took a long time. It took a lot of ruminating. It took some sketchy adventures and some serious time. It took his new girlfriend stalking her. It took three divorces of his, vindication. But she moved on. If she can move on from that, you can move on from this.

In just a few months, you’re going to try to kill yourself again, but you’ll fail. After you do, you’re going to be so grateful to be alive. Remember that feeling, from freshman year? You’ll have it again, but this time you’ll be mere months away from college. You’ll have people around you who love you, again.

You won’t have moved on yet, that’s the bad news. These things take time. But your brain isn’t on fire anymore. Sometimes it sparks at night. but it hasn’t burned nearly as bright as it is for you, now.

You’ll have lost some weight, but you were all expecting that, and it’s not too much. In fact, you managed to keep your eating disorder at bay for a year and counting. You’re healthy and toned. I’m SO proud of you.

Not having him around is a blessing, and while having him in your head is a curse, he fades more and more every day. I know it doesn’t feel like it could be a blessing now. It is.

You won’t have gotten an apology. Everyone around you says it’s horrific, your parents are fuming, your friends and relationships are too. But there will be no apology, none at all, and you’re coming to terms with that. Again, I’m so proud of you.

It’s summer again. The warm blanket of air reminds you of last year, when you couldn’t eat, could barely breathe, when you traveled around New England to save him, when you realized it was all some sick trick, when you couldn’t stop screaming, when you vomited in the bushes. But it’s a year later, now. You’re with your friends, back from college and lovely as ever, and you’re finding meaning.

I know this is not the case right now. I remember your pain well. Now, though, all is well. The war is over.

An update on my moral scrupulosity

Founder of Millennial Girl, Interrupted, a senior in a small Connecticut high school. I've been through many treatments and recoveries and am eager to share the lessons I've learned!
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I’ve talked about this condition of mine before. An element of my OCD, a powerful one, is entitled obsessive moral scrupulosity, or the obsessive and compulsive need to follow a specific moral code, and often for others to follow it, too. The moral code itself is molded by early childhood influences, and it springs up for me a lot. A lot. Here’s what it’s doing now.

I know I talk about it a lot, but it’s rich in content: my ex’s girlfriend recently contacted me via a fake account. I know, this happens to me a lot. I was very scared at first. I have PTSD from what her boyfriend put me through, and as I was shaking and felt sick, I considered what I should say. I ended up simply being firm that she was not to contact me, but there was so much more I wanted to say. What, and why?

I’ll start with the why. When there is an injustice operating in the world around me, my brain itches. I become overwhelmingly, bodily upset, and my brain is “set on fire,” as I like to say. I want the world to operate according to how I think it should which, while common in almost everyone, is heightened to an obsessive/compulsive level because of my disorder.

If it were up to me, I’d be able to tell my ex’s new girlfriend everything that he did. I’d make sure she was safe and cared for and fully informed of what he is capable of. However, there are some things I can’t put on the blog and there are no things that I should be saying to her, to protect myself. Even thinking of her or his name makes me want to throw up. I know she reads this, though. Girl, stay safe.

More generally, I am so upset about this incident with him largely because I was reared similarly. My parents would walk away, neglect to listen to my words and what I had to say, didn’t take me seriously, talked poorly of me to others. So when it happens in a relationship (albeit to a more sick, traumatic level), I become panicked in a re-traumatizing way. That’s what separates this experience from any other relationship I’ve ever had; it harkens back to childhood.

Back to scrupulosity. It really, really grinds my gears that he’s been able to get away with what he did, that I can’t help this new girl, that his parents likely believe anything he has to say about the issue. However, I can’t force the world to mold to what I know and/or believe to be true. I know that I can’t because I technically, physically can’t, so any effort to do so would only be a suffering-inducing endeavor.

This is the way it goes with a lot of things that are out of our control, especially in interpersonal situations. We simply have no control over others, ultimately, and any attempt to control other people must end in personal suffering because of the inability to do so, and the helplessness that induces.

So, I’m not going to write her back with all that I know. She’ll find out soon enough, if she hasn’t already. I don’t need to save her and I don’t need to be told that I’m right, at least not beyond all of my family and friends. All is as it should be, and everything will right itself in the end. That I know to be true, and that’s a part of my moral code that I can tell myself without controlling anyone else.

Just some trauma poetry

Founder of Millennial Girl, Interrupted, a senior in a small Connecticut high school. I've been through many treatments and recoveries and am eager to share the lessons I've learned!
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First of all, I have a massive, worn old journal full of my poetry that is just for me. However, yesterday I came across a little yellow notebook tucked into the back of my closet. It’s not very good, but it’s from a very important period in my life. After I emerged from my abusive relationship, I didn’t tell anyone what happened for months. However, when I became active in the dating world again, it all spilled out. These are from that tumultuous, terrible time in my life.

How do you do?

My name is human

I’m sheathed from you

Fogged up, dirty too

Victoria, Hermes scarf

Silk, that’s her sheath

I wove it back here

Draped her, a wreath

Quick, he’s coming

Hands up, voice weary

Tone soft, eyes teary

Sounds as if he’s running

Panting, pushing

Frantic and decrepit

She’s dressed, body clean,

I take what’s left of it.

—–

I just have a suspicion that

My fingertips are too blue

Waiting for the ignition

To ever be thawed

By this fireside

Further even

That they wouldn’t know how

To clasp another’s

Let alone soothe themselves

If they ever did thaw

How long has it been?

—–

The definition of insanity, or whatever it’s called

Does it go awry, that hoarded, touted thing,

When it’s yourself you have walled?

A rallying cry, a bedtime story

Not meant for clawing,

Scraping at interiors

Splash your face, double your eyes

This quote is designed for a body

Not doctor-recommended for mirrors

—–

He isn’t wrong about insanity

His words have been folded

The same dance could reel a mate

The forty fourth time

This we choose not to know

He knows

That my insanity is

Exclusively reading presidential biographies

Weeping into Lincoln’s First Inaugural

———

Sourdough bread

Promises a cozy comfort

—-> back of the freezer

(I know how I like my sandwiches)

How long has it laid?

Nearly thaws, fooled me

Teeth sink, still concealed

I don’t remember it this way

Burned

Oh well, pita in the cupboard

———

It’s quiet

All’s still

But for my toes

Dog whimpers, bed shakes

Clouds roar, feet ache

Brain reels, only fro

Thump, thump

It’s quiet

But for my toes

Painfully mindless

Madly tireless

Tonight, agony grows

Boom, boom

All’s still

But for my toes

Vessels of anguish

Mindlessly painless

But for the fear it odes

All’s still

Sprung alive

But for my toes

Penetration creeping

Girl screaming

This is just how it goes

My future plans

Founder of Millennial Girl, Interrupted, a senior in a small Connecticut high school. I've been through many treatments and recoveries and am eager to share the lessons I've learned!
Latest posts by Olivia (see all)

This break’s been nice. It’s truly exhausting to put things out onto this website, knowing that a handful of people from my old school will likely comment something negative and/or hateful. I have only good things to say today, however!

This fall, I’m going to be attending Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. I’m on as full of a scholarship as the school can give, and I’m in the Honors College. I will be studying political science and philosophy, though I’ll probably change my mind a few times. I have three lovely roommates who I’ll be staying with. I’m happy as a clam about it.

I chose Temple for a few reasons. My primary rationale is probably how much I love the Honors program there. I attended an Honors orientation and found the intellectual atmosphere and benefits to the program to be unbeatably appealing. I roamed a campus that felt like home, toured the Honors dorms that felt like home, too. The individualized attention that I’ll get through the Honors College, while getting to enjoy the benefits of a big school with infinite resources, WHILE paying barely anything, makes an offer I can’t refuse.

Why am I studying what I’m studying? I am pre-law, which just means that I plan on going to law school. They say that you should study what you love in order to get the GPA that a prestigious law school requires. I’ve chosen the areas of study that I’ve loved all my life… and I’ve chosen the undergrad price tag that would make law school even conceivable.

When I get out of school, I hope to be a public defender. In fact, that’s the only area of law practice that I’d enter into. I detest the typical law firm, tending to the upper echelon of clientele while fattening their own pockets with bonuses, raises, extravagant homes, vacations, while the very justice system they claim to master suffocates the least fortunate.

I want to do the low salary work, the work that fights for the presumption of innocence for the mentally ill, so many of whom are simply chucked into the prison industrial complex with no way to heal or get out. Why are mentally ill white boys called sweet, unassuming, poor, while their less privileged counterparts are villainized, portrayed as older, malicious? That’s how our justice system is orchestrated, and I hope to work to combat that.

I say this all humbly, as I don’t even know if I can pass Honors Calculus 2 yet (did I mention that all of my classes are specially designated Honors, which means I get the best professors and class size of under 20?). I’ll likely flip flop between majors and decide, un-decide and decide again whether or not law school is the right path for me.

I just wanted to share my outlook, these days, with you all. I’m finally going to college! It’s been two long years since all of my friends went. It’s my turn, now! 🙂

Stigma and Mental Health Awareness Month: A Conversation

Founder of Millennial Girl, Interrupted, a senior in a small Connecticut high school. I've been through many treatments and recoveries and am eager to share the lessons I've learned!
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Mental Health Awareness Month is upon us, and the darling Katie Suss and I thought it would be fruitful to cover a range of topics related to stigma and discussing mental health with peers. There are a few bases that we want to cover, so we’re gonna do this conversation style. Katie and I are sitting in a quaint little coffee shop with some cinnamon donuts as we discuss, and we hope that our thoughts are helpful to you.

Katie: I’m really glad we’re doing this.  Even though times are changing and people are more inclined to speak out, mental illness is still something we try to hide – and for no good reason.

Olivia: I’ve gotten a few questions about how and why I’m so candid about what I’m going through at the moment. To that I say, the premise of this website is to expose the darker shades of the human psychological experience, but why is that important? How does the average person incorporate this candor into their own lives? I sometimes skate over these questions and I want to dive deeper into them, today.

K: I totally understand. I’ve noticed that I myself have been more up front with people about my anxiety (to varying degrees), and I feel better about my struggles and for being my own advocate. It’s not easy to be honest, especially on such a public forum like this, but it’s 2019 and as good a time as any. What do you think we (along with so many people) are deciding to make their voices heard, and why is it so important that we do so?

O: Humans are constantly seeking connections with others, the needy beings that we are, and we’re usually successful. A lot of our experiences as people are easily shared, but there are darker elements of humanity that make people uncomfortable; it’s classic fear of the unknown. Mental illness does not affect everyone, so folks’ natural inclination is to avoid discussing it, lest they alienate themselves from non-sufferers. I get that. But as rates of mental illness and suicide (especially in youth) continue to climb, it’s becoming increasingly important to make that first step into the unknown. In 1999, the surgeon general at the time labeled stigma as the greatest global barrier to mental healthcare, and mental healthcare is the greatest global economic burden of all health sectors. As social critters, we feel safer when we can share. It’s crucial that we find ways to unite in our most difficult experiences with each other.  For years, I knew well the shame of suffering in silence, which is not merely uncomfortable. It’s debilitating.

K: And that’s the main mindset we need to change- in those who are suffering and those who are not.  Mental illness is not shameful, and we should not be thinking of it as if it is. We have been socialized in a world where illness is defined by physical symptoms that we can pinpoint, and for so long, people who were mentally ill were dismissed as “faking” or “attention seekers,” and that therapy was bogus or for weak people.  Of course, none of these things are true, and we know now that mental illness is just as valid and painful as physical illness – and that they can even exacerbate each other.

Next to the coffee shop… Shopside Talks?

O: On that note, I know that Katie and I both try to be conscientious of the terminology that we use when it comes to mental illness, but we’re not always perfect.

K: Yes! So many enculturated terms are hurtful and incorrect, and can make people even less inclined to talk about their struggles.  Words like “crazy,” “psycho,” “troubled,” and “disturbed,” are derogatory and inaccurate. Also, it’s important to remember than mental illness is only part of a person’s identity; it does not define that person. (For example, say, “She has depression” rather than “She is depressed.”)

O:  I’m even guilty of this! It’s hard to get down. In the nascent era of the blog, I used the phrase “committed suicide” to refer to the act of killing oneself. A polite commenter reminded me that the word “committed” implies a nefariousness to suicide that doesn’t accurately reflect the nature of the act. If the act is phrased as aggressive, criminal even, it makes suicidality even more shameful and renders those who are experiencing it less likely to reach out for help. I immediately edited my wording.

K: And even if you’re keeping up and getting everything right, starting the conversation can still be difficult.  Friends and family want to be supportive, but often don’t know how or where to begin.

O: Right. In the past month, I’ve been inundated by overwhelming support from family, friends, acquaintances and strangers, but that only came after I took the leap of publicly reaching out. Knowing how to communicate about mental illness is the stepping stone between silence and de-stigmatization. What are some ways that have worked for you, both in reaching out and receiving outreach?

K: Well, first of all, it’s much easier when you have a close, comfortable relationship with someone… like we do, sisterwife ;).  If I’m having a bad day or an anxiety attack or I’m spiraling, I know I have a small network of people to whom I can always talk. However, others are not always so fortunate, so if you have a friend, coworker, or even acquaintance who you think may be having a hard time, it’s best to at least let them know you are around.  Even a simple, “I’m here”, or “Are you doing okay?” can go a long way. Social isolation is real, folks, and it’s never good for people to wallow in their own hurt.

O: I can attest to the helpfulness of this. A friend of mine recently worked through a tough night with me simply by listening and humbly offering what advice he could, with no expectation that it would be life changing. He plentifully validated the pain that I was experiencing. The simplicity but import of just being present for someone cannot be overstated. Presence lets the person know that what they have to say has value and deserves space to exist.

Sometimes, however, I’m not great about responding to outreaches. Katie has a lot of experience with me wallowing so much that I can’t even muster a simple returning text. It’s important to, within reason, let someone know that you’re continually there for them, if you know that they’re struggling and that they would appreciate it.

Finally, I’ve heard concerns that, perhaps, talking about mental health and suicide will actually trigger the two. Luckily, this hasn’t been proven to be true, and the opposite is more accurate, in fact. Open up to others and let others open up to you. We’ll all be better humans for it.

Sharing your story with even one person takes a lot of courage, but every time you come out and say “This is a part of me, and I’m not ashamed of it,” it gets that much easier for you and others to know that no one is ever totally alone. Each journey is different, but during Mental Health Awareness Month, Katie and I hope that you’ll consider taking some steps towards sharing your experience with others, and making time for others to share with you.

Here’s what happened.

Founder of Millennial Girl, Interrupted, a senior in a small Connecticut high school. I've been through many treatments and recoveries and am eager to share the lessons I've learned!
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I have decided that, in order to swiftly move on with this blog, we’re all best served by me putting all updates from the last month of my life into one post. It’s long, and exhausting, and raw, and I’ve been compiling it for weeks. I hope you find meaning in it.

So, at the beginning of April, I tried to kill myself. You all know that by now. Normally, I’d be dormant at this point. I’d be cowering in the shame of what I did. I don’t want to do that, this time. I have valuable information to give, goddamnit! My information will be different one year out than it is one month out, but that is not to say that one-month-out-insight is not important.

I want to be careful in walking the line between explaining what happened and glorifying suicide. I’ll only include information that I believe would be helpful to you in understanding the warning signs in the people around you.

I wrote a smattering of notes to various people. These notes were mostly scattered around my room, if not digital, and would have been clear in their nature if found. I hadn’t showered for a little under week, and I normally shower daily. Every “next day” was the day I’d die, I thought, so what was the point in showering for that? I softened in demeanor, interacting quietly and gently with my family and friends, to a noticeable point. Really, though, I didn’t talk to my friends much. I had nearly forty unread texts from over two dozen people rotting in my Messages app. To one friend, one of my longtime dearest, I said I was doing well. I didn’t post anything on the blog, instead asking others to do it for me, to take what had become a burden off of my shoulders.

If I’m being completely transparent with you all, this blog had spiraled a bit. I’m still proud of everything that I’ve written, but its tone had shifted to be a more play-by-play of what I was feeling, with self-reflective undertones, rather than utter self-reflection on past experiences. As I’ll discuss, I’ve been in a traumatic spiral for weeks and months. Going forward, I hope to merge my real-time feelings with more poised insight. They needn’t be mutually exclusive.

I’ve hinted at some things that happened in the days leading up to my attempt on my life. Likely the biggest one is my social media spiral. Since December of 2017, I’ve been haunted by a group of girls from my old therapeutic school. There was a school suspension and an expulsion, as well as a trip to the police department, but they’ve persisted. In talking with my therapist in the past weeks, we’ve come to the conclusion that while I have done nothing to goad these girls, I have not had the ability to wave them away, or block them totally, because I’ve always fundamentally believed I am “bad,” and it follows that I seek validation of this self loathing in the judgement of others. This is why I’ve stayed in abusive relationships; they satisfied my need to find people who are not good for me, who will validate my tragic view of myself.

I would cycle through a routine of social media checks. First to Twitter, where one of the girls routinely posts about me. Then to Instagram, where the girls and my ex’s family would incessantly report my profiles, and where my ex’s new girlfriend and a friend of hers have made more than half a dozen fake accounts hoping to follow mine. I’d cry and shake each time, but until recently I never blocked them. Then to VCSO, the popular photo filtering/sharing app, to review their profiles and the things they’d screenshot. Next, to my own blog, to see if they’d left any earth-shattering comments (they often did, I’ve had to delete a lot). Finally, until a month or so ago, I’d consult with my friends from that school, to see if anyone had been talking about me. I both did and didn’t want to hear that they had. The part of me that wants to feel good and safe wanted to hear silence, but there was sick satisfaction in hearing that they were saying something awful. Needless to say, these were not positive friendships.

On the day that I tried to kill myself, one of the girls made an Instagram post that, while the picture was just a selfie, the caption was, according to a Twitter post, a hidden derogatory reference to me. She recruited dozens of people to comment on it, in affirmation. I watched as the comments poured in—from my ex’s new girlfriend, former friends, former classmates, and utter strangers. They were all people who I decided then and there (with good reason), hated me. I’ve talked before about how powerful consensus is for me. If enough people dislike me, I can’t rationalize my way out of it. It did not seem possible that I was somehow a good person who was just misunderstood by everybody. I was convinced that removing myself from their lives by suicide was the best option for everyone.

As I considered the high lethality of what I was about to try, I ran over my life as I saw it, until that moment. In those few seconds, I was only able to see invalidation, abuse, bullying, betrayal, fear, and hatred. I’d been sleeping for eighteen hours a day, but sleep was no respite, for trauma nightmares found me there. In them, I’m sexually assaulted, over and over, as I’m paralyzed and powerless. I ultimately felt as if the only solution was permanent, dreamless sleep. I wrote a pros and cons list in my Notes app. Here’s how it went.

Laid out that way, it seemed logical, like a mere numbers game. Consensus, remember? I made my decision.

I’m not going to review what happened after that, but I laid out/sent out my notes and did what I did. I was in the ER for two days before being transferred to the hospital’s adult psychiatric unit. I have the pleasure, now, of reviewing that unique place for you all. I took pages of notes on who I met and what I did, in order to share them now. Let’s begin!

I was in the ER overnight, and I didn’t manage to get much sleep. My father had gone home for the night to get some rest (he stayed by my bedside for every second he could and visited during every visiting hour period, shoutout to him!). I was next door to a very young boy—there’s little more tragic than the sight of young children in psychiatric facilities—who was requesting that he be allowed to call his mother before he was to have his blood drawn. The staff wanted to do it soon, because there is no adolescent unit at my local hospital and he’d need to be transferred with completed bloodwork. Polite as could be, he conveyed his reservations. I know I wasn’t nearly as serene when I was brought in, when I first had blood drawn. How could he stay so composed, at age twelve at the most? And where was his mother, if not there? What and who had brought him here, seemingly alone? I finally slept with EKG stickers dotting my body and the sweet boy’s mumblings wafting through the walls.

I grew antsy in the ER. I wanted to leave and find solace in my dear therapist. I knew she’d understand everything immediately, and I wanted to talk to her. The staff of the hospital told me that because of the seriousness of what I’d done and its generally high success rate, coupled with my knowledge of that success rate and insistence on attempting suicide with the understanding I’d likely die, the doctors concluded that they couldn’t let me go. I had to be admitted to the psychiatric unit, so once some more tests were done and a bed was cleared, I was wheeled in a mandatory transport chair that inched to creaking elevator after creaking elevator, up to the unit.

I know how to navigate psychiatric units. I’ve been to my fair share of them and I’m skilled at putting myself on autopilot and just getting through whatever is thrown at me there. So none of what I’m about to describe was terribly upsetting to me, but I will say that having my first experience on the unit be a fellow patient insisting to me that I cover my back (still draped with a hospital gown, gapping in one place) because Jesus was watching, and Jesus was all I would need—“not medication!”—was something of a first.

I was shown to my room, which I shared with a lovely, soft-spoken elderly woman. She was diagnosed with breast cancer a little under a year ago and her throat was covered in gauze. None of us asked her explicitly, but the general consensus was that she’d tried to slit it in a suicide attempt. She spoke, in therapy groups, of an insidious depression that had swallowed the life she’d happily lived for perhaps seventy years, give or take. I couldn’t reconcile that image with the woman I saw before me, the grandmother who padded around the unit in slippers and a tartan nightgown, a knitted, yellow flower hat to cover her balding head, and a tender manner. We’d wish each other goodnight and, as she fell asleep rather quickly, I’d read “Bad Blood,” “How Democracy Dies,” and “Unbelievable” to the light that she insisted I leave on, in order to see. Somehow, she slept under the blaring industrial lights.

On my first night, I was reading in bed—my roommate switching to a floral nightgown for sleeping—when we heard a blood curdling scream echo through the hallways. It was the Jesus touting woman, and she was having a meltdown. We heard a great whoosh—what we’d later learn was her knocking down a door—and she ran past our room, ripping up a book that she’d forcibly taken from the hands of a fellow patient, after hitting him with a pillow. The rest of the night, for hours and hours, we could hear her screaming in a room down the hall known as the isolation room (it had one bed and, if I saw correctly, restraints). She screamed two things: “Fuck you, motherfuckers, go to hell!” and “I want to be DEAD!” I’ll never forget the precise cadence with which she proclaimed those two things. Next to the children I’ve seen wandering units, this was the most harrowing moment I’ve ever experienced in hospitals. The woman was delusional and very confused, but she seemed to know that she was trapped in a life that likely would never be anyone’s definition of “normal,” that would likely entail a great deal of suffering, suffering in which she was already wrapped. One could hear it in the way her screams trailed off into sobs. Eventually I fell asleep, but she didn’t. Her voice was barely audible the next day.

In the morning, I met a woman who couldn’t have been much over five feet tall. Like most on the unit, she was dealing with a suicide attempt that was co-occurring with a terrible addiction. She talked constantly about her husband and twin babies who were awaiting her return, and she mothered them vicariously through the rest of us.

I encountered a man in his early to mid-twenties. He was looming, muscular, and good looking, sporting a NY Mets t-shirt, but he was weeping like a child would, hunched over and whimpering a bit. A group was crowded around him, listening to his mantra. I couldn’t hear it, but as I got to know him over the next few days, I came to understand that he was a depressed alcoholic who had gone to college to play jazz music. He was likely wonderfully talented but we’d never see it. We’d only see his wet eyes and hear his stories about an emotionally abusive brother who “hated” him and what he’d become, who didn’t understand what was happening to him. I heard him call himself a “waste of space.” Imagine.

“You know, you’re the prettiest girl on the unit,” a widely disliked woman with few, rotting teeth told me during a visit with my father. The woman would repeat the sentence over a dozen times, whenever she saw me. I would demur internally while thanking her externally, for there was a lovely looking girl around my age, a petite former dancer with a delicate braid down to her thighs, who was on the unit with a fascinating story.

The petite dancer believed that she was infected by parasites. At first, it seemed plausible. She seemed to know a lot about intestinal parasites. But over time it became clear to me, while I eavesdropped over breakfast with a book in my face and my ears wide open, that the staff did not believe her. I knew, then, what was happening.

See, I have OCD, too. I went through a phase where I was convinced that I had intestinal parasites. I’ve never told anyone but my dad and doctor about this, but I would beg my pediatrician for scans and tests. I knew that this woman was focusing all of her OCD energy into phantom bugs. If she just got the cure, she claimed, her body and soul would be “cleansed,” and all would be well, she would “get back to her old self.” No cure would come, and she was discharged the same day I was.

One night, all of us were locked in the TV lounge as the Jesus-touting woman was raging, again, this time with more suicidal wails than homicidal screams. The staff had moved all breakable and potentially harmful objects that had previously been in the hallway, into the staff area, so she couldn’t throw them or hurt someone. Security was called, and she banged on our door. It was a bit frightening, but we all had each other, and shared the reasons we were all there. Of the seven of us in that room, six had attempted suicide and come to the unit via the emergency room. Two overdoses, a gun, two slices, and my noose. One man hadn’t attempted suicide. He and I delighted in our shared love of Harry Potter, marveling at the mutual designation of “Ravenpuff” with which we’d each anointed ourselves.

In therapy group on my third day, we were asked to describe a place where we felt happy, a place we could revisit in our minds when things went south on the outside. I spoke of a basement in my ex’s house, a soft couch and Harry Potter playing on the TV, a place in which I’d felt happier than I ever had in my life (the relationship crashed but the sensation remains). My fellow Ravenpuff raised his hand, and I still remember exactly what he described. Everyone in that room probably does.

It was simple: his backyard. But he painted it hypnotically for us, as if it was a haven of escapism that any of us could access. He spoke of an “eight foot by twenty foot porch that surrounded a Black Walnut tree, with a grill on the right and steps down to an acre of grass in the middle, that was flanked by two planters, one bearing herbs and the other vegetables, and the acre itself was wrapped in bushes upon bushes of forsythia.” Typing this now, it sounds benign, but I promise that in that meeting room across from the nurses’ station, it was magical. It’s easy to find things to be magical while in the hospital.

I was discharged the next day, after pacing for half an hour (or half a century, depending on if you ask me or a clock) up and down the entrance to the ward as I awaited my father’s arrival. I got the names and numbers of a few patients, but I haven’t added them on any social media or texted them, nor have they added or texted me. It has mostly gone this way upon hospital discharge. There is a hidden place in my heart that few ever get to house, and it contains the people I’ve encountered throughout my journey.

So, there you have it. That’s what happened. In the weeks since, I’ve done a lot of work. We locked down my social media so I can’t go on checking loops (mainly Twitter and VSCO, with some Instagram) and I’ve gone on semi-permanent birth control to control the hormone change that arises in the days before my menstruation week (I made the attempt in the midst of that week, and they’re intertwined). I’m back on daily schedules and meal plans, as those things had previously been falling by the wayside. I bawled my eyes out in front of my therapist for the first time. An former abusive relationship has knocked the wind out of my old frequent weepiness, but when I’m most vulnerable, my eyes swell and voice is turbulent and wet. That’s when the heavy work’s done.

Most importantly, I’m thrilled to be alive. My mother reminds me that after I failed, I was wailing in regret, wishing I had succeeded and devastated to still be able to open my eyes. What’s different, this time? When I entered the hospital, after I’d accepted that I was still alive, everything looked new to me. A book was remarkable in its vastness, an anatomical poster aesthetically enrapturing, the stories and lives of my fellow patients were those of celebrities, the most interesting people on Earth.

I’ve felt this before, but I’d never tried to kill myself with such a high chance of success before. I “knew” I’d die. Now, I know I could never want to. I know that even after as high stakes of an attempt as I could ever muster, I want to live. There can be no such thing as unending suffering, and I wish I’d seen that before this unfortunate event. There was no need for the pain I put myself and others through. I’ve always been privy to the most nuanced, elegant, beautiful parts of life. I appreciate everything I had before my attempt and everything I stood to lose, and just how horrible a different outcome would have been.

If you’re feeling at risk, below is a number I urge you to call.

1-800-273-8255