AVOIDANCE: MY UNHELPFUL COPING SKILL

Authenticity. Vulnerability. Honesty. Ugh.

I’ve been trying my best to be gentle towards myself for struggling immensely with tackling these concepts in my every day life, but the truth is it’s really fucking difficult. Trying to get out of the habit of unconsciously (and consciously) filtering myself by recognizing and calling myself out whenever I do it, feels like a never-ending game of “tug-of-war” that is incredibly exhausting to play.

When it comes to blogging, part of my brain is like, “This is your space to write about whatever you want, so write!” and the other part of my brain is like, “No one needs/wants to hear about the constant negative shit that is/has been going on in your life so its better to not write anything at all.”

Needless to say, my depressive and anxious thoughts have been getting the best of me these days. I haven’t felt like sharing what’s been going on in my life because I have a strong tendency towards avoidance. I’m still learning how to manage, work through/challenge, and embrace those (helpful and unhelpful) negative emotions, such as: shame, guilt, anger, hurt, sadness, disappointment, and anxiety that are currently consuming me.

I spend a lot of my time in both individual and group therapies. This year, I have been in, or am currently in a combination of therapies such as: CBT, EMDR, DBT, and TTED (I made up this last acronym, although it is essentially just another type of CBT-based therapy). I’m grateful that I currently have access to these therapies but going through them often feels like a “Catch 22” situation. It’s a situation where “I have to feel worse before I can feel better” – Except I already feel pretty fucking terrible to begin with… and I’m supposed to feel this even more? It’s hard.

Understanding the basics of how emotions work, then learning to recognize them, sit with them and feel them, instead of repressing or avoiding them is still challenging for me. Avoidance has always been my go-to unhelpful coping skill; whether I’ve repressed or avoided my emotions through overworking or overscheduling myself, taking care of others instead of taking care of myself, doing school work or procrastinating doing school work, procrastinating tasks in general, over-exercising, controlling food, substance use, withdrawing myself from events, situations, activities… As you can see, my list isn’t exhaustive by any means, and I have definitely mastered the unhelpful coping skill of avoidance. But I’m actively working on challenging my avoidant tendencies, even if it’s uncomfortable. “No (emotional) pain, no (emotional) gain” can be my newest saying, I guess?

I try my best to stay positive and optimistic about my healing journey, but it’s honestly been nothing short of an uphill battle. I feel exhausted battling my brain all day, every day; trying to notice, challenge, change, or accept my thoughts and emotions for what they are – just thoughts and emotions – without feeling the need to act based on them. More often than not, I succeed and can manage and go about my day. But sometimes, usually when I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed, I’m not as successful at challenging my thoughts and then my “Fuck this. I’m tired. Repress. Avoid” mindset wins. I’m human – a work in progress – and that’s okay. At least I’m still trying, and I’m attempting to blog about my feelings rather than continuing to avoid them.

“Healing isn’t a linear process and change takes time.”

Linla

REWRITING MY MENTAL ILLNESS NARRATIVE

STOP

I think the best place to begin sharing my stories with everyone again is to start off by giving some background information (for those who may be new to my story, or for those who would like a refresher) about my previous diagnoses and the situation that started my Twitter and blogging journey in the first place. From there, I will do a “deep dive” into the headspace that I’ve been working from (and continue to work through) since I received my new diagnoses in February 2018.

REWIND

            In 2011, when I was 17 years old, I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. Around that time, I began journaling about my life, thoughts, opinions, and my experiences living with mental illness. Journaling helped reduce my anxiety and became a safe haven for me to speak my mind freely without feeling judged or embarrassed. Over the next few years, I consistently kept a journal until around mid-2015. At that time in my life, I had hit a low point, and journaling no longer provided me with the same sense of relief that it used to. In the 4 years since my initial diagnoses, I hadn’t been very open to having a conversation about my mental health issues, primarily due to the societal stigma surrounding mental illness and my own self-stigma. I barely had a conversation about it with my family, and had only told a few close friends (who were, and continue to be, great supports – but they honestly couldn’t relate to what I was going through.) I didn’t know anyone who could truly relate to my experiences and I had never felt more alone.

Near the end of 2015, while in the midst of an everlasting depression, I had an idea: What would happen if I made an anonymous Twitter account where I could begin to talk openly and honestly about my mental illnesses, and maybe even connect with others who are experiencing similar issues? From there, I created my Twitter account, @hellobipolar, where I introduced myself to the online world as “Linla”. I didn’t know whether anyone would care about what I had to say, or if there would be anyone on that website open to connecting; but it turned out that there were many people who were happy to connect, and genuinely wanted to hear about my life. It was comforting to finally connect with others who were also experiencing mental health conditions, and have a safe space where I could anonymously share my stories.

In the following 8 months after creating my Twitter account, I had connected with so many amazing, diverse people from all over the world, who were incredibly supportive of what I was contributing to the platform. I began feeling less alone, and like I had finally found a community where I belonged, even as an anonymous entity. It was my friends on Twitter who encouraged me to start blogging so that they could read more than the allotted 140 characters of my story at a time. I was nervous to share more, but I eventually started my anonymous blog titled, “Hello Bipolar Linla.” For the next 2 years, my HBL blog became my journal – except this time anyone and everyone could read it. I enjoyed writing, it felt comfortable, safe, and I truly loved it.

FAST FORWARD

            After completing an intensive 560-hour internship in Ottawa, ON, I came back home in December 2017, feeling completely drained, lost, and extremely depressed. I struggled to get through the holidays, and finish the remaining assignments required to pass my internship, which would allow me to finally graduate with my undergraduate degree. After a few disastrous (and traumatic) psychiatrist and doctor’s appointments, I knew things were not going to be okay if I continued living in this state of mind. [TW] I was frustrated, discouraged, distant, and my suicidal thoughts had become incredibly overwhelming. I couldn’t finish my assignments, and I had no support from the mental health providers in my care team. Luckily, over the years I had become more comfortable sharing my experiences with my mental health with my friends and family, so I reached out to them and had their support to help me take the next big step in my mental health journey: going to the hospital to seek help.

It was mid-January 2018, when I allowed one of my closest friends to bring me and stay with me, as I waited in the emergency room at the hospital; where I was eventually assessed and admitted as a (voluntary, turned involuntary) inpatient on the Adult Mental Health unit. The following 24 days as an AMH inpatient were incredibly challenging but life-changing for me. I learned a lot about myself, my mental health, and the power of vulnerability in that short amount of time. I “live tweeted” bits of my days on the inpatient unit to keep my Twitter friends updated about what was going on with me (to the best of my ability at that time), and to share with the world what it’s truly like living on an inpatient mental health unit. I also had friends and family coming to visit me at the hospital twice daily throughout my admission, which felt amazing to know that I had their support.

During my admission, I was completely reassessed. They did all the necessary lab work, a CT scan, trialled various medications, I spent hours filling out questionnaires, being interviewed, and attending groups. By the time I was released from the hospital in February, I was stripped of my old diagnoses and given new ones. The psychiatrist, and psychologist told me that based on their assessments, interactions with me, and observations, my experiences aligned more accurately with major depressive disorder, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder, than they did with bipolar II disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.

PAUSE

            Mentally, that was a lot for me to process as I had spent the past 7 years trying to understand my mental health experiences through the perspective as a person with bipolar disorder. These new diagnoses made me hyperaware of the fact that I had intentionally built an online community on Twitter and through my blog, primarily influenced by my desire to connect with people who shared a bipolar diagnosis. This alone made it much more challenging for me to understand, accept, and reconnect with my online community. I felt alone and like an outsider, all over again. I felt angry (at my previous mental health care providers), anxious, and upset. I thought that everything that I had ever shared online must be a lie, and would surely invalidate the experiences of the people I’ve interacted with that actually do have bipolar disorder. I felt like a fake: that this whole time, I had been sharing a life of lies with my community. It was those thoughts that prevented me from engaging online as much as I used to. I stopped blogging. I stopped interacting with my friends on Twitter. I wasn’t sure how to move forward, so I stayed quiet and stuck for the next 4 months.

PLAY

            Thankfully, I have been able to use self-reflection, CBT skills, and self-compassion to work through these psychological mind-blocks so that I no longer think or feel this way (or at least to that extreme) anymore. My thinking is more flexible; I understand that some mental health providers are just bad at their job, as they don’t care to take the time to really look into issues/patterns of behaviour, and unfortunately, get diagnoses wrong. I also understand that diagnoses can change and that is totally okay! I can acknowledge that everything that I’ve ever shared online has always been my authentic experience, regardless of my diagnoses. Nobody has been outwardly offended or hurt by the content I’ve created and shared. In fact, everyone has embraced my healing journey, and continues to be patient, loving, and supportive, regardless of whether they consider my stories relatable anymore or not. That, I think, is the special thing about sharing common humanity.

These days, my life mostly revolves around improving my mental health, finding balance, and working on creating stability. I see a therapist every week (or every other week) for individual therapy, I have participated in weekly CBT based group therapy, I have a case manager that I see weekly (or as regularly as needed), my family doctor currently writes my prescriptions as I am waiting to be picked up by a new psychiatrist this August, and I hope to attend a short, intensive residential treatment center sometime in the near future. Now that I’m able to write again, I plan to finish up my final internship assignments (as soon as possible) so that I can finally receive my undergraduate degree! My university has been very understanding, compassionate, and supportive throughout this whole process. I feel very fortunate.

Well, that’s all that I have to share with you for right now. I am looking forward to sharing even more about my life with you all in the most authentic way possible, and to see where this next chapter in my life takes me. I hope this post has given you a more detailed understanding of what the past 7 months have entailed in my recovery journey, as I have been pretty distant up until recently.

As always, I appreciate you taking time out of your day to read this long blog post (usually my posts are much shorter!) I hope you decide to continue following my story, as this is just the beginning!

Much love,

Linla