CHANGE IS HOPE

It may seem a little strange to start a new blog and then abandon it for a few months, right?

Well, in my opinion, it’s not strange at all. In fact, for me, it was absolutely necessary.

I shared with you all in my last post about my struggle with authentic vulnerability. I stated that my goal in creating this new blog was to continue sharing real stories about my life – like I had done in my previous blog – except this time; I wasn’t doing so as an anonymous entity. I knew this would be a huge challenge for me, but I underestimated just how challenging it would actually be. So, instead of becoming overwhelmed by my struggle with authentic vulnerability and shutting down completely, I decided to get curious and start exploring the reasons as to why I felt so uncomfortable sharing my true self with the world.

Surprisingly, I felt like this part of my healing journey needed to be explored more thoroughly in my real life, before I would be able to share anything in-depth about my life online again. I needed to give myself time to be self-reflective; focus on the work I was doing in therapy, during my time outside of therapy, and explore new opportunities, so that I could start actually overcoming my struggle with authentic vulnerability and continue blogging again.

So, what have I learned about myself over the past few months? Well, if you want a vague, oversimplified answer then:

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

I know that this phrase is a cliché in the mental health discourse but it’s also accurate, in my experience. I would love to sit here and tell you that everything up until this point has been and continues to be going well for me, but that just isn’t true. Life is messy, and is filled with ups and downs. But guess what? That’s totally okay (…or at least that’s what I’m going to keep telling myself until I whole-heartedly believe it!) So, in the spirit of embracing the uncomfortable and practicing authentic vulnerability, I will expand on my “oversimplified answer” and share snapshots of the various experiences (from two different perspectives) that I have had, that have led me to many realizations in my own story.

Perspective #1

Have I had good moments, or days, over these past few months? Absolutely. Even though my depression and anxiety have come back with (what feels like) a full-on vengeance, I’ve managed to maintain contact with those I see regularly, I’ve made new friends, and have reconnected with old ones. I became more involved in my community by volunteering to help coach sports teams at my old high school. I also accepted an opportunity to speak publicly (for the first time ever) about my life, faith, and mental health journey at the CLAY Gathering that took place this summer in Thunder Bay, ON (a special thank you to @JaseWatford and @SickNotWeak for their encouragement and support! *You can find/follow them on Twitter*) I traveled to Toronto to see a Taylor Swift concert with a wonderful university friend, and was able to catch up with my other “out of town” friends during that same trip. Most importantly to me though, is that I have been working hard in individual therapy, group therapy, and during my time outside of therapy to be open and honest about what’s going on in my life, so that I understand myself; my emotions, behaviours, thought processes, and my life experiences in a more helpful or constructive way.

Perspective #2

Have I also had bad moments, days, (or even weeks) over the past few months? Honestly, I’ve had way more than I’d like to admit. Dealing with the stress of navigating complex health care and government systems and experiencing setbacks is exhausting and frustrating. Managing family drama is never a fun time. Spending hours in the library trying to finish my school work so that I can finally graduate, leaves me feeling hopeless, at times. Medication not working like it used to, or experiencing annoying side effects from medication (I am so over nose bleeds, for real) is also incredibly challenging to cope with. Dealing with traumas, nightmares, and frequent dissociation. Putting in so much effort into all of my therapies and not feeling like I’m making the progress that I think I should* be making (*Side note: calling myself out while editing for this unhelpful thinking pattern of the “should” which takes away from the reality of how far I’ve actually come in my healing journey!) Noticing that I’m starting to distance myself from my real life and online friends/communities because due to frequent dissociation, I tend to get caught up in existential thoughts of “What’s the point?” … Sometimes it all feels extremely overwhelming.

.   .   .

Taking into account both of these perspectives of my experiences over the past few months is why I am trying to embrace the phrase, “Healing isn’t a linear process and change takes time.” Staying engaged in therapies and interpersonal relationships when it would be easier to give up, trying new things – even if it makes me feel anxious or scared – but doing it regardless, getting back up every time life knocks me down… This is the reality of my healing process; it is filled with ups and downs. This is okay.

It is through all of these experiences and self-reflection that I’ve learned that my struggle with authentic vulnerability is influenced by a multitude of factors. It is partially rooted by the Scandinavian/Western culture I grew up in: one where it’s not always encouraged to acknowledge your problems, let alone talk about them publicly. This creates an enormous (and unrealistic) amount of pressure to appear “perfect” in all aspects of your life at all times. To break that down further, I come from a life filled with traumas that I am still trying to work through and it’s harder for me to share those sensitive topics as my real self; again, partially due to my upbringing and partly due to my personality traits – being quiet, shy, introverted, and sensitive to negative criticism. I sometimes fear (but less so now) that by openly sharing my struggles, I will face negative repercussions in my future, mostly when it comes to my career or interpersonal relationships. Sharing my stories authentically online can also feel very one-sided and odd at times; like someone might know a whole lot about me from what I share and I know little or nothing about them. Have I mentioned that I have social anxiety and tend to overanalyze everything?

So, after many months of challenging (and rewarding) experiences, exploration, and self-reflection: Am I now completely comfortable with putting myself out there and being vulnerable all the time? No… but the difference is that now I am consciously making a greater effort to be more vulnerable in both my real life and online interactions, and I am worrying less about what people think about me. I have a greater understanding about my history with authentic vulnerability, my emotions, thoughts, and behaviours, which has helped me form a more balanced perspective of my experience with vulnerability. Even though I feel like this blog post is a little bit all over the place, in terms of how I would typically write a blog post, I am fine with that. It’s real. It’s vulnerable. It’s a piece of my story.

I’m still here, trying to figure it out and staying curious about my experiences; and I hope you are too. I believe that change is hope and that healing is a journey, not a destination. I’m going to keep holding onto this mindset and continue challenging myself to overcome my struggles.

I’m just going to say this one more time, in case I haven’t said it enough already throughout this post: “Healing isn’t a linear process and change takes time.”

Stay curious,

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