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To Shamelessly Adult

I’ve known how shameless of a person I am for a long time. I spent formative years, from age four on, fighting type 1 diabetes and realizing that if you make a mistake (and kids never make mistakes, right?) with my medical care I could die. Not only that, but it will never go away and will probably get worse. Kids shouldn’t ever have to learn to face their own mortality, and yet… Then add to that bipolar with severe depression in my early adult years, also something that doesn’t go away, and a messy divorce, and a parent illness, and losing my job and then my career…dealing with all that on a daily basis, when the hell am I supposed to have the energy to give a shit about being polite? About feeling shame for the ways I have learned to cope with my life and be productive and successful despite its best efforts to keep me down?

The older I get, the less I care about being shy, and being afraid to speak up for myself, and the less I care about changing my personality to match whatever group I’m in. In addition to the human experience of aging and developing a sense of self, my multiple and repeated brushes with death have accelerated this shamelessness I have. Yes, I have a much stronger sense of myself at 37 than I did at, say 20, but even at 20 I had faced death multiple times with diabetes complication hospitalizations and one suicide attempt that no one but my best friend knew about (more on all of this later).

When I realized that everything I know could end in the matter of a second, it gave me a new perspective. I’m alive. I’m alive because I work my ass off to stay alive, and things could be very very different. So changing who I am to fit in? Not saying something I want to say because it’s different from what other people are saying? Needing validation from people around me to feel better about myself? Ok, I still need that one, but the others are things I just don’t have energy for. They are not important in the big picture of life, and I’ve been forced to understand the big picture, over and over again).

This most recent time I was in the psychiatric hospital I saw this shamelessness with new eyes. In an environment like a hospital you have a lot of down time. Even with all the structured activities, group therapy, psychiatrist meetings, yoga and stress relief classes, art classes, exercise classes, you have a lot of time to interact with your fellow inpatients. You get to know each other very well, you get to make friends.

It’s a unique relationship because you’re all hospitalized for serious reasons and you find you learn people’s deepest secrets. You can help them through their darkest moments while they help you through yours. You find people you have things in common with and you make friends. There’s also a tendency of people in groups like this to form cliques and create their own drama. I’ve never been a fan of interpersonal drama, and I’m even less a fan of self-created drama. But I understand its function, especially in groups. It can be intimidating to join a group of people you don’t know and just be left to you own devices to find your way. Cliques can provide comfort.

Continue reading To Shamelessly Adult

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Learning to Grieve

My dad is dying.

In some universal sense I always knew I would have to say that at some point in my life, but it feels different when I’m actually facing it. I mean, parents live forever in a way that normal human beings don’t, right? No? Oh. Anyway, my dad has a rare neurological disorder called PSP (progressive supranuclear palsy) that often presents like Parkinsons but it specifically deteriorates body and eye movement, and there’s no treatment or medication. Eventually people with this disease can’t breathe or swallow properly, and cannot walk or control the body’s movements properly. It’s not something I want my dad, or anyone, to go through, especially when we’re forced to face the end of his life approaching rapidly.

Grief is an odd beast. Sure there are stages of grief, but no one tells you about how you can grieve for someone who is still alive. My dad was my comic relief in life. He entertained my weird ideas more than any other human ever would (or probably should). I have cassettes of us on road trips going to visit my brother in college, and while talking on the tape, I suddenly break into a gameshow host impression.

I say, “Hi ma’am, I’m Dr. Gameshow! We’re glad you came on the show today, tell us a little about yourself,” and I pointed the recorder at my mom.

She says, “What in the world are you talking about? What show?”

I say, “Okay, thanks for being here. Sir would you like to tell us a little about yourself before we start the game?”

Without missing a beat my dad says, “Hi Dr. Gameshow. Yes, my name is Bob, I have three kids and a pet bear, and I’m really happy to be here.”

I say, using a Minnesota/North Dakota accent for some reason, “They-ah-t’s great sir. Doncha know, we’ve got some killer prizes on the show today. Your pet bear will be so gee golly thrilled to see you after ya win these gosh durn prizes!” We proceded to put on an entire gameshow, complete with me cutting to my mom periodically, who consistently refused to be weird with us. Then when the joke ran its course we just went back to driving like nothing had happened. That recording is on a micro cassette and I almost didn’t play it, fearing I would break it, seeing as it was about 27 years old. But it held up and I’m so happy I got to hear it again and hold onto that memory.

It’s hard watching this disease take my dad from that person who could run with whatever I threw at him as a kid and even as an adult to someone who can no longer get himself around the house or focus on an entire conversation. He has days when he can’t get himself to the bathroom and back, and he used to be able to dismantle a broken toilet, rewire an electrical outlet, repair drywall, and almost everything in between at a moment’s notice.

Mentally, he’s the same man he always was, and that’s the hardest part of this disease to deal with. His body is failing him, and it affects every part of his life. It affects what he’s able to eat, how he sits, his sleep schedule, how much energy he has/doesn’t have, how he talks to people/can’t talk to people, how his daughter, who at age 5 he used to help to the bathroom in the middle of the night because she was scared to leave her room, has to help him to and from the bathroom. Physical illness affects mental and emotional health, always. He’s depressed and anxious for the first time in his life. It’s understandable, but it’s difficult to watch him go through this, especially when he seems just a little different every time I see him. We still have our rapport though, even if it’s modified now. Our conversations go something like this:

Dad:  How does blue tooth work?

Me: You have to pair something with something else and they talk to each other. I’m really not good at technology questions.

Dad: Don’t sell yourself short! You’re great!

Me: Okay fine, I just don’t like teaching technology to old people.

Dad: Well who does? Now how do I turn on the internet?

Me: No.

Dad: Hmmmmmmm…

Grief for a parent is a unique grief, especially when you start grieving a parent while they’re still alive. Because the disease seems to progress slightly every time I see him, he has new challenges every week. Every week it feels like the grief stage cycle starts over anew. But he’s the one telling me that I inspire him. He says that watching me struggle with type 1 diabetes and depression over the years, seeing how I pushed through and worked hard to accomplish things in my life has helped him realize that he can handle living with this disease. He even told me that he was always intimidated by me, even as a kid, because I was always so strong. He’s the one telling me this! It’s just so discouraging to know that he’s getting worse and suffering and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. But seeing that he’s still able to smile and be funny, and knowing that somehow, just by being myself, I was able to help him takes the edge off a tiny bit.

It’s not about me, though, or making me feel better. It’s just a type of grief I’ve never known before. The stages of grief are real and true and all that, but they do not go in order. I have days where I snap-to in the middle of whatever I’m doing, and I’m not sure what’s real or what isn’t. Like the seconds after waking from a dream, but I could be in the middle of a conversation with someone, or driving, or walking the dog. I still don’t really understand grief other than to know that it’s constant, and that it’s a strain on my already tenuous mental health.

That’s not to say that I’d change anything, though. I’ve realized how precious the time I have left with my dad really is. Even if we can only say a few words to each other, or even if the only time I see him that day is to help him into his pants. There will be a day sooner than anyone (except him) wants when I won’t have the chance to do that anymore, so I will be honored to spend whatever time I have with him.

dadchipmunk

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Journals From Past Allison

Journaling has been an important survival tool for me ever since the year 2000 when my therapist at the time turned me onto it. I have saved all my journals since that year, and sometimes I like to go through them all and find the same date in different years and read them. I do this more out of curiosity than anything else, but it can also help me track my progress, or lack thereof, through the years. The evolution of mental illness is fascinating, as is my level of denial in the early years. But simply because I kept writing, I kept following hope.

All of my journals either have titles or quotes at the beginning of them, like they were books. And they kind of were because I would fill every page of every journal I ever wrote in. I’m not sure where those bragging rights would be relevant, but that’s kind of impressive, right?

Here are some of the quotes in the beginning of my journals over the years:

For a second, two seconds, they had exchanged an equivocal glance, and that was the end of the story. But even that was a memorable event in the locked loneliness in which one had to live.
-George Orwell, 1984

Forget about what you are escaping from…Reserve your anxiety for what you are escaping to.
-Bernard Kornblum,The Adventures of Cavalier and Clay

Pretty Pink Suicide Notes
– journal title, Allison B. Hollingsworth

I feel a little down today
I ain’t got much to say
You’re gonna miss me when I’m not there
And you know I don’t care

Life is hit or miss, and this
I Hope, I Think, I Know
And if I ever hear the names you call
If I stumble, catch me when I fall
‘Cause baby after all,
You’ll never forget my name
You’ll never forget my name.
-Oasis

There are two ways to look at life…The first view is that nothing is stays the same and that nothing is inherently connected, and that the only driving force in anyone’s life is entropy. The second is that everything pretty much stays the same (more or less) and that everything is completely connected, even if we don’t realize it.
-Chuck Klosterman, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs

For Posterity
– journal title, Allison B. Hollingsworth

I’ve compiled a list of excerpts below that Past Allison wrote in a gesture of recognizing her journey. I hate the word journey, but I love Past Allison. At least I’m learning to.

Continue reading Journals From Past Allison

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The Sticker Shop Is Open!

The Sticker Shop is now open! I am so excited for the opportunity to share these stickers with you. We all need Stigma Busters like these around us at all times.

All proceeds from he sales of these stickers, with the exception of the Semicolon Sticker, which will go to Project Semicolon, will go toward helping me pay down my hospital bills from my most recent psych hospital stay. So your support is greatly appreciated. Plus, stickers are awesome. That’s just a fact of life.

Shop Now!

Coming soon: sticker packs and sticker sheets – stay tuned!

Enjoy!

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Speak Louder Than the Stigma

The stigma surrounding mental illness is no joke. People struggling with mental illness feel isolated, ashamed, invalidated, and hopeless in a world where their condition isn’t taken seriously. There have been huge strides over the past few decades toward treating mental illness with the care it deserves, but there is still a long way to go. We who suffer from various mental illnesses often feel different from everyone, and we learn to feel shame for having an invisible illness, and the results of this can be deadly.

As long as we let ourselves give in to shame and stay silent about our experiences, the stigma isn’t going anywhere. I understand  that there are social and professional boundaries in place, and even though they are based in stigma we can’t always call our boss and say, “I can’t come in today because my depression is making me feel like I need to cut myself so I’m going to see the psychiatrist.” Things just aren’t that open yet. But someone could go up to their boss and say, “The migraine medication I’m on is making me throw up so I can’t come in today,” and no one would bat an eye. What is the difference between these two statements? They are both medical conditions.

Why is there so much shame enveloping the mental health statement especially when there are so many of us suffering from similar symptoms. How many people are not seeking help at all because they are afraid they won’t be taken seriously? I was one of those people. I’ve been invalidated and not taken seriously. I’ve had to make up the stomach viruses, fevers, and severe illnesses that would explain my missed days at work because of severe depression. I might as well have had those viruses with as bad as I felt, but I didn’t feel like I could tell the truth. And I felt every ounce of the shame that came with it.

I propose that we start speaking up. Not in a way that will make us lose our jobs – sometimes you just have to play the game to survive in this world. But when we feel shame, I propose we push through and talk about depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, whatever issues we are dealing with. Talk about the feelings we feel because we have to live with an invisible illness, about how we often feel alone. Talk about the positives (yes, there can be some) and the negatives. Basically, talk louder than the shame. Louder than the stigma. That’s the only way to fight it and break it down.

We are enough in and of ourselves, and that means that no matter who makes us feel less than or who tries to invalidate our experiences no longer has the power to change who we are. We are strong. We are not alone.

And one day, if we work hard, we can be completely shameless.

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TW – Depression Can’t Be Fixed

*TW means Trigger Warning, meaning what I’m about to say has the potential to trigger someone’s past trauma, past painful experience, or something they are struggling with. If someone is “triggered,” they can feel that pain all over again and put them in a challenging emotional or mental position. I will not censor my experiences because I can’t account for all possible triggers. However, I respect the things that people have had to go through, and I can indicate that I am about to talk about suicide; you can choose whether to keep reading or not. Please take care of yourself first.

If you need help now, call or online chat with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline now.

We need to talk about suicide because it has taken too many people from us. I have lost friends to it, and it’s hard to miss the celebrities who died from suicide: Robin Williams, Chester Bennington, Amy Buell, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain. Ugh, just making this list gives me a heavy heart. But as difficult as it is to think about, I think the prevalence of mental illness in our lives is all the reason I need to talk about it. It seems like we don’t talk about suicide until it happens to someone we know. This is more than enough for us to take it seriously!

It is important to remember that depression can’t be fixed. Mental illness can’t be fixed. I love my friends deeply, and when one of them is hurting it makes me sad. It makes me want to do something, anything, to fix it. To take my friend’s pain away. Unfortunately depression doesn’t work like that. We have to consciously love the person over the disease.

My friend called me last night and said they wanted to end it all. I’ve been in that place before myself, but it didn’t make it any easier to know how much pain my friend was feeling. They told me how much I had meant to them over the years, and that they love me. This is a friend I “met” in an online support group more than 15 years ago, so we’ve never met in person. My friend told me, “I always wish we had met in person,” and the wording stabbed at my heart. Through many many tears I said,”We still can. I love you. Please don’t kill yourself tonight.”

…And that’s all I could do.

I wanted to drive to their house, knock the bottle of booze from their hand, and just hug them until they felt better, and I might have if they didn’t live a two day drive from me. (I love dramatically knocking things out of people’s hands, too.) Personally, I have attempted suicide three times in my life, which I will get into more later, but having been there myself does not make it easier to see others go through it. However, it does give me some perspective on what can help in these moments, and what my role is as a friend. The biggest two things that help me are honesty and humor. Don’t try to protect my feelings, and don’t let me take myself too seriously.

I resisted the urge to list all the things my friend had to live for because that would be assuming I know what they find meaningful. It’s easy to project our own experiences onto people in these situations, and I wanted very much not to do that. Instead, I was honest about my feelings and my selfishness.

I said, “I know this is selfish, but I don’t want to lose you. Not today. I mean one day, yeah when you’re being a real pain in the ass we’ll talk again, but not today.” They laughed, which made me feel relieved at that moment of time I bought for them. Humor can save a life. That’s what I tell myself when I’m unable to stop making “that’s what she said” jokes, when that fad ended like four years ago, but it’s true. Depression lies to us and tricks us into taking ourselves too seriously. It robs us of perspective and keeps us locked in a dark metaphorical room, isolated from people who love us. Eventually it can make us believe that we don’t matter.

I got to talk to my friend from their dark room last night. I am scared. I’m scared that they won’t answer my text this morning. I’m disappointed that I didn’t fix them – even when I know that’s not how it works. I’m heartbroken that I even have to entertain the thought that I might lose my friend. But I told them and showed them that I love them, and that is what I could do. I hope it helped, but I don’t know if it did. I may never know, but I did try.

I perhaps have a unique perspective, and am not suggesting this as a template for anyone else’s situation. If someone is talking about wanting to kill themselves and you are uncomfortable, which, let’s be honest, you should be, you do not have to deal with it alone. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (I put this number in my phone and have used it) and they will help you help the person you love. Then make sure to take care of yourself, getting help dealing with the feelings that come with being in this difficult situation. Depression lies and we tend to believe the lies before we can fight it. We can’t fix it, but we can fight it.

I don’t know if my friend will answer my call today or not. I sure hope they do. My stomach is knotted with the thought that they might not. But I’m glad they reached out to me last night, I’m glad I got to say I love you, and I had the personal boundaries and wisdom to know that I didn’t have to fix them. We can’t fix something that isn’t fixable, all we can do is love it, call it a pain in the ass, and laugh at it, making the time we have on this earth a little more bearable.

Continue reading TW – Depression Can’t Be Fixed

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Thank You for Reading

Hello and thank you for joining me on new blog #7,042 of my life. I feel none of the shame and embarrassment that I’m supposed to feel after this many failures because I keep getting back up and trying again. Just like living with mental illness, getting back up after you get knocked down is the name of the game. You get knocked down a lot, and if you don’t get back up you don’t live. Sometimes you don’t live metaphorically, and sometimes you don’t live literally, biologically. I’ve been on the metaphorical side more than once. And three times I was almost on the biological side.

But here I am. I talked to a writer friend (you know who you are) today who encouraged me to start writing again about my struggles with bipolar II disorder and anxiety and dissociation. I recently went to an inpatient psychiatric hospital for the fourth time in my life, and it is the only one that left me better than when I went in. I met some great people (you know who you are), trusted the staff, and got a lot out of the therapies offered there. I want to go into more detail about this hospital experience as well as how it relates to my past hospital experiences, which were horrific and traumatic.

“Why did I keep going back if the experiences were horrible?” I heard no one ask. Nonetheless, the answer is that all I know is getting back up after I get knocked down. I am strong. I have failed, but I have found the strength to get back up. This blog will be about mental illness. I don’t have patience for stigmas. I don’t have the energy to speak in polite language. I don’t try to sugar coat my experience. If I can write about mental illness without shame, I hope to help enlighten people who don’t know what it’s like (you know who you are), or to help that one person who is still trying to find the strength to speak up. Don’t give up! Hope is out here somewhere! It gets harder before it gets better, but you can do it!

Thank you for reading. I have a lot to say.