Mental Health or School: Setting Your Priorities Straight

Ever since I was little, my mom had instilled in me the importance of school. I love school, but I am like most other people for the closer it gets to breaks or long weekends or summer, the less I want to go. I always do, even if sitting through a few lectures feels like the least interesting thing I could be doing. School is so important, and I am working on finishing my undergraduate degree and applying to a teacher credential program. I love learning so much that I have decided to pursue my childhood “When I grow up I want to be” and if everything goes well, in a few years I will be an elementary school teacher.

Let me tell you this, even though I have a plan set up, does not mean it was always this way. In middle school I had no idea what I wanted to do, by high school I wanted to be a medical researcher, starting college my major was Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. After a terrible first quarter (yep, quarter system) I was placed on academic probation and debating my ability to even go to college, just because I got in doesn’t mean I was cut out for it. Well, apparently I was cut out for college, just not that major. I spent the next year taking courses I needed to change my major and every quarter since I decided to switch, I have gotten As and Bs and raised my GPA.

In one of my classes, the TA got to give a lecture to the class and she gave us information about students with mental illness and their academic performance and I made me realize how much I have accomplished. The way she talked about mental illness and interacted with the class made me think of myself, and I know that my personality has been affected by my mental illness, so I feel that it is likely that her life had been affected by mental illness somehow.

This is what she had told us:

  • Positive emotions facilitate learning and negative emotions (depression, anxiety, stress) hinder learning.
  • Students who have a mental illness are more likely to…
    • miss class
    • perceive themselves as less competent
    • have trouble focusing
    • earn lower grades
    • drop out
  • Only 32% of students with mental illness go on to college.
  • Having two or more co-morbid disorders (ex. anxiety and depression) makes the person more likely to stop going to school before high school graduation.

What I took from this lecture is that I am fortunate that I am part of the 32%, but I have also fought to get here. I thank my mom for instilling the importance of school in me when I was so young because I started to show symptoms of anxiety and depression long before my diagnoses. Luckily, I have always been very curious and love to learn. Whenever I am out of school for more than two weeks, I start to miss the structure and learning opportunities that it provides to me.

Though I have never missed class or skipped a discussion session because it goes against every fiber of my being, I doubt my abilities whenever a challenge comes my way and sometimes my focus is nonexistent. I have debated dropping out, but I know that I have to try my best no matter how hard difficult it is. Part of learning is working on the difficult stuff until they become easy, and I have seen it pay off for me time and time again. My best may not always seem good enough at the time, but it seems that I continue to improve all the time. Seeing my hard work pay off is part of what keeps me going.

One thing that I underutilized when I first started college was tutoring. I have paid $600 for a tutor to help me pass calculus after I got a low D the first time, and ended up getting an A- the second time around. Not all tutors require you to pay though. When I took Statistics, I decided to utilize the free tutors they had on campus. When I got there, I noticed several of my classmates were there too. We would work on problems with the tutors and when the tutors weren’t there, we would help each other. Explain how to get the answers and work it out. The program we had to use for our online homework put different values for the same problem for different people, so we usually had to work it out on our own to get the right answer and for the program to give us credit. I hated that program, but it ended up really helping me understand the material and do well in the class.

Another good thing to have is the contact information for at least one classmate. Most classes will have something that is just not clear and being able to ask for help may be the only thing between you and a good grade. At my college, we tend to make Facebook groups for the class, that way anyone can ask questions and hopefully one of the other students can give them an answer. This does not mean that you couldn’t also go directly to the professor or TA, but it can be easier to ask a question that may seem stupid to your classmates than asking a professor or TA directly. If nobody can answer it, then the person who asked usually emails or talks to a TA and if many people had the same question they can update the Facebook thread with their original question and the correct answer.

I know that when my depression is bad, the last thing I want to do is go to school, but I have found that forcing myself to go to class can help to take my mind off the depressive thoughts sometimes. You never know when it will be a really awesome lecture, or guest lecture, or maybe you will watch a video. My thinking is that it never hurts to go to class because worst case scenario, you are still depressed, but best case scenario, something awesome or cool or slightly amusing happens and it makes you feel a little better, even if its just for a little bit. If I had stayed home, I know I just would have been marinating in my depression and that is never helpful.

My Tips For Doing Well in School While Struggling with Mental Illness:

  • Go to class
  • Try to make a friend in every class
  • Try your best to pay attention
  • Just try your best on assignments
  • Tutors are helpful, even if asking for help makes you feel embarrassed
  • Office hours can be helpful too
  • Believe in yourself
  • Have someone who can believe in you even when you can’t believe in yourself
  • Remember school is important
  • Sometimes it is okay to put your mental health before school, but you must find a balance between the two for one cannot always be the priority without affecting the other
  • Take a break from studying if you find yourself getting overwhelmed, stressing yourself out will not help you remember or understand
  • If you have testing anxiety, try to relax before exams instead of cramming
  • Give yourself time to study the night before or early on the day of the exam
  • Give yourself tiny rewards after finishing exams and turning in large projects as long as you tried your best, you deserve it
  • Having something to look forward to after finals provides motivation

The Significance of Stars

I realize that I have never explained how I chose my blog name, nor the significance it holds for me.

My blog name is Star Crossed Daydreamer.

I will be honest, I did not know what star crossed meant when I chose it as a name for my blog. For me, the combination of these words brought a sense of something stronger than me. Upon finding out what star crossed means, I am a little disheartened that it means “thwarted by bad luck”, but I guess that works for my blog too. It seems that just like everyone else, I am followed by both good and bad luck. Overall, I seem not to believe so much in luck as looking at the best in things and trying to make the most of what comes my way, no matter how hard that may be.

I had chosen star crossed, because I am obsessed with stars. I have loved the stars since I was very little, and remember staring up at them whenever we were coming home from my grandmother’s house an hour away. These drives allowed me to see the stars much better than I could at home, even though the cities we drove through were very similar to the one we lived in. Everything seemed to be lit up, and that wasn’t conducive to stargazing. When I could see the stars, I would wish on them like many others kids and though these wishes probably didn’t come true, I still love the mystery that the stars hold. Now that I am older, I find looking at the stars to be very peaceful. My family moved last year, and our new house is in a city that promotes low light pollution, so the seem brighter and more mysterious than ever before. I admit, that though I am grown, I still wish on stars every night, either the stars outside or the stars of the star projector I bought last year. I like to believe that wishes on stars can come true and it gives me a sense of hope that there is good in this chaotic world.

I also chose daydreamer, because that is a large part of what I am. I daydream because my mind naturally wanders when I get bored. I think of the future both near and far, wondering what is going to happen in my life between then and now. I know that the future is full of uncertainty, but I am looking forward to whatever it brings. I take my life one step at a time and right now my main focus is graduating from college, but I can daydream in the meantime.

 

My Escape

Sometimes I have to escape for a bit.

And there are several ways I prefer to escape either the reality of my world or the depressive thoughts running through my head.

Books

Reading has always been a hobby for me and I can’t wait for breaks from school and summer because I can finally read again! I have several authors that I love to read, but if a book sounds like something else I have read and enjoyed, I will often give it a try.

Some of my favorite authors/series/specific books that I have read and enjoyed include:

  • Rick Riordan-Mythology and Heroes, Action, YA
    • Percy Jackson and the Olympians (Five books)
    • The Kane Chronicles (Three books)
    • Heroes of Olympus (Five books)
    • Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard (Two books released so far)
  • Alex Flinn-Fairytales Retold, YA     *KC after the title means that this book is part of the Kendra Chronicles series by this author
    • Beastly (KC)
    • A Kiss in Time
    • Cloaked
    • Bewitching (KC)
    • Towering
    • Mirrored (KC)
    • Beheld (KC)
  • Pittacus Lore-Sci Fi, Action, YA
    • Lorien Legacies (Seven books)
  • Jenna Evans Welch-Romance, Finding Yourself, YA
    • Love and Gelato
  • Rainbow Rowell-Finding Yourself, Romance, YA (more for college-age young adults)
    • Fangirl

Puzzles

I’ve loved puzzles for about as long as I have loved books. And again, this activity is limited to breaks from school, so it doesn’t make for an everyday escape option. I enjoy completing puzzles, even though I realized yesterday that I can forget how stressful they can be.

I have completed a handful of 3D puzzles from Bepuzzled (a Level 1 Diamond, Level 2 Treasure Chest, and a Level 3 Pirate Ship) and hope to find more 3D puzzles because though they present a challenge, they are beautiful to keep once put together.

I also complete classic jigsaw puzzles. I can complete a 100 or 300 piece jigsaw in less than a day if I have unlimited time to work on it. 500 pieces would probably take me a few days. 1,000 pieces about a week. I have completed one 2,000 piece puzzle (Starry Night) and that took me three weeks working several hours a day.

I have bought an overwhelming majority from thrift stores, some may be missing a piece or two, but that is fine. A lot of them either have all the pieces or the box may have been cut open but the pieces are still sealed in their plastic bag. I currently have twelve puzzles of Thomas Kinkade paintings that I bought just over a year ago for less than $3 at a random thrift shop that will provide me with plenty of escape this summer.

The thing about puzzles is that I hate taking them apart. This isn’t a problem for 3D puzzles, but it creates a storage issue for 2D puzzles. I have resorted to gluing all my completed puzzles to foam poster board and currently have a large stack of completed puzzles in my closet. My favorites may get displayed in my garage one day when I have a place of my own.

Music

Music is one of the few escapes I can make use of all year round. I primarily listen to music on Spotify because I have found that even without a subscription, you have a nearly limitless list of songs at your fingertips. I like that Spotify allows me to make my own playlists and on my laptop or tablet, I can choose if I want to listen to a playlist straight through or if I want it shuffled. Spotify for cell phones is not as friendly and will only shuffle the playlists. Spotify mobile will also play recommended songs, so if a playlist is short or you’ve gone all the way through it once, it will start playing random songs that might not be related to what you were listening to in anyway. This might be a good reason to subscribe to Spotify Premium, but it doesn’t bother me much for I just switch to a different playlist. The only other differences between Spotify and Spotify Premium is that Spotify has ads roughly every thirty minutes and that you cannot listen to your playlists if you have no internet connection or data available.

Now back to music. I will listen to most music, but the playlists I listen to most often are Disney and musicals. Listening to music I know like the back of my hand helps me escape because I know the songs and find this calming in times of stress. I can tune it out if I am doing something monotonous and it almost always helps lift my spirits. When doing schoolwork I find that instrumental music or movie scores work best because there are no words to sing along to, but it follows the same patterns. It seems I can only listen to regular music when working on lab reports, which I think is pretty weird.

Walks

Depending on the whether, I can find my escape in nature. Either with or without music, I can be found walking around in the fresh air and within half an hour I usually feel much better. Sometimes I will settle at one of the many benches hidden in the green strip at the end of the court I live on. Other times I will walk to the nearby park and go to the swings. Sometimes I just walk. I feel that the fresh air helps to clear my mind and though I might still be emotionally stressed, the time away helps. This method works best in Spring, Fall, and on summer nights when it is cool.

My Cat

So in my house, we have two cats: Luna and Spice. Last year Spice bonded with me and if I am upset, she will try to comfort me. She does not always realize when I am upset or having a panic attack, but when she does realize, she helps me immensely. She will come to me and rub her face on my hands and face, trying to get my to pet her. She will usually settle down and just keep me company while I try to relax. During a really bad depressive episode last summer, she nipped at my face twice to get my attention and get me out of the spiral I was going into. She is an amazing cat and I am thankful for her keeping me company, especially at night when the dark thoughts try to keep sleep away.

Movies

Corny old movies from the 50s and early 60s, rom-coms, and many others fall into my comfort movies. These movies may seem like a random assortment, but I feel that each of them is comforting depending on what kind of mood I am in.

Some of my favorites actors/movies include.

  • Doris Day
    • Calamity Jane
    • The Thrill of It All
    • That Touch of Mink
  • Howard Keel
    • Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
  • Keri Russel
    • Austenland
  • Julia Stiles
    • 10 Things I Hate About You
  • Nia Vardalos
    • My Life In Ruins
    • My Big Fat Greek Wedding
    • My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2
  • Pirates of the Carribean
    • The Curse of the Black Pearl
    • On Stranger Tides
    • Dead Men Tell No Tales
  • Disney
    • Beauty and the Beast- Traditional and Live Action
    • Tangled
    • The Princess and The Frog
    • Big Hero 6
  • Studio Ghibli
    • Kiki’s Delivery Service
    • Ponyo

 

 

Music and Spice are two of the constants in my life that help me to deal with whatever comes my way at almost any time. All of these things I’ve listed could be considered distractions, because that is what they are. They help to distract me from the thoughts racing through my mind, they help to quiet those thoughts and give me time either to think clearly about them or to ignore them, to take care of myself and come back to them later. And I believe that the use of these things is what has helped me come to the place I am now, a place I hadn’t dreamed of being for quite a long time. I am relying on my knowledge of how my mental illnesses affect me, how they present themselves, and these methods in addition to others to help me cope when life becomes too much and for now, this is what is working for me.

Mental Health and Medications

I was diagnosed with my mental illnesses almost 10 years ago. Since then, I have tried several different medications that have worked for varying amounts of time, if at all. I am sharing my experiences with several of these medications with you today.

Lexapro

  • For: Depression
  • Dosage: 10mg- 30mg
  • Duration: almost 9 years
  • Side Effects: weight gain, fatigue
  • Why I Stopped: It stopped working. I was having mental breakdowns while my family was on the only vacation we had planned for that year. We went home one night early and it was only a two night trip.
  • Withdrawal: Little to none because it felt like the Lexapro wasn’t helping anyways.

Vyvanse

  • For: ADD/ADHD
  • Dosage: 10mg -50mg
  • Duration: 6 years
  • Side Effects: heart palpitations (flutters), hyperfocusing
  • Why I Stopped: It was supposed to help me focus, and it did. I hyperfocused, mostly on schoolwork. I had great grades, but did little of anything else. About 4 years after starting on it, I had a heart palpitation. As they became more constant, I mentioned it to my doctor, but I had to ween myself off of it because they wouldn’t. Upon talking to a different doctor when I thought about restarting it, she told me the dose I had been on could have stopped my heart.
  • Withdrawal: Tapered down dosage and then stopped all together, little to no side effects.

Wellbutrin

  • For: Depression (to help the Lexapro be more effetive)
  • Dosage: 150mg- 300 mg
  • Duration: about 4 years
  • Side Effects: None that I know of
  • Why I Stopped: It did nothing! It didn’t help with my depression or make the Lexapro any more effective.
  • Withdrawal: Do not remember any withdrawal effects.

Zoloft

  • For: Depression
  • Dosage: 25mg – 50mg
  • Duration: 4.5 months
  • Side Effects: Chronic fatigue, napping all the time
  • Why I Stopped: All I would want to do was sleep. I would even “fade” in class and end up with notes that were illegible. As a full time student, that is not good.
  • Withdrawal: Little to none, felt some of my energy return.

Effexor

  • For: Depression and Anxiety
  • Dosage: 37.5mg -75mg
  • Duration: 5 months
  • Side Effects: Thoughts of self harm
  • Why I Stopped: I was thinking about hurting myself a lot. I never acted upon it, but having these thoughts nearly everyday scared me. It was much worse on the 75mg dose than the 37.5mg dose.
  • Withdrawal: Terrible headaches, dizziness, and brain fog for 5 days, but some people experience these symptoms for months.

Seralax     *Seralax is a natural herbal supplement that I ordered online that claims to                           help with depression and anxiety.

  • For: Depression and Anxiety
  • Dosage: 2 capsules a day, but I usually only took 1 in the mornings
  • Duration: 3 weeks
  • Side Effects: Slight stomach upset
  • Why I Stopped: Stomach upset had been getting worse for the past few days. Did not notice a significant difference in mood when I am on it versus when I am off it.
  • Withdrawal: None, it is just to enhance mood.

This is just a short list of the medications I have been on, for I can’t remember every single medication I have tried. These are the ones that either didn’t work or caused memorable side effects.

Currently, I am taking Fish Oil Supplements (helped speed up the Effexor withdrawal), Vitamin D3, and a Vitamin B Complex. These supplements have helped to curb most of my depression, but they do not always help.

I am still searching for something that will help to reduce my anxiety and depression without causing the terrible side effects I have experienced on other medications.

My Misson

My primary mission for this blog is to help break the stigma surrounding mental illnesses. So many people have been diagnosed with mental illness in the past few decades, but there had been little to no change in how people view mental illness and many people still refuse to talk about it, either their personal struggles or talking with someone who has mental illness.

I have been very open with my mental illnesses toward those who I feel I can trust, but it was not always easy for me to talk about. I feel that this feeling of uneasiness was because of several factors, but the biggest one was that I didn’t want anybody to know that I was “crazy”. That was how I felt when not long after my diagnoses and starting on medication. I vividly remember being at an appointment with my child psychiatrist and my mom. He was going over what I had talked about during the session with my mom and when he said that he wanted to start me on another medication, I broke down crying. I remember thinking to myself that they kept adding new medications to the mix because I was crazy, but I didn’t want to be crazy. I did not know what all the medications did when I was that young, I just knew that crazy people had to take lots of medications.

It has been a long journey to where I am today and it definitely had its ups and downs. That is why I have decided to share my story, at least parts of it, with others. The story here is my own and I do not expect anyone who reads this to resonate with every single thing I say. As most people who have been diagnosed with mental illness know, everyone has different experiences. Not everyone will understand exactly, but being able to share your story with someone who cares and understands, even just a little bit, can make a big difference, especially when you are going through a rough patch.

Feel free to listen to my story.

Feel free to share it with others.

And most importantly, please help to break the stigma.