Quiet Person Seeking Quiet

If I am doing something and there is noise around me, I cannot focus. I need a quiet area, or nearly quiet, to do schoolwork and to read. If I am studying on campus, I will put in earbuds and turn on instrumental music or a movie score to drown out any noise around me. This helps most of the time. It is harder for me to avoid sensory overload at home.

It seems my sister never uses earbuds or headphones, despite having several very nice pairs, and she loves to talk. Great for her, she has things to talk about. The thing is, she will tell me a bunch of stuff when I first get home, when I just want to relax for a bit before doing homework, and then she tells our mom all the same long-winded stories when she gets home. This means I hear about everything that happens in her life, in great detail, twice. The thing is, she always decides to tell our mom these things while I’m doing homework. I usually do homework in the living room so that I am not trapped in my room all the time. I hate being trapped in my room to do homework, especially considering that my room is too small for a real desk to work at so I end up working on my bed. My sister almost never does homework in her room, so I am constantly being distracted by her talking and her music, which I can hear perfectly clear through my own earbuds and music.

During the summer is no different. I have mentioned before that I love to read, but to read and actually understand the story, I need it to be fairly quiet. Interrupt me while I am reading and I will get a little angry, especially if it is my sister trying to read things she saw on Tumblr to me. I had a tumblr, but I hated the constant stream of politics and other things I find uninteresting, so I don’t go on it anymore. Anyways, I like it to be quiet and not a lot of activity. But because my sister likes to talk, and listen to music, I have to lock myself in my room a lot if I ever want to get through a book. The only time it is even possibly quiet enough to read in the common areas of the house during the summer is if she is also reading a book or watching anime. Then later, she won’t shut up about her book/anime.

I am a quiet person. I don’t talk much, but if I have even a little bit of interest in something, I might join the conversation. I don’t care about worrying what new terrible thing is being spread through the news, or what a book I probably will never read is about, or anime. I care about the books I read, my cat, my family. Get me talking about what new changes are being made at Disneyland, or the beach, or mental illness. Ask me about me and if I feel you are genuinely interested, I will tell you what is going on in my life.

I hate small talk or hearing about things I don’t care about, but you know what, I know that there has to be someone else in the world who cares about these things that you can probably talk to. Don’t call me ignorant because I decide to not worry about things that are out of my control. I have my priorities set up in a way I like: school, family, cat, books, getting ready to apply to grad school, long term life plans. That I care about right now, plus some other short term things I am waiting for like books to be released, vacation, and movies.

 

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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

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.

A Short History: My Experience With Mental Illness

It all began when I was only seven years old. I don’t even know how it was possible for my little brain to already be plagued with anxiety, but it was. My anxiety presented itself in the form of germaphobia during the winter. Little did we know at the time that it was going to become progressively worse from then on.

When I was eleven, my anxiety was so bad that my parents decided that it was time to get me help. I had gone to play therapy in the past, but this time was different. I was going to meet someone who would formally diagnose me with generalized anxiety disorder, and later on diagnosed me with major depressive disorder and attention deficit disorder (ADD). At only eleven years old, I began the daily routine of taking medication in hopes that it will make it easier to cope with my mental illnesses. I vividly remember that when my doctor put me on my second medication, I started bawling in the doctor’s office because I thought that it truly meant that I was crazy.

Throughout the years I have been on many different medications for my anxiety, depression, and ADD. Every time my symptoms got a little worse they increased my dose or added another medication to help my main medications work better. At one point I was on high doses of at least three different medications.

Around my 16th birthday, I began to experience abnormal heart rhythms. My chest would get tight and it would feel like my heart was fluttering like a butterfly’s wings. I was terrified. It became more frequent, but my doctor didn’t want to change my medications. It was only when we switched healthcare providers that they told me my heart flutters were caused by one of my medications, the one for my ADD. After an EKG and blood test to rule out other possibilities, I decided to wean myself of my ADD medication. This means that sometimes I have trouble focusing, but who doesn’t.

Eventually, I wanted to reduce the amount of medications I was taking and got off of the medication that was supposed to aid my main anxiety/depression medication. I was only on one more medication, but at one of my appointments, my doctor told me that the dose I was on was 1.5 times the maximum dose and that it is possible the medication could stop my heart. I freaked out I gradually reduced my dose to half the maximum dose.

This dose has seemed to work for quite a while, but it came time for me to change the medication I was on. Originally, I was on Lexapro, but I have since tried Zoloft, and I am currently taking Effexor. So far I like the Effexor the best because it helps to control my anxiety as well as my depression. Sometimes I wonder if my medication is working, but a lot of things have been happening in my life that could cause depressive symptoms in healthy individuals, so for now I am taking it day by day.

I am now 20 years old and have been battling my mental illnesses for over half my life. Luckily, I have an amazing support system that is conveniently made up of my nuclear family, a few other relatives, and a few select friends. These are people that I know understand my struggle either personally, or have been with me during a rough patch, and I am so thankful for them.

Due to my mental illnesses, I act differently than most people my age. I usually do not like going out of the house, especially to busy places or at night. The caveat to this is that I love wandering nature on my own, and the quieter it is the better. Fresh air and music can help a lot when I am having trouble coping, so I always have a pair of earbuds nearby, just in case I need to escape the real world for a little while. I have trouble dealing with a lot of noise in my environment, whether it be someone listening to music out loud, people talking when I am trying to focus, or even the disruptions of my sister’s puppy playing while I am trying to study. I have trouble talking to people, even sometimes people I know. I become obsessed with movies, video games, or stupid websites fairly easily because when I have something keeping me distracted it is much harder for my brain to wander. I like to continue to believe in Disney magic and love visiting Disneyland. Disney movies, Hallmark movies, or corny musicals (especially with Doris Day or Howard Keel) can almost always help me feel better on bad days. I love reading because it helps me escape reality, even just for a little while, but I am very picky about what books I read. I tend to be dead tired most of the day, but when it is time to go to sleep, my brain is wide awake and thinking about many things. For example, I originally typed this in my phone one night when I knew I was supposed to be asleep, but sleep evaded me because all of this was on my mind. Lastly, I try not to get too excited or get my hopes up about anything because when my crazy expectations are not met, it can trigger my depression, but I am slowly learning that even when things do not go as planned, there is a chance that something even better could come out of it.

I am actually one of the lucky ones, because despite all the challenges my mental illness has created for me, I have so many caring people in my life that no matter what I’m going through, they will be someone there to give me support.