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That Weird Girl Life

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A Letter to My Younger Self About Mental Health


Have you seen those those "Letters to My However Old Self" blog posts? I know they're usually addressed to the person's seventeen year old self, or fifteen year old self, but I thought I'd take a completely different spin, and address it to my much younger self. As in, my five/six year old self, back when I was first diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder. This was a memory that had been haunting me for a while, but thanks to a recent EMDR therapy session, I was able to process it and find a new and positive meaning in an otherwise upsetting memory. Later that night after my therapy session, I wrote this, and I've decided to share it with all of you. I hope if you're struggling with the shame that comes with having a mental illness, that this will help you and hopefully reshape those bad feelings into something positive. 

"Dear Little Me,

Hi there! It’s big me. Terrifying, right? I’m you, but in grown up form. And see! You finally got that bowl cut you had for years to grow out. It’s not forever, don’t worry. Hair grows. But you already knew that and that’s not why I time traveled from the future to tell you about.

I’m actually here to tell you something important.

I know you just learned something about yourself from a doctor and your mom. You have something called OCD. It stands for obsessive-compulsive disorder. I know the doctor explained it to you, but it’s when your brain gets stuck on an idea or action, and you just can’t stop thinking about that thought or doing that action. It makes you feel better in a way to keep doing it, but it also makes you feel worse. Remember when you got so upset in kindergarten (you must have been about five at the time) about school that you hid under your desk at home and couldn’t stop rolling your hands over each other, over and over again, while your breathing shuddered with cries caught in your chest? Your brain wouldn’t stop thinking about how upsetting your classes made you that doing those actions made you feel better, but also upset you and scared you, because you didn’t know why you were doing them.

The doctor and your mom (especially your mom) were very worried about how upset you were, so they decided to put you on medication. They knew this was a big decision for someone so young, but they wanted you to feel better. They also thought going to therapy to talk about why you were upset might be a good idea. This made you feel better, that something could make these bad thoughts go away, instead of running around and around in your head, never stopping and making you cry and scream.

But then your mom sat you down for a conversation. I think you were about five, maybe close to six. In a gentle way, she told you that there was nothing wrong with being on medication, or going to therapy, but that maybe, just maybe, you should keep it to yourself, and just let your mom, dad, and sisters know. She warned that sometimes some people may not understand, and she didn’t want you to get hurt. You remember feeling a little shocked and confused, didn’t you. You thought, what was wrong with me? What’s wrong with being on medication? Was there something wrong with me? And from there, this secret brought you shame.

Your mom didn’t mean it. Not at all. She was just trying to protect you from the world that she was used to. And trust me, kids (and even grown ups) can be cruel sometimes. She just didn’t want you to be hurt by your friends or by ignorant people who don’t understand mental health. But you carried that shame with you for years. Knowing that you took medicine for a chemical imbalance you couldn’t control. Because that’s all it is, a chemical imbalance. In your brain.

People call it mental health, because it’s in your brain, and affects your behavior, but it’s really a physical problem too. Your brain is a physical, real thing and affects your body. Those shuddering, painful breaths? Those are physical. That painful rhythm of your heart as panic sets in? That’s physical. That feeling of electricity running up and down your legs as your irritability grips you like a knife? That’s physical. Your mind and body are connected, and no, you are not crazy. You are completely normal.

Because there’s one thing your mom forgot to mention, something I just learned now, as a 30 year old (yes, 30! I know, I’m old): that there is hope. Yes, there will be bad times. Sometimes you need to find a new medication, sometimes several, and sometimes those medications won’t work. But one (or two) will. It might take you a while to find a doctor that actually cares about you, you might have some (truly) awful ones in between, but there will be a good one there to support you. And no, some friends and a certain boyfriend (yeah, you’ve had boyfriends. Some better than others, lemme tell ya!) will not understand your struggles, but there will be friends who, without having to explain, will support you, no matter what you’re going through. They will stand by your side and listen when you want to talk, or just be there, letting you know they’re there, just in case.

There is no reason to feel shame about your mental health. Your mental issues may be a part of you, but it’s not all you are. There are people out there who understand you, who know exactly what you are going through, or have went through it, or something similar, themselves. And there are people who may not know what you’re going through, but can be there for you. There is nothing wrong with you. You are yourself, and that’s okay. That’s more than okay. That’s wonderful. That’s great. It’s splendid. It’s beautiful.

I promise you know, as a grown up, that things will, and always do, get better. That you will not always feel bad, that the sun will shine through the clouds. The right medication will help, therapy will help, and you will get better. You just have to try and want to feel better. You have to put in the work, no matter how hard it is. But it works. It really does.

It will be okay, little Emily. I promise you. I won’t let the world and our mind defeat you. Because I’m still here, and I’m proof that it didn’t.

Love you, you odd little thing,
Your much older odd self

PS. They lied about Beanie Babies. They aren’t worth squat. Trust me."

This was such a personal piece for me to write, but I think it was important for me to share. I want to be more open about my mental health experiences, and become an advocate, and change those negative feelings I have towards myself and my mental health, as well as others who might have felt the same exact way I did about mine. And don't get me wrong; I'm still struggling with the way I feel and have felt about my mental health. But it's a start. A good start. And I'm honored to share it with all of you and I hope it helps you if you're struggling the way I was. And remember: there is always hope.

Question for all of you: Do you feel or have you felt ashamed about having a mental illness or illnesses? If so, how do you combat or change those feelings to something more positive? I'm still working on it, and maybe so are you, so tips all around are always appreciated!

Stay Weird,
Emily

Throwback: Toys From the 90's I Always Wanted As A Kid But Never Got



We all remember the toys from our past that we never had. The ones that we watched the commercials for, begged our parents for, dreamed of at night, drooled in envy as we watched our friends play with them or leave them neglected in their rooms (how ungrateful!), knowing full well that if YOU had that toy, no way would you ever put that toy down (or so you told your parents). Of course you loved the toys that you had, but there was just something about those elusive toys that you never received, not for your birthday, Christmas, or any other holiday or event, no matter how much you begged.

And now, as an adult you could technically buy them yourself on eBay, but the thought of actually buying a much wanted childhood toy from some random person who actually kept it in its packaging as if they knew even back then that some strange millennial who missed out on this certain, random toy craze would one day be willing to pay an exorbitant amount of money for it, just kind of creeps you out a little. Oh, hell. If I had the money, I would for sure buy at least two things on this list. Let’s be totally honest.

Despite having a wonderful childhood filled with late 90’s and early 2000’s toys (I was not left wanting. I had Barbies, Littlest Pet Shop sets, Polly Pockets, tons of stuffed animals, etc.), I still think about these toys that got away and the fun I most definitely would have had with them. Here are the toys that would have obviously changed my life for the better if I had had them*

*Totally not true, but definitely what I thought as a child.

Doodle Bear


Oh, Doodle Bear, how I dreamt of you as I watched the commercials of happy children drawing on you with those special markers you came with, then popping you in the washing machine for you to come out all nice and clean and blank, ready to be drawn all over again. One of my best friends growing up had this bear and I was completely envious. Looking back, what was so special about this toy? That it was a stuffed animal that you were literally allowed to draw on, unlike the walls of the house? That it was washable, so your obviously ugly looking doodles could be wiped away in the wash, ready to be transformed into a brand new piece of artwork? Obviously the bear was cute, but your artwork was not, so what was kind of the point? I still wanted it though. So, so badly.

Easy Bake Oven


Who didn’t have an Easy Bake Oven growing up? Me. The answer is ME. The entire idea of a miniature oven (literally powered by a lightbulb. That was how it baked food. By a hot lightbulb. We were truly lied to as children), that could bake cakes, cookies, and more? Delightful! Real ovens are super hot and scary, but Easy Bake Ovens were cute, came with that weird thing to hold the tiny pan and push it in and out of the oven, AND it came with packets of (just add water!) mix to make all sorts of delicious (aka disgusting) baked goods. Now, I received an old, handed down Easy Bake Oven (I was the youngest of my sisters, so I received a LOT of hand me downs of all sorts), which did not include the pans, so I had to power through and try to fashion my own out of aluminium foil. It did not go well. At all. I burnt my brownies (or what it supposed to be a cake? Either way it came out dark brown) and knew if I had only had a brand new Easy Bake Oven with all of the proper accessories, this wouldn’t have happened. It obviously was my fault, not the Easy Bake Oven’s. A new Easy Bake Oven could do no wrong.

An American Girl Doll


These were the status symbol of every single girl in the United States in the 90’s. If you didn’t have an American Girl doll, who even were you? You definitely weren’t like Felicity, the spunky Colonial girl who fought for America’s freedom in the 1700’s. And you definitely weren’t Victorian rich girl Samantha, because if she had lived in the 90’s, she could have afforded to buy all of the American girl dolls, plus their accessories, plus the matching historical outfits that you could buy for yourself so you could match your doll. Having any sort of American Girl items would automatically put you in the cool girls club, along with shopping at Limited Too and owning platform sandals. I myself only ever received a miniature American Girl doll of Kirsten, the Swedish immigrant from the 1800’s, because my parents could barely afford that (American Girl dolls were and are, still crazy expensive, guys.) But I’ve known a few adults who have gone to an American Girl store and lived out their childhood dream and bought their very own American Girl doll to make up for the fact that they didn’t have one as a child. I mean, I’m not saying I would ever do that, but if I did….I would totally get Molly, the glasses wearing 1940’s girl, just waiting for her father to come home from fighting in WWII. Damn those awful food rations...

Furby


I know, I know. We can all agree now that Furbies and anything that can somehow listen to you (I’m looking at you, smartphones) are creepy AF. But these things were so dang cool when they came out! Pretty much everyone had one! I didn’t, of course, but they were literally everywhere and all anyone could talk about. You could get a boy or a girl one, they spoke their own language, and you could try to teach them words. It was like having a highly intelligent parrot alien hybrid that you didn’t have to clean up after! I think I got one of the plastic inanimate mini ones that came in a McDonald’s Happy Meal, so I never got to teach an actual Furby dirty words or worry about it waking up in the middle of the night to freak me out and worry that it would murder me Chucky-style. How I miss those would be memories.

Hit Clips


These are perhaps the dumbest things on this listen, but listen, it was 90’s/2000’s, and this was pretty much the first step we had towards mp3 players. Hit Clips were little keychains with a band or singer’s tiny album cover on it, and if you stuck the album in the player, it would play like a 15 or 30 second clip of that band or singer’s certain song. Perfect for when your parents would not buy you that Britney Spear cd because they were freaked out that she showed her midriff all the time and danced around with a snake (as if we were old enough to even figure out what that might even suggest. Parents really thought we were more worldly than we really were as kids. Millennials were the Jon Snow of the 90’s and 2000’s. We knew nothing.)

Every Single Beanie Baby Ever


Remember when we actually thought that Beanie Babies were the equivalent of gold bricks? That if we had enough, kept their tags in the their tag protectors, and kept them dust free in their plastic display boxes, we could sell them and retire? Life was so much more simple then. I had a few Beanie Babies, but like all kids, I wanted more. They were always coming out with new Beanie Babies and I wanted them all. You could never have too many many Beanie Babies and they were the go to birthday and Christmas present for kids for years (remember, they were an investment!). I actually went to an antique store the other day and guess what they were selling: dozens and dozens of Beanie Babies, all dirt cheap! They were even selling still in the packaging McDonald’s Happy Meal mini Beanie Babies! If that didn’t make me feel old and put things in perspective for me, I don’t know what else in this world will.

Pretty Pretty Princess Board Game


Can you believe I’ve never played this game? A friend of mine had it, and once I begged to play it, but she said no, she was bored of it because she had played it too many times. Too many times??? I had never even played it once! How could she be bored of a board game (well, it is in the name) where you get to put on multiple pieces of plastic jewelry and pretend to be a princess?? I remember one time her brother and friends borrowed it to play it as a joke, and I almost joined in, just as a way for me to finally play it. Sad, desperate, and true.

Spice Girls Dolls


Oh geez. This was a big one in my life. As a kid, the Spice Girls ruled the world. They spread girl power, we caught it, felt empowered, and wanted to buy everything that had those five powerful women printed on them (my sister was always kind enough to surprise me occasionally with a piece of Spice Girls gum from a vending machine that came with a sticker in it. I was so proud of those stickers). Their music was epic, their personalities enchanting, platform shoes and Union Jack anythings had never been so cool. And when the Spice Girls movie Spice World hit the screen, it was like the world exploded. (I will go to my grave saying that Spice World is not a terrible movie, it is actually a quirky and genius parody of the Beatles’ movie, A Hard Day’s Night, and is a masterpiece of surrealism. You may quote me.) But back to toys, the one single Spice Girls thing I wanted most in the world: the set of all five Spice Girls dolls. I wanted that set so, so bad. With all of my ever loving Spice Girls heart. I had a friend (yes, another friend who had a toy I always wanted. See a pattern here?) who had TWO sets of the dolls, from her aunt. One for display, and one to play with. TWO sets! And I had none. I learned then that life was unfair. It still is, just not about a set of Spice Girls dolls.

Wettin' Wizzer


This is probably the most obscure one on the list, but do you remember when the live action version of 101 Dalmatians came out, starring Jeff Daniels and the incredible performance of Glenn Close as Cruella De Vil? (I mean, truly iconic!) Well, when this movie came out, I was obsessed. I had 101 Dalmatians everything. Toys, bedspread, sheets, shirts, whatever I could get my hands on. I even wanted a Dalmatian puppy, even though my family’s house was purely cat only. But the one toy I never got and wanted, was a toy called Wettin’ Wizzer. Remember Wizzer from the live action movie? He was the puppy that always seemed to have an accident and they made a toy, where you could feed him water from a bowl, and he would, um, have a little accident. I thought it was the coolest thing ever, but I was never gifted it as a present. So instead, being the genius and annoying child that I was, decided to improvise the lack of Wettin’ Wizzer with one of my many little stuffed Dalmatian toys. I would gather some water in the cup of my hand, pour in on my poor unsuspecting dad’s shoulder and go “uh oh! Wizzer had an accident!” and wave the little Dalmatian around and bounce him on and off my dad’s shoulder. My dad would just roll his eyes and smile, being the good sport he is. If only he knew this could have been avoided if I had had that Wettin’ Wizzer toy. Let’s be fair, I still would have done that to him if I had had the actual toy. It would have been even more delightful.

What was your childhood toy that got away? And what do you think would be the two toys on this list that I'd consider buy on eBay? Because I'd totally buy at least one!

Stay Weird,
Emily

Guess Who Has Two Thumbs and Faints at the Sight of Blood? This Girl!


I have a confession to make: I pass out at the sight of blood. A lot. And by a lot, I mean almost every time I have to get my blood drawn. Which also is a lot. But let me start from the beginning.

I wasn’t always so squeamish. I remember getting my blood drawn as a kid, and having it not be such a pleasant experience (the nurse couldn’t find my vein, she kept poking me, etc.) but I persevered and the nurse was so impressed that she awarded me with what seemed like a dozen colorful stickers (I’m sure it was only like three stickers more than usual, but they only give you one sticker and the nurse could tell I handled being poked multiple times with multiple butterfly needles remarkably well for a six year old). I can handle this. Wrong. So, very, very wrong.

It seemed like the older I got, the worse I got around blood. I guess it started with that one fateful trip to the same doctor’s office for another routine blood test. I wasn’t feeling that great to begin with and hadn’t drank a lot of water beforehand, so when it came time for me to sit in the blood draw chair (you know that uncomfortable chair with the little fold out arm table I’m talking about), I was shaky but thought, No big deal, my inner six year old thought. I’ve got this.

But you know what? No. No, I did not got this.

The lack of hydration and the fact that I was in a backroom with other people waiting their turn, made me extra nervous and as I started to feel nauseated and dizzy, a little boy (or perhaps a black eye child because of what happens next) who was waiting with his mom came up and helpfully said, “Are you okay? You look funny.” I’m assuming he meant my extreme paleness and excessive sweating as I promptly fainted after that.

From then on, I hated getting my blood drawn. I was no longer that confident six year old, but now that extremely anxious eleven year old that was terrified that I would pass out every time the butterfly needle hit my veins. (And now of creepy children who promptly herald my fainting into unconsciousness)

As I developed thyroid issues, I learned that with thyroid issues and monitoring my thyroid levels and medication levels, you have to get your blood drawn. A lot. And thanks to fasting before these blood draws, I was never hydrated enough and guess what that doesn’t help? My proneness to passing out.

If feels like I’ve passed out more times than I can count. Not every time I got my blood drawn, but close. I learned to close my eyes and not look at the needle or tube of blood, because that makes me pass out (but even an empty tube of blood connected to the tube that goes to the needle can make me pass out. I know, I know). I also learned I should ask to lay down if I could, just in case I felt woozy afterwards (you know, despite not looking at the needle or tube of blood). But even if I do lay down and feel okay afterwards, to not trust myself and to sit or lay down for a while, because you could get up, think you’re totally fine as you reassure the phlebotomist, and proceed to the bathroom where you’ll pass out, hit your head on the wall, leave a freaking DENT in said wall, then wake up to the phlebotomist smacking your face while shoving a cotton ball soaked with rubbing alcohol under your nose, slapping your face, and shouting, “wake up, baby!” And yes, that scenario did in fact happen to me once. It’s not fun and it’s extremely embarrassing to be wheeled out of the bathroom in a wheelchair, where they give you orange juice, and then have a doctor check to make sure you don’t have a concussion (I didn’t).

I have no idea why I get so freaked out by getting my blood drawn. Or even just blood in general. I don’t mind if I see my blood (just not when I’m getting my blood drawn). A scratch or cut doesn’t affect me at all, but throw in a needle and boom! I’m probably slumped over and unconscious. But someone else’s blood- woof! I’m on the ground and utterly useless in an emergency. And speaking of needles, shots don’t bother me at all, and I feel like I have a pretty high pain tolerance (I am a girl, after all). So where does this all come from?

I could describe myself as having a blood phobia, which is where you’re afraid of getting your blood drawn, or shots, pretty much anything involving a needle and a medical procedure. Or I could identify as having white coat syndrome, which is where a person develops high blood pressure when in a medical or clinical setting and gets dizzy and faints (most likely due out of anxiety and fear). But neither of these two explanations seem to match my rare, weird case.

I couldn’t figure it out for a while, but after talking to one of my sisters, who feels the same way I do, did it finally click: getting my blood drawn feels wrong to me. I don’t like getting my blood drawn because blood should be in the inside of our bodies and not the outside. I think that triggers something inside of me that suggests that if my blood or someone else’s is on the outside, that means that something bad happened or something is wrong. It must be a weird evolutionary thing that flips inside of me. Maybe for the same reason just seeing a needle in my arm also makes me pass out. Perhaps as I’ve gotten older, the realization that something bad could happen, medically speaking, has made my fear get worse and therefore I’m not the brave six year old who was more excited about getting a bunch of stickers than worrying about the fact that they had just gotten stuck several times with tiny needles. Is this a valid or even a real feeling towards getting my blood drawn? Who knows, but it make sense to me.

Will this ever mean that I’ll ever get over this feeling whenever I get my blood drawn? Maybe, or maybe not. I can work on it, but until then I’ll do what I will always do, just in case, never, ever look at the needle going into my arm. Or the tube of blood (or the empty tube of blood connected to the tube that goes to the needle. You never know). Because I still feel super bad that my doctor’s office had to hide the dent in the bathroom wall with a decorative table before they could repair it and I never want to destroy someone else’s property with my unconscious head again (even though unintentionally).

Is it a bad time to say that I kind of want to try giving blood one day? Or am I talking crazy nonsense? You tell me!

Stay Weird,
Emily

Me, Social Media, and My Mental Health


*This post is inspired by a book I read not too long ago, Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig. I had never read any of Matt Haig’s books before (sorry, Matt!), but I was curious to read a book of his and chose this one. And I’m so glad I did. So thank you, Mr. Haig, for making me think and being the inspiration for this blog post.*

I love the internet. I’ve been obsessed with it ever since my family got a home computer back in the 90’s and those free AOL trial CDs for the internet. I used to play on Neopets, build Geocities websites, and just search this great big ocean of information. And then came Myspace.

Myspace was my first (and a lot of people’s) introduction to social media. To being connected to not only your friends, but other people and celebrities, too. You posted information about yourself, posted mirror selfies, added friends (the more the better!), got to choose who was in your top eight (or twelve or twenty four), and got to like and comment on pictures, and just generally get sucked into this virtual world. Thankfully, this was a time when you could only access it on your computer, so it felt like you spent hours asking your friends to like your new picture and commenting “like4like” on other people’s emo pictures before a family member kicked you off the computer.

But now, with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and more (I mean, there’s probably some other hot new social media app that I just have no idea exists because I’m old and used to be on Myspace), we’re always checking our social media accounts, but not on our computers. On our phones. That we take everywhere. That we have at all times. That sends us notifications whenever something happens. Every day. At all times.

Notes on a Nervous Planet is Matt Haig’s brilliant and relatable account of the internet, social media, our own planet and population, and all the anxiety (including his own) that comes with this constant flow of information, clogging up our world, putting us on edge. With every ding of our phone notifying us of the news (usually always bad), or a new photo like on Instagram, we jump, eager (or dreading) to see what’s happened, connecting us to this digital world, and disconnecting us from the world around us.

It seemed to be kismet that I read Notes on a Nervous Planet when I did. I had been feeling bogged down by social media, by the constant need to update Twitter statuses, Instagram stories, promoting blogs, Youtube channels, and everything else we’re always on. Because if we’re not on social media, where are we, really? Who are we? What are we missing out on? Oh, didn’t you see I sent you that pin on Pinterest? I tagged you on Facebook group event. Didn’t you see that event trending on Twitter? Um, no. I missed all of that? Then where have I really been? What have I been doing? Nothing, obviously.

The anxiety, loneliness, and feeling of inadequacy I felt every time I checked my phone was almost painful. I wasn’t living life, if I wasn’t posting something I had experienced or done. I was already depressed but I felt even more depressed, seeing what I was missing out on. Other people were living, and I was not. My therapist had encouraged me to stop checking my social media as much, because comparison is never helpful when you’re depressed and suffering. Everyone moves at a different pace and not everyone is in the same place. But I didn’t even consider her advice until I read Mr. Haig’s book. It was as if a switch was flipped, and my therapist’s advice made total and complete sense after Notes on a Nervous Planet. I needed to make a change for me, to create a balance of my real life and social media that was healthy, and for social media to hopefully go back to being fun, instead of almost a burden.

So I set some new rules for myself, inspired by Matt’s book, to break this toxic connection until I felt like I could handle it:

-Take a time out. Take a time out from your phone and take a time out for your life. Do something for you, in this real world, not online. Read, write, go for a walk, a run, play with your cat/dog/hamster/small reptile, anything real and for you. And then when you’re ready...

-Check it when you want to (not when you’re bored or have something else to do).

-Post when you want to (not to impress anyone, but for yourself).

-Limit your time on social media. Don’t get sucked in and forget about the real world around you.

That’s it.

And guess what? It worked.

I’ve learned to put my phone down and ignore it. Social media can be such a toxic place, especially if you’re not in a good place, which I was. You feel ashamed of your lack of accomplishments, of that heavy depression cloud that hangs over you, when you see a Facebook friend has gotten married, bought a house, had a baby, or got a promotion. You feel embarrassed that you’re not rich or just don't have will or energy to travel to fun and exotic places to take Instagram photos (and know how to pose in them) with a professional camera taken by a friend who actually knows how to take a good picture.

But social media is also filled with such support, too. The Twitter mental health community is such a positive and supportive place to be, and so can other social media communities, if you look for your niche. And when you’re in a good place, you can celebrate the accomplishments of your Facebook acquaintances and the places Instagrammers get to explore (in really cute, put together outfits. How do they do it?? Maybe I could do that!).

If I miss out on a post from a few days ago, oh well. It doesn’t mean I don’t care, it means I have a life in the real world, too. And being in the real world is more important than live tweeting the Game of Thrones finale or thinking about or yearning for likes. In the real world, I’ve been reading more, texting my friends instead of tagging them through social media, setting up times to actually see them in real life, not just photos of them on Facebook and Instagram. I’m taking the time to focus on me, my life, my health, the world around me, not through a smartphone’s screen or lens, but with my own two eyes. Just for me, not for anyone else.

So, thank you, Matt Haig, for encouraging me to start this new healthy relationship with myself and social media. My mental health is better for it and my relationship with social media isn’t as important, but when on I'm in, it’s started to be fun again.

And I guess I should thank my therapist too, since it was kind of-sort of her idea for me in the first place.

Has anyone else read Notes on a Nervous Planet or read any other of Matt Haig's books? If so, let me know what you thought of the book or of Matt Haig's other books! I'm ready to read more from him! And how do you deal with the balance between social media and your mental health? Let me know!

Stay Weird,
Emily

My First Session of EMDR Therapy


If you read my last post (which I’m imagining you did, just to make myself feel better), you may know that I’ve been in therapy for quite some time. Years, in fact. I started going when I was in kindergarten, believe it or not, and have been seeing some sort of mental health professional on and off over the years. So I feel like I’m pretty experienced in talk therapy and CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy).

But the one therapy that was never offered or suggested to me until now? EMDR therapy.

EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, is a type of therapy usually used for people suffering with post traumatic stress disorder, but also helps with people with anxiety, depression, or phobias. It’s a therapy that’s used to help you process and unblock past traumas or events that you have not psychologically dealt with yet and may be affecting your life without you even knowing it. It uses the same eye movement that occurs in your REM sleep; you know, when you’re dreaming and processing your day, while your eyes rapidly move back and forth beneath your closed eyelids (have you ever seen someone sleeping and their eyes doing that? It’s a little freaky, to be honest!) Though some EMDR therapies use hand tapping or even audio stimulation instead of rapid eye movement.

My current therapist, who I have been seeing for almost a year and is just lovely, suggested that since I admitted I felt a little stuck in therapy and where I am in my life, we might try EMDR, since there may be some things in my past that might be contributing to my feeling of being stuck.

Without going into too many details (because seriously, who has the time or the interest to read my entire mental history? Hell, I don’t even want to write it!), right now I’ve been dealing with negative beliefs about myself, that have kept me from moving forward and making changes in my life, hence, making me feel pretty stuck. Since I've seemed to have tried everything else offered in therapy, why not EMDR? The worst that can happen is that it doesn't work for me, right?

I wasn't too nervous to start my first session. My therapist explained that we start with a traumatic memory or experience that upsets me and has stuck me for a long time and has had a negative impact on me. We chose one (it’s weird how when you’re asked to recall a negative memory, you suddenly blank, but then when you’re trying to sleep at night they all come flooding in, one right after another. Great timing, horrible memories!), and she explained that she would stick out her arm to the side, bent at the elbow, and swing her arm upright, pointing two fingers, left to right like a clock’s pendulum, for my eyes to follow. We positioned our chairs across from each other, but her chair to the right of me, so her arm and fingers were right in my eye line. She also told me before the session that if something was too painful or I got upset, I could quite literally tell her to stop, and we could take a break if needed.

We started our session by me recalling the memory in detail and focusing on that feeling. She then swung her arm and fingers from left to right, with my eyes following her fingers while I focused on that memory. She would then stop after about 10 seconds (or what felt like it), we would both take a deep breath, and she would ask me what I was feeling or thinking about. I would follow up with what I had felt or what had crossed my mind, and she would say, “let’s focus on that,” and then she continued swinging her arm/fingers and I again followed them me eyes. This whole process is literally called processing. That continued for the rest of the session.

Sounds kind of boring, right? Um, not so! Just from this one memory that had always stuck with me negatively, SO many other memories and feelings popped into my head. It really did feel like one thing literally led to another, that so many feelings and experiences I had were connected in one way or another to this one memory. I started crying at numerous times as other things popped into my head, as the connections were made and I admitted out loud and to myself some things that been buried inside my mind, that I never wanted to acknowledge.

EMDR sessions continue until the memory is resolved (aka reprocessed), meaning until the memory doesn’t upset or impact you anymore. We started at a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being that it doesn’t affect me at all, and 10 being pretty much this is such a terrifying memory that I can’t even deal with it. I started at a 7 during my first session and at the end it was at a 3. So for the next session, we focused on that memory again, to see if we could get my feelings towards it to a 0. And we did! After two sessions, that memory no longer negatively impacts me. I processed it during those two sessions, looked back on it, went through those feelings, and what came up during the session, and I was able to put it behind me. It was pretty amazing.

I can’t believe no other therapist had suggested EMDR before, but I’m so grateful my therapist did. We already have two other memories that we both feel I need to process (they popped up several times during my first two session, almost without me realizing it. Thank god my therapist takes notes), so that means my EMDR sessions will continue for the time being.

I’m eager to feel better and would highly recommend EMDR therapy to anyone who feels they may need it, but I also want to point out some tips that may help you during the process of, well, the process of EMDR:

#1. Have coping skills to use before, during, and after the sessions. My therapist warned me that bringing up traumatic or unresolved issues can be very upsetting and trigger some people. So before we began our sessions, she taught me some coping skills to help me feel safe and supported. We close each session with a coping skill that I choose, and I actually really needed to use a coping skill after our first session, where I spent most of it crying, after I got back into my car. I used a grounding technique to remind myself that I was present, safe, and okay. And guess what: it helped.

#2. Have someone besides your therapist you can lean on for support. You don’t have to tell them what happened during your session, but just having someone you know you can count on to be there for you as you revisit some traumatic events is really helpful and reassuring.

#3. Take time between EMDR sessions. I see my therapist once a week (not to brag), and at my last session, I told her I needed a break from my EMDR sessions to talk about my EMDR sessions and to process what I’ve been processing! I was a bit embarrassed to admit it, but she assured me that that was totally normal, and if I needed to take breaks in between sessions, I could. Especially if I was feeling nervous or anxious at upcoming sessions, which I was and just wanted to talk about how to prepare for those new sessions and new sets of memories and what may come up. So please be open and honest with your therapist if you need a break. You’re already pushing yourself a lot, so don’t push yourself even more to the point of hurting your mental health.

EMDR is tough, rigorous, and extremely emotionally draining, but so rewarding. I know it helps a lot with people with PTSD, but I’m so impressed that it’s helping me, with my anxiety, depression, and past memories that are hindering my recovery. And I feel so lucky that I’m at a point where I’m able to challenge myself to confront these fears and try to change, and that I have a great, supportive therapist who is willing to work with me. I hope it helps me get to a point where I’m able to live my life the way I want to, and not the way my negative beliefs and disorders have made me think I should.

Has anyone else gone through EMDR therapy? Has it helped you at all? If so, let me know! I’d love to hear from you! And if you’re interested in more of my EMDR journey, let me know if you’d like to hear more about it. I’m sure the mental health adventures aren’t over yet!


Stay Weird,
Emily

A Tale of Too Many Therapists


For almost as long as I can remember, I’ve been in therapy. I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) when I was in kindergarten, and from them on it’s just been one long string of diagnoses, therapists, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and any sort of mental health professional that may offer counseling. So I think it’s safe to say I’ve had my fair share of talk therapy.

Therapy is literally so different, all depending on your age (as a kid you get to freaking coloring, reading stories, play with a dollhouse all while an adult tries to slyly ask you questions? No biggie!) and your therapist (man, woman, nice, stern. Therapists and doctors come in all shapes and forms). And as for one who has been in the therapy biz (only, you know, the one being counseled, not the one who is actually doing counseling and has that degree), I think I know a good therapist when I meet one. It just took me a long while to get there.

When I was first diagnosed with OCD, my mom immediately took me to a child psychologist. She was super nice, read me stories about a cute family of bunnies who lived in a tree trunk, and I honestly barely remember anything else about it except for the cute bunny book. So to me, therapy? It was fun!

I was then later sent to a child psychiatrist when my OCD got worse. This doctor not only have an amazing dollhouse to play with, she also had a treasure box filled with cheap toys and trinkets that I could pick out one thing after my appointment. Um, you bet I could sit through those questions while rearranging the dollhouse (the kids before me always messed up the rooms in it. Even as a youngster, I knew how a dollhouse should be set up). Therapy? Still not a big deal.

But as I got older, and new symptoms popped up and new diagnoses were, well, diagnosed, therapy became incredibly difficult. Either working with a particular doctor wouldn’t work out or my insurance wouldn’t cover that doctor, therapy started to get real. I bounced from doctor to therapist, trying to find my way, all the while my mental health issues were at an all time high and as much as I wanted to feel better, the older I got, the more pressure and anger I felt that my parents were pushing me to see people I wasn’t comfortable opening up to. Thus let a long line of therapists and mental health professionals:

I remember seeing a psychiatrist who specialized in Eastern/Indian medicine and determined I had too much Earth and wanted me to take herbs to help alleviate my grounding (you know, to add more Air to my Earth). I remember seeing a male psychologist and lying to his face that I was just fine, because I didn’t trust him one bit (he made my mom cry, so that sealed the deal for me). I once saw a holistic psychiatrist who either wanted to film our session or type the transcript literally as we were having our session, which was very awkward. I even visited a hypnotist once, to help with my extreme phobias. My parents drove me all over, taking me from doctor to health care professional, trying to find one that worked for me. Sometimes they worked for a while. Sometimes we came to a stalemate, and other times, it just didn’t work out. Sometimes it ended with a bang.

The first child psychologist I had when I was first diagnosed ended up treating me as a tween. I confronted quite reasonably and asked her about wanting to change our session from once a week to one every two weeks, and she said no, and proceeded to say I was resisting treatment. I was so hurt by her sudden coldness that I stormed out and never went back. That wouldn’t be the first time I heard that in my life from a therapist. It’s amazing how often a therapist will immediately drop you if “resist treatment.” In the second case, my therapist suggested I do something I didn’t feel comfortable with, and instead of discussing it with me, she immediately threw up her hands, said I was “resisting her,” and recommended I find a new therapist. Literally. Just like that.

Through all of this, I’ve learned a lot about therapists, and about myself too. Number one being:

It takes a while to find a therapist that’s right for you. And even it works out for a while, it may come to an end. Because being in therapy is like being in a relationship, just a very one-sided relationship. Sometimes it works for a while, and then it doesn’t. You change, and therefore sometimes your relationship with your therapist does too. And that’s perfectly okay. It just means you move on to someone else who can work with you for what you’re going through now.

Number two: You have to find a therapist you trust. I tried to trust a lot of mental health care professionals, but being an awkward and embarrassed tween and then a moody teenager who was sick of the constant appointments, it became too much and I just stopped trying. Trusting your therapist is so important. You’re going to be telling them your most intimate, private thoughts and dealing with your delicate emotions and digging deep into your past. That takes trust. Don’t just pick the first therapist you come across who takes your insurance. Shop around, and find one that you click with. It you feel more comfortable with women, go to a female therapist. There’s no shame in it, you just have to do what’s right for you and your mental health.

Number three: Therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors are people too. Sometimes they’re kind and understanding. Other times they’re rude, snobbish, and think they know best. They are the professional, after all. I’ve had to learn that some doctors feel that it’s their way or the highway, and are not going to try to be flexible with their patients. That’s their choice, but I hope that they understand that that might lose them patients. So look out for red flags. If your therapist doesn’t listen to you, talks about themselves, makes you feel bad about yourself, leave. They’re not for you. The therapist I saw before the current therapist I’m seeing now, was tough, abrasive, and I left crying, feeling terrible about myself, after almost every appointment. I didn’t trust her but I tried. It wasn’t until I reached a breaking point that I realized that I could find another therapist who worked for me. The realization was a revelation and it made me realize that I did have a choice in who I had to see.

As for me, after seeing so many therapists, I’ve learned so much about myself. That sometimes, being forced into therapy isn’t the best, but sometimes it’s what was necessary. My parents knew I needed help and did what they thought was best and tried every possible avenue to help me. I just wish that at a young age that I could have been more grateful for the enormous effort they put into caring for my mental health, and tried harder with those therapists, even if it didn’t work out. But in my own way I did try, and as I got older, and my symptoms got even worse, I realized the importance of therapy. It wasn’t until I got my own insurance and realized I needed help, that I looked into finding my own therapist as an adult, that it was all my choice, that I saw how great therapy is. I actually found a therapist that I clicked with and I’ve honestly been working so hard and putting so much effort into my mental health, that I feel that this is the best decision I’ve ever made. And I made it just for me, when I needed it.

Which leads me to the most important part: you need to want to be in therapy for therapy to work for you. You need want to change and feel better and put in the work. You need to try. You can’t half ass it. It will be one of the most grueling experiences of your life, but it’s so worth it.

A lot of therapists led me to believe that therapy will never end, especially the ones who you pay out of pocket to. But my current therapist actually told me that, no, therapy wasn’t a forever thing. You use it when you need help, and then hopefully you won’t need it again unless something else comes up. This was such a revelation to me. I won’t need this forever? No, I hopefully I won’t. But just in case, it will still be there when I need it. And I can’t tell you how hopeful that makes me feel about the work I’m doing in therapy and now, and for my future.

Stay Weird,
Emily

What's In A (Last) Name?



“So...how do you say that?”

“Why-ruh-….?”

“That’s an usual last name!”

“Is it Ear-bear…?”

“What kind of name is that?”

“...I’m not even going to try to pronounce that!”

“No, seriously, how do you say it?”

Every time I got to a new doctor’s office or any sort of appointment where someone sees my last name on a form or my ID… it starts. The questions. My last name is only nine letters long but the particular combination of vowels and consonants confounds everyone. Maybe it’s because it starts with a Y (pretty unusual for a last name, unless your last name is Young) and no one can decide if you pronounce the Y like, well, Young, or as in sky, a long I. (Psst… it’s actually pronounced like a long E! But don’t tell anyone. It’s actually kind of fun confusing everyone. You know, when it isn’t really, really annoying.)

Or maybe it’s the length of the name. I never thought a nine lettered last name would be that intimidating. A nine lettered first name? Um, yeah, I’d be intimidated by that. By how impressive and elegant it sounds. Alexander. Madeleine. Gwendolyn. Sebastian. Angelique. That’s are some pretty freaking awesome nine lettered first names are. So what’s wrong with my last name?

I’ve been asking myself that for years now. Because I’ve always disliked my last name. No one could pronounce it, it wasn’t a cute and easy to pronounce last name like Smith or Adams, and in school, I was always the last one in line because guess what? We had to line up alphabetically. And guess where all of my friends were at? In the front of the line because their last names starts from A-M. Even as a kid I longed for the day I would get married and get to change my last name. Moving up in the alphabet...it was what every little girl dreamed of.

And my mom’s excuse for why the tooth fairy only left me a quarter under my pillow instead of the dollar my friends usually got for their teeth? Because by the time the tooth fairy went alphabetically through all the kids who had lost their teeth that night, by the time got to me, she was starting to run out of money and she only had quarters left. Curse the penultimate starting letter of my last name! I never win!

Most people I know can trace their heritage through their last name. From Irish to German, Spanish to Italian, people can tell exactly where their families came from. And I was so jealous. Not because I didn’t know where my last name was derived from, but because it wasn’t a cool culture. I wanted to be Irish, and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, visit Ireland, and find long lost Irish relatives on the Green Isle. Or be Italian, thinking I was descended from the Romans, their culture and empire stretching the globe, leaving ancient ruins of the past as proof of their existence, and have an excuse to eat pasta and spaghetti with mia famiglia. And I thought my ancestry was anything but cool.

Have you ever heard of the Basque country? Most of you will probably say no. Because it’s not actually a country. It’s a section of land at the border of France (the northern part) and Spain (the southern part). While it’s not it’s own country, it has a long and complicated history, filled with upheaval and conflict, and even has its own language, appropriately called Basque.

My last name is Basque. I’ve known this my whole life. My dad’s side of the family, my last name, is Basque, Spanish Basque. (My dad’s mother was Czech, my mother’s father was Mexican, and my maternal grandmother was German and English. I’m a true American melting pot, people) My dad has always been really into his Basque heritage, and my sisters and I always teased him about it. We thought, what was so impressive about being Basque? Weren’t they just sheep farmers? Some strange folk who didn’t have their own country and yet had their own language filled with letters like x’s, z’s, and y’s, and hard to pronounce? (Hmm...sounds familiar.) Being Basque wasn’t as cool as flashy as being something like being Irish or Italian.

But as the years went on, something in me started to shift. It first started with my oldest sister spending the summer in Spain. And guess where in Spain she visited? Yep, the Spanish part of the Basque country. She told me that when she was paying for something with her credit card, the merchant looked at it, saw our last name and said, “Ah! You are Basque!” And you know what? I bet he knew how to pronounce it too.

There’s also a street in the Basque country with our last name on it. As in “My Last Name” St. And an even cooler fact that I found out from my sister’s trip? She stumbled across a memorial of people who had lost their lives because they had been accused of witches (you know, Spain, Catholicism, the Spanish Inquisition? It was not a good time to be alive in those days), and what do you know: an ancestor of ours was accused of being a witch. How random is that for an ancestor of mine to be a part of history that we learned about in school? (And I sincerely hope their ghost haunted whoever killed them as an act of bad-ass vengeance because that’s what I would have totally done.)

And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve actually started to embrace my weird last name. Instead of being embarrassed when someone asked me the origin of my last name, I just started embracing educating people on the Basque country. Most people have (obviously) never heard of it. I even had an optometrist ask me to spell it out (meaning Basque, not my last name) so she could look it up online, she was so fascinated by a place she had never heard of before. I even started to research the history of the Basques. Did you know that before they converted to Christianity (or, well probably were forced to convert to Christianity) they had their own gods? There’s a whole Basque mythology out there, filled with fairies and giants and other crazy legends. I mean, for all I know, the Brothers Grimm got some of their ideas from my ancestors. (It’s a stretch, but just give me this, okay?)

My last name isn’t even as uncommon as I thought. I’ve had people friend me on Facebook in other countries with the exact last name, same spelling and everything. There’s people out there just like me! Maybe we’re related, or maybe my last name has spread across the globe and expanded into different countries, cultures, and maybe even they have to explain their last name to other people too. And maybe like me they’re proud of it. I’ve even started to consider what I would do if I were to ever get married. Would I change my last name? Because I’m not so sure anymore. And if I wrote a book? Would I use an easy to pronounce pen name? Maybe if it sounded cool (Emily Ravenwood, has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?), but how could I turn my back on my last name, my family’s history, my history?

Kid Emily was desperate to get to the front of the alphabet, but now, I’m proud of my long nine lettered last name starting with a Y. It’s different and unusual, and so am I. I’ve worked so hard to embrace who I am, and I hadn’t even considered embracing my last name might include that too.

So go ahead, mispronounce my last name. Yeah, I know. It’s long. It’s complicated. It’s a few more syllables than most “normal” last names. It doesn’t sound like it looks. But it’s mine. It’s a part of me and who I am. And I hope that one day, I can go to the Basque country and explore my roots. And have people recognize my last name and actually know how to pronounce it. That’s the literal dream. One day I’ll get there, but for now, I’ll keep on teaching people how to say it and explain its history. Because it’s actually pretty darn cool.

Stay Weird,
Emily