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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