Category Archives: anxiety

Story of ‘the cut’

Since inspiration struck a few weeks ago I’ve been working on my book diligently, spending at least a couple of hours writing each day. I just finished the Prologue and have made considerable progress in the first section of the book entitled Love is a Motherfucker (ain’t that the truth!). Writing a book is challenging and laborious and at times immensely frustrating but it is also fun and rewarding and has provided me with the gift of insight and perspective.

I recently adapted one of these chapters to be a short, personal essay for a site I write for that focuses on fighting stigma around mental illness. It will be published in the coming weeks but I was given permission to share this story on my personal blog.

The essay I wrote is the story of the first time I cut myself. I’m not afraid to write about taboo subjects and I like pushing people to the edge of their comfort zones when they read my work. I will preface this post with the fact that this is a story that will certainly make you feel uncomfortable and squeamish (and for some could even be a trigger) so proceed with caution.

Something in me is broken and unfixable. The level of self-loathing and hatred I have for myself has left me emotionally empty, unable to feel anything. At times the numbness and silence is so deep that my desire to feel something, anything really, leads me to moments like these. The ones where I find myself sitting cross-legged on the bathroom floor of my Madison apartment, 26 years old, with a knife pressed against my wrist, poised and ready to cut.

I look up and see that two of the three light bulbs are burnt out in the light fixture above the sink creating an illumination of ambient lighting. The faucet is leaky, making a drip-drip-drip sound and the fan above me is humming softly. There are no windows, just boring white walls and one framed photo of Lava Lake in Big Sky, Montana hanging above the toilet. There is nothing special about this room except that it lacked life – the perfect backdrop to my lonely existence.

Every night for the last six months I have laid face-down on the cold hard-wood floor of my apartment, sobbing. And I’m talking about the worst kind of crying – the kind no one actually ever sees – when your soul weeps profusely and it just goes on and on and on. The emptiness, numbness, and loneliness I had felt for months were so profound I thought I might explode at any moment.

This must have been what led to my sudden uncontrollable desire to cut that day. Sitting there – sentenced to being stuck in my drab, uninviting cubicle, boxed in by dull gray modular panels and even more boring industrial carpet in a tiny space devoid of any natural sunlight – I wanted to feel something, anything, other than the emotional pain I had been harboring inside me for so long. Even if cutting was physically painful it had to be better than feeling dead on the inside. So without telling anyone where I was going, I grabbed my coat, purse, and keys and walked out of the office building towards my car.

It was a frigid, ice-kissed winter day in Wisconsin and the gush of air as I opened the door made my teeth chatter and the cold seep into my gloves. I half-ran, half-walked to my car, heart racing and chest pounding. I was having difficulty catching my breath and hysterically I unlocked the car door, put the keys in the ignition, and peeled out of the parking lot towards my apartment a mere five minutes away.

By the time I pulled into the parking lot outside my apartment building I was hyperventilating. I felt like something was squeezing me so tight that my ribs would crack. In my panic I ran from my car to the building and climbed the stairs two at a time. I unlocked the front door and all but threw myself at the kitchen counter, rummaging through the drawer where I kept the knives. I picked the sharpest one I could find, hurried to the bathroom down the hall, and slammed the door shut before sliding down on the floor next to the bathtub.

I sat there cross-legged, breathing heavily with my back against the side of the tub, looking down at the shiny knife I was holding in my right hand. I ran my fingers over the smooth blade, lightly pricking the tip of my left pointer finger. A small droplet of blood oozed out, running down my finger. I wiped the blood on my black dress pants then closed my right hand over the bottom black handle of the knife and rested it against my right leg.

Sitting there staring at the dull, white walls I wondered what it would feel like cutting myself with the tip of a blade. I knew I would be crossing the line into dangerous territory and potentially creating a habit that would be hard to break. It was then that the darkness interrupted my thoughts: It’s not such a big deal. A lot of people do it. It feels good, I promise. You’ll feel relieved. Go ahead and give it a try.

His argument seemed convincing yet there was a part of me still trying to reason her way through this – sort of like a sliver of light peeking through the darkness making a last-ditch effort to get my attention. She was jumping up and down in the corner, maniacally waving her hands above her head yelling: Hey! Hey! Over here! Look at me! DUDE, IT WILL NOT FEEL GOOD. IT WILL FUCKING HURT. Don’t listen to him. You don’t have to do this. You are so much stronger than this.

To which darkness responded: And why should she listen to you? Just ignore her, Lindsay. She doesn’t know anything. Let go. You’ll feel so much better. You can trust me. I am your most faithful friend.

I looked over at darkness, finding comfort in those two words faithful friend, and reached towards him to take hold of his hand.  Just like that the thing I feared most – losing control over my mind – became a reality.

I rolled up my sleeve, placing the tip of the shiny knife against my left wrist. I hesitated slightly but then slowly drew the blade over the veins, careful not to hit the artery and careful not to go too deep. As much as I would have liked to disappear (and as much time as I spent thinking about death) death was not actually on my mind at that moment. I just didn’t have the energy to carry out all the suicide scenarios I’d dreamed up.

After the first cut I sat there in awe watching as small droplets of blood trickled down my forearm and wrapped around the side of my wrist. It was a vibrant, rich red and I was dazzled by its brightness. I closed my eyes and breathed out a sigh of relief as my heartbeat slowed and the muscles in my body relaxed. The noise in my head retreated back into its hiding place and I was relieved of the pressure and racing thoughts darkness had crushed me with in recent days. I sat there another minute then I made another cut and another and another. Each time the blade dug into my skin it stung but it was a feeling that made me ache in both pleasure and pain.

I could feel the warmth of the blood as it trickled out of each of the wounds. I could feel it tickling my skin. I could smell the iron too and I found myself savoring the metallic taste it left in my mouth. Here was the proof I had been searching for – evidence of my existence. If I was bleeding then that meant I was alive. Dead people don’t bleed.

The relief I felt was momentary, though, because when I opened my eyes to look down at my wrist that sense of satisfaction was replaced with a sense of embarrassment and dread. What had I done? Why did I do that?

I frantically reached for the towel hanging on the back of the bathroom door, wrapped it firmly around my wrist, and held it up until the bleeding stopped. Through misty eyes I saw that the cuts weren’t deep. I didn’t need stitches.

While I was both pleased and appalled at my behavior I was afraid even more. Afraid of myself. Afraid of what I might do if I was left alone a minute longer. Afraid at the realization that I was no longer in control of my mind. Afraid of how my family and friends would react if they knew.

I collapsed into a ball on the floor, curling up inside this swelling depression. With the side of my face pressed against the cold, gray tile I wept tears of sorrow and whispered a plea for someone – anyone – to save me.

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Filed under anxiety, bipolar II, depression, mental health, mental illness

Inside the experience

It’s been awhile since I’ve written about mental health – my recovery process in particular. I think that is because my tendency towards perfectionism (be the perfect child, be the perfect friend, be the perfect employee) has meant I have also wanted to be perfect in my recovery. However, that is not the case.

Writing is a therapeutic tool for me and though what I am sharing in today’s post is a deeply vulnerable topic for me, I feel it is important to share. I know many of my followers and readers are people who struggle with similar mental health challenges and, like me, when you look to the online community for articles and stories to help you, they are few and far between. So I write this post not just for me, but for you too.


I recently got refitted for a bra and was politely informed my boobs had shrunk a full cup size. For a “barely B” you can imagine how horrified I was at the realization my body was reverting back to its preteen years. I mean seriously guys, MY BOOBS ARE SHRINKING. The same day, I reached my lowest weight of 114 lbs and though I didn’t make the connection at the time, it’s fairly obvious the shrinking boob epidemic is the result of losing weight.

More disturbingly, I failed to recognize that my weight was even an issue. The recommended weight for someone of my height is 120-155 lbs. From all outward appearances, I look normal and healthy even though the scale shows I am underweight. But if there is anything I’ve learned in working with my therapist over the last month on the whole ‘WHY AM I DOING THIS TO MY BODY’ thing, it’s that appearances can be deceiving, especially for people who struggle with disordered eating and eating disorders.

There were two frightening moments I encountered recently that made me pause and question my behavior and one revelation that prompted me to open up to my therapist about the extent of my disordered eating.

One of the frightening moments happened a few weeks ago when I weighed myself and saw the scale jump from 114 lbs to 117 lbs (the result of indulging in Irish food and Guinness). I had gained 3 lbs. You would have thought the world was ending. I was disgusted with myself and immediately put into action a plan to lose the weight, despite the fact I was still below the recommended weight range.

The second frightening moment happened just the other day when I got home from a three-hour workout and refused to eat because I had two cookies earlier in the day (it didn’t matter I had just burned 700 calories). My body was starving and screaming at me I NEED FOOD, I NEED FOOD yet I ignored those cries for nourishment and took a sleeping pill, hoping to sleep off the hunger.

At this moment, I knew my behavior and thinking was irrational. I was obsessively counting calories, restricting my diet, and over exercising. I kept telling myself to just stop it. Yet, I couldn’t. It was around that time I also began noticing that I was picking out my eyebrows more frequently – a habit I engage in when I feel anxious. It’s a disorder called trichotillomania, which leaves bald patches in my eyebrows. I’ve had it since I was about 14 years old and despite therapy it hasn’t ever gone away. With years of experience in dealing with the disorder, I know that when I engage in this behavior it’s a way of me dealing with stress. Having that understanding often makes me step back and look at why I’m anxious. And, this is where the big revelation occurred.

The source of my anxiety – and thus the eyebrow picking – was food.

It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning and the last thing on my mind before I go to sleep. During the day, I count down the hours and minutes until the next “snack” because I can’t eat a minute sooner. Every night, I plan out my meals for the following day, record the calories, and determine how much I need to exercise to stay at just 900 calories a day. I take in 1200-1300 calories and burn between 500-700 calories. Any deviation from that plan immediately makes me anxious.

For example, on my coworker’s last day in the office we went to our favorite burger joint. I couldn’t not go so I made a deal with myself. I would order a cheeseburger but I would absolutely not eat the bun AND I would work out an extra 30 minutes on the elliptical that evening. To counteract the fries I would eat, I decided I would only have vegetables for dinner that way I could still remain within my daily caloric goal. The entire time I ate, I only thought of the calories I was putting into my mouth. I didn’t even savor the food. I stuck to my end of the deal, though, and my anxiety quickly subsided.

I described similar scenarios to my therapist (like the fact I skipped out on a happy hour last week because I knew I would drink a beer full of empty calories) and all I wanted to know is WHY the hell my mind was thinking this way. She drew me this:

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Food is my trigger. When I have to eat, my anxiety skyrockets. The eating disorder yells at me and says things like, “What are you doing!? You’re going to get fat if you eat that!” or, “That’s disgusting! Stop eating!” So, I make a deal with the eating disorder. If I eat this cookie, I will do XX amount of additional exercise. Or, if I eat this burger I won’t eat dinner. The eating disorder says OK and my anxiety plummets. Thus, “the deal” becomes a powerful reinforcer for the eating disorder to continue. It’s the coping mechanism for my anxiety.

I have not been diagnosed with an eating disorder. Partly because the primary diagnostic tool used is whether or not your period has gone away. I have an IUD, which means I don’t have my period at all. But I do have disordered eating, which is dangerous because it can easily lead into an eating disorder – whether that’s anorexia or bulimia. Not everyone who has disordered eating will develop an eating disorder, but everyone who has had an eating disorder started with disordered eating. This scares me and I do not want that to happen.

The most important thing to me right now is recognizing I need help and getting it before it gets out of control. I am going in for weekly metabolic screenings. I have scheduled more frequent therapy visits. I’m working with my psychiatrist to re-address my medications. We’ve made goals to incrementally decrease the amount of exercise I do and increase my calories to at least 1500 a day. I know it won’t be easy, especially since I’m already fighting it.

To the family and friends I have talked about this struggle with, it’s difficult to grasp. As they say, I’m the sanest person they know and when I feel that kind of anxiety, it doesn’t visibly show to them. They don’t know I need help because I hide it well. Though I may look healthy on the outside, my thinking and behavior to maintain that image is not.

Of course, there are deeper seated issues behind the behavior besides anxiety. As my therapist pointed out, the emotional and mental abuse I went through in the last four years by the hands of someone else seems to have been replaced with emotional and mental abuse at my own hands. I have a lot to work through still. Thus is the wild ride of recovery for me.

 

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Filed under anxiety, depression, eating disorder, Food, health, mental health, mental illness, pefectionism, recovery, therapy, vulnerability

Using mindfulness as a tool in recovery

A few months ago I was stretched thin and not handling anxiety well. I wasn’t sleeping, my mind was constantly racing, I couldn’t concentrate at work, I was (at that time) barely scraping by in my last graduate class, and in working on my book, I was reliving all the devastation I went through in the last year. All of that together meant I was always worried about my performance – or lack thereof. Then, I started worrying about worrying.

Though I have anxiety medicine to help with these feelings I use it sparingly, partly because it is addictive and partly because my treatment goal is to be on as few medications as possible. Always looking for alternative coping mechanisms, my therapist suggested I enroll in a mindfulness group over the summer. I’ve heard mindfulness is a great therapeutic tool to handle stress so I decided to give it a shot.

I was attracted to this particular group mostly because the curriculum didn’t center around meditation. Though I’ve always been curious about meditation, it also seemed to me like a bunch of mumbo jumbo for hippies. So when the facilitator interviewed me to see if I would be a good candidate, I was intrigued when she said mindfulness is not meditation. Meditation is just a tool to become mindful, but it is only one tool of many out there.

She also commented that many people misconstrue mindfulness with reaching a state of relaxation when in fact the true intent is to just be aware of what you are feeling in that moment without judgement. Though she did state the more you practice mindfulness the more relaxing it becomes, she was also realistic in the sense that as a beginner you will find it uncomfortable and frustrating and you will most certainly find your mind darting every which way. If my intent was to reach relaxation then I was not going to be an ideal candidate for the program. However, if I was willing to just observe my emotions and practice using different tools to divert my attention from negative thoughts, then I might actually find it useful.

Her candidness and honesty sold me. I didn’t feel like I was walking into some misguided spiritual practice. All I needed to do was be open to learning and committed to practicing. I felt more comfortable knowing it was okay that I wouldn’t always be successful and that of the eight tools she would teach, if even one of them proved to be helpful then at least I found a healthy way of dealing with anxiety instead of cutting or pulling out my hair.

So far, I’ve completed two of the eight classes. The first week we focused on deep breathing exercises and this past week we learned about body scanning. What helps me buy into the tools (which is probably intentional on the part of the facilitator) is that she explains the science of how each tool positively impacts our brains. Like how deep breathing engages the Vegas nerves in our back and stomach that release serotonin and dopamine into the body (aka feel good neurons). Though I consider myself spiritual, it isn’t in the traditional sense you might think. So, if you try to convince me to do something for the sake of being connected to a higher being or even to my inner self, I’ll probably brush it off. Actually, I might roll my eyes.

Of the two tools I’ve learned so far, there is no doubt I prefer body scanning over deep breathing, which is essentially bringing awareness to every part of your body and feeling the sensations that awareness brings. I will say, though, that bringing attention to the breath has been more useful in moments where I feel anxious.

Last week I had severe chest pain, numbness in my body, and difficulty breathing – a side effect of a medication I was taking (it’s really difficult figuring out the right combination of meds that work for you). When the panic set in, I took a couple of deep breaths and the only thing I focused on was inhaling one, two, three and exhaling one, two, three. My heartbeat slowed and I found it easier to breathe as time went on. I know during that moment, body scanning would have done me no good. I understand now why we learn so many different tools – because some may be more helpful depending on the circumstances.

Compared to deep breathing, body scanning is more time intensive but it is so helpful at night when laying in bed – the time when my mind is constantly darting back and forth between the events that happened that day, what I didn’t get done, and what I still need to accomplish. It can take me hours to fall asleep or, as is the case many nights, I sleep very light. With body scanning, I have found that I actually do reach a state of relaxation and it’s easier for me to fall asleep quickly. Perhaps because of that, it’s why I like it so much more.

I won’t say I love every part of the mindfulness workshop, but I do feel it’s important to give alternative methods of treatment a chance. As someone who believes people are over-medicated it’s important to me to make sure I’m not solely relying on that to get better. We’ll see what these next few weeks bring but I’m definitely looking forward to learning more.

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Filed under anxiety, healing, health, meditation, mental health, mindfulness, tools