#TheUmbrellaAcademy

You had a toxic parent, too?

I’ve been watching a lot of Netflix this summer. I was especially pumped up for the newest season of “The Umbrella Academy” and gobbled down all ten episodes in one sitting the Friday it came out. The show is about a group of children who are born with super powers. They’re adopted by this billionaire who exploits the children and forces them to become vigilantes. The children grow up and have complex and complicated relationships with each other and their toxic adoptive father.

I can relate, being adopted by a toxic parent. It’s trauma that I’ve been unpacking for the last several months with the watchful guide of my therapist. My biological mother wasn’t fit to take care of me. She most likely drank while she was pregnant. I never knew my biological father. My adoptive mother didn’t want children but my adoptive father insisted that I stay in our family (my adoptive mother is my biological aunt). More trauma when my parents got divorced. It was really nasty, especially when it came to custody. I went to live with my mom when I was in high school and didn’t see my dad often. At that time, my mom get remarried to an abusive man. I can still remember them fighting. One night, I was watching television in the living room when my mom stormed out her bedroom, with her husband screaming her. She hopped in her car and drove away, leaving me. I ran down the block after her, sobbing. She eventually came back and apologized.

I want to say that I love my parents. I really do adore my family and am grateful for them. I know they did the best they could even though I was troubling. I was a difficult baby. I spent the first two years of my life in foster care before I was legally adopted. My parents don’t know exactly what happened during those two years but I was developmentally delayed in some areas (like sleeping. I shook a lot in my sleep, waking myself every couple hours. I continued to do so throughout my childhood and my teenage years and still occasionally do it now. I never can get a good full night’s rest). I had a speech disorder and refused to talk until I was about five years old (I still lisp every now and then). I couldn’t be alone when I was a toddler. I was mean to animals. Miraculously, though, I did well academically. I loved school. I felt my first sting of depression when I was eight years old. I slept a lot. I couldn’t keep friends. I kept to myself. I was awkward (still am). I lied a lot. I had severe abandonment issues due to my adoption (with my bio mom leaving me) and my parents’ divorce. I went puberty at a young age and was body shamed frequently. I started starving myself in middle school. Binging soon followed. I also begin self-mutilating then and had my first suicide attempt in my preteens. Despite all this, my parents continued to love me and support as best as they could.

I now know that a lot of trauma in my life has been either a direct action or inaction by my parents, biological and adoptive. I wasn’t held enough as an infant so I developed bonding and empathy issues. My body issues were caused by my mother’s shaming, which she received from her own mother. I know that some of my self-esteem issues come from my parents not saying that they believed in me enough. I rarely felt- and still don’t feel- enough in my family which has affected all of my romantic relationships and my professional life.

It’s taken a lot of time to get to the root of my issues and I’m so, so grateful for my therapist (the key to healing is finding the right kind of help!). It’s been a lot work, a lot of tears. I don’t blame my parents for everything wrong with me and my life- I certainly have made a lot of bad choices, choices today that I’m still trying to mend. Even today, I will make the choice of dealing with a toxic parent even though my siblings don’t. My mom can still be pretty narcissistic. But I remember that my mom is human and has been through a lot of trauma herself. I’ve forgiven her and do so every day. I remember to put up boundaries with her- I tell myself, this is my life now and this is the way that I’m living it.

I ask myself if I have children of my own day, will I be a good mother? I know that all parents screw up their kids in a way, some more than others. But still… Will I raise my children to be confident and kind, strong and successful? I like to think so. I hope to take the mistakes that my parents made with raising me and my sisters and give my children not only a happy childhood but a strong sense of self-worth. I want to show my kids that there is actually someone in the world who cares, cares deeply, and can provide for them all of their emotional and physical needs.

Have you grown up with a toxic parent, dear reader?

#TheDoctorIsIn

I’m a firm believer that everyone- and I mean everyone– should see a therapist. No one can make it through life alone and it’s beneficial to have a neutral party help sort through the everyday madness. I was with my previous therapist for the past year and she has helped me deal with my depression and anxiety. With her help, I’ve bettered my self-coping techniques and started making serious and concrete plans for my future (you’re the ish, Linda!)…

I unfortunately couldn’t shove Linda in my pocket and take her with me when I moved to Texas . Time to find a new therapist! My ACA benefits didn’t extend to therapy in Texas so I was to find one and pay out of pocket. Fortunately, I’ve been referred to one of Linda’s colleagues from college who I like and trust, and is pretty affordable. But I got to thinking- how do you find a therapist? How do you find the help you need? Seeking such help is hard but it’s not impossible.

First things first- finances. I’m lucky that my out-of-pocket expenses aren’t too bad. I’m also lucky and GRATEFUL that I have the support of my parents. They know that my mental health is the biggest priority in my life and are more than willing to help tame my inner demons in any way that they can. I know that many are not lucky like me so how do they go about getting help? Let me introduce you to my dear friend, Google! Research “low-cost therapy.” Most major cities have low-cost clinics with sliding scale fees. Sometimes, such clinics have a waiting period (if that’s the case and you’re in desperate need to talk to someone, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255). These clinics usually are staff by therapists (psychologists), doctors (psychiatrists), social workers, nurses and the like. If you’re near a university or college, there are often low-cost programs manned by psychology students and teaching staff that offer therapy sessions, both individual ones and within a group setting.

If you’re not insured, not located in a major city nor like the idea of in-person appointments, there are online therapy options. Check out TalkSpace or BetterHelp. For less than $200 a month, you can talk to a licensed therapist via Skype, email or text any time of the day. On apps like TalkSpace, you can single out therapist by gender, age, the areas they specialize in, etc. For those who are insured, talk to your primary care physician and get their recommendation, especially if you’re looking at going on medication like an antidepressant.

During your first therapy appointment (an intake), you will go over the reasons why you want to talk to a professional. Please remember that therapy- healing– takes a while- weeks, months, even years to be effective. Confide in your therapist. Tell them about your feelings, the bad habits you want to change, your relationship with your mom (that topic will eventually come up). By law, they are to keep what you tell them confidential (unless you’re a danger to yourself or other others). And if you don’t feel like you’re vibing with your therapist, that is perfect OKAY! Find another one that suits you, your needs and your personality (especially if your therapist talks more than you, does or says any inappropriate and if they violate your confidentiality). After your first few session, you (hopefully!) should notice that you feel supported and hopeful. I like getting homework assignments from my therapist so I can practice the tools I learned in the office when I’m alone. I do things like practice mindful breathing, repeat positive mantras and goal set.

If you feel an overwhelming and prolonged sense of helplessness and sadness that just won’t go away, please see a therapist. If your problems do not seem to get better despite your efforts, please see a therapist. If you’re finding it difficult to carry out everyday activities and your job, social life, sleeping and eating routines are suffering, please see a therapist. If you worry excessively, expect the worst or are constantly on edge, please see a therapist. If your actions are harmful to yourself or to others, please see a therapist. if you’re going through a massive life transition (like me), please see a therapist. Finding the help you need can be daunting but if you’re in emotional distress, therapy can help.

Do you see a therapist, dear reader? Are they helpful? (And if you’re on the fence about therapy- DO IT. You deserve to be happy.)

#DepressionLessons

Dear depression,

Hi. I’m noticing you today. I hate you. I’ve never hated anything more in my life (well, except for math). I often wonder what my life would be without you (I imagine “better”). But even though you’re always leaving a bad taste in my mouth, you taught me a lot… So, I guess, in a weird and small way, thank you for your lessons…

1) Depression is never going to go away- and that’s okay. I have a chemical imbalance in my head. It sucks especially when the rest of my body is pretty healthy. I don’t get colds or sick very often. On long runs and bike rides, I don’t cramp. I have a pretty high tolerance for pain. But this mess in my head… I’ve had it for all my 32 years on the planet and there is no end in sight. BUT it’s gets better. My depression will never go away but I get better every day tending to it. I take medication. I see my therapist. I make sure to get plenty of exercise. I don’t hermit and isolate myself. My depression will never go away but things don’t last forever– both good and bad times.  This too shall pass. Things ebb and flow. Keep on pushing through both the pain and the good stuff.

2) Things take work. Relationship. Dreams. Your mental health. If you want old habits to die, you have to put in the time. You have to take your medicine. You have to talk to your therapist (side note: finding a good therapist takes work. I’ve seen four different ones in the last six years. I finally have one that is actually helpful- shout out to Linda!). There are days where I don’t want to get out of bed. I’ll have zero motivation. But those are the days that I know I NEED TO GET OUT OF BED. Those are the days that I NEED TO PUSH MYSELF. For the longest time, I thought that happiness will come if you’re kind and generous. Though part of that is true the rest is bullshit. Happiness takes works.

3) No one is coming to save you. Not your family nor your parents. Not your doctors or your therapists. They may help but ultimately, your mental health is up to you. It’s up to you to treat, to manage. Your loved ones may push you in the right direction and give you stellar support but at the end of the day, you are on your own.

4) No one is coming to save you but having a pet will help. This one has perked me up and helped ease panic attacks on various occasions. There have been dark times when I wanted to end everything but then, I asked myself, “Who would take care of Hova?” She drives me crazy at times, meowing at 3am for her breakfast but she has also showed me unconditional love. I’m so grateful to have this puff ball in my life.

5) My greatest challenge is being mindful and living in the present- but I’m getting better at it. I feel best when I live in the moment. I know that about myself. Let me give you an example- two weekends ago, I biked though out Austin, Texas, enjoying the sunshine and stopping to take photos or to grab a quick drink (which is another lesson I learned, something that I should have paid attention to in high school health class- booze will make you feel worse. So, I now drink pretty infrequently. I’m all about those soda waters with a twist of lime). My mind was clear and I was happy. So, I try to focus on things like music and sunshine and

6) But remember to check in with yourself- OFTEN! I stare off into space often. But please know that when I do, I’m often checking in with myself. How am I feeling? What am I thinking? Do I feel safe and supported? So, I’ll stand in the middle of the market, asking myself how I’m feeling and if I’m hungry. After a tough work meeting, I’ll see if I need to cry or can I move on to the next project. I live in my head but in a good way- and all those things that I feel and question? They are completely valid. I don’t have to justify my feelings or defend them. I can feel whatever I need to feel.

7) Your adulthood is all about unlearning shit from your childhood. In order to be mentally stable, you’re going to have to reteach yourself A LOT. I learned bad habits from my parents. Yes, I love them dearly but they made me question a lot of things- like having a traditional marriage and beauty standards (i.e. skinny doesn’t equal pretty). With that said, my self-perceptions are often times wrong. I’m not ugly. I’m not stupid. People do care. Life is worth it.

8) You don’t have to be perfect. Fuck being perfect. And fuck thinking that you need a purpose. You are your purpose. You are enough.

What have you learned about mental health, dear reader? And you go, Mimi