*Trigger Warning: Explicit mentions of self-harm and suicidality*
Values: We all have these. Our values are the flashlights that guide us through life. Our goals are the accomplishable tasks that derive from our values. When we act against our values, we may experience negative feelings such as guilt, shame, confusion or anger. Going against our values may lead to us questioning just who we are exactly. Let’s discuss this in depth, shall we?
If you recall from a few issues ago, I wrote about my experiences with identity and the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. You may recall that identity is comprised of the characteristics that make up who we are, such as our favorite colors, patterns, movies, and adjectives that describe us like creative, musician, kind. Identity is not about the roles we play in our lives such as student, mother, and son.
You may also recall that I discussed the differences between a lapse and a relapse in the process of recovery from a mental health condition. A lapse is more of a slip-up or a mistake, while a relapse is a more long-standing backwards reeling. Both are a part of the recovery process, which is not linear but jagged with ups and downs.
Sound good? Great!
All of these forces join together to fit into this new article that you’re reading in this moment.
I haven’t set aside time to review what I value in a long, long time. But setting time aside right now, I know that I value my life, my artwork, my creativity, my openness and my honesty.
I know it’s important for me to share my voice about my mental health experiences. Maybe it’ll help someone out there who is struggling to remind them to stay safe and that they aren’t alone. Maybe it shines with my courage and my recovery voice. Maybe it’s just interesting to read or gives someone out there some perspective. Whatever the impact my speaking out may be making, small or large; I am flattered, honored and grateful.
It’s only been just this year of 2016 that I’ve spontaneously become a mental health activist. I could not have anticipated that heading back to school this semester would equate to me writing for the Mass Media about my mental health, joining the In Our Own Voice presentations that the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has, or that I may be volunteering at a crisis hotline in a few months. I’ve taken up more opportunities around me this semester than I ever have in any other time of my life.
For instance, when I was a kindergartner I was held back a year because I never spoke up. I was always a quiet kid growing up, keeping my nose in fiction books and having friends to hang out with. I dealt with the scoliosis by not dealing with it (which doesn’t work, by the way), I hid in shame from my own body as my spine shifted and moved in a different direction. I felt powerless and guilty for the three years I went against my treatment plan of wearing a back brace. I was very, very closed off, I was secretive and quiet and I didn’t want people getting close to me.
Now that Raquel is just a shadow of the past. And today’s Raquel is a lighthouse of power and strength.
But it’s not always easy and it’s not always cheery either. Going through the self-harm and suicide obsessions of the OCD that I deal with (and the secondary depression that joined the party) is no walk in the park. Some days are harder than others. I haven’t always acted in my best interests. I’m still human and I slip up.
In April 2016 I lapsed in scratching myself when I was feeling ill from the stomach flu. In May 2016 I lapsed in self-harm by abusing an old medication of mine. If I had found the medication I had in my mind, or OCD’s mind rather, it would have marked my third suicide attempt.
Because of the OCD, I deal a LOT with glorification of suicide and self-harm. It lies to me, telling me how much “better” I’ll feel when I’m drowning, how it’s my “destiny” to die by suicide and that “everything would be better” if I were just dead. OCD presents suicide in this flashy, pretty dress, that looks appealing and attractive and not at all like the devastating act that it is.
This cycle has brought out what my therapist has recently dubbed Resentful Raquel. Resentful Raquel is all about acting out on dangerous self-harming thoughts, doing so impulsively, engaging in negative coping strategies, overriding the core self’s true values, asking permission from the core self to die by suicide, enjoying negative power and attention and reminding me how I should have killed myself when I had the chance to. And of course, I’ve been missing Resentful Raquel for a while this year, so much so that I lapsed in my recovery this month.
….Until I realized that I actually miss Responsible Raquel, who is pretty darn awesome. And Responsible Raquel is that part of me that’s getting involved with NAMI, writing articles for the Mass Media and being honest and open. It wouldn’t be in line with my values of honesty to lie to my parents, friends, therapist and any other person I randomly encounter about the state of my mental health for an extended period of time. I make it a point to be honest when people ask how I’m doing. Does this always mean I spill my truths? No, because sometimes I don’t want to, and that’s okay.
Does this mean I tell people right away when I’ve slipped up? No, yet I do eventually. And now it’s up to Responsible Raquel to make more of a point of practicing good self-care, remembering where my identity resides and pushing through the end of this semester as best as I can with myself intact.
Writing these articles has shown to be more impactful and helpful than I ever imagined it to be. It’s good for me to share my story and for me to keep in mind the advice that I am suggesting. I look, now, towards my bookshelf filled with House MD DVDs, books for fun, coloring books and the therapy folders filled with packets of information that I’ve gathered from hospital stays. There’s another shelf with paints and more books, and one book about living in the present moment.
I carry with me tons of art supplies from paints this start of May, to markers and pens and gel pens. I carry with me a bouncy ball with glitter inside of it, bubble wrap, coloring books, books to read, all things I can turn to to cope positively if the moment so suddenly appears before me.
It’s likely that the OCD won’t be such a focal point in my life for the future. But I believe that recovery and positive coping strategies and my responsible self will be. And I am absolutely okay with that. Responsible Raquel acts in line with her values, shares her voice and totally plans to paint her own front door one day. Maybe it will become the case that I can glorify Responsible Raquel, rather than the other. After all, if I can’t change the glorifying filter, I can at least change what scene lies beyond it.
Stay safe, everyone.
Mass Media Article #8. Written May 6th 2016