My Experience with Online Therapy at Breakthrough.com

Yesterday, I had my first session with a clinical social worker and I was in my pajamas. Instead of sitting in a waiting room surrounded by germ-ridden magazines, dusty wall art, and administrative noise… I was in the comfort of my own bed.

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Breakthrough.com is an Online Therapy service that provides access to mental health professionals via web cam. Sessions are conducted as a video call over a secure video system that you download when you register for the site. Sessions range in cost from $50 to $250 dollars a pop, and many have self-pay options for people without insurance.

Form this point forward, I am going to discuss my personal experience with Breakthrough.com and the mental health provider that I selected. There are multiple articles about Online Therapy, and many different websites that now provide the service, and I think that you, as a person who is reading this now and using the internet, are capable of using a search engine to find information about those sites.

I have Medicare parts A, B, and D. None of that provides mental health coverage. Therefore, I searched for a provider who had a self-pay rate I could afford. Breakthrough.com has a great search-filter set that allows you to winnow down to a list of professionals who will best suit you. I chose a young woman who is a clinical social worker. She’s worked with people who have histories of past trauma and abuse, as well as helping with depression and family issues. Her self-pay rate is $60 an hour. Phone sex actors and actresses make more than a dollar a minute, so I feel like this is an excellent deal.

When I selected her as my therapist, I was given the option of a free, 15 minute consultation. I chose to go ahead and schedule an appointment with her, because I don’t feel like 15 minutes is long enough to get into the things that I, personally, need to get out of therapy. When I scheduled my appointment for 2 PM, she promptly messaged me, using Breakthrough.com’s secure messaging system, to ask if I wanted a 30 or 60 minute session.

Her message to me was polite, upbeat, and made me feel like she was welcoming. She let me know that if I had any questions, she was happy to answer them. I did have questions about what would happen before our session, and if I’d have to fill out paperwork. This was information that I later received in an e-mail from Breakthrough.com, however she provided the information happily. I didn’t feel like I was hassling anyone, and I wasn’t made to feel dumb that I had missed the big, green “TUTORIAL” link on the home screen.

Before my session with A (which is what I will call her), she let me know that I’d have to read some terms and information and also fill out a mood assessment. This information only becomes available 10 minutes prior to your session.

Breakthrough.com Is Beyond User Friendly

I’m web-savvy. I can figure things out on my own. With Breakthrough.com, I didn’t have to figure anything out. I asked, and was given information, and the website does an excellent job of making sure that your appointment will go smoothly. They offer a 15 minute test session where your tech issues get worked out. They check your internet connection to make sure that your session won’t be interrupted or lag. They tell you how to turn on your camera and mic. They show you where to download their secure video software. It’s user-friendly as all get out. I had no issues with the software installation.

The only tech problem that I had at all was caused by my son uploading things online when I had asked him not to. He created lag on my end, and there were 3 instances in which my video call with A froze.

Breakthrough.com Gave Me the Best Therapy Experience I Have Ever Had

I don’t want to gush. I’m not a gusher. However, there is praise due to A, and to the way that Online Therapy works as a whole. Below are some issues that I have had with therapists and other professionals in the past:

  • They don’t start right on time
  • They aren’t prepared for my session and don’t seem focused on me at the start
  • They take care of administrative tasks in front of me, such as billing, insurance calls, etc
  • They answer phone calls during sessions
  • They have to start from the BASICS in our first session and ask standard questions as opposed to actively listening and letting me talk about why I am there
  • There’s too much paperwork… paperwork… paperwork
  • They assume that I will be back and want to work with them
  • Waiting rooms suck
  • Receptionists vary from awesome to rude

None of this was the case with my session with A. Here is what was different about my Online Therapy session:

  • My start time was scheduled for 2 PM. My therapist video called me at 2 PM
  • My therapist used information from the e-mails I sent her prior to our session to break the ice, “You say you’ve been in therapy before…” and seemed prepared to talk
  • Breakthrough.com takes care of all of the paperwork before your start time, and separately from your therapy session. I wasn’t charged to do paperwork, and I wasn’t bogged down by a lot of administrative yuck. My therapist merely took notes in front of me
  • My therapist had her phone accessible at the start of the session, and stated that she was having technical problems on her end and was going to call me. Luckily, the website cooperated and she didn’t have to. I never saw or heard her phone again
  • My Online Therapy session was centered around me. I didn’t have to explain why I was there or justify wanting therapy. I was permitted to dive right into my issues and ramble. She asked reflective questions and showed true active listening skills the entire time. It wasn’t until 30 minutes into our session that she began directing the conversation back to things she wanted to get more information about. And when she asked, she was informed
  • She said phrases like, “if you want to work with me,” and “I’d be excited to work with you on these issues.” At no point did I feel that she was above me. She made no assumptions. She praised me for reaching out to someone, and acted humble about the fact that I had chosen her, and that I wanted to keep seeing her for a bit
  • I didn’t have to deal with a waiting room. I didn’t have to talk to a receptionist to schedule my next appointment. My therapist scheduled my next appointment and I received a confirmation on my Breakthrough.com home screen

Breakthrough.com Allows True Connections with Your Therapist

A, my new therapist, said that I… her meager client, could message her before our sessions with the topics I’d like to discuss. She said that it would give her a chance to look up possible resources for me to use outside of our sessions. She said that if I need her at any time while in crisis, to contact her and she will work with me. She was utterly focused on me and my needs as a human being during our session. Because I was at home, in my comfy bed, I felt so very safe discussing harder topics with a complete stranger. I left the session I had with her feeling like I had done therapy work, instead of going through therapy motions. That is extremely important to me.

Granted, this is my experience with one of their providers. However, I have to speak for those of us who are uncomfortable in office settings, or can’t always make appointments because we don’t feel well, or don’t like to make eye contact. Online Therapy permitted me to have my physical comfort needs met. I didn’t have to look at the screen. I could just listen and talk. She could see me. I could see her. She looked into the camera. I looked to the side. I could fidget. I could take sips of things. I had everything I needed without having to ask for it. It’s tremendous to be disabled or neurodiverse and have access to therapy that makes your environment for you.

Having control over your environment is so important when you’re talking about things that make you feel vulnerable.

Final Thoughts about My Therapist

There is one important thing that A did that no other therapist has done before. She asked what I have disliked about previous therapy sessions in which I’ve participated.

That’s a huge question. We all know I’m a quitter when I’ve decided that something just IS NOT WORKING (for me) and that I bail. I bail hard. I admit to it. I don’t see the point in dragging things out if there is no hope. I’ve left so many therapists.

Why? Well, here is the short list: feeling judged for my relationship style or sexual orientation, feeling like the professional was more focused on how interesting I was than helping me, feeling like the therapist was focusing too much on an issue that I felt was tertiary to the core issues I need to work on, feeling like the therapist had made a decision about something in my life and was exerting their personal opinion in session… etc.

I said all of this to A. She made notes. I told her that I, as a researcher and knowledge-seeker, have been doing my own trauma work and that I am ready to just dive into the deep issues I have from my past. She said she wasn’t sure if that was okay. More than okay. More than okay.

I like her. I hope this works out. Because I surely do like going to her office, aka my bedroom.

Also, I can go to therapy sessions without wearing pants. Bonus.

Payment

This is the thing that everyone really wants to know. I will reiterate that there are mental health providers who don’t require insurance. It isn’t a hassle to not have mental health coverage and the self-pay rates for many are reasonable. Breakthrough.com takes your credit or debit card information when you sign up, and then charges you after your session. It was easy. There was no extra billing to take care of.

Again, minimal paperwork with this site.

Things Breakthrough.com Professionals Can’t Do

They can’t prescribe medication. That’s the biggest thing. And honestly, I don’t go to therapy for medication. I see doctors for medication. I can find psychiatrists who will take mental health recommendations from my doctors if needed. Yet, my neurologist has been managing my antidepressants because she’s my primary prescriber and juggles all of my meds.

They have a long list of Terms and Conditions. As expected. Otherwise, except for the medication thing, I really haven’t seen a hole in what I consider MY therapy needs.

So far, 4 stars for Breakthrough.com and 5 stars for my new therapist.

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Self-Advocacy, Chronic Pain & Comorbid Chronic Depression

I’m not a doctor. I’m not a mental health professional. I’m one of 14.8 million (NIMH) people suffering from a major depressive disorder in the United States and one of 1.5 billion (American Academy of Pain Medicine) people suffering from chronic pain in the world.

As of this very moment, scientists don’t understand exactly why depression and chronic pain are linked, but the comorbidity of these conditions cannot be denied. Because these conditions are often both present in patients, one treatment strategy alone is often ineffective. To deny the mind and spirit when the body aches is like putting a band-aid on a broken arm and telling us to walk it off. However, many medical professionals are just learning that it is important to pay attention to the psychological effects of their patient’s conditions, and the reverse.

Photo: ALAMY

Therefore, I think it is important to have a conversation about what we, as patients, must do to advocate for ourselves. I discuss my doctors an therapists frequently and candidly because there is nothing shameful about being ill or mentally unhealthy. I also discuss them because removing the stigma will hopefully encourage others to seek much needed treatment even when it is not suggested by their general practitioners.

We tend to think of general practitioners as mechanics. They keep the body running and send us out to specialists to have our engines rebuilt when they themselves are not qualified to do so. What is lacking from general practitioners is a total-body approach to our healthcare. It is unfortunate that vision, dental, and mental health have been divided into separate fields. In fact, it is detrimental to those of us who suffer from chronic anything.

Think about the diagnostic process when something goes wrong with our bodies. General practitioners run through the check-lists of tests an procedures with which they are familiar and only then do they begin referring to specialists, eye doctors, and dental practitioners. Notice that I did not say mental healthcare providers in that sentence. They keep the body running, with little consideration for the mind. This is not to say that doctors don’t send their patients to psychiatrists and psychologists. However, when patients are sent, it is rare that the patient will then undergo in-depth counseling to determine root-cause issues. Typically, patients are sent with a list of symptoms they have discussed with their general practitioner, and the mental healthcare professional will prescribe something and manage psychoactive medication from that point.

This is extremely problematic. Although the chemical causes of depression may be treated, it is unlikely the patient will learn much needed coping skills to battle depression. Face it. We’re a society of instant-gratification loving people. We want pills to fix things. We want treatment to fix things. We don’t necessarily want to spend years in counseling learning how to be more functional emotional beings.

Which brings me to pain and depression. The road to diagnosis with chronic pain is a long, long, long, long road full of bumps and monsters and disaster. This process is harmful to the psyche. Between doctors who don’t know, doctors who don’t care, and doctors who mistreat chronic sufferers… patients develop an adverse reaction to the medical profession as a whole. We don’t trust that doctors know what they are doing. We feel like lab rats. And we feel jerked around. To feel pain and to not feel heard is dehumanizing.

Sure, it’s pretty obvious that hurting all the time would lead to depression. But it’s more than just feeling down about limitations. It’s a chemical process that begins to form a feedback loop in the body from which we cannot escape. When doctors don’t identify that this feedback loops is occurring, the only result is a worsening of symptoms.

As chronic pain and chronic depression persist untreated, they worsen. It’s inevitable. So what can we as patients and we as sufferers do for ourselves?

It’s simple… talk and take action.

Research symptoms. Prepare for your appointments. Consider mood as well as physical symptoms. Think of yourself as one whole being and force your doctor to see you as such. Ask questions about side-effects of medications. Talk about sadness, anxiety, crying, feeling alone or trapped with your doctors. Seek out mental healthcare and make sure that all of your healthcare providers are talking to one another. Treat your body and mind as two parts of one machine and get total-body care. Don’t wait for your doctor to tell you what to do. Do it and tell your doctor.

You are one body, mind, and spirit. These three things work in harmony to keep you going every day. I charge you with the care and maintenance of your total body. Demand that your doctor treat you the same way, and if they won’t, find a doctor who will. It is okay to seek proper treatment and it is okay to take your healthcare into your own hands. You are not at the mercy of the medical community. You are completely in charge of your treatment and you deserve the best they can offer.

But they don’t always offer, and you need to be aware of that.

Photo: ALAMY

6 Things Every Chronic Pain Sufferer Wants to Hear

WordItOut-word-cloud-1097862Living with chronic pain takes a major toll on a sufferer’s personal life. Friends, family, and other kinds of social support are vital to the quality of our lives. Cancelled plans, physical limitations, undone chores, and feeling like a guinea pig are all pretty depressing. But the one thing that can instantly make us feel better is compassion from another human being.

If you know someone with chronic pain, there are simple ways to show them that you care and that you are there for them. Here are six things that anyone with chronic pain would love to hear.

  1. “I believe you.” Chronic pain sufferers have weird stuff wrong with our bodies and it hurts. We’re human beings in pain. Having friends and family tell us that they believe us is the most supportive thing we could ever hear.
  2. “Rescheduling is absolutely okay!” When plans have to be cancelled because someone isn’t feeling well, that person feels guilty. Chronic pain sufferers live with an indescribable amount of guilt, and when that pain affects someone else in a negative way, that guilt cranks up to 11. Telling us that it’s okay that we have to reschedule plans makes us feel like our condition has less of an impact on your life.
  3. “Let’s hang out at your place this time.” Bathing, medicating, getting dressed, and attempting to look human are exhausting enough… and then we have to leave the house! Bars, the movies, restaurants, and parties can have elements that make our condition worse. Take the pressure off by planning a quiet evening at our place. Pajamas and movies? YES PLEASE!
  4. “I have some free time this week and I’d like to help you with shopping/ laundry/ cooking/ chores.” Getting things done can be tough when we hurt! Think about a time you had a cold. Did you accomplish much during that time? Chronic pain sufferers face many challenges that can prevent us from doing the most basic of chores. We probably won’t ask for help, but if you’re offering…
  5. “It’s not your fault.” Did I mention our guilt? Many chronic pain sufferers attend therapy to cope with the negative feelings surrounding our conditions. But the feeling that our condition rules our lives, and the lives of those closest to us never really goes away. Reassure us but reminding us that you know we didn’t choose the pain and we don’t deserve the pain. 
  6. “You are not a burden.” Being the friend or family member of someone with chronic pain may mean that you’re pulling double duty in many areas of your life to help us with ours. We know that we’re a lot of work, but we constantly worry that we’re resented. Reminding us that you do things because you love us goes a long way towards helping us feel less like a weight on your shoulders.

13 Darkly Motivational Quotes

When getting through the day is my goal, a sappy quote about success and achievement doesn’t motivate me to keep going until tomorrow. I prefer the comfort of bittersweet words that ring true. Sometimes, it’s worse to feel alone with you’re unhappiness than to be unhappy. Here are some quotes that I’ve found motivational over the years:

  • “My formula for living is quite simple. I get up in the morning and I go to bed at night. In between, I occupy myself as best I can.”

– Cary Grant

  • “It’s possible to love a human being if you don’t know them too well.”
  • “If you’re losing your soul and you know it, then you’ve still got a soul left to lose.”

– Charles Bukowski

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  • “You can’t really be strong until you see a funny side to things.”
  • “The trouble with super heroes is what to do between phone booths.”

– Ken Kesey

  • “How wrong it is for a woman to expect the man to build the world she wants, rather than to create it herself.”
  • “Do not seek the because – in love there is no because, no reason, no explanation, no solutions.”

– Anaïs Nin

  • “Passion is what gets you through the hardest times that might otherwise make strong men weak, or make you give up.”

– Neil deGrasse Tyson

  • “Time moves in one direction, memory in another.”
  • “For years I have been mourning and not for my dead, it is for this boy for whatever corner in my heart died when his childhood slid out of my arms.”

– William Gibson

  • “Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spent the rest of the day putting the pieces together.”

-Ray Bradbury

  • “Beware of monotony; it’s the mother of all the deadly sins.”
  • “If only we’d stop trying to be happy we’d have a pretty good time.”

– Edith Wharton

Why I Talk About Pain & Depression & You Should Too

Depressed vs. Depressing

Many people in my life know me as a cheerful, friendly person. I’ve been called caring and giving. Someone once even went so far as to call me “sunny.”  Those aren’t ways in which you’d expect to hear a person living with extreme chronic pain and depression to be described. When people hear “chronic pain and ” they often think “miserable, awful, unbearable”… “sunny”  is the last word they’d use.

And that’s why I talk about what is happening to my body and my mind. That’s why I share the darkest thoughts that I have, and my bad days, and my painful hours through this blog. I feel that it is important for people to understand that a human being is not the sum of their diagnosis. I am not my pain. I can be miserable and I can enjoy life.

I have moments when I don’t want to live. The remainder of the time I’m thinking about how thankful I am for the time I have with my family. I have moments when my pain is so tremendous that everything else in the world stops and I am alone in a dark room, enshrouded by despair. I also have functional hours where I suffer through putting on makeup and socialize, smiling and laughing with my friends… pretending that the pain doesn’t exist.

Accepting Myself

My pain and depression and anxiety and my ASD don’t ever go away. These are things that are part of me. I used to be ashamed of them. I let people make me feel ashamed of them. I allowed doctors and friends and family to tell me that these were things to get over… from which I had to recover. I allowed other people’s discomfort with my health and mental state dictate how I interacted with the world. Mind you, I’m not saying that I’m not trying to find a cure for my chronic pain or proper treatment options to manage my depression or anxiety. I very much want to stop the pain I live with daily and I would love to live without negative thoughts. However, these things are part of my current existence and I shouldn’t have to hide them. I most certainly shouldn’t have to be ashamed of them.

ASD is not a thing to be cured. My Monster Migraine is not my fault. Depression and anxiety are also not my fault. These are not things I am doing wrong in my life. ASD is how my brain processes information. The rest is unfortunate, but part of who I am now.

But guess what? I’m also a positive, sunny, caring, helpful person who smiles and laughs. I’m silly.

Why I Won’t Shut Up

I talk about pain and depression because they are things that happen to me. I want the people I know to understand what I’m going through. I want people who might be going through similar issues to feel like they aren’t alone. I want the medical community to understand that patients are human beings who share their experiences, deserve the best possible care. Frankly, I also find it therapeutic to talk about my issues freely and be part of a community of people I consider to be survivors of themselves.

I’m not talking about the latest breakthroughs in anti-depressants during entire social engagements. I’m not waxing philosophical about suicide prevention around the dinner table. I am being honest with people when they ask how I am, and correcting misinformation in conversations when I hear it, and updating people if they show curiosity about my condition. Therefore, talking about pain and depression doesn’t have to be a constant endeavor, it just has to be something that I’m open to when the opportunity arises.

Why You Should Talk About Your Pain & Depression

Aside from the obvious therapeutic benefits that being heard and understood can provide, you would be amazed how may people don’t know about your condition. You’d also be surprised how many people know a little bit about your condition, but what they do know is horribly incorrect. You’d also be surprised that for every few people you talk to openly about your pain and depression, you may be giving someone the strength to speak out about their own suffering.

I would not have started this blog had it not been for other people who had the courage to talk about this weird thing going on with their brains. I would not have become an advocate for mental health awareness. I wouldn’t have learned as much as I have about.

You should not be ashamed to talk about suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety, or chronic conditions because they aren’t your fault and because there are people who will support you. You may not know those people yet, or you might be surrounded by those people right now and they just don’t know how to help you and support you because they don’t understand what you’re going through.

Talk about it. I do. It helps.

Where and How to Talk About It

Here is a My Brain Hates Me (very much not a medical or psychological professional) Guide to ways to talk about what’s going on with your body and your mind:

The Poseidon Effect

In 1972’s “The Poseidon Adventure,” Gene Hackman leads a ragtag group of survivors through the maze that has been born of a luxury liner turned upside down. Along the way he loses members of the surviving group to various and literal trials by water, fire, and even steam. What was once a glamourous, exciting vacation, became a hellish mirror world, and very few made it out alive.

The movie won an Oscar for “Best Original Song” with “The Morning After.” The line from the chorus goes, “There’s got to be a morning after, if we can make it through the night…”

“There’s got to be a morning after, if we can make it through the night…”

If ever there were a more appropriate song to sing to one’s self in dark times, I can’t think of it. Maureen McGovern’s classically 70’s girl-swoon makes the song sad, and hopeful, and tender. Just what any chronic pain or depression sufferer needs. It’s not too upbeat and happy, but there’s something good in it.

I think about “The Poseidon Adventure” frequently. Perhaps it’s because it’s a movie that I saw many times as a child and it just stuck with me. Perhaps it’s because I like the song. Maybe I just enjoy the film for what it is… a well-crafted disaster movie with an interesting plot.

However, there is some part of me that embraces “The Poseidon Adventure” as a twisted metaphor for my life. I was but a happy traveler and then things went horribly wrong, and now I’m making my way through something that was once beautiful. Now it’s wrong, somehow. Everything is upside down and I don’t recognize much of it. Sometimes I don’t even recognize myself. Wasn’t I wearing a fancy dress and glamorous? Why am I disheveled and scared?

Gene Hackman’s character is a non-nonsense reverend. He’s cool, not in the sunglasses sense, but in the cool-headed, guy you’d want to follow in a crisis sense. He spends the entire movie yelling at everyone for being weak while also encouraging them to go on. Today, I feel weak. And I’m beating myself up about it. What I’m missing is the voice that says, “you can do it, damn it!”

I need some Hackman in my life.

Reverend Hackman’s character says, “So what resolution should we make for the new year? It’s to let God know that you have the guts and the will to do it alone. Resolve to fight for yourselves, and for others, for those you love. And that part of God within you will be fighting with you all the way.”

Resolve to fight for myself, and that part of God within me will be fighting with me.

Right on, Hackman. Right on.

My Brain Hates Me, and Other Unhelpful Mantras (Changing Self Talk)

I frequently think about the effects of words on the healing body and mind. One of the things that I focus on in my therapeutic pursuits is “positive self talk,” wherein I try to take those automatic negative statements my brain tosses out and change the dialogue to something more productive. When I’m triggered by a situation, the chemicals that rush my system cause a negative emotional reaction and my default statements are pretty brutal. Here is a short list of things that play repeatedly (and loudly) in my head when I’m in an emotionally vulnerable place like a meltdown or suicidal distress:

“You stupid bitch. You’re so fucking stupid. You deserve to be alone. You’re dumb. You’re ugly and horrible. You’re an awful monster and no one will ever love you. You’re just stupid and worthless. Why do you bother living? No one wants you. No one will ever want you. You’re a burden and you drag everyone down. You make everyone miserable. You’re fat and disgusting.”

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However, I don’t really believe these things, but when I’m in that fragile place, I listen to that negative voice reel and I let it carry me away. It fuels my crying. It fuels my meltdowns. It fuels my shame about simple mistakes. It fuels my guilt complexes. Self talk is powerful, and if left unchecked, our internal dialogue can be our downfall.

Yet it isn’t just the internal dialogue that concerns me. I also think about the things that we say to others about ourselves and our bodies off hand. The title of my blog is “My Brain Hates Me” and this came from an idea I had in my teens. For a while there I actually believed that my brain was out to get me… that some part of myself wanted me to die. I’d say that was counter intuitive, but given the dosage of antidepressants I’m on and my lifelong battle with chronic depression, I may not have been too off base. I’ve had suicidal tendencies since my adolescence.

The fact that I embraced the idea that my brain, a part of myself, actually hates me is interesting. Moreover, why would I think that my body hates me? My body is me. Wouldn’t that merely imply that I hate myself? Absolutely.

As I’ve thought about these simple but negative mantras I’ve held onto over the years, I’ve thought about how to shed their power over me and keep them as the quips they are meant to be. I love myself and I want to live. Now there is a mantra to say over and over again, especially as a chronic pain sufferer. I’m not in the least stupid or ugly. I am fat, but I like my body and I try to take care of it. I don’t see the word “fat” as a bad word.

So how can we change our internal dialogue in times of upset? It’s not easy. I find that it is the equivalent of trying to stop a train with my pinky finger. But it can be done! Here are the techniques that I employ along the path to bettering the way I talk to myself inside my head:

  • Meditation
  • Guided Hypnosis
  • Art Therapy
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Writing
  • Creative Productivity

Meditation

Meditation, for me, doesn’t have to be anything more formal than a time of quiet introspection. I do basic breathing exercises to help relax me and then I flood my brain with positive imagery and reassurances. Worry and doubt and stress are things that cause us to beat ourselves up. There is always something we could be doing, but making the time to take care of our mental faculties is extremely important. Tell yourself that this time is for you. Think about anything you like so long as you find it positive and relaxing. I like to go to the Girl Cave, light some incense, put on some music, and get to it.

But, MBHM, how do I meditate? I’m glad you asked! Meditation doesn’t come naturally. Quieting our mind is something we have to learn. I recommend these resources to set you on your path:

  1. Healing Spirit: Guided Meditation for Relaxation, Anxiety and Depression
  2. http://www.how-to-meditate.org/

Guided Hypnosis

I started using guided hypnosis to help with my insomnia, or painsomnia, issues. Guided hypnosis is very similar to meditation in that you reach a relaxed state. However, with guided hypnosis, you’re also hearing a message. There are many YouTube channels dedicated to hypnosis, but the best I’ve found is by Jody Whiteley. Her YouTube channel has guided hypnosis sessions for everything from insomnia to depression and anxiety. Sessions last anywhere from 30 minutes to 8 hours. Her creepy voice has gotten me through a great deal of stress. If meditation doesn’t work for you because you have trouble focusing your mind on your own, this might be a great alternative.

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Art Therapy

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that I attend art therapy sessions with a licensed therapist. I don’t think that this type of therapy must be done under the supervision of a professional, but it can’t hurt. Examining the origins of your negative self talk, and drawing those origins engages a different part of your brain. Art gives you the power to change the story whenever you like. Add a tree, add a caretaker. Make yourself a superhero. You can be whatever you want in your imagination and in a drawing or painting… and you can defeat the negativity monster with your pencil or paint brush.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT, however, should be done with professional supervision. There are websites, such as MoodGym, that allow you to do some basic CBT exercises, but any therapeutic endeavor of this nature should be done with a therapist or psychologist’s approval. CBT addresses negative thought patterns by challenging those yucky images of yourself and replacing them with healthier, more positive images through repeated exercises. It’s sort of like training your brain to be nicer to itself and recognize when it’s being negative, so you can put a stop to the negative thinking. It’s beneficial when done right, but it can be done incorrectly. It should make you feel great about yourself, and never worse. This is deep, introspective therapy work, so be prepared for it to be difficult to wade through… but worth it in the end.

Writing

Obviously, I write. I have this blog. I also write poetry and fiction and non-fiction. Writing is a creative outlet for me with which I process thoughts. The reason I started this blog was to share my experiences during a difficult time in my life. Along the way I’ve realized that I’ve never had an easy time, and neither have many of my readers… and this has been a very humbling and heartwarming experience. Writing this blog has shown me that I am not alone with my pain, with my depression, with my neurodiversity, or with my worries. It’s not Tolstoy, but it’s meaningful to me.

Creative Productivity

Art and writing aren’t for everyone, and depending upon the nature of whatever condition you might have, they may not be feasible. Crafts, however, are a fun alternative. When I was last hospitalized at the Jefferson Headache Center, I met a gal who has been suffering with head pain like mine for 5 years. During her “good time” she would make rubber band bracelets. They took her about 15 minutes each. 15 minutes were really about all she could stand, but, as she told us in our group therapy session, “At the end I had a pretty new bracelet!” That helped her take thoughts of worthlessness and change her dialogue from, “I can’t do anything,” to, “I can make this thing that I enjoy.” That’s important. That’s so important.

Truly, it doesn’t matter how you start to change the tone of your self talk. Any method that works for you, so long as it works, well… that’s all that’s important. But changing it is vital. Negativity is detrimental to our health and we have to combat it with every tool in the arsenal.

What tricks do you use to combat negative self talk?

Relaxation and Other Alternative Approaches for Managing Headaches

“It is important for the family and the patient not to over look the value of non-medication based headache management strategies. In many cases, the efficacy of these techniques is well documented and surpasses that of many standard medication regimens. It is also important to note that many of the non-medication based headache management strategies can be–and often are–combined with standard medication therapies.

Methods to relax or reduce stress

There are several methods that can be tried to relax or reduce stress, including:

  • Breathing exercises
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Mental imagery relaxation (also called guided imagery)
  • Biofeedback
  • Relaxation to music
  • Counseling/cognitive therapy (to help patients recognize and relieve stress)
  • Alternative therapies, including physical therapy, massage, hypnosis, chiropractic manipulation, acupuncture/acupressure, aromatherapy, and herbal therapy”

via Relaxation and Other Alternative Approaches for Managing Headaches.

The Defects and Faults of the Mind…

The defects and faults of the mind are like wounds in the body; after all imaginable care has been taken to heal them up, still there will be a scar left behind, and they are in continual danger of breaking the skin and bursting out again.

No Man Is An Island- But Every Human Is

Comforting from far away with a broom.

“THERE THERE…”

My art therapist has been working with me to learn how to comfort myself because I don’t have the kind of emotional support in my immediate environment that I need to help me through trauma therapy. That’s why I have a girl cave… to provide me with a safe place to go that is off limits to emotional turmoil. It’s supposed to be a sanctuary and if I go there my family is supposed to respect that I need to be there to protect myself. That’s why I have lilac scented candles… because that is a smell that wafted up through my bedroom window when I was a girl. That bedroom was a place where I felt safe and guarded from the world. The smell is associated with safety.

If I’m upset, and I go there, it means I should be left alone. But the problem is that because of the abuse I have suffered throughout my life, I don’t have boundaries. I don’t protect myself. I don’t say no when I should say no. I let people into my girl cave when I am in emotionally compromised states.

The first exercise in my trauma therapy is about learning the boundaries of my body. I haven’t done this exercise yet because it is so upsetting to consider that I don’t know my boundaries that I shake a little when I get to it. My art therapist says for me to take a break when things are too difficult. I have been taking a break from the book. I have finals right now and I need to be emotionally stable to get through them.

I had an emotional reaction to something that surprised me and felt like a violation of what I considered an agreement this week, and then immediately felt guilty for having the reaction and went to my girl cave. Now I am in a very low place where I don’t know what is right or wrong. I feel like I am isolated from the things that I like because I have made this mistake. I feel like I am at once at horrible fault for having a reaction and also being punished. I’m so incredibly confused.

I don’t want to go to art therapy this week. I don’t want to talk about it. I really just want this feeling of worthlessness and stupidity to go away. I was really happy and proud of how things were going and now I don’t know which way is up. My son held me while I cried yesterday .

 

The Nature of Trauma- NPR “Fresh Air”

“We are born in debt, owing the world a death. This is the shadow that darkens every cradle. Trauma is what happens when you catch a glimpse of that darkness.”

-David Morris from his book, The Evil Hours

Listen to the full story on NPR:
http://www.npr.org/2015/01/20/378586235/in-the-evil-hours-a-journalist-shares-his-struggle-with-ptsd

The Positive Effects Of Journaling and Expressive Writing – Business Insider

The Positive Effects Of Journaling and Expressive Writing – Business Insider.

Healing Trauma

I’m still not back in Biofeedback therapy. My nausea is still somewhat quelled, so I’m going to call that a Botox triumph. Art therapy. Phew. Art therapy is entering a very interesting and threatening territory.

Trauma trauma trauma.

We’re reading Healing Trauma: A Pioneer Program for Restoring Wisdom to Your Body by Peter Levine together, my art therapist and I. The theory is that trauma in our life causes physiological responses that cause the body to react in weird ways and we have to help the body learn how to reestablish boundaries and a feeling of safety.

Trauma is a sense that our very lives are threatened.

I’ve been in situations where I’ve had that feeling more times than I can count on both hands… possibly both feet too. I lived that way for a long time.

What happens to the body of a young autistic girl who lives in a situation in which she is constantly afraid? And how will her body respond 20 years later?

My art therapist thinks that helping to heal the wounds of my trauma will help to let my brain relax. She thinks that my chronic condition will be helped. Okay, so I’m game.

But the nightmares have already begun.

I Believe It Will Stop… Or, Have Hope, Ye Hopeless

I’ve been in pain for over two years now.

It really stinks.

I’d use less friendly language than that, but I had a ridiculous evening with my husband, and I can’t be bothered to be surly after a ridiculous evening.

With the change in weather from cold, to warmish, back to cold again, the fun my-entire-body-hurts-oh-God-please-remove-all-of-my-limbs pain has returned full force. Like childbirth, I had forgotten this part of the pain story. When I was bedridden in the Winter/Spring ’13-’14… it hurt like this. I remember now. I remember clinging to ice packs because they were temporary something, but also cursing them because they were cold something else.

I remember feeling like I was going to die. I remember wishing I was dead, or would die. I remember the day my doctor told me I needed an MRI, and soon… and believing that I was going to die for an entire week. I remember how warm and welcoming that feeling was, and how terrifying.

I remember the hopelessness and the sleeplessness. I’d go days without sleep during those months. I simply hurt too much, or the medication made me too jumpy. I was constantly melting down and my body couldn’t relax from the fight or flight adrenaline onslaught.

It was a bad time.

And here I am, once again… in the same pain range, but now the body aches are back.

So what is different?

Well, I’m on an anti-depressant (Lexapro,) which has an anti-anxiety bonus. I take clonazepam to help me sleep, which is also an anti-anxiety medication. I see my therapist once a week and have productive sessions in which I talk about my pain, my guilt, the issues all of these things bring to my family. I have emotional coping skills I didn’t have last Winter… born simply of necessity, determination, and hope.

There. I said it. I have hope.

Hope seems like such a dirty little word when you have a chronic condition, especially a painful one. Hope seems almost cruel. But I have it. It’s inside me. It lingers and tugs at me on those days when I can’t get out of bed, which, honestly, is every day right now. I’m in bed all of the time now. When I’m not in bed, I’m drugged to the gills.

I’m really good at faking human.

I think the whole hope thing helps with that too. Oh, well, that and makeup. Makeup really helps. Concealer is your friend, dears.

I believe that my head will stop hurting when the rest of me has landed upon what it is meant to do. Or perhaps this is what I am meant to do. Maybe I’m meant to feel this pain so I may share it with you… so that if you are hurting, you get the help you or your loved ones need.

I don’t know. But, damn it. I think that one day I will be permanently pain free. But if I’m not, that’s okay, because I’m alive and even though this is a horrible way to live, at least I have good people living beside me.

If you don’t have hope, I’ll let you borrow some of mine. It’s tattered and tear-stained, but it’s good.

Hope is good. I recommend it.

Depressive Valley

This evening I said I was done.

My son is a teenager and therefore hates the world, being at home, and his jerk parents who make him do homework.

My husband is incredibly stressed and going through an emotional recovery and is depressed but doesn’t believe in talking about his feelings, so I don’t know how to communicate with him about my feelings on the same issues.

I threw up my hands in frustration, stormed into my bedroom, and slammed the door. Our bedroom door, which I have already broken. I’m at a 9 today. I’ve little tolerance for people who can’t communicate or listen or do anything on my terms at the moment.

My husband chased me down and said something that put blame on me in some way and I collapsed inward and all of the suicidal thoughts that have been swirling around came swooping in as if they had been waiting for their chance. It was literally as if I’d been an injured animal and suddenly my legs had given out.

I work very hard to keep those moments contained to my lonely hours at night when the family is sleeping and I can use music and silly television and other distractions to calm myself down. My husband doesn’t understand how I go from sobbing to entirely calm. Hyper-rationality, that’s what I call it. It’s the calm, chemically-induced quasi-sanity that makes me think that killing myself is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

He suggested I call my therapist.

And say what? Honestly, I’m so used to battling the chemical reaction that happens when I get like this on my own that it felt intrusive to have him present. The thought of having a nice chat on the phone felt like it would make me worse.

I’m fine now. Well, I’m not fine. I know I’m not fine. I’m in such great pain and so very worried about money. But I am not a danger to myself.

I just need to win the lottery so we don’t have financial stress. Simple.