Thursday, November 21, 2019


Six months ago, I was at my worst physically, mentally, and emotionally. My anxiety had gotten so bad that my body was breaking down, forcing my auto immune disease to flare up and taking a toll on my body, to the point where I could barely grocery shop or go out and enjoy spending time with people.

Four months ago, I was put on anti anxieties that changed my life.

One month ago, I had an idea to throw a Thanksgiving dinner party for my Bingo ladies. I thought we'd do a pot luck, and that everyone could bring a dish.

Three weeks ago, I decided that since I've been teaching myself to cook and was feeling inspired, I challenged myself to make the entire dinner on my own.

Yesterday, I cleaned the house from top to bottom.

Today, I arranged the house and cooked an amazing dinner for nine people.

Six months ago, I couldn't have any of that.

I'm feeling a lot of things, but I'm mostly feeling grateful to be a whole human being again. To have the energy, stamina, and mental capacity to pull something like this off is just astounding to me. But then again, I wasn't even half a person until recently. 

Friday, August 23, 2019

Take Back Your Life

In 2013 just before I moved out to California, I was terribly, terribly depressed. I'd been on medication before, but with poor medical supervision and careless doctors, my dosage was pushed up and up until I couldn't feel anything anymore except for mildly content. Due to my lack of medical coverage at the time and with no money to go to the doctors to get refills, I was forced to wean too quickly off of the meds. Getting off of that medication almost killed me and I ended up in the hospital.

Fast forward to after I'd moved to California, and changing my life so drastically shoved the depression right out of me. It wasn't until later, with the help of a therapist, that I found out that anxiety and depression don't like each other much, and when one is strong the other will go dormant. I'd never had horrible anxiety before, just the mild panic whenever I did something I disliked (like making phone calls), and when my depression was gone and the anxiety began to well up in me, it became overwhelming. I'd dealt with depression for almost a decade at that point, it was an old foe and I knew how to wrestle it, but anxiety was a whole new beast. 

From my past blog posts, we know that I've got an autoimmune disease, and for a lot of people when they're not controlled well they can become chronically ill, and it creates a cycle of mental despair and physical deficiencies that develop slowly, over time, until one day a person looks up and realizes that they've been living a shadow of a life behind their illnesses. This happened to me. Despite my attempts to land a good therapist several times over, and my fear of going back on medication when it turned out so very badly last time, combined overall with my unstable medical insurance that would switch from year to year, forcing me to switch providers and therapists, I felt stuck.

Almost a year ago last October, my illnesses reached an overall peak. I was having migraines more frequently than I'd ever had them, my anxiety was almost crippling and I turned down opportunity after opportunity due to my fears. Something that you wont often find in your research to find help for autoimmune diseases is that anxiety and illness go hand in hand, one scratches the others back, and anxiety will make you more and more ill. Illness will give you more and more anxiety. At some point, you have too find the will to put your foot down. 

Well, it took a while, but I finally did. 

Soon after we moved to Michigan I researched for days before I settled on a therapist that I wanted to reach out to (check out to find yourself a therapist that will fit your needs), and once I finally did she read me like an open book and broke it down for me.

"Brook, we need to get your anxiety under control. Have you thought about going on any type of medication?"

I had thought about it, and I said so at the time, but my anxiety extended to doctors as well. Would I find a doctor who would listen to me about my illnesses and take me seriously? Would they respect my wishes about what I will and won't allow during an exam? Will they treat me as though I know what I'm talking about, or dismiss all of the research I've ever done because it's been the only thing I've been able to rely on for the past 6 years? 

Despite my fears, my therapist helped me to do the research and I booked an appointment with a doctor that we felt would suit my needs and would give me the best shot at a positive medical experience, but my doctor wouldn't be back from maternity leave until late August. 

Then I ran out of my migraine medication. 

Desperate, I called the facility and booked an emergency appointment for the morning that I was to leave for a trip. For me, fears can outweigh other fears. The fear of going without my medication outweighed my fear of a prescription refill appointment, and I went willingly, alone (normally I bring my husband-- doctors are significantly more willing to listen to an old white man). During the appointment, my wishes were respected, the physician was kind, and she immediately noticed my severe anxiety. She, like my therapist, asked if I had interest in going on medication. I said I did, and that I was waiting until my appointment in August to ask for medication. She asked why I was waiting, and I hesitated. Was she asking me if I'd like her to write a prescription for me?

It turns out, she was. She was entirely willing to refill my migraine medication, but the frequency of my migraines concerned, her and she was hoping to put me on something that would prevent migraines. There is a well known antidepressant/antianxiety that also prevents migraines that we could try. And so to my surprise, I left with a new medication and a little bit of hope. 

The first week on the medication was awful. It causes nausea, and I was its victim those first few days. But once I got into the swing of things, the medication began to work its magic.

I started my medication on July 23, and in that short time that I've been taking it, my anxiety has decreased tenfold. But that's not all. My therapist was right, my anxiety was making me so, so much more sick than I actually was. I suddenly have more energy than I know what to do with. I'm completing tasks way before their deadlines, with ease and even enthusiasm. I need fewer naps. I wake up rested. There aren't entire days spent on the couch recovering from the minimal tasks from the day before. 

In the past few weeks I've gone to a concert at DTE, something that would have definitely given me a panic attack just a few weeks ago, and I've gone to the flea market in Shipshewana, IN, a 6 hour round trip drive with miles of walking in extreme heat. The old Brook would have needed at least three days to recover from that, and wouldn't have lasted nearly as long as she did, nor would she have been the one with the confidence to drive. 

I'm amazed at the changes, and so are my closest friends and family. I'm happier, healthier, and I'm living a normal life these days. For me, it's a miracle. I'm finally a functioning human being and my illnesses aren't controlling my life-- now I get to do that. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

How I Easily Formed Life Changing Habits in One Year: The Chart Challenge

As I sit here, there is a stack of 12 papers in my desk in my office. I cherish this stack of papers like no other. It's just an ordinary stack of papers, they're not magic. They're not valuable. I printed them at home and wrote on them myself, in my messy scrawl that everyone insists they can't read. They wouldn't mean much for anyone who stumbled upon them, but for me they changed my life.

Flashback to 2017, I was continually frustrated with myself. I'm going to really open up here and let y'all in on a dirty little secret-- I am the actual worst at brushing my teeth. I can't even describe to you how much I hate it. It overwhelms my senses in a way I can't describe. I hate it nearly as much as I hate putting away laundry, and my husband can attest to the temper tantrums I have had when he's brought me a basket of clean laundry and dumped it into my already full basket of clean laundry that I'd avoided putting away for three weeks in a row (that would be four weeks of laundry, as we always do it on Fridays or Saturdays).

As an adult, I found even less drive to brush my teeth because of my lack of in-person communication. When I was in high school and college I had people to see, and people who would make fun of me if even a single hair was out of place (or for any number of other reasons-- the girls in my school were cruel). But after I graduated and dropped out of college, suddenly there was no one to force me into the habit, and I slowly just... Quit. Unless I could tell they needed brushing (usually every other day or so), I just wouldn't do it. I couldn't make myself sit through the torture of it-- the spicy mint toothpaste, the bristles touching my gums, the foamy spit it makes, the coldness that is left behind by the mint, the time it takes. It's all just too much.

I was also struggling with a number of other things-- for example: motivation and drinking enough water. One of my major concerns was also short term memory retention. I would often sit with my husband at the end of the day and review the day's events so that I could try to hold on to them, otherwise they would just slip away. Sure, I could remember the events weeks later, but I couldn't tell you about them the day after. The last straw was really when I sat down one evening with my husband and asked him if I'd gone to the doctor yesterday or the day before. The answer? That same day. I'd gone to the doctor that morning and couldn't even remember it 11 hours later.

Enter my idea: A mental health chart. A way to keep myself accountable every single day, to try to overall better my health. At first it worked, but I fell off the wagon and gave up after a couple of months. When 2018 rolled around and I was in the midst of a deep depression, I decided enough was enough, and I pulled out the chart again. I was going to do it for a full year, come hell or high water.

As most things go, my chart started as sort of a rough draft-- a chart of things I thought would be important. Over the months, my chart evolved, and I ended up with something that looks like this:

The chart is double sided and fits on a regular sheet of paper (with extended margins), and the accountability it holds me to is incredible. For the past year (and then some, I don't plan on stopping), this chart has been my constant companion. If I'm away from home for the night, the chart comes with me. It stays on a clip board on my night stand while it lives at home, and it goes into a folder when I'm traveling. I've even got a little piece of fabric tied to my phone charger, so when I go to plug my phone in for the night I touch or see the fabric and remember that I need to fill out my chart. Every night before bed (and sometimes in the morning, if I fall asleep too quickly, but it doesn't work as well when I'm lazy and do it that way), I fill it out and hold myself accountable for taking care of my body and my mind. I make mental notes during the day of things I want to chart, things I don't want to forget. On the days where I am too lazy to turn on the light and fill out the chart once I've already gotten into bed, I open a note on my phone and fill out the chart by memory (which I've come to find incredibly easy-- I mean, I've done this for 365 days, I know the order of the chart and what does in each box).

It turns out I'm a slut for check marks and a full chart.

Anyway, here are the things that this chart has done for me (and I guess that I've done for myself, since I was my only motivator, although I have a hard time crediting and complimenting myself):

  • I now brush my teeth AND wash my face every single day, twice a day. My skin quality has improved dramatically and so has the sensitivity of my teeth. After a while, I even added a mouthwash to my nightly routine to build up my enamel-- something that was absolutely unheard of before, because of how overwhelming mint is on its own and how much mouthwash can burn.
  • I'm hydrated! I get enough water every single day now, which has cut down on my fatigue and my headaches drastically.
  • I have better memory retention, and can hold on to my days better because I'm forcing myself to review events at the end of every day, and I take mental note of them during the day as well.
  • I have better self awareness. If something is the worst part of my day, I take note of that and try not to repeat the experience, and I'm less afraid to call people out if their actions cause the worst part of my day. 
  • I'm more motivated. Initially the "Thing I Did" section was a "goal" section with a check mark box next to it, and then it turned into an "achievement" section, and I would fill that line out every night and check off whether I did it the next day. However, I found that to be too much pressure, so now I write what I've done in there-- whether it was planned or it just happened. I found that I don't have to be "successful" every day in order to feel like I did something. Sometimes that section just says "read", "made dinner", or "showered", because this chart isn't a cure-all. Depression is still a real thing for me, and sometimes the only noteworthy thing I've done in a day is changed my shirt or got the mail, and that's okay. But on regular days, I have the self-motivation to put something in that box, and I'm happy when I do.
  • I'm healthier overall. When I said I was more motivated, I meant it in every sense of the word. I have yet to add something like daily exercise to my routine (which may never be a reality, and that's okay with me), but I have seen the benefits the chart has provided for me and felt the motivation to feel even better on the inside. So in addition to being hydrated, I've also got my medication in order, my auto immune disease *mostly* under control, and I'm on supplements to keep me healthy. Sometimes, it takes feeling better to want to feel better, and we don't realize how miserable we really are until we get some relief from it. That slight relief that I began to feel from the benefits of the chart made me want to feel even better.
  • I feel like I finally know who I am. Twelve months of forcing myself to be self aware has resulted in some interesting changes. I realized after just a couple of months that my hair was making me miserable, and having long hair just didn't feel like "me." It took me a while, but I finally took the plunge and chopped all of my hair off. I'm not exaggerating when I say that it feels like someone removed a tumor from my life-- I feel lighter, more confident, and infinitely happier. Along with my hair I've finally found my sense of style (which I'd known for a few years and simply hadn't given in to because I thought it wasn't a "real" or "acceptable" style), and I carry myself differently. For once, I feel like a real person, not like an alien pretending to be a person. I guess I realized at some point that I have opinions, and they matter, and I had to stop giving in to other peoples' ideals if I wanted to be happy. I couldn't have done any of this without first making myself a priority, and that started with the chart.

I may have completed 12 months of charts, but I'm not done yet. I don't think I'll ever stop doing them, and this year I've given myself a goal to start checking off on the chart: read. I want to read every single day, even if it's just a single page of the book I'm working on, and so far I'm doing well. I know I'll miss a day at some point, because life gets in the way, but I'm ready to slowly tackle the other parts of my life that need improvement too. I'm sure the chart will continue to evolve and change (for example, I'd like to add in a migraines column and a triggers column), but that's okay because so am I.

If you feel like this chart is something that would be useful to you, I cannot encourage you enough to try it. I'm even happy to email copies of the chart document, and for those of you I know personally, if you'd like 12 copies of the chart printed and handed off to you, I'd be happy to do that too. All I know is that this simple, two minute daily task has changed my life, and I'm eager for it to do the same for others. 

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Ten Years

I keep seeing these ten year photo comparisons on Instagram and I thought "Hey, I could do one of those," but when it comes down to it, I don't think a ten year comparison is really all that fair to do when the first photo would be of someone who was still in high school and hadn't even gotten to experience the real world yet.

When I got to thinking about it some more, I knew that a photo comparison wouldn't really share much... But maybe a blog post would. Because while I've changed a lot since then physically, the place where I've seen the most change has been on the inside.

Flashback to January 2009 when I was just about to turn 17, and I was on the brink of something. I think like most people, I spend a lot of time trying to figure myself and improve on that, and that year was no exception. In the beginning of that school year, I'd been confronted with a truth about myself that I had never recognized before: I was horribly, terribly depressed, and it showed.

I began quasi-seeing someone I'd known since elementary school in the fall, and that all ended very swiftly one day when I had what was honestly a temper tantrum. My mother had said something about a dead relative that I didn't want her to say in front of me in the presence of company, and I lost it. The guy got in his car and left, and later texted me to explain that he couldn't be around that kind of negativity-- that I brought people down, and he didn't want to be a part of that. He needed people around to lift him up.

We never spoke again after that, but that was my wakeup call. I realized that day that what he was talking about was depression, and what I was feeling on the inside was festering and oozing out like a deep rooted splinter. I don't know how I couldn't see it before, that other people could see my suffering in the form of my moods, and it took me by surprise. I decided to finally enter therapy to work on myself. I didn't want to be a horrible person to be around.

On one hand, with that last conversation he split me open and left the insides on the ground, jack-o-lantern cadaver style, and though I was ready to tackle myself, I was at a very fragile, weak state in my life. I was trying to learn to love myself, and all I was actually learning was that that seemed impossible. I felt impossible to love.

Meanwhile, a connection was brewing with someone else, and I needed to feel loved. He made me feel like he could take all of the broken pieces of me and put them back together, like he could love me into loving myself. I thought it was all going to be so easy.

I don't remember there being a start date to our relationship, it just happened one day, and we were in the midst of it in the beginning of 2009. Over the next several months, he worked his tendrils into the cracks of my mind, the ones that I was trying to close, and found my weaknesses. He exploited them to feel strong, better about himself. It happened very slowly, but eventually I found myself in a place where I was being controlled in every aspect. I had been forced to delete every male I knew from my social media and my phone. I was not allowed to delete my text messages so he could check them at will. My wardrobe consisted only of yoga pants and T shirts, because they were the least offensive and other men wouldn't look at me if I didn't appear put together. I couldn't do my hair or my makeup anymore. I had to be constantly texting him, because if I wasn't he would accuse me of cheating. I fell deeper into depression, and eventually I stopped going to therapy.

We always got into an argument right as I was trying to go to bed, and each and every argument felt like the last one, but he had broken me so far down that I had convinced myself that there was no one left to love me if he walked away. So I spent hours every night on the phone with him, crying, begging him not to break up with me. My mother could hear me on the phone from her room, but didn't know the nature of the phone calls, only that I was keeping her awake. She had two young kids, and sleep was hard to come by. She'd scold me to go to bed, so then I had two things to worry about: making sure that he didn't end our relationship over some stupid "mistake" I'd made, and making sure that I stayed quiet enough that I wouldn't disturb anyone, lest I have my phone taken away and make him even more mad. I didn't get much sleep that year either.

The final straw came in the summer, when I was over at my best girl friend's house. Outwardly, he and I were very in love and cute with one another, drawing the awe of people we knew, who would often talk about us as "couple goals." Whenever we were alone, on the phone, he'd make a kissy noise to say goodbye. I'd have to do it back. It normally didn't bother me, but this time I wasn't alone. I was with my friend, who I knew would make fun of me if I did it. He heard me hesitate, and I set him off again.

I spent hours outside on the sidewalk in front of her house, sobbing on the phone, trying to get the okay from him to get back inside to my now annoyed friend, who at that point couldn't understand why she'd invited me over in the first place if I was just going to be outside on the phone all evening.

Eventually he got tired of fighting, and gave in. I was allowed to get off the phone. We weren't breaking up that day, but I knew eventually I'd have to stop spending time with my friend, too, because if she was going to make fun of the kissy noise, she didn't understand our relationship, per his logic.

Embarrassed at what had just happened, I went inside, tearful, and told my best friend a new truth, one I'd just realized: I was in an abusive relationship.

She spent the appropriate amount of time needed comforting me and consoling me, and then she gave an ultimatum. He'd finally slipped up and let someone see the monster he was, and she wouldn't let me go on like that. I had to either end things or she'd out me to the adults.

I broke up with him a few days later. Over those few days I gained my strength back, going against his wishes and doing things I wasn't allowed to do anymore. He'd been working a lot, and I'd gotten a reprieve from his focus. It gave me time to dwell on things and develop a resolve. I told him the truth during the breakup, that I thought he was emotionally abusive because he was insecure about himself, in an attempt to make him see the error of his ways so he wouldn't do that to anyone else, and left it at that. We never spoke again.

On days like this, I want to hug 17 year old me so badly. I want to tell her that it's going to be okay, and that it's going to make her stronger. I want her to know that after that, she'd learn to take no shit from men, that she wouldn't be a victim forever. That her next relationship would be one of the best, like the universe was taking pity on her for what she'd been through, giving her someone to ease her back into caring about someone else that way. That eventually, one day, she'd find the person who really would put the pieces back together.

But of course, she didn't know all of that. She just mustered up what was left of her broken courage and walked into the world without the person that she was convinced was the only person who could ever love her, and despite that did it anyway. On days like this, I want to thank her for not going further down that path, and letting it get worse than it already was.

I'll be 27 in under a month, and I don't have it all figured it out. I can't wait to tell my sisters that one day: that adults are frauds, that they don't know what they're doing. We're all just trying our best. But trying your best really does heed results, because I'm not that girl anymore. Not even close.