Check out more posts from me on Healthy Minds Canada!

I am very pleased to be a volunteer blogger for Healthy Minds Canada. Any opportunity for me to share my experiences, knowledge and help others is always a great opportunity. To date, I have published 2 blogs. I would love it if you would check them out and also check out the other blogs from other Canadians.

Self-harm free! 

“*Content Warning: Talk of self-harm, no details* My name is Kristen and this is my first blog post for Healthy Minds Canada. I am beyond excited to be able to announce in my first post that December 2016 is the month I celebrate 2 years of being self-harm free! Wow!”

You are perfect how you are in this moment.

“A popular picture “pinned” by others on my Pinterest account reads, Note to self, I am doing the best that I can with what I have in this moment. And that is all I can expect from anyone, including me.”

 

Motherhood & Madness: I could not have asked for a better birth

Motherhood&Madness

 

My son is now 16 days old! I am able to look back on his birth with memories that involve less physical pain and really appreciate how amazing my birth experience was. I would very much like to share my birth story with you and I would love to hear yours as well!

On Thursday, September 22nd, I went to see my Midwife for a regular check-up and I also was given the stretch and sweep I asked for to try and get labour started. I was 39 weeks and 1 day. While I had no medical reason for this non-chemical induction my overractive uterus (constant practice contractions that would not go away no matter what) was causing me great discomfort and sometimes pain. There were no guarantees it would do anything and I didn’t hold out hope that anything would happen (technically have no proof that the sweep did bring on labour, he may have come the day he did anyways).

On Friday, September 23rd in the afternoon, I began to experience mild cramps that felt like a period cramp. I had been experiencing these on and off for the past few weeks as my body prepared for labour but they hadn’t meant anything. These cramps started happening more frequently and for longer. Something, I don’t remember what, prompted me to put a panty liner on (I think I had felt like something was coming out and didn’t want to wreck my clothes) but I figured it was just regular old discharge. Around 7pm, I felt like I had peed myself and ran to the washroom. There was no pee but there was another liquid. My water broke! I can’t remember if it was before or after my water broke but my mucus plug also came out. I had all the signs that labour was starting!

I lay in bed and tried my hypnobirthing meditations and visualizations to help me get through the contractions which were growing in strength and gradually getting closer together. Despite everything I was trying and had prepared none of my comfort measures were working. Looking back this may have been because I had been allowed to labour alone. My midwife would later tell me that if she had arrived earlier (or if I had a doula) my comfort measures probably would have been more effective. I became the most concerned when I was in the shower and began violently shivering (I did not know that shivering is the body’s way of releasing tension during labour). I contacted my Midwife a handful of times because I felt like my contractions felt stronger despite being 6-7 minutes apart. She said that I seem to be coping well the contractions (doing my best to breathe through them) but I had decided that I wanted to change my birth plan. I was in a lot of pain and didn’t want to give birth at home, unmedicated anymore. We agreed that she would call me at 7 am on Saturday, September 24th and that would be when we could probably head to the hospital and I could have an epidural. “Whatever you want is what I want,” she said to me. My Partner and I called his Mom to see if she could drive us to the hospital. She came over (it was around 2 am or 3 am).

My Partner began to pack our hospital bag and get the car seat ready. At one point my partner was in the washroom and I suddenly had the overwhelming urge to poop. I bolted up in bed and yelled, “I NEED THE WASHROOM!” My Partner quickly got out and I went and sat on the toilet. My body began involuntarily pushing. The sounds that came out of my mouth were sounds I never thought I’d make. I guess I could describe it as a grunt. I can see why people say birth is primal. I became moderately afraid that I would give birth, unassisted and have my baby fall into the toilet. I had my partner call my Midwife and after speaking to me (it was very hard to talk on the phone while experiencing painful contractions and involuntarily pushing) she said she was coming over. My Midwife arrived, along with the Student Midwife, around 5 am on Saturday, September 24th. They checked how dilated I was and I was told I was 9 cm! My Midwife said that since I only had 1 cm to go it was safer to give birth at home (home births are completely safe, I’m talking about reducing my risk of giving birth in the car) rather than put myself in a car and head to the hospital where I wouldn’t even be able to get pain drugs because I was basically ready to push. I agreed to stick with my original plan of having a home birth. By the time my Midwives had set up their equipment (about 20-30 minutes) I was dilated to 10 cm and ready to push. The Midwife in charge of caring for the baby was called and she arrived within a few minutes.

I tried pushing on the birthing stool, on my back and very briefly on all fours and ended up doing most of the pushing on my back with my legs supported. It was the most comfortable position for me. My Partner stayed up by my head and told me that I was doing a great job, that he loved me and other words of encouragement. He responded to my demands of “don’t touch me” very well (touching during a contraction felt horrible) and let me hold his finger (seriously, just one finger was all I wanted) during my rest between contractions. As time passed, I kept asking my Midwives how much longer and where the baby’s head was (I admit that I probably slowed down the arrival of the baby because I was embarrassed about pooping myself so I wasn’t pushing the way I should have). They kept saying “soon” and eventually I said, in a joking way, “You’ve been saying soon for over an hour. That’s not soon!” Once the baby’s head got past the pelvic bone I could feel the pressure and burning pain and the only way to make that stop was to get the head out. I was asked if I wanted to see or touch the head but I said no, that I just wanted to get the baby out. Eventually, the head was born, my Partner saw it, and I felt the pressure ease a little bit (a neck is smaller than a head after all). The hard part was over and now all I had to do was give birth to the rest of the body. As I pushed the Midwives got in there with their hands to help get the rest of the body out. I did stop pushing at one point and said, “Ow” because it was hurting but as soon as I was finished saying “Ow” the baby slid out and was placed on my chest.

I was shocked at this fairly large, purple and puffy baby that had been placed in front of me. We confirmed that it was a boy and he had a good cry. After about 3 min, when the umbilical cord stopped pulsing (meaning my son had gotten all of the blood he needed from the placenta) my Partner cut the cord. I was very happy he did because he wasn’t sure if he would feel like he would want to. I delivered the placenta utilizing active management with no problem (it’s now in our freezer and will be buried under a tree when we buy a house). My son was born on Saturday, September 24th, 2016 at 8:25 am after 13 hours of labour. He weighed 9 lbs 8 oz, was 21 inches long and had a 37 cm head. He’s a big boy and shares a birthday with my best friend!

One thing that amazed me was how I needed every person that was there. If my Partner or a Midwife stepped away for something I felt a little more helpless. That may sound bad but I mean that together the 5 of us were stronger and I needed every person there to make the space feel comfortable and safe. Each person helped me give birth and we were a great team!

I really could not have asked for a better birth. It was exactly what I wanted. Am I going to rush to have baby number 2? Hell no! Pregnancy and birth are a lot of work and the recovery time has shocked me! While some may be able to get up and do everything they want after giving birth that was not me. I had some tears so moving and walking were very painful for awhile. I still have some pain but mostly feel it if I sit down to quickly, sit on the toilet, walk slowly or stand. If there’s one thing that gets to me it’s feeling this pain and having the bleeding. While all of it is normal, it has made it difficult for me to interact with my son the way I would like to. I am getting there though and plan on setting up a little play area for him today so we can do some quick tummy time when he wakes up!

B has been a massive help! He took two weeks off work and while I thought the two weeks would be great bonding time for B and his son, B has also been an amazing support to me while I have been healing. These past 2 weeks have been a special time for our little family. Tomorrow is my first full day by myself with my son. I am nervous but excited. My Mom will come by at some point and I do have some outings and appointments that will keep us both active.

Please feel free to share yours in the comments. Good or bad, it is important to own our birthing experience so if you did have a traumatic birth you can recover from it and learn about how you may want it different if you choose to give birth again. Sharing our birth stories also teaches others about birth. While nothing really prepares you for what birth will be like, it is good to read others experiences to get an idea. Thank you so much for reading my birth story.

New Book on BPD

I have not read this book yet but it was recommended by Debbie Corso, one of the amazing women that taught me DBT. Beyond Borderline is a collection of stories about recovering from BPD. You can read an excerpt here.

It is so easy to get caught up in the emotional turmoil that we experience as emotionally sensitive people. I feel that having a book to refer to that is filled with stories by different people about how they have healed will be extremely helpful. There is bound to be bits of each story that we can relate to and solutions we can apply to our own lives.

 

Healing from Gaslighting

Learning about gaslighting changed my life. Gaslighting is a form of abuse where the abuser makes you doubt your perceptions, reality and memories. I was in a relationship with a gaslighter for 5 years and he did serious damage to our relationship and my mind. For all 5 of those years, I saw myself as an unreliable and flawed person. My desperation to be perfect for him drove me into some very dark places. Gaslighting kept me from healing. This person refused to get help for their issues as they were convinced that I was the problem. The only way I could fix the problem was by leaving the relationship. It’s hard to believe that I left that relationship almost 2 years ago and that I am now with a man who loves me deeply and we are expecting a child. This is the life I have always wanted.

As many of us know, it takes time to heal from abuse and trauma. For me, the effects are less than they were a year ago. I am healing from what happened. I read an article today written by someone who is also healing from gaslighting. I could relate to their experience and I wanted to share it with you. Below is a link to their article and 2 ways they’ve healed that I strongly relate to. I would like to add my shared experience.

6 Unexpected Ways I’ve Healed From Gaslighting Abuse and Learned to Trust Myself Again by Maisha Z. Johnson.

Maisha healed by allowing themselves to make mistakes.

Mistakes are very important to me. Even as a teenager I always viewed mistakes as valuable learning opportunities. My ex took away these opportunities to make mistakes when he turned my mistakes into insults against him and used them as a judge of my character. He would tell me that if I had tried, remembered or been serious then I wouldn’t have made the mistake. Having the freedom again to make mistakes without shame has been very healing. I can validate myself, learn from what happened and just go on with my life. I went back to seeing mistakes as a fact of life, something everyone does and can be a positive experience. I no longer see myself as deeply flawed. I sometimes still get upset when I make mistakes, especially when they are pointed out by others as my ex did but each passing day it gets easier.

Maisha healed by making their own choices.

I can remember the deep, full-body fear I felt when I had to make a decision. I’m not talking about a big decision like if I should go back to school, I’m talking about where to go eat for dinner or if I should a pair of jeans. This one links back to making mistakes. I needed to make the right choice to avoid disappointing my ex because his disapproval was damaging. If I bought an item of clothing he didn’t like, he would tell me, even if I expressed thatI felt sexy in it. If I chose a place to eat the he didn’t like he would mope at the table. It was horrible to have my choices put down. He ended up making a lot of the decisions in our relationship. Being able to make my own choices and have confidence in those choices has been a struggle for me. Each time I do make a choice and stand by it I am one step closer to removing my ex’s influence. I can now decide if I want to eat McDonalds and (for the most part) not feel bad about it, I can choose an outfit knowing how I feel in it is more important and I can overall say no if something isn’t sitting right with me. If someone doesn’t like my choice then that’s their stuff, not mine.

This is a difficult journey. It is one I just had to do. I didn’t have time to let it consume me anymore than it already had. I need to get on with my life and not let anyone from the past control it.

Photo: “Healing takes courage, and we all have courage, even if we have to dig a little to find it.” – Tori Ames.

Psych hospitals need a new standard

Full disclosure, I have never been hospitalized for mental health issues. I have been to the emergency room 3 times and that was enough for me to be unimpressed with the treatment of individuals with mental health issues.

While I was on the subway yesterday I saw an ad for the CAMH Foundation’s Gifts of Light. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Toronto’s leading psychiatric teaching hospital. The Gifts of Light program allows people to give a certain amount of money for certain specific or non-specific items that will support patients and/or the hospital. I feel very moved to participate in this program. Many of my friends have been hospitalized, including at CAMH, and if I put myself in the shoes of the individuals who are staying at CAMH, I can imagine that receiving some of these items really does make a difference. They deserve to feel amazing and have the best opportunities when they’re going through a hard time.

Image: an individual with long blonde hair sitting on a hospital bed wearing a hospital gown. (Image used as an example)

Today I sat down to check out what the gifts are and narrow it down to what I would like to give. As I was scrolling through I noticed that many of the gifts in the lower price range are about giving items to make patients feel more comfortable such as a toothbrush, soap, socks etc. One gift, in particular, inspired this post. The gift is called “Just Like Home” and it was part of the description that made me stop and say “are you serious?” It says, “A Stay in the hospital can be unpleasant and unsettling. You can change that by giving pajamas and slippers to a patient — instead of a hospital gown and care feet — that will immediately make them feel much more comfortable.”  I knew this was happening, hospital gowns being the first thing new patients wear, there is just something about seeing it written, seeing the hospital admit that their patients are not given actual clothing that is painful. Another gift also uses the word “standard” to describe the hospital gown.

Image: an individual with long blonde hair, standing, wearing light blue pajama short sleeve shirt and light blue pajama pants. (Image used as an example)

From what some of my friends have told me, it is a very horrifying experience to first be admitted to the hospital and be made to transition from their street clothes to the hospital gown (especially if your admittance is involuntary). A friend of mine told me that process reminded her of a past trauma and when it took her longer to put the gown on, the nurse became very upset with her and threatened to put the gown on for her (not at CAMH). For some, the gown is very symbolic. It can be like removing your identity. It can be a symbol (a reminder) of how unwell you are. How could actual clothing not be standard during this very difficult time?

I understand budgets. I don’t doubt that providing pajamas would be more expensive than the paper hospital gowns. I know that non-psychiatric hospitals also use paper gowns as their standard patient attire but, in this case, context is extremely important. I believe that when it comes to comfort and dignity, the standard should not be a piece of paper to cover yourself with.

 

 

The Woman Formally Known As…: Self-Harm Recovery

When I was a teenager I heavily identified as a “cutter”. This identity was especially reinforced because that is what my peers in high school called me. As I entered my 20’s, I began to identify as a “self-harmer”. I used this term to give myself more compassion and privacy. The softer sounding identify allowed me to see what I was doing was a legitimate coping strategy and also to not let everyone know exactly what I was doing because it’s no ones business. But now, I see myself as something else and I honestly NEVER thought I would get to this point. I identify as being “recovered from self-harm”.

When I was first trying to stop self-harming it was intimidating to think about the end of when I wouldn’t need the behaviours like I used to. I also struggled to think about how I would “know” that I wasn’t a self-harmer anymore. How long do I have to abstain from the behaviour? Does it count if I still feel the urge to self-harm? I also viewed self-harm as one of the key behaviours I engaged in that was keeping me “mentally ill”. I told myself (and still do believe it on some level) that I would never be seen as not “ill” by professionals and society while I self-harmed (what kind of “normal” person cuts themselves to feel better?”). When I saw the proposed criteria for non-suicidal self-injury disorder for the DSM 5 I was heartbroken to see that an individual had to self-harm a minimum of 5 times in a year (among other criteria I met) to receive the diagnosis. Even my best, of self-harming once a month, still meant that I was “disordered”. How was I ever going to know when I was better?!

As I enter my 10th month of abstaining from self-harm, I believe I have found my answer. I am in recovery whenever I feel that I am. For me, this is accepting that it’s not about how long I haven’t cut or not ever feeling the urge to. It’s the fact that self-harm has made its way so far to the bottom of my coping skills list that it’s barely an option. When I become stressed my first reaction is to breathe and not to bleed. When I express that I feel like self-harming I use it as my indicator that more drastic positive coping skills need to be used. I feel like I don’t need to cut. Wow…I feel like I don’t need to cut. It feels fantastic to write that, to think and feel that. I have recovered from self-harm. 🙂

 

Experts in Our Own Journey

“Those of us who have been diagnosed are not objects to be acted upon. We are fully human subjects who can act and in acting, change our situation. We are human beings and we can speak for ourselves. We have a voice and can learn to use it. We have the right to be heard and listened to. We can become self-determining. We can take a stand toward what is distressing to us and need not be passive victims of an illness. We can become experts in our own journey of recovery.” – Deegan, P. (1996). Recovery as a journey of the heart. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, Vol. 19 Issue 3, pp. 91-97