Mental Health: Saying No in the Spirit of Self-Care

I have a hard time saying no to people.

I don’t know if my trouble saying no stems from a fear of being disliked or seen as cold (often socialized in women, like our nauseating habit of over-apologizing*), or from PTSD of other people not being there for me or showing me mercy when I needed it most. I am still learning that I cannot be everything to everyone, or even something to everyone. Sometimes, for the sake of my mental health, I have to simply say no. It’s hard!

Rick started telling me that I emotionally give myself to everyone else and then, when I get home, I have nothing left for him, which breaks my heart. My allocation of energy is wrong if my MVP, my husband, feels shorted. It’s unfair that a friend or even acquaintance gets top shelf Bailey, and Rick is served up the dregs. Rick doesn’t deserve Everclear-in-a-plastic-bottle-Bailey, he deserves Belvedere-Bailey.

As a person who battles severe depression and anxiety, my energy is truly finite. I liken it to a gas tank, especially in regards to social situations: I only have so much to give before I need to go home, be alone, and refill my tank. There are very few people in the world I can be on empty around, which, for me, means I can be blue without questions or expectations to be acting otherwise. These people are mostly just Rick, my parents, and my brothers and sisters. And, that’s okay! One time my brother-in-law found me crying the bed in the dark while clinging to (and probably scaring) Apollo, the family golden retriever. He offered to make me a cocktail and then proceeded to sit in silence with me and watch Shrek. Just sitting there was all I needed. What a guy.

My psychiatrist and I joke that if me and Rick have a kid I can just be like “GOTTA-GO-CHASE-MY-KID BYEEEEE!” to anyone hogging my energy resources. (Don’t worry – no babies will be harmed in the making of my sanity.)

Overextending and overcommitting myself has become a nasty habit of mine. After feeling the muscle rocks that have formed under my skin on my shoulders and back last week, my horrified GP told me that I had three responsibilities: Rick, school, and yoga. Everything and everyone else must take a backseat. She then offered me muscle relaxers, to which I despondently replied, “all the world needs is another white woman on a bunch of pills”. My doctor, a WOC, laughed and didn’t deny my claim, but she didn’t not deny my claim. She gave me a topical ointment instead. Lol. She then reached out to me one week later with my blood lab results which indicated that I’d just had mono. MONO! I hold the world record for the oldest person to have ever had mono.

My call to action is to say no when you need to, and to be unapologetic when it comes to prioritizing your well being (or “well bean” as I like to say) over someone else’s perhaps insatiable desire to take, take, take with minimal or no return. It also doesn’t have to be that dramatic. Sometimes you’ve got to say no to going to that party, committing to that dinner, or doing unpaid work for a friend. If someone is a true friend, they’ll understand. Take stock of the people in your life, and then cultivate and invest in true blue relationships. Simply, protect yourself before you wreck yourself.

*The other day I apologized to a backpack. A BACKPACK!


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Recipe: Roasted Tomato Basil and Rice Soup

Normalizing psychiatric care is vital and there are some things everyone should know. I’ve previously discussed stigma and today I wanna address…

Accessibility and Connectivity

Finding a psychiatrist you connect with is like dating, only the stakes are higher. Not only are you looking for someone you get along with personally, you’re searching for the right fit medicinally. You want to be in someone’s care who takes more than 20 minutes every 4-6 months to understand the inner-workings of your mind and know what meds would best compliment your brain chemistry. The consequences of faulty prescription can be lethal.

Couple this ideology with the fact that a new psychiatrist = a fresh emotional upheaval. You’re having to hash out and essentially relive everything that may be helpful for a doctor to know in order to assess your mental health needs. This requires a verbalized excavation of traumatic experiences and it is draining. If the psychiatrist isn’t a good fit, or you move away, or your financial situation changes, or anything happens that causes you to change psychiatrists, the cycle has to start all over again.

Another disconnect that, to me, causes an egregious margin of error is the psychologist / psychiatrist team up. This model has a patient seeing a psychologist frequently who then communicates their thoughts to a psychiatrist who then prescribes you meds. Psychologists cannot prescribe meds and are often cheaper and therefore more accessible. It’s most certainly better than nothing, but to me this kind of one-two punch care leaves too much room for poor communication and faulty, insufficiently monitored RX prescriptions.

The current mental healthcare situation in the United States is dire. Receiving adequate care is a privilege, even a luxury, and that is so, so wrong. Have mercy towards those struggling with mental health issues in the U.S. The system is not currently equipped to support those of us who do, and it is extremely disheartening for folks just trying to live their best life like anyone else.


Stay warm with this delicious, hearty, and healthful tomato soup.

Ingredients

1 1/2 c cooked brown rice
4 1/2 lb plum tomatoes, quartered
10 garlic cloves
3 T olive oil
~1 1/2 t sea salt
1 t black pepper
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 T cane sugar
4 c vegetable broth
1 t thyme
~1/2 c basil leaves

Instructions

  1. Prepare brown rice.
  2. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  3. Arrange tomatoes cut side up onto two large, foil-lined baking sheets and drizzle them with two tablespoons of olive oil. Using your hands, stir tomatoes around to coat them well. Sprinkle tomatoes with sea salt and black pepper and place garlic cloves in between them.
  4. Roast the tomatoes for 50 minutes, until browning and juicy. Remove from oven and set aside.
  5. Heat remaining olive oil in a large pot over medium. Add onions, a big pinch of sea salt, and the cane sugar to pot and sauté for about ten minutes, until the onions are golden.
  6. Add roasted tomatoes and garlic (along with all their juices), the vegetable broth, and the thyme to the pot. With a potato masher, mash the tomatoes a bit to help release their liquid.
  7. Bring mixture to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Uncovered, simmer for 15 minutes.
  8. In batches, transfer soup to a blender or food processor. Add basil, and puree until smooth.
  9. Return soup to pot and taste. Add extra sea salt and black pepper to taste, if desired.
  10. Finally, stir in rice.

Serves 4-6.

Leftover soup will keep in the fridge for up to five days or freezer for up to two months.

Adapted from Roasted Tomato Basil and Rice Soup.


Today’s my brother’s birthday, and I like him a bunch. Here’s a touching photo of the love we share, featuring approximately one mullet.


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Recipe: Borscht Topped With Sour Cream

Normalizing psychiatric care is vital and there are some things everyone should know.

Stigma

Look, not all of us with mental health issues are blatant, eating other people’s faces on the side of a highway in Florida. Most people who seek or are in need of psychiatric care are average folks you interact with regularly: your colleague, your grandchild, your mail person, your stepdad, the person two people behind you in line at the grocery store, yourself.

Unfortunately it’s common for a lot of people to suffer in silence and confusion. Not only do they need care, but they also often have no idea where to begin in terms of finding the right doctor, are overwhelmed by the expense and, most unnecessary of all, have to deal with the crippling stigma attached to mental health issues.

I think a lot of de-stigmatizing begins with open, judgement-free discussion. There is no shame in seeking mental health care you need, just like there is no shame in having to use a crutch, getting braces, having LASIK, etc. There is no shame in getting help with or correcting something in order to have better quality of life. Empathy and understanding surrounding mental health are paramount. Let’s start today.

Now… borscht!


Borscht is a fabulous, flavorful soup (stew?) that is a staple to the good people of frickin’ freezin’ Russia. So, if you’re weathering frightful weather this February this is a good option. If it’s not cold where you are this soup is A) red and therefore on brand for the month of February and B) a good excuse to pair a meal with vodka. * shrug *

Ingredients

Borscht:
1 T coconut oil
1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 t caraway seeds
4 carrots, thinly sliced
3 beets, peeled and diced
3 russet potatoes, peeled and diced
4 c red cabbage, shredded
6 c vegetable broth
1 T apple cider vinegar
sea salt to taste
black pepper to taste
cashew sour cream
fresh dill, chopped
fresh parsley, chopped

Sour Cream:
1 c cashews
1/2 c water
1 T lemon juice
1 t apple cider vinegar
1/4 t sea salt
1/4 t Dijon mustard

Instructions

Borscht:

  1. Heat oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add onions and sauté until translucent, about five minutes.
  2. Stir in caraway seeds, cooking for about 30 seconds.
  3. Add carrots, beets, potatoes, and cabbage to pot, stirring to combine.
  4. Pour in vegetable broth and bring mixture to boil. Reduce heat to a simmer for 30 minutes until vegetables are tender. (I found beets to be the last to cook and the best veggie to test for doneness.)
  5. Stir in apple cider vinegar, sea salt, and pepper.
  6. To serve, top with cashew sour cream, fresh dill, and parsley.

Sour Cream:

  1. Cover cashews in boiling water and let sit for an hour. Then, drain and rinse.
  2. Combine cashews, water, lemon juice, vinegar, sea salt, and mustard in a blender and blend until mixture is smooth and creamy.
  3. Top each bowl of borscht with a generous dollop. Store leftover sour cream in an airtight container in fridge.

Serves 6-8.

Adapted from Vegan Borscht and Vegan Sour Cream.


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The Uncertainty of Mental Illness

Acknowledging Uncertainty

Collective hours, days, weeks, and months of my family members’ lives have been spent trying to understand and unpack my brother’s inexplicable decisions and lack of reaction to consequence. Alex dropped out of high school, but the classroom doesn’t suit everyone. Alex was discharged from the Army, but they were just drug tested to make an example of his platoon. Alex lost his left leg in a car wreck, but everyone has a false sense of immortality and drives drunk when they’re 22. Alex shot himself in the head and lived, but “god has a plan” for someone who’s survived so much. Alex lives under a bridge, but that fabled rock bottom must be imminent.

Silence falls over the family analysts, downcast eyes resting on a coffee mug handle being pushed back and forth between someone’s thumbs. There isn’t much crying anymore. Those salty reserves were depleted long ago.

Accepting Uncertainty

When I moved to NYC I packed my Diane von Furstenberg, Wellbutrin, and mounting guilt for leaving so much tumult back in Texas. The unidentified seeds of my depression and anxiety sprouted in childhood, their insidious, invisible tendrils choking me through high school and college. Because my mental illnesses were finally able to be identified and medicated, I became able to live some semblance of a normal life.

Alex has not been so fortunate. There has been so much anger bestowed upon my brother due to his inexplicable mental state, including from me. My failure to consider he could not help himself lasted for several years, and it’s only been just recently that I’ve let anger evaporate and acceptance rain down on us both. When I think of my brother, it is with sadness, but it’s mostly with love and mercy. Our genes come from the same pool, and it just so happens that the combination he got created a long-suffering mental state that is either not yet defined in the mental health community or is shrouded in obscurity, yet to be matched and applied to him. It is not his fault.

Embracing Uncertainty

As an orderly person, it is a joy to classify and organize things, physically or mentally. Accepting the uncertainty of my brother’s co-occurrence of mental illness and addiction has been a paramount, unanticipated challenge. For so long family members have been hoping for the proverbial lightbulb to turn on in Alex’s mind, his final pivot toward a healed, “normal” life. Alex inspires me to reconsider normalcy, expectations, and success, because those things look different for every person. For my brother, it’s a sister who accepts and loves him from 1500 miles away. As if we were sitting next to each other, it is a virtual embrace, and for now it’s the best we can do.

On Mental Illness and Weather

At the moment I write this, buckets of rain are pounding the hot cement in Manhattan. Thunder that sounds like an amplified bowling alley is roaring the background – a rarity and special treat for a Texan who misses the drama and majesty of true thunderstorms. Like most people, I don’t want to go outside and get soaked. Unlike most people, I am delighted to be shut indoors, limited to the offerings of the apartment in which I reside. I am at peace.

Depression makes me a bit of a homebody, somebody who needs to refresh and be alone at home after limited engagements, like an old iPhone battery desperate for a charge after only a few hours of use. When the weather is terrible, my natural inclination is affirmed by circumstance and the pressure to perform is absolved. Unsavory weather limits options for activities, and my self-imposed pressure melts away. It’s okay to be indoors, to be in my feelings. There is no need to explain why I stayed in all day, because most people probably did, too. For an average person it may have been the weather, but for me it is the depression I live with like weights tied to my ankles.

On sunny days I am often gripped with guilt and dread. If I’ve slept too long, I feel guilty. If I don’t have a hyper-productive day that includes an outdoor galivant, I feel like a fraud just waiting to be found out by a daily itinerary inspector who doesn’t exist. I do take pleasure in being outdoors at times. My ideal getaway is a peaceful beach vacation, after all. But, it’s the getting home I look forward to: stripping off sticky or dirty clothes to put on something clean and comfortable, hugging the peaceful golden retrievers I live with, unpacking what I brought home, eating something waste-free and healthful I make with my own hands, cracking a book, settling in to watch a TV show I’ve been eager to see, being near Rick.

If rain is special to me, you may have correctly concluded that winter in New York City is sacred. The dirty snow banks pile up and street corners become mysterious lakes of melted snow, depths unknown. I outwardly commiserate with other New Yorkers about never-ending winter and join the chorus of deep desire for spring and summer. Secretly, this time is when I feel safest, un-judged, and mentally at peace. There is no pressure, only justification in holing up in the warmth and safety of my shoebox that sits under and on top of other shoeboxes filled with other humans doing the same. For them, it may be because of the weather. For me, I can just be, and I don’t have to explain anything.