Where have I been?

 

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Hard Feelings shirt from Kinship Goods

Wow, it’s been a long time since I posted here.

 

As you all know I have tried to be open about my mental health struggles here in hopes of helping others dealing with similar issues. I would like to be an advocate for mental health.

Despite my desire to end the stigma, I am still finding myself embarrassed to admit that I have had a relapse with my depression. The past month or two has been a blur of misery, crying, breakdowns, and frustration. I have barely managed to maintain a job I no longer find any joy in, I have shirked commitments to the detriment of people I care about, and I have cried a whole whole lot.

I wanted to be cured. I wanted to believe that the depression was behind me.

It came roaring back to life though, just as severe as ever. Because of this, I have found it hard to find the energy to engage with much of anything, including this blog and my social media which I love so much.

When you are depressed though even the things you love and are passionate about slip away.

The only positive thing through all this has been that I now have a name for what I am feeling. For a long time I wanted to avoid the label of a mental health condition but now I find it almost a relief to know that there is an explanation for the ways I have felt most of my life, to varying degrees of severity. I spent years believing I was just crazy or lazy when I had tough bouts of depression.

This most current bout I believe has to do with the uncertainty I am currently feeling about my future plans. I feel indecisive and it has built up a lot of stress for me. That coupled with my susceptibility to depression pushed me right back into the worst of it.

This time though I knew to ask for help.

I let my family members and friends see my breakdowns rather than hiding them behind closed doors. Depression is illogical at its very core but I do believe letting them see what it does to me helps them to understand a little more.

I called my psychiatrist and told her when things weren’t working for me. Through some trial and error, I am starting to come out of the fog of depression with new medications.

I have never made a suicide attempt or been actively suicidal but when negative thoughts of that nature flashed through my mind uncontrollably on my worst days I chose to vocalize them rather than keep them to myself.

After working with my medication and family things have been improving. I have been working on self-care by doing things like completing applications, making doctors appointments, doing yoga, cleaning my room and car, working on projects, spending time with dogs, eating depression-fighting foods and many other things.

Many of these tasks may sound insignificant, but to a person struggling with a mental health condition, they can feel like mountains.

Slowly but surely I am recovering again. I apologize for my absence. If any of you have tried to get in contact with me please know that I wasn’t ignoring you intentionally. Let’s just say for now that I’m back. I love connecting with people through this blog and right now I’m trying to get back to doing the things I love.

Forgive me,

Paige

PS: Here is the link to my t-shirt! It is one of my favs. And no I’m not getting paid for this, I just love cute small brands like Kinship.

hard feelings womens varsity tee

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Claiming the title of Survivor

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So yes another cancer post. I promised this blog wouldn’t be all about cancer but it is definitely going to play a part. Cancer has played a part in my life but does not define it as a whole.

A few days after a CT scan revealed a tumor in my abdomen I began my “cancer journey” at MD Anderson. The experience of entering the hospital and being surrounded by so many sick people was surreal. It was overwhelming, to say the least.

Around the hospital, signs read “You became a survivor the day you were diagnosed.” It was a catchy slogan for a cancer hospital. Good branding, but not really something that I gave much thought to in the chaos.

Fast forward through finding out that my tumor was, in fact, pancreatic cancer and having four surgeries to remove the cancer and repair the damage the initial surgery caused.

I returned to daily life wondering how exactly I was supposed to navigate this world as a “survivor”. I certainly didn’t feel like I earned it. I was a whiney difficult brat through most of my treatment. My misery radiated around me and I made a difficult situation worse with my poor attitude.

Inspiring cancer survivors are supposed to have remained hopeful through their treatments. They do things like dance during chemo and run marathons shortly after. Good cancer survivors don’t spend months wallowing in self-pity and dealing with severe bouts of depression. I wasn’t one of those people.

I also didn’t want to be labeled “that girl who had cancer.” I wanted to be known for other things, not some illness I didn’t handle well. Meeting new people, making new friends, and dating all presented new challenges. Should I mention it and if so when?

I still don’t have a great answer on that. It doesn’t seem right to start a Tinder date off with “Hi I’m Paige and I had cancer.” All I can picture with that is the amusing image of boys running for the hills. Not that I wasn’t good at chasing boys away before but this would be a new level, even for me.

For a while, I stuck with almost a “No New Friends” attitude. It was Drake, me and only our day ones. I felt like a different person and that scared me. I only wanted to be near people who knew me before so that they would know I wasn’t always like this. It wasn’t a great policy but it was where I was at during that time.

I’m more open to new friends and possibilities now. I have met a lot of great people in the past year or so and I am grateful for those relationships. Looking forward, I am excited to meet new people. I promise I’m friendly now guys! Please contact me if you want to talk about anything!

While I still don’t open conversations with the whole “I had cancer” line, I have been trying to embrace my status as a survivor a little more. I am more comfortable with it now. I don’t like keeping secrets. My illness is nothing to be ashamed of. Realizing that took longer than I’d like to admit though.

I am also learning to forgive myself for the way I acted in the midst of the worst period of my life. I was drowning at the time and I handled it as well as I could. While yes I could’ve been a little less grumpy it isn’t the end of the world. There is no manual for being a survivor. There is no formula you have to follow to be one. The only thing you have to do is survive, which I am lucky that I did, even if I was downer while I was in the process of fighting it.

So now I’m trying to be more open and let people in a little bit. If you have challenges you need to talk about I would encourage you to share your story. You can share with your friends, you can message me privately, or you can utilize social media to create an internet community around you. Speak up, there are people out there who listen and care.

With Love,

Paige

PS: If you or someone you know is a young adult cancer survivor (Diagnosed between 18-39) definitely look into First Descents. It is a great program and really helped me process things a lot. Here is the link https://firstdescents.org/out-living-it/

Thoughts on Stigma and National Suicide Prevention Month

It’s important to discuss hard feelings. Shirt: Kinship Goods
This week is National Suicide Prevention Week. It’s a topic that literally hits close to home.
My county has the highest suicide rate in the state of Texas, my town is at the epicenter of it, unfortunately. In the midst of a beautiful affluent suburb dark shadows loom. 
When I was in high school we lost one student to suicide and another to overdose, and that was just in my grade. Since then things have gotten worse as many more students from area high schools and many recent graduates have also died by suicide.
The community, however, is finally beginning to wake up to the mental health crisis among its teens and young adults. Churches and schools are partnering together to try to bring this issue more out into the open.
While progress is certainly being made here and around the world in ending the stigma of mental health we still have a long way to go. Each of us has to confront the attitudes we hold towards mental health conditions and make sure that we ourselves are not part of the problem. The truth is that many people who contribute to the stigma, do so without realizing it. Those people should not be condemned but instead, we should try to reach out and explain the importance of mental health.
I realize that while now I like to consider myself an advocate for mental health when I was younger I too held many misconceptions about it.
My sophomore of high school, the student who died by suicide was in one of my classes. I didn’t know him really but with the shock of his death, I felt that going to his funeral would be a sign of respect. The funeral was well attended. During the funeral, people spoke about his interests and talents. The screen showed a slideshow detailing his short life. He was only 15.
Rather than granting me more understanding I found that at the time it made me angry. Here was a kid who had an entire life before him, with a family who loved him. The pictures of his families trips to Disney, Halloweens, Christmases and birthdays all seem to tell a story of a happy life. I couldn’t understand why he would do this “to his family and friends.” It wasn’t really until several years later when I found myself in the midst of a crippling depression that I began to understand.
People who die by suicide do not do it to harm other people. They are so desperate to escape a level of misery few understand that they lose hope in any other option.
Personally, for me, the depression didn’t really come with thoughts of suicide for the most part. Shortly after I started an antidepressant medication for the first time, however, I found out I failed a class. As a very serious student, this was an absolute humiliation. In that moment it felt as though my life was basically over, as ridiculous as that sounds now. While those thoughts were short lived, interrupted by a caring friend, having them was terrifying. It is hard to explain what it feels like to have thoughts you have no control over that interrupt and take over everything. For me, they only lasted a few minutes but there are many people who live with these kinds of thoughts constantly.
In the time I’ve been talking more openly about my mental health I have had more than a few friends confess to me their own struggles with mental health. Several of those friends have even made a suicide attempt.
The thought still makes me angry. This anger though is redirected at the ugly monsters of mental health conditions rather than the person who is suffering with them. People suffering from mental health conditions or thoughts of suicide deserve our love, support, and help. The more we normalize this discussion the more likely people are to seek help when they need it.
This September, national suicide prevention month I urge you to examine your attitudes surrounding mental health and suicide. I also would encourage you to read about mental health conditions. Bettering your understanding can help defeat stigma. Also don’t be afraid to talk about these issues with your friends and family. Ask them about their thoughts and feelings. Listen to people when they speak about these issues. Both my lived experiences and hearing the experiences of my friends has helped me to better understand mental health.
shirt: Kinship Goods
Before I sign off I will also say that if you need help please reach out. Please call 18002738255. You are valuable and the world needs you. Please stay.
With love,
Paige

What I’m doing instead

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Shirt: Urban Outfitters Location: Keene, New York

So yesterday I decided to publicly state that I am not going to college this semester.

It kinda feels like a weight lifted off my shoulders honestly. They say honesty is the best policy and it’s true. It is a relief, to tell the truth.

Part of the reason I was so reluctant to make this decision, however, was trying to figure out an answer to the question “What are you doing?”

Frankly, I don’t have a perfect answer for you but here’s my list of ideas so far. Worst comes to worst this post will help me perfect my listing skills so I can write for Buzzfeed.

  1. Working- I am currently working at J.Crew part-time as an associate and love it. My coworkers are nice, which is great. Also, the discount is my life. I could say I’m doing this to make money and while that is kinda true it’s mostly just to fill my closet with more J.Crew and Madewell. I feel fairly certain I will be blogging about my J.Crew and Madewell addictions very soon. The world holds its breath, I know!
  2. Travelling- If you have known me for a while or have scrolled through my Instagram you will know that I love to travel. In fact, I have studied abroad in twice already and might aim for a third when I return to school. That’s cool right, Mom and Dad? Anyways I definitely plan on using this time to visit my friends around the country. It’ll be like that Big and Rich song “Comin to your City”. I am already booked on a flight to LA this weekend to go see one of my best friends and I am pumped. I will also be trying to return to Georgia at least once to catch a game between the hedges. You can take a girl out of the SEC but you can’t take the SEC out of the girl. Go Dawgs! I will definitely be posting about these trips a lot and may even try to post some travel guides.
  3. Blogging- You’re here so duh. I definitely intend to be trying my hand at blogging and posting regularly. Let me know if there is something you’d like me to write about!
  4. Recreation- And no I don’t mean recreational drugs people. Tomorrow I am scheduled to go horseback riding for the first time in a long time. I can’t wait. I am also going to try and rock climb some by joining a climbing gym here in the Houston area. Other than that I will be looking for other ways to get active in a fun way. I may also try playing the piano again since I was a brat as a child and didn’t practice enough.
  5. Volunteering– I haven’t decided where exactly I will be volunteering but I am exploring several opportunities at the moment. I will definitely update once that is decided. If you have any suggestions let me know!
  6. Getting Healthy- This is the less exciting part. I will be going to doctors appointments and working to get answers and find solutions. My mom wants to go vegan together. I’m not really down for that plan but I do realize I may need to alter my diet depending on the results I receive. I love food so that will be very tough. That is another thing I will be eating! I am hoping I can eat my way to maybe a little extra weight and a little extra energy. I also would like to work out a little to try to gain some flexibility and strength. I could use a lot of improvement in both areas. Tips in this area would definitely be appreciated too!
  7. Learning- You don’t have to be in school to learn. Reading will be something I’m going to try to prioritize. Maybe I will even try to read War and Peace this fall? Has anyone managed that feat? Is it worth the read? I just want to make sure that I keep mentally active so I can stay sharp when I do return to school.
  8. Resting- While I have a lengthy list of things I’d like to do, I am also going to prioritize resting this semester. Resting is important. Self-care can only help both my mental and physical health. I hope I get to do a lot this semester but I am also going to try to be gentler with myself. If I need a break I am going to allow myself to stop and take it. I am not going to beat myself up over a few days spent just relaxing and allowing myself to feel refreshed. We need rest to heal and grow, so I am not going to deny myself of it.

Much Love,

Paige

Taking a Break from College

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Top: Madewell Shorts: J.Crew Factory Location: Dallas Museum of Art

I have decided to take a break from college.

When I started college I was the typical over confident “I’m a sophomore by credit hours’ freshman. In fact, I started college with 47 credit hours from AP classes. I planned to graduate in 3 years, then go straight to law school. Preferably a highly ranked one.

Then life happened.

I finished my freshman year, the Spring semester of which I spent studying abroad in Italy. I came home to Texas and worked for the summer. Then as I was getting ready to go back to Georgia, everything fell apart.

“We found a tumor in your abdomen”

Those words changed my life in seconds. Instead of getting to enjoy the fall of my sophomore year; I got to spend fall of 2015 in and out of the hospital where I had 4 surgeries to both remove pancreatic cancer and then repair the damage that removal caused

As soon as January 2016 came, I stubbornly wanted to go back to college and resume my “real” life. I wanted to get back to the plan.

But I was so weak. Cancer had drained me, physically, mentally and emotionally. I returned to campus weighing little over 85 pounds. I had so little energy and had a lot of bad days physically. I found myself frustrated that I couldn’t keep up and be like everyone else. For the first time in my life, my grades were struggling significantly. I was dropping classes like it was hot.

In an act of desperation to try to get my life back to the plan, I applied to the UGA at Oxford program. In my interview with the program director, I told him how I had beat cancer and was back as a student and doing great. I felt like such a fraud. I hadn’t been to any of my classes that week yet there I sat telling him how amazing I was doing.

The UGA at Oxford program ended up being a bit of a saving grace for me. It was extremely challenging academically but I was able to excel. There I gained back confidence in myself and my intellect. I finally felt like I could accomplish big things again.

Unfortunately, January came and back in Georgia; I fell apart again. Everything felt so similar. It was almost claustrophobic, as though I was always on the cusp of reliving my nightmare again. Deja Vu in the worst way.

I started the semester so hopefully, yet along came several difficult to explain health bumps and I began to spiral. Everyday it felt like something new and awful was going to happen. Each doctors appointment and new concerning symptom added to my misery. I found myself in almost the exact same place as the previous spring.  For me, Poor physical health beget exceptionally poor mental health. 

All of the physical issues are still pending. Even tomorrow I am having another CT scan to try to find an explanation for all the symptoms I have been experiencing over the course of this year.

One diagnosis I did manage to get this spring though was clinical depression. I had spent so long trying to force myself to stick to a plan I made at 18, despite the fact that the circumstances of my life had changed so much in those three years. I perpetually felt like a failure when I didn’t meet the high expectations I held myself to. It took a long time before I finally decided to admit that I needed help. I am so glad I did though. While the physical issues are not completely resolved I am in a much better place mentally.

I have decided to give myself a break though. I want to figure out what is going on with my physical health, and what solutions there are to treat it. I also just want to stop making myself miserable by being so overly harsh with my self-assessments. I always felt like if I admitted that I needed help if I admitted I needed a break, or if I admitted that I wasn’t going to graduate on time; I would be a failure. I’ve realized that this narrative in my head is a lie. I am going to be successful. I am going to graduate from college. But if it takes me a little longer that’s okay too. So I’m taking a gap year or gap semester. I’m not really sure right now. I want to focus on myself and my health so that I can accomplish all I am meant to. 

I’m going to be blogging my journey here and also posting fun stuff relating to my various interests. I promise it’s not gonna all be about cancer! Follow along if you’d like.

With Love,

Paige