Anonymity and Mental Health Stigma

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When I started this blog, it was deliberately anonymous in an effort to avoid any mental health stigma from reaching my real life. I didn’t have my name anywhere on it and I made a conscious effort not to mention anything about my life outside the sphere of mental health. I don’t think I even told my immediate family about it until a few months in.

I liked the freedom of writing anything I wanted without overthinking it. Those fears of what will people think? were almost nonexistent because nobody knew who I was. Over time, I began sharing it with people I knew. My immediate family and friends, then my extended family, my therapist, and others involved in my treatment.

I know that putting my name on my blog doesn’t change much for you, the reader. It does, however, signify a big change for me in the context of internalized mental health stigma. I’m finally coming to terms with my diagnoses and feeling more comfortable talking and writing about them as myself, with my real name attached.

Everyone has their own reasons for keeping their online presence anonymous. My reason was rooted in shame. I was afraid that if people knew I was writing about topics like depression, self-harm, and suicidality, they would never again see me for the things that make me, me. The reality is that people I know tend to notice the things that shine through the overarching topics. They comment on my love of writing and my sense of humor before they mention the content of my posts. And when they do broach the subject of my blog, they express their happiness that I’m still working towards stability. It helps, of course, that my family and the people surrounding me are very understanding. Not everyone has that, and I’m so thankful that I do.

Anyway, there you have it. My name is Genevieve (Gen), I’m 23 years old, and I live in Colorado. I got my bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan, where I studied Ecology and Evolutionary Biology as well as Evolutionary Anthropology. I work from home as an editor and freelance writer (not at all related to my degree, but whatever). On my blog, I write about my diagnoses of sensory processing disorder and major depressive disorder. I like reading, making art, and being in nature. This is starting to sound like a cross between a cover letter and a dating profile, so I’m going to wrap it up.

Lumpdates is still lumpdates, but I’m pretty dang proud of myself for standing up to mental health stigma by typing the nine letters of my name into my username settings.

Wishing you curly fries,

Genevieve

woman in orange jacket holding flowers in front of face

5 Tips for Therapy Clients Who Don’t Like Talking About Themselves

If you ever feel like a deer in headlights when asked to talk about yourself, I empathize. Whether it’s one of those dreaded get-to-know-you icebreakers or your therapist asking you a question, having to talk about yourself is uncomfortable for many people. By now, I’ve been in mental health treatment for several years, and I have a few tips for therapy I’d like to offer.

When I first sought therapy for myself, I found it extremely difficult to engage with it fully. If you don’t like being the center of attention, beginning therapy can be overwhelming. After all, the entire point of it is to focus on you. Early on, talking about myself in therapy felt, at times, nearly unbearable. Too many questions too fast made me shut down, and too loose of a structure lead to lots of awkward silences, both of us waiting for the other to say something. Over time, however, I’ve gotten much better at it. Here are some of the ways I’ve found to help me feel more comfortable about talking about myself in therapy.

The essentials

Any list of tips for therapy wouldn’t be complete without a soapbox moment about the therapeutic relationship. It doesn’t matter if you’re just starting therapy or you’ve been in it for a while; it’s vital that you like your therapist. The struggle of talking about yourself will be even worse if you don’t feel understood or accepted in therapy. In fact, research shows that therapy is much more effective when you and your therapist click. Don’t feel bad about shopping around or about switching therapists if it’s just not working out.

Secondly, remember that therapy sessions are for you. Push yourself out of your comfort zone, but go at your own pace. Therapy is your time to do with it what you will.

Communicate what you want to get from sessions

This is a tough one. There’s a lot that falls under this umbrella, but mostly what I mean by it is: tell your therapist if you would like to direct the topic of each session or be given more structure. Maybe it’s hard to talk about yourself because answering questions feels too probative, and you’d rather start off with a narrative. I prefer to have more structured questions because if I’m given free rein, I go blank and have absolutely nothing to say. Regardless of which end of the spectrum you’re on, your therapist is always there to help direct you and keep you on track.

Practice saying how you feel

I struggle hardcore with identifying how I feel. Maybe it’s sensory processing disorder, maybe it’s Maybelline. Sensory discrimination issues have extended into the emotional realm and mean that I often don’t know how I feel about something. If you have a hard time verbalizing how you feel, my advice is to practice. It sounds silly, but just as if you were a little kid, practice saying “I feel ____” and then fill in the blank with something more specific than “okay” or “fine.” Even on your own, check in with yourself; am I feeling excited? Lethargic? Irritated? It really does start to feel more natural over time.

I also find that using metaphors breaks the tension and allows me to communicate more comfortably. For example, my therapist and I talk about “clams” instead of “goals” because the very mention of goals used to make me a sweaty, anxious tear factory. The Potato Scale of Depression is another way that I like to remove a little of the scrutiny from myself and package it up in a statement about mashed potatos or soggy gnocci. There are many ways to get used to talking about your feelings!

Make the Space Comfortable

Of course, it’s not your office. You can’t go swapping out furniture and changing the overhead lights. But you can do some things to make the space more comfortable for you. A therapist I saw in college noticed that I have a very wide bubble of personal space and offered to move her chair a little further away from me. You can ask to close the blinds if it’s too bright for you, bring a small blanket to help you feel cozy, and be sure to wear comfortable clothing.

Stay (Mildly) Busy

Something that I learned in occupational therapy but haven’t put into practice (maybe I should!) is that talking about difficult things is often easier when your hands are busy. Bring a coloring book, a fidget toy, or a craft- if you’re a knitter, crocheter, or have some other portable project. Of course, this is one of my tips for therapy clients that is only good advice as long as your therapist doesn’t need you to be completely present during your work together. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

For us reticent folks, therapy can be scary even just to think about. But, like so many things in life, working on what’s difficult often leads to the best outcomes. With time and practice, talking about yourself in therapy gets easier, especially if you find what will support you and then advocate for yourself.

yearly calendar on table with cup of coffee and dish of paper clips

December Resolutions

The yearly frustration that most of us can likely relate to is that our New Year’s resolutions only last a few weeks, or at best, a few months, and yet we continue to make them. It’s relatable because change is hard, and the excitement of turning over a new leaf soon gives way to the stresses of normal life and the reality of breaking old habits. But there’s something so attractive about starting fresh; new calendar, new me.

Clearly, I like the idea of making a deliberate change on a specific date. Something about marking your resolution with an external, cyclical change makes it feel more decisive. Unfortunately, I am so put off by the pressure of an entire year ahead of my resolutions that I simply don’t make any. I’ve made New Year’s resolutions in the past but petered out before they really formed habits. Then, the internal shame of having failed a New Year’s resolution discourages me from trying again mid-year. Because really, why can’t I just resolve to change whenever I want? Because human brains like to impose order on things like arbitrary laps around the sun.

Instead of griping about the pitfalls of New Year’s resolutions and why I can never seem to make it work for me, I’m going to try something different.

~*~*~*~December Resolutions~*~*~*~

This sounds incredibly silly and I think that it’s a little bit sad that it’s come to this, but I think I need to trick myself into meeting my goals. Instead of making a list of resolutions and waiting until the new year to begin, I’m going to have a trial month for my new habits. December will be my 31-day behavior test, and if I hate the goals/habits I come up with, no big deal. I won’t feel bad about quitting because it’s only my December resolutions, not the monumentally more important New Year’s resolutions.

(Yeah. It’s exactly the same thing, but shhh, don’t tell my brain.)

Bonus, if I do like my resolutions and am happy to keep going with them, I won’t have to face the overwhelm of a brand new year stretching ahead of me. I’ll already have a whole month under my belt.

I really think this is going to work for me, at least better than the usual resolution schedule does. Here’s my list of December resolutions, but remember, it’s low-stress, low-commitment, so these can change without me feeling like a failure. At least, that’s the theory.

  1. ACTUALLY start volunteering. Somewhere. Anywhere. Don’t just think about it.
  2. Keep running regularly (yay, I’ve already started!) See if I can reach a comfortable 5 miles by January. I’m more than halfway there, so this seems very doable.
  3. Reestablish a skincare routine, aka get my psoriasis under👏 control👏.
  4. Welcome the hostile Duolingo owl back into my life and start re-learning German.

These seem reasonable to accomplish within a month. The one that I’m definitely most apprehensive about is volunteering. At this point, I’ve thought about it for so long and looked at opportunities in such detail that I really have to just go and do it, and try not to worry about all of the unknowns (thanks, SPD).

Ok, internet, hold me accountable.

nighttime time lapse of mountain road curving and car lights driving around pine tree

Sensory Processing Disorder and Driving

Ah, driving. The ultimate achievement of teenage freedom (in the US, at least). For anyone learning to drive, teenage or adult, the convenience and independence of a license is powerful motivation. I’ve been driving for years, now, but it wasn’t an easy process to get my license. At the time, I wasn’t as cognizant of my symptoms, but looking back, I can see why I struggled so much with having Sensory Processing Disorder and driving.

Proprioception in Cars

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) makes it hard for me to interpret sensory stimuli, including proprioceptive information. Proprioception is the sense that tells you where your body is located in space. I struggle with motion sickness on buses, boats, even escalators, because the movement doesn’t match my brain’s sense of where my body should be. Initially, this made driving a car incredibly stressful; relative to your body, the car is not moving, but relative to the ground, it’s moving a LOT. Coordinating the movements of driving with the interpretation of how the car responds took a while to become natural. Once it did, though, it made my motion sickness in cars much better, as long as I’m the one driving.

Peripersonal Space

When you’re driving a car, your “body” sense expands to include the dimensions of the vehicle. This is called “peripersonal space”- the sense that expands and contracts to include the objects in our immediate surroundings. In The Body Has a Mind of its Own, authors Sandra and Matthew Blakesley explain,

“When you drive a car, your peripersonal space expands to include it, from fender to fender, from fender to door, and from tire to roof. As you enter a parking garage with a low ceiling, you can “feel” the nearness of your car’s roof to the height barrier as if it were your own scalp. This is why you instinctively duck when you pass under the barrier.”

Learning how to manage Sensory Processing Disorder and driving took me a while, in part because it was a challenge for me to get a sense of the dimensions of a car. Now that my brain has established it as effectively a part of my body, driving with SPD is much simpler. However, there are additional layers of difficulty that, no matter how much I learn, might always be challenging.

car side mirror with city and other cars in reflection
Photo by Onaivi Dania on Unsplash

Visual Challenges

The visual tasks involved in driving can quickly become overwhelming. Monitoring the movement of cars around you, watching for signals, brake lights, and obstacles in the road is already a lot to handle. Add to that the stress of driving in an unfamiliar area and attempting to read street signs and highway exit signs while managing the rest of your visual tasks, and you have a veritable mountain of sensory stimuli to deal with.

Driving with Dyspraxia

I think that the processing power I dedicate to handling visual stimuli while driving leaves little for planning complex movements, known as praxis. I have symptoms of dyspraxia, meaning I have trouble following sequences of actions and, even more so, planning the steps involved in getting from A to B by myself. If I can prepare ahead of time, I’m fine, but I really struggle to make decisions in the moment because I feel like I can’t process all of the information fast enough to take the right action.

Driving with dyspraxia makes me an anxious planner. If I’m going somewhere new, I study Google Maps obsessively, considering the factors I do or don’t like in each route. Is there a highway involved? Can I take a route with fewer lanes? If I miss a turn, how easy would it be to fix? How early should I leave to account for any mistakes? As I’ve become more comfortable with the other aspects of driving- the sensitivity of the pedals and the steering wheel, the dimensions of the car, predicting what other drivers are going to do- I can dedicate more mental energy to handling praxis. I still plan my routes in new places, but I’m more confident in my ability to get back on track if I get lost.

Sensory Processing Disorder and Driving Takes Practice, Practice, Practice

If you’re struggling with Sensory Processing Disorder symptoms and driving, an occupational therapist can help you identify your particular difficulties and come up with ways to make them easier. Whether you work with an occupational therapist or not, the best way to get comfortable with driving is to practice. When you have sensory overstimulation in the car, the last thing you feel like doing is getting back in the driver’s seat, I know. Trust me, I rolled my eyes so hard at everyone who told me that practicing would make it feel more natural; I felt like I just wasn’t made for driving and no amount of practice would change that. I admit- I was wrong. Practice does help, and I find that now that I’m adept at each aspect of driving and can better regulate my nervous system, my sensitivities probably make me a more mindful, safer driver than I would be otherwise.

Categories

lamb sleeping in profile against wooden boards

Let Yourself Dream

Months ago, I made a draft document full of blog ideas. One of those ideas simply read “Let Yourself Dream”, with a brief list of my own lifelong dreams. It sat, unused, for months until, two days ago, my therapist suggested that I let myself dream this week. The words stuck, niggled in my brain for a few hours, and finally clicked. I had already written it down as a blog idea!

My depression is finally starting to lift, thanks to IV ketamine infusions and my rock-solid support system. Over the last few days, I’ve found myself thinking about all of the things that I want to do, now that I’m feeling better. Actually wanting to do something is an unfamiliar feeling, and is honestly a little overwhelming. There’s so much I want to do! Where do I start, and will this newfound mental health last? Rather than getting bogged down in all of the what ifs, this week, I’m going to dream.

1. Train and Certify Stella as a Therapy Dog

This is a goal that I’ve had ever since I adopted Stella, and maybe even before then. I think it would be so rewarding to volunteer with her in retirement homes, physical therapy treatment facilities, and hospitals. When I was a patient in a mental health hospital, we were delighted when a therapy dog came to visit us. To be able to bring a little bit of happiness to people in a difficult situation I have experience with would be beyond gratifying.

2. Hobby Farm

THIS has been my dream for a good decade or so. I love animals, and there’s something about having a house with spacious property and a chicken coop, barn for some sheep and goats, maybe a dairy cow, and some alpacas (so my mother can have their wool) that just sounds perfect. I love routine, and the hard work of caring for animals every day and maintaining a garden and home seems like it would be therapeutic for me. This is a lofty goal, but hey, we’re dreaming, here.

3. Make Writing a Career

Yeah. Not sure how to go about doing this or even if I would do okay at it. But doesn’t it sound nice to wake up, go take care of my farm animals, then spend time writing in my sunny home office before harvesting some home-grown vegetables? Sounds wonderful to me!

4. Have a Regular Social Calendar

This is maybe not so much a “dream” as it is an eventual necessity. Depression combined with introversion has made me very isolated. The thing to do now is to find some groups that interest me and actually go to them. Not just bookmark it or download an app, but actually go to an event and meet people. Easier said than done, but the best things are worth working for.

5. Run a Half-Marathon

Yet another thing I bookmarked and set aside. I used to run almost every day, and at times, it was really beneficial to my mental health. Unfortunately, I stopped running entirely for a while, and since then, have picked it up only in fits and spurts. If I’m going to reach my goal of running a half-marathon (let’s be reasonable- a full marathon is too much for me) I need to run with more consistency and pick a race to train for. The good news is, it’s always easier to get back into than I think.

 

These are just a few of my dreams, and although some of them are distant, it’s nice to remember that I’ve already achieved so many of my old ones. Getting my own dog was number one on my list after college, and now the single greatest joy/irritation in my life is watching my canine friend slam her paw down on my keyboard when I’m not petting her enough. It’s so endearing.

What are your dreams? Have you thought about it lately? Maybe take a moment this week to revisit those goals that seem out of reach and reassess; how would you go about achieving them?

scrabble tiles reading Mental Health with sprig of greenery on side

What’s in a Diagnosis? MDD and SPD

This post first appeared on Mental Health @Home in Ashleyleia’s Emerging Blogger series.

Many thanks to Ashley for hosting me!


Diagnoses are a contentious topic. Logistically, they’re important for clinicians and insurance companies who need proof of your conditions. But for the individual, they come with pros and cons. I carry the well-known diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder and the less well-known diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder. The effects of the diagnoses themselves feel very different to me, and I’ve spent some time reflecting on why.

Well-Known vs Little-Known

A diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder made me feel much less alone in my suffering. Depression is astoundingly common and increasingly talked about. Stigma remains, to be sure, but awareness surrounding depression is thankfully improving. I can be pretty sure that when I tell someone that I have depression, they’ll know what I’m talking about. The same cannot be said for Sensory Processing Disorder.

Insecurity in a Diagnosis

Having a diagnosis of MDD, maybe more than making me feel less alone, makes me feel understood. Simply saying the word “depression” makes most people, I think, picture the same constellation of symptoms: low mood, lethargy, loss of interest, etc.. This is not to say that I haven’t encountered stigma or innocent ignorance- I have. But when I tell someone that I have depression and they tell me that their brother or friend or significant other has depression, too, it connects us for a moment, and I know that on some level, they know what I’m going through.

This is not generally the case for my diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder, at least in my own lived experience. A person with SPD has difficulty processing the information that comes in through their senses, including the usual five (touch, sight, sound, smell, taste) as well as the less well-known senses of proprioception (where your body is in space) and interoception (internal body sensations like hunger). SPD can make you over-sensitive or under-sensitive to these stimuli. I’m over-sensitive to most, just plain bad at proprioception, and relatively unaffected when it comes to taste. Sensory Processing Disorder is overwhelmingly common among people who have Autism Spectrum Disorder, but you don’t have to have ASD to have SPD. They are separate disorders that have a TON of overlap. Despite the growing body of literature from occupational therapists, scientists, and doctors, SPD is not included in the DSM V.  It is, however, its own diagnosis in the ICD 10. This discrepancy is what throws me off. I know that SPD is real. And yet, when I try to explain to someone what it is and how it affects me, I flounder. It’s challenging to describe how I’m affected by a diagnosis that not everyone agrees upon. It leaves me feeling vaguely defensive, or like I’m grasping at straws to explain my symptoms. In this sense, the label of SPD does not make me feel secure in my experience of the disorder.

Feeling Alone with SPD

While it is incredibly validating and relieving to have an explanation for symptoms that aren’t frequently talked about, the very fact that it’s not often discussed makes for an isolating diagnosis. I feel much more uncomfortable when I have to explain SPD than I do while explaining MDD. Once you grow up and leave behind the allowances of childhood, you’re expected to conform to a lot of social and institutional rules. I think this is why kids who have SPD grow up to be adults who hide their symptoms with willpower. They put themselves into situations that cause them distress because it seems like they “should” be able to. The problem here is not that you might push yourself to do uncomfortable things – that’s how we grow. The problem is that people with SPD often hide their discomfort and end up feeling alone and wrong for feeling how they do. It also leads to overstimulation and meltdowns, chronic anxiety, and exhaustion. Ultimately, I am so glad that I know about my SPD, not just because it explains all those sensory symptoms that make me think “why can’t I be like other people?”, but because it offers me room to advocate for others who feel alone in this diagnosis, too.

How a Diagnosis Can Hurt

For me, whether the diagnosis is well-known or not, simply having a name for what I’m going through is incredibly helpful, and I believe outweighs the downsides of having a label. That said, there are some potential dangers of diagnoses.

Mental Health and Identity

I’ve heard lots of discourse about the risk that you might allow diagnoses to seep into your identity until there’s no room for anything else. I enjoy writing about mental health, and at the moment, a lot of my focus is placed on managing my depression. Our experiences shape us, so it’s natural that I find parts of my identity rooted in depression and Sensory Processing Disorder, but I know that I am a whole person without them.

Is a Diagnosis Confining?

The risk that I don’t hear much about when discussing diagnoses is the ease with which a label can trap you in a definition. It’s subtle sometimes, but having a diagnosis of depression can make you perceive even mundane things as attributable to your disorder. For instance, I recently read a book for the first time in a long time, a hobby I abandoned when depression settled in again. The book was humorous, but I didn’t laugh out loud or even pause to appreciate the jokes. At first, I thought it must be because I’m still depressed. I didn’t even consider the possibility that maybe the book just wasn’t that funny. Feeling confined within my diagnosis, the sub-par experience of reading that book became a product of my depression.

A new diagnosis can, understandably, push you to look for information online. Reading case studies and statistics, while informative, might be discouraging. I think it’s very easy to slip into a set of criteria and forecasted outcomes because a diagnosis feels official. It’s easy to forget that a diagnosis is an explanation of symptoms, not a set of imposed rules. Not only is this likely to feel suffocating- like a diagnosis of depression means that any end to an episode will inevitably be followed by another episode (something I struggle with all the time)- but it makes any attempt to counteract it feel futile. I constantly need to remind myself that a diagnosis does not confiscate my agency over my life.

There is Always a Choice

Even within a diagnosis with symptoms outside of your control, there is always a choice. You can always take action, be it reaching out for help or making the choice to take your medications. I take solace in the fact that I’m not alone in my diagnoses, even if it sometimes feels that I am. At the same time, I work to recognize that I am an individual with my own course through life and my own opportunities to fight.

photo of desert ground with interlocking cracks and dry plants

I’m a (Self)-Control Freak

I’ve trained myself to be restrained whenever possible. I hold myself back when I don’t like something, and even my enthusiasm is tempered. People find me hard to read, and I don’t open up immediately, a little later, or even a bit after that. It takes a while.

Some of this is surely a product of my Sensory Processing Disorder. The world is abrasive to my nervous system; it’s loud, fast, bright, and unpredictable. So, to avoid standing out, I bury my reactions. I’ve developed excellent self-control. Of course, this has repercussions for me when I go home in a haze and need to do a lot of nothing for a while. Hiding how I feel about outside stimuli often protects me from two of the things I dislike the most: interrupting people and being the center of attention. Sometimes, enduring the feeling of people crowding around me is more bearable than attracting attention by elbowing my way to the door on legs that don’t feel like mine.

I have a fear of not being in control of myself. I find nearly every environment to be full of stimuli that are “too much” for me. Even my internal body sensations are problematic. My brain doesn’t always know exactly where in space my body is located or how things are moving around me. All of this feels very much out of my control, so I cling to my self-control for safety. However, I think my self-control has expanded past its allotted jurisdiction, and it’s time to address it.

My need to be in control of my reactions has seeped into my sense of what is my responsibility and what is not. It’s easy for us to think we’re responsible for others; we come to think that their feelings, their setbacks, and their decisions are on our shoulders. What any good friend would tell is you that you aren’t. You’re not responsible for how other people move through the world. We make our own choices, manage our own feelings, and deal with change on our own terms.

small black sign with white letters reading make today tolerable with succulent in wooden container next to sign

My particular misplaced sense of responsibility lies in how I think about my depression. I have always had a nagging (or roaring) sense that my depression is my fault. If I could just do more, or try harder, maybe I could fix myself. I’ve recently been faced with a treatment option that forces me to confront the fact that I have treatment-resistant depression, and that it’s not my fault. Seeing my severe depression as an illness that is out of my direct control is terrifying. It’s simply more comfortable for me to think that I’m just not doing a very good job at solving a problem that can be solved with enough effort.

And that’s how I realized that I’m a (self)-control freak.

actually would rather believe that I’m a failure than that I drew the short mental health straw. At the same time, it’s freeing to view my depression as something that has happened to me rather than something I caused. It takes some of the burden off of me, but it also takes some of the control away from me. Brains are weird, and sometimes they have a mind (har har) of their own. Sudden relapses, triggers, and even seemingly spontaneous ends to episodes are not entirely understood. It’s scary to think that after all of this- the numerous medications, the hospitalization, the group therapy, the individual therapy, the occupational therapy– my brain has stubbornly remained depressed.

If I’m going to get better, I need to stop blaming myself. I need to accept that some things are out of my control and that I don’t need to hold myself entirely accountable for my symptoms. I’ve learned a lot about healthy coping mechanisms in my years of therapy, and although right now I feel too debilitated to put them into useful practice, I hope that a new approach might relieve my symptoms enough to let me begin to heal on my own, the way I like to do it: with hard work.


The term “control freak” has plenty of negative connotations, and it can be hurtful to people who struggle to trust others or to let go of perceptions about the “right” way to do something. This post is in no way a jab at others, only at myself. The title is meant to be humorous, to poke fun at a coping mechanism that holds me back. I’m a self-described self-control freak, and as the term does not bother me, I hope that it doesn’t come across as insensitive.