Wednesday, March 29, 2017

5 Ways My Mental Illness Has Made Me a Better Person

When I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety over six years ago, it came as a shock. Well not entirely, because for the last month I had gone from crying a little about some probably irrational things to sobbing on the floor for no reason at all. But before that I never would have guessed mental illness and “Allie” would ever show up in the same sentence. I couldn’t even estimate how many times over the past 6 years I’ve asked, “why me?” Why was everyone else I knew “fine” while I was curled in fetal position on the floor of my room sobbing uncontrollably without reason? Why were they allowed to have nice, normal, fun lives while I was spending time in and out of appointments with psychologists, therapists, and psychiatrists? Why did I struggle with self-harm and an eating disorder while they happily enjoyed a day at the beach or pool in their bikinis? Why was I hiding under my covers because I had no motivation to face the day while others were out enjoying their “once-in-a-lifetime” high school years? I’ve spent a lot of time angry, sad, confused, lonely, and hurting. Really hurting. 
But not always. Life’s a roller coaster, and so is depression. On the worse days, depression means hiding under my covers for most of the day, canceling get-togethers and calling in sick, and has lead to a couple visits to the ER. It means numbness, lack of motivation, and irritability. At one point it meant 6 weeks away in treatment. 
But not every day is like that. There are better days, too. Days I feel ok. I can get up, get ready for the day, spend time with friends, and get things done. I can smile a real smile, and even laugh a true laugh. On these good days I don’t focus on those terrible moments, or hours, or days. On the really good days, I find myself grateful for what my mental illness has taught me, and who I’ve become through my battle. One of those good days happens to be today. And today I honestly believe my battles with depression, anxiety, self-harm, and an eating disorder have made me a better person. And here’s why:
1. I know my strengths and weaknesses.
In my experience, therapy only works if I’m being open, honest, and often vulnerable. That means discussing my often harmful perfectionistic and people-pleasing qualities, and bringing to light those negative thoughts I have about myself and my body. I know my triggers to negative behaviors. I know what I can handle on bad days, and what I can’t. And of course my treatment also includes learning to recognize the positives. What am I good at? What do I enjoy? What makes me tick? One of my “assignments” was to make a list of my strengths. Trust me, it was tough, because depression and low self-esteem means I often have blinders on to everything besides the negatives. But I did it. And now I can more easily admit my positives. And not only that, I’m proud of them. I’m compassionate, smart, and sensitive. I care deeply about others. I’m thoughtful and warm. Without the treatment for my mental illness, I’m not sure I would ever have reason to be so reflective about who I am as a person.
2. I am perseverant and strong.
There are days I just want to give up. Days I shake on the floor sobbing, wishing only that it could all just be over. But I’ve made it through each moment of hell and out on the other side. I’m made it through residential treatment, eating disorder day programs, ER visits, and self-harm treatment.  Days like today, I look back on all of that and feel like I could do absolutely anything.
3. I am honest and open.
First of all, in therapy. At first I was closed off and embarrassed, but I slowly became more confident and comfortable with my therapist, and now I don’t hide a thing. 
Second of all, with others. Outside of sharing my struggles with about ten close family members and friends, I kept my mental illness a secret for a long time. But after three years I couldn’t take it anymore. I wrote a blog post about everything and put a link to it on my social media. I received messages from my friends asking questions and seeking answers, and I’m more than happy to tell them about my experiences.
4. I am compassionate and better able to understand others’ struggles.
I’ve dealt with depression, anxiety, self-harm, and an eating disorder. I know what it feels like to have no motivation, to be terrified of social gatherings, to want to cancel get-togethers and hide under blankets all day. I get those feelings of not being good enough, or self-loathing, or feeling like none of it’s worth it. So when I see others struggling, I can be there with a listening ear and a helping hand. My “I understand” is a genuine understanding. It’s an “I get you. I get this. And I’m here for you.”
5. I don’t take the good for granted.
Having experienced so much darkness in the past few years, I have learned to be more appreciative of the light. With depression, I never know how long a period of ok will last, so I don’t take it for granted. And after days or weeks of feeling lonely and unmotivated and numb, a day with some motivation and hop in my step feels like a miraculous gift. You know when you’re in a dark room for an extended period of time and then someone turns on the light? And for a moment you’re blinded because your eyes aren’t used to the brightness? Good days with depression are like that. Light is so much stronger after becoming used to the darkness. And good days seem so much better after becoming so used to the bad ones.
On the worst days, I wish only that my mental illness could be taken away and I could live a “normal” life. But on days like today, I can say I’m truly grateful for what my struggles have shaped me into. I look at myself and what I’ve gone through, and I’m genuinely proud of the person I’ve become. On days like today, I wouldn’t change a thing. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Letter of Thanks For Everything My Therapist Has Done

I got this story published today on The Mighty. Here's the link to go directly there:

In case you don't feel like creating an account, I put it here too. :)

Dear therapist,

Thank you for everything.

In the moments when I was too anxious and overwhelmed to make any sense, thank you for being patient with me, for trying to understand my jumbled thoughts.

On some days when depression made it hard to get out of bed thank you for giving me motivation, because I knew a conversation with you was awaiting me. And I was sure to feel better after.

When I was convinced I wasn’t enough, thank you for sitting there and telling me I am, and I am worth it, and that I am loved and deserving.

When I got to the point where talking about my emotions became too overwhelming and I shut down, thank you for reminding me it was OK to be uncomfortable, OK that it was difficult and that this was a room free of judgment. Thank you for sitting there patiently with me while I tried to process.

When I walked into your office in the most pessimistic mood, thank you for gently encouraging me to look at things in another, more positive way.

When comments from others had me convinced no one understood or would ever understand me, thank you for saying the things I needed to hear to convince me otherwise. Thank you for reminding me I am not alone.

When my world was filled with change and turmoil, thank you for standing as one trustworthy constant.

On days when I was sure things would never get better, thank you for reminding me of how far I’ve come.

When I admitted to my eating disorder, thank you for encouraging me to talk to my family and for sitting with me as I planned out what to say. And thank you for making the phone call with me, seeking professional help.

When my symptoms got worse and it was clear I needed more support, thank you for your wisdom, your recommendations, and for letting me know you’ll still be there for me, even while I was away getting help in residential. Thank you for being there when I got back.

When things began to improve and I was upbeat and confident, thank you for sharing in my joy — for laughing with me, sharing our inside jokes and reminding me there is goodness and happiness in this world.

When I moved across the ocean to experience life abroad, thank you for telling me how proud you were of how far I’ve come and for assuring me if I ever needed anything, you would still be there.

When I think about how much you’ve done for me, how far you’ve helped me come, how much I’ve grown with your help and how you’ve supported me at my worst and encouraged me at my best, “thank you” falls far short of adequately expressing my immense gratitude.

But still, I say it anyway.

Thank you, therapist, for everything.



Monday, April 18, 2016

The Key: An Original Spoken Word Poem

If you didn't know me two years ago, you probably don't know my story. This video will likely change that. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

What's it like?

I've lived two lives. Two very different lives. Not one after the other, or one, the other, and back again. No. I have lived two lives at the very same time. For years.
From the outside, people see only one of them. They see a sister, a niece, a daughter, a nanny, a friend. They see a straight-A student. A singer. Someone who loves kids. A happy girl, with a bright smile and genuine laugh. And while all these things are parts of me, they do not make up Allie's full story.
You see, there's another part too. One that's hiding. Or was. But was finally exposed recently. The part that fights to get up in the morning. The one that doesn't see the same light as the other. The one behind the smile and laugh. That has often sat, numb, in a room, alone. Because leaving is too much of a struggle. Because it knows that outside of the protection of those four bedroom walls, it will have to hide. Again.
The one that suffers from depression.
Living with depression is a nearly impossible thing to describe. I once wrote, "I don't wish depression on anyone. But if they had it maybe they'd finally understand!" Because Depression is a mysterious illness that people without it have a VERY difficult time understanding.
But I'm going to try to shed some light on the topic anyway. Because it seems to me that people just don't get it. And while I am ok with words, this is just a bit beyond my ability. So here are 10 descriptions that I found:

1. Kevin Breel sums it up best when he says "Depression isn't being sad when things go wrong. It's being sad when everything is going right."

2. Depression is a second-self. One that's hiding behind a "happy face" and often behind a happy, successful person.

3. Depression is waking up in the morning and dreading the day, even when the sun is shining and there's nothing negative on the agenda.

4. "Feeling completely alone--even if you're surrounded by people."

5. It's a desire to cry but a lack of tears. It's a loneliness but a need for connection. It's wishing something would change, but a lack of motivation to make anything happen.

6. Depression is a fog that causes confusion, numbness, and ambivalence.

7. "Being depressed is all your emotions taken away from you--apart from negative ones like sadness, anxiety and fear."

8. "It's like drowning ... except you can see everyone around you breathing."

9. "Depression is a state in which nothing tastes, smells, or feels right and you are unable to think or make decisions--yet you still have to carry on doing all those things. And so much of the time you just don't have the energy or the desire. But you still carry on anyway."

10. "It's more painful than any physical pain I've ever experienced. And NO-ONE can see it."

That's the simple story. And I'm sorry if it got really intense. At some point, I could have described my depression in each one of those ways. I can verify that those statements are true at least for some people, and are very good descriptions of how depression has impacted and worked in me. But it's not always 100 percent like that for me. And there are times that I am so distracted that I actually forget about it. Completely. So in case you didn't know, people with depression don't always feel like they can't get out of bed, or always have a lack of motivation. My laughs aren't always fake and my smiles are sometimes truly genuine. Depression is a huge part of my life, but not all of it.

Now, for the second part of this post.

There's a problem with Depression in the fact that we don't confront it. We can't even talk about it. My guess is that 80 percent of you haven't even read a personal description of it. As Kevin Breel says, "we live in a world where if you break your arm, everyone runs over to sign your cast, but if
you tell people you're depressed, everyone runs the other way."
We push it under the rug and hope it will disappear. We ignore those crying out for help. And we lose someone to suicide every 30 seconds. Depression is a huge problem. And step one is to get it out there. To talk about it.

So I did. But telling my story isn't about to get everyone in the world to tell theirs. I get it. So, I'm going to start small. If you're struggling with Depression, know this: "Depression is okay. If you're going through it, know that you're okay. And know that you're sick, you're not weak, and it's an issue, not an identity, because when you get past the fear and the ridicule and the judgment and the stigma of others, you can see depression for what it really is, and that's just a part of life." (Kevin Breel - he's good, okay? ;)) And we talk about our lives. So let's talk about this part too. Our second selves, the ones that hide out of fear of whatever, are dying to be exposed to the light. And it's only then that we force the issue of Depression out from under the rug.

Yours Truthfully,


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Where Does God Fit In?

"I wonder where God fits into all of this," a friend commented after my last post (thanks Emily!)

This question is one that I have pondered many times over the last few years, and is so important (as well as complex) that I decided to take another entire blog entry to answer it in depth.

For me, it's easy to see God working in my life when things seem to be going well and falling nicely into place, but much harder to recognize him in the midst of trials and pain.

When I was first diagnosed with Depression, I quickly began to ask God questions like "Why me? What in the world did I do to deserve this? Do You enjoy seeing me in pain, or what?" I wondered what He could possibly be thinking putting me in such a difficult situation. I wondered why He picked me of all the people I knew to live with this illness. Honestly, I was frustrated at God. Sometimes even angry. I was confused and afraid.

Over the next couple years, when times got really rough and the pit I was in seemed to be too deep to ever climb out of, I would ask the same questions. I would question God and His Wisdom and plan. I wondered what He was thinking and why He let me suffer so much. It was during these times that I felt the most alone, because I had a hard time leaning on even God for support.

However, as bad as these times were, I can never say I completely lost hope. There was always a knowledge in the back of my head that things would improve, and that all this was part of God's marvelous plan.

Well, that is, I never lost hope until one day. I had had a particularily difficult week, and things just seemed to be getting worse and worse. I was in a scary state mentally and again began to question God. However, this time, I realized that something was different. I remember writing in my journal "God, why me?...I can't live like this. It's been years, and for years I've had hope and faith that you're out there looking after me and out for me. But I don't know anymore. How can you possibly love me and put me through this?...Have you forgotten about me?" It was then that I realized that the hope and trust always present before (sometimes deep down) was missing. This time, I couldn't trust that God had a plan through everything, and I had no hope that things would ever get better.  I thought I was going to be stuck in that valley forever.

But even just after the moment that I wrote that entry, I knew I wouldn't just desert Him. I knew I wasn't just going to pack up and move on. I knew God would never not be a part of my life. I had a hard time praying, so I asked others to. I didn't know what to say or how to say it, so I listened to music that said what I wanted to say or told me what I needed to hear. Songs like Overcomer, Blessings, Gold, The Sun is Rising, Not for a Moment, and You're not Alone became iTunes Radio stations and were listened to frequently. I'm Catholic, and missing Mass, even in this dark place, was out of the question, so I picked myself up on Sunday and went.

Slowly, things started improving. I was able to once again see the good in each day. I was able to thank God for my blessings and ask him to help me in my struggles. A lot of prayers during this time went much like "God, thank You for getting me through today. Thank You for keeping me safe and healthy and for helping me through today's struggles. God, I don't know what Your plan is, but I know this is all part of something great that I cannot see. Help me to always trust in You."

I know that my Depression is all part of God's perfect plan. I know that there's a reason God placed this trial in my life, and I know He will help me overcome it. He will never give me more than I can handle, and struggles only make me stronger.

So yes. That's where God fits in. In every nook and cranny of any part of me that loses hope or faith,
He is there. Some days, (even when I couldn't see Him) He was carrying me along the path that is my life. A few days, He was my reason to live. Others, He was right next to me, guiding me through the struggles, showing me where to walk and what to avoid. And on better days, we hold hands and skip down the path together.

I could have never gotten through any of this without Him.

Yours Truthfully,


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

No More Secrets

A Secret: a. something not known or seen or not meant to be known or seen by others. b. Something kept from the knowledge of others or shared with just a few. Most of us have had at least a few secrets that we have kept from others. When we were younger it was as simple as our middle name, but quickly evolved to more important things...that surprise party for a friend, a crush, our grades, our weight, or that silly guilty pleasure we still enjoy. We have all probably kept quite a variety of secrets in our lives...whether our own or someone else's. In addition, while some of us are naturally more open to sharing our personal facts, joys, and experiences, others find comfort in the knowledge that those items are private information.

 That being said, sometimes keeping a secret can distance a person from his/her family or friends. Whether it's because (s)he feels guilty for being untruthful, isolated and misunderstood, separated from others, or trapped in the secret, sometimes keeping things from others can make a person feel worse than just letting the whole world know who we truly are, and what is really going on in our lives. And the longer we keep something hidden away in our hearts, the more it eats away at our souls.

 So, with that, I think it's about time I share one of my secrets. This is something I've kept from most people for quite a while, but am now ready to expose to the world. It's a part of me, and after hiding it for years, and experiencing the isolation that I just mentioned, I decided I'm ready for the world to know what Allie Callahan is really, truly going through. In January of 2011, my 10th grade year, I found myself sitting in a plain doctor's office with my mom. Scared and confused, I looked at the woman sitting in front of me and she spoke these simple but life-changing words: "Allie. You have Depression and Anxiety."

 How could things have come to this place so fast? How could I have been a happy-go-lucky carefree young high-schooler last month, and now be in this place? Over the past month, my health had been on the decline. I was really tired, but, more importantly, felt "off" emotionally. I would become offended at the tiniest criticism, cry at the smallest thing, until eventually I was bursting into tears, rocking back and forth on the floor for almost no reason at all. That's when my mom decided something was definitely wrong and that's how I ended up in that office. The next two years (and the last two of high-school) were filled with visits to several counselors and psychiatrists and more medications than I can list. It was a roller coaster. Some days or weeks were fine, while others consisted mainly of laying in bed without the motivation to roll over, stand up, and face the day.

 Fast forward to winter 2013-14. Things got much worse. Issues and stresses during my first semester of college launched me down into another of life's valleys. I made it through the last week of school, and coming home was a huge relief. But the next month didn't get much better, and I soon began to wonder how in the world I was going to be able to be safe and functioning at college by the end of January. Well, mid-January came along, and I had to make the very difficult to decision to take the spring semester off. However, there was no way I was going to be able to proclaim that to the world. Not without awkwardly hiding the reality behind it or (even more frightening) telling people the truth. So I hid it. And if you're a close friend of mine reading this now, and you didn't know that I wasn't at school or the real reason behind it, please don't feel bad. You are in the same boat as 90 percent of people who know me. Remember. This was my secret.

 So anyway, that leads me to today. For the past 5 months I have been at home nannying for 3 families, working as a princess at Tiny Diva Princess Parties, and being a talent represented by an agency. Depression might have taken away my second semester of school, but it has not stopped me from living a full life. Some weeks are ok, others harder, and others excruciatingly difficult. But like I said, life's a roller coaster. And so is Depression.

So, that's my story. My secret. I'm sorry I've hid it from you for so many years, but that's over now.
And we're going to start again.

 Hi. My name is Allie Callahan. I am 19 years old. I am fun-loving and creative. I love singing and acting, laughing, shopping, and beaches. My passion is kids and I cannot wait to become a teacher. My family is my world. And I struggle daily with Depression.

 So if you (or someone you know) deals with Depression, too, you are not alone. Not even close. We don't know how common Depression is in our world because we don't talk about it. Those who struggle with it, like me, tend to keep it a secret. Why? Who knows. Maybe it's the stigma that people who are depressed are weak, and should just snap out of it. Maybe it's the awkwardness of telling someone you're struggling with Depression. The responses vary from shock to concern, fear to worry, and avoidance to full on Depression-focused discussions. It can get awkward. But you know what's even worse? Letting that stop you from showing the world, especially those close to you, who you really are and what you're going through. So if you struggle with mental illness, I encourage you, if you haven't already, to get it out. While it's ok to let your private life be private, it's also good to be honest and open. And there are people out there who are willing to help.

 If you don't believe it. Look again. First off, there's me. I have gone through the very same illness you have gone through. And though it works in each of us in different ways, it's very much the same. As cancer patients support each other, so too must we. So if you need to start somewhere, I am completely and totally open to hearing your story. In fact, you've just made it through mine, so I better return the favor (;)). If not me, start with someone else close to you. Be real. You'll feel much better when you know you're not keeping your secret from everyone.

 Thanks for reading. And remember that no matter who you are or what you are going through, you are loved and cared for. You are important. And there is nothing you cannot get through with Him. You may stumble and fall, but you will always get back up. You have a life with a purpose. And no matter how low you may feel somedays, it's always darkest before the dawn. Rainbows only appear after a little rain.

 Yours Truthfully,