Anxiety, Brain Injury, Depression

Triple Whammy

Dealing with depression, anxiety, and a brain injury is confusing and disheartening.

Were my lows this low, before the stroke? Did I always hate crowds this much? Did I overthink things this much? . . . or everything just a little bit worse? I don’t remember so I can’t make an accurate comparison.

I spend a lot of time scrutinizing things like, what to do with my time, who I’ll spend it with, where I’m comfortable being from moment to moment, and how I’ll get there.

I make mistakes, but they’re not as drastic or detrimental as they used to be.

I have no regrets because in each wrongful act I’ve committed, or mistake I’ve made, I’ve learned more about myself and human nature.

As humans, what we want and what’s right, don’t necessarily coincide.

On top of that sentiment, it’s all relative to who you’re surrounded by, what your beliefs are, what takes priority at the given time, what makes you tick, what resources are at your disposal, etc.

That being said, I’d like to strive to be a better person, while minimizing emotional pain across the board.

A few of my goals for this winter are to remain seizure-free and to combat my impending, debilitating depression. That means staying away from stressful, demoralizing situations.

Part of this quest for salvation is having to battle my inner demons and win. It can be done but it’s not easy and it’s a never-ending struggle.

So, after a week of serious thinking, in early December, I decided to try remain to sober.

My neurologist okayed me to have ONE alcoholic beverage per day. However, I can’t ever predict whether I can stop after one.

For instance, on a Wednesday night about a month ago, I thought, “A glass of cabernet sauvignon would pair nicely with a slice of strawberry rhubarb pie,” and it did but . . . Then, I had two more glasses of wine, only one glass of water, and forgot to take the evening dose of my anti-convulsant.

The morning after the “wine and pie fiasco,” I had a seizure.

I was treating the site where I bit down on my cheek during said seizure. It wasn’t healed after a week. This, among other things, solidified my decision to try self-restraint.

I’m really good at justifying things to myself. I never, really, considered sobriety before because I’ve never believed in abstaining from something. I believed that telling yourself, you can’t have something is just . . . cruel. But, in weighing pros and cons, at this moment, allowing myself to drink is more cruel because of the imminent domino effect.

Overall, I need to take better care of myself.

It’s been a solid month of sobriety. The more time passes, the prouder I am of myself. I’ve been treating myself the way I’ve always wanted to.

I figured, if I could just make it through the holidays, the rest would be cake.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve wanted to drink within the past month to deal with stress, to make myself comfortably numb, to “fit in,” to not remember, etc. But, I realize that those “coping mechanisms” are temporary, counter-productive, and NOT healthy. Again, one drink would be alright, but I never can tell if I’ll stop after that one. It’s better FOR ME to cut it out completely.

It took a few weeks but, now, I feel better than I have, in a long time.

I’m more in-tune with my body. If I feel “off” I think, “Did I take my meds? Do I need food? Do I need sleep?” There’s no ignoring, or guessing, or forgetting.

For about a year or so, I was afraid to leave my apartment; afraid I’d forget my morning meds, worried I’d have a seizure or a panic attack at the gym or on the bus, stuff like that. Irrational fears, really.

I people say, I’m sharper and my speech has improved. I think it’s true. Even if it’s a placebo effect, I’ll take it!

I’ve been having weird, embarrassing dreams where I slip up and do something stupid. When I realize it’s only a dream, I feel relieved and reminded of what could be or has been and I’m like, “No, thank you.”

I’ve had more energy. I still NEED my naps and I still crap out from general fatigue, but it’s less frequent and doesn’t last as long.


It helps that everybody in my life has been so supportive.

They say, “Do you!”

And I say, “Hmmm . . . Okay!”


I don’t know. Something just feels right about 2016.

Adapt, Balance, Change


I’ve become, quite recently, truly (in the plainest of terms) grateful for my stroke.

The reason being, it’s given me a real chance to redefine myself, and what I think is pivotal to my well-being. I have the time to actually become the person I want to be.

That is a gift. No more coveting. The world is my oyster. The sky’s the limit. Yes, because of my new-found, so-called “handicaps,” I’m supposedly limited to what I “can do.” But, not really. I have the mental capacity and resources to navigate around obstacles. It takes longer, but what are we in a hurry for anyway? Think about it.

When I had that significant change at the blink of an eye, I spent the following year, working my ass off, trying to regain what I’d “lost;” hoping everything would be as it were. I wanted my life back.

Once that year went by in my stroke recovery, I was devastated. I thought I’d be so much further than I was. I went through the stages of grief, mourning my past-self. I was in a very dark place, feeling very disheartened. After months of debilitating depression, I finally came terms with how different my life had become and will always be. I tried and am trying, to find what will makes me content in the moment, while continuing moving forward, especially in recovery. I’m trying to find self-worth.

With being labeled as disabled, I believed for a time, that I no longer had anything to offer anyone. Pre-stroke, I used my trade (tattooing) to show people I cared, to make money, and to travel. I gave newlyweds, birthday girls/guys, etc., tattoos as gifts. I made trades for things I wanted/needed. I could afford to visit peers/friends or offer rides places because I was always working.

Since the stroke, I’ve had to rethink my Love Languages (see, Support and Forgiveness, January 23rd, 2015.). What makes me a “good friend?” What am I physically, emotionally, or spiritually able to do now to show people that I care?

I have no money. I can’t, legitimately, drive. I can’t tattoo.

What CAN I do?!

I’m so grateful for the support I’ve received. Without it, I couldn’t have survived the first year of recovery. Not only did people visit me, but there were numerous benefits on my behalf. There was a place, online, where people could donate. All this started happening before I could even begin to fathom what was going on. No joke, in October 2013, I was out-of-it for nearly 3 weeks, but, without knowing it, I was being taken care of. Words cannot describe how much that means to me. With that support I was able to get through that first year financially and emotionally. I had a roof over my head, rides wherever I needed to go, kind words and encouragement, etc.

My mother helped get services in place: Medicaid, Disability, the Traumatic Brain Injury Waiver, etc. She gave me what I needed to be able to figure out what I want. In one word: my mama gave me “SECURITY.”

Medicaid helps me maintain my health and keep my doctors and therapists in cahoots. We’re a team. I love it.

Social Security Disability Insurance gives me money every month, which I use to pay bills.

The TBI Waiver provides me with, basically, loopholes with insurance, and services through an agency of my initial choosing. That said organization, first and foremost, hooked me up with a service coordinator (SC) and a councilor. My councilor has been with me since the beginning. I got lucky with her. Unfortunately, I had to go through 4 or so service coordinators in a year, and threaten to go through another agency, in order to reach the SC I have now. But, such is life, and we’re sure making up for lost time now!

Through the TBI Waiver, my service coordinator was able to get me funding with TBI Housing. Now that I have my own apartment, I have food stamps as well. They definitely lesson the financial burden. I’m, also, going through ACCES-VR (formerly Vesid) to make myself more “employable.” Namely, they’re helping me with driving lessons and going back to school; stuff like that. I figure, even if or when I start tattooing again, I could adjust my schedule accordingly. I’m not worried about it in the least.

So, on paper, things are going quite well.

There are some hiccups in regard to my health but I’m working on those too. I have to remember that I’m NOT a typical young woman anymore. The best I can to do is to take care of myself. Believe it or not . . . the alternative . . . THAT would be selfish. When I slip up on the things I need (or need NOT) to do, not only do I suffer, but the people who care about me suffer, as well (maybe even more-so).

That mentality has changed a lot of things for me. I used to think that giving all my energy toward other people mattered. I set myself lowest on the totem pole. I put other people’s needs and happiness before my own, because I thought that if the people around me were happy, I’d be happy too. I didn’t want to make waves. I wanted everyone to “like me.” I kept silent and sweet. “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” right? Not necessarily. I now realize, you can be pleasant without sacrificing your self-respect.

Throughout my stroke recovery, I’ve been working hard at, not only my abilities and health, but my character too. Like I typed, previously, “I have the time to actually become the person I want to be.” How cool is that?!

So, I ask myself:

1.) What DO I THINK makes a solid human being?

Integrity. “Word is bond” (Wu Tang Clan, c.1993.). I like that phrase. It embodies everything I want to accomplish. I look at it as encompassing honesty, loyalty, following a certain moral code, strength in the face of adversity, etc.

2.) What qualities do I find in people I respect and admire?

I don’t believe in accepting hand-outs. I believe in working for what you’re given. I have to keep in mind, the services I use now, are in place because I NEED them. You’re not taking advantage if you’re in need. 

I respect conviction. Even if I don’t agree, I admire people who sick to their guns but allow room for discussion; debate, even. 

I lost a lot with my stroke but it’s okay because, in turn, I grew a backbone. I learned to say, “No.” Now and again, I try to keep up with the Joneses, but more often than not, if I need to sit a round or two out, I do. I’m still working on that. 

3.) What qualities do I find in the people I truly love unconditionally?

I appreciate when people are honest, while treating me as a peer. “Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.” (Judge Judy, 1997.) And, patronization or babying does’t do anyone, any good.

I would do anything in my power for the people I care about. That’s not a lot right now. Still, the people I love, don’t expect much but still make me feel special and held in high regard. 

4.) Would I date me?

Nah, brah. However, I’m starting to like myself and exhibiting more self-respect than ever. I’m getting there.

5.) After all is said and done, what do I think’s most important?

Integrity. Honesty. Loyalty. Strength in the face of adversity. Hard work. Conviction. Respect.

All these things matter to me, but NOT at my personal expense. Some overlap. Some contradict. But, it’s all about finding a balance. Allowing some vulnerability without victimization, pride without conceit. Finding self-love without selfishness. Knowing when to fight and when to walk away. Exhibiting discipline without obsession. Etc. Etc. Etc.

. . . : Make way for “Mariah 2.0” : . . .

Ask yourself versions of these questions and see where you end up.

Fine-tune yourself.

Above Photo by James Via

Empathy, Love, Understanding

Support and Forgiveness

Through my many years of mental therapy, life experiences and reflection, I’ve learned to take lessons I’ve come across, not only with a grain of salt, but, also, to spread them to other parts of my life.

I am working on being less jaded and angry, and more forgiving. Don’t get me wrong: there are people out there who are just nasty and selfish; who don’t care about who they hurt and are human leeches. I’m talking about finding my own peace of mind through understanding and patience.

One thing discussed in therapy was the “5 Love Languages.” (Gary Chapman, “5 Love Languages. Initially, I was figuring out what I wanted or needed out of a romantic relationship. Then, the discussion became why certain things meant more or hurt more, depending on the person and their role in my life.

I believe one of the purest forms of love is support. Those two words are interchangeable for me. One thing I always stress is how I’m “feelin’ the love” or thanking people “so much for [their] support” throughout my stroke recovery. I’ve tried, however, to stay away from mentioning the disappointment and emotional hurt I encounter, out of trying to stay positive. Negativity is so easy! If I’m not careful, my head can turn into a very dank, dark place. I do my best to ignore the negativity of others. It’s easy to get wrapped up in that. You have to filter it, according to your priorities and beliefs. You have to pick your battles. What’s really important?

With going through recovery, I’ve had to learn who my real friends are. That’s not very convenient, to feel disappointed in people, cast aside, and worthless, when you’re laid up. To be honest, I was perfectly okay with superficiality, pre-stroke.

However, sometimes, after my stroke, I was, silently, passing judgement on people who didn’t deserve it.

My realizations have layers.

Physical ailments are apparent from the get-go. I wondered, “How many people did I dismiss, before, when they were slurring their speech because I thought they were drunk and weren’t? How many people did I get pissed at when they were ‘taking too long’ to cross the street? How many sentences did I try to finish, out of sheer impatience?” So, I’m telling myself, “It’s not too late to change how I look at things.” It just takes a little more observation and awareness.

I want to understand, on all levels, what happened to me. I’ve been digging deeper and deeper. My research has been snowballing; with that, my understanding and empathy.

Stroke is to brain injury as PTSD is to anxiety and depression.

With interacting with other brain injured people and reading books and articles, I’m opening a whole new can of worms. I’m learning about people and human nature, in general. Any kind of trauma can shape a person; even if it’s as minute as getting cut off while driving.

Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Like cutting people slack, physically, I’m, also, giving them leeway, emotionally. Sure, some people are just toxic, but, “forgive them, for they know not what they do,” or can’t help it.

Again, it’s for my own piece of mind too. Rather than taking things personally and thinking, “It’s not [them], it’s me,” I’m choosing to think, ”Maybe, IT IS them. Maybe, it’s got nothing to do with me, at all.”

That brings me back, full circle (I love when that happens). I’m finding new comfort in the “5 Love Languages.”

Support can come in so many different ways, on various avenues; big or small, long-term or just a blip of time. I’m going to use as references to illustrate key points. Once again, I’m taking something discussed in therapy and applying to something, I think, is along a parallel line: support during my stroke recovery.

The “5 Love Languages,” according to Dr. Gary Chapman, are “Words of Affirmation,” “Acts of Service,” “Receiving Gifts,” “Quality Time,” and “Physical Touch.”

The line between “Acts of Service” and “Receiving Gifts” is a bit blurry for me. I guess, one major difference is, I’m still learning to accept “Acts of Service” and know they’re out of the kindness, not pity. However, to me, a selfless “Act of Service” IS a way of giving. When I was hospitalized, I was overwhelmed by the amount of people who pulled together to show me how loved I am. People raised money for me online and through benefit shows. A literal donation is a gift but time is money, therefore, any who musicians who played on my behalf were gifting. Whether it was reading to me or bringing me art supplies, making something for me or bringing food, I appreciated all of it. Whether it’s giving me rides places or putting me up for a night or two, cooking/baking for me or showing me inspirational or funny music, photos, videos, or memes, I’m thankful.

Kind words go a long way with me, if they’re sincere and not patronizing. I’ve honed in on where to get what from. For example, if I need a for-real, no-bullshit, conversation, I know know who to call (and it ain’t the Ghostbusters!). If I need, literal, “Words of Affirmation” and cheerleaders, I have plenty of places to round up those from, online or in person alike. That makes me more than grateful.

I love “Quality Time” with people I love who love me back. ‘Nough said.

There’s a time and a place for physicality. If a hugs last too long, I get awkward. Since my stroke, I’ve become more introverted. I, basically, don’t know where I stand on “Physical Touch.” Let’s just leave it at that.

So, why, sometimes, do I dwell on people or situations that disappointment me when I have so much support? I don’t know but I have to weigh what’s important to me versus what realistic expectations are. I have to have faith that the people who really care about me are doing the best they can. Maybe, they’re dealing with their own demons.

The reason I touched on what I’ve learned through research, earlier, and ”Maybe, IT IS them. Maybe, it’s got nothing to do with me, at all,” is because . . . forgiveness. It’s important not to forget but, I think, forgiveness is part of the process of understanding. I’m not excusing poor behavior. You have to, again, weigh what’s important to you, what realistic expectations are, whether the people in question want to change or are self-ignorant, etc. YOU have to decide what deserves YOUR forgiveness.

Maybe, some people didn’t visit me in the hospital because the setting reminds them of a time when they watched a loved one passed away.

Maybe, some people aren’t “available” because they’re, privately, dealing with something that is beyond anyone’s control.

Maybe, some people “know not what they do” because they’re living life superficially because anything else would just be too painful.

When I was tattooing, I handled everyone like they were sick, for their sake, for the sake of future clients, and for mine. You hope that people are honest when filling out their release forms but you never know. Hell, they may not even know they contracted something and some point.

Sometimes, people have deficits that aren’t apparent at first, if that all. The brain injured, chronically ill people, people with debilitating mental disorders, etc. are everywhere. You just never can tell.

I’ve spent too much time holding grudges, when people didn’t even know I was hurting. That’s called “Passive Aggression,” folks, which breeds further negativity. It’s what happens when you ASSume and drives you insane.

So, take a step back. Assess what’s really wrong. What are you really bothered by? Then, decide: Is this really worth getting this upset over?