Hello and welcome to my haven.
You don’t know me yet but you will.
We are going on a journey together that I hope you will enjoy. It will be creative in nature, require your thought, energy and effort and I truly believe it will be worth it.
Together we will build creative lands, become empowered by our imaginations and tackle the issues that arise in our lives every day.
But first, you need to know a little about who I am and what gives me the right to paint these pictures and craft these words. So, let’s begin:
My name is Raquel Lyons. I am a twenty-six year old college graduate with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Psychology. I attended UMass Boston for the entirety of my higher education. I am an avid artist, juggling various branches of creation including: creative writing involving poetry, short stories and, as of the last four years, Loki centered Avengers fan fiction; graphic design; photography; filming; beaded bracelets; coloring; water coloring; painting; drawing and scrapbooking. As already alluded to, I am a major Marvel Cinematic Universe fan. I enjoy reading books: most often supernatural based ones, self-help oriented ones, memoirs, gripping psychological thrillers and even horror, as of late. I go frequently enough to the library and search through both the young adult section as well as the adult section. Sherryl Woods is my favorite optimistic and romantic based author whom soothes my soul from all the serial killers and spooky tales that I otherwise ingest.
I love gazebos, lighthouses, rainbow lighthouses (which aren’t a real phenomenon outside of my imagination but they are essentially seven color based lighthouses, rainbows that wrap around the building itself instead of it being plain white or white and red. Seven colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple and pink. Since adopting this stance, regular lighthouses in our shared reality are just too plain for me.) I love unicorns, lanterns, candles, summer, planners, journals, art supplies and if my soul were a color it would be a sparkling rainbow with a bright white light that causes traffic accidents worldwide.
I still live at home with my parents and I own a Labrador retriever mix doggo named Mocha AKA The Mokeys, who loves to steal my socks off my feet and gets very happy when she trots away with her prize. Her antics and her joy bring much entertainment and love into my life. We’ve had her since June 2017 and she’s grown into a beautiful doggo with gorgeous grey-brown eyes.
I work eight hours a week at my job, Amaryllis, a residential with trauma informed care for troubled youth.
Beyond this and in every other avenue of my life, I am a proud and prominent mental health advocate. My longest running work experience involves advocacy from NAMI Massachusetts, otherwise known as the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I began with their In Our Own Voice presentations in March 2016. If you don’t already know, IOOV’s help to break the stigma around mental health by allowing peers to share their recovery stories in three main segments, alongside a video of other testimonies and a question and answer portion for the various audiences we present to. Audience members range from students at universities, police officers, CEO’s, clients at inpatient hospitalizations, staff for hospitalizations and more.
Later, in fall 2016 I was trained for their Peer to Peer recovery course that is for audiences living with mental health conditions. The new protocol involves the course lasting eight weeks and we teach things like awareness grids, SMART goals, psychoeducation and more. As of 2020, I am branching into their Ending the Silence presentations for an audience of students and Allies for Student Mental Health for an audience of teachers and other professionals.
Upon embarking on these endeavors, in March 2016 I began to write for the Mass Media, my university’s student-run newspaper.
Everything I’ve done, that I’ve culminated over the years–from my articles, to my public speaking, to my WordPress blog formed in May 2016, to my Twitter created in April 2017, my Youtube channel in December 2016–all of it and more led up to this moment:
Welcome to my haven.
My name is Raquel and I live a life with mental health conditions.
To be precise: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder on self-harm and suicide obsessions (incongruent with mood, intrusive thoughts that cause distress); secondary depression; borderline traits; trichotillomania (hair-pulling); dermatillomania (skin-picking) and an Internet addiction–which I still only accept as a consumption versus creation problem.
But still, if these are my afflictions, then how did everything lead up to here? How have I gone from repeated hospitalizations and intense suicidal ideation to this moment, right now?
Well, I’ll explain.
I was first diagnosed with OCD back in fall 2014 by my university’s Counseling Center. The OCD I live with is mood-incongruent. This means that I will have intrusive thoughts, images or words appear in my mind that I do *not* want to act on. In fact, the fear and the anxiety and distress arises because I *think* that having the thought means that I want to act on it, even when I don’t. I would spend hours at a time trying to disprove the thought, settle upon the fact that I didn’t want to act on it and in that, find relief, only to have the thought come again and the cycle to begin once more.
Because I was diagnosed by the Counseling Center, I was already in treatment, although I hadn’t known I was living with a diagnosable mental health condition. The way the rug felt pulled out from under me, landing me on my ass was enough for my entire identity to come into question and for me to be afraid of what all this meant.
So, my problems grew larger even as I was reminded from the get-go that recovery is possible, hope existed and that I could still live a happy and healthy life, that the OCD was treatable and things would be okay again.
In January 2015 I was diagnosed with secondary depression. Depression took from me the anxiety, so instead of having anxiety at the intrusive thought of suicide, I would feel nothing when I genuinely contemplated suicide. Depression also took from me my silence about what I was suffering from. Suicide began to take up every space and every ounce of my thinking, becoming persistent, mood-congruent. While I searched online for methods, I also searched for resources about suicide prevention. I believe it’s because inherently, at my core, I didn’t want to act on my thoughts. Despite this, I attempted suicide and by the end of the month, I was hospitalized for the very first time.
It took me from about three to six months to understand that the suicidal ideation I was experiencing was a medical emergency. My logic was always incredibly skewed: I didn’t understand the severity of what I was dabbling in, my mind portrayed suicide into a glorified, glamorous act that I was destined to succumb to, I felt that it made more sense to go to the hospital after I followed through but not before. It took me a while and many instances of learning when it was “serious” and when the thoughts were separate from the actions. But I learned it.
By March 2015, I re-entered the hospital and came out with a psychiatrist, as they tinkered with different medications for me to try and stay on. At first, I was opposed to the idea of medications (and in hindsight I really needed them) because I had made ‘friends’ with the conditions and I was scared of leaving them behind to become “an adult.” I distinctly recall an instance in spring 2015 where recovery became a choice to me–I was about to act on my thoughts until I realized that when I told my providers about it later, they would not be pleased, and I didn’t want to say that I had given in–a theme crucial to my recovery journey even now.
During this time, I was transitioning outside of the Counseling Center to an OCD specialized therapist whom I saw twice a week for over a year. Around then, as well, fall 2015 rolled around and I was attending the OCD-Institute for treatment.
After everything I learned, I was hospital free for nine months.
They weren’t completely peaceful times, but I had enough of a leg up over the conditions that I could grapple and cope with them in healthier ways. I began my advocacy routes, as I touched on earlier, and this truly proved to be the most impactful, accountable and long-lasting thing I ever did. The articles I wrote in the paper centered on my recovery and mental health treatment. I aimed to dispel the misconceptions regarding mental health conditions and, I still hope, provided information, awareness, education and hope that things could get better and that my voice and my story inherently mattered–encroaching into everything that I was doing.
In fall 2016–I relapsed. Another round of hospitalizations commenced.
2017 arrived and it wasn’t a good year for me. I was hospitalized five times, which was the most in any year before then, and my last stay of that year resulted in threats of a state hospitalization, very intense symptoms from my brain, variations of medications being tried and ultimately receiving electro-convulsive therapy as my last ditch effort.
And it worked, for a while I was stable for two months.
And then January 2018 arrived and the depression came back hard and very, very prominent. I, unfortunately, lost all hope. It was the first time that my symptoms were arising significantly from depression, I was rapidly flickering into various emotions–anxiety, sadness, anger, calm, apathy–as I picked a suicide method, carried it everywhere I went, lied to my treatment team, family, friends and was only frightfully honest in articles. My articles all took a dark, sharp turn and I voicelessly preached the suicide hotlines and resources without ever truly believing in my message. It…was a dark time.
My parents wound up calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and offered me an ultimatum: to either go willingly to the hospital or to be sent by ambulance. I decided to go willingly.
When I got back out, after the hospital had decreased my medications, I was more suicidal than ever before. My therapist, April, recommended I start at a long-term day program called Passages. Monday, Wednesday, Friday I went to the day program after one week within the partial program, and then I attended school on Tuesday and Thursday and went through the motions.
It was after I wrote an alarming article that sunk my fate into another hospitalization that I not only needed but required. Everything had gotten out of hand: I had lost all control and I was afraid of letting go of all the time and effort I had spent planning to harm myself. I feared that by that point, I was in too deep. It felt like I had two feet in the suicidality puddle, one hand in and the other reaching out for help, uncertain and unclear. But it was a good friend of mine who spoke up to me from the paper, who wormed hope back into my line of vision, who worried for me and wanted me to get better, that really changed the entire timeline of events.
I went to my day program the next day, was honest about my struggling and ultimately I re-committed back to life. Valentine’s Day 2018 marks my twelfth hospitalization over the course of three years.
You read that right. I’ve been hospital free for two years.
What really changed everything for me was that Passages is a dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) based program involving four main modules from interpersonal effectiveness, mindfulness, emotion regulation and distress tolerance. After attending the program for a few months, my treatment coordinator believed that I was a good candidate for their DBT-Intensive program. As such, I began DBT-I in May 2018 (graduating from this in January 2020), changing over from my once weekly therapy sessions with April to a therapist on site, completing weekly homework assignments, and filling out diary cards that tracked my moods and behaviors.
Honestly, DBT completely transformed my life. I went from an almost constant unstable baseline to an incredibly rock solid baseline that I still maintain and sustain today. I am almost entirely free of symptoms. While most forms of the self-harm I engaged in and most definitely all of the suicidality I once faced have faded into the background (becoming my third or fourth choice in the grand scheme of things) other issues like hair-pulling and skin-picking have taken front stage.
What matters though is that I’m doing really, really well. I still have my struggles, sometimes I don’t have good days, and I use my DBT skills every single day. I’ve found stability and happiness in living and being alive. I take the day by the horns, I work, I achieve, I dabble in structure. I love, I laugh, I push away the past. I live moment to moment. I read books. I watch movies. I was emotionally wrecked after “Avengers: Endgame”, I wear Marvel based jewelry nearly every day to express my love; I write my fan fiction and publish it online. I procrastinate with the Internet.
I live. I live *with* the mental health conditions–something I didn’t think was possible at one point in time. But every day I live. I survive.
And so, that brings me back to here. Today, I am happy. Today, I am stable. Today, I am not cured but I am in recovery. And that’s good enough for me.
I’d like to continue nurturing the recovery-based projects I’ve created from over the years, half of them originating from 2016, with another from 2017 and the latest one from 2019. Each project features artwork from the lived experiences of peers with mental health conditions or substance use disorders that share their journey and what’s helped them, what’s given them hope and what’s been long-lasting in their recovery. The end goal is to compile the works of art and donate them to inpatient psychiatric hospitals so that others may be inspired to form meaning from their experiences and reach out again to other individuals as their own guiding light. Like…a lighthouse. My first project, from 2016, that each article in this column will weekly explore is called Recovery Home.
Recovery Home was created when I realized that all the time I was spending planning my untimely death could just as easily be used to create a magical, imaginative place where I was stable and free and happy. Thus, Recovery Home began. Recovery Home is about planning and creating that ideal home, neighborhood, community. It’s about detailing as specifically as possible what would exist in that house, that town, those residential streets, the people nearby, the skills I’d be using, and much more. Additionally, a key component to Recovery Home is that while we build it in our imaginations, we also use our present reality to incorporate what would be featured in that house into our everyday experiences–so, think of it as if I was going to have a gazebo on my property in my Recovery Home, maybe I create artwork that features that and hang it up on my bedroom wall or I get the supplies and build a physical one on my current property.
Ultimately, as I dust off the ideas for Recovery Home, guiding you with my own version of it and solidifying my future plans for where I want to take it, this column won’t necessarily go in order. Think of this series as creative nonfiction. I’ll probably jump around–some articles will focus within the home environment itself while others will build upon skills I’ve encountered in everyday life and what that means for creating this world of mine, and by extension, if I’m especially blessed, hearing what yours looks like, too.
Lastly, I find the biggest theme for my mental health journey has been the perspective I’ve cultivated that having lived through these trials and tribulations hasn’t taken away things from me rather it’s given me more opportunities that wouldn’t have otherwise existed. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
I’m a very optimistic person. I’m kind, compassionate, persistent, funny and hold myself with a healthy amount of strong self-esteem. I’m creative and open, a hard-worker and resilient. I am, in fact, a survivor radiating badassery.
I hope that you will choose to come along for this creative, fun and explorative journey. Again, I think it will prove to be so very, very worth it.
Next week, we will be discussing what recovery and mental health means to me as a way of beginning the story that will soon unfold.
As always, thank you so much for reading. I know this was a long one, so thank you for your patience and for your time. You’re awesome. I am sending you all the light and love. Stay safe.
PS: Music is a huge part of my recovery and my artwork, so as a fun aside, I listened to: “Skeleton” by Jessie Paege and “Got It In You” by BANNERS to create this chapter.
“Hi, my name is Raquel Lyons, and I’m a twenty-six year old college graduate having completed a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology. I love creating artwork in various juggling fashions, including: photography, creative writing (particularly Loki centered Avengers fan fiction), graphic design, filming, beaded bracelets, water coloring, painting, drawing, coloring and scrapbooking. You can find me over at my main blog under the name “RecoverytoWellness.” I hope you enjoy my articles from a lived experience perspective from mental health conditions and recovery focused work and feel free to leave me a comment anywhere on social media, I’d love to chat with you! Stay safe!! xxx”