Mental Health, Project, Python, Wellness Journey

Neural Network Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Project 2: My Mental Health Story

**Please review the trigger warnings and disclaimers for this project or continue at your own risk. In this post I explain my mental health journey to give background on why I am doing this project, and also to just get it out of my system so I’m not longer carrying around all this information. Feel free to skip this section and proceed to the next post to get into the actual experiment and how it was performed.

For over 10 years I have struggled with anxiety and depression. Almost 9 years ago it got so bad I finally did something about it–I joined Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Within a year my life was completely different, I lost weight, I had energy, I was *SO* happy the world seemed to be on fire with excitement. I had never felt so wonderful in my entire life.

And then I had my first surgery. After only a year and a half into my BJJ journey, I had to have ankle ligament reconstruction. It was from an injury that never healed years prior to me joining the sport, but eventually what little support I had remaining was gone and I couldn’t walk. I had surgery in May 2015 and then took almost 6 months to get back into competing.

The “new normal” in safe surgical care - Mather Hospital

It was during that time that I decided that trying to have a family with my husband would be the right thing to do. Because of my medical condition PCOS, we knew there was a high chance of miscarriage. After a year of infertility treatments and doctors appointments I was finally pregnant. We announced to our families at around 8 weeks because it was Christmas time and we wanted them to share in our excitement for the next year.

A few days into January at a routine appointment, I was terrified that I had lost my baby. When I saw the little tic tac on the screen, a sense of relief washed over me. And then the doctor looked at me with a concerned face and said, “I’m so sorry, your baby died”.

Why Ambiguous Loss Makes Grieving Different | Rewire

I was ushered into a private room with tissues to cry and call my husband to tell him the news. He drove straight to the doctor’s to pick me up, and we went to train BJJ that night with our friends. I collapsed on the ground many times that night sobbing into my hands, and my friends surrounded me, picked me up, and kept me moving. During live rolls at the end of class, I had no fight in me, all I asked was my training partner kill me. Just end it now.

The miscarriage seemed to take my anxiety to a level I had never reached. It seeped out of me, like an internal seal was broken. I started having horrific anxiety at random times during the day. Every morning I threw up as I got ready for work. Eventually I could barely leave the house and my depression started to grow. I tried to find motivation to see a doctor or start therapy, but it was all so overwhelming. Then one weekend my brain felt like it was on fire. I felt nobody cared about me. That I was a burden to everyone in my life. That I should do everyone a favor and just go away.

A small part of myself was still there. That small part begged me to wait one more day. I could still do it the next day. I had the gun, I knew where the bullets were, it was still there tomorrow. Later that evening when my husband came home I told him I was very sick and needed to see a doctor. He got me an appointment with an MD, and I got a referral to a therapist soon after. I knew I needed medication to shut me down if I was ever in a place like that again.

As the years went on, I have been in terrible lows, but each time I have waited another day. I have gotten better doctors, better medication, better support systems, and learned about the wonders of Cognitive Behavior Therapy from my therapist. Unfortunately, the miscarriage had a lasting effect on me and was quickly followed by another painful injury requiring surgery. The persistent anxiety and depression culminated in mine and my husband’s divorce. I’ll let past-Christi explain the situation through my old Facebook post, since she explained the situation the best.

Edit 11/25/20: We are still best friends 🙂

Still, nothing prepared me for the utter hell I would go through following the loss of a friend to suicide in 2018. I was used to my brain telling me that I was a burden, or that I was not loved, or useless. I knew those were lies, because my therapist has helped me identify them as cognitive errors. But this time, my depressed brain fixated on all the ways I contributed to my friend’s death. How I should have done more, and how I let him down.

The CBT work I had done started to unravel, my self esteem and confidence went with it. My depressive episodes were frequent. I was extremely unstable. At any moment I would be made irrationally angry, and my fiance dealt with having a front row seat to the monster I had become. I explained so much to her what I was going through, but it was still impossible to remember exactly what it was like after I was no longer depressed.

Internal Monsters by TheStrawberryBazooka on Newgrounds

So I had an idea. I decided to write to myself when I was depressed. I wanted to understand this other person that I become. I thought maybe if I know what it wants, or understand what it says, maybe I can eradicate those cognitive errors.

So here I am, in 2019, my last message to myself was barely over a week ago (4/30/19). I have yet to dig through and understand patterns. What I can tell, is that my episodes are less frequent, and they do not last as long. But I have yet to take them to my therapist to discuss, and it would be unreasonable to ask that she read through a novel worth of text just to help understand the drivers of my depression.

The 7 Surprising Benefits of Writing a Journal | by Bryan Collins | The  Writing Cooperative

So I wondered, what if I use my letters to train a neural network called “My Inner Demon”? Perhaps then I can see what it says, how it thinks, what messages are the strongest in my depression.

The next parts of this blog pertain to my experiment where I will perform the following to hopefully drag myself out of this depressive spiral. In order, this is what I aim to accomplish:

  1. Train a neural network based on my depression journals
  2. Take key statements and turn them into easy to read memes and post to an Instagram account called “My Inner Demon”
  3. Create a meme site called “My Outer Angel” where I post positive affirmations
  4. Feed these positive statements into the “Inner Demon” neural network and retrain it multiple times and post it to an Instagram account called “My Inner Angel”
  5. Perform analysis on the outputs to see how long it takes for positive affirmations to become the more prevalent output of the neural network

I hope it will give my therapist and I the guidance I need. Next post will be all about the experiment itself and its findings!

Please Note:

I am not a professionally trained expert on the technology utilized in this project (or honestly any project on this blog). As such, my implementation of it may have flaws or generous room for improvement. I am not a healthcare professional, nor do I claim to be. Anything I do and describe in my blog is for my personal interest and learning purposes and is not recommended to be used for another’s healthcare. If you find concepts used in this blog that you want to explore for yourself, please seek out and review with your own qualified healthcare professionals.

I believe in complete transparency and honestly about my mental health because it is my way to regain control, help break the stigma, and encourage others to seek out professional help.

This project is not a replacement for any of the medical professionals I see. If you are struggling with mental illness I highly recommend finding your own healthcare professionals. TREATMENT HELPS!!!

I know all of this is likely overkill for a blog nobody reads, but mental health is not something to be played with and I do not want to unintentionally cause harm to anyone on the internet that may stumble across these posts.

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