Problem: Anxiety. Solution: Fuck it.

**Thanks to Moxie for making this for me! It’s definitely my life motto.**Image

I have been anxious my whole life. It’s a part of who I am. I worry about people in my life being happy, getting hurt, or dying. I worry people will stop loving me. I worry I won’t be funny, loving, or “enough.” I worry I won’t have a job I love, a man who loves me, or amazing friends by my side. And hey, most people worry about those things.You know, those big, unknown, life-changing things. Why wouldn’t you worry? If any of those things happen or don’t, it’s going to suck.

Still, the anxiety I can’t handle is the irrational, nonsensical one that takes a coffee date with a friend and turns it into an agoraphobic depressive episode. It makes me unable to buy things like toilet paper or feminine products because I worry the person checking me out or in line behind me is thinking how disgusting I am. It’s anxiety that if I go to a movie, I might have to pee, and if I go to pee, I might miss something good. Or maybe I’ll be loud leaving the theater to pee and someone will yell at me. Sometimes I’m anxious at the idea of watching a movie or a Broadway show because it might be so outrageously good that it’s overwhelming, and so I worry. Honestly, looking these over I have to chuckle at how ridiculously asinine these “worries” are.

After all, as the book says, everybody poops. And everybody has to pee during movies (especially when they’re three hours long and you are doing your best to get your eight glasses of water in.) And maybe what I think is anxiety is really just excitement but my body is so used to assuming that those physiological symptoms are psychologically signaling me to panic, that I assume it’s anxiety rather than happiness and excitement.

So what’s a nervous girl to do? Well, the other day I went in and bought feminine products. I was nervous and starting to panic. I almost took a Xanax but then I just thought: fuck it. (I have a feeling this is my version of my brother’s ever-effective philosophy: “it is what it is.”) I’m binge-watching this really good show on Netflix and I’m already nervous about it ending and not knowing what to watch next. Normally, I would just stop watching, but I’m going to finish it because you know what: fuck it. And I still haven’t quite perfected this “fuck it” mentality yet, i.e. I still can’t go to a movie at a theater, which used to be my favorite activity. And that sucks. I still sometimes randomly think about someone I need in my life leaving me and I want to crawl into myself and scream, but I try to take a deep breath and distract myself with something boring but time-consuming.

But you know – it really “is what it is” at this point. So, altogether now….fuck it.

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Miss Diagnosis: Looking for Answers in All the Wrong Places

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Disclaimer: I am concerned this post might offend people and I want to be upfront that it is not my intention. I’ve struggled to fully explain this process and perhaps this post needs to be edited or redone. I do want to say I am sorry if I do offend and my real point is as I say at the end: that all of us with mental illness stand together as one.

For years, I struggled to have people understand something was wrong with me, that I was sick. When I was finally diagnosed with an “illness,” it was a validating and important moment. People could tell me I was just having a bad day, being hormonal, or being cynical, but having a doctor tell me I had a real disease was a relief. At least it was at first.

While I finally felt understood, it was only by my psychiatrist and therapist, which some people don’t even acknowledge have “real” professions. It felt like my family was going along with it, hoping that their appeasement might provide respite from my constant kvetching. But those around me, especially those I couldn’t tell, would say things like: “we all get depressed,” “I think those people need to pick themselves up and try harder,” “besides others have it much worse than them,” or my favorite “they should stop feeling sorry for themselves.” I felt completely alone and worthless.

Comments like these exacerbated my depression. As if I didn’t feel shitty enough because I was being told by the demons in my head constantly what a failed, ugly, stupid, worthless idiot I was, now I felt guilty. What if they were right? What if I just wasn’t trying hard enough because I was a coward? Others did have it worse than me, so why was I complaining? And should I stop feeling sorry for myself and do something about it?

I thought about all of this as I lay in bed in clothes I hadn’t changed in at least four days. I could barely leave my bed, let alone my house. I would wait and listen to see if my roommates were gone and run down the steps to grab food for the night. I felt like I wanted to rip my skin off, I hated it so much. And yet, I couldn’t leave. Migraines came and went, calls rang and went unanswered, and I was there alone – just me and my hateful mind. And so the cycle continued and worsened.

While I regret that it took cutting to feel validated in my disease, I now have a greater network of people who support and understand my illness. And yet, even with my diagnosis, I feel my disorder has the least “respect” even within the mental illness community.

I’m not saying this is right or rational, but as I adjusted to my diagnosis, it started to feel like high school again. The schizophrenics and personality disorders were the jocks – untouchable and awed by the mental illness community. They were truly validated as having an illness. Bipolar I were the cool kids – with incredible stories, creative highs, and intense lows. They had memoirs with fantastic stories of money, sex, and drugs. And at the time, as a person with major depressive disorder, I was a nerd. A lower concern for all. After all, no one worried I would hallucinate or go to Vegas and spend all my money. Nope. I just would sit at home for days on end, feeling sorry for myself, eating and sleeping. Doesn’t everyone have days like that?

And then, I was re-diagnosed with bipolar II. If you think people haven’t heard of ECT, you should see how few know about bipolar II. By the time I try to explain what it is, people have lost interest. “Oh, you’re not bipolar, you’re basically depressed but you have some extreme ups, but they’re not that extreme.” No, but fuck you anyway.

I recognize that I am lucky to be a “nerd.” I know that others suffer other illnesses that deeply hurt themselves, their friends, and their families. But it doesn’t mean my illness isn’t as terrorizing or destructive.

ECT does wonders for schizophrenia and bipolar I, but depression can be tricky and bipolar II usually only works the first time around. I have been on anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, mood stabilizers, the works. But depression is a tricky asshole that changes course whenever it feels the need. And it seems that even as bipolar II, I’m dealing with the same asshole as before, just with a different name and a better explanation of my personality disorder.

There is no single cure for any of us and we all still need more studies, more awareness, and more help and understanding from the larger community. And while at times I feel like the loser of the bunch, I suppose that’s just the depression talking. I know that at the end of the day, we stand united as victims of mental illness; all of us fighting our demons. We are one.

Being A Burden: Depression and Friendship

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While depression is a self-oriented illness, its’ impact reaches far and wide. Ramifications erode into school, work, and of course, ones’ social life. But nowhere have I found this impact as destructive or disturbing as with my family and friends. I’d like to write about friends first, given that the complexity of family warrants its’ own blog post (if not blog).

I’ve always had a hard time making friends. At least as a child, I was bullied and rejected quite a bit. By high school, the bullying stopped given that my trust for others had completely evaporated. While in grade school, I always wanted a BFF and a clique to eat lunch with, but by high school my philosophy was “to be friends with everyone” while never allowing myself to truly care. The point was for them to like me but for me to not get emotionally involved. Obviously, as an emotional person with my disease already intact, this failed terribly. But it became my working “philosophy” for the most part until college. I will note that luckily, I did make it out of high school with a few awesome friends that I am still in touch with and love wholeheartedly.

Since high school, (damn that was a long time ago,) I have had the fortune to find some spectacular people whom I love and who love me back. It amazes me how much they believe in me, especially given how little I believe in myself.

But it hasn’t always been so hunky dory. (Disclaimer: I so apologize for using that expression and it will never happen again.) Two years out of college, I was living with a person who I considered one of my closest friends. I was having a hard time with my depression, spending most of my time in my room, and when with her, given that she was a friend, sharing my concerns and negative thoughts with her.

One random day, she sat me down and told me that I was a burden and that she had to take care of herself and could no longer handle my disease. I suppose I understood her overall sentiment. I imagine living with someone with this disease who is suffering can be quite overwhelming. I always tell people who are friends or family of someone with a mental illness to make sure they are taking care of themselves first. But it was the word “burden” that devastated and destroyed me.

My shame about this illness and its’ impact on those I care for the most, is for me, one of the worst parts of this disease. I can handle my own self-hate and emotional and physical pain, especially considering the disease is always telling me it is what I deserve. But to think I was a burden on someone’s life. I honestly think if she had told me she needed space, or wanted me to get more help, or that she felt helpless, it wouldn’t have had the same impact and I would have understood without the additional guilt and pain.

I know that being friends with me is a serious commitment. I imagine it can be exhausting, frustrating, and at times, a heavy load to bear. But I suppose in saying that word, she justified all of the thoughts I had about myself. And I visualized and understood that my friendship was something my friends had to carry; another “task” they couldn’t cross off their to-do list. I carried that idea for years after. After I moved out, I cut all ties with her and since then have tried to stop using that word.

I am absolutely amazed by my friends. Literally, they are truly extraordinary individuals – I feel bad for people that don’t have them in their lives. They overwhelm me with their love, patience and support. They listen, they offer advice, and they provide hugs, even if they’re virtual. They continue to call and email, even when I don’t pick up the phone.

For years, during depressive episodes, I shut down. I didn’t want to “burden” my friends with my pain, knowing they would tell me they loved me and I was worth having around. At those times, I was too deep in self-hate to hear it. And I can’t imagine having someone in my life who constantly disappears like I did. I have missed weddings, coffee and lunch dates, and other commitments I have made.

Making and following through with commitments has been a huge problem and therefore a big goal of mine in trying to get better and fight this illness. I have set new goals such as calling or emailing my friends once a week. I have been more open about my illness even when I’m nervous about their judgment and boredom (which I try to believe is all in my head.) I try to let them know how much I love and appreciate how amazing and spectacular they are and that I know having a friend with a mental illness can hurt them as well. And I have started to work on not canceling. I know this seems simple, but I have had to develop tactics in order to not cancel or not answer a call. Now, if a friend calls, I force myself to pick up the phone, even if I think I’m not in the mood, knowing I can always get off. But what I have also started to do is when I am feeling good, be proactive and call them myself.

Here’s another example. I make plans to meet a friend for brunch. The morning of, I spiral: I become incredibly anxious, my stomach hurts, I usually get a headache, and I imagine terrible scenarios where we have nothing to talk about, I’m boring or unfunny, or they end up telling me they just can’t handle my friendship anymore. So this is what I have started to do:

  • I try not to make plans too far in advance so I have a better sense of how I’m feeling, i.e. if I’m in an episode or not.
  • The morning of, I get ready and even if my stomach hurts or I feel ugly, I try my best not to text to cancel. I tell myself I can always cancel after I get ready.
  • I get in the car, and I tell myself I can always get there and not leave the car and cancel.
  • I tell myself when I finally get there and meet them, if the conversation is horrible, I can always leave early.

But I have never once regretted seeing or speaking with my friends. In fact, even after I see or talk to them, while tired from expelling energy, I feel high. I love listening and helping, I love hearing their laughs and also being there for their cries and frustrations. It makes me realize I have a purpose in life and a reason to live. Maybe I’ll never be the head of an organization or have the things people in society deem as making one “happy” or “successful.” But I can be a good friend and not only love doing it, I can continue to try and be the best I can be at it. To me, that gives me a profound feeling of happiness and the feeling of success. I thank my friends, (family included,) for giving me that purpose and drive, and love them more than words.

Jealousy: She’s a Bitch, But I Love Her Shoes…

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I would never call myself a jealous person…but I am. When I was a kid, I was jealous of the wealthy people at my school: their ski trips, houses in San Francisco, nice cars. I was jealous of the thin girls, the pretty girls, the smart girls, and the seemingly “happy girls”.

But my jealousy has “evolved” with my disorder. I’m not jealous of your clothes or your money, I’m jealous that you don’t have a mental illness. And let’s get this out of the way: jealousy is illogical, moronic, and unfounded 98% of the time. All humans are fucked up and most things are not as they seem. But that’s not what my irrational, dark, angry, “emotional” mind thinks. (In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy a.k.a. DBT, they call irrational thinking your “emotional” mind. The healthier thoughts are from your “wise” mind. And yes, they fight ALL the time and technically are both true. Don’t worry, more on that later.)

But just because something’s wrong, doesn’t mean we don’t do it. Just because I know someone has shit in their life, doesn’t mean I still can’t think I’d rather have their shit than mine, which is covered with a thick layer of bipolar II to boot. Your car broke down and that sucks; but when my car breaks down, I am too anxious to call the repairman if I’m alone. So, I have to call someone to come before I can even make the call, let alone get it fixed. What’s that? Ah yes, the sound of whining; a common companion to jealousy. It is also moronic, unfounded and childish. But it happens. So let’s continue…

At this point in my life, that’s what my jealousy is all about – why do I have to be the “sick” one? Most of the time, I look at people without a mental illness and I think: if only I didn’t have this voice in the back of my head, I could be like that person. I AM that person, I just can’t BE that person because of this illness. Without this illness, I am an extrovert at heart. When I was a child, I loved being loud, getting attention, and being around people. I wanted to either be an actress, comedian or journalist. But with this illness, I have become an introvert – even exhausted by personal exchanges. For example, if I have coffee with someone, that’s my talking/smiling/engagement quotient for the day. I have days where I literally cannot leave the house. If I can, I can’t go to CVS and buy personal products in public. And if I can get to CVS, I find myself having a full-blown panic attack with profuse sweating, overactive breathing, tunnel vision, and eye-contact avoidance – unless I end up turning around and asking my mom to go inside for me instead. But at that point, I’d rather have a broken down car.

When I’m feeling better, I feel the real me come alive, take ownership: the person that loves talking to her friends, helping people across the street, making eye contact and smiling, talking loudly, and being the center of attention. And I want to just be that person. I mean, I am that person but now I have to monitor how much I allow her to be out and about. I have to ask myself: am I actually having a hypomanic episode? Will this engagement burn me out into a depressive episode? And at that point, fuck jealousy, I’m just pissed that I have to even worry about this at all. (Cue whining violin…again.)

So go ahead and wear uncomfortable heels, show off those kick-ass legs, and brag to me about where you went to college, how amazing your job is, or how hot your boyfriend is. I’m not competitive, I had to let that go long ago. I just wish I could imagine a life where I could have those expectations, and not have my emotional mind laugh in my face and push me down again. And I suppose to rid this jealousy in the long term it will be about accepting my new expectations of myself and my lifestyle. At least that’s what my wise mind tells me.

Self Mutilation: An Ugly Tattoo of Hate & Shame

Disclaimer: Let me first say that cutting, or “self-mutilation” is a horrible thing and I do not condone it in any way. I do not think it’s helpful, actually works in the long-term, or is a worthy form of positive self-medication. I’m also not going to go into details about how I did it or where I did it, because I always found that when I read about it, it was like a how-to with tips, and that’s not my intention either. If you find yourself cutting, you should seek help – whether by telling a friend or family member; finding a support group; seeking out a therapist; or calling a hotline. And if you are someone who is told that someone you love is cutting, the best thing you can do is ask them how you can help.

That being said, for me, cutting was a self-medication I began my sophomore year in college (see post on self-medication for background.) I will say that when I started, I was at a point where I felt like I was going to explode inwards. My pain was so severe and nothing seemed to dull it. I physically felt like I was throbbing with pain and bloated with agony. I imagined myself like a balloon that had too much air in it and needed a release. And that’s what cutting did. It was like I was letting a little of the pain out psychologically by creating a hole physiologically. The release never lasted more than 2-5 minutes and then the shame of having hurt myself plus now having to hide it led to other negative self-medication like binge-drinking and eating. But sometimes, it just led to a good cry. Not even a cry – a good all-out sobbing. And now I realize, that’s what I really needed and what felt so good. It wasn’t the cutting. It was that I was feeling so much I felt nothing and the pain of the cut allowed me to feel and then brought all of my emotions to the surface.

Like most self-medications, I became addicted quickly and learned how to hide it. Now, in retrospect, I think a part of me always wanted someone to see it. It was like I was waving for someone to help me from a sinking ship by flashing a part of my skin that hadn’t healed or accidentally showing a band-aid with hopes someone would catch me in a lie.

I also was struggling with some family issues at the time and was frustrated that I thought no one in my family understood my pain. As a child, I was deemed the sensitive, empathetic one. (And to be fair – I really was and still am.) But I had tried to explain to my family that something just wasn’t right since I was little. They would check my forehead, tell me I was hormonal, or just tell me I was taking things too seriously. By high school, that’s when I stopped complaining as much and took matters into my own hands. From my perspective, my family was too busy living their lives to see my pain and I was in this alone – the odd one out that never belonged there anyway.

And so perhaps a part of me cut because I wanted to hurt them and I wanted them to see my hurt. I wanted to make them believe my pain was real and not hormonal. I was sick and I needed them to see it. And so, after a few years of cutting, with some therapy to boot, I told my family. I want to say I felt sick seeing how it hurt them, and given my love for my family, it did. But it also made me see in their pain, their love for me. I know they have always had it, but I never really saw it, and I guess the cutting opened up that opportunity for me.

I’ll never regret the process of self-medicating. It’s what made me realize I needed to accept support from others, to get on prescription medication, to change my lifestyle, and eventually to get ECT. I still have the random bender where I cut, but it’s different now. The high doesn’t last, and I know now I’ll need to tell my family and I’ll be ashamed because I know how much time and effort and faith they put into me. I know that they themselves deserve more from me, and so do I.

Self-Medicating: How Can Something So Right, Be So Wrong?

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Mental illness or not, we all do it. No, I’m not talking about masturbation – I’m talking about self-medicating.

Life is a stressful, complicated, big blob of fear, anxiety, and failure, wrapped in a bomb with an unknown time limit before explosion and death. It’s no wonder people need a way to relax.

For some, they go the way of meditation, aromatherapy, yoga, acupuncture, natural and prescribed medications, exercise, and healthy eating – and I am in no way knocking these things. In fact, I have tried, and am doing, the majority of them. But sometimes, it’s not enough. And especially if you working with the complexity of life and a mental illness, it can be too much to balance with breathing exercises and a downward dog. Besides, medications are expensive and as I mentioned in my last post, take time, are unreliable, and have major side effects.

So we try to self-medicate first. For me, it started with food. I could stuff myself with food and just before I thought I would throw up, stuff myself some more. Then, by the time I got to high school and was constantly trying to lose weight, it became anorexia – trying to see how little I could eat to see how much control I could gain. But there was also alcohol and drugs. And it’s not like someone was asking me if I was okay because everyone was doing it, it never impacted my grades, I never got busted, drank and drove, or made those mistakes that some Beliebers do.

In college, I would outdrink the guys next to me and then make out with a few – trying my best to convince myself I wasn’t the ugly, worthless piece of shit I knew I was. It never quite did the trick and since I was too much of a control freak to sleep around, I started to wonder how I was going to find my release.

Somewhere around sophomore year, I found cutting, or as some call it “self-mutilation.” It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It was the point I realized I needed therapy but it was also when I finally found a self-medication that did what I needed. I’ve tried to explain cutting to many, and I’ve learned from others that like most things, it’s different depending on the person. But I can tell you what it gave me, and why to this day I still miss it. But more on that later.

I know people self-medicate in different ways that take them on much more intense addictive paths. These paths exacerbate their psychosis, and can lead to, for example, homelessness, violence, and abusive relationships. While I know that prescription medications are not a cure-all (I’ve been “unlucky in love” with most of mine,) I think the difference is that self-medication is a short-term fix while medication and therapy seek to find a long-term solution. And given how exhausting this process is, I think the latter is what we’re truly looking for on this journey.

Medication: A Complicated Balance

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It’s ironic that the next topic I wanted to discuss on this blog was medication, because the reason why I couldn’t sit down to type about it was because of my … medication. It’s a tricky thing – medication is intended to help you get back to your life; to quiet the demons so you are strong enough to get out of bed, get out of the house, try to have some sort of consistency or “life.” But it’s a balance because feeling better is a complicated mix, with some severe side effects that are both psychological and physiological.

I have been on prescription medication since college. With each medication came its’ own set of side effects including: dry mouth, akinesia, stomachaches, weight gain, (a pro-depressant if you ask me,) headaches, light-headedness, dizziness, sluggishness, wanting to rip my skin off, insomnia – pick an uncomfortable side effect, and I’ve had it. And sometimes you have to decide if the side effect is worth the effect you are receiving psychologically from the medication. This is a personal, complicated, and often difficult process (both in starting new meds and withdrawing from old).

Four months ago, I went on a medication and within two months, had gained 30 pounds without change in diet or exercise. At that point, I didn’t care if it made me feel like someone in an anti-depressant commercial, it wasn’t worth it. Getting off that medication was difficult with headaches, sluggishness, and stomachaches, (in other words – withdrawal,) and the weight still hasn’t come off. Two weeks ago, I went on another medication and developed akinesia. It was like having 18 cups of coffee on 2 hours of sleep. I couldn’t stop moving but every time I took a step, I wanted to lay down wherever I was – in the street, at the gym. I was spelling words incorrectly, having a hard time doing anything for more than 15 minutes, and having massive panic attacks. So yeah, I decided after two weeks that all that the negatives outweighed the positives on that one.

The medication I am still on makes it difficult to fall and stay asleep. So, I take medications to help decrease anxiety (both mentally and physically) and medication to not only help me fall asleep but ideally stay asleep. I know – you all of a sudden go from no meds to having five because the one you are taking needs four to compensate for the first one. But at the same time, I can see the positive changes psychologically the first medication is making and it makes the other four worth it. At this point in time, even with the sleep aggravation, it’s an aggravation worth dealing with because the benefits of this medication do outweigh the annoying disadvantages. And besides, if I’m taking one pill, what’s another four. :)

A large problem for people with bipolar or schizophrenia (or any other mental illness for that matter,) is that they go off their meds. They decide to either self-medicate or go cold turkey because they don’t like the side effects. On meds, they don’t feel like themselves – they’re cloudy, unable to concentrate, and feel like their creativity is suppressed. I cannot tell anyone what they should or should not do because making these sacrifices/decisions are personal. I will say that sometimes we either think we don’t need medications when we feel better, even though it’s the meds we are taking that are making us feel that way, or we don’t want to feel the side effects so we give up. Unfortunately, given the power of mental illness, I think sometimes we just have to honestly weigh how bad the side effects are in relation to the impact and effect the medication is having on our overall mental health and well-being.

Another reason I’m often tempted to go off meds is because I miss how I “normally” feel. Sometimes you are depressed or sick for so long, that being like that starts to feel like the norm. I’ve been feeling different since I was eight and with the meds, I sometimes feel like I’m faking this version of myself and that version lacks the sensitivity, passion, and creativity I used to have in handfuls with my depression. In fact, when I take medication and start to make plans and build up life, I feel this deep sadness. At first I thought it was the depression creeping back in but I think sometimes I’m mourning the loss of my sadness and mood swings.

It is in those extremes, I feel most “alive.” I am more impulsive, more creative, and less passive. I yell at people instead of being polite; I hate myself without the guilt of those around me telling me I shouldn’t; I hurt myself and no one can stop me, and in a way, it makes me feel powerful, in control, and “normal.” Life may not feel dulled like when on medication, but I realize the feelings I have that are “full,” are dark, foreboding, and negative. When I’m having a hypomanic episode, I feel effective and efficient, but tottering on a string, about to slip and fall into a large hole of deep, intense depression. And I realize that in the end, it’s all about about the long-game and every day survival.

I know, at least for me, I also don’t just take these medications for myself. I take them for my family and friends. Because without them, I know eventually I’ll become suicidal (shit, sometimes even with them,) so I have to keep trying. After all, I don’t want to hurt my mom who tries so hard to help, or my friends who have stood by me for so long. I don’t want my sister to have to explain to her children what happened to their aunt. Even if I can’t fully do it for myself because at the moment all I can see is that this dry mouth is really impacting making any conversation and my jaw hurts from chewing so much gum, I have seen the possibility in others of what my life could look like, and I recognize it just takes time – even though I detest that idea, no matter how true it is.

I mentioned that I’ve been on medications for over 10 years. And that’s because sometimes medications stop working. Or they re-diagnose you. Or your lifestyle changes and a side effect is no longer viable. (I can imagine for some sex drive might become a game-changer. Sadly, not for me at this time.) I can’t think of a metaphor for how frustrating and disheartening this process is. It also has personally given me trust issues – what if I go on something and it works and I build my life up and then it just stops working and everything comes crashing down. Then, after all that, you want me to try it again? Patience is a bitch.

But every so often, I’ve found myself in a good place with medication and so I know it’s possible. And while faith is not a strong part of who I am, I can’t seem to get rid of the hope that one day I’ll find something that works and won’t quit on me. And so, at least for now, I won’t quit on myself.

I’m Not Who You Think I Am

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I wanted to start this blog to help humanize mental illness. So many people I speak to tell me one of the main problems with mental illness is that they know so little about it. And it’s true. Unless you are dealing with one personally; are a friend or family member who loves someone with the illness; are a psychiatrist or therapist; or study it, chances are you know about mental illness from movies, television, and occasional commercials with cartoon characters looking sad.

And stigma is a horrible plague in our society. Lack of education and therefore a preponderance of ignorance regarding mental illness exacerbates our perpetuating lack of treatment; rise in homelessness; increased self-medication through non-prescription drugs and alcohol; bullying and increased suicides; and discriminatory practices in employment and health insurance practices. (I know our government is working on the last one, but honestly as someone who just recently got jacked by the employment system, it needs a lot more help.)

So here I stand on my soap box, attempting to “put a face to a name,” trying to break barriers, and I pronounce my name to be: Ava G. But it’s not. It’s a great name, but it’s not MY name. When I decided to do this blog, I was okay with using my name. I was pretty sure I would never work, date, or really exist in society, so why worry? But then I thought, “what if?” What if I finally get my meds together long enough to handle a job and they find this blog? What if there’s someone who I’m really getting along with and we’ve made it past first base and he reads this?

Now I don’t think this blog is “going places” and the irony is I’m pretty much sharing it with people I know and who know about this part of my life. I also know the hypocrisy of my statements above: how do you break down stigma and discrimination if you will not stand up and be counted? And besides, who wants to work at an organization that won’t hire a fantastic, devoted, talented worker because they write a blog on how hard it is to maintain being that great. Who wants to go to second with a dude who knows so little, and seeing a picture of Jack Nicholson makes him want to run for the door…sober.

I have done a lot of community outreach and civil rights coalition-building in my life, and I am constantly advocating that people make their voice known. Sign a petition, call a representative, or put your name on a letter. I tell people to go out to their communities and hand out flyers, volunteer at organizations, etc. And not once do I say, “and don’t forget to use a pseudonym.” A part of me wants to say, it’s not in the name but in the action. After all, can’t we all be voices for change, without being THE voice? I’ve decided that for now, writing about these personal experiences is the best I can do.

And besides, I think Ava G. is a lovely name.

Why Are You “E.C.Teed_Off”?

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Note: Reference to suicide, suicidal ideation, and self-harm.

Hello there, and welcome to my first blog post! I promise I won’t use pictures of Jack Nicholson from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for any other post. (But never say never, right?)

After all these years, I’ve come to see living with a mental illness as a process, not a problem. Ok, it is a problem – a really frustrating, devastating, never-ending, self-destructive problem. But I suppose what I really mean is that the solution is a process. There is no quick fix for mental illness and it cannot be cured. Believe me, I’ve tried. Like many have said before me, it’s like having Type-1 diabetes – you can help make it better, you can learn to live with it, but you will always be a diabetic. It only has taken me about 14 years to accept this, and some days I still just don’t want it to be true.

While I suppose my story of battling mental illness starts at the age of eight, I wanted to use this blog to focus on the many components of the illness: like its impact on family and friends; life-building; medication; therapy; (mis)diagnosis; stigma; and of course, ECT. And knowing me, perhaps a few other (million) things.

So the name of the blog … about five years ago, I had to quit my job on the East Coast that I was quite fond of, leave my friends and other life accoutrements, and move back to the West Coast because of a breakdown that led me trapped in a deteriorating downward spiral. I spent the next year in Berkeley, unable to leave the house; binge-watching Netflix; making and eating pancakes, and hating my life. I was about to turn 30 and realized I couldn’t take it anymore. I decided the week before I turned 30, I would kill myself.

Now the act of killing oneself might be easy (unless you are only attempting suicide as a sign for help,) but doing it while under close surveillance of family and friends who need and love you, is a bitch. Plus, I am currently and was at the time becoming the worst liar in the world. Who knew age not only led to wisdom but truth – maybe we just get too tired to lie? Anyway, I told my psychiatrist that I was having suicidal ideation and given the 10 years of drugs I had tried for my major depressive disorder, she decided now was the time I should try ECT.

Now I know what you’re thinking: ECT? Electroconvulsive Therapy? Electro Shock?! Even I thought of the scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with the wood stick jammed between his teeth, his body seizing, froth spilling from the sides of his mouth, and it only making him even more fucking crazy. But to be honest, when you want to kill yourself and have a history of self-destructive behavior, why not? I figured, worse case scenario: I died on the table. Convenient. If it hurt? Good. I deserved it anyway.

The plan was to do ECT for six weeks, three times a day. That’s a good starter course. (FYI: I don’t remember much of Berkeley because of the severe depression nor do I remember most of my ECT so my details may be slightly off. Specific “facts” are known by either my doctor or my mom. I do know, however, that those six weeks turned into two years, give or take.)

The worst part of ECT, is that for the first procedure you have to stay in the psychiatric ward – just in case something happens – liability, etc. As someone who at the time had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, I was in pretty good shape compared to my fellow “inmates.” It was the first time I had ever seen someone who was schizophrenic and off their meds, met a person with borderline personality, or witnessed severe bipolar disorder.

No matter how bad my depression ever got, I’ve always been polite, extroverted around people, and eager to please. Here I was sharing a room with three other people who didn’t give a fuck if they farted or if the nurse wanted them to be quiet. My eyes wide open, I heard someone who was in what I think they call in prison “solitary lockdown” screaming the entire night. Needless to say, that made me more scared than the idea of ECT. But then the next morning, this sweet, tall man came to wheel me to my first session. The front desk people didn’t look at me like I was a beaten puppy. The doctor was kind but upfront and incredibly educated. The nursing staff was so kind, I didn’t have to make excuses or take the energy to hide my sad truths. They asked me some pretty severe questions about my life, but never showed judgment. I already felt like I was building a family of friends who actually understood who I was. And once I was wheeled into the “operating room” they were efficient and light-hearted. (More stories on that later.)

As for the process, after they wheel you into the room, they give you fentanyl which relaxes your body and makes you feel … at peace. At the time, I didn’t know that people actually “used” fentanyl. But I certainly get why now. So we get in there, and they were all chuckling. Actually, they chuckled every time I had a session, because in my nervous honesty when they asked me about allergies, I had mentioned eggplant. I get nervous around authority figures and my luck, one of the anesthetics reacts to female eggplant. I don’t know?! I was nervous! Anyway, after that, every time I had a session, they included it among the list of allergies on the white board. And every time I had a session, they thought it was hilarious as if the first time. Well, no one can say I don’t entertain but I assure you I can do better than that.

Then I took a deep breath and the nurse who was there took my hand. I told her to make sure no one started until I was fully asleep and she promised me she wouldn’t let that happen. The warmth of her hand and the smile on her face assured me I was in good hands. I was supposed to count to ten but I don’t think I ever got past eight. (I was thinking about how in movies they always make it to like…four – which is bullshit. But then I realized, if you give someone until four, you can scan the room, the lines on the scary machine, zoom in on the anesthesiologist, the nurse wiping the doctor’s brow. It also gives you time for some dramatic music. So okay, I’ll let it slide this time.) I felt like I blinked and I was in post-op. According to the doctors, the procedure “door to door” is a total of 15 minutes. You spend more time in pre-surgery and post-op than in the actual procedure itself.

You can learn more about the details of the process and why it can be a good option at the Mayo Clinic website. Before I did the procedure, I also read “Shock” by Kitty Dukakis. What most people don’t know is that ECT is really helpful for people with bipolar I and schizophrenia, as well as major depression. Much later on, as in two years through the process, I would learn I had been misdiagnosed and did not have major depressive disorder but bipolar II. Turns out, those of us lucky to have a form of bipolar that no one knows about, while ECT is effective the first time, it’s ineffective if ever tried again. Bully for me! It sucked because at the time I thought ECT was the G-d I never had, but I found some peace in understanding why none of the meds I was taking were working. The hypomania also explained a lot of my past behavior. And most importantly, it meant I could use different medication to actually reach the right parts of my brain that were fucked up.

While I am now back to struggling with medications and the like, I have to say – I miss the “allure” of ECT. Sure, I had aches and pains afterward. But I felt my mind changing: it was like I could feel myself gaining control over my demons. I hope to share more about my experience with ECT as it varies from person to person, and more importantly because people rarely talk about it at all. Long story short, this is why I chose the name Ecteedoff for my blog.

As I wrote before, I hope to use this blog to explore the complexity of mental illness – from the minutia to larger systemic issues. And I hope you’ll join me, both on my journey and in exploring your own.