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Fearing What You Want Most: To Be Healed

ImageI’m currently in an uphill battle to “get better.” While I’m not entirely sure what “getting better” looks like, I imagine it means living on my own, having a job, being able to handle social and public situations, being a good friend, coming to accept who I am – the good and the bad – and perhaps handling the emotional capacity to have a relationship. I have fought for this “normal” with therapy, medication, electro convulsive therapy, diets, and exercise. Sometimes I find myself with two out of six, maybe even three. It can last anywhere from two months to two weeks.

And sometimes, when I am feeling better, I panic. After all, I have spent the majority of my life on the depressive side of what I now know is bipolar II. Unaware then when I was being effective and efficient, I was most likely in a hypomanic stage. I have come to accept this disease as a part of me so much, that sometimes I worry about who I might be without it. While I understand there’s no cure, what if I found the right pairing of medication and treatments that would allow me to find my normal? Who would I be then? What would “depression” feel like when it wasn’t an anxiety-ridden full-blown agoraphobic attack? Who would I see when I looked in the mirror? To be completely honest, while I am fighting to get there, the idea of actually reaching my goals terrifies the living shit out of me.

After all, I’ve defined myself by my sadness. I find a strange comfort in my disease. It’s been my partner in crime for so long, it’s come to define who I am. And getting better means redefining who I could be, all with the fear that it might not last.

People say to take it day by day, but that’s just not how I am. I have a tendency to catastrophize a situation into a lifetime of pain and loss. I can what-if any positive situation into total disaster. And now I’ve started to worry about feeling better. I get anxious knowing I might be moving forward.

Example: I am about to embark on a three-week trip to the East Coast to see some of my closest, dearest friends. Besides unimportant worries like having to pee on the plane and somehow getting a cold, I also worry I won’t be able to be “on” the whole time, to keep up or handle situations I haven’t dealt with in years, like seeing old acquaintances, being alone for long periods of time, or going to the theatre and being around lots of people without the ability to leave. It’s a lot of interaction and self-judgment of how others are leading their lives the way I always assumed I would live mine. I know that I am going to be around people I love and that the situations that arise will be what they will be. I also know that things tend to always go better than I imagine they might, but I can’t decide what I’m more afraid of: things going poorly or things going well.

It’s that “what-if“ monster that is currently on a taunting spree – he’s a tricky little shit. Either way, I’m getting on that plane tomorrow with a couple Xanax and the hope that the love around me will get me through. And I’m excited about the adventure I have missed so much in the past years I have spent being held prisoner with my long time friend bipolar II. Either way, I will have to come home and face myself and my monster, figure out who “won” this one, and decide what future may come for both of us.

Wish me luck.

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Finding Your “Path” With the Baggage of Mental Illness

“Purpose, it’s that little flame, that lights a fire under your ass.

Purpose, it keeps you going strong, like a car with a full tank of gas.

Everyone has a purpose, so what’s mine?”  -Avenue Q

I’m not sure when they start or who exactly embeds them within us, but at some point, we start to think about the possibilities of our future. As young as grade school, we dream of what our lives might look like one day. I always wanted to be one of the classics: a doctor, a lawyer, an actress or a journalist. And as a child, I was lucky enough to think that all of these paths were possible. But slowly, as your mental illness kicks in, you begin to grasp who you are and what your expectations for life can be.

For me, by high school, I realized that my self-image issues were always going to get in the way. I stopped believing people who told me I was good at things, because I started questioning whether I’d ever be good enough anyway.  I told myself that if I couldn’t be good at something, I would at least do something I loved, but I never really believed that. I always knew that I would never be good enough even if I didn’t know what that “enough” was. I had opportunity all around me, but I was petrified of picking a path, should it be the wrong one, and avoided it at all costs. I knew that expectations were simply set-ups for failure: I would set them too high, and if I could reach them, then clearly they weren’t high enough.

After I left my life in DC and started receiving ECT treatments, I wondered how I would ever be able to get back to the life I had built in the seven years after college. It always seemed so mediocre in my depressive spirals, but after having to give everything up, I realized I was working in a field I was passionate about, I was excelling according to my superiors, and doing it all with amazing friends to boot. Could I ever get that back?

A few months into treatment, someone suggested that maybe I needed to change my expectations for my future. And while they didn’t say it, I believe they meant, in the best way possible, to lower them. That maybe I would never have a job at an organization like before, maybe I’d never be able to work 60 hours, or walk the path I had started to develop for myself. That even though I had never fully reached the expectations I had currently set, they were too high for someone like me. This illness would never let me reach certain expectations ever again.

About 6 months ago, when I had to leave another job, I was told a metaphor that I believe in, though I still fight to accept. After having a debilitating breakdown, it’s like you are in kindergarten again. Your goal is to paint pictures and play at recess. And doing that, is considered a good day. But if you’re in kindergarten and you start wondering why you aren’t doing the math problems the fourth graders are doing, you are of course going to feel stupid. And, if you try to do that work, you will feel like a failure simply because you aren’t ready yet. I was comparing myself to my peers who lived on their own, had jobs, boyfriends or husbands, who seemed to have their life and their expectations met. I couldn’t compare myself to them because they were metaphorically in college, and starting anew, I was still in kindergarten. While I intellectually understand that, I worry about my future: how do you know when you should be ready to move up a grade? How do you know if it’s too soon or if you’re not challenging yourself and dwelling in a grade too long? What if I will never be able to get to college again? Do I have to accept this? Is this my destiny whether I want it or not? (Okay, enough of this metaphor.)

If I have to change the expectations for myself, what should they be? Will I never work again? Does it mean I have to work part-time? Stay close to home? Do something that isn’t too stimulating because even though that’s what drives me, it also is what can burn me out and lead to another breakdown? Do I have to accept less in order to maintain my mental health? Will I never be able to find my path because I can’t actually be on that path with a mental illness?

Expectations are dangerous, but they are also important. They are what give us purpose and drive. They are what dreams are made of. And that hope is the difference between living and dying. I worry that one day I’ll stop dreaming a possible content life. Maybe not a fairy tale ending but a life I can truly accept. And will I ever be able to accept what this looks like – or will I forever feel I have had to give up my real dreams and settle.

I’m not there yet but I will say that each time I fall, I feel like it’s harder to get up. Each time my meds fall out of whack, my faith in reliance of medication cracks a little bit more. Each time I can’t get out of bed or have a bad day, my hope for myself and my expectations deteriorate more and more.

What I can say is that coming out from a breakdown isn’t like a fresh start. All of the wounds from before are still with you, just like the scars I have from each burn and cut I have given myself over the years. I want to say that I will find the right medication, the right job, the right guy, and the right path. That one day I will be able to accept not only my “expectations,” but also my life for what it is. But I also fear never truly feeling safe enough to trust myself to develop and maintain these things that all lead to a fulfilling life. I’ve seen what losing a job you really like can do. I’ve watched myself be unable to care for myself in the most basic way because I have been unable to get out of bed. I’ve seen myself hurt those I love most by my actions, and worry I’m starting yet another cycle of eventual failure.

I know that human resilience is based on hope and I can only wonder if my young heart full of beauty and innocence is still there underneath the scars. I can only hope I find my path before it’s too late and that I can still follow it, mental illness and all. I want to find my purpose, my path, my life content – but as the song “For Now” in Avenue Q also says:

“Don’t Stress,

Relax,

Let life roll off your back,

Except for death and paying taxes,

Everything in life is only for now.”

Finally – A Post in the Throws of a Depressive Episode

It’s funny. About 10 days ago I was going to write a blog post about the fear of healing. For the past couple of weeks, minus a few drugs that caused akinesia, I was feeling good. In fact, I was feeling so good I was kind of scared. There’s this weird feeling that occurs when hope develops. You start thinking about the future – opportunities, dreams, the possibilities of boyfriends and an active social life. It’s scary because you know you’ve been there before and it has failed, but there’s this tiny thought that maybe this time is different – like maybe this could be it. And I was scared shitless because I thought maybe I could be me. That it wasn’t hypomania, it was really me. I wondered if the meds were working and I was breaking through the stupid shell of this illness that traps me every day.

I don’t know why I thought that this time it would last. Usually they only last a few weeks. I think once it lasted over a month but in retrospect, I think it might have been undiagnosed mania with a touch of being in a medication bubble. Sometimes they last but then some shit happens in life and while you don’t have demon depression, you have rejection depression, or job-sucking depression – small, petty shit like that. Sometimes it leads to demon depression, and sometimes you can pull yourself up past it. At least until the demons reappear.

But this time, I felt this wave coming on. A few days ago, I barely slept (which isn’t unusual) but I woke up with this heaviness. It’s like my desires dwindled to a massive halt. I stopped tasting food, I stopped seeing the beauty in nature, (we’ve had some lovely weather,) and everything feels so boring now – television, people, music, my upcoming hopes of grad school, even my bed (this might not seem like a big deal but I love my bed and spend the majority of time in and on it so that’s a big deal.)

I hear people talking but I don’t care what they’re saying. I don’t feel a high after helping someone, I just feel exhausted. Everything, from making a cup of tea, to brushing my teeth feels exhausting and frustrating. I’m angry but I don’t have the energy to yell “fuck you and your little dog too!”

I tried to hide it at first. Claiming I wanted to take walks alone or going to the gym and just waiting for time to pass. Pretending I cared about what I was watching, or hearing or doing. But I didn’t and I don’t. For the first time ever, I’m feeling depressed and not hungry. I eat for sustenance and hypoglycemia, but I don’t enjoy it. I assume of all the things, this will end first. Usually I can’t stop eating so this is a little unusual. I was on this cooking and baking binge before, but I don’t desire to make anything anymore.

I know the medications are still working because I’m not suicidal and I don’t have a strong desire to cut. (Those ideations are always there but they come and go thankfully I suppose.) I’ve been thinking a lot about getting older and how my youth is being wasted by this disease. I’m expected to fight this my whole life and for what? Others> Sometimes it feels like the energy I spend fighting this isn’t worth the energy I get from the occasional “win.” And that’s when I know I’m depressed. Or at least, that I am right now. It’s never really the same twice.

A few weeks ago, I’m pretty sure I was hypomanic. I was an effective do-it-all machine. And while that sounds like a good plan, it’s actually horrible because it entails making promises and plans and then weeks later being unable to follow-through. My second biggest pet peeve about myself besides bothering the people I love around me.

So what’s a girl to do? In the past, I would have read all this depressing shit. I probably would have gone out and gone driving, imagining if I had the guts, I’d run into a barricade. I would have smoked and drank too much. I might have even cut in the shower. But I’m too tired for that. I’m too empty for that now. I’m trying to ride this wave without falling off the board and just praying that that ankle thing keeps me tied to the surfboard of life. I wanted to write about my fear of feeling better. I guess it shows, write when you can because you never know what will happen one day to the next.