Third Floor or The Penthouse: My Current Attempt at Climbing the Floors of Recovery

If I did reach the penthouse, it would most definitely have a bowling alley!

If I did reach the penthouse, it would most definitely have a bowling alley!

Disclaimer: I recommend not searching for images of “penthouse” on Google. I forgot there was a magazine by the same name…gross.

I was watching a television show the other night and this talented, made guy tells this new ingenue who’s just getting started, and I am paraphrasing: “You are choosing to jump from the third floor because you are afraid you’ll never get to the penthouse.” I.e. you’d rather fail now instead of risking the possibility of succeeding. I imagine you would do this because a) you are afraid you’ll never make it to the penthouse; and b) if you got there and had to jump, that’s going to hurt a lot more than just jumping from the third.

It panicked me, because sometimes I think I want to jump (metaphorically). When I try on hope and see the potential life may have to offer me, I don’t know what terrifies me more: not getting it or getting it and … whatever follows after that.

I don’t know what floor I’m on but I’m getting to a place of discomfort because I am now starting to do things I have only ever done depressed. So, for example, I have gone to parties, flirted with boys, lost weight, and lived alone – all while being severely depressed and often drunk with a touch of self-mutilation. But I’ve never done those things with my new brain chemistry, and sober … until now. And I don’t really know how to do it. I joke about how I’ve been stunted in so many ways by this disease – my experiences so fucked I find myself flailing at the maturity of a 14 year-old (Sometimes 22 – depends on the issue).

I went to a party where I only knew one person and I didn’t know who I would be. After all, in the past, I was “me”. But now, I’m me, but more raw, with possibilities racing through my head. I’m still thinking: “everyone thinks I’m too loud; I’m too obnoxious; I just did a gigantic overshare; wow, they must think I’m a big perv.” But I’m talking to people I don’t know, introducing myself, asking questions, dealing with my answers. Some things are the same: I’m pretty loud; I like to make people laugh; I will take over and “guide” the group if the party seems to be waning…and I am kinda pervy and tend to overshare when I’m nervous. I’ve always done that, but I didn’t know until now that that’s me, not my depressive self.

I’ve also just started to live alone. I totally can’t afford it, but it was my first big step towards independence. The only other time I’ve lived alone, I was suicidal and didn’t leave the house for days on end. So like, how do I live alone? What kind of person am I when I live alone? Can I do it? What if I do the things I did when I lived alone last time: stopped leaving the house; made pancakes every day; didn’t answer calls; self-mutilated in the bathroom. I mean, technically, that’s the example I’m working off of.

So a part of me says: “just pretend that you’re 26 and this is your first time living alone. And you are like this. Now…live.” What I’ve learned: I’m still pretty clean and organized, though not as OCD like in the past (as tempting as it is). I know that if I decide to cook or bake, I should do it around 3, and cook multiple things so when I’m tired at 7 and don’t want to do anything, I’ll have everything ready to go. I still talk to the television and myself, and still need my noise machine and an eye mask to sleep. I still like having systems and schedules – but this may be because I don’t have a job or volunteer internship yet.

Some days I don’t want to get out of bed or leave the house. I do get dressed every day even if I’m not planning on leaving the house so if I do, I’m ready to go. Sometimes I even put on gym clothes just to make it easier if I get an impulse. On those days, even if I just take out the garbage or walk to the library, it makes it different than before. And on those days, I’m just tired and cranky and maybe a little down about my life. This past week, I just felt tired for days, but I decided it was hormones and forced myself out today. I feel better. So, I guess this is what I live like when I live alone. This is me now, living in an apartment.

Unfortunately, for the past few weeks, I have also had cravings to cut. They come on kind of like food cravings. Sometimes it’s in the car, or watching tv, walking to the library, or when I’m getting into the shower. At first it threw me off. I panicked that the meds stopped working. But when I wasn’t thinking about cutting, I was level. I usually just keep driving, or watching, or walking, or washing until the impulse passes.

It makes sense to me. With all these changes, I’ve just been overwhelmed, worried, scared, sad, anxious, hyper, giggly, silly – kind of like being bipolar II but in a good way? I think my cravings are more about my need for control than about punishing myself. I used to cut when I was overwhelmed with pain and nothing else could tamper it. For just a moment, it became a vortex, pulling all my emotions into the act. It never worked the way I wanted it to, it never lasted long, and then I had to deal with all of the ramifications of doing it. Trust me, I know and did know, there are better ways.

But I think in all this chaos of unknowns, I have felt very little control over the big picture. I’ve been craving control and the possibility of a calm minute where a vortex could just quiet my mind. I know that the positive ways of providing some calm are breathing, mindfulness, stepping back from my thoughts, feeling into my emotions, and being in the moment. There’s also medications that can help and I’m not afraid to use them. But you know, sometimes it’s tempting to go with what’s rote than practice a new skill. Especially when you’re shaking and can barely breathe.

I’ve also noticed some changes in my eating habits. Partially it’s because I hurt my knee and my exercise regimen has decreased in intensity. (Man I miss those endorphins!) I have been successfully losing weight gained during the depression and between diet and exercise, I have been scared that the loss of intense exercise would throw off my goal. It seems I have become much more severe with my food. I’m vegan, so it’s not like I have a ton to go crazy off of, but it’s very easy to eat like shit and get some serious calories even when vegan. But I’ve been cutting back, controlling and watching what I’m eating. I find I am limiting my intake and have become far more obsessive about it. So this screams out, once again: control.

But what is also interesting, is that about 3-4 nights out of the week, I’m also bingeing. Not necessarily the kind where I literally am in a fugue state and can’t remember what I have eaten (though that has happened). But I’m angry and tired and scared, and while I have spent the day attempting to reign in those emotions by controlling my food and my schedule, etc., this seems to be more of an attempt to lose control, to literally feed the fear. Anyway, I thought that was an interesting juxtaposition my mind is playing into.

All of this is to say, I’m really scared and scarred. I only know life through a lens I currently don’t have. I’m trying to keep my eyes open, to keep stepping forward and trying new things that scare me. I’m trying to be compassionate when I chicken out and don’t do them. But in the next year, there are some major decisions coming down the pipeline – some of which are already on the calendar. I’m trying to sort out what my hopes, dreams and desires are. I’m supposed to be deciding who I want to be and what I want my life to look like and how to make those things happen without losing my shit completely. I truly feel like a child in an adults’ body and everyone is looking at me to know what a 33-year old should know by now. And I don’t. And I might not ever – because a lot of people don’t either.

I can’t control my destiny down to the next five minutes, let alone the rest of my life. But I know, in the end, I’ll never be in control. Everything inside me, based on my past, is telling me to jump from the third floor – “get off while you still can!” The safety of not trying tempts me every day. I look up at the penthouse and I’m not sure if I’ll ever reach it, or if I’ll even know if I ever get there. And there’s a part of me that doesn’t know if I’d ever recover from that – losing everything I have built and finding myself once again at the ground floor. I’ve done that a few times now, and it’s so fucking exhausting, I feel like it ages my soul.

So many emotional habits that I have built over time are trying to pull me down – telling me it’s not worth trying only to fail. But there’s this little part of me, I guess in this “new” me, that’s kind of like “Why not try? If you fall from the 3rd floor, the 8th or the penthouse, you’re going to end up in the same place, so why not move up and see what’s on each floor while you can? There might be free food! And maybe, just maybe, you won’t fall at all.” I usually giggle at that voice – partly because I want to believe her and I kinda remember her – like an aura of myself as a child surrounding me.

I don’t know if I’m going to make it. And while I really want to end this with something inspirational and uplifting, I don’t think I’m quite there yet.

But I will try to take a breath, become mindful, and take the next step forward by walking alone from my apartment to meet my family for dinner.

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If Pharrell Can Be Happy, Why Can’t I?

“Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do”

– “Happy” by Pharrell Williams

My therapist recently asked what my schedule for the week looked like. We do this a lot because I find structure and productivity can calm me. I listed off doctor’s appointments, calls to insurance companies, a few errands, some cleaning – the usual. Then she asked me what I would do during the week that I would enjoy or derive pleasure from- something that would make me happy.

I laughed at first, an excellent stall tactic, and then began to cry. My mind was a complete blank. In attempting this second chance at building my life, she asked a very simple question: What do you like to do? What is one thing you would choose, want, and like to do in your day? She wasn’t asking me what I wanted to do with my life, she just wanted to know what I was going to do to “treat” myself between obligatory tasks.

I of course have heard so many people talk about what they enjoy: mani-pedis, a day at the beach, a long hike, going to a movie, snuggling in and reading a book that’s been gathering dust. In the past, I have done all of these things, but because of the depression and anxiety, there was always a caveat that took away pleasure. I hate getting pedicures because I feel like the process is so condescending and I hate my feet so why should someone else have to touch them? (Even now, I still agree with this statement.) A day at the beach usually means wearing a bathing suit which would mean showing my body which I hate and where scars and cellulite abound. Also, too much sun – I worry about my skin aging or sweating profusely. (Is this where I should say I know most of these reasons are not entirely rational or fair? Yeah, no duh.) I would say I love hiking but it could lead to looking out of shape if I start heaving up a storm, sweating all around, and I really hate how I look in shorts, but then when I wear pants I get so hot…(Don’t worry, I’m almost done with the list.) I have loved movies since I can remember seeing one. They are the epitome of awe and wonder mixed with an opportunity to step out of my life for a few hours. And going to movie theaters, at least when I was a kid, was “an experience.” But now I worry I will miss the movie if I have to go pee. I used to be really nervous there would be too many people. Now, it’s just too fucking expensive. Snuggling in to read a book, I like to do this. But it’s rare to find a book worth snuggling in for. In the past, it also gave my mind a chance to double-time and start thinking irrational thoughts and leaving me anxious with a Xanax and water in hand.

But I’ve gotten better with my body (on good days). I openly admit that since I turned thirty, I evidently became a sweater (but at least I’m hydrated so it’s odorless!) I still prefer to watch movies at home but that’s because when you hang out with your parents for a few years you get addicted to closed-captioning and when you watch movies without it you feel like you are missing half the dialogue. Besides, movies cost like a bagillion dollars nowadays (my rates of inflation may be a bit off) and I really do have to pee like a pregnant lady. And yeah, I’m down for a book – but it better be fucking good. I’d say 1 out of 15 I get rocks my mind and then I spend two weeks trying to tell everyone and their mother why their lives will be changed and they can’t understand life fully without reading the book. But are those things I “enjoy”? Maybe.

Now, I’m not saying I don’t have things in my life that bring me joy. I only have to see a picture of my nieces and nephew and I get a surge of love. Sometimes, I’m on the phone with a friend, and I have one of those laughs that go deep down to your core – the kind that is so pure you can’t breathe. Sometimes, I do something that scares me, and for a moment or so, I feel flushed with happiness.

But, I’m not sure those are what she meant. It’s not like once a day, I can look at a picture and that’s my “me” time for happiness. And it makes me really sad that I don’t have an answer. All of a sudden, I have this personal choice and a strength of will I’m building. I can, for the most part, fight my fears and try things. But with this choice comes the stress of fear and failure and the realization that I’ve been depressed for so long I don’t even know how to be “happy.” It should be noted that I am also in the process of learning how to be “sad” while depressed, too.

I guess I have to start experimenting to see what makes me “happy” even in unideal circumstances. What are the things that bring me joy? Do I still love art? Cooking for other people? Sitting in a classroom and having my mind blown? Taking long walks to nowhere? Walking through book shops and getting excited just by reading the back cover? People-watching – anywhere really but especially in coffee shops or in restaurants? Giving platelets or volunteering?

What are some things I can do now, that maybe I couldn’t have done before that would now give me pleasure? What about the things I used to do, will I still enjoy them? Will it feel different? Is it okay if I don’t enjoy them? What else should I try? What does enjoyment actually feel like? How long should it last? What if it’s like drugs and it only feels really great the first time you do it?

Fuck. Should it be this hard to know what you like? Well, my mind is still kind of speechless. What do you do for pleasure or enjoyment? If you had a day ahead and could decide what to do, what would that be? How did you find it? Has the “it” of happiness changed in life or has it always been a certain thing? Have you found enjoyment with “it” during depression or only when you are in the clearing? Do you need to do them with a friend or do you prefer to do them alone?

In the meantime, I’m still hesitant to “clap along” Pharrell, but good for you.

Self-Help Can Go Help Itself, I’m Fine Without It’s Trite, Incorrect Expressions

You know that expression: “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” or “we don’t know what we have until we lose something” or “failure is great because it teaches you something”….yes, i am horrible at expressions, the same as with song lyrics, but i think you get the gist of what i’m talking about. expressions created to make you feel better about your failures. i feel like i see these in self-help posters, books, ads, or strangers who find out i’m having a shitty day or am depressed. here’s the thing: i don’t agree.

when my dog died, did i appreciate how amazing she was and how amazing it is to have unconditional love? yes, i suppose so. but i knew that already when she was alive. i didn’t need her to die for me to get that.

what doesn’t kill me doesn’t actually make me stronger. a lot of times, it exhausts me and weakens me and sometimes it happens more than once and it sucks even more the second time

failure teaches you something? ok, i suppose so. but you know what would be awesome? to not fail. that would teach me something too. because you can still learn with imperfections but not necessarily failures.

my friend and i recently got in an argument about the idea of risk and reward: for him, an eternal optimist who’s cup is not only just half-full but overflowing from the rim of the cup, the greater the risk, the greater the reward. his thought process is that if you want something a lot and you don’t get it, you learn even more because it was something you really wanted. the more you want it (i.e. the higher the risk,) the more you learn when you don’t get it (i.e. “the reward).

Yeaaaah…no. The more I want something, the more it hurts when I don’t get it. In fact, i often find myself purposefully not doing something to the best of my ability so that if i do fail, i can know inside that i didn’t really try my hardest and so maybe i would have gotten it. I do this often with men. for example, i will not try to look as pretty as possible so that if someone didn’t find me attractive, i could say to myself, well i COULD look better than this, so maybe he would have found me attractive had i tried harder.

also, the higher the risk, the more potentially disappointing the reward. let’s say, we’ll stick with guys, that i really really think this guy is great. we have texted and talked on the phone and i think he’s attractive. wow, he’s the one. finally, someone who understands me and still likes me and wants me…and then i meet him and maybe he isn’t very witty or he doesn’t understand my sarcasm, or he’s oddly sexual. whatever it is – the reward (wah-wah) was not worth the risk of hope.

i suppose they should refine that expression more. perhaps: “the higher the risk, if you actually get what you want or it’s better than you want, the greater the reward.” but i suppose that’s a bit too technical for a saccharine expression invented to make you feel better when you lose.

i’ve spent my life dispelling positive thoughts. all that chin up, it’ll pass, just keep moving – and the depression was sitting on my shoulder being like “yeah, fuck them. they just don’t get us. now let’s go drink something or make a really avoidable idiotic mistake that will make us feel worse.”

now that the chemical depression has lifted, I am trying to be more open to thinking. not necessarily positive thinking because honestly, if you say “chin up” i still don’t think we should be friends. however, i am trying to find my own version of compassion for myself. ok, the word compassion is a bit too strong – i am trying to be more gentle with myself when things don’t turn out the way i want them to, or i chicken out. i am trying to tell myself that maybe it is the right decision for me at that time or that it’s the decision i made and at the time it was the right one and it’s okay that i chose the decision that i did. (my brain is really wordy.)

i’m also trying this thing where i listen to myself – like my inner self. (nuts! right?) i never really believed in mindfulness when i was younger. my family wasn’t really into what we called “hippy dippy” stuff. but it’s amazing when you stop for a second and you try to internally find what you’re feeling. it usually has a location in your body (creepy!) and often times it is not actually the emotion you assume it is.

for example, i had an occasion where i had this nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach and i assumed it was my anxiety telling me to flee the situation. but when i sat with the feeling, and breathed into it, i realized i was actually just excited. it’s amazing how fear and excitement feel so similar and can be connected though can lead to opposite reactions. i think i have assumed that feeling was always anxiety and never really stopped to see if maybe it was something else.

also, i have always been embarrassed when i was sad. i guess because i was more “sensitive” than most people and so i would get sad from watching a television segment or reading a history book. or sometimes i would get a similar feeling to sadness which is feeling overwhelmed – which can happen when i’m literally overwhlemed but can also happen when i’m in awe of something – being overwhelmed can also actually be the feeling of wonderment. the fact is, when i am sad or even overwhelmed by life or by wonder, i can breathe into the feeling and sometimes just slowly breathe it out. my throat feels tight and my breathe is shaky but slowly i can breathe through the feeling and come to peace with the thoughts – whether that we are in really dire straits in the world, or that nature is truly extraordinary.

so positive thinking? not really in the cards for me. the idea of taking thinking and turning it into thoughts? that’s a task i think i can attempt to accomplish. (Thank you DBT).

in the meantime, we are only as strong as …. fuck it.