Not to Rock the Boat, But Something Good Happened

A dream come true or a mental breakdown waiting to happen?

A dream come true or a mental breakdown waiting to happen?

So I’ve been writing a lot about the stress of “moving forward.” What does it look like? When will I know I’m ready? How will I know if it’s the right step? What if my chemical depression comes back and brings me back to nothingness?

For the past ten months, I have tried to find my action steps. It was like “I’m going to go to the gym today; I am going to call a friend; and I will turn off the tv by 10pm and read a book instead.” And I would bitch and moan to my therapist about how this wasn’t enough. I wasn’t “moving forward” fast enough. Where was the volunteer work? The job? The boyfriend? Why the fuck wasn’t my life perfect?

Perhaps I wasn’t trying hard enough? Or maybe my “steps” were too little? But what if I tried something too big – that might set me back. And then she, in her kind, thoughtful demeanor, suggested that perhaps my life has been  moving forward without my conscious effort to do so.

After all, I go to spin four days a week. I have stayed with my vegan diet. I live in an apartment alone and still manage to leave and make appointments. I have begun to socialize and inhabit this evidently “funny,” odd, and loud person it seems I am, especially when around people. I have made some decisions that others have disapproved of, but that felt right to me. I make mistakes or bad choices, I get pissed, and then I move on…eventually.

So, one of my undemanding “goals” was to apply for this Master’s program. I actually had applied for one at a different school last year and didn’t get in, but this was different. This school has been a dream of mine since my senior year of college. I always imagined, even in the depths of my depression, that if I could go there, I would find my true self and be this mythic version of myself. But every year, it just wasn’t a good time and the fear of getting rejected from my dream was just too traumatic.

So, five months ago I get an email from them and they are starting this new program. And it’s basically about the things I love to study, argue, and discuss in life. There’s no specific deadline (I think they weren’t sure if enough people would apply) so I set a really relaxed goal – I gave myself almost a month and a half. And some nights, I’d work on it. Maybe one day, I’d go to the library and write something up. And piece by piece, I actually applied. I didn’t really tell anyone besides my therapist. For me, the purpose was to apply – to face the fear of failure and do something I had wanted to do but had always been too depressed and insecure to do. And I was proud of myself. It only took 12 years, but hey, I fucking did it.

But then about one month ago, I’m lazily doing my morning email check and see an email from them. It was an unconditional offer of acceptance. Ok…see…that wasn’t what I was expecting. I was actually prepped for not getting in – had a whole “philosophy” on how I was going to see the positive of it all. And the school that I got rejected from earlier is nowhere near as competitive as this one. So yeah, I would say pure shock for the first 24 hours. I mean, I felt nothing. I told my therapist who cried because she was happy for me. (She’s the best.)

I saw so many reasons not to go – money, pragmatism, what if I wasn’t ready? I mean, I didn’t know if I could commit to volunteering and I’m going to go to another country for one of the most intense academic experiences ever? A part of me wished I hadn’t gotten in just so I didn’t have to deal with whether it could be a possibility.

After all, I have been depressed almost my entire life. I have missed so much because of my own self-hate, doubt, and depression. I have missed out on opportunities I craved. I have spent so much time, in bed, feeling that I was breathing, but not living. I was truly staying alive for my family but not for myself and I told my mom she had me until 35 and then I was done. Was this one of those things that “moved me forward” without me intentionally doing so? Did getting in signal the next step in my progress?

It did catch me at a weird time. I’ve been actually “settling” into my life slowly. And while there is always anxiety that it might get boring, this was an explosion. It brought up a lot of my past feelings of competition, passion, worthiness, independence. Also, four years ago this August, I had decided to kill myself. I spent a year and a half in electro-convulsive therapy. I wrote wills. I self-harmed. I cried until I gagged. And some of this was still happening ten months ago. Sometimes I still feel like I could fall and there wouldn’t be anything to catch me.

But I have wanted this. I have dreamed about this. And I fucking deserve it. I don’t know what the rest of my life is going to look like – I might get depressed again, I might never have a job I want, or find someone to love, I may gain all my weight back and end up back at my parents house, in bed, for days.

And for a while, I knew so clearly in my gut that this was the right step. This was all part of moving forward – of things just happening that push me ahead without my complicit and thoughtful attempt to do so. Here was a chance to do something totally impractical, definitely not pragmatic, most likely useless to my career, and potentially awesome. After three years of living at my parents house and wanting to die, maybe this was my “Welcome Back” cake to the world of possibility and happiness.

Pragmatically, going makes no sense. It’s going to drain all of the money I have, I’ll go into debt. I haven’t been in a classroom for over a decade and I’m going to be with the most elite academics who have been in school recently and I don’t remember how to write an analytical essay. I might hate London – fog hates my hair, that I know. Maybe the grey will depress me. Maybe the men are all prats. Maybe it won’t be the fairy land I have made it to be in my mind. Maybe I’ll fall into a deep depression and have to drop out or maybe I just won’t be able to cut it and I’ll have to drop out. If I can’t find a job there or the man of my dreams (definitely on my to-do list) than I’ll come home, in debt and without anything added to my resume that’s going to give me a leg up.

Plus, their health system, while free, is not so much evolved in terms of depression. From the research I did, it’s like the country hasn’t technically agreed that “depression” is a real disease, let alone bipolar II. Will I be able to establish a strong enough support system (not just people but things) that I have developed here to maintain my health and sanity? Will I even have time?

Then, just for shits and giggles, there’s an additional complication. I received an unconditional offer which means that I can defer for a year and attend next year without having to reapply. During this deferment, I could take a trip over and see the campus, sit in classes, check out where I might live. I would have time to apply for some scholarships and funding and even if I didn’t get it, I’d know I had tried. I could apply for housing early so I actually lived where I wanted, learn where things were, and just get a better sense of what I was getting into and make a more clear, decisive decision – even if it meant not going after all. It also gives me another year to strengthen myself. I know – it sounds great. In fact, every time I had a conversation with someone, it always ended with us agreeing that deferring was the best decision. But I still didn’t. I’ve had a shit ton of these conversations. And yes, they all end with me agreeing with deferment. But I stopped myself last week, sitting, looking at the page on my computer where you fill out the deferment form, and I couldn’t do it.

Maybe I’m afraid if I don’t go, people won’t really believe I’m better. Maybe I’m scared if I don’t go now, I won’t ever go. Maybe I’m worried that by next year, the medication will have stopped working. Or maybe I will realize this really isn’t what I want or I’ll have gotten a job or someone will need me to stay for something. I know this is not a decision you just allow to happen. After all, the amount of work I’ve already put into this is gross. And I’m not even talking about the emotional toll. For the past 10 months, I haven’t needed to take xanax or had panic attacks. In the past three weeks, I have had three panic attacks and have begun to take xanax on a relatively regular basis. But I mean, even someone without depression would be probably needing a xanax when trying to understand a visa application.

It begs the question: how do you know if you’re ready? I mean, I know I’m not ready to work full-time. When I’m out all day, even doing different things from 9-5 or if I am engaged with people for five hours in a row and be “on,” I’m exhausted and need two days to recover. Without the depression, I’m starting to uncover some abusive situations I allowed during my depression and their impact is growing as the depression lessens. I still can’t sleep no matter how hard I spin, and I am either groggy until noon or I wake up at 5 in the morning and I can’t go back to sleep. Clearly, I’m not just a work in progress, I’m a mental mess of work in progress. Maybe this is too big of a step. Maybe I shouldn’t do it. I still have time to pull out and defer. Give myself more time to decide.

There is no clear answer. When I sit with myself and try to clear my brain and feel, nothing clear comes to the surface. I don’t trust myself but I can’t make this decision based on anyone else’s opinion. It has to be mine. Every time I think I know the answer, eight other questions arise that pull me back to a state of cluelessness.

I don’t know what I’m going to do. Sometimes when I’m nervous, I tell people I’m going so I don’t have to deal with the not working conversation. It felt good to tell people from my past and see their eyes light up and hear their happiness and pride for me! I haven’t heard that in a long time. Even the things I have been proud of, I don’t think most people acknowledge how big those steps are – but this is a validated societal step up.

Is there a right reason? Is there a clear answer? Who knew an accomplishment could be such a dilemma of confusion, fear, and doubt. I know that I love the issues. I know I like winter clothing. I know that 12 years ago, I loved sitting in a classroom and having my mind blown. I know that I have been searching for the past 12 years (minus a few) for how to make an impact, share, learn, teach, change. But maybe this is just a distraction from the fact that today I had a crying fit and couldn’t figure out what exactly was causing it.

How can something so “good” be so…not?

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Melancholy Days

Melancholy:

  1. a gloomy state of mind, especially when habitual or prolonged; depression.
  1. sober thoughtfulness; pensiveness.

I’ve always appreciated the word melancholy. While it’s not used regularly, it is such a perfect way to describe the staid state of depression. I suppose it doesn’t cover suicidal ideation, self-hate, anger, losing your shit, etc., but I like that it touches on the idea of sober thoughtfulness and pensiveness. I guess it hits the mark on my day thus far.

Between the chaos of worry, anxiety, stress, and overthinking, there is a quiet to depression. For all the pain that rages inside, that racks our bodies till we are writhing in bed, crying, screaming, trying to push the pain out or down, there is an almost comatose component to it as well.

Sometimes, when the pain was too great, when my mind was so overfilled with thoughts it ran blank – I would find myself looking at a chair, a squirrel in a tree, the weeping sweat on a cold glass of water – and the thoughts that had been racing would slowly come to a halt and arrange themselves as if on lined paper.

How can I eradicate this pain?

What would it feel like if the pain could go away?

Am I dying inside?

Is this who I am and what my life is and will be?

Am I strong enough to withstand this ravaging, cruel, deep, crushing agony for another hour? Day? Month? Year?

Do I want to? Do I have to?

I have had so many days and years sitting, silently crying, my stomach clenched, my body in a fetal position. I felt like I couldn’t breathe but my heart was racing and my head throbbed.

I wanted to scream and yell.

I wanted to slam my clenched hand into the wall.

Tear at my skin and hair.

Run. Sleep. Vomit. Cry. Cut. Burn. Fast. Binge.

Quash the pain.

That specific pain has been lifted now though I feel the scars and soreness it left behind. It’s not a memory because it’s never gone. I don’t choose to think about it. It drifts behind me, beside me, in front of me. Sometimes I have to push through it like a cobweb or a thick, wet black fog. My stomach, my eyes, my chest are still sore, still tight. I suppose they are afraid to atrophy, they need to be on guard.

My mind is still a bully, I guess that wasn’t the chemical imbalance. It tells me:

I’m worthless.

I’m going to fail.

It’ll never last.

I’m still not good enough.

I’m too weak, the power of my hope too worn, emaciated, and thin to protect me from my true self.

It begs me to come back.

To accept the “real” me it sees.

I do my best to ignore it. I know it’s lonely and like all bad relationships, is addictive and seems comforting from afar. I want to see a future. I want to be the person others claim I can be – insist that they see. I want to strengthen, tone, and mold my esteem and faith in myself. I wonder if I just have to seem to be whole, and in doing so, trick my body and mind into believing and becoming so.

I don’t know anymore. Good days. Bad days. Hope and distrust. Tears of joy and pain.

I still find myself looking at a chair, a squirrel in a tree, the sweat of a cold glass and asking myself what I am possible of and if I have the energy to make it. I want to say yes. I want to laugh at the pathetic ripple of depression that taunts me like a pathetic, weak child. To have dreams, beliefs, and hopes that build resolve and break the bad habits of weakness. I want to want to live a life worth living.

I really do.

Doctor, Doctor, Gimme the News, I’ve Got a Bad Case of Nothin’ New

The look I fear. The look that leads to profuse sweating and increased heart rate. The look that leads to canceling appointments.

The look I fear that leads to canceling appointments and feelings of shame.

Since I was about eight, I’ve been nervous about going to a doctor. It’s not because I’m afraid of needles or blood (I’ve been a platelet and blood donor since I was 15,) or that I’m worried I might have a severe disease. In fact, it’s the opposite. I’m always worried that the doctor isn’t going to believe me or think I’m exaggerating. That the problem is me just being a faker.

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time trying to tell people that something was wrong with me. The general rule in our house was if you didn’t have a fever, you went to school. It’s really hard, especially as a child, to explain depression. I don’t think you quite get it yourself, you just know you don’t feel right. I remember just feeling exhausted, sad, and used up all the time. But when I would tell my mom, (and this was before a lot of people understood depression,) she would usually tell me it was hormones or the weather. And I don’t blame her. My nose wasn’t running, I didn’t have a fever, there was no asthma, puss, or any of the “signs” of “sickness.” How could she know something she couldn’t see from her third grade youngest child.

I started wishing I would get sick. And I started to feel like unless I had something to show, no one would really believe something was wrong. Maybe they would think I was trying to get attention. Or that I was a drama queen or a hypochondriac. I remember saying “Something isn’t right. I just don’t feel right.” But honestly, if I didn’t know about depression, and this was in the early 90’s, I would probably think my child was also just going through puberty or was having a difficult time in school or overanalyzing her studies. And all of these were true – but they were symptoms of a much deeper problem.

Anyway, I started to worry that doctors would also think I was bullshitting. So I would delay appointments, and find myself having panic attacks the day of. I would go in the office sweating, my heart beating out of my chest, and when they asked me what was wrong, I always felt like I was pleading a case – trying to convince them that I was sick. But I also over-compensated, smiling and not speaking up when I thought they were wrong or misunderstood.

When I had things like strep throat, eczema, asthma, or ear infections, it wasn’t a problem. But I would go in and tell them that I felt exhausted, depleted and sluggish, and they would run a blood test, put me on thyroid meds, sleeping pills, adderall. They tried to treat the symptoms individually instead of looking at the big picture and I always imagined them sitting there after they got my tests back and thinking “This girl is fine. What a selfish person – there are real people sick and she’s wasting my time because she’s ‘tired.'” I felt such shame.

But throughout my depression, I have felt like I have had to justify myself to everyone around me – even my psychiatrists and therapists. I worry they won’t believe my pain. I worry my family will think I’m milking it, my doctors will think I’m exaggerating, my friends will think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. (I don’t even get that expression and I think it’s from the 30’s but whatever.)

In retrospect, I think one part of self-harming was my way of saying “fuck you” to everyone who didn’t believe I was sick. I didn’t tell anyone or show anyone, but I knew I had tangible evidence of my problems and it made me feel justified in my internal pain. I also think the ECT made me feel vindicated and shocked the shit out of people. It’s hard to argue that anything is wrong when you are getting seizures three times a week…on purpose. My stomach was really bad a few months ago, but it wasn’t until I had to go to the hospital that I think my family actually believed I was in real pain. And of course, they couldn’t find anything “concrete” like an ulcer or lump, so they just told me to eat simply and do the best I could. I paid $100 bucks to have a doctor tell me I should eat rice and I was so embarrassed that it was basically just gastroenteritis and I have had and still have IBS.

I’m writing this because two and half months ago I had knee surgery. Of course it was “not that bad of a tear” which made me feel embarrassed that I didn’t have a really severe tear. (This is where the irrational thinking jumps out to play.) I had surgery and started PT. The doctor that did the surgery told me I’d be back spinning in a month. I was young and he had had the same surgery and was mountain biking 4 weeks later so I would be fine. After about six weeks, my PT would do the basic exams and ask about pain. I don’t know whether it’s because I have a high pain threshold or always feel the need to put on a show in front of people I don’t know and give them the answers I think they want to hear, but while I was feeling discomfort, it wasn’t “pain.” Once again, I started feeling like I had to justify something I knew was wrong but couldn’t prove.

In the past few weeks, I’ve started to think she has stopped believing me when I say that something still doesn’t feel right. I just feel my knee all the time. When I’m walking, standing, or on the bike, I feel discomfort, an aching, and sometimes a click or sharp small pain. Two weeks ago, she told me that at this point if I wasn’t in pain, she didn’t really understand the discomfort and but she didn’t see why I shouldn’t be getting better. There were no tangible symptoms – no inflammation, pain when bending a certain amount of degrees – she couldn’t see anything wrong and so she couldn’t see why I wasn’t better.

I felt really ashamed and embarrassed. Maybe I’m fine and I’m just overanalyzing or being ultra sensitive. So I’ve started to get on the bike and push myself again. I tell myself even if it feels weird, if it doesn’t hurt to just keep on going. That maybe this is just how my knee is going to feel and I just have to push through and stop being a baby. Stop being a drama queen that I’ve always assumed everyone thought I was. I have an appointment today and I really don’t want to go. I’m going to tell her that I’ve been spinning and she’s going to wonder why I’m there. She’s going to have me do my exercises but I’m going to see that look on her face that says “I really don’t know what else to do with this girl because she’s fine and she’s just making a big deal out of nothing.” I cancelled the last session and was going to cancel this one but missed the deadline and can’t afford not to go given the cancellation fee.

I’m angry that I can’t allow myself to feel injured, sick, or just unwell. I hate that I feel like I have to convince people something’s wrong and still think they are thinking I’m bullshitting. That I often am a mess before therapy but go in with a smile on my face in the beginning because I overcompensate and feel it’s rude not to be friendly when you see someone. That I play down my symptoms because I doubt my own feelings.

I know I don’t feel right, just like I knew when I was eight that something was wrong. But my worry that others won’t believe me make me doubt myself and what I feel. I’m scared to go and I’m angry that I’m scared. I feel like it’s going to make me feel bad about myself for the rest of the day and then I won’t do the things to make me feel better – like going to the gym, or cooking, or reading, or doing the list of things I need to get around to doing. I hate that this one thing could have the power to impact the rest of my day and that I’m too weak to push through it. But maybe I will. Maybe I’ll leave and be able to say “fuck it” and do a few things on my list.

Bad habits die hard. And I hope I will not shame myself into a depressive day. But until then, I just feel like a fake whose knee kinda hurts.

How About a Pat On The Back? Why Aren’t Others Acknowledging My Progress?

Does this picture really need a caption?

Ok, so I know I’m really bad at “anger” – especially when it comes to emoting. But, I have to say I’m really frustrated and maybe even a little peeved right now.

So I have had the fortune to have my chemical depression lifted for the past few months. In that time, I have reached out to old friends, gotten an apartment, made appointments, attended those appointments, made plans and came through on those plans, and have tried to be more active and engaged. (All things I have never really done well while depressed, i.e. most of my life.)

My family has made some comments that are positive – letting me know that they’re happy for me and proud of me and the work I’m doing. I suppose they know it the most since they have seen me at my very worst and supported me through it all. And I appreciate that they can see a difference. I guess my dad told my mom it was really nice to see me smile again. That made me smile…again.

Obviously things aren’t perfect. I still have to work really hard at living every day. I usually wake up petrified that the feeling will come back. Then I get anxious that even if I don’t feel it, I will somehow fail to utilize this opportunity of feeling better to the best of my ability this day. What if I don’t get out of the house? What if I don’t accomplish something? What if I don’t move forward? I’m dealing with how to know when I’m ready to move forward and how I might do that or what it might look like. I am anxious, worried, and slightly depressed at both the work I have to do and the fear that it won’t be enough. On top of that, other issues have come to light – many of which are similar to the ones I had when depressed: Do I deserve to live? Does my life add value to this world? Will I ever feel I deserve my life? Will I ever have a life I can look at and feel proud and content with? Will I ever find peace with myself and within myself?

So, yeah, I’m dealing with that, but I’m still making it to places on time, doing things alone, returning phone calls, making big plans, and trying to remain engaged and helpful. And besides some of my family members, no one has said shit. I’m not talking about the guy at the YMCA I am finally able to make eye contact with. I’m talking about the people in my life who know about the depression, about the ECT, about leaving DC, about living at home, my self-harming, my suicidal ideation. I don’t know what I was expecting but I guess with all this fear about what I’m doing and how I’m doing, I would like a “wow, you really seem different” or “it’s nice to have you like this.” Only one or two have even asked why things have changed or what this “change” means, but others just keep talking to me. Maybe they’re trying to make me feel normal? Or maybe I’m making excuses for them.

And I wonder, after all the grief I put upon myself about being a shitty friend and person, does anyone notice the change? As I’m writing this, I’m feeling a little selfish because I’m basically asking “why is no one noticing me and praising me?” and I guess that’s a little cocky. But fuck, it’s not just medicine. I mean, thank goodness it’s working, but I’m fucking working too. Hard. Every fucking day. And I get tired and scared and want to stop. But I usually pull myself back up. And I’m doing a lot of it for them – at least at this point. To stop being the burden. To add value and be a fun and dependable friend they can trust and can enjoy. Maybe they felt that way when I was depressed, and I do appreciate that they stood by me and remained friends with me no matter how shitty I was. I love them so much for that. Maybe that’s why it hurts that they haven’t said anything. Because I love them and I just want them to be excited for me and for our friendships.

Or maybe, they’re just worried about the boy that cried wolf – not holding their breath given that this might be like all the other times I felt better – and then got worse. Trepidation I suppose I understand – I’m feeling the same way – but you could still say something. I don’t know why it’s important but I think I want them to feel pride and happiness for me and our future friendship.

I just wish someone besides my family and therapist would acknowledge that they are not only happy for me, but happy to be with me as me, on what will hopefully be an exciting journey that will last for years to come. Like maybe “Damn Ava, you seem to be in such a better place. It’s nice to hear from you and hear about all the things you are doing and thinking of doing.” Or: “I’m so happy for you. How does it feel? What do you think it means?” Is that too much to ask? Am I being selfish?