Life Lessons I Have Found Through Spinning

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I couldn’t find a realistic picture of someone spinning, so I had to just go with the bike by itself. FYI: if you’re smiling while spinning, you are doing something wrong.

I fell in love with spinning about two years ago. I’m not talking about Soul Cycle where you are in lines next to people like factory-farmed pigs, and the person leading the class has maybe 1% body fat. I’m talking YMCA spin classes with people over 60. I’m talking, waiting until a room is open, and spinning alone.

Spinning, for me, is about being healthy, getting rid of anxious energy, and letting out endorphins. And perhaps more importantly, it is about deciding what challenge I want and choose to achieve that day. I realized recently that spinning actually serves as a fantastic analogy to the work I am doing in my life outside the gym. I never thought sitting on a stationary bike could provide life lessons, but it really does.

Here are some examples:

~ Life is a personal challenge. It’s not about what the people around you are achieving or what their goals are. You set your own expectations.

~ You are allowed to change your “goal” as many times as you want, whenever you want. Some days, you are not going to be able to do as much as you thought you could. And that’s okay. That’s what tomorrow, next week, or next month is for. You decide what you can do today. Because living is fluid, changeable, and varied. And if that change is permanent, if the expectation was unreasonable or no longer viable, it doesn’t mean you have failed. You just need to change your perception and definition of your “goal,” or maybe even decide you don’t want one.

~ Some days, you will push yourself farther than you can imagine, and other days, you just have to show up. Both are accomplishments.

~ You are not alone. You are surrounded by others who face their own challenges and there is power in that. However, just because you are together, doesn’t mean your challenges, decisions, or choices are the same. Nor should they be.

~ Sometimes, you may feel that no matter how hard you work, you’re not moving forward or improving; that you’re stuck in a stationary place. Just keep at it. You are changing and becoming stronger through your efforts, even if it feels like you aren’t going anywhere.

~ If you can just get on the “bike,” you may be surprised at how far you can push yourself; the work you are capable of doing; and how good you can feel. Trying is an accomplishment all on its’ own. Acknowledge your effort, not just the end goal.

~ Some days are just shit. They’re boring and hard and annoying. Try to be compassionate towards yourself.

~ Sometimes you need a few days to step “off” and relax. Giving yourself breaks are an integral and necessary part of the process – they are not failures.

~ Some days it’s going to feel easy, like you’re on a flat, straight path; and some days that hill is going to feel so hard, it’s going to take all you’ve got to not give up. Just do what you can.

~ You don’t know what is going to happen or what you might achieve until you start. Some of your best days may be on a day where you feel tired or off. If you can just get on the bike, you may surprise yourself. You won’t know until you try.

~ There is more than one definition of success. You can define it. You can change it. And you can work to reach it, day by day.

~ This shit is hard. It takes tenacity, time, good and bad days/weeks, acceptance of change, and self-care. It’s sweaty and exhausting. It’s not always fun or fulfilling. You can only do what you can or want to do in that moment, and that is good enough. Just keep spinning/living.

The ironic component to this post, is that lately I have gotten so sick of spinning. I feel like my motivation has just died out. I’m going to try and go to more classes and see if I can recharge and rev up some enthusiasm. I have to accept that it’s okay if I can’t do it alone. Sometimes you need to be buoyed with support from others to make it through. See, look at that! There’s even a lesson in my anti-spin feelings.

Now, if I can just believe all the things I just wrote. ;)

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Looking in the Mirror: Seeing Yourself Through Others’ Eyes

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How do you like me meow?

I met with someone today who barely knows me. And while we were talking, she offhandedly said something like: “Don’t worry. Being you, you’re not going to have a problem finding a job and a place, or making friends for that matter. With your personality and energy  you’re going to do well anyway. I’m not worried.” Haha…what?!

I spend a lot of time worried about what people think of me, generally to an irrational degree. I fear they may see me and think: “Someone that ugly does not have a right to show her face without a hat or at least some makeup,” or, “You can just tell that girl is a loser. Plus, how dare she wear spandex. There’s nothing a gym can do about that ass.” And in my mind I’m convinced, just by speaking with me, the barista or Safeway checker will think I’m irritating, boring, arrogant, obnoxious, loud, overbearing, conceited, pathetic, opinionated, naive, pessimistic, and/or crazy. I guess the last one would be right given the paragraph above. LOL.

And yes, I know: others are too self-absorbed to pay attention or judge you. I’m going to go ahead and call bullshit on that one. After all, I spend a lot of time watching people, their interactions, noting their demeanor. I don’t suppose it leads to judgement, it’s more like seeing how the “other side,” i.e. those that are not me, live. I will agree that yes, the fact that I think everyone is looking at me, even if what they are thinking is bad, is in and of itself self-absorbed. Huh.

I am, by nature, a pretty unoffensive person – sometimes to a fault. I try to be kind, patient, and thoughtful to people around me. I show deference to most people, deserved or not. I’m also that person who helps you when you’ve dropped something or ask if you need help if you look confused. I generally can’t help you if you need directions, but I can at least commiserate with forgetting where you parked your car and help you find it. The point of this all being, I don’t think objectively, that my behavior is off-putting. And yet somehow I am convinced that even while I’m helping someone or giving them a smile, they are just disgusted with me. And I think that’s really my inner self telling me I’m disgusting and then I misappropriate it to someone else. It seems the two sides of my brain – the pure and the evil – argue over the most benign things. And yet those are the things that make it so difficult to have the confidence to make a call or leave the house.

And then every so often someone I know, within the context of the conversation, describes me. Now, I take everything with buckets filled with salt, so I recognize that people don’t generally sit you down to tell you what a  loser you are. (Well, they have, but that was during my teen years.) I also know that these are people that love me even at my worst moments, or that they’re people who I pay to help me. I also think that sometimes a person wants something from me, so they say whatever it will take to get it. For example, at a bar when someone wants me to go home with them. It’s curious how amazing I am at that point. ;)

But sometimes, it’s someone I just met at a party, an interview, or a person that I’ve been taking a class with who I finally have coffee with. And the shit that comes out of their mouth. They don’t have to say it; it’s not part of basic decorum. And they usually have known me for a few hours at most and yet they tell me all these wonderful things about myself. (I know this sounds like bragging so please note this is a very, very rare occurrence.)

I don’t know if I have a face that says “I’m insecure, I need reassurance.” Or maybe my self-deprecating humor clues them in. But I pride myself on my bullshitting ability to hide my insecurities (most people assume I am confident,) and I don’t think people are listening hard enough to know that the joke is actually a real dig at myself. Maybe people don’t need much to like you. Or maybe they’re lying. I mean, we all do it: reassure a friend when we actually aren’t sure what we’re saying is true; compliment someone just to calm them down or to get ahead. That’s the politics of human nature and relationships. Maybe it’s from living in Washington, D.C. for a decade, but it’s just the way the world works.

I know that I’m damaged  from my childhood and my internal dialogue of hate, and when I look in the mirror I see someone who is a pathetic fraud. I even know that a lot of people most likely look in the mirror and judge themselves harder than anyone else would. And when my friends are doubting themselves, when they can’t see how amazing they are, it shocks me. How can they not know their worth? Why would they ever doubt that they were special and deserved so much in life,  even if they don’t always get it? But it’s easier to say it to someone else, than to believe it yourself.

I’ve been practicing looking at myself in the mirror. I know, this sounds really odd. But when I’m depressed, I can go weeks dodging myself in mirrors or reflections. There is something so painful in not only seeing the misery in my face, but in the hate I feel looking at this person who has ruined my life. So, I’m trying to practice looking at myself. I’m trying to become comfortable and accepting of the woman I see looking back at me. So far, it’s been really uncomfortable. I don’t imagine I’ll ever look in the mirror and think, “Who is the fairest of them all? Why that would be me!” But, maybe I can look in the mirror and acknowledge that there is something there of worth.

I wonder if one day I will look in the mirror and see something different than I see now? I wonder if one day I will look in the mirror and not be ashamed or disgusted?

I wonder if one day I will look in the mirror and see what others see in me.

The DBT Divas: When People Stop Being Polite, And Start Getting Real

The last session of the last module of DBT ended last week. And while I was thankful for a respite of the hour commute, I was sad. Not just because I like the idea of going to “class” and learning tools to help IRL. But also, I was sad about the idea of not seeing my peeps.

There’s a small group of us that started at the same time and have gone through all the modules together. While we don’t always go into the specifics of our lives, after a while, you start to pick up on what the person is going through. You get a general sense of their demeanor, their struggles, and what they are trying to get from DBT.

I don’t like group therapy. In fact, each time I have tried, I have walked out hating it more. But DBT is different. It’s not about sharing and commiserating, it’s about learning, practicing, reviewing together, and then trying again. DBT group relationships are not based on the connection of our misery; but on the connection of our growth.

Before it ended, we managed to get everyone onto a group text message. We even named ourselves the “DBT Divas.”We’re meeting on Wednesday at the time we usually have class and we’re going to take a walk. I’m not saying we are going to be besties, or that we even have that much in common. I also question how good it is for people who are in bad places to spend a lot of time together because it can be ineffective if you bring each other down. But because we met in DBT, we come together as survivors, not victims; and we are all fighting to get better, not to wallow in our misery.

So I hope in hanging out, we can learn more about each other, and maybe play through some of our personal scenarios, but I’m not proposing that we all get along and connect on a deeper level. I can already tell, from being in three modules together, all of us lead very different lives. A lot of us have the same diseases or are on the same meds or even have been through similar experiences, but that’s different than our personalities and the values of our lives. DBT is a tool for anyone, but it’s used differently by each person according to their specific needs.

I’m a little torn between whether this is a good or bad idea.

When you normally meet people, outside of a therapeutic environment, you take time getting to know each other. The conversation is light and general. Maybe the second time you meet, you share a little bit more about your day and in that, your personality and style becomes more apparent. And by the third friend date, maybe you float your mental illness subtly into the conversation. You see their response. It’s usually: 1) blank face of the terror of not knowing what to say; 2) “Oh, my cousin is crazy!” (ugh); 3) “My sister deals with depression”; 4) “I’m sorry to hear that” or, 5) “Oh, yeah, I actually have dealt with that too.” From there, you can kind of see the viability of a long term friendship. After all, it plays such a large part in your life, it’s going to come up.

And I could have a fascinating conversation with anyone I meet – I find people so interesting: their lives, how they speak, how they tell a story, their inflections, their beliefs, the background behind their beliefs. But when I meet people for the first time, it’s more like an examination and study, rather than a potential friend date. If they make me laugh or we seem to be on the same level, then I start to relax and think of it more as a step in the direction towards friendship.

But when I meet people through therapy, or groups, they already know I have been through some heavy shit, and I know the same of them. I have found a lot of people feel that connection and therefore think it’s ok to ask really personal questions – they want the whole story of how you got where you are; and they want to tell you about their illness. You miss the basics and dive right into the deep shit. I usually play along, but afterwards I feel raw – like a piece of me was taken before I had prepared to give it. I know I am sad to see them go, but I do wonder whether once outside the classroom, what will be the dynamic? If our connection is our struggle to stay above water, how do we go back to the first friend date material? Can a relationship start in the middle and go backwards? Or are we meant to have had this experience together and that’s that?

I guess I’ll know more on Wednesday night.

 

Facing Facebook: Lamenting the Losses of My Past Life

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I have a complicated relationship with Facebook. When I was in DC, it was a great way to reconnect with old friends and to highlight the civil rights work my organization was doing. I used it to complain about society, my life, and post fun, witty comments. I interchanged with a lot of people and it was a convenient social outlet.

After my first breakdown, I came home and lived alone for a year in Berkeley. Facebook became a feeding ground for my depression. As we all know, people don’t really post about shitty things in their lives. They paint this magical vision of perfection – with their child, on a cool vacation, laughing with their friends. I also didn’t know what to post. I knew people would want to know where I was, what I was doing. I felt like if I just vanished completely, then no one would ask and I wouldn’t have to say how I was unemployed, living with my parents, doing nothing, thinking about nothing, and just breathing, eating, sleeping, and crying. As much as I wanted to see people grow, at a certain point it started to feel masochistic.

Since then, I have gone on and off Facebook. I have deactivated and then reactivated. I have agreed to only go on once a week to see if there were any birthdays. I have taken people off my news feed who upset me. I have stopped posting.

However, a lot of the jobs I am currently looking at, want to see you have social media experience. They also do research on prospective applicants online. So even though I am currently in a phase of deactivation, I went on today to review my previous posts and make sure there wasn’t anything too inappropriate.

Looking back on my posts from 2009-2012, before the breakdown, I feel this melancholy for all I have lost. Not just in time, but in friendships. I started thinking about all of the people who enjoyed me, even as acquaintances – from college, previous jobs, interns, people I had met through others, roommates, even childhood friends. Even though we might have only connected when they liked an article I posted, or when they were in town, and even though I can tell I was bullshitting my “I’m a happy go lucky gal,” it was still a human connection process.

So yeah, I’m sad. Not just because I lost touch with so many people, or because I can’t remember who they are. It’s because I wonder what my life could have been if I had been the person I am now. I wonder how different work would have been. I wonder if I would have actually gone to the events I wrote about, or actually met up with the people in town. I wonder if I would have utilized Facebook to keep myself connected and bolstered with friendships. (Looks like someone has the case of the “what-ifs.”)

I told my therapist that the idea of looking for a job right now is scarier than when I was fucked up. Because I knew how to live life and do the things you do when I was fucked up, because that was just who I was. And even though you would think I was weaker then, now, not being clinically depressed, and having gained strength in my understanding of myself and the damage I have incurred, I feel so vulnerable and that makes me feel weak.

I mean, I don’t know how to live life as this person I am now?! Technically, I have more skills for how to deal with stress, anxiety, and bad days, but they’ve never been tested “out in the field.” (I don’t count being able to go to the grocery store alone even when I feel like crap as “out in the field.” That’s more like basic training.) And feeling vulnerable before jumping into a new world, especially where old habits will most likely feel tempting, I guess I’m just scared for and of myself.

I wonder if this new me will be a person who goes on Facebook? Who reintegrates back into her old world but as a different person? Am I still that person? Can I be that person without the crippling depression, anxiety, and hypomania? As I question whether I am strong enough to have a job, I also wonder if I am strong enough to be actively involved on Facebook. I laugh and resent that Facebook has the power to invoke enough thought for a blog post. But I do believe it is another thing from my past that represents a larger component of life and has brought me pause.

Like most things in life, Facebook can be an asset and a danger. It can connect you to the world, and it can also make you wonder if you are meant for this world. I no longer look at people’s pictures and feel shitty about myself. I am happy for my friends and I know that their lives are a lot more than a post or two.

And maybe, one day soon, I will be ready to be present…on social media. But for now, I need to put my energy into forming and strengthening the beginning of a person I might one day become. I have to be ready to be present…in the present.

I know, within myself, that I have a lot to be proud of, but none of it can be displayed or captured on Facebook. And that’s okay. Because it’s bigger than a picture, a video, or a two sentence quip. I am in a state of growth, a complicated, undefinable, unknown space of evaluation, process, experimentation, and decision-making. It’s hard and shitty, but amazing and special – and I don’t need to share that with anyone for now. Well, I guess, except with you. :)

Driving Around in My Angermobile

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The groundhog pretty much captures my face when I’m in my Angermobile. Truly a striking resemblance.

Evidently I have a problem with anger: I have difficulty/don’t express it and do not allow myself to truly acknowledge/feel it. Generally, when something “angers” me, it quickly turns to sadness and then to an inner-anger of shame. I believe this stems from the verbal anger I witnessed as a child.

Growing up, I had to listen to some incredibly loud, mean, abusive rants and fights. I had no place to go to escape the noise and fury. Even in my room, with my fingers in my ears, I could hear it. A part of me wanted to run out and protect her. I wanted to yell back at him and break him down with my words. But mostly, I just wanted it to stop. Sometimes, it was at the dinner table and I could never figure out if I should leave or wait it out. I could physically feel the anger, as if the sound was holding me down. It left a presence in the room after they left. It felt dirty. And I was so scared and so sad and so mad that it happened and that I could not fix it, stop it, or prevent it.

So I suppose that’s why anger scares me and I avoid it as much as possible. It’s volatile and it can hit whatever is in its’ range of rage. It’s usually an instinct rather than a processed idea so it’s hurtful and thoughtless and empty yet riddled with evil. It destructs. Verbally, it is used to hurt, to damage, to destroy. It becomes a giant and steps on anything in its’ path. And I hate it. Huh. I’m angry at anger. That makes me sad. (See!?!)

But I do have my car: my “Angermobile.”

I live in a suburban area so I have to drive quite a bit. And man, people are just horrible fucking drivers. The point (if indeed I am attempting to make one,) is that the only place where I do express anger is, you guessed it, in the car. Now, I don’t yell with the window open; if I give the finger I do it below the glass; and if I pass by you after you have done something asinine and dangerous, I don’t look over and give you the “fuck you” face and hand routine; but I try to grimace and look frustrated. (I’m pretty sure my face looks like I’m farting or have to pee really bad, but whatever. It means I’m mad, dammit.)

And you should hear what I say with the windows closed.

I raise my voice. I get that Hulk treble in my tone. And I use swear words in creative and abusive ways. I say things to you that are demoralizing, mean, and angry. I tell you what’s what and then some. I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take your shitty driving anymore…without at least yelling like a mean, bad ass.

Besides an occasional argument with my family, who all have louder voices so I think it just naturally gets louder quickly, I never raise my voice to people. I do not confront people. If I was angry, I would never be rude or use a swear word. I generally apologize before I complain. And yes, I think a lot of it has to do with my past, as well as cultural expectations for women, and because I am terrified the other person will yell at me.

My therapist wants me to work on my anger. Just for clarification, (because I asked,) she doesn’t mean throwing something at someone or bitching them out. She means sitting with the anger, feeling it, and not turning it into sadness or shame. (I also think she is talking more about my interpersonal relationships and not the shitty driver who cut me off.) She wants me to validate my anger because it is justified and not be afraid to face it because it is an important emotion and can help me recover from past trauma.

And anger can be effective and positive. It is telling you that the person did you wrong and it was not your fault. It is saying that you deserve more and you will not allow it to happen again. It is a promise to yourself to fight back, and it is a powerful energy that can propel you forward in an empowering and passionate way.

So I’m going to work on sitting with my anger. Because unfortunately, I’m pretty sure I have been harboring it, storing it in a “do not open” box, and it’s pretty full.

Still, I think we all need some form of an Angermobile – whether we are too passive or overly aggressive. We all need a place where we can let it all out without hurting someone or ruining a relationship. Maybe for you, it’s yelling into a pillow. Maybe it’s writing in a journal or on your blog. Maybe it’s listening to angry music really loud and thrashing about. Maybe it’s kneading dough. Whatever your pleasure. As long as it’s safe, and it alleviates the tension and undercurrents of hate/frustration/anger that we obtain throughout the day, I say: “go on with your bad self.”

I like who I am in my Angermobile. I’m not like the people who yelled when I was a child. But as a person who is so controlled in public, it’s fun and refreshing to use some of my favorite words (oh how I adore swear words,) in the safety of my climate-controlled, ideally (and hopefully) sound-proof car.

The Rights of An Individual Within The Family System

I’m trying to think about how to write this post.

I want to write about family systems, their power dynamics, and imperfect structure. Well, I want to write about my own family and what I have and continue to learn about it within this context. But I am always hesitant to write about my family. I talk about it with my therapist and think about it sometimes, but I guess the idea of putting it down in words makes me feel like a traitor.

I am so lucky to have my family. Not a family; my family. It ain’t perfect, but duh. (Perfect. We really should eradicate that word and its’ meaning completely.) And even with its’ problems, the intention of my familial interactions and relationships are based on the ideals of love and support. Furthermore, I know I am still here today in large part because of my family, and have always known they would be there for me should I ever need it. And that in and of itself, is an amazing, unique, and rare thing.

I have avoided analyzing my family in past therapy because it felt selfish. But in doing so, I was helping to uphold my belief that even if an action hurts you, if the intention behind the action was positive, the onus is on you, not the one who caused the pain. After all, if they were not intending to hurt you, they can’t really be held accountable for how you choose to accept it.

I’ve applied that unhealthy philosophy to so many parts of my life. I have allowed others to hurt me because I was at fault in my interpretation of actions and/or my role in the relationship. I misunderstood; I was wrong in my subjective understanding. An example: I spent years feeling horrible that I did not like my father because I knew there were factors beyond his control that effected his behavior and actions that hurt me. (I just realized this is an example of a family dynamic, but I guess my dad is not only a part of my family system, our relationship is also a separate entity unto itself.)

But whether or not someone intends to hurt you, does not change or more importantly, does not invalidate the impact on you. Whether they had a bad childhood, or have a myriad of reasons for their unhealthy behavior – even if they don’t see it as unhealthy or wrong – does not negate its’ affect, whatever it may be.

I am not saying I am a complete victim in ineffective behavior. After all, I am complicit in allowing the behavior; in not setting boundaries; in not speaking up for myself. It is my responsibility to take care of myself, even if that does not fit within party lines. Furthermore, I am accountable for the consequences to the relationship due to my personal choices. But I am not selfish to do so. (It should be noted, however, that young children cannot be held responsible for their care, and their complicity is not at will.)

I believe all this to be true, but it still fills me with shame, guilt, and self-hate. Because even if I can acknowledge what I believe to be right and within my rights, the rules of the structure were ingrained in my initial value system, and attempting to change it feels like betrayal.

I’m not going to write about what I specifically have come to understand about my relationship with and within my family, or the most recent incident that triggered it. I think I’ll keep that to therapy. But I will say, like any relationship, there is incredible complexity in its’ structure and system. There is no black and white; right or wrong; victim and perpetrator. And that’s a good thing – because it allows for unconditional, true and authentic love and support. And it also allows for change.

(JT, JIC there is any confusion, know I love you more than words and always will.)

 

 

 

The Dilemma of Accountability and Mental Illness

There are a lot of shitty components to being mentally ill. But one of the hardest, at least for me, is identifying accountability.

Growing up, I was told I was too sensitive and empathetic. I didn’t know why, but I was lazy, a whiner, indecisive, a drama queen. I got sick a lot.

I hated myself. I mean every part of me – inside and out. What I looked like, things I said , things I wanted, both physical and emotional. I could not stand my personal evolution and I knew no matter what I did, I never would. So when things didn’t go my way, I understood my culpability.

And I blamed myself for all of it. Somehow the fact that there was nothing good in me, nothing worthy of life, was a weakness, a failure…and my choice.

Once I got diagnosed with my repertoire of mental disorders, I was told that so much of my life was not in my control. That my choices weren’t really mine because I wasn’t really myself. The way I felt was not my fault, but rather a consequence of my disease. Okay, that’s an oddly chilling concept, but I get it.

But I still made choices that affected others. Maybe my brain was not able to think “correctly,” but I still hurt people and my life by the decisions I made. When they say “it’s not your fault” is that entirely correct? I was thinking under a depressive hypomanic state, but I was still functioning. I have lost so many friends because I never returned phone calls, text messages, and emails. My reasons weren’t rational or healthy, but I still made those choices, and in doing so, I hurt them. (Sometimes to a point where I have found them unwilling to forgive.)

So where does the buck stop? Because unlike a cold, this isn’t going away. All I can do is temper and manage my brain chemistry, try and develop and practice techniques to help guide me, and hope I have the moxie to push through the torrential shit of life.

It may not be my fault that I thought that way, but I still feel I am accountable for my actions. I didn’t care at the time because I figured I’d be dead soon, but I am still responsible for the pain I may have caused others and the outcomes that now lay before me.

So where is this line between the disease and the person? Does it even exist? At what point is it me and not my illness? Or when is it not me, but my illness? How do I know with every decision and choice I make, if it’s truly “me” making it? Is it possible to not be responsible but still accountable? Who is to blame and who must handle the fallout?

Consider me befuddled.

Finding My Answers from Within

Deciding between LSE and Boston has been on my mind for two months. I’ve been suspicious about Boston because I thought of it when I was depressed. Truth is, I could argue for each – after all, neither are bad paths, just different. But week after week, my mind has become more tangled and confused. I’ve been reviewing visa requirements while looking for jobs in Boston. I’ve tried to explain my choices with friends and even they would change their mind a few times during the conversation.

My therapist, (and DBT,) are big on sitting with your body and listening to what it is saying through feeling. I’m not going to lie, as a pretty hands-on, type A, negative realist, this feels a little hippy-dippy to me. But at this point, I’ll give most anything a try. So you sit in a quiet space, try to clear your mind, think of the subject and try to see how your body feels. Is your stomach tense, your throat tight, your chest? Is it a feeling of excitement, tension, anxiousness, dread? Ideally, once you clear your mind of what you think you should do, what others want you to do, and the possible catastrophes, the true answer as to what you want comes to the surface.

So yesterday I walked to this small college that has big oak trees and damp grass and I tried. But still, my mind felt blank (which is usually my brains’ way of saying it’s just too overwhelmed to focus) and I didn’t feel a moment of revelation. And then I just started writing:

Happiness/Contentment:

  • Someone to call
  • Someone to kiss
  • Laughing
  • Working hard and being appreciated
  • Feeling like what I do betters the world without hurting me/negatively impacting my life (health, happiness, relationships)
  • Independence
  • Maintaining stability and balance so there is room for surprise, opportunity, and change
  • Coming to peace with who I am and who I want to strive to be

What I look for in a job/What skills I like to use:

  • I like teaching
  • I like listening
  • I like learning
  • I like working with young adults
  • I like helping people
  • I like adding value to the world in the work I do and helping eradicate hate and ignorance through education, coalition-building, and collaboration
  • I like balance but diversity and complexity
  •  I like working on multiple issues and doing a variety of tasks

When I applied for LSE two years ago, I was more vulnerable than I am now. First off, I only intended to apply, so going was a big step, hence waiting another year and applying again. But, it was meant to be a stepping stone to living a full, independent life. I would have a structure waiting for me – a place to live, classes to take, a schedule, people around me with common interests. But what I’ve come to realize is that now, two years later, LSE would be me avoiding my eventual reality. I always worried if I didn’t go I would look back in regret, but it no longer fits into what I need to build a life, and knowing that means there’s nothing to regret, it just no longer fits.

I am afraid of Boston (or wherever I might end up on the East Coast). I have to pull my life together from scratch. There will be more variables to contend with. I’ve done it before but never like this. Never as who I am now. It’s not going to be as exciting or “easy” as LSE, but it will force me to reach for my life goals and challenge my new self.

I’ve always tried to make decisions by letting them just happen and therefore be made for me. I like to wait until it’s too late, or someone makes me – then I don’t have to take responsibility for how the chips fall. But I’m going to have to try this time. Making this decision is in and of itself, another step in my process of finding my true self.

I’m scared, but when I was sitting there, in the quiet, with a nice breeze underneath the tree, I could feel it. The right decision. My stomach was clenched, my chest was tight, but I felt light, excited, and terrified. But most importantly, I found myself smiling.

The Unfortunate Reality of an “Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind”

“Blessed Are the forgetful for they get the better even of their blunders.”  – Nietzsche

I’m not a detail-oriented person. And by “oriented,” I mean, I can’t remember shit – from the past and sadly, often from the present. It is starting to become a problem.

Now, part of my memory loss is the depression. It blurred life and sometimes even erased it. Blocks of times, details of events, all on the tip of my brain, but unable to reach.

Naturally, ECT for almost two years most likely played a part. ECT is only supposed to effect your short-term memory and I can assure you it does. I have only a few vague memories but most are situations that reoccured often rather than a specific time. Also, when I began ECT, my sense of smell became incredibly strong. And it still is: I’m like a police dog. I mention this because it is an effect that didn’t go away, so maybe there are longer term effects of the ECT that have impacted my cognitive skills. (Note: I still would do it again, even if it has played a role.)

And then there’s the medication that my old, shitty doctor got my body hooked on, whose main side effect is memory loss. (She never mentioned that.) I’ve been on it for over a decade but last time I tried to get off of it, the reaction was so bad, I fell into a frightening depressive episode that I am still recovering from. Still, I need to get off of it soon, especially if it’s impacting my mind.

I used to like the fact that I had a bad memory…or at least I convinced myself I did. I told myself that most of the past decade was full of depression and the bad habits that go with it. Besides, I would tell myself, I am a different person now, starting life new and fresh, so who I was shouldn’t matter.

But in truth, it didn’t make my mind “spotless” and provide me with the “eternal sunshine” Alexander Pope raves about. I might not remember, but the effect of the experiences does not allow me to be set free from my past. There is no reverie to be had.

Now I realize that while I may have lost the bad memories, I also lost the good. And for me, I lost more good than bad. It’s amazing how those bad experiences burrow into your mind, refusing to let you forget. The internal scars, the essence of the memories, they stay within you. You may not remember what happened, but you remember how it felt and in some cases, how it impacts you now. When tired or weak, your mind pulls them out, tempting you to follow the pattern of your past. (Fucking depression.)

But I’ve learned to get by. I have my friends and family to tell me stories (albeit subjective stories,) of things that have happened. (I haven’t quite figured out what to do when I’m on a date, but texting in the bathroom might come to be.) Sometimes I see a photo and I can feel the emotion of the memory even if I don’t remember it. (Does that make sense?) And I try to focus on those feelings; I argue that indeed, that is the most important piece of the memory itself. Not what we ate or the embarrassing thing I did. But rather, it’s the flutter of excitement, the lightness of that moment I can feel even though I couldn’t tell you the year or where it was taken. I remind myself that that is what’s important: when I find myself smiling or laughing at a smorgasbord of tiny, faint memories.

It’s only recently that I’ve come to resent it. After all, it’s not just a night of drinking that I don’t remember; it’s a wedding, a baby shower, helping someone in a crisis. I’m ashamed because I love my friends dearly and I hate that I can’t share memories with them. I hate having to ask who this is or what’s this restaurant even though we have been there more than once. I’ll be talking to someone and say “well I’ve never done that,” and my friend will interrupt with, “yeah you have.” Luckily, I have years of experience playing a dolt, so I can usually save the situation.

And I’m angry. Because now that I want to live, (on most days.) I want to go back to loving people, having experiences, and being someone people can rely on for whatever they need. And friendships are built on the past; the moments we share form together to create the inner heart of the friendship itself.

I always hated pictures. I thought I was so fat and ugly that I avoided them. Often, I would agree and then sneak out just before someone took the shot. And now I regret that. Because even though I know I might look at the photo and think I look disgusting, it would have helped as a marker in my “emotional memory” bank. I was so busy hating myself, I missed a captured moment of love and laughter. Luckily my “regret” bank is open and operational.

I’m getting a neuropsychological test done next month. It just feels like things are getting worse. Mainly, my cognitive skills have slowed. I can’t find words; if I take a breath in a sentence, I forget what I was talking about; I find I can only do one thing at a time in terms of information absorption; the more I try to focus on someone speaking, the less I actually absorb. If I’m driving and you try to give me dates of when you’re visiting, it’s a waste of your time. I’m also slower and my concentration is for shit. That’s probably my meds. It’s annoying, but I can make it work.

Maybe I’m just an airhead – I believe that was one of my “titles” as a child. You take that natural trait and add medication and perfectionism, and maybe you get my situation. But whether I go to school or get a job, life requires memory – both the past and the present. I’m scared that I will go to work, and I won’t be able to remember things. My wit and humor, which I have relied on, can only get me so far before my dumb-founded stare avails my ignorance. If I go to school, I will be with some of the brightest minds in the world. It’s going to be fast and it’s going to be intense. I don’t know if I will have the brain capacity to keep up.

Memories would help.

I feel like I am missing parts of myself. Pieces of me literally blurred out like in the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Looking into the past can’t fix the present. But as I am becoming a “new” self without clinical depression, I find myself often asking “Who am I?” And I can’t seem to remember who I was, to help in the formation of who I am.

I miss my memories. I miss my life. Warts and all.

 

Can You Live With An Empty Soul?

Yesterday my therapist and I started to dissect my issues with intimacy. There’s a long road of traumatic events that have lead to my fear of getting close, both physically and emotionally with men. But as we reviewed components that have lead to my current, frustrating state, the rejection and dismissal by girls kept coming up. Because while I was dealing with my feelings about men, my wants and needs, the feeling of self-worth and value kept coming up – and a lot of that had to do with the rejection by girl friends.

I was friends with and then eventually cut off by a different group of people every year from second grade through seventh. Sometimes with a note, or just three people refusing to acknowledge my presence one day. Each time I joined a clique, after some time, I was told quite clearly that I was no longer wanted. After a horrific experience in seventh grade, I decided never to have “best friends” and just be friends with everybody.

I suppose the thing that crushed me the most was that I never knew why or was given any explanation for friends’ abandonment or sudden disgust with me. The first few times, I just felt confused, but after a while, I started to evaluate what I was doing wrong. What was it about me that made people, after a time, not want to be friends with me? What was so rotten inside me, that as soon as people started to know me, they wanted to flee?

I didn’t know what I was doing. So instead of trying to get people to like me and want me, I tried to get people to need me. Being a friend meant getting things for people, doing favors, embarrassing myself to ensure they laughed, helping them with boys, picking things up – whatever I could do that made me a convenient and helpful addition to their lives. This backfired at times, as some girls felt I was overbearing, trying too hard. I adjusted when that happened and eventually I found a way to balance helping people but giving them space long enough that they couldn’t get sick of me.

Looking back, I had convinced myself that I, as a human being, had no value to people. Just being me was not good enough. I had to earn friendship by providing something they needed. True friendship does involve giving – but it’s supposed to be two-ways. I always felt safer from rejection if it was one-way. In fact, I hated when people tried to do something for me or compliment me. Still, even doing this, people ditched me.

So now not only was it that I was of no value, that I was worthless; but there was something so disgusting and annoying about me, my giving just wasn’t enough. I was ugly, irritating, awful. Deep within the core of myself, there was something so bad, they couldn’t speak to me or sit with me anymore.

After the most painful rejection in seventh grade, I realized that limiting yourself to a few friends to have intimacy and closeness, was simply too dangerous. And for someone like me, to get too close and allow someone to see me, meant eventually they would flee. So I became friendly with everyone. I didn’t sit with anyone specifically. I spent the majority of my time making people laugh at my expense – but it worked. People thought I was “funny” and I was generally friendly with everyone. This continued in high school. I would have a few closer friends, but I often would distance myself if I felt we were spending too much time together, avoiding any chance of rejection. If I didn’t invest too much in them, and I still ensured my value by giving – whether that was providing a place to drink, or making snarky comments at the chemistry teacher, or railing on myself for my braces and fat, it was worth it to get them to laugh. If I could make them laugh or get them something, they would let me stay, and in that way, I could make myself of value.

But underneath that was the constant fear that they would find out I was worthless. That they would see this sickness in me, and run. By then, I stopped trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, and just accepted it was me as a whole, I was simply damaged goods. My goal was simply to hide my true self.

To this day, I feel fear in all of my relationships – with doctors, family members, the barista, and most importantly my friends. I only have a few friends, and they have stuck by me throughout my depression. But I am still scared to lose them. I find myself in the middle of a story horrified that I’m talking too much and trying to switch the subject back to them – people like being listened to and heard. I try to remember if I contacted them last, and will wait for them to contact me, lest I be hanging on them too much. And it’s why I hid and often continue to hide my mental illness. I talk about it, quickly, flippantly, and with humor, but in general, I skip by it quickly, don’t answer the phone, or just leave out the emotion or truly devastating fears. My best friend told me last year that she never knew so much and that she couldn’t help me if I wasn’t open to her. In the past year, I have tried to be more honest. The other day, I called her and cried on the phone, hysterically vomiting my thoughts and concerns. I apologized the next day and told her it was fine. I felt bad I had put her in a position where I needed something that no one could provide. I worry if you become a task too heavy, people will leave you, as my roommate and friend right after college did, by moving out of our apartment because she told me I was a “burden” and she couldn’t handle her own life because mine was so oppressive.

Obviously, if you think you have no value and that people are disgusted and want to leave as soon as they know who you really are, this is going to impact your sexual relationships as well. I have never really dated anyone. I have never had an intimate encounter sober. I haven’t had many to begin with, and some of them were assaults, so I’m not sure they count. There have been a few guys who liked me, but they were intense and they seemed to compliment me a lot. They kept saying how great I was, smart, pretty, and they had only been seeing me for a week. I broke up with those men. Partially because of my self-esteem and sexual intimacy issues, but mostly because I knew if they really “saw” who I was, beyond the humor and bullshit, they would see how hollow and truly pointless I was.

I think we are going to try and focus on my history some more and reinterpreting my thoughts. My issues with men are much more complicated, which is annoying given my love for them. But as I got into the car to drive home, it really actually hit me – what I had said about 10 minutes before the session ended. I have learned, from a very early age, that I add no value, and am either empty or bad inside. I am, by definition, worthless. And so much in my upbringing supported that conclusion.

My therapist asked me if I ever knew why people decided they didn’t like me. There is only one person I still know from that time period that was part of a group that cut me out. I feel bad, but about once a year I bring it up. I ask her to remember what it was that started the decision for the three of them to stop talking to me; to cough pig when I walked by. Who decided I was out and why? Was it something specific or my general personality? And why did she do it? Was it peer pressure or did she hate me as well? I just wanted to know what I did wrong for so many years, to try and have some understanding of why so many people left me. And every year, she pleads with me to let it go because she can’t remember. She isn’t sure who started it, and she isn’t sure why. There wasn’t a specific moment or a group meeting that she remembers. She just knows that it happened and she was a part of it. And that she’s sorry. And that by high school she thought I was really cool and wanted to be friends with me. I still can’t seem to satiate that need to understand and evidently it didn’t impact the people who did it to me enough to remember.

And now, through college and DC, and my depressive years, people tell me they wish I knew how great I was. That they don’t understand why I am so hard on myself, why I can’t see why I am so “amazing.” They tell me I am attractive, kind, funny, witty, smart, emotionally intelligent. They tell me there’s no reason I shouldn’t be in a relationship or try to make friends. And with every compliment, I feel sad because I have duped them as well. What they are seeing is what I choose to show them. But it’s all a charade, bullshit, a song and dance.

The truth is, I can’t decipher what is “really” me and what is something I do to make people accept me. Am I actually a person with some of those traits? Is that, at my core, who I truly am? Or is this all a sham, and behind it all is something truly ugly, something so terrifying, that the only person who really sees me is the depressive voice inside me that is the only real voice of truth. A part of me knows that that voice is my sickness, that it’s not real, but every time I listen to it, it has a point, and evidence to go along with it.

Maybe, I never developed a voice or inner being, what some see as a “soul.” Maybe I have no self-esteem or self-worth because I don’t have anything true and tangible to hold onto. I have spent so long developing what felt like facades for so long, I can’t tell if they are actually me, or still simply illusions. Could I just be, behind the green curtain, not a great wizard, but a silly, sad, insecure person, with nothing to show? Could my soul simply be an empty shell with nothing inside?