Are We There Yet? – Waiting For the Self-Doubt to Subside

How much longer will it take before I can trust the medications? The decisions I am making? How much longer before I can look myself in the mirror and trust that this will be okay?

By “‘this,” it’s not just life. It’s not just the next year or month or week. It’s tonight. It’s moments from now. Fuck, it’s right now.

Each week I continue to build upon this idea that I am better. That I am managing my “behavioral health condition” (new terminology evidently) and can have friends, cook meals, read books, go to the gym, have a job, do an interview. Say yes.

I looked at myself in the mirror tonight, feeling almost as if I was floating away. The depression, it held me down. It pushed my face so deep into the ground, I couldn’t breathe. Even when I stood, I found I was anchored to the ground with hooks throughout my body. With every move I made I felt the hooks rip through my head, my lips, my neck, my chest, my stomach, my hands, my legs, my toes. I ached in pain with every word, every moment of engagement that I made. And now, when I move, I merely feel the scars ache, the wounds were so deep, even with the scar, the flesh is ripped and torn beneath. I will never be fully healed or whole.

And at the same time, now I feel like I need to hold onto the porcelain sink before I get carried away. I can’t feel grounded no matter how much I put my bare feet to the ground, or lie down and meditate, trying to pull the weight of my body down towards the earth, my fear, that kept me hunched over in agony for so long, now threatens me from above.

Perhaps because that is where my dreams and wishes lie? My hopes hang above me, and they seem so innocent, pleasant, alluring. But each day I say yes, it feels like there are two parts of me at war: the one that says “we finally have the chance to dream! come on! let’s jump up high and feel free and weightless!” and the other tells me to “mind myself, keep my head to the ground, and survive.” And the first voice, the innocent child who someone is still alive after all of this time, she is pulling me up; and the foreboding guards flick at my wounds, threatening me with my greatest fears to keep me from following that voice. I am being ripped apart, my different minds no longer asking me, but pulling me.

Our bodies are provided mechanisms for survival. An instinct to protect. Fight. Flight. Freeze. My wires are so crossed now. I’ve been running in survival mode for so many years, I don’t even know what it feels like not to be that way. In fact, sometimes when I actually am relaxed, I find myself panicked. Being relaxed, being happy, being satisfied all make me vulnerable to attack. And my body doesn’t know how to distinguish safety and danger, as so many times those that portrayed themselves as safe, turned out to become my worst nightmares.

I’m in the pool, trying to become a better swimmer, and the woman tells me to relax. “I am,” I tell her. “No. Relax. Like, relax your body.” “This is me relaxed. This is as relaxed as I get!” Because this is only as far as my body will physically let me trust myself. I have gone to the pool three times now. I did 5 laps the first time. 15 the second. And 18 the third, though I really only wanted to do 10. I keep waiting to feel satisfaction. To feel free in the water, to allow it to envelop me and to not fight it but glide with it, as so many are wont to tell me – that is what is missing from me enjoying the experience. I try to feel myself in the water. I try to appreciate that perhaps it is softer on my body. But I don’t feel relief or lightness, so instead, I focus on form, breathing, pushing myself, counting the laps.

DBT brings you to the present. I appreciated that. While it aims for “wise mind,” I always appreciated the rational mind. Because that indeed does ground you. It grounds you in the present. It makes your mind focus on what is before you, not what you will eventually have to do. I stopped DBT and maybe that is why I have felt so ungrounded. But I had started to feel like while it was keeping me grounded, it was keeping me in line. I was checking boxes. I was doing things to show I could do them. And I thought maybe that was keeping me from enjoyment. Because you have to be open to feeling. You have to have some vulnerability to grow.

My new therapist tells me that there is no surprise I feel no pleasure in my body. I don’t enjoy baths, lotions, touch, the sun, beautiful views, laughter. The second I start to feel something in my body, a swelling in my heart, a tingle in my chest, I pull back out of the experience. Evidently, after years of continued trauma, my body and mind got together and taught itself to protect and survive. It would mean I couldn’t feel pleasure but it would protect me from feeling too much pain. The thing is, I did feel pain. I was severely depressed and hurt. But I did it to myself. And that’s a different pain that one that is inflicted unwillingly upon you.

I must be tired. Too many repetitive thoughts; too many spelling errors; too many metaphors that don’t even work. But I looked in the mirror tonight and I was terrified because I just didn’t know how I was going to make it through. And yet I knew I had to. And I just wondered: will I ever not have to feel so scared of something that is unknown? What do others feel at night? Are they scared of the next day? Do they wonder if they will just explode on Tuesday and fall to pieces? How can they plan months ahead? How can they know they can say yes to something so far in advance? I have been doing that – saying yes to the future. And each time I do I feel like I’m going to be sick. I keep thinking this is going to get easier with practice. So I keep practicing.

I’m tired of practicing.

The Dormant Monster: Being “Better” With a Mental Illness

Whoo! It’s been a while since I’ve been on this site. Truthfully, I’ve missed being there for those I followed and shared our days of drudgery and despair, hope and potential. And popping off like I did was unfair to those who write their blogs for support and find solace in the comfort of their online community. For that, I am sorry.

I suppose I stopped for a few reasons. Most of our posts are in times of struggle and it didn’t feel right to write about having positive days. (Even though I realize I rejoice when I read about yours!) The other is that it can be difficult for me not to get sucked into other’s pain. When I’m in my own depressive vortex, hearing from others can make me feel solace, allowing me to provide advice I cannot give to myself. But when I’m fighting to feel better, it sometimes makes me miss depression. And while it feels selfish, I think it is more about self-survival. Still, I found myself writing today and while I’m out of practice, decided to give it a go.

Now on medication that has lifted the deep darkness from my mind, I find myself remembering depression the way it wants me to remember it. Even as an echo of my past, it misconstrues memories and offers to shield me from the arduous process of saying yes to life. It attempts to lure me with a false sales pitch that I could find relief if I just stopped all this work fighting my social anxiety, self-doubt, self-hate, and constant fear of failure. It wants me to forget what it really brings: the breath-taking pain and agony; the anger of being alive; the encompassing self-hate that makes me want to rip all my skin off. It makes me forget the amount of energy it takes to feel that way. Instead, it sells itself as the “easier” option. But so far I have been able to remember that at least this energy can lead to moments of laughter, accomplishment, and love and that energy only leads to destruction.

Fighting depression is so fucking hard. And even with the right medications, eating well, exercising, engaging socially, sleeping, using my brain – every decision I make takes a fuckload of energy and drive. And every time my alarm goes off in the morning, I wonder if today will be the day I won’t be able to get up. That sense of insecurity, of never feeling “cured” lasts throughout the day. Will I get dressed and not be stifled by the hatred of my body, my face, and clothes? Will I be able to leave the house to get to class? Will I be able to engage with people when I’m in class? Will I be able to pay attention and absorb what I’m learning in class? Will I sit alone when I get home and hate myself? Will tonight be the night I cut again? Will I binge eat? Will I get so low I get into bed and not get out for another two years?

It’s hard meeting people how I am now. They see me, I imagine, as an odd, quirky, but functioning person. Someone who may be self-deprecating, but is present, with ideas, thoughts, and energy. As I have started to become closer to people and tell my story, I often am told, “I can’t imagine you like that!” and it leaves me feeling vulnerable and scared. Because I didn’t “survive” depression; I’m not “cured.” I am still a person with a mental illness. I am on medications that temper the strength of my illness, that keep me stable enough to deal with the shit that makes all lives difficult. And it doesn’t make situations less anxious, it doesn’t make my insecurities vanish, but it clears away the darkness enough so I can at least see potential in life, even if I’m not sure how or if I will ever get there.

As time passes and I continue to function, I worry that expectations will continue to rise, and if I fall again it will be that more disappointing. Every time I add something to my plate, accomplish something, do something that scares me, I move a step away from my days of being bed-ridden. But each step away means if I’m pulled back, the fall will be that much longer, the speed and intensity of the fall will be more intense, and I will have far, far, far more to lose than before.

I want to explain to people that my “bad” days will never be like theirs. To be fair, I don’t know what a bad day feels like for someone without a mental illness, but I imagine it is different. One day, I tell a friend I’m upset because I feel like I can’t leave the house. They think I don’t want to leave the house but it is so much more than that. It feels like there is a force field around me, pulsating, sucking the oxygen out, paralyzing me. The idea of opening the door and facing life makes me nauseous. “But it’s okay to have blah days and sit around in your pj’s doing nothing.” Maybe for you! If I do that, there is a high chance I’ll be doing it tomorrow and it will be worse. And the ease in which those two days can turn into seven, I can’t count how many times that happened in the past. And the truth is, I honestly don’t know when a bad day could or will turn into a possible episode. So when I want to sit in bed all day in my pj’s, I have to get out. I have to put on a hat, look in the mirror and feel disgusted and shameful of my body and take a walk. Even if for 20 minutes. And then I have to do all or at least one of the following: I have to text someone and ask them how they are doing; I have to answer at least one email; I have to fight as hard as I can to not check Facebook; I have to try and not give myself a verbal beating for overeating; I have to tell myself it’s NOT okay and that tomorrow has to be different.

It was difficult enough when I was depressed to try and explain how debilitating it was. But now, having to explain the terror of “feeling better” is even harder. I am appreciative that the darkest thoughts are more like memories than feelings. But I know it is never gone, it’s just dormant. And it might remain that way for the rest of my life, or five years, or one month. Still, I try to be grateful. To know that regardless of the cranky days, the side effects, the fear, and the energy, deep down I know no matter how distorted my memories may be, this is better. And that today, I was okay.

I try not to think too far into the future, which is incredibly difficult in a society that is constantly asking “what’s next?” As if surviving isn’t enough. And I try to remember when surviving was enough, take a deep breath and hope that each day I come closer to accepting my reality and the unknown future. I appreciate that while this may be hard, I have been through worse and while it could always get worse, it could also get even better.