The Dichotomy of Dread and Excitement For the Unknown Future of Tomorrow

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I had a rush of overwhelming dread today. It’s not like my normal waves of panic when I have too many tasks before me, or when I have decisions to make for the future. This feels exhausting, frightening and sad – fearful of the days ahead, exhausted by the idea of making it through yet another week, sad that this hasn’t gone away.

The thing is, it’s fleeting. I might stop and think to myself “Another week of living this life until Thursday?” And then I’m back at the table, working on the computer. And I’m thankful for that. It’s just so intense in that moment of distress. It feels so strong and definitive.

I have been in a good place in a while, but I still feel exhausted by the prospect of life. Every day, even without clinical depression, takes energy, drive, and a lot of forced action against maladaptive habits. I fight rational and irrational fears from the morning when I wake up to when I lie in bed hoping to fall asleep. I don’t feel sorry for myself. Now that the medical depression is gone, I know that in due time, feelings pass, and if I allow it, so do my thoughts.

But every so often, I wonder if I have what it takes to make it. Is this week going to be like last? Is that good enough? What if it’s better, or what if it’s worse? What will that mean for the week after that? I felt this when I was clinically depressed, but in a much deeper, darker, and devastating degree.

So often in recovery, people tell you to take things day by day. When I was first starting out it felt like hour by hour, task by task. But now I feel the need to look at the week. And I’m being asked to make decisions in two weeks about something four months from now. If you asked me four months ago if I would be where I am today, I would have had no clue. So how am I to make a rational choice about four months from now when I have no idea where I will be, how I will feel, or who I will have become?

It’s such a weird feeling to dread the week ahead while at the same time feeling like I’m wasting the limited time I have on earth. I panic sometimes that all this work is for nothing. Will I work this hard and tragedy will strike and ruin me? Will my medications stop working? Will I push myself just a step too far and fall back down the steps of my progress to the very bottom? What if one day I stop progressing? Or worse, what if after all this work to find hope and seek moments of contentment, I just don’t wake up, or get hit by a car, or any number of things that happen to so many on a daily basis.

For so long I craved to leave this world. I had resigned myself to never getting better, my fire of hope was completely out. All of my dreams and fantasies felt like mean illusions – mocking me, taunting me, showing me what I would never have. And now, with life-changing decisions before me, I find myself timid. Or maybe just terrified to face the world outside. Out there, more decisions and their possibilities lie in wait.

Everyone keeps telling me they see me at a place where they feel safe for me, where they trust I can begin to live the life I have missed for so long. And I have tried so hard to gain that trust and understanding. But my fear of failure hangs above me, constantly threatening. And I know if I fail this time, no one will believe I could get back up. Especially myself.

The dichotomy in my head of both dreading and fearing (with excitement) the future is so odd to me. Everyone around me trusts me, but why can’t I? They believe in me, they see something there, but I can’t see it, I can’t feel it. I look in the mirror waiting to see the girl I believed was hiding behind the depression but my face stays the same. I have done so much and yet what if tomorrow I can’t or worse, what if I don’t want to? And how can each day seem like a challenge to become more whole, and at the same time seem like an exhausting future I don’t want to carry? And why, after more than a year, am I still asking the same fucking questions?

This will pass. I have thankfully learned that my emotions and thoughts do change. Even if I have them for a week, they can be changed, either naturally or by forced action. I just felt scared and exhausted by the notion of the days ahead. It’ll pass. I know it will.

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Part I: Learning to Forgive Yourself

I’ve been trying to blog about forgiveness for over a month now and constantly get stuck.

As I see it, true forgiveness is a difficult but powerful action. To truly forgive, you must acknowledge the pain or failure caused, and harbor no feelings of resentment, anger, frustration, or begrudement. The actions and experiences leave their scars and imprints on us – we never lose them. But their impact and influence must fully disintegrate if we truly forgive.

People with depression or other mental illnesses demonstrate the difficulty of forgiveness. Most times, we blame ourselves and can’t forgive something beyond our control. Why aren’t we stronger than this? Why can’t we get up? Why are we failing those around us? Why are we failing ourselves? We judge the actions associated with our depression with hate and disgust, and we blame ourselves. And like most addictions, forgiveness is one key to getting better. But what does that really mean anyway?

I guess for me, it would mean letting go of the time I have lost. I get so angry at myself for wasting so much of my time hating myself. For missing so much opportunity, so much life, because I was too anxious and depressed to try. But I cannot get that time back. And now, I know it “wasn’t my fault.” I had no malicious intent, but rather I had something controlling me, beating me into submission, forcing me to fail, and in the end, begging to die. It’s hard to truly forgive the monster of depression itself. But at the end of the day, I’m the one who carried out the actions. I can intellectually understand that it is not my fault, but I was brainwashed to believe it was. I spent more than half my life telling myself every day that it was. And whether it was me or “the disease,” forgiveness requires complete and total acceptance. It takes away the coulds and shoulds, and we depressives, those are the words that feed our illness.

I believe I am accountable for both my actions and inactions. My decisions had consequences and I do have to live with them. But accountability is different than fault. My hatred of myself, those that bullied me, assaulted me, my reckless behavior to myself,  I made those choices – but I did not make them alone. I made them with a powerful voice behind me goading me, bullying me, taking my insecurities and confirming there wasn’t a monster next to me but that I was the monster. But I wasn’t the monster. I’m not the monster. Now that I have been afforded the opportunity to see myself without clinical depression, I see that I still make a lot of bad decisions that are both habit and because I am human, imperfect, and incredibly weak from years of hating myself. But those actions that I did while clinically bipolar feel disconnected. I remember them and I know that at the same time, there was a voice inside me, a voice I know can hear more clearly now, telling me not to do it. And I believe that is the real me. And I have to forgive those actions, though their imprint will remain marked all over my body, both physically and mentally.

Honestly, I don’t think I’m there yet. I’m not ready to forgive myself. I can tell you I am, but I still am angry at myself for a life unlived, for the people I have hurt, for the pain I have inflicted on myself. I still look at the people I love and want to say sorry. They say they don’t blame me and they know it wasn’t my fault, but I hurt them regardless of why. Is it too late now to say sorry? (Accidental Beiber quote. I’m SO sorry for that one.) And if so, is it too late to seek forgiveness?

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?