My First Birthday in Years

I prefer my cake without your spittle, but thanks.

I don’t know when it started, but I suppose it makes a lot of sense. I have spent most of my life developing a strong sense of self-hate, embarrassed by my existence, judging my lack of “lived” life and goals, and basically despising myself for being alive. So the idea of celebrating my birth and continued existence in this world with a “year to grown on” has always seemed silly and hypocritical.

I don’t really like holidays in general. There’s a part of me that gets so nervous: there’s all this pressure for that day. Like, on New Year’s – this is THE day out of 365 that I’m supposed to reflect on my life goals and make plans for the future? Thanksgiving – ugh. Here’s a day, out of 365, that I was supposed to stop, look at all the people around me, and think of all I had to be grateful for and how lucky I was and how others deserve the same but do not have it? What an IMMENSE amount of pressure for a day. It always seemed to me those days should just sort of happen throughout the year, in random moments rather than set times.

So I have a tendency to avoid those kind of holidays or at least avoid them until the last possible second before everyone arrives and I have to put on my clown costume and smile. The only ones I did like were these “holidays” my mom called “Just Because” days. When we were growing up, she would wake us up and tell us we could sleep in – we didn’t have to go to school. And then we could hang out with her that day – I don’t even remember what we did. But given that she worked quite a bit, it was so special to have the day to spend with her, no matter what we did. And it wasn’t on a specific day – it was just a random day (at least it seemed for us) where we got to make that day special and have fun.

But my birthday – that’s the worst of all. After spending an entire year running from my desires, being lonely, hating my body, my face, my personality, my life. After a year of feeling as if I am missing opportunities to grow, to experience, to find joy. After a year of and wanting, waiting and hoping to die. Well, after all that, the idea of getting together to “celebrate” me just seemed rather depressing. Woohoo – another year wasted; another year of burdening others; another year of pain! Here’s to the next!

In fact, if anything, my birthday has come to serve as a horrible marker in my depression. It was a day were I reflected on where I was, who I was, and how incredibly miserable I was in both of those dimensions. Unemployed, overweight, living at home, miserable, unable to leave the house. Perhaps not the best circumstances to “reflect” on. Also, during my depressive episodes, my birthdays have always served as expiration dates. A month before I turned 30 was the first time I decided I was going to commit suicide. I decided I would not turn 30 being the person I was. I panicked and made the minor (but helpful) “mistake” of telling some people. I began ECT a few weeks after my 30th birthday. About a year and a half ago, I sat my mom down and told her that if I was still in as much pain as I was then when I was 35, I was going to end it. Not because she didn’t do enough, not because I didn’t love her, but because I was tired and that just seemed like an age where it seemed fair to give up. (Needless to say, she disagreed with my “thoughtful and rational” idea.) Sometimes I tell myself that if this medication stops working and I hit rock bottom again, I’m not doing this anymore. I’m just too exhausted to keep trying.

Therefore, I have adamantly protested any “celebration” on the day of my birthday. In the past few years, we have agreed to stop mentioning my birthday on the day of. My family promised not to say anything or send cards. I might get a “gift” in the mail the week earlier or the week after, but with no acknowledgement of the birthday – more of a “love you” gift. My friends are harder to tame but given that I live 3,000 miles away from them, it does make a “surprise” party harder.

So, I am turning 34 in two and a half weeks. I’m not going to have a party. I don’t plan on making the day a romp around town, treating myself all day to elaborate “pleasures” of food and beauty. I’m not going to try and dress up or put on extra makeup or spend the day reflecting (ok, I probably will but I’d rather not.) I am not planning on blowing out candles and will not be making a wish. (I’m still not ready for “optimism” or thoughts of “the future.” Baby steps, people.)

But I think it would be nice to go out to dinner somewhere comfortable where I enjoy the food. Maybe I’ll make a yummy vegan cake and once again laugh at why everyone is so surprised when it tastes good. Maybe I’ll let someone take a picture of me, even if I know I’m not going to like it. I’m going to try and pick up the phone if someone calls to wish me a happy birthday. I’m going to thank people who email me. I will open cards and appreciate the love within them even though it is still a struggle to not protest their thoughts.

I think I kind of hope people wish me a happy birthday this year. Because while my life is still a chaotic mess of confusion, chaos, and clusterfucks – and while maybe next year I won’t want to celebrate – for now, I am grateful for the people around me; for the opportunities of growth I have had this year; for the strength and personal compassion I have found within myself; the decisions I have made; and the way I have handled disappointment and stress.

Happy birthday to me.

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Self Mutilation: An Ugly Tattoo of Hate & Shame

Disclaimer: Let me first say that cutting, or “self-mutilation” is a horrible thing and I do not condone it in any way. I do not think it’s helpful, actually works in the long-term, or is a worthy form of positive self-medication. I’m also not going to go into details about how I did it or where I did it, because I always found that when I read about it, it was like a how-to with tips, and that’s not my intention either. If you find yourself cutting, you should seek help – whether by telling a friend or family member; finding a support group; seeking out a therapist; or calling a hotline. And if you are someone who is told that someone you love is cutting, the best thing you can do is ask them how you can help.

That being said, for me, cutting was a self-medication I began my sophomore year in college (see post on self-medication for background.) I will say that when I started, I was at a point where I felt like I was going to explode inwards. My pain was so severe and nothing seemed to dull it. I physically felt like I was throbbing with pain and bloated with agony. I imagined myself like a balloon that had too much air in it and needed a release. And that’s what cutting did. It was like I was letting a little of the pain out psychologically by creating a hole physiologically. The release never lasted more than 2-5 minutes and then the shame of having hurt myself plus now having to hide it led to other negative self-medication like binge-drinking and eating. But sometimes, it just led to a good cry. Not even a cry – a good all-out sobbing. And now I realize, that’s what I really needed and what felt so good. It wasn’t the cutting. It was that I was feeling so much I felt nothing and the pain of the cut allowed me to feel and then brought all of my emotions to the surface.

Like most self-medications, I became addicted quickly and learned how to hide it. Now, in retrospect, I think a part of me always wanted someone to see it. It was like I was waving for someone to help me from a sinking ship by flashing a part of my skin that hadn’t healed or accidentally showing a band-aid with hopes someone would catch me in a lie.

I also was struggling with some family issues at the time and was frustrated that I thought no one in my family understood my pain. As a child, I was deemed the sensitive, empathetic one. (And to be fair – I really was and still am.) But I had tried to explain to my family that something just wasn’t right since I was little. They would check my forehead, tell me I was hormonal, or just tell me I was taking things too seriously. By high school, that’s when I stopped complaining as much and took matters into my own hands. From my perspective, my family was too busy living their lives to see my pain and I was in this alone – the odd one out that never belonged there anyway.

And so perhaps a part of me cut because I wanted to hurt them and I wanted them to see my hurt. I wanted to make them believe my pain was real and not hormonal. I was sick and I needed them to see it. And so, after a few years of cutting, with some therapy to boot, I told my family. I want to say I felt sick seeing how it hurt them, and given my love for my family, it did. But it also made me see in their pain, their love for me. I know they have always had it, but I never really saw it, and I guess the cutting opened up that opportunity for me.

I’ll never regret the process of self-medicating. It’s what made me realize I needed to accept support from others, to get on prescription medication, to change my lifestyle, and eventually to get ECT. I still have the random bender where I cut, but it’s different now. The high doesn’t last, and I know now I’ll need to tell my family and I’ll be ashamed because I know how much time and effort and faith they put into me. I know that they themselves deserve more from me, and so do I.

Self-Medicating: How Can Something So Right, Be So Wrong?

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Mental illness or not, we all do it. No, I’m not talking about masturbation – I’m talking about self-medicating.

Life is a stressful, complicated, big blob of fear, anxiety, and failure, wrapped in a bomb with an unknown time limit before explosion and death. It’s no wonder people need a way to relax.

For some, they go the way of meditation, aromatherapy, yoga, acupuncture, natural and prescribed medications, exercise, and healthy eating – and I am in no way knocking these things. In fact, I have tried, and am doing, the majority of them. But sometimes, it’s not enough. And especially if you working with the complexity of life and a mental illness, it can be too much to balance with breathing exercises and a downward dog. Besides, medications are expensive and as I mentioned in my last post, take time, are unreliable, and have major side effects.

So we try to self-medicate first. For me, it started with food. I could stuff myself with food and just before I thought I would throw up, stuff myself some more. Then, by the time I got to high school and was constantly trying to lose weight, it became anorexia – trying to see how little I could eat to see how much control I could gain. But there was also alcohol and drugs. And it’s not like someone was asking me if I was okay because everyone was doing it, it never impacted my grades, I never got busted, drank and drove, or made those mistakes that some Beliebers do.

In college, I would outdrink the guys next to me and then make out with a few – trying my best to convince myself I wasn’t the ugly, worthless piece of shit I knew I was. It never quite did the trick and since I was too much of a control freak to sleep around, I started to wonder how I was going to find my release.

Somewhere around sophomore year, I found cutting, or as some call it “self-mutilation.” It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It was the point I realized I needed therapy but it was also when I finally found a self-medication that did what I needed. I’ve tried to explain cutting to many, and I’ve learned from others that like most things, it’s different depending on the person. But I can tell you what it gave me, and why to this day I still miss it. But more on that later.

I know people self-medicate in different ways that take them on much more intense addictive paths. These paths exacerbate their psychosis, and can lead to, for example, homelessness, violence, and abusive relationships. While I know that prescription medications are not a cure-all (I’ve been “unlucky in love” with most of mine,) I think the difference is that self-medication is a short-term fix while medication and therapy seek to find a long-term solution. And given how exhausting this process is, I think the latter is what we’re truly looking for on this journey.