Loneliness: It’s Not Just for Recluses Anymore

More and more mental health professionals are citing lack of human contact as a contributing factor in depression and even trauma recovery. It has become an item on the list of “must-haves” for stability. And recently, I’m starting to wonder, as are my doctors, if my lack of human contact is starting to hurt my health and recovery. And I think, especially for a person like me who thrives in social environments where my true self comes out to play; having my interactions revolve around the checker at Safeway, the guy at the counter of my gym, my trainer, therapist, and psychiatrist, well it’s not really cutting it.

In fact, you know you’re in a deep vat of pathetic when the following happens to you. I met with my therapist yesterday. I didn’t really need to but I hadn’t left the house or talked to anyone and it was either see her or go to the gym. I got there and we talked through why my options for human interaction are so limited. At one point, she mentioned we had five minutes left, and we usually spend that time deciding what I’m going to do to survive until I see her again. (At least, that’s what we’ve been doing lately.) So I started jamming about television shows, then she jumped in; I mentioned websites I had visited to see if I wanted to volunteer and why they sucked, she mentioned a few. After a while, we were just shooting the shit and then she said she had to go because she had something to get to. And it hit me as I got in my car: my therapist just spent an extra half hour with me just so I could have someone to hang out with and talk to about stuff.

It was really kind, but also really sad. I appreciated it, especially because that is definitely not protocol, and also realized how nice it was to talk to someone I liked and with whom I share commonalities. But the thing is, while I really like her as a therapist and a person, I shouldn’t be getting my socialization requirements for my health from my therapist. I guess she was just throwing out a temporary life raft and I took it. I was embarrassed until I got home and realized that was my fill of person-time for the day.

There is such a huge divide between knowing what you can do, what you want to do, and what you are able to do. And for things to happen, there has to be a symbiosis, even if one is weak and you have to force it a bit. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m making excuses. Maybe this is my fault. But right now I am unsure of what I am able to do and a bit blank in terms of what I want to do.

I just feel like right now my goal for the day is to be alive, not harm myself, and do one or two effective things. I did have “leave the house” as one thing too, but it’s getting harder so I’ve put it in parentheses. (It’s in quotes here, but in parentheses in my mental to-do list. Just clarifying some minutiae.)

I miss the rush of making people laugh, of sincerely laughing my ass off. The joy of doing something silly or having a really good, solid conversation.

But even if I wanted that, I don’t think I could right now. So for today and possibly tomorrow, I’m just getting through the day. For now, it seems, that’s all I can, want, and am able to do.

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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. ;)

Sitting Alone with My Loneliness

I remember how lonely my depression was. Not just because it often led to cutting people out of my life to “spare” them a burden they couldn’t understand and would never be able to fix, but also because my depression craved to be alone with me, a captive and her abductor. Still, having someone to turn to, even when I resisted, felt sometimes like being saved – whether that person knew it or not.

There were times, sitting in my room, questioning the continuance of living, when someone would happen to text me a message telling me they missed me. Or I would listen to a voicemail (I generally didn’t pick up the phone at that point,) and hear such happiness in a friends’ voice. I knew that even if they couldn’t understand, there were a few people that if I would have been brave enough, would have come to sit next to me or take a walk with me – if I had only been strong enough to ask for help. Just knowing I had that support and that people loved me, gave me enough strength to give myself another day.

I suppose, even though I detest asking for help, I have always felt reassured knowing it was at least there. I never really believed people liked me and therefore would want to help me, given how many times I was discarded growing up. But by college, even though I kept my friends in the dark about the details of my sickness, I knew they were around and no matter how much I wanted to hide in bed, they would eventually come in and drag me out. When I came home after my breakdown, my mother was there for me, checking in every day, sometimes to listen, sometimes to get the wrath of my anger – but just knowing she was there, was a safety against being completely enveloped by the depression.

I have to say that my doctors’ support has also given me the protection and strength I have needed at times. Having people around me that believe me and more importantly, believe in me, gives me strength I never knew I had. Sometimes I worry that I depend too much on this support, but at this point, I need it too much to even think of letting it go.

I look around at others and most of them have someone nearby to lean on, to tell their stories – both important and inane. To get them out of the house or take them somewhere that maybe scares them to go alone. This could be a close friend, a neighbor, a boyfriend, or a husband.

As I have been preparing for London, my mom and I are trying to adjust our relationship by slowly pulling apart. If we don’t start now, I fear the intense change could be devastating for both of us, as we have become tethered quite tight in terms of dependency.

I attempted to withdraw from a medication last week and fell into a horrible place. They do always say side effects can include depression and suicidal thoughts, but I suppose I was expecting tremors and insomnia. I went back on the drug – I guess while it was small, having an addictive medication in your system for over a decade takes a long time and it looks like we are going to have to break the dosage decrease down even further. Still, while I have gone back up, the side effects still linger. I’ve been quite sad, thoughts appear I haven’t had in almost two years, and I find myself unable to leave the house, or do the self-care I have come to regard as a daily lifestyle.

And last night, as I sat against the wall, unable to sleep, crying because I just felt so weak, I realized how alone I felt. I don’t have a friend I can call at any hour. Most are married, some have children, and jobs they must be awake for every morning. My mom is out of town, but honestly, we are just starting to change our habits, and I don’t want to fall back to where we were and have to start over. My therapist is amazing and will arrange 15 minute calls to just let me vent and panic on the phone, which at this point, is what I really need. But I have to call and leave a message and then she gets back to me and then we arrange a time and by then, I have gone through so many thought cycles, I don’t even know what I’m feeling by the time I reach her.

It’s time like these that the loneliness aches so terribly. When I realize the difference a loving husband or boyfriend could make. Even just someone to hold me or distract me. I realize that not having developed a group of friends in the past five years has left me so vulnerable and alone. I literally have no support net to fall back on. I go through my rolodex of possible help in my head, and come up blank. Last night, as I sat there crying, I realized I was more than lonely, I was alone. Alone with my thoughts which are no longer completely my own as my brain still adjusts back to my medication. And it terrified me.

Traveling Abroad: Making the Jump Without Guarantee of a Parachute

Well the reality of it all just kicked in. I suppose because in two hours and one week I will be on a plane to London.

I have had the fortune to travel to some cool places in my life – both in groups and by myself. I hated the idea of being a tourist so my favorite thing to do was just walk around the neighborhood, maybe go get a coffee and watch people. There, no one knew me and I could be anyone or no one. My mom always freaked out because whenever I traveled, I would unintentionally cut off completely. I once went away for 6 weeks when I was 15 and I only called home twice. I guess when I’m there, I’m just immersed.

It’s funny, because you would think being severely depressed with a lot of hangups about eating in front of people, having people judge me, and overall anxiety, would have held me back from traveling in my 20’s. And while it terrified me, I knew once I got there, at least I’d be somewhere else. A place where I wasn’t defined by my family or my past. (I also drank quite a bit and would meet people in hostels and make “fast friends” that I would never see again.)

But those were my twenties. Since my breakdown in DC, I’ve only left California once in the past five years for a trip back East for a few weeks. And it was a difficult trip given my mental state. So how will traveling be now? To another country, which by the way, has been my fantasy country for as long as I can remember.

In a way, I’m more terrified of it now that I’m feeling better because I don’t know what to expect and I don’t have the same safety nets of when I was younger. I have been working a lot in therapy on choice, decision-making, and skills to help push through my fears. But I have only tested them within the confines of my incredibly small life here. While I don’t want to live in this area where I was born and raised forever, I’m afraid to run away now because for the first time it actually feels like a safe space. I have my doctors, my mom, my siblings. I know, it’s not enough, but it’s a support system that has held me up and kept me alive. Who and how will I be without my safety net?

It’s a bit frustrating. People should be more confident in their 30’s than in their 20’s. In my 20’s, traveling alone made me feel like an adult; now given what I’ve gone through, I’m in my 30’s, but I feel like a child. As I’ve often said, now that the clinical depression has lifted, it turns out I’m still 18 in a lot of ways. And I haven’t experienced very much as a stable, sober person. It also, unfortunately, feels like a bit of a test. I actually think that is one of the main reasons I’m going. Everyone is watching to see – will I actually jump? Has all this work proven that I am strong enough to challenge myself and not have a breakdown or end up in a drunken stupor or hiding in my room with a clif bar because I’m too afraid to go out? And it’s not just them watching – I’m just as curious to see myself.

My family and I discuss the reality that I may never be able to hold a job; that I may never marry; that I may be financially dependent on my parents for the rest of my life. That my expectations of what my life will look like may have to be very different than the picture that was drawn for me or even the one I attempted to draw for myself.

Taking these steps are the only way to know how far I can go and where my stop-point will be. If I can go to graduate school, can I work full-time? Or will it be too much? Do the things I need to be healthy – like the gym, my eating habits, my therapy – which take priority and require time that therefore cannot be provided to other tasks – will that constrict my choices? I know I need these things to be healthy – if I didn’t have them, I certainly couldn’t have a job anyway, as a breakdown would more than likely rear its’ powerful force. So what can I manage while still maintaining my mental health?

And the truth is, I can only know by trying. And that jump, that unknowing, scares me. I want to trust that the parachute will open. Deep in my chest, I hope that I will soar and land softly where I am meant to be. That I will no longer be the person that everyone tip toes around; who if she doesn’t return a text, gets 12 right away with panic; who earned those concerns by pleading for death as I laid in bed for years.

This disease does not go away. The work I need to do – on my self-esteem, my anxieties, my weaknesses – that hold me back from being the person I want to be (or even knowing who that person is) – that’s never going to be “fixed.” My life may end up looking different than I imagined. I know that. I know that there is always a chance that everything I have been fighting for this past year might be taken away. The medication could stop working; I could have a breakdown at school and need to leave. The foundation I have been building could be demolished in a week.

And for so long, that possibility kept me from making the jump. And while I’m terrified, absolutely numb with fear, there is a part of myself, a voice inside that has slowly gotten louder though still timid, telling me to jump.

If not now, when?

(If you write something, does it help you believe it? ‘Cuz while that may be an inspiring ending, the nausea I feel ensures me I may still have doubts.)

 

 

If Pharrell Can Be Happy, Why Can’t I?

“Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do”

– “Happy” by Pharrell Williams

My therapist recently asked what my schedule for the week looked like. We do this a lot because I find structure and productivity can calm me. I listed off doctor’s appointments, calls to insurance companies, a few errands, some cleaning – the usual. Then she asked me what I would do during the week that I would enjoy or derive pleasure from- something that would make me happy.

I laughed at first, an excellent stall tactic, and then began to cry. My mind was a complete blank. In attempting this second chance at building my life, she asked a very simple question: What do you like to do? What is one thing you would choose, want, and like to do in your day? She wasn’t asking me what I wanted to do with my life, she just wanted to know what I was going to do to “treat” myself between obligatory tasks.

I of course have heard so many people talk about what they enjoy: mani-pedis, a day at the beach, a long hike, going to a movie, snuggling in and reading a book that’s been gathering dust. In the past, I have done all of these things, but because of the depression and anxiety, there was always a caveat that took away pleasure. I hate getting pedicures because I feel like the process is so condescending and I hate my feet so why should someone else have to touch them? (Even now, I still agree with this statement.) A day at the beach usually means wearing a bathing suit which would mean showing my body which I hate and where scars and cellulite abound. Also, too much sun – I worry about my skin aging or sweating profusely. (Is this where I should say I know most of these reasons are not entirely rational or fair? Yeah, no duh.) I would say I love hiking but it could lead to looking out of shape if I start heaving up a storm, sweating all around, and I really hate how I look in shorts, but then when I wear pants I get so hot…(Don’t worry, I’m almost done with the list.) I have loved movies since I can remember seeing one. They are the epitome of awe and wonder mixed with an opportunity to step out of my life for a few hours. And going to movie theaters, at least when I was a kid, was “an experience.” But now I worry I will miss the movie if I have to go pee. I used to be really nervous there would be too many people. Now, it’s just too fucking expensive. Snuggling in to read a book, I like to do this. But it’s rare to find a book worth snuggling in for. In the past, it also gave my mind a chance to double-time and start thinking irrational thoughts and leaving me anxious with a Xanax and water in hand.

But I’ve gotten better with my body (on good days). I openly admit that since I turned thirty, I evidently became a sweater (but at least I’m hydrated so it’s odorless!) I still prefer to watch movies at home but that’s because when you hang out with your parents for a few years you get addicted to closed-captioning and when you watch movies without it you feel like you are missing half the dialogue. Besides, movies cost like a bagillion dollars nowadays (my rates of inflation may be a bit off) and I really do have to pee like a pregnant lady. And yeah, I’m down for a book – but it better be fucking good. I’d say 1 out of 15 I get rocks my mind and then I spend two weeks trying to tell everyone and their mother why their lives will be changed and they can’t understand life fully without reading the book. But are those things I “enjoy”? Maybe.

Now, I’m not saying I don’t have things in my life that bring me joy. I only have to see a picture of my nieces and nephew and I get a surge of love. Sometimes, I’m on the phone with a friend, and I have one of those laughs that go deep down to your core – the kind that is so pure you can’t breathe. Sometimes, I do something that scares me, and for a moment or so, I feel flushed with happiness.

But, I’m not sure those are what she meant. It’s not like once a day, I can look at a picture and that’s my “me” time for happiness. And it makes me really sad that I don’t have an answer. All of a sudden, I have this personal choice and a strength of will I’m building. I can, for the most part, fight my fears and try things. But with this choice comes the stress of fear and failure and the realization that I’ve been depressed for so long I don’t even know how to be “happy.” It should be noted that I am also in the process of learning how to be “sad” while depressed, too.

I guess I have to start experimenting to see what makes me “happy” even in unideal circumstances. What are the things that bring me joy? Do I still love art? Cooking for other people? Sitting in a classroom and having my mind blown? Taking long walks to nowhere? Walking through book shops and getting excited just by reading the back cover? People-watching – anywhere really but especially in coffee shops or in restaurants? Giving platelets or volunteering?

What are some things I can do now, that maybe I couldn’t have done before that would now give me pleasure? What about the things I used to do, will I still enjoy them? Will it feel different? Is it okay if I don’t enjoy them? What else should I try? What does enjoyment actually feel like? How long should it last? What if it’s like drugs and it only feels really great the first time you do it?

Fuck. Should it be this hard to know what you like? Well, my mind is still kind of speechless. What do you do for pleasure or enjoyment? If you had a day ahead and could decide what to do, what would that be? How did you find it? Has the “it” of happiness changed in life or has it always been a certain thing? Have you found enjoyment with “it” during depression or only when you are in the clearing? Do you need to do them with a friend or do you prefer to do them alone?

In the meantime, I’m still hesitant to “clap along” Pharrell, but good for you.