The Blame Game With Mental Illness

[Trigger warning: Mention of self-harm]

I met with my psychiatrist last week and told her that I have been feeling worse but I was worried that maybe it was my fault and I was somehow doing it to myself. Well actually, I started to say that and she cut me off right at “maybe I” with a sharp “No.” After apologizing, she told me that I have to stop blaming myself for my depression.

People can undoubtedly lie to themselves. For example, someone with an addiction tells him/herself they don’t have a problem and they stay in denial that their actions are negatively impacting their life. I get that. But can you be lying to yourself if you are asking yourself if you are lying? If the idea of denial in the example above is to convince yourself you do not have a problem, what is it if you convince yourself you are trying to convince yourself that you DO have a problem? Can you accuse yourself of having a derivative form of Munchausen Syndrome?

It’s an odd thing: the idea that I am purposefully making something worse; that I am sabotaging myself from recovery by somehow forcing myself into depression or not fighting as hard as I can. I interrogate myself: Is it really just fear and weakness and not a “disease” at all? Could I try harder, do more, stop whining? Do I just need to have the will and gumption and am too meek to face my reality? Am I somehow lying to myself?

But there is a part of me that knows that this is real. That leaving a job I was proud of, friends that I loved, and a life I had built wasn’t just for attention. Lying in bed in for weeks, crying for hours, choosing to have ECT, well that would be one hell of a con. Perhaps at the core of this questioning is an insecurity, hate, and long-developed distrust of my thoughts and feelings.

This doubt of my own feelings was developed over time and starts in my younger years. I was constantly told I was too sensitive. It wasn’t intended to be an insult, but it also wasn’t always used in a positive context. Rather, it was often noted as the cause of my intense feelings of sadness over anything that was bad. In defense, I was incredibly empathetic as a young child. When I was five, my mom had my dad change the mailing address of the newspaper from our house to his office, because I would read the paper and cry about all the horrible things happening in the world.

I hoped to find something physically wrong with me that would provide tangible symptoms to explain why I was like this. I remember feeling relief when I became sick – whether it was a cold or ear infection. Because when I was “sick,” I knew those around me believed my pain. And it wasn’t my fault or something I was failing to fix. 

There was always a rational reasoning for my behavior: in grade school, it was that I was being bullied; in high school, it was hormones. The darker melancholy that was growing inside me was overlooked because I didn’t believe it was legitimate and therefore never mentioned it. I assumed my constant complaining was indicative of a selfish, childish, and  weak personality defect. When bad things happened, I began to question if the amount of pain I felt was fair. Was it really that bad, or was I making it worse? Maybe my feelings were being manipulated by my selfishness?   Did I have the power to stop it?

When I got to college, I still blamed myself for my thoughts and feelings. And that’s also when I discovered self-harm. While there are many reasons why I self-harmed, I think one of them was having something to show for my pain, and it helped me feel better about my sadness. Still, I continued to chide myself for feeling sad all the time – I needed to get over myself. Other people didn’t have ideal lives and they were managing, so why couldn’t I? I still find myself asking that question.

The real problem is that even if I could convince everyone around me that this isn’t my fault, I can’t fully convince myself. In my mind, every time I cancel an appointment; take a pill for my anxiety; cry hysterically for no reason; not feel any different when starting a medication; or start to feel bad on a medication that seemed to be working for a few weeks, I worry it’s something I’m doing wrong, not the depressionMaybe it’s my fault that I am a burden, and maybe it was somehow a choice I made – though why – I cannot figure out.

And yet, I also know that this isn’t me is because I have experienced what it is like to have clinical depression lifted. When I found the medical concoction that stifled my depression about two years ago I felt so different. While I was tempted to sometimes cancel because I was scared or maybe just out of habit, I didn’t. When I was feeling anxious, I went to the gym because I knew it would help. Sometimes I would have weeks where I was exhausted from trying to change my habits and face my fears, but it all still felt possible and I wanted to try. The difference in how my mind worked was so clear. I had been functioning within this cloud of depression and it was the cause of my actions and reactions.

I know that while depression feeds off itself, it’s not me feeding it. I’m not giving in because I want to, because honestly, I really do want to be able to get up in the morning and be an independent person who can make it to work, handle responsibility, and rebuild my life. Perhaps the fact that it terrifies me to think that I could be doing this is enough to know that I’m not. But that’s the thing about depression. It wants you to blame yourself. It convinces you that you are the cause of everything bad in your life, even if it’s irrational. It tells you that you are the way you are because you did this to yourself. It tells you to stop blaming some “idea,” and take some control over your life. Then it laughs at you when you try and fail.

I just have to keep telling myself that this is the illness. This is the lack of chemical reactions and electrical signals in my brain. This is not something I can control. And this is not on me. There is a serious problem, but it’s nobody’s fault…or at least nobody’s choice.

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New Scientific Possibilities for Help, But Not Hope

Sometimes I question whether I just wasn’t made for this world. That perhaps I was born defective and unable to survive. Many people are born with parts of their body that didn’t fully form or formed differently; some without the necessary components to function or function fully. And lots of people, who may have these differences, adapt and manage, and do not let their difference stop them from enjoying all life has to offer.

But my “defect” is in my brain, and I can’t seem to find a way to adapt or manage on my own. Often times, there are devices and tools to support and help in this process. I have tried the “devices” for my impairment: medications, ECT, exercise, diet, sleep, and a variety of therapies, to try to work with what I have been given. But for some reason, my brain remains resistant to change, unable to manage and function at a level that is personally acceptable.

It’s been exhausting – the entire process. And since I was in my late teens/early 20’s, I never thought I could make it to 35. I assumed my body would simply get too tired of the pain and stop working, or I would have to help do it myself. But even with these dark thoughts, every so often, there were flashes of hope; moments of a belief that things could get better. And so here I am – three weeks into 35, with a new possibility for change at my chemically-enhanced door.

I have had a good year and a half where I seemed to have found a concoction that made me feel more stable. Not perfect – I still dealt with mood swings, depressive dilemmas, and uncomfortable side effects – but enough to make me hopeful that I could work to form a functional and fulfilling life. Then we changed a medication, and the past three months have been a clusterfuck of mood swings, depression, and a melange of side effects. We hit a road block in terms of options and so a few weeks ago, my doctor conferred with her colleagues to see what ideas they may have for bipolar II medication-resistant treatment.

When I saw her last week she told me about two new scientific advancements that could drastically help me get better. (Please forgive my explanations, as I am still learning.)

The first suggestion is a test for genetic markers that show what medications work best in an individual’s brain. There are five markers and they are able to indicate drugs that will work; some that might work; and others that won’t. I found a website of a company that does it called Genesight. I don’t know if this is the company my doctor is referring to – but the hope is that with this test, we will stop having to do so much guesswork with my meds, and may find out if some are actually decreasing the positive effect of other drugs in my system.

The other suggestion is the use of folate. We all know about folic acid. (Okay I didn’t, but everyone else seems to refer to it like I should.) Doctors encourage women who are pregnant to use it to help with a fetus’ growth and have noted that it could help with growth and rehabilitation of other cells. If I were to just ingest folic acid, it would go through my blood stream and I would pee it out. However, this new folate supplement called Deplin specifically goes into the brain blood stream. Evidently, by delivering the folate directly to the brain, it helps with your body’s ability to absorb medications. So for me, while I have slightly benefited, my medication is still not being fully absorbed, and therefore, I’m not actually getting the full impact of the medications.

After explaining these ideas to me, my psychiatrist asked me if I felt hopeful.

The genetic markers sound interesting, though I feel like it isn’t going to be that helpful. I suppose it would provide me with the peace of understanding that there are genetic reasons why I am resistant to so many medications. And perhaps provide new ideas for medication usage. The Deplin definitely sounds too easy. The idea that a supplement is going to help engage my medications and that would help me feel better – I suppose it just sounds too good to be true. Then again, I know people who take incredibly small amounts of anti-depressants, and it changes their life. I find myself skeptical, but willing to give it a try. However, I would not say I am hopeful.

Hope is a complicated emotion for me. I don’t always have control over my hope – sometimes I can feel it behind my cynicism, trying to push through, small bursts getting by, evoking images of peace and contentment. But through the years, it has become an enemy of my depression – spreading fallacies of possible happiness into my brain, only to be devastatingly wrong.

I remember when I started to feel better after a few weeks of ECT. I was ecstatic because I had finally found something that would allow me the chance to have a life worth living. The short term memory loss was a bit annoying, but at the time, it was a small price to pay to have the heavy pressure of depression lifted. I’d found the “piece” that I was born without, that would make me whole – the component that would provide an adaptation to survive. And then it stopped working. And then I found out it wouldn’t work anymore, no matter how many times I tried. And then I was expected to go back to the medication drawing board and start again.

I would say that’s when my trust of hope died. That’s when I started to wonder if I was just too broken, the deficit irreparable and too impairing for me to ever be able to have dreams again. Hope had hurt me one too many times. So am I hopeful? All I can give right now is that I’m not NOT hopeful. I’m open to being pleasantly surprised, but I’m not running around telling the world to watch out because I’ll be out there soon! I have a feeling even if the Deplin works, I will still need to make changes to my meds, there will still be quite a bit of side effects, as well as possible withdrawal and mood swings. I am not naive enough to think that this is “my piece” anymore. But if my doctor is telling me that my what I was feeling this past year was only a fraction of the medication working and that I could feel better than that, I’ll swallow the pill faithfully, I’ll change the dosages, I’ll try medications again, I’ll do whatever it takes. At this point, what do I have to lose?

While some people believe that hope takes less energy than despair, I think there is a key component to that theory that often gets overlooked. Because when you are in the despair, you have to work to get to that hope, and you have so many factors against you. To reach a place of hope you must push through the exhaustion, find a way to ignore all past failures, and find the strength to block out the despair that radiates throughout your body and mind, draining you, beating you down, offering the temptation of rest.

I imagine myself on the side of a sea cliff, trying to pull myself up to get to safety, knowing that if my muscles get too tired; if I miscalculate one move; or a piece of the cliff simply loosens and drops, I could fall quickly into the dark, depressive water below, possibly being killed on impact. I wait, terrified, for a surge of strength or an outreached hand.

I want to have hope that I can feel better and find a new normal that doesn’t include dire mood swings and hypomanic bursts. I want to believe that help is on its’ way. But hoping for help doesn’t save me. And frankly, I’m getting really tired of holding on to this “sea cliff,” waiting for the moment when I can stand on firm ground.

the pointless nature of “crying for help”

disclaimer: some stuff about suicide, self-harm, and just basically scary, downer stuff. don’t read this if it’s going to trigger you. i assure you it’s not worth it: just some ramblings but without a filter.

They say that an attempted suicide is a cry for help. While I have never attempted, I will say that based on my experience leading up to a moment like that, you are definitely past a “shout out.” Asking for help can be difficult for anyone. Some people don’t like to ask for help doing a difficult DIY project. A lot of people think they should be able to deal with something on their own, or maybe they don’t want to bother someone.

But I’m trying to understand this idea of crying out for help when it comes to depression. I never have really understood it, even when I have tried to do it. So let’s see, sometimes when I’m getting down, when I feel myself getting closer to a destructive ledge, I may call someone. When they ask “Hey, how are you?” I don’t say anything like: “You know how it is…I guess I just feel like i’m getting closer to a destructive ledge.” I don’t think that’s actually what they’re expecting and frankly I don’t think it’s what they want to hear. I usually just ask them about how their life is. I’m trying to get better at not hiding everything, so I might even say, “Hey, I’m just feeling out of sorts and just wanted to hear your voice and focus on you, because i love you, and i need to get out of my selfishly depressed brain right now.” But people are busy. And you’re calling “just” to talk? That doesn’t really take precedence over preparing for a party, or going out to dinner with someone. it doesn’t take precedence over a crying baby, or a timer for the oven.

So then you get to that destructive ledge. I suppose you can call out before doing something. Sometimes i have called someone before I harm myself. It’s hard – trying to express you’re scared without freaking everyone out. Because they don’t know where you are: maybe you have the knife to your wrist; or maybe you just are in bed and don’t want to get out. And besides, by that point, I have either decided to do something or not. In fact, the only thing that might stop me is if someone called me right in that moment. But that’s not going to happen.

Then there’s the “I’ve already done it and I’m ashamed” call for help. I’ve done that one a few times. Not sure it helps. I mean, it pulls me out of the chaos usually. Makes me remember that I don’t want to hurt others or to scare them with my unacceptable behaviors. Situations, that if and when things settle, I will have to explain, will never really be understood by loved ones because it won’t sound like a “good enough” reason to have done something they think is so unnecessary.

Recently, I was sitting and i could feel the wave coming. And i could feel that I wasn’t strong enough to push it down. I couldn’t help myself. And that “couldn’t” was turning into a “I don’t wanna” really fast. So I think: maybe I text someone? Maybe something vague with this hope that somehow they see through it and understand I need them to come save me? Because honestly, how the fuck is a text convo with emojis really going to help? And haven’t we had this conversation before, the last time I was in this position?

Then, what if it does pass? What if it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be? Now I’ve scared them and they need me to call them all the time; they don’t want me to be alone. Now those things that took precedent before don’t, but you know it’s because of you, and the guilt is worse than if you had just gone through with it. By the time they call you back or get to your house, the immediacy has passed.

The thing about a call for help, is you have to want to make it. You have to have the strength and gumption to say that you need help. But maybe you don’t want to use up your “helps.” I mean, everyone says they will always be there, but lest you be the “boy that cried wolf.” Plus, you are bothering that person, you are impacting their life in a selfish way, so you kind of want to use those moments when they really matter. But then of course, how do you know if this time will matter, and what if you realize it but you’re too far committed to turn back and make that call?

I don’t know about this cry for help. During a time when I feel pointless, frustrated, exhausted, tired of trying, I am supposed to call someone and tell them that I am feeling those things and that I need them to help me. I mean, isn’t that contradictory?

And now it’s time for me to go off topic, because it makes sense in my head.

I was writing to a friend today and wrote this huge explanation of the past three months: what has happened, how i have felt, all the shit. And then I erased it. I didn’t want to freak him out. And I realized, I only share, I only ask for help, after I don’t need it anymore. So i will tell someone that the night before, I had wanted to die. I will email with a friend across the pond to tell them about a scary period of time I had the past month when I didn’t know whether I was going to be ok or not.

Because if provided through this viewpoint, it’s something they can handle. They need to know it’s ok so they don’t feel helpless. And I don’t want to burden them with something they can’t control – so i tell them after, as if it was just a momentary weakness. And you have to, because if you don’t, then they don’t trust you. When you say you’re ok in the future, they don’t believe you. They call you all the time or attempt to subtly make sure you’re alive by “just passing by” or “thinking of you and deciding to call.” And it’s funny, because even though at one point I thought that was what I needed; by that point, it just feels like they are reaching out for themselves. So they feel better knowing they were doing “their part.” In fact, I’m not sure they actually want to understand what I would need in terms of help.

Many people offer their help to me and in doing so, I see the love they want to provide. They are good people; caring people. People I am lucky to have in my life. But they don’t get it. I don’t know if they can’t because they don’t know what it feels like, or maybe because they aren’t really listening to me the way I need to be listened to. Or maybe I’m not being clear because I don’t know what I need, let alone what I need specifically from them.

To me a cry for help needs to be answered immediately and never is. To me a cry of help is yet another pathetic demonstration of why no one should answer. Honestly, i’m pretty sure just a good cry would be more helpful than anything else.

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.

I’m Tired.

I’m tired today.

  • I’m tired of trying so hard to keep it together every day.
  • I’m tired of following a sleep regimen and still waking up fatigued.
  • I’m tired of trying to do everything “right” – going to the gym, losing weight, calling friends, not drinking, being vegan and not eating anything processed, and still not feeling good or having extra energ.
  • I’m tired of not being able to have more than a day or two of stability and balance.
  • I’m tired of having to make decisions.
  • I’m tired of not having a purpose that isn’t about myself. While I don’t miss working crazy long hours, I miss having a job where I am spending time thinking about others and doing work for them.
  • I’m so tired of seeing all of the hate and ignorance in the world today. Of watching history repeat itself.  Of knowing it will never stop and will only get worse. And not knowing what to do. Because $15 isn’t enough. Volunteering isn’t enough. There isn’t a job that will be enough. And people don’t really want to listen, to learn, to compromise, to change. I don’t want to stand aside – but I feel so useless.
  • I’m tired of not liking myself.
  • I’m tired of trying to understand why I do not like myself.
  • I’m tired of being told to have hope, to think positive, to just keep trying.
  • I’m tired of not being able to help the people I love. To watch them in stress, in pain, in sadness. Shitty stuff happens, but I wish I could just alleviate some of it.
  • I’m tired of the constant shame I feel about who I am.
  • I’m tired of the guilt I allow myself to carry.
  • I’m tired of not knowing what to do next.
  • I’m tired of not knowing the “right” thing for “me.”
  • I’m tired of caring so much, about everything. Of feeling so much.
  • I’m tired of trying so hard to just keep it together for everyone: my family, my friends, my therapist and psychiatrist. I’m just tired of feeling responsible for adding stress or pain to their lives because of my stress and pain. Of trying to make them happy or relieved.
  • I’m tired of all the dichotomies in my life. Of wanting to be alone but feeling so alone. For wanting to be happy but feeling like it’s a charade anyway. For wanting love but not the strings that come with it.
  • I’m tired of being so scared to do things. I don’t know when I became this way but I’m so fucking tired of it.
  • I’m tired of feeling like I have lost so much time in my life, so many chances, so many opportunities, and still wanting sometimes to just end it all because I’m just too tired to try to catch up.
  • I’m tired of my fucking side effects.
  • I’m tired of trying to imagine what it feels like to wake up without a mental illness. To have shitty days and stress and life, but not have to take drugs that make me feel like shit to just survive them, while others take none and are able to function just fine. To go to bed without fear that tomorrow I might not be able to get out of bed. Or wake up without knowing if I will be able to make it through the day.
  • I’m tired of feeling so guilty that I want more. That this is unfair. That I don’t deserve this. And then feeling guilty for thinking that. It just cycles over and over again.
  • I’m tired of having to change. To constantly fight myself, to unburden others, to hold back my anger, my frustration, my words to not hurt others. To get up every day and try to want things, work for things, be effective, have goals, work to get better at who I am. To push down the bad thoughts, the urges, the desires, to assuage others.
  • I’m tired of never knowing who to blame: is it the meds? the disease? my circumstances? me?
  • I’m tired of only seeing the mistakes I make. The failures. The not good-enoughs.
  • I’m tired of having hope. It’s almost more exhausting than just admitting defeat.
  • I’m tired of thinking.

I’m just tired.

How Can I Move Forward if I Can’t Trust My Inner Voice?

I have come to understand that it takes me a lot of time to process most decisions. It’s not that I don’t understand them – it’s that my mind needs time to explore and analyze the issue from different viewpoints, possible understandings – it needs to ask further questions. People don’t really like this. In the hustle and bustle of life, having someone hesitate to react, to want time to think things over, doesn’t settle well. Still, I am trying to quell my initial response. What may feel like anger when a friend does not react as supportive as I want, turns out to be fear that they may not love me. My feelings and choices, therefore, change drastically.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. I mean, that’s what I tell people and what I try to tell myself. But the truth is: I am terrified that no matter how much I process something, my answer will be wrong. And I have begun to realize that perhaps part of this “processing” has to do with the events from my past that have made me constantly question my choices, feelings, and thoughts. I worry that the processing might not be me trying to find the truth, but rather trying to push aside the doubts and the voices that tell me contradictory, “truthful” answers.

Since I was a child, people have told me that I am over-sensitive; I think too much; I over-exagerrate the impact of things; that my memories are embellished and magnified; that the things that happened as a child didn’t really happen the way I felt them happen. In short, that what I think and feel is wrong, misguided, naive, and warped. This all was supported by my low self-esteem, and growing depression and anxiety.

I stopped trusting my decisions. I forced myself into situations I did not want to be in; I pushed my feelings down; and I hated myself and felt so ashamed and disgusted at myself for even feeling what I felt. I lost all trust in my abilities to make decisions, to know the right thing to do – whether it is how to feel about what someone has done; how to react to something; what life decisions are “right” for me; if it’s okay to make decisions others think are wrong, etc.

I still constantly question what I feel. I wonder, is this real? Am I making this up? Why would I make it up? Am I being reasonable? Is this okay? Am I being a baby? What is the difference between what I feel and what is real? I question my choices because I question the validity of my inner voice.

I question choices as simple as what to eat or what to wear, as well as large decisions like what step I should take in my life. I have so many voices in my head telling me completely different “truths” while questioning each one of them. It’s like they are all yelling their answers at me and getting in side arguments with each other – in my head; at the same time; while I am trying to decide whether to leave the house or not. It’s exhausting.

It leaves me wondering which voice is authentic. Which one is “right,” and which one is trying to somehow lead me to ruin and self-sabotage. I get so far in my head about what is in my head, I find myself frozen, confused, panicked. In the past, I think alcohol helped slow my thinking down; allowed me to make decisions without actually feeling whether or not it was what I wanted – just doing whatever others wanted. It was a way of temporarily fleeing from the chaos of fear and failure that I felt constantly.

They say that in all real relationships you need trust. But if you can’t trust yourself, I don’t think you can trust anyone. I want to believe I trust people, but I constantly imagine what they must be really thinking in their head. They say they love me, that they understand, that they support my decisions; but maybe it’s actually disappointment, forced sympathy, perhaps adulation in hopes of getting what they really want. Which one is it? Is one simply what I want to believe? Should I trust what I feel? Or am I being naive, trying to believe something because it’s what I want to be truth. How do you know which “truth” is right?

If without trust you cannot have intimacy, authenticity, depth, love, or truth in a relationship, where does that leave me – with both myself and others? How do I move forward? How do I let people into my life and believe they are there because they sincerely want to be? How do I stop freezing up with every decision because I have lost the connection between what I feel and what I think? I believe that is the core of the problem. If your inner truth is found through mind and body, and you no longer trust your emotions, thoughts, or feelings, how do you make a decision?

This component of self-hate has stifled so much of my life and led me into traumatic events which I now have to face. It’s frightening and I’m scared.

At least I think I am.

The Dulling of My Creative Spirit

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Hot 9 by Jackson Pollock

I would never have called myself an artist. However, I did DIY cards and gifts. I dabbled in different areas – knitting, charcoal, paint, ceramics, photography, poetry, etc. Drawing could calm me often – even if I didn’t like what I created.

But the medicine dulls that desire. My mind goes blank at the page. I know a lot of people on mood disorder pills suffer from this. Many stop taking their meds because it’s not worth the sacrifice.

I miss that creativity because it also allowed me to see a deeper beauty in things. I would spend time looking at wind blowing the trees, or look at each individual piece of grass. Now, I can acknowledge something is pretty, but I don’t feel the beauty.

And while I miss my creativity, I can still feel excitement, love, sadness, charm. Things still make me cry and laugh, or both at the same time. I think if I had pursued acting or comedy, perhaps my depression would have made me better, more intense. But I didn’t.

I was worried when I started to feel better that I wouldn’t be as gregarious without the depression and definitely without the alcohol. I was wrong. And I can still be just as pessimistic and misanthropic as before – I guess cynicism is not necessarily a symptom of depression but a personality trait you can hone over time.

A lot of time, with depression, it’s all about weighing options and often times both aren’t ideal. I suppose life is really like that but with depression the stakes feel higher, especially because making the decision when you are anxious and depressed takes far more energy. When it comes to creativity, I am willing to dull that part of myself for the chance to feel a greater variety of feelings, perhaps more muted, but also greater in range.

But I do miss it. Putting a pen to paper and watching my hand move on its’ own. Going to a gallery and feeling a painting all over my body, wanting to immerse myself in its’ unique ambiguity or feeling.

It’s a price to pay to not feel the intensity of pain that helped guide my hand. A price that allows me to view art and not spend the rest of the day enveloped in feelings that immobilized my brain and my actions. I’m not saying it isn’t worth the price but that doesn’t make me miss it any less.

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.