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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: The Process of Leaving A Therapist

I broke up with my therapist on Friday.

It’s my first real break-up (with a therapist or a partner). I’ve had relationships end with therapists in the past, but I either had to move to another state or did not like them and ended up “ghosting” them, allowing the relationship to die in absentia.

Nothing went “wrong.” We had been through a difficult period recently because my meds were off and I was in a deep, depressive state. Generally, I find therapy irrelevant when I am in a depressive episode because I don’t care enough to want to get better. We were struggling to try and keep me moving forward in my planning until my meds could eventually be sorted. But we had been here before in the two years we’ve been working together. That wasn’t why.

She has been away for two and a half weeks, and in that time, my psychiatrist and I have tried some new things, one of which seems to be working. It has made me feel stable enough to feel ready to take a step forward. I need to start volunteering, having informational interviews, and making tangible decisions to help build my life.

I believe the most effective way of taking that step is through DBT. It will help in creating goal-oriented behavioral techniques. I might be completely wrong, but it seems to be a good fit by helping with my interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation, and distress tolerance, while I take some terrifying initiatives. While I have done DBT modules and a little bit of coaching, I have never done DBT therapy. You legally aren’t allowed to see two therapists, and honestly, I can’t afford both of them. (Interns can still cost a pretty penny!)

I didn’t know when I was going to do it – tell her I wanted to stop. I thought I would chicken out but realized it would be silly to continue to see her for a few weeks, knowing that I was going to leave. I decided to see her last Friday and tell her then. I practiced how to say it on the car ride over – it never sounded right. But I somehow got it out.

She was proud of me. Two years ago, I would have never been able to tell someone something they didn’t want to hear but that I wanted. And honestly, she is a large reason that I am able to do that now (on certain occasions.) We discussed having a few sessions to deal with leaving, but I just needed to end it. She told me that her door would always be open – if it didn’t work and I wanted to come back, if I just wanted to do a bi-monthly check-in, or if I just needed a session to talk. She’s that awesome.

She asked me a few questions about what I thought I got from therapy and things I wish could have been different and then said some incredibly kind things. I knew I wasn’t actually processing any of it. I felt like I was watching it happen, almost like a scenario acted out in a dream. She opened the door at the end of the session and she said “Goodbye Ava.” No, “Have a good weekend and see you on Wednesday.” Just “Goodbye.”

It doesn’t feel real. As things occur each day, I think of telling her. I keep thinking I will see her Wednesday and tell her about an email I got from a friend and we will discuss my anxiety problems with money. But I won’t. The only comfort I can find right now is that after two years of working with her, I can almost hear her response when problems arise. I know the questions she would ask. The way she might challenge my assumptions. She has left an indelible mark on my recovery and in how I am learning to see my world.

In the car, I tried to quell my oncoming tears by acknowledging that we lose people all the time. I left all my friends. I didn’t “lose” them completely, but they are not able to be what I need anymore. People have died in my life. Stopped calling. I have had a loss, though I appreciate the difference in each, including this one.

I wonder when my brain will fully acknowledge this loss. Right now I find myself scared. I don’t know if I made the right decision or if I made it from the right place. But I know it feels right and while it may change things, for good or bad, she would want me to follow my intuition. Maybe I can hang on to the fact that it might just be a trial separation; that I can always go back if I need to. I try to remind myself that I was supposed to be in London today, unpacking and preparing for school, and I wouldn’t have seen her for a year.

So many people do not believe in the benefits of therapy. Others go once, do not like the person, and never give it a chance again. But some of us, if we’re lucky, get the unique experience of an objective, supportive, non-judgmental, safe person in our lives, that help us organize our racing thoughts, grieve our trauma and lost chances, help encourage our change and growth, challenge our misconceptions, show us glimpses of ourselves we cannot see, and sometimes, if they’re really good, gain our trust to help us believe we can have hope.

I will be forever grateful for the time I have had with my therapist, even if it’s not the end of our relationship. But if it is, I walk away with a better version of this “self” I am creating, because of her.

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.

Accepting the Ignorance of Others

[Disclaimer: I do not suffer from addiction to illegal or recreational drugs or alcohol. I do not portend to know the struggle to recover and manage this specific addiction. I wrote this post to highlight the idea of understanding and respecting different perspectives when it comes to mental health, healing, and recovery in general. I apologize if I offend anyone. Please let me know if there is something incorrect so I may learn from it, and change the post if need be.]

When I was younger, I mistook the knowledge of my idealism as fact and created definitive standards of right and wrong. Maybe my mind was too young to understand the complexities of human experience, or maybe I simply hadn’t lived long enough to see the dynamics of life. But thankfully over time, I have come to see the nuance in all human interaction, and our struggle to find peace and acceptance, especially within ourselves.

I have spent so many years on my quest to manage my mental illness. I have tried a smorgasbord of drugs, therapies, and alternative remedies. Some have worked for a time, and others simply did not fit. A simple example: while I have found DBT an effective form of therapy, group therapy has never worked for me. And while I am still searching, I have witnessed so many find the concoction of tools that help them survive. As long as it does not hurt themselves or others I support them without judgment. In fact, I envy them. I also understand that sometimes, in order to maintain their health, they might proselytize. I think it is common when you have found something that has changed your life. You want others to benefit from your experience and you want to believe in what you are doing, (something I believe plays a large part in what makes it work.)

All of that being said, I was part of a conversation recently where two people were discussing options to help someone who is currently suffering from drug addiction. At the end of the day, we all understand that she will have to want to change, and will have to most likely try a variety of mechanisms to help her battle her addiction. It’s going to be a long road, and I suppose those that love her are trying to find ways they can support and provide her with options for the journey to come.

One of those people is a recovering alcoholic who found his form of AA as key to his recovery. From what I know from others who participate in AA, there are varied forms of AA – it isn’t practiced or used in one way only. I also think it’s important to mention that this person is not educated or familiar with other forms of addiction therapy and tools. I believe he has lived a rather narrow life in terms of interactions and experiences with others. (This is not a criticism, just something to note.) And while I do not think he understands the situation fully, I do appreciate his passion for the techniques that worked for him and that have allowed him to remain sober for so long. I accept that I am not in his shoes and that in his perspective of the world, he has found the right answer – not just for him, but for so many addicts he has helped along the way.

While I held back my frustrations at his simplistic and contradictory ideas of “help,” at some point, I became incredibly frustrated. I told him that this matter was not just about drugs; it was about traumatic experiences, environment, social norms within their network, and a chemical imbalance that makes her have an addictive personality. I noted that while I appreciated that his version of AA had helped him, that for others, therapy, medication, and other forms of help might be better for her and we had to keep our minds open to what might fit her best.

This is when he began his tirade about “pharmaceutical money-scheming” and “bullshit therapy.” He noted that if doctors were to actually “cure” their patients, they would be out of a job. This isn’t the first time I have encountered someone with this opinion, and I know it will not be my last. But it stung. I am currently battling my bipolar II, and given my treatment-resistant depression (TRD,) I am in a frustrating and scary place.

Also, as someone who does take medication, I do not judge those that do not take medications – I know for some, the side effects are too much for them or they simply do not like the idea. Others have had unfortunately negative experiences in therapy, (who hasn’t,) and are weary of trying it again. And that’s okay. But this man has never tried therapy or medication (there are medications that can help with weaning people off addictive medication.) While I do not have a typical addiction, though I tend to see my self-harming personally as an addiction of sorts, I have spoken to those who have, I have read articles, and I have watched those around me get better. And so while I have heard ignorant comments that insult the mechanisms I choose to use, he added injury to insult by assuming I did not know what it might be like to be in a situation where you are not in control of your thoughts, feelings, and actions.

I had so much to say. But like many women, I have been trained to cry instead of show anger. The other person in the conversation, who knows my story, attempted to turn the conversation, and I stepped outside. I was crying because I was angry at his ignorance. I was crying because while I do not know his whole story, I do not belittle his belief in G-d, even though it is an idea I do not believe in. I actually see commonalities in the various techniques used, including in AA, like radical acceptance or letting go of past resentments. But he has developed an idea about medication and therapy, and without knowing what it really is, has decided it is worthless. And in doing so, he is negating the years of trial and error, and my struggle, because to him, it’s not just about proselytizing, it’s about “the right way.”

In the past few days, I have spent time thinking this through, and most likely giving him more time than he deserves. I know he is coming from a place of ignorance, and while some people are open to listening and learning, there are others who simply can not/will not. They say they are, but they already have decided their right and wrong. I have found this to be true when I tell people about ECT. Sometimes they don’t know what it is, and if do know or find out, their reactions are insulting. Often times, they look afraid and aghast, I have had people literally take steps back. You can see their idea of you shifting in their head. I have even had doctors look at me with horror and what feels like judgment. I always imagine they are thinking, “how can someone who seems so normal, be so fucked up? Who knew she was actually crazy – I mean she let herself be electrocuted.” Some are willing to listen and learn; others aren’t. And like this man, I allow them to make me feel ashamed of my choices.

I also think his comments hurt more than usual because I am currently struggling with my faith in the process. I am frustrated, scared, tired, and my hope is dwindling. Having someone exacerbate my fear is unsettling. Both of these reasons have more to do with me and my issues, and not him. I accept that.

I suppose in my own way, I want to proselytize my reasoning for being open-minded to all voices. I have found that if I allow myself to listen to the other side, I see how much we have in common, am able to analyze and understand some of what they dislike in my choice, and while I still may maintain my belief, find value in the challenge of learning to see it from different perspectives. I walk away with the understanding that nothing in life is as simple as we might want it to be. But not everyone works that way and it is not my place to tell them to do so.

I am trying to see this experience as a lesson. An opportunity for the radical acceptance that the nuance of humans includes those that are unwilling to open their minds. Understanding that he is a complex person, that this is one part of him that I do not like, but there are reasons why he is the way he is, he is not hurting anyone, and at the end of the day, he is more than just that one opinion. And he is entitled to that opinion, even if I do not agree.

Well, that is the ideal anyway.

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.

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.

Looking in the Mirror: Seeing Yourself Through Others’ Eyes

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How do you like me meow?

I met with someone today who barely knows me. And while we were talking, she offhandedly said something like: “Don’t worry. Being you, you’re not going to have a problem finding a job and a place, or making friends for that matter. With your personality and energy  you’re going to do well anyway. I’m not worried.” Haha…what?!

I spend a lot of time worried about what people think of me, generally to an irrational degree. I fear they may see me and think: “Someone that ugly does not have a right to show her face without a hat or at least some makeup,” or, “You can just tell that girl is a loser. Plus, how dare she wear spandex. There’s nothing a gym can do about that ass.” And in my mind I’m convinced, just by speaking with me, the barista or Safeway checker will think I’m irritating, boring, arrogant, obnoxious, loud, overbearing, conceited, pathetic, opinionated, naive, pessimistic, and/or crazy. I guess the last one would be right given the paragraph above. LOL.

And yes, I know: others are too self-absorbed to pay attention or judge you. I’m going to go ahead and call bullshit on that one. After all, I spend a lot of time watching people, their interactions, noting their demeanor. I don’t suppose it leads to judgement, it’s more like seeing how the “other side,” i.e. those that are not me, live. I will agree that yes, the fact that I think everyone is looking at me, even if what they are thinking is bad, is in and of itself self-absorbed. Huh.

I am, by nature, a pretty unoffensive person – sometimes to a fault. I try to be kind, patient, and thoughtful to people around me. I show deference to most people, deserved or not. I’m also that person who helps you when you’ve dropped something or ask if you need help if you look confused. I generally can’t help you if you need directions, but I can at least commiserate with forgetting where you parked your car and help you find it. The point of this all being, I don’t think objectively, that my behavior is off-putting. And yet somehow I am convinced that even while I’m helping someone or giving them a smile, they are just disgusted with me. And I think that’s really my inner self telling me I’m disgusting and then I misappropriate it to someone else. It seems the two sides of my brain – the pure and the evil – argue over the most benign things. And yet those are the things that make it so difficult to have the confidence to make a call or leave the house.

And then every so often someone I know, within the context of the conversation, describes me. Now, I take everything with buckets filled with salt, so I recognize that people don’t generally sit you down to tell you what a  loser you are. (Well, they have, but that was during my teen years.) I also know that these are people that love me even at my worst moments, or that they’re people who I pay to help me. I also think that sometimes a person wants something from me, so they say whatever it will take to get it. For example, at a bar when someone wants me to go home with them. It’s curious how amazing I am at that point. ;)

But sometimes, it’s someone I just met at a party, an interview, or a person that I’ve been taking a class with who I finally have coffee with. And the shit that comes out of their mouth. They don’t have to say it; it’s not part of basic decorum. And they usually have known me for a few hours at most and yet they tell me all these wonderful things about myself. (I know this sounds like bragging so please note this is a very, very rare occurrence.)

I don’t know if I have a face that says “I’m insecure, I need reassurance.” Or maybe my self-deprecating humor clues them in. But I pride myself on my bullshitting ability to hide my insecurities (most people assume I am confident,) and I don’t think people are listening hard enough to know that the joke is actually a real dig at myself. Maybe people don’t need much to like you. Or maybe they’re lying. I mean, we all do it: reassure a friend when we actually aren’t sure what we’re saying is true; compliment someone just to calm them down or to get ahead. That’s the politics of human nature and relationships. Maybe it’s from living in Washington, D.C. for a decade, but it’s just the way the world works.

I know that I’m damaged  from my childhood and my internal dialogue of hate, and when I look in the mirror I see someone who is a pathetic fraud. I even know that a lot of people most likely look in the mirror and judge themselves harder than anyone else would. And when my friends are doubting themselves, when they can’t see how amazing they are, it shocks me. How can they not know their worth? Why would they ever doubt that they were special and deserved so much in life,  even if they don’t always get it? But it’s easier to say it to someone else, than to believe it yourself.

I’ve been practicing looking at myself in the mirror. I know, this sounds really odd. But when I’m depressed, I can go weeks dodging myself in mirrors or reflections. There is something so painful in not only seeing the misery in my face, but in the hate I feel looking at this person who has ruined my life. So, I’m trying to practice looking at myself. I’m trying to become comfortable and accepting of the woman I see looking back at me. So far, it’s been really uncomfortable. I don’t imagine I’ll ever look in the mirror and think, “Who is the fairest of them all? Why that would be me!” But, maybe I can look in the mirror and acknowledge that there is something there of worth.

I wonder if one day I will look in the mirror and see something different than I see now? I wonder if one day I will look in the mirror and not be ashamed or disgusted?

I wonder if one day I will look in the mirror and see what others see in me.

The DBT Divas: When People Stop Being Polite, And Start Getting Real

The last session of the last module of DBT ended last week. And while I was thankful for a respite of the hour commute, I was sad. Not just because I like the idea of going to “class” and learning tools to help IRL. But also, I was sad about the idea of not seeing my peeps.

There’s a small group of us that started at the same time and have gone through all the modules together. While we don’t always go into the specifics of our lives, after a while, you start to pick up on what the person is going through. You get a general sense of their demeanor, their struggles, and what they are trying to get from DBT.

I don’t like group therapy. In fact, each time I have tried, I have walked out hating it more. But DBT is different. It’s not about sharing and commiserating, it’s about learning, practicing, reviewing together, and then trying again. DBT group relationships are not based on the connection of our misery; but on the connection of our growth.

Before it ended, we managed to get everyone onto a group text message. We even named ourselves the “DBT Divas.”We’re meeting on Wednesday at the time we usually have class and we’re going to take a walk. I’m not saying we are going to be besties, or that we even have that much in common. I also question how good it is for people who are in bad places to spend a lot of time together because it can be ineffective if you bring each other down. But because we met in DBT, we come together as survivors, not victims; and we are all fighting to get better, not to wallow in our misery.

So I hope in hanging out, we can learn more about each other, and maybe play through some of our personal scenarios, but I’m not proposing that we all get along and connect on a deeper level. I can already tell, from being in three modules together, all of us lead very different lives. A lot of us have the same diseases or are on the same meds or even have been through similar experiences, but that’s different than our personalities and the values of our lives. DBT is a tool for anyone, but it’s used differently by each person according to their specific needs.

I’m a little torn between whether this is a good or bad idea.

When you normally meet people, outside of a therapeutic environment, you take time getting to know each other. The conversation is light and general. Maybe the second time you meet, you share a little bit more about your day and in that, your personality and style becomes more apparent. And by the third friend date, maybe you float your mental illness subtly into the conversation. You see their response. It’s usually: 1) blank face of the terror of not knowing what to say; 2) “Oh, my cousin is crazy!” (ugh); 3) “My sister deals with depression”; 4) “I’m sorry to hear that” or, 5) “Oh, yeah, I actually have dealt with that too.” From there, you can kind of see the viability of a long term friendship. After all, it plays such a large part in your life, it’s going to come up.

And I could have a fascinating conversation with anyone I meet – I find people so interesting: their lives, how they speak, how they tell a story, their inflections, their beliefs, the background behind their beliefs. But when I meet people for the first time, it’s more like an examination and study, rather than a potential friend date. If they make me laugh or we seem to be on the same level, then I start to relax and think of it more as a step in the direction towards friendship.

But when I meet people through therapy, or groups, they already know I have been through some heavy shit, and I know the same of them. I have found a lot of people feel that connection and therefore think it’s ok to ask really personal questions – they want the whole story of how you got where you are; and they want to tell you about their illness. You miss the basics and dive right into the deep shit. I usually play along, but afterwards I feel raw – like a piece of me was taken before I had prepared to give it. I know I am sad to see them go, but I do wonder whether once outside the classroom, what will be the dynamic? If our connection is our struggle to stay above water, how do we go back to the first friend date material? Can a relationship start in the middle and go backwards? Or are we meant to have had this experience together and that’s that?

I guess I’ll know more on Wednesday night.

 

Facing Facebook: Lamenting the Losses of My Past Life

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I have a complicated relationship with Facebook. When I was in DC, it was a great way to reconnect with old friends and to highlight the civil rights work my organization was doing. I used it to complain about society, my life, and post fun, witty comments. I interchanged with a lot of people and it was a convenient social outlet.

After my first breakdown, I came home and lived alone for a year in Berkeley. Facebook became a feeding ground for my depression. As we all know, people don’t really post about shitty things in their lives. They paint this magical vision of perfection – with their child, on a cool vacation, laughing with their friends. I also didn’t know what to post. I knew people would want to know where I was, what I was doing. I felt like if I just vanished completely, then no one would ask and I wouldn’t have to say how I was unemployed, living with my parents, doing nothing, thinking about nothing, and just breathing, eating, sleeping, and crying. As much as I wanted to see people grow, at a certain point it started to feel masochistic.

Since then, I have gone on and off Facebook. I have deactivated and then reactivated. I have agreed to only go on once a week to see if there were any birthdays. I have taken people off my news feed who upset me. I have stopped posting.

However, a lot of the jobs I am currently looking at, want to see you have social media experience. They also do research on prospective applicants online. So even though I am currently in a phase of deactivation, I went on today to review my previous posts and make sure there wasn’t anything too inappropriate.

Looking back on my posts from 2009-2012, before the breakdown, I feel this melancholy for all I have lost. Not just in time, but in friendships. I started thinking about all of the people who enjoyed me, even as acquaintances – from college, previous jobs, interns, people I had met through others, roommates, even childhood friends. Even though we might have only connected when they liked an article I posted, or when they were in town, and even though I can tell I was bullshitting my “I’m a happy go lucky gal,” it was still a human connection process.

So yeah, I’m sad. Not just because I lost touch with so many people, or because I can’t remember who they are. It’s because I wonder what my life could have been if I had been the person I am now. I wonder how different work would have been. I wonder if I would have actually gone to the events I wrote about, or actually met up with the people in town. I wonder if I would have utilized Facebook to keep myself connected and bolstered with friendships. (Looks like someone has the case of the “what-ifs.”)

I told my therapist that the idea of looking for a job right now is scarier than when I was fucked up. Because I knew how to live life and do the things you do when I was fucked up, because that was just who I was. And even though you would think I was weaker then, now, not being clinically depressed, and having gained strength in my understanding of myself and the damage I have incurred, I feel so vulnerable and that makes me feel weak.

I mean, I don’t know how to live life as this person I am now?! Technically, I have more skills for how to deal with stress, anxiety, and bad days, but they’ve never been tested “out in the field.” (I don’t count being able to go to the grocery store alone even when I feel like crap as “out in the field.” That’s more like basic training.) And feeling vulnerable before jumping into a new world, especially where old habits will most likely feel tempting, I guess I’m just scared for and of myself.

I wonder if this new me will be a person who goes on Facebook? Who reintegrates back into her old world but as a different person? Am I still that person? Can I be that person without the crippling depression, anxiety, and hypomania? As I question whether I am strong enough to have a job, I also wonder if I am strong enough to be actively involved on Facebook. I laugh and resent that Facebook has the power to invoke enough thought for a blog post. But I do believe it is another thing from my past that represents a larger component of life and has brought me pause.

Like most things in life, Facebook can be an asset and a danger. It can connect you to the world, and it can also make you wonder if you are meant for this world. I no longer look at people’s pictures and feel shitty about myself. I am happy for my friends and I know that their lives are a lot more than a post or two.

And maybe, one day soon, I will be ready to be present…on social media. But for now, I need to put my energy into forming and strengthening the beginning of a person I might one day become. I have to be ready to be present…in the present.

I know, within myself, that I have a lot to be proud of, but none of it can be displayed or captured on Facebook. And that’s okay. Because it’s bigger than a picture, a video, or a two sentence quip. I am in a state of growth, a complicated, undefinable, unknown space of evaluation, process, experimentation, and decision-making. It’s hard and shitty, but amazing and special – and I don’t need to share that with anyone for now. Well, I guess, except with you. :)