The New “Normal”

I haven’t written a post in quite a while. It’s not that there haven’t been moments these past months that I haven’t thought of doing it. I think I have a few drafts even, but for the most part, I just fell offline. I don’t mind it for myself personally, but I have missed the people I follow. I know I am only a like or a comment, but I have thought of them often. It’s really my only regret – not being there for the people I respect. But it’s done, right?

I wanted to write a post about my new “normal,” but I even write that with trepidation. I have taken steps forward in the past few months. If I’m being kind to myself, I would even say strides. But there is always the narrative that warns me that it could all go away. That something might happen like it has in the past, and all of the work I have done will be for naught. All of my work will once again be erased. My medication working (well enough,) my progress in DBT, my healthy lifestyle, making the choice to go to graduate school, trying new things, doing things that scare me, being okay with being scared.

There is a part of DBT that is about accumulating positives. I find it rather funny since one of the many talents of being mentally ill is the ability to accumulate negatives no matter how good things may seem. I fear the idea of reveling in contentment. I feel like, for years, every time I did that, my depression or some mean girl or just life would whip me back and slap me down. So I downplay. And besides, it’s all relative. I mean, compared to some people I know, my positives would be jokes. But I know, I shouldn’t compare or judge.

I will say this. If this is how it’s going to be, I’m okay. I can make this work. It’s imperfect, it teeters, some days it feels like I lost it and I just have to hope it’s there when I wake up the next day – I just don’t want to lose it. I’ll always want things to be better, and I hope that isn’t innate. I hope rather than wanting things better, I’ll just want to try more things, but be at peace with how things are. I know that tragedy potentially surrounds me at all times. Not just the fear of bipolar taking up residency again, but people getting sick, being hurt, dying. Loss. Pain. Sadness. It’s laid out before me along with all the other possibilities.

And there are so many potential paths – waiting to see if A, then B, but if C, then E. Trying to gain comfort in what I can control and try to come to peace with that which I cannot. Once again, for a person with mental illness, control is not a high-functioning component of the disease and yet I believe it has been integral in maintaining whatever this viable life is.

I meet people now and they don’t know “me.” They don’t know what I have been through to stand before them, the person they think they see. A part of me wants to tell them “Oh, yeah – this isn’t me. I mean, I’ve had fucking ECT. I’ve done some pretty messed up things to myself. I was in bed for two years. Twice. I’ve been suicidal, and not just ‘I wonder what it would be like?'” And that is me. But at the same time, it’s not. Because right now, in this moment, I don’t need ECT. I can get out of bed. I do not have a desire to harm. I have problems, shitty days, and am definitely not where I would wish I could be, but seem to be okay. For now. In this moment. And that was never the case.

I say the new “normal” because people think that the person I am now is me. And it is. But it’s work. And it’s time. And I am so lucky to have those luxuries that allow me to have that space.

I could still accumulate a list of negatives that would rock your mental world. I have friends who are sick, I am incredibly lonely, I have some serious issues that are on the backburner that will have to be addressed. Yesterday was a shit day. It was actual the third shit day in a row. Today, it wasn’t even that different and yet, today was okay. I was able to appreciate what I did do today and be thankful. And right now, that’s just enough that makes me ready for tomorrow and all the fears, good or bad, the unknown brings.

I missed you guys. I don’t know if I will be able to be back on. Things are about to get a bit busy. But I wanted to check-in and let you know you have been in my thoughts and I have missed this community and all it has given me. I’m so happy to see you all on here, still fighting, still pushing, still making it day to day. Take care of you.

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Shocking Revelation: Finding a Medication That Works Does Not Make Your Life Perfect

Disclaimer: Way too many metaphors in this post. Many taken way, way, way too far. Many not even properly used or maintained.

Note on Absence: So yeah … I’ve been away a while.

So many people have suggested that blogs are an amazing support group and I have seen that for some, blogging and the blog community, is a large, positive component in dealing with their illness. It has been a comforting and uniquely awesome experience to receive such encouraging responses from people who actually understand what I mean, what I feel, and who aren’t trying to give me “answers” to “fix” my “problem” like so many kind-hearted people do. I also was so touched reading about other people’s struggles and progress. Your strength is truly awe-inspiring.

But I think I got too involved. I was reading so many stories that I connected to, it made me feel worse. And while it is nice to feel understood, it doesn’t make me feel better to know that others are suffering like me. It actually just makes me feel more helpless because not only can I not help myself, I can’t help others either. And when I’m extremely depressed, hearing people’s stories of recovery actually pissed me off. (To be clear: I was happy for them – but also jealous and frustrated.)

Anyway, I had to disconnect. I’m going to try and see if I can find a balance between reading, sharing, learning and coping. Here’s to continued relationships my bloggies. (No one writes that, do they? Fuck, I’m like a grandma using AOL.)

So back to my shocking revelation …

In however many months I was disconnected, things got really bad. I was trying multiple medications with horrible results. My insurance was being douchey about what doctors I could see; everyone seemed to be on vacation when I needed to reach them; the sun was shining which is really annoying when you don’t need to see images of fucking birds chirping in trees or people laughing together at picnics. (It’s amazing how grating a neighbor’s laughter at a party can be when you want to die because you hurt so much.)

I really wanted to go back to ECT. The doctor’s were skeptical since it didn’t work last time and given my new bipolar II diagnosis, it technically wouldn’t work now. I was running out of new pills to try, and I could feel my hope for life dissolving. I knew cutting wouldn’t be enough this time and no burn would be able to pull me out. I ached all over, filling my days with silent screams, trying to sleep and dull my reality however I could.

My doctors were really pushing for me to go to an outpatient program. I had done one before but while others have told me I enjoyed it (it was right before ECT, so I don’t really remember it,) it clearly didn’t work because I was doing ECT a few weeks after. However, I think my doctors wanted me somewhere safe during the day without having to put me in an inpatient program. I just couldn’t imagine having to commit to driving 40 minutes and being mentally aware from 9-5 five days a week. If I couldn’t get out of bed and leave the house for a half hour appointment or to pick up medication, how could I do drama therapy with other psychiatric patients all day, five days a week?

Three days before the program, my doctor pulled a hail mary. (Apologies if I got that expression wrong – I’m more rugby than football.) She put me on a medication that I took eight years ago that in my old psychiatric notes, seemed to have worked for quite a while before I started mixing it with other medications. The day after I took my first pill, I gave myself a severe burn. The day after that, I woke up quite early. I felt this energy inside, like I had three cups of coffee. It wasn’t like akathisia – it was inner energy not anxiety. The day after that, I went to my intake meeting. Something was different: I felt lighter, engaged, more clear. I went into the meeting and told them that I wanted to try therapy twice a week before starting the program.

The next two months were incredible. I found a kind, unique therapist that I felt comfortable with. I finally got the courage to attend a spin class at the Y and soon became addicted. I was running errands, calling friends, and trying to think what my potential future could look like if this was my new “normal”. And while I felt pretty great, I was terrified. Every night I went to sleep worried I would wake the next day and “it” would be gone. I was scared to think about my future because who knew if the drug would stop working in two weeks or two months or two years? Would I have the energy to start life all over again? And if it all fell apart, could I make it through another episode of watching it all be teared down?  I remember I woke up one morning in a really bad mood and I didn’t want to get out of bed. I started crying, scared that my medicated hope was gone. But it felt different. I was cranky, and a bit anxious, but I didn’t have the heaviness of the depression. I was having a bad day. Surreal. I told myself that as long as I kept moving, that movement would be forward, until eventually I would be “myself.”

The thing is, once the chemical depression was lifted, it turns out I had a mountain of bad habits, self-hate, fucked cognitive processing – thoughts and actions that both protected me from imperfect life happenings and cultivated my blossoming chemical depression. Really, I looked around and found I had enough baggage and horrible coping mechanisms to make me depressed even if I didn’t have a chemical imbalance.

It’s not like I thought that if I could lift the chemical depression, I would wake up and be a thin, beautiful maven who loved herself and knew who she was and how to live life and be happy with background music like at the end of a romantic comedy. But … honestly, I thought it was going to be easier than this. I was and am confused. I don’t know who “I am,” or what I want, or what I should do, or how I should be. I still fear choosing the wrong almond milk; think the teenager behind me thinks my ass looks fat and I shouldn’t be drinking almond milk or really anything at all; and I don’t know if I am capable of living alone, having a boyfriend, or having a full-time job.

I’m not complaining that the medication worked. It is amazing to do something and actually be able to feel good inside, even if it only lasts until I over-analyze it to shit. I appreciate good days when I feel strong, independent, and even a bit witty. But it turns out, even with the heaviness lifted, I’m still pretty fucked up.

So it’s now been about five months on the meds. I have had to raise my medication because about two months in, it crapped out on me. I’m petrified it will keep doing that until I’m up to the very highest level, with no “plan b” from my psychiatrist queued up and ready to go. I haven’t gotten very far – given I spent about two months waiting for the medication to stop working, then when it did, about a month deciding whether I still wanted to try, and now looking at my plate of dysfunction and debating which fun, embedded, self-harm mechanism I care to dare and challenge today or avoid until tomorrow.

My therapist tells me to envision my life as an unbuilt house. Without chemical depression, I now have a floor beneath me and now I get to decide how to build the house that is my life. She of course notes that building a house is a step-by-step process and takes a long time, tools, skill-building, thoughtfulness, practice, patience, etc. (Unfortunately, those pre-made homes are unavailable in this metaphor.) I tell her that while I appreciate the floor, I don’t have any fucking wood, brick or tools; no knowledge of architecture, let alone a blueprint to work from. Plus, I’m still suspicious that the floor is going to cave.

So basically, following this metaphor, I was expecting to come out of my chemical depression and have a house built with a complete lifestyle, path, and personality. Now it turns out I have to first figure out why I have so much hate, grief, fear, anxiety, and pain; change how I respond to those emotions with habits I have used since I was a child; and then take everything a day at a time, while also being aware that while it might be “brick by brick” I’m still trying to build something much larger: my future.

I know I am repeating myself, but I am grateful for this time I have and try to appreciate where I was and where I am. I really want to enjoy this time and believe that I will be able to build some sort of future that doesn’t involve living at home, without any social network or hobbies, not impacting the world and making people’s lives better.

But honestly, I’m scared shitless. Shocking … isn’t it?