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.

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Life Lessons I Have Found Through Spinning

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I couldn’t find a realistic picture of someone spinning, so I had to just go with the bike by itself. FYI: if you’re smiling while spinning, you are doing something wrong.

I fell in love with spinning about two years ago. I’m not talking about Soul Cycle where you are in lines next to people like factory-farmed pigs, and the person leading the class has maybe 1% body fat. I’m talking YMCA spin classes with people over 60. I’m talking, waiting until a room is open, and spinning alone.

Spinning, for me, is about being healthy, getting rid of anxious energy, and letting out endorphins. And perhaps more importantly, it is about deciding what challenge I want and choose to achieve that day. I realized recently that spinning actually serves as a fantastic analogy to the work I am doing in my life outside the gym. I never thought sitting on a stationary bike could provide life lessons, but it really does.

Here are some examples:

~ Life is a personal challenge. It’s not about what the people around you are achieving or what their goals are. You set your own expectations.

~ You are allowed to change your “goal” as many times as you want, whenever you want. Some days, you are not going to be able to do as much as you thought you could. And that’s okay. That’s what tomorrow, next week, or next month is for. You decide what you can do today. Because living is fluid, changeable, and varied. And if that change is permanent, if the expectation was unreasonable or no longer viable, it doesn’t mean you have failed. You just need to change your perception and definition of your “goal,” or maybe even decide you don’t want one.

~ Some days, you will push yourself farther than you can imagine, and other days, you just have to show up. Both are accomplishments.

~ You are not alone. You are surrounded by others who face their own challenges and there is power in that. However, just because you are together, doesn’t mean your challenges, decisions, or choices are the same. Nor should they be.

~ Sometimes, you may feel that no matter how hard you work, you’re not moving forward or improving; that you’re stuck in a stationary place. Just keep at it. You are changing and becoming stronger through your efforts, even if it feels like you aren’t going anywhere.

~ If you can just get on the “bike,” you may be surprised at how far you can push yourself; the work you are capable of doing; and how good you can feel. Trying is an accomplishment all on its’ own. Acknowledge your effort, not just the end goal.

~ Some days are just shit. They’re boring and hard and annoying. Try to be compassionate towards yourself.

~ Sometimes you need a few days to step “off” and relax. Giving yourself breaks are an integral and necessary part of the process – they are not failures.

~ Some days it’s going to feel easy, like you’re on a flat, straight path; and some days that hill is going to feel so hard, it’s going to take all you’ve got to not give up. Just do what you can.

~ You don’t know what is going to happen or what you might achieve until you start. Some of your best days may be on a day where you feel tired or off. If you can just get on the bike, you may surprise yourself. You won’t know until you try.

~ There is more than one definition of success. You can define it. You can change it. And you can work to reach it, day by day.

~ This shit is hard. It takes tenacity, time, good and bad days/weeks, acceptance of change, and self-care. It’s sweaty and exhausting. It’s not always fun or fulfilling. You can only do what you can or want to do in that moment, and that is good enough. Just keep spinning/living.

The ironic component to this post, is that lately I have gotten so sick of spinning. I feel like my motivation has just died out. I’m going to try and go to more classes and see if I can recharge and rev up some enthusiasm. I have to accept that it’s okay if I can’t do it alone. Sometimes you need to be buoyed with support from others to make it through. See, look at that! There’s even a lesson in my anti-spin feelings.

Now, if I can just believe all the things I just wrote. ;)

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. :)

One Extra Pill: My Brain is Such a Drama Queen

Besides the constant tremors and occasional rapid heartbeat and dizziness, the new drug regimen I started last Tuesday seems to be working. I feel different. More steady. Anxious more than sad, which while anxiety sucks, still feels safer than sadness.

I am astounded at how incredible the mind is. Changing a medication by .25 sends it into a rapid depressive episode that last for weeks. Upping a drug by 100mg makes the person feel ready to face the day, even on the days she doesn’t want to.

Don’t misunderstand me. It doesn’t fix you. I still have dark “abnormal” thoughts about myself and my life. I worry I will, like before, suddenly spiral into destructive behavior. I’m not normal, whatever that might be. And I never will be.

But for now, at least for today, I’m pretty sure I won’t. And that is amazingly different than just a week ago.

I Fell Off the Wagon.

Disclaimer: This blog post does discuss self harm and suicidal ideation. If these are triggers, please protect yourself.

So I’ve been avoiding writing mostly because I’ve been ashamed and angry with how the past 5/6 weeks have been. I’ve spent a lot of time in my head, and perhaps writing would have been better. Maybe I didn’t want to see it written down. Maybe I didn’t want people to tell me it was going to be okay. But I’m still feeling scared and a bit weak, so I’m going to try and see if it helps. Apologies if some of this is repetitive from previous posts.

Ok, so I’ve been on Klonopin for what, 13 years. This is a controlled substance that you’re supposed to take for emergency panic attacks or maybe for a week or so to help bring you down. That’s because as a controlled substance, it’s highly addictive. Not like I crave it, but my body clearly does. Even if you’ve only been on it for a few weeks, it can take over a month to taper off – so trying to get off of it after 13 years…well it’s a very long process.

The Klonopin doesn’t actually do anything for me, except ensure my body doesn’t go into withdrawal. Since I’m going to London in September and their healthcare isn’t as tip-top in terms of mental health (which is saying a lot given how shit ours is,) I figured if I could get off of it, that would help. It also is known for impacting memory – in fact recently, they were recommending no one over 50 take it. The only comforting thing about this is that it could be one of the reasons why my memory and cognitive skills have been getting worse over the years. Given I’m about to go into an incredibly rigorous academic program, I want to have as much of my brain functioning as possible.

Anyway, I was really pushing my psychiatrist since I’ve been better to start tapering. I guess I was only thinking about the physical side effects of withdrawal and figured I could handle the shakes and sweats and vomiting – whatever happens when you withdraw from Klonopin (I naively based this on movies where people detox.) So I pushed her and we went down by .25. Ok, evidently that’s a LOT. You’re supposed to go down by .125 every 3 weeks or some shit like that. Anyway, I didn’t realize there would be brain chemistry psychological effects and I became very depressed.

It’s been over a year since I have had clinical depression and all of a sudden I felt the weight and pain again. That sucked, but even more so, it scared the shite out of me. It also brought some old depressive thoughts to the surface again. Ok, so after a week, we went back up to my original dosage. But the depression didn’t pass, which I still don’t get, but whatever. So then we tried to give me some extra short release tabs of meds I am on that helped with my clinical depression and they did jack squat. But each day my depression was getting worse and my bad habits came back to town.

Still, after this past year, I knew what it was like to not be clinically depressed and I could differentiate when it was the depression guiding my thoughts and when it was me. I really tried to be compassionate to myself. I excused not going to the gym, or thinking about my future. I allowed myself to not leave the house for days. I don’t know, I suppose I thought if I resisted it, it would just make it worse. But it was like the angel and devil on my shoulders – they were fighting each other. And so the mood swings went from fine to so fucking low I wanted to die. And while in my heart I knew the depression was chemical, it still feels rational and true. And so the same things that before might have made me anxious but excited, became terrifying and pointless.

And then I fell off the wagon. It’s been over a year since I’ve self-harmed.

Looking back on that Friday, I had been in therapy earlier that day. I had been told that there was another life path that might be better than going to LSE which had kind of mind-fucked me since I was already doubting my ability to go, and decision-making is my number one anxiety-maker. And my therapist, who is still an intern, told me that she would not be able to communicate with me if I was in London, or out of the state where I currently reside.  I have known this was a possibility for a while. It was part of the reason I deferred from LSE last year. I wanted more time to work with her. Anyway, she told me and I kind of just voided it. I guess it was just too much for my mind to handle so I put it in the emotional void of overwhelming news and went home.

I was cooking dinner, watching some tv, and all of a sudden, the depression just hit me. I mean, it came from nowhere. I wasn’t ruminating about anything at the time and then all of a sudden it was like I had just been punched in the gut. I couldn’t breath and found myself bent over in absolute mental pain. Everything imperfect, all of my doubts, it all came to the surface and slapped me. I felt nauseous. I tried to cry but when I opened my mouth nothing came out. And then the craving for self-harm felt no longer like an option but like a need.

So I did. And at the time, it felt amazing. I guess what it must feel like when you slip from your recovery and go back – that first sip or hit in a year, it’s intense and satisfying and feels fucking amazing and you wonder why you ever stopped. But I quickly realized it was escalating not calming me. I wanted to do it better and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to stop. I went through the tiny rolodex in my mind of people I could reach. This person wouldn’t be available, this person couldn’t handle it, this person shouldn’t have to. I truly didn’t want to call anyone but I guess I knew I had to do it. I was at my threshold and I just didn’t want to tip over because I think there was still a part of me that knew it wasn’t real – that it had just happened too fast to be right or rational and I just had to stop it before I did something I couldn’t come back from.

I didn’t want to bother him, but I called my brother. I’ve called him before. I hate doing it because he has so much on his plate and he’s just such an amazing person and I don’t want to hurt him, but I also know he’s a police officer, so out of everyone I know, he has seen it with others and can understand it without freaking out. When I called him sputtering and hyperventilating, he went into police mode – asking questions to ensure I was safe, if I needed to go to the hospital, or call 911. I was yelling out everything I thought meant I couldn’t do this anymore but he somehow got my breathing to slow, to pull me back or out of wherever I was. He was at work, helping on dispatch – the irony of others calling 911 while he talked me through my emergency was not missed.

And he just stayed on the phone with me. He told me some funny stories about ridiculous debacles of the day, he talked about the chaos of his life, mundane and big. He kept me listening, asking questions, laughing. I patched myself up while we were on the phone. He stayed on the phone with me as he finished up work, got in the car, drove home, fed the dogs and started eating his dinner. And when I knew I was okay for the night, when the exhaustion of it all hit me and I knew I was too tired to think or move, we got off the phone. Thank goodness people like him exist in the world and I am beyond lucky to have one in my life.

The next day is always the worst. Not only do you feel the ramifications of your actions, you feel stupid and ashamed. It all felt so silly – and worst of all, I had broken my streak that had become a badge of honor. But I made it through that day. And I made it through the next and got to my psychiatrist. It was easier to tell her. She has known me for a long time, since the ECT stopped working. And she’s known me when this was a regular thing. I guess that felt better because I didn’t feel like she was judging me, because both of us at that moment, knew it was clear that it wasn’t me.

I had spent the week overanalyzing if I was making things worse, fighting to not feel better, trying to exacerbate the depression. But saying it out loud, it just made no sense. It also made sense why I felt overwhelmed – I was questioning my next big move, and my therapist and I were going to have to end our relationship. I was also turning 35 in a few months and even if I wasn’t clinically depressed it was still a heavy date to approach as I had declared it, when I was 33, as the last day I would live in the pain I was in. Even if I wasn’t clinically depressed this would have overwhelmed me.

So I’ve been recovering this past week. The med change seems to be working, and I can handle the side effects, which in the past with this medication, seem to dissipate over time. The cravings aren’t gone, but the temptation is low,  especially every time I see the evidence of last Friday and realize how ridiculous it looks and the amount of work that will go into hiding and healing.

Funny enough, we are doing distress tolerance in DBT, which is meant for situations just like those. It started four days after the incident. I’m still unsure if I’ll make it to the gym today. And I’m unsure if I’ll be effective or what choices I will make. I still know deep down that the problems that arose when I was depressed are real. The way I handled it wasn’t me, but it doesn’t mean the issues don’t still exist. And I do have to deal with them. Maybe not today, but I have to apply for my visa in two weeks, so soon.

I’m hoping in another week or so, I can look at that moment with some understanding and compassion. To see it not as a failure, but as a reality check of both how far I’ve come and that it really is a disease and not the true me. So many of my scars are memories of a time and place. I used to think of them as tattoos of where I was was and what I’ve been through – and maybe these too will come to serve as mere place markers in my life. But for today, I just have to decide that no matter what I do, or how effective I am, it’s ok. Because it is what it is, and for now, that will have to do.

my divisive brain is having an argument and evidently i’m not invited

i totally don’t have time to write this but seriously, what is wrong with me?! Ok, writing that sentence is pretty funny, since i believe there is a list somewhere. i can feel my nervousness boiling inside and i just don’t want anyone to call because i’m going to hate what they say no matter what they say and i’m going to be rude to someone i love. and that’s not fair.

i’m learning all these skills and i get that and yay for me. but i can’t seem to handle change, decision-making or mass moments of stress. lol. that’s like life in a nutshell. so woohoo, i can fucking not overeat and i can make it to an appointment. but i feel like i’m crumbling because i can’t control how much my insurance sucks. i mean, i just want to go to their office and sit there and be like “please listen to me. look me in the eyes and listen to me. you’re going to help me, we’re going to figure out how, and we’re going to do it without you reading off a fucking script? i brought you a coffee so settle in.” but i can’t.

and i can’t afford this sleep program. but i’m going to do it anyway. honestly, i can’t afford anything i’m doing and i’m just so tired of having to accept help from my parents. i’m so fucking lucky and i’m complaining.

i think i want to feel in control. i just want to feel like i have a plan. but i’m so scared that i have a list but i’m afraid to break it apart and deal with it. and i keep trying to say “value all that you’ve done these past two weeks” but all i can see is what i haven’t done and what i need to do. why can’t my mind accept any good? and how can the same brain want to do something and can’t? that makes no fucking sense.

ok, i’m going to go stick an ice pack on my face for 30 seconds because evidently it calms me down even though it feels ridiculous. ‘cuz it is. but so am i and this stupid brain i have. it’s not even clinical depression. i can’t even blame that anymore. it’s just me and my self-pitying habits. you know what it is, i’m angry at myself because i know i can do better.

ok. onwards…not sure about the upwards part. but onwards.

 

The Dichotomy of Dread and Excitement For the Unknown Future of Tomorrow

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I had a rush of overwhelming dread today. It’s not like my normal waves of panic when I have too many tasks before me, or when I have decisions to make for the future. This feels exhausting, frightening and sad – fearful of the days ahead, exhausted by the idea of making it through yet another week, sad that this hasn’t gone away.

The thing is, it’s fleeting. I might stop and think to myself “Another week of living this life until Thursday?” And then I’m back at the table, working on the computer. And I’m thankful for that. It’s just so intense in that moment of distress. It feels so strong and definitive.

I have been in a good place in a while, but I still feel exhausted by the prospect of life. Every day, even without clinical depression, takes energy, drive, and a lot of forced action against maladaptive habits. I fight rational and irrational fears from the morning when I wake up to when I lie in bed hoping to fall asleep. I don’t feel sorry for myself. Now that the medical depression is gone, I know that in due time, feelings pass, and if I allow it, so do my thoughts.

But every so often, I wonder if I have what it takes to make it. Is this week going to be like last? Is that good enough? What if it’s better, or what if it’s worse? What will that mean for the week after that? I felt this when I was clinically depressed, but in a much deeper, darker, and devastating degree.

So often in recovery, people tell you to take things day by day. When I was first starting out it felt like hour by hour, task by task. But now I feel the need to look at the week. And I’m being asked to make decisions in two weeks about something four months from now. If you asked me four months ago if I would be where I am today, I would have had no clue. So how am I to make a rational choice about four months from now when I have no idea where I will be, how I will feel, or who I will have become?

It’s such a weird feeling to dread the week ahead while at the same time feeling like I’m wasting the limited time I have on earth. I panic sometimes that all this work is for nothing. Will I work this hard and tragedy will strike and ruin me? Will my medications stop working? Will I push myself just a step too far and fall back down the steps of my progress to the very bottom? What if one day I stop progressing? Or worse, what if after all this work to find hope and seek moments of contentment, I just don’t wake up, or get hit by a car, or any number of things that happen to so many on a daily basis.

For so long I craved to leave this world. I had resigned myself to never getting better, my fire of hope was completely out. All of my dreams and fantasies felt like mean illusions – mocking me, taunting me, showing me what I would never have. And now, with life-changing decisions before me, I find myself timid. Or maybe just terrified to face the world outside. Out there, more decisions and their possibilities lie in wait.

Everyone keeps telling me they see me at a place where they feel safe for me, where they trust I can begin to live the life I have missed for so long. And I have tried so hard to gain that trust and understanding. But my fear of failure hangs above me, constantly threatening. And I know if I fail this time, no one will believe I could get back up. Especially myself.

The dichotomy in my head of both dreading and fearing (with excitement) the future is so odd to me. Everyone around me trusts me, but why can’t I? They believe in me, they see something there, but I can’t see it, I can’t feel it. I look in the mirror waiting to see the girl I believed was hiding behind the depression but my face stays the same. I have done so much and yet what if tomorrow I can’t or worse, what if I don’t want to? And how can each day seem like a challenge to become more whole, and at the same time seem like an exhausting future I don’t want to carry? And why, after more than a year, am I still asking the same fucking questions?

This will pass. I have thankfully learned that my emotions and thoughts do change. Even if I have them for a week, they can be changed, either naturally or by forced action. I just felt scared and exhausted by the notion of the days ahead. It’ll pass. I know it will.

Traveling Abroad: Making the Jump Without Guarantee of a Parachute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If not now, when?

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

 

 

Hanging Pictures: The Power of Objects, Memories, and Emotions

My sibling came to visit my apartment the other day. She noticed I had nothing on my walls and joked it looked like I just moved in when I’ve almost been here a year now. I told her when I first moved in, I didn’t know I would stay; then I thought I might go to London for school so there was no point in setting up shop; and since then, I’ve just been busy. So, true to her expedient fashion, she had me pull out my previous art/frames/etc and decide what to put up and where.

I was hesitant. I told her maybe I had outgrown them. She asked if I still liked them, and I said yes. So we hung it. We put up my two large framed pieces of art, and then she had to go.

I felt uneasy all night. Sitting there in my living room, I kept looking at the art, trying to understand why it was making me feel uncomfortable. It is beautiful art, but I missed my white walls. I generally take an unusual amount of time processing change – yes, even something as simple as art on a wall – so I assumed it was just me trying to accept I might be living here for longer than I expected and why and what that might mean.

I realized walking into the room this morning what it was. It’s lovely art. Very much the style I like. I bought both of these in the first few years I left college and was living in Washington, DC – including the one I lived in before my breakdown. And last I had them up, was the year I was suicidal  in my studio apartment in Berkeley. During those years, I spent many nights and days lying in bed, looking at these paintings. Turned on my side, tears slipping over the ridge of my nose, wondering if I had the energy to take the next breath. I often sat at the bottom my bed, looking across from these paintings, rocking myself, consumed with a hatred that made my stomach ache.

This is a little out there for me, so take it with a grain of salt, but somewhere in their essence, the feeling of my pain still exists. My memories trapped within the paintings still slowly leak out and I remember the emotional, physical and mental anguish I barely survived. Sadly, there aren’t just paintings anymore – they are a past that is constantly breathing on my neck, threatening to consume me again.

Pretty fucking intense for a painting, right? But it does explain why I haven’t put up any pictures of my friends, my family, or poems that friends sent during the past five years to uplift my spirit. Seeing pictures of people I have lost touch with, people I miss, me smiling while knowing what I was experiencing at the time – it’s tainted. I assume over time, when I see these paintings or pictures, I will not forget, but the emotion attached to it will fade and it will just be a fact connected to the painting or picture in my timeline.

So as for the paintings, I figure I have a few options. I can wait a few days and see if the memories fade and it just becomes art again. Take them down and sell them. Maybe look for new art that I can appreciate with my new lens.

But I think maybe I’ll take them down and I won’t put anything up in their place. I’ll just continue to keep my walls white. There is a calm comfort in knowing I don’t have to define myself yet. Acknowledging I am still living in a slightly off-white, unknown. This apartment is a safe space, and I am grateful for it; but it’s a place of transition, at least right now. Maybe some think it feels empty, prison-like, un-lived in. But I guess for me, it’s more of a state of possibility – a literal blank slate.