How Do You Know When It’s Time to Say “When?”

Over the past two and a half years since I found a medicinal cocktail that seems to be working, I have slowly been rebuilding a life for myself. It’ s been difficult – not only because my entire life had been torn apart, but also because I’ve never “lived” as this person before. I’m experiencing things for the first time as whoever I am now, and I don’t know how it should feel.

But it’s been good. It started slowly with leaving the house once a day. to run an errand, usually accompanied by my mom. Then I started to go to the gym every day, also with my mom. I changed my diet and went back to being vegan. I finally moved out of my parents’ house and got my own place. I started running errands and going to the gym alone. I reconnected with friends and even made one or two new ones. I got a job for four hours a week and took classes at a community college. I applied for graduate school. Now that I’m in graduate school, I am taking a full course load. I am actively involved in our student association. I have a fellowship and recently a new job, 12 hours a week. I am doing research for an internship next year. Fuck, I went on my very first date in November, and while that is stagnant (by choice) now, I did it so now I know I can.

When you become a counselor, (that’s what I’m getting my MS in,) there is an ethical mandate for self-care. An ethical MANDATE. Faculty and friends are constantly saying “make sure you are not spreading yourself too thin,” “only do what you can to your capacity,” “make sure you are balancing your self-care and your school.” While I actually find it aggravating considering the faculty are the ones giving us copious amounts of work and my friends are all type-A and planning on getting A’s as they manage the rest of their lives, I also don’t know the answer.

I’ve tried to ask people – how do you know when you reach your capacity? They don’t usually have an answer. Maybe they don’t know what I am asking. I saw my psychiatrist last week, someone who has seen me at my very worst, and asked her how “normal” people know when to say when? How will I know if I am reaching burnout? Don’t you have to reach burnout to know you’ve reached it?

As someone with a behavioral health condition, emotions are never as simple as they seem. Anxiety could turn into a panic attack. Feeling sad could lead me to bed for days, or even self-harm. Knowing that possibility of severity is always lurking makes me hypervigilant with my emotions. Hence, my fear of not knowing my capacity. Because if you have to burnout to realize your capacity, that’s not something I can allow. What if burnout is a slip in recovery? What if I can’t come back? That’s why knowing the answer feels so important to me and not having one feels so frightening.

There is a part of me that wants to push myself and see what else I can do. I have surprised myself so much in the past few months by what I have achieved; I am excited and scared to see what else I could do. I still feel gaps are missing and traumas ungrieved. But I am curious as to who I am becoming. At the same time, there is a terrified inner child who just wants us to appreciate where we are and be grounded and centered and satisfied. It warns me to pull back, to remember the blows of rejection and failure. To ignore the intellectual understanding of the bullshit that is American values, and remember how it can feel.

And I find myself right back where I started: when will I know when to say when? And when will “when” be good enough? What about you? How do you know when you have reached burnout? When do you decide to say no? What does “self-care” look like to you? What’s the trick to this thing called living? What’s your “when?”

Advertisements

Jealousy: She’s a Bitch, But I Love Her Shoes…

Image

I would never call myself a jealous person…but I am. When I was a kid, I was jealous of the wealthy people at my school: their ski trips, houses in San Francisco, nice cars. I was jealous of the thin girls, the pretty girls, the smart girls, and the seemingly “happy girls”.

But my jealousy has “evolved” with my disorder. I’m not jealous of your clothes or your money, I’m jealous that you don’t have a mental illness. And let’s get this out of the way: jealousy is illogical, moronic, and unfounded 98% of the time. All humans are fucked up and most things are not as they seem. But that’s not what my irrational, dark, angry, “emotional” mind thinks. (In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy a.k.a. DBT, they call irrational thinking your “emotional” mind. The healthier thoughts are from your “wise” mind. And yes, they fight ALL the time and technically are both true. Don’t worry, more on that later.)

But just because something’s wrong, doesn’t mean we don’t do it. Just because I know someone has shit in their life, doesn’t mean I still can’t think I’d rather have their shit than mine, which is covered with a thick layer of bipolar II to boot. Your car broke down and that sucks; but when my car breaks down, I am too anxious to call the repairman if I’m alone. So, I have to call someone to come before I can even make the call, let alone get it fixed. What’s that? Ah yes, the sound of whining; a common companion to jealousy. It is also moronic, unfounded and childish. But it happens. So let’s continue…

At this point in my life, that’s what my jealousy is all about – why do I have to be the “sick” one? Most of the time, I look at people without a mental illness and I think: if only I didn’t have this voice in the back of my head, I could be like that person. I AM that person, I just can’t BE that person because of this illness. Without this illness, I am an extrovert at heart. When I was a child, I loved being loud, getting attention, and being around people. I wanted to either be an actress, comedian or journalist. But with this illness, I have become an introvert – even exhausted by personal exchanges. For example, if I have coffee with someone, that’s my talking/smiling/engagement quotient for the day. I have days where I literally cannot leave the house. If I can, I can’t go to CVS and buy personal products in public. And if I can get to CVS, I find myself having a full-blown panic attack with profuse sweating, overactive breathing, tunnel vision, and eye-contact avoidance – unless I end up turning around and asking my mom to go inside for me instead. But at that point, I’d rather have a broken down car.

When I’m feeling better, I feel the real me come alive, take ownership: the person that loves talking to her friends, helping people across the street, making eye contact and smiling, talking loudly, and being the center of attention. And I want to just be that person. I mean, I am that person but now I have to monitor how much I allow her to be out and about. I have to ask myself: am I actually having a hypomanic episode? Will this engagement burn me out into a depressive episode? And at that point, fuck jealousy, I’m just pissed that I have to even worry about this at all. (Cue whining violin…again.)

So go ahead and wear uncomfortable heels, show off those kick-ass legs, and brag to me about where you went to college, how amazing your job is, or how hot your boyfriend is. I’m not competitive, I had to let that go long ago. I just wish I could imagine a life where I could have those expectations, and not have my emotional mind laugh in my face and push me down again. And I suppose to rid this jealousy in the long term it will be about accepting my new expectations of myself and my lifestyle. At least that’s what my wise mind tells me.