My First Birthday in Years

I prefer my cake without your spittle, but thanks.

I don’t know when it started, but I suppose it makes a lot of sense. I have spent most of my life developing a strong sense of self-hate, embarrassed by my existence, judging my lack of “lived” life and goals, and basically despising myself for being alive. So the idea of celebrating my birth and continued existence in this world with a “year to grown on” has always seemed silly and hypocritical.

I don’t really like holidays in general. There’s a part of me that gets so nervous: there’s all this pressure for that day. Like, on New Year’s – this is THE day out of 365 that I’m supposed to reflect on my life goals and make plans for the future? Thanksgiving – ugh. Here’s a day, out of 365, that I was supposed to stop, look at all the people around me, and think of all I had to be grateful for and how lucky I was and how others deserve the same but do not have it? What an IMMENSE amount of pressure for a day. It always seemed to me those days should just sort of happen throughout the year, in random moments rather than set times.

So I have a tendency to avoid those kind of holidays or at least avoid them until the last possible second before everyone arrives and I have to put on my clown costume and smile. The only ones I did like were these “holidays” my mom called “Just Because” days. When we were growing up, she would wake us up and tell us we could sleep in – we didn’t have to go to school. And then we could hang out with her that day – I don’t even remember what we did. But given that she worked quite a bit, it was so special to have the day to spend with her, no matter what we did. And it wasn’t on a specific day – it was just a random day (at least it seemed for us) where we got to make that day special and have fun.

But my birthday – that’s the worst of all. After spending an entire year running from my desires, being lonely, hating my body, my face, my personality, my life. After a year of feeling as if I am missing opportunities to grow, to experience, to find joy. After a year of and wanting, waiting and hoping to die. Well, after all that, the idea of getting together to “celebrate” me just seemed rather depressing. Woohoo – another year wasted; another year of burdening others; another year of pain! Here’s to the next!

In fact, if anything, my birthday has come to serve as a horrible marker in my depression. It was a day were I reflected on where I was, who I was, and how incredibly miserable I was in both of those dimensions. Unemployed, overweight, living at home, miserable, unable to leave the house. Perhaps not the best circumstances to “reflect” on. Also, during my depressive episodes, my birthdays have always served as expiration dates. A month before I turned 30 was the first time I decided I was going to commit suicide. I decided I would not turn 30 being the person I was. I panicked and made the minor (but helpful) “mistake” of telling some people. I began ECT a few weeks after my 30th birthday. About a year and a half ago, I sat my mom down and told her that if I was still in as much pain as I was then when I was 35, I was going to end it. Not because she didn’t do enough, not because I didn’t love her, but because I was tired and that just seemed like an age where it seemed fair to give up. (Needless to say, she disagreed with my “thoughtful and rational” idea.) Sometimes I tell myself that if this medication stops working and I hit rock bottom again, I’m not doing this anymore. I’m just too exhausted to keep trying.

Therefore, I have adamantly protested any “celebration” on the day of my birthday. In the past few years, we have agreed to stop mentioning my birthday on the day of. My family promised not to say anything or send cards. I might get a “gift” in the mail the week earlier or the week after, but with no acknowledgement of the birthday – more of a “love you” gift. My friends are harder to tame but given that I live 3,000 miles away from them, it does make a “surprise” party harder.

So, I am turning 34 in two and a half weeks. I’m not going to have a party. I don’t plan on making the day a romp around town, treating myself all day to elaborate “pleasures” of food and beauty. I’m not going to try and dress up or put on extra makeup or spend the day reflecting (ok, I probably will but I’d rather not.) I am not planning on blowing out candles and will not be making a wish. (I’m still not ready for “optimism” or thoughts of “the future.” Baby steps, people.)

But I think it would be nice to go out to dinner somewhere comfortable where I enjoy the food. Maybe I’ll make a yummy vegan cake and once again laugh at why everyone is so surprised when it tastes good. Maybe I’ll let someone take a picture of me, even if I know I’m not going to like it. I’m going to try and pick up the phone if someone calls to wish me a happy birthday. I’m going to thank people who email me. I will open cards and appreciate the love within them even though it is still a struggle to not protest their thoughts.

I think I kind of hope people wish me a happy birthday this year. Because while my life is still a chaotic mess of confusion, chaos, and clusterfucks – and while maybe next year I won’t want to celebrate – for now, I am grateful for the people around me; for the opportunities of growth I have had this year; for the strength and personal compassion I have found within myself; the decisions I have made; and the way I have handled disappointment and stress.

Happy birthday to me.

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Empathy for Other Depressives

I always assumed that given my mental disorder, I would have more empathy for those that suffer with similar problems. And when reading others’ blog posts, I certainly do. As I read, I am reminded of the pain I have felt and still feel today. My heart aches, wishing I could be there to hurt with them, to unite together and fight our battles. After all, isn’t two always better than one when attempting to defeat the bad guy?

Sometimes, it’s almost too close to my own truth and I find it difficult to read. The pain is so vivid, and sometimes so fresh, I find myself being tempted back to the pain and I have to take a break from reading, and from feeling too much.

But in real life situations, being around a person who is fighting depression is something else entirely. Instead of empathizing the way I do with my friends and family who deal with problems big and small, I find myself frustrated, angry, and sometimes disgusted. If I’m trying so hard, what’s their excuse? I know where they are, I know what they want, but why can’t they try harder? It’s not like I’m thrilled to take all my pills; to accept the limits to my reality; to never feel secure when I feel healthy – but I can’t give them pity. And I feel absolutely horrible about it.

My family member who is currently ill, is not only suffering from cognitive thinking lapses, but it’s clear she is also depressed. The signs are almost textbook to the tee: she pushes others away; spends her days watching television and sleeping, only leaving her chair to use the restroom. She doesn’t take care of her personal hygiene and if we weren’t here she would eat horribly – ordering pizza and cheese sticks. She’s rude, curt, and spiteful. She hurts others to push them away, and given she’s in her seventies, she’s had years to perfect it. She has been this way since I was five: childlike in her defiance, a misanthrope, and horribly miserable to herself and others to boot.

A part of me feels I should be able to work with her more because I know what’s she doing. I also feel I should be more empathetic to her choices given I have been in the same position before and still have days and weeks when I fall apart. But like I said, I’m angry and find sympathy, let alone empathy hard to find. I’ve spent the last two weeks trying to figure out why.

Maybe it’s because like blog posts, I need time away from the disease sometimes. Maybe it’s because while I have said and done things to push people away, I always apologize for my behavior and feel a terrible guilt for hurting those I am lucky to have trying to help. Maybe it’s because she, similar to me, is blessed to have those that care, take the insults and indifference, and still continue to help, to smile, and to love.

Why do you think this is so hard for me? Have you ever dealt with someone with a similar disease or behavior and found it to be frustrating? And if so, how have you dealt with it? I am in no way perfect, nor am I unaware that I will continue in my future to exhibit these similar behaviors. But why can’t I push past what feels like judgement and join her team? Fight through her behavior and believe in the power of two. I want to help … so why can’t I?

Being A Burden: Depression and Friendship

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While depression is a self-oriented illness, its’ impact reaches far and wide. Ramifications erode into school, work, and of course, ones’ social life. But nowhere have I found this impact as destructive or disturbing as with my family and friends. I’d like to write about friends first, given that the complexity of family warrants its’ own blog post (if not blog).

I’ve always had a hard time making friends. At least as a child, I was bullied and rejected quite a bit. By high school, the bullying stopped given that my trust for others had completely evaporated. While in grade school, I always wanted a BFF and a clique to eat lunch with, but by high school my philosophy was “to be friends with everyone” while never allowing myself to truly care. The point was for them to like me but for me to not get emotionally involved. Obviously, as an emotional person with my disease already intact, this failed terribly. But it became my working “philosophy” for the most part until college. I will note that luckily, I did make it out of high school with a few awesome friends that I am still in touch with and love wholeheartedly.

Since high school, (damn that was a long time ago,) I have had the fortune to find some spectacular people whom I love and who love me back. It amazes me how much they believe in me, especially given how little I believe in myself.

But it hasn’t always been so hunky dory. (Disclaimer: I so apologize for using that expression and it will never happen again.) Two years out of college, I was living with a person who I considered one of my closest friends. I was having a hard time with my depression, spending most of my time in my room, and when with her, given that she was a friend, sharing my concerns and negative thoughts with her.

One random day, she sat me down and told me that I was a burden and that she had to take care of herself and could no longer handle my disease. I suppose I understood her overall sentiment. I imagine living with someone with this disease who is suffering can be quite overwhelming. I always tell people who are friends or family of someone with a mental illness to make sure they are taking care of themselves first. But it was the word “burden” that devastated and destroyed me.

My shame about this illness and its’ impact on those I care for the most, is for me, one of the worst parts of this disease. I can handle my own self-hate and emotional and physical pain, especially considering the disease is always telling me it is what I deserve. But to think I was a burden on someone’s life. I honestly think if she had told me she needed space, or wanted me to get more help, or that she felt helpless, it wouldn’t have had the same impact and I would have understood without the additional guilt and pain.

I know that being friends with me is a serious commitment. I imagine it can be exhausting, frustrating, and at times, a heavy load to bear. But I suppose in saying that word, she justified all of the thoughts I had about myself. And I visualized and understood that my friendship was something my friends had to carry; another “task” they couldn’t cross off their to-do list. I carried that idea for years after. After I moved out, I cut all ties with her and since then have tried to stop using that word.

I am absolutely amazed by my friends. Literally, they are truly extraordinary individuals – I feel bad for people that don’t have them in their lives. They overwhelm me with their love, patience and support. They listen, they offer advice, and they provide hugs, even if they’re virtual. They continue to call and email, even when I don’t pick up the phone.

For years, during depressive episodes, I shut down. I didn’t want to “burden” my friends with my pain, knowing they would tell me they loved me and I was worth having around. At those times, I was too deep in self-hate to hear it. And I can’t imagine having someone in my life who constantly disappears like I did. I have missed weddings, coffee and lunch dates, and other commitments I have made.

Making and following through with commitments has been a huge problem and therefore a big goal of mine in trying to get better and fight this illness. I have set new goals such as calling or emailing my friends once a week. I have been more open about my illness even when I’m nervous about their judgment and boredom (which I try to believe is all in my head.) I try to let them know how much I love and appreciate how amazing and spectacular they are and that I know having a friend with a mental illness can hurt them as well. And I have started to work on not canceling. I know this seems simple, but I have had to develop tactics in order to not cancel or not answer a call. Now, if a friend calls, I force myself to pick up the phone, even if I think I’m not in the mood, knowing I can always get off. But what I have also started to do is when I am feeling good, be proactive and call them myself.

Here’s another example. I make plans to meet a friend for brunch. The morning of, I spiral: I become incredibly anxious, my stomach hurts, I usually get a headache, and I imagine terrible scenarios where we have nothing to talk about, I’m boring or unfunny, or they end up telling me they just can’t handle my friendship anymore. So this is what I have started to do:

  • I try not to make plans too far in advance so I have a better sense of how I’m feeling, i.e. if I’m in an episode or not.
  • The morning of, I get ready and even if my stomach hurts or I feel ugly, I try my best not to text to cancel. I tell myself I can always cancel after I get ready.
  • I get in the car, and I tell myself I can always get there and not leave the car and cancel.
  • I tell myself when I finally get there and meet them, if the conversation is horrible, I can always leave early.

But I have never once regretted seeing or speaking with my friends. In fact, even after I see or talk to them, while tired from expelling energy, I feel high. I love listening and helping, I love hearing their laughs and also being there for their cries and frustrations. It makes me realize I have a purpose in life and a reason to live. Maybe I’ll never be the head of an organization or have the things people in society deem as making one “happy” or “successful.” But I can be a good friend and not only love doing it, I can continue to try and be the best I can be at it. To me, that gives me a profound feeling of happiness and the feeling of success. I thank my friends, (family included,) for giving me that purpose and drive, and love them more than words.