The Scary Slope of Self-Growth: Running on Empty in an Attempt to Find Myself

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Looks like I’m in the middle of an existential crisis. I imagine for most people if they actually get to this place of “Who am I? Who do I want to be? What makes me feel fulfilled? Why am I here?” they are terrified. It’s a really scary place to be. For me, this process has me terrified, feeling like it’s slowly sliding me into an uncomfortable depressive state.

I started asking myself “what is the point of me?” around second-grade, and it hasn’t stopped since.  Even when I was a high-functioning, I just didn’t feel I was needed, and that my burden was greater than any gift I could provide.

But that was the depression, right? Depression tells you, you are worthless. That you will never be able to contribute enough to make yourself worthy of existence and that honestly, you look pretty fucking pathetic trying. You ask “Who am I?” and it tells you “A piece of shit.” “But who do I want to be?” “Doesn’t matter. You’ll never be good enough at it.” “What makes me fulfilled?” “You can’t feel fulfillment! To do that you have to stop being such a fucking nuisance.” (Evidently, my depression has a foul mouth.) “Why am I here?” “Good question. And like I’ve been trying to tell you, you probably shouldn’t be.

Let me back up a step. This all started because when I got to grad school, I felt like the one thing that was really missing from my life was intimacy. I never really had a boyfriend, between the depression, bullying, rejection, body dysmorphia, self-harm, and sexual assaults, the idea of being that vulnerable, it was just too overwhelming to take on. Then, to add to this delightful menage of fucked-up factors, my medications killed any sex drive I might possibly have. Needless to say, my childhood rom-com dreams slowly shriveled over time.

But there I was, in graduate school, in shape, making friends, having my “shit together,” and I just felt so fucking alone. (Ok, I do feel so fucking alone.) And I look all around me, and there are so many people, just as fucked up as I am, and they are in relationships. And I just thought, I can figure this out. So I stopped DBT and I decided to go to a sex therapist. Turns out, you can’t just be like “Hey so I have a super fucked-up relationship with intimacy and I would love to go ahead and just resolve that. Thanks.” In fact, she didn’t even want to get into my trauma the first session.

Instead, we have been diving into my identity and the questions I posited above. Now I think anyone in my place would be overwhelmed – these are life-long questions that are never truly answered. But what freaks me out is that these questions feel oddly similar to the questions I asked myself when I was suicidal. I know (and am grateful) that I’m not in that space anymore. I know that when I ask myself “Why am I choosing to live” it is in a different context than when I asked myself in the depths of depression. But I still don’t have an answer.

In the past, I stayed alive because I knew that killing myself would destroy my family. And I felt like I already was such a burden that while I felt in the long-run it would benefit them, I just knew it would hurt them too much. And so I stayed alive – for them. I kept fighting – for them.

So why do I get up now? Why do I choose to live? Because doing it for them isn’t enough anymore – nor should it be. I asked a friend today why she chooses to go through all the bullshit of life. What makes this arduous journey worthwhile? She noted joy, pleasure, achievement, helping others, possibility, and growth. She also noted that while she has bad days, she never has had a day where she wonders why she exists. Duly noted. And that makes sense to me. Joy and pleasure (which you can derive from helping others, growth, and possibility) are fucking awesome. But I don’t feel joy or pleasure. Ok, to be fair, when I help people, I get a little high. When I make people laugh, I feel good. When I have a really good workout (if I can remember that far back,) I have a good hour of “Fuck yeah, life!” But in general, I have a dull feeling in life. I get what feels like a pleasure wave, but it never crests, it just breaks. And that’s a problem. Because I can work with living to help others and make the world a better place, but I don’t know if that will sustain me for a long period of time. I need more than that; I think we all do.

I’m not really afraid of an existential crisis, per say. I think being introspective, intellectual, emotionally intelligent, and hyperaware, it just comes with the territory. I’m okay not knowing who I am yet. It’s scary and frustrating, but I get it. Depression was my identity for so long, I never developed a sense of self. What scares me is whether I have the energy and wherewithal to find myself. We can use our body, but if we don’t replenish it with food, liquid, etc. we will die. Emotional energy is the same. If I keep expending energy, getting things done, doing things that challenge me, helping others, but I don’t grow stronger? If I can’t get fulfillment and strength from the joy and pleasure of exploration? Then I’m not sure how to keep going. I feel like I’m running on empty and I don’t know what I can do to fuel up. And that is scary as fuck.

 

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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.

The Rights of An Individual Within The Family System

I’m trying to think about how to write this post.

I want to write about family systems, their power dynamics, and imperfect structure. Well, I want to write about my own family and what I have and continue to learn about it within this context. But I am always hesitant to write about my family. I talk about it with my therapist and think about it sometimes, but I guess the idea of putting it down in words makes me feel like a traitor.

I am so lucky to have my family. Not a family; my family. It ain’t perfect, but duh. (Perfect. We really should eradicate that word and its’ meaning completely.) And even with its’ problems, the intention of my familial interactions and relationships are based on the ideals of love and support. Furthermore, I know I am still here today in large part because of my family, and have always known they would be there for me should I ever need it. And that in and of itself, is an amazing, unique, and rare thing.

I have avoided analyzing my family in past therapy because it felt selfish. But in doing so, I was helping to uphold my belief that even if an action hurts you, if the intention behind the action was positive, the onus is on you, not the one who caused the pain. After all, if they were not intending to hurt you, they can’t really be held accountable for how you choose to accept it.

I’ve applied that unhealthy philosophy to so many parts of my life. I have allowed others to hurt me because I was at fault in my interpretation of actions and/or my role in the relationship. I misunderstood; I was wrong in my subjective understanding. An example: I spent years feeling horrible that I did not like my father because I knew there were factors beyond his control that effected his behavior and actions that hurt me. (I just realized this is an example of a family dynamic, but I guess my dad is not only a part of my family system, our relationship is also a separate entity unto itself.)

But whether or not someone intends to hurt you, does not change or more importantly, does not invalidate the impact on you. Whether they had a bad childhood, or have a myriad of reasons for their unhealthy behavior – even if they don’t see it as unhealthy or wrong – does not negate its’ affect, whatever it may be.

I am not saying I am a complete victim in ineffective behavior. After all, I am complicit in allowing the behavior; in not setting boundaries; in not speaking up for myself. It is my responsibility to take care of myself, even if that does not fit within party lines. Furthermore, I am accountable for the consequences to the relationship due to my personal choices. But I am not selfish to do so. (It should be noted, however, that young children cannot be held responsible for their care, and their complicity is not at will.)

I believe all this to be true, but it still fills me with shame, guilt, and self-hate. Because even if I can acknowledge what I believe to be right and within my rights, the rules of the structure were ingrained in my initial value system, and attempting to change it feels like betrayal.

I’m not going to write about what I specifically have come to understand about my relationship with and within my family, or the most recent incident that triggered it. I think I’ll keep that to therapy. But I will say, like any relationship, there is incredible complexity in its’ structure and system. There is no black and white; right or wrong; victim and perpetrator. And that’s a good thing – because it allows for unconditional, true and authentic love and support. And it also allows for change.

(JT, JIC there is any confusion, know I love you more than words and always will.)

 

 

 

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.

overrated holidays: new years

i suppose my hatred of new years and my birthday were exacerbated by my depression. both holidays are intended to have one reflect on their past year and set goals for the future ahead.

in the past that meant reflecting on days of lying in bed crying, struggling to get out of said bed, and losing touch with people I love. and that’s really not inspiring for the second component of looking forward into the future.

and for those of us who have anxiety, looking into the future isn’t super helpful either. if i wanted a “what-if” party, i could just sit by myself in the quiet of my bedroom at 10pm – oh wait, i do that already.

this past year, i did allow people to celebrate my birthday for the first time since i was too young to say i didn’t want to. of course i have threatened people for so long not to mention it, it was actually kind of a let down. so i decided that i would pick a nice day from the past and decide that that day was my “birthday.” it’s an overrated holiday. whatever. besides, i’m like 15 years younger in terms of emotional maturity, so what age are we really talking about? i didn’t even expect to live past next year so i suppose indifference is a better view than analyzing who i’ve become.

as for new years, i’m not afraid to look back on this year. i’ve done some good work and while i have had set backs, i’ve been incredibly lucky to have found medication that has allowed me to push myself – even if it doesn’t look that amazing on paper.

as for the coming year, there are things i have to think about that involve decisions about my future – but i will deal with them when the time comes. for now, it’s about this month, this week, and this day. it’s about the bigger goals of self-compassion, growth, and internal strength-building. it might not look like much to others – another year of perhaps not working, not dating, perhaps failing in areas i have worked in. but i sadly don’t need a holiday to make me overthink that.

for those of you who are taking this new years hard, i plead for you to take this as an opportunity to do the exact opposite and choose not to look back or look ahead, but just try and face today. and like facebook, no one is really having that much fun anyway. take care of yourselves.

How About a Pat On The Back? Why Aren’t Others Acknowledging My Progress?

Does this picture really need a caption?

Ok, so I know I’m really bad at “anger” – especially when it comes to emoting. But, I have to say I’m really frustrated and maybe even a little peeved right now.

So I have had the fortune to have my chemical depression lifted for the past few months. In that time, I have reached out to old friends, gotten an apartment, made appointments, attended those appointments, made plans and came through on those plans, and have tried to be more active and engaged. (All things I have never really done well while depressed, i.e. most of my life.)

My family has made some comments that are positive – letting me know that they’re happy for me and proud of me and the work I’m doing. I suppose they know it the most since they have seen me at my very worst and supported me through it all. And I appreciate that they can see a difference. I guess my dad told my mom it was really nice to see me smile again. That made me smile…again.

Obviously things aren’t perfect. I still have to work really hard at living every day. I usually wake up petrified that the feeling will come back. Then I get anxious that even if I don’t feel it, I will somehow fail to utilize this opportunity of feeling better to the best of my ability this day. What if I don’t get out of the house? What if I don’t accomplish something? What if I don’t move forward? I’m dealing with how to know when I’m ready to move forward and how I might do that or what it might look like. I am anxious, worried, and slightly depressed at both the work I have to do and the fear that it won’t be enough. On top of that, other issues have come to light – many of which are similar to the ones I had when depressed: Do I deserve to live? Does my life add value to this world? Will I ever feel I deserve my life? Will I ever have a life I can look at and feel proud and content with? Will I ever find peace with myself and within myself?

So, yeah, I’m dealing with that, but I’m still making it to places on time, doing things alone, returning phone calls, making big plans, and trying to remain engaged and helpful. And besides some of my family members, no one has said shit. I’m not talking about the guy at the YMCA I am finally able to make eye contact with. I’m talking about the people in my life who know about the depression, about the ECT, about leaving DC, about living at home, my self-harming, my suicidal ideation. I don’t know what I was expecting but I guess with all this fear about what I’m doing and how I’m doing, I would like a “wow, you really seem different” or “it’s nice to have you like this.” Only one or two have even asked why things have changed or what this “change” means, but others just keep talking to me. Maybe they’re trying to make me feel normal? Or maybe I’m making excuses for them.

And I wonder, after all the grief I put upon myself about being a shitty friend and person, does anyone notice the change? As I’m writing this, I’m feeling a little selfish because I’m basically asking “why is no one noticing me and praising me?” and I guess that’s a little cocky. But fuck, it’s not just medicine. I mean, thank goodness it’s working, but I’m fucking working too. Hard. Every fucking day. And I get tired and scared and want to stop. But I usually pull myself back up. And I’m doing a lot of it for them – at least at this point. To stop being the burden. To add value and be a fun and dependable friend they can trust and can enjoy. Maybe they felt that way when I was depressed, and I do appreciate that they stood by me and remained friends with me no matter how shitty I was. I love them so much for that. Maybe that’s why it hurts that they haven’t said anything. Because I love them and I just want them to be excited for me and for our friendships.

Or maybe, they’re just worried about the boy that cried wolf – not holding their breath given that this might be like all the other times I felt better – and then got worse. Trepidation I suppose I understand – I’m feeling the same way – but you could still say something. I don’t know why it’s important but I think I want them to feel pride and happiness for me and our future friendship.

I just wish someone besides my family and therapist would acknowledge that they are not only happy for me, but happy to be with me as me, on what will hopefully be an exciting journey that will last for years to come. Like maybe “Damn Ava, you seem to be in such a better place. It’s nice to hear from you and hear about all the things you are doing and thinking of doing.” Or: “I’m so happy for you. How does it feel? What do you think it means?” Is that too much to ask? Am I being selfish?

Life’s a Bitch and Then You Die: The Struggle for Hope

I have really enjoyed writing this blog. I’m not going to lie, it’s been a complicated experience. Over the past few months, I’ve had to take breaks from both writing and reading. As much as I learn about myself and others as I read and write, it can get pretty intense and pull me down.

What I wasn’t expecting is that I’d miss it. Not only reading all of the intelligent, thoughtful, and real posts from all of you, but writing my own posts. I’ve had a rough couple of weeks and haven’t had time to sit down and think, let alone write. My meds have not been cooperating  so I’ve had some issues with kinesthesia, then we had to put my dog to sleep, and we had a family emergency and I was pulled from my daily routine to come and help out.

But interestingly enough, I’ve learned a lot from all this chaotic shit.

  • My family is amazing and I am so fortunate to have their support. Without their love, I’d have had a complete meltdown weeks ago.
  • Helping others can overwhelm my empathetic emotions and wear me down.
  • Helping others gives me strength, energy, and purpose, and helps keep the blues away. (Yes, I see the irony of those two statements).
  • If you love someone, set them free. (Ugh, I fucking hate cheesy analogies.)
  • Schedule, sleep, stress, change, and chaos can really mess with your illness.

In the past few weeks, my dog had slowly been getting sick: unable to keep food down; walk very well or far; and I was giving her pills and subcutaneous liquid injections daily while she vomited and shook. You could tell she was miserable though there were moments where I saw her personality pop up. I wanted her to get better, but each week, her test results would come back and she was getting worse, and honestly, you could tell she felt shitty.

I struggled to make the decision of when her life should end, but the doctor and my family (I was alone at the time so it was mostly by phone) was kind and helped let me know it was the right decision. This dog was my personal anti-depressant who helped me leave the house to run errands or take a walk when I was terrified to leave my bed. This horrible process made me realize that sometimes true love means letting go. I recognized that I was being selfish because I didn’t want to lose her even if it was the right thing to do. I also will be forever grateful that a family member agreed to take her and others listened as I sobbed on the phone for about two days straight before she was put to sleep.

At the same time, a family member down state became ill and I flew down to help out. Being here this past week has got me thinking – when I help others I feel a purpose to my life, while sometimes at home, I feel so lost, like I’m just taking up space. At the same time, it’s been difficult being here. There is obviously a lot of stress as we don’t know how ill my family member has become. We do know that she is suffering from memory loss.

You would think as someone who has been through ECT and major depressive episodes that have led me to lose two years of memories would make me more sympathetic and patient, but it can be frustrating to have the same conversation three times in a row. It’s also hard to help someone whose pride holds them back from accepting real help. And then I think of the similarities: I’ve had a difficult time letting people help me; I’ve been a bitch to them in an attempt to push them away; I was defiant in my unhealthy lifestyle that was slowly killing me; and I’m sure I asked the same question more than once in a 15 minute period.

As an empathetic person, I find myself feeling such sadness for her and also frustration because she’s not willing to fight or push herself to get better. And yet, it hits me that this is part of the disease. While no one has diagnosed her with depression (like she would ever admit it anyway,) when you turn society and people who love you away, when you live alone and spend days at a time without human interaction, you lose hope and social skills.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. We are taking things day by day and I try to be as helpful as possible from cleaning and cooking to filing papers and cutting her hair. And I wish I could do more. And yet I know that every day it’s also weighing on my own personal health. And I go back and forth between feeling selfish and knowing I can’t be as helpful unless I’m taking care of myself.

She keeps telling me “life’s a bitch and then you die” as if that’s a philosophy of life. And it’s tempting to agree but I know that I’ve worked too hard to accept that. It may be true that “it is what it is” but I can’t believe I am working this hard to keep my head above water, struggling to survive, for naught. Having my dog die has made me realize that many I love will leave me, no matter how much I need them. And I get it: life is a bitch, and I will die. But I have to believe that the love of others and the fight to put that bitch in a corner from time to time, makes it all worth it.

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.