The Blame Game With Mental Illness

[Trigger warning: Mention of self-harm]

I met with my psychiatrist last week and told her that I have been feeling worse but I was worried that maybe it was my fault and I was somehow doing it to myself. Well actually, I started to say that and she cut me off right at “maybe I” with a sharp “No.” After apologizing, she told me that I have to stop blaming myself for my depression.

People can undoubtedly lie to themselves. For example, someone with an addiction tells him/herself they don’t have a problem and they stay in denial that their actions are negatively impacting their life. I get that. But can you be lying to yourself if you are asking yourself if you are lying? If the idea of denial in the example above is to convince yourself you do not have a problem, what is it if you convince yourself you are trying to convince yourself that you DO have a problem? Can you accuse yourself of having a derivative form of Munchausen Syndrome?

It’s an odd thing: the idea that I am purposefully making something worse; that I am sabotaging myself from recovery by somehow forcing myself into depression or not fighting as hard as I can. I interrogate myself: Is it really just fear and weakness and not a “disease” at all? Could I try harder, do more, stop whining? Do I just need to have the will and gumption and am too meek to face my reality? Am I somehow lying to myself?

But there is a part of me that knows that this is real. That leaving a job I was proud of, friends that I loved, and a life I had built wasn’t just for attention. Lying in bed in for weeks, crying for hours, choosing to have ECT, well that would be one hell of a con. Perhaps at the core of this questioning is an insecurity, hate, and long-developed distrust of my thoughts and feelings.

This doubt of my own feelings was developed over time and starts in my younger years. I was constantly told I was too sensitive. It wasn’t intended to be an insult, but it also wasn’t always used in a positive context. Rather, it was often noted as the cause of my intense feelings of sadness over anything that was bad. In defense, I was incredibly empathetic as a young child. When I was five, my mom had my dad change the mailing address of the newspaper from our house to his office, because I would read the paper and cry about all the horrible things happening in the world.

I hoped to find something physically wrong with me that would provide tangible symptoms to explain why I was like this. I remember feeling relief when I became sick – whether it was a cold or ear infection. Because when I was “sick,” I knew those around me believed my pain. And it wasn’t my fault or something I was failing to fix. 

There was always a rational reasoning for my behavior: in grade school, it was that I was being bullied; in high school, it was hormones. The darker melancholy that was growing inside me was overlooked because I didn’t believe it was legitimate and therefore never mentioned it. I assumed my constant complaining was indicative of a selfish, childish, and  weak personality defect. When bad things happened, I began to question if the amount of pain I felt was fair. Was it really that bad, or was I making it worse? Maybe my feelings were being manipulated by my selfishness?   Did I have the power to stop it?

When I got to college, I still blamed myself for my thoughts and feelings. And that’s also when I discovered self-harm. While there are many reasons why I self-harmed, I think one of them was having something to show for my pain, and it helped me feel better about my sadness. Still, I continued to chide myself for feeling sad all the time – I needed to get over myself. Other people didn’t have ideal lives and they were managing, so why couldn’t I? I still find myself asking that question.

The real problem is that even if I could convince everyone around me that this isn’t my fault, I can’t fully convince myself. In my mind, every time I cancel an appointment; take a pill for my anxiety; cry hysterically for no reason; not feel any different when starting a medication; or start to feel bad on a medication that seemed to be working for a few weeks, I worry it’s something I’m doing wrong, not the depressionMaybe it’s my fault that I am a burden, and maybe it was somehow a choice I made – though why – I cannot figure out.

And yet, I also know that this isn’t me is because I have experienced what it is like to have clinical depression lifted. When I found the medical concoction that stifled my depression about two years ago I felt so different. While I was tempted to sometimes cancel because I was scared or maybe just out of habit, I didn’t. When I was feeling anxious, I went to the gym because I knew it would help. Sometimes I would have weeks where I was exhausted from trying to change my habits and face my fears, but it all still felt possible and I wanted to try. The difference in how my mind worked was so clear. I had been functioning within this cloud of depression and it was the cause of my actions and reactions.

I know that while depression feeds off itself, it’s not me feeding it. I’m not giving in because I want to, because honestly, I really do want to be able to get up in the morning and be an independent person who can make it to work, handle responsibility, and rebuild my life. Perhaps the fact that it terrifies me to think that I could be doing this is enough to know that I’m not. But that’s the thing about depression. It wants you to blame yourself. It convinces you that you are the cause of everything bad in your life, even if it’s irrational. It tells you that you are the way you are because you did this to yourself. It tells you to stop blaming some “idea,” and take some control over your life. Then it laughs at you when you try and fail.

I just have to keep telling myself that this is the illness. This is the lack of chemical reactions and electrical signals in my brain. This is not something I can control. And this is not on me. There is a serious problem, but it’s nobody’s fault…or at least nobody’s choice.

Advertisements

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.

Accepting the Ignorance of Others

[Disclaimer: I do not suffer from addiction to illegal or recreational drugs or alcohol. I do not portend to know the struggle to recover and manage this specific addiction. I wrote this post to highlight the idea of understanding and respecting different perspectives when it comes to mental health, healing, and recovery in general. I apologize if I offend anyone. Please let me know if there is something incorrect so I may learn from it, and change the post if need be.]

When I was younger, I mistook the knowledge of my idealism as fact and created definitive standards of right and wrong. Maybe my mind was too young to understand the complexities of human experience, or maybe I simply hadn’t lived long enough to see the dynamics of life. But thankfully over time, I have come to see the nuance in all human interaction, and our struggle to find peace and acceptance, especially within ourselves.

I have spent so many years on my quest to manage my mental illness. I have tried a smorgasbord of drugs, therapies, and alternative remedies. Some have worked for a time, and others simply did not fit. A simple example: while I have found DBT an effective form of therapy, group therapy has never worked for me. And while I am still searching, I have witnessed so many find the concoction of tools that help them survive. As long as it does not hurt themselves or others I support them without judgment. In fact, I envy them. I also understand that sometimes, in order to maintain their health, they might proselytize. I think it is common when you have found something that has changed your life. You want others to benefit from your experience and you want to believe in what you are doing, (something I believe plays a large part in what makes it work.)

All of that being said, I was part of a conversation recently where two people were discussing options to help someone who is currently suffering from drug addiction. At the end of the day, we all understand that she will have to want to change, and will have to most likely try a variety of mechanisms to help her battle her addiction. It’s going to be a long road, and I suppose those that love her are trying to find ways they can support and provide her with options for the journey to come.

One of those people is a recovering alcoholic who found his form of AA as key to his recovery. From what I know from others who participate in AA, there are varied forms of AA – it isn’t practiced or used in one way only. I also think it’s important to mention that this person is not educated or familiar with other forms of addiction therapy and tools. I believe he has lived a rather narrow life in terms of interactions and experiences with others. (This is not a criticism, just something to note.) And while I do not think he understands the situation fully, I do appreciate his passion for the techniques that worked for him and that have allowed him to remain sober for so long. I accept that I am not in his shoes and that in his perspective of the world, he has found the right answer – not just for him, but for so many addicts he has helped along the way.

While I held back my frustrations at his simplistic and contradictory ideas of “help,” at some point, I became incredibly frustrated. I told him that this matter was not just about drugs; it was about traumatic experiences, environment, social norms within their network, and a chemical imbalance that makes her have an addictive personality. I noted that while I appreciated that his version of AA had helped him, that for others, therapy, medication, and other forms of help might be better for her and we had to keep our minds open to what might fit her best.

This is when he began his tirade about “pharmaceutical money-scheming” and “bullshit therapy.” He noted that if doctors were to actually “cure” their patients, they would be out of a job. This isn’t the first time I have encountered someone with this opinion, and I know it will not be my last. But it stung. I am currently battling my bipolar II, and given my treatment-resistant depression (TRD,) I am in a frustrating and scary place.

Also, as someone who does take medication, I do not judge those that do not take medications – I know for some, the side effects are too much for them or they simply do not like the idea. Others have had unfortunately negative experiences in therapy, (who hasn’t,) and are weary of trying it again. And that’s okay. But this man has never tried therapy or medication (there are medications that can help with weaning people off addictive medication.) While I do not have a typical addiction, though I tend to see my self-harming personally as an addiction of sorts, I have spoken to those who have, I have read articles, and I have watched those around me get better. And so while I have heard ignorant comments that insult the mechanisms I choose to use, he added injury to insult by assuming I did not know what it might be like to be in a situation where you are not in control of your thoughts, feelings, and actions.

I had so much to say. But like many women, I have been trained to cry instead of show anger. The other person in the conversation, who knows my story, attempted to turn the conversation, and I stepped outside. I was crying because I was angry at his ignorance. I was crying because while I do not know his whole story, I do not belittle his belief in G-d, even though it is an idea I do not believe in. I actually see commonalities in the various techniques used, including in AA, like radical acceptance or letting go of past resentments. But he has developed an idea about medication and therapy, and without knowing what it really is, has decided it is worthless. And in doing so, he is negating the years of trial and error, and my struggle, because to him, it’s not just about proselytizing, it’s about “the right way.”

In the past few days, I have spent time thinking this through, and most likely giving him more time than he deserves. I know he is coming from a place of ignorance, and while some people are open to listening and learning, there are others who simply can not/will not. They say they are, but they already have decided their right and wrong. I have found this to be true when I tell people about ECT. Sometimes they don’t know what it is, and if do know or find out, their reactions are insulting. Often times, they look afraid and aghast, I have had people literally take steps back. You can see their idea of you shifting in their head. I have even had doctors look at me with horror and what feels like judgment. I always imagine they are thinking, “how can someone who seems so normal, be so fucked up? Who knew she was actually crazy – I mean she let herself be electrocuted.” Some are willing to listen and learn; others aren’t. And like this man, I allow them to make me feel ashamed of my choices.

I also think his comments hurt more than usual because I am currently struggling with my faith in the process. I am frustrated, scared, tired, and my hope is dwindling. Having someone exacerbate my fear is unsettling. Both of these reasons have more to do with me and my issues, and not him. I accept that.

I suppose in my own way, I want to proselytize my reasoning for being open-minded to all voices. I have found that if I allow myself to listen to the other side, I see how much we have in common, am able to analyze and understand some of what they dislike in my choice, and while I still may maintain my belief, find value in the challenge of learning to see it from different perspectives. I walk away with the understanding that nothing in life is as simple as we might want it to be. But not everyone works that way and it is not my place to tell them to do so.

I am trying to see this experience as a lesson. An opportunity for the radical acceptance that the nuance of humans includes those that are unwilling to open their minds. Understanding that he is a complex person, that this is one part of him that I do not like, but there are reasons why he is the way he is, he is not hurting anyone, and at the end of the day, he is more than just that one opinion. And he is entitled to that opinion, even if I do not agree.

Well, that is the ideal anyway.

the pointless nature of “crying for help”

disclaimer: some stuff about suicide, self-harm, and just basically scary, downer stuff. don’t read this if it’s going to trigger you. i assure you it’s not worth it: just some ramblings but without a filter.

They say that an attempted suicide is a cry for help. While I have never attempted, I will say that based on my experience leading up to a moment like that, you are definitely past a “shout out.” Asking for help can be difficult for anyone. Some people don’t like to ask for help doing a difficult DIY project. A lot of people think they should be able to deal with something on their own, or maybe they don’t want to bother someone.

But I’m trying to understand this idea of crying out for help when it comes to depression. I never have really understood it, even when I have tried to do it. So let’s see, sometimes when I’m getting down, when I feel myself getting closer to a destructive ledge, I may call someone. When they ask “Hey, how are you?” I don’t say anything like: “You know how it is…I guess I just feel like i’m getting closer to a destructive ledge.” I don’t think that’s actually what they’re expecting and frankly I don’t think it’s what they want to hear. I usually just ask them about how their life is. I’m trying to get better at not hiding everything, so I might even say, “Hey, I’m just feeling out of sorts and just wanted to hear your voice and focus on you, because i love you, and i need to get out of my selfishly depressed brain right now.” But people are busy. And you’re calling “just” to talk? That doesn’t really take precedence over preparing for a party, or going out to dinner with someone. it doesn’t take precedence over a crying baby, or a timer for the oven.

So then you get to that destructive ledge. I suppose you can call out before doing something. Sometimes i have called someone before I harm myself. It’s hard – trying to express you’re scared without freaking everyone out. Because they don’t know where you are: maybe you have the knife to your wrist; or maybe you just are in bed and don’t want to get out. And besides, by that point, I have either decided to do something or not. In fact, the only thing that might stop me is if someone called me right in that moment. But that’s not going to happen.

Then there’s the “I’ve already done it and I’m ashamed” call for help. I’ve done that one a few times. Not sure it helps. I mean, it pulls me out of the chaos usually. Makes me remember that I don’t want to hurt others or to scare them with my unacceptable behaviors. Situations, that if and when things settle, I will have to explain, will never really be understood by loved ones because it won’t sound like a “good enough” reason to have done something they think is so unnecessary.

Recently, I was sitting and i could feel the wave coming. And i could feel that I wasn’t strong enough to push it down. I couldn’t help myself. And that “couldn’t” was turning into a “I don’t wanna” really fast. So I think: maybe I text someone? Maybe something vague with this hope that somehow they see through it and understand I need them to come save me? Because honestly, how the fuck is a text convo with emojis really going to help? And haven’t we had this conversation before, the last time I was in this position?

Then, what if it does pass? What if it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be? Now I’ve scared them and they need me to call them all the time; they don’t want me to be alone. Now those things that took precedent before don’t, but you know it’s because of you, and the guilt is worse than if you had just gone through with it. By the time they call you back or get to your house, the immediacy has passed.

The thing about a call for help, is you have to want to make it. You have to have the strength and gumption to say that you need help. But maybe you don’t want to use up your “helps.” I mean, everyone says they will always be there, but lest you be the “boy that cried wolf.” Plus, you are bothering that person, you are impacting their life in a selfish way, so you kind of want to use those moments when they really matter. But then of course, how do you know if this time will matter, and what if you realize it but you’re too far committed to turn back and make that call?

I don’t know about this cry for help. During a time when I feel pointless, frustrated, exhausted, tired of trying, I am supposed to call someone and tell them that I am feeling those things and that I need them to help me. I mean, isn’t that contradictory?

And now it’s time for me to go off topic, because it makes sense in my head.

I was writing to a friend today and wrote this huge explanation of the past three months: what has happened, how i have felt, all the shit. And then I erased it. I didn’t want to freak him out. And I realized, I only share, I only ask for help, after I don’t need it anymore. So i will tell someone that the night before, I had wanted to die. I will email with a friend across the pond to tell them about a scary period of time I had the past month when I didn’t know whether I was going to be ok or not.

Because if provided through this viewpoint, it’s something they can handle. They need to know it’s ok so they don’t feel helpless. And I don’t want to burden them with something they can’t control – so i tell them after, as if it was just a momentary weakness. And you have to, because if you don’t, then they don’t trust you. When you say you’re ok in the future, they don’t believe you. They call you all the time or attempt to subtly make sure you’re alive by “just passing by” or “thinking of you and deciding to call.” And it’s funny, because even though at one point I thought that was what I needed; by that point, it just feels like they are reaching out for themselves. So they feel better knowing they were doing “their part.” In fact, I’m not sure they actually want to understand what I would need in terms of help.

Many people offer their help to me and in doing so, I see the love they want to provide. They are good people; caring people. People I am lucky to have in my life. But they don’t get it. I don’t know if they can’t because they don’t know what it feels like, or maybe because they aren’t really listening to me the way I need to be listened to. Or maybe I’m not being clear because I don’t know what I need, let alone what I need specifically from them.

To me a cry for help needs to be answered immediately and never is. To me a cry of help is yet another pathetic demonstration of why no one should answer. Honestly, i’m pretty sure just a good cry would be more helpful than anything else.

I’m Tired.

I’m tired today.

  • I’m tired of trying so hard to keep it together every day.
  • I’m tired of following a sleep regimen and still waking up fatigued.
  • I’m tired of trying to do everything “right” – going to the gym, losing weight, calling friends, not drinking, being vegan and not eating anything processed, and still not feeling good or having extra energ.
  • I’m tired of not being able to have more than a day or two of stability and balance.
  • I’m tired of having to make decisions.
  • I’m tired of not having a purpose that isn’t about myself. While I don’t miss working crazy long hours, I miss having a job where I am spending time thinking about others and doing work for them.
  • I’m so tired of seeing all of the hate and ignorance in the world today. Of watching history repeat itself.  Of knowing it will never stop and will only get worse. And not knowing what to do. Because $15 isn’t enough. Volunteering isn’t enough. There isn’t a job that will be enough. And people don’t really want to listen, to learn, to compromise, to change. I don’t want to stand aside – but I feel so useless.
  • I’m tired of not liking myself.
  • I’m tired of trying to understand why I do not like myself.
  • I’m tired of being told to have hope, to think positive, to just keep trying.
  • I’m tired of not being able to help the people I love. To watch them in stress, in pain, in sadness. Shitty stuff happens, but I wish I could just alleviate some of it.
  • I’m tired of the constant shame I feel about who I am.
  • I’m tired of the guilt I allow myself to carry.
  • I’m tired of not knowing what to do next.
  • I’m tired of not knowing the “right” thing for “me.”
  • I’m tired of caring so much, about everything. Of feeling so much.
  • I’m tired of trying so hard to just keep it together for everyone: my family, my friends, my therapist and psychiatrist. I’m just tired of feeling responsible for adding stress or pain to their lives because of my stress and pain. Of trying to make them happy or relieved.
  • I’m tired of all the dichotomies in my life. Of wanting to be alone but feeling so alone. For wanting to be happy but feeling like it’s a charade anyway. For wanting love but not the strings that come with it.
  • I’m tired of being so scared to do things. I don’t know when I became this way but I’m so fucking tired of it.
  • I’m tired of feeling like I have lost so much time in my life, so many chances, so many opportunities, and still wanting sometimes to just end it all because I’m just too tired to try to catch up.
  • I’m tired of my fucking side effects.
  • I’m tired of trying to imagine what it feels like to wake up without a mental illness. To have shitty days and stress and life, but not have to take drugs that make me feel like shit to just survive them, while others take none and are able to function just fine. To go to bed without fear that tomorrow I might not be able to get out of bed. Or wake up without knowing if I will be able to make it through the day.
  • I’m tired of feeling so guilty that I want more. That this is unfair. That I don’t deserve this. And then feeling guilty for thinking that. It just cycles over and over again.
  • I’m tired of having to change. To constantly fight myself, to unburden others, to hold back my anger, my frustration, my words to not hurt others. To get up every day and try to want things, work for things, be effective, have goals, work to get better at who I am. To push down the bad thoughts, the urges, the desires, to assuage others.
  • I’m tired of never knowing who to blame: is it the meds? the disease? my circumstances? me?
  • I’m tired of only seeing the mistakes I make. The failures. The not good-enoughs.
  • I’m tired of having hope. It’s almost more exhausting than just admitting defeat.
  • I’m tired of thinking.

I’m just tired.

How Can I Move Forward if I Can’t Trust My Inner Voice?

I have come to understand that it takes me a lot of time to process most decisions. It’s not that I don’t understand them – it’s that my mind needs time to explore and analyze the issue from different viewpoints, possible understandings – it needs to ask further questions. People don’t really like this. In the hustle and bustle of life, having someone hesitate to react, to want time to think things over, doesn’t settle well. Still, I am trying to quell my initial response. What may feel like anger when a friend does not react as supportive as I want, turns out to be fear that they may not love me. My feelings and choices, therefore, change drastically.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. I mean, that’s what I tell people and what I try to tell myself. But the truth is: I am terrified that no matter how much I process something, my answer will be wrong. And I have begun to realize that perhaps part of this “processing” has to do with the events from my past that have made me constantly question my choices, feelings, and thoughts. I worry that the processing might not be me trying to find the truth, but rather trying to push aside the doubts and the voices that tell me contradictory, “truthful” answers.

Since I was a child, people have told me that I am over-sensitive; I think too much; I over-exagerrate the impact of things; that my memories are embellished and magnified; that the things that happened as a child didn’t really happen the way I felt them happen. In short, that what I think and feel is wrong, misguided, naive, and warped. This all was supported by my low self-esteem, and growing depression and anxiety.

I stopped trusting my decisions. I forced myself into situations I did not want to be in; I pushed my feelings down; and I hated myself and felt so ashamed and disgusted at myself for even feeling what I felt. I lost all trust in my abilities to make decisions, to know the right thing to do – whether it is how to feel about what someone has done; how to react to something; what life decisions are “right” for me; if it’s okay to make decisions others think are wrong, etc.

I still constantly question what I feel. I wonder, is this real? Am I making this up? Why would I make it up? Am I being reasonable? Is this okay? Am I being a baby? What is the difference between what I feel and what is real? I question my choices because I question the validity of my inner voice.

I question choices as simple as what to eat or what to wear, as well as large decisions like what step I should take in my life. I have so many voices in my head telling me completely different “truths” while questioning each one of them. It’s like they are all yelling their answers at me and getting in side arguments with each other – in my head; at the same time; while I am trying to decide whether to leave the house or not. It’s exhausting.

It leaves me wondering which voice is authentic. Which one is “right,” and which one is trying to somehow lead me to ruin and self-sabotage. I get so far in my head about what is in my head, I find myself frozen, confused, panicked. In the past, I think alcohol helped slow my thinking down; allowed me to make decisions without actually feeling whether or not it was what I wanted – just doing whatever others wanted. It was a way of temporarily fleeing from the chaos of fear and failure that I felt constantly.

They say that in all real relationships you need trust. But if you can’t trust yourself, I don’t think you can trust anyone. I want to believe I trust people, but I constantly imagine what they must be really thinking in their head. They say they love me, that they understand, that they support my decisions; but maybe it’s actually disappointment, forced sympathy, perhaps adulation in hopes of getting what they really want. Which one is it? Is one simply what I want to believe? Should I trust what I feel? Or am I being naive, trying to believe something because it’s what I want to be truth. How do you know which “truth” is right?

If without trust you cannot have intimacy, authenticity, depth, love, or truth in a relationship, where does that leave me – with both myself and others? How do I move forward? How do I let people into my life and believe they are there because they sincerely want to be? How do I stop freezing up with every decision because I have lost the connection between what I feel and what I think? I believe that is the core of the problem. If your inner truth is found through mind and body, and you no longer trust your emotions, thoughts, or feelings, how do you make a decision?

This component of self-hate has stifled so much of my life and led me into traumatic events which I now have to face. It’s frightening and I’m scared.

At least I think I am.

Redefining Independence Day: Celebrating My Break-up With Depression

escondido-independence-day-celebration-escondido-ca

We broke up about two years ago, give or take. We had been together since I was a child and we did everything together. We would lay in bed together for days; take occasional walks (he preferred indoors,); and of course, we made decisions together. It was like I didn’t know where one of us began and the other ended.

And our passion was intense. Our sole purpose was to destroy and destruct my soul and the life I was attempting to build. Our lives were so entangled, it took me years to break it off.

And I couldn’t imagine my life without him. After all, our relationship is the longest emotionally intimate relationship I’ve ever had. Over the years, I’ve had my slip-ups and we’ve gotten back together for a few months here and there – they were short, but they were intense.

He’s really persistent too. He thinks he’s like Lloyd Dobbler in Say Anything, but he’s really just a creep who tries to disrupt my life and constantly remind me he’s watching me. He definitely stalks me, sometimes I can feel him close by. I sense him as he waits for a weak moment to swoop in and try to convince me why we belong together.

And it’s tempting to get back together. I feel comfortable with him. Being alone I feel so vulnerable and weak. Now I am free, but I am also naive and clueless without his guidance. Without his narcissism, I am forced to look within myself, to define life around this self, not him, and it’s really scary.

We broke up for a lot of reasons. Well, I was the one that broke it off with him. Not only was he overbearing and controlling, he was suffocating, insecure, and abusive. He taught me all I thought I had to know, but turns out, he was just warping my thoughts, crushing my innocence, and guiding me down his path, not my own.  He tried to keep me from seeing or talking with my friends, and resisted all my tactics to push him away. But I did. I got away. At least for now.

I’ve only ever been in a relationship with him, so I’m a little scared about being with myself, let alone someone else. But at least the next one will be present, real, and allow me to maintain my individual thoughts and feelings. I am gaining strength with the hopes that if my guard is down, he can’t completely take me back because I will have an arsenal of tools to keep him in his place. I will and have to be the last one standing.

So I take my pills every day. And that pushes him away. I go to the gym. And he gets farther. I eat healthy and get sleep. I can barely feel his presence. I call a friend or meet someone who makes me laugh. And in those moments, I almost completely forget about him. The scars of his abuse remain, and I know he’s always lying in wait, but I will continue to move on. Because as scary as it is to be alone; to learn how to do things without his support; to make choices and think about my future without him; I enjoy my independence. Fear derived from excitement and anticipation is so much better than fear from feeling powerless.

I no longer look at the calendar to see how long we were together; now I have begun to celebrate the anniversaries of the time we have been apart. It’s not easy. I’m still healing from the damage he has done and I will never be able to get fully away from him. And life isn’t perfect. Far from it. But for now, he’s far enough away that I can try to imagine the possibilities of life without the chain of our broken, dysfunctional dynamic wrapped tight around my mind and body.

For all of us who have been or are currently in the process of ending our relationship with depression, let’s redefine what “Independence Day” means this year. Let this year’s fireworks remind us that we are bright, beautiful, loud, and larger than life. We are explosions in the sky. And we will not stop fighting for our independence from the reins of depression.

Enjoy the bbq’s and beer if that’s your thing; consider turning up the tunes; and choose to smile, dance, and love completely. And if he dare attempt to crash your party, yell it loud and clear until he hears: “We are never, ever getting back together!”

Happy Independence Day, whatever that “independence” may mean for you.

(Yeah, that’s technically a Taylor Swift lyric, but I’m pretty sure she didn’t invent that sentence, so fuck it. Also, “Explosions in the Sky” is one of the most amazing bands EVER – they did all the music for Friday Night Lights. Just saying…)

Looking in the Mirror: Seeing Yourself Through Others’ Eyes

wpid-screenshot_2015-04-29-09-40-16-1
How do you like me meow?

I met with someone today who barely knows me. And while we were talking, she offhandedly said something like: “Don’t worry. Being you, you’re not going to have a problem finding a job and a place, or making friends for that matter. With your personality and energy  you’re going to do well anyway. I’m not worried.” Haha…what?!

I spend a lot of time worried about what people think of me, generally to an irrational degree. I fear they may see me and think: “Someone that ugly does not have a right to show her face without a hat or at least some makeup,” or, “You can just tell that girl is a loser. Plus, how dare she wear spandex. There’s nothing a gym can do about that ass.” And in my mind I’m convinced, just by speaking with me, the barista or Safeway checker will think I’m irritating, boring, arrogant, obnoxious, loud, overbearing, conceited, pathetic, opinionated, naive, pessimistic, and/or crazy. I guess the last one would be right given the paragraph above. LOL.

And yes, I know: others are too self-absorbed to pay attention or judge you. I’m going to go ahead and call bullshit on that one. After all, I spend a lot of time watching people, their interactions, noting their demeanor. I don’t suppose it leads to judgement, it’s more like seeing how the “other side,” i.e. those that are not me, live. I will agree that yes, the fact that I think everyone is looking at me, even if what they are thinking is bad, is in and of itself self-absorbed. Huh.

I am, by nature, a pretty unoffensive person – sometimes to a fault. I try to be kind, patient, and thoughtful to people around me. I show deference to most people, deserved or not. I’m also that person who helps you when you’ve dropped something or ask if you need help if you look confused. I generally can’t help you if you need directions, but I can at least commiserate with forgetting where you parked your car and help you find it. The point of this all being, I don’t think objectively, that my behavior is off-putting. And yet somehow I am convinced that even while I’m helping someone or giving them a smile, they are just disgusted with me. And I think that’s really my inner self telling me I’m disgusting and then I misappropriate it to someone else. It seems the two sides of my brain – the pure and the evil – argue over the most benign things. And yet those are the things that make it so difficult to have the confidence to make a call or leave the house.

And then every so often someone I know, within the context of the conversation, describes me. Now, I take everything with buckets filled with salt, so I recognize that people don’t generally sit you down to tell you what a  loser you are. (Well, they have, but that was during my teen years.) I also know that these are people that love me even at my worst moments, or that they’re people who I pay to help me. I also think that sometimes a person wants something from me, so they say whatever it will take to get it. For example, at a bar when someone wants me to go home with them. It’s curious how amazing I am at that point. ;)

But sometimes, it’s someone I just met at a party, an interview, or a person that I’ve been taking a class with who I finally have coffee with. And the shit that comes out of their mouth. They don’t have to say it; it’s not part of basic decorum. And they usually have known me for a few hours at most and yet they tell me all these wonderful things about myself. (I know this sounds like bragging so please note this is a very, very rare occurrence.)

I don’t know if I have a face that says “I’m insecure, I need reassurance.” Or maybe my self-deprecating humor clues them in. But I pride myself on my bullshitting ability to hide my insecurities (most people assume I am confident,) and I don’t think people are listening hard enough to know that the joke is actually a real dig at myself. Maybe people don’t need much to like you. Or maybe they’re lying. I mean, we all do it: reassure a friend when we actually aren’t sure what we’re saying is true; compliment someone just to calm them down or to get ahead. That’s the politics of human nature and relationships. Maybe it’s from living in Washington, D.C. for a decade, but it’s just the way the world works.

I know that I’m damaged  from my childhood and my internal dialogue of hate, and when I look in the mirror I see someone who is a pathetic fraud. I even know that a lot of people most likely look in the mirror and judge themselves harder than anyone else would. And when my friends are doubting themselves, when they can’t see how amazing they are, it shocks me. How can they not know their worth? Why would they ever doubt that they were special and deserved so much in life,  even if they don’t always get it? But it’s easier to say it to someone else, than to believe it yourself.

I’ve been practicing looking at myself in the mirror. I know, this sounds really odd. But when I’m depressed, I can go weeks dodging myself in mirrors or reflections. There is something so painful in not only seeing the misery in my face, but in the hate I feel looking at this person who has ruined my life. So, I’m trying to practice looking at myself. I’m trying to become comfortable and accepting of the woman I see looking back at me. So far, it’s been really uncomfortable. I don’t imagine I’ll ever look in the mirror and think, “Who is the fairest of them all? Why that would be me!” But, maybe I can look in the mirror and acknowledge that there is something there of worth.

I wonder if one day I will look in the mirror and see something different than I see now? I wonder if one day I will look in the mirror and not be ashamed or disgusted?

I wonder if one day I will look in the mirror and see what others see in me.

Facing Facebook: Lamenting the Losses of My Past Life

Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 4.25.18 PM

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. :)

The Unfortunate Reality of an “Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind”

“Blessed Are the forgetful for they get the better even of their blunders.”  – Nietzsche

I’m not a detail-oriented person. And by “oriented,” I mean, I can’t remember shit – from the past and sadly, often from the present. It is starting to become a problem.

Now, part of my memory loss is the depression. It blurred life and sometimes even erased it. Blocks of times, details of events, all on the tip of my brain, but unable to reach.

Naturally, ECT for almost two years most likely played a part. ECT is only supposed to effect your short-term memory and I can assure you it does. I have only a few vague memories but most are situations that reoccured often rather than a specific time. Also, when I began ECT, my sense of smell became incredibly strong. And it still is: I’m like a police dog. I mention this because it is an effect that didn’t go away, so maybe there are longer term effects of the ECT that have impacted my cognitive skills. (Note: I still would do it again, even if it has played a role.)

And then there’s the medication that my old, shitty doctor got my body hooked on, whose main side effect is memory loss. (She never mentioned that.) I’ve been on it for over a decade but last time I tried to get off of it, the reaction was so bad, I fell into a frightening depressive episode that I am still recovering from. Still, I need to get off of it soon, especially if it’s impacting my mind.

I used to like the fact that I had a bad memory…or at least I convinced myself I did. I told myself that most of the past decade was full of depression and the bad habits that go with it. Besides, I would tell myself, I am a different person now, starting life new and fresh, so who I was shouldn’t matter.

But in truth, it didn’t make my mind “spotless” and provide me with the “eternal sunshine” Alexander Pope raves about. I might not remember, but the effect of the experiences does not allow me to be set free from my past. There is no reverie to be had.

Now I realize that while I may have lost the bad memories, I also lost the good. And for me, I lost more good than bad. It’s amazing how those bad experiences burrow into your mind, refusing to let you forget. The internal scars, the essence of the memories, they stay within you. You may not remember what happened, but you remember how it felt and in some cases, how it impacts you now. When tired or weak, your mind pulls them out, tempting you to follow the pattern of your past. (Fucking depression.)

But I’ve learned to get by. I have my friends and family to tell me stories (albeit subjective stories,) of things that have happened. (I haven’t quite figured out what to do when I’m on a date, but texting in the bathroom might come to be.) Sometimes I see a photo and I can feel the emotion of the memory even if I don’t remember it. (Does that make sense?) And I try to focus on those feelings; I argue that indeed, that is the most important piece of the memory itself. Not what we ate or the embarrassing thing I did. But rather, it’s the flutter of excitement, the lightness of that moment I can feel even though I couldn’t tell you the year or where it was taken. I remind myself that that is what’s important: when I find myself smiling or laughing at a smorgasbord of tiny, faint memories.

It’s only recently that I’ve come to resent it. After all, it’s not just a night of drinking that I don’t remember; it’s a wedding, a baby shower, helping someone in a crisis. I’m ashamed because I love my friends dearly and I hate that I can’t share memories with them. I hate having to ask who this is or what’s this restaurant even though we have been there more than once. I’ll be talking to someone and say “well I’ve never done that,” and my friend will interrupt with, “yeah you have.” Luckily, I have years of experience playing a dolt, so I can usually save the situation.

And I’m angry. Because now that I want to live, (on most days.) I want to go back to loving people, having experiences, and being someone people can rely on for whatever they need. And friendships are built on the past; the moments we share form together to create the inner heart of the friendship itself.

I always hated pictures. I thought I was so fat and ugly that I avoided them. Often, I would agree and then sneak out just before someone took the shot. And now I regret that. Because even though I know I might look at the photo and think I look disgusting, it would have helped as a marker in my “emotional memory” bank. I was so busy hating myself, I missed a captured moment of love and laughter. Luckily my “regret” bank is open and operational.

I’m getting a neuropsychological test done next month. It just feels like things are getting worse. Mainly, my cognitive skills have slowed. I can’t find words; if I take a breath in a sentence, I forget what I was talking about; I find I can only do one thing at a time in terms of information absorption; the more I try to focus on someone speaking, the less I actually absorb. If I’m driving and you try to give me dates of when you’re visiting, it’s a waste of your time. I’m also slower and my concentration is for shit. That’s probably my meds. It’s annoying, but I can make it work.

Maybe I’m just an airhead – I believe that was one of my “titles” as a child. You take that natural trait and add medication and perfectionism, and maybe you get my situation. But whether I go to school or get a job, life requires memory – both the past and the present. I’m scared that I will go to work, and I won’t be able to remember things. My wit and humor, which I have relied on, can only get me so far before my dumb-founded stare avails my ignorance. If I go to school, I will be with some of the brightest minds in the world. It’s going to be fast and it’s going to be intense. I don’t know if I will have the brain capacity to keep up.

Memories would help.

I feel like I am missing parts of myself. Pieces of me literally blurred out like in the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Looking into the past can’t fix the present. But as I am becoming a “new” self without clinical depression, I find myself often asking “Who am I?” And I can’t seem to remember who I was, to help in the formation of who I am.

I miss my memories. I miss my life. Warts and all.