One Decision; Five Minutes in my Mind

Precursor: Why I’m Not Sure You’ll Ever Really Understand (to my friends who do not have a mental illness)

When you feel sad or uncomfortable, your first thought is: what can I do to alleviate this pain. That is my initial thought that gets quickly eaten by this Pac-Man thought of “You can’t fix this. You deserve this. You should feel worse. You will never fix this. If anything, you should feel worse.

I know that voice is wrong. I know it’s ineffective, hurtful to myself and others, perpetuating a whole host of problems that continue to get worse.

You’ve got to nip it early. When you first start to feel bad, that’s when you have to get out, do something, don’t let it hold you.

Sometimes at night, when the day’s over, and most likely ruined with disappointments of things I should or could have done, I think about the next day. How I can do things differently? How I can wake up and leave the house first thing just to get outside and breathe the fresh air? How I can without doing anything else, just put on my gym clothes and walk my half-awake self over and know whatever comes out of it, it’s better than nothing at all.

I can’t describe the frustration, the anger of wanting to hit myself, scratch my face, slap myself at the simplicity of knowing this to be true. Every time I read yet another article about how exercise could actually make my depression lessen, it seems so simple. “So your problem is you don’t exercise. You just need to move. You can do yoga inside. You can take a walk around the neighborhood. You can dance in your apartment. It’s as simple as that.”

And so this morning, I woke up with the intention of going to the gym. This is what went through my head. Don’t know if you relate, but this is just my thought process in deciding whether to leave the house this morning.

I said I’d go to the gym this morning and instead I slept in and now I’ve been at the computer for hours. I should go. I feel awful. My limbs ache, my neck hurts from sitting, my back hurt from arching. I can feel the energy in my body, vibrating, wanting to be set free. All I have to do is put on a bra and a pair of shoes, maybe a hat, oh and some water, and maybe a snack because I might go farther than I expect, and my wallet because what if I need to buy something or there is an emergency and I get hit, and a book if I decide to sit and read, and my phone and headphones, and of course an extra sweater and my keys and my headphones and probably a hat. I should probably put on sunscreen because even when it’s foggy out I can get those rays and they’ll just make me look older and less desirable.

Where am I going to walk? What if there are other people out there? What if they see me and I look disgusting. Maybe I should wash my face and put on moisturizer and brush my teeth because well, it’s kind of gross. Well maybe I should eat breakfast first – ugh, I feel so fat and yet I’m still hungry. Oh, I have to go to the bathroom, I have the worst cramps from overeating last night. I have no self-control. Why am I trying to punish myself? And I eat, I don’t need to, and then I hate myself. And I was just sitting there all night. I could have done homework, or taken a walk. I could have done art or called someone. I could have been effective.

What is this self-compassion thing anyway? An excuse to not do things that could make me feel better than just watching TV and wishing my life was different. I suppose it was fine to eat that first piece of bread but then I was so disappointed, for just failing yet another night. Why did I have to eat the other piece? And then at that point, I was so sad and angry and nervous about this lack of control, this fat beast with no self-control that will never look good enough and never be loved and never allow themselves to be loved or love themselves, so I ate the pistachios. Now I’m bloated and sitting here thinking about it just makes me fat.

Ok, so then I just have to open the door and lock it. I have to expose myself to the world. My fat, lazy, worthless, pathetic self to others. And maybe I will see someone who is young and maybe they don’t exercise but they still can look so amazing in their leggings. And how do they not show their underwear line? I’m so cheap-looking, I look like someone who is just so ugly and stupid and can’t even wear their underwear right. And people will see that and they will just think I don’t deserve to be outside walking. Or they will think I’m ugly and somehow just knowing they could think that just proves what I know to be true – that I am. And then it will be cold, it will hurt because it’s cold and because I still haven’t bought those over-pants because I’m too lazy and even when I could do it while sitting watching tv, I still do an NYTimes crossword which I’m not smart enough to figure out so I just cheat. So pathetic. But can’t even go on Amazon to buy the pants. Not that I have the money. And I’m so pathetic still getting money from my parents. And I spend too much while telling everyone how frugal I am because I can’t do basic math. And I have to just keep eating so I have to keep buying food. Because I’m selfish and fat and have no self-control.

Plus I have this homework. And it will probably take me longer because I keep procrastinating. And I won’t like what I write. And I can study for the quiz but how will I know if I’ve studied enough? I mean I’ve aced all the other ones but it will feel so awful to get it wrong when I know this stuff is so easy. But studying for it is better than reading the other stuff on counseling because that just makes me so scared that I can’t do this. And I have that mock this week. I’m going to fuck that up. I have no idea what to do. I don’t know how to set goals with clients, I’m horrible at that. It just doesn’t make sense. What if I’m not feeling good and I’m out of it and I just can’t think of anything to say or I do what I always do and drone on and on? I hate my voice. And I can’t believe how fat I looked on that last video.  I can feel my stomach fat.

I can’t believe I was in shape and I let it go. I worked so hard. I mean I still felt so fat and clothes still didn’t fit right but at least I was thinner than now. Now I have no muscle. I should try to just do some push-ups or sit-ups. Man, it’s going to be so depressing to not even be able to do one or two. I used to be able to do 16. I mean not well, I can never do them well. I can’t believe I thought I was so strong. I mean, I knew I wasn’t I just let others think I was. But I knew I wasn’t. I knew I was just skimming by. I do that with everything. Never fully committed. Always just doing the bare minimum to get by.

Why do I feel like crying? I’m so weak. I can tell people I’m depressed but they’ll still be disappointed and they probably won’t believe me. I ate that breakfast so fast. No wonder I’m fat. I don’t even know how to enjoy food. But honestly, it just doesn’t taste that good. I feel like people enjoy food, it tastes so good and I don’t. And I try to keep myself from eating foods that are fattening but I eat so much, I stuff myself because I’m weak and then I will keep gaining weight. Plus I don’t move.

My g-d, it’s been two hours and I haven’t left the house. And I have work to do and if I do go to that thing tonight, I have to give myself a half hour to get there. It only takes 10 minutes but what if there’s traffic, or I somehow get lost? Better to get there early and wait in the car. Well, it’s going to take me an hour to get ready. How does it take someone who barely does anything to get ready so long to get ready? I don’t shave my fat legs, I barely wear makeup. I could try to do something nice with my hair but what if it looks stupid and then everyone will say it looks nice because they’ll know I tried but it won’t look nice but I can’t say that to them because it sounds pathetic and self-serving like I’m asking them to say no, you really do look nice, even though I know I don’t. I know I say that to people sometimes just to make them feel better even if I don’t fully mean it. Who am I to judge other people? They still have a boyfriend and some self-respect and here I am judging their hair or clothes. When was the last time I went shopping? Not that I have the money to or that I’ll like how it looks.

Man, I feel sorry for myself. And why do I sweat so much? My clothes are going to just start smelling. It doesn’t matter the deodorant. I haven’t done laundry in two weeks. How can I not do it? It’s a building away. Why am I scared to do laundry? It feels like fear. If someone is in the laundry room, what if they rape me or what if they don’t and think I’m ugly. Well, which is it? Do you want them to find you attractive enough to rape or too ugly to even think about? My g-d that’s sick. You are seriously pathetic. I feel this deep pain, starting in my throat all the way down to my stomach and I think kind of in my thighs though that makes no sense. Are those nerves? Why am I sad? Maybe it’s energy which I could get out if I just left the house. But what if it doesn’t work? Besides, it’s not the gym and it won’t really help make me more fit. It’s all this anxiety of worrying that I will be attacked that people will judge me that I will judge myself for not walking long enough and for what? For the chance that I will feel better and then be more effective? I don’t know, last time I went I didn’t really feel better. And my knee kind of hurt. Of course maybe if I wore the right shoes and wasn’t so fat.

I need to buy new shoes but I don’t want to go to the store. My socks are old, my toenails are gross, and even though I waxed my leg, you can still see some. If I get a guy he’ll think I’m gross and if I get a girl she will judge me. What’s a fat girl doing getting athletic shoes? And they’re so expensive. What if they’re not comfortable but I have to wear them because they’re so expensive? And mom will joke that I will return them but it isn’t really a joke because I probably will. Why am I so indecisive about the dumbest shit?

Is there a dead rat in the wall or is that me that smells? If it’s a dead rat I have to call maintenance and then someone has to come in here. If I’m not here, then they are privy to all my stuff. But if I am here, what if they hurt me? But would they? Is that arrogant to think that? It’s awkward anyway. And if there isn’t a rat, that’s embarrassing and if there is, they’re going to look through all my stuff. And I am so disorganized because I’m lazy. Why didn’t I kill myself? Oh please like you could make that strong of a decision but you find picking out fruit overwhelming. Why do you make everything such a big deal? You must be so exhausting to other people. Who wants to be around someone that complains constantly, that makes everything such a production. You are so needy, you are such a child.

Are you going to blame this somehow on your childhood? Honestly, grow up. I wish you were strong enough to either kill yourself or at least hurt yourself. But if you’re going to do it, do it with something that will help you – like exercising too much or anorexia. Cutting is so pointless. You never do it right – you see those teens and how much they cut – that’s real pain. Remember how you told everyone and it made them so freaked out? But you didn’t even do it well. And now you’ve scared people away. You are a bullshit artist. All I want to do is get under my covers and just watch some tv. But what if later I regret that? Wasting all that time when I have work to do and then I’m going to be stressed out because I have all this work and no one to blame but myself? But is this work even important? Am I learning anything?

Oh my g-d, I have so much work to do. I have all those papers and I have to find articles. I have to go to that meeting but I just don’t want to leave the house. There’s so much to do to leave the house. And I just feel so sad. And angry. I’m such a pathetic broken record. And I’m so fat.

Fuck, it’s been two hours. I’m never going to the gym now. This is my fault. I mean, it doesn’t feel like I can, I don’t know how to explain that to people, like, I just feel too anxious, scared, ugly, fat, worthless, pathetic to leave the house. I can’t call anyone because I don’t even know how to explain this to them. And they won’t understand. I barely do. Is this an illness or am I just a spoiled brat? How can a house be so boring and yet so messy and disorganized? Remember when you used to be organized? When you were super depressed but still high functioning? Maybe being severely depressed was better for you. Now you’re just pathetic.

Maybe the meds are working, you’re just scared to handle life. You’re making this up. Or maybe you’re forcing it to happen. What if one day they do a test and you don’t have a chemical imbalance and they tell you that you have been lying. But like, this doesn’t feel right. I mean I suppose it is under my control but I can’t do it. I am too weak. I swear I want to. I want to go to the gym. I can feel that. I just can’t seem to and now I have to do work. I just want to watch TV. Maybe if you were more effective you wouldn’t feel that way. You did this. I know it doesn’t feel that way but you did. Why are you so weak?

I can’t believe I’m going to cancel tonight. I can say it’s a migraine. They won’t believe me. I want to see those people but I can’t. I don’t know why it has to be so complicated but it is. Maybe I’ll feel better later. Of course, if I stay in the house all day I probably won’t. I wish someone would come pick me up. I wish someone would come take a walk with me. I’m so lonely. I can’t ask. Who am I going to ask anyway? Only person who would do that is mom and I would feel so guilty but also pathetic – I need someone to come to get me to take a walk. How can I be 37? What a waste.

I did that assignment though. I mean, not well and it’s really small and there’s that larger one I’m avoiding. Why can’t I appreciate the little things? I’m so ungrateful. My back hurts. G-d, I hate myself so much. I feel this rage inside, this little creature inside. I want it to tear my body apart, to tear me apart from the inside out. At least then I will have a reason to feel pain. My eyes are tearing up. I’m so exhausted.

I wonder if I’ll leave the house today. If I don’t, I probably won’t leave tomorrow. Fuck, I have work on Monday. I hope my clothes fit. I hope I have the energy to do it. I hope I don’t fuck it up. Jesus, it’s Saturday. Why don’t you just try to not fuck up today? I can’t stand not knowing what will happen today. This is my life and I’m wasting it one day at a time. How am I going to explain this to them? I’m so weak. Worthless. And I still haven’t gone to the gym.

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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.

 

Food: A Necessity and Nemesis

foodThe ups and downs of my mental illness have added additional complexity to my relationships with family, friends, work, and…food – my constant nutritional foe.

Recently, a close friend and I were discussing our travails with food and he pointed out the key problem with food addiction. So dig: to break free of addictions to drugs and alcohol, you rid your life of the drugs completely. You might have to change the people you hang out with, the places you go, and any other tempting habits you have formed that may lead you astray. (I in no way am presuming this to be a simple or easy task). The point is to never go back, not even for one sip or hit – you must learn to exist without it. The problem with food addiction is that you can never truly “rid” yourself of the temptations – be it situational, psychological, or physical – because you need food to survive. A true catch-22.

For me, around the age of eight, I became overweight and my relationship with food was soon tarnished with guilt, shame, and anger. Every time I ate something, I blamed myself for perpetuating my looks, even though in retrospect, I’m pretty sure it was just the pre-puberty baby cheeks that had yet to disappear. Every time I ate, I disappointed myself because I was convinced I didn’t earn it. At the same time, I would punish myself for my failure by then purposefully over-eating. I never understood why the majority of my classmates were thin and were able to ate more than me or eat candy without gaining weight. I never understood what I was doing wrong, but nevertheless, blamed myself for it.

We had a family crisis when I was in fourth grade, and I think that’s when I started using food to somehow push down my pain. If I could eat enough, I would feel physically sick – something I could capture, unlike my emotional pain. During high school, when both my family and school life felt amiss, I craved not only the attention of boys, but also a way of feeling in control. I would try to gain this control by not eating. And then when I would eventually fail, I would binge, perpetuating the cycle of my unhealthy relationship with food.

I’ve also never been comfortable eating around people. I have always had an overwhelming fear that people look at me, no matter what I am eating, and think to themselves “Well no wonder she is overweight – she eats!” If anyone is trying to argue rationality for this issue, it’s never going to work. I still can’t eat in a restaurant by myself, and am uncomfortable eating around people I don’t know. But trust me, it pisses me off to be my 30’s and still be ashamed and disgusted to the point where I don’t believe I deserve to eat.

Throughout my twenties, I attempted to develop a positive relationship with food. I had been pescatarian, then vegetarian, which led me to veganism. I really liked being vegan because I felt like my ethics/values were finally matching up with my eating habits. I also tried a variety of exercise routines to try and balance the alcohol and food I ate. Still, I would be lying if I didn’t say they also served as a way to restrict my diet and lose weight.

The first year after I had quit my job and moved home, I was living alone and hardly left the apartment, i.e. barely moved for weeks at a time. Because I was alone it was easier to binge and I gained a lot of weight. After a year, when I decided to do ECT, I moved in with my parents, and started my weight loss through Weight Watchers. It was exciting to feel like I could have a sense of control without necessarily starving myself and it gave me realistic goals I could achieve that were small enough to not be too overwhelming.

Unfortunately, when ECT stopped working (thank you bipolar II,) I started trying new (and old) medications again. Within two months on one medication, the 30 lbs I had lost over the eight months on Weight Watchers was back without a change in diet or exercise. It was so sudden: one day, I wasn’t wearing gym clothes or pajamas, and none of my clothes fit. While weight gain is difficult for any woman, mental illness or not, I think because of my insanely deep self-hate, this hit me especially hard.

Lately, while I have been eating healthy and exercising, I have had a few nights of bingeing. I know this happens to all of us. But when it’s three or four nights in a row, that’s a red flag for me. I know it means I am super-anxious and feeling out of control. But I think it’s less the food (though it does not help the scale) and more the process of bingeing and the shaming that goes along with it that’s so frustrating and upsetting.

After all, I spend each day trying to keep my head up, maintain order, patience, and balance – keys to what I imagine keeping myself in a healthy place will require and therefore must be developed into rote habits. So when I binge at night, I’m falling into old traps of self-hate eating. Without alcohol, men, or cutting, food is the last resort of self-harm. And that is why bingeing is more than just knowing I need another 10 minutes on the treadmill. It means I am not as strong as I want to be. I am not as stable as I wish I could be to move forward in other parts of my life (developing a social life, hobbies, and perhaps a job.)

I have started back on the path to losing the weight I gained on that awful medication, but as usual, everything takes longer (thank you aging). I’ve read so many articles about weight loss and gain; loving your body and yourself; whether women can ever truly accept their body, etc. and have been trying to find a place where I fit. (Those articles can blow me.) I’ve known since I was quite young that having a healthy relationship with food would never happen nor would ever really be the goal. I know that when I look in the mirror I will always see the fat, no matter how thin I am.

Given that my relationship with food is more than just about what the scale says, and also knowing that I won’t ever be fully in control of my addiction because I will always need food in my life, makes it even more difficult. But I guess it’s true – it’s a process I have to deal with day by day, and frankly, for someone that is banking so much on her future, I guess it’s just hard to swallow.

Self-Medicating: How Can Something So Right, Be So Wrong?

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Mental illness or not, we all do it. No, I’m not talking about masturbation – I’m talking about self-medicating.

Life is a stressful, complicated, big blob of fear, anxiety, and failure, wrapped in a bomb with an unknown time limit before explosion and death. It’s no wonder people need a way to relax.

For some, they go the way of meditation, aromatherapy, yoga, acupuncture, natural and prescribed medications, exercise, and healthy eating – and I am in no way knocking these things. In fact, I have tried, and am doing, the majority of them. But sometimes, it’s not enough. And especially if you working with the complexity of life and a mental illness, it can be too much to balance with breathing exercises and a downward dog. Besides, medications are expensive and as I mentioned in my last post, take time, are unreliable, and have major side effects.

So we try to self-medicate first. For me, it started with food. I could stuff myself with food and just before I thought I would throw up, stuff myself some more. Then, by the time I got to high school and was constantly trying to lose weight, it became anorexia – trying to see how little I could eat to see how much control I could gain. But there was also alcohol and drugs. And it’s not like someone was asking me if I was okay because everyone was doing it, it never impacted my grades, I never got busted, drank and drove, or made those mistakes that some Beliebers do.

In college, I would outdrink the guys next to me and then make out with a few – trying my best to convince myself I wasn’t the ugly, worthless piece of shit I knew I was. It never quite did the trick and since I was too much of a control freak to sleep around, I started to wonder how I was going to find my release.

Somewhere around sophomore year, I found cutting, or as some call it “self-mutilation.” It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It was the point I realized I needed therapy but it was also when I finally found a self-medication that did what I needed. I’ve tried to explain cutting to many, and I’ve learned from others that like most things, it’s different depending on the person. But I can tell you what it gave me, and why to this day I still miss it. But more on that later.

I know people self-medicate in different ways that take them on much more intense addictive paths. These paths exacerbate their psychosis, and can lead to, for example, homelessness, violence, and abusive relationships. While I know that prescription medications are not a cure-all (I’ve been “unlucky in love” with most of mine,) I think the difference is that self-medication is a short-term fix while medication and therapy seek to find a long-term solution. And given how exhausting this process is, I think the latter is what we’re truly looking for on this journey.