Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: The Process of Leaving A Therapist

I broke up with my therapist on Friday.

It’s my first real break-up (with a therapist or a partner). I’ve had relationships end with therapists in the past, but I either had to move to another state or did not like them and ended up “ghosting” them, allowing the relationship to die in absentia.

Nothing went “wrong.” We had been through a difficult period recently because my meds were off and I was in a deep, depressive state. Generally, I find therapy irrelevant when I am in a depressive episode because I don’t care enough to want to get better. We were struggling to try and keep me moving forward in my planning until my meds could eventually be sorted. But we had been here before in the two years we’ve been working together. That wasn’t why.

She has been away for two and a half weeks, and in that time, my psychiatrist and I have tried some new things, one of which seems to be working. It has made me feel stable enough to feel ready to take a step forward. I need to start volunteering, having informational interviews, and making tangible decisions to help build my life.

I believe the most effective way of taking that step is through DBT. It will help in creating goal-oriented behavioral techniques. I might be completely wrong, but it seems to be a good fit by helping with my interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation, and distress tolerance, while I take some terrifying initiatives. While I have done DBT modules and a little bit of coaching, I have never done DBT therapy. You legally aren’t allowed to see two therapists, and honestly, I can’t afford both of them. (Interns can still cost a pretty penny!)

I didn’t know when I was going to do it – tell her I wanted to stop. I thought I would chicken out but realized it would be silly to continue to see her for a few weeks, knowing that I was going to leave. I decided to see her last Friday and tell her then. I practiced how to say it on the car ride over – it never sounded right. But I somehow got it out.

She was proud of me. Two years ago, I would have never been able to tell someone something they didn’t want to hear but that I wanted. And honestly, she is a large reason that I am able to do that now (on certain occasions.) We discussed having a few sessions to deal with leaving, but I just needed to end it. She told me that her door would always be open – if it didn’t work and I wanted to come back, if I just wanted to do a bi-monthly check-in, or if I just needed a session to talk. She’s that awesome.

She asked me a few questions about what I thought I got from therapy and things I wish could have been different and then said some incredibly kind things. I knew I wasn’t actually processing any of it. I felt like I was watching it happen, almost like a scenario acted out in a dream. She opened the door at the end of the session and she said “Goodbye Ava.” No, “Have a good weekend and see you on Wednesday.” Just “Goodbye.”

It doesn’t feel real. As things occur each day, I think of telling her. I keep thinking I will see her Wednesday and tell her about an email I got from a friend and we will discuss my anxiety problems with money. But I won’t. The only comfort I can find right now is that after two years of working with her, I can almost hear her response when problems arise. I know the questions she would ask. The way she might challenge my assumptions. She has left an indelible mark on my recovery and in how I am learning to see my world.

In the car, I tried to quell my oncoming tears by acknowledging that we lose people all the time. I left all my friends. I didn’t “lose” them completely, but they are not able to be what I need anymore. People have died in my life. Stopped calling. I have had a loss, though I appreciate the difference in each, including this one.

I wonder when my brain will fully acknowledge this loss. Right now I find myself scared. I don’t know if I made the right decision or if I made it from the right place. But I know it feels right and while it may change things, for good or bad, she would want me to follow my intuition. Maybe I can hang on to the fact that it might just be a trial separation; that I can always go back if I need to. I try to remind myself that I was supposed to be in London today, unpacking and preparing for school, and I wouldn’t have seen her for a year.

So many people do not believe in the benefits of therapy. Others go once, do not like the person, and never give it a chance again. But some of us, if we’re lucky, get the unique experience of an objective, supportive, non-judgmental, safe person in our lives, that help us organize our racing thoughts, grieve our trauma and lost chances, help encourage our change and growth, challenge our misconceptions, show us glimpses of ourselves we cannot see, and sometimes, if they’re really good, gain our trust to help us believe we can have hope.

I will be forever grateful for the time I have had with my therapist, even if it’s not the end of our relationship. But if it is, I walk away with a better version of this “self” I am creating, because of her.

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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.

Loneliness: It’s Not Just for Recluses Anymore

More and more mental health professionals are citing lack of human contact as a contributing factor in depression and even trauma recovery. It has become an item on the list of “must-haves” for stability. And recently, I’m starting to wonder, as are my doctors, if my lack of human contact is starting to hurt my health and recovery. And I think, especially for a person like me who thrives in social environments where my true self comes out to play; having my interactions revolve around the checker at Safeway, the guy at the counter of my gym, my trainer, therapist, and psychiatrist, well it’s not really cutting it.

In fact, you know you’re in a deep vat of pathetic when the following happens to you. I met with my therapist yesterday. I didn’t really need to but I hadn’t left the house or talked to anyone and it was either see her or go to the gym. I got there and we talked through why my options for human interaction are so limited. At one point, she mentioned we had five minutes left, and we usually spend that time deciding what I’m going to do to survive until I see her again. (At least, that’s what we’ve been doing lately.) So I started jamming about television shows, then she jumped in; I mentioned websites I had visited to see if I wanted to volunteer and why they sucked, she mentioned a few. After a while, we were just shooting the shit and then she said she had to go because she had something to get to. And it hit me as I got in my car: my therapist just spent an extra half hour with me just so I could have someone to hang out with and talk to about stuff.

It was really kind, but also really sad. I appreciated it, especially because that is definitely not protocol, and also realized how nice it was to talk to someone I liked and with whom I share commonalities. But the thing is, while I really like her as a therapist and a person, I shouldn’t be getting my socialization requirements for my health from my therapist. I guess she was just throwing out a temporary life raft and I took it. I was embarrassed until I got home and realized that was my fill of person-time for the day.

There is such a huge divide between knowing what you can do, what you want to do, and what you are able to do. And for things to happen, there has to be a symbiosis, even if one is weak and you have to force it a bit. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m making excuses. Maybe this is my fault. But right now I am unsure of what I am able to do and a bit blank in terms of what I want to do.

I just feel like right now my goal for the day is to be alive, not harm myself, and do one or two effective things. I did have “leave the house” as one thing too, but it’s getting harder so I’ve put it in parentheses. (It’s in quotes here, but in parentheses in my mental to-do list. Just clarifying some minutiae.)

I miss the rush of making people laugh, of sincerely laughing my ass off. The joy of doing something silly or having a really good, solid conversation.

But even if I wanted that, I don’t think I could right now. So for today and possibly tomorrow, I’m just getting through the day. For now, it seems, that’s all I can, want, and am able to do.

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.

Looking in the Mirror: Seeing Yourself Through Others’ Eyes

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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.

The DBT Divas: When People Stop Being Polite, And Start Getting Real

The last session of the last module of DBT ended last week. And while I was thankful for a respite of the hour commute, I was sad. Not just because I like the idea of going to “class” and learning tools to help IRL. But also, I was sad about the idea of not seeing my peeps.

There’s a small group of us that started at the same time and have gone through all the modules together. While we don’t always go into the specifics of our lives, after a while, you start to pick up on what the person is going through. You get a general sense of their demeanor, their struggles, and what they are trying to get from DBT.

I don’t like group therapy. In fact, each time I have tried, I have walked out hating it more. But DBT is different. It’s not about sharing and commiserating, it’s about learning, practicing, reviewing together, and then trying again. DBT group relationships are not based on the connection of our misery; but on the connection of our growth.

Before it ended, we managed to get everyone onto a group text message. We even named ourselves the “DBT Divas.”We’re meeting on Wednesday at the time we usually have class and we’re going to take a walk. I’m not saying we are going to be besties, or that we even have that much in common. I also question how good it is for people who are in bad places to spend a lot of time together because it can be ineffective if you bring each other down. But because we met in DBT, we come together as survivors, not victims; and we are all fighting to get better, not to wallow in our misery.

So I hope in hanging out, we can learn more about each other, and maybe play through some of our personal scenarios, but I’m not proposing that we all get along and connect on a deeper level. I can already tell, from being in three modules together, all of us lead very different lives. A lot of us have the same diseases or are on the same meds or even have been through similar experiences, but that’s different than our personalities and the values of our lives. DBT is a tool for anyone, but it’s used differently by each person according to their specific needs.

I’m a little torn between whether this is a good or bad idea.

When you normally meet people, outside of a therapeutic environment, you take time getting to know each other. The conversation is light and general. Maybe the second time you meet, you share a little bit more about your day and in that, your personality and style becomes more apparent. And by the third friend date, maybe you float your mental illness subtly into the conversation. You see their response. It’s usually: 1) blank face of the terror of not knowing what to say; 2) “Oh, my cousin is crazy!” (ugh); 3) “My sister deals with depression”; 4) “I’m sorry to hear that” or, 5) “Oh, yeah, I actually have dealt with that too.” From there, you can kind of see the viability of a long term friendship. After all, it plays such a large part in your life, it’s going to come up.

And I could have a fascinating conversation with anyone I meet – I find people so interesting: their lives, how they speak, how they tell a story, their inflections, their beliefs, the background behind their beliefs. But when I meet people for the first time, it’s more like an examination and study, rather than a potential friend date. If they make me laugh or we seem to be on the same level, then I start to relax and think of it more as a step in the direction towards friendship.

But when I meet people through therapy, or groups, they already know I have been through some heavy shit, and I know the same of them. I have found a lot of people feel that connection and therefore think it’s ok to ask really personal questions – they want the whole story of how you got where you are; and they want to tell you about their illness. You miss the basics and dive right into the deep shit. I usually play along, but afterwards I feel raw – like a piece of me was taken before I had prepared to give it. I know I am sad to see them go, but I do wonder whether once outside the classroom, what will be the dynamic? If our connection is our struggle to stay above water, how do we go back to the first friend date material? Can a relationship start in the middle and go backwards? Or are we meant to have had this experience together and that’s that?

I guess I’ll know more on Wednesday night.

 

Facing Facebook: Lamenting the Losses of My Past Life

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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 Dilemma of Accountability and Mental Illness

There are a lot of shitty components to being mentally ill. But one of the hardest, at least for me, is identifying accountability.

Growing up, I was told I was too sensitive and empathetic. I didn’t know why, but I was lazy, a whiner, indecisive, a drama queen. I got sick a lot.

I hated myself. I mean every part of me – inside and out. What I looked like, things I said , things I wanted, both physical and emotional. I could not stand my personal evolution and I knew no matter what I did, I never would. So when things didn’t go my way, I understood my culpability.

And I blamed myself for all of it. Somehow the fact that there was nothing good in me, nothing worthy of life, was a weakness, a failure…and my choice.

Once I got diagnosed with my repertoire of mental disorders, I was told that so much of my life was not in my control. That my choices weren’t really mine because I wasn’t really myself. The way I felt was not my fault, but rather a consequence of my disease. Okay, that’s an oddly chilling concept, but I get it.

But I still made choices that affected others. Maybe my brain was not able to think “correctly,” but I still hurt people and my life by the decisions I made. When they say “it’s not your fault” is that entirely correct? I was thinking under a depressive hypomanic state, but I was still functioning. I have lost so many friends because I never returned phone calls, text messages, and emails. My reasons weren’t rational or healthy, but I still made those choices, and in doing so, I hurt them. (Sometimes to a point where I have found them unwilling to forgive.)

So where does the buck stop? Because unlike a cold, this isn’t going away. All I can do is temper and manage my brain chemistry, try and develop and practice techniques to help guide me, and hope I have the moxie to push through the torrential shit of life.

It may not be my fault that I thought that way, but I still feel I am accountable for my actions. I didn’t care at the time because I figured I’d be dead soon, but I am still responsible for the pain I may have caused others and the outcomes that now lay before me.

So where is this line between the disease and the person? Does it even exist? At what point is it me and not my illness? Or when is it not me, but my illness? How do I know with every decision and choice I make, if it’s truly “me” making it? Is it possible to not be responsible but still accountable? Who is to blame and who must handle the fallout?

Consider me befuddled.

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.

 

Can You Live With An Empty Soul?

Yesterday my therapist and I started to dissect my issues with intimacy. There’s a long road of traumatic events that have lead to my fear of getting close, both physically and emotionally with men. But as we reviewed components that have lead to my current, frustrating state, the rejection and dismissal by girls kept coming up. Because while I was dealing with my feelings about men, my wants and needs, the feeling of self-worth and value kept coming up – and a lot of that had to do with the rejection by girl friends.

I was friends with and then eventually cut off by a different group of people every year from second grade through seventh. Sometimes with a note, or just three people refusing to acknowledge my presence one day. Each time I joined a clique, after some time, I was told quite clearly that I was no longer wanted. After a horrific experience in seventh grade, I decided never to have “best friends” and just be friends with everybody.

I suppose the thing that crushed me the most was that I never knew why or was given any explanation for friends’ abandonment or sudden disgust with me. The first few times, I just felt confused, but after a while, I started to evaluate what I was doing wrong. What was it about me that made people, after a time, not want to be friends with me? What was so rotten inside me, that as soon as people started to know me, they wanted to flee?

I didn’t know what I was doing. So instead of trying to get people to like me and want me, I tried to get people to need me. Being a friend meant getting things for people, doing favors, embarrassing myself to ensure they laughed, helping them with boys, picking things up – whatever I could do that made me a convenient and helpful addition to their lives. This backfired at times, as some girls felt I was overbearing, trying too hard. I adjusted when that happened and eventually I found a way to balance helping people but giving them space long enough that they couldn’t get sick of me.

Looking back, I had convinced myself that I, as a human being, had no value to people. Just being me was not good enough. I had to earn friendship by providing something they needed. True friendship does involve giving – but it’s supposed to be two-ways. I always felt safer from rejection if it was one-way. In fact, I hated when people tried to do something for me or compliment me. Still, even doing this, people ditched me.

So now not only was it that I was of no value, that I was worthless; but there was something so disgusting and annoying about me, my giving just wasn’t enough. I was ugly, irritating, awful. Deep within the core of myself, there was something so bad, they couldn’t speak to me or sit with me anymore.

After the most painful rejection in seventh grade, I realized that limiting yourself to a few friends to have intimacy and closeness, was simply too dangerous. And for someone like me, to get too close and allow someone to see me, meant eventually they would flee. So I became friendly with everyone. I didn’t sit with anyone specifically. I spent the majority of my time making people laugh at my expense – but it worked. People thought I was “funny” and I was generally friendly with everyone. This continued in high school. I would have a few closer friends, but I often would distance myself if I felt we were spending too much time together, avoiding any chance of rejection. If I didn’t invest too much in them, and I still ensured my value by giving – whether that was providing a place to drink, or making snarky comments at the chemistry teacher, or railing on myself for my braces and fat, it was worth it to get them to laugh. If I could make them laugh or get them something, they would let me stay, and in that way, I could make myself of value.

But underneath that was the constant fear that they would find out I was worthless. That they would see this sickness in me, and run. By then, I stopped trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, and just accepted it was me as a whole, I was simply damaged goods. My goal was simply to hide my true self.

To this day, I feel fear in all of my relationships – with doctors, family members, the barista, and most importantly my friends. I only have a few friends, and they have stuck by me throughout my depression. But I am still scared to lose them. I find myself in the middle of a story horrified that I’m talking too much and trying to switch the subject back to them – people like being listened to and heard. I try to remember if I contacted them last, and will wait for them to contact me, lest I be hanging on them too much. And it’s why I hid and often continue to hide my mental illness. I talk about it, quickly, flippantly, and with humor, but in general, I skip by it quickly, don’t answer the phone, or just leave out the emotion or truly devastating fears. My best friend told me last year that she never knew so much and that she couldn’t help me if I wasn’t open to her. In the past year, I have tried to be more honest. The other day, I called her and cried on the phone, hysterically vomiting my thoughts and concerns. I apologized the next day and told her it was fine. I felt bad I had put her in a position where I needed something that no one could provide. I worry if you become a task too heavy, people will leave you, as my roommate and friend right after college did, by moving out of our apartment because she told me I was a “burden” and she couldn’t handle her own life because mine was so oppressive.

Obviously, if you think you have no value and that people are disgusted and want to leave as soon as they know who you really are, this is going to impact your sexual relationships as well. I have never really dated anyone. I have never had an intimate encounter sober. I haven’t had many to begin with, and some of them were assaults, so I’m not sure they count. There have been a few guys who liked me, but they were intense and they seemed to compliment me a lot. They kept saying how great I was, smart, pretty, and they had only been seeing me for a week. I broke up with those men. Partially because of my self-esteem and sexual intimacy issues, but mostly because I knew if they really “saw” who I was, beyond the humor and bullshit, they would see how hollow and truly pointless I was.

I think we are going to try and focus on my history some more and reinterpreting my thoughts. My issues with men are much more complicated, which is annoying given my love for them. But as I got into the car to drive home, it really actually hit me – what I had said about 10 minutes before the session ended. I have learned, from a very early age, that I add no value, and am either empty or bad inside. I am, by definition, worthless. And so much in my upbringing supported that conclusion.

My therapist asked me if I ever knew why people decided they didn’t like me. There is only one person I still know from that time period that was part of a group that cut me out. I feel bad, but about once a year I bring it up. I ask her to remember what it was that started the decision for the three of them to stop talking to me; to cough pig when I walked by. Who decided I was out and why? Was it something specific or my general personality? And why did she do it? Was it peer pressure or did she hate me as well? I just wanted to know what I did wrong for so many years, to try and have some understanding of why so many people left me. And every year, she pleads with me to let it go because she can’t remember. She isn’t sure who started it, and she isn’t sure why. There wasn’t a specific moment or a group meeting that she remembers. She just knows that it happened and she was a part of it. And that she’s sorry. And that by high school she thought I was really cool and wanted to be friends with me. I still can’t seem to satiate that need to understand and evidently it didn’t impact the people who did it to me enough to remember.

And now, through college and DC, and my depressive years, people tell me they wish I knew how great I was. That they don’t understand why I am so hard on myself, why I can’t see why I am so “amazing.” They tell me I am attractive, kind, funny, witty, smart, emotionally intelligent. They tell me there’s no reason I shouldn’t be in a relationship or try to make friends. And with every compliment, I feel sad because I have duped them as well. What they are seeing is what I choose to show them. But it’s all a charade, bullshit, a song and dance.

The truth is, I can’t decipher what is “really” me and what is something I do to make people accept me. Am I actually a person with some of those traits? Is that, at my core, who I truly am? Or is this all a sham, and behind it all is something truly ugly, something so terrifying, that the only person who really sees me is the depressive voice inside me that is the only real voice of truth. A part of me knows that that voice is my sickness, that it’s not real, but every time I listen to it, it has a point, and evidence to go along with it.

Maybe, I never developed a voice or inner being, what some see as a “soul.” Maybe I have no self-esteem or self-worth because I don’t have anything true and tangible to hold onto. I have spent so long developing what felt like facades for so long, I can’t tell if they are actually me, or still simply illusions. Could I just be, behind the green curtain, not a great wizard, but a silly, sad, insecure person, with nothing to show? Could my soul simply be an empty shell with nothing inside?