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.

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The Rights of An Individual Within The Family System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Who Says Honesty is the Best Policy: Admitting My Illness to Others

Some say that the key to true advancement (in terms of research and respect,) in mental illness is to break down the stigma and ignorant assumptions currently held in our communities. Many believe this can be done by humanizing the disease; having those who suffer mental illness “come out” and tell their stories; attach faces to the disorders; and speak the truth to deconstruct the myths that pervade.

I have already mentioned my struggle with this action in previous posts. As a civil rights activist, history shows the power individuals can have in changing perceptions and thus enable progress for their causes. Mental illness is being talked about, but I believe those who suffer (with the disease or as a partner/friend of someone who is suffering,) have the true power to guide and change the conversation to address what we in the community want others to know.

And while I fight for other oppressed and discriminated groups, I, for the most part, do not associate with my disease. In fact, I find myself often frustrated by the limitations I feel are caused by this invisible illness and struggle that whether silent or loud, I often feel as if I lose either way.

When I first moved home, I told people that I had come home to help my parents, as they were older and needed help. This worked with people who didn’t know that while my parents are older, they definitely don’t need my help. I also avoided any public situations by never leaving my house. While I was doing ECT, I thankfully didn’t go out much. I tried to start a new job while I was still weaning off of ECT, and luckily I had only been out of work a short amount of time, so I could use the “I wanted to come back to California and be close to my family” as reason for the break in my work resume. As miserably depressed as I was, as sick as I felt, I have to say it at least felt better being able to talk to someone and be living on my own and with a job. I knew I could bullshit and charm the rest of the conversation. But when I quit my job in Santa Cruz and they re-diagnosed me and told me ECT was no longer a viable option, I was fucked.

I wasn’t working, I was living with my parents, my drugs weren’t working, I had no hobbies and no friends, I was once again cocktailing some new drugs for my new disease, and I wasn’t 22, I was 32. See at 22, you tell people you are not working and living at home, and they understand you are saving money and trying to find your way. At 32, people wonder how bad you fucked up.

While I have been living on my own for a few months now, have at least one hobby, and some possible future plans, I still find these conversations difficult. I have started to tell people that I have an illness that I have been suffering from for the past three years. That in fact, I had it in DC and it got so bad I had to come home. I had been misdiagnosed and therefore was still too ill, but the doctors now finally have found a concoction that seems to have quieted my condition for now and I am now beginning to get back on my feet again. It’s horrible, but I think I frame it to sound as if I have cancer or a disease that can be in remission but come back. While it’s true that I do have a condition that is currently being controlled through medication, I will always have it, and it can always come back. It does destroy my life, my body, my future, and can be lethal. So I imagine people think it’s more like cancer because they are not used to seeing depression as a life-long disease that one must constantly fight.

Sometimes I forget to use it, and I end up with the “um…you know…I’m living on my own…looking at things.” Now that I got into the Master’s program, I tell people I’m preparing for that even though I’m not even sure I’m doing it. I have a job one day a week for a few hours and sometimes I make it seem like that’s my “job” and I do it full-time. So I’m lying. And maybe that’s ok because they don’t really care and they’re just being polite before they can talk about themselves, but I feel like a fraud and I realize I am ashamed.

While depression and other mental illnesses get compared to other diseases, I still think it’s validity is ranked pretty low, and so the process of telling someone is different. I do tell a few people about it, but I’m pretty particular with whom I tell. I can usually pick up on people’s vibe based on their reaction and opinions to other issues. If someone is bitching about how “lazy” poor people are, I personally don’t think they are going to like that I am on disability when I seem just fine to them. (I also don’t really want to talk to them because they’re ignorant, rude, and have no idea about the world.) When to tell is a question I’ve explored with friends in reference to dating (which I don’t do, but speculate about a lot just in case I’m ever ready). When is the right time to tell someone about your disease? How important is it for them to know about it? After all, it doesn’t define you, but I know at least in my life, it has definitely shaped who I am.

When I have told people, I have to admit it is pretty hilarious. Damn, do people get uncomfortable. Especially if they aren’t familiar with mental illness or think it’s a crock of shit. It’s like they are trying to pretend they are cool with it with their eyes wide open but don’t realize that the rest of their face has started to slowly droop in slight horror/uncomfortable awkwardness. Their smiles just kind of melt a bit. Some throw out that they know someone who was schizophrenic, or that a month ago they had a really bad week and just couldn’t get out of bed. Those people are sweet. Way off the mark, but definitely E for effort. There are people who nod and perhaps try to look concerned, and then change the subject to “what’s in my future” as if clearly since I’m standing before them, I’m fixed. The best is people who turn into doctors telling me that I should really try seeing a chiropractor or get a sun lamp in my room. ‘Cuz I’ve never tried any other possible solutions in the past and shit, good thing I met you – who knew this whole time while I’ve been lying in my bed for weeks crying and wanting to die, I just needed to use a sun lamp more. I don’t know if it’s being in California, but if one more person recommends a fucking vitamin because my medications are really the pharmaceuticals way of getting my money, I’m going to open-hand slap them. Ok, I’m not, but I’m going to imagine doing it.

See, that’s the thing. Me “standing up” and trying to tell people that the person standing before them, who looks “normal,” doesn’t make them understand mental illness any more than before. When those people try to tell me to try homeopathic remedies and I explain I have tried everything in the book, but that I am missing neurons, that there are chemicals that I do not receive and therefore cannot see the world or operate in it the way they can, they still don’t get it.

Maybe it’s scary to others, but I don’t get why. They know they can’t catch it. I’m pretty sure they’ve figured out that I’m not going to lash out in anger or get on a chair and start singing show tunes. Sometimes I try to push and I explain to them what bipolar II is – I usually make it a joke to try and lighten the mood – to try and let them know I am comfortable talking about it. I often find myself making light of what I’ve been through, which I later berate myself for – because fuck them. Why should I have to tone down the severity of my illness for their comfort.

Yes, I know I am going back and forth. In one paragraph talking about the shame of my illness and guilt to others. And then in the next, telling them to fuck themselves because it’s a valid disease and if they don’t like it they can go find someone else who’s fucked up for different reasons.

I know we have to stand up. I know we have to tell our stories. I know we have to show the face of our disease – to try and make others understand, even a little, about what we face. But I’m telling you, if one out of every four people has some sort of mental illness, than I must be speaking to the three other people.

I am an activist. I believe in education and empowerment. I believe that people who are mean and close-minded, just don’t have the proper information or haven’t seen the issue from a different perspective. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt that inside, they are perhaps afraid of what they don’t know, and especially of what they can’t see. I know what they see on television is a distorted view of the reality, and that the majority of people get their information from their television. I talk to people all the time about policing, racial profiling, gender discrimination, class discrimination, education inequality – and I speak from my heart and I look at them with hope that they will listen, and ask questions, and try to see what I see.

But then I look at mental illness. When I try to put it in the same framework, it doesn’t seem to fit. What am I doing wrong? Is it because it’s so invisible? Is it because it’s so diverse? Is it because there’s too little known? I try to put it as an issue I might train on (I used to train heads of organizations on how to teach their communities about specific civil rights issues) and think about what outreach I would recommend, what language I would use, what stories I would tell. And I know that I would tell people to focus on relatable stories. That facts and figures don’t matter until later. To get people to care, you have to make them feel the issue. To be able to put it in a way that they can understand – put them in the shoes of the issue, so to speak. In fact, I bet you I could write up a training on mental illness and put together some wonderful stories and workshops to help people get more comfortable.

But I know if someone asks me what I’ve been up to, I’m not going to tell them that I have been suffering from bipolar II and trying to rebuild my life. Perhaps it’s shame embedded within me. Perhaps it’s fear of judgement. But either way, I’m angry at myself, sad, and incredibly disappointed. I tell people to do their best to practice what they preach. I’m such a fucking hypocrite and I don’t know exactly why or how to change.

I apologize to all of you. I’m just going to add this to my list of shit to figure out.

What do you do? How do you handle social situations? Do you feel the need to be an agent of change? Do you feel responsibility for the education of our illness? Do you feel that people treat you differently once they know you have a mental illness? Any thoughts on what we should be doing about this?