New Scientific Possibilities for Help, But Not Hope

Sometimes I question whether I just wasn’t made for this world. That perhaps I was born defective and unable to survive. Many people are born with parts of their body that didn’t fully form or formed differently; some without the necessary components to function or function fully. And lots of people, who may have these differences, adapt and manage, and do not let their difference stop them from enjoying all life has to offer.

But my “defect” is in my brain, and I can’t seem to find a way to adapt or manage on my own. Often times, there are devices and tools to support and help in this process. I have tried the “devices” for my impairment: medications, ECT, exercise, diet, sleep, and a variety of therapies, to try to work with what I have been given. But for some reason, my brain remains resistant to change, unable to manage and function at a level that is personally acceptable.

It’s been exhausting – the entire process. And since I was in my late teens/early 20’s, I never thought I could make it to 35. I assumed my body would simply get too tired of the pain and stop working, or I would have to help do it myself. But even with these dark thoughts, every so often, there were flashes of hope; moments of a belief that things could get better. And so here I am – three weeks into 35, with a new possibility for change at my chemically-enhanced door.

I have had a good year and a half where I seemed to have found a concoction that made me feel more stable. Not perfect – I still dealt with mood swings, depressive dilemmas, and uncomfortable side effects – but enough to make me hopeful that I could work to form a functional and fulfilling life. Then we changed a medication, and the past three months have been a clusterfuck of mood swings, depression, and a melange of side effects. We hit a road block in terms of options and so a few weeks ago, my doctor conferred with her colleagues to see what ideas they may have for bipolar II medication-resistant treatment.

When I saw her last week she told me about two new scientific advancements that could drastically help me get better. (Please forgive my explanations, as I am still learning.)

The first suggestion is a test for genetic markers that show what medications work best in an individual’s brain. There are five markers and they are able to indicate drugs that will work; some that might work; and others that won’t. I found a website of a company that does it called Genesight. I don’t know if this is the company my doctor is referring to – but the hope is that with this test, we will stop having to do so much guesswork with my meds, and may find out if some are actually decreasing the positive effect of other drugs in my system.

The other suggestion is the use of folate. We all know about folic acid. (Okay I didn’t, but everyone else seems to refer to it like I should.) Doctors encourage women who are pregnant to use it to help with a fetus’ growth and have noted that it could help with growth and rehabilitation of other cells. If I were to just ingest folic acid, it would go through my blood stream and I would pee it out. However, this new folate supplement called Deplin specifically goes into the brain blood stream. Evidently, by delivering the folate directly to the brain, it helps with your body’s ability to absorb medications. So for me, while I have slightly benefited, my medication is still not being fully absorbed, and therefore, I’m not actually getting the full impact of the medications.

After explaining these ideas to me, my psychiatrist asked me if I felt hopeful.

The genetic markers sound interesting, though I feel like it isn’t going to be that helpful. I suppose it would provide me with the peace of understanding that there are genetic reasons why I am resistant to so many medications. And perhaps provide new ideas for medication usage. The Deplin definitely sounds too easy. The idea that a supplement is going to help engage my medications and that would help me feel better – I suppose it just sounds too good to be true. Then again, I know people who take incredibly small amounts of anti-depressants, and it changes their life. I find myself skeptical, but willing to give it a try. However, I would not say I am hopeful.

Hope is a complicated emotion for me. I don’t always have control over my hope – sometimes I can feel it behind my cynicism, trying to push through, small bursts getting by, evoking images of peace and contentment. But through the years, it has become an enemy of my depression – spreading fallacies of possible happiness into my brain, only to be devastatingly wrong.

I remember when I started to feel better after a few weeks of ECT. I was ecstatic because I had finally found something that would allow me the chance to have a life worth living. The short term memory loss was a bit annoying, but at the time, it was a small price to pay to have the heavy pressure of depression lifted. I’d found the “piece” that I was born without, that would make me whole – the component that would provide an adaptation to survive. And then it stopped working. And then I found out it wouldn’t work anymore, no matter how many times I tried. And then I was expected to go back to the medication drawing board and start again.

I would say that’s when my trust of hope died. That’s when I started to wonder if I was just too broken, the deficit irreparable and too impairing for me to ever be able to have dreams again. Hope had hurt me one too many times. So am I hopeful? All I can give right now is that I’m not NOT hopeful. I’m open to being pleasantly surprised, but I’m not running around telling the world to watch out because I’ll be out there soon! I have a feeling even if the Deplin works, I will still need to make changes to my meds, there will still be quite a bit of side effects, as well as possible withdrawal and mood swings. I am not naive enough to think that this is “my piece” anymore. But if my doctor is telling me that my what I was feeling this past year was only a fraction of the medication working and that I could feel better than that, I’ll swallow the pill faithfully, I’ll change the dosages, I’ll try medications again, I’ll do whatever it takes. At this point, what do I have to lose?

While some people believe that hope takes less energy than despair, I think there is a key component to that theory that often gets overlooked. Because when you are in the despair, you have to work to get to that hope, and you have so many factors against you. To reach a place of hope you must push through the exhaustion, find a way to ignore all past failures, and find the strength to block out the despair that radiates throughout your body and mind, draining you, beating you down, offering the temptation of rest.

I imagine myself on the side of a sea cliff, trying to pull myself up to get to safety, knowing that if my muscles get too tired; if I miscalculate one move; or a piece of the cliff simply loosens and drops, I could fall quickly into the dark, depressive water below, possibly being killed on impact. I wait, terrified, for a surge of strength or an outreached hand.

I want to have hope that I can feel better and find a new normal that doesn’t include dire mood swings and hypomanic bursts. I want to believe that help is on its’ way. But hoping for help doesn’t save me. And frankly, I’m getting really tired of holding on to this “sea cliff,” waiting for the moment when I can stand on firm ground.

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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.

Redefining Independence Day: Celebrating My Break-up With Depression

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life Lessons I Have Found Through Spinning

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I couldn’t find a realistic picture of someone spinning, so I had to just go with the bike by itself. FYI: if you’re smiling while spinning, you are doing something wrong.

I fell in love with spinning about two years ago. I’m not talking about Soul Cycle where you are in lines next to people like factory-farmed pigs, and the person leading the class has maybe 1% body fat. I’m talking YMCA spin classes with people over 60. I’m talking, waiting until a room is open, and spinning alone.

Spinning, for me, is about being healthy, getting rid of anxious energy, and letting out endorphins. And perhaps more importantly, it is about deciding what challenge I want and choose to achieve that day. I realized recently that spinning actually serves as a fantastic analogy to the work I am doing in my life outside the gym. I never thought sitting on a stationary bike could provide life lessons, but it really does.

Here are some examples:

~ Life is a personal challenge. It’s not about what the people around you are achieving or what their goals are. You set your own expectations.

~ You are allowed to change your “goal” as many times as you want, whenever you want. Some days, you are not going to be able to do as much as you thought you could. And that’s okay. That’s what tomorrow, next week, or next month is for. You decide what you can do today. Because living is fluid, changeable, and varied. And if that change is permanent, if the expectation was unreasonable or no longer viable, it doesn’t mean you have failed. You just need to change your perception and definition of your “goal,” or maybe even decide you don’t want one.

~ Some days, you will push yourself farther than you can imagine, and other days, you just have to show up. Both are accomplishments.

~ You are not alone. You are surrounded by others who face their own challenges and there is power in that. However, just because you are together, doesn’t mean your challenges, decisions, or choices are the same. Nor should they be.

~ Sometimes, you may feel that no matter how hard you work, you’re not moving forward or improving; that you’re stuck in a stationary place. Just keep at it. You are changing and becoming stronger through your efforts, even if it feels like you aren’t going anywhere.

~ If you can just get on the “bike,” you may be surprised at how far you can push yourself; the work you are capable of doing; and how good you can feel. Trying is an accomplishment all on its’ own. Acknowledge your effort, not just the end goal.

~ Some days are just shit. They’re boring and hard and annoying. Try to be compassionate towards yourself.

~ Sometimes you need a few days to step “off” and relax. Giving yourself breaks are an integral and necessary part of the process – they are not failures.

~ Some days it’s going to feel easy, like you’re on a flat, straight path; and some days that hill is going to feel so hard, it’s going to take all you’ve got to not give up. Just do what you can.

~ You don’t know what is going to happen or what you might achieve until you start. Some of your best days may be on a day where you feel tired or off. If you can just get on the bike, you may surprise yourself. You won’t know until you try.

~ There is more than one definition of success. You can define it. You can change it. And you can work to reach it, day by day.

~ This shit is hard. It takes tenacity, time, good and bad days/weeks, acceptance of change, and self-care. It’s sweaty and exhausting. It’s not always fun or fulfilling. You can only do what you can or want to do in that moment, and that is good enough. Just keep spinning/living.

The ironic component to this post, is that lately I have gotten so sick of spinning. I feel like my motivation has just died out. I’m going to try and go to more classes and see if I can recharge and rev up some enthusiasm. I have to accept that it’s okay if I can’t do it alone. Sometimes you need to be buoyed with support from others to make it through. See, look at that! There’s even a lesson in my anti-spin feelings.

Now, if I can just believe all the things I just wrote. ;)

Decisions: Jumping Into An Ocean of Unknown Outcomes and Consequences

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I’m getting tired of all these life decisions. I don’t know what’s more irritating: knowing I have to make them and not knowing what to do; or watching myself avoid them like the plague. Both make me feel like shit. I’m ashamed because for so long I was embarrassed that I didn’t have a life and now I technically have the power to create one, and I’m too lost and scared to make one. I also feel like everyone is waiting to see what happens. After all, I have never actually been this way before – so if I do go out in the world, will I be strong enough? Will it have been too soon to leave the cocoon? Will I survive or come home nine months later like I did after the ECT treatment three years ago?

I know everyone has to make life decisions. I guess I’ve always been a fan of letting them be made for me – either by others or by fate. Sometimes if you just wait long enough, you are automatically put into a situation based on timing and don’t really have to decide anything. I guess that was how I felt with London. If I just kept doing the bare minimum but not overthinking it, September would come and I would be on the plane and that would be settled.

I am suspicious of this new possibility of not going to London, but seeking a different path, because I thought of it when I was depressed. So I suppose there’s a part of me that questions if it was made of sound mind or if this is some elaborate attempt to sabotage myself. I have written out pro and con lists and thought through the goals and outcomes for each situation. Obviously, both have their share of good and bad possibilities. Some say the good news is that neither would be a mistake since they are both incredible opportunities, but clearly they have never dealt with depression and anxiety.

I haven’t worked since 2012. Since then, my memory has decreased, my cognitive skills have slowed, and I live a simple (sometimes empty,) life. While I have grown stronger without clinical depression, I almost feel more fragile – not knowing if the strength I have built to help me go to the gym and make appointments will be enough in the real world of jobs, people, men, and life.

I suppose since I made the decision to accept defeat and come home, I have doubted my ability to handle myself. Perhaps that is why I stayed in California for my job after ECT – so that if I fell, I would be close to home. And I did, so I suppose that was convenient. But perhaps having that “safety net” actually made it worse because it allowed me to stay closer to the possibility and comfort of depression, knowing home was just two hours away.

It’s odd given that when I was younger and incredibly depressed, I handled all of this. Not well mind you, but I knew it was something I had to do, so I did it. Part of what I think kept me going when I was in NY and DC when I was younger, before the breakdown, was that I was on my own (without my family,) and independent. I was scared of everything in life, but I didn’t have anyone to hold my hand, so I either did it or didn’t. I was forced to make decisions, good and bad, throughout my illness. And while some of those decisions were ineffective and harmful, they were still decisions. And I suppose I know how to make decisions from a depressed state of mind. I’ve been doing it since I was a child. I developed a system for life within my depression to make myself function – at least at work and in public. But I am not that person anymore and while I am grateful for that, I am really scared. I don’t know how strong this person is. I know, like all new things, you really don’t know until you try. But I also guess there is a part of me that knows deep down that if I fall, I don’t know if I will be able to get up or want to.

When I became depressed a few weeks ago, it became clear to me that I couldn’t go back to feeling that way. I couldn’t go back to a life where I was unable to leave the house, answer the phone, shower, or clean, with a constant desire to hurt and ruin myself in whatever way possible. I told myself when I was 33 that I wouldn’t live a life like that past 35. And now I am turning 35 in August and I feel like I’m teetering.

I’m pretty sure the medication regimen I’m on is working, at least for now. I know the majority of the issues that I believe are causing me anxiety and depression, are big, and anyone, depressed or not, would be having a difficult time facing them.I am aware that there is no reality where I will not carry my bipolar II with me. There will be no decision I can make with complete confidence that I will make it. And I know that no one faces life’s challenges with a blank slate. We all go into our life with our past, our weaknesses, our strengths, our doubts. Everyone spends every day of their life jumping into an ocean of unknown outcomes and consequences.

I guess I’m just really scared that if I jump, I’m going to drown.

Food for Thought: Portrayal of Disabilities in Movies

(I generally avoid posting opinions on controversial issues. However, this really seems more like an educational opportunity rather than an attempt to incite. Also, I suppose there is a spoiler here…but honestly, just watch the trailer and you’ll know it anyway.)

I read the book ‪#‎MeBeforeYou‬ when first came out and cried my eyes out. However, it wasn’t until the movie version recently came out that disability activists thankfully opened my eyes to the unfair messaging the movie makes in regards to quadraplegics/people with disabilities.

Not only did I realize the horrific implication in the story that living with a disability like quadraplegia makes life “not worth living,” the actor who plays him, Sam Claflin, isn’t even a quadraplegic. Then I saw the trailer for the new movie ‪#‎TheFundamentalsofCaring‬. As much as I love Paul Rudd, once again a non-disabled actor, Craig Roberts, plays a teenager with muscular distrophy.

While this movie may not include the insult that having a disability makes living meaningless, they have still chosen to use an actor who is not disabled to play this role. This is not the first time this has happened – “Artie” on ‪#‎Glee‬ was in a wheelchair, but played by an abled actor. And there are so many more examples. In fact, I can only think of one show that has respected differently-abled actors: RJ Mitte in ‪#‎BreakingBad‬. (A friend just told me that his muscular distrophy is not as extreme as what he does on television and that evidently Artie walks at one point.) I know there are more, but I would argue that the use of disabled actors to portray disabled characters is minimal in Hollywood.

It’s insulting to not understand and respect that disabilities just make you differently-abled, and that having a disability does not make your life any less meaningful or amazing.  I am not articulating this as well as well as others, so I recommend reading more from columnists and activists who are speaking out.

As someone with bipolar II, I am often angered and discouraged by how mental illness is portrayed in movies and television. While I appreciate recent attempts to bring mental illness into the fold of stories, I feel they miss the complexity of what it’s like. Movies like #SilverLiningsPlaybook piss me off. A show that I love, #You’reTheWorst, also bothered me in their attempt to demonstrate a woman in a depressive episode. I do not know if these failures are because the people that write them lack understanding of the nuance of mental health, or whether they simply use it to attempt to add depth to their work.

I guess I just felt it was important to support those in the disability community by bringing this issue into the minor spotlight I have. It’s worth thinking about. (I am also aware this happens in regards to gender and race in Hollywood as well, and that is also an issue that should continue to be addressed and should outrage and embarrass us all.)

Think about it. Read about it. Look at it in regards to other minorities in movies and television. And if so inclined, get engaged in the conversation. It’s worth having.

 

Here are a few links to some articles I found articulate the message:

https://www.buzzfeed.com/rosebuchanan/campaigners-are-pissed-about-the-representation-of-disabled

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/laurenwest1/me-before-you_b_10143130.html

http://www.lifenews.com/2016/05/27/pro-euthanasia-film-me-before-you-panned-by-disability-rights-campaigners/

Accepting the Good in Life – No ifs, ands, or buts

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Why is it that bad things feel safer? I mean, they hurt like hell and you feel like shit, but it seems less terrifying than a good thing happening. I used to think it was the depression. I imagined depression as Jabba the Hut, feasting on my failures, my failures transforming into fat, pushing down on me harder. (Ugh. I know I chose the image but it’s still vile all the same.)

But I’m starting to think it’s a maladaptive behavior; a habit of safety and control. ‘Cuz if things start to get good, that means they can get bad. If I get something, it could be taken away. Or worse, I could enjoy it, and then it could be taken away or I could ruin it.

I know I have written on this quite a bit already, but I was thinking about it in the context of women recently. I think women are more likely to protect themselves through insults and assumptions of failure to protect against “embarrassment.” This is a generalization, but when my friends are waiting to hear back about something, they spend a lot of time talking about what they will do if they don’t get it or how they know they won’t because there are better people out there. They are already preparing for the worst, and they don’t know why. My male friends don’t seem to be that way. It’s not that they walk around like a sheriff, with their thumbs tucked in their pants, their chests broad like a rooster saying “I’m just kicking it, waiting for what’s mine.” But they don’t seem to spend as much time berating themselves beforehand like women do.

There is an Amy Schumer skit. (NSFW) I don’t actually think the skit is that funny, but I love the point of it. A bunch of women are standing around, and as one compliments the other, her automatic response is to point out something horrible about herself. They go back and forth, dissing themselves each time they get a compliment until one woman approaches. They compliment her and she thanks them, and they proceed to kill themselves. She has, by accepting the compliment, shaken the base of their lives to its’ core.

Are we stuck in a cycle where it’s never enough? Is that what the American Dream is attempting to create? Not a person striving to reach the top, but a person who is constantly told they can be better and therefore in their current state, is not enough. Because we can always be thinner, richer, “happier.” And evidently the fault lies with us, not with sexism, racism, homophobia, religious persecution, ethic-judging, classism, (any form of defeatism).

I suppose that’s why I hate the American Dream. It was created as propaganda to keep utilitarianism alive. But there isn’t really an American Dream. I can’t remember the last time I met someone who was content with where they were in life. I’m not saying you should get to a point of success and just stagnate there and quit. You should always try to challenge your mind, help others, question society. But that’s different than believing you need to be more, have more, want more in order to find this non-existent happiness.

What if the American Dream was rather a list of ideals to live your life by:

*Always respect those around you and treat them the way you want to be treated.
* Never assume to know who someone is, but always assume the best.
* Always help others, in whatever way you can, in whatever ways they need.
* Add value to the world in your actions
* Always analyze, critique and question everything in life
* Never stop learning
* Live your life in a way that makes you proud

(I’m clearly missing a few, so feel free to offer suggestions in the comment section.)

I don’t do religion, though in reading this, I suppose a lot of these fall under the tenets of most of them. I just think if we stopped trying to achieve and rather just tried to experience, live, understand, connect, and question, we might find moments of contentment, even if we can’t find this illusive and non-existent “happiness.”

Oh my goodness, did I really just write this cheesy ode to the world? Did I go hippy dippy on myself without realizing it? I better stop now before I go too deep and resent myself in the morning.

My First Birthday in Years

I prefer my cake without your spittle, but thanks.

I don’t know when it started, but I suppose it makes a lot of sense. I have spent most of my life developing a strong sense of self-hate, embarrassed by my existence, judging my lack of “lived” life and goals, and basically despising myself for being alive. So the idea of celebrating my birth and continued existence in this world with a “year to grown on” has always seemed silly and hypocritical.

I don’t really like holidays in general. There’s a part of me that gets so nervous: there’s all this pressure for that day. Like, on New Year’s – this is THE day out of 365 that I’m supposed to reflect on my life goals and make plans for the future? Thanksgiving – ugh. Here’s a day, out of 365, that I was supposed to stop, look at all the people around me, and think of all I had to be grateful for and how lucky I was and how others deserve the same but do not have it? What an IMMENSE amount of pressure for a day. It always seemed to me those days should just sort of happen throughout the year, in random moments rather than set times.

So I have a tendency to avoid those kind of holidays or at least avoid them until the last possible second before everyone arrives and I have to put on my clown costume and smile. The only ones I did like were these “holidays” my mom called “Just Because” days. When we were growing up, she would wake us up and tell us we could sleep in – we didn’t have to go to school. And then we could hang out with her that day – I don’t even remember what we did. But given that she worked quite a bit, it was so special to have the day to spend with her, no matter what we did. And it wasn’t on a specific day – it was just a random day (at least it seemed for us) where we got to make that day special and have fun.

But my birthday – that’s the worst of all. After spending an entire year running from my desires, being lonely, hating my body, my face, my personality, my life. After a year of feeling as if I am missing opportunities to grow, to experience, to find joy. After a year of and wanting, waiting and hoping to die. Well, after all that, the idea of getting together to “celebrate” me just seemed rather depressing. Woohoo – another year wasted; another year of burdening others; another year of pain! Here’s to the next!

In fact, if anything, my birthday has come to serve as a horrible marker in my depression. It was a day were I reflected on where I was, who I was, and how incredibly miserable I was in both of those dimensions. Unemployed, overweight, living at home, miserable, unable to leave the house. Perhaps not the best circumstances to “reflect” on. Also, during my depressive episodes, my birthdays have always served as expiration dates. A month before I turned 30 was the first time I decided I was going to commit suicide. I decided I would not turn 30 being the person I was. I panicked and made the minor (but helpful) “mistake” of telling some people. I began ECT a few weeks after my 30th birthday. About a year and a half ago, I sat my mom down and told her that if I was still in as much pain as I was then when I was 35, I was going to end it. Not because she didn’t do enough, not because I didn’t love her, but because I was tired and that just seemed like an age where it seemed fair to give up. (Needless to say, she disagreed with my “thoughtful and rational” idea.) Sometimes I tell myself that if this medication stops working and I hit rock bottom again, I’m not doing this anymore. I’m just too exhausted to keep trying.

Therefore, I have adamantly protested any “celebration” on the day of my birthday. In the past few years, we have agreed to stop mentioning my birthday on the day of. My family promised not to say anything or send cards. I might get a “gift” in the mail the week earlier or the week after, but with no acknowledgement of the birthday – more of a “love you” gift. My friends are harder to tame but given that I live 3,000 miles away from them, it does make a “surprise” party harder.

So, I am turning 34 in two and a half weeks. I’m not going to have a party. I don’t plan on making the day a romp around town, treating myself all day to elaborate “pleasures” of food and beauty. I’m not going to try and dress up or put on extra makeup or spend the day reflecting (ok, I probably will but I’d rather not.) I am not planning on blowing out candles and will not be making a wish. (I’m still not ready for “optimism” or thoughts of “the future.” Baby steps, people.)

But I think it would be nice to go out to dinner somewhere comfortable where I enjoy the food. Maybe I’ll make a yummy vegan cake and once again laugh at why everyone is so surprised when it tastes good. Maybe I’ll let someone take a picture of me, even if I know I’m not going to like it. I’m going to try and pick up the phone if someone calls to wish me a happy birthday. I’m going to thank people who email me. I will open cards and appreciate the love within them even though it is still a struggle to not protest their thoughts.

I think I kind of hope people wish me a happy birthday this year. Because while my life is still a chaotic mess of confusion, chaos, and clusterfucks – and while maybe next year I won’t want to celebrate – for now, I am grateful for the people around me; for the opportunities of growth I have had this year; for the strength and personal compassion I have found within myself; the decisions I have made; and the way I have handled disappointment and stress.

Happy birthday to me.

My Failed Attempts at The Pursuit of Happiness

This is not only the kid from the movie

This is not only the kid from “The Pursuit of Happiness,” he is demonstrating my feelings on finding happiness.

Every time I see my therapist, she asks me what I’m going to do between then and the next time I see her that will make me happy and bring me joy. And every time, I come up blank. I can list things that make me feel productive, helpful, or good. And I suppose in a way, those things make me happy. But like I tell her, happiness to me is a fleeting emotion. Contentment is what I think we are all aiming for. After all, contentment implies an acceptance and peace with the life at present. While something might give you a kick of happiness, contentment means you are okay with your life, warts and all. Maybe you still have dreams, and you still want to move forward and achieve things but when you sit down and look at your life you think: “Yeah. Not too bad. Good job self. We should rock out because things are what they are and they are good.”

Ok, so I’m not really content either. But I felt so sad when I couldn’t think of anything that made me happy. I think part of it is because of where I live, the fact that I do not have many people my age with my shared interests around me, and because it’s so much easier to do things because you are supposed to do them, than because you want to do them. With choice of your actions, comes the stress of fear and failure. What if it’s a bad decision and I don’t enjoy it? What if I do something wrong or embarrass myself? What if others look at me and think I’m pathetic? I’ve always had so many fears, some instilled by my family and friends, others created by me, that have held me back. I’ve spent the last three years just trying to stay alive – so I’m a bit thrown by this idea of doing something that I want to do not because I have to, but because I want to and because I know it will make me feel joy or strength or confidence.

In the past, I think I did things I thought I should do rather than things I wanted to do. I mean, we all have to do those things. Sometimes I need to cook, keep the house clean, get books from the library. And I enjoy most of these things – but do they provide me with happiness?

In the past, going to work was also on that list. I liked people-watching but in retrospect I think it had a lot to do with being depressed and being curious to watch others around me that seemed to have their shit together. I enjoyed public spaces because I could step back and see how unique and odd we all are. I liked museums because certain art makes me feel something deep inside me, but I always felt so sad afterwards. I actually think a lot of things that would give me happiness, have in the past brought me down hard afterwards. The feeling could never be sustained.

So I look at my life for signs of happiness. I mean, I enjoy spinning but does it make me happy? It makes me feel strong, accomplished, and I get a little endorphin kick for the day. I like hiking but I never do it. I like walking around the city but I don’t live there so I rarely do that as well, and with my knee, it’s not as fun as it used to be. I used to really enjoy giving platelets but evidently in the area I live in, the nurses are just unable to find my veins and give up on me way too easily. I enjoy a good talk with a friend or a successful social encounter, but those seem so fleeting and usually leave me coming down, exhausted and nervous about the fragility of the future conversations.

As my therapist continues to ask me this question and I continue to look at her with a wincing face of self-doubt and frustration, I am truly trying to figure out what my barrier is that is blocking my mind from finding something that I could do to make me happy. A part of me knows it’s out there. I imagine it would be something simple – I tend to roll that way. Maybe it’s something I’ve done in the past but given all of my worries, anxieties, and self-doubt, I’ve never really been able to feel the full effect of the deed at hand. Maybe I haven’t found it yet – it’s waiting for me to take a taste and understand that it’s what I am meant to do when I need a little extra “jazz hands” in my day.

I want to find things that make me happy. I imagine as time goes on, especially if and when I begin to work again, I’m going to need things in my life I can turn to for relief – and not just the gym or volunteer work. Or maybe those things?

I’m jealous of those who have a passion. I can see it when they are talking about it – that high they get from whatever it is. For one friend, it’s running. She doesn’t do it to stay fit (though I’m sure that’s a side perk) but because she truly enjoys it. Before, during, and after. My mom even has something – she just loves to garden – I don’t get it, but it truly gives her pleasure. It’s adorable but frankly I find it quite dull.

Do you believe in the idea of happiness? Joy? Contentment? Are they different things to you? How do you define these ideas? And more importantly, what do you do to find them? What do you do for pleasure? If you had a day ahead just for you, what would it look like? What do you do to make you happy?

I guess all this thinking of happiness makes me feel empty, boring, and melancholy. After all, isn’t life about the pursuit of happiness?

Not to Rock the Boat, But Something Good Happened

A dream come true or a mental breakdown waiting to happen?

A dream come true or a mental breakdown waiting to happen?

So I’ve been writing a lot about the stress of “moving forward.” What does it look like? When will I know I’m ready? How will I know if it’s the right step? What if my chemical depression comes back and brings me back to nothingness?

For the past ten months, I have tried to find my action steps. It was like “I’m going to go to the gym today; I am going to call a friend; and I will turn off the tv by 10pm and read a book instead.” And I would bitch and moan to my therapist about how this wasn’t enough. I wasn’t “moving forward” fast enough. Where was the volunteer work? The job? The boyfriend? Why the fuck wasn’t my life perfect?

Perhaps I wasn’t trying hard enough? Or maybe my “steps” were too little? But what if I tried something too big – that might set me back. And then she, in her kind, thoughtful demeanor, suggested that perhaps my life has been  moving forward without my conscious effort to do so.

After all, I go to spin four days a week. I have stayed with my vegan diet. I live in an apartment alone and still manage to leave and make appointments. I have begun to socialize and inhabit this evidently “funny,” odd, and loud person it seems I am, especially when around people. I have made some decisions that others have disapproved of, but that felt right to me. I make mistakes or bad choices, I get pissed, and then I move on…eventually.

So, one of my undemanding “goals” was to apply for this Master’s program. I actually had applied for one at a different school last year and didn’t get in, but this was different. This school has been a dream of mine since my senior year of college. I always imagined, even in the depths of my depression, that if I could go there, I would find my true self and be this mythic version of myself. But every year, it just wasn’t a good time and the fear of getting rejected from my dream was just too traumatic.

So, five months ago I get an email from them and they are starting this new program. And it’s basically about the things I love to study, argue, and discuss in life. There’s no specific deadline (I think they weren’t sure if enough people would apply) so I set a really relaxed goal – I gave myself almost a month and a half. And some nights, I’d work on it. Maybe one day, I’d go to the library and write something up. And piece by piece, I actually applied. I didn’t really tell anyone besides my therapist. For me, the purpose was to apply – to face the fear of failure and do something I had wanted to do but had always been too depressed and insecure to do. And I was proud of myself. It only took 12 years, but hey, I fucking did it.

But then about one month ago, I’m lazily doing my morning email check and see an email from them. It was an unconditional offer of acceptance. Ok…see…that wasn’t what I was expecting. I was actually prepped for not getting in – had a whole “philosophy” on how I was going to see the positive of it all. And the school that I got rejected from earlier is nowhere near as competitive as this one. So yeah, I would say pure shock for the first 24 hours. I mean, I felt nothing. I told my therapist who cried because she was happy for me. (She’s the best.)

I saw so many reasons not to go – money, pragmatism, what if I wasn’t ready? I mean, I didn’t know if I could commit to volunteering and I’m going to go to another country for one of the most intense academic experiences ever? A part of me wished I hadn’t gotten in just so I didn’t have to deal with whether it could be a possibility.

After all, I have been depressed almost my entire life. I have missed so much because of my own self-hate, doubt, and depression. I have missed out on opportunities I craved. I have spent so much time, in bed, feeling that I was breathing, but not living. I was truly staying alive for my family but not for myself and I told my mom she had me until 35 and then I was done. Was this one of those things that “moved me forward” without me intentionally doing so? Did getting in signal the next step in my progress?

It did catch me at a weird time. I’ve been actually “settling” into my life slowly. And while there is always anxiety that it might get boring, this was an explosion. It brought up a lot of my past feelings of competition, passion, worthiness, independence. Also, four years ago this August, I had decided to kill myself. I spent a year and a half in electro-convulsive therapy. I wrote wills. I self-harmed. I cried until I gagged. And some of this was still happening ten months ago. Sometimes I still feel like I could fall and there wouldn’t be anything to catch me.

But I have wanted this. I have dreamed about this. And I fucking deserve it. I don’t know what the rest of my life is going to look like – I might get depressed again, I might never have a job I want, or find someone to love, I may gain all my weight back and end up back at my parents house, in bed, for days.

And for a while, I knew so clearly in my gut that this was the right step. This was all part of moving forward – of things just happening that push me ahead without my complicit and thoughtful attempt to do so. Here was a chance to do something totally impractical, definitely not pragmatic, most likely useless to my career, and potentially awesome. After three years of living at my parents house and wanting to die, maybe this was my “Welcome Back” cake to the world of possibility and happiness.

Pragmatically, going makes no sense. It’s going to drain all of the money I have, I’ll go into debt. I haven’t been in a classroom for over a decade and I’m going to be with the most elite academics who have been in school recently and I don’t remember how to write an analytical essay. I might hate London – fog hates my hair, that I know. Maybe the grey will depress me. Maybe the men are all prats. Maybe it won’t be the fairy land I have made it to be in my mind. Maybe I’ll fall into a deep depression and have to drop out or maybe I just won’t be able to cut it and I’ll have to drop out. If I can’t find a job there or the man of my dreams (definitely on my to-do list) than I’ll come home, in debt and without anything added to my resume that’s going to give me a leg up.

Plus, their health system, while free, is not so much evolved in terms of depression. From the research I did, it’s like the country hasn’t technically agreed that “depression” is a real disease, let alone bipolar II. Will I be able to establish a strong enough support system (not just people but things) that I have developed here to maintain my health and sanity? Will I even have time?

Then, just for shits and giggles, there’s an additional complication. I received an unconditional offer which means that I can defer for a year and attend next year without having to reapply. During this deferment, I could take a trip over and see the campus, sit in classes, check out where I might live. I would have time to apply for some scholarships and funding and even if I didn’t get it, I’d know I had tried. I could apply for housing early so I actually lived where I wanted, learn where things were, and just get a better sense of what I was getting into and make a more clear, decisive decision – even if it meant not going after all. It also gives me another year to strengthen myself. I know – it sounds great. In fact, every time I had a conversation with someone, it always ended with us agreeing that deferring was the best decision. But I still didn’t. I’ve had a shit ton of these conversations. And yes, they all end with me agreeing with deferment. But I stopped myself last week, sitting, looking at the page on my computer where you fill out the deferment form, and I couldn’t do it.

Maybe I’m afraid if I don’t go, people won’t really believe I’m better. Maybe I’m scared if I don’t go now, I won’t ever go. Maybe I’m worried that by next year, the medication will have stopped working. Or maybe I will realize this really isn’t what I want or I’ll have gotten a job or someone will need me to stay for something. I know this is not a decision you just allow to happen. After all, the amount of work I’ve already put into this is gross. And I’m not even talking about the emotional toll. For the past 10 months, I haven’t needed to take xanax or had panic attacks. In the past three weeks, I have had three panic attacks and have begun to take xanax on a relatively regular basis. But I mean, even someone without depression would be probably needing a xanax when trying to understand a visa application.

It begs the question: how do you know if you’re ready? I mean, I know I’m not ready to work full-time. When I’m out all day, even doing different things from 9-5 or if I am engaged with people for five hours in a row and be “on,” I’m exhausted and need two days to recover. Without the depression, I’m starting to uncover some abusive situations I allowed during my depression and their impact is growing as the depression lessens. I still can’t sleep no matter how hard I spin, and I am either groggy until noon or I wake up at 5 in the morning and I can’t go back to sleep. Clearly, I’m not just a work in progress, I’m a mental mess of work in progress. Maybe this is too big of a step. Maybe I shouldn’t do it. I still have time to pull out and defer. Give myself more time to decide.

There is no clear answer. When I sit with myself and try to clear my brain and feel, nothing clear comes to the surface. I don’t trust myself but I can’t make this decision based on anyone else’s opinion. It has to be mine. Every time I think I know the answer, eight other questions arise that pull me back to a state of cluelessness.

I don’t know what I’m going to do. Sometimes when I’m nervous, I tell people I’m going so I don’t have to deal with the not working conversation. It felt good to tell people from my past and see their eyes light up and hear their happiness and pride for me! I haven’t heard that in a long time. Even the things I have been proud of, I don’t think most people acknowledge how big those steps are – but this is a validated societal step up.

Is there a right reason? Is there a clear answer? Who knew an accomplishment could be such a dilemma of confusion, fear, and doubt. I know that I love the issues. I know I like winter clothing. I know that 12 years ago, I loved sitting in a classroom and having my mind blown. I know that I have been searching for the past 12 years (minus a few) for how to make an impact, share, learn, teach, change. But maybe this is just a distraction from the fact that today I had a crying fit and couldn’t figure out what exactly was causing it.

How can something so “good” be so…not?