If Pharrell Can Be Happy, Why Can’t I?

“Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do”

– “Happy” by Pharrell Williams

My therapist recently asked what my schedule for the week looked like. We do this a lot because I find structure and productivity can calm me. I listed off doctor’s appointments, calls to insurance companies, a few errands, some cleaning – the usual. Then she asked me what I would do during the week that I would enjoy or derive pleasure from- something that would make me happy.

I laughed at first, an excellent stall tactic, and then began to cry. My mind was a complete blank. In attempting this second chance at building my life, she asked a very simple question: What do you like to do? What is one thing you would choose, want, and like to do in your day? She wasn’t asking me what I wanted to do with my life, she just wanted to know what I was going to do to “treat” myself between obligatory tasks.

I of course have heard so many people talk about what they enjoy: mani-pedis, a day at the beach, a long hike, going to a movie, snuggling in and reading a book that’s been gathering dust. In the past, I have done all of these things, but because of the depression and anxiety, there was always a caveat that took away pleasure. I hate getting pedicures because I feel like the process is so condescending and I hate my feet so why should someone else have to touch them? (Even now, I still agree with this statement.) A day at the beach usually means wearing a bathing suit which would mean showing my body which I hate and where scars and cellulite abound. Also, too much sun – I worry about my skin aging or sweating profusely. (Is this where I should say I know most of these reasons are not entirely rational or fair? Yeah, no duh.) I would say I love hiking but it could lead to looking out of shape if I start heaving up a storm, sweating all around, and I really hate how I look in shorts, but then when I wear pants I get so hot…(Don’t worry, I’m almost done with the list.) I have loved movies since I can remember seeing one. They are the epitome of awe and wonder mixed with an opportunity to step out of my life for a few hours. And going to movie theaters, at least when I was a kid, was “an experience.” But now I worry I will miss the movie if I have to go pee. I used to be really nervous there would be too many people. Now, it’s just too fucking expensive. Snuggling in to read a book, I like to do this. But it’s rare to find a book worth snuggling in for. In the past, it also gave my mind a chance to double-time and start thinking irrational thoughts and leaving me anxious with a Xanax and water in hand.

But I’ve gotten better with my body (on good days). I openly admit that since I turned thirty, I evidently became a sweater (but at least I’m hydrated so it’s odorless!) I still prefer to watch movies at home but that’s because when you hang out with your parents for a few years you get addicted to closed-captioning and when you watch movies without it you feel like you are missing half the dialogue. Besides, movies cost like a bagillion dollars nowadays (my rates of inflation may be a bit off) and I really do have to pee like a pregnant lady. And yeah, I’m down for a book – but it better be fucking good. I’d say 1 out of 15 I get rocks my mind and then I spend two weeks trying to tell everyone and their mother why their lives will be changed and they can’t understand life fully without reading the book. But are those things I “enjoy”? Maybe.

Now, I’m not saying I don’t have things in my life that bring me joy. I only have to see a picture of my nieces and nephew and I get a surge of love. Sometimes, I’m on the phone with a friend, and I have one of those laughs that go deep down to your core – the kind that is so pure you can’t breathe. Sometimes, I do something that scares me, and for a moment or so, I feel flushed with happiness.

But, I’m not sure those are what she meant. It’s not like once a day, I can look at a picture and that’s my “me” time for happiness. And it makes me really sad that I don’t have an answer. All of a sudden, I have this personal choice and a strength of will I’m building. I can, for the most part, fight my fears and try things. But with this choice comes the stress of fear and failure and the realization that I’ve been depressed for so long I don’t even know how to be “happy.” It should be noted that I am also in the process of learning how to be “sad” while depressed, too.

I guess I have to start experimenting to see what makes me “happy” even in unideal circumstances. What are the things that bring me joy? Do I still love art? Cooking for other people? Sitting in a classroom and having my mind blown? Taking long walks to nowhere? Walking through book shops and getting excited just by reading the back cover? People-watching – anywhere really but especially in coffee shops or in restaurants? Giving platelets or volunteering?

What are some things I can do now, that maybe I couldn’t have done before that would now give me pleasure? What about the things I used to do, will I still enjoy them? Will it feel different? Is it okay if I don’t enjoy them? What else should I try? What does enjoyment actually feel like? How long should it last? What if it’s like drugs and it only feels really great the first time you do it?

Fuck. Should it be this hard to know what you like? Well, my mind is still kind of speechless. What do you do for pleasure or enjoyment? If you had a day ahead and could decide what to do, what would that be? How did you find it? Has the “it” of happiness changed in life or has it always been a certain thing? Have you found enjoyment with “it” during depression or only when you are in the clearing? Do you need to do them with a friend or do you prefer to do them alone?

In the meantime, I’m still hesitant to “clap along” Pharrell, but good for you.

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Shocking Revelation: Finding a Medication That Works Does Not Make Your Life Perfect

Disclaimer: Way too many metaphors in this post. Many taken way, way, way too far. Many not even properly used or maintained.

Note on Absence: So yeah … I’ve been away a while.

So many people have suggested that blogs are an amazing support group and I have seen that for some, blogging and the blog community, is a large, positive component in dealing with their illness. It has been a comforting and uniquely awesome experience to receive such encouraging responses from people who actually understand what I mean, what I feel, and who aren’t trying to give me “answers” to “fix” my “problem” like so many kind-hearted people do. I also was so touched reading about other people’s struggles and progress. Your strength is truly awe-inspiring.

But I think I got too involved. I was reading so many stories that I connected to, it made me feel worse. And while it is nice to feel understood, it doesn’t make me feel better to know that others are suffering like me. It actually just makes me feel more helpless because not only can I not help myself, I can’t help others either. And when I’m extremely depressed, hearing people’s stories of recovery actually pissed me off. (To be clear: I was happy for them – but also jealous and frustrated.)

Anyway, I had to disconnect. I’m going to try and see if I can find a balance between reading, sharing, learning and coping. Here’s to continued relationships my bloggies. (No one writes that, do they? Fuck, I’m like a grandma using AOL.)

So back to my shocking revelation …

In however many months I was disconnected, things got really bad. I was trying multiple medications with horrible results. My insurance was being douchey about what doctors I could see; everyone seemed to be on vacation when I needed to reach them; the sun was shining which is really annoying when you don’t need to see images of fucking birds chirping in trees or people laughing together at picnics. (It’s amazing how grating a neighbor’s laughter at a party can be when you want to die because you hurt so much.)

I really wanted to go back to ECT. The doctor’s were skeptical since it didn’t work last time and given my new bipolar II diagnosis, it technically wouldn’t work now. I was running out of new pills to try, and I could feel my hope for life dissolving. I knew cutting wouldn’t be enough this time and no burn would be able to pull me out. I ached all over, filling my days with silent screams, trying to sleep and dull my reality however I could.

My doctors were really pushing for me to go to an outpatient program. I had done one before but while others have told me I enjoyed it (it was right before ECT, so I don’t really remember it,) it clearly didn’t work because I was doing ECT a few weeks after. However, I think my doctors wanted me somewhere safe during the day without having to put me in an inpatient program. I just couldn’t imagine having to commit to driving 40 minutes and being mentally aware from 9-5 five days a week. If I couldn’t get out of bed and leave the house for a half hour appointment or to pick up medication, how could I do drama therapy with other psychiatric patients all day, five days a week?

Three days before the program, my doctor pulled a hail mary. (Apologies if I got that expression wrong – I’m more rugby than football.) She put me on a medication that I took eight years ago that in my old psychiatric notes, seemed to have worked for quite a while before I started mixing it with other medications. The day after I took my first pill, I gave myself a severe burn. The day after that, I woke up quite early. I felt this energy inside, like I had three cups of coffee. It wasn’t like akathisia – it was inner energy not anxiety. The day after that, I went to my intake meeting. Something was different: I felt lighter, engaged, more clear. I went into the meeting and told them that I wanted to try therapy twice a week before starting the program.

The next two months were incredible. I found a kind, unique therapist that I felt comfortable with. I finally got the courage to attend a spin class at the Y and soon became addicted. I was running errands, calling friends, and trying to think what my potential future could look like if this was my new “normal”. And while I felt pretty great, I was terrified. Every night I went to sleep worried I would wake the next day and “it” would be gone. I was scared to think about my future because who knew if the drug would stop working in two weeks or two months or two years? Would I have the energy to start life all over again? And if it all fell apart, could I make it through another episode of watching it all be teared down?  I remember I woke up one morning in a really bad mood and I didn’t want to get out of bed. I started crying, scared that my medicated hope was gone. But it felt different. I was cranky, and a bit anxious, but I didn’t have the heaviness of the depression. I was having a bad day. Surreal. I told myself that as long as I kept moving, that movement would be forward, until eventually I would be “myself.”

The thing is, once the chemical depression was lifted, it turns out I had a mountain of bad habits, self-hate, fucked cognitive processing – thoughts and actions that both protected me from imperfect life happenings and cultivated my blossoming chemical depression. Really, I looked around and found I had enough baggage and horrible coping mechanisms to make me depressed even if I didn’t have a chemical imbalance.

It’s not like I thought that if I could lift the chemical depression, I would wake up and be a thin, beautiful maven who loved herself and knew who she was and how to live life and be happy with background music like at the end of a romantic comedy. But … honestly, I thought it was going to be easier than this. I was and am confused. I don’t know who “I am,” or what I want, or what I should do, or how I should be. I still fear choosing the wrong almond milk; think the teenager behind me thinks my ass looks fat and I shouldn’t be drinking almond milk or really anything at all; and I don’t know if I am capable of living alone, having a boyfriend, or having a full-time job.

I’m not complaining that the medication worked. It is amazing to do something and actually be able to feel good inside, even if it only lasts until I over-analyze it to shit. I appreciate good days when I feel strong, independent, and even a bit witty. But it turns out, even with the heaviness lifted, I’m still pretty fucked up.

So it’s now been about five months on the meds. I have had to raise my medication because about two months in, it crapped out on me. I’m petrified it will keep doing that until I’m up to the very highest level, with no “plan b” from my psychiatrist queued up and ready to go. I haven’t gotten very far – given I spent about two months waiting for the medication to stop working, then when it did, about a month deciding whether I still wanted to try, and now looking at my plate of dysfunction and debating which fun, embedded, self-harm mechanism I care to dare and challenge today or avoid until tomorrow.

My therapist tells me to envision my life as an unbuilt house. Without chemical depression, I now have a floor beneath me and now I get to decide how to build the house that is my life. She of course notes that building a house is a step-by-step process and takes a long time, tools, skill-building, thoughtfulness, practice, patience, etc. (Unfortunately, those pre-made homes are unavailable in this metaphor.) I tell her that while I appreciate the floor, I don’t have any fucking wood, brick or tools; no knowledge of architecture, let alone a blueprint to work from. Plus, I’m still suspicious that the floor is going to cave.

So basically, following this metaphor, I was expecting to come out of my chemical depression and have a house built with a complete lifestyle, path, and personality. Now it turns out I have to first figure out why I have so much hate, grief, fear, anxiety, and pain; change how I respond to those emotions with habits I have used since I was a child; and then take everything a day at a time, while also being aware that while it might be “brick by brick” I’m still trying to build something much larger: my future.

I know I am repeating myself, but I am grateful for this time I have and try to appreciate where I was and where I am. I really want to enjoy this time and believe that I will be able to build some sort of future that doesn’t involve living at home, without any social network or hobbies, not impacting the world and making people’s lives better.

But honestly, I’m scared shitless. Shocking … isn’t it?