How About a Pat On The Back? Why Aren’t Others Acknowledging My Progress?

Does this picture really need a caption?

Ok, so I know I’m really bad at “anger” – especially when it comes to emoting. But, I have to say I’m really frustrated and maybe even a little peeved right now.

So I have had the fortune to have my chemical depression lifted for the past few months. In that time, I have reached out to old friends, gotten an apartment, made appointments, attended those appointments, made plans and came through on those plans, and have tried to be more active and engaged. (All things I have never really done well while depressed, i.e. most of my life.)

My family has made some comments that are positive – letting me know that they’re happy for me and proud of me and the work I’m doing. I suppose they know it the most since they have seen me at my very worst and supported me through it all. And I appreciate that they can see a difference. I guess my dad told my mom it was really nice to see me smile again. That made me smile…again.

Obviously things aren’t perfect. I still have to work really hard at living every day. I usually wake up petrified that the feeling will come back. Then I get anxious that even if I don’t feel it, I will somehow fail to utilize this opportunity of feeling better to the best of my ability this day. What if I don’t get out of the house? What if I don’t accomplish something? What if I don’t move forward? I’m dealing with how to know when I’m ready to move forward and how I might do that or what it might look like. I am anxious, worried, and slightly depressed at both the work I have to do and the fear that it won’t be enough. On top of that, other issues have come to light – many of which are similar to the ones I had when depressed: Do I deserve to live? Does my life add value to this world? Will I ever feel I deserve my life? Will I ever have a life I can look at and feel proud and content with? Will I ever find peace with myself and within myself?

So, yeah, I’m dealing with that, but I’m still making it to places on time, doing things alone, returning phone calls, making big plans, and trying to remain engaged and helpful. And besides some of my family members, no one has said shit. I’m not talking about the guy at the YMCA I am finally able to make eye contact with. I’m talking about the people in my life who know about the depression, about the ECT, about leaving DC, about living at home, my self-harming, my suicidal ideation. I don’t know what I was expecting but I guess with all this fear about what I’m doing and how I’m doing, I would like a “wow, you really seem different” or “it’s nice to have you like this.” Only one or two have even asked why things have changed or what this “change” means, but others just keep talking to me. Maybe they’re trying to make me feel normal? Or maybe I’m making excuses for them.

And I wonder, after all the grief I put upon myself about being a shitty friend and person, does anyone notice the change? As I’m writing this, I’m feeling a little selfish because I’m basically asking “why is no one noticing me and praising me?” and I guess that’s a little cocky. But fuck, it’s not just medicine. I mean, thank goodness it’s working, but I’m fucking working too. Hard. Every fucking day. And I get tired and scared and want to stop. But I usually pull myself back up. And I’m doing a lot of it for them – at least at this point. To stop being the burden. To add value and be a fun and dependable friend they can trust and can enjoy. Maybe they felt that way when I was depressed, and I do appreciate that they stood by me and remained friends with me no matter how shitty I was. I love them so much for that. Maybe that’s why it hurts that they haven’t said anything. Because I love them and I just want them to be excited for me and for our friendships.

Or maybe, they’re just worried about the boy that cried wolf – not holding their breath given that this might be like all the other times I felt better – and then got worse. Trepidation I suppose I understand – I’m feeling the same way – but you could still say something. I don’t know why it’s important but I think I want them to feel pride and happiness for me and our future friendship.

I just wish someone besides my family and therapist would acknowledge that they are not only happy for me, but happy to be with me as me, on what will hopefully be an exciting journey that will last for years to come. Like maybe “Damn Ava, you seem to be in such a better place. It’s nice to hear from you and hear about all the things you are doing and thinking of doing.” Or: “I’m so happy for you. How does it feel? What do you think it means?” Is that too much to ask? Am I being selfish?

Third Floor or The Penthouse: My Current Attempt at Climbing the Floors of Recovery

If I did reach the penthouse, it would most definitely have a bowling alley!

If I did reach the penthouse, it would most definitely have a bowling alley!

Disclaimer: I recommend not searching for images of “penthouse” on Google. I forgot there was a magazine by the same name…gross.

I was watching a television show the other night and this talented, made guy tells this new ingenue who’s just getting started, and I am paraphrasing: “You are choosing to jump from the third floor because you are afraid you’ll never get to the penthouse.” I.e. you’d rather fail now instead of risking the possibility of succeeding. I imagine you would do this because a) you are afraid you’ll never make it to the penthouse; and b) if you got there and had to jump, that’s going to hurt a lot more than just jumping from the third.

It panicked me, because sometimes I think I want to jump (metaphorically). When I try on hope and see the potential life may have to offer me, I don’t know what terrifies me more: not getting it or getting it and … whatever follows after that.

I don’t know what floor I’m on but I’m getting to a place of discomfort because I am now starting to do things I have only ever done depressed. So, for example, I have gone to parties, flirted with boys, lost weight, and lived alone – all while being severely depressed and often drunk with a touch of self-mutilation. But I’ve never done those things with my new brain chemistry, and sober … until now. And I don’t really know how to do it. I joke about how I’ve been stunted in so many ways by this disease – my experiences so fucked I find myself flailing at the maturity of a 14 year-old (Sometimes 22 – depends on the issue).

I went to a party where I only knew one person and I didn’t know who I would be. After all, in the past, I was “me”. But now, I’m me, but more raw, with possibilities racing through my head. I’m still thinking: “everyone thinks I’m too loud; I’m too obnoxious; I just did a gigantic overshare; wow, they must think I’m a big perv.” But I’m talking to people I don’t know, introducing myself, asking questions, dealing with my answers. Some things are the same: I’m pretty loud; I like to make people laugh; I will take over and “guide” the group if the party seems to be waning…and I am kinda pervy and tend to overshare when I’m nervous. I’ve always done that, but I didn’t know until now that that’s me, not my depressive self.

I’ve also just started to live alone. I totally can’t afford it, but it was my first big step towards independence. The only other time I’ve lived alone, I was suicidal and didn’t leave the house for days on end. So like, how do I live alone? What kind of person am I when I live alone? Can I do it? What if I do the things I did when I lived alone last time: stopped leaving the house; made pancakes every day; didn’t answer calls; self-mutilated in the bathroom. I mean, technically, that’s the example I’m working off of.

So a part of me says: “just pretend that you’re 26 and this is your first time living alone. And you are like this. Now…live.” What I’ve learned: I’m still pretty clean and organized, though not as OCD like in the past (as tempting as it is). I know that if I decide to cook or bake, I should do it around 3, and cook multiple things so when I’m tired at 7 and don’t want to do anything, I’ll have everything ready to go. I still talk to the television and myself, and still need my noise machine and an eye mask to sleep. I still like having systems and schedules – but this may be because I don’t have a job or volunteer internship yet.

Some days I don’t want to get out of bed or leave the house. I do get dressed every day even if I’m not planning on leaving the house so if I do, I’m ready to go. Sometimes I even put on gym clothes just to make it easier if I get an impulse. On those days, even if I just take out the garbage or walk to the library, it makes it different than before. And on those days, I’m just tired and cranky and maybe a little down about my life. This past week, I just felt tired for days, but I decided it was hormones and forced myself out today. I feel better. So, I guess this is what I live like when I live alone. This is me now, living in an apartment.

Unfortunately, for the past few weeks, I have also had cravings to cut. They come on kind of like food cravings. Sometimes it’s in the car, or watching tv, walking to the library, or when I’m getting into the shower. At first it threw me off. I panicked that the meds stopped working. But when I wasn’t thinking about cutting, I was level. I usually just keep driving, or watching, or walking, or washing until the impulse passes.

It makes sense to me. With all these changes, I’ve just been overwhelmed, worried, scared, sad, anxious, hyper, giggly, silly – kind of like being bipolar II but in a good way? I think my cravings are more about my need for control than about punishing myself. I used to cut when I was overwhelmed with pain and nothing else could tamper it. For just a moment, it became a vortex, pulling all my emotions into the act. It never worked the way I wanted it to, it never lasted long, and then I had to deal with all of the ramifications of doing it. Trust me, I know and did know, there are better ways.

But I think in all this chaos of unknowns, I have felt very little control over the big picture. I’ve been craving control and the possibility of a calm minute where a vortex could just quiet my mind. I know that the positive ways of providing some calm are breathing, mindfulness, stepping back from my thoughts, feeling into my emotions, and being in the moment. There’s also medications that can help and I’m not afraid to use them. But you know, sometimes it’s tempting to go with what’s rote than practice a new skill. Especially when you’re shaking and can barely breathe.

I’ve also noticed some changes in my eating habits. Partially it’s because I hurt my knee and my exercise regimen has decreased in intensity. (Man I miss those endorphins!) I have been successfully losing weight gained during the depression and between diet and exercise, I have been scared that the loss of intense exercise would throw off my goal. It seems I have become much more severe with my food. I’m vegan, so it’s not like I have a ton to go crazy off of, but it’s very easy to eat like shit and get some serious calories even when vegan. But I’ve been cutting back, controlling and watching what I’m eating. I find I am limiting my intake and have become far more obsessive about it. So this screams out, once again: control.

But what is also interesting, is that about 3-4 nights out of the week, I’m also bingeing. Not necessarily the kind where I literally am in a fugue state and can’t remember what I have eaten (though that has happened). But I’m angry and tired and scared, and while I have spent the day attempting to reign in those emotions by controlling my food and my schedule, etc., this seems to be more of an attempt to lose control, to literally feed the fear. Anyway, I thought that was an interesting juxtaposition my mind is playing into.

All of this is to say, I’m really scared and scarred. I only know life through a lens I currently don’t have. I’m trying to keep my eyes open, to keep stepping forward and trying new things that scare me. I’m trying to be compassionate when I chicken out and don’t do them. But in the next year, there are some major decisions coming down the pipeline – some of which are already on the calendar. I’m trying to sort out what my hopes, dreams and desires are. I’m supposed to be deciding who I want to be and what I want my life to look like and how to make those things happen without losing my shit completely. I truly feel like a child in an adults’ body and everyone is looking at me to know what a 33-year old should know by now. And I don’t. And I might not ever – because a lot of people don’t either.

I can’t control my destiny down to the next five minutes, let alone the rest of my life. But I know, in the end, I’ll never be in control. Everything inside me, based on my past, is telling me to jump from the third floor – “get off while you still can!” The safety of not trying tempts me every day. I look up at the penthouse and I’m not sure if I’ll ever reach it, or if I’ll even know if I ever get there. And there’s a part of me that doesn’t know if I’d ever recover from that – losing everything I have built and finding myself once again at the ground floor. I’ve done that a few times now, and it’s so fucking exhausting, I feel like it ages my soul.

So many emotional habits that I have built over time are trying to pull me down – telling me it’s not worth trying only to fail. But there’s this little part of me, I guess in this “new” me, that’s kind of like “Why not try? If you fall from the 3rd floor, the 8th or the penthouse, you’re going to end up in the same place, so why not move up and see what’s on each floor while you can? There might be free food! And maybe, just maybe, you won’t fall at all.” I usually giggle at that voice – partly because I want to believe her and I kinda remember her – like an aura of myself as a child surrounding me.

I don’t know if I’m going to make it. And while I really want to end this with something inspirational and uplifting, I don’t think I’m quite there yet.

But I will try to take a breath, become mindful, and take the next step forward by walking alone from my apartment to meet my family for dinner.