Accepting the Ignorance of Others

[Disclaimer: I do not suffer from addiction to illegal or recreational drugs or alcohol. I do not portend to know the struggle to recover and manage this specific addiction. I wrote this post to highlight the idea of understanding and respecting different perspectives when it comes to mental health, healing, and recovery in general. I apologize if I offend anyone. Please let me know if there is something incorrect so I may learn from it, and change the post if need be.]

When I was younger, I mistook the knowledge of my idealism as fact and created definitive standards of right and wrong. Maybe my mind was too young to understand the complexities of human experience, or maybe I simply hadn’t lived long enough to see the dynamics of life. But thankfully over time, I have come to see the nuance in all human interaction, and our struggle to find peace and acceptance, especially within ourselves.

I have spent so many years on my quest to manage my mental illness. I have tried a smorgasbord of drugs, therapies, and alternative remedies. Some have worked for a time, and others simply did not fit. A simple example: while I have found DBT an effective form of therapy, group therapy has never worked for me. And while I am still searching, I have witnessed so many find the concoction of tools that help them survive. As long as it does not hurt themselves or others I support them without judgment. In fact, I envy them. I also understand that sometimes, in order to maintain their health, they might proselytize. I think it is common when you have found something that has changed your life. You want others to benefit from your experience and you want to believe in what you are doing, (something I believe plays a large part in what makes it work.)

All of that being said, I was part of a conversation recently where two people were discussing options to help someone who is currently suffering from drug addiction. At the end of the day, we all understand that she will have to want to change, and will have to most likely try a variety of mechanisms to help her battle her addiction. It’s going to be a long road, and I suppose those that love her are trying to find ways they can support and provide her with options for the journey to come.

One of those people is a recovering alcoholic who found his form of AA as key to his recovery. From what I know from others who participate in AA, there are varied forms of AA – it isn’t practiced or used in one way only. I also think it’s important to mention that this person is not educated or familiar with other forms of addiction therapy and tools. I believe he has lived a rather narrow life in terms of interactions and experiences with others. (This is not a criticism, just something to note.) And while I do not think he understands the situation fully, I do appreciate his passion for the techniques that worked for him and that have allowed him to remain sober for so long. I accept that I am not in his shoes and that in his perspective of the world, he has found the right answer – not just for him, but for so many addicts he has helped along the way.

While I held back my frustrations at his simplistic and contradictory ideas of “help,” at some point, I became incredibly frustrated. I told him that this matter was not just about drugs; it was about traumatic experiences, environment, social norms within their network, and a chemical imbalance that makes her have an addictive personality. I noted that while I appreciated that his version of AA had helped him, that for others, therapy, medication, and other forms of help might be better for her and we had to keep our minds open to what might fit her best.

This is when he began his tirade about “pharmaceutical money-scheming” and “bullshit therapy.” He noted that if doctors were to actually “cure” their patients, they would be out of a job. This isn’t the first time I have encountered someone with this opinion, and I know it will not be my last. But it stung. I am currently battling my bipolar II, and given my treatment-resistant depression (TRD,) I am in a frustrating and scary place.

Also, as someone who does take medication, I do not judge those that do not take medications – I know for some, the side effects are too much for them or they simply do not like the idea. Others have had unfortunately negative experiences in therapy, (who hasn’t,) and are weary of trying it again. And that’s okay. But this man has never tried therapy or medication (there are medications that can help with weaning people off addictive medication.) While I do not have a typical addiction, though I tend to see my self-harming personally as an addiction of sorts, I have spoken to those who have, I have read articles, and I have watched those around me get better. And so while I have heard ignorant comments that insult the mechanisms I choose to use, he added injury to insult by assuming I did not know what it might be like to be in a situation where you are not in control of your thoughts, feelings, and actions.

I had so much to say. But like many women, I have been trained to cry instead of show anger. The other person in the conversation, who knows my story, attempted to turn the conversation, and I stepped outside. I was crying because I was angry at his ignorance. I was crying because while I do not know his whole story, I do not belittle his belief in G-d, even though it is an idea I do not believe in. I actually see commonalities in the various techniques used, including in AA, like radical acceptance or letting go of past resentments. But he has developed an idea about medication and therapy, and without knowing what it really is, has decided it is worthless. And in doing so, he is negating the years of trial and error, and my struggle, because to him, it’s not just about proselytizing, it’s about “the right way.”

In the past few days, I have spent time thinking this through, and most likely giving him more time than he deserves. I know he is coming from a place of ignorance, and while some people are open to listening and learning, there are others who simply can not/will not. They say they are, but they already have decided their right and wrong. I have found this to be true when I tell people about ECT. Sometimes they don’t know what it is, and if do know or find out, their reactions are insulting. Often times, they look afraid and aghast, I have had people literally take steps back. You can see their idea of you shifting in their head. I have even had doctors look at me with horror and what feels like judgment. I always imagine they are thinking, “how can someone who seems so normal, be so fucked up? Who knew she was actually crazy – I mean she let herself be electrocuted.” Some are willing to listen and learn; others aren’t. And like this man, I allow them to make me feel ashamed of my choices.

I also think his comments hurt more than usual because I am currently struggling with my faith in the process. I am frustrated, scared, tired, and my hope is dwindling. Having someone exacerbate my fear is unsettling. Both of these reasons have more to do with me and my issues, and not him. I accept that.

I suppose in my own way, I want to proselytize my reasoning for being open-minded to all voices. I have found that if I allow myself to listen to the other side, I see how much we have in common, am able to analyze and understand some of what they dislike in my choice, and while I still may maintain my belief, find value in the challenge of learning to see it from different perspectives. I walk away with the understanding that nothing in life is as simple as we might want it to be. But not everyone works that way and it is not my place to tell them to do so.

I am trying to see this experience as a lesson. An opportunity for the radical acceptance that the nuance of humans includes those that are unwilling to open their minds. Understanding that he is a complex person, that this is one part of him that I do not like, but there are reasons why he is the way he is, he is not hurting anyone, and at the end of the day, he is more than just that one opinion. And he is entitled to that opinion, even if I do not agree.

Well, that is the ideal anyway.

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Sitting Alone with My Loneliness

I remember how lonely my depression was. Not just because it often led to cutting people out of my life to “spare” them a burden they couldn’t understand and would never be able to fix, but also because my depression craved to be alone with me, a captive and her abductor. Still, having someone to turn to, even when I resisted, felt sometimes like being saved – whether that person knew it or not.

There were times, sitting in my room, questioning the continuance of living, when someone would happen to text me a message telling me they missed me. Or I would listen to a voicemail (I generally didn’t pick up the phone at that point,) and hear such happiness in a friends’ voice. I knew that even if they couldn’t understand, there were a few people that if I would have been brave enough, would have come to sit next to me or take a walk with me – if I had only been strong enough to ask for help. Just knowing I had that support and that people loved me, gave me enough strength to give myself another day.

I suppose, even though I detest asking for help, I have always felt reassured knowing it was at least there. I never really believed people liked me and therefore would want to help me, given how many times I was discarded growing up. But by college, even though I kept my friends in the dark about the details of my sickness, I knew they were around and no matter how much I wanted to hide in bed, they would eventually come in and drag me out. When I came home after my breakdown, my mother was there for me, checking in every day, sometimes to listen, sometimes to get the wrath of my anger – but just knowing she was there, was a safety against being completely enveloped by the depression.

I have to say that my doctors’ support has also given me the protection and strength I have needed at times. Having people around me that believe me and more importantly, believe in me, gives me strength I never knew I had. Sometimes I worry that I depend too much on this support, but at this point, I need it too much to even think of letting it go.

I look around at others and most of them have someone nearby to lean on, to tell their stories – both important and inane. To get them out of the house or take them somewhere that maybe scares them to go alone. This could be a close friend, a neighbor, a boyfriend, or a husband.

As I have been preparing for London, my mom and I are trying to adjust our relationship by slowly pulling apart. If we don’t start now, I fear the intense change could be devastating for both of us, as we have become tethered quite tight in terms of dependency.

I attempted to withdraw from a medication last week and fell into a horrible place. They do always say side effects can include depression and suicidal thoughts, but I suppose I was expecting tremors and insomnia. I went back on the drug – I guess while it was small, having an addictive medication in your system for over a decade takes a long time and it looks like we are going to have to break the dosage decrease down even further. Still, while I have gone back up, the side effects still linger. I’ve been quite sad, thoughts appear I haven’t had in almost two years, and I find myself unable to leave the house, or do the self-care I have come to regard as a daily lifestyle.

And last night, as I sat against the wall, unable to sleep, crying because I just felt so weak, I realized how alone I felt. I don’t have a friend I can call at any hour. Most are married, some have children, and jobs they must be awake for every morning. My mom is out of town, but honestly, we are just starting to change our habits, and I don’t want to fall back to where we were and have to start over. My therapist is amazing and will arrange 15 minute calls to just let me vent and panic on the phone, which at this point, is what I really need. But I have to call and leave a message and then she gets back to me and then we arrange a time and by then, I have gone through so many thought cycles, I don’t even know what I’m feeling by the time I reach her.

It’s time like these that the loneliness aches so terribly. When I realize the difference a loving husband or boyfriend could make. Even just someone to hold me or distract me. I realize that not having developed a group of friends in the past five years has left me so vulnerable and alone. I literally have no support net to fall back on. I go through my rolodex of possible help in my head, and come up blank. Last night, as I sat there crying, I realized I was more than lonely, I was alone. Alone with my thoughts which are no longer completely my own as my brain still adjusts back to my medication. And it terrified me.

Self Mutilation: An Ugly Tattoo of Hate & Shame

Disclaimer: Let me first say that cutting, or “self-mutilation” is a horrible thing and I do not condone it in any way. I do not think it’s helpful, actually works in the long-term, or is a worthy form of positive self-medication. I’m also not going to go into details about how I did it or where I did it, because I always found that when I read about it, it was like a how-to with tips, and that’s not my intention either. If you find yourself cutting, you should seek help – whether by telling a friend or family member; finding a support group; seeking out a therapist; or calling a hotline. And if you are someone who is told that someone you love is cutting, the best thing you can do is ask them how you can help.

That being said, for me, cutting was a self-medication I began my sophomore year in college (see post on self-medication for background.) I will say that when I started, I was at a point where I felt like I was going to explode inwards. My pain was so severe and nothing seemed to dull it. I physically felt like I was throbbing with pain and bloated with agony. I imagined myself like a balloon that had too much air in it and needed a release. And that’s what cutting did. It was like I was letting a little of the pain out psychologically by creating a hole physiologically. The release never lasted more than 2-5 minutes and then the shame of having hurt myself plus now having to hide it led to other negative self-medication like binge-drinking and eating. But sometimes, it just led to a good cry. Not even a cry – a good all-out sobbing. And now I realize, that’s what I really needed and what felt so good. It wasn’t the cutting. It was that I was feeling so much I felt nothing and the pain of the cut allowed me to feel and then brought all of my emotions to the surface.

Like most self-medications, I became addicted quickly and learned how to hide it. Now, in retrospect, I think a part of me always wanted someone to see it. It was like I was waving for someone to help me from a sinking ship by flashing a part of my skin that hadn’t healed or accidentally showing a band-aid with hopes someone would catch me in a lie.

I also was struggling with some family issues at the time and was frustrated that I thought no one in my family understood my pain. As a child, I was deemed the sensitive, empathetic one. (And to be fair – I really was and still am.) But I had tried to explain to my family that something just wasn’t right since I was little. They would check my forehead, tell me I was hormonal, or just tell me I was taking things too seriously. By high school, that’s when I stopped complaining as much and took matters into my own hands. From my perspective, my family was too busy living their lives to see my pain and I was in this alone – the odd one out that never belonged there anyway.

And so perhaps a part of me cut because I wanted to hurt them and I wanted them to see my hurt. I wanted to make them believe my pain was real and not hormonal. I was sick and I needed them to see it. And so, after a few years of cutting, with some therapy to boot, I told my family. I want to say I felt sick seeing how it hurt them, and given my love for my family, it did. But it also made me see in their pain, their love for me. I know they have always had it, but I never really saw it, and I guess the cutting opened up that opportunity for me.

I’ll never regret the process of self-medicating. It’s what made me realize I needed to accept support from others, to get on prescription medication, to change my lifestyle, and eventually to get ECT. I still have the random bender where I cut, but it’s different now. The high doesn’t last, and I know now I’ll need to tell my family and I’ll be ashamed because I know how much time and effort and faith they put into me. I know that they themselves deserve more from me, and so do I.