One Decision; Five Minutes in my Mind

Precursor: Why I’m Not Sure You’ll Ever Really Understand (to my friends who do not have a mental illness)

When you feel sad or uncomfortable, your first thought is: what can I do to alleviate this pain. That is my initial thought that gets quickly eaten by this Pac-Man thought of “You can’t fix this. You deserve this. You should feel worse. You will never fix this. If anything, you should feel worse.

I know that voice is wrong. I know it’s ineffective, hurtful to myself and others, perpetuating a whole host of problems that continue to get worse.

You’ve got to nip it early. When you first start to feel bad, that’s when you have to get out, do something, don’t let it hold you.

Sometimes at night, when the day’s over, and most likely ruined with disappointments of things I should or could have done, I think about the next day. How I can do things differently? How I can wake up and leave the house first thing just to get outside and breathe the fresh air? How I can without doing anything else, just put on my gym clothes and walk my half-awake self over and know whatever comes out of it, it’s better than nothing at all.

I can’t describe the frustration, the anger of wanting to hit myself, scratch my face, slap myself at the simplicity of knowing this to be true. Every time I read yet another article about how exercise could actually make my depression lessen, it seems so simple. “So your problem is you don’t exercise. You just need to move. You can do yoga inside. You can take a walk around the neighborhood. You can dance in your apartment. It’s as simple as that.”

And so this morning, I woke up with the intention of going to the gym. This is what went through my head. Don’t know if you relate, but this is just my thought process in deciding whether to leave the house this morning.

I said I’d go to the gym this morning and instead I slept in and now I’ve been at the computer for hours. I should go. I feel awful. My limbs ache, my neck hurts from sitting, my back hurt from arching. I can feel the energy in my body, vibrating, wanting to be set free. All I have to do is put on a bra and a pair of shoes, maybe a hat, oh and some water, and maybe a snack because I might go farther than I expect, and my wallet because what if I need to buy something or there is an emergency and I get hit, and a book if I decide to sit and read, and my phone and headphones, and of course an extra sweater and my keys and my headphones and probably a hat. I should probably put on sunscreen because even when it’s foggy out I can get those rays and they’ll just make me look older and less desirable.

Where am I going to walk? What if there are other people out there? What if they see me and I look disgusting. Maybe I should wash my face and put on moisturizer and brush my teeth because well, it’s kind of gross. Well maybe I should eat breakfast first – ugh, I feel so fat and yet I’m still hungry. Oh, I have to go to the bathroom, I have the worst cramps from overeating last night. I have no self-control. Why am I trying to punish myself? And I eat, I don’t need to, and then I hate myself. And I was just sitting there all night. I could have done homework, or taken a walk. I could have done art or called someone. I could have been effective.

What is this self-compassion thing anyway? An excuse to not do things that could make me feel better than just watching TV and wishing my life was different. I suppose it was fine to eat that first piece of bread but then I was so disappointed, for just failing yet another night. Why did I have to eat the other piece? And then at that point, I was so sad and angry and nervous about this lack of control, this fat beast with no self-control that will never look good enough and never be loved and never allow themselves to be loved or love themselves, so I ate the pistachios. Now I’m bloated and sitting here thinking about it just makes me fat.

Ok, so then I just have to open the door and lock it. I have to expose myself to the world. My fat, lazy, worthless, pathetic self to others. And maybe I will see someone who is young and maybe they don’t exercise but they still can look so amazing in their leggings. And how do they not show their underwear line? I’m so cheap-looking, I look like someone who is just so ugly and stupid and can’t even wear their underwear right. And people will see that and they will just think I don’t deserve to be outside walking. Or they will think I’m ugly and somehow just knowing they could think that just proves what I know to be true – that I am. And then it will be cold, it will hurt because it’s cold and because I still haven’t bought those over-pants because I’m too lazy and even when I could do it while sitting watching tv, I still do an NYTimes crossword which I’m not smart enough to figure out so I just cheat. So pathetic. But can’t even go on Amazon to buy the pants. Not that I have the money. And I’m so pathetic still getting money from my parents. And I spend too much while telling everyone how frugal I am because I can’t do basic math. And I have to just keep eating so I have to keep buying food. Because I’m selfish and fat and have no self-control.

Plus I have this homework. And it will probably take me longer because I keep procrastinating. And I won’t like what I write. And I can study for the quiz but how will I know if I’ve studied enough? I mean I’ve aced all the other ones but it will feel so awful to get it wrong when I know this stuff is so easy. But studying for it is better than reading the other stuff on counseling because that just makes me so scared that I can’t do this. And I have that mock this week. I’m going to fuck that up. I have no idea what to do. I don’t know how to set goals with clients, I’m horrible at that. It just doesn’t make sense. What if I’m not feeling good and I’m out of it and I just can’t think of anything to say or I do what I always do and drone on and on? I hate my voice. And I can’t believe how fat I looked on that last video.  I can feel my stomach fat.

I can’t believe I was in shape and I let it go. I worked so hard. I mean I still felt so fat and clothes still didn’t fit right but at least I was thinner than now. Now I have no muscle. I should try to just do some push-ups or sit-ups. Man, it’s going to be so depressing to not even be able to do one or two. I used to be able to do 16. I mean not well, I can never do them well. I can’t believe I thought I was so strong. I mean, I knew I wasn’t I just let others think I was. But I knew I wasn’t. I knew I was just skimming by. I do that with everything. Never fully committed. Always just doing the bare minimum to get by.

Why do I feel like crying? I’m so weak. I can tell people I’m depressed but they’ll still be disappointed and they probably won’t believe me. I ate that breakfast so fast. No wonder I’m fat. I don’t even know how to enjoy food. But honestly, it just doesn’t taste that good. I feel like people enjoy food, it tastes so good and I don’t. And I try to keep myself from eating foods that are fattening but I eat so much, I stuff myself because I’m weak and then I will keep gaining weight. Plus I don’t move.

My g-d, it’s been two hours and I haven’t left the house. And I have work to do and if I do go to that thing tonight, I have to give myself a half hour to get there. It only takes 10 minutes but what if there’s traffic, or I somehow get lost? Better to get there early and wait in the car. Well, it’s going to take me an hour to get ready. How does it take someone who barely does anything to get ready so long to get ready? I don’t shave my fat legs, I barely wear makeup. I could try to do something nice with my hair but what if it looks stupid and then everyone will say it looks nice because they’ll know I tried but it won’t look nice but I can’t say that to them because it sounds pathetic and self-serving like I’m asking them to say no, you really do look nice, even though I know I don’t. I know I say that to people sometimes just to make them feel better even if I don’t fully mean it. Who am I to judge other people? They still have a boyfriend and some self-respect and here I am judging their hair or clothes. When was the last time I went shopping? Not that I have the money to or that I’ll like how it looks.

Man, I feel sorry for myself. And why do I sweat so much? My clothes are going to just start smelling. It doesn’t matter the deodorant. I haven’t done laundry in two weeks. How can I not do it? It’s a building away. Why am I scared to do laundry? It feels like fear. If someone is in the laundry room, what if they rape me or what if they don’t and think I’m ugly. Well, which is it? Do you want them to find you attractive enough to rape or too ugly to even think about? My g-d that’s sick. You are seriously pathetic. I feel this deep pain, starting in my throat all the way down to my stomach and I think kind of in my thighs though that makes no sense. Are those nerves? Why am I sad? Maybe it’s energy which I could get out if I just left the house. But what if it doesn’t work? Besides, it’s not the gym and it won’t really help make me more fit. It’s all this anxiety of worrying that I will be attacked that people will judge me that I will judge myself for not walking long enough and for what? For the chance that I will feel better and then be more effective? I don’t know, last time I went I didn’t really feel better. And my knee kind of hurt. Of course maybe if I wore the right shoes and wasn’t so fat.

I need to buy new shoes but I don’t want to go to the store. My socks are old, my toenails are gross, and even though I waxed my leg, you can still see some. If I get a guy he’ll think I’m gross and if I get a girl she will judge me. What’s a fat girl doing getting athletic shoes? And they’re so expensive. What if they’re not comfortable but I have to wear them because they’re so expensive? And mom will joke that I will return them but it isn’t really a joke because I probably will. Why am I so indecisive about the dumbest shit?

Is there a dead rat in the wall or is that me that smells? If it’s a dead rat I have to call maintenance and then someone has to come in here. If I’m not here, then they are privy to all my stuff. But if I am here, what if they hurt me? But would they? Is that arrogant to think that? It’s awkward anyway. And if there isn’t a rat, that’s embarrassing and if there is, they’re going to look through all my stuff. And I am so disorganized because I’m lazy. Why didn’t I kill myself? Oh please like you could make that strong of a decision but you find picking out fruit overwhelming. Why do you make everything such a big deal? You must be so exhausting to other people. Who wants to be around someone that complains constantly, that makes everything such a production. You are so needy, you are such a child.

Are you going to blame this somehow on your childhood? Honestly, grow up. I wish you were strong enough to either kill yourself or at least hurt yourself. But if you’re going to do it, do it with something that will help you – like exercising too much or anorexia. Cutting is so pointless. You never do it right – you see those teens and how much they cut – that’s real pain. Remember how you told everyone and it made them so freaked out? But you didn’t even do it well. And now you’ve scared people away. You are a bullshit artist. All I want to do is get under my covers and just watch some tv. But what if later I regret that? Wasting all that time when I have work to do and then I’m going to be stressed out because I have all this work and no one to blame but myself? But is this work even important? Am I learning anything?

Oh my g-d, I have so much work to do. I have all those papers and I have to find articles. I have to go to that meeting but I just don’t want to leave the house. There’s so much to do to leave the house. And I just feel so sad. And angry. I’m such a pathetic broken record. And I’m so fat.

Fuck, it’s been two hours. I’m never going to the gym now. This is my fault. I mean, it doesn’t feel like I can, I don’t know how to explain that to people, like, I just feel too anxious, scared, ugly, fat, worthless, pathetic to leave the house. I can’t call anyone because I don’t even know how to explain this to them. And they won’t understand. I barely do. Is this an illness or am I just a spoiled brat? How can a house be so boring and yet so messy and disorganized? Remember when you used to be organized? When you were super depressed but still high functioning? Maybe being severely depressed was better for you. Now you’re just pathetic.

Maybe the meds are working, you’re just scared to handle life. You’re making this up. Or maybe you’re forcing it to happen. What if one day they do a test and you don’t have a chemical imbalance and they tell you that you have been lying. But like, this doesn’t feel right. I mean I suppose it is under my control but I can’t do it. I am too weak. I swear I want to. I want to go to the gym. I can feel that. I just can’t seem to and now I have to do work. I just want to watch TV. Maybe if you were more effective you wouldn’t feel that way. You did this. I know it doesn’t feel that way but you did. Why are you so weak?

I can’t believe I’m going to cancel tonight. I can say it’s a migraine. They won’t believe me. I want to see those people but I can’t. I don’t know why it has to be so complicated but it is. Maybe I’ll feel better later. Of course, if I stay in the house all day I probably won’t. I wish someone would come pick me up. I wish someone would come take a walk with me. I’m so lonely. I can’t ask. Who am I going to ask anyway? Only person who would do that is mom and I would feel so guilty but also pathetic – I need someone to come to get me to take a walk. How can I be 37? What a waste.

I did that assignment though. I mean, not well and it’s really small and there’s that larger one I’m avoiding. Why can’t I appreciate the little things? I’m so ungrateful. My back hurts. G-d, I hate myself so much. I feel this rage inside, this little creature inside. I want it to tear my body apart, to tear me apart from the inside out. At least then I will have a reason to feel pain. My eyes are tearing up. I’m so exhausted.

I wonder if I’ll leave the house today. If I don’t, I probably won’t leave tomorrow. Fuck, I have work on Monday. I hope my clothes fit. I hope I have the energy to do it. I hope I don’t fuck it up. Jesus, it’s Saturday. Why don’t you just try to not fuck up today? I can’t stand not knowing what will happen today. This is my life and I’m wasting it one day at a time. How am I going to explain this to them? I’m so weak. Worthless. And I still haven’t gone to the gym.

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The Scary Slope of Self-Growth: Running on Empty in an Attempt to Find Myself

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Looks like I’m in the middle of an existential crisis. I imagine for most people if they actually get to this place of “Who am I? Who do I want to be? What makes me feel fulfilled? Why am I here?” they are terrified. It’s a really scary place to be. For me, this process has me terrified, feeling like it’s slowly sliding me into an uncomfortable depressive state.

I started asking myself “what is the point of me?” around second-grade, and it hasn’t stopped since.  Even when I was a high-functioning, I just didn’t feel I was needed, and that my burden was greater than any gift I could provide.

But that was the depression, right? Depression tells you, you are worthless. That you will never be able to contribute enough to make yourself worthy of existence and that honestly, you look pretty fucking pathetic trying. You ask “Who am I?” and it tells you “A piece of shit.” “But who do I want to be?” “Doesn’t matter. You’ll never be good enough at it.” “What makes me fulfilled?” “You can’t feel fulfillment! To do that you have to stop being such a fucking nuisance.” (Evidently, my depression has a foul mouth.) “Why am I here?” “Good question. And like I’ve been trying to tell you, you probably shouldn’t be.

Let me back up a step. This all started because when I got to grad school, I felt like the one thing that was really missing from my life was intimacy. I never really had a boyfriend, between the depression, bullying, rejection, body dysmorphia, self-harm, and sexual assaults, the idea of being that vulnerable, it was just too overwhelming to take on. Then, to add to this delightful menage of fucked-up factors, my medications killed any sex drive I might possibly have. Needless to say, my childhood rom-com dreams slowly shriveled over time.

But there I was, in graduate school, in shape, making friends, having my “shit together,” and I just felt so fucking alone. (Ok, I do feel so fucking alone.) And I look all around me, and there are so many people, just as fucked up as I am, and they are in relationships. And I just thought, I can figure this out. So I stopped DBT and I decided to go to a sex therapist. Turns out, you can’t just be like “Hey so I have a super fucked-up relationship with intimacy and I would love to go ahead and just resolve that. Thanks.” In fact, she didn’t even want to get into my trauma the first session.

Instead, we have been diving into my identity and the questions I posited above. Now I think anyone in my place would be overwhelmed – these are life-long questions that are never truly answered. But what freaks me out is that these questions feel oddly similar to the questions I asked myself when I was suicidal. I know (and am grateful) that I’m not in that space anymore. I know that when I ask myself “Why am I choosing to live” it is in a different context than when I asked myself in the depths of depression. But I still don’t have an answer.

In the past, I stayed alive because I knew that killing myself would destroy my family. And I felt like I already was such a burden that while I felt in the long-run it would benefit them, I just knew it would hurt them too much. And so I stayed alive – for them. I kept fighting – for them.

So why do I get up now? Why do I choose to live? Because doing it for them isn’t enough anymore – nor should it be. I asked a friend today why she chooses to go through all the bullshit of life. What makes this arduous journey worthwhile? She noted joy, pleasure, achievement, helping others, possibility, and growth. She also noted that while she has bad days, she never has had a day where she wonders why she exists. Duly noted. And that makes sense to me. Joy and pleasure (which you can derive from helping others, growth, and possibility) are fucking awesome. But I don’t feel joy or pleasure. Ok, to be fair, when I help people, I get a little high. When I make people laugh, I feel good. When I have a really good workout (if I can remember that far back,) I have a good hour of “Fuck yeah, life!” But in general, I have a dull feeling in life. I get what feels like a pleasure wave, but it never crests, it just breaks. And that’s a problem. Because I can work with living to help others and make the world a better place, but I don’t know if that will sustain me for a long period of time. I need more than that; I think we all do.

I’m not really afraid of an existential crisis, per say. I think being introspective, intellectual, emotionally intelligent, and hyperaware, it just comes with the territory. I’m okay not knowing who I am yet. It’s scary and frustrating, but I get it. Depression was my identity for so long, I never developed a sense of self. What scares me is whether I have the energy and wherewithal to find myself. We can use our body, but if we don’t replenish it with food, liquid, etc. we will die. Emotional energy is the same. If I keep expending energy, getting things done, doing things that challenge me, helping others, but I don’t grow stronger? If I can’t get fulfillment and strength from the joy and pleasure of exploration? Then I’m not sure how to keep going. I feel like I’m running on empty and I don’t know what I can do to fuel up. And that is scary as fuck.

 

How Do You Know When It’s Time to Say “When?”

Over the past two and a half years since I found a medicinal cocktail that seems to be working, I have slowly been rebuilding a life for myself. It’ s been difficult – not only because my entire life had been torn apart, but also because I’ve never “lived” as this person before. I’m experiencing things for the first time as whoever I am now, and I don’t know how it should feel.

But it’s been good. It started slowly with leaving the house once a day. to run an errand, usually accompanied by my mom. Then I started to go to the gym every day, also with my mom. I changed my diet and went back to being vegan. I finally moved out of my parents’ house and got my own place. I started running errands and going to the gym alone. I reconnected with friends and even made one or two new ones. I got a job for four hours a week and took classes at a community college. I applied for graduate school. Now that I’m in graduate school, I am taking a full course load. I am actively involved in our student association. I have a fellowship and recently a new job, 12 hours a week. I am doing research for an internship next year. Fuck, I went on my very first date in November, and while that is stagnant (by choice) now, I did it so now I know I can.

When you become a counselor, (that’s what I’m getting my MS in,) there is an ethical mandate for self-care. An ethical MANDATE. Faculty and friends are constantly saying “make sure you are not spreading yourself too thin,” “only do what you can to your capacity,” “make sure you are balancing your self-care and your school.” While I actually find it aggravating considering the faculty are the ones giving us copious amounts of work and my friends are all type-A and planning on getting A’s as they manage the rest of their lives, I also don’t know the answer.

I’ve tried to ask people – how do you know when you reach your capacity? They don’t usually have an answer. Maybe they don’t know what I am asking. I saw my psychiatrist last week, someone who has seen me at my very worst, and asked her how “normal” people know when to say when? How will I know if I am reaching burnout? Don’t you have to reach burnout to know you’ve reached it?

As someone with a behavioral health condition, emotions are never as simple as they seem. Anxiety could turn into a panic attack. Feeling sad could lead me to bed for days, or even self-harm. Knowing that possibility of severity is always lurking makes me hypervigilant with my emotions. Hence, my fear of not knowing my capacity. Because if you have to burnout to realize your capacity, that’s not something I can allow. What if burnout is a slip in recovery? What if I can’t come back? That’s why knowing the answer feels so important to me and not having one feels so frightening.

There is a part of me that wants to push myself and see what else I can do. I have surprised myself so much in the past few months by what I have achieved; I am excited and scared to see what else I could do. I still feel gaps are missing and traumas ungrieved. But I am curious as to who I am becoming. At the same time, there is a terrified inner child who just wants us to appreciate where we are and be grounded and centered and satisfied. It warns me to pull back, to remember the blows of rejection and failure. To ignore the intellectual understanding of the bullshit that is American values, and remember how it can feel.

And I find myself right back where I started: when will I know when to say when? And when will “when” be good enough? What about you? How do you know when you have reached burnout? When do you decide to say no? What does “self-care” look like to you? What’s the trick to this thing called living? What’s your “when?”

The Somatic Coma: My Body’s Inability to Feel Emotion

The other day, my friend and I were speaking about meditation and other anti-anxiety techniques we have been using. I have been trying to meditate five minutes at night and five minutes in the morning every day for about 10 days. I’m not sure it’s really doing anything but I figure it takes a while to “see results.” We started talking about other techniques. I have a few from DBT: I will count all white cars or the letters on each word of a sign. She said that for her, sitting outside and feeling the breeze on her face or the sun on her back; her sensory feelings – directly impact her emotion-mind.

I started seeing my new therapist because she works with sexual trauma. We haven’t actually gotten to any of it yet since I’m evidently having an existential crisis, but one thing did come out a few weeks ago. A while back I wrote a post about how mood stabilizers kill your ability to be creative. That when I saw beauty, I couldn’t feel it, and how sad it made me. But what I have come to realize is that I do not allow myself to feel anything that would elicit a feeling of pleasure. And I’m not talking just sexual. I’m talking about when I am with friends and we are all laughing together and I start to get that excited, tingly sensation of happiness – and then my body shuts down. I still laugh, but it’s not deep from an authentic place of joy. I often find myself turning around or excusing myself to go somewhere – to escape. When someone is complimenting me and I start to feel that warm feeling of love and care, once again my body shuts down and my mind takes over with narratives denying everything that is being said. When I get to the top of the ridge and I look out into the distance, I start to feel what may be a sense of something beautiful, and then I feel void. Empty. Blank. What I didn’t realize until recently is that there is a step (quicker than a blink) between the incident/image that causes pleasure, and the blank, disassociated non-feeling I arrive at only able to look at what is occurring from a rational, intellectual mind.

Growing up as a sensitive, empathetic child (perhaps a little too much so,) I absorbed everything. When I felt happy, it was ethereal and joyous! I can actually remember the tingling in my body, the overwhelming warmth in my chest when we would scream at recess or my family would all be laughing at the table. When I watched my parents fight, I could literally feel each of their feelings from their perspective. And with age, their increased fighting, my sexual assaults and rape, and years of being bullied and rejected, I think my body did one of two things, or maybe both.

1) It started to have a hard time differentiating between excitement and fear. They both started to feel the same and so even when I was excited about something, it felt awful.

2) Pleasure and joy were feelings that left me vulnerable and open to attack. It was this naivete of happiness that allowed so many to beat me so hard when they rejected me without reason. I no longer felt safe feeling anything positive.

Clearly, I was an emotional machine when it came to pain. Thanks to my depression, I could feel the deep throb of hate, the visceral feelings of wanting to die that make it hard to breathe, that could only be released through self-harm. And I assumed I did not feel joy because I was depressed. And I think it’s fair to say that definitely contributed to it considering my brain was literally not receiving the chemicals it needed to allow for emotion regulation.

But I think my body also taught itself to distrust feelings of pleasure, excitement, sexual energy, curiosity, playfulness, freedom, and trust. As a child, I still allowed myself to be vulnerable but around seventh grade, the bipolar II kicked in and never felt “good,” given my hypomanic episodes didn’t last long.

It is only with the unmasking of the depression through medication in the past few years that I have noticed that when those feelings come round, especially since the rape when I was 22, I disassociate and disconnect from feeling. In fact, the other day, I started to feel the excitement – sadly I can’t even remember why. I started to feel that tingling in my chest, I recognized it, and then it was gone. I couldn’t feel it. I could remember why I began to feel it but my body was numb and I couldn’t get it back. And I think there was a part of me that was terrified of getting it back. It’s like my body has created a DO NOT ENTER sign with a guard who tells me to step back for my own safety.

So maybe my system got fried and stopped being able to tell the difference between good and bad feelings. Or maybe, because I needed to survive, it just shut it all down. Not fight, not flight – just freeze.

The odd thing (though not surprising,) is that I still feel shitty feelings: like anxiety, jealousy, insecurity. Old habits die hard. Luckily, the meds have mellowed the intensity and I have learned some tools to steer my emotional brain away from some thoughts.

I don’t know how therapy will be able to shed the layers of shame, hate, doubt, and disgust that are so deeply connected to feelings of love, desire, passion, and curiosity. I’m not sure if EMDR would help – if I could somehow reprogram my mind to understand the differences in feelings that are good and bad; between excitement and fear.

I am jealous that my friend can allow the feeling, sights, and sounds around her to seep into her body and calm her being. For now, I’ll just keep counting white cars.

Are We There Yet? – Waiting For the Self-Doubt to Subside

How much longer will it take before I can trust the medications? The decisions I am making? How much longer before I can look myself in the mirror and trust that this will be okay?

By “‘this,” it’s not just life. It’s not just the next year or month or week. It’s tonight. It’s moments from now. Fuck, it’s right now.

Each week I continue to build upon this idea that I am better. That I am managing my “behavioral health condition” (new terminology evidently) and can have friends, cook meals, read books, go to the gym, have a job, do an interview. Say yes.

I looked at myself in the mirror tonight, feeling almost as if I was floating away. The depression, it held me down. It pushed my face so deep into the ground, I couldn’t breathe. Even when I stood, I found I was anchored to the ground with hooks throughout my body. With every move I made I felt the hooks rip through my head, my lips, my neck, my chest, my stomach, my hands, my legs, my toes. I ached in pain with every word, every moment of engagement that I made. And now, when I move, I merely feel the scars ache, the wounds were so deep, even with the scar, the flesh is ripped and torn beneath. I will never be fully healed or whole.

And at the same time, now I feel like I need to hold onto the porcelain sink before I get carried away. I can’t feel grounded no matter how much I put my bare feet to the ground, or lie down and meditate, trying to pull the weight of my body down towards the earth, my fear, that kept me hunched over in agony for so long, now threatens me from above.

Perhaps because that is where my dreams and wishes lie? My hopes hang above me, and they seem so innocent, pleasant, alluring. But each day I say yes, it feels like there are two parts of me at war: the one that says “we finally have the chance to dream! come on! let’s jump up high and feel free and weightless!” and the other tells me to “mind myself, keep my head to the ground, and survive.” And the first voice, the innocent child who someone is still alive after all of this time, she is pulling me up; and the foreboding guards flick at my wounds, threatening me with my greatest fears to keep me from following that voice. I am being ripped apart, my different minds no longer asking me, but pulling me.

Our bodies are provided mechanisms for survival. An instinct to protect. Fight. Flight. Freeze. My wires are so crossed now. I’ve been running in survival mode for so many years, I don’t even know what it feels like not to be that way. In fact, sometimes when I actually am relaxed, I find myself panicked. Being relaxed, being happy, being satisfied all make me vulnerable to attack. And my body doesn’t know how to distinguish safety and danger, as so many times those that portrayed themselves as safe, turned out to become my worst nightmares.

I’m in the pool, trying to become a better swimmer, and the woman tells me to relax. “I am,” I tell her. “No. Relax. Like, relax your body.” “This is me relaxed. This is as relaxed as I get!” Because this is only as far as my body will physically let me trust myself. I have gone to the pool three times now. I did 5 laps the first time. 15 the second. And 18 the third, though I really only wanted to do 10. I keep waiting to feel satisfaction. To feel free in the water, to allow it to envelop me and to not fight it but glide with it, as so many are wont to tell me – that is what is missing from me enjoying the experience. I try to feel myself in the water. I try to appreciate that perhaps it is softer on my body. But I don’t feel relief or lightness, so instead, I focus on form, breathing, pushing myself, counting the laps.

DBT brings you to the present. I appreciated that. While it aims for “wise mind,” I always appreciated the rational mind. Because that indeed does ground you. It grounds you in the present. It makes your mind focus on what is before you, not what you will eventually have to do. I stopped DBT and maybe that is why I have felt so ungrounded. But I had started to feel like while it was keeping me grounded, it was keeping me in line. I was checking boxes. I was doing things to show I could do them. And I thought maybe that was keeping me from enjoyment. Because you have to be open to feeling. You have to have some vulnerability to grow.

My new therapist tells me that there is no surprise I feel no pleasure in my body. I don’t enjoy baths, lotions, touch, the sun, beautiful views, laughter. The second I start to feel something in my body, a swelling in my heart, a tingle in my chest, I pull back out of the experience. Evidently, after years of continued trauma, my body and mind got together and taught itself to protect and survive. It would mean I couldn’t feel pleasure but it would protect me from feeling too much pain. The thing is, I did feel pain. I was severely depressed and hurt. But I did it to myself. And that’s a different pain that one that is inflicted unwillingly upon you.

I must be tired. Too many repetitive thoughts; too many spelling errors; too many metaphors that don’t even work. But I looked in the mirror tonight and I was terrified because I just didn’t know how I was going to make it through. And yet I knew I had to. And I just wondered: will I ever not have to feel so scared of something that is unknown? What do others feel at night? Are they scared of the next day? Do they wonder if they will just explode on Tuesday and fall to pieces? How can they plan months ahead? How can they know they can say yes to something so far in advance? I have been doing that – saying yes to the future. And each time I do I feel like I’m going to be sick. I keep thinking this is going to get easier with practice. So I keep practicing.

I’m tired of practicing.

The New “Normal”

I haven’t written a post in quite a while. It’s not that there haven’t been moments these past months that I haven’t thought of doing it. I think I have a few drafts even, but for the most part, I just fell offline. I don’t mind it for myself personally, but I have missed the people I follow. I know I am only a like or a comment, but I have thought of them often. It’s really my only regret – not being there for the people I respect. But it’s done, right?

I wanted to write a post about my new “normal,” but I even write that with trepidation. I have taken steps forward in the past few months. If I’m being kind to myself, I would even say strides. But there is always the narrative that warns me that it could all go away. That something might happen like it has in the past, and all of the work I have done will be for naught. All of my work will once again be erased. My medication working (well enough,) my progress in DBT, my healthy lifestyle, making the choice to go to graduate school, trying new things, doing things that scare me, being okay with being scared.

There is a part of DBT that is about accumulating positives. I find it rather funny since one of the many talents of being mentally ill is the ability to accumulate negatives no matter how good things may seem. I fear the idea of reveling in contentment. I feel like, for years, every time I did that, my depression or some mean girl or just life would whip me back and slap me down. So I downplay. And besides, it’s all relative. I mean, compared to some people I know, my positives would be jokes. But I know, I shouldn’t compare or judge.

I will say this. If this is how it’s going to be, I’m okay. I can make this work. It’s imperfect, it teeters, some days it feels like I lost it and I just have to hope it’s there when I wake up the next day – I just don’t want to lose it. I’ll always want things to be better, and I hope that isn’t innate. I hope rather than wanting things better, I’ll just want to try more things, but be at peace with how things are. I know that tragedy potentially surrounds me at all times. Not just the fear of bipolar taking up residency again, but people getting sick, being hurt, dying. Loss. Pain. Sadness. It’s laid out before me along with all the other possibilities.

And there are so many potential paths – waiting to see if A, then B, but if C, then E. Trying to gain comfort in what I can control and try to come to peace with that which I cannot. Once again, for a person with mental illness, control is not a high-functioning component of the disease and yet I believe it has been integral in maintaining whatever this viable life is.

I meet people now and they don’t know “me.” They don’t know what I have been through to stand before them, the person they think they see. A part of me wants to tell them “Oh, yeah – this isn’t me. I mean, I’ve had fucking ECT. I’ve done some pretty messed up things to myself. I was in bed for two years. Twice. I’ve been suicidal, and not just ‘I wonder what it would be like?'” And that is me. But at the same time, it’s not. Because right now, in this moment, I don’t need ECT. I can get out of bed. I do not have a desire to harm. I have problems, shitty days, and am definitely not where I would wish I could be, but seem to be okay. For now. In this moment. And that was never the case.

I say the new “normal” because people think that the person I am now is me. And it is. But it’s work. And it’s time. And I am so lucky to have those luxuries that allow me to have that space.

I could still accumulate a list of negatives that would rock your mental world. I have friends who are sick, I am incredibly lonely, I have some serious issues that are on the backburner that will have to be addressed. Yesterday was a shit day. It was actual the third shit day in a row. Today, it wasn’t even that different and yet, today was okay. I was able to appreciate what I did do today and be thankful. And right now, that’s just enough that makes me ready for tomorrow and all the fears, good or bad, the unknown brings.

I missed you guys. I don’t know if I will be able to be back on. Things are about to get a bit busy. But I wanted to check-in and let you know you have been in my thoughts and I have missed this community and all it has given me. I’m so happy to see you all on here, still fighting, still pushing, still making it day to day. Take care of you.

Memories Erased: A Life Forgotten

My best friend of 16 years, came to visit me this past week from the East Coast. As we spent time together, we “reminisced” about college, our time in DC, and our lives since then. As we spoke, we both realized I can’t remember shit. And it’s not just because I have a bad memory, drank a lot in college, or had ECT two years ago – though those all have played a role I’m sure. But I think the depression blurred all my memories into just this swirl of images and deep, painful feelings. And I miss those memories. I miss hilarious debauchery from college; embarrassing nights in DC; weddings; deaths; adventures abroad and stateside. I also don’t remember a lot of my life since I’ve been home. I don’t remember how to get places from my childhood, or people that visited while I was suicidal, or even how to get to where I lived when I first arrived three years ago.

It’s hard listening to other people tell you about your life. Not because I don’t trust them – even if they lie, as long as it’s funny, I don’t care. It’s that I can’t remember a hysterical incident or watching my best friend marry the man she loves. I can’t remember how I set a friend up with her now-husband, or a gym I went to two years ago. Sometimes I get images, or I look at pictures and I feel emotions about the events, but I think a lot of times, I’m manipulating what people have told me into an imaginary memory.

I mean, I remember that we laughed hysterically. I know for a fact that I made an ass out of myself repeatedly. I know that I was so happy for all my friends who found their loves and that my toasts killed. I am so thankful for their love, devotion, and support which I can feel even if I can’t remember exactly what they said, or when, or where.

But I feel so empty without my memories. They are a testament to a life lived. For me, depression is not living, it’s just being. And every time I can’t remember something, I feel like it’s a part of me that was taken away; stolen violently from me to be replaced with images of searing pain and endless crying.

When I mention my loss of memory, everyone always assumes it was during ECT. And yeah, it fucks with your short term memory. While I was getting ECT, I don’t really remember the other things I was doing. I do remember laughing because I would ask the same question twice within a ten minute period. I know I relied heavily on my mom to keep track of the days. But nothing was happening during ECT that really needed to be noted and stored away. In fact, it wasn’t until I got a job and tried to keep doing ECT that I realized I couldn’t actually live a productive or meaningful life while I was doing it. But those aren’t the memories I miss. It’s the ones stolen by this wretched, unforgiving disease. The good ones. The ones you pull when you need to laugh or remember why you forgive someone after they’ve done something mean.

Every year my dad ages, his stories become more and more embellished. Instead of being a faculty member in a story, that person is now the dean. Instead of him watching an event, he was actually there doing it. At times, I can’t decide whether I’m angry at him for lying, or sad that I think he actually believes what he’s saying.

I’m not one to embellish. In fact, I tend to downplay stories rather than pull out narcissistic exaggerations like him. However, I worry that my memories will be manipulated. Like myths and bedtime stories, my life will be put together through the tellings of others. And now, that the cloud of depression has lifted, I haven’t many things that I want to store in my memory bank. A few lovely occasions, one or two kooky nights, maybe a phone conversation that made me feel loved.

I hope to add to that memory bank – to start living a life and have stories to tell from my perspective. But if we are the sum of the experiences that have made us who we are, then no wonder every day I struggle with the terrifying feeling that I still don’t know who I am or who I want to be.

I guess I should have kept a journal.

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.