The Dormant Monster: Being “Better” With a Mental Illness

Whoo! It’s been a while since I’ve been on this site. Truthfully, I’ve missed being there for those I followed and shared our days of drudgery and despair, hope and potential. And popping off like I did was unfair to those who write their blogs for support and find solace in the comfort of their online community. For that, I am sorry.

I suppose I stopped for a few reasons. Most of our posts are in times of struggle and it didn’t feel right to write about having positive days. (Even though I realize I rejoice when I read about yours!) The other is that it can be difficult for me not to get sucked into other’s pain. When I’m in my own depressive vortex, hearing from others can make me feel solace, allowing me to provide advice I cannot give to myself. But when I’m fighting to feel better, it sometimes makes me miss depression. And while it feels selfish, I think it is more about self-survival. Still, I found myself writing today and while I’m out of practice, decided to give it a go.

Now on medication that has lifted the deep darkness from my mind, I find myself remembering depression the way it wants me to remember it. Even as an echo of my past, it misconstrues memories and offers to shield me from the arduous process of saying yes to life. It attempts to lure me with a false sales pitch that I could find relief if I just stopped all this work fighting my social anxiety, self-doubt, self-hate, and constant fear of failure. It wants me to forget what it really brings: the breath-taking pain and agony; the anger of being alive; the encompassing self-hate that makes me want to rip all my skin off. It makes me forget the amount of energy it takes to feel that way. Instead, it sells itself as the “easier” option. But so far I have been able to remember that at least this energy can lead to moments of laughter, accomplishment, and love and that energy only leads to destruction.

Fighting depression is so fucking hard. And even with the right medications, eating well, exercising, engaging socially, sleeping, using my brain – every decision I make takes a fuckload of energy and drive. And every time my alarm goes off in the morning, I wonder if today will be the day I won’t be able to get up. That sense of insecurity, of never feeling “cured” lasts throughout the day. Will I get dressed and not be stifled by the hatred of my body, my face, and clothes? Will I be able to leave the house to get to class? Will I be able to engage with people when I’m in class? Will I be able to pay attention and absorb what I’m learning in class? Will I sit alone when I get home and hate myself? Will tonight be the night I cut again? Will I binge eat? Will I get so low I get into bed and not get out for another two years?

It’s hard meeting people how I am now. They see me, I imagine, as an odd, quirky, but functioning person. Someone who may be self-deprecating, but is present, with ideas, thoughts, and energy. As I have started to become closer to people and tell my story, I often am told, “I can’t imagine you like that!” and it leaves me feeling vulnerable and scared. Because I didn’t “survive” depression; I’m not “cured.” I am still a person with a mental illness. I am on medications that temper the strength of my illness, that keep me stable enough to deal with the shit that makes all lives difficult. And it doesn’t make situations less anxious, it doesn’t make my insecurities vanish, but it clears away the darkness enough so I can at least see potential in life, even if I’m not sure how or if I will ever get there.

As time passes and I continue to function, I worry that expectations will continue to rise, and if I fall again it will be that more disappointing. Every time I add something to my plate, accomplish something, do something that scares me, I move a step away from my days of being bed-ridden. But each step away means if I’m pulled back, the fall will be that much longer, the speed and intensity of the fall will be more intense, and I will have far, far, far more to lose than before.

I want to explain to people that my “bad” days will never be like theirs. To be fair, I don’t know what a bad day feels like for someone without a mental illness, but I imagine it is different. One day, I tell a friend I’m upset because I feel like I can’t leave the house. They think I don’t want to leave the house but it is so much more than that. It feels like there is a force field around me, pulsating, sucking the oxygen out, paralyzing me. The idea of opening the door and facing life makes me nauseous. “But it’s okay to have blah days and sit around in your pj’s doing nothing.” Maybe for you! If I do that, there is a high chance I’ll be doing it tomorrow and it will be worse. And the ease in which those two days can turn into seven, I can’t count how many times that happened in the past. And the truth is, I honestly don’t know when a bad day could or will turn into a possible episode. So when I want to sit in bed all day in my pj’s, I have to get out. I have to put on a hat, look in the mirror and feel disgusted and shameful of my body and take a walk. Even if for 20 minutes. And then I have to do all or at least one of the following: I have to text someone and ask them how they are doing; I have to answer at least one email; I have to fight as hard as I can to not check Facebook; I have to try and not give myself a verbal beating for overeating; I have to tell myself it’s NOT okay and that tomorrow has to be different.

It was difficult enough when I was depressed to try and explain how debilitating it was. But now, having to explain the terror of “feeling better” is even harder. I am appreciative that the darkest thoughts are more like memories than feelings. But I know it is never gone, it’s just dormant. And it might remain that way for the rest of my life, or five years, or one month. Still, I try to be grateful. To know that regardless of the cranky days, the side effects, the fear, and the energy, deep down I know no matter how distorted my memories may be, this is better. And that today, I was okay.

I try not to think too far into the future, which is incredibly difficult in a society that is constantly asking “what’s next?” As if surviving isn’t enough. And I try to remember when surviving was enough, take a deep breath and hope that each day I come closer to accepting my reality and the unknown future. I appreciate that while this may be hard, I have been through worse and while it could always get worse, it could also get even better.

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Finding My New & True Voice

 

So remember how last year I got into that school in London but decided not to go because I didn’t think I was ready? Well I reapplied again, and they let me in again. I wasn’t supposed to find out for a few weeks and have been trying to prepare myself. Needless to say I wasn’t ready for it today. Best laid plans, I suppose…

I get in the shower to get ready to go see my psychiatrist. And I just start sobbing. You know that sobbing when you aren’t breathing and no noise is coming out, but your mouth is just wide open, as if the pain is just this black smoke slowly creeping from your mouth. Do we call that sobbing? It feels like an aching echo of pain.

I find myself in a fugue state. I’m getting dressed, getting in the car, but I’m out of my body. I can’t even remember if I put underwear on. I can’t think because I can’t seem to slow my brain down long enough to pick a topic to think about.

And then my mind stops and I begin to think. See, technically, since I have pulled out from the depression, I have moved “forward” from my depression. I finally got out of bed, started keeping appointments, analyzing past experiences, trying new things, losing weight. I have been taking positive steps to a healthy life. But I have no job, no friends, no hobbies. There’s no one to call to share my news, giggle about boys, drag to a museum exhibit. I know that when I had that life I was fucked up. I was self-harming, and drinking, and fucking with my diet and my body. I would hole up in my room for days, not showering, not responding, unable to move. But I had a life.

In fact, I’ve never even know a “life” without depression. I can’t dream of my “perfect” world because my only reference of having things I want is from when I was clinically depressed. All I have to show for it is the life I have built so far – and that is really not a life, but a daily process of trying to stay healthy – physically, emotionally, mentally.

In 2012, I decided I was going to die. And so, from 2012-2014, I received ECT treatments. I voluntarily allowed someone to give me seizures three times a week for over a year. It’s only been 4 years since then. It’s only been two years since I told my mother than when I turned 35, if we hadn’t “resolved” my depression, I was leaving and she needed to prepare. And now, I am 7 months from turning 35 and I am debating whether to move to London? I’m just totally boggled at where I am right now.

I mean – what the fuck? I’m better but I’m not whole. I don’t know how to be whole without my disease. I don’t know if I can be better and be whole. I can’t tell if I might finally get both and then my medication will crap out on me, and I will fall too far, and this time, just refuse to get back up.

Man, I hate hope. It’s such a manipulative monster. Then again, so is depression. Hope makes you want – desire, happiness, passion, joy. It fills your mind with possibilities and “what-ifs” that don’t end in tears. I’m so fucking scared right now, my fingers are shaking.

I feel so selfish to even feel this way. I mean, this is what we all want, right – to be better? I wonder how many people actually get “better” and go to their psychiatrist just to “check-in” but they actually are living functional, content lives. I mean, I didn’t actually think that would ever happen. Not in reality. I don’t know whether I can handle another breakdown, but I also will never know if I can find a life worth living if I don’t try.

And the weirdest part of this whole thing, is that with all of these achievements, my urges to self-harm have increased. I keep trying to protect myself from letting go and believing good things can happen. I don’t trust my own voice because for so long, it wasn’t mine. It sounded like me, it came from within me, but it was my depression. Do I have a voice? What does it sound like? Can I trust it? How do I know it’s my true voice?

 

Living vs. Being Alive

Today would be the day I registered for my classes if I had gone to London. This past week, I’ve approached each day in relation to what I would be doing if I had made the decision to go. And it’s made worse by the fact that I’m basically doing nothing to move my life forward. After all, I decided not to go because I wasn’t emotionally ready and wanted to grow stronger. I’ve spent the last month taking two classes at a community college and going to the gym when I can get up the nerve. I’m guessing this isn’t going to cut it.

When I tell others about what my day “could have been like,” they tell me not to worry; I’ll be there in a year. I mean, that was the plan in deferring. But I think I know I’m not. I wasn’t even planning on going, the whole idea was just an experiment to see if I had the guts to apply. And then once I got in, it was just assumed I would attend. A part of me thinks I said I’d go because I wanted to be that person who could.

I know you never know when you’ll be ready for something in life. And that you can find reasoning and purpose behind almost all choices. But I feel like I failed. I’m angry that I can’t be that person and that I may never be. I can’t even tell if I want to be that person that could. And I hate the people who can.

One of my main issues with my depression was that I felt like I was alive but not living. I was breathing, peeing, eating, sleeping, but I wasn’t living, not really. I was sticking around physically for the people around me so they wouldn’t have to deal with the grief of my absence. I suppose they preferred the burden of my depression, rather than the grief of my passing.

The chemical depression has mostly worn off. (More on that later.) But I still don’t feel like I’m living. Sometimes, I’ll be engaged in a conversation with someone and for those minutes, I do feel alive. When I’m in class, or doing homework, I feel alive. And then I walk back to my car and I feel alone – just me and my breathing. Time passing, me just being.

At what point is being alive not enough? I suppose it has something to do with hope. With believing in a future. With finding peace in the present. I keep thinking to myself: “What would it take for you to feel satisfied? To feel you had a life worth living?” And then I take a propranolol and turn on the tv. It’s just not a question I’m willing to face.

Today would be registration day. Today I could be living. Today I grieve who I am and what I have lost or never have had. Maybe tomorrow will be different.

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.