Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: The Process of Leaving A Therapist

I broke up with my therapist on Friday.

It’s my first real break-up (with a therapist or a partner). I’ve had relationships end with therapists in the past, but I either had to move to another state or did not like them and ended up “ghosting” them, allowing the relationship to die in absentia.

Nothing went “wrong.” We had been through a difficult period recently because my meds were off and I was in a deep, depressive state. Generally, I find therapy irrelevant when I am in a depressive episode because I don’t care enough to want to get better. We were struggling to try and keep me moving forward in my planning until my meds could eventually be sorted. But we had been here before in the two years we’ve been working together. That wasn’t why.

She has been away for two and a half weeks, and in that time, my psychiatrist and I have tried some new things, one of which seems to be working. It has made me feel stable enough to feel ready to take a step forward. I need to start volunteering, having informational interviews, and making tangible decisions to help build my life.

I believe the most effective way of taking that step is through DBT. It will help in creating goal-oriented behavioral techniques. I might be completely wrong, but it seems to be a good fit by helping with my interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation, and distress tolerance, while I take some terrifying initiatives. While I have done DBT modules and a little bit of coaching, I have never done DBT therapy. You legally aren’t allowed to see two therapists, and honestly, I can’t afford both of them. (Interns can still cost a pretty penny!)

I didn’t know when I was going to do it – tell her I wanted to stop. I thought I would chicken out but realized it would be silly to continue to see her for a few weeks, knowing that I was going to leave. I decided to see her last Friday and tell her then. I practiced how to say it on the car ride over – it never sounded right. But I somehow got it out.

She was proud of me. Two years ago, I would have never been able to tell someone something they didn’t want to hear but that I wanted. And honestly, she is a large reason that I am able to do that now (on certain occasions.) We discussed having a few sessions to deal with leaving, but I just needed to end it. She told me that her door would always be open – if it didn’t work and I wanted to come back, if I just wanted to do a bi-monthly check-in, or if I just needed a session to talk. She’s that awesome.

She asked me a few questions about what I thought I got from therapy and things I wish could have been different and then said some incredibly kind things. I knew I wasn’t actually processing any of it. I felt like I was watching it happen, almost like a scenario acted out in a dream. She opened the door at the end of the session and she said “Goodbye Ava.” No, “Have a good weekend and see you on Wednesday.” Just “Goodbye.”

It doesn’t feel real. As things occur each day, I think of telling her. I keep thinking I will see her Wednesday and tell her about an email I got from a friend and we will discuss my anxiety problems with money. But I won’t. The only comfort I can find right now is that after two years of working with her, I can almost hear her response when problems arise. I know the questions she would ask. The way she might challenge my assumptions. She has left an indelible mark on my recovery and in how I am learning to see my world.

In the car, I tried to quell my oncoming tears by acknowledging that we lose people all the time. I left all my friends. I didn’t “lose” them completely, but they are not able to be what I need anymore. People have died in my life. Stopped calling. I have had a loss, though I appreciate the difference in each, including this one.

I wonder when my brain will fully acknowledge this loss. Right now I find myself scared. I don’t know if I made the right decision or if I made it from the right place. But I know it feels right and while it may change things, for good or bad, she would want me to follow my intuition. Maybe I can hang on to the fact that it might just be a trial separation; that I can always go back if I need to. I try to remind myself that I was supposed to be in London today, unpacking and preparing for school, and I wouldn’t have seen her for a year.

So many people do not believe in the benefits of therapy. Others go once, do not like the person, and never give it a chance again. But some of us, if we’re lucky, get the unique experience of an objective, supportive, non-judgmental, safe person in our lives, that help us organize our racing thoughts, grieve our trauma and lost chances, help encourage our change and growth, challenge our misconceptions, show us glimpses of ourselves we cannot see, and sometimes, if they’re really good, gain our trust to help us believe we can have hope.

I will be forever grateful for the time I have had with my therapist, even if it’s not the end of our relationship. But if it is, I walk away with a better version of this “self” I am creating, because of her.

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The Blame Game With Mental Illness

[Trigger warning: Mention of self-harm]

I met with my psychiatrist last week and told her that I have been feeling worse but I was worried that maybe it was my fault and I was somehow doing it to myself. Well actually, I started to say that and she cut me off right at “maybe I” with a sharp “No.” After apologizing, she told me that I have to stop blaming myself for my depression.

People can undoubtedly lie to themselves. For example, someone with an addiction tells him/herself they don’t have a problem and they stay in denial that their actions are negatively impacting their life. I get that. But can you be lying to yourself if you are asking yourself if you are lying? If the idea of denial in the example above is to convince yourself you do not have a problem, what is it if you convince yourself you are trying to convince yourself that you DO have a problem? Can you accuse yourself of having a derivative form of Munchausen Syndrome?

It’s an odd thing: the idea that I am purposefully making something worse; that I am sabotaging myself from recovery by somehow forcing myself into depression or not fighting as hard as I can. I interrogate myself: Is it really just fear and weakness and not a “disease” at all? Could I try harder, do more, stop whining? Do I just need to have the will and gumption and am too meek to face my reality? Am I somehow lying to myself?

But there is a part of me that knows that this is real. That leaving a job I was proud of, friends that I loved, and a life I had built wasn’t just for attention. Lying in bed in for weeks, crying for hours, choosing to have ECT, well that would be one hell of a con. Perhaps at the core of this questioning is an insecurity, hate, and long-developed distrust of my thoughts and feelings.

This doubt of my own feelings was developed over time and starts in my younger years. I was constantly told I was too sensitive. It wasn’t intended to be an insult, but it also wasn’t always used in a positive context. Rather, it was often noted as the cause of my intense feelings of sadness over anything that was bad. In defense, I was incredibly empathetic as a young child. When I was five, my mom had my dad change the mailing address of the newspaper from our house to his office, because I would read the paper and cry about all the horrible things happening in the world.

I hoped to find something physically wrong with me that would provide tangible symptoms to explain why I was like this. I remember feeling relief when I became sick – whether it was a cold or ear infection. Because when I was “sick,” I knew those around me believed my pain. And it wasn’t my fault or something I was failing to fix. 

There was always a rational reasoning for my behavior: in grade school, it was that I was being bullied; in high school, it was hormones. The darker melancholy that was growing inside me was overlooked because I didn’t believe it was legitimate and therefore never mentioned it. I assumed my constant complaining was indicative of a selfish, childish, and  weak personality defect. When bad things happened, I began to question if the amount of pain I felt was fair. Was it really that bad, or was I making it worse? Maybe my feelings were being manipulated by my selfishness?   Did I have the power to stop it?

When I got to college, I still blamed myself for my thoughts and feelings. And that’s also when I discovered self-harm. While there are many reasons why I self-harmed, I think one of them was having something to show for my pain, and it helped me feel better about my sadness. Still, I continued to chide myself for feeling sad all the time – I needed to get over myself. Other people didn’t have ideal lives and they were managing, so why couldn’t I? I still find myself asking that question.

The real problem is that even if I could convince everyone around me that this isn’t my fault, I can’t fully convince myself. In my mind, every time I cancel an appointment; take a pill for my anxiety; cry hysterically for no reason; not feel any different when starting a medication; or start to feel bad on a medication that seemed to be working for a few weeks, I worry it’s something I’m doing wrong, not the depressionMaybe it’s my fault that I am a burden, and maybe it was somehow a choice I made – though why – I cannot figure out.

And yet, I also know that this isn’t me is because I have experienced what it is like to have clinical depression lifted. When I found the medical concoction that stifled my depression about two years ago I felt so different. While I was tempted to sometimes cancel because I was scared or maybe just out of habit, I didn’t. When I was feeling anxious, I went to the gym because I knew it would help. Sometimes I would have weeks where I was exhausted from trying to change my habits and face my fears, but it all still felt possible and I wanted to try. The difference in how my mind worked was so clear. I had been functioning within this cloud of depression and it was the cause of my actions and reactions.

I know that while depression feeds off itself, it’s not me feeding it. I’m not giving in because I want to, because honestly, I really do want to be able to get up in the morning and be an independent person who can make it to work, handle responsibility, and rebuild my life. Perhaps the fact that it terrifies me to think that I could be doing this is enough to know that I’m not. But that’s the thing about depression. It wants you to blame yourself. It convinces you that you are the cause of everything bad in your life, even if it’s irrational. It tells you that you are the way you are because you did this to yourself. It tells you to stop blaming some “idea,” and take some control over your life. Then it laughs at you when you try and fail.

I just have to keep telling myself that this is the illness. This is the lack of chemical reactions and electrical signals in my brain. This is not something I can control. And this is not on me. There is a serious problem, but it’s nobody’s fault…or at least nobody’s choice.

New Scientific Possibilities for Help, But Not Hope

Sometimes I question whether I just wasn’t made for this world. That perhaps I was born defective and unable to survive. Many people are born with parts of their body that didn’t fully form or formed differently; some without the necessary components to function or function fully. And lots of people, who may have these differences, adapt and manage, and do not let their difference stop them from enjoying all life has to offer.

But my “defect” is in my brain, and I can’t seem to find a way to adapt or manage on my own. Often times, there are devices and tools to support and help in this process. I have tried the “devices” for my impairment: medications, ECT, exercise, diet, sleep, and a variety of therapies, to try to work with what I have been given. But for some reason, my brain remains resistant to change, unable to manage and function at a level that is personally acceptable.

It’s been exhausting – the entire process. And since I was in my late teens/early 20’s, I never thought I could make it to 35. I assumed my body would simply get too tired of the pain and stop working, or I would have to help do it myself. But even with these dark thoughts, every so often, there were flashes of hope; moments of a belief that things could get better. And so here I am – three weeks into 35, with a new possibility for change at my chemically-enhanced door.

I have had a good year and a half where I seemed to have found a concoction that made me feel more stable. Not perfect – I still dealt with mood swings, depressive dilemmas, and uncomfortable side effects – but enough to make me hopeful that I could work to form a functional and fulfilling life. Then we changed a medication, and the past three months have been a clusterfuck of mood swings, depression, and a melange of side effects. We hit a road block in terms of options and so a few weeks ago, my doctor conferred with her colleagues to see what ideas they may have for bipolar II medication-resistant treatment.

When I saw her last week she told me about two new scientific advancements that could drastically help me get better. (Please forgive my explanations, as I am still learning.)

The first suggestion is a test for genetic markers that show what medications work best in an individual’s brain. There are five markers and they are able to indicate drugs that will work; some that might work; and others that won’t. I found a website of a company that does it called Genesight. I don’t know if this is the company my doctor is referring to – but the hope is that with this test, we will stop having to do so much guesswork with my meds, and may find out if some are actually decreasing the positive effect of other drugs in my system.

The other suggestion is the use of folate. We all know about folic acid. (Okay I didn’t, but everyone else seems to refer to it like I should.) Doctors encourage women who are pregnant to use it to help with a fetus’ growth and have noted that it could help with growth and rehabilitation of other cells. If I were to just ingest folic acid, it would go through my blood stream and I would pee it out. However, this new folate supplement called Deplin specifically goes into the brain blood stream. Evidently, by delivering the folate directly to the brain, it helps with your body’s ability to absorb medications. So for me, while I have slightly benefited, my medication is still not being fully absorbed, and therefore, I’m not actually getting the full impact of the medications.

After explaining these ideas to me, my psychiatrist asked me if I felt hopeful.

The genetic markers sound interesting, though I feel like it isn’t going to be that helpful. I suppose it would provide me with the peace of understanding that there are genetic reasons why I am resistant to so many medications. And perhaps provide new ideas for medication usage. The Deplin definitely sounds too easy. The idea that a supplement is going to help engage my medications and that would help me feel better – I suppose it just sounds too good to be true. Then again, I know people who take incredibly small amounts of anti-depressants, and it changes their life. I find myself skeptical, but willing to give it a try. However, I would not say I am hopeful.

Hope is a complicated emotion for me. I don’t always have control over my hope – sometimes I can feel it behind my cynicism, trying to push through, small bursts getting by, evoking images of peace and contentment. But through the years, it has become an enemy of my depression – spreading fallacies of possible happiness into my brain, only to be devastatingly wrong.

I remember when I started to feel better after a few weeks of ECT. I was ecstatic because I had finally found something that would allow me the chance to have a life worth living. The short term memory loss was a bit annoying, but at the time, it was a small price to pay to have the heavy pressure of depression lifted. I’d found the “piece” that I was born without, that would make me whole – the component that would provide an adaptation to survive. And then it stopped working. And then I found out it wouldn’t work anymore, no matter how many times I tried. And then I was expected to go back to the medication drawing board and start again.

I would say that’s when my trust of hope died. That’s when I started to wonder if I was just too broken, the deficit irreparable and too impairing for me to ever be able to have dreams again. Hope had hurt me one too many times. So am I hopeful? All I can give right now is that I’m not NOT hopeful. I’m open to being pleasantly surprised, but I’m not running around telling the world to watch out because I’ll be out there soon! I have a feeling even if the Deplin works, I will still need to make changes to my meds, there will still be quite a bit of side effects, as well as possible withdrawal and mood swings. I am not naive enough to think that this is “my piece” anymore. But if my doctor is telling me that my what I was feeling this past year was only a fraction of the medication working and that I could feel better than that, I’ll swallow the pill faithfully, I’ll change the dosages, I’ll try medications again, I’ll do whatever it takes. At this point, what do I have to lose?

While some people believe that hope takes less energy than despair, I think there is a key component to that theory that often gets overlooked. Because when you are in the despair, you have to work to get to that hope, and you have so many factors against you. To reach a place of hope you must push through the exhaustion, find a way to ignore all past failures, and find the strength to block out the despair that radiates throughout your body and mind, draining you, beating you down, offering the temptation of rest.

I imagine myself on the side of a sea cliff, trying to pull myself up to get to safety, knowing that if my muscles get too tired; if I miscalculate one move; or a piece of the cliff simply loosens and drops, I could fall quickly into the dark, depressive water below, possibly being killed on impact. I wait, terrified, for a surge of strength or an outreached hand.

I want to have hope that I can feel better and find a new normal that doesn’t include dire mood swings and hypomanic bursts. I want to believe that help is on its’ way. But hoping for help doesn’t save me. And frankly, I’m getting really tired of holding on to this “sea cliff,” waiting for the moment when I can stand on firm ground.

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.

Loneliness: It’s Not Just for Recluses Anymore

More and more mental health professionals are citing lack of human contact as a contributing factor in depression and even trauma recovery. It has become an item on the list of “must-haves” for stability. And recently, I’m starting to wonder, as are my doctors, if my lack of human contact is starting to hurt my health and recovery. And I think, especially for a person like me who thrives in social environments where my true self comes out to play; having my interactions revolve around the checker at Safeway, the guy at the counter of my gym, my trainer, therapist, and psychiatrist, well it’s not really cutting it.

In fact, you know you’re in a deep vat of pathetic when the following happens to you. I met with my therapist yesterday. I didn’t really need to but I hadn’t left the house or talked to anyone and it was either see her or go to the gym. I got there and we talked through why my options for human interaction are so limited. At one point, she mentioned we had five minutes left, and we usually spend that time deciding what I’m going to do to survive until I see her again. (At least, that’s what we’ve been doing lately.) So I started jamming about television shows, then she jumped in; I mentioned websites I had visited to see if I wanted to volunteer and why they sucked, she mentioned a few. After a while, we were just shooting the shit and then she said she had to go because she had something to get to. And it hit me as I got in my car: my therapist just spent an extra half hour with me just so I could have someone to hang out with and talk to about stuff.

It was really kind, but also really sad. I appreciated it, especially because that is definitely not protocol, and also realized how nice it was to talk to someone I liked and with whom I share commonalities. But the thing is, while I really like her as a therapist and a person, I shouldn’t be getting my socialization requirements for my health from my therapist. I guess she was just throwing out a temporary life raft and I took it. I was embarrassed until I got home and realized that was my fill of person-time for the day.

There is such a huge divide between knowing what you can do, what you want to do, and what you are able to do. And for things to happen, there has to be a symbiosis, even if one is weak and you have to force it a bit. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m making excuses. Maybe this is my fault. But right now I am unsure of what I am able to do and a bit blank in terms of what I want to do.

I just feel like right now my goal for the day is to be alive, not harm myself, and do one or two effective things. I did have “leave the house” as one thing too, but it’s getting harder so I’ve put it in parentheses. (It’s in quotes here, but in parentheses in my mental to-do list. Just clarifying some minutiae.)

I miss the rush of making people laugh, of sincerely laughing my ass off. The joy of doing something silly or having a really good, solid conversation.

But even if I wanted that, I don’t think I could right now. So for today and possibly tomorrow, I’m just getting through the day. For now, it seems, that’s all I can, want, and am able to do.

The Dulling of My Creative Spirit

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Hot 9 by Jackson Pollock

I would never have called myself an artist. However, I did DIY cards and gifts. I dabbled in different areas – knitting, charcoal, paint, ceramics, photography, poetry, etc. Drawing could calm me often – even if I didn’t like what I created.

But the medicine dulls that desire. My mind goes blank at the page. I know a lot of people on mood disorder pills suffer from this. Many stop taking their meds because it’s not worth the sacrifice.

I miss that creativity because it also allowed me to see a deeper beauty in things. I would spend time looking at wind blowing the trees, or look at each individual piece of grass. Now, I can acknowledge something is pretty, but I don’t feel the beauty.

And while I miss my creativity, I can still feel excitement, love, sadness, charm. Things still make me cry and laugh, or both at the same time. I think if I had pursued acting or comedy, perhaps my depression would have made me better, more intense. But I didn’t.

I was worried when I started to feel better that I wouldn’t be as gregarious without the depression and definitely without the alcohol. I was wrong. And I can still be just as pessimistic and misanthropic as before – I guess cynicism is not necessarily a symptom of depression but a personality trait you can hone over time.

A lot of time, with depression, it’s all about weighing options and often times both aren’t ideal. I suppose life is really like that but with depression the stakes feel higher, especially because making the decision when you are anxious and depressed takes far more energy. When it comes to creativity, I am willing to dull that part of myself for the chance to feel a greater variety of feelings, perhaps more muted, but also greater in range.

But I do miss it. Putting a pen to paper and watching my hand move on its’ own. Going to a gallery and feeling a painting all over my body, wanting to immerse myself in its’ unique ambiguity or feeling.

It’s a price to pay to not feel the intensity of pain that helped guide my hand. A price that allows me to view art and not spend the rest of the day enveloped in feelings that immobilized my brain and my actions. I’m not saying it isn’t worth the price but that doesn’t make me miss it any less.

Redefining Independence Day: Celebrating My Break-up With Depression

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We broke up about two years ago, give or take. We had been together since I was a child and we did everything together. We would lay in bed together for days; take occasional walks (he preferred indoors,); and of course, we made decisions together. It was like I didn’t know where one of us began and the other ended.

And our passion was intense. Our sole purpose was to destroy and destruct my soul and the life I was attempting to build. Our lives were so entangled, it took me years to break it off.

And I couldn’t imagine my life without him. After all, our relationship is the longest emotionally intimate relationship I’ve ever had. Over the years, I’ve had my slip-ups and we’ve gotten back together for a few months here and there – they were short, but they were intense.

He’s really persistent too. He thinks he’s like Lloyd Dobbler in Say Anything, but he’s really just a creep who tries to disrupt my life and constantly remind me he’s watching me. He definitely stalks me, sometimes I can feel him close by. I sense him as he waits for a weak moment to swoop in and try to convince me why we belong together.

And it’s tempting to get back together. I feel comfortable with him. Being alone I feel so vulnerable and weak. Now I am free, but I am also naive and clueless without his guidance. Without his narcissism, I am forced to look within myself, to define life around this self, not him, and it’s really scary.

We broke up for a lot of reasons. Well, I was the one that broke it off with him. Not only was he overbearing and controlling, he was suffocating, insecure, and abusive. He taught me all I thought I had to know, but turns out, he was just warping my thoughts, crushing my innocence, and guiding me down his path, not my own.  He tried to keep me from seeing or talking with my friends, and resisted all my tactics to push him away. But I did. I got away. At least for now.

I’ve only ever been in a relationship with him, so I’m a little scared about being with myself, let alone someone else. But at least the next one will be present, real, and allow me to maintain my individual thoughts and feelings. I am gaining strength with the hopes that if my guard is down, he can’t completely take me back because I will have an arsenal of tools to keep him in his place. I will and have to be the last one standing.

So I take my pills every day. And that pushes him away. I go to the gym. And he gets farther. I eat healthy and get sleep. I can barely feel his presence. I call a friend or meet someone who makes me laugh. And in those moments, I almost completely forget about him. The scars of his abuse remain, and I know he’s always lying in wait, but I will continue to move on. Because as scary as it is to be alone; to learn how to do things without his support; to make choices and think about my future without him; I enjoy my independence. Fear derived from excitement and anticipation is so much better than fear from feeling powerless.

I no longer look at the calendar to see how long we were together; now I have begun to celebrate the anniversaries of the time we have been apart. It’s not easy. I’m still healing from the damage he has done and I will never be able to get fully away from him. And life isn’t perfect. Far from it. But for now, he’s far enough away that I can try to imagine the possibilities of life without the chain of our broken, dysfunctional dynamic wrapped tight around my mind and body.

For all of us who have been or are currently in the process of ending our relationship with depression, let’s redefine what “Independence Day” means this year. Let this year’s fireworks remind us that we are bright, beautiful, loud, and larger than life. We are explosions in the sky. And we will not stop fighting for our independence from the reins of depression.

Enjoy the bbq’s and beer if that’s your thing; consider turning up the tunes; and choose to smile, dance, and love completely. And if he dare attempt to crash your party, yell it loud and clear until he hears: “We are never, ever getting back together!”

Happy Independence Day, whatever that “independence” may mean for you.

(Yeah, that’s technically a Taylor Swift lyric, but I’m pretty sure she didn’t invent that sentence, so fuck it. Also, “Explosions in the Sky” is one of the most amazing bands EVER – they did all the music for Friday Night Lights. Just saying…)

The Unfortunate Reality of an “Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind”

“Blessed Are the forgetful for they get the better even of their blunders.”  – Nietzsche

I’m not a detail-oriented person. And by “oriented,” I mean, I can’t remember shit – from the past and sadly, often from the present. It is starting to become a problem.

Now, part of my memory loss is the depression. It blurred life and sometimes even erased it. Blocks of times, details of events, all on the tip of my brain, but unable to reach.

Naturally, ECT for almost two years most likely played a part. ECT is only supposed to effect your short-term memory and I can assure you it does. I have only a few vague memories but most are situations that reoccured often rather than a specific time. Also, when I began ECT, my sense of smell became incredibly strong. And it still is: I’m like a police dog. I mention this because it is an effect that didn’t go away, so maybe there are longer term effects of the ECT that have impacted my cognitive skills. (Note: I still would do it again, even if it has played a role.)

And then there’s the medication that my old, shitty doctor got my body hooked on, whose main side effect is memory loss. (She never mentioned that.) I’ve been on it for over a decade but last time I tried to get off of it, the reaction was so bad, I fell into a frightening depressive episode that I am still recovering from. Still, I need to get off of it soon, especially if it’s impacting my mind.

I used to like the fact that I had a bad memory…or at least I convinced myself I did. I told myself that most of the past decade was full of depression and the bad habits that go with it. Besides, I would tell myself, I am a different person now, starting life new and fresh, so who I was shouldn’t matter.

But in truth, it didn’t make my mind “spotless” and provide me with the “eternal sunshine” Alexander Pope raves about. I might not remember, but the effect of the experiences does not allow me to be set free from my past. There is no reverie to be had.

Now I realize that while I may have lost the bad memories, I also lost the good. And for me, I lost more good than bad. It’s amazing how those bad experiences burrow into your mind, refusing to let you forget. The internal scars, the essence of the memories, they stay within you. You may not remember what happened, but you remember how it felt and in some cases, how it impacts you now. When tired or weak, your mind pulls them out, tempting you to follow the pattern of your past. (Fucking depression.)

But I’ve learned to get by. I have my friends and family to tell me stories (albeit subjective stories,) of things that have happened. (I haven’t quite figured out what to do when I’m on a date, but texting in the bathroom might come to be.) Sometimes I see a photo and I can feel the emotion of the memory even if I don’t remember it. (Does that make sense?) And I try to focus on those feelings; I argue that indeed, that is the most important piece of the memory itself. Not what we ate or the embarrassing thing I did. But rather, it’s the flutter of excitement, the lightness of that moment I can feel even though I couldn’t tell you the year or where it was taken. I remind myself that that is what’s important: when I find myself smiling or laughing at a smorgasbord of tiny, faint memories.

It’s only recently that I’ve come to resent it. After all, it’s not just a night of drinking that I don’t remember; it’s a wedding, a baby shower, helping someone in a crisis. I’m ashamed because I love my friends dearly and I hate that I can’t share memories with them. I hate having to ask who this is or what’s this restaurant even though we have been there more than once. I’ll be talking to someone and say “well I’ve never done that,” and my friend will interrupt with, “yeah you have.” Luckily, I have years of experience playing a dolt, so I can usually save the situation.

And I’m angry. Because now that I want to live, (on most days.) I want to go back to loving people, having experiences, and being someone people can rely on for whatever they need. And friendships are built on the past; the moments we share form together to create the inner heart of the friendship itself.

I always hated pictures. I thought I was so fat and ugly that I avoided them. Often, I would agree and then sneak out just before someone took the shot. And now I regret that. Because even though I know I might look at the photo and think I look disgusting, it would have helped as a marker in my “emotional memory” bank. I was so busy hating myself, I missed a captured moment of love and laughter. Luckily my “regret” bank is open and operational.

I’m getting a neuropsychological test done next month. It just feels like things are getting worse. Mainly, my cognitive skills have slowed. I can’t find words; if I take a breath in a sentence, I forget what I was talking about; I find I can only do one thing at a time in terms of information absorption; the more I try to focus on someone speaking, the less I actually absorb. If I’m driving and you try to give me dates of when you’re visiting, it’s a waste of your time. I’m also slower and my concentration is for shit. That’s probably my meds. It’s annoying, but I can make it work.

Maybe I’m just an airhead – I believe that was one of my “titles” as a child. You take that natural trait and add medication and perfectionism, and maybe you get my situation. But whether I go to school or get a job, life requires memory – both the past and the present. I’m scared that I will go to work, and I won’t be able to remember things. My wit and humor, which I have relied on, can only get me so far before my dumb-founded stare avails my ignorance. If I go to school, I will be with some of the brightest minds in the world. It’s going to be fast and it’s going to be intense. I don’t know if I will have the brain capacity to keep up.

Memories would help.

I feel like I am missing parts of myself. Pieces of me literally blurred out like in the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Looking into the past can’t fix the present. But as I am becoming a “new” self without clinical depression, I find myself often asking “Who am I?” And I can’t seem to remember who I was, to help in the formation of who I am.

I miss my memories. I miss my life. Warts and all.

 

One Extra Pill: My Brain is Such a Drama Queen

Besides the constant tremors and occasional rapid heartbeat and dizziness, the new drug regimen I started last Tuesday seems to be working. I feel different. More steady. Anxious more than sad, which while anxiety sucks, still feels safer than sadness.

I am astounded at how incredible the mind is. Changing a medication by .25 sends it into a rapid depressive episode that last for weeks. Upping a drug by 100mg makes the person feel ready to face the day, even on the days she doesn’t want to.

Don’t misunderstand me. It doesn’t fix you. I still have dark “abnormal” thoughts about myself and my life. I worry I will, like before, suddenly spiral into destructive behavior. I’m not normal, whatever that might be. And I never will be.

But for now, at least for today, I’m pretty sure I won’t. And that is amazingly different than just a week ago.

I Fell Off the Wagon.

Disclaimer: This blog post does discuss self harm and suicidal ideation. If these are triggers, please protect yourself.

So I’ve been avoiding writing mostly because I’ve been ashamed and angry with how the past 5/6 weeks have been. I’ve spent a lot of time in my head, and perhaps writing would have been better. Maybe I didn’t want to see it written down. Maybe I didn’t want people to tell me it was going to be okay. But I’m still feeling scared and a bit weak, so I’m going to try and see if it helps. Apologies if some of this is repetitive from previous posts.

Ok, so I’ve been on Klonopin for what, 13 years. This is a controlled substance that you’re supposed to take for emergency panic attacks or maybe for a week or so to help bring you down. That’s because as a controlled substance, it’s highly addictive. Not like I crave it, but my body clearly does. Even if you’ve only been on it for a few weeks, it can take over a month to taper off – so trying to get off of it after 13 years…well it’s a very long process.

The Klonopin doesn’t actually do anything for me, except ensure my body doesn’t go into withdrawal. Since I’m going to London in September and their healthcare isn’t as tip-top in terms of mental health (which is saying a lot given how shit ours is,) I figured if I could get off of it, that would help. It also is known for impacting memory – in fact recently, they were recommending no one over 50 take it. The only comforting thing about this is that it could be one of the reasons why my memory and cognitive skills have been getting worse over the years. Given I’m about to go into an incredibly rigorous academic program, I want to have as much of my brain functioning as possible.

Anyway, I was really pushing my psychiatrist since I’ve been better to start tapering. I guess I was only thinking about the physical side effects of withdrawal and figured I could handle the shakes and sweats and vomiting – whatever happens when you withdraw from Klonopin (I naively based this on movies where people detox.) So I pushed her and we went down by .25. Ok, evidently that’s a LOT. You’re supposed to go down by .125 every 3 weeks or some shit like that. Anyway, I didn’t realize there would be brain chemistry psychological effects and I became very depressed.

It’s been over a year since I have had clinical depression and all of a sudden I felt the weight and pain again. That sucked, but even more so, it scared the shite out of me. It also brought some old depressive thoughts to the surface again. Ok, so after a week, we went back up to my original dosage. But the depression didn’t pass, which I still don’t get, but whatever. So then we tried to give me some extra short release tabs of meds I am on that helped with my clinical depression and they did jack squat. But each day my depression was getting worse and my bad habits came back to town.

Still, after this past year, I knew what it was like to not be clinically depressed and I could differentiate when it was the depression guiding my thoughts and when it was me. I really tried to be compassionate to myself. I excused not going to the gym, or thinking about my future. I allowed myself to not leave the house for days. I don’t know, I suppose I thought if I resisted it, it would just make it worse. But it was like the angel and devil on my shoulders – they were fighting each other. And so the mood swings went from fine to so fucking low I wanted to die. And while in my heart I knew the depression was chemical, it still feels rational and true. And so the same things that before might have made me anxious but excited, became terrifying and pointless.

And then I fell off the wagon. It’s been over a year since I’ve self-harmed.

Looking back on that Friday, I had been in therapy earlier that day. I had been told that there was another life path that might be better than going to LSE which had kind of mind-fucked me since I was already doubting my ability to go, and decision-making is my number one anxiety-maker. And my therapist, who is still an intern, told me that she would not be able to communicate with me if I was in London, or out of the state where I currently reside.  I have known this was a possibility for a while. It was part of the reason I deferred from LSE last year. I wanted more time to work with her. Anyway, she told me and I kind of just voided it. I guess it was just too much for my mind to handle so I put it in the emotional void of overwhelming news and went home.

I was cooking dinner, watching some tv, and all of a sudden, the depression just hit me. I mean, it came from nowhere. I wasn’t ruminating about anything at the time and then all of a sudden it was like I had just been punched in the gut. I couldn’t breath and found myself bent over in absolute mental pain. Everything imperfect, all of my doubts, it all came to the surface and slapped me. I felt nauseous. I tried to cry but when I opened my mouth nothing came out. And then the craving for self-harm felt no longer like an option but like a need.

So I did. And at the time, it felt amazing. I guess what it must feel like when you slip from your recovery and go back – that first sip or hit in a year, it’s intense and satisfying and feels fucking amazing and you wonder why you ever stopped. But I quickly realized it was escalating not calming me. I wanted to do it better and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to stop. I went through the tiny rolodex in my mind of people I could reach. This person wouldn’t be available, this person couldn’t handle it, this person shouldn’t have to. I truly didn’t want to call anyone but I guess I knew I had to do it. I was at my threshold and I just didn’t want to tip over because I think there was still a part of me that knew it wasn’t real – that it had just happened too fast to be right or rational and I just had to stop it before I did something I couldn’t come back from.

I didn’t want to bother him, but I called my brother. I’ve called him before. I hate doing it because he has so much on his plate and he’s just such an amazing person and I don’t want to hurt him, but I also know he’s a police officer, so out of everyone I know, he has seen it with others and can understand it without freaking out. When I called him sputtering and hyperventilating, he went into police mode – asking questions to ensure I was safe, if I needed to go to the hospital, or call 911. I was yelling out everything I thought meant I couldn’t do this anymore but he somehow got my breathing to slow, to pull me back or out of wherever I was. He was at work, helping on dispatch – the irony of others calling 911 while he talked me through my emergency was not missed.

And he just stayed on the phone with me. He told me some funny stories about ridiculous debacles of the day, he talked about the chaos of his life, mundane and big. He kept me listening, asking questions, laughing. I patched myself up while we were on the phone. He stayed on the phone with me as he finished up work, got in the car, drove home, fed the dogs and started eating his dinner. And when I knew I was okay for the night, when the exhaustion of it all hit me and I knew I was too tired to think or move, we got off the phone. Thank goodness people like him exist in the world and I am beyond lucky to have one in my life.

The next day is always the worst. Not only do you feel the ramifications of your actions, you feel stupid and ashamed. It all felt so silly – and worst of all, I had broken my streak that had become a badge of honor. But I made it through that day. And I made it through the next and got to my psychiatrist. It was easier to tell her. She has known me for a long time, since the ECT stopped working. And she’s known me when this was a regular thing. I guess that felt better because I didn’t feel like she was judging me, because both of us at that moment, knew it was clear that it wasn’t me.

I had spent the week overanalyzing if I was making things worse, fighting to not feel better, trying to exacerbate the depression. But saying it out loud, it just made no sense. It also made sense why I felt overwhelmed – I was questioning my next big move, and my therapist and I were going to have to end our relationship. I was also turning 35 in a few months and even if I wasn’t clinically depressed it was still a heavy date to approach as I had declared it, when I was 33, as the last day I would live in the pain I was in. Even if I wasn’t clinically depressed this would have overwhelmed me.

So I’ve been recovering this past week. The med change seems to be working, and I can handle the side effects, which in the past with this medication, seem to dissipate over time. The cravings aren’t gone, but the temptation is low,  especially every time I see the evidence of last Friday and realize how ridiculous it looks and the amount of work that will go into hiding and healing.

Funny enough, we are doing distress tolerance in DBT, which is meant for situations just like those. It started four days after the incident. I’m still unsure if I’ll make it to the gym today. And I’m unsure if I’ll be effective or what choices I will make. I still know deep down that the problems that arose when I was depressed are real. The way I handled it wasn’t me, but it doesn’t mean the issues don’t still exist. And I do have to deal with them. Maybe not today, but I have to apply for my visa in two weeks, so soon.

I’m hoping in another week or so, I can look at that moment with some understanding and compassion. To see it not as a failure, but as a reality check of both how far I’ve come and that it really is a disease and not the true me. So many of my scars are memories of a time and place. I used to think of them as tattoos of where I was was and what I’ve been through – and maybe these too will come to serve as mere place markers in my life. But for today, I just have to decide that no matter what I do, or how effective I am, it’s ok. Because it is what it is, and for now, that will have to do.