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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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.

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.

I’m Tired.

I’m tired today.

  • I’m tired of trying so hard to keep it together every day.
  • I’m tired of following a sleep regimen and still waking up fatigued.
  • I’m tired of trying to do everything “right” – going to the gym, losing weight, calling friends, not drinking, being vegan and not eating anything processed, and still not feeling good or having extra energ.
  • I’m tired of not being able to have more than a day or two of stability and balance.
  • I’m tired of having to make decisions.
  • I’m tired of not having a purpose that isn’t about myself. While I don’t miss working crazy long hours, I miss having a job where I am spending time thinking about others and doing work for them.
  • I’m so tired of seeing all of the hate and ignorance in the world today. Of watching history repeat itself.  Of knowing it will never stop and will only get worse. And not knowing what to do. Because $15 isn’t enough. Volunteering isn’t enough. There isn’t a job that will be enough. And people don’t really want to listen, to learn, to compromise, to change. I don’t want to stand aside – but I feel so useless.
  • I’m tired of not liking myself.
  • I’m tired of trying to understand why I do not like myself.
  • I’m tired of being told to have hope, to think positive, to just keep trying.
  • I’m tired of not being able to help the people I love. To watch them in stress, in pain, in sadness. Shitty stuff happens, but I wish I could just alleviate some of it.
  • I’m tired of the constant shame I feel about who I am.
  • I’m tired of the guilt I allow myself to carry.
  • I’m tired of not knowing what to do next.
  • I’m tired of not knowing the “right” thing for “me.”
  • I’m tired of caring so much, about everything. Of feeling so much.
  • I’m tired of trying so hard to just keep it together for everyone: my family, my friends, my therapist and psychiatrist. I’m just tired of feeling responsible for adding stress or pain to their lives because of my stress and pain. Of trying to make them happy or relieved.
  • I’m tired of all the dichotomies in my life. Of wanting to be alone but feeling so alone. For wanting to be happy but feeling like it’s a charade anyway. For wanting love but not the strings that come with it.
  • I’m tired of being so scared to do things. I don’t know when I became this way but I’m so fucking tired of it.
  • I’m tired of feeling like I have lost so much time in my life, so many chances, so many opportunities, and still wanting sometimes to just end it all because I’m just too tired to try to catch up.
  • I’m tired of my fucking side effects.
  • I’m tired of trying to imagine what it feels like to wake up without a mental illness. To have shitty days and stress and life, but not have to take drugs that make me feel like shit to just survive them, while others take none and are able to function just fine. To go to bed without fear that tomorrow I might not be able to get out of bed. Or wake up without knowing if I will be able to make it through the day.
  • I’m tired of feeling so guilty that I want more. That this is unfair. That I don’t deserve this. And then feeling guilty for thinking that. It just cycles over and over again.
  • I’m tired of having to change. To constantly fight myself, to unburden others, to hold back my anger, my frustration, my words to not hurt others. To get up every day and try to want things, work for things, be effective, have goals, work to get better at who I am. To push down the bad thoughts, the urges, the desires, to assuage others.
  • I’m tired of never knowing who to blame: is it the meds? the disease? my circumstances? me?
  • I’m tired of only seeing the mistakes I make. The failures. The not good-enoughs.
  • I’m tired of having hope. It’s almost more exhausting than just admitting defeat.
  • I’m tired of thinking.

I’m just tired.

How Can I Move Forward if I Can’t Trust My Inner Voice?

I have come to understand that it takes me a lot of time to process most decisions. It’s not that I don’t understand them – it’s that my mind needs time to explore and analyze the issue from different viewpoints, possible understandings – it needs to ask further questions. People don’t really like this. In the hustle and bustle of life, having someone hesitate to react, to want time to think things over, doesn’t settle well. Still, I am trying to quell my initial response. What may feel like anger when a friend does not react as supportive as I want, turns out to be fear that they may not love me. My feelings and choices, therefore, change drastically.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. I mean, that’s what I tell people and what I try to tell myself. But the truth is: I am terrified that no matter how much I process something, my answer will be wrong. And I have begun to realize that perhaps part of this “processing” has to do with the events from my past that have made me constantly question my choices, feelings, and thoughts. I worry that the processing might not be me trying to find the truth, but rather trying to push aside the doubts and the voices that tell me contradictory, “truthful” answers.

Since I was a child, people have told me that I am over-sensitive; I think too much; I over-exagerrate the impact of things; that my memories are embellished and magnified; that the things that happened as a child didn’t really happen the way I felt them happen. In short, that what I think and feel is wrong, misguided, naive, and warped. This all was supported by my low self-esteem, and growing depression and anxiety.

I stopped trusting my decisions. I forced myself into situations I did not want to be in; I pushed my feelings down; and I hated myself and felt so ashamed and disgusted at myself for even feeling what I felt. I lost all trust in my abilities to make decisions, to know the right thing to do – whether it is how to feel about what someone has done; how to react to something; what life decisions are “right” for me; if it’s okay to make decisions others think are wrong, etc.

I still constantly question what I feel. I wonder, is this real? Am I making this up? Why would I make it up? Am I being reasonable? Is this okay? Am I being a baby? What is the difference between what I feel and what is real? I question my choices because I question the validity of my inner voice.

I question choices as simple as what to eat or what to wear, as well as large decisions like what step I should take in my life. I have so many voices in my head telling me completely different “truths” while questioning each one of them. It’s like they are all yelling their answers at me and getting in side arguments with each other – in my head; at the same time; while I am trying to decide whether to leave the house or not. It’s exhausting.

It leaves me wondering which voice is authentic. Which one is “right,” and which one is trying to somehow lead me to ruin and self-sabotage. I get so far in my head about what is in my head, I find myself frozen, confused, panicked. In the past, I think alcohol helped slow my thinking down; allowed me to make decisions without actually feeling whether or not it was what I wanted – just doing whatever others wanted. It was a way of temporarily fleeing from the chaos of fear and failure that I felt constantly.

They say that in all real relationships you need trust. But if you can’t trust yourself, I don’t think you can trust anyone. I want to believe I trust people, but I constantly imagine what they must be really thinking in their head. They say they love me, that they understand, that they support my decisions; but maybe it’s actually disappointment, forced sympathy, perhaps adulation in hopes of getting what they really want. Which one is it? Is one simply what I want to believe? Should I trust what I feel? Or am I being naive, trying to believe something because it’s what I want to be truth. How do you know which “truth” is right?

If without trust you cannot have intimacy, authenticity, depth, love, or truth in a relationship, where does that leave me – with both myself and others? How do I move forward? How do I let people into my life and believe they are there because they sincerely want to be? How do I stop freezing up with every decision because I have lost the connection between what I feel and what I think? I believe that is the core of the problem. If your inner truth is found through mind and body, and you no longer trust your emotions, thoughts, or feelings, how do you make a decision?

This component of self-hate has stifled so much of my life and led me into traumatic events which I now have to face. It’s frightening and I’m scared.

At least I think I am.

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…)

Life Lessons I Have Found Through Spinning

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I couldn’t find a realistic picture of someone spinning, so I had to just go with the bike by itself. FYI: if you’re smiling while spinning, you are doing something wrong.

I fell in love with spinning about two years ago. I’m not talking about Soul Cycle where you are in lines next to people like factory-farmed pigs, and the person leading the class has maybe 1% body fat. I’m talking YMCA spin classes with people over 60. I’m talking, waiting until a room is open, and spinning alone.

Spinning, for me, is about being healthy, getting rid of anxious energy, and letting out endorphins. And perhaps more importantly, it is about deciding what challenge I want and choose to achieve that day. I realized recently that spinning actually serves as a fantastic analogy to the work I am doing in my life outside the gym. I never thought sitting on a stationary bike could provide life lessons, but it really does.

Here are some examples:

~ Life is a personal challenge. It’s not about what the people around you are achieving or what their goals are. You set your own expectations.

~ You are allowed to change your “goal” as many times as you want, whenever you want. Some days, you are not going to be able to do as much as you thought you could. And that’s okay. That’s what tomorrow, next week, or next month is for. You decide what you can do today. Because living is fluid, changeable, and varied. And if that change is permanent, if the expectation was unreasonable or no longer viable, it doesn’t mean you have failed. You just need to change your perception and definition of your “goal,” or maybe even decide you don’t want one.

~ Some days, you will push yourself farther than you can imagine, and other days, you just have to show up. Both are accomplishments.

~ You are not alone. You are surrounded by others who face their own challenges and there is power in that. However, just because you are together, doesn’t mean your challenges, decisions, or choices are the same. Nor should they be.

~ Sometimes, you may feel that no matter how hard you work, you’re not moving forward or improving; that you’re stuck in a stationary place. Just keep at it. You are changing and becoming stronger through your efforts, even if it feels like you aren’t going anywhere.

~ If you can just get on the “bike,” you may be surprised at how far you can push yourself; the work you are capable of doing; and how good you can feel. Trying is an accomplishment all on its’ own. Acknowledge your effort, not just the end goal.

~ Some days are just shit. They’re boring and hard and annoying. Try to be compassionate towards yourself.

~ Sometimes you need a few days to step “off” and relax. Giving yourself breaks are an integral and necessary part of the process – they are not failures.

~ Some days it’s going to feel easy, like you’re on a flat, straight path; and some days that hill is going to feel so hard, it’s going to take all you’ve got to not give up. Just do what you can.

~ You don’t know what is going to happen or what you might achieve until you start. Some of your best days may be on a day where you feel tired or off. If you can just get on the bike, you may surprise yourself. You won’t know until you try.

~ There is more than one definition of success. You can define it. You can change it. And you can work to reach it, day by day.

~ This shit is hard. It takes tenacity, time, good and bad days/weeks, acceptance of change, and self-care. It’s sweaty and exhausting. It’s not always fun or fulfilling. You can only do what you can or want to do in that moment, and that is good enough. Just keep spinning/living.

The ironic component to this post, is that lately I have gotten so sick of spinning. I feel like my motivation has just died out. I’m going to try and go to more classes and see if I can recharge and rev up some enthusiasm. I have to accept that it’s okay if I can’t do it alone. Sometimes you need to be buoyed with support from others to make it through. See, look at that! There’s even a lesson in my anti-spin feelings.

Now, if I can just believe all the things I just wrote. ;)

Looking in the Mirror: Seeing Yourself Through Others’ Eyes

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How do you like me meow?

I met with someone today who barely knows me. And while we were talking, she offhandedly said something like: “Don’t worry. Being you, you’re not going to have a problem finding a job and a place, or making friends for that matter. With your personality and energy  you’re going to do well anyway. I’m not worried.” Haha…what?!

I spend a lot of time worried about what people think of me, generally to an irrational degree. I fear they may see me and think: “Someone that ugly does not have a right to show her face without a hat or at least some makeup,” or, “You can just tell that girl is a loser. Plus, how dare she wear spandex. There’s nothing a gym can do about that ass.” And in my mind I’m convinced, just by speaking with me, the barista or Safeway checker will think I’m irritating, boring, arrogant, obnoxious, loud, overbearing, conceited, pathetic, opinionated, naive, pessimistic, and/or crazy. I guess the last one would be right given the paragraph above. LOL.

And yes, I know: others are too self-absorbed to pay attention or judge you. I’m going to go ahead and call bullshit on that one. After all, I spend a lot of time watching people, their interactions, noting their demeanor. I don’t suppose it leads to judgement, it’s more like seeing how the “other side,” i.e. those that are not me, live. I will agree that yes, the fact that I think everyone is looking at me, even if what they are thinking is bad, is in and of itself self-absorbed. Huh.

I am, by nature, a pretty unoffensive person – sometimes to a fault. I try to be kind, patient, and thoughtful to people around me. I show deference to most people, deserved or not. I’m also that person who helps you when you’ve dropped something or ask if you need help if you look confused. I generally can’t help you if you need directions, but I can at least commiserate with forgetting where you parked your car and help you find it. The point of this all being, I don’t think objectively, that my behavior is off-putting. And yet somehow I am convinced that even while I’m helping someone or giving them a smile, they are just disgusted with me. And I think that’s really my inner self telling me I’m disgusting and then I misappropriate it to someone else. It seems the two sides of my brain – the pure and the evil – argue over the most benign things. And yet those are the things that make it so difficult to have the confidence to make a call or leave the house.

And then every so often someone I know, within the context of the conversation, describes me. Now, I take everything with buckets filled with salt, so I recognize that people don’t generally sit you down to tell you what a  loser you are. (Well, they have, but that was during my teen years.) I also know that these are people that love me even at my worst moments, or that they’re people who I pay to help me. I also think that sometimes a person wants something from me, so they say whatever it will take to get it. For example, at a bar when someone wants me to go home with them. It’s curious how amazing I am at that point. ;)

But sometimes, it’s someone I just met at a party, an interview, or a person that I’ve been taking a class with who I finally have coffee with. And the shit that comes out of their mouth. They don’t have to say it; it’s not part of basic decorum. And they usually have known me for a few hours at most and yet they tell me all these wonderful things about myself. (I know this sounds like bragging so please note this is a very, very rare occurrence.)

I don’t know if I have a face that says “I’m insecure, I need reassurance.” Or maybe my self-deprecating humor clues them in. But I pride myself on my bullshitting ability to hide my insecurities (most people assume I am confident,) and I don’t think people are listening hard enough to know that the joke is actually a real dig at myself. Maybe people don’t need much to like you. Or maybe they’re lying. I mean, we all do it: reassure a friend when we actually aren’t sure what we’re saying is true; compliment someone just to calm them down or to get ahead. That’s the politics of human nature and relationships. Maybe it’s from living in Washington, D.C. for a decade, but it’s just the way the world works.

I know that I’m damaged  from my childhood and my internal dialogue of hate, and when I look in the mirror I see someone who is a pathetic fraud. I even know that a lot of people most likely look in the mirror and judge themselves harder than anyone else would. And when my friends are doubting themselves, when they can’t see how amazing they are, it shocks me. How can they not know their worth? Why would they ever doubt that they were special and deserved so much in life,  even if they don’t always get it? But it’s easier to say it to someone else, than to believe it yourself.

I’ve been practicing looking at myself in the mirror. I know, this sounds really odd. But when I’m depressed, I can go weeks dodging myself in mirrors or reflections. There is something so painful in not only seeing the misery in my face, but in the hate I feel looking at this person who has ruined my life. So, I’m trying to practice looking at myself. I’m trying to become comfortable and accepting of the woman I see looking back at me. So far, it’s been really uncomfortable. I don’t imagine I’ll ever look in the mirror and think, “Who is the fairest of them all? Why that would be me!” But, maybe I can look in the mirror and acknowledge that there is something there of worth.

I wonder if one day I will look in the mirror and see something different than I see now? I wonder if one day I will look in the mirror and not be ashamed or disgusted?

I wonder if one day I will look in the mirror and see what others see in me.

The DBT Divas: When People Stop Being Polite, And Start Getting Real

The last session of the last module of DBT ended last week. And while I was thankful for a respite of the hour commute, I was sad. Not just because I like the idea of going to “class” and learning tools to help IRL. But also, I was sad about the idea of not seeing my peeps.

There’s a small group of us that started at the same time and have gone through all the modules together. While we don’t always go into the specifics of our lives, after a while, you start to pick up on what the person is going through. You get a general sense of their demeanor, their struggles, and what they are trying to get from DBT.

I don’t like group therapy. In fact, each time I have tried, I have walked out hating it more. But DBT is different. It’s not about sharing and commiserating, it’s about learning, practicing, reviewing together, and then trying again. DBT group relationships are not based on the connection of our misery; but on the connection of our growth.

Before it ended, we managed to get everyone onto a group text message. We even named ourselves the “DBT Divas.”We’re meeting on Wednesday at the time we usually have class and we’re going to take a walk. I’m not saying we are going to be besties, or that we even have that much in common. I also question how good it is for people who are in bad places to spend a lot of time together because it can be ineffective if you bring each other down. But because we met in DBT, we come together as survivors, not victims; and we are all fighting to get better, not to wallow in our misery.

So I hope in hanging out, we can learn more about each other, and maybe play through some of our personal scenarios, but I’m not proposing that we all get along and connect on a deeper level. I can already tell, from being in three modules together, all of us lead very different lives. A lot of us have the same diseases or are on the same meds or even have been through similar experiences, but that’s different than our personalities and the values of our lives. DBT is a tool for anyone, but it’s used differently by each person according to their specific needs.

I’m a little torn between whether this is a good or bad idea.

When you normally meet people, outside of a therapeutic environment, you take time getting to know each other. The conversation is light and general. Maybe the second time you meet, you share a little bit more about your day and in that, your personality and style becomes more apparent. And by the third friend date, maybe you float your mental illness subtly into the conversation. You see their response. It’s usually: 1) blank face of the terror of not knowing what to say; 2) “Oh, my cousin is crazy!” (ugh); 3) “My sister deals with depression”; 4) “I’m sorry to hear that” or, 5) “Oh, yeah, I actually have dealt with that too.” From there, you can kind of see the viability of a long term friendship. After all, it plays such a large part in your life, it’s going to come up.

And I could have a fascinating conversation with anyone I meet – I find people so interesting: their lives, how they speak, how they tell a story, their inflections, their beliefs, the background behind their beliefs. But when I meet people for the first time, it’s more like an examination and study, rather than a potential friend date. If they make me laugh or we seem to be on the same level, then I start to relax and think of it more as a step in the direction towards friendship.

But when I meet people through therapy, or groups, they already know I have been through some heavy shit, and I know the same of them. I have found a lot of people feel that connection and therefore think it’s ok to ask really personal questions – they want the whole story of how you got where you are; and they want to tell you about their illness. You miss the basics and dive right into the deep shit. I usually play along, but afterwards I feel raw – like a piece of me was taken before I had prepared to give it. I know I am sad to see them go, but I do wonder whether once outside the classroom, what will be the dynamic? If our connection is our struggle to stay above water, how do we go back to the first friend date material? Can a relationship start in the middle and go backwards? Or are we meant to have had this experience together and that’s that?

I guess I’ll know more on Wednesday night.