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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

the pointless nature of “crying for help”

disclaimer: some stuff about suicide, self-harm, and just basically scary, downer stuff. don’t read this if it’s going to trigger you. i assure you it’s not worth it: just some ramblings but without a filter.

They say that an attempted suicide is a cry for help. While I have never attempted, I will say that based on my experience leading up to a moment like that, you are definitely past a “shout out.” Asking for help can be difficult for anyone. Some people don’t like to ask for help doing a difficult DIY project. A lot of people think they should be able to deal with something on their own, or maybe they don’t want to bother someone.

But I’m trying to understand this idea of crying out for help when it comes to depression. I never have really understood it, even when I have tried to do it. So let’s see, sometimes when I’m getting down, when I feel myself getting closer to a destructive ledge, I may call someone. When they ask “Hey, how are you?” I don’t say anything like: “You know how it is…I guess I just feel like i’m getting closer to a destructive ledge.” I don’t think that’s actually what they’re expecting and frankly I don’t think it’s what they want to hear. I usually just ask them about how their life is. I’m trying to get better at not hiding everything, so I might even say, “Hey, I’m just feeling out of sorts and just wanted to hear your voice and focus on you, because i love you, and i need to get out of my selfishly depressed brain right now.” But people are busy. And you’re calling “just” to talk? That doesn’t really take precedence over preparing for a party, or going out to dinner with someone. it doesn’t take precedence over a crying baby, or a timer for the oven.

So then you get to that destructive ledge. I suppose you can call out before doing something. Sometimes i have called someone before I harm myself. It’s hard – trying to express you’re scared without freaking everyone out. Because they don’t know where you are: maybe you have the knife to your wrist; or maybe you just are in bed and don’t want to get out. And besides, by that point, I have either decided to do something or not. In fact, the only thing that might stop me is if someone called me right in that moment. But that’s not going to happen.

Then there’s the “I’ve already done it and I’m ashamed” call for help. I’ve done that one a few times. Not sure it helps. I mean, it pulls me out of the chaos usually. Makes me remember that I don’t want to hurt others or to scare them with my unacceptable behaviors. Situations, that if and when things settle, I will have to explain, will never really be understood by loved ones because it won’t sound like a “good enough” reason to have done something they think is so unnecessary.

Recently, I was sitting and i could feel the wave coming. And i could feel that I wasn’t strong enough to push it down. I couldn’t help myself. And that “couldn’t” was turning into a “I don’t wanna” really fast. So I think: maybe I text someone? Maybe something vague with this hope that somehow they see through it and understand I need them to come save me? Because honestly, how the fuck is a text convo with emojis really going to help? And haven’t we had this conversation before, the last time I was in this position?

Then, what if it does pass? What if it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be? Now I’ve scared them and they need me to call them all the time; they don’t want me to be alone. Now those things that took precedent before don’t, but you know it’s because of you, and the guilt is worse than if you had just gone through with it. By the time they call you back or get to your house, the immediacy has passed.

The thing about a call for help, is you have to want to make it. You have to have the strength and gumption to say that you need help. But maybe you don’t want to use up your “helps.” I mean, everyone says they will always be there, but lest you be the “boy that cried wolf.” Plus, you are bothering that person, you are impacting their life in a selfish way, so you kind of want to use those moments when they really matter. But then of course, how do you know if this time will matter, and what if you realize it but you’re too far committed to turn back and make that call?

I don’t know about this cry for help. During a time when I feel pointless, frustrated, exhausted, tired of trying, I am supposed to call someone and tell them that I am feeling those things and that I need them to help me. I mean, isn’t that contradictory?

And now it’s time for me to go off topic, because it makes sense in my head.

I was writing to a friend today and wrote this huge explanation of the past three months: what has happened, how i have felt, all the shit. And then I erased it. I didn’t want to freak him out. And I realized, I only share, I only ask for help, after I don’t need it anymore. So i will tell someone that the night before, I had wanted to die. I will email with a friend across the pond to tell them about a scary period of time I had the past month when I didn’t know whether I was going to be ok or not.

Because if provided through this viewpoint, it’s something they can handle. They need to know it’s ok so they don’t feel helpless. And I don’t want to burden them with something they can’t control – so i tell them after, as if it was just a momentary weakness. And you have to, because if you don’t, then they don’t trust you. When you say you’re ok in the future, they don’t believe you. They call you all the time or attempt to subtly make sure you’re alive by “just passing by” or “thinking of you and deciding to call.” And it’s funny, because even though at one point I thought that was what I needed; by that point, it just feels like they are reaching out for themselves. So they feel better knowing they were doing “their part.” In fact, I’m not sure they actually want to understand what I would need in terms of help.

Many people offer their help to me and in doing so, I see the love they want to provide. They are good people; caring people. People I am lucky to have in my life. But they don’t get it. I don’t know if they can’t because they don’t know what it feels like, or maybe because they aren’t really listening to me the way I need to be listened to. Or maybe I’m not being clear because I don’t know what I need, let alone what I need specifically from them.

To me a cry for help needs to be answered immediately and never is. To me a cry of help is yet another pathetic demonstration of why no one should answer. Honestly, i’m pretty sure just a good cry would be more helpful than anything else.

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.

Fighting Depression: A Sword Duel With a Wooden Spoon

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Wooden, Silver…You get the idea.

Well, it’s been a few weeks since the tapering debacle. Since about Thursday, I was feeling like I was coming back to “normal.” I will say this past episode really did a number on me…

and it reminded me of a few things:

  • medications are not cures.
  • in terms of mental illness, healthy sustainability, consistency, or complete “repair” are never viable realities.
  • patience is necessary for managing mental illness. and i am shit at it. too bad they don’t have a drug for that.
  • medication is a delicate dance with brain chemistry, and you can only take one step at a time. each time we try to change a med by lowering or upping, i can only do one, and have to wait weeks to see if it works, or if side effects pass or stay. if the med is not working, that means i have two to four weeks of feeling like shit, hoping that maybe it will work. and if it doesn’t, i try a different one and wait.
  • memories may fade, but the feelings of pain you feel from depression never leave you and you never really feel safe.
  • bad habits never truly die, and they feel so comfortable, right, and easy. even when you know it’s wrong, it still seems, at some place in your brain, so very right.
  • and so, every minute of every hour of every day is a fucking testament to will power, resistance, and opposite action, and it’s exhausting.

the scariest part about this past month was how low i got. the thoughts i had. the close calls. being ripped from my path of self-healing was brutal.

i wonder if it’s because my brain has gone to a very deep, dark place in the past. and so when i get depressed, it goes back there. like, if i had never gone that low, then my brain wouldn’t get there right away. but i think of it like a neuro “path” has been burned to that area of thinking in my brain, and so now, when i get sad, instead of just going to point A like a typical sad person reaction, my brain goes all the way past to point B.

and point B is a volatile, dangerous place.

i will say the fact that i know it’s my brain and not “me” really shows the progress i have made and what a lifesaver having this past year has made. because i now know what normal is, and so i know when my brain isn’t at its’ right chemistry. i think it’s what allowed me to reach out and ask for help when in the past i would have spiraled alone.

still, it didn’t matter because as we all know, when your brain tells you stuff it feels real and right and makes sense so it’s really difficult to fight it. it also makes the bad decisions even worse since you know you can do better. it’s a fucking temptress. (what is the male version of that word – tempter?)

i’m just a jumble. i feel great for 12 hours and then i panic and want to drop everything and disconnect. i use my dbt skills and get myself to do something i’m afraid of, and then 5 hours later, i’m sitting there and i just can’t use them. they seem moronic, useless, and dumb.

yesterday, i sat across from my psychiatrist and i talked. i gabbed, really. it might have been the caffeine, but at the end i said to her, “so it sounds like i’m back.” she agreed. and then i got in the car and started to drive. five minutes later i was crying. i got home and didn’t leave the apartment, answer any phone calls, clean, or doing anything positive for myself.

i’m either having mood swings right now as i recover, or i get excited that i’m doing better and am self-sabotaging to protect myself. or both.

either way, i don’t know what to do. or maybe i do, but i can’t. or maybe i can, but i don’t want to.

Finding My Safety Raft In An Unexpected Depressive Storm

Disclaimer: Possible triggering ideas in this post, specifically in regards to suicidal ideation and self-harming.

A few weeks ago, I attempted to withdraw from one of my medications. It doesn’t do anything for me now, but it’s a benzo that a horrid doctor gave me over a decade ago, and therefore my body is completely addicted. My psychiatrist and I have thought about weaning off of it for a long time, but wanted to make sure I was stable before endeavoring to mess with my system.

I started by dropping my dosage by .25 mg. I wasn’t naive enough to think there wouldn’t be withdrawal symptoms. I was prepared for tremors, sleepless nights, nausea. I was even prepared for a bit of mind scrambling and an increase in anxiety. What I was not prepared for was the onset of clinical depression. It’s been over a year now since I have found medication to stem the depression, but I knew it was there after about two days. I was exhausted, lethargic, and one day I drove to CVS and I couldn’t get out of the car. Everything became overwhelming and I found myself in corners of rooms rocking myself while crying. Most of my DBT skills went out the window (which is actually funny because it’s really intended to be used when people are really in the thick of things but whatever.) I didn’t have the wherewithal or desire to use them. I stopped going to the gym and my diet became unbalanced. My nightmares became intense and shadowed me all day. Talking, thinking, moving – everything left me feeling like it would take days to recover.

I was terrified. I couldn’t tell: was this the meds or me? Was I exacerbating the withdrawal? Feeding into it and falling down into the ease of depression I have been fighting every day for almost two years?

I gave it eight days. It only got worse. And then I went back up on the meds. But I wasn’t feeling better and panicked again. My doctor assured me it would take a while for my brain chemistry to get back on track. I was scared because all of my habits I have developed over the past year had gone out the window. I think it freaked me out not only because I didn’t know I could get them back, but also how quickly they had stopped. I’m always aware in the back of my mind that my medication might not last forever. As has happened in the past, sometimes meds just stop working. I was so disappointed and frightened at how, when I started to feel depressed again, how quickly everything I use to handle daily life just felt too exhausting to use. The depression had not weakened, it was merely in a medical coma and when it awoke, it was as strong as ever.

But I hoped for the best, and started to notice I was slowly getting a little better each day. Even though I felt like shit, I still made myself leave the house once a day. It didn’t matter if I just ran an errand like going to the bank or picking up mouthwash; I just needed to leave the house. I drove to the gym. I didn’t go in except once, but I still tried to get there. I didn’t miss my appointments.

Two days ago, I just jumped into a spiral of despair. I wouldn’t go to London; I wouldn’t ever get a job; I wouldn’t ever get to a point where I would be comfortable with a man and deal with my assault; I would never be able to find a life with the pieces I believe I want. I got home and put together a kit of everything I might need for the ritual. I was so hesitant to call anyone – especially my family. I didn’t want them to start thinking I was back to my old ways after spending so long trying to earn back the trust I was better and could and would take care of myself.

And then I just stopped for a second. There was something inside of me that knew this wasn’t me and that I didn’t want to, no matter how much my mind was telling me to.

So I called my brother. I told him I needed his help, I was scared, and I couldn’t be alone. He came and listened, and we talked. Something about being with someone who is stable felt normalizing. And I realized that this was different. I got out of the house every day. I made appointments on time. I called my therapist a few times while panicking. And at the end, when I could have made a destabilizing decision, I asked for help.

Yesterday I had a training session in the gym. I was so scared that I had turned into a lump of mush, but after, in my soreness, I felt strong. I embraced my screaming shoulders with happiness. I came home, showered, ate, and watched TV. I still overate later in the night but decided that I would have to figure out in the next few days how to work on getting back to my old routine given my new instructions with my sleep.

I fell into depression this month. I tripped and stumbled down some steps and was facing my irrational demons. I was weakened and at times, fell into old habits. I cried at the terrifying understanding that I can never truly be safe or out of the woods completely. I even had a moment of suicidal ideation that felt, at the time, so deeply right.

But I kept going. I did what I had to do. And I reached out for help. I am still scared and know I’m still not myself. But for now, I feel safe. Weakened but safe. Because I made different choices, even when I didn’t want to, and I saved myself. And I hope to do it today. And that hope, no matter how small it is, doing something today reminds me that I haven’t lost the battle yet.

Finding My New & True Voice

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Freak Out Ferris Wheel: Why I’m Not Sleeping Right Now

Well, boys and girls – good news! You can take the chemical depression out of the girl, but you can’t take the catastrophic tornado of anxiety, doubts, fears, and failures out of her brain – especially right as she gets into bed.

This past week I’ve just been so tired. And out of it too. More so than usual since I’m a natural airhead. But today, for example, I sat at a light, irritated that I had to wait, until I realized it was a stop sign. I’ve gotten off at the wrong exits, blanked on basic information, and can’t remember what day it is and my tasks unless I look at my calendar throughout the day.

I’m starting to break out in mini-rashes all over, and I’m getting sores on my tongue. They go away overnight, but I think it’s stress. Like the constant headache that has become my companion as of late. Or my “oldie but goodie” OCD-habits that are low energy.

I’m also really losing track of time – sometimes it feels like it’s been three hours and it’s just been 30 minutes but other times I swear not much time has gone by and bam – there’s those three hours. Usually I lay out my clothes and items I need for the next day the night before but I just don’t have the energy. I actually have dishes still in the sink. Which, for me, is not a good sign.

Look, if you asked me what was wrong, could I list it out for you? Sure. Can I tell you why each thing is anxiety-inducing? Have a seat. But I can’t seem to find relief. During the day, my thoughts are mostly a mosh pit inside my head. It’s loud but unclear. And even when I try to quell the chaos, I can’t focus long enough to figure out what’s upsetting me.

In the past, when a situation created anxiety or doubt in me, I knew there were two to three potential outcomes but just ignored the positive one. Now, I see the positive one, but it doesn’t soothe me. I keep waiting to feel awake, to feel a bit of clarity – good or bad.

I’m having negative urges. I’m not going to act on them. I’m honestly too tired to deal with the process, and then the ramifications of doing it. Plus, my body and mind seem to be falling apart all on their own without my help.

I’ve tried to help myself by doing a few things. My therapist and psychiatrist are both fans of mind maps and I used them when I was planning on moving to London and they were super helpful. I made them for things I have to do and things I want to do to see if I could help my mind separate my anxiety and realize that I really didn’t have that much on my plate, I was just allowing my future possibilities on the plate, so it was feeling overwhelming. I also tried to list out my feelings, list out the things that were panicking me, list out things I am grateful for. I really gave the lists an honest effort and I hate those things, so I swear I’m trying. If you haven’t caught the vibe of this post yet, none of these things have worked.

And each night, it gets worse. I know getting into bed that I am entering into a realm where things can get bad real fast. It’s amazing how terrifying going to sleep can be. Besides the constant frustration of not sleeping well or ever feeling rested or knowing if I will sleep that night or not, my bed, which should be a safe haven of comfort and relief, is where my calm, cool demeanor goes to die.

My anxiety is morphing. It’s growing. It’s becoming…more complex. Instead of just being scared of an event coming up, I’m just feeling nauseous and panicked about “everything.” That vagueness is my demise. And all of this leaves me exhausted. Like, I can’t shut my brain off, but it hurts to hold my head up.

The chemical depression might be gone but I better nip this anxiety in the bud before I start falling backwards and start tumbling down into a descent I just don’t have the energy to fight.

Third Floor or The Penthouse: My Current Attempt at Climbing the Floors of Recovery

If I did reach the penthouse, it would most definitely have a bowling alley!

If I did reach the penthouse, it would most definitely have a bowling alley!

Disclaimer: I recommend not searching for images of “penthouse” on Google. I forgot there was a magazine by the same name…gross.

I was watching a television show the other night and this talented, made guy tells this new ingenue who’s just getting started, and I am paraphrasing: “You are choosing to jump from the third floor because you are afraid you’ll never get to the penthouse.” I.e. you’d rather fail now instead of risking the possibility of succeeding. I imagine you would do this because a) you are afraid you’ll never make it to the penthouse; and b) if you got there and had to jump, that’s going to hurt a lot more than just jumping from the third.

It panicked me, because sometimes I think I want to jump (metaphorically). When I try on hope and see the potential life may have to offer me, I don’t know what terrifies me more: not getting it or getting it and … whatever follows after that.

I don’t know what floor I’m on but I’m getting to a place of discomfort because I am now starting to do things I have only ever done depressed. So, for example, I have gone to parties, flirted with boys, lost weight, and lived alone – all while being severely depressed and often drunk with a touch of self-mutilation. But I’ve never done those things with my new brain chemistry, and sober … until now. And I don’t really know how to do it. I joke about how I’ve been stunted in so many ways by this disease – my experiences so fucked I find myself flailing at the maturity of a 14 year-old (Sometimes 22 – depends on the issue).

I went to a party where I only knew one person and I didn’t know who I would be. After all, in the past, I was “me”. But now, I’m me, but more raw, with possibilities racing through my head. I’m still thinking: “everyone thinks I’m too loud; I’m too obnoxious; I just did a gigantic overshare; wow, they must think I’m a big perv.” But I’m talking to people I don’t know, introducing myself, asking questions, dealing with my answers. Some things are the same: I’m pretty loud; I like to make people laugh; I will take over and “guide” the group if the party seems to be waning…and I am kinda pervy and tend to overshare when I’m nervous. I’ve always done that, but I didn’t know until now that that’s me, not my depressive self.

I’ve also just started to live alone. I totally can’t afford it, but it was my first big step towards independence. The only other time I’ve lived alone, I was suicidal and didn’t leave the house for days on end. So like, how do I live alone? What kind of person am I when I live alone? Can I do it? What if I do the things I did when I lived alone last time: stopped leaving the house; made pancakes every day; didn’t answer calls; self-mutilated in the bathroom. I mean, technically, that’s the example I’m working off of.

So a part of me says: “just pretend that you’re 26 and this is your first time living alone. And you are like this. Now…live.” What I’ve learned: I’m still pretty clean and organized, though not as OCD like in the past (as tempting as it is). I know that if I decide to cook or bake, I should do it around 3, and cook multiple things so when I’m tired at 7 and don’t want to do anything, I’ll have everything ready to go. I still talk to the television and myself, and still need my noise machine and an eye mask to sleep. I still like having systems and schedules – but this may be because I don’t have a job or volunteer internship yet.

Some days I don’t want to get out of bed or leave the house. I do get dressed every day even if I’m not planning on leaving the house so if I do, I’m ready to go. Sometimes I even put on gym clothes just to make it easier if I get an impulse. On those days, even if I just take out the garbage or walk to the library, it makes it different than before. And on those days, I’m just tired and cranky and maybe a little down about my life. This past week, I just felt tired for days, but I decided it was hormones and forced myself out today. I feel better. So, I guess this is what I live like when I live alone. This is me now, living in an apartment.

Unfortunately, for the past few weeks, I have also had cravings to cut. They come on kind of like food cravings. Sometimes it’s in the car, or watching tv, walking to the library, or when I’m getting into the shower. At first it threw me off. I panicked that the meds stopped working. But when I wasn’t thinking about cutting, I was level. I usually just keep driving, or watching, or walking, or washing until the impulse passes.

It makes sense to me. With all these changes, I’ve just been overwhelmed, worried, scared, sad, anxious, hyper, giggly, silly – kind of like being bipolar II but in a good way? I think my cravings are more about my need for control than about punishing myself. I used to cut when I was overwhelmed with pain and nothing else could tamper it. For just a moment, it became a vortex, pulling all my emotions into the act. It never worked the way I wanted it to, it never lasted long, and then I had to deal with all of the ramifications of doing it. Trust me, I know and did know, there are better ways.

But I think in all this chaos of unknowns, I have felt very little control over the big picture. I’ve been craving control and the possibility of a calm minute where a vortex could just quiet my mind. I know that the positive ways of providing some calm are breathing, mindfulness, stepping back from my thoughts, feeling into my emotions, and being in the moment. There’s also medications that can help and I’m not afraid to use them. But you know, sometimes it’s tempting to go with what’s rote than practice a new skill. Especially when you’re shaking and can barely breathe.

I’ve also noticed some changes in my eating habits. Partially it’s because I hurt my knee and my exercise regimen has decreased in intensity. (Man I miss those endorphins!) I have been successfully losing weight gained during the depression and between diet and exercise, I have been scared that the loss of intense exercise would throw off my goal. It seems I have become much more severe with my food. I’m vegan, so it’s not like I have a ton to go crazy off of, but it’s very easy to eat like shit and get some serious calories even when vegan. But I’ve been cutting back, controlling and watching what I’m eating. I find I am limiting my intake and have become far more obsessive about it. So this screams out, once again: control.

But what is also interesting, is that about 3-4 nights out of the week, I’m also bingeing. Not necessarily the kind where I literally am in a fugue state and can’t remember what I have eaten (though that has happened). But I’m angry and tired and scared, and while I have spent the day attempting to reign in those emotions by controlling my food and my schedule, etc., this seems to be more of an attempt to lose control, to literally feed the fear. Anyway, I thought that was an interesting juxtaposition my mind is playing into.

All of this is to say, I’m really scared and scarred. I only know life through a lens I currently don’t have. I’m trying to keep my eyes open, to keep stepping forward and trying new things that scare me. I’m trying to be compassionate when I chicken out and don’t do them. But in the next year, there are some major decisions coming down the pipeline – some of which are already on the calendar. I’m trying to sort out what my hopes, dreams and desires are. I’m supposed to be deciding who I want to be and what I want my life to look like and how to make those things happen without losing my shit completely. I truly feel like a child in an adults’ body and everyone is looking at me to know what a 33-year old should know by now. And I don’t. And I might not ever – because a lot of people don’t either.

I can’t control my destiny down to the next five minutes, let alone the rest of my life. But I know, in the end, I’ll never be in control. Everything inside me, based on my past, is telling me to jump from the third floor – “get off while you still can!” The safety of not trying tempts me every day. I look up at the penthouse and I’m not sure if I’ll ever reach it, or if I’ll even know if I ever get there. And there’s a part of me that doesn’t know if I’d ever recover from that – losing everything I have built and finding myself once again at the ground floor. I’ve done that a few times now, and it’s so fucking exhausting, I feel like it ages my soul.

So many emotional habits that I have built over time are trying to pull me down – telling me it’s not worth trying only to fail. But there’s this little part of me, I guess in this “new” me, that’s kind of like “Why not try? If you fall from the 3rd floor, the 8th or the penthouse, you’re going to end up in the same place, so why not move up and see what’s on each floor while you can? There might be free food! And maybe, just maybe, you won’t fall at all.” I usually giggle at that voice – partly because I want to believe her and I kinda remember her – like an aura of myself as a child surrounding me.

I don’t know if I’m going to make it. And while I really want to end this with something inspirational and uplifting, I don’t think I’m quite there yet.

But I will try to take a breath, become mindful, and take the next step forward by walking alone from my apartment to meet my family for dinner.