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.

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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.

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.

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.

Driving Around in My Angermobile

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The groundhog pretty much captures my face when I’m in my Angermobile. Truly a striking resemblance.

Evidently I have a problem with anger: I have difficulty/don’t express it and do not allow myself to truly acknowledge/feel it. Generally, when something “angers” me, it quickly turns to sadness and then to an inner-anger of shame. I believe this stems from the verbal anger I witnessed as a child.

Growing up, I had to listen to some incredibly loud, mean, abusive rants and fights. I had no place to go to escape the noise and fury. Even in my room, with my fingers in my ears, I could hear it. A part of me wanted to run out and protect her. I wanted to yell back at him and break him down with my words. But mostly, I just wanted it to stop. Sometimes, it was at the dinner table and I could never figure out if I should leave or wait it out. I could physically feel the anger, as if the sound was holding me down. It left a presence in the room after they left. It felt dirty. And I was so scared and so sad and so mad that it happened and that I could not fix it, stop it, or prevent it.

So I suppose that’s why anger scares me and I avoid it as much as possible. It’s volatile and it can hit whatever is in its’ range of rage. It’s usually an instinct rather than a processed idea so it’s hurtful and thoughtless and empty yet riddled with evil. It destructs. Verbally, it is used to hurt, to damage, to destroy. It becomes a giant and steps on anything in its’ path. And I hate it. Huh. I’m angry at anger. That makes me sad. (See!?!)

But I do have my car: my “Angermobile.”

I live in a suburban area so I have to drive quite a bit. And man, people are just horrible fucking drivers. The point (if indeed I am attempting to make one,) is that the only place where I do express anger is, you guessed it, in the car. Now, I don’t yell with the window open; if I give the finger I do it below the glass; and if I pass by you after you have done something asinine and dangerous, I don’t look over and give you the “fuck you” face and hand routine; but I try to grimace and look frustrated. (I’m pretty sure my face looks like I’m farting or have to pee really bad, but whatever. It means I’m mad, dammit.)

And you should hear what I say with the windows closed.

I raise my voice. I get that Hulk treble in my tone. And I use swear words in creative and abusive ways. I say things to you that are demoralizing, mean, and angry. I tell you what’s what and then some. I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take your shitty driving anymore…without at least yelling like a mean, bad ass.

Besides an occasional argument with my family, who all have louder voices so I think it just naturally gets louder quickly, I never raise my voice to people. I do not confront people. If I was angry, I would never be rude or use a swear word. I generally apologize before I complain. And yes, I think a lot of it has to do with my past, as well as cultural expectations for women, and because I am terrified the other person will yell at me.

My therapist wants me to work on my anger. Just for clarification, (because I asked,) she doesn’t mean throwing something at someone or bitching them out. She means sitting with the anger, feeling it, and not turning it into sadness or shame. (I also think she is talking more about my interpersonal relationships and not the shitty driver who cut me off.) She wants me to validate my anger because it is justified and not be afraid to face it because it is an important emotion and can help me recover from past trauma.

And anger can be effective and positive. It is telling you that the person did you wrong and it was not your fault. It is saying that you deserve more and you will not allow it to happen again. It is a promise to yourself to fight back, and it is a powerful energy that can propel you forward in an empowering and passionate way.

So I’m going to work on sitting with my anger. Because unfortunately, I’m pretty sure I have been harboring it, storing it in a “do not open” box, and it’s pretty full.

Still, I think we all need some form of an Angermobile – whether we are too passive or overly aggressive. We all need a place where we can let it all out without hurting someone or ruining a relationship. Maybe for you, it’s yelling into a pillow. Maybe it’s writing in a journal or on your blog. Maybe it’s listening to angry music really loud and thrashing about. Maybe it’s kneading dough. Whatever your pleasure. As long as it’s safe, and it alleviates the tension and undercurrents of hate/frustration/anger that we obtain throughout the day, I say: “go on with your bad self.”

I like who I am in my Angermobile. I’m not like the people who yelled when I was a child. But as a person who is so controlled in public, it’s fun and refreshing to use some of my favorite words (oh how I adore swear words,) in the safety of my climate-controlled, ideally (and hopefully) sound-proof car.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Memories would help.

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

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

 

Can You Live With An Empty Soul?

Yesterday my therapist and I started to dissect my issues with intimacy. There’s a long road of traumatic events that have lead to my fear of getting close, both physically and emotionally with men. But as we reviewed components that have lead to my current, frustrating state, the rejection and dismissal by girls kept coming up. Because while I was dealing with my feelings about men, my wants and needs, the feeling of self-worth and value kept coming up – and a lot of that had to do with the rejection by girl friends.

I was friends with and then eventually cut off by a different group of people every year from second grade through seventh. Sometimes with a note, or just three people refusing to acknowledge my presence one day. Each time I joined a clique, after some time, I was told quite clearly that I was no longer wanted. After a horrific experience in seventh grade, I decided never to have “best friends” and just be friends with everybody.

I suppose the thing that crushed me the most was that I never knew why or was given any explanation for friends’ abandonment or sudden disgust with me. The first few times, I just felt confused, but after a while, I started to evaluate what I was doing wrong. What was it about me that made people, after a time, not want to be friends with me? What was so rotten inside me, that as soon as people started to know me, they wanted to flee?

I didn’t know what I was doing. So instead of trying to get people to like me and want me, I tried to get people to need me. Being a friend meant getting things for people, doing favors, embarrassing myself to ensure they laughed, helping them with boys, picking things up – whatever I could do that made me a convenient and helpful addition to their lives. This backfired at times, as some girls felt I was overbearing, trying too hard. I adjusted when that happened and eventually I found a way to balance helping people but giving them space long enough that they couldn’t get sick of me.

Looking back, I had convinced myself that I, as a human being, had no value to people. Just being me was not good enough. I had to earn friendship by providing something they needed. True friendship does involve giving – but it’s supposed to be two-ways. I always felt safer from rejection if it was one-way. In fact, I hated when people tried to do something for me or compliment me. Still, even doing this, people ditched me.

So now not only was it that I was of no value, that I was worthless; but there was something so disgusting and annoying about me, my giving just wasn’t enough. I was ugly, irritating, awful. Deep within the core of myself, there was something so bad, they couldn’t speak to me or sit with me anymore.

After the most painful rejection in seventh grade, I realized that limiting yourself to a few friends to have intimacy and closeness, was simply too dangerous. And for someone like me, to get too close and allow someone to see me, meant eventually they would flee. So I became friendly with everyone. I didn’t sit with anyone specifically. I spent the majority of my time making people laugh at my expense – but it worked. People thought I was “funny” and I was generally friendly with everyone. This continued in high school. I would have a few closer friends, but I often would distance myself if I felt we were spending too much time together, avoiding any chance of rejection. If I didn’t invest too much in them, and I still ensured my value by giving – whether that was providing a place to drink, or making snarky comments at the chemistry teacher, or railing on myself for my braces and fat, it was worth it to get them to laugh. If I could make them laugh or get them something, they would let me stay, and in that way, I could make myself of value.

But underneath that was the constant fear that they would find out I was worthless. That they would see this sickness in me, and run. By then, I stopped trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, and just accepted it was me as a whole, I was simply damaged goods. My goal was simply to hide my true self.

To this day, I feel fear in all of my relationships – with doctors, family members, the barista, and most importantly my friends. I only have a few friends, and they have stuck by me throughout my depression. But I am still scared to lose them. I find myself in the middle of a story horrified that I’m talking too much and trying to switch the subject back to them – people like being listened to and heard. I try to remember if I contacted them last, and will wait for them to contact me, lest I be hanging on them too much. And it’s why I hid and often continue to hide my mental illness. I talk about it, quickly, flippantly, and with humor, but in general, I skip by it quickly, don’t answer the phone, or just leave out the emotion or truly devastating fears. My best friend told me last year that she never knew so much and that she couldn’t help me if I wasn’t open to her. In the past year, I have tried to be more honest. The other day, I called her and cried on the phone, hysterically vomiting my thoughts and concerns. I apologized the next day and told her it was fine. I felt bad I had put her in a position where I needed something that no one could provide. I worry if you become a task too heavy, people will leave you, as my roommate and friend right after college did, by moving out of our apartment because she told me I was a “burden” and she couldn’t handle her own life because mine was so oppressive.

Obviously, if you think you have no value and that people are disgusted and want to leave as soon as they know who you really are, this is going to impact your sexual relationships as well. I have never really dated anyone. I have never had an intimate encounter sober. I haven’t had many to begin with, and some of them were assaults, so I’m not sure they count. There have been a few guys who liked me, but they were intense and they seemed to compliment me a lot. They kept saying how great I was, smart, pretty, and they had only been seeing me for a week. I broke up with those men. Partially because of my self-esteem and sexual intimacy issues, but mostly because I knew if they really “saw” who I was, beyond the humor and bullshit, they would see how hollow and truly pointless I was.

I think we are going to try and focus on my history some more and reinterpreting my thoughts. My issues with men are much more complicated, which is annoying given my love for them. But as I got into the car to drive home, it really actually hit me – what I had said about 10 minutes before the session ended. I have learned, from a very early age, that I add no value, and am either empty or bad inside. I am, by definition, worthless. And so much in my upbringing supported that conclusion.

My therapist asked me if I ever knew why people decided they didn’t like me. There is only one person I still know from that time period that was part of a group that cut me out. I feel bad, but about once a year I bring it up. I ask her to remember what it was that started the decision for the three of them to stop talking to me; to cough pig when I walked by. Who decided I was out and why? Was it something specific or my general personality? And why did she do it? Was it peer pressure or did she hate me as well? I just wanted to know what I did wrong for so many years, to try and have some understanding of why so many people left me. And every year, she pleads with me to let it go because she can’t remember. She isn’t sure who started it, and she isn’t sure why. There wasn’t a specific moment or a group meeting that she remembers. She just knows that it happened and she was a part of it. And that she’s sorry. And that by high school she thought I was really cool and wanted to be friends with me. I still can’t seem to satiate that need to understand and evidently it didn’t impact the people who did it to me enough to remember.

And now, through college and DC, and my depressive years, people tell me they wish I knew how great I was. That they don’t understand why I am so hard on myself, why I can’t see why I am so “amazing.” They tell me I am attractive, kind, funny, witty, smart, emotionally intelligent. They tell me there’s no reason I shouldn’t be in a relationship or try to make friends. And with every compliment, I feel sad because I have duped them as well. What they are seeing is what I choose to show them. But it’s all a charade, bullshit, a song and dance.

The truth is, I can’t decipher what is “really” me and what is something I do to make people accept me. Am I actually a person with some of those traits? Is that, at my core, who I truly am? Or is this all a sham, and behind it all is something truly ugly, something so terrifying, that the only person who really sees me is the depressive voice inside me that is the only real voice of truth. A part of me knows that that voice is my sickness, that it’s not real, but every time I listen to it, it has a point, and evidence to go along with it.

Maybe, I never developed a voice or inner being, what some see as a “soul.” Maybe I have no self-esteem or self-worth because I don’t have anything true and tangible to hold onto. I have spent so long developing what felt like facades for so long, I can’t tell if they are actually me, or still simply illusions. Could I just be, behind the green curtain, not a great wizard, but a silly, sad, insecure person, with nothing to show? Could my soul simply be an empty shell with nothing inside?

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.