How Do You Know When It’s Time to Say “When?”

Over the past two and a half years since I found a medicinal cocktail that seems to be working, I have slowly been rebuilding a life for myself. It’ s been difficult – not only because my entire life had been torn apart, but also because I’ve never “lived” as this person before. I’m experiencing things for the first time as whoever I am now, and I don’t know how it should feel.

But it’s been good. It started slowly with leaving the house once a day. to run an errand, usually accompanied by my mom. Then I started to go to the gym every day, also with my mom. I changed my diet and went back to being vegan. I finally moved out of my parents’ house and got my own place. I started running errands and going to the gym alone. I reconnected with friends and even made one or two new ones. I got a job for four hours a week and took classes at a community college. I applied for graduate school. Now that I’m in graduate school, I am taking a full course load. I am actively involved in our student association. I have a fellowship and recently a new job, 12 hours a week. I am doing research for an internship next year. Fuck, I went on my very first date in November, and while that is stagnant (by choice) now, I did it so now I know I can.

When you become a counselor, (that’s what I’m getting my MS in,) there is an ethical mandate for self-care. An ethical MANDATE. Faculty and friends are constantly saying “make sure you are not spreading yourself too thin,” “only do what you can to your capacity,” “make sure you are balancing your self-care and your school.” While I actually find it aggravating considering the faculty are the ones giving us copious amounts of work and my friends are all type-A and planning on getting A’s as they manage the rest of their lives, I also don’t know the answer.

I’ve tried to ask people – how do you know when you reach your capacity? They don’t usually have an answer. Maybe they don’t know what I am asking. I saw my psychiatrist last week, someone who has seen me at my very worst, and asked her how “normal” people know when to say when? How will I know if I am reaching burnout? Don’t you have to reach burnout to know you’ve reached it?

As someone with a behavioral health condition, emotions are never as simple as they seem. Anxiety could turn into a panic attack. Feeling sad could lead me to bed for days, or even self-harm. Knowing that possibility of severity is always lurking makes me hypervigilant with my emotions. Hence, my fear of not knowing my capacity. Because if you have to burnout to realize your capacity, that’s not something I can allow. What if burnout is a slip in recovery? What if I can’t come back? That’s why knowing the answer feels so important to me and not having one feels so frightening.

There is a part of me that wants to push myself and see what else I can do. I have surprised myself so much in the past few months by what I have achieved; I am excited and scared to see what else I could do. I still feel gaps are missing and traumas ungrieved. But I am curious as to who I am becoming. At the same time, there is a terrified inner child who just wants us to appreciate where we are and be grounded and centered and satisfied. It warns me to pull back, to remember the blows of rejection and failure. To ignore the intellectual understanding of the bullshit that is American values, and remember how it can feel.

And I find myself right back where I started: when will I know when to say when? And when will “when” be good enough? What about you? How do you know when you have reached burnout? When do you decide to say no? What does “self-care” look like to you? What’s the trick to this thing called living? What’s your “when?”

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New Year’s Resolutions: The Best Gift Your Depression Could Ask For

While I appreciate articles like this, where an author sets lofty, idealistic resolutions for the coming year, and even agree with most of the points she makes in terms of her resolutions, unlike the author, I detest/abhor/fucking hate resolutions. It’s like a big, gift-wrapped present for depression and self-hate.

First, you’re supposed to look back on the year. Ah, yes. I suppose there are some that look back on all the great things: “I got engaged!” “I lost weight!” “I got a promotion!” Though they would never actually bring those things up during New Year’s because being proud in front of others is often viewed at rubbing it in and pointing out the others’ inadequacies if they have not succeeded in those areas. (Unless you’re posting on Facebook, a depressive’s tornado of self-hate where everyone seems to be having THE BEST TIME EVER. ALL THE TIME.) But the truth is, most people, especially those with depression, look back on all of their failures: “I didn’t do the things I am supposed to do.” “I’m not the person I want to be.” “My life is imperfect.” “X and Y and Z happened and they were horrible thus, I suck.” And it becomes punishment – “reflecting” on everything you didn’t accomplish this past year.

I suppose the intention is meant to be inspiring. Take your “failures” and turn them into effective goals for the next year! This is the year you will finally be perfect! This is the year where you will be “happy” and fix all the areas of your life you and society have deemed inadequate. And these goals are so outlandish and often vague – it’s just so American. The foundation of our society is built on these incredibly grandiose ideas of a world we can never truly achieve. Perhaps this is done purposefully, to make sure we keep going and moving forward. But as a depressive, all I ever see when I look at the Constitution (besides an outdated document that doesn’t reflect our current society,) is “Look at how fucking pathetic life is. So much hate, inequality, oppression. We are really disappointing.” (And yes, this year truly does reflect these thoughts, even without the Constitution involved.) Same with resolutions. You can’t resolve to “lose weight,””be happy in your sex life,” or “be the change you want to see in the world.” After all, what would that look like? How much weight is enough? What does happiness in a sex life look like? What does this change look like? And are these supposed to be permanent changes or just for the year? How do we know if we accomplished them or not?

If fighting depression taught me anything, it is that life is a process and a journey. There is no goal line. There is no “right” way to be. There is no absolute “happiness” that you can obtain. Life is moments of bliss and joy; achievements and progress; failure and sadness. It is about trying to find an acceptance with whatever your world may be.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t have goals. I have a sheet for DBT I fill out every day that has a list of the negative things I do that I do not want to do anymore. Examples include: allowing others to control my emotions, avoiding social situations, catastrophizing. Every day, I write down my urge to do it, and then if I did or not, and what skills I may have used to help myself choose to do the positive thing for myself.

And while I hope every day I can fight my urges and overcome bad habits, it’s a daily log. And some days, I don’t. And I’m not trying to get a perfect log, I’m just trying to notice the days when I don’t and see what happened that day, think about what I might have been able to do, and accept that I didn’t but maybe the next day I can, or maybe I need to try something different to help myself not do it. I don’t get points for not catastrophizing, (though my therapist does seem happy.) I’m not trying to “win,” and there is no finish line. (Well, I guess until I die or get so depressed again, rip the sheet up, call it a piece of delusional shit, and get back to catastrophizing.)

Living life with this simplicity – the goal isn’t to “be thin enough” or “have a boyfriend” but more like “self-care” and “interpersonal relationships.” And yes, I obviously have intangible, unrealistic goal narratives in my head. Because I do want to find this “happiness” I know doesn’t exist. And not just because it’s been ingrained explicitly and implicitly through every facet of my life, but because my depression branded it on my brain from a very early age to make sure I would hate myself even more than I did the year before. If that’s not a depressive narrative, I don’t know what is, but that shit is hard to shake.

So I just think we need to be cautious when we look forward. I’m not saying we should all give up – on ourselves, our country, our world. I’m just saying that maybe our goals should be about just trying to live life to the best of our ability, a day at a time. To look within ourselves and see if we can use the year to work on things. Not to fix them. I do want a better world and I want to play a role in changing it – but there isn’t a measure of success in how I do it. (Did I seriously just write that? I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.)

So I don’t want to set resolutions at all. It’s too much pressure on things I don’t have enough control over. Given where I have been, being able to want that in and of itself is huge and continues to be a fuckload of work. So I suppose I do have one resolution, which is, to not have any resolutions – just live my life to the best of my abilities, whatever that may look like or be.

(It should be noted I will most likely reject this entire post should my medication stop working.)

The New “Normal”

I haven’t written a post in quite a while. It’s not that there haven’t been moments these past months that I haven’t thought of doing it. I think I have a few drafts even, but for the most part, I just fell offline. I don’t mind it for myself personally, but I have missed the people I follow. I know I am only a like or a comment, but I have thought of them often. It’s really my only regret – not being there for the people I respect. But it’s done, right?

I wanted to write a post about my new “normal,” but I even write that with trepidation. I have taken steps forward in the past few months. If I’m being kind to myself, I would even say strides. But there is always the narrative that warns me that it could all go away. That something might happen like it has in the past, and all of the work I have done will be for naught. All of my work will once again be erased. My medication working (well enough,) my progress in DBT, my healthy lifestyle, making the choice to go to graduate school, trying new things, doing things that scare me, being okay with being scared.

There is a part of DBT that is about accumulating positives. I find it rather funny since one of the many talents of being mentally ill is the ability to accumulate negatives no matter how good things may seem. I fear the idea of reveling in contentment. I feel like, for years, every time I did that, my depression or some mean girl or just life would whip me back and slap me down. So I downplay. And besides, it’s all relative. I mean, compared to some people I know, my positives would be jokes. But I know, I shouldn’t compare or judge.

I will say this. If this is how it’s going to be, I’m okay. I can make this work. It’s imperfect, it teeters, some days it feels like I lost it and I just have to hope it’s there when I wake up the next day – I just don’t want to lose it. I’ll always want things to be better, and I hope that isn’t innate. I hope rather than wanting things better, I’ll just want to try more things, but be at peace with how things are. I know that tragedy potentially surrounds me at all times. Not just the fear of bipolar taking up residency again, but people getting sick, being hurt, dying. Loss. Pain. Sadness. It’s laid out before me along with all the other possibilities.

And there are so many potential paths – waiting to see if A, then B, but if C, then E. Trying to gain comfort in what I can control and try to come to peace with that which I cannot. Once again, for a person with mental illness, control is not a high-functioning component of the disease and yet I believe it has been integral in maintaining whatever this viable life is.

I meet people now and they don’t know “me.” They don’t know what I have been through to stand before them, the person they think they see. A part of me wants to tell them “Oh, yeah – this isn’t me. I mean, I’ve had fucking ECT. I’ve done some pretty messed up things to myself. I was in bed for two years. Twice. I’ve been suicidal, and not just ‘I wonder what it would be like?'” And that is me. But at the same time, it’s not. Because right now, in this moment, I don’t need ECT. I can get out of bed. I do not have a desire to harm. I have problems, shitty days, and am definitely not where I would wish I could be, but seem to be okay. For now. In this moment. And that was never the case.

I say the new “normal” because people think that the person I am now is me. And it is. But it’s work. And it’s time. And I am so lucky to have those luxuries that allow me to have that space.

I could still accumulate a list of negatives that would rock your mental world. I have friends who are sick, I am incredibly lonely, I have some serious issues that are on the backburner that will have to be addressed. Yesterday was a shit day. It was actual the third shit day in a row. Today, it wasn’t even that different and yet, today was okay. I was able to appreciate what I did do today and be thankful. And right now, that’s just enough that makes me ready for tomorrow and all the fears, good or bad, the unknown brings.

I missed you guys. I don’t know if I will be able to be back on. Things are about to get a bit busy. But I wanted to check-in and let you know you have been in my thoughts and I have missed this community and all it has given me. I’m so happy to see you all on here, still fighting, still pushing, still making it day to day. Take care of you.

Food for Thought: Portrayal of Disabilities in Movies

(I generally avoid posting opinions on controversial issues. However, this really seems more like an educational opportunity rather than an attempt to incite. Also, I suppose there is a spoiler here…but honestly, just watch the trailer and you’ll know it anyway.)

I read the book ‪#‎MeBeforeYou‬ when first came out and cried my eyes out. However, it wasn’t until the movie version recently came out that disability activists thankfully opened my eyes to the unfair messaging the movie makes in regards to quadraplegics/people with disabilities.

Not only did I realize the horrific implication in the story that living with a disability like quadraplegia makes life “not worth living,” the actor who plays him, Sam Claflin, isn’t even a quadraplegic. Then I saw the trailer for the new movie ‪#‎TheFundamentalsofCaring‬. As much as I love Paul Rudd, once again a non-disabled actor, Craig Roberts, plays a teenager with muscular distrophy.

While this movie may not include the insult that having a disability makes living meaningless, they have still chosen to use an actor who is not disabled to play this role. This is not the first time this has happened – “Artie” on ‪#‎Glee‬ was in a wheelchair, but played by an abled actor. And there are so many more examples. In fact, I can only think of one show that has respected differently-abled actors: RJ Mitte in ‪#‎BreakingBad‬. (A friend just told me that his muscular distrophy is not as extreme as what he does on television and that evidently Artie walks at one point.) I know there are more, but I would argue that the use of disabled actors to portray disabled characters is minimal in Hollywood.

It’s insulting to not understand and respect that disabilities just make you differently-abled, and that having a disability does not make your life any less meaningful or amazing.  I am not articulating this as well as well as others, so I recommend reading more from columnists and activists who are speaking out.

As someone with bipolar II, I am often angered and discouraged by how mental illness is portrayed in movies and television. While I appreciate recent attempts to bring mental illness into the fold of stories, I feel they miss the complexity of what it’s like. Movies like #SilverLiningsPlaybook piss me off. A show that I love, #You’reTheWorst, also bothered me in their attempt to demonstrate a woman in a depressive episode. I do not know if these failures are because the people that write them lack understanding of the nuance of mental health, or whether they simply use it to attempt to add depth to their work.

I guess I just felt it was important to support those in the disability community by bringing this issue into the minor spotlight I have. It’s worth thinking about. (I am also aware this happens in regards to gender and race in Hollywood as well, and that is also an issue that should continue to be addressed and should outrage and embarrass us all.)

Think about it. Read about it. Look at it in regards to other minorities in movies and television. And if so inclined, get engaged in the conversation. It’s worth having.

 

Here are a few links to some articles I found articulate the message:

https://www.buzzfeed.com/rosebuchanan/campaigners-are-pissed-about-the-representation-of-disabled

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/laurenwest1/me-before-you_b_10143130.html

http://www.lifenews.com/2016/05/27/pro-euthanasia-film-me-before-you-panned-by-disability-rights-campaigners/

The Myth of Normal

Okay, I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, but yes, I know that there is no “normal.” And yet, throughout my life, all I have craved was to just be normal. In the throws of depression, I suppose we all develop our own normal as it applies to the “what-ifs” and “if onlys” of our life at that time. Normal is the fantasy of all that is destroyed by the illness. The life we cannot have, the potential we cannot reach.

I remember during my breakdown, crying to my mother about how I could and would never be normal. I wouldn’t be able to have a healthy, sustainable relationship with a man. I would never be happy with my body. I would never not hate myself. I would never fully trust people. I could never just live life without ruining it through self-sabotage, perfectionism, comparison, and judgement.

At that time, normal was having a boyfriend, but still being really independent. It was enjoying my job without the constant fear of failure and burn-out. I would be successful but not too far at the top so I could have a life. I would go to brunch with friends, be open to adventures, meet people from diverse backgrounds, continue to try new things and always be learning. I was thin, pragmatic with money, with a job I was proud of, living in a city where I walked everywhere, and knew my neighbors. I had friends who called me more than I called them, and I knew they wanted to be my friends and needed me in their lives. I  guess normal was really the feeling of safety. A calm contentment and assurance of consistency and order. Boring never sounded so good.

I suppose that’s why this year has been so frustrating. Finally after spending pretty much my entire life in a clinical depressive state, I am evaluating, testing, relearning, trying. Today, I was running an errand, in the middle of the day on a weekday, and I got this terrible feeling: what if I can never go back to work? I’ll be on disability, running errands in the middle of the day with seniors, trust fund babies, and parents who are with their young children or maybe work from home. As I allowed my mom to pay for my groceries, I thought, what if I have to be dependent on my parents for financial support for my life? As I looked into my fridge, I wondered if I will ever be able to look at myself in the mirror and just be okay with it? As I avoided eye contact with a relatively attractive man (I was avoiding eye contact so it was blurry….) I thought, will I ever actually be able to be in a relationship with a man or am I going to have to go back to the old days of just getting drunk, and demoralizing myself to feel wanted for a few hours?

We are all different people, with different life experiences, and life is constantly changing, shifting, surprisingly us, failing us, guiding us. I suppose the realization I am supposed to have at the end of this post is that there is no normal and that there shouldn’t be. That it’s just a set of standards we set up for ourselves to fail because we will never reach it. Or maybe because it’s put upon us by society and what it tells us to want, need, and be in the world. Normal seemed so obvious and defined when I was so depressed. And now, with possibility, I’m dumbfounded to explain what normal actually is.

But I can’t seem to let the idea go – even knowing it’s an irrational myth. And I still crave to be “normal.” And I think I mourn the normal I never had … even if I know it wasn’t real.

I think deconstructing the myth will require letting go of judgement – of my past, present and possible future. And honestly I can’t even wrap my mind around that. I feel like if you took away self-judgement from my life, I would be just a sliver of a person – it has defined my humor, my outlook, my goals, and decisions. Honestly, it seems like it’s easier to believe in the illusion of normal, because – can you really fail at reaching something impossible?

So how do we handle the myth of normal? How do we not let it consume and control us? How do we redefine life without it, and can we?

‘Nuff Said: Mental Illness, Gun Control, and Our Nation’s Offensive Ignorance

Okay, so I clearly have some thoughts on this. And a few people in both the news and around me that I would like to “have a word with.” I would imagine anyone who suffers from mental illness or knows someone who does, has thoughts on this. But honestly, I can’t do it justice. However, my man, John Oliver can. (I should note that the segment is really more about how our country is not dealing with mental illness – guns are really just the jumping off point.)