Those Old-World Blues

a cure for what ails you, anxiety, major depression, memories, personal experiences, ptsd, therapy

I won’t lie, readers; I’ve been down quite a bit lately. Most of it stems from deep-seated guilt that’s been playing the long con on me for most of my 28 years–it likes to pop its ugly head up and hit me so hard that sometimes it feels like I can’t breathe.

I’ve been carrying around a back-breaking load of guilt since I was a child. Some of it was inflicted by others, some of it by myself. There were so many little things–messages, perhaps–that sneaked in and grabbed me when I was at my most vulnerable.

When my mother went to prison, one of my maternal aunts abandoned her life in Chicago–what I perceived to be a vibrant life of friends and work and independent living–to return to her hometown to help my grandmother raise me. She never tried to make me feel guilty, but the damage had been done long before her arrival. I felt that there was something “wrong” inside me, that I didn’t deserve to be treated well, that I had done something to deserve the early childhood abuse and neglect that made me into a cautious, anxious, hypervigilant kid.

It all began to snowball from there. Anytime someone would do something nice for me–even something as simple as buying me an ice cream cone–I would immediately feel terribly sad for reasons that my child’s mind couldn’t comprehend. (Fun fact: To this day, the music from an ice cream truck makes me want to cry. Brains are weird.)

As many of you know, I’m studying clinical mental health counseling at Hopkins. I never expected to get in, but I was ecstatic! (I still am, though thankfully, the disbelief has faded a bit.)

My fiance has generously offered to support me financially through this time, as it’ll be probably another year until I can land a paying gig in my field. He’s told me time and time again that he doesn’t mind doing this because he’s financially secure enough to do so and because he loves me (and I suspect it also helps that I’m incredibly low-maintenance–see above paragraphs on guilt). I trust him and try to take him at his word.

But more and more frequently, the old guilt starts to creep in, which leads to devastating lows. Lately, I’ve found myself wanting to cry but not quite knowing why. I think it’s because I’ve suppressed so many emotions. I deal with everything by not dealing with it, which I recognize as alarmingly unhealthy behavior. Once I’m added to his insurance plan, my first order of business is to find a really good trauma therapist (that isn’t based out of one of the sites I’m looking at for practicum/internship).

Today, my fella told me that he thinks I have things “more together” than I think. And he’s probably right–I feel very good most days, although there are little nagging low points on even the best days. I can usually brush them aside using a couple of methods I’ve learned, which I’ll describe below.

Tonight is a rough night. He’s at dance practice, which is awesome–I’m glad we each have interests of our own, and it gives me time to practice the piano without being embarrassed about how rusty I’ve become. It also means I have time alone to cry everything out without worrying about making him worry.

Earlier, I went out on our balcony and looked up at the sky. It wasn’t quite dark but the moon was out in full force. It reminded me of my Great-Aunt Mare and how she’d come to the house twice a day when I was young–once in the morning for coffee with Grandma (her sister) and once in the evening to watch Wheel of Fortune with us. (Side note: I was awesome at Wheel of Fortune.)

I decided that a good cry would be the best medicine, since I’ve been feeling kind of weird all day, emotionally speaking. Shortly after her death, I made a small album on Facebook of the best photos of me and my great-aunt–Halloween at a pumpkin patch, hugging me close for a photo at my eighth birthday party, holding me when I was a baby. I looked at them and I let myself cry. I let myself howl my sadness into the void. And then I sat up and said, “That’s enough; let’s go write a blog post about it.”

I find that if I don’t come up with ways to distract myself, the sadness will become endless waves of grief and shame and all of the emotions I’ve been hiding away all these years. Once it’s out of the box, it’s so hard, so exhausting, to put it all back in.

I apologize for the downer post, readers. I haven’t had a personal post in quite a while but I feel as though being open and honest about my emotions, good or bad, can make others feel less alone. There have been so many times when I’ve been endlessly Googling about a specific worry or fear and bam, there’s a blog post about it. Though it may not help right away or offer solutions, it does make me feel less alone.

I hope you’re all staying safe and doing at least okay tonight. We all need to support each other, at our best moments as well as (and especially) our worst. We’re a community. We survived horrific things, and we continue to survive. Never forget that.


A Few Coping Techniques

  • I saw this one on Reddit last week and loved it. In a nutshell, the poster’s therapist advised them to think of someone they really dislike and imagine that all of the negative thoughts and worries are being spoken aloud by [whatever person]. The person this poster chose to use is Trump.
    • The way it works: Whenever worries or negative self-talk pop up, you go, “Shut up, Trump! [or whatever person you’ve chosen].” It actually does work, and it’s great for shutting down those thoughts at the drop of a hat. Of course, it’s always good to revisit those thoughts at a calmer, more appropriate time, but it’s nice to have a method to use when you’re in a situation where you can’t fully emote.

 

  • Another method I love (and promote to others quite frequently) is Ellis’ A-B-C-D-E method of challenging distressing thoughts. It comes from Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (or REBT). Here’s the breakdown.
    • Step A: Identify the activating event–this is the event that triggers anxiety, depression, etc.
    • Step B: Look at the emotion you’re feeling and combine it with the activating event. Then, try to identify the beliefs that go along with that event and examine how they cause anxiety/etc.
      • For example, someone buying me something makes me feel guilty. This feeling of guilt and sadness comes from early childhood experiences. The end result is that I feel as though I don’t deserve kindness.
    • Step C: Look at the consequences of your irrational beliefs and realize that they can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because my response to kindness has been guilt and sadness for so long, I expect to feel that way every time someone is kind to me.
    • Step D: This is where you start to challenge those irrational beliefs and replace them with other, more positive ones. In my case, I need to work on building up my self-worth (long term) and thinking about the symbolism behind gifts and acts of kindness–“This person loves me and cares for me, and this act of kindness is coming from that place of love, not from a sense of obligation.”
    • Step E: This is basically the end goal and is usually called “cognitive restructuring.” At this point, you put all of the steps together and take special care to notice how the process has affected you and whether or not it has helped you to combat all the pieces that bring on the negative emotions (in Steps A and B).
      • You’re essentially re-conditioning your brain to replace negative associations with positive ones. It’s definitely a long road, but I’ve found it to be extremely helpful. However, it’s less useful to me when I’m in a crisis moment.
  • The last one is very calming to me, because a lifetime of CPTSD has led me to an incessant and sometimes self-destructive need for control. I worry endlessly about bad things happening to loved ones (because abandonment issues are fun!), so this little mantra really helps me chill out and remember that I can’t control every variable in my life.
    • Essentially, the saying goes, “If you can change something, do not worry, because you will find a way to change it. If you cannot change something, also do not worry, because there’s nothing you can do about the situation.”
      • This takes some getting used to if you’re like me and overanalyze and catastrophize everything, but once you’re there, it can be a very powerful tool for derailing anxiety before it hits its boiling point.

The Big Bad Blues, they’re a-comin’

anxiety, Authoress, bipolar disorder, major depression, personal experiences

The Blues are back in town, and unfortunately, I don’t mean the Snooks Eaglin, ramblin’-soul-man-with-a-guitar type. Thanks, winter!

Don’t get me wrong–I am loving the Maryland weather. The winter has been mild, but when it’s 70 degrees one day and 30 the next, oh man, that’s like hitting a brick wall doing 90 miles an hour.

I like to imagine that there’s some kind of a party going on in my brain. I  picture my synapses and neurons and all those delicious chemicals that enter my body in pill form each morning to keep me sane, dancing around in a conga line with lampshades on their heads before passing out with permanent marker on their faces.

The party bit isn’t what troubles me. That feels okay and decidedly un-manic these days. It’s the afterward, that insidious unraveling of the good-times and how they fray bit by bit until all that’s left is the worst kind of loneliness–the loneliness that is you and your brain and nothing else.

There is a vast emptiness that comes with depression. When I decide to stay up after Paul has gone to bed (because our sleep schedules are pretty different–he has day classes, mine are at night), I’m often struck by an aching loneliness. Even though I know he’s fifteen feet away in the bedroom on the other side of the wall from me, a dark antsiness sets in. It’s not because we’re not together, because I can be my own company and take care of myself. It’s how frightening it can be in the quiet of the apartment when the day is done but I’m not tired enough for bed and while my brain isn’t especially active, the emotions hiding just beneath the surface start to make me feel bad for no reason.

Sometimes I get shivers, but on the inside. It’s like having someone reach out from inside your organs and tickle your ribs, disconcerting and uncomfortable. It makes you want to cry for no reason, but then when you try, you find that you can’t. There is no catharsis. There is only waiting and distracting yourself until it calms down or you go completely mad (and sometimes both, by turns).

These are the Big Bad Blues, and it seems they’re back in town.

Sometimes they show up only at night, and only for a day or two. It’s unavoidable; no matter how well-medicated and well-adjusted you are, things are going to slip in through the cracks from time to time. It’s the nature of the beast. My body and my mind are like a drafty house in that way. I take care to shut the doors tight, to put plastic on the windows and check the vulnerable spaces with candle flames to see where there’s a leak, but in the night, little wisps of cold sometimes slip in and wrap around me. If I don’t catch it early and fight back with whatever’s within grabbing distance, I begin to feel as though I’ll never be warm again.

Then there are the ones that come in the late afternoon, just before sunset, when the shadows stretch long and the light begins to turn golden in the before-dark time. The Golden Hour, I’ve always called it, but it doesn’t mean anything good. I have about a thousand theories as to why this time of day gets me down harder than anything else, but I’m not sure what I’ll do with that information once I figure it out or how the insight will make me feel better. For now, all I can do is turn my head away and get through it until it passes and the calming near-dark comes.

When I start to feel like this late at night, I slip quietly into bed and read for a while. The proximity to someone I love who loves me back is comforting, and whatever book I’m currently reading relaxes and distracts me. When I get to feeling low, distraction seems to be the only thing that can snap me out of it. I spend a lot of my time hanging out by myself in the apartment with the cats and my textbooks, but having something to do keeps me sane. It’s the nothingness that’ll get you, and it will get you every single time.

I’m pleased to report that I woke up today (albeit much later than I wanted) feeling just fine. At present, I’m working on reading ahead a week or two for my classes, though I’ll inevitably forget to cross it off in my planner and then go back to it on the appropriate week and wonder if a mysterious ghost-highlighter has gotten hold of my books. It’s actually a good source of humor and plus, it’s always a relief to realize that you have less homework than you thought.

And I know I’ve been promising-promising-promising that series, which at this rate will be out by sometime next year. (I kid! I need to make some sort of research schedule for each day, though, because I am spectacularly unmotivated and there always seems to be some other thing that grabs my attention.)

Until next time, readers, stay safe and lovely.

 

News Day Tuesday: Bipolar Awareness Day!

a cure for what ails you, explanations, major depression, medication, mood diary, News Day Tuesday, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, stigma, therapy

Happy Tuesday, readers! Today (October 4th) is Bipolar Awareness Day, so I wanted to share an article with you that outlines the basic symptoms (for the uninitiated, as I know there are some new readers here) as well as what’s on the horizon in terms of treatment.

First of all, let’s hear about what bipolar disorder actually is. I’m referencing bt.com for the purposes of this tidbit, as the article I found gives a really great Reader’s Digest condensed version of the illness.

National charity Bipolar UK characterise the condition as “a severe mental health illness characterised by significant mood swings, including manic highs and depressive lows”, and note that, “the majority of individuals with bipolar experience alternating episodes of mania and depression”.

According to this article, it takes 10.5 years on average (in the UK) for people with bipolar disorder to be properly diagnosed. The National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association (NDMD) paints a similarly grim picture: it can take ten years or more for a diagnosis to be reached, and 69% of cases are misdiagnosed.

What are the symptoms?

There are two sides to bipolar: mania and depression.

During a bout of depression, it is possible to feel: grumpy, without hope, guilty, self-doubting, suicidal, pessimistic, worthless, lacking curiosity and concentration.

And with mania: elation, full of energy, ideas and plans, easily distracted, feeling invincible, risky behaviour including spending huge amounts of money.

Both can feature: lack of appetite, insomnia and delusions.

-bt.com

My experience began very early. I remember fits of agitation and depression as early as eight years old, which at the time was chalked up to the incredibly rough hand I was dealt–a broken home, a mother who struggled with bipolar disorder herself as well as alcoholism, extreme bullying, and persistent nightmares (which were later diagnosed as a feature of PTSD). NAMI states that rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, the most severe form of the illness, seems to be more common in individuals who begin exhibiting symptoms early in life.

From NAMI.org:

Early Warning Signs of Bipolar Disorder In Children and Teens

Children may experience severe temper tantrums when told “no.” Tantrums can last for hours while the child continues to become more violent. They may also show odd displays of happy or silly moods and behaviors. A new diagnosis, Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD), was added to the DSM-5 in 2014.

– See more at: http://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Bipolar-Disorder/Overview#sthash.l0XKtkSy.dpuf

When I was eighteen, I decided to see a therapist and psychiatrist for the intense mood swings that had plagued me for most of my life. I was initially told that my deep depressions were the result of PTSD. I was prescribed fluoxetine (brand name Prozac), which only made the agitation worse. And I was still depressed.

At 22, I relocated to Wisconsin and began the search for something, anything, that would finally help me feel “normal.” The misdiagnoses continued: major depressive disorder, for which I was prescribed Abilify and trazodone. I felt amazing on Abilify for about two weeks, and then I crashed. Trazodone made me a zombie. (Note: It is not atypical for antipsychotics to be prescribed to treat both MDD and bipolar disorder.)

Bipolar disorder is most often misdiagnosed in its early stages, which is frequently during the teenage years. When it is diagnosed as something else, symptoms of bipolar disorder can get worse. This usually occurs because the wrong treatment is provided. Other factors of a misdiagnosis are inconsistency in the timeline of episodes and behavior.

-healthline.com

When I was 24 and in my first “adult job” with health insurance, I found a wonderful psychiatrist who, over the course of several sessions, examined my family history and asked very specific questions to find the root of my illness. At first, I didn’t even think to mention my “up” periods, because even with the agitation and sleeplessness, I actually felt good–and no one goes to the doctor when they’re feeling well. But upon deeper probing, he came to a conclusion: first bipolar II, then, after further investigation and a few weeks of mood tracking in a journal, rapid-cycling bipolar I.

That first year was rough. I cycled so frequently that the days were exhausting. One day, I bounced between depression and mixed episodes several times in a single 24-hour period. Slowly but surely, the medications my doctor had prescribed (venlafaxine/Effexor, lamotrigine, and lithium) began to take effect. I began to stabilize. There were no more florid creative periods, but I was also able to sleep for more than an hour a night for the first time in weeks. My misery began to ebb, and though it didn’t disappear completely (a dysfunctional marriage contributed, among other things), I began to feel like a person again instead of a defective thing that needed to be turned off and fixed.

Aside from pharmaceuticals, NAMI’s website mentions cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychotherapy that focuses on self-care and stress management, and, in rare cases, electro-convulsive therapy (ECT). Learning to recognize the triggers for each type of episode is key; one suggestion offered by the numerous therapists I’ve seen over the years is mood tracking/journaling.

However, I had to stop at one point because, in the heyday of my illness, I began to obsess over the cycles, sometimes tracking up to ten or eleven times a day. Instead of the journaling soothing my mind, I began to worry that I was untreatable. I found my mood journal during a recent move and it was difficult reading, to say the least. But it was also a reminder of how far I’ve come and how much my quality of life has improved since receiving a proper diagnosis.

These days, I’m doing much better. My medications have been adjusted slightly to accommodate the deep depressive episodes I’m prone to during the fall and winter months, but I am proud of myself for being able to recognize that the winter storm was a-comin’. Three years ago, I would not have been able to see the symptoms for what they are: a warning sign and a signal that I need to not only keep up with my medications, but to practice good self-care. In the past, I saw fall and winter as something awful that I had to endure. Now, I realize that I can still enjoy life even when the days begin to get longer and darker. The seasons are no longer a metaphor for the overall “climate” in my head.

How long did it take for you to receive a proper diagnosis, readers? Are you taking care of yourselves as winter approaches? I hope you’re all doing well and staying healthy and safe. And spread the word–this illness is massively misunderstood, even by mental health professionals, so it’s our job to reach out and counter-strike against the misinformation and discrimination.


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Adult Separation Anxiety.

major depression, memories, ptsd

P. left on Thursday evening for his three-week vacation to Australia and New Zealand (yay!). I’m excited that he gets to go on this adventure, and am eagerly awaiting his return.

However, for someone like me, prolonged absences can have some very real, very serious side effects. I’ve dealt with separation anxiety all my life; it started when I was a young child, maybe three or four years old, and would wake up alone in a fully-lit house around midnight to find the home empty–my mother would leave me by myself to go out drinking at a bar a few blocks away.

One of my earliest memories is of trying to find the bar in the phone book, only to realize I had no idea how to reach or dial the phone. Instead, I left the house and walked about halfway down our block in my pajamas, the street completely dark except for the streetlights. I felt the loneliest I ever have in my life as I stood at the top of the hill, looking down at all the darkened houses and feeling the wind at the back of my thin flannel nightgown.

There were more instances, of course. And  I, now 27, realize that my significant other is not going to just abandon me. But those deep-seated emotions and reactions from when I was a small, vulnerable child have lingered, and I’m struggling to bring them down to a more appropriate, more manageable size.

I spent the last two days home sick with the migraine from hell, then worked my half day this morning. I visited a friend for about an hour after that, then came home and got more sleep. I reminded myself to eat when I woke up around 6:00 PM, because I had put zero food in my body since Thursday afternoon, when I had lunch with P.

Right now, I’m feeling calmer (thanks to excessive sleep and the wonders of lorazepam) and am trying to devise small tasks for myself to make the long, lonesome gaps between work more bearable for the next nineteen days. I have only a few more boxes left to move into P’s apartment, though that means I’m without a piano for the remainder of his trip, which is less than ideal because that’s usually a major outlet for me.

I can also work on looking for counseling programs in Baltimore, where (spoiler alert!) we’ll be moving in a few months as P. starts a nine-month-long program at Johns Hopkins. I’ll still be starting some online courses in May, but will need to find a traditional school that will take my credits. It’s a big change, but given everything that’s going on in Maryland (and how rough the state of MHC is), I feel like I could potentially do a lot of good things there.

That’s where I am right now, readers. If you’ve ever been through separation anxiety, please reach out to me, especially if you have some tips. Let’s help each other through this–I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Fabulous Las Vegas.

major depression, medication, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, stigma

Paul took me to Las Vegas for our anniversary this weekend, which I loved! What I didn’t love, however, was the continued downward slide of my emotions into a Deep Depression.

Let me explain.

On Thursday night, when we landed and walked the Strip a bit, I said to him, “I feel like it would be impossible to be depressed in this town.” (Ha!)

I felt okay on Friday. Then Saturday happened, though it might be more accurate to say that nothing happened at all–externally, at least. I woke up early on Saturday (thanks, jet lag and associated temporal shenanigans!) and felt a little off but was fairly certain I could shake it off. It was a beautiful, sunny day, which ironically has always been the toughest kind of day for me. Sometimes, I feel as though I’m genetically hardwired to hate sunny days, because they tend to make my moods worse. (More on that in another post.)

I took a bath in the fantastic tub in our suite at the Cosmopolitan, all the while ruminating on how the world was just going on around us. We spent lots of time talking and cuddling. I went back to sleep around 10 AM until almost 1 in the afternoon and didn’t feel any better.

We went out and explored a little, which distracted me enough to lift my spirits a little. Then we went back to the room for a few hours to rest up before going to Zombie Burlesque–which, by the way, was fantastic!

My fella napped peacefully for about an hour and a half. I, meanwhile, was miserable. I cried for a while, then went out on the balcony to smoke, then cried out on the balcony, then cried when he was in the shower, then tried not to cry while we were out and ran into a snafu with the tickets.

The show was wonderful and made me feel better because it was a very welcome distraction. The rest of the night was wonderful and I thought to myself, “Maybe I’m getting better. Maybe it was one of my weird one-offs.”

We woke early on Sunday morning to catch our flight and I felt strange and out-of-sorts in a way that I knew was a warning but stubbornly ignored. I cried on the first plane. I cried on the second plane. I cried in the car on the way home. I cried when we got home. I cried in the tub that night. I cried before bed. And this morning, I really cried.

I found out that not only was my psychiatrist unwilling to refill my meds, it was that, despite reassurances two weeks ago that it would be taken care of, my chart had been closed due to my inability to pay because, hey, divorce and unemployment and not being able to pay for insurance on your own can really mess things up.

I managed to fork over the almost $400 required to even find out if my doctor had a same-day available–thankfully, he did–which means my Chapter 7 filing is now even further away. My little nest-egg of over $1,000, which I had so carefully saved up and budgeted for, will be completely gone after rent this month. I will be back to where I was a year ago.

I took an Ativan and another bubble bath, Paul and one of the cats at my side to make sure I was okay, and am now calm enough to blog about this. I plan on doing some research this week on how temporal changes and jet lag can mess with bipolar symptoms, but now all I’m doing is biding my time until 6:00 when I can finally get in to see my psychiatrist and get my medications refilled.

I’m left with an overwhelming dread, however, and a fundamental disappointment in how the healthcare system is run. I’m not sure how it’s even legal to deny someone access to what is, quite frankly, life-saving medication on the basis that they are unable to pay due to a whole bunch of awful circumstances that are completely beyond their control. Even if it is, it’s definitely not ethical.

But it appears that, for now, it’s just one of those things. Wisconsin, where I currently live (but hopefully not for long–my fella is applying to grad schools around the country and I plan to follow) is definitely not a progressive state when it comes to mental healthcare. It’s like the entire government is violently allergic to even the idea of reform. And unfortunately, it looks like I, and many others like me, are going to be stuck in this (leaky, shoddily built) boat until it finally sinks. I’m just hoping I can jump ship and move away before it gets really bad.

Roar, roar, the thunder and the roar.

a cure for what ails you, Authoress, explanations, major depression, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, stigma, three hopeful thoughts

I am in the throes of my first major depressive episode in over six months. I know exactly what caused it—money problems, worrying about my grandma (who is now 91, essentially nonverbal, and raised me on her own, which basically makes her my mom), frustration over the slow divorce process, trying to figure out what’s going on with my headaches—but remained wilfully ignorant of the warning signs because I hoped it would pass.

I finally accepted/realized what was happening in my brain last night. I’ve been really horrible to myself lately in terms of inappropriate guilt and self-loathing. I’ve been blaming myself for a lot of things, most of which are completely out of my control. Once again, it’s not that I’m unaware of these problems. It’s that I have no idea what to do with the insights.

But I’m trying to stay positive because I know this will pass. My depressive episodes tend not to last very long—usually a month or two, and I’m about a week and a half into the really bad phase of this one. The final divorce hearing is on November 5th. Last night, my ex and I had an appointment at Green Path to figure out the debt situation, which is bad but not as bad as it could be. My fella’s coming back from his latest business trip tomorrow night. I’m one step away from completing my graduate school application; all I have left is the personal interview.

And I’m reminding myself of my plans for the future, too. Once I have my license, I plan to work as a counselor for a while, then go on to pursue a Psy.D and possibly a degree in Criminology as well, just for kicks. It’s looking more and more likely, given the progression of my various illnesses, that I won’t be able to have kids by the time I’m ready—and even if I’m able to retain some shreds of fertility, it’s probably not a good idea because I have so many health problems that are heritable. In other words, I have no reason not to go ridiculously hard at the school/career thing.

Once I’ve attained a certain level of credibility, I want to combine my love of/talent for writing with my passion for psychology (and, of course, fighting the stigma) and gain access to a psychiatric hospital with the goal of eventually writing a book about the hospital, perhaps some of the staff, and most importantly, the patients.

I want to tell their stories. I want to show people that we’re really not that scary. Even when our brains are doing some freaky and perplexing things, we still have hopes and dreams and fears and all the other little things that make neurotypical people “tick.”

I want to paint a picture of the hospital to prove that Hollywood has it wrong—I had the opportunity to tour the state hospital in Independence, Iowa as a senior in high school and found the facility stunningly different from what we’re fed through popular media. I’m tired of cringeing every time I hear the words “multiple personality disorder” on TV or see a straitjacket Halloween costume. I’m tired of being “The Other,” and I suspect most of you are, too. I’m tired of being seen as exotic and dangerous and unpredictable and sort of otherworldly just because my brain tends to misfire sometimes. I’m tired of having my struggles used for shock value. I’m tired of seeing symbols of our oppression used as fashion statements by the oblivious.

I want to fix that obliviousness or die trying. This is the one topic that has gotten me consistently fired up, regardless of my mental state. Even when I’m so far down that I can barely get out of bed, I can still muster up enough passion to call out the horrifying things I see, to correct the misinformation, to have a meaningful dialogue where I and the other person walk away feeling as though we’ve learned something.

As a nihilist, I reject the concept that anything has any inherent meaning; therefore, I don’t believe in the idea that anyone has a “calling.” That being said, I find this to be a very hopeful philosophy because it means each of us can choose our path in life. I believe that the things I’ve been through, the abuse and my brain chemistry and the various horrors I’ve seen, were formative in such a way that I feel compelled to devote my life to psychology. I guess this is how theists feel when they decide to become members of the clergy.

At the very least, I have to believe that my suffering (though I hate using that word because it feels incredibly maudlin and self-absorbed) has meant something. I have to believe that it’s redemptive and that it’s not too late for me, that my life has meaning. I constantly look for motivators, little signs that I’m meant to be here and that my existence has a purpose. I think that when a person is pushed to their absolute limit, they either try to find a reason to stay alive or they completely give up on life. I’m not ready to give up.

I am tougher than Chinese algebra and I am going to be okay.

My very first column – “Depression: Cancer of the Mind,” published October 15, 2008.

major depression, memories, stigma, therapy, three hopeful thoughts, Throwback Thursday

This marks the beginning of a new mini-feature on the blog: Throwback Thursdays. See below for more!

When I was nineteen (and probably manic), I submitted a column proposal to my hometown’s newspaper. Shockingly, they decided to pick it up. It wasn’t a huge reader base—my hometown’s population is somewhre in the 60,000 range—but I was surprised and elated to have the opportunity to share my experiences and put a face to mental illness, which was a big deal in a small city in Iowa.

I had to abandon the project seven months later, when taking a full course load and working two part-time jobs plus an internship became too much; however, I was approached the following summer by two women in my hometown to write a series of articles regarding the transition from high school or college to the “real world.” The series caught the attention of Mental Health America (the Iowa branch) and I was honored with an award and some cash (which, as a poor twenty-year-old college student, was greatly appreciated). 

I’ve kept all of the articles and letters in a box for years. I still pull them out sometimes when I start to feel like a hack or minimize the impact of the things I’ve done. Ultimately, it’s not about recognition or awards (although I must admit that my writerly ego really enjoys being stroked from time to time). It’s about having tangible proof that I was here, that I was able to accomplish something despite having been dealt what most would agree is a fairly difficult hand in life. 

As an existential nihilist, it’s difficult for me to see any inherent meaning in the universe, which I view as absurd and often confusing. But it’s actually a very hopeful philosophy/worldview to have, because it means that each of us has the opportunity to create meaning for ourselves and share it with others. I am slowly beginning to learn that “hope” is a four-letter word, but it’s not necessarily a bad one.

Over the next few weeks, I’d like to share my articles, some memorable stories about my time as a columnist, and perhaps a few of the more poignant letters and emails I received in response to my columns. I’m somewhat mortified by how young my voice is, but I’m reminding myself that it’s an interesting and valuable snapshot of who I was at 19: a girl who wasn’t afraid to put herself out there, who believed she could make a difference in her own small way and was maybe a bit idealistic.

In some ways, I think I am still that girl.

“Depression, cancer of the mind” was originally published on October 15, 2008. My editor had titled the first article, which I’m assuming was because I was too disorganized/cycling too hard to do it myself. I can’t remember who came up with the titles after that; it was probably a mixture. The column appeared every other Wednesday.

Note 1: The features editor decided to give my series a title—Depression: Cancer of the Mind—and a little banner at the bottom, which I thought was the coolest thing ever.

Note 2: At this point in time, I was still diagnosed with and being treated for mild-to-moderate PTSD and general depression. It wasn’t until September 2012 that I was re-evaluated and diagnosed with major depressive disorder, and it was an even longer wait (July 2013) until my correct diagnosis—rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, type I, and C-PTSD with dissociative features—was confirmed and I was able to begin treatment.

Depression, cancer of the mind   Published October 15, 2008

Sometimes people ask me, “How did you do it? How did you make it through 11 years of severe depression without ever once asking for help?”

I guess I can understand their disbelief: I have been through the mental equivalent of hell and come out the other side. I have climbed over Satan’s frozen back, much like Dante traveling through Hell in The Inferno. The only difference is that in this case, “Satan” is the despair trapped inside my mind, causing it to decay slowly from the inside out.

Some say that schizophrenia is the cancer of mental illness, but to an extent, I disagree. It’s true that schizophrenia does kill the mind and allow the sufferer to descend into madness. But just as there are many types of cancer, there are infinite varieties of mental illness that could be considered cancerous.

Depression is one of them.

When you are depressed, most people assume that you will “snap out of it,” even though the stereotypical person living with depression does not leave his or her bed for days, sometimes weeks, at a time. It is every bit as destructive as cancer or diabetes, though even now few people realize it.

I suppose this is because people traditionally fear the unknown, and mental illness, aside from death, is one of the biggest unknowns of all. It can strike anyone at any time. Even those of us living with depression who have found ways to cope and make it through the ending and exhausting days look just like everyone else. Unless you are having a particularly bad bout of depression and feel the urge to run from the room crying (which society views as unacceptable), depression usually goes unnoticed.

It is my hope that by sharing my struggles against the silent suffering associated with depression, others will know that they will be OK, that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, and will share this knowledge with others. The more that people know about mental illness, the better; educating the public is the first and most effective step in fighting to tear down the stereotypes.

Something that I would like anyone who has lost hope to know is that you are not crazy, only extremely sensitive to the world around you. You are very brave, but you do not need to suffer alone. There is always help available, and accepting it is not admitting defeat.

I’m not afraid of anything, except feeling.

abuse, major depression, ptsd, therapy

This is something I think I’ve known for a long time, but I never fully realized it until my most recent re-reading of More, Now, Again (Elizabeth Wurtzel), where Wurtzel’s therapist tells her the exact same thing.

One of the ways I managed to survive, for better or worse, was by learning to numb myself to all the “big”/important events that would normally have provoked a lot of emotion. To this day, I can recite all the details of being abused and neglected as a child, or what it was like to visit my mother in prison, without shedding a tear or breaking out of a monotone. I can tell you exactly how it feels to be terrified by verbal abuse from a romantic partner, what it’s like to have them hit you for the first time, what it’s like to be coerced into sex (which is a form of rape), what it’s like to be sexually assaulted by someone who initially seemed like a nice guy. I can describe all of these things down to the very last, tiniest detail without feeling any of the emotions behind them because I’ve learned to store those emotions as far back as possible, but for some reason, my memories stay right up front, almost as fresh as the day they were formed.

It’s safer to feel sad about old people in general than to cry over the fact that I am terrified of losing my grandmother, who raised me and is like a mother to me. It’s safer to get upset about the minute details I remember about the days when the abuse (both as a child and as a teenager) was at its worst than to release all the emotions that pertain to the actual events.

This is why I’m so detached. I put all of my energy into feeling depressed and hopeless over seemingly insignificant things because once I open the floodgates about the really important things cluttering up the back of my mind, I can’t turn it off. Instead, they languish there, floating around like bits of shrapnel and inflicting more and more damage as time goes on.

I think this is why therapy doesn’t work for me. It’s like an ouroboros, really; we can’t get at the roots of what’s fucking me up because of my defense mechanisms, which are touchy and what’s keeping me so numb. But without working through the underlying issues, there’s no hope of ever relieving some of the numbness and the angst…it’s an ongoing process. Right now, I’m not seeing my therapist because money is an issue (but when isn’t it?).

In the meantime, I’m trying to keep myself occupied as well as I can, considering I’m unable to work. D. and I have been talking about me going back to school to finish up the last few credits for a B.S. in psychology, then on to grad school. I’m not sure if I want to go into counseling or go down the forensic/criminal psych path yet, but there’s plenty of time to figure that out.

Trying not to turn into my mother seems to be taking up most of my time these days, but I’m also trying to balance that with keeping myself alive. My coping methods really suck sometimes, but the general consensus (from friends, my husband, even my therapist) has been that even if something is problematic in the moment, if it can get me through a crisis alive, it’s okay. We can work on that bit later, but in order for any of the work to get done, I have to be alive.

I am alive. I left the house on a small errand today, and though the dissociation was a whole lot worse when I got home, I’m still relatively okay. That has to count for something.

Return of the Dark Core

major depression, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, self-harm

About ten minutes ago, I was standing in the kitchen trying to eat a bowl of strawberry ice cream. My hands were shaking so badly, I could barely even hold the spoon, and then the dark core started its shit again. I’ve been feeling anxious, guilty, and extremely depressed lately—I shouldn’t have to add this qualifier, but I feel sad for no reason. Or rather, no reason that others can see; my brain chemistry has decided to take a dive again and I think I’m in the beginning stages of a major depressive episode.

We’re struggling financially right now and I’m still feeling a lot of guilt and self-loathing for not being able to work; I know those things don’t help. My meds aren’t quite right but I can’t go see my psychiatrist until I get my lithium checked. He fucked up the lab sheet again and the clinic I go to won’t take it without a time written on it along with the date, so I’m not sure when I can have those levels done. I’ve stopped going to therapy for the forseeable future because our deductible just reset and we can’t afford it.

In short, things are not going that well these days.

My cycles have been getting longer, which I was told is a sign that I’m getting better. But while it’s okay to have a two-week-long hypomanic, or even manic, episode, the major depressive ones frighten me, not because I don’t know what I might do but because I know exactly the sort of things I’m capable of doing.

I’ve been feeling out-of-sorts for several days, but things started their usual downward slide this afternoon. I put myself to bed for a few hours in hopes that I could sleep it off, and I did feel a little better when I woke up…but it’s back. The worst part is feeling helpless to stop it. Oh, I know some ableist scum would argue that I could do all sorts of things to “cure” it, but the fact is, it’s a simple matter of brain chemistry that’s not quite right. And unfortunately, type I bipolar tends to be very tricky to treat even if it’s not rapid-cycle (mine is).

I’m counting the time until D. gets home so we can talk about a safety plan. It’s important to discuss that before things get really bad up in my head. For now, I think I’ll indulge in my usual anti-self-harm strategy of hugging a cat and listening to music. If I fall asleep again, so much the better. Anything to get away from these thoughts.

Manic Depression: A Brief Explanation

authoress in motion, explanations, major depression, medication, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, self-harm, stigma

I finally got around to editing the explanation video on bipolar disorder/manic depression (I prefer the latter term as I feel it’s more descriptive).

In the video, I talk about the different categories of bipolar disorder, what each phase (from depression to mania and mixed states) is and what it feels like, and tips for dealing with a mixed episode.