Recovery is an ongoing process.

major depression, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, self-harm, stigma, suicidal ideation, three hopeful thoughts

It’s been a week since my last slip-up.

Last Wednesday, due to a combination of preexisting emotional rawness and the news that a relative had been saying some less-than-complimentary things about me, I had a breakdown and ended up self-injuring. D. caught me before I was able to do too much damage, but it was a reminder to both of us that no matter how “okay” I seem, this is going to be a tenuous, ongoing process. There will be setbacks. It is going to be a struggle for a very long time. Just as a recovering alcoholic fights cravings, I’m going to have to fight against the urge to harm myself. I refuse to beat myself up over setbacks, however, because it requires an immense amount of strength to get better and stay well, keep my thoughts bright and positive and healthy. Some days, I simply do not have the strength, and that’s okay. I’m human.

Please excuse the fact that I have my legs splayed like a hussy in the background. 😛

On Friday, one of my very best friends from college came into town to help us move. Before we all headed to bed, he presented me with a lovely gift: a rubber band he’d decorated with his signature art style. I honestly didn’t know what to say—I was deeply touched by the gesture and really appreciated it. It’s a bit large, but I can wear it up near my elbow. (Snapping there hurts less and causes smaller welts, anyway.)

A close-up of the design.

I’m seeing my new psychiatrist for my second evaluation this afternoon, so I’ll put up a longer post about that later. But I wanted to acknowledge the overwhelming kindness of my friends and family and say that I am incredibly grateful for the people in my life who influence me in positive, life-affirming ways.

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Self-objectification

explanations, ptsd, therapy

I never thought I was one of those girls who uses sex to get love. When I slept around, it was because I was being a sexually liberated woman, asserting my agency over my desires and my body. I spent two years in a relationship where I was told how to dress and act, who to speak to and who to avoid at all costs. In the bedroom, I was allowed to do only a small number of things my partner deemed acceptable, and if I expressed desires of my own, I was shamed for them.

“Why are you so sexual?” he’d ask time after time. In response, I’d always cry and feel like a damaged human being for having preferences and needs.

After that relationship ended, I went out into the world on shaky legs, determined to reassert control over my body. I was going to act how men acted—doing whatever I damn well pleased with whoever I wanted without regrets or feeling the need to conceal my activities. It wasn’t born of any need for love or acceptance, even after I got my feelings bruised again and again when, despite my efforts to be the flavor of the week’s dream girl, the person in question ghosted on me. I didn’t get it–I was charming, easy to talk to, funny, pretty. Good in bed. They all said so…why wasn’t it working? Why couldn’t I hold onto anyone?

Years later, D. told me he wished I’d treat my body as more sacred. The turn of phrase seemed unusual, given that we’re both atheists.

“I’m not saying you’re easy,” he said gently, stroking my back as I cried. “But maybe you need to look at your motivations.”

He was right. Every damn time, all I wanted was to be somebody’s baby, to have someone care about me. Thankfully, my relationship with D. (which started as a hookup) panned out and he decided, for whatever reason, that I was worth keeping around. I got spooked, naturally, but his sweetness, the way he looked at me, was different. I decided it was my only chance at happiness with another human being, so I stayed. Over time, desperation and fear turned to love.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about how I relate to others, the types of people I typically become attached to (and then have trouble letting go of). It seems to come down to a lack of affection when I was very young—my family is not cold at all, but it was impossible for them, for anyone, to give enough love to cancel out all the bullshit I was getting from other sources. Bullying and outright harassment about my family situation at school, emotional manipulation from my mother’s end. And then, the abusive relationship in my teens. I gravitated toward that particular person because he was handsome and funny, and by the time I realized what a mess I was in, I was too terrified of being alone to let go. But I finally realized I deserved better and found the strength to leave…only to repeat my patterns of self-objectification over and over and over.

You can’t really harass or pressure a girl who’s willing to sleep with you right away, after all. It always started with attraction, naturally—”So and so is good-looking, so why not?” But then, inevitably, I became attached to the person I’d allowed to use my body and got my poor little heart trampled when I was inevitably cast aside within a few weeks.

I can’t say I really blame any of them. I know I’m sometimes difficult to be around, and I have enough emotional baggage to fill an airplane’s cargo hold by myself. (Side note: Does anyone else hate the word “baggage”?) And I realize that not everyone is equipped to deal with that. To this day, I can’t figure out how D. does it…deals with my moods, my depressions, the threat of my extinction. But he does, and I’m so grateful for that unconditional love.

I’m not completely healed yet. I haven’t really dealt with any of the abuse in therapy, and I’m still working on correcting my belief that because of my emotional problems, my body is compensation—the only thing of worth I have to offer anyone. However, the first step, as they say, is realizing you have a problem, and now that I’ve identified the unhealthy thought patterns that lead to the unhealthy behaviors, I can work on correcting them and dealing with the issues that got me here in the first place.

Trigger words.

explanations, ptsd

From what I understand, it’s not at all uncommon to have trigger words— if you spend a few seconds on Tumblr, you’re likely to see tags such as “tw: rape” or “tw: abuse.”

I feel what makes my trigger words unusual is that words with negative associations don’t set me off at all; rather, words generally associated with positive things trigger the hell out of me, provoking a wave of despair and guilt so strong that it’s sometimes hard to withstand.

For years, I wondered why certain words and objects/occurrences made me feel so horrible. The sound of an ice cream truck, for example, never fails to bring on the bad feelings. Seeing an ad in a crossword book for a personalized name poem–”A special gift for a beloved child,” the ad proclaimed–made me wish I were dead so I wouldn’t have to feel so sad and guilty. I recently had to take Wite-Out to the back of a bag of milano cookies after seeing the phrase “You deserve” printed on the packaging.

It wasn’t until just a few weeks ago that I realized what all these happy, terrible things had in common, and I’m pretty sure it stems back to my inappropriate and often overwhelming feelings of guilt. From what I understand, it’s pretty common for people with PTSD to suffer from these emotions; unfortunately, it’s not something that the mentally healthy can really understand, much like my friends who aren’t depressed can’t comprehend my indifference to my own existence.

The guilt–the “dark core,” as my therapist calls it–tells me that I am unworthy of happiness, undeserving of good things—that it’s so far beyond my grasp at this point that yearning for it is pointless, not to mention pathetic.

Love, happiness, deserve, special, beloved—all of these trigger the hell out of me. Even things like ice cream can set me off because even though I know the “dark core” is, frankly, full of shit, there’s a part of me that still believes I don’t deserve good things. Years of abuse and trauma have all but ruined innocent pleasures for me, and while I’m trying very hard to correct the negative automatic thoughts, it’s a slow process and is often frustrating. Since I haven’t nailed down every single trigger (and I doubt I ever will—there are far too many of them), it’s difficult to avoid everything that triggers me, and when I’m triggered, the rush of negative emotions is strong enough to set me back and nearly undo all the progress I’ve made.

PTSD is such a bitch. Trauma is a bitch. Feeling “out of it” all the time because my defense mechanisms are operating on high-alert 24/7 is incredibly frustrating, eclipsed only by the terrible feelings that come from being triggered. I seem to be unable to handle happiness—take a moment to imagine what that must be like. But as terrible as it is, it motivates me to fight even harder to get better. I know there are so many things I’m missing out on because years of trauma have conditioned me to shy away from happiness and positive experiences (probably because I’ve experienced time and time again how fleeting happiness is). It’s easier, my brain tells me, to avoid good things than to experience them for just a moment, only to have them snatched away and replaced with heaps of horrible shit.

Can anyone relate? I hope this makes sense—it’s surprisingly difficult to articulate what it’s like to be triggered, what it’s like to live in my reality. But my hope is, as always, that writing about it (even if the writing comes out abstract and difficult to follow) will help people understand what it’s like to have PTSD, to fight against crippling depression every day.

I am trying to stay alive. That takes up most of my energy on a day-to-day basis, and trying to overcome the triggers and seek out happiness and positivity in my life is sometimes exhausting. But I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge or give up on something just because it’s hard.

Even though I’ve never thought I’d live a particularly long time (another thing that’s pretty common among PTSD sufferers), statistics say I’m going to be here for a while—I might as well try to make my world a brighter, better place. I don’t want to be miserable forever.

Is happiness a struggle for you? Please let me know I’m not alone.

Lamictal.

medication, ptsd, stigma, three hopeful thoughts

Supposedly, this is the drug that is going to make everything okay.

I met with my psychiatrist yesterday and learned that while it’s usually used as an anti-seizure medication, it works very well for the depressive portion of bipolar disorder. She’s hopeful that this will stabilize my moods and make everything feel less dismal, though I have to build up to the maintenance dosage slower than other patients because it can cause a nasty rash (I had a terrible full-body rash as a reaction to amoxicillin when I was a child, so she wants to be extra-careful).

She warned me that there’s a chance it could trigger a manic episode if I do, in fact, have undiagnosed bipolar disorder. I’m young, and it could be lying dormant for now–she said it wouldn’t be at all unusual if I remained in a depressive state for decades before experiencing mania for the first time.

I feel that, as an advocate for mental illness who tries to do something to fight the stigma every single day, it’s not great for me to say this…but I am secretly afraid that I’m bipolar. My mother is bipolar and when I was young, “You’re just like your mother!” was thrown at me whenever I was being difficult or acting out.

I’ve been educating myself on the disease, though, mostly through memoirs written by women with bipolar mothers. I know that it’s just another chemical imbalance and that I have nothing to fear, but at the same time, it seems like the proverbial big black dog, looming just out of sight. And there is a tremendous stigma surrounding bipolar individuals, which is awful. I am taking comfort in the knowledge that if I do indeed have the illness, I can do a lot of good work to help fight that stigma, too.

But is it so wrong for me to be terrified of being “just like my mother”? It’s not just the possibility of being bipolar that scares me–I was conditioned to fear and avoid any behavior that was even remotely reminiscent of the woman, though now I’m beginning to “take it back” by trying to take the positive aspects of her personality into myself–her carefree, fun-loving nature that I remember so well from her “good” days.

My relationship with my mother is a complicated one, so I’ll refrain from discussing it further in this post; I feel it deserves at least one post of its own, if not a series.

Did anyone else grow up with a mentally ill parent? How has it affected you?

Sending love into the darkness.

major depression, ptsd, self-harm, therapy, three hopeful thoughts

I met with my therapist last night after work, and she had some very good advice for me. I told her how I’m trying to make myself believe that my body is not the only thing worthwhile about me, the only good thing I have to offer other people. She countered that statement by saying it’s the “dark core” we all have that’s sending me those messages.

“But I want to fight it,” I protested. “I want to believe that I’m smart and pretty and funny and that those things, like the depression, are just a part of who I am. Right now, I feel like sex is the only way I can atone for being so fucked-up.”

She made me sit with those feelings for a while and over the course of the hour, we broke the false beliefs down in a less judgmental way. Instead of “fucked-up,” we said I was “sick but trying to get better,” which is a lot more than most people do. She told me how brave I am for making the effort.

She also advised me to stop fighting–fighting comes from a place of violence and hatred, and the darkness will always win. Instead, when the dark place tells me that I’m useless and a burden, I should look at it and say, with open arms, “I’m so sorry you’re feeling that way.” If I try to counter it by saying, “Well, I’m good at X, Y, and Z,” the automatic thoughts will come back with, “No, you’re really not.” But if I offer the pain compassion, I might be able to reduce the hold the thoughts have on me in the long run.

I cried a lot during our session. I think that’s going to be a recurring pattern, but I don’t see it as a bad thing–maybe it’s a sign that I’m starting to connect to my baggage and heal.

Could have gone mad.

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

The depression has felt different the last week or so; now that I’m off the risperidone, my hands aren’t shaking anymore but I’m not sleeping as well. I sleep too much, but it’s fitful, and I’ve found myself prone to hysterical crying the last couple of days. But hey, at least my mood isn’t any worse.

I’m worrying, as I frequently do when I go through these periods of agitation (without the depression lifting one bit, mind you) that I’m popping manic symptoms. My mother is bipolar, so I’ve always been vigilant about monitoring myself for signs that I’m swinging from major depression to bipolar disorder as well. I don’t think that’s the case, but thankfully, I see my psychiatrist on Wednesday.

I know one thing for sure: this medication is not working. Not one bit. But even though I’m clearly ill and not doing that well, at least others tell me I’m still fun to be around. When I’m around others, I try extra-hard to be vivacious and entertaining because you know who likes being around me when all I can do is lie on the floor and cry? Nobody, that’s who. Not even the cats.

I’m beginning to wonder if the forced gaiety is doing more harm than good.

The worst part is the emotions. I seem to have so many of them, and yet I can’t put anything into words effectively, which is frustrating because goddamnit, I’m a writer.

All I can do is hope that therapy tonight helps a little and that I will finally, finally, finally discover the magical combination on Wednesday that will make me feel okay. In the meantime, I’m doing more of that charming but potentially destructive “Whatever gets you through the night” living.

How have you guys been lately?

It’s feedback time, chiiiiildren!

housekeeping

 

I’ve published twenty-odd posts and have apparently picked up enough steam to receive a few spam comments, much to my delight and amusement. Now, I’d like to hear from all of you! What should I write about/post more of on this blog? I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, of course, but I feel like I could use some direction at this point. Also, who doesn’t love to share their opinion on the Intarwebz? I’ve enabled custom answers for this poll as well, and you can always leave comments with suggestions.

I’d like to do a few more vlogs, but I feel like I’m super-awkward on camera and only have the webcam that came with the laptop; therefore, whatever I produce isn’t likely to be very high-quality, and I want to provide you guys with high-quality stuff whenever possible.

I’m not opposed to writing a few fluffy posts here and there to lighten the mood, or even do a picspam every once in a while, because I know the content here can get pretty dark/dreary. On the other hand, I don’t want to stray too far from the original intent of this blog–to share what it’s like to live with major depressive disorder and PTSD, as well as what the therapy process has been like for me so far. I’ll probably also throw up a post with some stats about MDD and PTSD sometime in the very near future, because mental illness is a lot more common than people think. I believe that putting myself out there to add another “face” to the illness is important for diminishing the stigma, but hard facts are also helpful when framing mental illness in a larger context.

But instead of rambling at you about my future plans, let’s get on with the poll!

The “Oh Shit, I Cried at Work!” kit.

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

The authoress, looking rather dour with her collection of red pens.

It’s one of the Deadly Sins for a young professional but lately, I seem to be spending a lot of time crying in my office with the door closed. I suppose it’s to be expected, given the depressive relapse and all, but I dislike weeping away the makeup I applied that morning (in less than ten minutes–ask me how!) Last week, it became pretty obvious that something had to be done, and since I can’t magically fix my brain chemistry, I decided to whip together a kit that would help me put myself back together–visually speaking, at least.

I picked up the magical box and all the swag it contains at Dollar Tree, because I feel like a quick fix shouldn’t cost that much.

The Kit’s contents

My Kit contains:

  • One compact, which I desperately needed anyway because I’m vain and am also prone to smudging my eye makeup when my allergies flare, and I don’t always like taking the time to walk to the actual bathroom.
  • One mascara. Dollar Tree makes the best mascara I’ve ever tried, no lie.
  • Black liquid eyeliner, which actually came in my Birchbox this month–score!
  • Lip stain, to make myself feel extra-pretty even when I feel like a rotten bag of ass.
  • One eye shadow palette. Supposedly, browns/reds are supposed to make blue eyes “pop.” It usually just makes me look like I’ve been crying and/or haven’t washed my face in forever, but I’m willing to give neutrals another chance.
  • A manicure kit. I work with giant stacks of paper all day, which makes me rather prone to hangnails. I’m not a nail-biter, so my options were to bite the bullet and purchase a kit to keep in my desk or risk having to suffer until 5:00 with raggedy nails and cuticles.

I’ll probably add to it at some point, but in the meantime, it’s there if I need it and contains the basics. I’ve been depressed for over half my life now and went through an abusive relationship in my late teens, so I’ve gotten pretty good at not completely messing up my makeup every time I cry. But sometimes, I’ll get a smudge or end up crying off just enough of my makeup that I walk around for the rest of the day mortified that my face is bare.

Are there any fellow at-work criers out there? I feel terribly unprofessional when I do it (because it probably is), but sometimes you just can’t stop the tears, you know? Additionally, does anyone have any tips for not crying that they’d like to share? I’ve tried the looking-up trick, but that only works about 50% of the time for me.

Here’s a gratuitous shot of my desk (and photographic evidence of my monstrous sweet tooth) because I can’t think of a halfway decent conclusion to this post.

Picture cube featuring some family (my late great-aunt, my husband, and our cats), John Lennon cup, migraine meds, my hemp lotion (which I swear by), and the quail-shaped aftershave bottle my best friend gave me a couple of years ago

Snap.

ptsd, self-harm, therapy

I hook my middle finger, the nail decorated with a colorful paisley design, beneath the thick rubber band on my left wrist and take a moment to relish the way the thin oval distorts. Then, I let go. Snap. It hurts like hell but it feels like penance and for a moment, my head is quiet again.

*

Tuesday night, I get  pretty low and confess to D. that I’m feeling like self-harming. He pats my knee comfortingly, then runs upstairs and returns a few minutes later with a thick rubber band in his hand.

“Use this,” he says. “I don’t want you hurting yourself.” At this point, I’ve made it two and a half weeks since my last cutting incident. I sit obediently beside him on the couch, fuzzy red blanket draped over my knees, and stare blankly out into space. This thousand-yard stare is one of the signs my husband has learned to watch for–an indication that the disconnect between my mind and my body has become so severe that my own physical well-being has not only taken a backseat to the noise in my head, it has actually fallen out of the hatchback and was abandoned on the dusty road several miles back.

Snap. Snap. Snap. I pull at the rubber band, my mouth set in a grim line, gaze fixed at an indeterminate point somewhere in front of me. D. sighs and returned to his video game, wisely deciding to give me some time to be alone with my thoughts.

*

For as long as I can remember, strong negative emotions such as shame, guilt, or fear have caused some indescribable darkness to rise up inside of me. I become fidgety, unable to concentrate because my mind is overwhelmed with the urge to punish myself for my perceived wrongdoing. The emotions can be prompted by anything–even something as innocuous as awkwardly phrasing a remark to a coworker that results in a millisecond of confusion is enough to make me long for the blade some days. The fact that I carry around a fair amount of emotional baggage and anxiety from the PTSD doesn’t help; in fact, it’s likely the cause. My therapist is aware of my self-punitive nature and plans to work with me to correct it. In the treatment plan we created together during our first meeting, we decided on self-love as one of my goals. I mentioned “self-forgiveness” as another.

“Forgive yourself for what?” she asked, incredulous. I shrugged.

Even when I consciously try to pin down where this self-loathing came from, I feel as though I’m only scratching the surface. However, my mother is the proverbial black sheep of the family, and I remember thinking from a very young age that I had to be excellent, make something of myself to atone for any damage she might have done. This attitude was not forced upon me by the rest of my family, though they were, naturally, pleased whenever I accomplished something. I’ve always been a very driven person, though that drive comes with a high price: a heavy heart and lots of anxiety. I don’t consider myself a perfectionist, but for every achievement there is a myriad of tiny sins–stupid, insignificant things that most people would feel foolish over for a moment and then promptly dismiss–that never seem to go away.

Instead of beating myself up for hours over an email that could have been worded better or a text that was sent to the wrong person (it shouldn’t come as any surprise that most of the shame-inducing thoughts that lead to the urge to punish myself involve communication with others), I snap myself once or twice with the rubber band and it’s done–I’ve atoned, in my own small way, for these shortcomings and can move on. And if the thoughts come back…well, you know. Snap.

I don’t see a problem with it as a short-term solution for grounding myself and derailing the endless barrage of negative thoughts. Being snapped with a rubber band hurts, and much like a spanking will shock an errant child into listening to his or her parents, the snap of the band against the tender skin of my wrist forces me to come to, to be in the moment and face actual reality instead of the nonstop shit-show my brain concocts for me. I’m on the lookout, of course, for signs that it could become a compulsive self-harming behavior, but in the meantime, I’m willing to just go with it. The song “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” comes to mind, though my end goal is achieving a default mental state where I can look at an embarrassing moment and pass it off as an innocuous gaffe–nothing more, nothing less.

Breaking up is hard to do.

medication, ptsd

I’m considering “breaking up” with my current psychiatrist, and it’s a tougher decision to make than I’d anticipated.

I like her as a person, but I feel as though we’re not meshing that well on the doctor-patient front. My depression has been particularly difficult to get a handle on, and treatments that previously worked (like Cymbalta) have suddenly stopped helping for no apparent reason. Yesterday, I called and left a message for her with my third request for an increase in my Effexor dose.

The first time, I was told to be patient and give it more time. When I met with her the week after I went to the ER for my panic attack and pleaded my case (since missing a dose and having a dose that was probably too low to begin with kicked off that whole mess), she added risperidone and told me she didn’t want to increase the Effexor until we’d given the other drug a chance to work.

It’s been a few weeks and the only thing the antipsychotic has done is make me even more drowsy than usual–I’m like the goddamn Dormouse to begin with, and the only change is that now I’m really sleepy on top of being really depressed. And in my desperation, I’ve found myself turning to some pretty unhealthy methods of coping with the low-mood-negative-thoughts-constantly-wanting-to-cry thing.

I called the office again today to see if my message had gotten through; after I gave the doctor filling in a quick (probably 30 second) summary of what’s been going on, she agreed to call in a small increase to see if it helps. It might not; I might need to try another drug. But at least I felt like my concerns were being heard.

I feel like my regular doctor and I have had this disconnect for a while now, and I plan to address it at our next appointment. She’s not a bad doctor by any stretch of the imagination, though there’s a pretty clear class divide between us (she suggested Weight Watchers, which is too expensive to even contemplate, when I expressed concern/anxiety over my weight, and has recommended name-brand drugs and alternative medicine that I can’t afford multiple times, despite me repeatedly telling her that our budget’s tight as it is–therapy is expensive) and I think that’s causing some issues.

I tend to avoid conflict at all costs, so it’s going to be tough for me to broach the subject. But I feel like she really knows her stuff, so I don’t want to just “dump” her. I want to make sure we’re on the same wavelength and see if things improve from there first. On the other hand, I’ve been stuck with doctors who aren’t willing to listen to my concerns and give me what I need, and I don’t want to fall into that trap again (ask me about the thyroid debacle that went down last year).

Are you avoidant? Have you ever had to break up with a doctor? Tell me about it in the comments!