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.
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Capturing moods.

major depression, medication, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, self-harm, suicidal ideation

My psychiatrist is teaching me how to handle my episodes. Lamictal twice a day, 200 in the morning and 250 at night. Seroquel for mixed episodes; never, never take lorazepam for a mixed, because it’ll do nothing but heighten the sense of detachment. The only problem is, I find it difficult, if not impossible, to differentiate between anxiety and a mixed episode. Both make me feel jittery, anxious, prone to sobbing uncontrollably and fighting so hard to hold back the urge to self-injure or finally do myself in that it takes all of my energy. I guess the solution is to take a benzo when I feel it coming on, and if that doesn’t work, the antipsychotics might. He’s instructed me to take the Seroquel 50 mg at a time, and I can take up to 200 mg a day if necessary.

I am trying very hard to stay off the Seroquel. I’ve read terrible things about antipsychotics—uncontrollable weight gain, tardive dyskinesia—and I am terrified of having them happen to me. I know it’s just my hypochondria kicking into overdrive, but I’m so unlucky, so prone to having bad things happen to me, that my fears about the worst coming to fruition actually don’t seem that silly or off-base.

And my memory is getting worse. I’ll tell the same story three times and not remember any of it. We went to Teslacon this weekend and had a lovely time, but by the time we left on Friday night I was unable to remember any of the panels we’d gone to that morning. I can’t focus on anything for longer than perhaps 20 minutes, which is disturbing because I used to be able to read or write or play the piano for hours on end. My psychiatrist thinks it’s ADD brought on by the concussion I suffered in July, but he can’t prescribe anything to help until my cycling stops and my moods are finally under control. Considering 450 is a higher than usual dose of lamotrigine (so high that I now have to undergo blood tests periodically), it seems like the manic depression is fighting hard to keep its grip on me, just as hard as I’m fighting to get rid of it.

Relief is always just within reach, but miles away.

*

I feel guilty and hate myself every single day. My husband works 40 hours a week as the shift lead at a drug store and is taking six credits at a local community college. He hopes to transfer to a large state university within five years. My inability to work full-time so he can go to school full-time upsets me so much that sometimes I wonder if he wouldn’t be better off without me. I feel as if I’m holding him back from his dreams—having to care for an invalid wife surely isn’t what he set out to do with his life.

Meanwhile, I stay home every day, reading books and watching movies and trying not to give in to the nasty little voices that whisper to me: I’m useless, I’m a drain on everyone’s energy and resources, I’ll never amount to anything because I am so sick and seemingly unable to recover.

I’m afraid to go back to work until this is under control because I’ve lost two jobs this year; I can’t handle getting fired again. D. agrees that a break from it all, time off so I can rest and work on my memoir, is the best plan. I made a budget; we can easily afford it if we cut out all luxuries. But I want to spoil him, want to give him everything he wants because I feel so awful and guilty, and then I feel bad because the money’s gone faster than we expected, and the whole cycle starts all over again.

We’ve applied for food stamps. I’ve applied for disability. Each day, I commit myself to two hours of research (reading books on dissociation, manic depression, PTSD, and anything else I feel might be applicable), jotting down quotes on note cards with obsessive precision—a purple heading for dissociation, green for bipolar. Most of the time, these quotes help me remember anecdotes, pieces of the puzzle that I can use when I actually begin to write this thing. I am determined to be as organized as humanly possible, despite all the things that are going on inside my head, because I want to finish this book. I want to keep going on this project and not give up; I’ve tried to write a memoir three times before and got stuck after the first chapter. How can I not know what happened to me? I’ve realized the failures were probably because I didn’t have everything laid out just-so: and then, and then, and then.

I know the cycles will make things difficult. I need to make the most of the mania and hypomania and try not to hate myself too much when I crash and can’t do anything but lie in bed and sob.

Jesus Christ, I just want to be okay and make something of myself, be able to provide for our little family again. I want to be good and successful and not feel like I’m wasting my life, like I’m already useless and dead at 24.

I want to make it to 25, and then 30…

*

I feel like I need to give myself some credit for staying out of the hospital through all the years of misery. Two suicide attempts, eight months of intense cutting, and that’s just this year. 2013 has sucked, and I’m ready for it to be over. I want a fresh start. I want someone to turn me off and fix me.

I want to not be me. I want to feel like it’s okay to be me.

I want my husband to always see me as interesting and pretty, not as a sad, pathetic mess.

I want my family to stop seeing me as a disappointment (they probably don’t, but I worry that they do) : If only I tried harder, I could go back to work. Mind over matter, J.

I’m seeing my therapist on Thursday, and I feel like that’s a very good thing. What I need most right now is for a neutral third party to reassure me, to comfort me and tell me I’m doing exactly what I need to be doing, that I’m right where I’m supposed to be at this point in my life.

I hope I’m going to be okay.