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.

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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.

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.

Flashback: Resilient.

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

Flashback: Resilient

Text and photo from January 5, 2013:

“This is my new wrist tattoo!

I chose the word “resilient” because my very first therapist, who I started seeing when I was 18, frequently used it to refer to me. It is the frank acknowledgement of a hard and often brutal life and a symbol of everything I have endured (an abusive alcoholic mother who wound up in prison when I was seven years old, years of bullying after that, a relationship in my teens that was abusive in every sense of the word, and my struggle with PTSD and MDD that began when I was very young).

I’d had suicidal thoughts for years, starting in my teens, but they were more abstract in the sense that I wanted to have an “escape plan” for if life somehow got messed up beyond repair–I never really intended to use it. When another major depressive episode began last July, I began to have the thoughts more and more often until dying was, more often than not, the first thing I thought of in the morning. My casual indifference to my own existence turned into a full-blown death urge, and the knowledge that I would hurt people if I “eliminated my own map” no longer mattered to me–all I could see was the pain, and I was tired of fighting it.

On September 10, 2012 (Suicide Awareness and Prevention Day), I actually decided to participate and wrote “LOVE” in tall, thin caps on my left wrist. I did so ironically, not believing it would actually raise awareness or prevent anything, but that night I got low enough again that I was considering going into the bathroom and quietly opening a vein while my husband slept in the next room.

But then I saw the word on my wrist and thought, “No, you can’t do it tonight, it’s way too fucked up (even for you) to finally do yourself in today.” From that moment, I decided to find a “motivator” each day to stay alive–one thing that made me feel, at least for the moment, that being alive was still worth it and that I should keep fighting the darkness in my head.

There have been countless days where just getting out of bed and staying alive has taken everything I have, and I have no doubt that there will be countless more. But this tattoo is a promise to myself that when I do die, it will not be by my own hand. I have survived being hurt by almost everyone I have cared about. I have endured some pretty unspeakable acts of abuse. I have fought against some of most hideously dark thoughts imaginable. When I have another dark night of the soul, I need to look at this tattoo on my wrist, inked right over the veins I’ve considered slicing into more times than I’d care to say, and remember that it would be a filthy goddamn shame to give up now.

This is a physical symbol of my commitment to getting well and staying well.”

Ink.

self-harm, stigma

I have a consultation at Ultimate Arts for my thigh piece tonight at 6:00. Rad! As I mentioned in a previous post, I have some self-harm scars on my right upper thigh. The habit was actually very recently acquired (January of this year) and aside from two slip-ups, I haven’t done it since mid-April, so I’m making progress. However, I want to get a big, colorful tattoo to cover the scars and also to deter myself from doing it again.

My therapist was pretty surprised to hear I hadn’t started earlier. She thinks that the tattoos (the one on my wrist was basically a “suicide prevention” tattoo) are more of a Band-Aid than anything. However, I think anything that will keep me from hurting myself while I work on addressing the emotions that prompt the self-harm is a good thing.

I’m planning on getting a big paisley cluster with floral designs and tree branches/roots worked into the shapes, as well as the first stanza of “Elm” by Sylvia Plath. I’m thinking 5″ x 9″ is a good size, though I might go larger depending on the artist’s ideas and guidance. I know fuckall (pardon my French) about tattooing, so I prefer to defer to the experts when it comes to the specifics.

I know the bottom, she says. I know it with my great tap root:

It is what you fear.

I do not fear it: I have been there.

Aside from the text and the concept, I’m giving the artist free reign to experiment with paisley as well as colors. I have absolutely no color preference (aside from not-orange and not-yellow). Blues and greens might look nice, but I’ve been drawn to violet lately. It’s an adventure!

Readers, are you painted? Do your tattoos have any special meaning?

PTSD, part I.

ptsd, self-harm, stigma

I was looking up some signs of unresolved trauma (mostly relating to dissociation) and came across this awesome list. The ones that apply to me are in bold (and there are way more than I thought).

1. Addictive behaviors – excessively turning to drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping, gambling as a way to push difficult emotions and upsetting trauma content further away.

2. An inability to tolerate conflicts with others – having a fear of conflict, running from conflict, avoiding conflict, maintaining skewed perceptions of conflict

3. An inability to tolerate intense feelings, preferring to avoid feeling by any number of ways

4. An innate belief that they are bad, worthless, without value or importance

5. Black and white thinking, all or nothing thinking, even if this approach ends up harming themselves

6. Chronic and repeated suicidal thoughts and feelings

7. Disorganized attachment patterns – having a variety of short but intense relationships, refusing to have any relationships, dysfunctional relationships, frequent love/hate relationships

8. Dissociation, spacing out, losing time, missing time, feeling like you are two completely different people (or more than two) *

9. Eating disorders – anorexia, bulimia, obesity, etc

10. Excessive sense of self-blame – taking on inappropriate responsibility as if everything is their fault, making excessive apologies

11. Inappropriate attachments to mother figures or father figures, even with dysfunctional or unhealthy people

12. Intense anxiety and repeated panic attacks

13. Intrusive thoughts, upsetting visual images, flashbacks, body memories / unexplained body pain, or distressing nightmares

14. Ongoing, chronic depression

15. Repeatedly acting from a victim role in current day relationships

16. Repeatedly taking on the rescuer role, even when inappropriate to do so

17. Self-harm, self-mutilation, self-injury, self-destruction

18. Suicidal actions and behaviors, failed attempts to suicide

19. Taking the perpetrator role / angry aggressor in relationships

20. Unexplained but intense fears of people, places, things

* My most frequent dissociative symptoms are derealization and depersonalization.

Depersonalization is characterized by a feeling of detachment or estrangement from one’s self.  During an episode of depersonalization, the sense of ‘self’ is disturbed.  There is an overall feeling of estrangement and detachment from the self.  …Depersonalization can be very distressing because it seems like one is losing their grip on reality, losing control, or ‘going insane.'”

Derealization – During the experience of derealization, the perception of reality feels distorted and there is a sense of being detached from the outside world.  It can feel like living in a dream.”

(Source)

In the next post on PTSD, I’ll get into some of the messier stuff–mainly, how I ended up with PTSD and how it affects my life. It’s something that is going to require a lot of effort on my part because (as anyone who knows me well can tell you) I don’t really like to talk about it. Joke about it? God, yes, I’ll do that all day long. I’m also able to write about it, to some extent–just the facts, ma’am. But really getting into the heart of it is something I still find incredibly difficult and try to avoid as much as possible.

Animals are such a comfort.

endometriosis, self-harm

Image

I’m having a rough day again and was pretty close to tears when this sassy ginger boy wandered into the room and bumped his head against my leg and howled.

Cats have the reputation of being aloof, but I’ve never had an Ugly Cry that wasn’t accompanied by at least one cat snuggling up next to me and purring, though it’s possible this is motivated by their enjoyment of my pain rather than a desire to comfort me.

Today is especially bad for the following reasons:

  1. An endo flare-up was triggered on Sunday afternoon when I dared to wear jeans for a few hours 
  2. Said flare-up meant I only got four hours of sleep last night and spent most of the early morning tossing and turning in an effort to find a sleeping position that didn’t hurt (hint: it doesn’t exist)
  3. My prescriptions cost us close to $50.00 (birth control was free, but liothyronine was $9.00 and Cymbalta was $40.00), which we can’t really afford right now;
  4. Thus, I’m feeling like a burden and generally more trouble than I’m worth and I’m concerned that the endo pain is never going to get better.

At the moment, I’m fighting off the urge to carve up my thighs like a goddamn Thanksgiving turkey again. At this point, I think some form of chemical relief is in order. This could take the form of a really stiff drink (even though it’s only 11 AM), though I’ll probably opt for an Ambien and a cat nap with cats instead. I dislike self-medicating, but there are times when it becomes a necessary evil because the alternative is even more hideous and harmful.

This most recent bout of misery is made worse by the fact that it’s a beautiful sunny day–this type of weather always seems to make the depression more severe. At least D. gets home at 3:30; it’s harder when he works the night shift because dusk has always been the most vulnerable time of day for me.

Motivators: Eggplant lasagna, the fuzzy cat sleeping on the bed, maybe taking a walk later on, the trippy coloring books I purchased on the way home (because what’s another $12 when my health issues just cost us $50?).