Tag Archives: mental health

And you didn’t even know they were crazy.

5 Oct

This week, October 5-11, we take a break from our *regularly scheduled programming, Depression Awareness Month,* for a tribute to all other brain fuckery with *this brief interruption, Mental Illness Awareness Week.*

If you’ve read the post before this one, “Depression Is,” you know some of my thoughts on the whole “awareness” bid. I have some bitterness, but for those who really have no clue about the fight that over a quarter of the globe is fighting with themselves, I think being bludgeoned about the head with some PSA’s in an attempt to wake them up is a good thing, at least as a start.

Something that I’ve learned from having my own slew of brain troubles and subsequently finally talking about them, with psychologist-type-peoples and random-strangers-on-the-street-types, is that these mental illnesses that we’ve got running around in our minds, they’re more pervasive than I would have thought. They’re insidious creatures, secret diseases. People don’t like talking about them, because we’ve somehow managed to stamp a stigma on this apparently basic and rampant human experience. So mental illnesses, and people with them, they can be everywhere, and you wouldn’t even notice. Strangers. Friends. Even yourself.

Let’s take a look at some surprising literary and pop characters with whom a lot of you are probably very, very familiar – but might not have known are, in fact, crazy.

1. The Cast of the Hundred Acre Wood

2. The Muppets Your Kids Spend Hours A Week Watching And Learning From

3. Charlie Brown and His Gang

Charlie Brown - Avoidant Personality Disorder (image source)

Charlie Brown – Avoidant Personality Disorder (image source)

Linus - Schizotypal Personality Disorder (image source)

Linus – Schizotypal Personality Disorder (image source)

Lucy - Borderline Personality Disorder or Narcissism (image source)

Lucy – Borderline Personality Disorder or Narcissism (image source)

So. We’ve got the Christopher Robin and his stuffed, furry friends; all the puppet neighbors of Sesame Street; and Charlie Brown and his club of kiddos. All of them mentally ill, in some way or other. Every. single. one.

And hey! Look! Their worlds don’t fall apart! They don’t all kill each other or blow each other up or any of that! Those three story lines, they’re stories of kids and their friends helping each other get by, supporting and teasing and loving and making good choices and fucking up, just every other normal kid narrative. Because while “mental illness” may sometimes pull us into a world of our own, it doesn’t shove us into some non-human dimension, away from all the “normal” people.

I mean, functionally, dealing with some mental illnesses is simpler than dealing with oh, say, arthritis, or diabetes or even a broken finger. We are all people, dealing with people shit. Let’s stop making each other feel like we’re somehow weird just because our brain instead of our arteries and their fat content are involved, or whatever.

Welcome to the world, land of people who dreamt up Christopher Robin and Charlie Brown and Big Bird. Welcome to the world, where Christopher Robin and Charlie Brown and Big Bird are all perceived as normal, valuable, understandable people. (Or normal, valuable, understandable feathered puppets, as the case may be.)

Those of us with mental illnesses, we are not non-player characters, here. We are protagonists. Fucked up heroes and heroines, just like the rest of you. Not villains. Not ghosts.

We’re all around you, and might not even have known we were here.

Now that‘s kind of crazy, isn’t it?

Depression Is

1 Oct

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

Today, October 1st, is the start of Depression Awareness Month. Well, for those of the social media sphere who’ve had no contact with depression, it is. The rest of us, the ones with depression, and the ones next to those who do, we’re already pretty damn aware.

You see, depression, when it’s there, is a hard thing not to be aware of. The harder part, really, is not misconstruing what’s being seen. Because depression, you see, has a whole lot of flavors. And no, none of them are pumpkin spice.

I’ve been fighting depression since… well, it’s hard to pinpoint it, really. Because I came from an environment where people weren’t aware of mental health, let alone depression. I didn’t know anything could be wrong, let alone that it was. I just thought that my constant misgiving, the vague and perpetual sensation that something was wrong for years on end, my bent to remember the less-than-stellar in my life than the few moments of real sparkle – well, I just thought that was normal. I was aware of my sensations; I just wasn’t aware of their diagnosis.

Until my senior year of high school, that is. After years of walking the line between “kinda sad but functional” and “ragingly falling into a dark hole inside,” I finally teetered over the edge. Call it hormones. Call it stress. Call it whatever.

I’m calling it depression.

You see, while I was aware of my accelerating and nauseating hurtle into clinical depression, the others around me didn’t see all those sensations inside, or didn’t want to see them even when I tried to throw them in their face. I used isolation. I used words. I used self-harm and the knife I hid under my bed. I used suicide. The increasingly screaming kettle of pressuring self-hate inside me was something too loud for me not to be aware of, as day after day I just felt wrong, and, left to my own devices to deal with it, eventually came to the conclusion that must have been the thing that was wrong. Guilt guilt guilt guilt. Never mind those other circumstances – a broken home, an ailing sister, a fracturing best friend, flat-out broken brain chemistry – no no, clearly it was all my fault. I just wasn’t trying hard enough. If I were just better, trying harder, I would have been able to fix it all. And then I would have been okay. So clearly, I was the problem. Hey, if I were the problem, then the solution seemed pretty damn apparent, right? In this equation, if X is wrong and unfixable, just remove X…

I wasn’t aware that wasn’t actually the equation.

Let’s fast-forward about six years. So you know, about nowish. I’ve still got depression. But I’m older, wiser, yada yada.

Yeah, it doesn’t suck any less.

If anything, dealing with depression, even though it’s not the blinding, numbing, mind-haze of my high school years, has become harder. Why?

Well, I am more aware.

Let’s fast-track through the past six years. I found words for what I was experiencing. Slowly learned that it’s not my fault. Went to therapy, through treatment, started meds. I’ve seen psychiatrists, psychologists, MFW’s, LCSW’s, PsyD’s, MD’s, RD’s, and fuck knows however many lettered people. After four years of concentrated obliteration, I’ve finally essentially quashed my comorbidity, the ugly Eating Disorder.

But.

There is always a “but,” isn’t there?

I’m not sure I consider myself “better.”

I have learned a great deal, yes. Become more aware of what’s going on with me. I’ve learned how to recognize patterns, spot symptoms, reroute maladaptive coping mechanisms, derail negative thought patterns, notice when my current round of meds are starting to fail again.

Yes, in the mindwork of my depression, self-awareness has helped a shit ton. At least I know what’s going on now.

Yeah, knowing what’s going on doesn’t mean I feel any better.

It’s like… so, imagine if you were shot in the leg with a bullet. Painful, right? You’re bleeding all over the place, leg is throbbing, bullet’s probably still lodged somewhere around your tibia and fibula. If only you could pull the bullet out and adequately wrap up the wound, over time, it would heal, and you would feel better.

Yeah, bullet’s still in your leg and your bleeding out, sweetheart. This mental analysis, even knowing how physiologically your leg needs to heal, that all doesn’t actually make you feel any better when you’ve still just been FUCKING SHOT IN THE LEG.

My depression, now, is kind of like I’m walking around having just been shot in the leg all the time. Yeah, I know what happened to cause me to be in pain. I know what’s going on. I know that hey, maybe one week my psychiatrist and I will finally find a way to pull that goddamn bullet out of my leg and the writhing muscles and nerves and blood vessels will finally stop having to make due with a shitty, bloody situation and heal up once and for all and start working properly again.

Yeah, all that “maybe” kind of hope doesn’t mean I’m not walking around with a fucking bite of a limp.

“But you’re working on figuring out how to get the bullet out!” People will say, as if this is supposed to mean it’s not still painful while it’s in there.

“Aw, come on, you were shot like five weeks ago, can’t you just let it go now?” NO, THE BULLET’S STILL FUCKING THERE AND I’M BLEEDING OUT AND IT’S FUCKING PAINFUL, THANK YOU.

And then, should I manage to find a position to stand where the weight’s not on my leg, and it doesn’t hurt so much, and someone makes a funny joke and I manage to pull up a half-sort of smile – “Oh look! A smile! That bullet in your leg can’t hurt that badly then, can it?”

Excuse me, clinic doctor that I visit a couple weeks ago for a sinus infection, while I punch you in the face.

So, I walk around, bullet-in-leg, never knowing if it’ll ever come out, leaving the situation to fester and fall into feeling hopelessness. I wonder if maybe, instead of walking around in life with this limp that I can remember what it was like to run and skip and dance without, instead of always being reminded that if I’m not cautious my heel will slip and my leg will jolt with pain, which it wouldn’t have had I still had that life unencumbered with a bullet in my calf – well, I start wonder if maybe, it would be better if I just cut the leg off. If I can’t pull the bullet out and let the leg heal, then I just need to get rid of the leg altogether.

Problem is, the issue’s not in my leg. It’s in my brain.

Suicidality is no longer an impassioned, pained sort of self-destructive urge. The thought becomes not “I am a problem” but just “I am not working out.” It’s a weary sort of defeat. The wish is not to be dead, but to no longer live in pain. Death, this time, is just a side-effect.

That is the kind of awareness depression has for me.

I am still here, writing this blog, obviously. I have friends that pull me back, friends whose selfish wish to keep me here for themselves is something I am grateful I can keep my life tethered to. They, thankfully, are aware of what it’s like for me to carry that bullet in my leg, and they help carry me, so that the bullet doesn’t finally make its way to my brain.

They see me, and I am grateful for it.

What do you need to be aware of, around you? In you?

As despondent as I may get about my own prospects, I wish hope eternal for everyone else with those goddamn depression bullets. It’s not fair, guys. It’s just not. And I’m sorry about that. I hope that one day, we have better, more effective options than chasing after “maybe’s” or translocating where that bullet is.

It’s a fight, guys. I know we’re all way too painfully aware of that. But hey, if we’re still here and trying, at least we’ve given the world something to notice, too.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

Loneliness Hits

30 Sep

Loneliness is a rough sort of rolled-up burning-down summary of life to take a hit of. It’s the kind of hit that leaves you not just coughing so badly you wind up in tears, but somehow proves a bruise-leaver too, on more than just your throat. Loneliness hits that way.

Loneliness is the worst of drags that I cannot seem to ever figure out how to choke down and tolerate. I guess my ears get a little weird, when I’ve sucked down loneliness. I go deaf for a bit, so I can’t even hear the noises of the ones around me. All I can hear is the inside of my brain, and that’s only filled with the noises of people who aren’t any longer here.

It’s a bad trip, loneliness.

The psychiatrists and psychologists, they say it will pass. That we’ll find me an antidote, and I will stop choking on the very air around me as this unending ember of a stick of loneliness dangles from my fingers, unable to be removed. This next set of pills, they say. This next glass of water. This next deep breath.

I’ve taken many a deep breath in my life; loneliness is an insidious pollution, and the smog count grows ever higher. That’s the rub – you breathe in to breathe out what you breathed in, but if there’s no change in air quality, your red blood cells only learn all the more to consent to carry what your heady environment has stuck upon life’s circulation.

Even tears can’t flush it out.

Maybe one day a little white circle will clear all this away.

Maybe one day a fire will burn hot enough to immolate this slow-killing haze.

Maybe one day I will have exchanged all my oxygen for this grey composition, and then I will no longer notice any discrepancy in hue, and I will not remember what it was like before, and I will no longer fight to hold off this desperate coloration, because at least now, in this grey prison, I have something with which to be one.

Or maybe these are all just ramblings, too long a drag off the loneliness stick. I’m starting not to remember much. Oh look, bruises…

Silence

1 Aug

dwindling fade

Life is a hard thing when you go numb. When soul dies, hopes dissipate into nothing leaving not even a shadow of an imprint.

Silence is a terrible thing. I hate it. I fear it. I fear it, because I fear me. Silence means I’m left alone with myself. And that’s terrifying.

Silence means I only have the chatter of my brain to keep me company. And when that chatter comes in the form of verbal knives and memory punctures, those internal conversations can hurt a lot.

It wasn’t always this way.

I used to be able to sit alone with myself and dream. I’d spend hours thinking about problems I wanted to solve, things like biology research and magnetism projects. I’d turn the information I’d learned earlier over and over in my mind, looking for new angles or remaining questions to tackle a need with. I’d process things for hours, while I was swimming, or walking through a grocery store, or driving, or scribbling in a notebook. It was fun. I was content.

Or I’d think about stories. I’ve written entire novels in my head, always meaning to transfer them to paper later. I’d flesh out scenes and plot, playing them out in my head like a movie while I was showering, or sitting in an airplane, or bored in class. I have had worlds spun into being inside my head. I loved the feeling. That’s who I was.

It’s part of the reason I love art museums. Wandering through galleries, staring at canvas after canvas, the paint on the picture starts speaking stories in my brain. I love art that I look at and immediately think, “there’s a story in that.”

I love doing art too, in and of itself. It’s almost like I’m creating some kind of secret. “Here, let me draw you this picture” – it’s got a fairy tale behind it. Or at least, it does in my head. Who knows the stories it may speak in yours.

The better I’m doing internally, the better I do at art. If I fall into eating disorder patterns, I stop being able to create proper scale in my drawings, especially when it comes to people. The more stable I am in terms of ED, the more accurately I’m able to draw humans. The more there I feel inside, overall, even if it’s a hurting sort of “there,” the more I’m able to do some sort of creation. Even if it’s just sketching out eyes. Simple, closed eyes.

That’s what I did, when depression and suicidality first hit me in the clinical sense my senior year of high school. My school planner is full of eyes, blue pen sketches of what’s really no more than a glorified eyelid, covering almost every page. Eyes, everywhere. Closed.

There’s probably some symbolism in that.

But now… now I can’t even draw eyes. Even short poems, little bursts of anger or hurting or hopelessness, the ones that I used to be able to throw onto a page in a blink, they’ve become harder to write. There’s no voice left in me.

There’s only the silence, with its terrible chattering.

And I hate it.

There’s another spot, another corner of content curation that I decided to take a stab at, here on the internet. I hear there’s a thing called Tumblr. I still don’t entirely understand it. How it works. What the fuck it’s even there for. But I’ve got one – decided to call it “Mad Woman Blinking.” (Oh hey, more eye symbolism!) And I decided that it’s there for my art. More so the visual kind, though I’ve got a fair amount of word spew on there too. You can check it out or not, that’s really not the point. I bring it up because yesterday, I also wrote a post called “Silence” there. It’s a shorter version of what I’ve written here. But it’s differently phrased, and I feel like the language has more art to the wording. It’s the more compact, drip-coffee version of what I could squeeze out of my soul. Looking back, I’m glad that there was some poetry to it.

“Silence usually means I’m not okay. In life, when I fail to stop by a friend’s dorm room, or stop contacting my people in all their little chat boxes. In art, when I just stop doing it.

My art habit fluctuates wildly. I’ll go a couple of months where I do art every day, or at least every week. Then I’ll have a year of not even scribbling on a napkin.

I’m not okay when I’m not doing art.

Because if I’m doing art, it means I’m stable. I’ve got the time to sit down with pencils or acrylics or whatever. I’ve got soul enough inside me to pin dreams down on papers in their many colors of imagination. I’ve got sense of self enough to still make my fingers etch out a story, whatever their medium.

When I stop drawing, it’s because I’ve gone silent inside. And that means I’m not okay.”

I’d really like to be okay.

Hard Conversations

2 Jul

I have had so many hard conversations in my life. Conversations where I confessed, conversations where I demanded, conversations where I chided and begged and pleaded and cajoled and cried.

I have had so many hard conversations.

There was the conversation where I was told I could die. There was the conversation where I told the exact same thing. To my mother. To my friends. To my lovers. To strangers. Again, and again.

There was the conversation where I told him I loved him. No matter as to whom “he” was. That quivering, shaking moment right before the slight intake of breath, then the desperately frightening murmur. “I love you.”

The silences in that conversation have always been the best and the most painful.

I have had so many hard conversations.

There was the conversation about her miscarriage, and hers, and hers. The conversation about his mistake. The conversation of confusion, of denial, of the world cracking about me and my soul bleeding out into the fractures.

I keep trying to have that conversation again.

I so desperately want it to go differently.

I have so many, many hard conversations.

There are the conversations I have not had yet. The conversation about the weariness I’ve newly heard in his voice. The conversation about that affair, and my lifelong anger with its inexplicable forgiveness. The conversation where I say that I am afraid, and put up one more wall. The conversation I will have more with myself, than with anyone else.

There are the conversations I have daily, the interminable cajoling of my tear ducts not to cry, of my heart not to break, of my legs to keep moving forward and of my hands not to rend me in the thousand ways they could have me end.

I chatter ceaselessly inside my brain, so much daily convincing must I do.

It’s not an easy conversation to have, after a while.

I get tired of having these hard conversations.

There have so many of them in my life.

To The South Fayette Boy With The Ipad

17 Apr

Dear South Fayette Teen,

I know your mother wishes your name to be kept out of public reports as much as possible, so I’m not going to mention it here. But you know who you are, and you know what you did.

And I commend you, I laud you, I am so incredibly fucking proud of you for doing it. I hope you never forget who you really are, and I hope you never forget what you did. Above all, I hope you never forget, no matter what ignorant un-law enforcement or principals in need of schooling themselves may you tell you, that was you did was right.

You were being bullied. There is no question about that. You were being sexually harassed, physically harassed. You were being taunted. Tortured, really. The slow drip excruciation of day after day where you are made a target, for no other reason than that you happened to have the audacity to exist. Day after day of wondering what knew form of personal and social flagellation you’ll receive as the hands of idiots. I understand the pain of having that knife dug into your consciousness, millimeter after millimeter. It is not a pain that should ever happen.

It is a pain that happened to me, too. I too was bullied, from preschool all the way through sophomore year of high school. I went to an all-girls school, so my form of social punishment came more through the form of clique ostracism and snide comments made in muttered cackles before my face or ruthless emails passed around behind my back. Except for the time someone decided to print one particular chain out and stuff it in my locker. That was fun.

And how did I deal with my bullying? How did I deal with being told that I was ugly and unwantable and expendable for a quick laugh? I stayed silent. I filled journals with my feelings, cried unseen in bathroom stalls. Eventually, the girls who had tried to assert that I was lesser than they realized they needed me. As middle and high school wore on, it became clear that I was undeniably, ultimately goddamn smart. And those other girls, they didn’t always complete their homework. So they needed me, to help them figure out the answers. I became outwardly called upon as tutor in the early morning pre-class hallway conferences. I garnered a group of what you could roughly call friends. I found power in being the smart one. The bullying died down as the need for me grew. I graduated high school as the valedictorian, regarded as beloved at best and with apathy at worst. The outer titters were no more.

Of course, that did nothing to calm the inner ones. I had been saved by lucky fate, not by my own hand. I carried with me the inner sense of unworthiness I had been taught for years by bullies and general life circumstances. I still believed that I was ugly, that I was unwantable, that I was less than other people.

It’s taken a whole fucking lot to change that. And I’m still not done fighting.

But you – you actually stood up for yourself. You did what I had not. You saw the injustice you were being treated with and recognized that it was wrong. You did not just accept it as some natural lot for yourself in life. You did not take the lies that others would have fed you. And for that, for that small act of self-worth, you are my fucking hero.

So recorded what was going on in class. You recorded the reality of what was going on day in and day out. Your recorded the lack of any real response, any real repercussion for the ones who were actually committing disorderly conduct. Slamming things around in class? Trying to harass another student in the middle of a lecture? Sounds like textbook disorderliness to me.

This wiretapping charge is bullshit. The only reason it’s being thrown at you is because you happened to make somebody’s life difficult by making them accountable for their own ineptness as a head of school. High school students record things during class all the fucking time. Take, for example, the college students over at Aquinas who pranked their professor, recorded it all, and put it up on the internet, from where it’s gone viral. You don’t see them getting a wiretapping charge. Why? A student recorded part of a class – not just audio but even video – and they did it all without the professor’s knowledge. But hey, he thought the whole thing was funny. So, no wiretapping charge. But record something that reveals the failure of a school administrator to deal with a real fucking problem at his school? Wiretapping! Wiretapping!

This world does not deal kindly with the truly brave. And you, oh teenage boy who had the audacity to stand up and say that something was wrong, were truly brave to do so. Whistleblowing is always a risk. But you did it. You recorded the truth. You did what you needed to do in order to throw undeniable concrete evidence at the face of those who might have otherwise told you that it was “all in your head.”

You stood up for yourself. I am sorry that the adults that should have stood with you instead told you to step down. Though to your mother – from what I hear, you’re doing a damn good job of supporting your son through this. Please, keep reaffirming that he did the right thing. He’ll probably tell you that yeah, Mom, he knows. But it’s still something he’ll need to keep hearing anyway.

Oh teenage boy with the ipad, you used technology to fight injustice. You did not stick your nose where it didn’t belong. You weren’t meddling in someone else’s affairs. You had every right to do what you did. If the government seems to feel that it can run around willy nilly wiretapping every goddamn means of communication there is in the name of “fighting terrorism,” then I say that you, too, should be perfectly free to record in your own public space in the name of fighting the terrorism you were encountering. Because that’s what it was. A couple of idiots trying to make themselves look big by making someone else feel small with attack after attack on his person and his sanity.

So they used spitwads instead of IED’s. Words instead of bullets. I thought we’d all realized by now that the ridiculous rhyme about “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is absolute crap. If this country allows libel suits, then it damn well recognizes that words can hurt.

And this time, they were hurting something so much more important than a public image. They were hurting a person.

And did you stoop to their level? Did you hurl insults back? Throw a punch? Become one of them? No. You recorded them, made them accountable for their words. You very calmly brought their own actions, their own selves against them. You made them sit down and shut up and learn about responsibility and consequences for once.

Something, it appears, your principle doesn’t understand how to do.

Spitwads, scare tactics, daily verbal harassment – you “would not classify that as bullying,” Mr. Skrbin? Great. If I were near South Fayette, I’d be outside your office with a straw and a whole lot of spit to shoot at you tomorrow morning. I mean, you did say there wasn’t a problem with that, didn’t you?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Dear teenage boy who lives in South Fayette, you really are a hero. I am sorry that incompetent adults are trying to log you as otherwise. I hope they realize how they wrong they are. Because odds are, your story is going to inspire some other students elsewhere, too, to finally stand up and say that they are taking no more. That they are done with being bullied. That they are human being with real fucking worth and other people better damn well recognize it.

Because you, dear teenage boy with the ipad, are a human being with real fucking worth. Other people better damn well recognize that.

Don’t you ever stop recognizing that, either.

Sincerely,

A Friend

I do not write happy stories.

9 Apr

People want happy stories. Good characters. Sweet endings. Family-friendly. At least, that’s what a lot of magazine submission guidelines seem to be saying.

But I do not write happy stories. I swear, I try. Took me five goddamn years to write a YA novel with a happy ending and after another five years I’m still not finished editing it yet. Happy stories are not the ones that come to me most naturally or most frequently. They are not what my brain generates. They are not what my brain understands. They are not what my brain has had to work with.

Happy stories, sure, they can be nice to read. Like a delightful little square of baklava. But too many of those delightful little squares, and odds are you’re going to be left with sticky, nut-grimy fingers and an urge to go puke up at least half of the sickly sweetness now residing in your stomach into the nearest toilet bowl. Or onto the nearest politician. Either would be acceptable, probably.

I mean, too many sad stories, or difficult stories or unsettling stories or generally unhappy narratives, and you’re also probably going to be left in a huddles mess o’ blankets on your living room couch crooning yourself into a tear-slopped sleep with that bottle of whiskey you’re clutching as your only friend. Not exactly a more preferable kind of overdose.

But at least… at least those tears your crying are real. The elation you feel from a happy story may be a vicarious kind of wish-fulfillment but the pain you’re left dealing with from a grungier tale is a memory, the recollected aching from some time before when your story veered a little too closely to something a character got herself into. Probably why the sadness lasts so much longer; it’s no mere slap-on-the-surface temporary veneer. No, it’s an upwelling of past shame or doubt or anger or disappointment. The kind of sadness that leaves you as said whiskey-breathed mess has roots.

Maybe it’s just because of my own negative-lens tendencies the depression fairy apparently decided to, uh, gift me with at birth, but I know that I, at least, remember pain more than I remember pleasure. In my life-flashes-before-your-eyes-’cause-you-done-fucked-up-and-somehow-now-you’re-drowning reel, the moments of hurt, of regret, of loss would be the first ones to play out again before me. They are, unfortunately, what my brain, my memory centers, my inner interpretation mechanisms snap to first. Over time (read: SO MUCH THERAPY OH MY GOD), I’ve been able to re-groove my brain a bit (hoorah neural plasticity!) and convince my brain that it really is okay to go the positive route every now and then, really, there’s probably not even that much of a traffic jam,  but still… inner GPS forgets about those routes a fair amount.

I’m tempted to write that to me, happiness just doesn’t feel natural. But I know, really, that’s not true. Happiness is totally a natural thing to experience. It’s more appropriate to write that for me, happiness hasn’t felt usual. I grew up in a household of parents who had been fighting since before I was even born. I wasn’t exactly the cool kid in my class for much of high school (but then come high school people realized I was smart and that they needed me and then I ruled the world! AHAHAHAHAHAHA!). I’ve been battling mental health shit since god knows when. Yes, there has been a lot of happiness in my life, but it’s not exactly been the baseline or background. Happiness has been an exception.

But honestly, I don’t think it’s just my own experience that’s made writing happy stories so difficult for me. Ever since, well, ever, I’ve been an emotional go-to for other people. I may not have been the cool kid, but I wasn’t ever that kid – but I did usually end up getting picked out as OMG BFF! by that kid. Then come middle school, when puberty hit and we were all just leveled to a singular playing field of awkwardness, the girls who became my closest friends were also the ones who, like me, had some inner demons that started clawing a bit more actively at our vulnerable brains. And our vulnerable hormones. The rest of pre-college schooling for me was a slew of late night phone calls, desperate pleas to hang on just a little while longer, letters sent every day to some treatment center other, constant scans of wrists and arms and rib cages and stomach circumferences and little pricks in the back of our minds any time one of us wore long sleeves or baggy clothing. Chat sessions into three and five am, glowing laptop screens hidden behind closed doors and under the covers.

Yes, there was a strain of hope. Maybe, just maybe, if I can get through this, you can too… We were all one giant mess of hands and arms clinging to each other and brace the entire structure of our lives. Support went in all directions. Hurt went in all directions. Despair abounded. Hope was a parched substance. It did not rain; it sludged through the ravaged sewers of our tenacity, tainted and unsafe even by the time it got there in the first place. But when you’re dying of thirst, you stop being so picky about these kind of things. Even dirty water will keep you going. For a little while. It might kill you a little while later. But I don’t think any of us would have minded that for ourselves.

We would have wailed over it, though, for each other.

The real-life stories that I have known have not been ones that work out. They have been ones of struggle. Constant struggle. You think you’ve gotten over one thing, and then something new crops up. Your once-savior becomes your new slave master. Relief only lasts so long. Every so often you may find yourself on your feet again, running, and you run as far and as hard and as long as you can, but then some invisible un-reason reaches its ugly snag and you don’t even see and suddenly you’re on the ground, scraped knees and bleeding elbows and your legs are so tired they don’t want to work anymore and your arms are wondering what the use even is anymore to try to pull yourself up one more time if you’re only going to end up down here covered in the dirt of a failed attempt again anyway…

And yet somehow we keep going. Knowing we have likely only doomed ourselves to repeat the process. But the way out is no more glorious than the struggle. So you might as well finish the race. Might as well find out if it was ever going to get you anywhere anyway.

You understand if your fellow runners decide they can take no more of the dizzying, soul-quenching exhaustion. You understand the decision to finally cease running, cease panting, feel only one more final sharp stab at the weary lungs you have forced to keep filling you with breath before saying that no, no more, I will stop here.

It’s a tragedy, yes. But it’s less of a tragedy than most people seem to realize. The loss of uncertain future happiness ways a little less to you than the end to present, undeniable pain.

So far, only one of us has dropped out of the race.

This impossible, endless race. There is some pride in my fellow runners, every time I look around and see them still there, straggling through this thing with me.

We will arrive at the finish line cut and scarred by thorns and brambles that held no roses. Our souls will be impossibly bruised. We might not have the strength to hold even our heads high. But we will have made it. We will have finished.

That is not a happy ending. That is not the kind of story I write.

But it is a story. With a horridly natural, un-fairy tale ending.

And that is something.

Trying To Manage Your Depression: Caution, May Cause Side Effects

23 Mar

Guys, depression is hard. Really really really hard. Obviously. That’s why it’s called depression. But you know what? I’ve been through five years of therapy, gone through intensive treatment three times, come to understand the underlying mindsets I needed to challenge, modified my thinking patterns, built up a support network, tried to prioritize what makes me happy, worked with psychiatrist after psychiatrist to find a medication regimen that works well for me and stuck to each of them in turn, held myself together long enough to graduate from college and actively work every day to keep myself from falling apart…

And depression is still really, really fucking hard.

I’m not even talking about the symptoms of depression, either. In terms of mood, I’m doing *relatively* well. I’m not entirely crippled by sadness. I don’t hate myself. I can understand ways in which the shittiness I do still occasionally feel might eventually get better… That’s all cool. But… just trying to be a normal, healthy, functioning person. That’s really fucking hard.

My impression is that being a normal, healthy, functioning person is already really fucking hard even when you don’t have an underlying mental illness trying to drag you back into a mental hell. But then, when you do have an underlying mental illness, all the extra things you have to do just make it that much harder. For example, I was on an antidepressant called Effexor for a little over a year. Before that, my list o’ pills that I’ve taken and since developed tolerance to (it’s like when an addict develops tolerance to a substance and needs more and more of it to feel the same effects, except now we’re talking actual legit healthy-making-medication that has a dosage you can’t exceed) has included Celexa, Zoloft, Prozac, and Abilify. Celexa was beautiful but wore off over the course of a year and a half to the point that it was basically like I wasn’t even on an antidepressant, Zoloft helped decrease my anxiety but obviously wasn’t working all that well, since I kinda attempted suicide on it, a short-term psychiatrist started me on Prozac improperly and I hated it and its somnolence side effect with a fiery passion (I hear it works well for some people, though), and Abilify I was taking as a sort of anti-anxiety med and antidepressant “booster” and had to stop cold when it started costing $700 a month because of insurance roll over. Yeah. The restless leg syndrome I had for months afterwards as a withdrawal symptom was lovely.

Ahem. So. Now that brings us to Effexor. Mind you, these are all drugs I’ve been taking to try to just be a normal fucking person with normal fucking problems instead of a depressed person with suicidal problems. I’m not searching for Nirvana here.

Now, unbeknownst to me when I started it, apparently Effexor has *super duper fun* withdrawal effects! And the shortest half life of like any antidepressant ever! Which means if you go 5 hours without taking it – heavens forbid an entire day – you’re fucked. We’re talking light-headedness, nausea, dizziness, disorientation, ALL THE DEPRESSION, brain shocks (it’s like your brain is being electrocuted and the whole world jolts) and oh yeah, SEIZURES. Seriously, it’s actually the worst. Like, ask the internet. Ask a fucking psychiatrist. Effexor withdrawal is universally recognized in the mental health world as one of the worst things to ever go through.

Good thing there were manufacturer recalls! And so now the medication is forever on backorder! Which means that even when I bring my prescription from the psych in a week ahead of time, it’s still not refilled by the time I’ve run out. Every. fucking. month.

Yeah. The first week I had to go without Effexor because of a refill issue and was subsequently bedridden with nausea and unable to even walk has been firmly and terrifyingly imprinted in my mind. And so when I’d take precautions and order a refill early (but not too early, because otherwise insurance would be like, uh, we just filled this, no, you can’t have more; that’s always fun timing to figure out) and I’d still be faced with a day or so of having to go without it, I eventually got a backup stock because I was sick of having a breakdown in front of the Target pharmacy every month. Like, normal people don’t have to go through hell like this! Yeah, sure, sometimes they have to go through hell, but it’s normal hell. It’s not the hell of having tried to goddamn take care of yourself and keep up on your meds, only to have other factors force you into bedridden brain malfunction.

Over time, my body did its thing and built up tolerance to Effexor, too, and once I realized I was spending the end of every day crying in a heap on my dorm room floor, I decided that hey, maaaaybe I should talk to my psychiatrist about finding another med that’d work better. Plus then, I could switch to something else and not worry about Effexor withdrawal hell every month.

Cue Cymbalta. Cymbalta’s an SNRI, just like Effexor, so it works on the same neural receptors and everything, which means that as long as you get the cross titration right, you don’t go through the Effexor withdrawal effects while you’re switching. And Cymbalta supposedly doesn’t have those withdrawal effects, so, that was a plus.

Yippee! Freedom! Now I can be a normal healthy person! Right?

Wrong.

So, I’m still in the process of switching from Effexor to Cymbalta. I went down in stages from 225 mgs of Effexor (yup, that’s a big fun dose, isn’t it?) to 75 mgs, and then stepped up through 30 mgs to 60 mgs of Cymbalta.

Aaaand still started going through Effexor withdrawal.

Cue 90 mgs of Cymbalta. Actually, cue 60 mg prescription + 30 mg prescription, because they don’t fucking make a 90 mg capsule of the generic, which means I have to pay twice as much for one month’s worth of pills. Wooo. So now I have to double my expenses every month just to keep myself healthy. Fun.

Except I’m not even fucking healthy. I’m trying to be, but I’m not. Turns out, insomnia is a side effect of Cymbalta. I’m already prone to insomnia, which means that Cymbalta hits me hard in that area. I haven’t slept for the past three days. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I got approximately six hours of nightmare-filled, panic-sweat-inducing “sleep” over the past 72 hours. So. Not exactly healthy. Here I am, trying to just get myself to a normal level of sanity, but then that ends up fucking with my sleep. I’M JUST TRYING TO BE HEALTHY. But it’s like whatever I do to help in one area ends up hurting in another area. And it’s really frustrating. Like, I just want to be able to sleep like a normal person and wake up not feeling like absolute shit and get through my day without feeling like I’m being bludgeoned every second. Is that a reasonable request? I think that’s a reasonable request…

Sigh. So here I am, typing the blog post at 7 am my time because I’ve been up all night, tossing and turning (which subsequently also leads to crampy muscles and unhappy joints) – but hey, I fixed my apartment’s wifi… And I’m stuck on this combo of 75 mgs of Effexor and 90 mgs of Cymbalta (which is higher than a normal dose already, apparently…) for at least another week, because I’m going out of the country and would at least like to be relatively stable during that, even it means I can’t really sleep… and then I’ve moved, so I’ve got to find a new psychiatrist, and schedule and appointment with them, and then finish going off of goddamn Effexor, which’ll probably mean going even higher on my Cymbalta dosage and heavens knows what that’s going to do to me and my unsleeping… and then I’ll probably have to “stabilize” on Cymbalta and then switch to yet another med in the never ending chase after my sanity…

Guys, I just wanted to be healthy. To manage my depression. I didn’t think trying to be normal was supposed to be this hard. There are so many damn side effects.

My Anxiety Is Not A Lie

12 Mar

Let’s talk about anxiety. (Oh, and for those of you back home who’ve been keeping track since that last post, yes I have actually started editing my thesis. I swear. I know this looks bad. I mean, another blog post… no way she’s working on that thing she needs to graduate! But… c’mon, guys, a girl needs a break! I’ve deleted and changed and fixed and added in three whole fucking pages of new content from three new primary sources so look, it’s getting done, okay?!)

Right. Um. Anxiety. So, there are all those websites out there that talk about what “anxiety” is, right? All those ads with comic character-style people in it spewing out some symptoms for you and telling you which drug they’re promoting you absolutely need to buy? Maybe even a couple of helpful informational pamphlet things you shoved in the bottom of your purse the last time you visited the doctor’s office?

Yeah, so all those things, they’re probably telling you about how anxiety (and its devil spawn, panic attacks) can make it feel like your heart is beating really fast, you may be hyperventilating, basically it feels like you’re being run over by the pounding feet of a herd of elephants while your heart and stomach and brain are getting convulsed and squeezed and honked like clown horns?

Yeah, no. My anxiety isn’t like that.

Obviously, I’m not saying that *nobody’s* anxiety is like that. I know people who have given that exact description before (okay, maybe not that exact description) for what they experience. Fast, frenetic, some other f words – that’s the dealio for them.
But not for me. My anxiety, it’s… slower? When I am “anxious,” I am not fidgety. I am frozen. Instead of feeling like a hot mess, I feel like a cold… nothing. My anxiety doesn’t make me want to dash out of the room – it hardens my insides like ice, paralyzing me right where I am. I can’t think. I can’t focus. It’s like my brain’s eyes rolled back in their sockets or something. Like I’ve suddenly hardened into a block of cold, black metal.
And fuck, is it uncomfortable. Rather than feeling like my lungs have suddenly become a pair of poor over-filled balloons being torturously squeezed by some manic two-year-old, my body, all of it, suddenly feels like it’s been… compacted. Like someone took all my muscle fibers and coiled them. I am tense. I am not bursting. I am strung. I get this kind of general ache everywhere, like the kind you get when you’re heading into a particularly bad cold. Or like somebody decided to wash my insides with lactic acid. Or like my entire body is suddenly a uterus and it’s that time when Mother-In-Law Nature decides to come for a particularly nasty week-long visit.
There is a nervousness, and sometimes I do shake and spasm (but hey, at least I get my core exercises in for the day, right?), but it’s not, like, heaving or hyperventilating or any of that. And the world doesn’t spin, it… fades. Like a movie shot does when you suddenly pull out from a freeze frame so that the llama protagonist can make snarky comments and draw red marks all over everything. (The search terms I had to use to find that image… dear NSA surveillance workers who are currently incapacitated on the floor from laughter, you’re welcome.)
Anyhoo. This anxiety thing. It’s different for me. But I’m still pretty sure what I experience is anxiety. I mean I’m nervous, right? I feel overwhelmed, I’m incapacitated to a degree, I hug my knees and stare through a fog of muted blind terror – that’s still anxiety, right?
If I go through the traditional symptom list, pretty sure the answer is no. The phrasing that list uses, it doesn’t *quite* fit with my set of descriptions. And it can feel really damn invalidating. There are multiple brands of depression that get talked about in all the different mediums, why can’t my type of anxiety get its share of internet space? Sure, thankfully the first psychiatrist I came into contact with way-back-when knew her shit, and “anxiety” was definitely a word she brought into our conversations. But my current psychiatrist? Mental health site “anxiety reduction” self-help articles? Cultural chatter at large? Nope.
But… I know what I know. I know what I feel. I feel what I feel. And I know it’s anxiety. I know that my anxiety is not “just in my head” (my core muscles can attest to that, thank you very much). I know that saying I have anxiety is not just some cop out to try to stick some label-excuse on some personal shortcoming. I know that my anxiety is a very real obstacle in my life that I have to deal with. (Btw, by “deal with,” I pretty much mean “sit on my boyfriend’s couch or on the floor of my dorm room being miserable through it until it eventually goes away because I managed to distract myself with the internet well enough. Sorry, I don’t have a magic – or even better – solution to anxiety to give you. I wish I did, really.)
So, whatever the chattering “experts” may say (or really, not say), whatever the eternal skeptic in my head that constantly looks to pick a fight may hurl at me, whatever doubt may well up from inside me and pump up the disconnection from reality I sometimes experience by telling me that that experience itself isn’t even real, in my more sane moments (and somehow even in most of my un-sane ones), I still know that my understanding of what’s going on inside of me is true. I know it isn’t made up. I know that even though it might be different, my anxiety is not a lie.

One Thing, Ten Ways

28 Feb

Alrighty, folks. I follow this famous writerly person called Chuck Wending, which means that I get about half a billion blog posts from him filling up my inbox every day. It’s pretty good, actually. Wending has added half a dozen books to my oh-god-please-just-read-me-already list, and his, uh, spritely writing style constantly challenges me to make sure mine is adequately colorful.

Anyhoo, every week Wending hosts a challenge of his own – usually in the form of a flash fiction topic, but this week, as an assignment to take one thing and describe it ten ways. Abstract ways, concrete ways, literal and figurative ways. All that jazz.

So. I figured I’d describe something that I know pretty damn (read: way too fucking) well: depression.

I know, sounds like a depressing topic, right? Depression sounds like it’d be pretty depressing. I mean, I think that’s why they call it that. But… well, depression has been with me for a long while, and it’s a beast I well know the shape of. It’s a terrible beast – but I’ve learned from the best of books (the ones like Harry Potter and the Young Wizard Series) that if you can describe something, you have power over it. Why do you think the best of magic is always done with words?

And so if I must keep this bedraggled familiar in check, at least I can do it eloquently.

So. Here goes. Depression is…

  1. Hopelessness, helplessness, soulessness, joylessness – all those “lessnesses” that come in the form of deceptively paltry checkboxed lines on a psychiatrist’s diagnostic sheet.
  2. A searing pain felt in hot tears down cheeks and a throbbing throat and a chest that’s constricted and convulsed with crying.
  3. Nothing. Nothing at all. Numbness, listlessness, a-motivation. An inexorable annihilation of being that turns a person into glass eyes and an empty shell.
  4. The point of last resort – self-harm, eating disorders, suicide, all those co-morbidities of depression arise not as a wall of rock bottom but as a desperate attempt to tunnel back out. Sometimes you shut the door behind you.
  5. A paradoxical battle in which there are no sides. It’s not an I against the world, an I against a villain, an I against a situation. It is an I against an I. Not even two clear-cut sides tearing a someone down the middle; a confused and blurred raging that smashes everything together and leaves nothing whole.
  6. A murderer, plain and simple.
  7. Not a fault, not a choice, not a mistake of the patient. Ever.
  8. Incredibly mis- and mal-understood.
  9. A broken brain; a disconnection between know and feel; a mis-firing, bad wiring; a nontraditional way of processing neurochemicals and pharmaceuticals aimed to fix them; a bastard to consistently properly medicate.
  10. A demon that yet an angel can make, in more ways than one, and likely more ways than ten. But that, I suppose, is for another description.