Tag Archives: mental illness

Better

11 Sep

**TW: Please note that the post below is written as part of World Suicide Prevention Day and discusses anxiety, depression, suicide.**

If you are experiencing distress, please consider calling one of the following helplines:

  • US: +1 1-800-273-8255
  • UK: +44 (0) 8457 90 90 90

Hey readers. It’s been a while.

Since my last post, I’ve roadtripped from California to New York. I’ve climbed cinder cones, and made the sort of friends who are really family, who are cousins, who are with. I’ve walked the entire length of Central Park. I’ve had coffee and an amazing chat with the author who is the reason I got into writing in the first place. I’ve seen the reading room of the Library of Congress. I’ve stood barefoot in the wet grass of the yard behind the house I grew up in and watched fireflies and bats swing through the muggy July air. I’ve sat in the living room of the same house and had a take-out Chinese food with my mother and grandmother.

I packed up the space that had become home in Los Angeles, put it into boxes, put it into donation slots, put it into thrift shop stock and put the few dollars I was given back into my wallet to take with me, spending-cash funds to carry an ocean away.

I said goodbye. I hugged. I cried. I kissed.

I moved.

And now I am in Scotland, typing away at this blog post from a room overlooking a garden that Mary Lennox would have loved, with hills built of ancient myths and wild green rising in the distance. I’ve all but finished my first term of veterinary school. A week of revision, a week of exams to go.

Readers, this is it. This is what I’ve fought for.

This, just shy of three years ago, is what I decided was what I wanted to stick around for. Because once I got here, so much of the malformation of my life that had come from forgetting myself for so damn long would start to remedy. I’d had the years already of figuring that out. I knew who I wanted to be. I knew what I wanted to do with myself. And I knew that here, vet school, this was the tool I needed for it.

So I would get myself here.

And that would not be the end of things. That would not be happily ever after. That would not be the close of all my trials and tribulations. That would not finish my fight.

But it would change it.

End of volume one, start of volume two.

Today is world suicide prevention day, hence why I’ve temporarily crawled out of my study paper-plastered woodwork to write something. Because today, the idea behind it, is important.

Because today, there will be so many stories popping up across the internet of people who have fought and stayed and found some kind of lasting better, telling you that see, isn’t this worth it? Didn’t it get better? Isn’t it great, this victory?

But depression is a bastard creature, and I know that that is not always how it works.

Readers, I have fought. I figured out what I wanted, and I decided that I was going to stick around and goddamn get it. I’ve had marvelous adventures along the way. I’ve also had days that were utter shit. Days where my brain told me I am worthless, and I for all intents and purposes believed it. Days where I did nothing but cry. Days where I just did nothing, because that’s all of me there was for the time. In with the days of open road and laughing with friends and making grand, glorious plans were also days where I drowned in a sea of misfiring neurons, sad or numb or anxious and trembling like a leaf in a hurricane. Some days, the storm roared in my ears. Some days, I roared back. Some days, I was quiet.

But every day, I stayed. Every day, no matter how it felt, I kept moving forward. Because when depression sat me down and asked harder than it had in a while okay, kid, what’s it going to be, I mulled over my choices and decided that even if every moment of getting here hurt, I was going to keep fighting to get where I am now. I decided that I was not going to back down. I was not going to give up.

The goal was not necessarily to be happy. The goal was to be me, even in the face of a mental illness that would try its damned hardest to tear every bit of that concept apart.

I knew that if I could get into veterinary school, that would give me enough of an anchor, enough of a leverage point to make it the rest of the way. There is strategy to battle, after all.

I also knew that even though being here, in veterinary school, in Scotland, was effectively “winning,” the war isn’t actually over yet.

That’s not how depression works. At least, not for everyone. Not for me.

There are still sad hours and days. There are still moments of the world crashing like an earthquake in my ears. There are still times when an entire lifetime comes whispering like a dark cave in the back of my mind. But I’ve done my training. I know how to take the hits. I know how to compensate, how to work around, how to hold up the wounded bits while they seal up. I know how to last till the next time my brain agrees to a ceasefire.

But in the end, this is a war that I did not sign up to fight. This was forced conscription. And I know there are others, too. Others who will not last the time between ceasefires, on their own battlefields. Because they did not know how. Or because they did, but not want to.

They are the most difficult to talk about.

Because I will not say that they lost. Because I have been there for fights that lasted, and lasted, and lasted, that were fought with tooth and nail and every last inch of soul that could be mustered, but which, despite it all, did not improve. I have been there for the fights that have gone on, but have not gotten better.

Recovery, as it turns out, is not a meritocracy.

I made the decision that even if all I ever got was living with depression, at least I was still living. And that was going to be enough.

For some people, that is not enough.

 

And today, on world suicide prevention day, those are the people I am writing for. Because I can offer you nothing better than my anger that the world cannot yet guarantee that a decision to live is synonymous with life actually feeling worth it. Because it is not fair, that fighting the thing that hurts us does not always result in us hurting any less. Because I want to be able to tell you that staying means it will get better, but all I can tell you with certainty is that when it comes to sticking around and all this shit getting better, the word is could.

It is such a small word.

It can be powerful, though.

Dumb luck. Blind possibility. Stupid forces, but sometimes, so many times, they are what better is made out of.

Stochasticity is a shit deity. But it can also be a surprisingly useful one.

I want to be able to give you a definite answer. I want to be able to tell you, for sure, that yes, this will all change. That yes, if you stay, it will be worth it. That yes, you will stop hurting this way. That yes, it will get better.

It will get different. You might like the different. You might not.

But at the very least, there’s potential.

Which, even outside of depression, is all we humans really ever get. Even those not fighting this war aren’t guaranteed that they’re going to like the way things turn out at the end, or at any point in the meantime.

Potential. That is what there is. That is what we are. That is what, no matter what, will not change.

Potential means that sometimes the pendulum of probability pushes me so I am slumped against a closed bedroom door, crying angrily over a mind of spilt serotonin. Potential also means that sometimes I am sitting here, at my desk, looking out at the hills of Scotland, a place that a year ago I didn’t know I’d be. There’s a coffee shop down the road with good roasts and decent people. There’s a park behind my flat with dogs that run up and say hello. There are ducks and a flower-fenced pond beneath my window. There’s depression nestled between my neurons, but dreams live in the synapses, too.

Sometimes, I am happy. Sometimes can last a while, these days.

There is pain. There is potential. There’s tomorrow.

It’s enough.


Comment section closed.

 

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The Dust of When You Are Collapsing

24 Oct

Depression is a game that you can’t win because the rules aren’t ones that you get to make. Depression is a game full of false starts and trap doors and smoke screens you thought maybe, for once, were windows. Depression is a game that’s for lasting, not for winning.

Depression is good at gaining allies. Time, and wounds that refuse to scab over. Disappointments and anxiety and the eyes of strangers that glance at you the wrong way. Subverted friendships and cancelled plans and one too many sore mornings this week. People who make you want to crawl into a room with no doors. Places that make you wish for the smoke screens.

Depression fights with stabs and bruises and you are allowed your words for weapons. Thought, if you can tame it, and if not that then the ability to blink through one more round of twenty-four hours. Depression will allow you your dull knives and pointless arrows. These tools you once thought you had to fight with, rendered inefficacious because depression takes the shine off of everything. There’s no more sun. You’re just left sweating.

Sometimes there are people who make you want to get out of bed in the morning. Sometimes there are those intangible things called dreams that whisper through the fog and make you reach a little bit for a sky that’s got stars in it again. Sometimes there is art, and a swell somewhere deep within you that for once has nothing to do with hurricanes. Sometimes there are stories, and you can hear yourself whispering again. Sometimes there is silence and no crushing dark of the deep asphyxiating ocean on your chest along with it. Sometimes you can breathe enough to remember what movement felt like.

Cling to it all.

There is no secret passageway out of this collapsing building. There is only the possibility that maybe, in the rubble, there’s a hole.

So Give Us Something Better

14 Jul

The Singer - cropped

Slate journalist Amanda Hess released an article today entitled “Let Them Blog” discussing why “the panic over pro-anorexia websites and social media isn’t healthy.” Her article talks about the function behind the form, and how vilifying a very grey area of self-expression ultimately nets more harm than good. She does an excellent job analyzing the nuance that “pro-ana” has evolved into over the past decade or so, and I highly recommend reading the entire piece for yourself.

Especially since, as someone who struggled with anorexia for about a decade and had to fight pretty fucking hard for her current three years of solid recovery, I agree.

The panic over the proliferation of pro-ana and pro-mia sites isn’t healthy. Mass cultural freak-out over the existence of twelve-year-olds and seventeen-year-olds and twenty-four-year-olds launching a wordpress page or even entire forums to give vent to the mind-chewing of their internal delusional demons is some seriously misdirected fear. Terrified of these internet shrines to life with the disease? How about we shift that feeling to being terrified of the disease itself.

Shutting down these sites won’t shut down the eating disorder, after all. And these testaments to life as a slow death from fucked caloric addition only exist because generally, culturally, their hosts and their visitors in their search for relief have found nothing better.

Once upon a time, I was very, very eating disordered. And once upon a time, I visited these sites, too.

I was not the most religious of visitors, and it was a fairly long road that finally got me peeking at that corner of the internet. I’d known about pro-ana sites for years before I ever visited one. It was a marker, for me, of my decline into the disorder. I’d gone from restricting for reasons my brain had generated all on its own while I really had no clue what I was doing, or that I even was doing any sort of something, to eventually having the label for it all tossed at me – by my mother or a health professional or some after-school special, I don’t really remember – to embracing the label as yes, the proper term for the beast of internal mis-wiring that I was fighting.

Or riding. Depended on the year.

I was already an adult, in college, by the time I first visited a pro-ana site. I was slowly, quietly slipping back from the “surviving” end of the health spectrum towards the “dying at an alarmingly faster rate than usual” side of things. I’d been drowning in the disease long enough that I wasn’t out looking for all those “tips and tricks” of the trade. I’d gotten them down quite well by then, thank you very much. No, my brain was out looking not for self-carving fuel but for the ever-so-slight-sense of thickening that is validation.

A very strange, warped sort of validation, sure.

But the sentiment was at least more self-affirming than eating disorders usually allow for.

I was struggling. And I wanted to embrace that struggle. Confirm it, I guess. I couldn’t go throwing my dysfunction at my friends – worrying other people was not what I was out for – but I wanted something that would strike some resonance in me, instead of just hollowing out further my ever-growing emptiness.

So I wandered my way through the pro-ana selection. Clicked through a few narratives. Poured over stories of other people’s decline into our shared brand of madness. Read about other people’s fasts and weight loss and body-whittling and mind-mangling.

And at the end of it, having glutted myself with proof of the vast existence of the disease, I felt… better.

Did I want to lose weight? Yes. Did I want thinner thighs? Sharpened collar bones? Yes. Did I want to feel the slow cloak of a self-destructing existence tighten even more around my suffocating life? You betcha.

But surprise, surprise – it’s because I’d already felt that way before.

I felt the same way, before and after perusing those pro-ana sites. But afterwards, those feelings, they felt less imminent. Less pressing. Less I-need-to-do-something-about-them-right-now.

Because while I still felt all those terrible, terrible things, I also felt less alone. Less strange. Less crazy. Less like something that had gone horribly, horribly wrong and was now an abomination compared to the rest of humanity.

I had been shown, in thousands and thousands of Google search results, that I was not the only one who felt this way.

“This way” was a complicated thing, too. Eating disorders are very much like abusive partners – you love them, you hate them, they do things for you in one area of your life while cutting you off from so many others. And somewhere along the line of the nauseating emotional flip-flop, you convince yourself that you can’t tell anyone else about it.

There, in those pro-eating disorder corners of the internet, you tell people about it.

And these people, they understand. Because they’ve got that abusive partner, too. They understand that you can’t “just leave.” They understand the good and the bad of it. They understand the hook. They understand the fear. They understand how to leave you, this broken thing making horrible decisions, feeling slightly less like someone who’s already dead. Validation. Empathy. And eye contact that doesn’t hold judgment or fear or condescension in it, because to them you are not some strange, sick, alien thing. You are them.

I’ve seen quite a few treatment professionals in my time. Therapists. Psychiatrists. Dietitians. Without them, I’d probably be dead now. I needed them, these people on the outside, in order to break out of the secluded, inwardly-collapsing world of my disorder. I needed them to call me out on my shit. I needed them to help show me what “better” was.

But kind and diligent and sympathetic as most of them were, those with only a clinical understanding of what I was going through could never really reach me when I crawled into the darkest of my brain’s corners. They had never been there, themselves. They didn’t know. Their attempts to pry me out often boiled down to essentially trying to shame me out of my darkened corner. Shame and guilt, as it turns out, are less than the best of incentives to use when fighting a disease of shame and guilt.

And yet I know that even still, I was one of the lucky ones. I had to fight my insurance tooth and nail for it, but I at least got treatment, and at the appropriate level of care for most of the time. I managed to find the centers with staff that actually knew what they were doing. I had enough of a support network around me that I could manage the luxury of garnering a team to help me fight my battle.

Not everyone has that ability. Not everyone has those friends. Or that money. Or the insurance. Or the time. Or the community resources. And even then, treatment – whether it’s due to the center or the staff or the structure of the health care system – fails a lot of people.

And so there is the internet.

The internet will not tell you that you are not recovering fast enough, and so you can no longer be in treatment. The internet will not tell you that you are recovering too quickly, and so you can no longer be in treatment. The internet will not tell you that there is no money, so you cannot enter treatment. The internet will not tell you that there are no treatment providers in your area, and so you cannot get help. The internet will not tell you that it is your mother, or your father, and you should just suck it up and stop disappointing them. The internet will not tell you that your pain makes no sense. The internet will not tell you that your pain is too much for it to hear, so you should just suck it up and pretend like nothing is wrong. The internet will not tell you that it does not understand.

The internet will tell you that it does understand, all too well.

And while yes, pro-ana and pro-mia websites will drive some people further into their disorder, if the websites didn’t exist, those people would still have found fuel for their decline elsewhere. Eating disorders will get what they need. It’s the people underneath them that don’t.

If pro-ana and pro-mia websites, these hosts of people’s shared pain, are so damn popular, it’s because they are better than those people’s current alternatives.

That is what we should be panicking about.

Don’t want so many pro-eating disorder sites? Until there are enough other accessible, effective resources to help people deal with what’s eating them alive, they’re going to stick around.

So give us something better.

I Am In A Room

8 Feb

I Am In A Room

I sit in a room that is silent.

Yes, there are cringes and twinges of floorboards

and pipe songs and even the echo of someone upstairs,

but the cosmos is always ringing a little.

It is silent.

My mind makes its war in the room –

plastering memories along the molding of the floor

and hanging dead hopes from the high ceilings

and using the walls to buttress itself as it catapolts

its knives and leers and cocky little smiles,

knowing that I on the couch could have done better.

There is no noise in the room;

I am breaking.

The ground is a minefield.

I cannot move from this spot for fear I shall explode

one of its tricky little pitfalls,

and trip the explosion it’s loaded in my brain

with the fire of one toe placed wrongly.

It’s not a dance.

It’s not a limp.

I do not move.

I am silent.

I breathe.

The one defiance against death,

this slow, meaningless rise and fall

that is the only assertion that I still am

within this tired, still un-noise.

I make no sounds.

But I make change with the room.

A dollar-fifty oxygen,

a 23-year exhale.

Or something like that.

The math’s never really made sense

and I am too quiet to ask.

Maybe I am being shortchanged.

I really don’t know.

I am in a room.

And the room and I are silent.

The cosmos is ringing.

But this room has no door.

The Lie of ‘Better’

11 Dec

When you have a mental illness like depression, the first and most frequent condolence people will tell you is that “it gets better.” When you tell them that you are sad, sad not just one day, but sad for nearly every day the past month, they tell you it’ll get better. When you tell them that you have been down and clouded and crying for the past half a year, they tell you to just hang in there, thing a or thing b will change, feeling x or feeling y will be spirited away by a sparkling unicorn or the glittering hand of some god or other, that something, magically, will happen and it – you – will get better.

When you begin therapy, they tell you it gets better. When you talk about short term and suicide, they tell you about long term and how it’ll be better. When you begin seeing a psychiatrist and finally trying meds, they tell you it will finally, finally get better.

When years later you’re on your fifth therapist and third psychiatrist and you’ve run the gamut of SSRI and SNRI and second-gen psych meds and third-gen atypicals and still you find yourself crying on your couch every weekend, they will all, again, tell you that it will get better.

When you graduate and have job interviews and jobs acceptances and 401k’s and lovers and partners and spouses and kids and apartments and houses and nursing homes, and you say that you are still itching for that off button, they tell you keep hold of your life-allotted joystick to maneuver yourself through life-allotted hoops because this life-allotted endless game, it will get better.

But what they don’t understand, where the syntax error lies, is that while sure, support and friends and love and loving and comfort and direction, they can make it all externally better, making it better… that’s not making it okay.

I don’t want it all to be better.

I want it to be okay.

Thanksgiving with Eating Disorders

27 Nov

‘Round these American parts, it’s Thanksgiving. You know, that holiday where we ignore the actual history and consequences of the original “day” and whittle the whole event down to talking about what we’re thankful for and increasing our dish washing activity by at least an order of magnitude because of all the food we’ve made ourselves cook. Today, some of you are sitting around, munching on whatever it is you’ve got on your table, and basking in the glow of a nice communal meal.

Some of you, on the other hand, are sitting at perhaps this same table, staring at the food on it, terrified.

Because life with an eating disorder is complicated enough without throwing in this weird social expectation-filled eating ritual.

I spent a lot of Thanksgivings this way. I’ve rollercoastered my way from textbook anorexic to anorexic with heavy side serving of orthorexia to who the fuck knows to bulimia to some kind of weird mutant bulimia-anorexia mashup. That’s a lot of years in there, people. A lot of Thanksgivings.

Personally, what I am grateful for on this day is having a second year under my belt where at Thanksgiving I can come to the table considering myself “in recovery.” I’ve had a shit ton of therapy and a shit ton of support and a shit ton of relapsing to finally get me to this point. But that’s not what I want to write about, here. No, I want to write about the harder years. Because of some of you, my dear, dear readers, may be in those years, right now.

Eating disorders are often all about rules. For a long time, I had a mental list of “safe foods” and “bad foods.” I’d pick at the Thanksgiving spread searching desperately for something to fit my safe rules, all the while trying not to be too obvious about it, because who wants your mother, or god forbid Great Aunt Marge suddenly calling you out on your habits and making you feel embarrassed and anxious and trapped. As an anorexic, my goal was to make myself small, in every aspect. That meant small in terms of vocalizing. I did not have the capacity to stand up for myself. At those times, I wish I would’ve had someone to call out Great Aunt Marge. To have stepped up for me. Not in a way that would defend my eating disorder – just in a way that would take the focus off of me. So – hey, if you’ve got an ally in whatever group of people you’re spending tonight with, ask them for help. And if you can’t do that – know that somewhere out there, there is someone who would give you sympathy. Not support for your rules, but understanding that, well, you are following them right now. And regardless, you deserve to feel like a human being, not a specimen for gawking at.

And then there’s the other end of the behavioral spectrum… I can remember multiple holidays of eating “normally,” just like everybody else, perhaps even more than everybody else, because I could avoid notice that way, and then I could just go purge it all later. A removable cloaking device, in a way. But… there was no less shame, no less guilt. And it was all still about power. Except I wasn’t the one with power. Like, here I am, causing my body to do something through unnatural means because some fucking brain parasite is telling me I have to in order for it to let me feel okay? Never mind that the more I do that, the closer my esophagus gets to rupturing, and the more fucked up my electrolytes get, tilting me further and further towards the eventuality of a heart attack. Not that I didn’t know all that while I was purging. I knew it, and did it anyway. And every time, I thought that if only I just hadn’t gone the binge/purge route. If only I’d given myself this chance, today. If only I hadn’t gotten upset because of Relative A, or felt overwhelmed because of Comment B, or decided that if I felt slightly over-full, might as well say fuck it and go the whole nine yards, to make the punishment I would inflict on myself later that much worse.

Eating disorder decisions were not good decisions.

They were only one more signature on one more contract moving my eventual self-execution, whether that was through starvation or heart attack or something else, just a bit closer.

Guys, that’s not being powerful. That’s being puppeteered.

But you’re going to do what you’re going to do. It is not my place or my job to convince you otherwise. I write this merely to say that I understand. I understand how much it sucks. And that I hope today, to stave off just a bit of that suckiness, you can take control of those puppet strings and say brain monster be damned, relatives be damned, I will just fucking do what I need to do to keep myself truly safe, truly healthy today. You don’t have to go forward or anything. You don’t have to put down your foot and say “today I will recover.” That’s not what I’m suggesting. I am suggesting that today, even if you do not do recovery, just… do no harm. Survive. Please.

Yeah, I’m a random stranger on the internet. But you are fighting the thing that I fought. And because of that, I care about reducing the lashes you take from the whip I too faced. Camaraderie, of sorts.

Be cool to see you on the other side of this sickness/recovery battle, too.

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?