Tag Archives: mental illness

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.

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.

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.

 

My Depression’s Become a Splintered Beam

9 Jan

Depression is no longer an atmosphere now for me. It is not a fog, not the ether through which every day plods, not the pervasive perpetual drowning that it was for months of my life. No, now depression is an interruption. An undercut. A startling collapse of the stage I thought I had so solidly built for myself to stand on. I’ll be walking through my day, seeing clear and breathing free the sparkling clarity of the air around me, when suddenly, I will sit down and some beam, some ballast will splinter and snap within me.

It happens without warning. It happens when I am unawares. And most often, it happens when I am alone.

Lots of the time, I think, at least, it happens just when I have decided to work. I have sat down at the keyboard, or opened a textbook at my desk, picked up a pencil and notepad to work on, and suddenly, my inner fortitude will implode.

Perhaps it is because it is at these times that I am most silent, most still, waiting and vulnerable. The mists of uncertainty can rise up from my soul and condense within me, until they form a painful, solid lump of memory that whacks at the legs I have balanced my new platform upon.

It’s in the solitary quiet that I am most a victim of myself.

That time when depression was the daily weather forecast, unchanged from when some meteoric prediction was made ages ago and left frozen on the screen, I think I set myself up for this. Unwittingly and without choice, sure.

I would come home from school, where I’d spent eight hours that day battling just to stay at the surface of my brain, but more often descending into the suck of its derisive, murderous quicksand. But on the outside, at least, even as I sunk deeper and deeper into the much within, I managed an appearance at least of neutrality.

Oh look, there’s our future valedictorian. Isn’t she pretty. So attentive to the teacher, so ponderous in her work.

People think our eyes are windows but they are merely cracks in a wall, and you cannot see through skin.

So, I would arrive home, flee up the stairs and behind my bedroom door, leaving it locked behind me, of course. And there, where I shed the weight of my backpack and nothing else from my shoulders, I let those walls shatter around me.

And I would cry.

I would cry for hours. Sometimes, I’d try to stuff the pressure of undrowned sorrows back, get to work right away, but that always proved a futile move. It was short and decisive, the tap it took for my mind to break the glass of my eyes, the non-windows.

But I was to be the future valedictorian, attentive to the teacher, ponderous in her work. The idea of returning to school with anything unfinished was anathema. And so the struggle would begin, the tug of war between my tear ducts and my pencil lead, two halves of my mind jeering as they pushed and shoved for control. The brain is a tyrant, and I was under its most merciless control.

School work, whether it was a chemistry set or page of physics problems or couple of chapters of biology reading, became a sharply painful task to face. Because there, with my mind fresh and sweating from its mental acrobatics, I was most prone to cramps from its internal infection.

The voice that says you should die is not a kind one, and it doesn’t give much of a shit about whether you need it to be quiet so you can focus on your calculus homework.

I learned to anticipate a lot of frustration whenever I’d attempt to work, that year.

And while I have slain so much of that monster that grew within me and called its name myself, there are still corners of rebellion in the recesses of my body that never quite gave over harboring that dark hulk of gnawing, piercing tooth and fatally sharp eye. And sometimes, the progeny or memory or still-unrejected parts of that monster rear up in me.

It’s usually when I’m alone. It’s usually when I’m not expecting. It’s usually when I’m trying to do work.

And so I do that thing that so many refer to as “dicking around on the computer.” I flit from sight to sight, trying to find some input that will reset my emotions and allow me to awake once more, refreshed and able to get down to business without the ghosts of old nightmares swimming before my brain and crowding, clouding my vision. I shove down the tearful thunder storms that seemed to appear out of nowhere, knowing that I have stared at my skies for hours on end, hashed and rehashed all of my weather systems, done my duty and attended to the cloud formations that have swept across my soul.

I distract myself. Usually with the internet. Browsing may be a solo activity, but the pages and posts, they whisper of other existences and remind me that there are other humans, others out there. And then I don’t feel so alone.

Some call it procrastination. I call it survival.

Nil

10 Oct

Hello, lovely readers. For some reason only beknownst to it, my depression has gotten rather uppity over the past few days. But rather than continuing to sit here in a grumbling match with my depression, I decided to pull out my keyboard and describe it instead. Spectres usually aren’t so hard to deal with once you’ve managed to pin them down.

So now I’ve got a poem to share with you all! Aren’t you lucky. But don’t any of you dare go thinking, “Man, more writing, this is great! If only she were depressed more often!”

Seriously. I will excommunicate you.

 

grey

Nil

Depression is the tired feeling of waking up too early on a grey morning,

cloudy and alone.

Depression is the too busy, too rushed, too late sprint to the next have-to

with the no-consolation of a half-peck on the lips from a lover while you don’t even stop

on your way out the door.

Depression is the uneven kilter of a storm-ridden brain when it’s sunny outside,

and you continue to stare at the light coming through your window even while you shrink from it,

because the bewildered confusion in your eyes is too rapt to look away.

Sometimes depression is pain. Sometimes depression is numbness.

But sometimes depression is none of these things;

it is not pain or numbness or fear or hardness or solitude or sadness.

Sometimes depression is nothing.

An odd non-existence to the mold of organic matter,

an emptiness where there once was something,

a void of anything at all that would indicate you are still alive.

A hollow deadness, too much of an absence to be either blank or black.

A hole into which everything is falling,

but in which there is nothing at all to be seen.