Follow up (what it actually was)

In the last post I talk about what I would say to someone who doesn’t know what to say to a depressed person. It was what I wanted to say to my boyfriend, but was too afraid to say out loud.

I had a difficult talk with him (finally, after dragging my feet) about how some of the things that he said to me having depression were hurting me. I didn’t feel supported. I felt disconnected. I felt like he could never understand. I knew exactly what I needed to say to him, and I thought I knew what he would say back. But I was so wrong about that.

I was missing the main piece. I was missing that it wasn’t the truth, what he actually thought. It couldn’t have been further from the truth.

He said he only compared what I’m going through with what he went through because he couldn’t understand and he was trying to empathize- not that he was trying to belittle how little I did throughout the day. What he was feeling was frustration, not disappointment, embarrassment, or any of the things I felt about myself. He said that he believed what I am going through, all the roller coaster of feelings, were real and I wasn’t just making it up. It was all in my head.

I don’t know why it was so hard to ask him these things. I was so scared what I thought were “real” were actually going to be real. I was scared that he would leave if I brought it up. I was scared of sounding stupid. I even had a panic attack afterwards.

I’m starting to figure out some of my triggers. I get triggered by anything that is overwhelming (goals, task lists that seem insurmountable). I also get triggered by people reacting negatively (even if it wasn’t my fault) because I take it personally and think it’s my own fault. I’m not sure why, but that’s just how I am right now.



To the one I love…

When you, (you: healthy person without depression) compare my inability to get out of bed and do the few tasks I’ve written on my to do list for the day to you forcing yourself to do the dishes you don’t want to do at the end of a long day, I feel judged. It’s not like I want to stay in bed feel paralyzed because moving any of my limbs is somehow scary and those limbs feel like they are made of lead too heavy for me to lift… I don’t want to feel this way. And I hate that I am this way. “Just do it” mantra just doesn’t cut it. Because when I wasn’t sick, waking up was something I could do quite swiftly, without an alarm at 5:30 am. I’m not being lazy, I’m trying my best, but trying my best doesn’t mean I can actually accomplish that sometimes. I’m trying everything to get better. And I would be better if I could will myself to be, but it’s not how it works, apparently. If I had cancer, and I was doing chemotherapy and losing handfuls of hair, maybe you would have more sympathy for me, and be more understanding of my reason for taking off work. Believe me that this is a disease I’m fighting. I don’t choose to not have an appetite, or be up at night if I don’t take my sleeping pills, or cry at the smallest stupidest comments. I’m just fragile right now, and those are just the symptoms of depression.

Trust me, sometimes I feel like a phony too, when once in a blue moon I can do things easily, like wake up early and put my running shoes on and do my run. I feel so normal, like I’m myself again. But then I realize afterwards I’m physically and mentally done for the day, I realize that my capacity for doing things is not at the normal level. Those days when things feel normal, I make the mistake of overdoing it, then I go back to the cycle of crying uncontrollably over things I’m not sure about and feelings that come out of nowhere.

I need all the help I can get right now. I’m not trying to hoard attention here, or trying to prove that I’m special in someway. I agree that I am privileged enough to take some time off work until I feel better. But if I could continue to work, I would. If I could cook and feed myself, I would and my mother would not even be here. But rather than jumping back to work ASAP at the first sign of getting better, I’m taking this time for myself so that I can get to the root of my depression when I’m still young, so that the doesn’t reoccur in the future. A future that you might be a part of. I think I know what’s best for me, and I’m not sure why taking this time is such a crime.

Sometimes when you tell me that you don’t know what to say, I don’t know what to say to you either, because I don’t know how you feel. So I can’t make you feel better if you are feeling sad, disappointed, angry, frustrated, betrayed, tired, overwhelmed, crestfallen, or whatever else you might be feeling when we talk about where I am at the moment. We keep having the same discussion over and over again with the same conclusions. I bring it up, you sound confused and angry, we start raising our voices, then both of us are left feeling restless, unsupported and misunderstood. Afterwards, I feel like I have no right to feel what I’m feeling. I feel like you think I’m not trying hard enough– enough as you at life. I feel like I’m not enough. I feel upset that my existence is making you upset. I feel like I can’t confide in you.

All I’m asking from you is acceptance: acceptance for how I’m feeling right now and how I am the way I am- for whatever reason- is simply OK.

You know what, I don’t care if you think I’m lazy or not trying. I think I’m a strong person and that’s all it matters anyway.

Noch Noch does a wonderful job of listing the things one should avoid saying to a depressed person here.

Do whatever you want

I got up early today- earliest without an alarm since I started showing depressive symptoms, which is progress! I was able to go for a run at a reasonable time, and it freed up the rest of the day. The insomnia is getting a lot better since I started taking sleep aid. Even though I’m waking up many times during the night, I am able to fall back asleep a few minutes after. Caffeine is out of the question, after what happened yesterday, and I have a sneaking suspicion that alcohol augments the depressive symptoms, since that was what it used to do before this year, I’m sticking to non-caffeinated tea and juice as my beverage choices going forward.

Restrictions are fine, rules are fine I can deal with all that, but I have a lot of issues with freedom. After living a life full of shoulds, I’ve forgotten how to live in a totally carefree way, doing whatever the f*ck I want. I don’t even know what I want anymore. I can’t remember what used to make me happy and what makes me happy now.

In other words, I have no idea how to live honestly (as myself with no filter or disguise), and authentically. And I have so much envy and respect for people who can live like that. I’ve silenced my desires for so long that it won’t let out a sound because I’ve scared it too many times now.

I can think of all the reasons why I could be this way. But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what those reasons are, I just don’t want to feel like I’m in complete paralysis from life because of my fear of doing something I love doing, whatever it may be.


What to do during panic attacks

It’s been a constant uphill battle with my anxiety lately. In the last few days, it’s happened enough times that I see it coming, like a wave caused by a tsunami, approaching the shore faster than you can run. But you can’t run, and you’re caught dead in your tracks and the wave of anxiety engulfs you until you drown.

This morning was pleasant, and I was even able to go for a run without feeling too fatigued. Afterwards, I was sitting at Starbucks trying to do some work then I accidentally had tea with too much caffeine. Thus began my caffeine induced panic attack. Alarm bells were going off in my head, I felt tense, my heart rate sped up and my hands got sweaty all of a sudden. I got scared like someone was going to attack me. I was unable to move or respond to my mother who was asking me a question.

There is a technique that I’ve learned when I was hospitalized that helps with getting out of this “panic mode” called grounding. What it basically is, is describing the external surroundings around you in detail, which tells your brain that you are in a safe place. For example, you would list that, there are white painted walls with 3 paintings on each wall, the carpet is beige and fluffy, there is a desk with three pens in the pencil holder… and so on and so forth. This coupled with deep breathing helped to alleviate the panic for me.

Eventually I got out of that state and was able to breathe normally and not completely break down. It’s so scary to live every day knowing that these things could happen most unexpectedly. I still don’t know what is causing this build up of anxiety.

Perfectly useless circular arguments

The last two days were quite peaceful, but I’m at another low again. I just aimlessly walked around my part of the city because I would have felt sadder if I stayed home.

Last night I was at a party for a friend who was turning 28 and moving to Germany. I met up with some people from our mutual friend group (from where he and I used to work) and some of his friends from rock climbing and some from his new company, which he was now leaving behind to pursue a new job without knowing any German. My boyfriend and I supposed it was his quarter life crisis.

Outings like these are a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because I get to pretend like I’m a normal human for at least a little bit, but at the same time, I notice the stark contrast between fully functional humans who have jobs and normal worries about career advancement v. myself. I also get the pleasure of getting asked the question, “so what do you do?”

I say that I’m taking a break. And the follow up question is, “what are you going to do next?” Then I’ll say I’m going back to school. And I feed them a glamorous outlook on my life that I’m imagining at the time. They don’t actually care that I’m doing something about it or not, or what the hell it is, I know that. They’re mostly drunk and making conversation to connect with someone else on things that you both have in common. But I do- it shouldn’t bother me, but it does- I care that I’m putting life on hold because I’m too depressed to do anything of value, towards my career, even if I wanted to. But it’s a party, so I try to smile and nod and sound normal.

The friend the party was for, came to talk to me and our mutual friends. I found out for the first time that he was also dealing with depression and anxiety, and seeing a therapist. He said he was taking Zoloft and Mirtazipine. I was quite surprised because we never talked about it before. Quite a lot of people around me had mental illnesses, I came to realize then.

The next morning, for whatever reason, I thought that maybe it was a good time to bring up what I’m going through in therapy with my boyfriend, about discovering OCPD, and how I’m doing. In retrospect it may have been dumb, because I know discussions like these always end up making me upset, and him silent, because he doesn’t know what he should say, and doesn’t want to upset me further. It becomes a very tense, one sided conversation with me lecturing him how he’s getting it wrong and it’s not actually my fault. Then I feel bad that I end up doing that again and there is more apologizing on my end for bringing it up. I was trying to explain to him OCPD and how I feel, but to him, perfectionism boiled down to someone “hating themselves because they hate themselves for being imperfect.”

Maybe I’m expecting too much from someone who has no experience with mental illnesses to understand how I feel, and I know that his intentions are noble, and not malicious. But I feel alienated from him when I try to explain anything that I’m going through that he can’t experience. It’s not just him, and it’s also my mom- she gets frustrated with me when I get sad for “no reason” and I can’t get out of bed and tells me to see it from her perspective and think how hard it must be for her too. If I could turn off being sad, I would. Really.

I tried not to make this a ramble/ vent about the people who are most dear to me, but it’s just another post about how lonely and frustrating I feel sometimes even with the support I have. I’m so tired of everything.

Daily insomnia post, number one

Until around 9 pm, when I was starting to get ready for bed, I had somewhat of a great day. For the first time in months, I made breakfast (pancakes), then did some Coursera homework at Starbucks, went home and made lunch for myself then did some puzzles. As the day went on I felt more guilt for not doing more Cousera work as much as I planned, and “wasting” time doing something that wasn’t productive (in my mind.) Then an unbearable sadness hit me like a ton of bricks. There was no particular reason why I was feeling so upset. I didn’t know why I was crying. The sadness felt very empty- I wasn’t holding onto a sad memory, or having thoughts of suicide, or feeling particular unworthy- it was just pure, unadulterated sadness that overtook my emotions. My boyfriend called at the most unfortunate time, when I was unaware that this was another depressive episode, and I was just as confused as he was when he heard me crying on the phone. I said something about finding out about OCPD, how guilty I felt for wasting time and a bunch of other things that made no coherent sense for how I was feeling. He somehow pushed the conversation to something more normal, thank god, asking about my day, which I was able to muster up the response for. I asked back how his day was, and things felt slightly better. After our phone call ended, the episode continued, and I continued to cry. I tore apart my completed 500 puzzle set of ice cream cones (which took me hours to complete) and I felt the sadness lift just a little bit. My mother sat next to me holding my hand, telling me about her time in college, and about her friends back in the day- wondering out loud where they ended up- until I fell asleep.

Now I’m up again at 2:15 am. Which isn’t all that unusual. I have been routinely getting up around this time every day since January since I returned from a family vacation in Korea. First I mistook it for jetlag, but after two weeks, I knew for sure that it wasn’t just jetlag. I miss being able to sleep all the way through the night without sleep aid. The doctor prescribed Trazodone, but after reading how additive it could be online, and how groggy I felt the next morning at the hospital when they gave me the pill for sleep the first time, I chose the other recommended option: Valerian root herbal pills or Benedryl. Neither work that well, because I still toss and turn in bed, but it works for staying asleep for the most part. I’m starting to think it’s time to turn to Trazodone.

Reasons why and OCPD

Obsessive–compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) is a personality disorder characterized by a general pattern of concern with orderliness, perfectionism, excessive attention to details, mental and interpersonal control, and a need for control over one’s environment, at the expense of flexibility, openness to experience, and efficiency. Workaholism and miserliness are also seen often in those with this personality disorder.[2] Rituals are performed to the point of excluding leisure activities and friendships. Persons affected with this disorder may find it hard to relax, always feeling that time is running out for their activities, and that more effort is needed to achieve their goals. They may plan their activities down to the minute—a manifestation of the compulsive tendency to keep control over their environment and to dislike unpredictable things as things they cannot control.[2]

-Wikipedia page, Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder

Know thy self. Know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.

-Sun Tzu

If you can name it, you can fix it. I did a little bit more digging (with the help of my therapist) into my inner demons of every day life to understand the root of my anxieties. I talked about my need to organize my time into blocks of time- scheduled to the last minute, to feel totally comfortable and in control. Laundry at 7 am- 8:40 am, folding laundry, 8:40 am to 9:10am, go for a run, 9:20- 9:50am, shower, 9:50 am – 10:10 am, brunch 10:10 am- 10:40am… and so and so forth. Everything is great and I’m happy with myself when it goes according to plan, but when one of the plans collapse, that’s when the panic sets in. My day is ruined, like one domino of a plan falling on top of another, my anxiety takes over. I think to myself, another failed day- what a bad person I am. When I was still working, if I missed a workout at 5:30am, I felt crushed for the rest of the day. If I didn’t get to work at the usual 7 – 7:30am slot, something inside my head berated me. My perfectionism also affected my work. The nature of the work wasn’t very clear cut, and I struggled with unclear directions because I thought I was going to do it incorrectly. Also, after the task was completed, I checked it double and triple checked because I was nervous that I had overlooked something. I took much longer than others to complete a task because of this reason. When I fell behind on work, I worked nights and weekends to make up for what I felt I missed. I decreased the amount of leisure activities to almost none. I quit yoga and running, which were the only times I could relax. One symptom after another, OCPS was spot on for how I operated. And I was glad I had a name for the affliction because it became an entity I could finally grapple with.

My anxieties and obsessions are my default- so natural that I sometimes don’t notice that I am, in fact, anxious. When I feel calm, I feel anxious because something is missing – that’s not how I’m “supposed” to feel. There has to be something wrong with me, or something I have to fix, to perfect. My nickname in middle school, started by my English teacher, was “Miss. Perfect.” When I was complimented on my artwork by my peers, instead of a thank you, I said, “but I made a mistake when I was drawing the nose.” or something that I felt like was making the whole thing imperfect. It’s like anorexia, but instead of obsessing over how your body looks, it’s obsessing over the tasks you’ve done, and products that you’ve created. I don’t know why I do this, and it’s certainly not an easy way to live. But the anxiety becomes so overwhelming, it takes out all the joy out of activities you are supposed to enjoy. I used to play the violin, and create art. But over the years, the pursuit of becoming technically perfect and making something out of myself through the pursuits, I became anxious and depressed over making music or art. Now, I can’t get myself to play the violin, draw, paint or sculpt because I’m afraid that it won’t be perfect. That it won’t be as good as it was when I used to do it more often. Which is sad. When I picked the crocheting for the first time, the first few moments of doing something was fun, but then I got ambitious, and the anxiety again took place of enjoyment.

I feel at most ease with something to do, and relaxing is usually takes a lot of work. It is also the reason why it’s hard for me to be happy and feel content in the present. Running was fun for me because I was getting close to the goal of running a marathon one day. It had a purpose. My days are filled with sky high goals that I must achieve at specific times, for a specific duration, one after another. This has been the case since I was in elementary school when I had school and 5 different tutors back to back after school (which not uncommon where I was in Korea, where kids are brought up to be very competitive from a very young age.) So I have to be preoccupied with something at all times, but ironically, it is very hard to start to do something for the fear of not doing it perfectly. My mom also saw these symptoms since when I was a child. I would sit at my desk to do homework, but instead, I was worrying and not actually getting started on what I had to do because I was thinking of how to start something.

A disorder doesn’t become a disorder until it starts negatively impacting your every day life. It’s a spectrum disease, and one can mildly have some of the symptoms, but does not  necessary mean one’s behavior “earns” the label. Everyone feels a little bit obsessive over a project they’re into, or feel anxious because something they’ve worked on is not complete, or isn’t up to their standards. For me, I somehow coped with various self-helps books over the years to overcome the social anxiety aspect of OCPD, but I hit a wall when it came to work. The OCPD brought on more anxiety I could handle and it all came collapsing like an avalanche in the form of severe depression.

One of the nurse/therapists I worked with at the hospital gave me a nugget of wisdom when it came to dealing with addictions and disorders. You have to dig until you it the very core, the pit of the problem, then you can start working on your problem. I’m not sure if I’m there yet, but I think I’m close.