Smaller house

You know when you downsize to a new house that is a little sketchy because of your finances, and you have too much furniture, or if they look too big for the new place? Everything is cramped, there is not enough closet space for all your clothes, and your cat (or dog) cannot stand how little room they have to play? You keep running into each other in the halls because the place is overflowing with your stuff, and complain about the tiny size of the backyard. The neighbors are weird. When it rains it leaks, and the dishwasher breaks often.

Moving into a smaller house is like getting diagnosed with [fill in the blank with your illness here]. For me it’s my bipolar diagnosis.

Think of all the stuff (furniture, clothes, knickknacks etc.) in the house as all your hopes, dreams, identity and whatever else that made you you in the past. The house is your body- the body lets you do everything- achieve goals, chase after dreams, and fulfill responsibilities. But when you change houses against your wishes, you are stuck with all the stuff. The stuff that doesn’t fit. The stuff doesn’t fit with what you are capable of.

You can choose to not accept that you are living in a smaller house and keep all your furniture and your clothes. You’re still going to have to face the ugly mountains of stuff every morning, and run into each other in the halls because of too much stuff. Life will be miserable.

Another option is to accept that you are living in a smaller space, and get rid of some non-essentials. You have to donate some old books, throw out old clothes, and maybe get rid of that extra chair that gets in the way that you never really bonded with. Bring cookies to your weird neighbors, after all, we’re all a little strange anyway. This life is slightly more tolerable.

You didn’t have a lot of choice because of financial constraints, and if you could, you would chose not to live in the house, but here you are. When you accept, you can be happ(ier) in the new house.

Bipolar disorder is a chronic illness- I live in this small house now and probably will for the rest of my life (unless there are miraculous medical advances, which would be nice). So I’ve thrown out some things I don’t need so that I can live in my new house without getting frustrated: some grandiose dreams, goals, responsibilities that I had when I was healthier. The things that made me who I was- and there is no denying it, those things, like my career, how much I worked, and where I wanted to get to, defined me. I could have achieved all that with my healthy body/mental state. But this is the body that I have now and I choose to be happy rather than keep all my stuff from before.

 

 

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Transitioning to being a real person

I’m going to preface this one: I wanted to write about my observations on something I’m working on that is a important part of my recovery, which is not isolating from the world. It’s not meant to sound whiny or ungrateful.

One of the hardest things about leaving intensive therapy (multiple days a week) is talking/acting like you’re one of “them.” The normal ones. Let me explain. When you’re in group therapy for days, you’re in a space where you can be vulnerable about your situation with others (and encouraged to be), and feel validated. You can be your “crazy self” and no one will look at you like you have three eyes. It’s kind of the same thing with close friends and family members you trust- you can be your true self. When you’re “out there” in the real world- where people with mental illnesses are looked down upon, and shunned (I’m talking about you, soul sucking corporate America)- you almost need a new identity. You cover it up with blanket statements like, “I was on medical leave,” and “I’m recovering from something,” “I’m transitioning out of my current career” and so on. You also have to have certain things prepared, like when someone asks for more information (rude!), such as, “why were you on medical leave?” People don’t understand, it’s true. And your illness is your illness, and none of their business. To that you could respond with, “why do you want to know? Are you a doctor? Are you going to give me a discount?” Throw it back to them. In a joking voice, hopefully, or it could get awkward.

Being part of intensive group therapy also kind of makes you a little preoccupied with yourself. (Or at least it does for me.) That’s only natural because you’re working on yourself- you’re learning new skills; and even before learning new skills, you need to know where you took the wrong turn. You need to know who you truly are. You need to know the root of the trauma. You have to ask why. This process takes a lot of one’s time and head space. You’re at times so inwardly focused that you forget what Trump is doing. You forget people’s birthdays. You’re so used to talking about your latest breakdown, trauma, or what-have-you that you forget what it’s like to engage with people who are not in therapy all the time. I don’t actually want to talk about therapy and all my problems with “the others” like I do in group. Though, once you hide that piece of you that is so vital during this time, there’s very little left you can talk about. It’s like you need to be preparing for two different presentations of yourself, the “clean” version and the “real” version of you.


With that, here is a “clean” version of my life right now.

I’m working at a used bookstore for a few hours a week as one of my many volunteering projects, and today was my first day there. It was a book nerd’s dream job, and I loved it so much, I did it for another hour. The tasks are usually pretty straightforward, and today I just sorted and shelved the books. This meant I was to be around books and could let my perfectionism with organizing let loose a little bit.

It’s interesting how donated used book stores work. My theory was that the more popular the book is, there is a greater chance more copies of it will be donated, so there will be the same proportion of popular books to obscure books as like a Barnes and Noble as in the used bookstores- thus the used bookstores don’t have to come up with how much of a certain book to shelf. But if more popular books are read by the population, they already have been read, so they don’t get sold in a second hand book shop which would crowd the shelves. Therefore, you don’t want to donate your Twilight saga or Of Mice and Men to your used bookstore. I will have better information about this as I gather more data.

 

Thought pollution

There is a lot of unnecessary garbage in my head. The random trains of thought. Thoughts, as thoughts go, are unrelenting and have a mind of its own at times. Not all are productive, healthy, and most importantly, effective thoughts that actually help me towards my goals. I struggle with negative self talk, and have for years. I think a lot of my energy is spent thwarting that voice which whispers "you're not meant to do this," "you're not smart enough," "you're not educated enough," "you're not creative enough," when I really want is to start that project, apply for grad school, brainstorm careers, my mind comes in and our eyes meet and the fight begins. The internal fight begins before I can even get to my task. Before I can start digging to plant the seeds. My limbs get leaden and I'm paralyzed. I know that feeling too well. Sometimes I'm the victor, other times, not so much.
I'm trying to find ways to not spend so much time fighting myself but rather to be productive and helpful. I'm volunteering a lot, and still doing a lot of therapy to change my brain circuitry to be more self compassionate.

5 am. 30 get to know me questions.

So I’m up again due to chronic insomnia and thought I’d post something fun. I got this off of googling, from this source, just fyi. I thought it was fitting since I’ve been talking about identity and newly found identities recently.

  1. Are you named after anyone?: The character in the Jungle Book (the play version)- named Amy. Not my birth name, but that’s what everyone calls me
  2. When was the last time you cried?: June something? I’m not sure, but probably right before I switched to my new meds. I’m not a crier, but with depressive episodes I tend to get really weepy about everything.
  3. Do you have kids?: No, but I have a cat named Olivia whom I consider to be my adopted daughter.
  4. If you were another person, would you be a friend of yourself?: I feel like this is secretly getting at self-compassion and self-love. I’d say depending on who I(the other person) am. No one is friends with everyone. You need to have things in common to be friends… But having said that, probably. I’m a pretty tolerable human being.
  5. Do you use sarcasm a lot?: Moderately. Trying to cut back.
  6. What’s the first thing you notice about people?: Their shoes! I think shoes tell you a lot about your personality, values and sense of style. Personally, I love shoes that look like men’s dress shoes. I like them to be pointy, and narrow at the front. I mostly wear Doc Martens, even though I don’t consider myself to be punk. They’re just really good quality with pretty wicked designs.
  7. What is your eye color?: Dark brown.
  8. Scary movie or happy endings?: scary movies- the zombie kind.
  9. Favorite smells? grapefruit, vanilla (but not together)
  10. What’s the furthest you’ve ever been from home?: Hmm, home is a difficult concept to define for me… Most of my family lives in Asia, but I’ve live in six different cities in North America and spent some time in Europe, I have a lot of “homes.” In the traditional sense (where I was born), NYC has been the furthest.
  11. Do you have any special talents?: Numbing my emotions until I can’t feel anything…? Just kidding. I can draw animals pretty well.
  12. Where were you born?: Korea
  13. What are your hobbies?: Drawing, reading, playing with animals (usually with my cat or someone else’s dog), looking at weird plants/gardening, crocheting
  14. Do you have any pets?: So glad this was asked. I have a domestic shorthair cat. She is bi-colored with gray patches on white fur. She’s a very calm cat and is well behaved. She likes to sit on my lap, get brushed, sitting on rectangular things, and gnawing old books. She’s very cute.
  15. Do you have any siblings?: not that I know of!
  16. What do you want to be when you grow up?: a self respecting adult.
  17. Who was your first best friend?: my oldest best friend is my mom.
  18. How tall are you?:I’m pretty short.
  19. Funniest moment throughout School?: phew, not too much… I think I had a mood disorder back then,
  20. How many countries have you visited?: 6
  21. What was your favorite/worst subject in High School?: Favorite was AP literature. Worst was pre-calculus because I skipped a few levels of math before taking it. But here I am, graduated with a math degree, life is funny that way.
  22. What is your Favorite drink? Animal? Perfume?: I don’t do alcohol or caffeine because of health reasons, but I like my chamomile tea before bedtime. I love all animals, but I really like cats. I wear Chanel.
  23. What would you (or have you) name your children?: I think I’m just going to have dogs and more cats in my future, but I would name them Vera and Eloise. No boy names come to mind.
  24. What Sports do you play/Have you played?: I ran in the past. I’ve also done yoga and crossfit. I did rowing (in college as a coxswain, and as a rower in high school.) Otherwise I’m not coordinated at all.
  25. Who are some of your favorite YouTubers?: Charlie is so cool like, Chelsea from Buzzfeed. I don’t watch too many specific people, mostly just funny/cute animal videos.
  26. How many Girlfriends/Boyfriends have you had?: I think 5?
  27. Favorite memory from childhood?: Hiking on the weekends with my dad (when he wasn’t busy with work)
  28. How would you describe your fashion sense?: minimalist , vintage, comfy/lazy. I throw on whatever that matches and wear the same shoes pretty much every day.
  29. What phone do you have? (iOS v Android?): iPhone
  30. Tell us one of your bad habits!: So many to choose from… when I get stressed, I tend to pick at my skin for dried out bits to make it smooth.

It’s funny…

I’m done with the worst of it, I think. I almost feel giddy thinking about how much I’ve improved. Getting adjusted to my new medication and coming out of the severe depression I was in since this January feels like a miracle, because it took so long to get here. I can actually do things, like sign up for volunteering multiple times in a week (and not feel anxious about going too much, or being too lethargic to function), which would have been impossible to do weeks ago because of the constant fatigue. And I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, but maybe the drugs will continue to work and I will get to live somewhat of a normal life for the rest of my life- maybe. The negative self-talk is dissipating, and so are thoughts of harming myself. They’re barely there now.

There’s something comforting about knowing that the next few days are going to be “normal” because the last few have been stable. And there is comfort in knowing that I’m OK with the uncertainty beyond that, because I trust myself enough to be able to get through it, whatever it might be. There are clear limitations in my future because of having bipolar II disorder, but there is a lot of hope. The days of me overworking, outperforming (or at least trying too hard to overcome) the expectations are long gone. My values are different, therefore, my outlook on life is different. I’m happier than I’ve ever been, (and yes, I know my life situation isn’t all peachy- I realize that I have no job right now and I have no idea what I’m doing for the foreseeable future) now that I have control over thoughts that haunted me over the years. I’m doing what I truly enjoy, which is art, spending time with animals, spending time in nature, reading, and writing- which are all things I can do by myself or via volunteering. It’s good to know that I have the capacity to be happy with myself, whatever my situation.

 

Beating perfectionism, one step at a time

I’m constantly struggling with perfectionism, but at the same time, I am improving a little every day. I know I’m struggling when I have 12 drafts of unfinished blog posts. One of the blog posts is reviews of books that I found helpful during depression, but I always end up criticizing how little I write about some of these books, how little I remember the details of the books I don’t own anymore (e.g. was the author depressed for 3 years or 4 years?) and how I need to write the review for the book that I’m currently reading because it’s also a good one that belongs to the list. So it gets put away, incomplete. In my head I’m scared that it’s not going to be good enough or helpful enough, that leaving it unpublished gives me less anxiety than actually tackling it. Note to self: avoidance behavior; I’m still working on this.

But here’s some good news: I recently started volunteering, as a next step in my depression recovery. Before when my meds weren’t at the right level and I was still in the depths of depression I felt like I was not ready to volunteer anywhere- as a person. Well, I didn’t feel like a person, but that’s a story for another time, and I’ve written about it in the past extensively. I catastrophized that others were going to ask me about what I do career wise (answer: just quit my job!) and find out about me (getting hospitalized times two) and my depression and that I was not going to react well to it. We all have these fears when we’ve been in treatment for too long, or anything isolating (e.g. prison, I guess?) I also was worried that I wasn’t going to do whatever I signed up for well (in my mind, “perfectly”). I feared that people were not going to like me – all this was distorted thinking due to the depression of course, but I didn’t check the facts and I believed this to be true. It was hard not to since the negative thoughts were so loud during this time. But recently, I mustered up the courage to go. It was a really difficult step for me to even sign up that I was doing it during a therapy session. Damn right I wasn’t going to let perfectionism in the way of my recovery.

I realized at my recent, first volunteer session helping artists with public murals that none of the things I was afraid of actually happened, it was just all an unhelpful projection of a false future, and that I had underestimated myself by quite a bit. It was a startling realization that made me feel like I could do anything (I’m exaggerating). I made mistakes, but it was totally fine because we could fix it; I could problem solve. I explained my life situation without getting into any details that were uncomfortable for me to be sharing with others. I felt accomplished that I handled everything well without embarrassing myself, or feeling bad about myself.

All this might sound like something that’s easy to do for someone without depression. But this is huge for me, because I was having trouble getting out of bed let alone feeding myself, and I feel really good about where this is going in terms of my recovery. I’m about to leave my program at a day hospital in a few weeks. It feels like I’m at a new level, and on my way to my old self- the unrelenting, persevering, hard working self. But I won’t be working as hard as before, obviously.

How do you think about your recovery and where you are at? When did you feel like you were at a “new level?”

(Bonus question, how many DBT references did you catch?:))

Changes

Quick life update, folks. Tomorrow is actually kind of exciting because I'm starting volunteering with a local arts group doing murals. It's been months since I felt confident that it might actually be okay to put myself out there. In the real world. There is obviously a chance that a depressive episode will hit out of nowhere, but I'm pretty fucking tired of being docile to it, so what the hell.

I got my meds changed today, again. The lithium is good where it was, Ativan is PRN, but the Prozac is going up to 40 from 20mg because I'm clearly still depressed. Or as my psych puts it, I still have "residual depressive symptoms." She also did remind me that I'm on three psychiatric meds and she's not a pill pusher. So no more new meds, which I appreciate.

Rebuilding yourself is difficult. Forming new habits is the hardest part. Today I realized that I don't like the pop music I used to listen to, which was surprising. It's like my brain flipped a switch. It's not that I dislike the stuff I used to listen to, it's just that I don't really feel anything in my heart when I listen to it. For now I'm going back to classical (I was a classically trained violinist) because I can actually feel something when I listen to it.