Records of everyday existence

I feel like I’m shrinking and shriveling like a scared little ball of wet piece of paper. I’m collapsing because I can’t take being myself in this world. Tired, so tired for being incongruent to it, I’ve desperately tried to change, but trying apparently wasn’t good enough- I tend to fall short. (But it’s all in my head, they say, I don’t actually fall short but I just feel like I do.) Only a select few in this life know what “feeling nothing” means. I believe I’m one of them- there are upsides to it; you see the world more clearly. But you have to be prepared for the starkness and cruelty of it.


I had some rest.

Yesterday’s chasing thoughts have slowed down a little but still I’m faced with a bit of numbness. Numbness isn’t better than pain- it doesn’t work that way apparently. It’s just discomfort without a knowable cause.


I had some breakfast.

I look back on what I wrote, and it’s hard to empathize with those feelings I wrote about within the 12 hour range. I’m feel better, and I even had a few ideas for a new painting. The feelings I’ve felt- the roller coaster of them- are not uncommon to my every day, but so foreign every single time it happens. Only if I could reach back to that person feeling the pain and the numbness, and tell her that it will pass… only if she will listen.

Alien from outer space

I’m not sure why I’m still here sometimes. In this foreign land that is supposed to be my home. I lost most of the friends I had, and got rid of my job, too. I don’t have a community where I live because I’m afraid to meet new people. I don’t go to church and I’m not part of a cult. All my family members all except one actually reside here. They’re all in the old country. Not that I’m close to most of them. I don’t know what I’ll be doing next in my life career wise and it sure doesn’t look easier over here or there. I guess the psychiatrists are better and so are the therapists- they get me, so that’s one big reason. But otherwise, what the hell am I still doing here?

Beginning of another one?

The snow which had covered every inch of the abandoned lot outside my window has completely melted from the storm from earlier this week. That’s how depression comes and goes- a complete, gradual whiteout, then an equally gradual thawing, until the ground reveals itself like it never happened, like a lie.

Is this feeling the beginning of another depressive phase? Always feeling tired even when I have slept for more than 8 hours, negative thoughts, numbness, not wanting to do much of anything, not really caring when I should, being fearful and jumpy all the time…The signs of it are all present. But maybe if I deny it a tiny bit longer, it will delay the inevitable.

I don’t want to lose my feelings again, but as always, I’m mentally prepared to let go of them until I feel better, whenever that may be. I don’t want to dissociate again, but I may have to to protect myself and that’s what it’s for, so I’m told, so that’s how it will be. At least I won’t be impulsively online shopping again- I’ll just be reading books or painting, instead. I’ll have to just relish the white noise of numbness- the tranquility of starkness depression brings.

 

Purposefully doing nothing

Today (a Friday) is the only true day off from my obligations and that is because I’ve signed up to do too many things during my hypomanic episode earlier this month. And today I can attempt to do nothing without going crazy.

I remember talking to my therapist about taking breaks- I must learn to take breaks if I want to get better. I lived without breaks or vacations for 25 years, and it’s one of the many reasons I got sick. C’s suggestion was that I must learn to do absolutely nothing (no work, or goal oriented tasks) during these breaks. Not even guided meditation (because it’s on my to do list of things to accomplish). I have to learn to be myself without trying to accomplish something, without being someone else I’m not, or trying to get somewhere else away from where I am at the moment.

It’s so difficult for me to actually do this- and maybe that’s why I’m writing about it instead of actually doing it- I’m itching to accomplish things, get things done, cross something off my to do list… The struggle is real- you know when your body needs that break but your mind keeps going and going and going, ad infinitum. I try to stay sober from doing doing doing, but like an alcoholic mindlessly reaching for the bottle on the nightstand, I reach for my laptop and I can’t stop.

Both of my parents are very practical and purposeful people, and it must be where I picked it up from a young age. I don’t know how to be whimsical, follow my gut, or be spontaneous. I like things to be relatively predictable, controlled, straightforward, and scheduled. I dislike dealing with chaotic or dramatic situations where things are unpredictable, to the point where I over practice presentations and over study for tests. One could say this is just a personality trait, but for me, this behavior has proven to be detrimental to my mental health. Some may call it OCPD if we need to name a disorder, but at the end of the day, I just want to be freed from this behavior.

 

What I think of the saying, “don’t let your illness define you”

Q. How much does my illness define me?

A. Right now? Quite a darn lot. I’ll point out some things from my daily routine that I do differently that I haven’t done before I got diagnosed with major depression, (then re diagnosed as bipolar disorder) as a comparison against what is my “normal,” sans illness.

Let’s see. I wake up, and the first thing is that I check my mood, and assess how I slept, and from there, I can sort of determine if I can go on with my scheduled activities for the day. Then comes the medication, I take two different ones, Prozac and broken up Abilify before I eat breakfast. The “before” aspect is crucial, because if I stuff it down with food, sometimes some of the medication would come up, leaving a terrible aftertaste for hours. I no longer drink coffee in the morning because of my anxiety. I eat a healthy breakfast that can sustain me until lunch. If I don’t eat enough, at my worst I may get vertigo or other kinds of dizzy spells, which leaves me on the ground unable to go on with my day. But most of the time, when I haven’t eaten well, my energy level plummets- my voice changes, my face becomes jaunty, and finally I physically tend to just shut down, which, again, leaves me resting in my bed.

But assuming that I slept well, and ate well and didn’t forget to take my medication, I can resume with the rest of my day. Because I’ve been in and out of hospitals and clinics for the past year, my physical health is also poor from a sedentary (depressed person’s) lifestyle. I cannot run 15 miles whenever I would like as I used to, let alone 1 mile. If I overdo any physical activity like walking around to go shopping even, my battery drains, and it takes me days to recover from that. I also don’t sleep very well when I over do it during the day.

I’m usually exhausted by the end of day, if my body managed to get on with the daily activities, like my art classes, or running errands. I come home, and eat a healthy dinner, enough so that I don’t wake up in the middle of the night from not eating enough, and it’s time for my evening medication- Lithium. This one, I take after I eat because of nausea that comes when consumed in an empty stomach. Lithium has been my miracle drug for my bipolar disorder and something that has saved me from the depths of suicidality. Because it has been so effective, I do get paranoid about not taking it, because that might just be life and death for me. Partying or going out at night is not an option as I am too tired to do more than one or two activities a day. Also, alcohol is no longer part of the things that I can partake  because it interacts with my meds.

Finally, sleep. Sleep is probably the most important thing towards stability that is somewhat under my control, ranking next to taking my medication. While it is impossible to control while I am highly manic, hypomanic or depressed, I can usually induce sleep through vigorous workouts during the day, other activities that tire my mind and body, knitting, feet warmers, baths and very strong aromatherapy (because I have a very poor sense of smell). Sleep has been a very strong predictor of my mood for the next day, so I do a lot in order to get tired- just for the sake of sleeping well that night, almost so that my schedule centers around the quality of my sleep.

With all that said, I know that a lot of Pinterest boards, Instagram posts of inspirational mental health quotes say, “don’t let your illness define you.” But in my case, in this part of recovery, my illness sure does define my lifestyle and limits how I can live. So while it is an empowering message to tell patients to not let it define oneself, it is not tailored to all patients, especially not those who are still in the early stages of recovery. And that’s totally OK not to take this advice, because it is not your fault that you are at that stage of struggle where you are limited in your choices. Maybe farther along the line, when I’m stronger, less vulnerable, and more stable, I will take the advice and apply to my new challenges- to not let bipolar limit my choices. Until then, when I do have the choices, I radically accept that my illness limits me, and in turn, defines me. Hey, you have to work with what you’ve got, right?

My attempt at a normal life

When the inevitable is asked, as part of an introduction, I tell them that I’m “taking a career break before rushing into anything.” Which is a glossy version, and not at all a lie, but certainly not the whole truth. I get it: what is a normal looking woman in her mid-twenties doing in an art class made up of mostly retired middle aged/senior men and women on a weekend when she should be having mimosas with her other friends from work? I’m sure they wonder. But I don’t give them a clue- not even when the lady at the easel next to me talks to another lady about her real world job concerning psychiatric medication research- because what follows is the belief that psych drugs make people violent, said by the another lady, and then comes rushing in the Dylan Roof theories, and so on and so forth. I’m a coward, so I don’t let my intimate personal experience with mental illness be known as a point for counter argument, as it was only my second class, and I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as the mental ill girl, because for some people, that’s all they see once they know. And I certainly did not want the second lady (who strongly believed that all mentally ill people are inclined to shoot a lot of random people)  to think that I was going to shoot the whole class one of these days. (By the way, I’m getting pretty tired of ignorant people grouping together violent people and mentally ill people together, which are very independent characteristics.) Instead, I’m pigeonholed into something more mundane- math major, ex-financial analyst who is taking a career break and who now is back at art to pass the time until she feels like getting a job again, like a normal person.

I feel slightly embarrassed that I have to lie/leave out about a very essential part of my life at the moment, but at the same time, frustrated that even if I wanted to reveal it, it might do some damage to my character (when I have done nothing wrong.) I also feel embarrassed that I still don’t have the balls to stand up for myself. But I so desperately want to be back to normal, that desire is getting in the way of advocacy- For the 4 hours I’m there in the class, I want to feel like a normal person again, whether if I need to be incognito for it or not. So I keep pretending, But who isn’t pretending? We don’t go blabbering about all our troubles and tribulations to the strangers we meet, and they’re not entitled to that kind of information, anyway. Maybe I’m just so used to being transparent that hiding a piece of me from the world is difficult. That is one thing I don’t like about getting older- it’s the secrets. And as time passes the secrets snowball, every time we avoid talking about it. We cover it up with something else, patch it up with another lie there.

I sometimes liken my situation to another group. I imagine how the gay community did it, when they first came out to their fundamentalist parents, to a mostly religious society- that must have taken immense courage, and I respect the LGBT community for taking that big step. They’re getting normalized to society now, after that hard work. The movement didn’t start overnight of course, and not by one person. So sometimes I think that maybe as an individual, I risked taking that first step to speak out, come out, and educate, I wouldn’t be seen as this would-be-murderer, but as rather as another normal 20-something year old, who happens to have the misfortune of catching bipolar disorder along her journey.

 

 

Escape

Think for a second- how many of the things you do in a day are considered “an escape”? An escape from annoying or dark thoughts, avoidance from bad habits you’re trying to cut back? An escape from a life situation? How much of your life are you spending to escape from these unpleasant things?

I asked these questions myself, and shockingly, I spent most of my time in this way. Escaping from the unwanted thoughts by doing something that was distracting enough for the time being. When one distracting activity was done, however, I was back to square one. Back to the suffering.

If one acknowledges this, and is fine with it, there is no reason to read further. But this fact bothers me so. The fact that I’m living my life in spite of something. That I’m running not to run, but to run away. I don’t like that my purpose is to avoid, and not to live. Action, and not reaction.

But then I wonder, are there truly things that one does for the sake of doing them? Or is everything thing we do minus the essentials, at least a little bit, a distraction from our lives? How much distraction is healthy, and how much is too much? Can we truly be present with so many distractions? Is writing a blog post an escape for me right now as I wait in the car? Maybe.