Goals I set for myself

Recovery goals are always a moving target. And not a linear moving target, because recovery isn’t linear- sometimes you take 2 steps forward, other times you take 5 steps back. And it’s hard to accept that sometimes you have to do less than what you planned a week ago for that week because things just happened to go south. It’s seriously frustrating. So sometimes, oftentimes, you might find yourself biting more than you can chew, or reaching for low hanging fruit.

Two weeks ago, I thought I was at a place where I could start pushing myself with learning something and just do more in general. The weeks before, I was starting to do things that I enjoyed (like drawing), without getting prompted to do it- which I think was a huge step forward. (Sidenote: depression makes it very very hard to want to do the things you enjoy, or used to find enjoyable; or get out of bed to live… or live.)

Because I felt good about where this was going, I said yes to the NYC trip for the weekend, and I also said yes to many other social activities over the course of the two weeks. And by that I mean, meeting friends from my life-before-hospitalizations in the afternoons after I came back from group, which is more overwhelming that it should be because I’m vulnerable, I don’t know how to phrase things about what I’m doing, and I’m just usually tired all the time. To top it off, I’m mostly an introvert, so I burn a lot of energy by hanging out with people. I didn’t want to say no to these interactions because I value relationships and that’s more important than anything else right now because not only is it enjoyable, but it also gives me a sense of belonging with the rest of mankind.

That’s all really fine on its own, but I also did sign up for an online course (algorithms) that might be a good segue into a field I’m thinking of getting into, which turned out to be very time consuming and stressful. Clearly, not really something I can handle all that well. The material was very interesting and it was a great course on the subject matter, but experimenting with my meds, and all the social obligations with friends and family wore me out. I seriously felt bad about myself for a few days because I knew I couldn’t complete week 2 of the course because I didn’t have anything left, and I knew I couldn’t finish the problem set on time. I compared myself with my past self without the mental illness, and thought, well I could have done 4 of these at the same time back then! I hated that I committed to the course, but I know that I was feeling more confident two weeks ago about where I would be with my recovery. Unbeknownst to me, my recovery decided to take two steps back, and because of this, I was not at a capacity to do everything I signed up for. And I think I’m starting to be okay with that. I’m not going to let myself think I’m a failure, or that I can’t ever get into this field, or that my future is doomed (I’m not going to lie, I’ve already thought this, but now I’m pushing back).

Now I’m going to try to sleep again. Thoughts, comments are always appreciated!

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Trying to make progress on my progress

I often don’t know when too much effort is too much (for my own good). Sometimes I don’t want to know, so I ignore it and keep going. That’s how I got here in the first place, I suppose. My therapists have called it my “lack of self awareness.”

I feel like I’ve come a long way in my recovery, and I can usually use skills to not feel this way, but today my thoughts automatically go to: am I resting on my laurels for too long? Am I doing enough? This feeling (the same one that has been there since the beginning, before the hospitalizations) keeps telling me that I need to do more. More towards my recovery. If I take beginner level yoga, then I need to take a more difficult Viniyasa class. If I’ve done 30 minutes of my online course today, I need to do an hour the next. More efficiently. Harder, better, faster, stronger. According to the thoughts, I should have thoughts like, “the next job I’m going to get will better be higher paying/better/more suitable to me than my last one.” I realize that it’s insatiable, this beast (or logical mind, for DBTers out there), and it’s impossible to please. It also doesn’t give a shit about how I feel about any of this. It’s greed, and no longer a healthy amount of ambition. It’s obsessive perfectionism- no meds can make it go away, just pure will power.

Being happy isn’t my default and I’m trying my hardest to feel satisfied and not be anxious about being pleased with my progress. I’m letting myself be satisfied with my satisfaction.

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Saying no

Saying no to a job that made me miserable seven days a week.

Saying no to an identity created to appease everyone else but me.

Saying no to thought patterns that made me unhappy.

Saying no to projections of the future that brought me fear.

Saying no to toxic people.

Saying no to relationships which no longer serve me.

Saying no to unhelpful help.

Saying no to alcohol and yes to meds that help me function.

Saying no to coffee, the anxiety starter.

Saying no to recurring thoughts of trauma.

Saying no to thoughts of inadequacy.

Saying no to all these things, every single day, to be in the here and now.

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Travelling with a mental illness

I’m in NYC this weekend at my mother’s place. I didn’t want to travel but she was nervous about leaving me alone in Chicago because I recently got out of the hospital, so I had to come out here with her. Getting here was slightly a struggle (airports are stressful on their own but more stressful in crowded NYC), but it was much much better than the last time I was here, when I was on the wrong meds. Today was actually a good day.

Travelling is usually an incredibly overwhelming task for someone who is struggling with bipolar/depression/other mental illnesses. Last time when we booked our flight a week before our trip, we had to cancel the trip three days later because it was too daunting for me to go away for three days. So after that breakdown, I flat out refused to travel until I was better. Which I am.

We’re going to Williamsburg tomorrow to do touristy things and see the Brooklyn Bridge because I’ve actually never been to the bridge (and I’ve lived here for a few summers and visited a million times, so it’s a bit funny that I haven’t been there yet). I’m going to try to enjoy myself, and not work on my algorithms course… But no guarantees: I’m a recovering workaholic.

Things are so much better on my new meds, the difference is staggering. I felt so normal the whole time today including getting on the plane to getting here. I can point out a few times I could have had an anxiety attack, like getting into cabs and people not moving quickly enough out of the plane once we landed, but I felt calm for the most part. I felt confident that my anxiety and depressive moods were all under control. And once the uncontrollable is under control, you know you will be able to handle the rest on your own.

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Accepting my diagnosis

It’s 5 am and I’m up again. I’ve been feeling tired throughout the days and I’m not sure why- could be the lithium or it could be because of my cat jumping in my bed.

I’ve been working on fully accepting my bipolar II diagnosis. It’s important that I do this for myself because I don’t want to feel ashamed about myself because of something that happened to me that I didn’t want. One could call this a loss: a loss of possibilities, a loss of a certain freedom, a loss of an idea of myself, more invincible. I need to take time to actually mourn what I have lost, even if they are merely ideas.

It’s a process. And this is in no way easy. It’s especially hard because I’m still on my way to recovery, still trying to feel more stable. I’m still physically very weak, but feeling mentally easier thanks to the meds. It would be easier once I’ve reached the latter stages of recovery when I have more stable footing to look back and say, I’ve come this far. Alas but no, I’ve only just fallen and I’m still in the stages of crawling out of the mud.

As always, your thoughts and feedback are always appreciated!

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Destructive perfectionism

“See the thing is, you’ve got this idea of normal that’s not normal. Normal people don’t do everything perfectly. You don’t have to do everything perfectly to be normal. To be normal, you’ve got to kind of relax and let some things go. Your problem is that you’re so used to being in crisis that your whole perception of yourself is as a fuckup, a permanent fuckup, never someone who gets to not be a fuckup, so you have to torture yourself and hate yourself just to be as good as everyone else. You’re having a hard time realizing that you’re not a fuckup anymore. You’re entering a whole different period of your life where you are normal. And you’re having a hard time getting used to it.”

-from Madness by Marya Hornbacher

I enjoyed reading Hornbacher’s memoir. I liked that there was minimal romanticism of having a mental illness, and how she was very honest about her experience. She didn’t write what she assumed was happening, but was dedicated to capturing her thoughts and feelings in the moment, which I think is difficult to do especially during episodes of depression or mania. In my experience, in hindsight, it’s hard to see why certain things made sense/didn’t make sense and why they were so difficult. She was up front about what she could and could not remember, and at the same time, not apologetic about having gone through it at all.

The above quote grabbed me- it was something near the end of the book. I’d be really curious to see the correlation between perfectionism and bipolar- is the predisposition for being bipolar somehow related to susceptibility to perfectionism? Or could it be that perfectionism leads to madness? As always there is the nature vs. nurture argument, so it probably differs by culture and background etc.

Ever since I could remember, I’ve been a perfectionist. And no, I was never perfect (it’s an impossible ideal obviously), nor was I closer to it than others without this habit, but I made sure I was miserable for not being perfect for most of my life. My parents told me that it was all right for not getting such and such grade; my classmates said my art looked good as it was; my friends were bewildered by my sustained unhappiness with my existence. I was constantly an Eeyore. Daria (the TV show on MTV), the pessimistic yet comical protagonist of the namesake show was too relatable to be funny at times.

But I’m much better at not being a perfectionism now. I don’t beat myself up for being late to something, criticize myself for getting something wrong or get anxious about my future because things are just not the way I thought they were supposed to be. Well, not 100% better, but getting there. In DBT language, I’m starting to radically accept where I am. I might be “mediocre” but I’m a lot happier this way.

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The beginning of the other side

I think I’m almost a complete person again. I’m walking like a person, talking like a person, feeling almost like a person- I may be a bit sallow and ten pounds less than what I started off with, but I’m almost there, you know? The bad thoughts are almost gone (there are some that are residual), but I don’t feel like I need to be hospitalized since I got out of the hospital, and it’s staying that way, which has been the opposite of the past 6 months of instability.

Yoga, my activity of choice, is difficult, still. And it’s been difficult for a while. I get lightheaded and I can’t balance on one foot as well as I used to. Running is out of the question. I’m not sure how I pulled off the 10K before the hospitalization, but somehow I did, but now, if I go for a run, I spend half the day recovering/sleeping from it.

I’m taking an online course on algorithms on Coursera and doing half an hour of it every single day. No more and no less, because that’s all I can handle.

I went to go see a movie today (Wonder Woman) at an actual movie theater. It was only around 2 hours but somehow I was worn out by the end of it. I don’t think I enjoyed it as much as others who saw it did, but I got home and had to take a nap. I’m struggling to enjoy things and feel good about things still, and that’s what I’ve been working on lately.

So, I may look and sound like a person but I’m still not fully a person yet.

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