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.

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All the shades of depression

In the middle of a depressive episode, nothing you do looks good enough to yourself. Today I’m at the worst of it. Smack down in the middle of the depression/hypomanic cycle, in the depression part. All the things I enjoy on a “good day,” drawing, painting, writing on this blog even… It all becomes so draining, rather than fulfilling.  l used to make art every single day for a few months, mostly of drawings of animals, but now that has gotten harder to start (again, like the last episode). I used to feel so good about making art. I used to blog a lot more frequently, but I haven’t recently since I entered this phase. It’s the feeling of running dry- I’m not quite sure of what. Will to live? Motivation? Willingness? Creativity? Thoughts of death came back to my brain once again, but not the plans. That’s important. Not having plans. Death that is not personal, but general and removed.

I’m in this hamster wheel of recovery that I can’t get out of. I’m trying, I really am. I’m trying everything to sleep right, eat right, do the right things and think the right things. I’m using skills I learned from group. I’m in therapy every single day, Monday through Friday- both individual and group. I don’t miss my meds, ever. I’m going to start volunteering this week, and the week after that, and I’m going to step down from my day hospital soon, which everyone calls “the bubble” because it’s safe and secure from the big and cruel world. But the truth is, my meds are still not working for me during times like these. It isn’t not helping, but it’s not helping enough for me to be functioning normally. Because I’m trying to be more compassionate, so on behalf of myself I will say this: this isn’t laziness. When I’m feeling catatonic, making me to go for a walk in the park is like asking a pig to fly.

Someone in my group suggested this, though: I have to find something pleasurable at whatever level of depression I’m in. On an easier day, I can shoot for finishing a painting. But on a more difficult day, that won’t be possible- especially as a perfectionist- I’ll dread starting the paining because I will feel like a failure if I don’t finish, or paint as well as I would if I were feeling better. So instead, I’ll have to shoot for something easier when the depression gets bad. There are easier things I could do like, color part of a coloring book, instead of doing something that requires more work, more creativity. Read a book. Watch a movie. Crochet. I just have to keep myself moving.

My family and friends (who are still with me, I lost so many during the recovery process) are so encouraging and hopeful when I don’t see the hope. I feel like I’m like a professional patient and a lost cause (listen, it’s month 6 that I’ll be in some kind of a mental health facility), but my mother tells me that I’m going to have my life again soon, and that I will be able to have a normal job and friends, relationship etc… I would be so grateful if any one of those things became real at this point.

It’s been too many months to remember what I used to be, or what I aspired to be, but maybe that is for the better.

 

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How I accept my life (situation)

I’m not really about cults, or organized religion. One of my parents had a lot of traumas based around religion growing up, so my family always lived in a religion-free environment. We had our morals and values and believed in doing good deeds, but because of how I was raised, and some of my distasteful (somewhat traumatic) experiences with the people outside of my family who were trying to proselytize me, I never had a chance to become a spiritual person, unfortunately. In retrospect, I think I would have been a much more peaceful person. Instead, I read a ton of self help books.

But as they say, it’s never too late.

It’s taken me some time to process the writings of Eckhart Tolle, the spiritual guide. He wrote The Power of Now almost two decades ago, and more recently, New Earth. His work falls under therapeutic category of Acceptance and Commitment therapy, and uses mindfulness throughout the book as a grounding mechanism to ward off the unnecessary “egoic” thoughts away. His theory is that as a compulsively thinking society, we’ve become split selves – one based on our mind (egoic-self) which is constantly running, separate from our Self (our true inner self), and that’s problematic. His theory is that once we stop feeding the thought-based self, and start focusing on our real Self through what he calls the portal of Now (aka. mindfulness), then there will be more joy in our lives.

I’m not sure why I was so drawn to his work- for one thing, he is a depression survivor. Another is the fact that he draws wisdom from not just one religion, but most of the predominant world religions, namely Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism and Buddhism, and finds things he sees in common in all of them. This helped me put my guard down a little bit as a skeptic.

All this backstory is to bring up one thing: how it’s helping me. It’s helping me to accept that I’m in a tough place (says my therapist). It’s helped me to see how my over-thinking (negative, not very self-compassionate, and destructive thinking) is sabotaging living, because living doesn’t happen once I get to a better place; once I get the job/promotion; or once I move to a better house; once I have more friends; once I make it. But life is happening right now. And it will always happen right now, not in the future or the past. And more importantly, what is happening in my life isn’t my real Self, or my self worth. Same with what I achieve. My inner real self is timeless, and not defined by a label like a job, or a role. What is happening isn’t my “life”, it’s my “life situation,” which is temporary.

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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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