Back in knee deep depression- isolating myself, feeling hopeless and numbed out, dissociating. I feel like I’m sitting in the backseat and someone whom I trust is a reliable replica of me takes charge. She’s doing well, playing the part. I’m trying (she’s trying), still- going to classes, finishing chores, eating what I’m supposed to eat. But there is this strong feeling that the world will still be fine without me. The recurring memories of pain seem pointless but ceaseless. Remembering days of hypomania, I feel so much lower in comparison, as always. At this point, reading about other success stories of recovery that I got so much strength from a week ago doesn’t help me because they don’t have exactly what I have and we’re different people in different environments. No hope. But wait, didn’t I say that there is always hope? Nope, no hope. I wonder if it will be worth it. No, I already know the answer, but I’m feeling too bitter, resentful and hopeless to change that. I’ve just been fighting for so long, in the dark, and my tiredness is tired. Trying hard to not listen to the thought that “I’d accomplish more dead than living the rest of my life.” Trying hard to not trust thoughts and feelings because they almost always lie. Feeling barely alive. My dad says my skin looks great, over the video call from the other side of the world where it is daytime, and not night. Oh, how brutal invisibleness of invisible illness can be.
Let go of those who are already gone. Because-
Loneliness is felt most deeply in absence.
From a depression, or a marking of what used to be.
Comparison of one state to another from another time and space.
What can be more cruel?
Berating oneself for not being the best version of oneself during the worst possible moment.
The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality, says Andrew Solomon in his book on depression, Noonday Demon. I kind of interpreted that as there being the vitality level and then the happiness level, the next. I am starting to get vitality back, and I felt quite happy today for a little while. It was only for a moment, but I felt it, like the smallest glimmer of sunbeam during monsoon season. It was during an open sketch session with a live model- I have difficulty getting the proportions right sometimes, but during a 20 minute quick sketch, I was able to correct it with some new techniques I picked up from other students the other day. I could see that I was becoming faster and more accurate every pose I drew, and also that there was still a very long way to go. All those things combined made me happy- the progress, and even the part about how much there still was to learn. And I would share my work, but they’re all figure drawings of nudes and I’m not sure if people are going to be cool with it, on a supposedly PG-ish blog.
I think part of my annoying subconscious would give me a lot of crap for going back to the arts and not learning something more “productive.” Like new skills that could help me get a job when I feel better, for instance. But I’ve already decided that this year, or at least a part of this year, I’m going to go after joy, and what I want to do, instead of what I have to do. I’ve done what I’ve had to do full time for the past 24 years, and (I speculate,) it landed me in the psych ward. (It also doesn’t help that I’m a perfectionist with OCPD tendencies, but you get my point.) People take mental health days; mine will just have to be a mental health year.
Immature confidence: bravely (but ignorantly) just going for it because you don’t know what could go wrong and how badly.
Mature confidence: brazenly going for it even though you can count a million ways that it could go wrong and how badly (from experience.)Did I get that right? Sort of?
After a flurry of events, like Christmas, my birthday, New Years, as well as actual flurries outside my window, I’ve had a few moments to breathe finally. This year I’m not doing any special resolutions because my resolution/goal remains the same as the thing I wanted since around the same time last year: recovery. Mostly meaning, getting my life back.I will say though, that I’m much better right now than I was last year around this time. For a few reasons- first, I know what to call the thing that I have (and had), second, I know what my limitations are (however crappy it is to be this way), third, I kind of know what to do with myself now in order to not fall off the wagon (except those times when things just collapse). And all this took about a little less than a year. Considering most bipolar diagnoses take an average 10 years to get right, I can’t be more thankful that it only took a few months to correct my diagnosis from major depression last summer, and that I’ve only a handful number of medication changes to date. Of course, I’ll never know how many more changes I will have to go through for the rest of my life, or how many blood tests are in order (to check on my lithium level), but so far in my journey, things have been better than average for the most part. So I’m just going to call it a small win. With things looking more and more stable with more consistency, the next step in my recovery for me is to set up a routine that will make me feel somewhat productive without overwhelming myself. Stress, hunger and fatigue are real triggers for me, I find, so I have to be careful with what I sign myself up for. I’ve always been interested in art and art history before I went all corporate, so I’m taking some art classes in the city, which are fantastic. The class is for anatomical drawing, which should give me more practice with drawing humans. I am much more familiar with drawing animals from pictures, so this is helping me stretch my comfort zone. Yesterday I sketched live models for three and a half hours, and I loved every minute of it. The people are great and there were so many talented students in the room. Everyone was also so nice and helpful to the newbies. I felt like I just belonged. This is for the future, but I hope to become skillful enough to draw and paint what I go through emotionally on the canvas someday. I don’t know what that will look like exactly but I have snippets of visions of it sometimes with not enough skills to actually render it.Hope. That’s not a word I’ve used recently. It’s good to see it again.
There has been some good progress on my end. First off, sleep has been the best it’s ever been since I first started to see symptoms of bipolar depression. That means I slept through the night for eight hours straight. This is a huge step forward for me (as well as a hopeful sign of improvement,) because the last time I slept through the night without some kind of a tranquilizer (Ativan mostly), consecutively for two days, was over a year ago. Every night, I was haunted by insomnia, night terror, anxiety and other bizarre sleep problems that kept my brain wide awake in the middle of the night. The second is what I’m working on in therapy. I’m starting to piece together the “why” I am this way. Why the hell im sick. If you’ve been reading since the inception of my blog, then you know how I was triggered into having my first full blown episode because of work related stress- but it’s never that simple for bipolar disorder like other brain disorders. It wasn’t just work and it wasn’t just the stress. There are just so many reasons, contributing factors both immediate, and long term that affects the brain, that it’s impossible to pinpoint one specific event or cause. However, it’s still important to understand why, for the sake of closure, acceptance and to do things differently the next time. In short, I think my disorder came about because of my quiet, agreeable and disciplined disposition coupled by difficulties that followed the unilateral decisions made by my caregivers that are in no way ill-intentioned. More concretely, I was a quiet kid, who followed rules and who tried to do things right, without offending or angering anyone she cared about. My parents separated when I was ten years old, but rather discreetly- and the only way they kept things together was by living very far from each other. My mother and I moved to Canada, where we had no family, without speaking English. My dad and the rest of my extended family stayed back home, in Korea. I was enrolled in school, so I picked up the language pretty quickly. Soon I had to fill the role of the adult in the household because my mother wasn’t as lucky with getting assimilated into the culture. Paying bills, writing letters, making calls, filing complaints, and making informed decisions. When I was absent from school, I wrote my own letter of absence to take it to school. This is probably a common theme for first generation immigrants- you have no room for mistakes, rebellion, or misbehavior. There is no time to indulge in complaints, or laze around, be a kid. As a minority immigrant, you work double what the others do to get to where they are in society, in the new world- and that’s what I knew since I was ten years old. It doesn’t matter much if you were middle class, upper class or lower middle back in the old country, you’re on your own to establish who you are. Growing up, I never felt safe in my home with just me and my mother. I was a violinist, so every time I practiced which was everyday, an angry neighbor surreptitiously came up and kicked our door. I got hate letters from one of my so called friends who wished I went to hell- my mom and I figured she was jealous despite our temporary, shabby looking situation, I was able to go to music school. There was bullying involved, both at school and online. There are other mistreatments, racism, hatred, abuse that came with living in a foreign country with just one other adult who couldn’t really take care of you, or protect you as family should. This is in no way to blame my parents- they were doing the best they could in their given situation. It was not unusual to send your kids abroad to English speaking counties if your family was affluent. But the fact of the matter is, I’ve developed PTSD from the anxiety filled life where I cried under my blankets every night in silence to not upset my mother, and where I put on a brace face every morning. Every year, we had to make a decision to stay in Canada or go back to the old country- and that meant a) no stability, and b) living in rental apartments that were hardly furnished. I never felt tethered to a place, and I felt that I was temporary. This meant that I was always making up my back story to new people I met, and that meant that I wasn’t inviting anyone over. Family holidays were truncated to summers when I went back to my real home, where dad and the rest of the family were, and thanksgiving and Christmas were spent eating chicken because turkeys were too big for a party of two. There is much more but I’ll stop myself from getting flooded. These memories were so disturbing that I had suppressed most of it until I started psychotherapy with my current therapist. It helps that she is a first generation immigrant herself from the same country that I am from, and knows the hurdles and difficulties. Before her, people either envied the position I was in, or just had no clue what I was going through. I learned that choosing the right therapist is so very crucial, because if they don’t know where you’re coming from through experience, they won’t understand the source of the problem, and they won’t be able to help. One can read thousands of books on someone’s culture and study anthropology, but an armchair anthropologist can only know so much.
My multicultural situation is pretty unique, and I realize that when dealing with a mental disorder that is already complicated, a complicated life story makes it even harder to discuss with another person and still get all the cultural nuisances right. There is still more to dig, but I’m happy that I’m able to remember some of my so called childhood and feel validated for the first time in my life.
Perfer et obdura, dolor hic tibi proderit olim. (Be patient and tough; someday this pain will be useful to you.)
I’m drinking tea from a measuring cup this morning because frankly, I haven’t had time to unpack everything yet! Nevertheless, I feel more settled now. I’m not dissociating even though this is a new neighborhood for me, so that is a relief.
There are two questions I’m getting used to asking when I get up in the morning.
- What state am I in? (manic, hypomanic, depressed)
- Am I functional enough to do things? If so, what can I manage and what can’t I manage?
The first one is important for someone with bipolar because that changes one’s perception of everything- interactions with others, self regard, view of the future and the past. If hypomanic perceptions are like rose colored glasses, depression is a very dark set of shades, and neither of them are proper representations of the truth; or if you’d like, realities most “normal” people see if they were in your shoes. If I know how skewed my vision is, I can manually correct my thinking one way or the other, with practice and if it’s not too severe. Less pink, or more light is needed. I’m being too optimistic or I’m catastrophizing.
It’s true that sometimes when we wear these colored glasses for too long, we forget that we are wearing them, and start to believe what we see behind the glasses. This is dangerous. For example, for me, when the suicidal thoughts get too loud, it’s all I hear, and that becomes my reality. I gets difficult to assess if these thoughts are “true”, because that is all that you hear. At this time, you need to hear someone else’s point of view to be able to course correct your thoughts, whether if that may be a family member, a friend or a suicide prevention hotline. It’s much easier to get hold of which tint you are looking through if they change frequently. Depression is easy to spot when you were hypomanic just yesterday, but not so easy if you’ve been down in the slumps for a whole month.
The second question is something that I ask throughout the day, but most importantly, at the beginning. Because I live in the city, once I decide to leave, take the subway out to another neighborhood, I usually have to commit to being out and about for the whole day. Even with breaks in coffee shops and quiet bookstores, it gets rowdy and anxiety provoking out there. I need to decide based on my assessment of my condition in the morning, whether if I’m fit to take the subway out a couple of stops into Manhattan, or if I should hang out and do chores in Brooklyn, or even, just stay at home and do laundry and feel like I’m well enough to fetch the mail from downstairs.
I think things would look different if I were more stable if my meds somehow eliminated the more extreme states, but with fluctuating mood and energy levels, I’m at a point where I need to be vigilantly self perceptive. I’m not yet an expert at figuring out how my day is going to go based on the few hours in the morning, of course. It can turn upside down because of when or what I ate before leaving the house, or if I run into something unexpected or unpleasant and get triggered (you will not believe what you see on the NYC subways, but that’s a story for another time). My body and mind are super sensitive to external events, which are totally out of my control. I strive to respond to them best as I can, but when I’m in my danger zones (severely depressed or hypomanic), I can’t get myself out of the deep end without the help from others- I mean, they don’t call this an illness for nothing.
At this point in my journey (and with this mood), I think that it’s possible to live with bipolar. But it’s definitely harder than is to live without the challenges. It’s like constantly being in an incubator all the time. I think that you need a lot of practice in order to see yourself clearly, and you also need to be humble. You need to be okay with being “wrong” about your perceptions and be more flexible with your thinking- which is so difficult when you are severely manic or severely depressed.
How do you cope with your daily schedule while riding the bipolar roller coaster?