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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Are you avoiding?

It’s the standard go to line for therapists everywhere. And you know they’re always going to be right because if you say no, all the reasons you come up with become excuses.

But yes. I guess I was avoiding. Avoiding making decisions on what kind of job I’m going to take, and coming up with the worst case scenario and giving up now. Because that’s easy to put your hands up and give up and not try. My perfectionism always gets in the way, and I need to handle that better. I also need to stop avoiding my friends. I don’t remember how to interact with friends (outside friends who are not in therapy) anymore because it’s been a while.

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Lost

It’s like I’m in an Amazonian jungle, lost for days- which turns into months. Some days are sunny, so the road is visible. Other days are just so rainy it’s impossible to see which way to go. It’s always so uncomfortably humid. The weather is so unpredictable, and it’s like there is no end to this jungle, like I’m trapped. Trapped in my bipolar world.

I realize the hospital was a place of respite. Now that I’m out there, I’m getting bombarded by questions. What are you going to do? Where are you going to live? What kind of life do you have in mind? When are you going to get another job/ go back to school?

My answer is: I have no clue. Honestly. I also have a chronic headache that stops me from making great decisions. I don’t know if I will be stable with my new meds. I don’t know what kind of income I will be bringing in from my future job, if there will be one. I don’t know if I will have a career. I don’t know if I will be able to live off of my salary without getting help from my parents. I just don’t know. And all this terrifies me.

Everyone I know who has bipolar II has either written a book, came out with having the illness as a celebrity, or has a blog. I know that I have very little prospect of becoming an actor or writer, so I need suggestions. What do you all do for a living?

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It’s not always all good or all bad

I think there is always a flip side to everything, and I rarely talk about the upside of my mental illness or hospitalizations. Honestly, there isn’t much, but I try to find at least a few things to help me think positively about the experience.

1) I’ve gotten so much closer to my family: My family has been my rock through my recovery, especially my mother. She fed me when I rejected food. She was my cheerleader when I couldn’t get out of my negative spiraling thoughts before my meds were correct, and she literally held my hand at night when I had too many racing thoughts that gave me panic attacks. She visited me every day when I was in the hospital. My parents have been supportive about the possibility of my career change, and wants me to be happy. I honestly did not expect this from them and I cannot thank them enough for their love and support.

2) I know who my real friends are: I lost a few friends through this journey because it was hard enough as it was, and I could not sustain friendships with those who were not 100% supportive of my recovery. Real friends stand by you during your lowest, and I hit rock bottom. I wouldn’t have known who my real friends were without having gotten sick.

3) I understand life a little better: Life is not easy and it is certainly not linear. Things fall apart when you least expect it, but you have to carry on. Life is also much harder for someone with a chronic illness, like bipolar or anxiety. I struggled a lot in college, and now I understand why, thanks to my diagnosis.

4) I value seemingly mundane moments of serenity (up there): After I got on the Lithium, my mood stabilizer, the suicidal thoughts dissipated like magic. Before the meds, it was constantly popping up, and I wasn’t able to live my life because a small voice in the back of my mind was saying that I should just die. Life is so much better without that violent voice.

5) It’s made me stronger and less afraid: Now that my meds are starting to work (!!), I’m excited about what the future holds for me. I know that I have a long way to go, from finding a career path that I could feasibly work in, but if I made through two life threatening hospitalizations, I think I can handle a career change.

6) I know what my weaknesses are, and how to prevent recurrence: This is still a work in progress for me, as I learn new coping skills. I know I can’t work as much as I did before, and I need a lot of time for myself and really need to work on self care so that I don’t have another episode. I can also see an episode emerging before it’s in full force, so I feel like I’m going to be ready if it comes back.

7) The hospitalization forced me to stop living a toxic life I was not happy with: Let’s face it. I had a cushy job, but I was not satisfied or happy with it. The place was toxic to me, and I needed a change desperately, and it would have happened sooner or later. Thankfully, it was sooner.

8) I’ve gotten reconnected to my old hobbies and passions: Because I had a lot of time during my hospitalization, I picked up art again, and I’m writing and reading more.

Next time I’ll talk about some ideas about what to do with my career…

 

 

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To the one I love…

When you, (you: healthy person without depression) compare my inability to get out of bed and do the few tasks I’ve written on my to do list for the day to you forcing yourself to do the dishes you don’t want to do at the end of a long day, I feel judged. It’s not like I want to stay in bed feel paralyzed because moving any of my limbs is somehow scary and those limbs feel like they are made of lead too heavy for me to lift… I don’t want to feel this way. And I hate that I am this way. “Just do it” mantra just doesn’t cut it. Because when I wasn’t sick, waking up was something I could do quite swiftly, without an alarm at 5:30 am. I’m not being lazy, I’m trying my best, but trying my best doesn’t mean I can actually accomplish that sometimes. I’m trying everything to get better. And I would be better if I could will myself to be, but it’s not how it works, apparently. If I had cancer, and I was doing chemotherapy and losing handfuls of hair, maybe you would have more sympathy for me, and be more understanding of my reason for taking off work. Believe me that this is a disease I’m fighting. I don’t choose to not have an appetite, or be up at night if I don’t take my sleeping pills, or cry at the smallest stupidest comments. I’m just fragile right now, and those are just the symptoms of depression.

Trust me, sometimes I feel like a phony too, when once in a blue moon I can do things easily, like wake up early and put my running shoes on and do my run. I feel so normal, like I’m myself again. But then I realize afterwards I’m physically and mentally done for the day, I realize that my capacity for doing things is not at the normal level. Those days when things feel normal, I make the mistake of overdoing it, then I go back to the cycle of crying uncontrollably over things I’m not sure about and feelings that come out of nowhere.

I need all the help I can get right now. I’m not trying to hoard attention here, or trying to prove that I’m special in someway. I agree that I am privileged enough to take some time off work until I feel better. But if I could continue to work, I would. If I could cook and feed myself, I would and my mother would not even be here. But rather than jumping back to work ASAP at the first sign of getting better, I’m taking this time for myself so that I can get to the root of my depression when I’m still young, so that the doesn’t reoccur in the future. A future that you might be a part of. I think I know what’s best for me, and I’m not sure why taking this time is such a crime.

Sometimes when you tell me that you don’t know what to say, I don’t know what to say to you either, because I don’t know how you feel. So I can’t make you feel better if you are feeling sad, disappointed, angry, frustrated, betrayed, tired, overwhelmed, crestfallen, or whatever else you might be feeling when we talk about where I am at the moment. We keep having the same discussion over and over again with the same conclusions. I bring it up, you sound confused and angry, we start raising our voices, then both of us are left feeling restless, unsupported and misunderstood. Afterwards, I feel like I have no right to feel what I’m feeling. I feel like you think I’m not trying hard enough– enough as you at life. I feel like I’m not enough. I feel upset that my existence is making you upset. I feel like I can’t confide in you.

All I’m asking from you is acceptance: acceptance for how I’m feeling right now and how I am the way I am- for whatever reason- is simply OK.

You know what, I don’t care if you think I’m lazy or not trying. I think I’m a strong person and that’s all it matters anyway.


Noch Noch does a wonderful job of listing the things one should avoid saying to a depressed person here.

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Perfectly useless circular arguments

The last two days were quite peaceful, but I’m at another low again. I just aimlessly walked around my part of the city because I would have felt sadder if I stayed home.

Last night I was at a party for a friend who was turning 28 and moving to Germany. I met up with some people from our mutual friend group (from where he and I used to work) and some of his friends from rock climbing and some from his new company, which he was now leaving behind to pursue a new job without knowing any German. My boyfriend and I supposed it was his quarter life crisis.

Outings like these are a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because I get to pretend like I’m a normal human for at least a little bit, but at the same time, I notice the stark contrast between fully functional humans who have jobs and normal worries about career advancement v. myself. I also get the pleasure of getting asked the question, “so what do you do?”

I say that I’m taking a break. And the follow up question is, “what are you going to do next?” Then I’ll say I’m going back to school. And I feed them a glamorous outlook on my life that I’m imagining at the time. They don’t actually care that I’m doing something about it or not, or what the hell it is, I know that. They’re mostly drunk and making conversation to connect with someone else on things that you both have in common. But I do- it shouldn’t bother me, but it does- I care that I’m putting life on hold because I’m too depressed to do anything of value, towards my career, even if I wanted to. But it’s a party, so I try to smile and nod and sound normal.

The friend the party was for, came to talk to me and our mutual friends. I found out for the first time that he was also dealing with depression and anxiety, and seeing a therapist. He said he was taking Zoloft and Mirtazipine. I was quite surprised because we never talked about it before. Quite a lot of people around me had mental illnesses, I came to realize then.

The next morning, for whatever reason, I thought that maybe it was a good time to bring up what I’m going through in therapy with my boyfriend, about discovering OCPD, and how I’m doing. In retrospect it may have been dumb, because I know discussions like these always end up making me upset, and him silent, because he doesn’t know what he should say, and doesn’t want to upset me further. It becomes a very tense, one sided conversation with me lecturing him how he’s getting it wrong and it’s not actually my fault. Then I feel bad that I end up doing that again and there is more apologizing on my end for bringing it up. I was trying to explain to him OCPD and how I feel, but to him, perfectionism boiled down to someone “hating themselves because they hate themselves for being imperfect.”

Maybe I’m expecting too much from someone who has no experience with mental illnesses to understand how I feel, and I know that his intentions are noble, and not malicious. But I feel alienated from him when I try to explain anything that I’m going through that he can’t experience. It’s not just him, and it’s also my mom- she gets frustrated with me when I get sad for “no reason” and I can’t get out of bed and tells me to see it from her perspective and think how hard it must be for her too. If I could turn off being sad, I would. Really.

I tried not to make this a ramble/ vent about the people who are most dear to me, but it’s just another post about how lonely and frustrating I feel sometimes even with the support I have. I’m so tired of everything.

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Part II- I quit my corporate job because of depression

This is the second part of my story

I was led into the psychiatric wing of the ER, and was placed under constant surveillance, because I was a threat to myself. There was a cop standing by the door for any escapees or self-harmers. The room had a bed that was tilted from the waist up so they could see you at all times through the glass windows. I couldn’t concentrate and my mind was foggy- I had to remind myself of where I was every few minutes. A few nurses and doctors came, to check on my vital signs and to ask about my medical history, then finally a psychiatrist came to speak to me. After telling him my story, he left the room and came back with a diagnosis. “Severe depression.”

Severe depression.

Severe. Depression.

Depression, but severe. It hit me hard. But what did I expect? My therapist had told me earlier that my symptoms sounded like depression and anxiety, but hearing it from someone in a white lab coat made it more real, more clinical. Earlier at one of my sessions, my therapist had told me, from the general arc of my life, that it was caused by early childhood PTSD from constant stress. And I thought you had to be a veteran to earn that label for what it was. The doctor added another reason to the list of reasons why I was feeling and thinking this way: moving too often from city to city made me lose my sense of identity and support system in my youth.

The rest of the 6-8 hours of waiting at the ER felt like days, weeks and months. I was brought some hospital food (grilled cheese with two different kinds of cheeses), water and was watched the whole time. I couldn’t even take out my phone. I was confused and everyone else who cared about me in the real world outside the hospital was confused. My mom got on a plane to Chicago without me knowing at this point, because I had stopped communicating to her and she knew something was off. Before, I was trying to die, but now there were so many strangers trying to save my life- it was a paradox in my head.

I continued to cry because I couldn’t help myself and fell asleep on the flat side of the hospital bed. I was woken up again by the nurse then I was put into a stretcher to get carried off to another hospital where they had capacity to take me. I almost said, I could probably take myself to wherever we’re going on the “L” if you let me. The scariest thing about depression is that it makes you think that you can function normally, when in fact you can’t. What you’re thinking isn’t normal, like if your enemy hijacked your brain and took control over your thoughts. This also applies to self-worth and how you view the world- it’s warped, but you have no idea of knowing that. A disease of the brain, as they say.

Then it was more waiting. More questions about my suicide plan, the causes, what kind of work I did, how it was stressful, why it was stressful, where was my family… A whirlwind of questions for someone who had waited the whole day to get placed somewhere. I was to be placed on the 4th floor, which was the intensive care unit for the actual ‘crazies’ (in my ignorant and uneducated mind, at the time; I thought of the movie, A Beautiful Mind), the schizophrenics, bipolar people with psychosis who couldn’t intelligibly speak and needed help with getting dressed or something. But fortunately, I was placed on the floor with the young adults with mental health issues (think cutters and those who attempted suicide) and, to my surprise, the substance abusers including the alcoholics, heroine addicts and the like. Of course, I only found out about this decision after I was admitted, because I was not able to think clearly and this information never stuck.

That was going to be my home for the next 7 days. I was put into a room with wired windows, no locks on doorknobs with a 19 year-old college student as my roommate. It was like a college dorm, for crazy people. Ironically, she was studying psychology, and she told me this was part of her field experience, as a joke. I thought she was too chipper to be in a psych ward, but it was because she has been there for almost a week. I couldn’t imagine being that happy again. I struggled to sleep that night, as I had been for weeks.

The second day I saw doctor after doctor. The head doctor, the psychiatrist, the head psychiatrist, the interns, the case worker, the social worker, then another doctor… I couldn’t name any one of them because I still didn’t feel like I was thinking my own thoughts. I still felt numb. Nurses came by to check on all the patients every half hour to see that we weren’t up to anything dangerous. I couldn’t even find a pen around because it was relatively sharp, so having my journal was useless. I kept looking at my planner in the future dates to confirm that I was actually a part of this world and that I will be once I got out, because I felt so disconnected from the world from not being able to have my phone with me. I must have looked insane. They rushed me to my first “group” (short for group therapy), which was art therapy. We had to draw a bridge that represented our recovery process. I drew me at the very beginning of the bridge. Some drew themselves in the middle, others drew a treadmill of a bridge- she had been to the hospital a few times already.

Everyone had a story. Most were college students who couldn’t cope with the stress from their/their parents’ high expectation of them, most of them came from the University of Chicago. It was so strange because they all had great things ahead of them. Internships over the summer, competitions they were excited about, international travels… One of them had more than 5 different friends visit them during their time there. I couldn’t understand them at first. They were so young…? There was so much to life after college, they had friends, good grades from what I gathered. But I felt hypocritical to question their motives when I was only a few years older, with so much ahead of me, with a good job, doing not so hot, but still not that badly. I reminisced about how stressed out I was from the math classes I took near the end of my college career, especially those in the graduate level. I knew I wanted to go to grad school some day for statistics or something similar like predictive modeling, and I had to ace them no matter what. Listening to those in the psych ward, there was no specific age, gender, or social class depression targeted. Anyone could be a victim at any given point.

There were also those who were both alcoholics with depression, a double whammy. One man who was struggling with both told me about his partner who was a teetotaler, and couldn’t understand what he was going through. The pains of his withdrawals and the shame he felt when he couldn’t get out of it by himself was impossible to explain. He had a dog, traveled around the world with his husband, but like me, was stressed from his job. As a coping mechanism, he drank to numb the pain. With him, I could especially relate to having a significant other who did not have the same issues and was making an effort to understand my experience. Sometimes, words fail to describe these feelings. There was another man who had gotten into drugs that I, or some of the doctors, have never heard of because it was so underground in the club scene of the LGBT community he was involved in. He was using it to help his creativity as an artist, but he went too far with the drug. His battle was addiction, but in a strange way I could see the parallel with what I’ve been fighting off- which was my addiction to being busy, which was to cover up my problems I refused to face. Being busy was how I thought you got there. Everyone was so compassionate, and understanding of each other’s struggle- however different the struggle was.

My mother visited. I was afraid to face her at first because I felt guilty that I cut off contact with her. I just didn’t want to sound depressed on the phone. She had been worried, and was apologetic for all the pressure she put on me. I told her, it wasn’t you mom, it was mostly me. She took back all those requests she placed on me like me getting married someday and buying her nice things when I had made my wealth. She said she no longer cared what kind of job I had or what I achieved. She said nothing else mattered now, and that I was enough. It’s possible that she had told me this before, but it sounded so alien- my existence being enough, after having identified myself and my self worth based on my career. My other guest was my boyfriend. He was so worried, and was unable to tell me anything at first because he didn’t want to hurt me in case it came out the wrong way. It was difficult telling him everything that I tried to do because some of it didn’t make sense to me either. I was partly afraid he wouldn’t understand and it would just hurt him in the end, and partly feared that he would judge me or see me differently. If he did, I wouldn’t have blamed him. It is a lot for anybody, even for me experiencing it. He has been my best friend and my rock through everything and I couldn’t have asked for more.

The hospital had a strict regimen for the patients. We all woke up at the same time everyday and lights were turned off at the same time. Medication was distributed in the morning before group. Everyone was led to group, and was encouraged to speak. For me, the most helpful was not the drugs, but the group therapy they mandated. I knew that I wasn’t alone, and I felt quite normal, even more normal than some. I was allowing myself to feel what I felt and there was no judgment, no repercussions, just nods.

I got started on a low dose of Wellbutrin after my diagnosis was discussed. They also gave me Mirtazapine one night to help me sleep, and when that proved to be too strong for me (I walked around the halls and I couldn’t recognize anyone or speak coherently the next day), they tried Trazadone. Trazadone gave me night terrors and in my dream, there was a man with a knife, similar to the one I was planning to stab myself with, with a black bugler mask on, who tried to kill my family. I woke up sweating and ran out of my room because I thought he was still there. I stumbled out to a nurse who was on night duty and I was given Ativan for anxiety that night. After none of the drugs put me to sleep or helped in any way, they prescribed good ol’ Melatonin, which worked well as we expected.


After a few days of struggling to stay awake, I was starting to slowly regain consciousness, not that I was close to feeling like myself yet. I was talking to people and doctors saw the progress. I was released exactly a week later.

I stayed home for another week from work, wondering if I should actually quit my job or not. No matter how many times I wrote my pros and cons of staying or leaving, I could not escape this fact: my (mental) health was the most important thing to me. If I’m not alive after all this, how much is this job really worth at the end of the day? What I had gone through was traumatic for everyone involved, but it was truly a wake up call for me to do something differently with my life, and take care of myself before it’s too late. I read about people who have midlife crises, and random health problems on several depression related forums. Most were a lot older than me with a spouse and kids, and I could only be so grateful that the universe taught me this lesson a lot earlier than them when I still don’t have dependents. You really don’t know what life has in store for you, good or bad, and sometimes it’s really shitty. Other times, it’s not. There is a story, originally Chinese, perhaps told by Confucius that teaches us about the unpredictability of life. The story goes, there was a man who fell from his horse and broke his leg. His neighbors pitied him and said “it was just bad luck!” to which his wise father said, “no one knows if this is a misfortune or a good thing.” The neighbors did not agree because it was clearly a misfortune in their eyes. In the following days, the country goes into war and starts recruiting the able men in the village. All the healthy men are taken from their homes by force except the one who broke his leg from falling off the horse.

The most helpful thing a friend told me was that I have come a long way. A long way from battling it all alone all these years, without a diagnosis, or medication, or psychotherapy. It made me feel powerful and capable of going at it again. That I don’t have to be perfect. Because I think I was striving for perfection all this time.

I quit the following week when I returned to work. I did not disclose the health reasons to my employer of course, just the fact that I’m no longer interested in working there any longer. And to those who asked, I only said that I was going back to school to pursue a different field which was the truth. I was not completely myself the week I gave my formal resignation and struggled to sound normal while doing so. I have been out of work since then, not because I can’t find something else, I think I could, but because I have not fully recovered. I can’t say I’m happy yet- there is still a lot of sadness, confusion and fear. I am still in denial sometimes of what happened. When I remember, I start to blame myself for everything, which isn’t really all my fault. Being myself again, let alone being successful, seems like a stretch from where I stand. I would like to go back to school, but my diminished confidence doesn’t allow me to imagine that I might do well on the things I used to think I was good at. I try to imagine me at a different career, but the nagging feeling of inadequacy has me thinking, “if I didn’t do well on the other job, how do I dare believe that I will be good at another job?” There is a lot of uncertainty about my relationship because nothing is set in stone now, not that anything really is, it’s really an illusion that we like to believe in order to feel safe. I’ve never felt so scared in my life, to be honest,  and I still don’t think I have my senses back. I still have a long way to go until I figure out my meds and my treatment plan. When things start to suck these days I think of the man who fell off the horse.

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