Gratitude

Watercolor of my cat, Olivia

Thankful that I didn’t have an episode today when I almost could have at the store. Thankful that I have a roof over my head and food in the fridge. Thankful that I laughed more than once today at something stupid. Thankful that I have family that understands and supports. Thankful that there are people who can differentiate me from the illness. Thankful for modern medicine and drugs. Thankful for my curious and silly cat. Thankful for being healthy enough to be able to help others. Thankful for being able to hope. Thankful for today, despite what yesterday was and tomorrow might be.

Advertisements

The door

About half of my posts go unpublished. It’s not because I think they are poorly written, uninteresting, or offensive. And it’s not because I’m being lazy and I give up. It’s because when I read them again after a day or so, those thoughts and opinions don’t reflect how I feel in another time. I found that to be invalidating to my “other self” who wrote the piece in the past. So I’m going to go ahead and publish that now. It’s unfinished because my mood changed before I could finish it. I hope that in posting it, it’ll help me feel like that part of myself is still me, no matter how contradictory it is to my present self.


Tuesday 5th, 2017

Today was pretty painful. I admit I was not a place to be vulnerable- but as life goes, you show up to your weekly therapy appointments.

I felt normal this morning with no symptoms on either side of the bipolar spectrum even though I got very little sleep because of my anxiety. I hoped the mood would continue.  I got to my therapist’s and I started talking about my anxiety, which has been at an all time high. “What am I afraid of?” She asked. “Was it something about the future?” No, I hardly ever thought about my future in detail anymore because it terrified me that I didn’t have a plan, a five-year-plan, or a ten-year-plan. I felt like if I thought about it, I would open the pandora’s box for the second time.

I thought a little more and it went like this.

What I am most afraid of right now is myself. There is always this door in my mind, you see, that stays closed most of the time. I hardly noticed this door when my mood is above normal. It’s troubling when it goes below that mark. The door becomes an option, an appealing portal to go through. An escape, an exit out of this life. That door is labeled suicide. This door didn’t even come into existence before this year, when the stress piled up and my mind blew up. It still scares me that I’ve opened this door and contemplated stepping into it a few times. That was when I thought (perhaps not based on reality) I had “no way out” of mediocrity, and I had no way to get to my career goals, or my life situation. In my right mind, that doesn’t make sense to me of course. I mean, I’m still here. That means that there is always a way out right?

Most people don’t have this door in their heads- the meticulous plans, the scene by scene of how your last day will go and what you will leave the ones that will grieve, fortunately. It’s another maladaptive coping mechanism, clinically speaking. This door, the sole existence of it, in the most twisted way, is comforting to me. It’s quite ironic, I realize- but it represents that I have a choice on what to do with my life, when it doesn’t seem like I have any control over it– and that it isn’t someone else’s decision to make (unless one is on the other side of the law in certain states). When you lose control, or you feel powerless, the normal thing is to let go and move on and not obsess about it. The person with the mental illness does the exact opposite thing, not because they want to, but because that’s the only thing they know how. They cling to the door and toy with the handle when things just explode.

I’m working on covering up this door permanently in my mind with the help of my therapist. I’m trying to make it no longer an option. I want it gone from my mind. A big reason for starting this blog was to rid of this door that left me standing at the edge of a cliff every time depression hit. But it’s not as straightforward as I thought it would be.

Coping with BPD: Skewed perceptions

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.

  1. What state am I in? (manic, hypomanic, depressed)
  2. 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?

Dealing with the world outside the mental health bubble & shame

I finally got caught up with all the text messages and emails from friends I’ve missed out on for over a month. Friends outside my mental health bubble, but friends nevertheless, in the Facebook definition of the term. The reason (and not the excuse) for leaving them unanswered was because at the time the anxiety of concocting a response probably would have caused another episode which I could not afford. It took nearly a month for me to recover enough and to have enough courage to even write a reply to a simple, “Hey, how are you doing?”

Well, there is the honest answer and the not honest answer to that. But would it make sense for them to hear that it’s been the worst time in my life? Was it just pure shame? After consideration, I tell them that I’m sick and in treatment for a neurological disorder.

The friends who are outside of this bubble consist of the following:

  1. the coworkers I remained friendly with, but don’t know me that well,
  2. those who seemed or have proven to be scared/ignorant/judgmental about mental illnesses and those suffering from them,
  3. those who don’t know how to act around me post-hospitalization (other than saying I’m so sorry, like someone died), or doesn’t act the same way around me or have abandoned me since the diagnosis
  4. and those friends that I just can’t really tell whether or not they will react well to the news because I’ve never spoken them about it.

This could all just be me making it up in my head. It’s possible that people are kinder than they are in my head.

Then there are those inside my mental health bubble that I can share what is actually going on.

  1. my parents
  2. my treatment team (therapist and psychiatrist)
  3. friends who work in the mental health field (there are very few of these people in my life as I have not worked in the industry)
  4. friends who are also going through similar struggles from group therapy
  5. other writers/speakers/bloggers who write about their stories

Why must I isolate myself, or make up a vague story to cover up a very important part of my life to just get by and to not be found? That’s what guilty people do because they’re ashamed, but I haven’t done anything wrong except to have won the lottery to have a stigma filled disorder. I found this to be very uncomfortable to be nontransparent to those I used to call “friends.” Sure, the ones that work in the industry I might go back to might not get the full details because employers will not look at my illness favorably if they find out- it seems to be a literal death sentence to your career in my field. But the friends who you used to be close to, but do not know the whole story about why you dropped off the face of the earth? That’s tricky, especially when it’s over a text, you can’t know their genuine reaction, so you wouldn’t know how to respond appropriately. Do you respond with a psych education video, or do you laugh it off like it’s nothing?

I sound a little paranoid, I know. But I feel like I would have to make a decision now on how to tell the people I meet in my life about what is going on with me, as someone who isn’t fully stable (yet). I don’t want to be someone who is inconsistent and flaky, but that’s what I do sometimes to take care of myself- that has not gone well received/ understood. Part of me wants to out myself to everyone just to show them. Fight the stigma by showing them all that I’m not what they imagine I am. But it’s pretty scary, and I fear the silent rejection and ostracism that I may have to face. I may not have enough courage for this one yet.

 

Some thoughts about authenticity

I’m sitting by my window, my new window, I should say, where I can see the beautiful Manhattan skyline better than I have ever before. It’s night, so the lights and the cars on the Williamsburg bridge twinkle, but there is enough water between us that all is quiet. Quiet city living is an oxymoron and I thought I’d never achieve it, but I might have,  finally. With the (final) move done, I’m more than relieved and thankful that I will be spending most of my time recovering peacefully in this neighborhood.

Tuesday means it’s therapy day. Therapy has finally been nudging at something in my head that seemed to have been stuck for ages. The core of the problem. It’s one of those times when all the information you need has been there all along, all your past history, the trials and tribulations, but it just hasn’t been processed well. I guess I just defined the point of therapy right there. Six different psychiatrists and a handful of therapists later, it feels like things are moving along.

It all started with talks about my dissociations (the aspect depersonalization especially where I feel like I’m out of my own body), why I dissociate (unintentionally but possibly with some purpose), which led to the discussion about the personalities I have possessed during different times in my life, which then led to the idea of there being a singular sense of self, or whether if I thought I had one. It was a difficult conversation, something that made me vulnerable and rather silly- I said I thought I had a very fluid sense of self. My favorite food, book, movie, color and anything that typically defines a person change for me every few hours, depending on how I feel and who I’m interacting with. I don’t like conflict, so I try to please most people by agreeing with their decisions and preferences within reason (sorry angry-human-in-orange-skin supporters). I think everyone does this to a certain extent (e.g. to look nice to your boss), but this is probably what I do to everyone. “Agreeable” would be putting it nicely, but you could also say that the person has no color to their personality. Could you say that I’m not normal? Perhaps. Is it healthy? Probably not. I could say it has been a survival mechanism since I landed on Canadian soil as an immigrant at the age of ten from the other side of the earth. I was unhappy with how my family was treated for not being able to speak English and not knowing the culture, and I promised myself that I would protect them and that I would be more than a second class citizen when I grew up. (For those who don’t speak a second language as their main language, people will treat you like shit if you don’t speak a language even if you have more degrees then them. Because, well, you’re basically dumb and mute for all they care.) From this point, I threw away my first language and immersed into my second to speak like a native. No mixing “l” and “r” sounds, knowing when things should be silent and not. In a neighborhood that did not share my culture, even with my efforts, I was not accepted well. I was a curiosity for a little while, but to make friends, I had to choose the new culture over my own.

Today I speak English like a native. Some would say better than a native. I achieved my goal, but I started doing something else. Giving up and compromising “myself” started being a habit since that day. I would make a mold of an idealized self and pour everything into becoming that person. Once I got there, the goal changed to something bigger and better. When the mold changed, and I would break the old one to become the new idealized version of what I wanted to be. As my therapist would say, I never let my real self grow, I just pretended to be the different people I wanted to be. I was making these molds and wearing them as my own personality. It took a lot of work, but I could do it. But all this time, I was the empty shell of a person underneath the plaster. Finally, the plaster cracked, as you know if you’ve been reading my blog. I graduated college with honors, got my dream job that I’ve been preparing for, had friends and a boyfriend, and interesting things to do, but I wasn’t happy. Furthermore, I felt like I wasn’t supposed to be there. I didn’t feel like I was good at things when I was praised and I didn’t feel like I was good at things when I didn’t get praised. Everyone was trying to fix me, into something acceptable, but they couldn’t put into words on a performance review. It’s hard to pretend to be confident about something when you feel that something is very wrong. In hindsight, I think that was my authentic self speaking out. I didn’t listen for a long time, because I was going after my goal.

Then as you know, hell broke loose. I became suicidal. I was hospitalized, then was soon diagnosed with major depressive disorder and anxiety, eating disorder not specified, then bipolar II. They are just words, these diagnoses. They, in summary, meant you’re doing something wrong with your body and mind. You’re doing you wrong.

My therapy is really taking shape: it’s about discovering who I am and living authentically, as cliche as that sounds. Twenty-four-years is a long enough time to live as someone else.

I’d love to hear your stories if you’ve been through something similar!

 

Managing chronic dissociation

I’ve been gone for a while, in a few different ways. I came off of social media and my blog for a while because of my anxiety and the negative self-talk that comes with depression. I been also feeling like I wasn’t in my body. When it got bad, the thoughts went to wanting to not exist, whatever that took. I’m not sure if “fantasized” is the correct word here, but I would imagine day after day hoping the pain would go away, and how it could go away, how it could just all end. The awful thoughts that hurt me somehow kept persevering- “you’re not worth it,” “you don’t belong anywhere,” “you’re useless,” “you have not future” etc. Mindfulness exercises were not enough to overcome the noise in my head, and distraction was the only way to keep myself safe. I finally came off of the Ativan I was taking it at night for sleep and anxiety, and the anxiety came back like it was always within me. It made me shiver and shake when I was in bed from the physical sensation of anxiety- I couldn’t trace back to what I was anxious about. It was like ants crawling over my body from toe to head on my back.

Through it all, I dissociated. Well, I’m actually dissociating now as I write. I’ve dissociated for a straight month. I should point out, I don’t have Dissociative Identity Disorder or Borderline Personality Disorder, for which dissociation is a common symptom. No one has figured out exactly why I dissociate. My therapist thinks it’s because of the trauma of becoming diagnosed with bipolar and the aftermath of getting used to the condition. My doctors thinks it was the Ativan I was taking or the level of Lithium I was on. My mother thought it was from the big move. It could be because of many things. Whatever the reason was, I kept dissociating.

Being asleep makes the reality more “real” because you’re actually supposed to feel a bit foggy and dream-like while you’re asleep. So it’s not strange to say that reality is more authentic in one’s dreams for someone who dissociates. When I’m awake, everything is so dull, colorless, not reactive. People passing by seem fake, like puppets placed in the fake world you’re supposed to interact in. You don’t feel like you’re in your own body or that you have any agency. You constantly feel confused by where you are and who you are. You feel invisible because you think you’re actually watching a movie instead of what is happening as a reality. Sounds uncomfortable? You bet. This is your whole day, from when you open your eyes, until you fall asleep. There are some things that I’ve done to cope with feeling dissociated all the time. I can’t say they cured it, but it helps with managing it.

  • Fake it: Emotions will not be automatic in this numb and dull state. So when you are prompted to show an emotional response to others, give them what they want. This will be easier than trying to explain what you’re feeling (like the above). Read their facial cues for clues and reiterate what they said, even if you don’t actually have an emotional response. Laugh when jokes are made, empathize when necessary. Be careful to not get worn out, because it takes energy to do this. Take breaks when needed.
  • Get exercise: This might be difficult when the anxiety is high, so in that case, it’s best to do it in a secluded place by yourself. I tried to walk in the park but I would jump every time a stranger passed by. Go wherever you feel safe. It could be a gym machine, or in my case, I walked up and down the emergency stairway in my building multiple times because it was usually empty. All in all, endorphins always help at least just a little bit.
  • Help someone else: This is another distraction skill coupled with opposite action. Focus on someone else’s problem’s for awhile to make yours disappear temporarily. Take care of a pet, do the chores for another family member, volunteer.
  • Get busy: Take up a hobby to keep your mind off of yourself and your situation. I picked up embroidery to feel productive.
  • Pretend that you’re playing a video game from the first person perspective: Accept that the dissociation will be there. Accept that your reality is “fake”. Tell yourself you’re playing “you” in a video game- pretend to play a role of “yourself” when you weren’t dissociating. Ask close friends and family to check if you sound like yourself. So far, it seems like even if you don’t “feel like yourself,” or if you’re having an out of body experience, everyone else won’t notice that you’re dissociating.

That’s all I’ve got. Hope everyone had a good weekend.