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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Spoonie

Hello everyone! Sorry that I haven’t posted in a while. There hasn’t been anything unusual that happened in my life that thwarted me from the usual blogging schedule, but I’ve been kind of just feeling rather… small. Insignificant. At a loss (for words). Not worthless, that would be too strong of a word, but I have been just feeling a bit invisible in the past couple weeks. It’s very subtle how it manifests itself, this feeling of insignificance: there is a slight shift in my behavior at first. I start to not reach out to friends as much because my mind automatically thinks, “what’s the point of sending them a picture of this cute dog/cat? It’ll probably just waste their time and they’ll think that’s all I’m doing all day,” and the picture will not be sent. Same with text messages. The negative self talk will shoot down a text that was composed before it gets sent. Same with emails. Phone calls. I will also reject all invitations from friends. It’s not social anxiety that causes it, but it’s just the terrible feeling in the gut that says I probably shouldn’t go because I’m going to have a bad time. I’m going to be tired if I go. I’m going to have to talk to people who are going to judge. I’m going to have to lie about what I’m doing with my life to avoid awkwardness. If it’s close friends I’ve known since pre-hospitalization, I feel like there isn’t anything worth talking about in my life that they can relate to since I’m in therapy or napping most of the day (my friends in therapy get this, of course). For blogging, or talking to people, I guess I’m having a hard time because I feel like I’m not interesting and because the energy or motivation needed for doing it isn’t there. If you like spoon theory, I just have very few spoons per day because of the fatigue that comes with anything I do. Interacting (emoting, speaking, gesturing etc) with people takes everything out of me. Keeping my feelings and negative thoughts at bay takes away majority of the spoons on a regular day.

I think at this point you’re thinking: it’s avoidance coming from the depression, duh! And I don’t feel great that I recognized it and couldn’t do anything about it, but I don’t want to make myself feel worse than I already am. I’m hoping this blog post will my first step towards not avoiding.

 

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Being speechless in therapy

You know when you don’t really have anything to say in therapy? Not that your life is perfect or that you don’t have problems, but all your problems are all chronic and ongoing and have no simple solutions that will end them once and for all and there are no major crises at least for once in your life? That’s where I am right now. I’ve been very stuck with therapy lately. I’m at a loss for words. Group or individual. I don’t really have anything to say other than, I’m managing and it’s fine. Not fine in the sense that I no longer have a chronic mental illness and all my hopes and aspirations are coming true, but in the sense that my bipolarness is not volatile. I’m not suicidal. My mood can still consume me and make be feel bad about myself. I’m chronically tired, but I’ve kind of accepted that. I’m still not stable enough to go out and look for a job, but I’m physically able to paint and draw. Socializing drains me, so that’s still difficult to do. I can’t even manage an online course at this state. Sleeping is still difficult. Eating is forced. Nothing is really “back to normal” and I’m not sure if it’ll ever be normal as before. I’m doing what I think is the best I can do.

I’m trying, I really am. But I’m also waiting. Waiting to not feel so tired all the time. Waiting for the moods changes to settle, waiting to feel like I’m not about to get attacked every second both verbally and physically, waiting to feel confident in my abilities to do things. Waiting to trust myself again in my judgment in small and big decisions. Waiting to become independent again. Waiting to regain my strength both physically and mentally. I’m trying but these things I used to take for granted are not back.

Every morning I hold my breath when I wake up because the mood when I wake up will determine how the day will go usually. So if it’s good, then it’s a relief. But for whatever reason, I’m feeling depressed, not much can help to lift that up. I become like a lifeless zombie- nothing is enjoyable. Vitality is no longer in my dictionary. On those days, I do things just for the sake of doing them. Showering, eating, going to group, interacting with others- I force myself. And it’s really so hard to move when there is this heaviness that won’t go away, like a demon is sitting on your shoulders.

I don’t know how long I will have to wait. But I’m pretty sure it will be a while. 

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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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