Things that change

There are things that are going to change over time in a person:

Such as their appearance, status, health, how much money they have, their workplace, employment status, world views…

But things like character and personality are most likely not going to. It’s common, but foolish to judge someone by their external current state of being. It takes a wise person to look beyond the transient.

My mental health is my supreme goal

There are some people who come in to your life (via online or in real life) to be part of your mental health success story. I’m not jumping the gun here and calling mine a success story yet, but I survived my second depressive episode coupled with very bad withdrawals, and I’m still here. So I think I’ve managed to do something right (again) with the help of my treatment team and my friends and family.

She was my roommate at the psych ward. At a first glance, I knew that she was going to play a pivotal role in my recovery. Her name was W. W was about to get discharged when I was checking into the ER. She was around sixty, and had lived through her life with an unclear diagnosis, but as long as she could remember, she had depression, anxiety and an eating disorder. She only very recently found out that she was bipolar, but all her life, she had only taken just an antidepressant for her depression. We got close very quickly because of our love for our cats and reading. She had such a great appreciation for life and incredible inner strength, it was immediately infectious. Seeing someone with the same diagnosis as me live a normal life gave me so much hope. I asked her how she’s made it so far (which she was very proud of), and she shared with me how she coped, and she brought up what she learned in Dr. Low’s Recovery International program. W mentioned that Dr. Low came up with this program to help the sickest of the sick- I found it easy to understand and to accept some of these mantras she told me about. I wrote the following on my arm with a pen the whole time I was inpatient, so that I could access it when my depressed mind could not. I truly think these ideas saved me.

  • feelings lie to us, feelings are not facts
  • you can’t change feelings, they have to run their course
  • thoughts can be changed and redirected
  • feelings rise and fall
  • worry with reflective calm
  • when something bad happens, think of it as triviality of daily life, “these things happen in daily life”
  • expect to be disappointed and you won’t be
  • leave your standards, your performance rises
  • comfort is a want and not a need
  • you cannot expect comfort in an uncomfortable place/situation
  • move your muscles, your muscles will re-educate the brain (in other words, exercise)
  • do the things you fear and hate to do
  • no such things as a hopeless case
  • my mental health is my supreme goal
  • a decision brings a calming effect- you can also decide to not decide
  • everyone has choices
  • do not over-exaggerate your sense of responsibility (in the world)
  • wait with patience
  • to stop a panic – use objectivity
  • state the facts without temper
  • stay in the present, do not go too far in the past nor too far in the future
  • every act of self control brings self respect
  • everyday life is a business – make it the business of getting well
  • outer environment is rude, crude and indifferent
  • phasic not basic (it’s just a phase, not where you will be forever)
  • endorse for the effect not the result
  • temper begets temper, calm begets calm

I’ve bolded the ones I wrote on my arm to help me get through the suicidal thoughts without acting on them when I was in the hospital. I hope this resonates with you too. I’m so grateful for people for taking the time out of their lives to help me recover. Thanks to W, I believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Choosing life in the midst of distress

… You are never the same once you have acquired the knowledge that there is no self that will not crumble. We are told to learn self-reliance, but it’s tricky if you have no self on which to rely.

-Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon

Today I’m taking a day off from the hospital, where I’ve been going to seven days a week. I’ve been learning all the skills developed in DBT, doing exposure therapy, getting my meds checked and doing individual therapy. So everything you can think of under the sun for treating depression other than ECT. And I’m relieved to say it’s helping.

Today did not start off well. Not that it was supposed to. Recently, I stopped taking my sleep aid because my sleeping was a lot more regulated. It started at midnight: the anxiety got so so bad that I had a stomachache, which kept me up for four hours. I ruminated and stayed anxious until I could make some of the relaxation techique I learned to work on me. When I woke up again at 10 am, the anxiety was still in the background, so I was afraid to move a muscle. I cried for a long time, still in fetal position, at the thought of all the things I lost that I didn’t want to lose- my job which I quit after I was hospitalized (possibly my career), my friends, my relationship, and my self-confidence and trust, namely on my sense of logic and sound judgment, which was the backbone of my identity for a long time.

But what I learned was that in the midst of such illogical rambling from the depression, you can still find your way out of that maze. An emotion is like a wave, it rises and falls, and it isn’t forever. As long as you give it time to ride it out, it passes. The things that might seem forever during the distress isn’t forever. Everything has a beginning and an end, that is a truth. However it may feel, you can’t trust that feeling. You have to fight off the urges and voices from the emotional brain that ending it is the easiest thing for everyone involved. Tell it that it’s not true, and that you’re going to get your life back. The distress you are currently feeling isn’t anything that you necessarily have to feel as a consequence of an event, it is part of the disease, and activates the primitive part of your brain. You and the disease are separate beings. Your body is in flight mode, and it is an unnecessary reaction to what the actually situation is.

You may not be strong, but you are brave.

(Dis)orientation

I’m not going to lie, the last few years of my life (when I suspect I started falling into depression) has been pretty darn confusing. Confusing because I was starting to dip my feet in the real world and starting to make my own observations and judgments about it, and because I lost myself in the process. Ask me what my favorite anything is. Favorite ice cream, movie, hobbies… I don’t know, and I can’t remember. If I don’t have preferences, do I qualify as a real human being?

I sometimes have to think a little to remember where I am, what I’m doing with these people around me, and where I’m headed and I start to panic because I’m lost. Disoriented.

These last few months have been extra confusing because of the frequent changes in my mood due to frequent changes in my medication and, following it, my worldview and how I see myself in it. One day, I am absolutely mortified of a result of a phone call for changing psychiatrists (which is in no way my fault, by the way), and the next day everything and everyone looks so calm and inviting. One day I’m afraid to look strangers in the eye and end up walking with my head down because I’m ashamed (of something) and another day, I feel beautiful and I feel like I deserve to be recognized (for something.) I would love to be less existential on a day to day basis, but I happen to have a lot of time on my hands right now.

I’m starting to trust these “feelings” and “moods” a little less. In Buddhism, which is the religion I’m most closely affiliated with so far (try to convert me, if you want- proselytizers are always welcome), we meditate to observe and analyze these passing emotions/thoughts/feelings to gain insight to the “truth.” Once you’ve done this enough, not to spoil the ending or anything, you begin to see that these emotions are simply our reactions- which are sometimes far from the truth.

I’ve been thinking about separating myself from depression, and how to do it more effectively, and I figured thinking, as I would during a mediation might help. It’s a bit tiring to do it every time but you get used to it. What you do is, whenever you feel your emotion changing (let’s say from good to angry,) question that emotion. Why do you feel that emotion? Is there a basis for that emotion? Is this just another chemical reaction in your head? Is what you’re feeling helpful in your life? Is the emotion “real?” If not, the emotion is not coming from you. It’s coming from your depression.

Same thing goes for your physical state. When you feel tired, think back to why. Have you over exerted yourself? Sleep enough? If not, and you still feel fatigue, that is not you feeling how tired you are. That is the depression.

New kind of normal

I took Ativan last night to sleep, and it did indeed help me with sleep, which I am so grateful for. I had no dreams, which means that much REM sleep was had. I woke up at 7 am without an alarm, which is a more of a normal time to wake up. I pushed myself to on my jog because the 10-K I’m running with my boyfriend is coming up in early June that I signed up without really giving it much thought. I was probably running at the same speed as speed walking (around 12:00/ mi), but it felt good to be running by the lake shore again.

It feels like summer with everyone wearing shorts and short sleeved shirts and maxi dresses outside- the AC will resume tomorrow, the building notice said. The seasonal beachside Oak Beach Restaurant started rebuilding on the beach, too. And soon the pool opening will probably follow in my building.

Today feels “normal.” It doesn’t really mean that I’m happier or not sad. It means that I’m not numb and I can finally feel some kind of emotion, and there is sort of a pull from one activity to another, a desire to do something for the sake of doing it. I want to move. There is hope in every movement, however trivial it may be. Things are easier, the body isn’t as heavy, and you feel like you’re waltzing rather than dragging your feet when you walk. The mind is also moving without much effort. Ideas seem valuable, and things seem possible to execute. I feel like I can be loved again, or have lovable qualities, and instead of dwelling I’m not afraid to let go of the bad thoughts that are not helpful for my well being. Living is so much easier and better this way in this state- I would never contemplate suicide if every day was like this, or at least something remotely similar like this normal. It’s when I feel like I finally have my head above the water, and I can drink a fresh breath of air, and not water.

It’s the first time since mid April that it has felt like this for me- I’m not scared, inappropriately guilty, apologetic, resentful of the world or afraid of the future. I assume this is due to the normalization of my serotonin level which controls the feeling of well being.

A friend sent me a album recommendation, and she said it reminded of what I’m going through. I appreciated that she was thinking of me. The album is called, “A New Kind of Normal” by Cayetana. And her song, Bus Ticket resonated with me:

It was a wonderful puddle I played in
And I was so young when it hit me
You think my life is a vacation
That I’m adjusting to this medication

[Chorus]
So could feel more
Care less
So I could get this
This shit off my chest
And you wouldn’t resent me
For the stuff that I cannot do
Like waking up early
Or getting day drunk with you

Wasn’t the fall radicalized me
It’s what happened when I hit the ground

[Chorus]
But this is the new me
And I won’t apologize
Yeah this is the new me
And I hope that you realize
That I was born strong
Like the ones that made me
And I was made soft
By the one that raised me

And this is my last call
This is my rock bottom
This is my curtain call
This is my bus ticket

And this is my last call
This is my rock bottom
This is my curtain call
This is my bus ticket
Bus ticket

My dad told me that maybe this is a good thing. Good think to reach the rock bottom at my age. If you haven’t tasted the bitterness of life, how would you evaluate how sweet it can be when the time comes? Suffering gives us depth, and pain cannot be avoided.

What to do during panic attacks

It’s been a constant uphill battle with my anxiety lately. In the last few days, it’s happened enough times that I see it coming, like a wave caused by a tsunami, approaching the shore faster than you can run. But you can’t run, and you’re caught dead in your tracks and the wave of anxiety engulfs you until you drown.

This morning was pleasant, and I was even able to go for a run without feeling too fatigued. Afterwards, I was sitting at Starbucks trying to do some work then I accidentally had tea with too much caffeine. Thus began my caffeine induced panic attack. Alarm bells were going off in my head, I felt tense, my heart rate sped up and my hands got sweaty all of a sudden. I got scared like someone was going to attack me. I was unable to move or respond to my mother who was asking me a question.

There is a technique that I’ve learned when I was hospitalized that helps with getting out of this “panic mode” called grounding. What it basically is, is describing the external surroundings around you in detail, which tells your brain that you are in a safe place. For example, you would list that, there are white painted walls with 3 paintings on each wall, the carpet is beige and fluffy, there is a desk with three pens in the pencil holder… and so on and so forth. This coupled with deep breathing helped to alleviate the panic for me.

Eventually I got out of that state and was able to breathe normally and not completely break down. It’s so scary to live every day knowing that these things could happen most unexpectedly. I still don’t know what is causing this build up of anxiety.