In Search of Truth

A series of 4 images.

First, I used oil pastels to color in a spiral – or, as Fox put it, a rainbow snail shell.

I drew both spirals from the outside, in - but I colored the big spiral from the inside, out.

I drew both spirals from the outside, in – but I colored the big spiral from the inside, out. My original intent was to go from the darkness within through the blood red to the light and growth without.

Then, I used darker colors to cover it up. By the time I was done smudging everything, my hands were almost completely black.

This is just one potential way to visualize depression.

This is just one potential way to visualize depression.

I wanted to bring out some faces I saw in that mess, but drawing over it with oil pastels wasn’t working. If only there were a way to cut through the smudgy, messy depression and see something – anything – clearly!

I used a scratching tool to scratch off some of the oil pastel to create the image(s) you see here.

I used a scratching tool to scratch off some of the oil pastel to create the image(s) you see here.

Finally, I was able to discover what was truly hiding behind that mess …

An unexpected self-portrait.

An unexpected self-portrait.

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Writer’s Block

I’ve been struggling with writer’s block for the past few days, wanting to post something but unable to settle on a topic or focus on the writing process. Finally, today, I gave up on trying to express myself in words and decided to draw with oil pastels instead. Here is what I drew:

I colored with the oil pastels, then smeared the colors from left to right with a tissue. The shadow in the lower left corner was cast by me as I took the picture.

I colored with the oil pastels, then smeared the colors from left to right with a tissue. The shadow in the lower left corner was cast by me as I took the picture.

It is interesting to note that, like the sculpture I made a couple weeks ago, the face in the image doesn’t have a mouth. Fitting, seen as I’m having so much trouble expressing myself. I even had a hard time trying to answer Wakana when she asked how things have been for me. I had trouble forming complete sentences.

Worse, as I was drawing, The Critic kept bombarding me with some really mean thoughts. Some of them might be triggers:

  • You’re crazy
  • You’re decompensating
  • People are going to think you’re insane
  • People won’t get what you’re trying to say – are you even trying to say anything?
  • It’s rubbish
  • It sucks
  • An immature level of artwork
  • You should destroy it
  • You should kill yourself
  • It would be better if you used your own blood
  • WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS!?
  • Those eyes are too haunting. Make it stop.
  • You’re a failure and you’ll never amount to anything
  • Nobody cares about you
  • Why are you still breathing?

I showed the list to Fox and he said, “The one that stands out the most is this: ‘Those eyes are too haunting. Make it stop.'” The Critic is scared. It’s trying to keep me from expressing myself. All those horrible thoughts, lies*, to keep me from the truth.

What could I possibly have inside me that’s that terrifying?

* I tell myself they’re lies, echoing Fox’s Mom, but I’m not entirely convinced at least some of them aren’t at least partially true.

Thoughts on Mad Pride

I’d like to encourage readers to check out a new blog, Radically Mad, where cheshirekit will also be writing about experiences with mental health issues. Although she has several psychiatric diagnoses, she prefers to consider herself “mad and neurodivergent.” Near the end of her Introduction, she explains the meanings of these terms:

Neurodiversity and disability rights refer more to physical and cognitive disabilities, while mad pride and radical mental health refer to psychiatric diagnoses.  The basic idea is that humans are meant to be diverse and have diverse ways of perceiving, experiencing, and acting on the world, and this actually improves society as a whole rather than hurting it.  Having a brain that is wired differently, though it can be challenging at times since our society at large is set up to be convenient people with “typical” brains, does not have to be a bad thing, and can in fact be a source of pride.

I like this way of thinking, but I have yet to examine my own relationship with it.

Whatever labels people might stick on me, my basic experience is that I have very strong emotions. I’m learning what to do about / with them – how to express them safely; how to channel them into a healthy activity; how to respond to the situation in which they are arising so as to meet my own needs while still respecting others; etc. Right now I’m taking medication intended to make them a little bit easier to handle, but most of my work is on coping with them.

I don’t want my intense emotions to go away – they are an important part of who I am! They give me energy, creativity, the passion and drive to do amazing things. I often find it difficult to function in a society that devalues emotions, demands conformity, sensationalizes tragedy, and over-stimulates the senses. Worst, I’ve internalized messages from society that take the form of very harsh, critical thoughts with the power to decimate my self-esteem. But as painful as the lows may be, on some level I value them just as much as I value the joy that can rise in response to the simplest things. The depth of the emotions I can experience is meaningful to me; it is the genesis of my art. Having experienced the lows helps me to appreciate the highs so much more. They’re also an important part of how I connect with other people – empathy.

So I guess for me Mad Pride is recognizing these aspects of who I am as a way of being that, while undervalued by society, is valuable in its own right. My emotions aren’t “pathological,” society just isn’t really built to handle them. My journey isn’t about “recovering” from an “illness,” it’s about learning the skills I need to live and function in society, while still valuing, expressing, and utilizing all of my Self. It is in this way that I can make the most meaningful contributions to society.

… Though any change that can occur in society, to make it more accepting of and accessible to people who are mad and/or neurodivergent, is certainly a big help. That’s where activism comes in: changing the structures of society to be more inclusive; to make diversity more visible; to value respect the myriad of ways humans can be in the world – rather than considering one way “normal” and marginalizing everyone who doesn’t fit into this narrow mold.

Into Darkness

Today I brought Mom to outpatient physical therapy (PT) for the first time. She kept asking me to go in with her, but was able to operate the handicapped person’s elevator by herself. Other people opened doors for her. As soon as she entered the place proper, she seemed to forget I was there, trying to figure out whether I should help her, and if so what I should do.

Once Mom was happily at PT, Fox and I went to a relatively nearby movie theater to see Star Trek: Into Darkness. I’m going to try not to give spoilers but I will say there were a lot of explosions. Overall, it was an excellent movie and I’m really looking forward to seeing it again. If I do so in theaters, I’m bringing earplugs.

Anyone watching me during the movie might have thought I hated it, though, and seriously wondered why I didn’t just get up and leave. I spent significant portions of the movie clinging to Fox for dear life – much the same way I clung to a previous significant other when we went to see Silent Hill, a horror movie that quite thoroughly terrified (and traumatized) me. Especially during fight scenes (in Star Trek), I was shaking, looks of panic on my face, holding my head in my hands, my body very tense, insisting that Fox hold me. It was, in short, a very strong anxiety reaction. Even afterward, when I went to the bathroom, I started shaking again and felt like I was on the verge of tears.

Don’t get me wrong, I was very immersed in the movie. The acting, the music, the effects, and an engaging plot all came together to really pull me into the overall experience. I could relate to and empathize with the characters; I cared about their well-being. So my physical responses do make sense with what I was thinking and feeling in response to the movie. They were just taken to what I perceive as an extreme that does not reflect my actual degree of emotional response. Nothing in the movie was particularly terrifying or anxiety provoking; I haven’t been traumatized by it; intellectually I knew I was perfectly safe, sitting in a movie theater being entertained. But the way my body responded, you’d think I was convinced my life was in serious danger.

It was extremely loud in the movie theater and I think (hope) that was a significant contributing factor. That said, I think the metallic timbre of the explosion and especially gunshot sounds was the main trigger for my anxiety response. It’s possible the motion (visual input) might have also played a role. It’s hard to say what role the music played because I wasn’t focusing on it during the most anxiety-provoking scenes, but I did notice that at times it was very intense, with loud rapid high-pitched passages played by the string section of the orchestra (e.g. violins). Again, I think my response was “normal” in terms of its quality, but not its intensity.

I’m pretty sure it’s a side effect of the medications I’m on. One of the “infrequent” side effects listed for Zoloft is hyperesthesia – increased sensitivity in one or more senses. Now that I know that, I can save a lot of time trying to explain my experiences to my next psychiatrist and simply tell zir I have “auditory hyperesthesia.” Additionally, an “infrequent” side effect of BuSpar is noise intolerance. I’m not sure whether that’s the same thing / similar / related, or something completely different. But it’s definitely been affecting me in my daily life. Among other things, it’s harder for me to shop for items I need and make decisions because I can’t tolerate the noise (especially music and advertisements) in a lot of stores.

We went back to the PT place to pick Mom up, getting slightly lost in the process. Fox was geekgasming about the movie and its relationship to classic Star Trek. It’s the kind of thing I love to watch and listen to, but find distracting and irritating when I need to concentrate on driving. Then his mom called; I asked him to put her on speaker phone so he could help set up my GPS and I could be part of the conversation. We stayed on the phone with her for a little while after picking up my mom, who quietly complained to me that she had been waiting for us for over an hour. I think she should have been the one to do this, but I stepped up and politely told Fox’s mom I was enjoying talking to her, but let’s continue this conversation later.

Then there was driving around in circles in traffic, shopping, eating at a somewhat noisy establishment, listening to Mom, trying to express some of my needs to her – such as my need for a day (or two) to myself every week – feeling like she didn’t quite catch my meaning, and trying to cope with a splitting headache. By the time we got home I was furious! I think it’s because here I am struggling with all this shit and she just keeps asking more and more of me and no matter how hard she tries to be nice and considerate and show her support I feel like she just sees me as someone to do shit for her. A servant. Is it my hangup or something about her? I don’t even know! It drives me crazy.

But the point is when we got home I was furious. Rat therapy helped me calm down. Fox ended up doing laundry for all three of us while I took a nap; I’m torn between being very grateful and feeling guilty about “making” him do my mother’s laundry. That just seems to be breaking some kind of unspoken taboo.

Wakana had to cancel both our meetings this week because she’s been sick so I can’t even take my frustrations out on the cymbal receive the support and therapeutic experiences I need from her. (I’ll admit I’m a bit annoyed about that, but I can’t believe she’d take a week off from work unless she had a really good reason to do so. It’s not like you can get paid sick days in private practice.) So I get to drive Mom to and from PT tomorrow (and possibly other errands), but I don’t get to have the professional help I desperately need! It’s not fair!

Please help support my blogging habit by buying products related to Star Trek on Amazon.com; you can even pre-order Star Trek: Into Darkness.

Ziya’s Day

I had a positively wonderful massage at my local Massage Envy today. The therapist who worked on me recommended medical massage to relieve the tension in my back; we compromised by dedicating the 1st half of the massage to medical and the 2nd half to relaxation. Without me saying a word about my diet and exercise habits (or lack thereof), she was able to tell that I was dehydrated and suffered from malnutrition based on the areas and degree of tension in my back. She said I needed to drink more water, eat more fiber (beans & vegetables), reduce my sugar intake, and start exercising. She also realigned my right leg and both hips, literally helped me breathe more easily, and (I thought) improved circulation to my arms.

I opted for aromatherapy during my massage, namely the “Anxiety Release” blend. The aromatherapy in conjunction with massage helped me to relax, both physically and emotionally. Though the therapist said I “slept like a baby,” I was actually awake, listening to the relaxing background music and feeling the massage with my eyes closed. I was also thinking quite a bit about what I can do to take better care of myself.

Thinking clip art#1

Obviously I need to do the things the therapist recommended, including getting massages regularly (for now, every other week; I’m hoping to be able to reduce that to once a month by the time I’ve used up all the pre-paid massage hours I’ve accrued).

I also need to take one day off each week, a day dedicated entirely to my mental, physical, and spiritual health. It will be a day when I do not have to do anything for Mom – unless it is an emergency. A day to relax, get a massage, turn off the computer and other electronics, express my spirituality and creativity, and really focus in on my health. On this one day per week I am thinking of abstaining from foods with added sugar, and limiting my diet to whole fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, eggs, and maybe milk. I’ll be happy to spend time with loved ones on this day, as long as that does not interfere with me focusing primarily on my well-being.

CaptureMay

I love the idea of my day for all this being Wednesday because it’s smack in the middle of the week! What better way to put myself at the center of my own life? Wednesday should work for now, based on my and Mom’s schedules, but if necessary I can change it to another day. However, I will not compromise having one day per week to myself – unless there is an emergency.

I hate tracking food (and planning meals), but I need to get a realistic idea of how I’m eating in order to improve my nutrition. I’ve used SparkPeople in the past and find it mostly good for tracking and to some extent receiving motivation to live a healthy lifestyle. There are a lot of ads that get annoying and send messages I’m not entirely confident are healthy, but using the site is otherwise free of (monetary) cost. I did have to spend a lot of time looking up nutrition info on other sites, though. :-/

My biggest gripe, though, is that it doesn’t really give one the information needed to track the “nutrient” I’m most concerned about right now: sugar. I could track my fructose and sucrose intake, but the site provides no guidelines regarding how much of each I should consume. “Sugar” only exists when you’re viewing or inputting nutritional information for a specific food; it is not a “nutrient” you can track, nor are there clear guidelines – on SparkPeople or in general! – on how much of it one should eat in a day.

Based on this LiveStrong.com article and the daily range of calories recommended to me by SparkPeople, I figured out that the maximum amount of sugar I should consume in one day is 31 grams. Just the 2 chocolate chip cookies I had hours before my massage contained enough sugar to put me over this limit for today.

I'll use an Excel spreadsheet to track sugar in foods I eat, excluding the natural sugar found in fruits.

I’ll use an Excel spreadsheet to track sugar in foods I eat, excluding the natural sugar found in fruits.

It’s not something I expect to be able to adhere to every day, but I hope that at least intermittent tracking will hep me to become more aware of what I’m putting into my body. Maybe it will help me make better choices more in line with my need to be healthy and live a fulfilling life!

NewProjects

With only 11 days until the Out of the Darkness Overnight, it’s seeming less and less feasible for me to participate. I haven’t been training, I’m nowhere near the $700 I’m required to raise, and I haven’t made any travel plans or hotel reservations. Mom keeps saying, “Maybe this isn’t the year for you to do this.” It hurts like hell to hear it, but at least half the reason why it hurts is because at least part of me thinks she’s right.

I was finally able to express how her feedback is affecting me: “When you say things like that, I feel depressed. I feel like I suck.”

“I don’t think you suck. I just think you have a lot going on right now, and maybe trying to do this on top of it isn’t the best idea.”

She has a point. A lot of things have been going on to get in the way of my preparations for the Overnight:

  • my response to the 15-year anniversary of my father’s death
  • moving back in with Mom
  • moving back in with Mom
  • the extreme self-deprecation and anxiety that forced me to drop the last 2 pre-thesis classes I need to complete my master’s degree because they increased my self-harm risk
  • lack of social support
  • midterm and end-of-the-semester stress
  • anxiety over Mom’s surgery
  • Mom’s surgery
  • visiting Mom after her surgery
  • taking care of Dog and rats
  • turning to the computer (rather than walking or other forms of exercise) for escapism
  • depression symptoms
    • fatigue
    • lack of motivation
    • self-harm ideation and thought imagery
  • social anxiety; not wanting to be seen

Yes, I could have made different choices. But I think blaming myself for not preparing for the Overnight would be like blaming someone for losing a poker match in which the best hand ze was dealt was a pair of deuces. Sometimes, your best option is to fold.

When I expressed all this to Fox, he suggested a brilliant compromise: instead of attempting the overnight walk in Washington, D.C., I can do my own, shorter, walk locally. I can time it for when Banji and other people I love and trust can make it. Mom can come – even if she can’t walk the full route, she might be able to walk part of it. Just her physical presence as a supporter would mean the world to me!

I can even still ask people to chip in what they can to donate to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). We might even raise some awareness; I can wear the shirt I received for raising $100 for the Overnight and maybe my supporters can wear matching shirts in a similar color (ooh, getting together to decorate them might be fun!) … that kind of thing usually gets people to wonder what’s going on; even explaining our shenanigans to just one person might make a difference.

The AFSP even has tools for creating your own campaign that I can use! They offer a variety of ideas; endurance events (e.g. walks) are only one option.

I’m thinking of making a campaign I could link to from this blog, actually. One idea I have is to invite readers to commission posts on topics of their choice related to my experiences with mental illness, mental health care, and possibly other topics – all with the caveat that I will only share information I feel comfortable and safe sharing. What do you think?

Another project I’m planning is an herb and vegetable garden. Fox is on board with it; I love the idea of having someone to garden with. We’ve done some research and decided to start small, just a handful of plants in a few pots, preferably raised off the ground so we don’t have to bend too much. It’s a way for us to get outside in the fresh air and sun, do something that resembles physical activity, connect with nature, and possibly even grow our own fresh (preferably organic) produce! – that is, if the squirrels don’t eat it all …

From a supporter’s point of view

Ziya has written a lot about hir reactions and experiences with the depression, and its effects on hir life. But, I think that there is something valuable to learn from the supporters in the life of a person struggling with depression.

I’ll admit: I’ve had a few significant, yet minor (comparatively) depressive episodes in my lifetime. So I can’t strictly speak from the outsider’s perspective. But my day to day emotions (range, strength, etc) are usually stable enough that I can’t (and, more importantly won’t) claim to fully understand what Ziya goes through. I see much more how the depression effects hir behavior, mood, and ability to function. After all, I’ve been with Ziya for close to three years now.

A short “glossary” before I continue: drs = depression supporter. Anyway, onto the rest of the post.

As a drs, I get to see Ziya at hir best (ie, the moments when ze’s functioning “normally”, able to experience genuine happiness, complete common chores and generally have fun)… you know, how those of us who don’t have to deal with serious depression issues are usually able to. But then, usually unexpectedly, it’s as if someone has flipped a switch in hir brain and… boom. The lows become very low: things that leave me sad for a little bit of time have the potential to knock hir out for hours on end. Hir energy levels drop dramatically, and the very chores that were relatively easy to complete earlier become Herculean tasks.

For example, just a few days ago we were getting ready to go to a church I’ve been attending recently. It wasn’t a particularly nice day to begin with (rainy and gross; the fact that my glasses had broken the day before didn’t help much either). And, a few minor blips aside (namely our normal, early morning slow warm up), it looked to be going pretty smoothly. Until it happened.

I was almost ready to go, and basically waiting on zir; when hir anxiety flared up. I’m certain that said anxiety is tied into the depression: the two tend to go hand in hand with each other. In a matter of moments, ze went from being nearly ready to go to needing to back out; and feeling really bad about doing so.

Several thoughts/things ran through my head at that moment. The first was concern: would ze be okay if I went on my own (like I had the previous two weeks)? Or would the intense guilt lead to thoughts of hurting hirself? The second was hurt: not that ze had backed out last minute (although that was disappointing), but instead that ze was hurting. The third, to be honest, was a little bit of annoyance: this has happened before, and often when we’re heading off to something important to me. But to be honest, the third feeling was very small compared to the other two; and I do believe that those frozen moments have become significantly less frequent than they used to be.

There’s another change I’ve seen sometimes too. Rather than flipping to depressed and anxious, I’ve seen Ziya flip to something akin to manic. This is the Ziya that comes out when six+ hour long Sims sessions occur (particularly late at night) or when a sudden creative project (like a new Let’s Play) seemingly comes out nowhere. Ziya tends to get hyper focused during these moments, and I’ve found ze seems to ignore things like sleep. These “episodes” (I suppose one could call them that) seem to be less frequent than the depressive ones; although I’m certain the lack of sleep that comes from them does nothing good  for the depression as a whole.

But then there are moments like now. We’re sitting on the couch together, each at our own computer; each composing an entry for this blog. And Ziya is bright, cheerful and happy: ze smiles when we make eye contact or the little touches that we both find reassuring. There’s a natural seeming energy behind zir: an excitement over the new information ze found that reminds me of one of the reasons I fell in love with zir. Despite the late (early?) hour (which isn’t so unusual for us these days) that this is happening during, today felt like a good day: we were able to run a number of important errands (including finally getting a tv for the apartment… yay!), and we were both really productive.

If only more days could be like today, with more happiness than the sorrow; where we’re both on the ball concerning what we want to accomplish… My hope is that as Ziya continues to work through the depression we’ll have more days like today, and less like how Sunday started. And as long as ze is willing to work through it, ze’ll have me by hir side to support zir however I can.