Fourth 3-Month Review

I’ve been writing this blog for over a year now – one year and 12 days, to be precise. Wow. I will try to review the whole year before December is over, but for now here’s a look at what the past 3 months have been like.

For your convenience, here are links to my first, second, and third 3-month reviews.

Fox is now up to 5 posts:

  1. Masculinity, Tools of Violence, (etc) (01/15/2013)
  2. From a supporter’s point of view (05/22/2013)
  3. When supporting starts to hurt (06/29/2013)
  4. …and the storm’s energy too. (11/09/2013)
  5. Dancing in the Eye of the Storm (11/10/2013)

I’ve noticed some interconnecting themes in my own posts, namely:

  1. guilt over my rat Schmoozer’s death
  2. frustration with the federal government
  3. getting married
  4. trying to “find a cure” for anxious depression
  5. feeling like my ego/sense of self is under attack
  6. fighting back

Guilt Over Schmoozer’s Death

Schmoozer was a very sweet social rat; I made friends with him as soon as we met. He would eat the treats I gave him right on my lap, hang out on my shoulder, run to me when his brother was bullying him, and willingly do tricks. We had a lot of fun and shared a lot of love with him.

Sadly, he also had respiratory symptoms that got worse and worse. Antibiotics seemed to help the first couple times we tried them, but they eventually became ineffective. I was having a hard time with my depression, wedding planning, adjusting to sharing my apartment with Fox, mourning the death of one of my undergraduate mentors, and lack of healthcare. It made it very hard for me to also cope with his illness.

I became addicted to a new video game at just the wrong time: when Schmoozer’s symptoms started to become severe. Instead of bringing him to a vet right away, I tried to block out the sounds of his labored breathing, wishing they would go away. We tried to get him help, but too late, way too late.
(Hole)

The guilt was horrible, and can still become horrible if I let it. Taking Trouble to the vet when his respiratory symptoms flared up brought on a whole new wave of guilt. We were able to implement a treatment that seemed to help a great deal (his symptoms have been less severe since), but I wished I’d been able to do that for Schmoozer and hated myself for it.
(The Trouble with Feeding Demons)

The past few weeks I’ve started to be able to think about Schmoozer and just reminisce fondly, feeling a little happy remembering the good times while sad that he’s gone. I’ve started being able to forgive myself for not taking the best possible care of him. To accept that we just have one rat now, Trouble, and to bond with him.

Trouble is quite a sweet and loveable little critter himself, and I’m glad I have the opportunity to really get to know and love him. That doesn’t make me miss Schmoozer any less – but it does allow me to be present in the here-and-now, caring for my loved ones and myself. I’m no longer imprisoned by the guilt.

Frustration with the Federal Government

I, along with the rest of the U.S. population, found the government shutdown in October very frustrating. If I could do one thing with my life right now, I’d fix the government to make that kind of irresponsible behavior impossible.

I love my country and want it to be the “land of prosperity” it’s been advertised as, “with liberty and justice for all.” It drives me nuts that the reality of living in the U.S. is so divergent from these ideals, especially since it doesn’t have to be this way. We have plenty of models for how we can make life so much better for 99% of the population, but our “representatives” in government care more about lining their own pockets with diamonds than making sure every citizen of this country is fed. (Diamonds are the most expensive substance it would be practical to line one’s pockets with, according to this site.)

And while they’re playing golf, picking their noses, or making arbitrary decisions about women’s health – and allowing vitally important bills affecting millions of people to rot on their desks – I am in a financial crisis. I have student loans to repay, I’m still waiting to find out whether I’ll have health insurance in January, my savings are basically gone, and I’m lost regarding where to find a job – assuming I can function well enough to successfully apply for and then keep it.
(Shut Down; Running Red)

For sake of argument, let’s say I can. I think I’m much better qualified to represent everyday people and make laws affecting them than most members of the GOP – especially the Tea Party. I would love to have their job; I might even be able to cope with the frustration of having to deal with them directly. At least then I’d be able to take some kind of action (and get paid!) instead of just feeling hopeless. I’m kind of wishing I’d had any success in leadership of school clubs, taken at least one political science course, run for local office, otherwise become involved my community, and/or saved money for a campaign …

But seriously, will someone please pay me a living wage to fix the government via activism or something?

Getting Married

About the only thing that went the way I expected it to was that Fox and I were beaming at each other through most of the ceremony. And the toasts – especially Banji’s – were awesome. If I ever do run for political office, I know who I want to write my speeches.

I was very, very anxious about getting married. In October I spent inordinate amounts of time playing The Sims 3 to try and convince myself that there was, indeed, life after marriage – and that I could still accomplish my goals (including having a successful career while also raising a functional family).
(Aarghle Flarghle Blarghle!!!)

As the day drew closer (and I accomplished necessary tasks such as getting my dress hemmed) I started to feel a sense of peace. I accepted that I didn’t know what would come next, but I felt ready to face it with Fox at my side.
(The Calm Before the Storm – Um, Wedding)

Then I learned that people have their own ideas about what being married means, and at best they will assume that you share (or conform to) those ideals without asking you first. Loved ones condensed my glorious name into “and Mrs.” (Fox Tamesis), put their concepts of the divine in the middle of our relationship, and assigned us gendered roles. My mom’s friend commented on how (she thought) my deceased father would feel about a daughter who never got to develop an adult relationship with him marrying a man he never met. Worse, she was commenting on a picture of my mom and me, inserting him into the memory of a special moment between us.
(Breaking and Entering)

Whatever my wedding meant to me, everyone else saw it through their own lens. Come to think of it, no one has asked what the wedding meant to me, or Fox for that matter. They seem to prefer telling us what it means, what we need to do, etc.

Right now it means that I have to spend The Holidays changing my name on important legal documents because the county clerk’s office waited over a month to certify my marriage. Right now it means I’m wishing I’d elected NOT to change my name, to save myself the headache. I’ll let you know what it means after all this BS is said and done, and I’m not in some weird transition period that NOBODY TALKS ABOUT even though the majority of women who marry in the United States go through it.

(It means that when I’m twitching after writing the above sentence at 1 o’clock in the morning, the love of my life can reach over and touch me and look into my eyes reassuringly, because he lives here, and no one has any reason or “right” to question it.)

Trying to “Find a Cure” for Anxious Depression

It all started with a Daily Prompt by the Daily Post: “If you could create a painless, inexpensive cure for a single ailment, what would you cure and why?”

In my attempt to answer the prompt, I learned that I’m not alone in viewing my anxiety and depression as symptoms of one disorder; there is even a name for the disorder: anxious depression. One article in particular linked anxious depression to a unique biological condition: hyperactivity in the HPA axis. If only there were a way to address this directly through a safe, effective, affordable pill, I wouldn’t have much to write about on this blog.
(A Cure for Anxious Depression)

I know even less about developing medication than I do about being a successful politician, so I’ll leave that to the experts. In the meantime, there are a lot of lifestyle changes I can make to help myself feel better, maybe even fully recover from anxious depression. (Gosh, I’d practically be a different person. I can’t even imagine it.)

Thing is, in case anyone missed the dripping sarcasm in “I Dream of Jarvis,” changing one’s entire lifestyle – and being consistent with it – is really, really hard. Especially when coping with mental illness. Fight maladaptive patterns of thought and behavior by changing your thoughts and behavior – seriously, if we could just do that, we wouldn’t have mental illness.

It seems to be the only viable solution, though, so I decided to try and use technology – affordable, portable, accessible (without having to make phone calls), and did I mention affordable technology – to make it easier. Technology that won’t resent you for making it use all its energy to meet your needs. Technology that won’t care if you curse at it. Technology that won’t have anger or unmet narcissistic needs or mood swings to take out on you. Technology that won’t get sick or oversleep or want a vacation – well, as long as you keep its battery charged.

To be completely honest, I need to go back to my notes (if I can find them) to remember my specific ideas about what this technology should be able to do. But the thing that would make it unique is that it would have a way to pick up on the user’s mood and attempt to help if the user seems anxious, very sad, stuck, etc. It would be able to learn what to say to help the user become unstuck, break the cycle of increasingly devastating thoughts, and focus on whatever is important in that moment. Kind of like the loving mommy voice that’s developed in my psyche, but louder and more reliable.

I’ve started taking a Coursera course about developing Android apps, acquired an Android tablet, and discovered some apps I’ve found quite useful. I’m not always consistent with using the apps and I have some catching up to do in the course, but it’s a start.
(Taking the First Steps; There’s an App for That)

I recently had a few days when I forgot to take my SAM-e, Omega 3, B Complex, and Vitamin D supplements; those days were really horrible. When I realized that feeling horrible coincided with not taking the supplements, I started taking them more regularly. And lo, I’ve felt better – not amazing, but functional, even in fairly stressful situations. I don’t know if they’re as effective as psychiatric medication, but they do seem to be helping.

Under Attack!!!

A second theme in several of the posts I’ve already reviewed is feeling like my ego/sense of self is under attack. The person underneath my strengths, weaknesses, achievements, shortcomings, and quirks is under attack. To be honest I’m not even sure such a person exists, or ever fully developed; “I” feel more like a compilation of emotions, interests, thought patterns, etc. than a coherent whole. Sometimes I even have opposite responses to the same experience at the same time, as though “I’m” two (or more) people with different tastes and perspectives.

In this quarter, the theme first emerged at the end of Running Red, when I wrote about the “gory, unsettling” images that haunted me. They were a part of myself that’s been hidden for some time, that I thought died when I learned my father had passed away. She’s been suffering for a long time, collecting the wounds from all the times I’ve been hurt psychologically, especially the thoughts I’ve had of (intentionally) hurting myself. If anyone is under attack, she most certainly is.

In Escape to Dragon Valley pt. 2 I almost become defensive of one of my sims, Carina, who focuses more on her career than on raising her family. She wants to belong and be a loving mother, but she also has very powerful work-related aspirations. How does one balance those drives? Is it even possible? What do I want, and how can I achieve it? I don’t know.

Mom said some very hurtful things, which I wrote about in The Trouble with Feeding Demons. Hearing that money is more important than my psychological well-being really does not help me feel like a person.

Around the time I wrote The Calm Before the Storm – Um, Wedding I read several “feminist” articles about why a woman shouldn’t change her name when she gets married, arguing that it’s giving up your identity. I think they have a point (especially given how the rest of society seems to perceive the tradition), but what about the opportunity to define one’s own identity? What about personal choice? How about a break from being told what to do?

The truth is, I questioned my choice, after I’d made it and could no longer change it, and that scared me. But I stand behind my reasons for making it and like how my new last name sounds with my first (and middle) name(s). I just wish there was more room for me to get used to it and express what it means to me, without other people imposing their own opinions. I’ve been meaning to write an article titled “Do you want to change your name when you get married?” that makes it clear it’s a personal choice, while providing useful information and perhaps some different perspectives.

Breaking and Entering was all about feeling like my ego was under attack. I don’t really have anything to add to what I already wrote under “Getting Married” – except that I really needed my mother to back off on the ride home and let me enjoy my recently-formed memories.

The theme also comes out quite powerfully in Permission to Be, which describes a lifetime – my lifetime – of hiding who I really am to please (or avoid intimidating) others. It’s really hard to feel like a person when I can’t even fully own my strongest talent.

Fighting Back

I’m (almost) always fighting back in my posts, if nothing else by writing them. Some of the stronger examples of this are:

  • learning from the experiences described in Hole and using them to give Trouble a much better, longer life
  • allying with my hurt inner child in Running Red
  • saying I’m not ready to put my toys away at the end of Breaking and Entering
  • deciding to create the thing I need and wish I had to facilitate recovery in I Dream of Jarvis

Perhaps the strongest way I’m fighting back against the attacks on my sense of self is by taking care of myself. By recognizing that important elements of self care are things I do just for me – not to make life easier for anyone else or because society dictates that I must. If I want a space to exist I need to carve it out and defend its boundaries. There are little things I can do every day to accomplish that and feel good.
(Just for Me)

Thanks for reading, and happy holidays!

Third 3-Month Review

I’m proud to say that I’ve stuck with this blog for 9 months. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster but I’m still hanging on, and so is Fox.

I’ve written 140 posts; you are welcome to read my First and Second 3-Month Reviews. This post will pick up where the second 3-month review left off – in late June.

Fox has written 3 posts (in chronological order):

  1. Masculinity, Tools of Violence, and Embracing Femininity (01/15/13)
  2. From a Supporter’s Point of View (05/22/13)
  3. When Supporting Starts to Hurt (06/29/13)

Most of my posts for the past 3 months have been focused on my efforts to take care of myself – or at least develop a plan for doing so.

Continuous knotwork panel designed by Ziya.

Continuous knotwork panel designed by Ziya.

At first I needed to allow myself some room to breathe. I took a step back and allowed Fox to decide what to keep and what to dispose of when he moved in with me; this made the entire process much easier on both of us. I also gave myself permission to leave projects unfinished and to make my own decisions without feeling like they are unhealthy or morally wrong. This empowered me to take control of my own treatment and recovery.

The first thing I did with my new-found agency was decide to stop seeing my psychiatrist and taking my medications, both of which weren’t helping and were probably making my symptoms worse. (Prescription by Dr. Ziya and my reply to its first comment.) I also learned about how inactive ingredients in generic “equivalents” of brand-name medications can limit the effectiveness of the active ingredient and/or have other adverse effects. I became determined to find a psychiatrist who would take inactive ingredients into account and, most importantly, whose sole concern would be helping me to find the best medication(s) for me.

frustrated woman holding cell phone to ear

why me?

Unfortunately, trying to find help turned out to be more trouble than it was worth. All it really did was make my symptoms worse. I barely had the energy and motivation to take steps to try and make an appointment with a psychiatrist, which required me to overcome my distaste for talking to strangers on the phone. When I finally mustered up the energy to do it, 2 psychiatrists never got back to me and the 3rd played phone tag with me until I got so pissed off at him I doubted our ability to develop a functional therapeutic relationship. I wished someone else could make the appointment for me, but I’m pretty sure health care providers require competent adult patients to make their own appointments. I don’t think anyone involved was ready to have me declared incompetent, even if it would have gotten me the help I needed.
(Stop having Cancer so you can Find a Doctor; Holistic Treatments; Crossroads)

While I was trying to find a psychiatrist, I was also trying to find a way to continue having the health insurance I needed to afford said psychiatrist and the psychotropic medications ze would prescribe. I thought I could continue receiving coverage from my school, but then I learned they no longer offered insurance for part-time students. I was able to find two alternatives. I could switch to the first right away but it cost $400 per month and as far as I could tell did not include prescriptions. The other was $320 per month and included prescriptions but I was confused as to whether and when I’d be able to pick it up. Then I learned that in October I’ll be able to search for affordable health insurance on Healthcare.gov. I made the difficult decision to wait until October to explore my health insurance options, leaving myself without coverage until January. At that time I also decided against continuing my search for a good psychiatrist. (Healthcare Headache; The Healthcare Headache Continues…)

pill bottleFreed from the American headache “healthcare” system, I created my own plan for how to take care of myself: Planning A Head. To be honest, the only part of it I’ve been consistent with is taking 400mg of SAM-e, an Omega 3 supplement, a vitamin B complex, and vitamin D every day. The plan also includes listening to a playlist of songs that help me feel energized and ready to face the day – as well as a variety of activities that involve self-care, enrichment, and/or just having fun. Some of the activities are very easy to do every day, such as spending quality time with Fox and our pets. Others require a bit more organization and forethought; I just don’t have enough structure in my life right now to engage in them regularly.

My scores on the Burns Depression Inventory for the past 4 weeks. Daily scores are marked in blue, while weekly averages are marked in red. Although the severity of my depression symptoms can change drastically from day to day, there has been a steady decline in weekly averages from July 29, 2013 to August 34, 2013.

My scores on the Burns Depression Inventory for the past 4 weeks. Daily scores are marked in blue, while weekly averages are marked in red. Although the severity of my depression symptoms can change drastically from day to day, there has been a steady decline in weekly averages from July 29, 2013 to August 24, 2013.

I decided to use the Burns Depression Checklist to keep track of the severity of my depression symptoms from day to day and week to week. I took a look at overall daily scores and weekly averages in Measuring Recovery: Part 1, and analyzed my daily scores on the subcategories of the checklist in Part 2.

I’ve been less consistent in using the checklist in September, but from what I can tell the oscillations in daily scores have continued. The weekly average score actually went up in the first week; it’s hard to say anything useful about the second week because I only tracked on Friday and Saturday, which both had scores in the teens. I’ve been visiting with Banji and her parents, which has been a pleasant break from the norm.

I also joined SparkPeople in hopes that it will help motivate me to take better care of myself, including exercise and better nutrition. To be honest I lost interest in that pretty quickly; I’ll log in every so often and occasionally track, but I’m nowhere near as active with it as I’d intended. But it’s sitting there, waiting for me to sign in, ready to reward me with points for any efforts I do make toward living a healthier lifestyle.

The Dark Side
(trigger warning)

There has been a darker thread running through my posts in the last 3 months; I wouldn’t be upholding the purpose of this blog if I didn’t at least try to write about it in this review.

In More Celtic Design Knotwork I wrote about how I often lack the passion and energy to express my emotions, and use coping mechanisms to suppress them so I’ll come across as calm (often for the benefit of others). “I just want a day off” more often than I care to admit; you can almost say there are times when I don’t want to be bothered with my whole life! Then I retreat into video games, which give me a space where I feel in control and can vicariously experience the benefits of getting out of the house and doing things in a fantasy world with no real consequences. Most importantly, in those games I can accomplish my goals with minimal interference by other people; if the characters in the game get annoying enough I can kill them; if that causes the game to become very difficult to play I can go back to a recent save. (Invasion)

Fingers with strings tied to them, controlling a puppet.I simply cannot do that in real life and it’s very annoying. I have to compromise with somebody in order to accomplish anything. It’s driving me nuts! My mother especially has been making things very difficult by trying to control me. She undermines my confidence by criticizing my appearance (Mother-of-the-Bride Zilla) and causing me to question my decision to marry Fox, never mind all the decisions we’ve made regarding the wedding. When I wrote No Space for Me I felt like Mom, Fox, his mother, and his sister were all against me, completely disregarding my boundaries and right to have and state my own opinion. That was the first time I recognized the Warden (though I didn’t write about that persona in the post) – the voice in my head thought process that says I’m not allowed to do anything of my own will, to dissent, to assert my needs and rights. It’s positively devastating; it leads me to suicidal thoughts.

I mentioned that “the images of knives cutting into me are coming back again” on August 12th, when I wrote about my undergraduate mentor’s Death. That imagery has not been coming up with much frequency, but there have been a couple times (other than those I wrote about) when I’ve scratched myself as a kind of punishment / refocusing. Thanks to Fox, I was able to channel the immense energy of suicidal ideation into making music on August 14th (Spring Cleaning). I’m pretty sure my crisis on August 19th (No Space for Me, link above) was the most recent, but it’s still rather terrifying.

tomboy holding up prom dress and looking at self in mirror

Contrasting Views on Norman Rockwell’s America

Similarly terrifying is the difficulty I’m having thinking of myself as an employable person, someone capable of holding down any (preferably meaningful) job. It started in Career Person? when I realized that striving for a meaningful career outside the home was no longer a crucial part of my identity. Then I allowed anxiety to completely undermine my chances of being offered the job I’d applied for, using every doubt and insecurity hidden in my mind. It finally won by preying on my insecurities around weight and fashion, particularly in the context of being female in this society. I don’t have any confidence in my ability to make myself look attractive – and therefore employable – to the mainstream; I’d much rather wear sweat pants and avoid it. (Oh No! Interview?!)

If I can’t pull off a career … that thought is too devastating. I could be a stay-at-home parent but that feels just as if not even more empty than having a career but no kids. I need to feel like I’m having a meaningful impact on society; having some kind of income would be wonderful. (It will also be necessary if Fox and I ever want to move out of my mother’s house.) I’m trying to be hopeful but mostly I’m afraid. And sad. It’s not even that I can’t see any open doors, I don’t see any doors at all. Only windows.

And I don’t know how to talk about it. I spent a whole week not knowing how to talk about it, before I wrote Update. As much as I wish I could take care of myself the truth is I can’t; I need help, and I need that help to include some kind of vocational guidance, training, and employment.

The Flashlight

This weekend has given me some hope (even though I chose to end it by staying up too late writing about my most painful thoughts and experiences for the past 3 months). It started with Banji’s parents showing me respect on our way to visit with her (Creating a Space for Me). I’ve spent the weekend making a conscious effort to assert myself more, with satisfying results. It hasn’t exactly been my ideal weekend – I’ve been cold, awake when they’re sleeping and sleeping when they’re awake, and going online while Banji finishes unpacking. Dad kicked my ass at the same board game twice. But it has been a good weekend, what one could call a corrective family experience. As much as I might be tempted to isolate myself, I’m part of this group. My views are respected, my needs taken into consideration, my self valued. All I have to do is speak up – and more importantly, I know it’s safe to do so!

Fenix-RC15-Flashlight-Beam

I know I can assert myself around other loved ones, too. I’ve seen positive results from doing so in the past. I needed this opportunity to practice in a different setting, a group with a (generally) much calmer and slower dynamic. I needed to see and feel their respect for me; sometimes I have a lot of trouble doing that in other groups. Maybe now that I’ve had this experience, I’ll be able to request the help I really need – and deserve.

Second 3-Month Review

Wow, it’s hard to believe this blog is already 6 months old! It’s grown a lot since I created it in mid-December. I’d like to say I’ve grown a lot, too – at least, I’ve gained a better understanding and acceptance of what’s going on in my brain, and turned my focus toward tending to my mental health needs. I don’t always do my best with that, but at least I’m trying; at least it’s my priority.

So far I’ve published 105 posts (this will be #106) and Fox has published 2: “Masculinity, Tools of Violence, and Embracing Femininity” and “From a Supporter’s Point of View”. A Day with Depression has gained over 100 followers and receives over 400 views per month from visitors all around the world! I cannot express how inspired I am by the readers of this blog. Thank you all so much for your support!

A Day with Depression 6-month Stats

The dark blue columns indicate number of viewers per month, while the light blue columns indicate number of views. Click the image to view a larger version.

The dark blue columns indicate number of visitors per month, while the light blue columns indicate number of views. Click the image to view a larger version.

I would like to extend a special thank-you to international readers, who make up about 1/3 of the visitors to this blog. Click the image to view a larger version.

I would like to extend a special thank-you to international readers, who make up at least 1/3 of the visitors to this blog. Click the image to view a larger version.

I posted my First 3-Month Review on March 12th; check that out to read a synthesis of posts from mid-December through mid-March, organized by theme. My current review begins just after that post.

As tempting as it is to focus primarily on my depression, anxiety is a significant factor in my life that affects everything from my ability to get ready and go places in a timely manner, to my ability to sleep, to food choices, to my very career. On March 15th I changed my tagline to reflect this. I also reflected on the primary sources of anxiety at the time: my rats’ health, my own academic performance, and becoming a caretaker for Mom (who was, at the time, preparing to receive double knee replacement surgery). In all these situations I felt like I lacked control, questioned my ability to “perform” well, and expected to have unpleasant experiences. It didn’t help that I felt “violently torn and ripped to shreds” by Mom’s expectation that I would meet her needs arising from a decision she had made, in combination with (what I perceived as) her simultaneous lack of respect for a decision I had made.

I found that taking action seemed to help reduce the anxiety – at least temporarily. “Taking action” included doing my homework and beginning to take anxiety medication (Buspar) in addition to the SSRI (Zoloft); I’m thinking perhaps it should also include regular exercise. The thing about taking action that relieves anxiety is that it gives at least a small amount (or semblance) of control over a stressful situation. For example, I take control over my academic performance by doing my schoolwork, which generally turns out to be high quality. But in life there are a lot of extra factors involved, such as noises waking me up in the middle of the night and the job market and my difficulty finding clothes I like that fit and how expensive everything is and the cruel malicious things people with power and wealth do to make a profit and misogyny and all the messages in mainstream American/Western culture that make me want to turn into the Hulk and destroy everything associated with it.

Click the image to read the blog post: "Being Carrie Marin."

Click the image to read the blog post: “Being Carrie Marin.”

Sometimes I need “taking action” to mean blocking it all out; my default form of doing so is to play a game where my character doesn’t have to deal with all that shit. She can take more direct action to accomplish things I feel I (currently) cannot: earning money, creating things with value to herself and others, dressing sensibly but fashionably, traveling, making friends, and ridding the world of evildoers (and people who piss me off). Best of all, anxiety is never an obstacle for my character; she never has to worry about the sacrifices involved in “desirable” life transitions (as I described in Giving In). If the shit hits the fan, I can reload a recent save and try again!

In early April, “taking action” meant making the very difficult decision to drop the two graduate-level courses I need to complete my degree and enter my chosen career. I had already waited 2 years to take them and will have to wait 2 more years. But my anxiety and self-criticism attached to those courses were posing a significant threat to my health, possibly even my life. It was the first time I made such a huge sacrifice in my academic life to tend to my mental health.
What I Need + Withdrawn + Taking Off the Mask + Grace

Around the same time I started using poetry as a means of expressing what I found difficult to say in prose. Themes included: my need for space to rest and work through the depression (Wish & Taking Off the Mask), my guilt about spending so much time playing The Sims 3 instead of with Dog (Groundhog Day), what I was trying to block out (Re: Groundhog Day), anxiety (Nightmare), and why I was avoiding my mother (Silence).

ambivalenceThen, the shit hit the fan. Fox learned he had to move out of his apartment after the end of the semester and requested to move in with me. I addressed my thoughts and feelings regarding the matter in Living Together, but the issue went on the back burner until fairly recently. We’ve both been stressed out of our minds about the whole moving process: his need for me to drive him there and back, sorting through and packing his possessions, and finding space for everything in my home. I’ve been procrastinating going through and reorganizing my own stuff because I’d find that stressful in the best of times, and right now I’m terrified of merging with him. A huge part of why I tend to get up in the middle of the night is because it’s the only time I can truly be alone, focused 100% on whatever I choose.

warning-signs-of-caregiver-stressWhile Fox moving in was on the back burner, Mom had her double knee replacement surgery. I was overwhelmed by anxiety for her, frustration about not really being able to do anything for her, my own fear and hatred of hospitals & medical professionals (stemming in part from bad past experiences when loved ones – e.g. my father – were terminally ill), my inability to manage other responsibilities such as schoolwork and chores, and my resentment toward her for being able to receive the treatment and support she needed – including from me – while I felt left largely on my own to try and survive with severe depression and anxiety. I was eventually able to talk to her about some of this stuff and found her to be more compassionate, concerned, and supportive than I’d expected. She’s actually been quite independent (and willing to call on other people for help), doing all she can to lessen the pressure on me – especially as she gains mobility. She also shows a lot of appreciation for my efforts to help her.
PANIC!!! + Don’t Hurt My Mommy! + How to Visit Mom in the Hospital + (Barely) Holding It Together + Sculpture + Communication + Awesome

An unexpected self-portrait.

An unexpected self-portrait.

As if all this weren’t enough, I’ve been struggling with my own symptoms and lack of much-needed treatment. I was off my meds for five days (ending a week before Mom’s surgery) because I couldn’t juggle refilling the prescription in a timely manner with everything else that was going on. I kept seeing disturbing images of knives cutting various parts of my body. I was hurt and angered by Psychiatrist B when he interrupted me in the middle of talking about suicidal and self-harm ideation to take a phone call. A later conversation with Wakana (who had hoped to coordinate treatment with him) confirmed that I need to find a new psychiatrist. I haven’t gotten around to doing that yet because I’m frustrated with the whole process and have been distracted by everyday shit such as the end of the semester, followed immediately by Fox’s move. I’ve been hypersensitive to loud clangy sounds, to the point where I had a severe anxiety response to an action movie. Wakana had to cancel a few of our sessions due to health and family issues, and I had to request phone sessions because I lacked the energy, motivation and/or time management skills to get to her office. I’ve been so physically and mentally exhausted and obsessed with Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion that I haven’t been able to focus enough to express my thoughts and emotions through writing or other creative means (on most days).

That said, I have made some efforts to express and care for myself. The Bloody Arms Project was an attempt to channel the self-harm ideation (which mostly involved an urge to cut my arms) and the painful emotions behind it into artwork. Not long afterward I discovered the joy and catharsis of Sculpture, which enabled me to channel my anguish into art I took pride in and perceived as beautiful.

CaptureMay“Sculpture” also became a metaphor for taking control over my own life and depression treatment, including asserting my needs in conversations with Mom. I learned about the potential benefits of aromatherapy and had the opportunity to try it out, with good results. Although I have yet to really act on taking a full day once per week to focus exclusively on my own health (Ziya’s Day), it was after I asserted this need that Mom really started being more independent and turning to other people (instead of just me) for help.

Finally, Writer’s Block, In Search of Truth, and this untitled post were my recent attempts to express myself visually when I didn’t have the words to write. For now I feel it’s best to let them speak for themselves.

First 3-Month Review

I wanted to take another look at the more important posts I’ve made in my now-3-month-old blog – not just rehashing them, but finding the connections among them that can lead to new insights. Toward that end, I have organized the posts primarily by theme, but also (somewhat) chronologically. The themes include:

  1. Medication
  2. Web Mandala
  3. Stigma
  4. Limits and Boundaries
  5. Gender
  6. My Inner Menagerie
  7. My Healthy Side

Medication

I started out a day with depression with my search for the right medication (much as I do each morning). As I see it, the role of medication in treating (my) mental illness is to “take the edge off” the symptoms so I can live each day and do the important psycho-therapeutic work I need to heal. Both aspects of my treatment are an ongoing process; I’ve reflected on my experiences with medication (and mental health care providers) in the following posts:

Web Mandala

Web Mandala 2012-12-13My earliest non-medication-related post was the Web Mandala I colored. In short, the star-burst in the center represents everything good about me: my strength, creativity, spirituality, intellect, life energy, determination, etc. – while the grey pillars on the corners represent my mental illness. It’s hard to say whether the pillars are invading, or the star-burst is driving them away. Which interpretation is more accurate really tends to change from day to day. The point is that they are both present in the same moment and in the same person: both the illness, and everything I need to overcome it.

Stigma

I wrote Mental Illness and Mass Shootings after the tragic events of December 14, 2012. Writing that post helped me to develop a stronger awareness of the stigma associated with mental illness. That stigma poses a real danger to people with mental illnesses and to society as a whole.

blogformentalhealth20131As part of my commitment to helping end this stigma, I have pledged to Blog for Mental Health in 2013 and joined the Mental Health Writers’ Guild.

Limits and Boundaries

Christmas Eve was An Emotional (and functional) Roller Coaster for me. I was happy while enjoying music and holiday traditions with people I love. But I had a lot of difficulty coping with lack of sleep, feeling overwhelmed by all the tasks I needed to complete and stressed about my pending move, loud noise coming from my roommate’s TV, guilt and frustration over my mistakes, and insecurity about playing viola. I might have also felt some ambivalence about spending the day with Banji, due to the emotional effects I experienced while she was living 14 hours away.

In my post: “We all know it’ll never happen, so why do we waste our breath?” I described the other stress and difficulties I experienced during the winter holidays, including cancelling plans at the last minute. At the end of the post I made 2 New Year’s Resolutions:

  • to figure out my limits
  • to set and enforce clear boundaries

I’m not particularly confident that I’ve been doing either of those, but I have been making at least a small amount of intermittent effort. Continuing work on My Efforts to be Codependent No More and Detachment should help. I just need to stay focused – which is not always easy!

Gender

genbenjanI wanted to focus on gender-related issues during January, so I called it Gender Bender January and planned to write gender-related posts multiple times per week. I learned that keeping up with a theme-based posting schedule is hard! – and not always in line with what I need this blog to be. Gender-related issues do play an important role in mental health, though – particularly for me – so I think it is an important topic to come back to.

One gender-related issue I’ve written about since January is the ideal of the slender body, to which I say: “FUDGE THAT!” I felt liberated while reading a chapter of Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body by Susan Bordo (1993, University of California Press). The messages about the body that the article exposed have been hurting me my whole life, but I was finally able to get angry at them instead of at myself. On February 13th I recast them as the enemy and allied with my own body – cellulite and all! “FUDGE THAT!” was my first post to be reblogged by someone; I consider that a great honor. 😀

My Inner Menagerie

2013-01-11-02On January 10th I began a multi-post process of connecting with different aspects of myself that I generally would prefer to remain hidden.

The Dark Horse represents my difficult emotions – especially anger – which tend to cause me a lot of pain, but can be valuable allies if only I can harness them.

The Critic voices my self-criticisms, doubts, and insecurities – often very harshly. Although it tends to hurt me, the true problem with the Critic is that I have not accepted it as part of myself. If I can own those thoughts, I can word them in a nicer way and use them as constructive feedback.

Mushussu-Sirrush, dragon of chaos. Drawn in mechanical pencil. Colored with oil pastels.

Mushussu-Sirrush, dragon of chaos. Drawn in mechanical pencil. Colored with oil pastels.

Mushussu-Sirrush is the chaos in my life, some of which stems from early childhood experiences and much of which is self-inflicted (for example, by allowing my home to become cluttered). In that (February 5th) post, I expressed my feelings about the 15th anniversary of my father’s death and explored the theme of chaos.

wyvernOriginally, I did not want to draw the Wyvern because it is a dragon that spreads disease and death; I prefer Anne McCaffrey’s portrayal of dragons as allies. However, I cannot deny that disease and death have both had a profound impact on my life. If I have to deal with something and often experience painful emotions related to it, I might as well take some time to make it something I can see – and make it as ugly and mean-looking as possible. At the time I did not want to color it in, but every time I look at the image online I want to add color to it.

The Ostrich in my poem, Trapped, represents the part of me that fears change and believes that I cannot recover / free myself because of some aspect of who I am. The Ostrich thinks I would have to change my very nature to be free.

Li-Ying comforts her husband; though sad herself, she thinks she can only imagine what he must be feeling.

Li-Ying comforts her husband; though sad herself, she thinks she can only imagine what he must be feeling.

I featured several secret aspects of myself in my post, Ending a Life. I’ve summarized the ones I consider most important here:

The Comforter  is the part of me who places others’ emotions and needs before my own, believing that their needs are more important.

Surrounded by the guests at the funeral, Elaine is completely unable to connect with them. All she can feel or think about is her sorrow.

Surrounded by the guests at the funeral, Elaine is completely unable to connect with them. All she can feel or think about is her sorrow.

The Ghost represents my reaction when I feel too overwhelmed by my own painful emotions to connect with others; when I feel alienated from them and from the life energy around me.

Ruth pours drinks for the guests to enjoy, feeling detached from "their" sorrow.

Ruth pours drinks for the guests to enjoy, feeling detached from “their” sorrow.

The Servant is the part of me who sees the good in death: it ends the suffering of the person who dies and allows them to move on, and it allows loved ones to mourn, move on with their own lives, and sometimes have aspects of their lives that are better. This part of me feels detached from others’ sorrow but at the same time obligated to participate in the rituals that have meaning for them, but not always for me.

Yuan cannot even bear to be present at her grandfather's funeral. She escapes to the kitchen and plays with her imaginary friend instead.

Yuan cannot even bear to be present at her grandfather’s funeral. She escapes to the kitchen and plays with her imaginary friend instead.

The Deserter is the part of me that wants to leave this world – and all its pain – behind. It is the part I struggle with regularly to remain engaged in my own life.

So far, I’ve been doing fairly well: I’m still here. But I’d like to be doing better; I’d like the struggle to be easier.

I revisited the Deserter on March 5th, literally taking a walk with it in darkness (i.e. at night). In the process, I came to understand that the Deserter is extremely frustrated with the lack of stability in my relationships.

My Healthy Side

On January 30th I was challenged to look at myself in a more positive light, and responded by considering two “What If …” questions:

  1. What if  instead of seeing myself as a person who struggles with depression, I see myself as a person who successfully lives with depression – one day at a time?
  2. What if  I have recovered from depression?

These questions give me a break from focusing on pathology and turn my focus instead to my strengths, the characteristics I already have and need to overcome depressive symptoms, possibly even the disorder in its entirety. Focusing on the ways in which I live successfully with depression, the ways in which I am already living the recovery I seek, also requires me to take personal responsibility. I can’t cower like the Ostrich: hoping someone will save me from the predators, and wishing I could be someone/something else. I need use my existing strengths to protect and free myself.

overnight.org

theovernight.org

I have been interested in the Out of the Darkness Overnight for a couple of years now, and on February 7th I finally committed to walking this year. The final push I needed came during one of many instances when suicidal thoughts invaded my mind, but this time they asked a very useful question: What do I have to live for, besides other people? I replied with little things that I enjoy, many of which are sensual. That post serves as a very useful reminder of what is truly important to me; it can help me stay grounded.

When I realized what it would take to be able to complete the Overnight, I didn’t shy away. Instead, I recognized the changes I need to make to my lifestyle to be healthier and decided now’s as good a time as any to start acting on them.

Week 1 of training for the Out of the Darkness Overnight

Week 1 of training for the Out of the Darkness Overnight

Although it took me almost a month to really start training, I remain determined to take action to improve my own quality of life – and achieve a goal I can be very, very proud of!

Last, but certainly not least, there are strategies I can use to rewire my brain to focus more on the positive: my positive attributes, positive things that happen in my life, positive aspects of interactions with others, etc. It can be hard to do this, especially if I’m having a bad day. Even on the days I find difficult, I can find 3 things that are positive – or at least one:

I’m still here!