Wakana (my music therapist) has been helping me learn to assert myself, particularly in the realm of acknowledging, accepting, and acting on my emotions. I’ve learned to express my needs and wants, politely disagree, and set boundaries. I’m still working to develop these skills; it will probably be a lifelong process. But the foundation is there, and I feel pretty good about building on it.
The thing is, most of my work has been in the realm of one-on-one interactions. I have individual music therapy with Wakana. Our marriage counselor helps Fox and me have more intentional, supportive interactions with each other. I’m learning to assert myself in conversations with my mom, or situations in which Mom is accompanying me as I interact with another person (such as my dress fitting), or appointments with healthcare professionals.
I get lost in group situations. Even spending time with friends, there’s usually some point during our time together when I feel overwhelmed, overlooked, and unheard. I was barely able to participate in that one support group meeting I went to (no, I haven’t been back yet). Forget about being heard and acknowledged when my family is involved. I think about having most of my and Fox’s families all in one room just over a month from now and it seems like the worst idea I’ve ever had. If it’s not a disaster, it will definitely be overwhelming. I will probably be disappointed by at least some of them. What was I even thinking?
I really need to develop social skills. It’s not just me, people with psychiatric and/or mental health issues tend to have underdeveloped social skills. I’m inclined to believe that lack of a healthy home environment, same-age siblings or cousins, and appropriate modelling interfered with my ability to develop my social skills – particularly when it came to interacting within a group. I was also bullied and ostracized at school, which further limited my ability to practice social skills in a peer group. This in turn had a harmful impact on my mental health. I don’t know to what extent this hypothesis can be generalized, but we’re social creatures and society is the environment we have to adapt to.
Lack of social skills means we need group therapy and opportunities to practice interacting in structured group activities, so we can have some semblance of support in developing those skills. Actually, part of why I like tabletop gaming so much is because most games structure group interactions and lend themselves to turn-taking, so everyone gets some opportunity to be the center of a attention – seen and heard – for a short time.
Most of the psychological services I’ve been able to find in my area focus on the individual. Individual therapy, opportunities for individuals to submit their creative works to be posted online, classes individuals can attend and learn from that may provide some opportunity for group interaction, but that isn’t the primary focus. I have enough individual stuff going on, I really need to work on my social skills in a group. Why can’t I find one?
The answer is: because I’m afraid to find one. There’s a support group that meets weekly that I could be going to, but I keep finding some excuse not to go. I have briefly joined and enjoyed participating in at least 3 additional groups I can think of right now, I but stopped showing up after just one or two meetings, even though I’d had a positive experience.
I don’t know if it’s that I don’t fit in or I don’t want to fit in, or something else entirely. Maybe I want to abandon the group before it has the opportunity to abandon me – or worse, consume me. I don’t want being part of a group to mean losing my autonomy.
Being in a group situation takes all of my energy; I feel like I need to be at my best to come out of it feeling anything other than drained. To put it in terms of Spoon Theory, interacting in a group takes so many of my spoons that I can only do it on days when I have more spoons to begin with; most of the time it requires me to borrow spoons from the next day. Just getting out the door on time looking presentable can take several spoons. Sometimes, by the time I’ve introduced myself, I just don’t have the spoons I need to follow a conversation, navigate the complex thoughts and emotions that fill the room to the point where I don’t know which ones are actually mine, formulate responses, and get people to pay attention and listen to what I have to say. How can I develop social skills for interacting in a group if I don’t have enough spoons to exist in that group, never mind trying to learn something?
I need a group activity that restores spoons, such as creating music or art. Music in particular is a completely different way of interacting: you’re listening and “speaking” simultaneously, so everyone gets heard. You are a part of something bigger than yourself, you can hear it and that makes it so much easier to feel and internalize. Every part matters, even – no, especially! – the supportive, “background” parts.
I have less experience with art, but being creative is energizing. Focusing on my own artwork gives me a socially acceptable way to back out of the group activity a little bit to recharge without leaving it completely. It opens up the possibility of positive interactions, such as commenting on an aspect of someone else’s artwork (e.g. use of color) that I like. People are more likely to have and express more positive emotions that I don’t find overwhelming – I might actually get a high off them. I can also communicate something visually, so I don’t have to rely quite so much on the verbal communication I find so challenging.
Trying to find an arts-based group geared toward mental health in my area has been like hitting my head against a brick wall. Either I don’t know where to look, or they just don’t exist. I could reach out for help; that might be my best chance of actually managing to find something.
There are quite a few art-related groups in my area on Meetup.com; the difficulty I’m facing is selecting one I feel comfortable joining and might actually go to. Looking at some that seem promising, I feel like I’m going to cry because I simultaneously want to join in the fun and question my ability to do so. Will I be accepted?
I discovered this amazing blog today and believe everyone should read it.
Hopefully this explains why I started recording my therapy. I wanted a way to remember all the important work that was happening. It also became a great way to communicate to my therapist some difficult thoughts, feelings and experiences, and for me to chart my progress. So it was meant initially as a way to express things going on for me. My hope by putting it ‘out there’ on the ‘tinterweb is that it may help someone is some small way as it has helped me. Therapy is not easy. I wish I had known some of the things I know now when I started out! I’m not an artist, nor am I very good at spelling – but well, they are not the important things.
Banji’s gotten me into a new trend: Zentangle. The basic idea is to use drawing purposeful, repetitive strokes to enter a calm, zen state – what artists tend to call being “in the zone.” I’ve been having a lot of fun flipping through Banji’s Zentangle books for inspiration and trying things as they meet my fancy.
One of the books she has is particularly interesting: One Zentangle a Day by Beckah Krahula. It teaches the Zentangle method over the course of 6 weeks. I like the idea of having a more structured approach to learning an artistic method, and frankly I need the daily zen practice. I’m hoping it will help me to quiet my mind, focus, and be more intentional in my everyday living – and to manage my anxious depression symptoms.
I started out on the kitchen table with just the book, the same sketchbook I drew the dark horse in, a regular ball point pen (black ink), and a mechanical .7 mm pencil.
After practicing today’s tangles a few times in the sketchbook, I started my Zentangle. I took a 3.5″ x 3.5″ piece of acid free drawing paper, used my pencil to draw a dot in each corner and connect them, and drew a couple of lines to separate the drawing area into 5 sections. Then I used my pen to fill each section with one of the 3 tangles I’d just learned.
The process was relaxing and a lot of fun! I love focusing in on one small area, doing the same repetitive motion over and over again, and then zooming back out to see a much more interesting and dynamic whole than I had expected. Happiness rushed through me – not the calm, contented, “zen” happiness I had expected, but an excited, engaged, and active energy. I focused it in on each stroke of my pen and savored the feeling of that energy flowing through me.
In the meantime, my mind would allow only brief moments of silence, when the only thing happening was drawing the Zentangle. I didn’t have any music playing, so it decided to play “Let It Go” from Frozen. I’ve started learning the piano part, so I’ve got the introduction fresh in my mind, playing on repeat, very slowly. It’s in minor, so if you slow it down too much it gets rather depressing. I’ve been trying to nudge my mind into playing the whole song at the correct tempo, with the lyrics in the correct order.
My mind decided that, instead of acquiescing to my request, it was going to play around with the melody and rhythm – essentially, creating its own variations on the opening of “Let It Go.” I grinned. I can totally do that for fun, and I’d love to jot down the melodies as my mind comes up with them. They could make great inspiration for an original composition.
I liked it a lot less when my mind decided to start going into things I need to do in the near future. I told it that this is time to focus on drawing. The redirection was a lot easier than I’d expected. Drawing is fun and relaxing, and my mind likes being creative.
When I finished working in pen, I started to feel anxious and a little angry. I didn’t want to be finished! I wanted to keep Zentangling! But then I realized that I still needed to add shading. “You wanted to keep going. Well, we’re not finished. Help me shade this.” Once again I zoomed in, not worrying about how the gestalt would look, but following the procedure. “You’re supposed to shade this part of the tangle.” I had my own interpretation for one of them, but I was consistent. I relished the new visual textures I was creating.
Then I zoomed out, and wow! My Zentangle looks as good as any of the ones in the various books I’ve had the pleasure of flipping through. I love looking at it as much as I enjoyed drawing it. And I get to make one of these every day! It’s fantastic. I want to share it with everyone.
On the back I wrote: “One Zentangle a Day, Day 1, 3/31/14, [my home address], kitchen table.” I appropriated a plastic storage container for this and any future Zentangles, my remaining 3.5″ x 3.5″ squares, and the cardboard cutouts I have for making new squares and circles. It, unlike far too many items in this house, has a specific home that is easily accessible.
Today was positively gorgeous. A tad chilly, with a very invigorating wind, just a handful of clouds in the sky. I couldn’t have asked for a better day.
I wanted to get outside; while I was out I took the opportunity to clean up the plants in our garden. Most of the leaves on the basil have turned white, so I cut them away. This allows more resources to go to the healthy green leaves near the tops of the plants, and allows more sunlight to reach the newer, healthier-looking sprouts that have emerged. When I was done with the basil, I similarly cleaned excess, dead-looking stuff off the cucumber plant.
Once I was done pruning away the dead or sickly stuff, all that was left were (mostly) healthy plants, full of life. I thought, I wish I could do that for myself. Get rid of all the dead stuff, the clutter, and just keep what fills me with vitality.
So I went back in the house, opened all the windows so it would be full of fresh air and sunlight from this beautiful day, and proceeded to clean. I started with the bathroom and cried as I scrubbed the bathtub. I fought the mean voices that told me I was either in my rightful place as a woman (on my knees cleaning) or that I was demeaning myself by doing housework. I reorganized items so the sink looks presentable and the contents of the medicine cabinet are useful, not past their expiration date. I got that picture I don’t like off my wall, and cleaned up the stains it was covering (using white vinegar diluted in water, a paper towel, and some elbow grease).
When I was done, I moved to the kitchen. I started by reorganizing all the plastic containers we keep for storing leftovers, so they’re mostly on one shelf, sorted by shape and size with lids readily available. They look neat and there’s most of a cabinet free for storage of additional items – which is good, because the house as a whole is still intolerably cluttered. Soon after Fox got home he took care of the dishes, while I sorted through trash and recycling, found homes for items we wanted to keep, and cleaned surfaces. Before long we were sitting together in a very pleasant, relatively clutter-free kitchen, sharing a simple but delicious dinner. It felt so good to finally be at peace with my environment while in that room.
I did a lot of good work – quite the accomplishment, especially considering I didn’t see much point to getting out of bed this morning. But I’ll admit, I’m a bit disappointed that the only cleaning I got to in the living room and bedroom was trying to remove the dirt from the windowsills. (Seriously, how does dirt get on windowsills? It’s not dust, it’s dirt, like the stuff on the ground with grass growing in it outside! And it’s thick and hard to pick up. Gross!) I really wanted to change this space, make all of it more liveable. But I guess I just need to be patient with myself. Patient, and persistent.
It drives me nuts that unless we make a constant, conscious effort to maintain this, it’s just going to get intolerably gross again.
I don’t know how to assess my depression. Fox thinks the SAM-e is making me more irritable and anxious; I think he has a point. Last night I almost cried myself to sleep because I saw no point in living, no reason to care about sleep, waking, no point to even trying to do anything … and I felt trapped. I can’t end it, there are too many people who would be hurt. The thought of just going on, suffering horribly, my whole life pointless, just so my loved ones would be protected from the pain my death would cause … it was too much to bear. I couldn’t help crying.
Fox heard me, of course, and asked what was wrong. I started telling him all this stuff and somehow the conversation turned to composing music. I said, “I really like exploring different sounds. That could be a good reason to live.” Next thing I knew, I had a melody in my head that wanted out. I got up and started writing; a few hours later I had the melody written down, a list of instruments with timbres appropriate to the mood I want, some ideas for harmony and counterpoint, and the beginnings of a composition in Notion. It felt so good to be intentional in making choices that created the effects I was looking for, while also allowing for spontaneous creativity (e.g. a second melody that practically wrote itself).
So I have severe symptoms of depression and anxiety – including some suicidal ideation – alternating with incredible energy that I can consciously direct: last night into a new piece of music; today into improving my environment.
It doesn’t make any sense. It seems horribly contradictory. … or is it?
Unpleasant as they may be, those intense emotions are overflowing with energy. At their core is an intense desire for (possibly mixed with a fear of) change. “I can’t live like this anymore!” really amounts to “I want all these things – maybe even everything – to change!” And what greater change is there, than death?
We have to admit, looking our fear in the face and accepting it, taking direct action to cause such a huge change – THE huge change we are wired to do everything in our power to avoid – that is an incredibly powerful act. Not a good or desirable or advisable act, mind. But a powerful one, nonetheless. Like Voldemort.
I’ve been incredibly fortunate. I’ve had the support and force of will to take that power, that immense energy, and channel it into something less self-destructive than suicide. Even something creative. Last night, for better or worse, a new musical being entered the world. In the past I’ve sculpted and drawn and improvised music. Today I removed a lot of gross dead stuff that was standing between me and the life-giving sun.
If the price of such power is suffering, well, I guess I’m willing to pay it – as long as I can still have my moments of joy, which I do. I’ll take this power and put it toward making the world a better place. For myself by cleaning my house, and beyond by doing Spock knows what. I have the power – the raw energy – to do it. I just need to get better at using it instead of feeling overwhelmed.
Wakana strongly encouraged me to try something new. So, I pulled out a book that’s been on my shelf for a while now, Celtic Design: Knotwork by Aidan Meehan. It has instructions for drawing your own Celtic knotwork, starting with how to create various grids (e.g. 2×2, 5×5) and moving from simple to increasingly complex patterns. After experimenting with it for a couple of days, I have a few drawings I would like to share:
Although artistically-speaking it’s probably better not to allow the grid to show through, I love how it remains visible in this final piece. There were many overlapping layers involved in the creation of the grid, and the knotwork forms yet another layer on top of it. I love that the knotwork serves as both the focus of the piece and a means of seeing parts of the process that went into its creation.
I see it as a metaphor for how people have multiple layers of being – thoughts to words, emotions to affect, impulses to actions, etc. What anyone sees me doing at a given point in time is only a small fraction of who I am.
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!
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.
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).
Then, 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.
While 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
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.
“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.