Memorial Day

Content Note: In this post I express views that are strongly anti-war, anti-violence, and anti-militarism. I mean no disrespect to veterans, active duty military personnel, or military families.

Memorial Day is traditionally a day to honor those who have died during military service, particularly in war. It originated after the Civil War.

The parade in my town passes my street, just a couple doors down from my house. I’ve marched in it, as have my father and my dog. I don’t remember the last time I actively attended, but I hear the drums, bagpipes, and sirens every year. They bring back memories – this year, of what may have been the last time all three of us were at the parade together.

It hurts.

But this isn’t about me. It’s about the people who give their lives and sacrifice their mental health – for what? Gone are the days when we engaged in wars that were actually for something. Now we just have ongoing military conflict that could more accurately be described as terrorism, wasting millions or billions of dollars on the kinds of weapons we claim to be trying to prevent, devastating entire countries, ruining the lives of millions, creating refugees, and creating the very terrorists we claim to be fighting. For what? Corporate greed and US imperialism.

Our military personnel and veterans die of friendly fire and suicide, in service not to our country, but to the greed of the wealthiest people in the world. We shouldn’t just remember our soldiers, we shouldn’t even just mourn, we need to stand up for them. Demand an end to this wasteful violence.

And in the meantime, do whatever we can to protect and improve their mental health. (Also physical health, making sure they have access to healthy food, safe affordable housing, and a fair income whether they choose to work or not, etc.)

I feel like I “dropped the ball” on Mental Health Awareness Month, but there are still a couple days left in May. Today I’d like to share 2 links that seem particularly appropriate:

Veterans & Active Duty

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has information and links to resources for veterans and active duty personnel that may be helpful in protecting one’s career, accessing mental health services, assisting fellow soldiers, and transitioning to civilian life.

Family Members & Caregivers

Members of military families, or probably any family, may benefit from the information and resources offered by NAMI. Please note that “the information here” is linked to in a separate column on the left side of the page.

Solidarity.

Does This Mean I’m Getting Better?

I’ve been taking some baby steps toward (finally!) completing my master’s degree and starting my career. It started with taking guitar and piano lessons during the Spring 2014 semester. Though I didn’t practice anywhere near as much as I would have liked, I did learn some useful things, acquire valuable resources for continuing my development on both instruments, and benefit from attending lessons semi-regularly.

If nothing else, being on campus enabled me to learn about two opportunities to compose music with clear guidelines, a deadline, and a chance of having the work performed. I’ve found composing to be very challenging but also very rewarding, well worth the effort for its own sake… and I look forward to hearing my first piece performed. The challenge I’m facing is not writing music that sounds good – sometimes that comes too easily – but using organized sound to evoke in the listener the difficult and complex emotions I’m trying to express… while also sounding good enough that the listener will want to continue listening. Right now this is the big thing that keeps me going: I can’t compose if I’m decomposing.

I’ve also been paying attention to emails from my academic adviser. Two were about new internship opportunities that both sound like they’d be excellent training for working with populations I’d be interested in. One is a little bit more in line with my interests, while the other involves an opportunity to work with someone I already know to be an excellent supervisor. I’m so tempted to apply for them both and (hopefully) start an internship in the Fall… but then I look at the requirements and my anxiety flares up.

Part of me just wants to get on with my life already, but the other doesn’t want to rush things. When I push too hard against my anxiety, it pushes back and the next thing I know I’ve been playing Skyrim (or The Sims 3, or another video game) for the past two days, and it’s the only thing I can think about for weeks. I’ve been telling my adviser I want to wade slowly back into the field with some supervised experience that, frankly, doesn’t require me to compete with others to get it. From my perspective, it’s an extension of the field experience that had been part of my training until it was time for me to apply for internships and I started having difficulty continuing my studies. (It was around the same time my current depressive episode hit hard and Banji moved several states away.)

Pursuing that option is a bit less straightforward and means it will be longer before I can get paid to work in my field, but I also perceive it as less risky. I can’t convince a potential internship supervisor who thinks someone else is a “better fit” to work with me instead, but I can keep emailing and calling my adviser until he’s set up a placement (something he has to do for other students, anyway). I expect we’ll set up clear requirements and any written work will make sense with what I’m already doing on-site, so I’ll have the structure I need to succeed. Then it’s just a matter of doing the work; I wish I could say with confidence that it’s totally under my control and of course I’ll stay on top of things, but experience dictates otherwise. What I can say is that I’ll work hard and learn from the experience and probably earn at least a B. Hopefully I’ll be able to work with my adviser and supervisor to overcome (or accommodate) any difficulties that come up as a result of my anxious depression or otherwise. Worst case scenario I’ll try and withdraw by the deadline to prevent it from hurting my GPA.

My adviser’s other email was about an online course I intend to take over the summer, primarily for its on-site experiential component. I wish I could benefit from that experience and then apply for the internships mentioned above, but their application deadlines are much too soon. I’m hoping that in addition to “getting my feet wet” again (and networking!), this course will help me set up some kind of adaptive schedule/routine for myself. Class won’t be meeting in person, but I can decide on days and times to take my laptop (a nice privilege) to the library and do schoolwork. Maybe I can even contact the other students about setting up a study group?

There’s also the pesky need for a paying job… I think I’m going to have to bite the bullet, apply everywhere that’s hiring regardless of whether the job description makes me want to vomit, be a different (upbeat and energetic!) person at interviews, and see who hires me. It’s about as far from appealing as you can get but I need the money and I keep telling myself any amount of income will feel better than no income. Anyways I’d really like to be working or at least have a job lined up by September, but that first composition deadline (see above) is actually a higher priority.

By the way, have I mentioned how frustrating it is that everyone wants upbeat and energetic employees? Being downbeat and lethargic doesn’t sell, I get that, but they might as well advertise that they discriminate against people with depression and/or social anxiety. It really feels like I need to become a different person – or at least pretend to be one – in order to have any shot at finding a job. Certainly there are other attributes, such as ability to learn/follow directions, ability to listen, knowledge in a certain field(s), ability to count money, understanding of word processing and spreadsheets, etc. that contribute to employability. If you want me to mop the floor I can mop the floor, hell I’ll even smile at any customers who meet my eye while I’m doing so. They’d probably prefer I didn’t start conversations with them or pull them into some sort of energetic dance routine while they’re trying to do… whatever they’re doing. Not everyone likes upbeat, energetic people; some relate better to calm, quiet people or knowledgeable, straightforward people or active listeners or compassionate people. I can do any or all of those; sometimes I can even pull off upbeat and/or energetic, just not all the time.

Anyways, I’ve been putting in some nice work: the above and continuing to see Wakana regularly. Meanwhile, Fox has been sleeping on the couch, watching YouTube videos, and playing Skyrim. To be fair, he also does the dishes (mostly – I help sometimes), heats up food, and if I remind him enough times he’ll do the laundry (and complain about it).

I was feeling very resentful toward him because now my mother is supporting both of us, I’ve burned through my resources feeding him that would have lasted a lot longer if I’d only spent them on myself, and any progress I’m making is despite his rather depressing influence on me. I had resolved to give him a deadline by which he must either A: show he’s putting in significant work toward advancing his career goals and our goal of raising a family together, or B: move back in with his family of origin (which would be inconvenient for them as well as him, but they’d be better able to support him financially as well as in making the progress he needs).

Then we talked, and I just couldn’t be that confrontational; the only way I could get the words out was by expressing concern for his well-being and that I want/need him to work on improving his health, starting his career, and contributing financially. Even if it means asking me to help him with things, I’m happy to help where I see him showing interest at the very least. He listened and expressed wanting to contribute more and agreed to make an effort; we hugged and felt better. I guess time will tell if the conversation changes anything.

To be honest I’m inclined to keep asking him to move out on the back burner as a possibility, but I want to do my best to be supportive of him. It goes against everything I’ve been reading, writing, and talking to Wakana about detachment, but I did vow to stay with this guy through thick and thin. Despite everything logic would dictate, I still love him (and I recognize that part of loving him is not enabling him, but pushing him to work toward the goals he’s had since before he met me). The worst part is the effect the situation has had on our relationship: we’ve lost nearly all our passion and emotional intimacy. Sometimes I still feel some of it when I make a real, concentrated effort to engage him in conversation and/or an activity we both enjoy. I hope it will come back if we both nurture it enough.

I guess on some level I blame his current level of depression on myself because he – we both – seemed a lot more functional when we first met. I can point to other factors that have contributed to my current difficulties, but for him there’s whatever he had going on before we met, some family stressors that may or may not be bothering him – he doesn’t really talk about how they impact him emotionally, so I’m not sure how big a role they play – and, well, me: coping with my anxious depression symptoms, adapting to my reduced sex drive and emotional withdrawal from him, supporting me emotionally, distancing himself (farther) from his friends, moving to a new location, living with my mom… honestly, it’s gotta be hell. Maybe we’d both be better off if he moved out and we waited to live together until we can both get the mental health care and raise the money we need to have a healthy, mutually-supportive relationship living in our own house.

As it stands, I see our roles changing. Since we met I’ve increasingly been taking on the “sick role,” a sociological concept originally developed by Talcott Parsons in the 1950s. I’m the one who has a serious illness, I’m the one who needs support and comfort and help accessing healthcare, me me me. Everyone must drop their entire lives to help me. Fox was thrust into the role of caregiver (or “supporter,” as he put it) and our relationship skewed so most of our collective energy went to trying to help me (and was ultimately sucked into the black hole that is anxious depression).

And the painful thing is, most of it wasn’t even about him! It was about wanting my mother to finally stop doing the very same thing to me and, well, be a mother. She’s finally become emotionally independent enough and started providing me with enough helpful support (and I’ve gotten enough of it from loved ones and Wakana) that I don’t feel the need to flail and cry at the top of my lungs anymore. I still need support from loved ones, therapy, and possibly meds, but I don’t want to be in this role anymore. I’ve seen what it does to caregivers (Mom, Uncle “D”, Aunt “A,” my cousins, myself, my ex, and now Fox) and to relationships. And I’ve found it so stifling, especially when I think I’m “doing my job” and “getting better” just to “relapse” the next day. I just want to be a person, and perhaps I have some needs that are different and maybe even a bit more intense than other people’s, and that’s okay. We can all handle it. No more black holes.

Now I’m stepping out of the “sick role” and Fox – I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt – has fallen into it. I want to be helpful and supportive but I can’t risk this being a yo-yo cycle of one of us becoming just better enough to keep the other from committing suicide, then that person gets just better enough to keep the first from committing suicide, rinse and repeat. We each need to be a healthy, capable, functioning, whole person, because that’s what we each need. When we come together, I want us to make magic. It doesn’t really matter to me whether we’re living together or not while we work toward becoming whole, though I’ll admit to crying as I write this. What matters to me is that we both get there… even if it means separating.

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.

Don’t Hurt My Mommy!

Something finally clicked for me: I don’t trust the healthcare system, especially not hospitals. I don’t. They do horrible things. They take babies away from new mothers. They might cut you without your permission. They don’t give you the information you need. They poke and prod you. They make you sit around naked for hours not knowing why you’re waiting. They don’t let you eat or drink after midnight. IVs – enough said. They might send you home while you still need help. They might prescribe you something that gives you hallucinations and delusions and keeps you from eating, and talk your caregiver into giving it to you against her best instincts.

Worst of all, they keep taking people away from me! They took my grandfather when I was only 4. They took my dad. They took my grandmother, and my great-aunt who was like a grandmother to me. Most recently, they took my uncle. The logical part of me knows these loved ones were in the hospital because they were sick, and died because the medical interventions available weren’t enough to keep them alive. But the irrational part of me sees my loved ones walking into hospitals and coming out of them in coffins.

And now my mother is in the hospital. Her double knee replacement surgery went well. She’s recovering just fine. I even got to talk to her; she was groggy but using complete sentences and already able to move her legs a little bit. But they made her wait 3 extra hours before doing the surgery and they’re not feeding her or even letting her drink water. And they poked her with lots of painful needles.

Grr!!! I’m feeling very protective of her, very angry. I don’t like that she’s over there and I’m over here and even if I were there I’d be powerless to protect or help her. I can smuggle in clothes and food she likes and other things she deems necessary. I can keep her company. But I can’t do anything about her condition and I can’t prevent them from causing her more discomfort. I have to be caregiver but I don’t know how to give care.

And I’m afraid that the same thing will happen to her that happened with Dad. The last time I saw him, I was overwhelmed by my own painful emotions. I had trouble getting past all the stuff he was hooked up to, the appearance of his failing health, and interacting with him. I was horrified and very, very sad. It put a wall between us. He didn’t want me to see him like that; he didn’t want to see me like that. I feel guilty – in his hour of greatest need I betrayed him. I feel angry – in my hour of greatest need, I was betrayed. Whether by him or by the system that didn’t provide us the support we needed to come together as a family, to interact with love instead of fear and death … that moment remains seared in my memory and on my heart, a painful scar that can never be healed.

Tomorrow I have to visit my mother in the hospital. She’ll probably be bedridden, both her knees still bandaged. Possibly still groggy, with tubes coming out of her. A dreaded IV. *shudders* The hospital look. Smell. Sounds. All of which I’ve grown to hate and fear. If I could I would puff myself up to 10 times my size, put out my claws, bare my teeth, and give everyone death glares. I would growl so loudly the earth would tremble. YOU WILL NOT HURT MY MOTHER!!! YOU WILL NOT TAKE HER FROM ME!!! SHE IS MINE!!!

mama-bear

But I can’t really do anything. This was her choice. It’s something she needed. It’s done. She needs to be in their care, and I need her to be there too because I wouldn’t know the first thing to do for her and frankly I couldn’t deal with it. But I’m worried about her and I’m worried because I haven’t been able to work on the paper due Thursday. Somehow I doubt I’ll be able to do much on it tomorrow, either. The biggest distraction: everyone is turning to me to find out how she’s doing. I can’t handle all the phone calls.

At least they’re concerned about me, too. It helps to know that people care. I just wish my aunt hadn’t told me to “enjoy tonight, because tomorrow all hell breaks loose.”