A New Milestone in Therapy: Part 1

[CW: descriptions of ways alcoholics and people under the influence of alcohol behave that can be harmful, especially to others]

Okay, this is becoming antertaining – yes, fingers, ants. “Ants” pretty much sums it all up.

So, cast of characters:
Mo – the “friend” who manipulated me, then moved
Ron – the “friend” who keeps saying things that make me feel like I’m doing everything wrong
Carl – the person I know is actually my friend, even though he occasionally annoys me

I was telling my music therapist, Wakana, about the above individuals – all of whom I’ve had crushes on, by the way – in a rather interesting session on Tuesday. Continue reading

Blog for Mental Health 2015 – aka the elephant in the room

a smiling elephant walking toward the right side of the image and spraying water from its trunk: over its back and onto the words "2015 blog for mental health"

Blog For Mental Health 2015 badge by Piper Macenzie

This is my third year taking the pledge:

“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2015 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”

I absolutely love that the primary image in this year’s badge is an (adorable) elephant! It just so happens to fit perfectly with where I am on my mental health journey:

I’ve spent the past 2+ years learning to accept that my “mental illness” is an inextricable part of me, while also working to unlearn the distorted beliefs and once-adaptive behaviors that keep me from fully expressing my true Self. One of these beliefs is perfectionism, particularly when it comes to playing guitar and piano in class: I believed I had to conform perfectly to academic, musical, and social expectations in order to be accepted by my peers. I have also spent my whole life trying to hide the fact that I (like anyone else, though perhaps sometimes to a greater degree) have times when I feel insecure, frustrated, angry, guilty, vulnerable, sad, anxious, confused, etc.; that there are times when I don’t know what to do and times when I make mistakes. I did this throughout my childhood and adolescence to provide some stability to a family that often felt determined to tear itself apart. But it became overwhelming as an adult.

Eventually I just couldn’t do it anymore, and I didn’t know how to function in society without doing it. So, I withdrew. At times I withdrew a bit too far, disappearing into video games. But, for the most part, I think the withdrawal was both healthy and necessary. It enabled me to prioritize my mental health above other concerns for the first time in my life. It required me to be honest with myself and those closest to me, in ways I’d never dared before.

Blogging for mental health has contributed immensely to this process. This blog gives me a safe place to share my thoughts on topics I might otherwise consider taboo. Writing helps me get a better sense of what I’m thinking and feeling, to better understand what’s really happening beneath the sudden flashes of anger or crushing guilt or hurricane of conflicting emotions. (It probably has something to do with a distorted belief.) Sometimes I receive comments from other bloggers who offer support, congratulations, advice, encouragement, and the knowledge that someone can relate to my experiences. I can see that people are reading the blog (even if they don’t respond directly); my voice is being heard. And I have the opportunity to read about the experiences of other bloggers, to connect with them through comments, to feel a sense of community.

(Sounds good, right? Join the Blog for Mental Health Project!)

So, elephants. I’ve come a long way on my mental health journey; I’m replacing my distorted beliefs (e.g. “I have to be perfect to be accepted.”) with more realistic ones (e.g. “It’s okay to let my imperfections show.”). I’m even trying out new behaviors, like telling my small group I’m not sure what to do or admitting to a classmate that I’m (also) terrified to play in front of our piano class. So far they seem not only to accept, but maybe even to like me.

I think the next step is to be honest about my mood disorder in my everyday life, with people who know my legal name. I won’t be as candid as I am on this blog, but it’s important to talk about mental health issues. I especially need to be able to do it in my music therapy classes, conferences, and (someday) my work environment. I want to help create communities of mutual support, where talking about mental health issues is the norm and it is safe to be genuine.

Not only does talking about mental health issues give others permission to do the same – which could save a life – but it has been and still is a safety issue for me. I need to be able to say things like “that was triggering for me,” “I’m not role-playing anymore; this is how I actually feel,” or even “I need a break from this, can someone come out to the hallway with me?” When I speak up and receive support from someone else, my emotions and destructive thoughts can’t overwhelm me. I feel better about, well, everything.

Blog for Mental Health FAQ | Take the Pledge! | 2015 Official Blogroll

What I Need

My depression has been rather severe lately. Very low energy, no motivation. Someone even worse than the Critic tearing me apart verbally and emotionally. Anxiety dreams. Insomnia. Disappearing into The Sims 3 for entire days.

Thoughts about harming myself take 2 forms. One is brought on by strong emotions; I want to release them by ripping into my own flesh. The other is looking at a sharp object and imagining what I could do to my arm with it, how that might feel. I need to feel something, and physical pain is so much simpler than the mess of thoughts and emotions that have been plaguing me constantly. Sometimes I use it to get the cloud to lift for a few seconds, so I can literally see more clearly. Thoughts about suicide stem from the idea that maybe that’s a way to make it all stop.

Then, on Saturday, I learned that my uncle had died. Mom has been supporting her best friend / sister; the dog and I have been feeling the strain. Today she stopped to talk to me on her way out to the wake. I was so hurt by the things she said that I could do nothing but curl up in fetal position on my bed, with Fox curled around me. The only thing that could “snap me out of it” was the sound of the dog attacking the door that kept him away from us. When I let him out I said, “You’re just doing to the door what I feel like doing to myself. It’s okay. You’re not alone. We’re here and we love you.” I held him in much the same way Fox had held me. It brought comfort.

On Saturday I had the opportunity to be honest about everything I’ve been experiencing, witnessed by 2 very loving and supportive people who Understand. One of them, the first one I opened up to, asked me, “What do you need?” A hug. My concerns and feelings and fears to be taken seriously. The opportunity to be genuine and accept my reality. To know I am safe; I will not be committed to a psychiatric hospital against my will.

They met my needs.

It was then that I first gave validity and words to a more troubling need. I need to drop 2 of my classes: the ones relevant to my career field of choice, that I need to complete my Master’s degree, that I’ve already waited 2 years to take.

One is the source of the dreaded Piano Midterm that I’m scheduled to take tomorrow. I’ve stopped thinking of myself as completely unprepared for it – either I’ll go and do something and accept the results, or I’ll go and we’ll talk and the instructor will agree that there’s not really much point to me taking it.

The other class would be fantastic, but the experiential component is literally hazardous to my health. I feel paralyzed by anxiety about doing it, I force myself to try, and then I tear myself to shreds with berating comments. Any mistakes I made, the uncertainty I felt, the things I did that were a repetition of what others had done, the ways in which I failed to use the instructor’s feedback, the things I said that I know aren’t helpful because others have said them to me or I’ve tried them on loved ones and they haven’t worked, even my appearance. Anything is fair game and all of it tears into me emotionally, until I want to tear (cut) into myself physically. If I were to act on the compulsion, I’m not sure when – or whether – I’d stop.

If I drop these 2 classes I’ll be left with 2 that I enjoy and that put a lot less pressure on me but that I don’t really need in an academic/professional sense. I need them in an emotional sense – for feelings of accomplishment and self-worth and opportunities for structured social interaction.

I’ll also have time – likely, another 2 years – to heal the giant festering wound that has consumed most of Me, and to do some of the activism and advocacy that I feel inclined toward. I’ll come out of it better able to enter my chosen career field – if they’ll still have me. My biggest fear is that my school will cast me out and at best I’ll have difficulty re-entering the program. And I’m not looking forward to my mother’s reaction. But if I can survive the hell my mind has become, I think I can survive her.