Blog for Mental Health 2014

When I learned of the Blog for Mental Health pledge last year, I thought, “Perfect! This is exactly what I intended my blog to be!” I’m so excited that I get to take the pledge again; it seems like an awesome way to begin 2014.

So, without further ado:

“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 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.”

Blog for Mental Health 2014 badge acanvasoftheminds.com art by Piper Macenzie

the Blog for Mental Health 2014 badge
from acanvasoftheminds.com
art by Piper Macenzie

I’ve been writing about my experiences with mental health – particularly coping with anxious depression – all year. The biggest trend I’ve noticed is a movement away from viewing my mental illness as something separate from myself that I must fight against, and toward accepting it as part of who I am.

This isn’t to say that I allow myself to be defined by my anxious depression and give up on my goals, relationships, and responsibilities – though I will admit it is sometimes tempting to do so. Rather, it allows me to have a more consistent experience of reality, despite fluctuations in the severity of my symptoms. These fluctuations can be drastic over a short period of time and completely change my perception of my abilities, situation, interpersonal relationships, etc.

When I accept my mental illness as part of who I am, I can treat myself with compassion and do what I need to take care of myself – whatever that means in the moment. Sometimes it means remembering that yesterday I was viewing the world through “depression goggles” (and/or “anxiety goggles”) and choosing to celebrate what I was able to do, instead of criticizing myself for having difficulties. Sometimes it means allowing myself to fully feel difficult emotions and express them, even though I can’t explain why I’m feeling them. Often it means reaching out to loved ones for help, support, and hugs.

Taking care of myself has recently meant reminding my inner critic that I appreciate its company, but need it to use nicer words and a gentler tone to help me learn from my mistakes. Occasionally it means clinging to the knowledge that the severity of my symptoms fluctuates and the hope that tomorrow will be better, just to get through today. And on good days – those wonderful, rare, precious good days – it means being fully present and soaking in every glorious moment to make the best possible memories.

I’m trying to move toward using relatively good days to set up some kind of support structure that will make the not-so-good days easier – not just to get through, but to live within. If I can accept my mental illness as part of myself, then I can use my strengths on the days when I have the most access to them, to create accommodations for myself to use on the days when I feel the weakest.

Please visit the original Blog for Mental Health 2014 post for more information about the campaign and instructions for taking the pledge. I hope to see you on the official blogroll!!!

Courage

I saw this on Facebook and wanted to share it here:

"went to the beach the other day, for the first time since I was a child, I didnt wear shorts or anything to cover up, this is a massive deal for me, I hate my body even without the scars, I believe I am fat and disgusting but, I pushed through the major anxiety, shaking and almost crying and made it to the water. Its a big deal, I did it. This took a whole lot of courage to post.."I wish I could tell this person how inspiring ze is. Ze must be in a lot of pain, have been in a lot of pain for a long time, to have that many scars. To show them at the beach – where there is no way to hide, everything is on display, and people tend to judge … that is courage! And to even take a picture, never mind posting it online where it is timeless and thousands of people will see and comment on it … This person is so strong. To break the chains keeping zir from the beach, from the ocean, to overcome that much anxiety, to keep moving through the shakes and threatening tears … I know what that feels like and I usually find it to be too hard. This is strength. This is truth. This is reality.

Honesty

Wakana and I had a very productive conversation yesterday, perhaps one of our most therapeutic sessions yet. She was completely straightforward and down to business; she wanted to know what was going on last Friday and why I didn’t feel comfortable talking to her – at the very least, letting her know I was still alive. Most importantly, she asked what it is I need from her that I feel like I’m not getting.

Friday. It’s like something is actively trying to block my access to what was going on that day. In a nutshell, I just didn’t want to be bothered – with her, or anyone, or anything. That’s not entirely true: I wanted to spend time with Fox and I did. But he came to me. I didn’t want to face the world, reality. I really didn’t want to go out in it. I didn’t want to put on shoes; none of the shoes I own were quite right for the weather that day. And I didn’t want to face whatever we’d reveal about myself.

And yes, I was more interested in focusing on The Sims 3. My escape. She’s really concerned about all the time playing that game, and the narrowing of my world. On some level, I’m concerned about it, too. But on some level I feel like it’s what I need all I can handle right now. Anything else requires me to wear the mask, and it’s just too heavy.

What do I need from her that I’m not getting? Music. I need to spend more time making music – and, more importantly, using the music to get at the heart of the matter. It’s hard, it’s painful, I don’t really want to do it most of the time. I guess I need her to push me a little more, or pull me, or … do more to help me feel safe. And to help me put my armor back on before I have to leave her room and face the world again. I hate being so vulnerable. But I think I can do it in front of her, as long as it’s contained within the session.

It felt good to be able to have that conversation with her. It was extremely uncomfortable, but just the fact that she really wanted to know and understand my experience – without judging it or telling me what to do – meant the world to me.

Living Together

Fox recently learned that he is very likely to have to move out of his current housing at the end of the semester; yesterday he brought up the possibility of moving in with me (and my mom, though we occupy different parts of the house and have a good deal of privacy). I like the idea of moving in together – I did decide to marry him, after all – and over all I feel good about the idea of him joining me in my current home. There is always ambivalence, though, and I just want to try and work some of it out.

Number One Thing I Know For Sure

The end of the semester is way too soon for me to move again. Moving is insanely stressful and my most recent move (largely because I didn’t prepare for it properly) almost killed me. I am nowhere near the right emotional and mental state to move again. I haven’t even fully finished settling in here – but I have become emotionally (re-)attached to the space.

Ideally, Fox and I would find a home together and move in there, relatively independent from our respective parents. That’s always been how I envisioned things happening. It will happen eventually. But now is NOT the right time. For better or worse, whatever he decides to do, I need to stay where I am.

Ambivalence

ambivalence

I originally wanted to separate “concerns” and “positive factors,” but that’s too artificial a split. The two are so intertwined with each other, I really need to write about them both together. As they say in motivational interviewing: “You get a lot of satisfaction from playing The Sims 3 AND you need to focus more on living your own, real, life.” The AND in that sentence is the most important part: the two factors exist together and are inextricable.

I’ve gotten used to having this space to myself; my stuff is spread all around it. We’ll need to move things to get his stuff to fit, but I think that should be doable. It just messes up what order I do have – admittedly, nowhere near as much as I’d like. It also requires me to go through and likely get rid of things I’ve so far had mixed feelings about keeping in boxes and piles of clutter. It’s easier to just leave the not-fully-unpacked mess I’ve gotten used to, AND the mess conflicts horribly with the order I want for my living space and my life. I’ll admit, I hope that if Fox does move in, we‘ll go through my stuff and organize it together as part of the process of figuring out where and how his stuff can fit in. I don’t really want him controlling any aspect of anything belonging to (and therefore an extension of) me. But I do feel like I need help.

We’re both hoarders, prone to allowing our space to become cluttered and comfortable with a certain amount of clutter. We tend to reinforce that habit in each other. I’m not a fan. But this is something we’ll have to deal with eventually anyway. The question is, can I/we deal with it now – full time, without separate spaces to retreat to? Can we work together and support each other without becoming too enmeshed, without each giving up too much of ourselves in the effort to help each other? Just because we want and need to get to that point eventually doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to jump in and start trying to pull it off now. There might be other work we need to do, together and separately, before we can get to that point.

But then … the Deserter does long for stability; maybe granting it will help. The reality of my senses and emotional response will match what I know in my mind: that we have a good, real, stable, loving relationship that can withstand whatever life decides to throw at it as long as we are willing to work together through the hard times. The Deserter is furious that Fox is only visiting for a couple of days, then leaving again; no peace will come from the knowledge that we’ll see each other again soon. Whatever living together brings up, perhaps the stability of being with him every day will soothe the Deserter and help that part of me to heal.

I also love having his company. I feel more alive when he’s here. He’s more on top of chores I struggle with, such as dishes and laundry and daily hygiene. He’ll pull me out of my depressive stupidity and get me to engage in the pleasures of real life, draw my attention to my rats who are adorable and bring me so much joy, remind my tense muscles to relax, and remind me that I am loved. Even hearing him breathe this morning helped me pull myself out of dreams that were frustrating and doing me absolutely no good; to start my day in this physical reality.

I’m concerned about having to share my food. When he’s here it feels like I expend more of my (limited) resources than he does his in order to feed us both. I don’t like sharing.

If he lives here full time he can use the resources he’d spend on food for himself to help get food for both of us. He’ll be sharing, too. We can each have things we don’t share with the other – as long as it’s agreed upon and the one who gets the item uses their own resources to acquire it. And he’ll help with cooking, something I’ve been extremely lazy about. (Or we’ll be lazy together, mwahahaha!!!)

We need to each have our own separate blanket. I’m going to insist on that tonight. Sharing blankets just isn’t working for me. I’m also a bit ambivalent about sharing my bed full time; there are pros and cons. I like quiet and having more space to spread out and being able to do whatever I want with all four pillows. I also like knowing he’s there, being able to cuddle, seeing his face first thing in the morning. I’m also infinitely more relaxed / less anxious (or, not anxious at all) when it’s time to fall asleep – if he’s there. (At least that held true last night.) I suppose there’s always the option of the couch/couch bed, air mattress, etc. as a temporary solution if either or both of us really need(s) a separate space to sleep. Again, these are things we’ll have to work out eventually.

Timing

swirly-clock

The question is, is now the right time? And by “now” I mean over the course of the next couple months, culminating with his actual move in early summer – not, say, tomorrow. I’m dealing with a lot of crazy shit in my own life – and often not dealing with it, as evidenced by the massive amounts of time I spend playing The Sims 3. I was dreaming the game last night. I’m grieving my uncle and the old deaths I still haven’t fully grieved. I’m grieving all the things I never got in my childhood. I’m trying to help my inner child understand that she/we will NEVER get what she wants and needs from our biological mother; we/I need to get those needs met elsewhere. I’m struggling with the emotions that reality evokes. I’m struggling to allow myself to cry. I’m struggling to remain engaged in my own therapy, and to be kind to myself. It’s harder than a full-time job. I need to give myself a break from time to time. I’m struggling to celebrate my small victories, such as recognizing and asserting that need.

Relationships

I need the space to do all this, but I also need support. I’ve been really hurting from lack of support. Banji has been awesome, texting or calling me to check in and chat. On Saturday we played music together – no pressure, just fun and camaraderie – and watched Doctor Who and talked about some important things. I was able to be more honest with her than I sometimes am with myself. We have a special relationship that nothing else can touch; our goal is to live within walking distance of each other so we can enjoy each other’s company more consistently. But for now our reality is still that we need to take opportunities as they come, even if they do come quite frequently. I need more than I can get from our relationship – in terms of stability – right now.

The three of us also need to work out the complexities of me having 2 equally important, equally emotionally intimate, but qualitatively different relationships with 2 different people. That’s all I’ll say for now because 2/3 of the story isn’t mine to tell. But I’ve noticed tension, and it’s adding to my stress. It certainly doesn’t help that society values one type of relationship over the other, and I sometimes find it hard not to fall into the trap of following the herd.

Baaaa! Moo! etc.

Insomnia

So, here I am at the end of a fairly productive day. I completed not one, but TWO assignments for my online class! They were a nice challenge; I definitely learned some things. I’m kinda looking forward to, kinda apprehensive about taking on the next assignment challenge! In my mind, that’s a good place to be.

I also acquired groceries, spent time with my rats (one of whom was surprisingly cuddly – at least for a short while), and played The Sims 3 responsibly. By which I mean I played for a handful of hours, then decided I’d reached a good stopping point and went off to do something else. I’m looking forward to picking up where I left off, but I don’t feel any particular urgency.

I was even able to take a bath without my mind wandering off into horrible, dangerous thoughts.

Fast forward to the present; I’m sitting here thinking, now what? The clock is telling me it’s time to sleep but I don’t really feel like it. In a way I feel like I haven’t really started my day – I haven’t exactly done any physical activity. Maybe that’s my problem, I need to exercise. Then my body will feel like I’ve done something today and decide it’s ready to sleep. Maybe my mind will follow suit.

Of course, right now exercising is the last thing I want to do. That tends to be how I feel most of the time – otherwise, I’d actually do it! In fact, given the choice between exercise and sleep, my body and mind seem ready to choose sleep. Well, if that’s what it takes to overcome my insomnia …

I think what it comes down to is that I’m afraid. If I stay awake, I can be pretty sure I can predict what will happen. I’ll do … whatever I want. I might be tired, maybe anxious, maybe sad. Okay, I’m used to those emotions, I can deal with them. Who knows? I might be happy! It’s nice and quiet. Maybe I can even be creative. It’s been a while since I’ve drawn or colored or improvised.

If I go to sleep … when I let my guard down the darkness starts to creep in. I feel anxious and it takes a while for my body to relax. I have bad dreams.

Dreams where the rules that govern reality don’t apply. In reality if I have an irrational fear I can use my understanding of logic and science to talk myself out of it. The empirical evidence usually supports this calming self-talk. Usually.

In dreams the fear manifests as something that my dream-self thinks is real; in that moment, it poses a real threat to me. For example, the “badly drawn babies with sharp teeth” in my previous post really had the potential to devour me if I did not get away! Even when I think I’ve woken up, often it’s just a dream-within-a-dream. Maybe the new reality is better, maybe it’s worse. It’s probably just as dangerous.

And when I finally do wake up, I feel groggy and drowsy. I don’t want to face reality. My dreams often haunt me, weighing on my mind. Sometimes I feel like I left something unfinished. The worst is when my dream-self was interacting with a loved one who really died, but in my dream they’ve just been gone for a while. When my waking-self remembers that said loved one is dead, it’s like a stab in the heart. I don’t know when I’ll get to see them again, and I probably won’t have any control over what I do or say next time we meet.

To say I’m going back and forth between dreams and reality is a bit misleading. It feels more like I’m moving between or among realities. Who’s to say that this one is any more real than the dream worlds? Sometimes the dreams feel more real.

To make matters worse, if I go to sleep, inevitably I’ll have to wake up again in this reality. Then, some unknown amount of time will have passed – time that I could have spent doing, I don’t know, something.

I’ll probably wake up less able to deal with reality than I am now. I’ll probably be haunted by bad dreams. Who knows what will be happening? It could be anything! My mother might want to impose on me before I’ve had a chance to put my guard up or, you know, eat something. I’ll have to face the uncertainty of feeling like I should do something useful with my time, but lack the motivation or energy or organization. There could be some disaster happening …

I think I’ve made my point. Going to sleep is scary because I don’t know what I’ll have to face in my dreams. Waking up is scary because then I have to deal with reality when I’ve just woken up and who knows what I’ll wake up into. I’d rather just deal with one reality full time instead of switching back and forth and having to adjust after each transition.

So I keep trying to think of things to do, anything but sleep. Lately it’s been The Sims 3. It just dawned on me that going through stuff and cleaning might actually be useful. I’ve probably made this blog post longer than it needs to be because writing is a viable alternative to sleep. Maybe I should try writing fiction. Or another poem? Or maybe one of the other posts that’s been sitting on the back burner …

Withdrawn

Dog woke me up early by barking to go out and have breakfast. I couldn’t get back to sleep, too plagued by anxiety. At the top of the list was fearing I might miss the deadline to withdraw from classes and receive a grade reflecting that I withdrew, rather than a failing grade – the latter of which, in addition to hurting my pride and GPA, might get me kicked out of school. I checked and sure enough, the deadline is TODAY.

I’m disappointed. Part of me was hoping that, if I talked to the instructors for the classes, I might be able to receive accommodations that would enable me to complete them this semester. I already have an appointment with one today, but the one who acts as my adviser can’t meet with me until tomorrow. And to be honest, considering what I need the accommodations to be, I really feel like I’d be shortchanging myself and my field if I completed the courses with them – what, to make this whole process easier and more convenient for me? Bah!

So, I went ahead and withdrew. 3 clicks, and the “withdrawal” grade is already on my unofficial transcript. I only have 2 classes this semester, classes that are awesome. I don’t have to jump through bureaucratic hoops, and I don’t have to take a medical leave of absence. I don’t even have to keep my appointment to take a midterm this afternoon.

It isn’t a scary thought anymore, it’s reality. I’m waiting for the whole world to start crashing down on me. But until it does, at least I can experience a small amount of peace.

The Deserter

The Deserter is the last part of myself that I revealed in my post: Ending a Life. Represented by a young girl, it is the part of me that finds life too painful to keep living, that wants to escape, that wants to cease being real. The Deserter feels alien to this world, to embodied reality. It tries to sever me from everything, especially my emotions. But as Wakana said during our session on Tuesday, I need my emotions in order to be connected to reality.

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.

We walked through the darkness, the Deserter and I, and had a little chat. I didn’t try to convince it of anything, I just tried to understand – and to allow myself to feel. The walk in darkness gave me the safe space I needed to focus on this aspect of myself, with few distractions.

A major theme that came up was stability: knowing that the people in my life are reliable, both emotionally and otherwise. I have not had a lot of stability. The Deserter is angry and hurt because of the chaos, the volatile emotions, the abuse, the neglect, and most of all by people leaving my/our life. The Deserter asks, “If they are not going to be there for me, why should I be there for them?” It would much rather walk away. At least in solitude I can be miserable on my own terms.

I miss my friends who seem to have all gone their separate ways, with new friends, careers, homes, spouses, etc. People don’t randomly contact me just to say “hi,” and I feel awkward contacting them. If they do contact me, I don’t always get back to them. :-/

My mom has followed a pattern of engulfing or smothering me, then withdrawing, so I really don’t know what to expect from her. I think she’s trying to show me support and caring and give me space, but sometimes it’s hard for me to trust her – and sometimes she makes mistakes, so I withdraw my trust.

I had a really great weekend with Fox and Banji! On Friday, Banji and I went back to our undergraduate alma mater. We had dinner in town at a place we used to frequent, then walked around on campus reminiscing. Afterward we returned to my home and looked at some music I had composed, including a beautiful viola solo I’d completely forgotten about. Fox joined us on Saturday for dinner at Banji’s parents’ house; that evening I said ‘goodbye’ to Banji and returned home to enjoy a couple more days with Fox. I was feeling the healthiest I’d been in over a month. Then, on Monday, I had to say ‘goodbye’ to Fox, too.

I “woke” Tuesday morning feeling dead. I was exhausted and haunted by the anxiety dreams I’ve been having for at least a few nights now. I felt like I was going through the motions. Wakana brought up the possibility that I was sad about Banji going home, but I didn’t want to listen. She’s only 4 hours away; we can see each other again before the end of the month!

But the Deserter is not a rational being; it is purely emotional. It feels abandoned by the two people I most want to have a stable, mutually-loving relationship with for the rest of my life.

On one level my relationships with Banji and Fox are stable: I know I can trust each of them with my deepest and darkest emotions, that they will accept me as I am, that they understand me (at least to some degree), and that they want to remain in close relationship with me.

On another level – the level on which the Deserter operates – my relationships with Banji and Fox are very unstable: we spend short times together that are intensely intimate, and then they disappear. The Deserter can’t understand why I woke up alone Tuesday morning, why Banji hasn’t called me, etc. It’s angry and sad and beyond tired of playing this game! It thinks if I can’t trust the two of them, there’s no way I can ever trust anyone else – so it keeps me from making new friends.

I wrote a poem that I’d like to share, to give the Deserter a voice. I’m going to put it behind a link, though, because I’m concerned it might be a trigger for some people. Writing it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.

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