NewProjects

With only 11 days until the Out of the Darkness Overnight, it’s seeming less and less feasible for me to participate. I haven’t been training, I’m nowhere near the $700 I’m required to raise, and I haven’t made any travel plans or hotel reservations. Mom keeps saying, “Maybe this isn’t the year for you to do this.” It hurts like hell to hear it, but at least half the reason why it hurts is because at least part of me thinks she’s right.

I was finally able to express how her feedback is affecting me: “When you say things like that, I feel depressed. I feel like I suck.”

“I don’t think you suck. I just think you have a lot going on right now, and maybe trying to do this on top of it isn’t the best idea.”

She has a point. A lot of things have been going on to get in the way of my preparations for the Overnight:

  • my response to the 15-year anniversary of my father’s death
  • moving back in with Mom
  • moving back in with Mom
  • the extreme self-deprecation and anxiety that forced me to drop the last 2 pre-thesis classes I need to complete my master’s degree because they increased my self-harm risk
  • lack of social support
  • midterm and end-of-the-semester stress
  • anxiety over Mom’s surgery
  • Mom’s surgery
  • visiting Mom after her surgery
  • taking care of Dog and rats
  • turning to the computer (rather than walking or other forms of exercise) for escapism
  • depression symptoms
    • fatigue
    • lack of motivation
    • self-harm ideation and thought imagery
  • social anxiety; not wanting to be seen

Yes, I could have made different choices. But I think blaming myself for not preparing for the Overnight would be like blaming someone for losing a poker match in which the best hand ze was dealt was a pair of deuces. Sometimes, your best option is to fold.

When I expressed all this to Fox, he suggested a brilliant compromise: instead of attempting the overnight walk in Washington, D.C., I can do my own, shorter, walk locally. I can time it for when Banji and other people I love and trust can make it. Mom can come – even if she can’t walk the full route, she might be able to walk part of it. Just her physical presence as a supporter would mean the world to me!

I can even still ask people to chip in what they can to donate to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). We might even raise some awareness; I can wear the shirt I received for raising $100 for the Overnight and maybe my supporters can wear matching shirts in a similar color (ooh, getting together to decorate them might be fun!) … that kind of thing usually gets people to wonder what’s going on; even explaining our shenanigans to just one person might make a difference.

The AFSP even has tools for creating your own campaign that I can use! They offer a variety of ideas; endurance events (e.g. walks) are only one option.

I’m thinking of making a campaign I could link to from this blog, actually. One idea I have is to invite readers to commission posts on topics of their choice related to my experiences with mental illness, mental health care, and possibly other topics – all with the caveat that I will only share information I feel comfortable and safe sharing. What do you think?

Another project I’m planning is an herb and vegetable garden. Fox is on board with it; I love the idea of having someone to garden with. We’ve done some research and decided to start small, just a handful of plants in a few pots, preferably raised off the ground so we don’t have to bend too much. It’s a way for us to get outside in the fresh air and sun, do something that resembles physical activity, connect with nature, and possibly even grow our own fresh (preferably organic) produce! – that is, if the squirrels don’t eat it all …

Groundhog Day

You fool!
What is with you and that game?!
You play and play for hours on end
And every day is
Identical.

You think I am old and blind,
But I know:
You watch an image of a human
Play with her image of a pet
Images are all you see!

What about ME!?
I’m here!
Flesh and blood and FUR
And so much more
I need your love!

You’ve talked about walking
Walk with me!
I love to get out
Smell the world
And know you are right beside me.

But you sit and you stare and complain.
I know that you’re hurting
Your arm, every day
With that mouse.
Get out of the house!

They do the same thing every day,
And we repeat the same harmony.
I bark. You groan
And thrash like the dead
And shamble around reluctantly.

Blind
To the warmth of the sun on your face
A cool breeze to play
All these wonderful smells –
I could wallow in them all day.

I just need you.

You know how it feels
To be abandoned.

Don’t feed that fear!

Walk with me.

Taking the First Steps

I finally started training for the overnight! Here’s how things have been going:

2013-03-04-calOn Monday I made my first efforts to actually WALK. It was a beautiful day: sunny, with gorgeous blue skies, not terribly cold, but a bit windy. Fox and I walked about 0.8 miles from his home and then came back the way we came, for a total of approximately 1.6 miles – a 10th of what I need to be able to do in 85 days.

I would have been able to go farther if it hadn’t been for time constraints and the difficulties I had when we were going uphill for the second half of our walk. The exertion caused me to breathe more heavily – that was fine, I would have been surprised if that hadn’t been the case. My nose was stuffed and I had no way to clear it, so I was forced to breathe through my mouth and cope with post-nasal drip. The resulting discomfort hampered my enjoyment of the walk; I learned that I should always carry tissues. A decongestant might not hurt, either.

On Tuesday I walked 2.8 miles in a loop near my house, despite being rather tired. I had to push myself, my muscles and joints hurt, and I got a blister on my heel. I was struck by how far a mile is when one has to walk it, especially if one is in pain. However, I think I found a relatively healthy balance between pushing myself to complete the walk and knowing my limits; I took breaks as necessary.

I took off from walking on Wednesday and Thursday. My plan on Wednesday was to give my blister time to heal. On Thursday I thought I would walk – but the weather was gross, so my only walking was the trek across campus.

Week 1 of training for the Out of the Darkness Overnight

Week 1 of training for the Out of the Darkness Overnight

On Friday I decided to do some strength training with my fitness ball. It comes with a workout guide including instructions and illustrations for:

  • Ab Crunch – central abs
  • Oblique Twist – central abs, obliques
  • Jack Knife – central abs, obliques, lower abs, lower back
  • Pelvic Raise – central abs, lower abs, glutes
  • Outer Leg Lift – outer thighs
  • Push-Up – central abs, chest, shoulders, triceps
  • Opposite Arm / Opposite Leg Lift – central abs, lower back
  • Hover – central abs, lower abs, lower back

I am a beginner, so (per the instructions) I did 12 reps of each of the exercises above that are in bold. I tried, but was unable to do, the Hover. Balancing on a giant ball is hard.

Most people "fall off the wagon." Apparently I fall off the ball!

Most people “fall off the wagon.” Apparently I fall off the ball!

Out of the Darkness: This won’t happen overnight.

So, for anyone who doesn’t know, the Out of the Darkness Overnight is a 16- to 18-mile walk that takes place overnight; it is an endurance event (to raise money for research and programs to prevent suicide and help survivors).

theovernight.org

theovernight.org

I’ve never done anything like this before. I’ve done a 2.5-mile MS Walk (National Multiple Sclerosis Society). I’ve done Relay for Life, which was overnight but had a track I could walk as many or as few times as I wanted; I spent much of the night not walking. Never before have I walked for hours and hours on end. The most I’ve walked at once is 5 miles.

The idea of walking all night scares me. I wouldn’t have signed up, if I’d really thought about it beforehand. To be honest, I’m kind of glad I was impulsive.

This is a nice kick in the pants to make the lifestyle changes I need to be healthier – both physically and mentally. Thinking about what I’ll need to do to prepare for this event has helped me realize: When I said I was “walking to save my own life” yesterday, I meant it literally. It’s gotten to the point where my idea of “physical activity” is walking to class, and “eating vegetables” is putting tomato sauce on my pasta. I’ve developed a habit of having Pop Tarts for dinner because I can grab them from a vending machine before class. (They’re probably the most hunger-satisfying, not-absolutely-horrible-for-you option in said machine.) Last night my “dietary success” was having nachos after class – because the menu listed calorie counts and the alternative I was considering had twice as many! It’s not that I don’t know how to live a healthier lifestyle. I need motivation.

countdownWell, Ziya, this is it!

Starting today, I have 16 weeks to prepare. 16 weeks to go from eating Pop Tarts and getting out of breath from a brisk walk across campus, to being capable of walking 16 to 18 miles in one night.

… somehow …

Today I am starting small. I am learning to become more aware of when my body needs water. Too often I let it go until my mouth is unbearably dry, just because I’m too lazy to get up and refill my glass! That will not do at all. So, my primary focus for this week will be on (re-)learning to keep water near me at all times and drink it frequently, before I feel thirsty.

I’ve also been meaning to start planning my meals ahead of time. I keep putting it off because I find the process very tedious, but I’ve seen how well it works for other people and how poorly not planning has (not) been working for me.

My primary reason for wanting to do this is to make life easier on days when I need to eat away from home. If I have healthy food with me, it will save me the stress of trying to make remotely-healthy choices that aren’t too expensive – while hungry. Of course, in addition to planning my meals, I’ll need to make preparing them ahead of time a priority. Half the reason why “eating vegetables” means putting tomato sauce on pasta is because that’s a very easy, mindless thing I can do when I’m too hungry and distracted to cook properly.

theovernight.org

Stretching is crucial.

Finally, it seems stupid to put off any kind of physical-activity-related preparation until next week. This is the part I find hardest to embrace, so I’ll start really small: my legs have been screaming at me to stretch them! I’ll start doing the stretches in the Overnight: Stretching Guide at least once per day. Perhaps I can also get up the guts to look at their Training Program (PDF), which includes a 15-week option.

Why am I craving pizza bites?

Out of the Darkness Overnight

“What do you have to live for?” the voice asked, suddenly snapping me out of my thoughts about the day.

Everything I’ve listed as my hobbies, my career of choice, suddenly all of it seemed completely superficial. I struggled to think of something. What gives my life meaning? Why am I still alive?

“Love,” I replied. “My family and friends. I want to have children someday. I want to make a positive difference in others’ lives.”

“So you live for other people,” the voice sneered, adding: “Pretend that they’re gone. You can’t live for them, you have to live for yourself.

“Why do you want to live?”

… … …

I had to think about this one for a minute. I was actually worried that the answer wouldn’t come. There have been times when the only thing keeping me alive has been concern for the emotional well-being of the people closest to me – or, alternatively, fear that death would trap me in my torment, instead of granting the relief I sought.

But these reasons bring no comfort. They keep me here, against my will, suffering. They are not enough.

I cannot live for others’ comfort. That just feels like a waking nightmare. I’ve had a taste of it – and spent too much of my life suffering from severe depression.

I need something for myself.

I suppose another way to frame my fear of being trapped in torment by death is that I still have hope – hope that things will get better. Hope that, if I keep at it long enough, someday I won’t need to ask myself these questions.

But hope is not enough either. Hope fades. And so does my vision of the future.

I can’t live for a future that I can’t see. I need something here – and NOW!

What is here and now and worth living for?

Suddenly, all the little things came flooding back:

the feel of the wind on my skin and in my hair

the changing seasons; sunsets; grass under bare feet

water running over my skin; surrounding me

spending time with cute loveable animals

feeling loved by other people; receiving hugs

making love – or good conversation

my heartbeat

the joy and sense of mastery that comes from expressing myself, whether it be through music, dance, drawing, or the written word

FOOD – especially the taste of chocolate

the joy of learning something new, solving a puzzle, rising to a challenge

soaking in an amazing work of music or other art

feeling the physical presence of my own body

Knowing that it is my choice to continue to live. And I do, every moment of every day.

But a painful number of people don’t. People like me. People who really aren’t any different, in any meaningful way, from everybody else. There is no “us” and “them” when it comes to mental health. As Kiara put it so eloquently in The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride, “They are us.”

And that is why I am walking in the Out of the Darkness Overnight in Washington, D.C. on June 1st.

I am walking for my comrades who live each day with depression and/or other mental health issues, and struggle, and contemplate or possibly even attempt suicide.

I am walking in memory of those who have taken their own lives.

I am walking in solidarity with those who have lost a loved one or otherwise been affected by suicide, including some members of my family.

Above all, I am walking for myself, because everything we do to promote mental health and prevent suicide benefits me directly. I am walking to save my own life.

I am walking for us.