Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

I can’t forgive and forget, but I can still move forward

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I like tea. Tea is soothing. Useful when moving forward.

A comment from a previous entry: “Despite how crappy it is, it makes me feel better that someone else has had similar experiences as mine. And so happy to read how positive you are, even though you are having a tough time at the moment.
The problem is I’m still so angry about the poor treatment, the stigma, the fact that I was effectively left to die on my own.
How did you move on from such poor treatment from those who were meant to be helping you? How did you forgive them?”

Forgive and forget.  Don’t dwell in the past.  Look forward to the future.  Let go and let God.  No use worrying about spilled milk.  Be thankful for where you are now.

I hear the value in all of these statements.  But I’m not sure I can honestly say I follow them, and I think that’s an okay thing.

There have been times when my psychiatric care was just plain lousy and my treatment providers were negligent.  I found better providers.  Then had sucky ones again.  Then had good ones, etc. I want to say that I was the changing force, but that would be a lie.  In my case, most of the changes in providers had something to do with me moving, from Pennsylvania to DC to Virginia to Missouri to New York.

I look back at some aspects of my care and I am angry.  “Where would I be now if I had had a better therapist then?” crosses my mind, and I get angrier.  But feeling anger is less harmful than feeling guilt.  At least now I can look back and say, “That aspect of treatment was not beneficial.”  At the time, I thought it was my fault and, of course, kept silent.  My train of thought was: Why do I get a say in determining what’s effective and not effective?  Aren’t I the sick one with poor judgment skills?  I must be doing something wrong. 

I remember, however, voicing my concerns at various points in treatment.  And getting responses along the lines of You aren’t thinking clearly, and I know this is right for you.  And, because I’m not a professional, I listened and felt guilty.

This year I have realized that that is what makes me angry.  Not that I had inadequate care at points, but that my concerns were not listened to.  The number of factors that go into making a healthy therapeutic relationship are great, and we as a society are only just beginning to explore better ways to handle psychiatric emergencies.  This doesn’t change my past, but it has helped me from feeling bitter, and I no longer blame them.

It’s easy to dwell on “What would I have accomplished by now if only X hadn’t happened?” but that’s pretty futile.  X did happen.  I am still angry, and I try to use that anger in a positive manner.  I try to remember that I have a say in the doctors I see and my treatment.  There are effective ways to voice concerns and some not-so-effective ways, but I do have a right to voice my concerns and open up a discussion, just as if I were seeing my cardiologist.  I try to advocate for others when they feel they aren’t strong enough to speak up.  I encourage others to write down exactly what they are concerned about and not to leave their provider’s office until that question is answered.  I speak at conferences and schools and share my experience and emphasize that one crappy doctor/treatment does not mean the next one will not be helpful.

The stigma?  I fight this every day.  I want to cover up my scars and wear long sleeves because I know people stare.  But I’ve also had people come up to me and ask about them and tell me they are scared because they do the same thing and don’t know how to stop.  I don’t lie about my eating disorder history because I know when I am in a random group of people, someone in that group is struggling, and just by knowing that I recovered, I might give them hope that they can, too.

I have a harder time with my suicide attempt.  The stigma surrounding those who attempt/commit suicide is so heavy and dark.  But I recently got a tattoo–the semicolon tattoo.  Yes, it reminds me that I still have a story to finish, but I am hoping other people ask me about it and learn from my story.

And as for being positive?  For these several minutes, I have tried to look at things through a positive lens.  And I generally try to do that away from the keyboard as well.  But sometimes, I am a bitter, cynical person who writes angry entries in her journal and questions every experience in her past.  Those days suck.  But at least I am aware of them now, and I do my best not to use them as an excuse to treat those around me poorly.  And I write in my journal and write a lengthy, whiny letter to a friend and wake up the next day.  Sometimes back in a positive mood, and sometimes not.  Which is how pretty much every person lives.

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July 29, 2015 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, recovery, suicide, treatment | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

There Is Still More To Come

11751427_10101046604258545_5454523273497108847_nI’m a lover of words, and I also happen to find things like grammar and punctuation rather interesting.  The addition of a comma can change the meaning of a sentence.  Whether you choose to use a period or a semi-colon is not a decision to be taken lightly.

Almost eighteen years ago, when I was twenty, I chose to use a period.  I saw no reason to continue the sentence, which was my life.  I decided to end it all.

Obviously, I did not “succeed” in my suicide attempt.  I am still alive.  Still writhing and fighting and living and questioning everything around me.

For many years after my suicide attempt, I was angry and bitter that I had survived.  I thought it was unfair.  But I somehow knew I could never attempt such a thing again.  I could not inflict that amount of pain and grief on my family and friends.  However, knowing I wouldn’t commit suicide didn’t erase the fact that I have Bipolar Disorder, which meant that depression would come back.  And recede.  And come back.  I would still fight the feeling that I wanted to die.  I would still obsess about how I could make that happen.  I would still dream that some accident would befall me and make the decision for me.

In the spring of 2014, I hit an all time low for me.  I had previously thought I knew what depression was all about, but this episode was different.  It was longer.  It was deeper.  It was stronger. I craved death.  I obsessed about it.  Dreamed about it.  I could not stop the thoughts of suicide–but I was still confident that I knew I wouldn’t go through with it.

Then one night, things got worse.  I don’t remember much of that night, but thanks to my browser history and open tabs, I knew what I had been researching: the best ways to die.  Then, I looked at my planner next to my computer on my desk, and I saw that I had written out a timeline of everything I would need to do to set that plan in motion.  Some of the details I had planned for and around freaked me out.

Thankfully, I was so freaked out that I had switched from dreaming about death to planning it in detail, I called my therapist.  I packed my bag, and when I saw my psychiatrist for ECT, I flat out told him I couldn’t go home.  I showed him my planner.

I had chosen to use a semi-colon and not a period.

I would be in the hospital for a month.  I would be discharged into the care of my parents, and I would move back home with them.

My psychiatrist’s parting words to me were, “Thank you for trusting us.”

That month in the hospital didn’t cure me, but it saved me.  It allowed me to start the healing process so I could continue writing my sentence.  Kind of a powerful metaphor for a writer.

For anyone with mental illness contemplating life, for anyone with an eating disorder, for anyone with an addiction, for anyone having a crappy week: you can choose to keep going.  You may have to make that decision many times, but it is yours to make.  I now have a semi-colon on my wrist as a reminder that there is still more to come.  What comes before the semi-colon?  It’s in the past.  What’s after the semi-colon?  The future.  Your future, and you are the author.

For more about the Semicolon Project, go here.  You will find inspirational stories and resources to help you begin you new independent clause.

July 17, 2015 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, death, depression, Eating Disorders, recovery, suicide | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Regarding Relapses

885e88637cb1b2389902f7c29db65ddbThis may sound surprising–but this quote is actually one of my least favorites.  Even though I believe it and know it to be true.  Now.  But then? Back when I was still convinced I could live with anorexia with no repercussions?  When people threw this quote in my face, I wanted to scream and call them names.  And a little after that?  Back when I had decided to recover and was really, really trying but it seemed like there were more bad days than good days?  When people used this to motivate me, I only felt guilty and ashamed because obviously it meant I was choosing to have a bad day.  Which made it my fault.

Now?  Now I look back and can see that recovery was a series of choices.  Millions of them.  Every single day.  Overall I decided that in order to live, I needed to recover.  But some of those millions of daily choices?  They weren’t exactly made with my best interest in mind.  And each time I slipped and made the wrong choice, I felt as if my chance at recovery was thrown out the window.

In the beginning of my recovery?  Yeah, I made some shitty choices.  Frequently.  And then less frequently.  And then rarely.  And then once in a blue moon.  Now?  I don’t need to make daily choices about eating and exercise to stay on my path.

There are debates about the different definitions of “recovered” and “fully recovered” and “recovering.”  But I think we’d all agree that recovery is not one choice.  It’s many choices.  This means that when you slip or relapse, you still have that choice open to you.  No matter how big or small the slip.  Neither does a slip or relapse automatically throw you back to the very beginning of your journey.  “You start from where you are” is true for each of us, no matter where we are in our individual journeys.  All of those skills you learned to get this far?  You still have them. You can still use them.  In fact, you might have even picked up a new skill or two in the process.

A relapse, even a significant relapse, is not the end.

Not if you choose to stand back up and walk forward toward recovery.

July 11, 2015 Posted by | Body Image, coping, Eating Disorders, progress, recovery, self harm | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bad Days in Recovery

invisibility-cloakA couple of days ago, To Write Love on Her Arms published a blog post that resonated with me.  Bad days.  While in recovery.  They happen.

I look back fourteen months ago and the severity of the depressive episode I was trapped in.  Currently, I am “doing better.” I am more active, I have a healthy lifestyle, I am writing again-and even sent out work for the first time in 18? months, I am trying to socialize more, and I’m even looking at job openings again.  I smile more and laugh more and, most of the time, find being alive a blessing.

Most of the time. Here’s the thing I wish I could get people to understand: For a significant majority of people, Bipolar Disorder isn’t something you catch one day, take medications to kill off the disease, and then are cured and then it is gone forever. Like my heart disease:  it is there for good.  I will have good spans, sometimes lengthy good spans, but that doesn’t mean I get to take my defibrillator out and wait for another bad spell to put it back in.  This is something I own now.  It’s a part of me.  But only a part.

Regarding the Bipolar Disorder, even now, while I am “doing better,” it is still there, kind of like my medic alert bracelet that adds an ounce of weight to my right arm that my left arm doesn’t feel.  I often wake up in the morning and my initial reaction is that life sucks and there’s no point in opening my eyes.  But I do.  Open my eyes, and get out of bed, and begin my day.  Throughout the day, a little voice may whisper in my head, “What is the freaking point of all this?” but I ignore it and move on.  I’ll go to bed, and I might wish not to wake up in the morning, but then I convince myself that’s not what I really want and think of things I’m glad I’m still able to enjoy.  And then I close my eyes and wake up the next morning.

But sometimes, my days are a little different.  There are days when getting out of bed feels like fighting off an invisible force crushing me into my mattress.  There are days when I don’t want to talk to anyone, let alone smile or laugh.  There are days when reading a book takes too much energy.  There are days when I wish I had a legit invisibility cloak.  Then I would curl up on my bed, throw the cloak over me, and no one would be able to find me and tell me I should get up and do something.

There are days I give in to this desire.  Then I listen to the, “But I thought you were better?” questions.

YES I AM BETTER BUT I STILL HAVE BIPOLAR DISORDER AND THERE ARE DAYS WHEN LIFE STILL SUCKS!

This is what I wish I could scream at people.  But I generally don’t have the energy to do so when I want to.  Sometimes, I really wish I had some easily visible illness.  Then, when I needed a day to myself to sleep, people would see the illness and understand that it must be rough dealing with a chronic medical condition and that I must get frustrated with it all and that these days are to be expected from time to time.  I realize I don’t have a full-time job, so no need to remind me.  And no, having a full-time job would not make everything A-okay.  It might very well make things worse.  I would like to be back in a full-time position, but I realize that it will take time, that my body needs to heal, and that there might be some setbacks along the way.

One day, or a half of a day, or an extra long nap of curling up and not moving is to be expected with me.  The last thing I need are lectures about how getting fresh air will make everything better.  If it were that simple, I’d live in a tent.  When these days start stringing together, I still don’t need lectures.  I need someone to prod me and ask, “Hey, have you talked to your doctors lately to let them know what’s going on?  Why don’t you give them a call.  They can help you.”

I am choosing to live.  Every day.  Some days, that choice is a little more difficult to make.  But I am still making that choice.

July 4, 2015 Posted by | bipolar disorder, depression, health, recovery | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment