Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

How Much Do We Share?

how-much-is-too-much-coffee-for-health-benefits_0A couple of weeks ago, I spent an hour and a half speaking with one of my colleague’s course sections.  It’s a course that speaks openly on death and dying, and I shared my experiences as someone who woke up and lived after attempting suicide.  I’ve spoken to her classes before and I speak to health classes about my recovery from anorexia.  It always brings up one significant question, one that I think about even after my guest speaking:  Did I share  enough or did I share the right amount or  did I share too much?

When owning our stories and sharing them, how much do we tell?  Of course, this is different for each individual, and it depends on the context and the recipient.  When an eight-year-old asks me why I have so many scars, I’m extremely careful about how I word things.  Think, “Sometimes I get very sad for long periods of time, and when I was younger, I didn’t know how to handle all those painful feelings, so I didn’t cope with them in the best way.  Now I have people to talk to and I have a bunch of different things to do when I start feeling bad.”

I am not ashamed of my past, of having attempted suicide, of beginning self-harm so young, of needing multiple hospitalizations for anorexia, of needing ECT as maintenance therapy for the bipolar disorder.  But it did take time to go from hiding everything from everyone to admitting things to myself to honestly answering questions.

But there are things, especially concerning the eating disorder, that I don’t share, that I knowingly withhold from anyone who isn’t one of my doctors.  I don’t want to have someone use my story to “get sicker.”  I read all the eating disorder memoirs and blogs I could, and I watched certain movies over and over.  I didn’t care how the author/subject got better.  All I cared about was how she got sick in the first place.

When I talk to groups of people, I say I was hospitalized.  I don’t say how many times or for how many months.  I may discuss refeeding, talking about the pain of refeeding and how scary it was emotionally.  Depending on the context, I may address tube feeding and explain it.  I don’t tell people what my mealplan was or how much weight I gained at what stage.  I don’t tell people how much I lost.  I don’t discuss the ways I used to purge, just that I did.  I don’t want to be “that girl”–the one someone compares herself to and then thinks, “I’m not as sick as she was, so I must not be all that sick at all.  I’m fine.”

Many sufferers grew up on competition, via sports or clubs or school.  Many of us used the illness as competition.  And many of us walked away thinking, “I’m not doing it right” or “I’m not good enough.”

It’s so easy to walk into Target and compare yourself to everyone else there.  It’s easy to take sneaky, sideways glances at other people and judge them.  It’s easy to judge ourselves and come up short.

I still compare myself to other people; in some ways, we all do.  “I wish I could speak French.”  “I wish I could knit that fast.”  “He’s a really good singer.”  “I really like the way she handles a classroom.”  But these things no longer determine my worth.  Yes, I have a horrible past, but I’ve chosen to keep moving forward.  I may strive to be better is some areas of my life, but my happiness does not depend on these things.

My happiness is here.  Now.

 

 

May 14, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, death, depression, Eating Disorders, ECT, exercise, feelings, guilt, health, identity, mindfulness, progress, publicity, recovery, responses, self harm, shame, suicide, treatment | Leave a comment

13 Reasons Why

ThirteenReasonsWhy

Okay, so I will join the great online debate over the book Thirteen Reasons Why, which has led to a television show.  I have read the book, but I have not seen any television episodes.  Most of the online discussions have centered on why people shouldn’t watch the show, how horrible a person Hannah is, how it will only encourage teens to commit suicide, and how it’s just “another mental illness book” that doesn’t actually confront anything.

I read the book when it first came out.  Although the writing wasn’t the best and the plot was contrived, I was glad it was written.  A teenager voicing her feelings and thoughts regarding what led to her suicide.  No, I do not agree with leaving thirteen tapes behind that nit pick and blame other individuals.  Her suicide was her decision.  She had full agency.  No one made her kill herself.

But . . . what the book shows is that suicide is anything but a simple decision resulting from a single bad day.  No, her friends didn’t make her commit suicide, but their behaviors contributed to how she felt.  Imagine if she had been able to voice what she was feeling in an open and honest manner while she was alive.  That’s what we should be focusing on.  This book exposes the truth that people suffer in silence.

You may say that with all the options out there now, there was no reason she had to suffer in silence.  Have you ever been a teenager and known something wasn’t “right” but you had no idea where to go or who to ask or even how to put the idea that something isn’t right into actual words?

Yes, there are options.  More than before.  But they still aren’t easily accessible for youth.  There is still so much judgment concerning mental health and mental health treatment.  So maybe Hannah was cruel in leaving those tapes behind, but she was still suffering and she still felt completely alone.

As a suicide survivor, to pass judgment on Hannah’s character and actions would be hypocritical.  I’ve been her.  I didn’t leave people tapes and letters, even though I had something I wanted to say.  My attempt was my decision; no one else is to blame.

I am grateful I’m here to write this.  Most days.  The chilling nature of Bipolar Disorder is that I know it doesn’t leave.   We have found a treatment that has proven most beneficial, and I have learned a zillion more ways to cope, but I still go through dark spells and I still make mistakes.

As for this book making suicide look trendy–we’re blind if we say that society hasn’t experienced this before.  The Bell Jar;  Girl, Interrupted; and Prozac Nation are the first three books that pop into my mind.  The harsh truth is that teenage suicide existed before, it exists now, and it will continue–even if no one watches this show or reads this book.  Maybe instead of discussing Hannah’s character flaws and how it was unfair of her to do what she did, we should discuss what it is in our  society that creates real-life-Hannahs every single day.  And then maybe we should discuss how we could create a new environment, one with less judgments and less isolation and more forgiveness.

April 20, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, death, depression, Eating Disorders, family, feelings, guilt, identity, Mental Health Parity, progress, publicity, recovery, relationships, shame, suicide, therapy, trauma, 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

yet another post about taking care of you

Take-care-of-youI haven’t been around much (again).  I’ve hardly been online and my email and facebook were neglected.  I didn’t socialize.  I didn’t even write letters.  (I communicate my deepest thoughts through snail mail because I’m old.) These previous three weeks have been rough on my family.  My grandfather on my father’s side passed away, and I spent the majority of my time at the hospital and nursing home, and then we had calling hours and the service.  He lived a long life (he was 93) and I am at peace with the conclusion, although I will miss him.

I was kind of worried at the beginning of this period.  Even before the eating disorder had hints of starting, my tendency is to take care of others before considering my own needs and desires.  I spent a lot of time with my grandfather’s wife, making sure she was getting up to walk around and getting sleep and eating.  In the back of my mind, I do admit that I wondered if I would need someone to remind me to do those same things.

My journey of recovery has been full of ups and downs, but after this past month, I must say I am proud of how much I have changed.  Taking care of me–it came naturally.  I knew my limits and, even after thinking “But I should do this,” I would speak up and take care of myself–be it through a trip to the cafeteria or going home to sleep.

Yoga probably contributed to this more than any other therapy.  After I decided to fully recover, I took one full year off of all exercise–including yoga–to break my cycle of exercise addiction.  After that year, I began a new relationship with yoga.  No longer did I step on my mat with the intention of gaining muscle and flexibility.  My intention instead was to listen to my body.  What did each pose feel like?  How did my body respond?  What exact muscle was affected?  Did I like this pose?  Did this pose feel good on the inside?  How was I affected emotionally?

Through yoga, I learned my body.  Not just its lines and curves and thickness, but I learned how to feel–and how to respond appropriately.  I learned how to respect my body for what it could do for me.  I learned that my body has limits, and I need to respect those limits.

I found out that I don’t need someone to take care of me (although having my mom make me dinner is always a beautiful thing!).  My body will tell me to take care of me.  By paying attention to my body, I felt hunger and sleepiness and sadness and stress and joy and love.  And I reacted with love for myself.

I have absolutely no doubt that if I had not taken care of myself, I wouldn’t have been able to help my father and uncles and my grandfather’s wife through all of this.  I would not have been a help, but a hindrance.  It was not selfish to say, “I need to go home for the night.”  It was necessary in order to help again the next day.

Other people need you in their lives.  But in order to be there in their lives, you need to take care of yourself.

June 12, 2015 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, death, depression, family, feelings, mindfulness, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Full Recovery

from deviantart.com again by Queen666

from deviantart.com again by Queen666

My previous entry was about trigger warnings, and our need to be able to cope with the world around us.  A day or two later I received a “question” on my Questions page.  It’s not really worded as a question.  After a thinly disguised non-description (where we are told of her physical symptoms, size, and severity of illness) of the individual’s own disorder, s/he lets  me know:

 I’m tired of hearing of people being cured of eating disorders. There’s not such thing. You may go in remission but you’ll battle your weight for the rest of your life. Eating disorders have been called the most fatal mental illness, and they are. I discovered that bipolar disorder type II is often associated with bulimia nervosa, while bipolar type I is often associated with anorexia nervosa. Schizophrenia is often a co-morbidity.

Yes.  Eating Disorders do have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses.  However, that does not automatically mean that you can’t recover.  I was not cured of my eating disorder.  There was no “magic fix” or “magic pill.”  I took a couple years and worked my ass off to first enter “remission” and then I decided that I didn’t want anorexia to be part of my life–at all.

I do not “battle my weight.”  I haven’t in eight years.  My weight naturally fluctuates because of a variety of reasons: time of year, condition of my heart (physical, not emotional), condition of my heart (the emotional one this time), medication changes, illness, and my level of depression.  However, these natural fluctuations keep me in my healthy weight range: a range where I’ve found my body physically functions best.  I keep track of my weight because of the different doctors I see and because I do not see the point in stepping on the scale backwards when the doctor and I have to be able to openly discuss my weight because the dose of one of my medications is determined by my weight.

I don’t think about my “meal plan.”  I eat when I’m hungry.  I stop when I am full.  If I am physically ill and don’t feel like eating, I try to eat small things and drink a lot throughout the day–not to manage my weight, but to give my body energy to beat whatever is currently ailing me.

I don’t have a list of foods I’m not “allowed” to eat.  (Except gluten and dairy, but that’s determined by my intestines, not my mind.)  I don’t have a list of “good foods” or “bad foods.”  Food is food.  I eat it if it tastes good.  It’s a pretty simple decision.

I do worry about exercise.  I have for six years now, ever since my genetic heart condition was diagnosed and I had my ICD put in.  I want to exercise because it helps my depression and mood stability and it helps the rest of my body.  I have to be very careful about what I choose to do and when because exercise actually harms my heart.  When I look at my old exercise habits, I laugh at what the Old Me would have thought about my current activity level.  “Yoga?  Slow walks?  They don’t count as exercise.”  But now they do, and I’m more familiar with my body now than ever before.

My clothes fit me.  I don’t care what size they are.  I don’t compare myself to the models in ads.  I don’t stare into the mirror for hours, trying to decide how to make my body “better.”

I am not “managing symptoms.”  I live in this body and I care for it, and my mind is finally free to take in all that life has to offer.

So why do I keep this blog?  Because of the fact that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses.  Because I’ve had to stop counting the number of friends I’ve lost to eating disorders–the number was getting too high.  Because I have friends who are still struggling.  Because I meet people who confide that they are struggling and don’t know what to do.

Because when I was sick, I was given the lie that you could never truly recover from an eating disorder and I didn’t know of anyone who was fully recovered.

Because a partial recovery was just not good enough for me.  If I was going to work my ass off to heal, I wanted to heal.

Because I wanted to live, and I am.

Because other people need to know this healing is possible.

May 14, 2015 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Body Image, coping, death, depression, Eating Disorders, health, heart, progress, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

suicide

This post is partly stole from Facebook.  These are two of my comments in reply to a friend’s discussion about suicide:

 

 What do we say when people die of cancer? “At least he’s not in pain anymore.” That doesn’t mean we condone cancer. Depression, like X has said, is an illness. A physical illness caused by chemicals that can be genetic. And yes, because depression originates in the brain, being severely depressed affects the brain. This is why “children at risk” are often failing in school–not because they’re dumb or stupid or lazy, but because the signs of childhood and adolescent depression are different and people are ignoring the problem, and then the student can’t focus in class, or doesn’t have the motivation to read “Great Expectations.” And depression is known to affect memory, so tell a student with depression to memorize Spanish conjugations and see how effective that is. And yes, severe depression–in all ages–affects the ability to reason and think through situations. And I’ve been there multiple times, where suicide seems like THE LOGICAL choice, and the only reason I’m here is because my treatment team stepped in and took me to the hospital, and as the depression was treated, I began to think “THAT was a logical option?” I like to explain it to people this way: 99% of my brain absolutely knows for sure that I never want to commit suicide. But severe depression sneaks in and convinces that other 1% that it’s the best option. So now I’m not only fighting depression, but I’m fighting suicidal thoughts as well. And as time goes on, I get more and more tired, more and more confused, and less and less attached to reality–and I do mean that literally. I CANNOT process what is real and what is not. I cannot understand the ramifications of suicide at that point; all I know is that I am in such intense pain that I crave release and freedom. No, I don’t endorse suicide. But like, X, I empathize with the sufferers. And I don’t judge them. I judge the society that thinks depression can just be controlled by the mind. I judge the society that makes finding treatment so difficult. I judge the society who calls suicide selfish–which only makes the people suffering from mental illness feel shame and guilt and results in them keeping their shame secret until they can’t hold onto it anymore. We NEED to talk about this. We NEED to listen to what the victims are telling us. We NEED to find a way to be courageous enough to step up and help them.

  (In response to a comment that implied I had called someone judgmental.) I didn’t mean to imply that you in particular were judging people. But I do know that society as a whole judges people with mental illness, especially those who commit suicide. I’m not advocating for suicide; I’m advocating for reliable, adequate, and available treatment for those with a mental illness so that they stand a chance of fighting hell. Because I do think that suicide is unavoidable for some, because they do not receive support, care, treatment, or other options. But telling people suicide is selfish or implying that people who attempt suicide are weak hurts the general population because it only incites the current stigma attached with mental health. perhaps if Mental Health Parity actually existed, we wouldn’t be having these discussions. But until Parity is an actuality, we need to discuss this in an open manner.

(now non-facebook rambling)

When I say that “I do think that suicide is unavoidable for some” I am not encouraging suicide.  But imagine being diagnoses with rare genetic heart disease (oh.  wait.  that’s right–I have been diagnosed with just that very thing) and then being told, “I’m sorry, there’s nothing we can do to help you, either in this very moment or in the future.  Please figure this out on your own.”  I have had friends with heart disease that could not be treated and death was just a matter of time.  But doctors jumped in anyway and monitored progress, trying to make life as pain-free as possible, trying to give the patient as much life as possible. 

But here’s the scary thing:  I have walked out of a doctor’s office after telling him I was thinking of suicide, listening to his words over and over: “It can’t be that bad.”  Nothing to help me deal with the immediate stress.  Nothing to help treat the underlying problem that could possibly prevent future moments of such stress. 

This happens more than one would think. My immediate thought was: what can I do to show the doctor I mean it?  How could I prove that it really was “that bad.”  My thoughts generally ran along these lines:  I could cut myself and then go to the ER for stitches.  I could take some extra meds that will make me sleepy but not kill me but go to the ER and say I overdosed.  I could lose more weight.  If I do kill myself, at least he’ll believe me.

Judgment and stigma do exist.  (I have been told many times that it doesn’t exist, I’m just over-sensitive.)  Here are comments I’ve had thrown at me:

  • Can’t you just smile for awhile?
  • Is it really all that bad?
  • You’ve got to choose happiness over sadness.
  • You’re doing this for attention.
  • You know you’re going to hell for attempting suicide.  (said by a nurse on the night of my suicide attempt as I was throwing up charcoal.)
  • Well, I don’t know what to tell you.  Seems like an easy decision to me.
  • Buck up!

There are more.  And I’m sure others have heard similar comments, either by the general public or from professionals. 

Someone should not have to prove he’s in pain.  And yet the majority of society expects just that. 

I read one article that said we should glorify Robin Williams’ life and not discuss his suicide on social media in case it encourages copy-cat suicides.  I agree.  We need to glorify Robin Williams’ life.  But I do not agree that we should be silent about the suicide.  We need to be careful about how it is presented, but if we don’t talk about it at all, we don’t start talking about solutions.  And shove mental illness into the dark, bringing up shame in those suffering from it. 

Suicide needs to be discussed.  Not by judging or shaming those who have attempted or committed suicide.  Suicide needs to be discussed because people need to be aware that our schools–K through 12–are filled with students who have already considered suicide as an option, but don’t dare talk about their pain. 

It is not going to go away if we sit here in silence.  No one will get better.  No lives will be saved. 

 

August 13, 2014 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, death, depression, Eating Disorders, guilt, heart, identity, Mental Health Parity, progress, recovery, responses, Robin Williams, self harm, shame, suicide, therapy | 1 Comment

grief and . . . anger

Warning: another controversial post ahead!

Robin Williams has always been one of my favorite actors, and his comedic roles always manage to make me laugh, something that recently only The Big Bang Theory has been able to do.  It saddens me that he had to endure such pain on a daily basis and fight so many demons.  I feel sorry that he had reached a point where the demons won and he no longer saw a strong enough reason to continue fighting that pain.  I do not judge him, for I have been there.  I wish no one ever has to experience such pain.

 

But I am also feeling angry right now.  Not towards him.  But towards the media.  Robin Williams will be The Thing on news channels and talk shows for a bit.  A psychologist will say how someone in his position was still vulnerable to depression and addiction and they will praise Williams for openly speaking about these things. 

But what about all the “normal” non-famous people who experience this same pain and fight these same demons on a daily basis?  What about the individuals who fight so long that they cannot endure anymore and commit suicide?  Why is there no media attention there?  Why doesn’t a talk show bring a psychologist on to discuss how depression affects children, teenagers, adults, and geriatric patients in all walks of life and in all careers?  Why does no one talk about how sad it is that someone feels that suicide is the only option every single day? 

Maybe I’m being too harsh, given as how it is just “the next day.”  But I’ve watched a lot of news channels and read the newspapers.  No one is mentioning that this is a world wide epidemic that is killing people every day.  No one is discussing how extremely difficult it is for us non-famous, non-rich people to find treatment.  Mental Health Parity hasn’t been discussed.  Neither has the fact that some of these deaths could be prevented if the individual had appropriate treatment?  (I realize there is no 100% cure rate for mental illnesses.)  When I moved to New York, it took over six weeks to find a therapist who was taking new patients and was willing to deal with my insurance.  And these six weeks in New York had followed two months in Missouri of searching online and getting referrals and making phonecalls and not ending up with a single lead.  I’d find therapists who would treat me if I paid $180 dollars per session, but that is just not an options for me.  “Funny”–I get a bad sore throat and I go to the doctor and my insurance covers most of the bill and most of the necessary prescriptions.  But when I start feeling suicidal, if I don’t already have a team in place, I can either go to the ER and be admitted for the mandatory 72 hour observation period or I can stay in bed and cry.  I can’t just “go to a doctor” unless I have around 300 dollars for a psychiatric consultation, and it’s rather iffy if my insurance will cover the psychiatric medication I’m prescribed. 

I hope that after this initial period of grief, someone is going to stand up and say, “Hey we can treat these illnesses and we can prevent suicide . . . but we need money to do so.”  I hope someone calls their congressional representative and pushes for Mental Health Parity.  I hope someone organizes a walk (there’s a heart walk every weekend) to raise awareness and raise money.  I hope that something good can come of this tragedy.  But I’m not all that hopeful, because we’ve all read about the stars going to rehab and needing to take psychiatric medication–and while it’s news for a week, nothing happens.  Nothing changes. 

Yes, his death was a tragedy, but now we need to talk about all the other people who are also in that same position and don’t have access to care. 

August 12, 2014 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Communication, death, depression, feelings, health, Mental Health Parity, progress, recovery, relationships, Robin Williams, self harm, suicide, therapy | 1 Comment

some regrets . . . and success

“How many times have I, in my moments of brokenness, looked at my life and seen diminished worth and value?”  I just read this quote on a To Write Love on Her Arms post.  And it was a good day to read it, for this is something I have been struggling with as of late. 

I’m 37-years-old, unemployed, living with my parents, and broke.  I am 100% completely dependent on my family right now.  This was not where I wanted to be when I turned 37.  I had imagined so much more for myself.  And I can’t help but look back on my past and say, “If I had only done X differently.”  Regrets.  I have them.

  • Regarding the anorexia, I wish I had listened to everyone and actually accepted treatment that first time in the hospital.  Or the second.  Or the third. 
  • I wish I hadn’t had to take time of off school.  At every single freaking school I went to:  my first bachelor’s (I year), my second bachelor’s (only three weeks), my master’s (one semester), and my PhD (one semester, then I went back to school, and then I left for good, no PhD in hand).
  • I wish I hadn’t attempted suicide in 1997.  I realize how much pain I caused my family and friends.
  • I wish I had been a better friend, that I had been able to exist beyond my illness.
  • I wish I had gotten better sooner.  As in “the very beginning” sooner.
  • I wish I had a PhD, and a dissertation (that’s not only in my head), and something on the market. 
  • I wish I were on the market.  The job market, that is.  Actually, I wish I was in that tenure-track position I was supposed to be in by now.

 

There are more.  All along the lines of “If you hadn’t screwed up, you’d be where you were supposed to be right now.  You’d have been successful.”

I cannot help but compare myself to friends I met along my educational path.  I cannot help but compare myself to people I admired and who I wanted to be like.  I cannot help but compare myself to my brother, a successful eye doctor.  And I feel like success is just something I’m not meant to have.

People have been reminding me of a few things:

  • I have the rest of my life ahead of me.  To do lots of things.  To reach my dreams.  I have no idea what tomorrow will bring.  And, regarding my faith, maybe this is part of the plan, and maybe this  will help me become the person I’m supposed to be.
  • As for accepting help with the eating disorder.  Maybe I could have done it differently.  But I was still just a child, and I had no idea what was ahead of me, and I had little support in key places. And I did fight enough to stay alive.  And I did eventually recover. 
  • Since recovery, I have advocated for other people, I have lobbied for mental health parity, I have written articles for some journals and newspapers regarding eating disorders. 
  • As for the ‘getting better sooner’ wish.  I did cooperate with my doctors regarding the Bipolar disorder.  I took my meds, I went in the hospital when I was told to, and I talked to my treatment team.  We all tried.  But we have found out I have a particularly difficult form of Treatment Resistant Bipolar Disorder.  We could not have sped up the progress and eventually, I ended up here, getting treatment that is effective for me.
  • As for the education:  I had to take time off of school, true.  But I do have two Bachelor’s degrees and my Master’s in Fine Arts.  And I got into the PhD program of my choice, and I learned a great deal during the time I was there.  Both personally and regarding my writing.  And I got to learn Latin. 
  • Regarding the job:  nope.  I’m not teaching right now, as I had wanted.  But I have taught successfully at two colleges, and I have read my student evaluations and my peer reviews, and I am happy with my performance.
  • I do not have a dissertation all typed up to present to a committee.  But I do know what I wanted to write, and there is no reason why I can’t write–and publish–that material now.
  • Yes, I could have been a better friend, as evidenced by the number of people who just couldn’t take any more from me and left.  But I was young.  And I made mistakes.  But I’d like to think I have since learned from those mistakes and become a better friend in the process.
  • I really wish I could erase the suicide attempt.  Just erase it completely.  And honestly, I fear this will always be a regret that haunts me.  But I did learn from that event.  I learned that I did not want to commit suicide.  So when the depression took over and the suicidal thoughts got to the point where I was scheduling my plan out in my calendar, I asked for help. 

 

Part of this is a feel-good entry for myself.  Part of it is to let people know that we all have regrets, and mental illnesses are well known for taking away confidence and self-esteem and self-worth.  I think we all need to make these lists.  Struggling for recovery can make one feel weak, but acknowledging what you have accomplished and what you may still accomplish can help in those dark moments. 

And even after recovery, there is often the regret that it took so long to recover.  To that, I ask you this:  Are you alive now?  I certainly hope so considering you’re reading this on the computer, and I’m pretty sure my posts haven’t reached the afterlife yet.  You’re alive.  And that is the greatest success of all.

 

 

August 9, 2014 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, coping, death, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, family, feelings, guilt, identity, progress, recovery, shame, suicide | 1 Comment

Yes, I will dare to address it: spirituality

Warning:  This may be one unorganized entry!  I have always had difficulty putting words to faith and spirituality without falling back on doctrinal phrases nicely printed up for me in hymnals.  But in the past six days, I have had five different people ask me about my spirituality, including whether or not it has been important to recovery.  Since I do consider spirituality to be a significant part of my life, then it has certainly impacted my recovery.

 

I kind of wish I could fall back on some pre-written doctrinal phrase and let that be it.  There was a time, when that was enough.  And part of me wants to go back to my 20-year-old self when my faith was easily defined by what I heard in chapel and the songs we sung in fellowship.  I took in what others ‘gave’ me, and that was belief. 

But I did not stay 20-years-old.  Maybe then, just accepting was all I needed.  But as I grew, and as my experiences widened, and as I met more people, I had more questions.  And “just believing” wasn’t fulfilling me anymore. 

I think what had happened was that I became disillusioned with religion.  One set of beliefs, based on ancient texts and stories, that were “good” while other texts and stories were “bad.”  I remember when my sister-in-law’s father died.  They are from Iran and are Muslim.  I remember thinking at the funeral, “What makes my prayers to God “better” than their prayers?”  And the idea that Bahman would go to hell simply because he hadn’t used the “right” words was repugnant. 

I tried to forget about it, put it on the back burner so to say.  But the question of right versus wrong had gotten hold of me, and as I have stated before, I tend to obsess just a bit, although it sounds better when I say I “critically approach” an issue. 

By the time I was 30, I had met so many different kinds of people.  People with different faiths and different ways of expressing their faith.  I lived in Washington, D.C. and was amazed at the differences in people.  I began asking, “What is it about my faith that makes me special?”  And the answer was, “nothing at all.”

I think that it is good that as children, we learn from parents and teachers about faith in uncomplicated language that is easily taken in as true.  But as we grow up and mature, we have different questions and different needs.  What I believe has helped me, encouraged me, and been a significant part of my recovery.  However, someone who was raised in a Jewish community will have a different set of needs.  Not because they are Jewish, but because they are human.  I have different spiritual needs than some of my friends, than some of my readers, than my own family.  And I do not feel that one way of expressing one’s faith is any better than any other way.  We’re addressing that same “something”–be it God or Allah or the Divine–in ways that help us grow to be the individuals we are. 

Someone asked me the other day about my childhood and my faith.  “How could you believe in a God that allowed a four-year-old to be abused and raped?”  And I will admit, there was a time when I began discussing my childhood in therapy that I asked myself that very question, coming up with no positive answers.  I realized that life itself is more complex that “believe in this and life will be all roses for you.”  That would be nice, but it just doesn’t happen that way.  I don’t know why that happened to me when I was a child.  I don’t know why I inherited the family curse of Bipolar Disorder and a genetic heart disease and my brother inherited neither. 

I don’t have those answers, but I have a choice in my response.  I could stay bitter and get angry at my brother and lay blame at God’s feet and just be pissed off for the rest of my life.  But I don’t really like the sound of that.  I have a tattoo that reads, in Latin, “Let me always live with an open heart.”  I got it after my heart surgery, as a reminder not to remain bitter and closed off.  I have chosen an open life, and while I may not be happy about certain aspects of life, I can’t change them, but I can take what I can from the situation to help my own spiritual growth. 

And by “open” I mean that my faith has grown and expanded tremendously.  I use a devotional, but it’s one that asks me questions about how to apply the day’s verses and discussion to my personal life to help me grow and become stronger.  It doesn’t just tell me what to take in in an indiscriminate fashion.  I do not believe in The Word of God being the one and only way to do things.  Archaeologists have unearthed too many versions of the Bible and there are contradictions within versions–and then there are all the other sacred texts out there, some of which predate the Bible.  I have a difficult time taking each word literally because of these contradictions and use sacred texts more as a metaphor.  “What can I learn from this particular story?” is the question I now ask.  How do I apply these words to life in a way that makes me a better person and, hopefully, allows me to make the world around me a better place. 

My study  of meditation got a weak start, since I was told by several people that I should do this, and I was resistant at first because of my faith.  However, my meditation practice has only helped that faith grow.  I have been struggling recently to return to my meditation practice–using the excuses of “new place,” “transitioning,” “exhaustion” and more.  The truth, I think, lies more in the simple fact that I am afraid.  Of what I’ll find and learn about myself. 

I have said that recovery is scary as hell and that it is the hardest thing you’ll have to go through, but I do think we have choices about how we approach recovery and the tools we use along the way.  And it is a choice you can make:  do you want to remain bitter and closed off spiritually, or do you want to grow and change and explore yourself and the world around you.

August 7, 2014 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, death, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, health, heart, mindfulness, recovery, therapy | 2 Comments

Two way street? Three way street? How many different directions can recovery go?

So I’ve been back in NY for almost two months.  I want to make some things extremely clear right from the outset:

  • It was my choice to move back to my hometown.  We had been discussing it and other options for awhile, but for several reasons, I thought that this is where I need to be right now.
  • I am so so very thankful for the progress my parents have made in being willing to discuss this illness and accept it and learn about it and support me.
  • I am extremely grateful that my parents A) wanted to step in and help me and B) were in a position to do just that.  I’m sure they never planned on having their 37-year-old daughter move back home, and it’s been an adjustment for all of us, but it’s gone quite well thus far.

I don’t want people to read this entry and think, “Oh, she’s just unappreciative and doesn’t understand what her parents are trying to do.”  I do appreciate everything they are doing, and I know we are all trying.  I also know that sometimes, I need an outlet.  And maybe my venting will help you if you have loved ones recovering from depression.

 

A) I really really wish that recovery from mental illness was as easy as taking an antibiotic for an ear infection, of which I had much more than several while growing up.  You have an illness, you take some ear drops and take some antibiotics and you gradually feel better.  (Unless you’re the unlucky one who can’t take antibiotics.)  Recovery from depression:  take one medication and see what happens.  Let’s add another medication to see if that boosts the first one.  Hmmm, are those side effects causing insomnia?  Let’s try another medication?  Well, we haven’t see significant progress in six months, so let’s try a different type of medication.  And start all over.  Repeat as necessary.  Then, come to the realization that meds are not working, so we move on to ECT.  We find that that works.  And then we try to taper off of it and I relapse.  And we go back to routine ECT and taper off more slowly and move to maintenance ECT, and realize two weeks is too long in between sessions at this point, and move to every ten days with the hopes of eventually moving to once every three or four weeks.  And then, because we know the meds aren’t working, comes the task of going off them, but we can only start that long ass process once I’m strong and stable, and it will have to be a very very slow process to avoid dangerous side effects.

Needless to say, this is not a one way street.  You don’t decide to get better and work with your treatment team and then *bamm!* you start progressing toward recovery and never look back.  I had a rough day a few days ago, and the world was an ugly place and I didn’t want to get out of bed, let alone interact with any other human.  My father asked, “I thought moving home and eating better and having less stress on your shoulders would be helpful.”  silence  It has been helpful, and I have gotten better.  I have made so much progress since April and May.  But I have bad days.  Inexplicable ones that come out of the blue.  I have moments of panic.  I still keep tissues nearby.  I still retreat to my room a lot just because I can’t handle human contact.  But all this does not mean I’m not recovering.  In fact, the amount of time in between these bad days is growing, which is a positive sign.  Finally. 

And let’s hypothesize that in a year, I really am better and ready to join the world again.  There is absolutely nothing getting in the way between my brain and another relapse.  I cannot prevent it, just as I cannot prevent my heart arrhythmias.  This may all happen again.

B)  Today was “one of those days.”  Nothing really happened today that would have triggered me falling apart.  But I was exhausted, and stressed, and running around different offices to fill out various paperwork and then found out I am missing one crucial piece of paper to register my car in NY.  A piece of paper that currently resides in Missouri and will take an estimated 4-5 weeks to get to me.  So, until then (actually, I have until midnight to roam around the streets causing trouble), I have no car to drive.  And this just was the final straw that brought on the onslaught of tears.  I took klonopin as directed by my treatment team, relaxed, and listened to some music.  Then sat down to dinner and my mom told me, “It could be worse.”  And in my bitter snarky mood, I said, “Yes.  I could have cancer or a brain melanoma.”  Why is it that people with physical illnesses are shown pity and given encouragement and I’ve never had someone say to me, after explaining to them that my heart muscle is progressively dying, “Well it could be worse.”  Mental illnesses are painful–often in a physical way–and are often hopeless and the victims are filled with despair.  And there are days where we can’t imagine anything worse.  I mean, I had a schedule of events planned out and written down in my weekly planning book of how to get to a certain bridge at an ideal time so I could jump off of it because it had high fatality rates.  Please don’t belittle me and say “it could be worse.”  No.  In my personal case, it could not, and I don’t appreciate having my pain compared to someone else’s pain. 

So what I want people to know is that this whole “getting better thing” will have setbacks.  Some will last longer than others.  Rather than point out that I’m not better yet, encourage me by saying that I’m handling this setback in a much better way than before. 

And no, I am not upset at my parents.  I know they didn’t intend to hurt me in any way.  As I said, we are all learning and adjusting. 

 

July 31, 2014 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, death, depression, Eating Disorders, ECT, family, heart, recovery, relationships, suicide, therapy | Leave a comment