Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

past lexie vs. present lexie

17265011_10101645082428495_2786223809728331306_n

Someone asked me this morning about a bit I had written yesterday.  “What do you mean when you said this whole grace and gentleness thing was relatively new for you?  What did you do before?”

“Exercise Addiction.”  The phrase is misunderstood sometimes.  Yes, you can be addicted to a behavior.  Especially when said behavior provides the results you wanted.  In part, I was addicted to the endorphin high after a good cardio workout.  And, honestly, I still miss that feeling.  I’m just not willing to risk my cardiac health anymore.

Another part of the whole exercise addiction was, of course, all part of the eating disorder.  Any calorie I took in had to be “accounted for.”  Gotten rid of. Exercise allowed me to do just that–and feel the endorphin high.  Double win, right?

And then there was this part of me that mentally thrived on extreme exercise.  I wasn’t exercising to feel good or anything like that.  I defined myself by how much exercise I completed every day.  By the end, I was only “good enough” if I had completed at least four hours of aerobic exercise a day.  And exercising enough on Day One meant nothing for Day Two.  No carryover.  No rest.  Just a clean slate.  Or, rather, a slate that said, “You are a horrible person. Get your ass moving and prove that you’re actually okay.”

So I had to prove myself–to myself–each and every day. And if I did X amount of exercise on Day One, then I must be able to do XandY on Day Two.  And then XandYandZ on Day Three.  And so on.  Eventually, I admitted this was not a healthy way to approach exercise.  In mid-2006, I realized that for me to get to a healthy point, I needed to do away with exercise all together for a period of time.  That turned out to be one full year.  I would walk to the bus stop or metro stop, but I no longer ran, did yoga, stretched, lifted weights, or rode my bike.  Nothing.  For one full year.

When I began exercising again, I was closely monitored by my treatment team.  Not just to what and how much I was doing, but also regarding how I felt while exercising.  In the past, a sore muscle or joint wasn’t worth “taking it easy” let alone taking a day off.  In the past, I did the primary series of Ashtanga Yoga every day.  Start to finish, exactly as laid out.  Now?  If I notice my hamstrings are tight, I don’t stretch as hard, especially in the beginning of fthe practice.  If I don’t feel like doing a certain pose, I don’t.  That would have been unheard of back in 2005.  I do “poses” that just feel good–even if they aren’t officially a yoga pose.   If I want to rest in savasana or child pose in the middle of my yoga session, I will.  Or I can walk off the mat and call it a day.

All of these thoughts and behaviors took time.  Sometimes I still catch myself falling into the old mindset of “If you did this amount yesterday, you can do more today.” I was exercising for the sake of exercising.  Not really as a punishment, but as one more chore I needed to complete each day.  I set myself high standards in every aspect of my life, and not living up to them always led to huge amounts of guilt and shame.

Now, my worth is not defined by my body or by how much stress it can take.  My self-worth has nothing to do with exercise at all.  I determine mt self worth.  And each day is a new day.  I am not restricted by who I was anymore.  I am Lexie.  In this present moment.  That is the only standard I set for myself now.

 

March 17, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, exercise, faith, feelings, guilt, health, heart, identity, images, mindfulness, progress, recovery, responses, self harm, shame, therapy, treatment | Leave a comment

Intentional Acting

14358754_10101428559527125_201134823500979566_nThis time of year is always difficult for me.  I have come to accept that life in general will be  . . . interesting during the winter months.  This year, however, I made some changes to my routine to make sure this would be a successful winter.

DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) and I agree on most things, but not so much on a few things.  I have learned a significant amount about taking care of myself, however.  A relatively new concept if you look at my life as a whole.  This year, I decided that, above all else, I would make sure I went to bed and woke up on a regular schedule.  This meant saying “the world won’t end if I don’t finish grading these papers tonight” and asking “you already know how to stay in bed for 24 consecutive hours, so how about we try something new?”  I’m not saying it was easy to maintain a regular sleep schedule; it took a hell of a lot of self-talk/self-lectures on a daily basis, and I certainly didn’t have a 100% success rate.  But I tried another new concept out this year by not shaming myself with negative self-talk when my day was less than perfect.

Not feeling guilty is actually more difficult for me than maintaining a good sleep schedule.

Healthy sleep habits definitely helped, but so did healthy exercise habits.  I said at the beginning of the winter that I wasn’t even going to go into the season with the intention of walking every day.  I hate the cold.  I hate the cold wind.  And I hate snow.  Going out for a slow walk was just not going to happen in upstate New York.  It was easier when I was able to run.  Then, just knowing the endorphin high was coming was enough to get me outside and exercising.

This year, I told myself I would try to maintain a regular yoga practice, along with my regular meditation practice.  My daily sitting practice went by unscathed.  However, there were many many many days when I just couldn’t make myself do yoga, or even do some simple stretches while watching television.  But–this winter I didn’t lecture myself about how bad it is not to exercise.  Turns out, guilt isn’t such a great motivator.

A couple of weeks ago, however, I found myself thinking, “It’s winter.  Just chill out and watch more Bones reruns.”  It was the end of winter and I didn’t feel like showing up at work, let alone exercising by myself at home.  And I’d just continue to sit there and read or knit.  And even without any self-lectures, I’d feel worse.  Mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Then I remembered another DBT skill: Acting Opposite.  I wanted to curl up in bed after going to work, not because I was enjoying a good nap that would be refreshing, but because I didn’t feel like dealing with the world.  Or my mind.  So I intentionally (a big mindfulness concept) decided to start (restart? revisit?  continue?) a daily yoga practice–with gentleness.  I started off with a few slow sun salutations–they only took a few minutes.  But I was okay with “just” doing a few minutes of yoga.  Each day, I added one more pose to my sequence.  I didn’t automatically just add on the next pose in the ashtanga series; I thought about what would feel good for my body and went with it.

So for part of the winter, I let myself sit and do nothing, exercise-wise.  For the rest of the season, I chose to challenge my depressive habits.  But in each case, I had to do so in a balanced fashion.  I had to listen to what was right for me in that given moment.  And I had to learn how to forgive myself.  These concepts of acceptance and forgiveness and gentleness are still new habits for me, and don’t come naturally.  But–I am discovering that, overall, I feel better when I choose to practice them.  My body and my mind thank me.

March 16, 2017 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, feelings, guilt, health, heart, mindfulness, progress, recovery, shame, therapy, treatment | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

For an “All or Nothing Girl,” “Closer” Can Be a Tricky Place to Hang Out

quote

 

I have always been an all or nothing girl.  My friends know this.  My family knows this.  My teachers have always known this.  My coaches loved this.  If I’m going to play Field Hockey, I am going to give it every little ounce of my self that I can.  Same with school.  Same with life.  I don’t believe in doing things half-heartedly.

I spent Thanksgiving with awesome friends who have become family over the years.  These people have known me for almost twenty years.  I am still sometimes amazed that my friend and I survived these twenty years and that I feel as comfortable in her presence as I did way back then, no matter how much time passes between visits.  I have gained friends and family through this one person, another thing I thought I was incapable of.

In the car home, I was listening to Melissa Ferrick, specifically to her song, “Closer,” which you can listen to on her Facebook page.  Singing along as I always do when I drive, I sang the words (forgive me for quoting an entire chorus):

“But with every little bang, every little push
Every little step I take, I get closer
A second at a time, usin’ my breath
Maybe it’s true I’ve got a fear of success
But with every little bang, every little push
Every little step I take
I’m gettin’ closer
I’m gettin’ closer”

And I realized–this is true.  And I realized–it’s easy for me to be disappointed in this.

When I was young, I must have seen a movie or show with a professor sitting in his or her office–a big, ornate desk and walls lined with shelves full of books–and I knew that was what I wanted.  I really had no idea what a professor was or what it entailed, but I wanted to be one.

It took awhile for me to accept this.  I have a Bachelor’s in music; I finished it because it was what people expected me to do.  Later, I went back for a second Bachelor’s–this time in English.  It was home.  I went on and earned my MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing at American University, and there really was no option in my mind about my last step: get my PhD.  So I moved to Missouri, fully intent on getting that PhD.  I thankfully discovered that I love being in front of a classroom.  And I love being a student.  I think my dream job right now would be to get paid to sit in a library (a very big library) and do research and write.  Full time.

I finished my coursework at Mizzou.  I knew what I was doing my critical dissertation on.  I had my comps list.  I knew what I wanted to do for my creative dissertation.  And then I realized I couldn’t.  I could teach.  I could be a student.  I could not do both at the same time, and in order to get my PhD, I would have to teach while reading and researching and writing and meeting with my committee and turning out drafts by certain dates and so much more.  And I couldn’t do it.  At least, I couldn’t do it and maintain any semblance of mental health at the same time.

In the end, my mental health prevailed, and I am now a professor–an adjunct, but my dream is to still be a full-time professor.

So.  I certainly am closer.  Especially when I look back two years ago, when life started falling apart to a degree I can’t put into words.  I took three semesters off of teaching.  This semester I am teaching three sections, and I am loving being back in the classroom on a college campus.  It has been difficult to restrain myself at times–to not join committees, to not accept speaking engagements, to not push myself into the ground every single night.

It has also been difficult.  To be on a college campus and not be working toward my PhD.  To know that my PhD is not going to happen.  I have always assumed I’d have a PhD.  And yes, I still dream of going back and earning one.  I get as far as looking at universities’ programs.  I feel guilty when I am on Facebook when I see my friends post about their dissertations and their job searches and their publications because that should have been me.  That could have been me, if I hadn’t fucked up so bad, if I hadn’t disappointed everyone around me. 

I know a PhD is not in my future.  I still want one.  But I also realize that I need to accept and rejoice in the fact that I am a professor, in a field I love.  I am writing again.  I am researching again.  Eighteen months ago, that didn’t seem possible.  But here I am.  Closer. But not quite there.

As I continue studying mindfulness and practicing meditation, acceptance keeps rearing its head.  I have (mostly) accepted the Bipolar I diagnosis.  I have (mostly) accepted my cardiac diagnosis.  I can even joke about both of those.  I know I haven’t accepted my “academic failure” aka my “non-PhD.”  The fact that I still see it as a failure says a great deal.

But I am going to continue to work on this.  I had a life planned out for me.  Maybe, however, I need to accept that it wasn’t the life I was supposed to live.  I still get to discover that.

November 28, 2015 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, feelings, guilt, heart, identity, mindfulness, progress, shame, teaching | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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

How Far You Jump

I miss the feeling of sand in my mouth!

I miss the feeling of sand in my mouth!

A lot of you will know that I really do miss the feeling of sand in my mouth.  Along with the thrill of competition and the endorphin rush of exercise and the camaraderie of my teammates.  I miss the training, the weights, the intervals, the stretching, the ice packs, the athletic trainers.  All of it.  It used to be my life.  I haven’t competed since college.  I haven’t been an over-exercise-obsessive-compulsive-must-run-for-hours-a-day person since I was earning my MFA in Washington, DC.  And I haven’t been able to do any aerobic exercise since July, 2009, due to a cardiac illness.

One thing I do not miss:  the perfectionist drive that made me feel guilty if I didn’t set a new PR at every single meet, regardless of the weather conditions or an injury or the time of the season.  I always had to do my best.

A few days ago, while officiating a junior high track  meet, I worked the Long and Triple Jump.  I had my first athlete start crying on me.  (I really hope this doesn’t happen often!)  She was a 7th grader.  This was her very first meet ever. Because of the snow up here, pits have only been open for about a week, so this was her first week of even learning how to long and triple jump.  She fouled her first jump.  Shook it off, but looked worried.  She fouled her second jump.  Then her shoulders dropped and she hung her head and tried to hide the tears streaming down her face.

I wanted to take her aside and really talk with her and reassure her and look her in the eyes and tell her that everything would be okay, regardless of her performance in the meet.  But with 30 junior high girls in the event, it was a little chaotic, so I didn’t have much time with her at all.

These were the gist of my words of wisdom:  “You still have another jump.  Even if you foul, it’s okay.  We’ve all fouled out at meets before.  Your coach was not expecting you to break any world records today. It’s your first meet, and he wanted you to run down the runway three times and land in the pit and have fun while doing it. Take a breather before you jump again.  Maybe move your mark back a good two feet to be on the safe side, and then run down the runway and pretend I’m not here and have fun.” 

I remember being disappointed in my performance as a seventh grader.  That feeling of not being good enough.  The pressure of that last attempt, feeling that if I fouled out, the world would end and everyone would think less of me.  At that point, I had yet to break records and win invitationals and regionals and compete at the state level.  I was in 7th grade.  Putting more pressure on myself than most professional athletes.  I wish someone had spoken those words to me when I was in seventh grade.  I finally heard them when I was a collegiate athlete, and my all-too-awesome coach began teaching me that yes, my goal was to place at Nationals, but if I didn’t, that would be great, too.  What was more important was having fun while competing and trying to do the best I could do on that particular day.

I wanted to tell this 7th grader that all of the pressure she felt?  It’s not worth it.  Competition and Track and Field are not worth it if you always end up feeling like you could have done better.  How far you long jump does not determine your worth.  How far you jump defines nothing other than muscle strength and speed and technique and, sometimes, luck.  How far you jump will not determine who you are.  The passion behind jumping might be part of who you are, but that doesn’t depend on how far you jump.  How you hold yourself after competition reflects more about who you are than the competition itself.

We as a society have come to stress performance, especially athletic performance, and the importance of placing well (winning).  In my case, I cared about performance so much that I lost track of everything else that made me me.  And when an injury ended my ‘national career,’ I had no idea who I was or how to find out.  I figured that without Track and Field Star attached to my name, I wasn’t worth anything.

I now know what makes up this body and soul the world calls Alexis.  But I wish it hadn’t taken thirty years to do so.  I wish I had left for college knowing I could do something other than long and triple jump.  And I wish I had known then that “Who I Am” is not a static self made from concrete, that I am constantly changing and growing and learning.

I now know there is far more to me than my track and field records.  I only wish I knew how to tell all of that to a 7th grader in the span of thirty seconds.

obsessive

April 19, 2015 Posted by | bipolar disorder, depression, Eating Disorders, heart, identity, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The bad, the good, and some confusion

I’m thinking this will be more of an update post rather than a post with some grand enlightenment.  But if you have any enlightenment for me, please share!

I’ve been in NY for three months now.  I am finally a NY resident and own a car that has NYS plates and is legal to drive and everything. I don’t remember any previous move being this difficult, but maybe I’ve blocked those difficulties from my memory. 

Some things have been difficult:  I had to put my older cat to sleep, my grandfather is in the hospital, change is always difficult for me, and I feel like I’ve seen a zillion doctors in trying to get my treatment team set up.  And, I thought it would be most difficult finding a cardiologist familiar with my condition, but there just happens to be a specialist at a nearby hospital.  I’ve had a nasty rash off and on, although we don’t know what it’s from (a higher than normal pollen count of a mystery plant is our best guess right now).  I’ve had labwork several times.  I’ve had a CT scan of my brain.  The results have been positive in that no tumor has taken over my brain and my iron stores are normal (which is nice since I hate getting iron shots). 

Some good things:  the anxiety is not as severe as it was, and I have been handling stressful situations with more grace than I was in the spring.  I love my new psychiatrist and trust him–and some of you know that when I say that about a shrink, it’s pretty significant.  The ECT treatments began at ten day intervals and are now at 17 day intervals.  It was a smart decision to move back to NY and although living with another person in the house has been a big transition, I am grateful for not living alone right now and very thankful for everything my parents have done.  And I got a kitten:  Camena.  Who can’t smile while watching a two-month old kitten?  My dad has even fallen for her. 

But sometimes, I am just so frustrated and tired.  I knew I wouldn’t be better in three months, but I was hoping I’d be better than this.  And finding doctors has been draining.  My psychiatrist was set up for me when I moved here, so everything was set and ready to go and there was no lapse in treatment.  But finding a therapist was riddled with obstacles–and I really had no idea what to do.  When I moved to Missouri in 2008, I contacted the student health center and specified my concerns and they called back with a treatment team all set up.  This summer, I wanted to scream, “What am I doing wrong?  Someone find me a damn therapist!”  And then I found one, and then I had to decide how to tell that therapist I would prefer working with someone else, someone with a different therapeutic approach.  And now I am super nervous about meeting him for the first time this week and really wish I could call my old therapist for support, advice, or answers.

And I’m back in that spot many of you can understand all too well.  I don’t feel like my doctors believe me. I mean, my psychiatrist definitely knows the severity of the depression and anxiety because he’d been talking to my doctors in MO for a good three weeks before I moved to NY.  But my general physician–I don’t know how to make her see that I am scared.  I know the physical effects of depression and anxiety.  Quite well.  What I’m feeling now is not the same as being depressed.  But how do you argue with labs?  I’m starting to question if these symptoms are just in my head.  And maybe I just need to buck up and move on.  Except for the whole “it takes too much energy to get out of bed” thing, that sounds like a grand idea.

My only comfort this summer has been that I’ve recently started working on my writing again, with the intention of sending things out.  I can’t sit and write all day like I used to, but I have made progress on certain essays.  So maybe things are better than how I feel they are. 

So please, enlighten me with your wisdom.  Or ask me questions so I can spend my time obsessing about something else!

September 6, 2014 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, ECT, family, feelings, guilt, health, heart, progress, recovery, therapy | Leave a comment

Identity Post Number 1,233,459

Tales-of-mere-Existence-Who-the-Hell-Am-I-by-Levni-Yilmaz

I’ve addressed this issue many times on this blog.  I honestly thought that once I figured it all out, I would know who I am and that would be that.  Searching over.  Questions no more.  But if I have learned one thing in my journey it’s that the self is not this static thing we label one day and just stick in our pockets to keep.  The self, I believe, is constantly changing.  Evolving.  (I have no research or scientific wisdom to support this statement.  Although, now I do feel like a little research . . .)

But as I was walking over the weekend, I was thinking about who I am.  I realized I didn’t have an answer.  I know who I used to be, and I know who I wanted to be. 

I was a successful doctoral candidate who taught part-time at a local community college. I was working on my writing and was successful in seeing a couple essays published.  I knew what I wanted to accomplish as far as a book was concerned.  I considered myself kick ass strong for recovering from anorexia and for not letting the news about my cardiac state completely bowl me over.  I was a Christian who was learning about Buddhist principles and practices and was starting my own meditation practice.  I loved to read, write, knit, paint, and play the piano.  I loved coffee shops, both with friends and by myself.  I had goals I wanted to achieve and plans on how to get there.  I thought I would be a successful writer, a tenured professor, and active in my community.

I did not expect to be 37 and living with my parents and not working at all. Forget the tenure track positions.  I’m not a successful writer.  And I’m too anxious to be active in my community right now.  I still read.  I can’t remember the last time I used my creative energy for something beyond Facebook and my journal. 

Who the hell am I?  I’m someone who would easily be able to sleep all day.  I’m someone who doesn’t feel like doing most anything.  I am reliant on other people for all my needs.  I am “a contributing member of society.”  I sit down to write and nothing is there.  I feel like the people who could help me with this are all back in MO and I’m not able to contact them, and I’m not settled enough in NY to have built up a reliable treatment team that I fully trust.  (I mean, I haven’t even been here three months, and trust isn’t exactly something I just pluck off of a tree.)

And I guess I wish I had the answer.  The solution.  I am using Rick Warren’s What on Earth Am I Here For? as a devotional.  My meditation practice is starting to find a place in my daily life again.  And I’m doing everything I know how to do to “get better.”  It would just be a whole lot easier if I could do that today. 

But I guess I am in a period of change and evolution and growth.  And while it is not comfortable, it is necessary.  What I need to do is remember to keep breathing and remember to keep myself open to the world around me.  And remember to not try to force the direction I am going or how I am going to get there.

 

*****I would also like to encourage questions, or ideas for future entries.  Leave them in a comment or message me.*****

August 28, 2014 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, feelings, heart, identity, mindfulness, progress, recovery, therapy | 1 Comment

pituitary, prolactin, procedures, and . . . possibility?

Early this morning I had my first CT scan with iodine contrast.  I don’t like the iodine bit, but lying motionless for several minutes with noises around my head–I’ve got that one down.  Three or four weeks after I moved back home, I started experiencing a cluster of symptoms that I have always associated with iron deficient anemia–and I’ve always been really good at knowing when I’ve been anemic.  Well, Doctor #1 told me that all the symptoms were from depression.  Doctor #2 believed me when I said this was different from depression.  Psychiatrist Doctor agreed with me.  So they took several vials of blood, and anything pointing to anemia was good. 

My prolactin level was off, however.  By itself, not really that big a deal.  Elevated prolactin levels could be caused by two of my medications.  But my psychiatrist is doubtful since I’ve been on those medications at those doses for a rather significant amount of time and all my levels have been fine in the past.  So we went ahead with further testing.  The CT scan was looking for a pituitary adenoma, which would explain every symptom I’ve been complaining about.  Almost all adenomas are benign and can be treated with medications. 

I’m not worried about having an adenoma.  I’m worried about not having one. 

During the CT scan, I kept repeating, “Please find something please find something please find something.”  I’ll be relieved if the scan comes back positive.  I want something to be wrong with me.  Something I can point to on a picture and say, “Right there.  That is what’s causing everything.  And this is how we’re going to fix it.”  Sometimes I am so tired of having Bipolar Disorder.  I want something concrete to point to and blame for all the ups and downs.  I want to be able to say, with some assurance, that this is what we’re doing to treat it–and it’s working. 

I know that mental illnesses are “real” and that they are just as “physical” as my heart disease.  I advocate for mental health parity and try to encourage individuals to seek treatment and be open about their struggles.  But sometimes to not have to explain everything, to say “I’m Bipolar” and have the other person nod in understanding would be nice.  It would be nice to have everyone believe me when I say that I can’t just will myself out of it, that I can’t just smile and pretend everything’s fine, that some medications work and some medications don’t and it depends on the particular doses and the combination and they can just stop working at anytime. 

Sometimes this whole journey is so exhausting and my motivation starts leaking out of me.  Maybe some day, they’ll be able to diagnose and cure Bipolar Disorder with a CT scan and a given medication that has proven reliable and effective.  And maybe someday insurance companies will agree that mental illnesses are actual illnesses and will agree to cover them equally. 

Until then, I’ll probably just keep hoping for positive tests results.

August 22, 2014 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, depression, faith, health, heart, identity, Mental Health Parity, progress, recovery, responses | Leave a comment

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

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