Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

Missing Chaos

sometimes, I have to admit that I feel a little . . . unsettled . . . in this new world I live in.

25564_633436301485_7179378_nThis world is so much calmer than the one of my twenties and the first six years of my thirties.  After 3+ years, I’m still not used to it.  I still walk out of my apartment some days, amazed that I have a bag on my shoulder filled with work stuff–that I have this thing called a job.  Sure I’ve had jobs before.  In fact, I’ve almost always had some type of job, even if it was a very-part-time job while I was on disability.

This, though, this is different.  I enjoy this job and I want to keep this job and I keep waiting for the calm to stop.  For chaos to fall down from the heavens and cause this current world to break into tiny pieces.  It’s happened before.  I know I’m now working with an awesome treatment team and that I will hopefully catch any relapse before melting into a puddle on the pavement, but it still terrifies me.

Yet sometimes, I long for that to happen.  Only I wish I could control the severity and length of the chaos.

Why?  Why would I miss the voices in my head telling me to give up on everything and to hurt myself?  Why would I want to constantly obsess about my suicide plans?  Why would I want to go back to a run of stays at various inpatient units?

Maybe I don’t miss the chaos as much as I miss the community that knows the chaos.  The community that just gets it–all of it–without me having to explain anything.  The community that’s mainly made up of people who have failed-multiple times-at being an adult. Others who can barely keep a job, let alone contemplate a career.  Others who never seem to have many stable relationships–romantic or otherwise.  Others who have periods of time on their resumes or CVs not filled with a job or education or anything other than psychiatric emergencies.  Others who know the daily routine on a psychiatric unit can be as comforting as it is mind-numbingly boring.

It’s easier on a psychiatric unit.  To admit to exhaustion and sadness and hopelessness. To admit I need help.  To admit I want help.  To admit that I have no real clue about ‘normal emotional reactions and behaviors.’  I know the extremes.  I’m finding my way around this middle grey zone, but I often feel lost here.

I don’t have the Sorority Days stories, or the Spring Fling stories, or the Marriage and Family stories, or the New House stories, and sometimes I don’t know how to engage with people when I’m in a group that seems to be focused on reminiscing about The Good Old Days.

Some days I fear needing to go back in the hospital.  Some days I wish I could, just to take a break for a week.  I still feel “new” to all of this, and I have no idea what’s coming next.  At least the chaos was predictable in that I knew it would be there tomorrow.

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February 17, 2018 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, guilt, health, identity, progress, publicity, recovery, relationships, responses, self harm, shame, suicide, teaching, therapy, treatment | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

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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

Lists of Changes

I recently started enjoying the memories app on facebook.  This was one of my memories, from five years ago.  Eating disorder wise, I had been in full recovery for eight years.  Depression wise?  I was entering what would become the most hellish depressive episode ever, triggered by everything going on with my heart–all things I couldn’t grasp on an intellectual level.

Some of these things are still the same.

A lot of these things are different now, and it’s nice to be able to see and acknowledge those changes–and to take pride in the work it took to make those changes.

And NONE of the changes listed could have been possible without recovery.  Eating disorders are never your friends, and they will never “work for you.”  They are never “the best option for now.”  They kill.  They steal lives.  They hurt the survivors.  You will lose more than you ever thought possible. 

But recovery is possible.  You have the power to make it happen.

TEN things you wish you could say to ten different people right now:

1.  You’re not the same person as you were two years ago.  I liked that person better.

2.  I wish you would have let me change.

3.  I do not understand your priorities anymore.

4.  I wish I could say something, anything, that would do this justice.

5.  Sometimes I hate you and sometimes I can’t forgive you.

6.  I see myself in you and am powerless to stop the train from derailing.

7.  I wish you knew how much I loved you, and what I meant when I said that.

8.  You and I are no good apart.

9.  If I could tell you how much you’ve let me down, I fear that no one would ever look at me the same.

10.  I know I’m not good enough for you.

I’ve healed some relationships.  I’ve walked away from others.  I’ve watched other people change and grow and heal.  And most importantly, I know I’ll never be good enough for some people–and I don’t really give a damn, because I’m good enough for ME.

NINE things about yourself:

1.  I keep point shoes in vases.

2.  I have a model of the human heart on my bookshelf.

3.  I am more terrified of living like this than I am of dying.

4.  Each day, I wake up with this huge, ominous question mark over my head and I’m not sure how long I can take it.

5.  I don’t think I’m supposed to be here.

6.  I don’t know where I’m supposed to be.

7.  I will never measure up.

8.  I treasure silence.

9.  Translating Latin is the only escape I have right now.

The model of the human heart is on my shelf, knocked over weekly by Camena.  I crossed off number 3 because although I am still scared of “living like this,” I have learned that I can live like this–fully live.  I know I can take it, and I know I’m supposed to be here right now.  I don’t know if this is where I’ll stay, but I’m thinking it will be.  I know I will never measure up–no one ever does, really, because it’s called Being Human.  I still like to translate Latin, but I have a lot more healthy ways of escaping than any other point in my life.

EIGHT ways to win your heart: 

1.  Don’t laugh at my fears.

2.  Treasure silence as much as I do.

3.  Don’t waste money on jewelry when there are thousands of books to be devoured.

4.  Give me flowers.  One at a time.  On random days.

5.  No pressure.

6.  If I tell you a song reminds me of you, listen to it.

7.  Believe me.

8.  Send me a poem in the mail.  Snail mail, that is.

These are all the same.

SEVEN things that cross your mind frequently: 

1. I hate this.

2. I can’t do this.

3. I wish I could leave.

4. I hate my heart.

5. This was not supposed to turn out this way.

6. Someday.

7.  Maybe.

There are still things I hate, but my heart is not one of them.  My heart can make me sad and bitter and can make me grieve at time, but I don’t hate it.  And maybe things weren’t supposed to turn out this way, but that doesn’t mean that Someday can’t happen.

SIX things you do before you fall asleep:

1. Journal.

2. Some form of devotional.

3. Listen to music.

4. If I can, take a hot hot hot bath.

5. Curl up with my cats.

6.  have a cup of hot decaf coffee.

Still a journaler–you will never be able to take that away from me!  My spirituality is still important, as it always will be.  I can’t take a hot bath here because we have no drain plug that fits 😦  And I’ve become a tea snob in the previous five years, and my nightly cup of tea requires thought.

FIVE people who mean a lot to you.

1. Sara

2. Wednesday

3. Neesha & Dustin (they count as one)

4. Court

5. Rena

These people are still important to me, even if some are no longer part of my life.  I’m proud to say that I’ve been able to add more people to this list, which was difficult to come up with five years ago.

FOUR things you’re wearing right now: 

1. Yoga pants

2. Camisole

3. Keeping the Beat T shirt

4. MedicAlert Bracelet

I will always wear my MedicAlert bracelet.  It does make me feel somewhat safer.  And I still do wear yoga pants and all that, but right now I still have on my bathrobe and PJs.

THREE songs that you listen to often: (recently) 

1. Dublin Boys

2. Bend Before It Breaks

3. Reasonland

I’d have to say these three songs are still prominent in my playlist.  “More Than Ordinary” has been my most recent obsession.

TWO things you want to do before you die: 

1. Publish my two books

2. Not have another sudden cardiac death.  That kind of sucked.

Yeah, so both of these are still the same!

ONE confession: 

1) I am drowning.

Maybe I don’t feel like I am always on solid ground, but I have learned that it’s my choice to be on solid ground, and that there are always people around me willing to help that happen.

September 20, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dreams Come

I just like my head.

I just like my head.

There’s really no meaning to this picture.  I have a clear glass head, and I put a black wig on her, and periodically use it to display hats I’ve made and to creep some people out.  But I have no main topic today, just a mish mash of what’s been in my head lately. Perhaps one of my readers has a better picture?

I am doing an Out of the Darkness Community Walk for suicide awareness on September 12.  These are run by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  I am close to my fundraising goal, and would really like to go over my goal, being the over-achiever I am.  You can help me here.  Five dollars means that more people can be helped.  If you are in the area and would like to walk with me, that would be awesome.  This is an extremely important subject for me.  I am a survivor of suicide, and I have lost family and friends to suicide.  You can read more about my story here.  I am mentioning all this here because it is absolutely necessary that our society talks openly about suicide and mental illness in general.  I remember being in high school and feeling like I was somehow broken because I had all of these bad thoughts that no one else had.  Except I know now that I wasn’t alone back then.  But mental health was not brought up in schools, so we were not encouraged to talk about it.  I was terrified to talk about it.  But imagine if we do talk about it in junior highs and high schools.  Imagine that one student in the classroom who has felt alone and broken, and then s/he hears that there are other people out there who struggle with the same types of thoughts, and then s/he decides to talk to someone, and then s/he gets help early, and then s/he may never attempt suicide at all.  That is why when I got my semi-colon tattoo, I put it on my wrist.  Not only is it easily visible to me, but it is easily visible to everyone else.  I hope people will ask me about it.

I hope my students will ask about it.  I will head back to the classroom this semester and teach eager college students about writing essays.  When I first began teaching in 2008, I spent a great deal of time wondering if I should wear long sleeves to cover up my scars from years of self-harm.  But I decided that, in my own little way, I wanted to show people I was not ashamed of my past.  And because of that decision, I have had multiple students approach me after class or via email about my scars–and about their own, be them external or internal.  Students who felt alone and scared and didn’t know where to go for help.  I have been able to direct students to the university’s health center, mental health center, and various treatment centers.  I have witnessed them grow and struggle and change, and I still tear up when I think of some of them.  Even if they didn’t take me up on the offer to walk them over to the mental health center, and even if they didn’t go at all, I put the idea in their heads that the life they were living could be left behind and a new life could begin.

If students ask why I took a year off of teaching, I will tell them.  If I had had major surgery, there would be no shame in needing time to heal.  There is no shame in needing time to heal from a serious depressive episode either.  It took me time to come around to that belief, and I hated running into people in my small hometown and having them ask, “So what are you doing these days?”  I felt ashamed for not being a productive member of society.  But I now realize that if I had tried to work last fall or last spring, I would not have been an effective teacher, and I might not have been physically capable of meeting all of my responsibilities.  Of course, I am nervous about this semester, but I am no longer ashamed of the time it took to get me here.

I want that message to spread.  Healing is possible, and it is worth the time and energy involved.  I realize that due to the cyclical nature of Bipolar I, I will likely need time to heal again.  But I also can’t plan my life around that fear.  Maybe my career in academia won’t be as I originally pictured it years ago, but I’m not the same person I was years ago.  I’ve changed, I’ve adapted, and I’m ready to continue seeing my dream come true.

This wasn’t as mish-mashy as I thought it would be, but I still have no idea for a good photo.

August 19, 2015 Posted by | bipolar disorder, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, progress, recovery, shame, suicide | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

questions for my former anorexic self

Question__by_Queen666I’ve been noticing a lot of blogs with titles like “10 things I would tell my former self”–usually the “former self” is specified further with “anorexic,” “addict,” “depressed,” “medicated,” and other adjectives.  The lists are poignant, and often reveal more about the process of recovery than anything else, and a lot of them are universal truths we can all nod our heads at.  I wish I could go back and tell my former anorexic self a few things, but I can’t.  People did often tell me those things, and I just didn’t listen or believe them.

I would like to go back and ask myself a few questions.  Things I could have pondered, if I had been open to doing so.  I would have given myself journaling assignments!  I have always preferred writing about something before speaking about it.

1. What do you want to be when you grow up?

We’re all asked this, and I journaled about this question all the time, and my answers morphed as I grew older, but I loved the world of academia and always say myself in an antiquated office with lots of books and a big, ornate desk and fancy chair.  And a patterned rug.  I wasn’t sure what would go on in the office, but I wanted to be in that office.  The worlds of teaching and writing and reading smushed themselves together, and I wanted to be an English Professor.

Someone did ask me a variation of this question that started me thinking, and this did lead to change on my part.  My first semester at my MFA program, I couldn’t decide if I should go into treatment or not.  I was debating this with one of my professors (whose office was nothing like the one in my dreams), and she asked me why I wouldn’t just go get help.  And I told her that I was a graduate student and couldn’t.  (My logic skills never were that great.)  But she just looked at me and told me I wasn’t a grad student.  Not really.  I came to class and read and wrote, yes.  All while obsessing over food and exercise.  I didn’t socialize.  I hadn’t gotten to know my peers.  I hadn’t explored the city I was living in.  I was isolated in my sick world and turning in sub-par papers.

I did go to treatment, and I learned that you could be a graduate student while seeking help for an eating disorder, but you couldn’t be an anorexic while being an effective graduate student.  Maybe I was ready to listen to that professor then, and I wouldn’t have been five years prior.  But what if someone had asked me–this goal-oriented overachiever–if I wouldn’t be able to be who I wanted to be if I weren’t anorexic?

2.  What is your picture of a perfect life?

I would have had myself write down every little detail, from my job to my location to my friends to my family to my church to my living quarters to my cats to my hobbies to my daily routines.  Ev-er-y thing written out.  A story book world that I created all about me.  All of my dreams.  All combined.

3. Why don’t you want that life?

“Of course I want that life!” I would have shouted.  And then I would have asked, “Then why don’t you have it?  Why don’t you make it happen?”  Eventually, along my recovery journey, I would ask myself these questions.  I’m still waiting for the perfect happy-ever-after fairytale, but I do realize that I have more of a chance of reaching that place now than when I was sick.

Question 3 would lead directly to number 4:  What are you afraid of?

Many people mistakenly believe eating disorders are about food and size.  But although I had a perfect life pictured in my head, and even though I had was given opportunities to make that life happen, something held me back.  Basically, the answer was fear.  I was afraid of being hurt.  I was afraid of failure.  I was afraid of what success meant.  I was afraid of people taking advantage of me.  I was afraid of being disappointed.  I was afraid of disappointing others.  I was afraid of imperfection.  I was afraid of anything I wasn’t familiar with that I could not control.  Therefore, it was easier to live in a world I created and controlled.

5.  How is that working out for you?

Could I have even answered this question then?  Everything I wanted out of life was not possible because of the anorexia.  I wasn’t happy.  I wasn’t safe.  I was alone.

But I was still scared.  At least I knew my current surroundings.  Sure, I could dream up a perfect life, but I had no reason to believe it was even possible.

People kept telling me that I could “learn how to manage this” and that “things would get better” but they offered no proof, just vague motivational lines of hope and faith.  I wanted, I needed, to see results.  After a few years, I did meet someone who had that proof of recovery.  And then I met a couple other people whose results matched my dreams.  Eventually, I came to believe I could do the same.  And then I became part of that network of recovered individuals who want to let people know that full recovery is possible.

We have enough media stories about the hell of eating disorders.  We have blogging communities devoted to sharing specifics of eating disorders.  We have online forums for people to compare symptoms.  News articles focusing on recovery that first must rehash all the trauma–complete with pictures–before summing up the “things are better now” conclusion in a nice succinct paragraph.

We need to hear the stories of eating disorder sufferers, yes.  More importantly, however, we need to hear the stories of recovery: not just the fact that someone recovered, but how they did so.  We need stories that provide a road map to recovery, not a road map to illness.

August 8, 2015 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Communication, depression, Eating Disorders, recovery, treatment | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There Is Still More To Come

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Days in Recovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The light and dark sides of social media

keepcalm

Here are a couple characteristics I claim that I believe many of you will be able to relate to:

1. I feel guilt very easily, even if there’s no reason for it.

2. I have a difficult time saying no.

3. I would much rather take care of someone else than take care of myself.  In fact, I often feel like I have to take care of other people and that my own needs/desires are minimal in comparison.

These may seem like admirable traits.  Putting others first is usually seen as a good characteristic.  But some of us have a tendency to take things to an extreme level.  Generally, if you put someone’s needs before your own, you still get around to taking care of your own needs.  Problems start happening when all you do is take care of others and ignore/pretend you don’t have your own needs.

One of the biggest things I have learned in recovery is that I have needs and that I have to take care of them, even if that means I don’t take care of someone else.

Early in my recovery, I was lucky.  I found a 100% pro-recovery website–one of the early bulletin boards type of site.  I felt safe there, and I felt supported.  Even though some of us were still struggling, there was still a focus on recovery.  We encouraged each other to push forward after a slip or relapse.  We supported those seeking treatment.  And there were people on the site who had recovered and gave others hope.

An acquaintance on facebook recently posted that she had received some negative comments about her journey towards recovery, hinting that she really should have just “done it” by now and that it’s her own fault she’s still struggling.  My advice to her was to unfriend anyone who wasn’t fully supportive of her efforts, to block them if need be.  I even suggested that she go through her friend list and delete people who may not be working towards recovery–those who glorify their illness or size or post pictures meant to “show off” their illness.  Even people who may do these things without any ill intentions or awareness of their actions.  I suggested she surround herself with people who support her and encourage her.

This can be a difficult road to follow.  Several months ago, I realized that although I was beginning to shed most of the recent depressive episode, I’d find myself feeling worse by interacting with some others–both online and offline.  I took a look at my own updates and noticed I wasn’t helping myself either.  It’s a good thing to be honest about your feelings when things are crappy, and to let others know you need support.  But I was ignoring everything else in my life, focusing on the negative.  I noticed that a great deal of posts in my newsfeed were also negative.  So I made some difficult decisions.  I unfriended the people who–unintentionally–were dragging me down.  I had to stop seeing some people in my day-to-day life as well.  I tried to let them know that I needed all my energy to focus on myself in order to heal.

Of course, I felt guilty as hell for doing so.  I still do at times.  It’s not like I don’t understand their actions.  I mean, there was a long period in my life when I was the person holding people down, and I didn’t know it, and I was hurt when they “left” me.  So shouldn’t I stick by the people I “get?”  No.  I needed to get stronger first–or else I wouldn’t be helping them or myself.

I am still recovering from this depressive episode, but I have made immense progress in the previous few months.  I’ve had to really focus on my needs.  I am “coming out of the shell,” I suppose, and I’m starting to insert myself into more social activities, but I still need to respect my limits.

I have found great support online and in real life.  I have also encountered a lot of obstacles in each world.  I encourage each of you to pay attention to all your relationships and consider what you need to do to keep yourself healthy.

ew

June 23, 2015 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, depression, Eating Disorders, guilt, recovery, relationships | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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