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Religion is Not Medical Advice

Christianity is everywhere. (That’s right, I’m writing a post about religion, but probably not the kind of post you’re thinking of.) Maybe because I live in southern USA, Christianity seems to be more prevalent than Starbucks or any other religion. If I lived in China I’d probably be making the same overly obvious observation about Buddhism. There are very few places that I can go here in Texas and not see a Bible verse on the wall or overhear someone talking about their Bible study. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, and the purpose of this post is not to bash a religion. I am tolerant of all beliefs, maybe with the exception of believing that Five Fingered Death Punch is music, or that Justin Bieber is an artist. But there are definitely some situations where there needs to be a clear boundary between religion and professionalism.

The mental health care field has largely failed to recognize this boundary, though they are trying. One thing that bothers me about Christians in a very broad and general term, in contrast to other religious people is that Christians out in the wild tend to assume that everyone else believes the same things they do. Now this is important, I don’t mind when someone tells me they are praying for me. That is something personal that they are giving me because they care about me, and I appreciate it very much. What I don’t appreciate is yesterday being told by a therapist, whom I’m seeing to help me cope with a difficult situation in my life, that all I can do is pray for things to get better.

This is not professional advice. This is not teaching me coping strategies. Why would they assume that I’m even a person who prays? What if I don’t believe in prayer? Then you’ve basically just told me I’m fucked. Now, I understand this is probably not the therapist for me and I should just find someone else that will talk to me on a more professional and scientific level, which is what I need. But this is not an isolated incident. I’ve been quoted Bible verses, I’ve been told to pray, I’ve been told that with God all things are possible and that he won’t give me more than I can handle, and I’ve been told that my bipolar disorder can be healed if I work on my relationship with Jesus. All this with total disregard for the possibility that not only do I have different beliefs, but religion might just be a trigger for me. How is this supposed to help my mental illness caused by chemical imbalances in my brain?

I’ve never had any other health professional say anything like that to me.
“Oh, you have a urinary tract infection? I have some antibiotics, but instead let’s sing hymns until it goes away, and by the way this isn’t optional.”
“X-rays confirmed that your finger is broken. Let us pray.”
I think it’s because there is still so much unknown about mental illness, and we don’t like saying “I don’t know what to do.” God is another unknown, so we explain the unknown with the unknown. We don’t know why medications work or don’t work. We don’t know enough about the roots of mental illnesses to be able to treat them specifically. We’ve come a hell of a long way in the last century, and we’re continuing to learn more and more every day. But I’m just going to come out and say it: religion is not a mental illness treatment.

It helps a lot of people, and that’s great. I believe that people need to practice and believe what makes them feel whole as a person, and do what gets them through the day in their private lives. But religion is not medical advice. Mental illness is a medical condition. I don’t want my mental health professionals telling me, or even implying that my treatment would be more effective if I practiced a specific belief. This is an option, sure, and it helps some people. But like any treatment, (religion is not a treatment goddammit) what works for one person might not work for another.

So please, please stop making the practice of Christianity seem like it’s not optional. Please stop assuming we share the same beliefs when you know nothing about me. Please stop assuming that I’m going to share my beliefs with you at all. Please just treat me for my medical condition. It’s okay to say “I don’t know.” I accept that. I just want to feel better.

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BlogBiking

I’m writing this post from the bike at the gym (note: it’s also heavily edited – turns out phone blogging during cardio isn’t efficient). I questioned how much of a workout I could possibly be getting if I’m able to freaking blog while doing it, but the sweat and heavy breathing (not that kind) tell me I wasn’t doing too badly. This gym visit is costing me approximately $360 because it’s the first time I’ve been to the gym in my year of membership here. I’m not proud of that, but I am proud of myself for getting myself here today.

Ever since my most recent medication changes a couple months ago I’ve developed an obsessive relationship with food. I’ve watched the scale go up and up and up, and my depression get worse and worse. It’s hard to get dressed much less get myself out the door to the gym. But today I did it, and I made a plan and goals for doing it for the next month. If I feel too depressed to go, I don’t go, and it’s not a failure. If I go, I will celebrate by eating junk food. I’m mostly kidding, but I’m also self-destructive as hell.

I would love to lose the weight, but really I just want to feel better. Getting back to my active athletic self is what I want, even if I start slowly. Like on a stationary recumbent bike navigating fake hills and texting and blogging while my long inactive legs start to burn.

Anyway, all this to say: I’m proud of myself today.

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TMS Day 1

Today I officially began the TMS process, which I talked about in this post. This is a seven week commitment and 36 treatments, and there’s a chance it won’t even work. There’s a chance it will though, and that chance is worth the effort after almost 20 years of trying medication after medication after medication after medication, etc., and failing all of them. This is something new and different.

Today was like freshman orientation – lots of paperwork and lots of preparation and meeting the people I’ll be working with for many hours of my life for the next seven weeks. I didn’t have a treatment today, but they did use magnetic waves to map the left side of my brain in order to see where the most effective spot to treat was. They did this by taking lots of tape measurements of my cranium, drawing symbols and numbers on it, and drawing lines on my face with surgical marker. It was sexy. Then they made a grid of the specific area of my brain they were going to treat.

Four different people asked me if I needed to go to the bathroom in a matter of three minutes. Perhaps I looked like someone who might pee in their chair. They had me lay my forearms on a table, hands face up, and they explained that they were going to administer magnetic waves in the left side of my brain and make my right hand twitch. Then they were going to gauge how strongly my hand twitched to figure out the most effective spot to stimulate my brain for the treatment. They used an instrument that looked like those giant glasses attached to the chair at an ophthalmologist’s office, and it would make a clicking sound and my hand would twitch as a result, just like they said. I felt nothing. Just my hand moving of its own accord.

They went row by row, cel by cel in the grid. After each row I had to stretch my hand, make a fist, and wiggle my fingers. There was a technician who reminded me to do this and giving me instructions.

Click. Twitch. Click. Twitch.
“Make a fist. Stretch your hand. Wiggle your fingers.”
Click. Twitch. Click. Twitch.
“Fist, Stretch. Wiggle wiggle.”
Click. Twitch. Click. Twitch.
“Fist. Stretch. Wiggle Wiggle.”
“Can you say ‘jazz hands’ instead of wiggle wiggle please?”
“No.”
Click. Twitch. Click. Twitch.
“Fist. Stretch. Jazz hands. Ugh.”
“Thank you so much.”

The process took about an hour. It was tedious, but I will say that the technicians and staff were very sensitive to the needs of mentally ill patients. Before they took measurements they told me that they would need to stand very close to me for a few minutes, but I could let them know if I needed them to back off. They explained everything in detail before they did it, and the program coordinator even told me ahead of time that there would be a man and a woman technician, and that if that was an issue for any reason that I could let them know. It’s always nice to be in an environment where I don’t have to fight the system to get what I need. It’s a rare situation to be in, and I’m always thankful when I come across it.

I have to wait for more insurance paperwork to come through before I start my actual treatments, and who knows how long that will take. Even though they’ve explained to me in detail what to expect, I’m still nervous about all the unknowns. The slight discomfort doesn’t worry me. For one thing I have twenty something tattoos, so whatever happens I can deal with it. For another thing, I don’t care what I have to go through if it will make me feel better. I’m nervous about the unknowns. They said that the depression and mania can get a little worse during treatment before it gets better. They recommended seeing a therapist more often, and keeping my support system close. That’s scary. But I will do my best to push through.

I will update the blog once I get an actual treatment and share how it went. For now, I’m going to go to the bathroom because no one gave me the opportunity to go while I was at the doctor’s office. So inconsiderate.

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Mental Health FAQ

When you go to a psychiatrist appointment, a general practitioner appointment, or a therapist appointment to address your mental health issues it can be scary, especially if it’s your first time. I was terrified the first time I decided to see a therapist when I was 20 years old. I was alone, I had no support, I didn’t know anyone who had seen a therapist, and I had stress diarrhea for weeks. The first time I brought up my depression with my general practitioner was scary also because I was terrified that he wouldn’t take me seriously. The first psychiatrist appointment ever was daunting because I didn’t want to believe that I needed a psychiatrist.

I imagine I’m not alone in my fears because living with mental illness is scary. We are up against a stigma that spreads through almost all parts of our lives. Even when we ask for help, things can go wrong. But when things go like they’re supposed to, there is progress. I have been to many therapists, may psychiatrists, many GP’s for mental health, and I’ve seen good ones and bad ones, and ones that have just not worked for me. Here are a few things that I wish I could have known when I started treatment. If you are considering getting help for your mental health, I applaud you and hope this helps.

Q: What will a therapist do on my first visit?
A: They will introduce themselves, and they will ask you why you came in. This is not a judgement, they want you there, and they want to know how to help you. Even if you aren’t able to be articulate why you’re there, do the best you can. They will ask you questions and lead the conversation when you’re not able to.

Q: What if I’m embarrassed by something I need to talk about with my therapist.
A: Your therapist will never judge you. The truth is that they’ve probably seen it all. I tend to seek out older therapists who have been practicing for a long time because there is literally nothing you can say that will surprise them. Being honest is the only way to make true changes in your life. You’ll get out what you put into therapy.

Q: What if I don’t like my therapist?
A: The best thing you can do is be honest with your therapist and yourself. It’s okay to discuss this with the therapist. If you can’t work it out, find another therapist you can work with. It takes some trial and error sometimes, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with leaving a therapist you’re not comfortable with. This applies to all doctors and psychiatrists as well. Trust is a big part of mental health treatment.

Q: What could a general practitioner possibly know about mental health?
A: Enough to help point you in the right direction when you need help. Sometimes a GP is all we have available to us, and there’s nothing wrong with that either. They can prescribe medications and refer you to a psychiatrist or therapist if they think you need it. Go to who you trust as your first step.

Q: Is it as interesting to sit in a psychiatrist’s waiting room as you’d imagine?
A: Waiting rooms are always professionally discreet. No one is even paying attention to you much less trying to guess why you’re there. I’ve never felt unsafe in a psychiatrist waiting room.

Q: What is the difference between seeing a psychiatrist and a general practitioner?
A: A psychiatrist specializes in only mental illnesses and mental illness medications. They will be more up to date on specific medications and specific diagnoses and can provide a more in depth mental illness treatment. Generally, the philosophy is that if it works, keep doing it. I mean that if your GP prescribes you some medications that make you feel better, then keep taking them. If your GP has tried everything they know to try (like in my case) they may say go to a psychiatrist to try something different.

Q: What is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?
A: A psychologist will be your therapist and cannot prescribe medications. A psychiatrist will prescribe your medications. Most psychiatrists don’t do therapy, but there are some who do. I’ve never been to one who does, but it sounds like it could be a nice simple “one stop shop.”

Q: What’s the deal with medications? Are they pills that make you happy? Are they just a crutch?
A: Mental illness is much more complex than happy/sad. The hardest part of getting mental health treatment is that there is still so much that even the experts don’t know about it. They don’t know exactly why some medications work and some don’t, or why it’s different from person to person. While mental illness is a real, diagnosable medical condition, just like diabetes, or a broken arm, the treatment is different for each person. A doctor will pretty much treat a broken arm the same way for each person, because if they do, it will heal. Unfortunately depression and other mental illnesses are not so linear. We use medications as a way to stimulate our brain chemistry to do what it should be doing anyway. Just like a diabetic gives insulin because it’s what their pancreas is supposed to be doing anyway. Medications are not happy pills. They are not a crutch. They help clean up your thought processes and clear pathways so that you can function as yourself, just like when you clean out the hallways of a house so you can get around the house with less stress. I was prescribed medications for the first time at age 20, and I carried the bottle around, unopened, until I was 22. I was afraid of the stigma. I was afraid that they would give me a false perception of the world. I wish I had been more open minded sooner though, because it was the depression that was giving me the false perception. The meds helped me see more truth.

Q: Is it possible that medications won’t work?
A: Unfortunately there’s always that possibility. Sometimes it takes trying a few medications that don’t work before finding ones that do. It can be a frustrating system because often you have to take the medications for several weeks before you know if they’re helping. It can be so time consuming. It’s an imperfect system, but it’s the best one we have right now. There’s so much research being done about treating mental illness, learning why it happens, and learning what the symptoms mean that there are new options available all the time.

Q: Can insurance be a pain in the ass when it comes to mental health?
A: Sometimes. Mental healthcare is still a completely separate section of insurance from healthcare (guess what, it’s all healthcare!) and it can have its own rules. The issues I’ve run into over the years are that insurance can sometimes dictate how many therapy sessions you get per year, and they can limit the options for doctors you can see. The staff at therapist and doctors’ offices are pros at dealing with insurance, and will work the system if they need to to get you what you need.

Q: Is it okay to be scared?
A: Absolutely. Getting help is supposed to be the greatest thing you can ever do, and there are supposed to be circles of cheerleaders following you around wherever you go, and everything is supposed to be perfect and amazing and rainbows and smiles. Well, getting help is a great thing, but more than that it’s a brave thing. We’re still in a world where it’s often an uphill battle to get help for mental illness. I wish to god it wasn’t. I wish that mental health was treated like the rest of healthcare, and that people didn’t have to be afraid and anxious to seek help or even avoid seeking help because they’re afraid they won’t get it. I’m going to be real with you – getting help can be hard work. I will cheer for you and assure you that you’re not alone, I will share everything I’ve been through in hopes that it helps, but I can’t tell you that it will be smooth sailing. I do think you’re worth the fight. I also believe that you can be strong and brave and terrified all at the same time. And I think it’s worth asking for help, even if it looks like just showing up in a doctor’s office, not making eye contact, and saying the word “Help.”

These questions and answers are based on my own experiences, and my own fears before I got into treatment. I have not had a smooth ride with mental illness or its treatments, but I have met some really good people along the way who have helped me a lot. I’ve met some good people who haven’t helped me too. And I’ve met some idiots. But so far I haven’t given up on myself, and I don’t think you should either. I hope that at least some of this is helpful.

If you have any other questions, or if you have any other insights from your own experience that you think might be helpful to someone else, leave them in the comments or you can e-mail me. I don’t claim to be an expert, but between all of us I bet there’s a lot of really good information out there.

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TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation)

Transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, is a new, non-medication non-invasive depression and anxiety treatment that uses MRI waves to target and stimulate areas of the brain responsible for regulating neurotransmitters. Dysfunctional neurotransmitter communication is the closest known cause of depression and other mental illnesses, so TMS is a way to potentially treat the source of the problem without using medicated stimulation of the same neurotransmitters. TMS is performed without anesthetic and is reportedly pain free. Insurance will cover it if at least 5 other medications have failed to treat depression successfully. It’s a less invasive procedure than ECT, which is more intense treatment and is done under general anesthesia.

It does not appear to be a magic cure that Pharma’s been keeping a secret from us because the success rate is about 30%, the same as for medications. Supposedly if you have tried several medications without success TMS is less likely to work for you. In the last two years alone I have failed on at least 5 medications. I’m currently on six different medications that are helping marginally but creating serious side effect problems.

The weight gain that is common with some antidepressants and bipolar medications is causing more serious problems than just making me uncomfortable. The medications make me crave sweets and my appetite is through the roof. It’s bigger than self discipline. I’ve gained 30 pounds since starting two different medications, and because I am so hungry all the time my blood sugars are out of control. 400 – 600 mg/dL high. Daily. I should be able to just not eat so much, and I should be able to control myself since it’s actually making me face my own mortality, but I can’t.

I need something to clear itself up – the bipolar, the depression, the insatiable hunger, the grief, the foggy brain, the sleep problems, the kidney damage caused by not only the lithium I’m taking but now my extremely high blood sugars. Something! Help! I’m tired of watching myself die.

So I’m trying TMS. The success rate isn’t as close to 100% as I would like, but it’s not going to hurt me. It might be a little expensive, but insurance covers part of it. Incidentally I learned that TMS can treat anxiety too, but it’s not approved by the FDA. This means that insurance won’t cover it and it’s around $11k.

The treatments take 30 minutes a day, and you go every Monday through Friday for seven weeks. I’ll be awake, there will be scalp discomfort for the first few days and I might get a headache afterward for the first few days. That’s the worst of it. If this can help me get off even one of these meds I’m on I will be grateful. I’d like to get off most or all of them, but I’m cautiously optimistic. It’s something I’ve never tried, and I’m pretty damn close to having tried everything and still feeling very depressed. It’s my normal. What if it could be different?

I’m willing to venture an answer to that question by trying TMS. The answer might be “It can’t be different,” and I’m prepared for that. If it’s anything other than that I’ll be thrilled. I am so tired of trying the same things over and over and getting the same results. I do not want to accept that this will be the rest of my life.

I am going for a final consult with my doctor today. Assuming I go forward with the procedure I will report the progress and the things I learn along the way. Here’s to voluntary brain zaps!

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The Greys and Army Greens

Why does reading about someone who has bipolar give me a start? Why does hearing about someone who committed suicide make me feel just a little bit jealous? It doesn’t mean I’m a bad person and it doesn’t mean I’m crazy, that’s just the nature of triggers I guess. I’m reading a book that mentions someone’s family member who had bipolar (by the way I’m careful to say “has” bipolar as opposed to the more commonly used “is” bipolar because our conditions do not define us) and refused to take medications because they didn’t want to be “dulled.”

The person ultimately killed themselves, and it sounds like they had a lot of struggles in life. I can relate very much to not wanting to be dulled. Taking the relatively large number of medications, in addition to making me fat, turn my brain into fog. My feelings are dull and I don’t get as much enjoyment out of things I normally enjoy, but when I feel sad I feel it too strongly. The thought of getting off my medications just so I can feel something again is very appealing. But the consequence of doing that is that I will probably end up either hurting everyone I love, putting myself on the streets, or dead. At least I would feel life again, though!

I’m not going to go off my meds, but it will never stop sounding appealing. I think of the days when I wasn’t on medications or wasn’t taking my meds like I was supposed to, and though I had huge mood swings on a daily basis, I felt love like fire, I felt joy doing the things I loved, even the lows that I felt so strongly made me feel alive. I was connected to life. Sure, I wasn’t sleeping or eating much, and I would have days at a time where I would cry in bed barely getting up to pee much less function like a human. But that’s part of what made me feel alive.

Now I’m taking all the handfuls of meds like I’m supposed to, but I feel a muted sense of being alive. There are many things that make me happy: my boyfriend, my dog, my friends whom I cherish. The love for those things runs deep. But everything feels muted. I still have the mood swings, but they’re not as extreme. The “even keel,” the “baseline” doctors want me to stay on feels Okay. I am Okay. Life doesn’t have the reds and blues and purples and lively yellows anymore, just greys and army greens. My memory is shot, focus is a challenge, I often feel like my personality has gone into hiding, my hands shake, my energy is in short supply and I’m often too tired to function, but I am Okay.

Not fantastic let’s-get-up-and-go-I-don’t-care-where. Not terrible, hopeless, I’d be better off dead. Just okay. I am so lucky to have people who care about me and are always there to help me through the days, even the days when the high/low extremes come back and I’m not Okay anymore. In the meantime I’m living in the fog and reminiscing about the times when I felt like I was living in brighter colors.

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When Anxiety Attacks

Anxiety and panic attacks are no joke. No matter how many times they happen, they are terrifying every time, and it’s easy to feel like you might die if you’re not able to talk yourself through it. I have them every week if I’m in a sustained hypo-manic state, and about once a month if I’m in a bad depressive episode. Still, even without the emotional extremes, they can happen seemingly out of nowhere, triggered by things I often don’t understand until after they’re over. A big thing in therapy is learning to recognize triggers, which is helpful for perspective, and sometimes helps in the moment. But still it’s only part of the anxiety picture.

I had an anxiety attack as recently as the other night when I was grocery shopping with my family. I had gone off on my own to look at a few different items and soon realized that I no longer had my phone on me. I rushed back to the cart and asked the family if the phone was in the cart. They glanced in the cart and said no, so I rushed back to each place I had been to look for it, not finding it anywhere. My pulse and breathing quickened, I couldn’t think about anything but my phone, focusing, oddly, on the panic of losing my shopping list. Then I lost my family and started crying. My vision blurred and I’m sure I caused other shoppers some concern. I made eye contact with a few of them (a mistake).

Finally I found the family and breathlessly started throwing things out of the cart until I finally saw my phone at the bottom. I grabbed it and left them gaping to try to walk off the physical symptoms. When my mind started clearing I found that I was in the freezer section staring at Eggo waffles with the freezer door open. I felt better eventually, I still had my shopping list, and my access to my supportive texting friends and family, and more importantly, my shopping list. I can’t go into a grocery store without a list or I become too anxious. Ah, yes, there was the trigger.

There’s no way I could have prepared for that, though I did try to talk myself through it as best I could. Mostly it sounded like, “Breathe slower you’re not going to die. Breathe slower. Breathe slower.” It didn’t work though because my panic brain replied, “MY LIST MY LIST MY LIST!” Afterward I was able to talk myself down better. “It’s going to be okay. I am okay. Everything will be okay. Let’s go get some waffles,” apparently.

The most severe panic attack I ever had lasted three days. I know therapists and doctors say that a panic attack can really only last 25 minutes because after that your body chemistry is depleted of panic chemicals. So sure, I had breaks from the actual panicking, usually when the Xanax allowed me to calm down. But as soon as it started wearing off I panicked again. Sobbing, blurred vision, hyperventilating, shaking uncontrollably.

It reminded me of when I was working in the veterinary field and we’d see severe epilepsy cases where we put them on the strongest medications to get them to stop seizing and as soon as it wore off the poor animal was in another seizure again.

I was in a situation where there were about 20 unexpected triggers hitting me all at once. None of which I saw coming. I almost missed the wedding of one of my favorite people in the whole world because I was trapped in a prison of my own panicking head. Anxiety does not care where you are, what you were planning on doing other than panicking, or who you are with. It’s coming in anyway.

I feel like I learn my triggers just in time to find out that I have a whole new set waiting for me. The work is never done with mental illness. Nothing is ever fixed, it just morphs into new challenges. That’s what makes people living with mental illness such badasses. They are constantly fighting invisible battles that threaten to take over their whole lives, but they still manage to wake up every single day to fight again. How much more badass can you get? And sometimes they get dressed, have jobs and relationships and friends, all while doing battle.

Fight on, you motherfucking badasses. I’m fighting right next to you. Let’s have a waffle together sometime.

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A Note on Being Socially Awkward

“Oh, excuse me,” I say to the person I’ve accidentally cut off in the hall leading to the ladies’ room.

“Haha, no problem. The squash at the mall is rough!” I think I hear.

Not wanting to make this crazy talker feel bad, I say, “Well, they can’t all be gems, can they? Haha!” and push past her and her disappeared smile and confused, slightly concerned eyes, and let myself into the bathroom ahead of her.

While I’m in the stall, I realize that she must have said, “Well, this hall is small enough!” and not whatever I thought she said about squash. My response made less sense to her than the squash mall made to me. Another missed connection.

I don’t hear very well, so add that to my momentary panic whenever someone tries to make small talk with me, my mind reeling, trying to force words out so I don’t completely mangle the transaction, and it’s a disaster. I’m starting to accept that I’m going to mangle it anyway, so I try to keep my tone light and hope for the best. I used OKCupid to date people after my divorce, and under What I’m Best At in my profile I said “Making it weird.” And I meant it with all my heart.

I have a lot of wonderful friends who love me very much, but even with them I’m socially awkward enough to make it weird on a daily basis. And it’s not just my hearing loss or loathing of small talk either. At first I didn’t think mental illness played into it at all, but now I’m not so sure. When I’m doing everything I can just to stay alive with the minimum amount of functioning, not to mention summon the courage to be around other humans when I feel like that, polite conversation is the last of my energy priorities.

I might be at a store in the checkout line and the friendly cashier will say something like, “Any big plans for the weekend?”

Dear god, that question. I hate that question.

My first instinct is to lie, desiring to be someone who does things on a weekend like normal people. It sounds something like this: “Oh yeah! We’re going paddle boarding at the lake. Standing paddle boarding. With Martha Stewart. She’s buying us beer. Then we’re all going off roading in her Jeep. In the mud. I’m very excited.”

My next instinct is the honest one. Let’s not waste time being polite, let’s just tell it like it is. It sounds like this: “Yeah. Big plans to not put pants on or shower or brush my teeth for two days. Just kidding it’s already been a month. I’ll probably lie in my bed sideways and watch The Office reruns for thirty hours while eating these four bags of dill pickle chips and wiping my hands on the dog. What will you be up to?”

There’s the third response and it’s one I call The Best I Can Do. It goes like this: “Is it the weekend? What day is it? Can you just… I’ve got to get home. Because…I have to.” and then I start to cry as I avoid eye contact while o wait for the cashier to finish scanning my items, imagining them judging me for buying dill pickle chips in bulk along with tampons and one single celery stalk.

No matter which choice I go with, I make it weird. The cashier, or whomever I’m talking to will give me a blank, confused, or pitying look. And that’s just the way it is. At one point in my life while working customer service, I learned to have a separate customer service personality. I was charming, helpful, funny, cheerful, and I could do it as long as I was getting paid for it. Afterward I didn’t want to talk at all. To anyone. About anything.

This feeling is the inspiration for my “today is a no talking day” sticker. I feel like that so many times when I am too busy fighting my own brain to have energy for conversation or even responses to simple questions. It costs me a lot of myself to survive depression, anxiety, bipolar, and type 1 diabetes. It would be nice to be able to enjoy being social instead of feeling like it’s an obstacle or a puzzle that’s too difficult for me to figure out most of the time. At least I also don’t have enough energy to care what these strangers think of me and my awkwardness. That’s an asset, especially when I know I’m doing the best I can. It’s an asset too when I’m writing a blog that talks about things that no one wants to talk about. I don’t care what you think of me because I know that there’s someone out there who will read this and not feel so alone anymore.

Weirdos, unite.

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Grey, Everywhere

Have you ever heard a version of the saying, the only way you’ll get what you want is if you ask for it? In a lot of ways this has proven to be true in my life. I’ve learned to stop waiting for things to happen for me and to start making things happen.  I’ve learned not to complain about my life not being what I want it to be if I haven’t made any efforts to make it so. I’ve learned to trust the things that I want and to think about what it would look like for me to actually go after them. Sometimes with that last one I find that what I wanted, even when it is a genuine, strong desire, isn’t what I really need.

Often this lesson comes along with life experience. For example one time when my nephew was two years old, he felt with all his heart that I wanted to go play with the white and orange lane bumps in the middle of the road. He turned to run into the road, and when my sister stopped him he cried and cried and cried as though by not getting what he wanted, even if it was dangerous, his world had just ended. I think this is a fight that we continue to have with ourselves in different forms our entire life, we just don’t always have my sister to stop us from running into the road. As adults the decisions are ours.

How can we amass four decades of life experience, fully understanding that certain decisions will be dangerous, and still make the self destructive choice over and over again? Just because I want something doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for me. And just because something is the right choice doesn’t mean it’s going to be attractive to me at first. I want a lot of things. I want speech without consequences, I want sex without consequences, I want to deal with my problems by drinking and getting high, I want a baby elephant, I want to live in a self sustaining house in the middle of the forest and never talk to anyone ever again, I want to eat strawberry frosting from the tub with my finger.

Because I’m adult, I can choose to do any of those things. People may try to stop me, but no one can really stop me if I decide go for the frosting tub. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, don’t get between a diabetic and a tub of frosting. Just don’t. But any of those other things on the list are either not realistic, or they would have consequences that I do not want. I could speak like there are no consequences, but then I would end up hurting people I love or going to jail. I could adopt a baby elephant but I would ruin its life, and possibly vice versa.

All I’m saying is that sometimes making out lives better isn’t a matter of demanding what we want. I don’t go up to my boyfriend and demand that I want to start living in the forest and may not be home very much anymore. That would not make my life better at all, even though it’s something I think sounds attractive. Because the world isn’t black and white. It’s all grey, everywhere. Want doesn’t equal need. Want leading to happiness is as much a truth as want leading to disaster, so we have to fish around in the grey to make the best choices we can.

My heart can be an idiot and my brain can be a bitch, but every now and then, with effort, they can work together and take care of me.

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Another Note on Journaling

Another “note” on “journaling” sounds a little redundant, and I tried to make a pun out of it, but I couldn’t make it work. Let me know if you come up with something better. As I mentioned in a previous post, I discovered journaling as a coping and survival method in my early 20s with the help of one my therapist at the time. She recommended a book called The Artist’s Way, which is a book I ended up loving. It has exercises for your brain and spirit to discover the artist within you. The exercise from this book that spoke to me was “Morning Pages.” This is where you write three pages in a journal every morning. It doesn’t matter what you write, how big or small you write, or even whether or not the words can be found in a dictionary. The idea is to develop consistency and to empty your brain of whatever is cluttering it so you can start  your day with a clear head.

It was difficult for me to start writing in a journal, but once I got the hang of it I started doing it every day. There is so much cluttering my head at any given moment – racing thoughts, depression fueled thoughts, negative self talk, positive self talk, jokes that are hilarious until I write them down and read them to myself – that getting some of them out on paper, a place outside of me, frees up a lot of mental and emotional bandwidth and helps me continue to survive, function, and thrive.

My most recent psych hospital stay reminded me of how much I need journaling. I had given up journaling for about a year, and apparently a lot of thoughts and feelings and misspelled words got backed up in there and gummed up the works. My lack of journaling did not lead to my suicidal thoughts, that was my lack of functioning brain chemistry. But once I started writing again while in the hospital, a flood gate was open.

In the psych hospital there’s a lot of down time. There’s a structure of therapy and treatment and activities, but between those you don’t go home, you just, sort of, exist together. About 80% of my down time was spent journaling, sometimes by myself in my room, but usually around other people. Here is a non-sequitur journal entry from my hospital journal (written in marker because that’s all we were allowed to have to write with):

I want to say he eventually got the hang of Uno, but I don’t specifically remember that happening.

Here’s an entry about how people noticed how much I journal through the day:

The woman walked up to me while I was sitting outside, asked me if I had seen a rabbit, then pulled a carrot out of her bra and threw it in a shrub. She said, “I bet we’ll see it soon!” and winked at me. The level of commitment involved in smuggling carrots from the cafeteria impressed me.

A few people in the hospital asked me how I journal so much because they wanted to start. The first step for me it to stop judging yourself. That’s easy to do, right? Just flip the switch from On to Off, and you’re done, right? No? Oh. It takes practice. Start with words on paper. Don’t judge yourself for your handwriting, your ability to spell, your sentences, your thoughts, whether or not it makes sense…it is all good. If your pen (or hospital sanctioned marker) is making marks on a piece of paper, congratulations! You’re journaling! Now do it again tomorrow. And the next day.

I started this way, a little at a time, often writing through it when I judged myself for something. Before long I was able to just let the thoughts translate to paper. I don’t read anything I’ve written either. Not for a very long time. And when I do I realize I knew more about my own situation than I gave myself credit for.

It’s difficult for me to talk about my most recent psych hospital visit because I’m still so close to it, but I intend to face it and write through it. Reading my hospital journal in pieces is helping me process the experience, and continuing to journal daily after my discharge day is making me a stronger person every day.

Journaling is powerful. I’ve heard more times than not someone saying they would love to journal but they don’t know what to say. And I tell them that’s a form of judging themselves. We all know what to say it’s just a matter of learning how to get it from our heads to paper. It looks different for everyone so the most important thing we can do is just practice. Do it for you. I do it for me, not anyone else…

…until I scan them onto my computer and post the contents online for the whole world to see*.

 

*Note: you are not required to do this when you journal.