Close to Home

I generally pay little attention to celebrity gossip, lifestyles, etc. I can’t say that I care who Kim Kardashian dates or what publicity stunt Justin Bieber did last week. I do not know these people. In most cases I have no desire to know these people. Therefore I do not wish to dedicate anymore of my precious brain matter to following their lives than I absolutely have to. Except for times like this, when the news hits so close to home that you can’t help but lose your breath for a few seconds.

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, this evening’s big news story is the death of Robin Williams, in what appears to be a suicide. Along with the usual comments about how much he will be missed and how much of a comic genius he was, the other observation was that he never appeared to be battling depression and it just goes to show that you don’t always know what someone is going through.

This was what got me. From the first time I tried to tell my mother that I thought I was depressed to even my sessions with my psychiatrist, the consensus always seems to be that I don’t look or act depressed. It didn’t matter what kind of storms brewed inside me, on the outside I appeared “normal.” I don’t know why I hid my feelings. I’m not even sure it was ever something I consciously did. I realize hiding my feelings probably helped me in a lot of situations, such as work. But it also made it harder to fix myself. After all, if everyone tells me I’m fine, I have an excuse to ignore what my mind is telling me. It’s just hormones. I just need sleep. It will all feel better in the morning.

I attempted to take my own life when I was in high school and swore that it was something I would never resort to again. But I know how it feels to be so overwhelmed and to feel so cornered by demons. I’ve lived through the darkness of believing that the only escape is through death. It sucks. It’s a pain that I would never wish on another human being.

As the world mourns the loss of a great man, I hope that the tragedy of his death helps to raise awareness of the illnesses that can’t always be seen, and how they can affect any one of us, regardless of the face we show to the world.

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Reflections on Cupid’s Big Day

Despite the calendar showing another month left to the winter, Valentine’s Day marks the beginning of the spring season in my life. It marks the first day of what is usually the most mentally tumultuous six weeks of the year for me. But it also marks the darkest hour before the new dawn.

I guess I can trace it back to my freshman year of high school. I had already started experiencing depressive episodes. I felt alone and part of me believed it was only a matter of time before I decided to solve my problems the only way I thought I could. I already had the bottle of pills hidden in my jewelry box. It was Lortab. My mother had one of those fancy pill books and I looked it up in there to make sure it would work. On February 16, 1992 I felt like I couldn’t take it anymore. Then there was the fight with my mother. I didn’t think that it could ever get better. I called one of my friends- the one who told me to call her before I did anything stupid. She said she was watching TV and asked if she could call me back. She never did. So I went to my jewelry box and grabbed the bottle of pills. I don’t remember how many I took. Maybe 5, maybe 25. I felt like this was the only way I could escape the turmoil in my own mind.

Obviously, things didn’t go the way I planned. After I started to feel hot and tired I confessed to my mother. A few slices of bread, some ipecac syrup, and 5 or 10 minutes on the exercise bike was enough to empty my stomach.

I truly believe that was when it began. It took another decade before I could start to see the pattern: relationship issues, family deaths, the rape, the slump that I still often feel. But it hasn’t been all bad. Over the years I’ve often had my greatest moments of inspiration during this time. It was also during this time of year that I returned to the Catholic Church.

I was told a number of year ago that giving something up for Lent isn’t actually required, and I can’t explain the relief I felt. For several years I had all I could do to get myself through my six week emotional roller coaster. Then a funny thing happened and I began to embrace it. I saw that pushing through each year made me stronger, and I began to see this time as an opportunity to grow spiritually. That’s not to say that I don’t sometimes fight to keep myself from sinking into melancholy that I still feel around me. But as I face my demons year after year, I start to feel a little stronger every time.

I don’t always realize what my challenge will be for the season. But other times it’s clear from the very beginning. This is one of those years. The internal discomfort has been building over the last couple of weeks and today I realized what my mental battle will be.

It’s about love. I guess in a way it’s always about love. It’s about loving others while still loving myself. It’s about recognizing that love isn’t always easy. In fact, sometimes it’s really hard and it hurts. Most importantly, it’s about learning when to fight and when to walk away.

Bring Me to Life

While I was at the do jang this evening, I was given an assignment.  I was given instructions for creating a list of 10 goals for myself for this year.  In addition to filling out the list at the bottom of the page to keep as my own daily reminder, I was told that I also need to create a poster and bring it in.

The timing of this assignment could not have been better.  As I mentioned in some earlier posts, 2013 was a rough year for me, as I struggled with a worsening depressive episode and all of the other problems that came with it.  Back in November I caved and saw a psychiatrist who raised the possibility of bipolar II disorder, and not just straight depression, as I had believed.  But she put me on the antidepressant that I had taken previously because she was unsure of her diagnosis and I confirmed that the symptoms I was experiencing were consistent with previous episodes.

Fast forward to the beginning of last week.  I had a follow-up visit with my psychiatrist.  I explained that my already spotty sleep has been getting progressively worse.  Despite the heavy bedtime medication regimen that my neurologist has me on (including 10 mg of Flexeril), I just couldn’t get my brain to turn off.  Instead, I became fixated on a string of random thoughts.  What should I wear to work tomorrow?  Did I lock the front door?  Did the laundromat lose my black skirt?  Maybe my skirt is mixed in with my pants?  I should check in the morning… no, I should get up and check now.  Wow, I’m thirsty–I should get myself a glass of milk.  Yuck, I hate the aftertaste of milk when I’m trying to sleep–I should get a glass of water.  Did I lock the front door?  Did I ever decide what to wear to work tomorrow?  Before I knew it, I was lying in bed awake at 1am and wondering how I was going to get up for work.  The answer increasingly became that I wasn’t getting up, and I was getting to work later and later.

Although I have used Celexa for depression several times before without any problems, there was one big difference in the other medications I take, compared to before.  Last summer my neurologist put my on Vyvanse (a cousin of Adderall) for ADD.  Apparently the combination of Celexa and Vyvanse just wasn’t working for me.  So my psychiatrist took me off the antidepressant and decided to try a mood stabilizer instead.  This was all new territory for me, so she explained a bit about the medication and how it worked.  She also explained that the mood stabilizer she was prescribing for me had a black box warning because one of the possible rare complications is Stevens-Johnson Syndrome.  I was advised to be on the lookout for rashes, especially on my hands.  This in and of itself is ironic, almost to the point of humorous–I am prone to random stress-related patches of dermatitis, and have suffered from moderate-to-severe eczema for at least the last six years or so–on my hands.  But, I know it’s a rare complication, there are plenty of common medications that have been linked to Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, and I’m getting pretty desperate to start feeling better.  At this point, if my psychiatrist told me that dancing naked under the full moon would make me feel like a functional human being, you can bet I would be out there, polar vortex or not.

So that brings me to this week.  I was lucky enough to get another week’s reprieve from choir rehearsal (admittedly my director is really the lucky one, since he’s the one in Cancun for the week).  I decided that I wanted to try to make the most of having fewer obligations than normal, so I made it a goal to train all week.  Keep in mind that with only a few exceptions, I’ve been averaging one (sometimes two) classes a week since April, and those are the weeks I made it to the do jang at all.  I haven’t trained with the frequency I was hoping for since I was preparing for black belt testing.  Without a doubt, it was going to be tough.  In addition, I wanted to get to the gym before work again because I needed to get back to strength training.  Building up the muscles in my neck and back helps tremendously with my chronic pain.

Monday morning I woke up with my alarm.  I felt awake, ready to take on the world. Then I turned and started to get out of bed to turn off the alarm.  At this point, my lower back said something along the lines of, “You don’t really think you’re going anywhere, do you?”  The pain was not debilitating, but it was enough to make work difficult and martial arts impossible.  I decided to take some ibuprofen and try to sleep it off for an hour or so.  The next thing I knew, I was still in bed and I was supposed to leave for work 20 minutes earlier.  On the bright side, my back pain was down to a dull roar.  I decided to train that night after work.  I got out of work late, so I missed the earlier class, which was probably just as well.  The adult class was kept for almost 90 minutes, and my back was screaming by about 40 minutes in.  As I was getting my shoes on, one of the parents sitting and watching the class commented to me that she felt bad for me because she could see I was in a ton of pain.

Yesterday I again woke up with the 4am alarm.  I still didn’t get to the gym before work, but I didn’t fall back asleep, either.  I even got to work about a half hour earlier than I’ve managing lately.  Even more importantly, I brought gym clothes with me.  After work, I finally made it to the gym.  I’m not going to lie–it sucked.  Don’t get me wrong, I love strength training, but my poor muscles were suffering from very serious under-use, so it was hard.  How here’s the really impressive part–I went to the do jang and took class after I left the gym.

Last night I was up late with an upset stomach, so I wasn’t expecting to get to the gym.  But I was able to get out of bed and make it to work on time.  I also went from work directly to the do jang and stayed for not one, but two classes!  I admit, my neck and back are sore and my triceps are practically screaming obscenities at me, but I pushed through.  In the midst of this, I received the assignment I mentioned at the beginning of the post.  Several of the adults grumbled a bit at the list and the task of creating a poster.  A year ago, I would have been one of them.  But there’s something humbling about hitting your own personal rock bottom.  You start to look at things differently.  I’ve always been an overachiever and the last several months have taught me to appreciate the baby steps that I’m able to take towards feeling better.  I’ve learned to use my setbacks as lessons and to celebrate even the small victories.  After all, sooner or later those small victories are going to add up and get me to bigger victories, as long as I keep trying and pushing through. What better way to remind myself to push through than to see in writing exactly what I’m pushing towards?

 

 

Growing Old, Growing Up, and Being an Adult

When I was a child, I was a grown-up in many ways (I can see my parents nodding emphatically in agreement with that statement).  My parents often told me to lighten up or to stop being so serious, usually because I rolled my eyes or made a snide comment related to something they said or did.  I learned how to fend for myself at a young age (at least enough to manage a box of Rice-a-Roni or ramen noodles when I was hungry).  I always wanted to be a grown-up.

Fast forward a couple of decades.  I graduated college, I had a full-time job–I was a grown-up!  But I wasn’t.  At the same time, I often felt and acted much older than I was.  You see, I spent almost the entirety of my 20’s battling the inner demons that came from being raped in college.  Much of this was focused on the series of failed relationships that marked that decade of my life.  I know that it needed to happen that way.  Each failed relationship brought me one step closer to understanding myself.  Each was a step toward realizing that I was still capable of loving and being loved in return, and more importantly, that I deserved better than just “any” guy that might be interested.  But my focus on this part of my life left another part very sadly neglected.  I had somehow lost myself.

I’ve spent the majority of my 30’s alone.  While I’m not immune to feeling lonely, these years have also been very blessed, because I’ve been able to reconnect with myself.  I sing in two choirs, I have friends again, I go out and do stuff on the weekends.  Admittedly, sometimes I go a bit overboard when I’m with certain friends:  the nights I had to stay on a friends couch after way too many shots, the video my choir director has of myself and another woman in the choir on pole dancing with a couple of strippers on stage at a strip club owned by a church parishioner… trust me, the list goes on.  I sometimes feel like this is the life I was supposed to have in my 20’s.

I’m responsible and have a good career.  I’m involved in choir and train in martial arts.  I do the things that adults are supposed to do, at least on the outside.  But the funny thing is that lately I don’t feel like an adult.  The current depressive episode I’ve been battling (for over a year) often leaves me feeling child-like and helpless.  There are days when I feel like I can’t even take care of myself, let alone anyone else.  I dated a man for six months without him ever seeing the inside of my apartment- because it was that bad.

I’ve often heard people say that they may grow old, but refuse to grow up.  I understand that and I completely relate to never wanting to be one of those “boring” old people.  But once again, I can’t help but wish sometimes that I could be a grown-up.

Music Soothes the Savage Beast

I’ve loved music for as long as I can remember.  I’ve loved to listen to it, to sing it, and back when I was a six-year old, loved to dance around the kitchen to it.  While I still enjoy Top 40 music from time to time, even when I was younger I was usually more interested in the lyrics and the message than in the beat or the bass.  Before I was able to express my emotions in writing, music provided catharsis.  I recognized this even when I was still in high school, as I literally wrote a list of songs that reminded me of different unrequited crushes I’d had.  Even now, certain songs will transport me back instantly, not just to general time periods in my life, but to exact moments in time.  Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young” puts me back on the school bus on my first day of middle school, in my fluorescent-splattered blouse and black pleather skirt. Poison’s “Every Rose has its Thorn” transports me to a classmate’s 12th birthday party, when I slow-danced with a boy for the very first time (granted, his girlfriend asked him to dance with me).  

It shouldn’t be surprising that my taste in music became extremely diverse, as no single genre could ever fully capture the depths of my emotions.  I may or may not be bipolar, but my iPod very definitely suffers from multiple personality disorder.  How else could you explain a playlist that includes all of the following artists:  Killswitch Engage, LL Cool J, Billy Joel, Miranda Lambert…

As I mentioned in my very first post (I Suppose I have to Start Somewhere), Tales from Sick and Twisted isn’t just an attempt at a catchy name for my blog.  It’s also the name of the novel that I conceptualized and started (very slowly) writing.  It almost goes without saying that as Tales from Sick and Twisted started to develop in my mind, an accompanying soundtrack also emerged.  I don’t want to share the full list today, because I don’t want to give away too much of the plot yet, but I wanted to highlight a few of the songs and why they’re important to me.

  • Christina Aguilera “Walk Away”

    I have no shame in admitting that, even a decade later, I am still a huge fan of Stripped, primarily because a number of the songs have an amazing vulnerability.  Although this song wasn’t officially released, I stumbled across it at a point when the lyrics rang true in my life.

  • Melissa Etheridge “An Unusual Kiss” 

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZmAVZuzuET8                                                                                                     This is one of those songs where the lyrics don’t fit per se, but it happened to pop into my head when I was out with someone who eventually inspired one of the characters in my book

  • Jo Dee Messina and Tim McGraw “Bring on the Rain”

    I found this song during my last depressive episode, almost 4 years ago.  I took comfort in the lyrics and the idea that I was strong enough to face any challenge head-on.

  • Theory of a Deadman “Not Meant to Be”  

    This is one of a few different songs on my soundtrack/playlist that talk about the pain of realizing that you can’t force something that just isn’t right, which is something that has come up for me time and again.

  • Bonnie Raitt “Something to Talk About”

     I hated this song when it first came out.  I mean, I really hated this song.  Then my life circumstances started to reflect the lyrics of the song, and I “discovered” it for the first time, only about 20 years after the rest of the world… But this happens with me pretty regularly, where a song will suddenly fit my life and it’s like I’m hearing it for the first time, because it’s finally truly resonating within me.  

So, there you have it, a small sample of the songs that make up my personal Sick and Twisted soundtrack.  Thank you for allowing me to share.  And now it’s off to choir practice…

Depression Does Not Equal Pity Party

When I was at work yesterday, I was talking to one of my co-workers who had just read my blog the night before.  She told me that she really liked it, that I wrote well, and then added, “I feel so bad for you.”

Why?

Sure, I’ve lived through some difficulties, but who hasn’t?  Yes, my head is pretty messed up at the moment, but it could be so much worse.  I have a good job, I have family and friends that love me.  I have a roof over my head and food to eat.  I have my spirituality, and my connection to a higher power.

I’m not saying that I’ve never wallowed in pity and despair before.  There have been times when life seemed dark and overwhelming and I had no idea how I would make it through.  But I did.  The truth is that I’ve barely scratched the surface of describing my inner demons and the various challenges I’ve faced.  But I’ve survived all of them. There’s no reason to feel bad for me; that’s certainly not the response I’m hoping to get from readers.

I have a friend who has been through more than I can possibly imagine; yet she continues to push forward.  We were talking one day, and she expressed frustration about the way people interacted with her.  She said many people felt bad about ever expressing unhappiness or complaining about their situation because they felt like they had no right to be upset about their pains because they were nothing compared to the pain she herself has endured.  She then went on to say one of the wisest things I’ve ever heard.  She essentially said that just because others may have been through “worse,” it doesn’t mean that your own despair isn’t valid or justified.

Over the years, my father has often apologized to me for being wrapped up in a battle with his addictions through a large portion of my childhood.  I always tell him that an apology isn’t necessary.  I am who I am now because of where I’ve been.  And the truth is that I like who I am.  I recognize where I have room to grow, but I realize that life overall is pretty good.  Faith Evans sums it up perfectly in her song Again:

“If I had to do it all again, I wouldn’t take away the rain ’cause I know it made me who I am.”

Breaking Down the Walls

During my first semester of college, I was required to take a writing class (as was every other incoming freshman).  No sweat, I thought to myself.  After all, I love to write and had been told that I was pretty good at it.  Then our final assignment provided the ultimate twist.  We had to analyze our own writing and write up a report.  I’m not ashamed to admit that this is when I ended up with my very first ulcer.  Although I’ve always been an avid reader and writer, literary analysis has never been something that I particularly enjoyed, and especially back then, was something I didn’t think I was really good at.  In the end, it was a great project and really taught me a lot about myself, even if I did make myself sick over it.

Last night, after I finished writing my previous post, I looked briefly at my full list of posts and had the sort of sudden insight that would have made my writing professor proud.  Completely unintentionally, I analyzed my own writing.  And once I understood what I was seeing, I became very grateful that I made that appointment to begin therapy tomorrow.

I realized last night that my posts are very reminiscent of my two sessions with my psychiatrist.  One of her biggest concerns has been that I don’t present like a typical depressed person.  I can be talkative, I laugh, I make jokes (especially about myself and my situation).  I explain about entering a semi-vegetative state once I get home and not being able to move.  But I talk about it in a very matter-of-fact way, almost as if I was talking about a totally different person.  I can discuss my thoughts, and even my feelings, but have a way of doing it where I’m still not really being open about anything.  I can verbally express feelings of despair and/or vulnerability, but cannot actually demonstrate these emotions at all.  And this is what I saw in my writing last night.

I began writing this blog for two different (but very intertwined) reasons.  The first reason was to give myself an outlet as I work through my current depressive episode and try to understand the bipolar II diagnosis my psychiatrist has been considering.  I feel like I’ve been holding so much in for so long that it’s started to affect me physically and mentally, even if it’s not readily apparent to other people.  The second reason is because my regular writing has stagnated.  The book bearing the same name as my blog has always been more difficult to write than I ever imagined, and I found that I did my best work when I was in one of those somewhat emotional states.  The problem is that apparently as much as I’ve shut down what I show to others, I’ve also shut down my own ability to channel those feelings into my writing.

I sincerely hope that as time goes on I’m able to let down my walls more and really let my feelings come out through my writing.