Sea-Tac Hell

The hellishness of airports isn’t anything new to people who travel. It is magnified though when you are autistic, prone to sensory overload, ADD, synesthetic, anxious, and without your service dog.
This is an essay about security check and boarding.
Sea-Tac doesn’t handle large crowds at security in an efficient way. People wend in winding lanes marked out by security guards and people holding signs back at the Southwest check-in desk saying, “End of the Line”.
End of the line indeed. End of the line for my patience. And sanity. And calm.
Sensory overload, for those who haven’t experienced it, is basically like your mind is the pot that you’re making pour over coffee in: It’s great when you have something supportive to keep the filter from breaking, but if there isn’t that support the filter will just rip and spill all the coffee grounds into the pot and you won’t have a cup of coffee, just a sad pile of what could have been.
(Patience, calm, lack of anxiety would be the ceramic pour over supportive cone, the coffee grounds are the senses your body has coming in, and the coffee the ideal filtered input into the conscious mind.)
So security check. People on all sides, everyone with different conversations, warnings, each guard shouting instructions, none of them in unison. TSA security job circling, sniffing. Tail wagging. Workers talking about the day and comparing crowds. Conversations switch: 

“Where’s my bag–” 

“No, you have to keep your phone in your bag, I need to switch–”

“Just keep walking, don’t stop for the dog, just keep walking, don’t–”

“Can I bring–?”

“Just go to the side–no the other side–”
“Ma’m?”
End of the line, everything in the bag, put it on the track to be checked, and X-rayed.
“Keep your shoes on. If you don’t think your shoes will set off the metal detector keep them on. No ma’m, shoes off now. Shoes off. You, shoes on. Yes walk through here. 
Ma’m? Miss, walk through here now. Go, you’re fine now.”
Where’s my bagpursecellphone. There’s my bagpursecellphone. Forty minutes to take off, walk to the terminal. Walk straight, focus. Stay focused, which gate. Will I be too late to pre board? Focused. End of this line. B3? No, B8. I miss BB8 (my rat). Focus.
Almost missed pre board? No, plane is unloading. Shit, so many people. 
“Kids, stay here–”

“I’ll need to save my juice. No not for that, for the other flight–”

“Aw, now see that’s my niece…” (Playing a video of a crying baby loudly.”
Boarding unaccompanied minors.

Boarding pre boarding. 
Sit down, next to the window, breath. 

Person sits next to me.

Shit.

Bad Spells, etc. (Pt. 2/?): How

Alright then, the “How”. Kind of.

First,  you drink a lot of tea. From your favorite mug. Herbal stuff, because of that caffeinatedanxiety thing. Or cocoa I suppose, if you’re one of those non-tea drinkers.

I say kind of because coping with shitty circumstances is never going to feel good: there is nothing that I know of that will take something that is a) hard and b) necessary and c) uncomfortable, and make you love doing it. And if you find it pretty please let me know?

I love to write–putting down my thoughts so that I can see them, read them and process them linearizes my thinking. Things aren’t this vast tangled web, and I can figure out what I’m actually thinking about and what I actually want, need, and feel. In fact when I’m manic there is almost nothing other than knitting and writing that actually helps me stay calm, or in one place. But writing this thesis: the first long writing piece I’ve had to write about the technical/mathematical craziness I love that is physics, has been hellish.

The other aspect to this that has taken a little while to understand and move past is that it truly knocked my confidence in my recovery. I thought I was a bad ass, honest, leave everything on the table, speak my feelings, recovery oriented ninja and then suddenly I was skipping meds, missing class, missing meetings with my advisor, neglecting myself, and my pets, and generally avoiding anyone who cared enough about me to question the mess that things were obviously becoming.

It turns out that the way I got things to start to come back around was the same way I’ve done so in nearly every other aspect of recovery: find people who I trusted to help me figure it out, spill my guts…

…(be incredibly grateful when they don’t judge me for avoiding everything and everyone and also for helping me come out of the panic attack that inevitably comes up)…

…make a plan, and execute with much communication and help.

For someone who tells those who honor me with their trust, and ask for my advice, that mental illness is physical illness: that it’s physical illness of the brain, and that they don’t need to feel ashamed for needing help, it was a bitter pill to swallow when I had to give the same talk to myself.

In my case this time, I was lucky enough to be at a small, liberal arts college where all the professors in the department know me, and know each other. My advisor reported concern, and I had to face up to the mess I’d been shoving under the rug all term. Since that happened, I’ve started making progress on my thesis again. It isn’t going to be what I wanted, or what it could have been, but that’s something for radical acceptance: I’m hanging onto what one of the lovely people told me when I asked for advice (they work for the college): “The best thesis is the thesis that is done.”

In the spirit of getting all the shit done, when everything is shit, please find below my attempt to distill my experiences here into some general to-do’s for the next time this happens.

And yes, if you know me in the real world please feel free to smack me upside the head with this if I pull a vanishing act on you.

  1. Find someone who you trust loves you enough to call you on your bullshit. Talk to them, tell them what is in your head, and then ask them to help you make a plan to get back above water.
  2. Spread your plan out, and make sure you’re not overloading yourself. It’s not going to do any good if you panic about your plan, and then feel shitty for not doing it “right”.
  3. Drink a cup of tea. Breath. 
  4. Ask your someone if you can check in with them, and if they don’t hear from you if they can check in with you. Feel that other people around you care, and that you aren’t alone in this.
  5. Get shit done. 

Treat yourself as kindly as you would treat anyone else who is feeling like you are. We’re all human here.

My thesis is due on the thirteenth, for better or for worse. A thesis that is the best I can do under the circumstances is better than a thesis that never appears. People are here for me. I’m not alone in my shit. You also, are not alone in whatever shit is going on in your life.

When mental illness rears back up it can really feel like it’s life interfering with the mental illness rather than the other way around. Remember in the midst of that, that you are a person with a mental illness and not reducible to it. We’re all here, dealing with our own shit, and rooting for you.

Until next time,

Kerry

Bad spells, when you can’t afford a bad spell. (Part 1/?)

(Many swear words ahead)

Rough times with mental illness aren’t ever desirable, to state the obvious.

Less obvious (maybe): consider those times when you can’t afford to go down that familiar, shitty road. Those times where it’s hard to get things done without the additional shit to sort through. Those times that tend to bring out stress: stress that leads to an increase in symptoms, disguising themselves as coping mechanisms.

Well, fuck.

I’m a senior physics student, trying to write my undergraduate thesis. I’m writing about the physics behind hybrid MR/PET imaging, and how the physical properties of the imaging modalities make it so promising as a diagnostic tool for Alzheimer’s disease. A topic I’m passionate about, interested in, and that I enjoy learning about.

So why is this paper bringing about my first major depressive episode in years?

I don’t have the answer to this, to be honest. I know that the more I struggle with putting words to paper, each week I don’t have much of anything to bring to my advisor, with each additional document I create to have a fresh start to look at while trying to write a different section, I feel more and more inadequate. More like a fraud: someone who will never complete a bachelor’s degree. I see my fellow seniors stressing over their theses, and writing. Sometimes hating every moment of work spent on that paper, and still writing it. I know that others are struggling with this fear of not completing, or not passing this major hurdle to graduation, but in my mind I’m still lesser to them.

And the more these feelings take over, the worse my sensory problems get. I haven’t discussed them much here, as my diagnosis of ASD with significant sensory processing problems is fairly recent, but essentially I (or my brain at least) feel assaulted by the world around me constantly. Daily I cope, with help from my psychiatric service dog. But as I drown in my thoughts, and retreat inside  my mind, the sensory assault is more prominent and my coping skills less effective. As this happens, I dissociate more (therefore) panic (leading to) a higher risk of my shitty coping skills, like avoidance, too much food, too little food, and more. And so the cycle returns back to a failure to do the shit that I have to do: in my case today (tonight), write part of this thesis.

All this is to say that I’m able to recognize now that it isn’t a coincidence that when I’m least able to afford going down the rabbit hole of my mind, it becomes much more difficult to avoid doing so. And much more important to conscientiously set myself up for a better chance of success.

How? Not sure. That’s part 2, stay tuned.

Thanks for reading, and as always I’m here if you need me.

 

On Mental Health Awareness Month

One thing I always wonder about is what people think of me once they friend me on Facebook. I meet them in person, and we get along well enough to at least want to stalk each other on the internet, and then they come on Facebook and there I am–not hiding my struggles in the slightest.

That’s another reason I haven’t been posting as much–I’ve been meeting people, and for a time I was worried about how they would react. But it’s almost the end of Mental Health Awareness month, and I haven’t done a goddamn thing, and that’s not okay with me.

You see it all the time–those posts that say “The brain is an organ, and gets sick just like every other organ!” And this is true. The false part is though, that its not just an organ–it’s ourselves, in a squishy mass of gray matter. And this makes it more personal.

I saw a statistic today that I disagree with in a big way–“1 in 4 people are affected by mental illness.”

Everyone is affected by mental illness. Maybe not to the same extent as others, or for the same duration of time, but everyone is affected.

You’re affected when you hear about suicide rates, and wonder how anyone “could be so selfish.” You’re affected when you judge people as selfish, or not, for their actions. You’re affected by mental illness because you’re in contact with other people, and have a brain. You’re affected by mental illness more than other illnesses because of its nature–because it’s not just a gene mutation, or a virus (though they may certainly play a role in risk and cause). Mental illness is a fleeting thought turned pervasive and detrimental. It’s good intentions turned bad, and the belief in falsities.

Mental illness exists because people exist, its potential exists in all of us because we all have thoughts, and we all have beliefs and we all try to do what we think will get us where we want to go. We are all at risk for mental illness, and this terrifies people.

But instead of being terrified of the mentally ill, and trying to distance yourself from the notion of being so, do your best to be aware, and supportive. Don’t judge, but recognize that someone who can’t get out of bed truly feels certain that they can’t get out of bed in the same way that you feel certain that you can’t climb Mount Everest: it may be possible, but it isn’t happening anytime soon. Use the commonalities between people as a source of understanding, rather than a source of fear of comparison.

The thing about Mental Health Awareness is that it (like all the other months of awareness) needs to be more than a month of good intentions. It needs to be an accepted practice.

And to all you who may read this who didn’t know about my mental illness before this, I’ll say this again: while I hope your opinion of me isn’t affected by my openness, or by my mental illness, and my past, if it is remember that before you read about it explicitly I was in your mind no different from you–no less normal.

Mental illness affects us all, and is all around us, and it’s time for the stigma surrounding it to drop.

On life, and my return to it.

So, its been a while.

Its a good thing–kind of–I promise.

The kind of is because after my last post I ended up back in the hospital for a couple of weeks.

The good part is that I am doing fucking amazing.

It’s really weird to say that, honestly. I didn’t think I would be able to–ever.

I don’t think I’m going to go into too much detail about exactly what brought me to the hospital, or exactly what went on there, but I’ll summarize it for you, and perhaps elaborate one day: I learned to take care of myself, and I figured out that I can actually do shit.

I met some amazing people, and faced a lot of my bullshit, and realized something: there is no way to get past mental illness other than going straight through it (yay, I’m full of clichés!). At some point, it really comes down to looking at your life and then asking yourself two questions: what changes you want to see, and are you willing to make those changes? If you aren’t, then at least you know where you stand, and don’t have to waste your time on something that won’t happen–you can move on. If you are, then what the fuck are you doing not doing those things?

I had a lot of things to say about why I wasn’t doing what I had to do:

“It’s hard–you can’t imagine how hard it is, it’s impossible.”

“No one understands but me, I can’t do it.”

“I’m too weak. Other people are stronger, so they don’t get it.”

But here’s the thing: you are literally the only person (I hope) who decides what you physically do. No matter how hard it is to do something, unless it’s physically impossible you are the one who does or does not, who makes that choice.

So I made a different choice.

Not eating? Not an option.

Cutting? Burning? Killing self? Nope. Not anymore.

I’m a pretty stubborn person–and as much as the therapists, and people who essentially have kept me from destroying my life are skeptical, I’m feeling pretty finite about those self imposed limits.

So I’ve been actually doing life for my months of absence, which has resulted in less of a focus on keeping you all informed. And life is pretty great it turns out, even when it fucking sucks.

I’ve been working, and going to school, and going out with friends, and my boyfriend, and when shit comes up I think about my options: I could relapse, and lose everything again, or I could take what I can do and do it, despite how much it sucks.

I’m not doing perfectly–I’ll be the first to tell you that. But I ate part of a fucking calzone, I haven’t self harmed in months, and I want to stay alive. My slip ups aren’t a divine signal that I’m not worthy of life anymore–they’re a sign that I need to try something new.

People are still skeptical–and I don’t blame them. But I’m earning back the right to be trusted with myself, and while a difficult process, I can tell from what I’ve gained that it’s fucking worth it.

And I’m not going to lose everything, again, for a life of misery and self-hate.

Day, after day, after day, it’s the same shit.

I went to Saratoga to write this.

I don’t particularly know why. I was on my way home from treatment, and then I saw a sign for Saratoga, and thought to myself, “I could go there.”

There was no reason to go to Saratoga to write this. I’m in a nice coffee shop sure, with some pretty kickass hot chocolate, but there are nice coffee shops in Schenectady, and it isn’t almost an hour away.

I’m sitting in Saratoga, with no reason to be here. It’s a weird feeling. At least I didn’t see the sign for Montreal first.

There’s a couple that sat down in front of me, facing me, at the next table over. There are literally six empty tables near me that they could’ve sat in without disturbing anyone.

Do you ever feel like people do things for the sole reason of showing you how lonely a person you really are?

Ew, they’re feeding each other.

Anyway.

The only reason I can think of that makes sense for going to Saratoga tonight is that there was no reason not to go to Saratoga. I feel so settled sometimes in my routine that it drives me crazy.

This especially gets to you when you’re in treatment. Every week repeats, and is endlessly predictable–its almost a joke between the patients. And as one of the therapists tells us, every time we mention this predictability,

“If you know all the groups, and know what I’m going to say, then why are you still here?”

It’s a fair question, but as everyone there says, including that therapist,

“If recovering was as simple as knowing what to do, none of you would be here.”

I’m feeling my “IOP age” tonight–how long I’ve been at IOP. A collage that all of the patients made out of their hands was finally hung up tonight, and out of the many hands on there I was one of three or four people still around. And yet I’m still struggling, and still unwilling to do exactly what I know I need to do to recover.

I’m willing to admit that by the way–that I’m not willing to be recovered yet. I’m willing to try to recover–to try to change [some of]my ways, and see if I could become willing to be a recovered person, but I’m definitely not ready to be recovered just yet.

And as ready as I am to say that I’ll try, a mantra floats into my head…

“Do or do not, there is no try.” (I may be slightly off with the direct quote)

But that’s a question for later.

I think that often people in programs like mine, or inpatient, or in PHP, or any kind of treatment, get caught up with how long they’ve been there.

To an extent, this is reasonable. Is there any benefit to your being there? Do you have more to learn? Do you need that level of care?

But while its important not to overtreat yourself, for fear of becoming a chronic patient and losing track of your actual self, its just as bad to undertreat yourself.

Flexibility is the key–being able to recognize the signs in yourself that you need more or less treatment, and being honest about this with those around you. To use myself as an example, I’ve had a pretty tough week, and so I’ll be attending IOP three times this week instead of once. And as much as this feels like a setback, if it keeps me in my life, and away from the hospital, I’ll do as much outpatient as I need, though hopefully no more than that. I was definitely guilty of overtreating myself at one point, and hopefully I’ll be able to keep away from that this time around.

So keep on keeping on everyone, and be aware of yourself and your needs. That’s what’s important–what you need, not what you feel you should need.

Love you all, thanks for reading, and as always I’m always here.

Wear my clothes and drink my coffee…

I’ve had this song stuck in my head recently, a song by Kimya Dawson, “Will you be me.”

I’m really not trying to be a downer with these last few posts, I know that they’ve worried some people. But the thing is, this isn’t anything compared to how bad I’ve been in the past, and the fact that I’ve now chosen to share my experiences is beside that point. It would be going on anyway, but this outlet makes my thoughts clearer and hopefully gives some people more understanding?

But back to Kimya.
“Will you be me, will you be me, wear my clothes and drink my coffee, write my mommy, do my homework, feed my babies, fight my crazies.”

Its definitely a plea for help, and one that I honestly find myself feeling sometimes recently, when things get overwhelming. Living with mental illness, it honestly feels sometimes like I’ve drawn the short straw. Sometimes its awfully tempting to just give up and throw it in. I feel like Atlas sometimes, and I’m trying not to be dramatic, but if I could shove the weight of my own world off onto someone else’s shoulders I think I would.

When I was in the midst of my exercise addiction I used to pride myself on living a life that I didn’t think anyone else could handle. I would be running on the treadmill in the basement at midnight, about to get off, study, then run some more, and think to myself smugly, “If those people [I still don’t know who I was thinking of] tried for one minute to do what I can do, and what I do, do, they’d run screaming.” And with the exception of those who were suffering, and who are suffering from similar problems, I was probably right.

But there was nothing there to be proud of–seriously, I see the other side so much more clearly now, and who would envy suffering more than the average person?

But there’s that feeling of extremity, and power that comes from doing what others choose not to do. The pride of taking the hard road, and that’s what’s so addictive about mental illness. It becomes the one thing that separates you from the rest of the crowd as it takes you over.

But what you don’t consider as much is that you’re already unique–you come that way. Mental illness just turns you into a depressed, anxious drone.

Now, if I could shove the weight of my world onto someone else I think I would take it back almost immediately. Not because I’m a slight masochist, but because living this struggle is making me stronger in ways that I didn’t even know I was weak. It’s giving me a sense that I can do things that seem impossible, and no matter how much I cry and break down along the way, this is my journey. And I’ve got to live it, or something.

Thanks for reading, love you all.

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