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

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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.

 

When Nothing Goes Right

I’m a big fan of planning, as anyone who knows me, or anyone who’s been reading this blog will probably already know.

But what about when it doesn’t work? When you try to put barriers in your own way, but you just crash through them?

Then life gets interesting. To put this in context, I did the whole setting yourself up thing pretty damn well yesterday: I had a lot of back work to get through, and simply brought it to work (this part might only work if you work in a coffee shop…) and decided not to let myself leave until my work was done. My work wasn’t completely done when I left, but it was pretty close and they were closing. So that it would be harder to back out I told my coworkers about it and then only whined a little when I was working. Also, discounted food and drink while you work–can’t beat it!

The part that wasn’t done was watching a movie: The Fifth Element, for my Physical Theater course and writing an essay on it. Also, I had one more chapter of notes to do for my sophomore research seminar. I let myself go to bed last night pretty early, figuring that I could wake up and finish the notes, and then finish Physical Theater that night since it wasn’t due until Tuesday.

Today though, was a snow day. I wasn’t plowed out for my first course and then the rest were cancelled, along with work because thankfully, no one decided to brave the storm to go shopping (restoring my faith in humanity a bit).

To summarize, I woke up, ate, and watched Grey’s Anatomy. And didn’t stop doing those things except to sleep for a little bit. And there were a lot of things that I could have been doing today. I really want to give myself the free pass of, “It was a snow day!! Everyone would’ve done nothing!! It’s fine!!” but I really don’t think I can as what I didn’t do were some things that, to put it simply, everyone else does. I don’t want to really get into specifics here but basically there were things that should’ve been done and that weren’t done that I’m expected to do.

Get all that?

One of my first memories at the program I go to was going into a rant about everything I had to do, and everything I wasn’t doing (essentially the same list) and the woman who heads the program telling me, “You need a win.” It’s something I’ve since heard many times, as my friends and I at that program tend to be the people to get down on ourselves until we can’t really do anything we’re supposed to do (or until we feel like we can’t do anything.) Its also very true and a simple phrase that hasn’t left my mind today.

Lately, nothing really seems to be going right. I haven’t been getting my homework in on time (a first for me), I haven’t been eating enough, with a couple instances of eating too much thrown in there, I’ve been skipping appointments with excuses because I start shaking and crying and get too anxious to go,  I’ve been unable to cope well with the simple matter of living in my own skin, and I had to drop my fourth course because it was too much for me to handle alongside work and school, neither of which I’m prepared to give up.

To sum it up, I need a win pretty badly if I want to turn this around, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to make myself turn this around.

It’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t have crippling anxiety or depression what its like, but it could also be pretty easy. For anxiety, imagine waking up, and you’re thousands of feet in the air, and being handed a parachute and told to jump out, “Trust me, it’ll go off, people do this all the time!” And you’ve never skydived or seen these people before ever and you now have what it feels like for me trying to go to an appointment right now.

For depression, imagine lead weights attached to all of your limbs while a reel of things you’ve done wrong, or could do wrong plays in front of you, while a voiceover tells you that its obvious you’re going to fuck everything up because, “Look! It’s all you’ve ever done, and so obviously it’s all you’ll ever do.” And yet you’re being told that you have to go about your day.

Alternatively, remember that feeling before the SAT’s (if you took or cared about the SAT’s) or the feeling after the death of a pet or person you really cared about. Bottle it up and then imagine feeling that, magnified, about everyday activities.

So for me, a win might look little but feel impossible. I also recognize that it looks little, which makes me feel shittier because why can’t I just do what I have to do what the fuck.

But even a small win would be good–because the power of any sort of win is that it makes you feel accomplished and makes you see that regardless of the shit your mind spews out “Look! You can do all the things, because you did a thing!”

So I guess the question that I’m asking myself, and that everyone who cares about me wants to know the answer to is can I make myself make the effort again, for something that I’m not sure is worth it? Can I make myself put in all the effort to do the things that feel impossible even though it feels like I’m not worth it?

I’ll get back to you on that, but for now I need a win, and for tonight that’s going to be treating myself nicely. That means a bath and some dinner, and the movie that I need to watch anyway. I can’t promise that long term I can do all of the things, but I can do these little things, right now, and for now that’s going to have to be enough.