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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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.

Radical fucking acceptance

That’s right those of you who’re familiar with DBT–I went there.

The get-out-of-jail free card of a goal from Four Winds, and what people dread being asked to do.

I suppose there’s a possibility that I might need to work on radically accepting a few things. That my parents (or anyone without an eating disorder) will never understand what I’m going through or know intuitively how to help right, that the friends I talked to in high school I might never talk to again, that my view of myself is likely more than a little skewed…these are all candidates.

More pressing though is that if I want the life I imagine for myself one day, I can’t be a person-with-an-eating-disorder. I can be a person-who-had-an-eating-disorder if I choose to continue on in the eating disorder world on the other side of things (researcher or therapist) but I can’t maintain my eating disorder and be the kick-ass version of myself that I want to be.

A way I’ve put it in the past is that it’s impossible to simultaneously be the real person you imagine yourself being one day, and the patient that you imagine being one day. And one of these options costs, and costs big.

Right now it actually feels like both cost big.

So I suppose it might be time to radically accept the need for radical acceptance…

Hey, I’m getting there.
Thanks for reading.

Tough Shit: On Recovery

Recovery sucks.

I apologize, but this is my blog and I’ll whine if I want to and this well and truly sucks. I’ve spent more time today in tears than smiling, and more time in treatment than in school. I’m fighting not to puke up what I just ate, and I’m not going to be able to forget the calorie count for days.

But the thing is, its never going to change. There is never going to be a time that is more convenient to exit your life for a while, and its never going to be easy to say, “Fuck you.” to the concepts and ideas that have been your bible for so long. So why can’t I just fucking do it?

My therapist had an answer today: that it’s hard, and I don’t often do hard things unless I really want to do them. Her theory makes sense, the hardest thing I’ve ever done (other than recovery) is having an eating disorder, and in a weird twisted way I did really want that.

But why don’t I really want to recover all of the time? It would make sense: I’ve got a family and friends who love me, I’m enrolled at a great college with great grades, I’ve got a multitude of bizarre and unexpected hobbies that I love… it should be a no brainer. One way a group leader at my program today said that you can combat an obsession with food, and body and fat is by growing the other areas of your life so that they crowd it out. I’ve done that, so what’s happening?

What’s happening is that my life’s reached maximum capacity, and now I have to shrink the eating disorder or shrink real life.

Like I said, this should be a no brainer. I’ve done the pro’s and con’s lists–they’re all clear. Eating disorder es no bueno. La vie est belle.

But what you have to understand if you want to understand where I’m coming from, or really I would think where any person with an eating disorder is coming from, is that recovery literally means doing what you don’t want to do, 24/7, 365, until you want to do it. As a friend of mine put it, it feels like the treatment team is brainwashing you when in reality they’re just trying to clean the fucking wreck your eating disorder’s left in your brain.

But here’s the thing: there really isn’t any living with an eating disorder. Winning at an eating disorder means dying of starvation, and the only option other than death is “admitting defeat” to your eating disorder, and recovering.

Conceptually I know this stuff down pat. I can spew it to no end, and predict the therapists’ arguments before they say them. But despite knowing that eventually you will have to recover, if you want to live at all, I still find myself putting it off…why?

Because I’m addicted to it, because it’s been there when no one else has, because it tells me in glittering lights that if I just do it right this time that it will make me skinny and perfect and happy.

All of these reasons are valid, and the truth is that I have no idea if any one of them, or even a combination of them is correct. I have no answers for why I continue to believe deep down that my true happiness is hidden inside an eating disorder.

The only thing that I do know is that sometimes you have to go with logic instead of intuition, and that logically I know that if I want more than to be a patient I have to do this shit, and that I might as well do it and get it over with now so that I can get on with my life. No matter the sense of loss, and no matter the loss of identity. Identities are immaterial things, made and changed at will: life is not.

Thanks for reading.