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.

 

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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.

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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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.

Confessions: Inside My Mind

So as you’ve probably guessed from the title of this post, I haven’t been doing the best lately.

Instead of disappearing from the world, like last time I fell down a bit, I thought I’d share a bit about what’s been happening, and hopefully help some of you understand what its like in the mind/life of someone with an eating disorder, and depression. My goal with this blog is still to (someday) reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness, and I feel like being open is a good first step. If you’re suffering, this may be triggering as it deals directly with my thoughts.

Today I felt like I was floating. People imagine, or I imagine that they imagine, that when you suffer from depression you sit around listening to sad music, and sigh a lot, and seek revenge on your dead father’s murderer of a brother. Oh wait, that’s Hamlet.

Quick rant: I actually had this conversation with my Shakespeare professor last term, as he looked at Hamlet, who I personally think is one of the first famous characters shown to be depressive or manic depressive, and said to the class, “And there’s Hamlet crying again, such an emo.” This reduction of someone to “emo” bothers the hell out of me. To look at someone and call them emo involves so much assumption, and judgement, the end result of which is a fairly derogatory term for a mentally ill person. It’s one of those terms that people don’t think about a lot, but that contributes a hell of a lot to the stigma around mental illness. End rant.

But back to the floating. That’s often what depression looks like for me. Clinically, its called “depersonalization” which always seems to fit for me as it sounds like it means becoming less of a person. It really means a sort of loss of identity, or a state where it seems like your body isn’t your body and your thoughts aren’t your own but rather you are separated from body and world and all that they imply. What it looks like to the outside world must be a bit bizarre. I imagine I stare into space a lot, as people tell me that I look like I’m zoning out a lot. I’m often quieter, but once I start talking I ramble and can’t stop. I forget that I’m hot, or cold, and I often forget about what it requires to be human: must get up, must eat, must brush teeth, must shower. I actually write all of these things down in the to do section of my planner in order to not forget.

All this depersonalization, and dissociation (which for me relates closely to the depersonalization though its different) basically make it seem like my mind is in a world of its own. The odd part is that when I’m depressed, I often go into my eating disorder which has become so much about my body.

One of the problems for me with eating disorder recovery is that it greatly involves being present, and mindful and in your body. Frankly, I hate my body. I hate it with a passion actually. So when I’m in this dissociated state, it’s a welcome break from the feeling of entrapment in a place that I hate. What I need to learn to do is tolerate being in my body, even when I hate it, but that’s another blog post entirely.

How the dissociation affects my eating is another story entirely. It’s hard to explain because as much as I feel separate from my body, I also feel tethered to it in a way. Often when I’m dissociated I completely forget to eat–that it’s something that I have to do as a living creature, but then when I get hungry the eating disorder takes over. When you feel like you’re a mind trapped within a body that’s not your own it becomes incredibly hard to remember that thoughts aren’t orders, and that they aren’t permanent, and that you can argue with them, and change them and flip them entirely. So here’s how it often goes: 1) Sit down or lay down or stand or be 2) Thoughts occur 3) Thoughts consume 4) Forget importance of things like hygiene, school, and food. 5) Get hungry. 6) New thoughts consume–thoughts of greed, and disdain, and food and fat.

What happens next varies. Lately, I’ve been choosing the not so very good options of refusing to eat, throwing out what food I can and feeding more food to the dogs so that I won’t give in, or eating everything. Often these two options rotate, one after the other in a cycle of self-hatred that feeds itself until I intervene with a meal plan meal.

I’ve been asking myself recently, a lot, why I don’t just give up on recovery, and stop eating, and stop going to therapy. I could do it, though not for long. You see, they’ve got my number now. I’ve outed myself in too many ways (including this blog) and people who care about me would know immediately what was happening. Then the following things occur, in a ritualistic stripping away of the things that make me less of a patient:
1) They would make me step back up in treatment, cutting down on work hours.
2) I would have to quit my job, or go on leave.
3) I would have to cut down on classes.
4) I would have to stop going to classes completely.
5) I would be admitted to a higher level of care.

I’m writing that down primarily for selfish reasons, to remind myself that if I go back to being a patient, I lose more than weight–I lose everything. Everything that makes me, me–at least for a little while.

So it would work for a little while, but not long enough to allow me to lose enough weight, if I’m being honest. Too many people care about me more than I do (goddamn it) to let me spiral too much. This makes me both incredibly grateful, and incredibly sad.

So what’s the other option–figuring this shit out. That’s the option I’m trying my hardest to move towards, and I’ll detail that more later, as right now I have to do it and that means doing my homework as opposed to writing what I would like to write. It means taking steps towards studentdancerbaristaquilterratloverwriter Kerry instead of patient Kerry and it means trying to do instead of just trying to be.

As always, I love you all and I’m always here if you’re struggling or just need to talk.

Thanks for reading.

You Are NOT a “Special Snowflake”

Recently I’ve become aware of how many people suffer from mental illness–part of it is because as I write this blog more people choose to come to me for help (which I love!) and partly because everyone suffers to a degree. I truly believe this. Mental health is a spectrum to me, and what I’ve seen from people since I’ve come public about my own mental illness has only supported that.

With that said: I need to point this out to people who are suffering, and please, please, please don’t hate me: YOU ARE NOT A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE BECAUSE OF YOUR MENTAL ILLNESS.

This isn’t directed at anyone in particular, more something I’ve noticed over the past year of treatment, something that I’ve experienced myself, and something that it hurts me deeply to see others suffering from. One of the ways that people are controlled by their mental illness is because it makes them feel special–like they’re the odd one out and like for some reason, they are broken in a way that no one has been before them, and so they’re separate from other people and unable to relate to them, or be comforted by them.

I’ll be listening to someone I care about speak about their thoughts, and in that I sometimes hear my own thoughts reflected. But when you let them know, “Oh yeah, I totally get where you’re coming from.” All too often the reply is something along the lines of, “Well, yeah you get it, but here’s why I’m worse…here’s why I’m different from everyone else…here’s why I’ll never get better…here’s why you can’t possibly understand.”

And I get it–when you’re suffering from mental illness, and that hell inside your head, it’s impossible to believe that others have gone through the same thing and lived to tell about it. And yes, everyone has different experiences and no one’s experienced the exact same things, but those thoughts that you think, that you think are unique because they’re so sad, or so fucked up, or so utterly awful–they’ve passed through the heads of countless people before you: I guarantee it.

I have realized through hearing countless other people talk about how their disease makes them think and feel, that nothing I’ve felt–no matter how dark, or tragic, or hopeless, is unique.

At first, this made me mad. Like some of you probably will be at me for posting this.

But your sadness does not make you special. It only makes you sad, and holds you back in life.

Your eating disorder does not give you control–it either kills you, or puts you in a situation where you are stripped of all control.

Your mental illness is not unique, it is not what makes you, you.

You are the person who kicks ass at that sport, or who can’t stop talking even when you have been all night, or who is loved by everyone around you, or who’s smile makes everyone else smile, or who drunk texts everyone “I love you”‘s. You are made up of endless quirks, and fascinations, and loveliness, and so many things and guess what? None of those things are your mental illness.

We are, all of us, living our own private lives within our minds. But let’s all stop pretending that those lives are so different from one another’s. Do you know how much I would give to tell someone that I relate to what they’re saying without hearing back,

“Well, yeah you can do that, but I can’t.”

When you tell someone something like this, at least in my experience, you give the monsters inside your head that much more power. You’re not only missing out on a chance to bond with someone over the shit you’ve both experienced (because something positive should come out of it somehow) but you’re also invalidating the other person’s experiences, and basically making them feel like a piece of shit.

And if you’re reading this, and think that I’ve talking about you, know that: A) Everyone’s friends occasionally make them feel like shit and yet they still love each other. and B) I’m not talking about you so sh–don’t worry.

And I might get shit for this, but I want to challenge the notion that everyone’s thoughts are unique because they fucking aren’t. Out of all of the people who have ever lived, and likely out of all of the people who are alive at this very moment, someone out there has thought the same things as you. And one of the only positive things about diagnoses (other than insurance–yay!) are that they make it easier to find people who understand, and who have thought those same fucked up things that you have.

So next time you rant to, or talk to someone about something that’s going on inside your head and they say, “Dude, I’ve been there, I’m sorry, I get it.” Try believing them.

Because we all think these things, we all suffer, we all get sad or lonely, some of us want to or have wanted to die, some of us can’t talk to people without freaking out, a lot of us think that we’ll never be able to actually be happy, and it’s about time we start believing each other, and let this stuff bind us together instead of isolating us inside a little bubble.

As always, I’m always here to listen, though be warned I’ll be honest.

I love you all–keep on keeping on, and thanks for reading.