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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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.

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.

IMG_0113

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.

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.