Saturday, December 17, 2016

Wow


I wish more people would just say it: “wow.” I can tell when people are surprised that I spent a twenty day stint in inpatient. There is a lack of grace in their lack of response. Some people are better than others at masking reaction. But everyone has a reaction—don’t deny it.

A counselor once said it: “wow.” I respected her so much for it. No. Respect. I still do. Yes, wow. Eight days in, ten days out, twenty days in. Yes, wow. A whirlwind.

Sure, people are hospitalized for longer periods of time. If it isn’t a wow to you, then react accordingly. But if it is, I won’t be offended. Say wow. I can take it. Be honest with yourself and me. If that’s shocking, let both of us know. It will only become acceptable if you can admit that it doesn’t fit into your box of normalcy. That it is a wow. Admit to where you are now so you can walk with me to where I’m trying to go: to where twenty-eight days of thirty-eight days is not just shocking—it’s acceptable, it’s necessary, it’s reality.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Poorly Adjusted


Sometimes I think about what I’ll take to the hospital. It’s not that I plan on going or think I’m in need of a higher level of care; it’s that I know I’ll go back someday.

I hate the fickleness of mood that is bipolar II. From hypomania to low-grade depression to thick depression leading to increased mood-stabilizers and then a random, functional day.

I know. That random day is one to be appreciated. For which to be grateful.

That day is today. But I don’t trust it. I am too well accustomed to change to appreciate stability. Well accustomed. Ha. One cannot be “used to it.” I warily expect change yet am smashed by its wave every time, as if I am standing foolishly with my back to the ocean.

I fear tomorrow. I fear that tomorrow will be back deep in the throes of depression and all the worse for today’s normalcy. I feel that I am functioning too highly to be truly on the mend. It must be a fluke. It can’t be hypomania. But health? No. Be realistic.

Should. I should go on a walk so long as I have the energy to do so. Should not. I should not feel like crying. Should. I should be grateful. For so many reasons, but for today in particular.

I WANT TO BE NORMAL.

I don’t care if someday I have clients and they’ll be helped by having a therapist who has suffered, who “gets it.” I don’t. I didn’t sign up for “wounded healer” status. I don’t care that it’s writing material.

I know. No one signed up for it. No one wants it. It’s not okay. And it’s acceptable to be not okay—in an ideal world, anyway. But I’m not so well adjusted as to be okay with it in myself.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Losing Words


You know you’re depressed when . . . I made a list. I won’t make you suffer it. Suffice to say, I’m depressed. I meet the criteria. I meet the criteria for an increased dose of Latuda. For a look of befuddlement from the psychiatrist. You’re on three mood stabilizers . . . For a safety contract with the IOP therapist.

But it’s a strange depression, mine is. It isn’t, has never been, debilitating. Not completely, anyway. I still show up. I still go to work and crank out lattes and cappuccinos and real macchiatos like my life depended on it. I pour drip coffees as if it will save me. And in some ways, it does. My life depends on distraction; being preoccupied with a task saves me from myself.

The depression doesn’t keep me from work—it makes it hard to go, yes, but not necessarily difficult to perform once present. It does keep me from walking. From painting. From writing. From creativity beyond latte art.

And maybe that is why depression is so life-sucking. Creativity is life. For me. Being able to string together words into a coherent sentence is a gift I treasure. And I’m watching my words being robbed. Today I went mute in therapy. My thoughts wouldn’t fit into words that I could verbalize. That’s how it starts. I’m not a talker. Even so, I have an ability to express myself verbally with care, and it is painful to lose; I worked hard for that ability.

So what’s next? What do I do now? I’ve been on this train before. Coping skills, people. Bring ‘em on. It’s so pointless. If I’m going to get depressed as fuck, I’m going to get depressed as fuck. Why fight? Why fight. Insert huge sigh. I’m so tired.

This is where I’m supposed to write something that has at least a scent of hope. I told you, though, I’m losing words. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Hypomania: it rocked, it sucked, it's over


I was hypomanic. For about two to three weeks. And it rocked and it sucked and it’s over.

It sucked because I was paranoid that I would crash into a hospitalizing depression. But it didn’t effect my sleep, so no need to stir up the psychiatrist. (She says sarcastically.) I just walked. An average of 4.5 miles a day. Fast. That’s all.

. . . well . . . things became urgent. Suddenly it was imperative that I lose the weight I put on in the hospital and that I lose it quickly. And I wanted my pills back. Now. Oh. Yeah. And I almost cut a check for $1,000 to the church. Just ‘cause. It is time. (Now.)

But the energy! I was living life like a normal person! . . . and a little bit extra, fine. But it was SO nice. To not have to drag myself away from bed. To walk without having an argument over it first. To rate my mood at a 7 or 8 on a scale of 1 - 10. To mend the jeans that have been sitting torn and unused for months.

I DID things. Healthy things. Functioning people things. It rocked.

Then the switch flipped. One day I was suddenly severely disinterested in the concept of walking. I was, I don’t know, I found it to be a horrible idea. And so big. Too big. I drug my feet the whole way. I went, as I have written before, from energy and drive and motivation to lethargy and anadonia.

I stopped walking. And I felt guilty. Instead of being grateful that I didn’t crash into a deep depression, I was (am?) bitter that the energy is gone.

That was just over two weeks ago. I haven’t leveled off into some average place. Into some semi-normal human functioning zone. I hated my first three shifts back at work. My to do list always seems too big. Even if it is just one item: GET GAS. Too big.

It started with sadness. Low, bummed, and sad. And then there was the election. Add disappointment. Shifts at work go poorly. Add disillusionment. And then I house and dog sat, and I was miserable. And I love dogs. Add confusion. And then I start shaking again. Add bewilderment.

This last Wednesday I wrote that “Monday, I was ‘maybe depressed,’ yesterday I was a wreck, today I’m negative, confused, anxious, and agitated.” Add discontent and unhappy when listing emotions at IOP. I told my counselor, well, told is a strong word. The words “I am depressed” came out of my mouth, somehow. Then I proceeded to tell her how un-okay that is. I’m not supposed to be depressed. I’m supposed to be well.

Fuck you, hypomania. I was doing so well. Fine. Fine. I was doing okay. I was checking in at a 5 everyday. Then you came. And gave me false hope that I could be an energized, high-functioning human being. I can’t, though. Not for more than three weeks.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

All for a Minute of Safety


But sometimes the system fails. Maybe it’s a chemical shift in the brain that the medications don’t block. Maybe it’s a stressor in your life that you didn’t expect. Maybe there is no reason, and you’re just going mad for the hell of it, but you try not to think about that because that would imply that no matter what you do, no matter how tightly you batten the hatches, madness can get in.
Marya Hornbacher Madness

It never ends. Madness, that is. It always comes back for more.

Now, I’ve known this. It’s only been five years of monitored madness for me, but the finality of “healed” is already an absurd, unfunny joke. Somehow, when the already misfiring neurons exploded into a civil war in 2011, I knew that this was the beginning of an endless something. I knew there wouldn’t be an all-better.

Oh, I’ve tried. I’ve tried working myself healthy (60 hours a week’ll fix me), lifting and spinning myself well, balancing work and rest . . . trust me, I’ve tried. I’ve threatened to quit medications. I’ve tried walking, I’ve tried running, I’ve tried writing, I’ve tried church, I’ve tried writing prayers and reading collects, I’ve tried. I’ve tried CBT and DBT and EMDR and PHP and IOP. I’ve tried medications galore. I’m currently trying three mood stabilizers all at the same time.

Marya Hornbacher is real about this. Madness does not end with her two years stable. What it does end with is the shocking (to me) admittance that she wouldn’t trade her brain for anyone else’s.

!

I would. And my life has been substantially more predictable. Yet I would trade in my imbalanced mind for a minute of sanity. A minute without anxiety. A minute without worrying when madness will get in again, and what it’ll do. For a minute of safety.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Jealousy and (Hypo)mania


Madness. Marya Hornbacher. It’s terribly triggering, and then it’s terrifying, and then I’m jealous.

She cut. That is triggering. The precise description, moment by moment frames. She cut too deep. That is tempting. Has been. That has been tempting.

She drank. And it fucked with her meds. I drink. And I’m on a handful of meds. And I don’t want to stop.

She gets manic—and it’s scary to think that one psychotic break is all it takes to be bipolar I. But I’m not like that. No. I’m fine.

And then I get jealous. Jealous of her mania. That it is productive. And long lasting. My hypomania leaves me as quickly as it comes.

But no. I’m not jealous of mania. I don’t want mania. I want my spurts of good hypomania to last, to never drop off into lethargy and anadonia, to never morph into a violent hypomania.

I’m jealous of her stability. She’s written THREE books. My ability to create is not like hers. I’m jealous that her bipolar went into remission. And she felt NORMAL. She was a grown up doing grown up things.

I feel like a frightened child, reading this book. Because I’m afraid I’ll become bipolar I. As though it’s a virus. Because I’m jealous. Because she is so grown up at times and I’m . . . not.

I’m 26, on my folks insurance as a “disabled child,” living at home, scared of my first shift back at work (four days from now) after three and a half months off, scared of going back to the hospital, scared of what will happen when IOP runs out and I’m down to one hour of counseling a week instead of three group sessions and two individual sessions.

Ms. Hornbacher and I have little in common: we work with words, we have forms of bipolar, we’ve been hospitalized, we know the demons of disordered eating . . . that’s probably it. But her book is tearing me to shreds.

As I come out of a hypomanic episode and read of her stability, of her time with bipolar in remission, I love and hate her for her honesty. I know things go wrong for her again, there’s still a bit of book to go—it can’t all be sunflowers and blue skies. But I resent her for having energy. Pure energy at times and manic energy at others.

I want her to be well. (But, I’d resent her for that, too.) Like me, though, she won’t. We won’t. I read memoir because “happily ever after” pisses me off—it’s a lie that mocks reality. Yet it hurts. I hurt for her and for others with bipolar I or II and even for myself. I hurt because of the madness and the madness hurts everyone, eventually. Be well, I want to wish the world, but that feels grandiose. Be stable? Stay afloat? With timidity, I suggest that we be.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Simple Questions, Painful Answers


What have you been up to? Where have you been?

It’s a long story.

You don’t want to know.

Both appropriate, honest answers.

I don’t want to talk about it. (So I’ll hide behind a pen.)

Well. I was at Good Sam’s Mission Oaks campus for inpatient care from July 14th to July 22nd and then from August 3rd to August 22nd. Since I’ve been in one Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) at Good Sam for three weeks, and then a different PHP in Santa Cruz for five more weeks. Having completed that, I am now just beginning an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). My brain chemicals were off, that’s why. The serotonin, dopamine, and lithium were all screwy.

How was inpatient?

Oh, God. I don’t know. It was extremely difficult. I don’t want to go back. I labeled myself damaged goods more officially than ever before. (Although I would never attach such a label to another person.) It was difficult and long and transformative (for better or for worse, I will never be the person I was before) and even good.

The first time they “let me out too soon.” So I’ve been told. But I felt so stable! I wasn’t. Ten days later I was back with my tail between my legs. I wasn’t well. In fact, I was worse than before the first admittance.

But, I made it. I cannot say enough about the nurses and their support. The psychiatrist was brilliant and the nurses were angels.

Yet I say I don’t want to go back. Truth: I’m terrified of relapse. I expressed this to a counselor at Good Sam’s PHP and she told me, “So what if you have to go back to inpatient? BFD.” (It took me a bit, but that’d be, “Big Fucking Deal.”)

That’s where I’ve been. How it was.

So where are you now?

Ugh. None of your damn business. In an IOP three days a week, taking a class, going to therapy, back on the schedule for work, and, well, slightly terrified that the hypomania I’ve been experiencing is a precursor to another fall. I know. BFD. “You can’t put a price tag on your health, on your life.” (Oh yeah? Let me pull up that insurance statement.)

I want security. I want to be able to be spontaneous and stable and secure. I want the moon. But I know that better is a myth. Healed is grating to my ears. I can manage my health, and sometimes management means a trip to the Mental Marriot. I cannot be healed. Not really. I can be better today than I was Wednesday. Than I was in August. I can be better in degrees, not in destination.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Hope from Scars


Scars. I hate my scars. No. Not hate. Am ashamed. But what else could I have done? No amount of ice would create the release I needed. No amount of wall sits or credit card scraping or other self-harm prevention procedures.

Prayer. Would prayer have made a difference? I don’t know. I have never prayed out of pain. It doesn’t occur to me to address God in the midst of depression or anxiety and panic. (It doesn’t seem to occur to God to address me, either.)

Self-harm worked. I’m alive, aren’t I? It distracted me.

Except when it didn’t. I still wound up in inpatient care for suicidal ideation. And self-harm followed me into Good Sam, where I broke plastic and sawed away at myself.

Klonopin worked. Lots of it. And Ativan, some Ativan. But more the company of nurses who gave me grace over and over again. Nurses who held candles of hope for me. Nurses who gave me “This is Water” to read and teased me and my shaking hands and taught me to play solitaire.

Each cut became a strike against them, it seemed. I think that’s why I stopped. Why I made myself do two minutes straight of wall sits instead of cutting. I would collapse onto the floor, out of breath, thighs burning, and liable to be dizzy if I got up too fast.

I am ashamed because I hurt others each time I hurt myself. I am ashamed because I couldn’t stop myself. It took sixteen of twenty days of inpatient to stop. And I almost lapsed my last night.

I was full of nervous energy, horrible anxiety, and I knew I would become destructive if not distracted. So I asked Angela RN for help. I played word search games, cleaned the day room, and went back to her. So she sat me down and taught me solitaire. Solitaire saved me. No. That just sounds good. Having Angela sit with me for the last ten minutes of playing cards saved me.

Maybe someday I’ll learn to look at my scars with compassion. Maybe I’ll look at them and see Debra, Irene, Laura LPT, Leslie RN, Shery RN, Angela RN, Dev RN, Tracy RN, Christine RN, Martel RN, Millie RN, and so many more. Maybe I’ll look and see their support amidst pain. Maybe I’ll see their hope amidst suicidality. Maybe the scars will someday remind me of what’s gone right instead of what’s gone wrong. Of people who have been there for me. Of love.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

I Dare You


Focus on the invitation of “I dare you” rather than the shadow of “should.”

That was my self-challenge for the weekend. Really, it will probably become a self-challenge for what remains of my life. I have lived under the shadow of “should” for long enough to be somewhat comfortable (as comfortable as one can become) in its dusky darkness.

“I dare you,” though, is playful. Satisfaction is more likely to be found in the playful self-challenge. Conversely, the looming shadow of “should” is often paralyzing. “I dare you” is the posture I can take when invited to show up:

Do you want to ride? No.
But, I dare you to ride. Hm. Okay.
            But, you should ride. Fine, but fuck you.

Efforts born of “should” are resentful, reluctant, and often unsatisfying. Efforts born of “I dare you” are possibly tentative but are more energized and are efforts made with a healthy pride. To dare myself and to then take up my own dare is to show myself my own strength.

I don’t know if it works. But now I have a post-it note on my bulletin board that reads “I dare you.”  Annie, I dare you to read the Faerie Queene. Annie, I dare you to try your take-home quiz. To reply to that email. To say yes to a bike ride. To meditate. To practice mindfulness. To breathe. Annie, I dare you to live.

I dare you.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Fear and Perfection


I haven’t written in over a month. And I only wrote to communicate hurt. Vaguely. I wrote vaguely. And fear keeps me from precision. I am left in a similar space—what is appropriate for the public sphere? The thoughts that keep me from sharing are primarily those of twisted thinking or ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts): I catastrophize, I indulge in black and white thinking, I talk myself down . . . etc. etc.

What, I am to ask myself, is the worst that could happen? Nothing.
I am denied admission to the MFT degree program.
My job doesn’t take me back. (Even though they said they would.)

But really, of the audience to which this writing pertains, what is the worst? Nothing.
I lose readers.
So what? My life does not hinge on approval. (My pride does.)

. . .

The psychiatrist told me that my perfectionism will get me into trouble. Hmph. She was speaking of my worry of losing my job or not succeeding in school. She told me I would complete school. That I will become a therapist.

And then she paid me a high compliment. She said the nurses were always talking about me; they liked me. And the counselors do too. I shook my head.

Despite my desire for perfection, I do not accept compliments or pointers that I am doing well, engaging people well. I abase myself for meanness and lack of sociability. She says otherwise.

. . .

What have a communicated so far?

Key words/ideas: school, not working, psychiatrist, nurses, counselors, perfectionism.

I am going back to school. But I have not been working. I have been sick. In pain. But I am too much of a perfectionist to admit to how sick I have been. It’s so imperfect. How could I admit to such imperfection? Perfect Annie does not experience pain to a degree worthy of admittance. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

Writing Trauma


How does one write after trauma, amidst fresh PTSD and hurt and desire to numb the hurt? Writing is an effort too much for the weakened. It’s too heavy, too precise, too likely to tend toward perfection.

How does one write of the trauma in a public sphere? How does one know when she is ready to share? I can hardly write for myself, but for others? Is it easier or harder? Do I need an anonymous platform? Where does present reality fit into the picture? It’s real and realness is a goal, purpose, whatever of my words. But I hide from the present. Can I share with anyone the hurt that fuels the severe anxiety and the desire? The desire to . . . to . . . I can’t say. Perhaps I am not ready.

Are tears a prerequisite to writing the truth of my present reality? I hate to cry. Don’t ask me to cry that I might share. Writing is healing, sure, yet my body and mind rebel. They won’t be healed.

I want normality. Don’t ask me to “define normal.” That’s obnoxious. I’ll tell you, though, what it’s not: me. I’m a savant. A bipolar II savant. I guarengoddamntee you that my brain chemistry is exceptional. Exceptionally fucked up, that is.

I do not intend to elicit pity from anyone. I intend to be honest. And this is the only place I know to start.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Q&A for my Ex-Therapist


To my previous (most excellent) therapist:

Why did you fire me? (Don’t answer that.) I miss you.

Were you afraid I was going to commit suicide on you? I almost did. Did you know that?

If you could do it over again, would you change anything? I would. We never would have met. I probably would’ve wandered into your church eventually and we would have met on normal people terms. “Normal People.”

Did I come across as withdrawn or deceitful towards the end of our relationship? I’m sorry if I did. I didn’t mean to.

Did you know that all of the shits ‘n’ giggles was the best therapy I could have asked for some days? Most days? You made me smile. You gave me something to look forward to.

If you had it your way, would you have had me admitted to inpatient care April 1st, 2014? I think about that day sometimes, and find it a wonder I was sent home. And more of a wonder I wasn’t sent in that October.

Did you know I still miss you and think of you often but have yet to get mad at you for calling it all off? I’ve been angry with myself for it; I blame my own inability to heal—to respond to treatment, to speak truth—for our split.

Did you know that it had ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with you?? That if we had waited a month, the lithium would’ve started to make a dent, and a couple more months, that Prozac would be added and give me the final boost? Did you know I would be stable?

I just needed someone to talk to. That was you. Someone to laugh with. You. Someone to tolerate my silences as an acceptable part of who I am rather than some unsociable flaw. You. Someone to pick my brain and tsk my shoulds and name my depression and the darkness inside (Heloise, you named my depression and darkness, do you remember that?) and greet me with enthusiasm and, again, make me laugh. To laugh with me. YOU.

Thank you. I miss you.

Love and peace to you,
Me

Friday, July 1, 2016

Don't Forget about the Good


Furiously Happy. Jenny Lawson. I can’t say I’d recommend the book. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend otherwise, either. I appreciate her profanity, but I feel she tries a little too hard to be “motherfucking” out there. I wish she talked more about her struggles with mental illness and less about her bat-shit crazy escapades in Australia. Maybe she gets (hypo)manic, and I’m just missing it, and she’s not admitting to it.

I do recommend her chapter on self-harm: “The Fear.” The one she starts with “(Note: this is where I’d put a mild trigger warning for self-harm, but frankly this whole damn book—and life in general—deserves a trigger warning. Sorry about that.)” Yes, I recommend it, very much so. Unless, of course, you’re easily triggered, like me, and are trying to be responsible by not getting overmuch triggered, unlike me.

I want to know what it’s like, for her, to be mentally ill and have a child. Is it doable? To be fighting against self-harm while loving another the way a parent loves her child? The pregnancy. Did she have to go off meds? If so, how did she survive?

Sometimes I want her to be serious. Less shits and giggles. I want to know about the deceit her depression speaks into her mind. Of course, that’s mighty personal. I too would rather laugh off the “crazy” than trigger someone into doing something terrible.

They say talking about suicide won’t make a person more suicidal. I don’t know. I guess, though, I would rather her write about the darkness than engage us in her tom-“fuckery.” (Funny as it may be.) Maybe she writes about it in her first book. Maybe not.

Maybe what is best of her book—well, second best, the chapter on self-harm wins all contest—is its advice to me as a writer:
Quit trying to be so damn funny. You’re funny by being a human being who does stupid shit like wear koala outfits and send taxidermied raccoons riding on the backs of house cats and not filter sarcasm and pick punk-assed elementary school peers up by their t-shirts. But you’re funny even without sharing every last one of those moments.
And keep being honest. About the stupid shit. About the blood. About the nitty gritty details that are inevitably judged to be too personal. And about the good. Don’t forget the good, Annie Williams. Don’t forget the good.

Friday, June 24, 2016

What scars?


A man asked about my scars. A stranger. Which ones, I’m not sure—there are a lot. But I assumed he referred to the white lines, the superbly obvious ones, or so I see them to be. I looked at him quizzically and asked, “what scars?” Stupid question. Questions. You don’t know me—my scars are none of your damn business. Hell, you don’t even know my name. I’m the fucking cashier. Take your coffee beans and get. My response? Equally stupid: sheer denial. What scars? As if. The better none-of-your-damn-business response would have been, “oh, long stories” or “just old scars.” Just. Ha. But, “long stories,” yes. They each have a story.

Of course, he wasn’t referring to the scar on my knee. That scar I likened to an elephant’s trunk as a kid. While I wasn’t terribly clumsy, I was adventurous, and I played hard, repeatedly tearing open my right knee. The wounds and scars never had time to fully heal before I barreled into the ground again, creating a large lump I fancied was full of dirt, rocks, and gravel. It became numb: no matter how hard I fell, I wouldn’t notice it bleeding until there was a tickle from the stream of blood at the base of my shin, staining my sock. I was proud of that scar. Since, it has stretched out flat with my growth spurts and has become fairly unremarkable.

And he wasn’t referring to my next set of scars, from 2004. Those are nearly invisible. They came with pocketknives and charcoal. I can feel those with my fingers but cannot note them with my eyes.

It was the violence, I do not doubt, with which I cut in 2013 that he noticed. There are five scars on my arms from that episode, three on my ankles. Those scars are slightly distracted by two dark burns from baking and cooking and one molehill from staph, but I’m almost certain he noticed the white lines created by kitchen knives—large, small, serrated, anything—pocket knives, and, once those were confiscated, the satisfying discovery of razors.

I wish he hadn’t asked. I felt violated. Why are you looking at my scars? No. I don’t care why. Just stop. Now. I’ve worked hard not to spend every other moment overly self-conscious, but I can’t not notice. I do not, however, need a reminder.

I have more scars. My thighs are striped with white and purple spread and swollen scars. I’d rather not swim, thanks for the offer, though.

His question scared me. Do they really stand out that much? Do they? Is he just socially awkward, like me? But instead of shutting up, he opens his mouth? Would the polite response be to give him a break—mental illness is surprising enough, but once made physical, the shock increases—and assume the best in him rather than mentally chewing him out?

What would I rather? Never to be asked or to have people look with compassionate inquiry? If there was a hint of compassion, maybe I would have responded differently. “Oh, life hasn’t always been easy.” That’s the truth. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

PTSD, Suicide, and A Way Out


PTSD is most often associated with veterans and rape survivors. The label has grown to cover the repercussions of other traumas: childhood abuse, for example. The symptoms are across the board; no need to reinvent the diagnosis for each situation.

Of course, when the four letters are attributed to my condition, I shake my head. PTSD is for Serious Traumas. Not the bullying I experienced in sixth grade or the episodes of suicidal behavior and thinking that I’ve known. The latter is perhaps the most shocking to me: I could suffer from PTSD grown from the traumas created by my own brain? PTSD doesn’t require an external force? Are you sure?

I guess it could be true. I’m terrified of suicidal depression/severe depression returning. It will. We just don’t know when. And that terror I feel is PTSD, apparently. That stomach churning, lung crushing, anxiety-producing terror. That terror can cause me to freeze. My mind will rush with confused thoughts, I won’t sleep, I’ll cringe and toss and turn, and all sensible reason will freeze just out of reach. My comfort is in telling myself that it will be fine. Which is horse shit. It isn’t and won’t be fine. When severe depression returns, it’ll be all wrong and not okay, not fine.

Last time I was actively suicidal I held pills in one hand and water in the other, 99% sure that the “fine” thing to do would be to take those pills. (The final comfort once suicidal thinking comes is that there is always, always, a way out.) Before that, seven months before, I sat being evaluated for inpatient care. I had yet to step so close to suicide, but there I was. And they sent me home. I was shocked. But I guess I did okay at present myself as fine without even trying.

The amazing part, though, is that the episode of depression that led me to hold pills in my hand did not put me in the hospital. But then again, no one knew. No one knew because that would have compromised my “safety plan”: it would have resulted in the confiscation of my secret stash of suicide in a bottle. I needed a way out. I need a way out.

The biggest fear, then, that comes with PTSD, is not the repeat of the conflicting feelings and numbness of deep depression, but the feeling of losing control. I fear feeling the fear of someone knowing of my plan A and taking it away: taking away my therapist, friends, family; and I fear feeling the fear of someone knowing my plan B and taking it away: taking away my way out.

I need a way out.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Right-side-down


Last Saturday, a local church put on a Community Mental Health Day. Somehow I convinced myself to go. I went, however, with an attitude of suspicion and doubt rather than of curiosity and gratefulness. It is a good step, to even try to talk about mental health and illness, but I still expected Jesus-saves-talk, the bullshit that burns bridges between the suffering secular and the healthy holy, the crap that insinuates that our diseases are “secular” and curable only by “sacred” practices. The like assumes, of course, a rift between sacred and secular, black and white, etc. But there is no rift. It is all mixed up and right-side-down: the secular sparkles with holiness and the sacred is diluted with inseparable evil.

The church tells me to pray. To consult an ever-absent God and her/his son for healing; “Jesus cast out the demons from the man at the graves and sent them into the pigs—he can do the same for you.” I retort that it was the demons who had faith, not the man or the community. No one prayed about it. Besides, Jesus isn’t here and what would it matter? The man was still rejected by his community and Jesus run out for it all. We lose no matter what.

The church looks at my personal pharmacy with wary eyes, accusing eyes. And I don’t get it. The pain of cancer is largely invisible, yet the church does not write a prescription for prayer and supplication in place of chemo and radiation. Both cancer and mental illness kill from deep within. Perhaps it is because a bone-scan can reveal metastasizing cancer whereas a brain-scan won’t show fucked up dopamine and serotonin levels ebbing and flowing and flooding and evaporating in any way obvious to the common eye. They don’t scan us or draw our blood before prescribing Lamictal; they just listen.

But back to the Community Day. The church that hosted it is huge. They charged $15 to attend. $20 at the door. Which irked me. The search for mental health is expensive enough. But I guess they had to pay for the speaker they flew in from Texas somehow.

The best part, though, was after a panel of community leaders discussed movements and projects and what the church could do. (Which, by the way, was excellent.) They invited a young schizophrenic man to talk. Schizophrenia. That is a taboo illness anywhere besides the psych classroom. He was a picture of hope and heartache. People go through, every day, the torture that he has faced? But here he is, stable. Hearing voices, speaking, and reflecting on the past and present realities so openly in front of easily one hundred people.

Here, I thought, here is a person the church ignored, and yet, he is loving the church. What an example to the mentally ill in the audience, to me.

The question “what can the church do for the population of the anxiety-riddled, the schizos, the personality disorders, those with PTSD, the bipolars, the depressed, the borderline suicides,” is one which I do not yet know how to answer in a way that invites active participation. What I learned, though, is what I can do for the church. Even though the church may not welcome me, and, hell, I know they will hurt me, I can forgive them, and maybe, maybe, love them anyway. Then, I can only hope, they will learn to love me in the way which Simone Weil describes:

The love of our neighbor in all its fullness means being able to say to him: “What are you going through?” It is the recognition that the sufferer exists, not only as a unit in a collection, or a specimen from the social category labeled “unfortunate,” but as a man, exactly like us, who was one day stamped with a special mark by affliction. For this reason it is enough, but it is indispensable, to know how to look at him in a certain way.

This way of looking is first of all attentive. The soul empties itself of all its own contents in order to receive into itself the being it is looking at, just as he is, in all his truth. (Waiting for God)

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Inevitable Otherwise


It’s mental illness that I write about, not so much mental health. I don’t have the long, clear stretches of remarkable health in my adult life to consult for wisdom or writing material, and the mental health I have known resides in a foggier pocket of my memory.

I live in fear of illness. An anxious and pessimistic person by nature, health seems more of a ruse than an opportunity for thankfulness. I wonder: what will be the next addition to the cocktail when I fall to pieces again?

It is as in Jane Kenyon’s “Having it Out with Melancholy”:
                                    8 Credo
Pharmaceutical wonders are at work
                        but I believe only in this moment
                        of well-being. Unholy ghost,
                        you are certain to come again.

It sounds to be a negative conclusion: “Unholy ghost,/you are certain to come again.” Maybe it is. But it also is a sincere allowance of a certain truth, just as her words in “Otherwise” point toward the inescapable future:
                        I slept in a bed
                        in a room with paintings
                        on the walls, and
                        planned another day
                        just like this day.
                        But, one day, I know,
                        it will be otherwise.

“. . . I believe only in this moment/of well-being.” Kenyon admits to not trusting or hoping in the longevity of what can feel like medical miracles, of what we call health. But she also embraces and believes in the reality of this moment, this moment of well-being.

Why, when I could smile on the now and have faith in this very moment, do I dwell on that “otherwise,” then? I can’t help it. That’s why. My mind tends towards a certain degree of honesty with itself—no matter how painful—the honesty that embraces the inevitable “otherwise.” I save most of my dishonesty and avoidance for others:

“How’s your head-space, Annie?”
That’s a creative way to ask about mental (in)stability.
“Fine . . . stable . . . I’m fine. Fine.”

I know. Predicting downfall robs this moment of its goodness, this mental state of its health. I’ll not be as well as I could if I go carrying the weight of “what if” and “when.” But the fall. Will not it be less rough if I am aware? I worry that if I allow myself to get lost in the now, I’ll miss the signs of illness coming on, and it’ll hit me like the twenty-four hour flu. And then some. Because each time it hits, it’s worse. Inevitably worse. The sickness has grown stronger—it must in order to overcome the pharmacy I keep—and knocks me out harder. And that is why I fail to trust in this moment. This moment is too uncertain. “Otherwise” I can trust.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Oily Words in a Watery World


American bookshelves of the twenty-first century describe fractiousness, reduction, hurt . . . There is no shelf for bitterness. No shelf for redemption. Richard Rodriguez

Growing up in a liberal county, in a conservative community, has made me overly aware of the contradiction it is and the contradictions in me.

I live in a private community, home to a Christian Camp and Conference Center. Since childhood, it has always felt the reverse: a Christian Camp and Conference Center that is also a private community.

“Christian” does not inevitably mean conservative. It just feels that way. Evangelical is the same. The camp is “non-denominational,” but generally non-denominational churches, organizations, et al lean to the right. In this county, evangelical Christianity almost inevitably tends to the right.

I live in a reactionary community and county. Students versus authority. Sacred versus secular. Evolution versus creation. Us versus them. You versus me. Everyone has a patent on The Truth. It’s, well, stupid: we somehow fly between extremes instead of experiencing the whole pendulum swing. In skipping the ride, we don’t note all the ground in between.

And this is where I feel caught with my writing. A “liberal” mind with a de facto “conservative” religion. Sacred subject matter punctuated with secular language. And vice-versa. It isn’t like this everywhere. But here in this county? Worse, in this community?

The church does not approve of my language. Or my habit of addressing mental heath with brazen, uninhibited emotions screaming towards God, dismissing the Bible, and chiding Jesus, as if I know something. I find myself self-identifying as a heretic, for reasons Barbara Brown Taylor best describes:

. . . the issue is that [self-described heretics] believe more than Jesus. Having beheld his glory, they find themselves better equipped to recognize God’s glory all over the place, including places where Christian doctrine says that it should not be.

The county, the secular, is okay with my conversation on mental health. The shame and stigma has shrunk. But not so with religion. I find it almost necessary to preface my writing with an apology for religious content. And then apologize for “secular” content.

Forgive me, atheists and liberals, for I have sinned: I believe the Jesus-shit.

Forgive me, Christians, for I have sinned: I have sworn, “taken the Lord’s name in vain” (as if you really know what that means), mocked you, mocked the Bible, hated God, and embraced the forbidden fruit of the “secular” and “liberal” and loved it.

Forgive me, world, for I have sinned: I agree with Madeleine L’Engle that, really, “in the garden of Eden there was no separation of sacred and secular; separation is one of the triumphs of the devil.”

So where do I belong? How can my writing exist and flourish outside of Eden? No. It can’t, not really. It has no place in the bookstore or library; there are no tags for online data-bases to classify and sort this confusion and pain.

There is no shelf for bitterness. No shelf for redemption.