Linearity

Most people assume that their life will progress on a linear track – go to the right school, marry the right person, get the right job, have kids, get promoted a few times, retire. But for a lot of us, especially those of us with mental illness, our lives are full of starts and stops, jumps, regressions. Breaks for self-care. Times when taking a lower paying job was a necessity. Times when taking a step back from life becomes life-saving.

But I think that sometimes that’s a hard thing to process. Sometimes you need to take a step back, reassess your priorities, and take a new path. But what new path?

I’m going to be honest, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing with my life. I don’t know where to go or what to do. I’m spinning my wheels and I just don’t know what’s next. I look at job postings and think ‘yeah, ok, maybe,’ but nothing really makes me say yes, that’s the job that I want. I guess that my next job doesn’t have to be The Job, but I’d like to have some direction in my life. Or at least feel like I have some direction in my life.

This whole state of affairs is not really great for my mental health situation. I’m stressed, I feel like a failure, I feel like I’ve let everyone that’s supported me down.

I had Mike hang up my diploma in a place where I see it every day to remind myself that you did it, you have an MBA, now it’s time to use it. To remind me of my accomplishment.

I don’t know. I honestly don’t anymore.

Anxiety lies

There’s been a lot of posts on Facebook and Instagram recently (at least on the pages that I follow, which to be fair there’s more than a few about mental health) about anxiety and how it doesn’t look like a lot of people expect it to. Even when I first got the “official” anxiety diagnosis a year or so, I didn’t realize that a lot of the things that I was experiencing could be attributed to anxiety. Headaches, upset stomach and digestion problems, irritability, insomnia, jumpiness, anticipating the worst (I honestly thought that this was a bipolar thing, which it very well might be, but I personally think it’s the anxiety).

But how can you trust yourself when your brain is constantly lying to you? Telling you that you’re not good enough, making up scenarios with absolutely no evidence and then convincing you to believe them (things like your husband is cheating on you while you’re at work, that everyone is just pretending to be your friend and they really can’t stand you, and on and on and on), making you reinterpret things that happened into something totally different.

My anxiety, at least, gives me these really dark, fucked up thoughts. These are not rooted in any kind of reality, but these are the things that my brain has convinced me are legitimate fears, no matter how times I’m told these are not going to happen.

***This is going to get a little graphic, so feel free to skip this paragraph if you have a weak stomach.***

We have an alarm system on the house. Not because we’re worried about things getting stolen, but because I’m convinced that someone is going to break into the house and mutilate, maim, and disembowel the cats and hang their bodies on the wall. I know, this is totally fucked up and has no root in reality, but this is one of my greatest fears. Not many people know about this, but the ones that do all agree that this is one of the most fucked up things that they’ve ever heard and very not likely to actually happen.

I know that. I know this is irrational. But I can’t make it go away.

***It’s safe to start reading again***

I’ve talked about these dark thoughts in therapy (and believe me, this isn’t the only one, but probably the most common for me), and the best solution we’ve come up with is to acknowledge them, understand that this is not reality, and try to move on.

Yeah, easier said than done.

What people don’t realize is that when your own brain is the one that’s lying to you, it becomes really hard to differentiate what is real and what isn’t. Mike and I have played the Real or Not Real game a few times when I really need help sorting through these thoughts. Sometimes they get so bad that I really can’t make sense of things.

I wish that there was a better course of action other than the “acknowledge, understand, move on” bullshit, because I have to tell you, sometimes this is almost impossible. Please don’t take this as bragging, but I’d like to think that I’m a fairly intelligent person. Which makes not being able to trust myself that much harder. I hate it all. I don’t wish this on anyone.

Anxiety lies, and she is also a cruel mistress.

This was the right decision

I quit my job almost three weeks ago now. It’s amazing the change. My mental health is more stable, my stomach and intestinal problems have just about gone away, my hair has stopped falling out, and I’ve lost ten pounds.

But my mood… oh my God I had forgotten what it was like to feel this good. I actually called my shrink the other day because I thought I was getting a little hypomanic-y. He told me he didn’t think so – I’m just feeling “normal.” I’m still sleeping normally, eating normally, not talking fast, not starting any crazy new projects, not irritable, none of my normal signs. I just feel… good. It’s scary.

Which got me to thinking – how screwed up is that I don’t know what it feels like to truly feel good? As soon as my mood goes up, I immediately start to worry that we’re on the edge of a hypomanic (if not full out manic) episode. I’m well aware that my normal “baseline” mood is kind of apathetic. I go through the motions, not depressed, but just kind of plugging along. But as soon as my mood starts to shift up I start to panic. Why shouldn’t I be happy? Why would I not deserve to be happy? I think that’s the problem I’m really wrestling with.

At the end of the day, I feel like a failure. I know I’ve accomplished a lot in my life, I shouldn’t feel like it’s been a colossal disaster. I know that disease that’s inside my brain has warped my thinking to make me feel that way. I know that that’s not true, it’s not reality. But I can’t seem to convince my brain of that.

It’s still a war I’m fighting every day, even under the guise of “stability.” It’s a war that seems like it will never end. But all I can do is keep soldiering on, hoping that things will get better. But how do you win a war that’s being waged inside your own head?

A little bit of everything – work, music, books, mood, and suicide

I don’t think I’ve ever been so busy in my life. Between the two jobs I’m working between 70 and 80 hours a week. The money is good and is definitely helping our financial situation. But good grief, I’m practically never home. I sleep there. Maybe spend an hour or two trying not to fall asleep before it’s time for bed so I can spend some time with Mike or getting caught up on email, or both at the same time.

We have made some time over the last few weeks to see a few concerts – The Wrecks (who if you’ve never heard of them go give them a listen) toured with The Stolen and The Orphan The Poet (who have both made it into the music rotation in the car and at work), and then Thirty Seconds To Mars toured with practically all of the big bands from Sirius’s AltNation. Both great shows. We first encountered The Wrecks about 18 months ago at a Nothing But Thieves show, and I’ve kept up with them since. They’ve easily become one of my favorite bands, and we dragged my brother and a few friends to the show. Good time was had by all. The Thirty Seconds to Mars show was just me and Mike, which was nice having some time that was just us. Despite a few annoyances due to the weather and a few of the people around us we had a really good time. Walk the Moon absolutely killed it; we’ll definitely go see them again if they come around again, headlining or opening.

Despite being busier than all shit and constantly on the move my mood and anxiety haven’t been that bad. There was some drama at my full-time job (I mentioned it last post) but that seems to be over. I got a nice big reprimand, but bottom line I can’t screw up again. I’ve decided between that and some other things that are going on I really need to make a point to find a new job and soon. I need to prioritize the job hunt and get that moving.

Anyway, yeah. My mood has overall been pretty good. I’m tired as hell, but I’m still getting a normal amount of sleep so it’s not like I’m sleep-deprived or not sleeping enough. But this constant motion means I don’t get a lot of downtime.

I need to get back to reading. I was blowing through books for a while there, and I seem to have stalled out on Undeniable by Bill Nye. It’s not that it’s not interesting, it is, I’m just not as engaged with it as I was Neil Degrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. Maybe I need to take a break from the science books and read something a little more fun and one that doesn’t require as much active thinking. Between that and the Truman biography I’m reading, while both interesting, there’s not a lot of “getting lost in the story” kind of thing going on. It probably also doesn’t help that the Nye book isn’t written for people that have a four-year degree in the sciences. It’s written for more of a basic understanding.

I wasn’t going to bring it up, since they’ve been talked about ad nauseum, but someone recently asked me what I thought about the Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. They were horrible. It’s horrible when anyone feels that the only way out of their pain is to kill themselves. Whether it’s an 11-year-old who is being bullied of a 60-year-old fashion designer that seems to have everything. For days after both Facebook and Twitter were full of infographics with suicide statistics and numbers for suicide hotlines. But I know from personal experience that when you’re depressed it is literally the hardest thing in the world to reach out and ask for help. Last August when I was stuck in the pit of despair it took more effort that I knew I had in me at the time to reach out to my psychiatrist and to find a therapist. I had even called the local crisis network and the whole thing was exhausting. And then when it turned out that my psychiatrist was out of town for the next week I couldn’t handle it. Everywhere I reached out I wasn’t able to actually get any help. I wasn’t suicidal so checking myself into the hospital wasn’t an option (believe me, I asked), my shrink was out of town so an emergency appointment and possible med change was out of the question at least until he got back. And I had to wait to go even make an appointment with a therapist (I didn’t have one at the time) until I went through an intake interview. Only one person reached out during that month to see if I was ok. I had basically disappeared from everything, I went to work because I had to, but I did my job and didn’t say much and I found out later that everyone knew something was wrong but no one knew what. Fucking ask. Sometimes just having a person to just talk to can be the best thing in the world when you’re that low. Even if you don’t talk about what’s going on – talk about the latest Marvel movie or the newest episode of Chicago Med. Talk about the fucking weather. Just to have someone engage with you can lift your mood, even temporarily, and make it so you don’t feel like you’re the only person in the world and nobody cares. Just a connection, even for a momnt, to someone else.

I was greatly saddened by both Kate Spade’s and Anthony Bourdain’s passing. One of the things I had promised myself is that when I got a big girl job I was going to buy a Kate Spade bag with my first paycheck (or parts of it, two, and three). And while I wasn’t a religious follower of Anthony Bourdain’s shows, I did watch them when they were on and I wasn’t invested in anything else. But more than anything it makes me sad that a person can feel that much pain and despair.

I’ve heard a number of people say that suicide is the coward’s way out. But I really don’t agree with that. And I’m probably going to get a lot of flak for saying this, but I think that suicide is the act of someone desperate. Desperate to make the pain stop. Desperate for it to end. Not necessarily for their lives to end, but for the way that they feel to end. If you haven’t experienced that kind of soul-crushing depression you can’t understand why someone would see suicide as the only solution. I empathize with them, I sympathize with them, and I can completely understand why someone would think that that’s their only and best option.

It makes my heart hurt to think about someone suffering that much.

You do what you have to do

Ok, so. Yeah. I got that second job, which means I don’t have a ton of free time anymore (my next “day off” is the day of my brother’s graduation in two weeks. So not a real day off). But so far I’m doing pretty good. The 2nd job is (for me) very low stress. I’m literally just a cashier at a big box store. Honestly, if people think that this is stressful, they should come work at my primary job for a day.

My mood has been holding pretty steady. Only minor ups and downs. I don’t think I’m going to want to get off of the Zyprexa anytime soon, despite what my shrink might want. I don’t remember ever feeling this good that’s not part of an episode. I’m not hypomanic by any stretch of the imagination, I just can’t imagine people feeling this way without the help of pharmaceuticals.

My anxiety is ok. The second paycheck is helping greatly. I had a fuckup at work recently so I’m sure I’m going to be raked over the coals for that one, but I’m not in full panic mode over it. There’s literally nothing that I can do about it now. It’s done. I’ll take my punishment like a man and move on. Be more careful next time. Don’t fuck up again.

I hate to admit it but I haven’t had a whole lot of time to look for a job. I’m hoping I can get to do that a bit this weekend. I need to get back on that and not let that be the thing that falls through the cracks. Laundry, keeping the house presentable, even making sure there’s food in the house – those can all go by the wayside. These are things where Mike can pick up the slack. But looking for a job – that still has to be a high priority. So it’s time to make that happen this weekend.

So overall things are pretty good. At the end of the day this will all be a learning experience about money management, budgeting, and how to work as a team. As much as things suck right now, they’re really not all that bad compared to how things could be, and I think in some weird twisted way it’ll all be good for us and me.

A shift in perspective

So I’ve been on a bit of a reading tear this week. I think I’ve read three books in the last week? Maybe four. I’ve lost count at this point.

But one book really stuck out for me – The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson. I bought it on a whim a few months ago – it was on display at the front of Barnes and Noble, had a pretty orange cover, and I thought, ‘yeah, I could do with learning how to not give a fuck.’

But that’s not what this book is about. It’s about changing the way you think so there’s less negativity in your life. Instead of thinking ‘I hate my job,’ think ‘this might not be my ideal job but it’s a good job with a good salary and I do meaningful work.’ When I think about my job that way I feel less depressed. It also talks about how solving problems is where happiness comes from – the successes you have in life are what drives happiness. That kind of thinking makes sense to me. I’m not big on self-help books – most of them are pretentious in an ‘I know better than you’ kind of way and are not helpful at all. This was a quick read who freely admits that he doesn’t know it all and he doesn’t necessarily know better than you. I’m trying to shift my way of thinking and little by little it seems to help.

Tomorrow I start a second job. I’m not thrilled about this prospect, but we’re broke. And I work 4 on, 4 off. Working three of those four days off makes sense. So back to retail it is. When I left the retail job I worked in college I really thought, this is it. No more retail. Ever. But here we are. But I have to do what I have to do. Even though it’s not what I want. But it’s for the best. I’ll make do, I always do. And at least it’ll be hard to get stressed – my full-time job has taught me what real stress is.

We shifted my medication about a month ago – we lowered the dosage of the Zyprexa because I had gained almost 30 pounds in six months. I literally couldn’t stop eating. But on the flip side, I felt the best I had felt in years. I didn’t know it was possible to feel that good. Even on the lower dosage I still feel pretty damn good, but I’m no longer eating a planet five times a day. I mean by all rights I should be depressed. But I’m not. I’m soldiering on. Getting what I need to get done, done. There might be some signs of mild depression – not doing my hair and makeup like I normally do, sleeping a bit more, but it’s nothing that I would really consider a real depression, or even a mild one.

But at the end of the day I’m going to do what I do best – do the best thing I can for myself and my small little family, take care of my mental health, and the rest can go bugger off.

Goals and an incident this week

Hello fair readers,

I’m trying hard to adhere to my goal of posting more often. Let’s hope this trend continues.

Anyway, on to an incident this week that made me realize that despite my apparent stability over the last five months I’m still walking a tightrope of emotions. I’m not sure if anyone heard about the CNN/Apple glitch this week that sent the same push alert multiple times. If by multiple times they mean almost 50 alerts in 20 minutes, then sure. Between my iPhone and my iWatch I got the same CNN news alert that the guy that had triggered the inbound missile alert was fired almost 50 times in 20 minutes. But at the time I didn’t know this was a glitch. I was at work and the two would not. stop. dinging. My coworker estimated that I was getting an alert every 8-20 seconds. Turning both the watch and the phone off didn’t help. By five minutes in, I could feel the rage building. By ten minutes I was practically shaking. That same noise repeated over and over and over again was pushing a button that hasn’t been pushed in a long time. I could feel the rage in my chest. My heart rate was increasing. I was starting to sweat. It was the beginnings of a massive panic attack that had a really pissed off component to it. I wanted to break my phone, my watch. I wanted to slam something off of the desk. I probably should have taken an Ativan and in the moment I did have that thought, but I was clear-headed enough to know that I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to go into that blissful fog. It was almost time to leave and I knew if I took one I might not be okay to drive home. So I breathed. I took off my watch and put it and my phone in a drawer. The alert sound was still there, but it was muffled. I could deal with that. At the end of the day I dealt with what could have been a big trigger, and I survived. Clearly, therapy and all of the tools that it put in my toolbox are working.

One important thing that my therapist and I talked about today was goals. I always set myself goals every year. I write them down in the back of the TARDIS notebook that I haul around with me everywhere so I have a reminder of them. But goals, when you have a mental illness, can present challenges. Some everyone who sets goals experiences, and some that might be more specific to those with mental illnesses.

Everyone procrastinates. It’s a normal part of life. But sometimes that procrastination isn’t really procrastination. How are you supposed to accomplish anything when getting out of bed and getting a shower are extreme challenges? Procrastination goes hand in hand with motivation. Sometimes you have to put your goals aside and ride through those times the best you can. It’s ok to say “I can’t do this right now” and set other things aside and focus on the small things – getting a shower, getting through a work day, eating regularly, having a conversation with someone.

Fear is another component. For me, at least, that fear is bourne of the thought “what if I don’t accomplish this?” Am I setting myself up for another failure? Can I handle this kind of failure? How will I feel about myself if the end of the year comes and I haven’t accomplished this? Am I willing to take the risk of trying and not succeeding? Fear goes hand in hand with doing things outside of your comfort zone. There’s always a fear of doing things outside your comfort zone, I don’t care who you are. There’s a reason that it’s called a comfort zone.

So here’s some of my goals for this year:

  1. Find a new job – this is the biggest and scariest thing on my list. I’ve been at my current job almost six years. I know how it runs, I know what to expect, it’s familiar. But I went back and got my MBA so I could move on to something new. I need to put aside my fear of the unknown, and the fear of changing careers, and get on with it. Someone told me recently that the first job is always the hardest to get. And I think that’s very true. I have the education, I just may not have as much experience as a new position might call for. It’s time to start small. Maybe apply for jobs that might be a step below what I actually should be doing, but instead focus on getting in with a company where there’s room to grow.
  2. Lose ten pounds – this isn’t going to be easy. One of the medications I’m on has a side effect of increased appetite. I definitely get that. At times I get ravenously hungry and eat everything in sight. So I need to work at making better food choices, and probably eating at least light snacks more often to curb that. I put on ten pounds in four months last year after I started it. We just bought an Instant Pot so I’ll be cooking more at home now that I can cook things a lot faster.
  3. Continue learning French – I started using Duolingo last year, and made great progress on it until the Great Depression of 2017. I kind of fell off using the app during that and never got back into it. Time to pick it back up. I at least want to make progress this year as the goal next year is to go to the Benelux countries. At least passable French would be helpful.
  4. Quit smoking – at the very least I want to get back to vaping rather than smoking. Baby steps.
  5. Read 35 books – I’m on book number 2 right now, so I’m a little behind. But I’m going to work on catching up over the next few weeks. Maybe I should start posting book reviews.

So that’s that for this week. What could have been a major setback turned into a small victory. And I’ve set some pretty lofty goals, but go big or go home, right?

It’s time to start taking my own advice

For years, through hardships and bouts of mental illness, through both bad times and good, my unofficial motto has always been “keep moving forward.”

I haven’t been following that. At all.

I’ve let my anxiety cripple me in a number of ways. I haven’t applied for a job in months – there’s always some excuse. My cover letter needs work, I’m not happy with my resume, it’s the holidays and no one is really hiring. There’s always an excuse. A reason not to do it.

I’m worried that I won’t find something. I’m worried that I spent all of this money and time on a degree that I’m never going to be able to use for one reason or another. Now it’s to the point where I’ve worked myself up so much about the whole thing that I’m literally crippled with fear about the whole process.

What if I’m not good enough? What if all of the work that I’ve done, all of the sacrifices I’ve made, leave me with nothing but huge student loan bills? What if I let my husband down? What if I do get a job and I’m really not cut out for it? What if, for the past three years, I’ve made nothing but bad decisions?

At this point, I don’t know what’s worse – failing at everything and letting everyone down, or facing my fear and actually succeeding. Because succeeding means facing all of my fears and powering through them. And that’s a terrifying thought.

It’s times like this I really hate mental illness and the fact that I’ve been burdened to carry the load. Sometimes I think I’m not strong enough to handle it. Sometimes I want to curl up in bed and wish the world away. But I don’t have that luxury. I manage to keep up with everything that needs to be done, but for whatever reason, I have a really hard time facing this.

But I have to face it. It’s time to stop letting the fear run my life. It’s time to take the reins again. It’s time to keep moving forward.

The things no one tells you

All things considering, I was lucky when I was depressed. Despite the fact that when I originally reached out for help my shrink was out of town and none of the other resources in town would help me because I wasn’t suicidal, I still got help within about a week of reaching out. I was able to make an appointment with a new therapist relatively quickly. Once my doc was back in town he reached out his first day back and we spent the next six days (playing a bit of phone-tag, I admit) working through things before we ultimately decided on a med change. As much as we both complained that it was taking too long, in reality, the whole process went pretty quickly. When I was in college I fell into a pretty deep depression, and it took two and a half months to get in to see someone and in the meantime, I literally couldn’t get out of bed. I essentially failed a semester of college and was only able to keep my financial aid by the grace of God and a letter from my shrink. This could have been a lot worse than it was, with far worse consequences of having to repeat a few classes.

I was able to go to work during this. It was hard, and exhausting, and took more effort than I can even describe to work a 12-hour shift, but I did it. I’m sure it was fairly obvious that something was up – I didn’t wear make-up or my contacts, I hid in the lab whenever possible to keep from interacting with anyone that I didn’t absolutely have to. But when I was out and about in the building at lunch or dropping paperwork off to someone, the thing I heard the most was “are you feeling ok? You look really tired.” Part of that was definitely the not wearing make-up thing, but I was exhausted. I kept trying to keep in mind that these people really meant well, and they didn’t know what was going on, and they were concerned or at least wanted to put on the appearance of being concerned. But what they didn’t realize was that answering that one simple question, even with a well-prepared lie was absolutely exhausting, and meant that I spent the next two hours in the lab interacting with people as little as possible trying to recover. I’m an introvert by nature, but that surprises most people as I’m very friendly and while at work do my best to friendly and upbeat. Maintaining even a fraction of that personality was almost more tiring than anything else. I’d get in my car at the end of the day and just sag into the seat and try to muster the energy to drive home and collapse into bed. People’s concern made the day worse than they’ll ever realize.

The other thing that I wasn’t used to was that everyone had a suggestion to help my “sleep.” Vitamins, yoga, sunlight, shopping, cuddling my cats, taking a walk, etc. When someone is depressed the last thing that they want to hear is “I’m sure you’ll feel better if you do this or that!” No. That’s not what I needed. I needed a med change. I needed therapy. People were absolutely well-meaning, and maybe because I’ve been there, but the last thing I’d tell someone that I even maybe suspected was depressed that they’d feel better if they just went outside, or cut gluten out of their diet.

But things are much better now. I’m sleeping normally, I’m getting stuff done on my days off, I’m being social and not hiding in my house, laughing and joking again, pretty much back to normal. I get flashes of irritability and anxiety, and I think the dosage of the Zyprexa may need to be slightly increased, but generally speaking, I’m back on my feet.

One thing I learned from this experience is that there are no resources for people who aren’t suicidal or having a total psychotic break. I heard a lot of “you’re under the care of a psychiatrist, even if he’s out of town we’re not going to change your meds” or “you’re not a danger to yourself, so you’re going to have to tough it out until he gets back” or “there’s no room in the hospital so you can’t voluntarily commit yourself unless you’re suicidal.” My therapist and I have talked about this, and he agrees that it’s a problem. Like I said to him, what if my doc wasn’t back for another three weeks? Would I really have had to keep suffering until then? What if by that point I actually was suicidal? What if the mere fact that I had reached out to so many people only to be rebuffed made me not reach out at all in the future? I mean, why should I? No one is going to help me. I don’t know what there is that can be done. I can understand not wanting to screw with meds, but why isn’t there such a thing as emergency therapy appointments? At least in my city you can call in the morning if you hurt your knee and get in with an orthopedic doctor or PA. There are emergency appointments for injuries, but not mental health? Seems kind of dumb and almost counterintuitive.

There’s an idea somewhere in there, we’ll see if it germinates into anything.

Anyway, I’m done rambling.

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel

My shrink changed my meds last Sunday. I started feeling slightly better by Monday afternoon. To be fair, I was in a fog and exhausted all morning, but it was still an improvement. Tuesday was a bit better – the fog only lasted until about 10, but I was exhausted. By Saturday, mood-wise, I felt pretty good. Pretty good to the point where I was concerned I was swinging the other way and becoming manic. My shrink pointed out that when you’re feeling as low as I was, even for the short four weeks that I felt that way, feeling normal feels deliriously high, even when you’re really not. The exhaustion I felt from taking the Zyprexa lasted until about Saturday. Now I seem to be able to (mostly) get through the day with a little help from my friend Diet Coke.

But I’ve been thinking about it. How do you explain what depression feels like to someone that’s never experienced it? And if you really get down to it, depression feels different for each of us. It’s more than feeling sad. It aches, deep in the center of your joints, between each vertebrae. It’s an all encompassing hopelessness, the feeling that no matter what you do nothing is going to turn out right so why bother trying? The sense that you’re just a burden on your entire family and all of your friends. An exhaustion that seeps into your every pore and makes it impossible to get off of the couch.

But we live through it. We come out on the other side and work to pick up the pieces, get back to life. Back to routines. Back to remembering to feed the cats without them sitting on your chest and glaring at you. You make a peach cobbler for your husband as a way of apologizing for putting him through it. And you do what you can to hit life with a renewed vigor to prove to yourself that you’re not worthless, and things can work out in the end.

Here’s to hoping.