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Archive for the ‘Depression and Mental Health’ Category

Runner’s Calm

In Depression and Mental Health, Somewhat disjointed rant... on August 31, 2014 at 3:11 am

I run on the left side of the street. That’s a habit born of having my ass slapped by the driver of a car coming up behind me once when I was running on the right side.

The first step out of my house is always the hardest. I have to fool myself. One part of my mind knows what is coming. The other part is too busy thinking mean things about me. My body is in total disagreement with anything that involves more than flipping through Buzzfeed.

But, I do it. Because I am sick of bullying myself mentally. The best way to fight a bully: fight back. I usually choose light weight clothing. Not today. I wore a heavy-weight t-shirt and those terribly hot track pants that go swish when I move.

I don’t track distance anymore; I track time. I usually power walk for a good bit before I run, but not today. Today has been a day full of frustration and anger–mostly directed at myself, but some at others (if only for good measure). I hate working out inside. I need outside. I need the challenges of heat and insects and cracked pavement and looming branches and cars and overgrown thorns and hills.

I started running almost immediately. Not jogging. I cannot jog. I’ve tried and I fail most miserably. It’s painful and I find myself curling forward into the pace of it. No, I need running: with my chest open and my back straight and my knees high and my feet swinging back. The first few steps, I can still hear the self-doubt, the self-hate, the self-loathing. But, then, the inevitable stitch creeps up my right shin. I have a funny gait that I constantly have to readjust. I was really thin as a kid; where some kids have baby fat, I had baby thin. And, I never really moved my hips when I walked. I had no need of it. But, baby thin wore off. Adult me still hasn’t quite gotten used to my woman proportions. To compensate, I bear the weight on my right leg whether I run or walk.

The stitch is painful, like I pulled taut an imaginary thread that connects my toes to my fingers. But, I don’t stop. That one part of my mind knows that the stitch will ease. I’m not running to ease the stitch; it’s almost welcome. Every part of my mind is screaming OWWWWWWW. I always walk downhill. In my mind, it takes far more control to prevent my 180 pounds from barreling down a hill at top speed. No, I power walk down hill. I run uphill. I set my goals by mailboxes. At the first hill, I decide to stop at a forest green mailbox. I always stop, take my pulse, and have celebratory swig from my camelbak. Within 10 seconds, I want to feel at least 30 beats.

I live in the Piedmont–the foot hills of Georgia–so there are a lot of hills. Lots of chances to silence my self-loathing. The second hill is more severe. My pulse is high, so I don’t push it too much but just enough to make my thighs hurt. But, suddenly, I don’t care about that. I am reveling in–and sharply thankful for–enough youth and health to do this. This particular hill is the one that forces the longest recovery. I get myself back to a power walk with Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Good and that lasts through the third hill.

I’m hot, but I wish I had started a half-hour earlier before. Late August in Georgia means blazing hot days, humid afternoons, and cool almost Autumnal evenings. I wish that I had started in the humid afternoon. Sweating it out goes hand in hand with running it out. My stress sweat smells terrible and bitter; my running sweat smells noticeably cleaner. So, I can tell when I’ve pushed myself beyond the stress. Today, it happened at the top of the third hill just before I turned left to make the fourth.

My workout playlist is an odd mix of styles that I put together with no other requirement than that the beat be fast and heavy so that I can keep up a good pace. That means there is a good bit of techno. I never bother to learn the names of the songs. But, as I was pushing up the fourth hill, one of my favorites came on. The chorus (I guess it is still a chorus–even though those are the only discernible words in the song) goes, “Torture. Kill Me.” It was then that I realized that I would have to do a fifth hill.

It’s one thing to run past the pain in my legs and butt. That will yield the almost pleasant dull ache tomorrow that reminds me of what I put myself through today. The real mind game comes with running past the pain in my lungs. My pulse is fast; but not dangerously so. That’s the point of the cardio–to improve my heart’s ability to recover. But, the primordial part of my mind (where I register basic gut things like fight or flight) doesn’t know that. It thinks I’m going to die. And the only thing that I hear, the only thing my mind registers, the only thing my body understands is: MUST MAKE IT.

I know better, but I agree that I must make it back to my house for a hot shower. My skin is warm, my breathing is strong, my mind is alert, my sweat is evaporating in the odd breeze. I’m not dying. But, I will have to make another hill no matter which way I choose to get back to my house. It’s a smaller hill and good for a close. My shirt is soaked; my synthetic pants have done their best; my camelbak is wet from the sweat off my neck and hair.

I probably did push myself a little too hard. My eyes seem to be beating in time to my pulse. But, there is nothing to be done at this point but cool down–until my pulse is at or just under 20 beats in 10 seconds. I walk back to my house in the gathering dusk. Everything is in sharp relief: the little irregularities in the pavement, the speed and headlights of an oncoming car; the almost non-existent tightness in my lower back; the slight smell of coming rain; the gray-purple of the sky.

I listen to Misty.

All the self-doubt, self-anger, and self-loathing are afraid of me now. They are silent. This is the point I need to reach. I run from me and return back to me. Runner’s calm.

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Loss of Friendship

In Depression and Mental Health, Friendship on August 27, 2014 at 2:23 am

It has been a constant theme in my life: the closing of friendships. Platonic, romantic, close, arms length–friends come and go to varying degrees. The closing happens because of a move, because of a difference of opinion, because of an argument, because of a misunderstanding, because of life changes. Sometimes, the closing is partial. Other times, the closing is complete and final as the slam of a door.

But, I have not gotten used to it. Ever. This last time that it happened–just so very recently–I forced myself to stop and reflect. As a child, I was told not to reflect on closed friendships. I was told to employ a “their loss” attitude and move on. I don’t have the Move On gene.

Being that it’s so fresh, I have no idea how complete or partial this closing might be. But, a closing it must be because my friend felt that I was (am) untrustworthy and said so. I was angry in a blazing-cursing-streak-better-hand-me-a-drink sort of way. I broke out in hives (I do that when I get really angry). I was/am, however, so extremely hurt. Having hurt and anger so close to the surface of me is a vulnerable feeling.

More than anything, I was angry at myself. While I would not hesitate to forgive my friend; I will probably never forgive myself. With each occurrence like this, I lose a little of my ability to trust myself when it comes to interactions with others. I lose a little of my ability to let other people in–not that I had a huge store of that ability to begin with. I scourge myself for trusting that person, for allowing any of the real me to show through. I forbid myself from talking to others for days. I take a small step back from everyone in my life. There is no one who is safe; not even myself.

It’s ridiculous to admit–but, very true–that I believe that I am the main cause of these situations. I believe to the point of knowing that my own huge anxieties and the shadow of depression that lingers around me together cause these closings. With a sureness that brings hives to my skin, I feel that my neediness, my presence, my sadness, my flaws are destructive. So, I take a small step back from everyone in my life. There is no one who is safe; not even myself.

Over the course of time, the losses have been staggering. Each time, I lose so much more than one friend.

The Dark Glass

In Depression and Mental Health, Examining my tears #ExMT, Uncategorized, Using my words for good #UMFWG on July 14, 2014 at 3:44 am

Who do I turn to? It’s a crushing weight, but then again…it is not actually a crushing weight. Is it? I recognize that I do not have the proper perspective to judge, but the weight on my chest and confusion in my mind feel so crushing. Yet, it is rather imaginary. Isn’t it? After all, my problems–my issues–are not of a truly substantial nature. I’m not facing a lack of food, a lack of shelter, poor health–or any of those things.

But, still, this tinted glass wall sometimes drops down between me and everything else. I can’t turn around and go back. No, I have spent so much time working my way forward and I know what sadness and struggles are behind me. Somehow, though, I cannot move forward. I can see out. I can see, dimly through the darkened glass, that things are better than I think they are and that I can be better. I just can’t get there at that very moment.

Do I bang against the glass again and again, hoping that it will shatter? Do I try to tunnel underneath? Do I just sit there and hope that it will be lifted as suddenly and mysteriously as it dropped? Or, do I pretend that the wall is not there, and that the barrier does not exist, and that (even though it does exist) I don’t care?

And, who wants to hear my tangled metaphors of glass and weights? Who wants to hear all of that again–because it recurs. It recurs. That is the most shameful thing of all. No matter how resilient I was last time, I will have to–and, I will be able to–be as resilient again. That’s the bottom line. There is no choice. I can, I will, I must. No matter how heavy the weight on my chest, I can, I will, I must take another breath. No matter how dark and how thick that glass, I can, I will, I must press my forehead against it and wait for it to lift or crack or shatter.

I want so badly to be able to exercise my way out of it; to think my way out of it; to faith my way out of it; to pray my way out of it; to laugh my way out of it; to talk my out of it; to do anything at all to get out of it. But, those things are not permanent fixes. Maybe there is no permanent fix; maybe there is, and I have not found that fix yet. So, I fake it. I smile and laugh and eat and do without really feeling anything except the shame of having to fake the whole thing again. I hold out hope that at some point, a switch will flip and it will change from a performance to me being genuine.

Who can I really face while carrying that shame again? So, I hide. I don’t have to explain. But, eventually, I begin to wonder if anyone notices that I am hiding. Then, I begin to believe that it’s just easier if I hide. I can repeat the struggle again without disturbing anyone. My struggles for breath and my head-banging against the glass will not distract anyone else. But, mostly, I just don’t want anyone to see. I don’t want to be judged too emotional or incompetent or hysterical or crazy. I do not talk about those minutes, days, weeks behind the glass. I’m strong, smart, practiced enough to get by without talking about the hours behind the darkened glass.

I have a gift that many others who deal with the weight, the confusion, and darkness of depression do not have: I have hope. Even the thinnest scrap of hope has the instructions on how to make it to the next minute. And, that is what I do. I live one minute to the next, knowing those minutes will turn into an hour, and those hours will turn into one day. It is not about tomorrow being better; it is about making it into the next minute with another scrap of hope and with the belief that the glass will lift.

If I think too far ahead, I (somehow by some sort of mental sleight of hand) will be reminded of losses and that leads to regret, guilt, and shame. But, when I live from one minute to the next, making it the way I am, making it as who I am, and making it with the bare essentials of life is possible. In that minute, I am enough. When I think too far ahead, I am not enough. I am inadequate. I am weak. I am stupid. When I think too far ahead, I accept the dark glass as the best thing.

Reunion: A sense of something past

In Choosing to see the wonderful #CTSTW, Depression and Mental Health, Encouragement, Friendship, Happiness, R[evol]ution, Somewhat disjointed rant... on April 29, 2014 at 3:14 am

This past weekend was my 10 year reunion for Agnes Scott College. I was very excited, and it was a great weekend. A great many of the women with whom I attended school came, and it was something not quite nostalgic. There was a sense of something new: the chance to form adult friendships with women who are smart, accomplished, articulate. The chance to form mature friendships that I could not have formed as a young 20 something.

But, then, there was also a sense of something past for me. I did have good times in college, but (overall) it was not a happy time in my life. I have written before of how I dealt (back then) with deep depression that made me feel disconnected from other people. Strangely, though, I was brought into very close contact with people without whom I would have been unable to graduate on time and move beyond my stint in the behavior disorder ward. The administration of Agnes Scott and many of my friends made around me a protective circle of love, prayer, compassion, and faith. I’m forever grateful.

But, momentarily, I was flooded with questions like: why didn’t I…? Why couldn’t I…..? Shouldn’t I have….?

Is there a way to step, for a moment, back into that time and pick up the things that I missed? Or, can I at least figure out why I didn’t do this or that? I concluded, that for me, there is not a way to step back into that time. The things that I missed, the connections that I did not make cannot be redone or remade to be as if it had been ten years ago. For me, the best thing was to be grateful for the past, to be grateful for those who loved me in the past, to be grateful that I have a chance to connect with the women as they are now rather than lament that I missed the chance to connect with who they were.

This past weekend was a practice in living the now. And, I realize that I need to allow myself a healthy amount of grief over the very young and scared woman who was me. Until now, I mostly ignored her and the past. But, there is no need for shame, embarassment, and denial. After all, she eventually became me. But, grieving over her is not at all the same thing as resurrecting her. I cannot make her time happier, but I can work to make my time now happier. I cannot reach back across 10 years and make her experience peace; but, I can be at peace with who I am now.

And, oddly what so worried and saddened me 10 years ago was the thought that I would never feel happy or at peace. Some things do fall away into the past. Moving beyond those crippling thoughts and being the woman I am now among other women of the now made me happy–perhaps not exactly nostalgic–and glad to be with them.

Distance and Engagement

In Choosing to see the wonderful #CTSTW, Depression and Mental Health, Encouragement, Friendship, Law School Problems, Love and Romance, R[evol]ution, Uncategorized on April 21, 2014 at 2:42 am

On April 2, 2014, my boyfriend went down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I said yes. He and I were by ourselves at this moment, and we went to celebrate by ourselves. In the coming days, we were quiet and savored the newness of the thing largely alone. Despite what movies and novels would have you believe, I didn’t have friends who I immediately called to gush over the news. Many of the women who I might have called for that reason have distanced themselves from me and I from them–perhaps due partially to this man.

But, it’s not a new distance among us. The drift had begun before he and I took real notice of each other and it quickened as soon as two weeks after he and I started dating in the summer of 2011. We met in law school, probably very early during my first fall semester since we both rode MARTA then. We were each involved in our own lives and really didn’t overlap each other. I was certainly swallowed up in the emotional and intellectual tides of first-year law school. At the end of the Spring semester, though, I called him to apologize for not coming to his graduation party. From there, we talked and saw each other regularly.

After about two weeks, we had our first real date and I met two of his friends and he and I went to watch movies at his friends’ home. It was all so deliciously normal that I began to feel guilty…..as if I was dragging this man into all of my friend-losing, engagement-breaking, prozac-taking drama. The criticisms of others had long before become the rain that watered my soul. Also, I have very little sophistication when I comes to relationships. Later that evening when he and I were alone I started to cry and all of THAT came tumbling out in (what I can safely assume was) a rather jumbled tale.

It was a little embarrassing at the time, so I can’t truly say that I remember it clearly as the significance did not dawn on me until later. What I remember most is how gentle and kind his eyes looked once he realized that I was serious and in some distress. There wasn’t really any pity and absolutely no shock in his voice or face. In those moments, he was quiet and listened. He said to me then what he continues to say to me now: that we all have our scars, weaknesses, and troubles. That mine were not worse than those of anyone else.

In the coming days, I watched for a sign that he thought I was different, crazy, soiled. But, that sign never came and it has not come. I did not recognize that I was in love and even if I had, I would have found it hard to explain it to my women friends. What I did know was that I felt comfortable, peaceful, at ease, and unsuspicious with this man–and those were things I experienced rarely then. Even though I communicate(d) in short, pointed, expressive, honest bursts punctuated with silence and he is more comfortable with conversation and words, he made (and makes) me feel an equal. I did not have the words to explain that to them–and did not (for whatever reason) search for the words to explain it.

I was, honestly, a little selfish in absolutely basking and camping in these experiences and not being particularly open with my friends about how I felt. The feeling of acceptance was such a God-send and I had no desire for anyone to remind me of the doubts I was slowly putting to death at the time. Maybe I was wrong to hoard that positivity. But, it was beautiful. And, it was mine. And, I had a chance to forge a healthy relationship with a balanced and open-minded person.

I took that chance, and I have not regretted it.

Sifting through Suicidal Thoughts

In and other uncomfortable topics, Depression and Mental Health, Encouragement, Uncategorized on April 3, 2014 at 3:20 am

First, I have to say that suicidal ideation is not a laughing matter. If you are having suicidal thoughts, please be kind to yourself and do not pressure yourself to do anything suddenly. You do, however, need to seek professional assistance. I am not a doctor or medical professional (they won’t even let me play one on TV). If you are in a crisis situation, you should go to a safe space and call 911. There are trained professionals available to talk at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

What I say below is not the result of science, and it is not an organized therapy plan. What I say below is simply a collection of anecdotes and thoughts.

I have experienced suicidal thoughts several times in my life. The sad thing is that people rarely talk about suicidal ideation, and focus instead on the aftermath of suicide itself: the loss, the sadness, the grief. Talking about suicidal thoughts is a particularly stripping, bleaching, burning, vulnerable experience. I know that former and potential future supervisors might read this; former students and parents of students; family members; friends. All of those people might read this.

But, some of those people are likely experiencing suicidal thoughts right now and have no idea where to turn or what to do. Thankfully, I have lived through all of my bouts with suicidal thoughts–and I anticipate being able to make it through any future bouts.

1. When I am in that PLACE, I feel lost and disoriented.

I always remind myself that I have been in this PLACE before. That’s what it is: an emotional and mental location. Just like any other location, I took a path to get to that PLACE and, maybe, retracing my steps will take me away from that location.

Can you go back the way you came? Can you look at each emotional road marker that got you there and realize that the opposite could be equally true? If you can do that, maybe you get away from that PLACE.

2. Often, I get to that PLACE because I am involved in a tough life problem and I cannot see a way to solve that problem. The more I cannot see a way to solve the problem, the large the problem seems, and the harder it seems to solve. Then, I begin to think that if I cannot solve this problem, my life and myself will be a disappointment.

And, the sad thing is that there are some people in the world who will focus on your failures, your weaknesses, and your disappointing moments more than your triumphs, your strengths, and your everyday average glories. Those people are assholes. For some reason, seeing you alive and striving for peace and balance really pisses them off.

Your life is not a scale in which you must outweigh each failure with two triumphs. I have no empirical proof, but life just does not work that way.

3. Sometimes, I get to that PLACE because the criticisms of others have soaked into me and become a constant inner banter of negative talk.

I find it odd that I never play the positive words of others on loop in my brain. I have to remind myself of the positive words that others have spoken to me. Perhaps that is because critical people are more likely to talk (far too much). Perhaps that is because I am wired to best remember negativity. A more likely answer is that I am giving space and power to people who do not deserve either in my life.

Begin to exercise power in your life by resolving to live tomorrow with the purpose of pushing those people into a menial and small place in your life.

4. While I am in that PLACE, I feel silenced and ostracized.

I have to remind myself that there are people who will truly listen and empathize.

When I was in law school, I was a part of an amazing therapy group. Obviously, group therapy means that everyone comes with the expectation of having to listen and empathize and share and feel. But, these people showed me that there are people who want to help and listen and feel and share. But, I have to make the effort to share and be open.

I urge you to reach out. Your hurts are just as serious and critical as knife wounds. Hearing another voice or seeing another face may help you to contextualize what you are feeling. You may not, through one conversation or meeting or call, find a solution to what is hurting you. But, you may recover a spark of hope that can get you through the next minute; the next hour; the next 2 hours; and, on until tomorrow.

Remember, there are assholes out in the world. Please don’t be swayed by the thoughtless words of some jerk. Keep pushing until you find a safe person to talk to. You are not alone. Maybe I have not been exactly where you are, but I have been somewhere similar.

5. I often get to that PLACE because my mind is racing and attempting to tackle the challenges of other days, weeks, and months.

Take it moment by moment. You don’t need to solve the entire problem right now. Focus on solving the next minute right now. This may sound discouraging, but each minute presents its own small challenge(s) that you can overcome.

When I am in that PLACE, looking ahead to the future is not usually helpful because of how powerless I feel and how unlikely a bright future seems.

6. Try to be powerful–even in small ways. Dialing that hotline number is a way to be powerful. Making a doctor’s appointment is a way to be powerful. Being insistent about getting help is a way to be powerful. Getting up to go sit at Starbuck’s so you can be around other people is a way to be powerful.

I made it, and I am in no way remarkable. You can make it, too. Your life is worth living. Please leave that PLACE.

The truth about cold turkey…..

In and other uncomfortable topics, Depression and Mental Health, Somewhat disjointed rant... on March 25, 2014 at 12:07 pm

I have heard, read, and believed how tough it is to quit nearly anything cold turkey: smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, eating meat, consuming sugar. So, somehow, when my doctor was irritatingly dismissive of my desire to refill my prescription of fluoxetine (that’s Prozac for all of you completely sane people out there), I went on an “I’ll show you” rampage and decided to quit the med cold turkey.

Only belatedly did I discover all of the sites where the phrase DON’T QUIT MEDS COLD TURKEY dances across the screen in neon yellow. So, apparently, what I went through is a rare experience since most people DON’T QUIT MEDS COLD TURKEY. Of course, my experience in the cold turkey rabbit hole is unique and others will likely have a radically different experience. My last dose was at the end of December 2013.

Here’s what I learned:
1. Some anti-depressants can have long half-lives. This means it could take days or weeks for the meds to work their way out of your system. What this means: when you wake up feeling great 6 days after taking the previous dose, this does not mean you are done and that you have made it to the mountaintop. If your doctor is at all professional and competent, your doctor will know alllllll about this.

2. Be adamant. Be very adamant about what you are looking for in terms of mental health. The key word is YOU. Not Uncle Hobart; Not Aunt Matilda; Not the Dowager Countess; Not dear old grand-dame; Not Marty McFly. There may be people in your life who are (and will likely always be) disapproving of you taking meds; there may be people in your life who believe everyone is neurotic and in need of meds; there may be others still who believe you are not strong enough to go off of meds; there may be even another group who believes that you are Zena Warrior Princess or Highlander and never needed meds; there will be people who prescribe vegetarianism, veganism, exercise, laughter, sex, meditation, or prayer as the non-med cure for what mentally ails you.

Again, be adamant about what your wants, needs, and current place in life mentally and emotionally.

Here’s what I experienced:
1. Nausea. Not the sort of hard core nausea that I experience as a result of motion sickness or during my cycle. This nausea was a dulled and prolonged sense of disequilibrium. This began about two weeks after my last dose and ceased about two weeks ago.
2. Shift in eating patterns. Previously, I would sometimes wake up and grab a midnight snack. Lately, I have experienced hunger pains at night that sometimes wake me up.
3. Dizziness. Making a quick 180 degree turn would leave me feeling wobbly. It would then take me a moment to collect myself. This started about two weeks after my last dose, but ceased about two weeks ago.
4. A definite shift in my self view. I’m a lawyer, so I don’t necessarily have a small ego. But, my sense of self-efficacy and self-assuredness has definitely become a bit more fragile. Also, libido. Down. That’s all I have to say about that.

Here is what I would do differently:
1. I wish that I had kept a diary, so that I could relate my experiences to a counselor or doctor.
2. I wish that I had gotten a second opinion or simply fired my doctor in favor of someone with compassion and patience for mental health issues.
3. I wish that I had engaged a counselor before doing this cold turkey. The fact of the matter is that no matter how much another one promises to be there for you during the time you are kicking the meds: no one is going to be able to handle the numerous small changes and large obstacles that are in your way. It’s not fair to turn a civilian into your makeshift professional counselor. This means that I’ve toughed out a lot of struggles quietly on my own.