Tag Archives: anxiety

Bounce Back

I’ve been trying for months to spit out some words. I have started and then failed to complete any number of thoughts in a way that would be, best case scenario, marginally intelligible to readers. I had more or less given up on the idea of creating useful or insightful content, primarily because every concept I entertained eventually slipped through my sieve-like mind. The mental fog has been so great, I haven’t been able to string words together, let alone thoughts.

There were times when the desperation felt so great, I didn’t want to write at all. I crawled over each task on my belly and every word I attempted to write felt like mountain in a long, desolate range than stretched as far as I could see in either direction. Naively, I believed I was just tired, overwhelmed with work and the stress of raising a toddler. I didn’t see how my mental health was spiraling out of my control until I was on the precipice of a crisis.

The signs of a major depression are known to me and have been for a long time, but I still managed to take the sadness, the intolerance, the anger and loss of interest for granted. Recently, when my behavior escalated into full-blown mania, I couldn’t pretend that I was getting by anymore. Hard to feel healthy and grounded when your mind is propelling you straight into the sun.

I’ve been telling myself to that I need to bounce back. Pick yourself up by the bootstraps and move on. Just get up off of the floor. Stop doing this — get. up.

Every day I am trying very hard to be here.

I recognize that there will always be times that life leaves you in places of despair. This time, in attempts to insulate from those places and those people,  I chose to withdraw back into myself, knowing it was a risk. But I have tried to withdraw in the direction of the Right Things: my husband, my child, my work, my tribe. I have been trying to care for myself the way a mother would, because I know that I need caring for.

“You have to find a mother inside of yourself. We all do. Even if we already have a mother, we still need to find this part of ourselves inside.”
– Sue Monk Kidd, from The Secret Life of Bees

I am searching for that part of me inside that is going to push me to bounce back in the way that I must. The woman who will nurture me and encourage me to try something new. To turn away from relationships and loves that no longer feed my soul. I am trying to identify that voice inside that says, “Get up. Breathe. You can do this. Don’t sell yourself short. Just breathe. Breathe, and go eat a good meal, and wash your hair, and then get in bed early. Get up in the morning at a reasonable time. Go to work. Do your best like you always do. Work, and work on you. And work on those things that are important to you. Brush yourself and the naysayers right off. Trust that you are a good mother. Trust that you know what you’re doing is right, because you know what’s right for you. Leave fair-weather friends behind, and then forgive them. And then forgive yourself, because you are worthy of being loved just as you are, which is just as I made you. Circle back in on yourself when you need to, but grow. And live. And love. And at the end of every day, let your final take-away be this: My darling girl, look how far you have come.

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Crisis

Crisis. An interesting word when you hear it or speak it over and over again to yourself in a short period of time, am I in crisis? I am in a crisis. A mental health crisis, meaning, a moment in time where I am a potential danger to myself, if not others. A moment in which my ability to make sound decisions has come into question. A crisis of consciousness — as in I have TOO MUCH OF IT on account of the fact that I very much want to not exist anymore, not now, not in this moment. I don’t want to be here anymore.

The first year after we lost my stepfather, I would wake up in the apartment that I shared with my mom, his wife, where we lived together still surrounded by his things and when she was in crisis I would sit with her until it passed. In the year after her death, I would be in significant moments of crisis as my boyfriend slumbered peacefully in the bed beside me as I sunk to floor in the cold moonlight and desperately tried to make peace with the sudden terrible desire to die, hating him a little bit for being oblivious to the tempest raging in the room beside him. And now I am here: hours post-triggering event, still slowly circling the drain of my consciousness just waiting to fall off the edge into what? I don’t know. It never occurred to me to care aside from my literary sensibilities warning me away from the phrase “into oblivion” — if you must be crazy, try not be be crazy and also a cliche. Make no mistake, though, that is what I want: nothingness. Perhaps not forever, but just until the storm, this “crisis” passes.

Even if the crisis never passes because it is ME I am the critical component here and the harbinger of my own descent into madness. I am the failure. I am the reason for my own sadness.

I just want to hurt in a way that I can see and touch. A pain that I can feel on the inside and the outside. I want to grasp something tangible and say THIS. This hurts, it is injured and it gives me pain and because I can touch it with my hands not only am I positive that it is real and that it is there, but I am also confident that it will heal someday. It’s a strange sort of drive that makes a person want to harm themselves — mostly, I think, it is the innate desire to have one’s insides match their outsides.

In the middle of the storm, I recorded a few of my racing thoughts. The state of crisis lasted for a few days, which felt bizarre at the time. I think that I have often considered a “crisis” to be a singular moment of tragedy, a precipitating event for a Before and an After. However, after this crisis was triggered, I saw that it bloomed into a complete mental and physical state that took several days to subside. Days during which I didn’t know exactly where I was, except for the few brief moments of clarity and presentness that punctuated the dark.

I caused myself physical harm in that time. Self-harm has been a constant blip on my radar for years, but it’s been manageable. During my crisis, the desire to self-harm bowled me over, seducing me with promises of equilibrium. Where I once felt that I was spinning out of control, my focus narrowed and concentrated on a single point in time, a singular feeling of physical pain that obliterates all other sensation from my mind. In that moment, it was a welcome reprieve, but in the bright light of day I was disappointed and ashamed of myself — not only because I had resorted to self-harm, but because I had allowed myself to be triggered and suffer a crisis at all.

I like to envision myself as fairly invincible. I frequently imagine myself in horrible situations and think myself through the step-by-step reactions I would deploy to control and ultimately survive the situation. In my own mind, I am capable of withstanding absolutely anything. In life, however, I find myself wanting. It becomes clear to me that I am not, in fact, invincible.. I am actually vulnerable and weak, and in many ways, defunct.

I can’t get pregnant. My body seems to have forgotten how to make itself a host for a new life. Despite trying for over a year, we’ve come no closer to growing our family, and I know that it’s my fault. I can’t get pregnant and my heart is broken. This isn’t how it was supposed to be. I think back to all those times as a teenager, my girlfriends and I taking turns with the awful possibility that we had gotten in trouble. Too young to be mothers, so we prayed and prayed please God don’t let me be pregnant. Now all the manic energy that went into counting the days until we bled has been translated into a deep emotional clenching trying to hold it in and support a life that we are desperate to give birth to. There was a genetic legacy that I was rather depending on, that I have since been discouraged from cashing in. None of the women in my family have been infertile; at least, not that I’m aware of. One of the last things my mother ever told me what was a good mother I would be someday, speculating how easy for me it would be to get pregnant once I was ready, and I believed her, of course, because mother knows best.

So now a new crisis: a crisis of faith. Ever the believer, ever the hopeless optimistic, I’ve not yet given up the dream. But it has cost me no small measure of peace to hold on with such determination, as if I could, by sheer force of will, make myself conceive. It’s ridiculous. I am no Mary and there is no reason to expect Divine Intervention. After all, it’s not exactly uncommon. Secondary infertility, the inability to become pregnant despite previous successes, happens to a fair share of women. Though if I’m honest with my myself, the birth of our daughter nearly three years ago is truly nothing short of a miracle. We struggled to get pregnant, and I struggled to carry her past those first tremulous weeks where it seemed all too likely that she would just slip away, out of my body and out of existence. It would appear that Moira, fated to be born, was the exception, and that my wasted body, this useless mass of flesh, has no miracles left to give.

Every wretched cramp that twists my insides, every drop of wasted blood, every excited announcement of another woman’s fecundity is a thorn in my side. Salt in the wound. I am so angry, I want to scream at someone. I want to make another person feel as hurt, as dispossessed as I feel. I want to give this grief a name and a purpose and to make this pain wearable, apparent. I want everyone to know I’m a fucking open wound, just walking around, waiting to hurt.

And then, the guilt. As I’m reeling through these feelings of loss and failure, a part of me comes to attention to remind me, with cruel alacrity, that I am not, in fact, as disenfranchised as I may feel. I have a beautiful daughter. I have a wonderful career that I love, and a family that loves me, and there are starving people in China, for crissakes, so what’s your fucking problem? You are not a victim. I am not a victim of anything or anyone except myself. I ought to be focusing in on the good things in my life with humility and gratitude. After all, there are scores of women out there, some of whom are close friends, who have been unable to conceive at all. At least I have one child. One perfect, lovely, intelligent, beautiful child. I shouldn’t be so selfish, so greedy, as to wish for more.

But it just isn’t fair. Perhaps it’s the Libra in me, this constant preoccupation with fairness that so brutally trips me up when life becomes chaotic and unreasonable, as it is wont to do. Life isn’t fair, of course, and I know that. But I’m stubbornly resistant to the notion, unwilling to capitulate to fate. I reckon that if I do everything right — if I eat right, I exercise, I keep healthy, I take my vitamins; whatever — if I do all the right things, then I ought to get the outcome that I want. That’s how we’re often taught to look at problems, excepting for those insurmountable challenges that are so far out of our hands that we are instead told that it’s God, or the Universe, or Fate, that will decide. Just be patient. Relax. Whatever is meant to be will be.

What rubbish.

I am, or at least, I have considered myself to be, a spiritual person, but instances like this test my faith. It incenses me to hear that “God has a plan” or “You never know what the Universe has in store for you.” Bullshit. I have plans. My plans aren’t good enough for God? The Universe is withholding my happiness from me because It knows better? Ridiculous!

These are the uncharitable, heathenous thoughts that intrude upon me every waking moment. I am painfully aware of how unreasonable my sadness and frustration have made me. As this writing has proven, I vacillate between petulance and shame frequently. I am struggling to float, let alone rise above the tide. Yes, I ought to deploy some focused gratitude, and center myself around what is really important. Yes, I am at the mercy of my biochemistry in some respects, but I am responsible for how I respond to the changes in the tide. I am aware of these truths and more, but the sadness and disappointment are indefatigable and merciless. I am as trapped within my spotty mind as I am within my troubled body. What is broken cannot always be mended.

 

Keto

Some people close to us are aware that Hubby and I have been trying over a year for Baby #2, without any luck. Last week, I was finally able to see a doctor to discuss my concerns, which he took seriously enough (thank goodness) to order tests. But after he had done that, he sat down with me and explained, “You know, it could be nothing more or less than your weight.” Oh. Yeah. That.

Look, I have never been thin. Even a hundred pounds ago, I thought I was fat. I have always thought that I am fat. I’ve talked about this before, how in the aftermath of losing my parents and struggling with my mental health, I ballooned up to 230 pounds in just a year. I got back down to 200, and then I got pregnant. After that, I figured, what’s the point in killing myself to lose the baby weight if I’m just going to get pregnant again in two years?

And there’s the rub: I’m not pregnant. I have been able to conceive. And it might be all my fault — well, my treacherous body’s fault, anyway.

So I took the doctor’s words to heart: I walked straight out of his office and into a new diet. I have to try, at the very least, or the medical community at large will never acquiesce to helping us have another baby, if it so happens that we need to try IVF or something like that in future. Friends of mine have had great success with the low-carb diet route. One of my close friends has been on the ketogenic diet and it gave her great results, so I decided to start there. Also, I have been on my share of diets in the past, but low-carb was never on the menu. I LOVE CARBS. I love bread, and pasta, and potatoes, and fried things, and you can take them away from me after prying my cold, dead fingers apart. BUT — eye on the prize. If I’m going to have better results, I need to try something different than anything I have ever done before.

I decided to start on a Friday, since I have heard the first few days of this transition can be hellacious. I didn’t want to be at work while going through literal withdrawal from carbs and sugar.

Day One: ALL THE CHEESE
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I can totally do this. I can totally live on cheese and meat and cream and vegetables. Om nom nom!
By lunch I have run out of no-carb options in the house. This place is Carbohydrate Hell.

I resolve to go to the market as soon as possible and start scouring the web for every low-carb/no-carb food item that I will need.

Day Two: Espresso with Heavy Cream
Not a bad way to start the day, since I am already sick and tired of eggs. Not even the avocado on top can make them easier to choke down.

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And you have no idea how much I want that romaine to be a baguette. No. Idea.

Went to the store and bought all the things the Internet said I would need for this diet. I am going to be very poor until I reach my goal.

Day Three: I Hate Eggs

I feel like death. I have no energy, I’m nauseated, and my brain is fuzzy. Today’s highlight was my friend, Steph, resident keto guru, coming over and cooking for me. She made a great soup with beef, cabbage, and mushrooms. Still, I have not felt satisfied by anything I’ve eaten in the past three days. I am not hungry. I feel pretty full actually, but, emotionally and mentally,  I feel empty.

Day Four: Food is for the Weak

I have transcended the need for physical sustenance. Coffee with heavy cream and water are all I need. All day, I have felt a physical aversion to all other (keto-friendly) foods that is reminiscent of my first few months of pregnancy. In the meantime, I stepped off an elevator today and caught a strong whiff of pizza (Sunway’s Flatizza to be exact). My reaction was akin to Edward Cullen’s psychopathy upon smelling Bella’s blood for the first time. That poor Sandwich Artist didn’t know what hit him.

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But instead of draining his life blood, I ordered a salad. Good on me.

Day Five:
I am too bitchy to come up with anything pithy to say about today. Today sucked.

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But here’s a picture of my dinner, if it makes you happy. Asshole.

Day Six: Naughty Rice

The world is not a friendly place for the no-carb syndicate. I didn’t have time to pack a lunch, so I had to go hunt for a keto-friendly option at the mall. I settled on a poke bowl, figuring that I could just toss the one dollar worth of rice at the bottom.

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Tempt me not, white demon!

And so help me God, I tried, but that delicious white sushi rice called to me in a voice both forbidden and tantalizing — I couldn’t help myself!

I had a few bites and then I threw it out. And maybe I cried a little. Whatever. Don’t judge me!

Day Seven: Finally Feeling Human Again

After a full week of keto, I finally feel like I’m coming out from under the fog. My disposition has evened out some, and I don’t feel perpetually angry. Though I’m still a little salty over all the things I enjoy that I can’t eat right now. I see the results of ketosis, though not necessarily weight loss results. Of course, I haven’t weighed myself, but I do feel a little less bloated than I did a week ago, as if my body were a balloon that is slowly losing its air. I feel cautiously optimistic. Aside from the ill-begotten rice from yesterday, I haven’t slipped up — not EVEN when offered a free gourmet cupcake.

I have never been a successful dieter, but maybe that’s because I never had a reason to be: I’ve been healthy; low cholesterol, low blood pressure; all of these years, despite gaining a considerable amount of weight. I have body dysmorphia issues going way back — I’ve never been proud of the way I look. But gaining a hundred pounds over ten years has forced me to make my peace with that. I will never be thin. I will always be curvy. And clearly, no matter what size my jeans are, I’ll always feel fat. So I came to the conclusion that I had to love myself regardless. I had to love my fattiness. I’m still not the poster child for body-positivity, but I did a pretty decent job of cultivating that unconditional love for myself since M was born.

I’m proud of that achievement, and to my benefit, it has nothing to do with what I’m attempting now. I’m not trying to get thin. I’m not doing this to look or feel better — I looked and felt fine while I was eating carbs with every meal, thank you very much. No, I’m doing this to get my body in gear to host another life, to get my insides on board with my reproductive plan. That’s a very salient with specific goal for me to focus in on. And as anyone who knows me can attest to: I can be quite tenacious when pursuing my goals.

That being said, I’m also conceding some points relating to my health that I have long ignored: I have an unhealthily emotional relationship with food. I self-medicate frequently and with abandon. So that’s something I’m going to need to work on even after my end-goal is reached. I need to get on-top of my manic binge-eating. I need to make healthier choices and be a better role model for my daughter. I know all of these things, but they are not as easy to fix as my endocrinological system might be. At the end of the day, I’m still a work in progress. But hey, at least there is progress to be had.

Working From Doubt

I have arrived! Now is a time in my life that I fought hard for, for many years. I should be beaming with pride for my achievement and relaxing with the fruit of my efforts.

So why am I plagued by incessant debilitating self-loathing?

Well, I guess you can’t have everything.


 

When I graduated high school, I knew what I wanted to be: I wanted to become a freelance ASL interpreter. I wanted an education. I wanted a home. I wanted a family. In the ensuing ten years, I have chipped away at that list, attending college, earning three degrees, marrying my college sweetheart, establishing a home for us, and becoming a mother. Three years ago, I earned my interpreting credential and starting working freelance on the side, while maintaining my nine-to-five job for its financial security. This year, after a great deal of consideration and planning, I decided I’m ready to take that final leap: I resigned from my nine-to-five and announced that I would be freelancing starting in 2016.

I’m excited, and terrified, and elated. I feel like Diane Lane’s character in Under the Tuscan Sun: after years of struggle, I finally got everything that I asked for. But in my head and in my heart, I’m still so deeply unhappy with myself. Ever since I made my decision, I’ve been completely depressed — why am I tortured this way?

In part, I am actually deeply disappointed with myself. I’ve managed to achieve a great deal, but I’ve feel that I have failed myself in other ways, primarily in terms of managing my self-destructive behaviors. Things that I once considered to be bad habits or the result of a poor lifestyle have now insinuated themselves into my psychological state: I’m not just an emotional eater, I’ve developed a full-blown eating disorder. I don’t just bite my fingernails when I’m anxious, I’m addicted to self-harm through dermatillomania. I don’t just have low self-esteem, I emotionally eviscerate myself with pathological regularity. I am literally incapable of experiencing my own joy. I’ve evolved in many positive ways, but the comorbidity of my progress to my illness can’t be overlooked. What if I sacrificed too much of myself in order to achieve my dreams?

Cruel Intentions

So I’ve been seeing this quote from Louis C.K. floating around on my social media streams a lot recently:

LouisCKIt reads, “When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.”

When I read this the first time, I thought, “Hell yeah!” because I, like most of the people who are sharing this meme, have been hurt by people who have then denied responsibility for hurting my feelings or completely negated the fact that I had any valid reason to be hurt in the first place. I think that’s why so many people are identifying with this statement — we all just want to feel validated. To have the person or persons responsible for our hurt to apologize to us, or if not apologize, simply own the fact that they perpetrated some action that caused us pain, whether intentional or unintentional, is a fairly universal desire. We all just want to feel that we have been heard.

I believe that Louis C.K., a comedian and writer whom I respect very much, penned these words to illustrate that simple fact: sometimes, whether or not we mean to, we hurt people, and when that happens, the decent thing to do is show respect for and acknowledge their feelings, particularly in light of how vulnerable one becomes when admitting their emotional experience. Perhaps you could even apologize, if you’re able. Again, as a person who has been hurt by another’s careless or ignorant actions, I can vouch for the emotional validity of Louis’ statement.

That being said, the more I have seen this phrase being tossed around — screen-capped on Whisper, added to a image of foggy trees in the background, written in flowery text — the more degraded the original message seems to have become. I’ve seen these words captioned, “Hell yes!” and “You know who!”, as if the poster were making an accusation or a demand — “You hurt me, so you owe me an apology! And whatever else I choose to take from you in recompense for having hurt my feelings!”

Whoa… slow your roll, there. You mean to tell me that just because your feelings got hurt, you’re entitled to an apology? No, no, no. Victimization and malicious intent notwithstanding, I don’t think that’s how this works.

You see, the way I learned it is that if you’ve done something wrong, you apologize. I was always very comfortable with that simple rule, which much like the Golden Rule (treat others the way you wish to be treated), doesn’t lend itself to much interpretation. However, now we’ve added an element of entitlement to the clause, implying that a.) if you have been hurt, you are indisputably in the right, despite whatever situation preceded your being “wronged”, and b.) if you are hurt, you are unequivocally entitled to an apology, regardless of the other person’s intentions or lack thereof.

This is a very slippery slope for a person like me.

First of all, I am SORRY. I’m sorry all the time. I’m sorry for burdening you, for being a nuisance, for drawing attention onto myself. I’m sorry that I’m making waves, making you uncomfortable, making you think. I’m sorry that I exist and that my mere existence has even the slightest chance of harming you one day. My id will entice me to apologize for literally anything, even things that I didn’t do or couldn’t help, unless my ego steps in to draw the line. And it must. It really must, because otherwise I will turn into a quivering ball of jelly, so desperate to please every one that I dither away into nothing.

Secondly, being the people-pleasing, conflict-avoiding, self-doubting gal that I am, I have been known to apologize for things I didn’t really feel sorry for, just as a way to smooth things over or avoid a conflict. This includes those things that I either didn’t have a hand in, or couldn’t help to begin with. I’m an apology-monger; I’ll just hand those babies out anywhere if it seems at all appropriate or desired. This is not unique to me: women are stereotypically guilty of applying the “gratuitous” or “assertive” apology, due to our collectively warped sense of politeness which requires that we preface our requests or opinions with “I’m sorry, but…”, which is supposed to make whatever comes after the “but” sound nicer, but really just forces us to undermine ourselves from the get-go. “Uh, if you’re sorry about it, then why are you even bringing it up?” Excellent question!

Knowing that I am an apology-monger, I’ve tried to become very judicious about how I use the words “I’m sorry” or “I apologize”. Like, I’m only going to say it if I really mean it. To that end, some people have gotten mighty pissed with me when, due to my own carelessness or perhaps even a simple difference of opinion, I didn’t apologize either for my actions nor for how they felt. My reasoning was thus: “I didn’t mean to hurt you, offend you, or make you angry. I recognize and respect that my actions (or lack thereof) came off the wrong way, and that despite my good intentions, you were hurt. That is undoubtedly unfortunate, and I regret that it happened.” Period. End the incessant babbling that may lead me to utter an insincere apology. Even as I write this, the entirety of my being wants so badly to append that statement with “I’m sorry” — but what am I sorry for? If it was an honest mistake that caused the other person to be hurt, if there were no cruel intentions, what am I really apologizing for? That someone’s feelings were hurt?

As far as I’m concerned, the meaning of “I’m sorry” or of any apology is to admit and accept responsibility for some wrong-doing. This is where my issue with the above meme comes into play: I don’t think that, just because someone’s feelings were hurt, that the person who ostensibly did the hurting is truly responsible for that. Responsibility implies that someone actually did or was supposed to do something; to take some action. But it seems to me that when people are identifying with and extemporizing this meme, they are actually angry at someone for either unknowingly making a mistake, or simply failing to act in a way that they (the hurt-person) wanted or expected.


If I have done something shitty, then of course, I ought to apologize. Hopefully, this isn’t a point of contention or confusion for people. Generally, I think that if you’ve done something shitty, you know it. And if you know you’ve done something wrong, you ought to feel compelled to apologize. This is probably Utopian wishful thinking, to rely on a person’s innate understanding of morality and the honor system to dictate when and where sincere apologies should be doled out. I can already hear my detractors unleashing streams of misanthropic vitriol about how sociopaths and perhaps even your average person has no innate morality at all. But I’m an optimist (most days), so I’ll give people the benefit of the doubt: If you know you’re wrong, you should also know you need to apologize. If, however, you are merely regretful to have inadvertently caused someone pain, I’m not entirely sure an apology is warranted — and to offer one in that instance would be disingenuous.

I recognize that the shoe has often been on the other foot: I have, through carelessness or ignorance, hurt the people that I love. In that case, I am compelled to apologize, and I will do so in order to make amends. That is how I want to be treated. However, reading that quote from Louis C.K. made me uneasy, not only because (when taken out of context) it implies the entitlement to an apology, but also because it places the burden of responsibility entirely on the perpetrator, regardless of what actions or intentions predicated the hurt. And what if, as has often been my experience, the perpetrator was simply trying to do right by themselves?

Suppose a woman leaves an abusive marriage, and in the course of saving her own life, her mother-in-law asks her How could you do this to our family? I am so hurt by your actions. Should that woman apologize for her actions, for saving her own life? Is she actually responsible for her mother-in-laws feelings?

This is where I absolutely have to draw the line. If you accidentally cause someone emotional pain in the course of doing right by yourself, you are not responsible for that person’s hurt or for their feelings of disappointment. You are not more beholden to the feelings of another than you are to yourself.

FullSizeRenderYou are allowed to put yourself first. You are allowed to continue to develop your inner being, even if your development begins to contradict who you used to be. You are entitled to love yourself first and foremost. Being impeccable with your word, holding yourself to realistic standards, and assuming good intentions is part of the agreement that you make with yourself to be the best possible person you can be.

If we have been inconsiderate, that’s one thing. If we have merely made a mistake, that is quite another. Before we start beating eachother’s doors down for apologies and retributions that we think we’re owed, let’s stop to consider our expectations and which associated intentions precipitated our ire. After all, isn’t that how you would wish to be treated?

You Don’t Look Sick and Other Microaggressions

Having a mental illness means fighting a war on all fronts. I wake up in the morning to fight the same hellacious demons that prevented me from sleeping the night before. And while those dogs follow along snapping at my heels, I navigate a world that is filthy with social landmines: impossible-to-detect people and situations that will inevitably blow up in my face. Some of the worst of these hidden bombshells are the well-meaning, ignorant, or otherwise unaware kind. Harvard psychologist Chester M. Pierce initially coined the term “microaggressions” to connote the insults and dismissals that non-black-Americans hurl at people of color. Later, the term came to apply to all statements of ignorance made by the majority about a minority. For those of us living with a mental illness, these statements belie an underlying dismissal by those who are neurotypical on the bases of invalidation, assumption of inferiority, fear of mental illness, shaming of mental illness, and second-class citizenry.

With the help of illustrator, Ms. Alex, I am pleased to present you with a few of my favorites. (Read: things I’m really fucking tired of hearing.) I would love to see yours in the comments!


“But you don’t look sick.”

imageAnd you don’t look like a doctor. When I hear this from people, I often want to ask them what “sick” looks like. Should I be a homeless bag-lady? Would that my my illness more legitimate? I wonder if this means I need to prove my illness to you. Like, “Here is a list of my symptoms. Is that sufficient evidence to back my story?”

“But you always seem so confident/put-together/capable.”

imageI get that you probably mean this as a compliment, so thanks. I put a lot of time and energy into making it appear as if I have my shit together. And I typically don’t let everyone in on my little secret, so I guess: ha ha, I fooled you!

“Oh, I know what you mean! I’m totally bipolar/OCD/schizo, too!”

imageNo, you’re not. You just think it’s cute to liken your non-clinical experiences of sadness and anxiety to serious mental illnesses that require treatment. But it isn’t cute. Knock it off. Appropriating serious terms for various levels of average experiences within the human condition when you don’t actually have an illness isn’t cute and it promotes a negative stigma about those of us who actually do have chronic conditions.

“I know that you’re anxious/depressed/angry about ____, but really you should just be grateful that ____.”

imageWow. You’re right. I should be grateful for the good things that are going on — but check this out: I am a complex, fully-formed human being, and I can divide my attention enough to feel both gratitude for what’s positive in my life, AND anxiety, depression, or anger about another situation at the same time. Imagine that.

“Well, I’m not a mind reader!”

imageNo, you aren’t, and I don’t expect you to be. I don’t think you should have to anticipate and fulfill my needs the very moment they arise, but it would be lovely if you could have a little more compassion for how gut-wrenchingly difficult and uncomfortable it is for me to ask for help. I would rather floss with barbed-wire.

“You really only needed to ask.”

imagePlease see the above re: BARBED WIRE. I get that to you, and most other people, asking seems like a very simple thing. But I have been trained that asking places me in a high-risk situation where neglect, rejection, or even outright humiliation are all potential outcomes. My very being shies away from any course of action that could potentially cause me harm, and in doing so, I tend to either ignore my needs or run rough-shod over others in order to get what I need without their help. I’m sorry — I know that’s shitty of me. Please try to understand: it’s about my wonky brain, it’s not about you.

“I didn’t invite you because I knew you wouldn’t be interested/would cancel.”

imageYeah, you’re probably right. Can you do me a favor, though, and ask anyway? Because I tend to cope with stress by putting my blinders on, which lands me in a rut. By the time I look up to catch my bearings, I’ve overlooked how isolated I’ve become, and I need you to interrupt me with messages of love and support. I need you to take the time to encourage me to step out of the rut and try something new. And sometimes, I need to be dragged out kicking and screaming.

“I love you, but…”

imageDo you? Do you love me? Is it a love without conditions? And I don’t mean “unconditional love”. I mean “a love without strings attached”. Because I can’t accept love or kindness that comes bound up in expectations. I am clumsy. I will trip over my good intentions and my own words. I will tangle myself up all the strings that bind me to you, and I will hang myself with them. No question. So if this is the only way you are fit to love me, please love me less.

“Wow. This is mighty selfish of you.”

I know. I know, and I feel like crap about it. Try to understand: I am tip-toeing the line between “selfish” and “self-care” while blindfolded, forty feet in the air, and without a safety net. I don’t want to burden you, or land you with the sole responsibility of maintaining our relationship. I promise, this isn’t permanent — it’s just one of my bad turns, and I will get better. When I come out of it, things will be easier for us both. But please don’t leave me behind when things get rough. I have a lot to offer in kinship with someone patient and compassionate enough to love me in spite of my faults.
Everyone is always telling me to “hang on” when my brain tries to kill me — could you hang on, too?

My Bipolar Brain Hates Me

Bipolar pushes me to the end of a rapidly fraying rope.

It steals my temper and hides it inside a grenade that I must hold gingerly, never knowing when or how it might go off.

It drives me into a manic state, where every sound is amplified and the air takes on inglorious texture.

It burdens me with terrible habits and compulsions, then robs me of the force of will to control them.

It makes me depressed so I loose interest and passion in things I once enjoyed.

It curses me with a lethargy so powerful, I can barely keep up with my toddler, my work, or the demands of daily life.

It causes me to withdraw from human contact, and then convinces me that I prefer to be isolated.

It constantly demeans and belittles me, making even the smallest transgressions feel like capital sin.

It is easily distracted, never settling on one task long enough to invest time into the task’s quality or completion.

It tells me I’m fat and ugly, then demands soothing in the form of binge-eating.

It causes me to to act recklessly, to say and do things that are potentially harmful.

It constantly warps my perception of my environment, so benign things appear hostile and minor barriers become major obstacles.

It makes me paranoid, suspicious, and jealous, robbing me of my good intentions and the ability to be happy for others and their successes.

It makes me sad — so sad that I see no potential worth in myself, my endeavors, or my future.

It exhausts me in body and in soul, such that I would rather sleep my idle hours away than face the bleak stretch of time before me.

It makes me perseverate, circling the same thoughts round and round the drain of my feeble mind until nothing makes sense anymore.

It confuses my energies, steals my words, befuddles my mind, and makes my hands feel small, inept, and useless.

This is your brain on bipolar.
This is your brain on bipolar.

Bipolar depression bridles me, as mania drives me forward into the Sun. It dampens me, as the cool depths of depression well up and weigh down my limbs, my head, my mind. It is within and without. My beginning, and also my end.

After Crash

So, I was in a car wreck yesterday.

My vehicle is not supposed to be sneering at you.
My vehicle is not supposed to be sneering at you.

I was the middle car in a three car pile-up, otherwise known as “the poor bastard whose car gets pancaked.” I’m all right, just a little scratched up, but my mental health is definitely in question. Yesterday was all anxiety and mania and hysterical crying, while today feels like an out-of-body experience. Is this really happening?

While I am grateful that the accident wasn’t worse and while I know this is just one of those things that happens, I can’t shake it off. I can’t concentrate. I can’t move. Everything I do feels like moving through molasses. Is this post traumatic stress, or is this the bipolar? My mind keeps telling me that this was so minor an accident, to continue to think on it or be effected by it is nonsense. But I still feel scared and out of control. Jumpy, like a rabbit that know it’s being hunted. I know it’s all an affectation, a side-effect of my wonky brain chemistry, but my treacherous mind continues to insist I’m in danger.

Tell me, when does this ride end? I want off.

On the other side

It’s been a rough couple of weeks, mood-wise. Again, nothing in particular to blame except for my faulty brain chemistry. This is just another reminder that all of the work I do in therapy, the medicines I take, the personal development I devote myself to, is not always going to be enough to manage this disease. I sometimes get complacent in periods of mood stability where I think, this isn’t so bad. Then, without fail, I am surprised by the fallout, as if this hasn’t happened a hundred times before. As I’m bouncing between mania and depression, it can be really hard to keep my eye on something still, which is the most disorienting side-effect of bipolar disorder.

I’m pretty familiar with these ups and downs, but the preceding events to my most recent upheaval were new to me: I was in a very demanding interpreting situation and emotions were running high — not necessary in the assignment itself, but in me, because I wanted to do well. Ultimately, I think I did: I walked out of the assignment feeling that my team and I had faithfully represented and maintained the message, and that we were as unobtrusive as possible. Typically, I might suffer from a bit of nerves before or during an assignment, but it dissipates once I’ve the assignment is over (unless, of course, I mucked everything up while I was in the hot-seat, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog). On this day, however, I walked out of that assignment as jangly as a skeleton on a string. My whole consciousness pinged like a struck piano wire. The anxiety was so great, I didn’t know what to do with myself, and ultimately, I experienced something very akin to what I’ve read about sub-drop. With no where else to go, the adrenaline in my system caused wide-spread emotional and mental shut-down. I was so wiped-out, it was all I could do to just get into bed and throw a quilt over myself.

Of course, living in Hawaii makes this version of self-care a little sweaty.
Of course, living in Hawaii makes this version of self-care a little sweaty.

Since that day, my mood and my energy level has been rather variable. I know it will get better, but I have to carefully tiptoe around that mental trap: “happiness is on the other side of this despair.” Because it really isn’t. Happiness is a thing you experience intermittently in the best of situations, and if you’re lucky, even in the midst of a depression. Happiness comes and goes just like everything else — it is not a destination, and no one has the right to 100% happiness one-hundred percent of the time.

So rather than try to convince myself that my happiness is waiting for me, if only I can push through and endure these difficult days, I am going to alter my narrative and focus on appreciating these days for what they are: a natural ebb and flow of positivity, unfortunately made more burdensome by my illness, and nothing more. If that means that I need to decompress by listening to Metallica at prohibitively high volumes after demanding assignments in order to burn up excess adrenaline before coming home to collapse into a cocoon of blankets, so be it. I empower you to do the same, and to be gentle with yourself — you are doing the best you can.

Some days

One year, my brother sent our mom a birthday card that really made her smile. It wasn’t one of those Hallmark deals with corny poetry and glitter — it was just a cheap little card. It had a photo on the front of a little boy sitting on the steps outside of his school, with his lunchbox beside him and his head on his lap, as if he were crying. Inside the card it said: “Some days, I still just want my mommy.” I think she loved it because she loved feeling wanted.

I think about that card a lot, particularly the sentiment printed inside: I just want my mommy. That thought wandered into my head the other night, as it often does, when I suddenly realized the date. March 8th. March 8th, the absolute worst day that ever was, ever.

In the seven years that have passed since she died, I have never gotten into the habit of honoring the anniversary of her death. March 8th is not the day I choose to remember her. It isn’t the same as those birthdays, Mother’s Day, or Christmas. Or any of the other happy occasions that bring her to mind and make me wish she were with us. The anniversary of her passing is a black mark, a day that got knocked off the calendar in sheer repulsion. A day too sad to commit to memory.

A pattern has emerged in the last few years. The anniversary goes by without my paying any mind — no more than usual, that is, because I think of her every day — but I don’t think about holding her hand in the hospital bed, listening through the night as she struggled for breath and the morphine slowly stole her life away. I elect to avoid that place whenever possible. It is as if I am walking down memory lane, the branches pulled aside to clear the path ahead. The coast is clear and then smack! One of the thin, springy branches snaps back and whips me in the face. I often feel guilty for having forgotten: I mean, here I am years later, still locked in a prison of grief. Should I not have kept count of all the awful days that have gone by and how many times I have needed her? I am forever affected by her death, but somehow, I sometimes forget that she died.

When the realization hits me, I count on my fingers — how long has it been? Seven years? Seven. Years. How it that possible? How I am still walking around with this hole in my gut, like the umbilicus that once tied me to her never healed? But then, maybe it didn’t. What is the shelf life of a mother-daughter relationship after the mother is dead and gone? At what point do I cease to be hers?

When shall I no longer wish to curl up beside her warm, soft body, my head in lap as she strokes my hair? When does a child no longer want or need their mother? I can’t fathom it, and I don’t want to. I don’t want to let go, because she was mine and I was hers and whatever wrong she did — and there were wrongs — and whatever I took for granted — and I did so, regretfully — she is mine. And I am hers: a mournful child crying on the front stoop, waiting for my mommy to pick me up and make me feel good again.