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.“
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
I am too bitchy to come up with anything pithy to say about today. Today sucked.
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.
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.
Recently, M and I sat down to watch Inside Out together and I live-tweeted it, which was fun.
I was excited to see the film for the first time — the previews looked great and as I mental health advocate, I had high hopes for this film that would be all about getting to know your feelings. As I watched, however, I felt that, as a person who lives with a behavioral disorder, the film doesn’t really do anything positive for the representation of people who have mood disorders, who are introverted, or who are non-nuerotypical in any way. Given the positive reviews this film received from the mental health community when it was first released, I was surprised and disappointed to see that this film actually promotes several negative stigmas, particularly in regard to the character of Sadness.
In the beginning of the film, there exists only Joy — that is the first emotion to come into being inside the main character, Riley’s, newborn mind. Sadness joins shortly thereafter, in a serious reversal that I believe any parent would attest to: what newborn shows an actual capacity for happiness in their first few months, let alone moments, of being? Sorry, Disney, but most babies are just crying, pooping potatoes for the first few months of life, with nary a giggle to be seen.
Immediately following the arrival of Sadness, the two characters are shown to be in direct opposition to each other. While Sadness seems to be largely indifferent to Joy’s presence, Joy is persistently trying to be rid of Sadness. Joy’s constant attempts to undo the presence of Sadness are troublesome. In the beginning of them film, Joy says that she doesn’t know what Sadness does, that it seems that Sadness to serves no obvious purpose (at least, compared to the other emotions), and that Joy has checked and “there’s nowhere for her to go”. That’s a very sophomoric perspective on the role of sadness in the human experience. Sadness is a very important emotional function — just as much as joy, fear, anger, or disgust. However, Joy’s complete rejection of Sadness’ utility is continually played out as she persistently bullies Sadness for simply existing.
The other emotions, Fear, Anger, and Disgust, despite being negative emotions, seem to meet with Joy’s approval because they each serve a clear and present purpose in the life of Riley. The filmmakers and writers obviously tried to increase the utility of Fear, Anger, and Disgust by having each of them appear to be multifaceted in their expression of emotional states of being. While Joy appears to embody only that which is effervescent and positive, the other Emotions are observed to act both as their functionary titles and with correlated emotions. The character of Disgust, for instance, not only represents a biologically programmed aversion to new foodstuffs, but also cattiness, sarcasm, and social acumen.
This approach by the filmmakers allows the audience a fairly intuitive grasp of the purpose of each Emotion. The character designs were carefully planned out to reinforce the correlation of the given emotion to the personified character. Fear is thin, anxious, and prone to surprise. Anger is short, stout, and blocky. Disgust is green, for crying out loud! But then, there is Sadness. Sadness is depicted as dowdy, short, and plump. She wears glasses and she’s extremely soft-spoken. Despite appearing to be well-meaning, Sadness is revealed to be a trouble-maker in the eyes of her cohorts, if an accidental one. In every way imaginable, Sadness’ character was designed to imply that she is undesirable. Additionally, by casting Sadness as the foil to Joy’s character, the writers reinforce a harmful societal value: that sadness, introvertedness, and introspection are wrong and therefore we must all strive to be happy, one-hundred percent of the time.
It’s disingenuous to portray Sadness this way. Many people, myself included, don’t experience happiness in the over-wrought, excited way in which the character of Joy is portrayed. For us, happiness comes from time spent alone, in introspection, gaining energy from our communion with ourselves. In that way, Sadness might be in my driver’s seat — but that doesn’t make me perpetually sad, and it doesn’t make me wrong. It is simply the way I best interact with the world. But instead of making her dynamic as the human experience, Inside Out’s Sadness is written as a witless castaway, unworthy of merit.
Meanwhile, Joy is clearly made out to be Riley’s primary and most desirable emotion — of course, considering the only four other options: Fear, Sadness, Anger, and Disgust — Joy is the only character that doesn’t have a negative connotation to compete with. Of course you want Joy to be in charge! You wouldn’t want any of those other bad emotions to be responsible for your world interactions, would you?
This is heavily reminiscent to me of the way that I am often treated by well-meaning extroverts: Why would you want to stay home and be sad all weekend? Because I’ve had a busy week interacting with people, and I am out of spoons. Why do you listen to that sad music? It only makes you feel worse! No, this music jives with my soul, and it is healing me.
You see, just because I experience the world differently from you, doesn’t mean that I’m wrong. I am just different. Please, allow me to be different without fear of reprisal.
By the end of the film, we begin to see that Emotions can work in tandem to create memories, which is meant by the filmmakers to be a redeeming moment for Sadness and Joy. I felt less resolved, though. The film still hasn’t given Sadness a purpose except as a foil to Joy. This is a harmful dichotomy for a lot of reasons, one of which we actually see play out in the film when Riley’s mother asks her to be happy about the move for her father’s sake. The end result being that Riley internalizes her negative emotions about her family’s move (with help from Joy) until she detaches from her family completely, almost running away from home. It isn’t until Riley is permitted to feel sadness that she is able to synthesize all of the feelings she has and move on from them. That’s an important lesson for us all, but the filmmakers failed to represent it as such. Instead, we are shown that Joy fights Sadness almost to the point of obliterating them both (certainly to the point of obliterating several of Riley’s internal mental structures, memories, and processes), only to finally acquiesce to Sadness’ presence, while still failing to validate Sadness’ reason for being.
In real life (read: in all of our lives) sadness actually serves a very important purpose. Though not highly valued in our current culture, sadness and other “feel-bad” emotions help us to slow down, confront troublesome circumstances, and come to a deeper understanding of ourselves. Sadness improves your memory, heightens your better judgment, increases your motivation to enact positive changes in your life, and can, in some cases, improve your interpersonal communication. Perhaps this is why, in the film, Riley’s mother has Sadness in the driver’s seat — Sadness isn’t just about feeling blue, it’s about feeling, period. Sadness allows us the increased capacity for compassion, discernment, and responsible decision-making that makes life fruitful.
To say that Inside Out was entirely upside-down wouldn’t be fair. It’s a cute movie, it was well-animated, and it is definitely a powerful tool to give children access to the language needed to talk candidly about their feelings. But as a representation of the depth and breadth of the emotional landscape within each of us, it falls short, particularly in the eyes of this gal living with bipolar disorder.
Someday, when she is old enough to have this conversation, I will have to sit my daughter down and explain to her that Mommy’s brain doesn’t work like everyone else’s brain. I may even need to have a conversation with her, in some distant future, about how her brain doesn’t work like everyone else’s brain. This film does not give us an appropriate schema for that conversation. After all, what good does it do to tell someone besieged by sadness to “let Joy takeover”? That would not be helpful, and it would not be fair to disrespect their experience so callously. Instead, we might say, “Sadness in taking the wheel right now, because it’s a road you need to travel.”
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?
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.”
And 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.”
I 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!”
No, 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 ____.”
Wow. 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!”
No, 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.”
Please 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.”
Yeah, 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…”
Do 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?
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.
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.
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.
Look, I get it, all right? I have cute aggression, too. I can’t resist those chubby thighs, those chunky cheeks, the little Michelin tire rolls ‘round ankles, bellies, and wrists. I mean, let’s just face it: skinny babies just aren’t as cute as the rollie-pollie kind.
But so help me God, if one more person calls my baby a “chunky monkey”, or squeals with joy while pinching her delicious little rolls between their forefinger and thumb, I’m going to lose it. God bless my girl friend who heard this from me recently after telling me she, “loved Moira’s chunk.” “Don’t call her that!” I said, a little snappily. My girl friend was chagrined, but listened kindly as I tried to dismantle my aversion and explain my reaction. Yes, Moira is chubby. She is rounded in all of the delightful ways a healthy young child should be. And unfortunately, I am a product of a society that equates “chubby” with “fat” and tells us that fat is just about the worst thing a person can be, so I’m a little sensitive to comments about my child’s looks. Until “fat” ceases to be synonymous with “lazy”, “unhealthy”, and “frumpy”; until “fat” is no longer antonymic with words like “beautiful”, “healthy”, and “attractive” — don’t call my baby fat. In fact, why not praise her for all other salient reasons for which she ought to be praised, rather than her looks? Her intelligence, her kindness, her joyfullness, her curiosity? Praise her being, not her body! But, that’s another blog post.
Before Moira was born, I made a pact with myself that she was going to grow up different than I did. That promise entailed a great many things, but chief among them were the lessons I learned about food, body image, and self-esteem. After I learned I was having a girl, I began to anticipate what an immense responsibility I would have in addition to being this child’s mother — I was going to be responsible for stewarding this perfect little girl through a world that would gladly strip her down to flesh and bones, both metaphorically and in body, to meet their idealized and unrealistic standards. I was going to have to fight for her right to be and do everything that made her heart feel right, damned what the world thought, because who is going to teach a girl how to be a healthy, happy woman, except her mother? Since she was born over 18 months ago, I’ve been increasingly defensive about my daughter’s body. It began with the acknowledgment of my own insecurities and a solemn promise to never share them with Moira. I can directly trace my own insecurities back to observations of my own mother, who would constantly poke, prod, and abuse herself for her plump physique. I recognize that if I don’t learn to put a cork in it (or, better, actually start loving myself), I’ll be hurting my daughter. As far back as I can remember, I was concerned about body image. I distinctly recall being no more than seven years old (SEVEN!) and sucking my tummy in as I walked past boys in the supermarket because I wanted to seem appealing to them. But why? Where did I learn that behavior, those values? Yes, I was rounder, less lithe, than the other girls in my grade school, but I definitely wasn’t obese by any stretch of the imagination. So tell me how my self-image became so tarnished? My mother, I think, failed to realize how her example would affect me. Every time she talked down to herself, admired another woman’s thin athletic build while simultaneously degrading her own, I listened and incorporated her perspectives into my own world view. Every time she went on a crash diet, eschewing meals for “milkshakes” and killing herself on a Stairmaster for hours into the evening, I watched and I learned. When she would criticize herself in photos and compare her thighs to my grandmother’s while sighing mournfully, every time she took me with her to shop for clothes and berated herself in the dressing room, I logged it away for later use against myself.
There are probably many more reasons for my low self-esteem and my lifetime struggles with weight. I wasn’t raised to be a healthy eater. I wasn’t raised to be especially active. I had a negative self-image from very early on, but as I got a little older and started to fill out in ways that weren’t considered healthy, I was subjected to a lot of criticism, both at home and at school. I don’t recall my pediatrician ever commenting that I was overweight, but I remember my parents scolding me for what I ate, and when, and how much. Our home was emotionally fraught and sometimes violent, and I began eating as a way to self-soothe. I would binge eat and hide it from my parents, and they would become effusively angry when they busted me (Tip: if your child is an emotional-eater, there are way better ways to confront that issue than shaming them about it. See “opposite of intended effect”.) Somehow, it never occurred to them to change their own habits in order to set an example for me to follow. People aren’t born thinking that being fat is a bad thing — we have to be taught to hate ourselves or each other, and I definitely was. I was taught by two adults who didn’t much care for their own bodies how to hate my own. I don’t think they ever considered how their well-intentioned criticism, or their own self-hatred, would influence me. I’m a parent now, and I keep my mother and father’s example close to my heart. Not because I want to follow it, but because I want to avoid it. All of the wrong decisions my parents made, and all of the wrong decisions I later made for myself, I’m using those lessons to concentrate on making the right choices for M. Still, people allow their distorted perceptions of beauty and health standards color their view of our family and even our parenting choices. Yeah, I’m fat — does that mean that my daughter will be, too? No, of course not. I suspect that many people look at me and assume that a.) I’m unhealthy, lazy, irresponsible, etc., and b.) assume that I will graft my flaws on to my daughter. However, nothing could be farther from the truth: my husband and I make very careful, conscientious decisions regarding food and activity choices in order to set her up for life-long health. Note: health, not thinness, because we’ve got our priorities straight. Does she still eat pizza? Sometimes. (“My monkey, my circus”, remember?) You see, I don’t want to take all that I’ve learned about being healthy and run to the other end of the spectrum, counting calories and obsessing over what goes into our bodies. In the end, that attitude would defeat the purpose of what I’m trying to achieve: raising a healthy, intelligent girl who is able to appreciate all things are best in moderation. Regardless of the size of her dress or the number on the scale, she will know that she is beautiful, valuable, and important, even if she does keep her chunky-monkey rolls all the way into adulthood. Eff your beauty standards — those thunder thighs are a family legacy. And we are gorgeous.
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.
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.