On trembling knees
Unbinds what once we could not see
Reaching out into pitch black
Alone, and asking nothing back
Grants us all we’ll
Ever need: our perfect, moving own two feet.
As evident from my previous post, I am trying this new thing of actually using my blog like a blog. E.g., posting things that are just life updates or inconclusive thoughts, and hoping that somehow they might actually serve some kind of purpose.
This one’s about rifts politely ripping open between family members.
You have given me respect, and I thank you for that. Admire you for that. Love you for that.
But you have given me grudging respect. Last resort well wishes. Suspicion that you make no effort to hide from your face; perhaps paint on for added effect.
You say you will not fight my going, but openly wish that a natural disaster will stop me.
I can’t decide whether I should be grateful to you, angry with you, or disappointed in you. I am all three, but they live together like unhappy dinner guests, glaring at each other from across the table, each one trying to make the other two leave so they can have the table to themself.
I am trying to reconcile how you can look so sickened, speak so horribly, and say it’s all because you care. But I know it’s true.
I am trying to understand that things are not always black, or white, or grey, but sometimes a combination of all three.
I have your respect, but not your blessing. Not your trust.
And you underestimate how much I wish I did.
I am reading Secrets for the Mad: Obsessions, Confessions and Life Lessons by dodie. It is, among other things, very very much about mental health. My Grandpa asks me what I’m reading, so I show him the cover.
“Are you mad?” he jokes, and I smile.
Yes. By your standards, I am absolutely mad.
I am watching a six-installment movie with my family that I really want to see. We watched the first three episodes last night, and tonight are watching the last three.
I watch episode four, and it is as engaging as all the rest. We put on episodes five and six, and I very much want to see what happens.
But I don’t.
I am crying softly in my big poofy armchair (which is luckily the closest one to the TV, so all I have to do is lean my head on my hand and my face is hidden).
Tears, I’ve found, are actually fairly easy to conceal. It’s the snot that causes the real problems. You have three choices with snot: leave it be and let it run all down your face (an obvious no); try to, loudly, sniff it in; or try to, loudly, blow it out.
I go with a combination of options two and three.
I am crying because, through the evening, I have been texting my friend. I am very aware that I should not be doing this, because what we are talking about could very easily lead to me spilling my guts. And if I’m busy trying to sort out my guts and tears and snot, I’m definitely not watching the movie anymore.
But when my phone lights up, I enter my passcode as fast as I can, desperate to see the words that the notification on my lockscreen left out. And then I type my guts into the little message bar.
The next reply asks for more of my guts.
I do not want spill more of my guts.
I “watch” the movie and mull over what to say for a bit, trying to keep the tissue trumpeting to a minimum. And then I decide that I cannot spill my guts now. This is partially due to emotional distress, and partially because I have used the last of my tissues. Mostly because of the tissues, I realize I have to distract myself and stop freaking out.
So, like any good, communicative friend would do, I stop replying with absolutely no explanation.
When I get back to the solitude of my room and bed, I contemplate more responses, and have a breakdown.
One of the most controlled breakdowns I’ve ever had.
It’s almost comical, really. When I’m out of sight, I’m silently sobbing my head off, but whenever anybody pokes their head round the door I am calm and cheery.
It’s this that makes my phone start to call out to me again, daring me to make a social media post about how sad it is that I’ve gotten so good at having breakdowns. I know I’ll never do it, but I keep thinking about it anyway.
And then I realize: I have gotten good at having breakdowns.
I can turn them off when I need to. Well, not all the way off really, but I can store them away in a little box in my brain to deal with later. If I’d tried to do that a few years ago, I would have tripped and dumped the contents of the box all over wherever I happened to be at the time.
I am gaining more control over things, and that’s not sad at all.
So, with a few residual tears, I do my best to box up the rest of the breakdown, and go to sleep.
Photo by James Sutton on Unsplash
This is sort of an extension or offshoot of my previous post (actually, the last line of this was the inspiration for my previous post, but I’d saved it as a note on my phone a few days prior to writing the real thing and completely forgot to put it back in).
So yeah, maybe read that post, and then pretend it flows nicely into this one? Or don’t, I mean, whichever, it’s your choice…
ANYWAY, as a writer, and as someone who ha(d/s) depression, it was extremely difficult to go through a period of time where I felt like I could write about nothing but depression. What kind of writer was I if I could only write about one thing? If I had no ideas anymore, and could only write descriptions of whatever I was feeling at the time?
Not the kind I used to be, not the kind I wanted to be, and not the kind I would be in the future. But that didn’t mean that what I was writing then wasn’t just as important as any of the writing I would do before or after.
When you feel really really bad, your writing reflects that, so you think, “What’s the point of putting this out anywhere?” You don’t want to be the one spreading negativity and making other people feel just as bad as you do.
But I’ve learned that, most of the time, that’s not actually what happens. When I first wrote and published something related to depression, I was surprised to find that people were actually thanking me for writing it. I had been able to capture in words something they couldn’t. I have, many times, been in the opposite position of searching and searching for something to describe what I was feeling in a way that I couldn’t, but I hadn’t considered that I could also be the source of one of those things.
But anyone can be. You can be. Out of all the people in the world, there is always someone else going through what you are, who will breathe a sigh of relief and say “thank you” upon finding your words. And for every person who is going through what you are, there is someone who isn’t, who will be grateful to finally understand what a friend or family member is going through because of you.
You cannot write for everyone. Some people will scroll past your work unfazed. But for some, it will be what finally takes just a bit of the crushing weight off their shoulders. And I have found that writing for those people — even if it it’s just a few, or even just one — is enough.
I have learned that even in your darkest moments, you can be someone else’s light.
This is probably the most blog-like blog I’ve ever written. It’s not an essay, it’s not an opinion piece, it’s not a poem, it’s just an update on my life. And a promise for yours.
Four years ago, when I was 15, I was hit with the worst wave of depression I’ve ever had. It became extremely difficult to put together simple sentences. When people would call me by my name, I became legitimately confused, because nothing felt real. I didn’t feel real. It took my entire identity, my sense of being.
All my life, I have wanted to be a writer. Before I could write, I would tell stories to my dolls, and when I learned to write, I wrote all the time. Being a writer was my identity. It was, literally, what I lived for.
2014 was the last time I can remember being able to easily write a story. After then, all I would have was fragments of ideas and forced writing, and I never wrote more than a few paragraphs at a time.
Depression strips you of your personality. It takes everything that makes you you, and leaves only itself. After a while, depression becomes your identity because you have nothing else. You become afraid to get better because then you think, “what will be left?” It plays games with your head.
Because it was so difficult to describe things then, and being in the depths of depression leaves you in no mood to, I googled “depression” and sent everything that applied to me to my mom. (I highly recommend doing this! For anything! If there is something you want help for, but can’t talk about, make use of other people’s words!)
But my mom was worried about going on medication, and I was scared of going to therapy, so for a little while things stayed pretty much the same. My depression was partially seasonal, so there were times in the year when it wasn’t a problem. But something that was a problem year round was my anxiety and OCD. A major problem. So, between things, a while later, I finally went on medication.
I was started at the lowest dose, and very very slowly edged up, after each 20 milligram increase being told the familiar “check back in a month.” I was very lucky that the first medication I tried worked for me, so from the beginning I was hopeful. Later, when I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, too (yay! even more brain fog, tiredness, and lots and lots of pain!), I would try one that would devoid me of all my energy, and one that made me suicidal. If those end up being one of your first medications, or any of your medications, 1.) Call your doctor so you can go back off it as soon as possible, and 2.) Don’t think about it too much. It doesn’t mean you won’t get better, it’s just one option scratched off your list; one step closer to finding something works. Watch fun movies and treat yourself until you’re able to go on something else.
The medication that did work for me began to lower my anxiety and OCD, and some of the fog in my mind was lifted, leaving space for occasional clear thoughts again. I had also pushed myself (with the help of my mom) to go to therapy, which was absolutely intrinsic in the process. If you’re someone who wonders (like I did), “What can I learn from therapy that I can’t learn by myself?” go to therapy. You will learn so much more than you would have on your own.
You can read books and articles and practice the techniques you find in them, but the books will never talk back to you. I didn’t realize just how important that aspect was. Beyond important, it is vital. A (good) therapist is all the books on your reading list combined, plus years of training and experience in helping people recover. And another mind; a mind clear of everything you came to them because of. A mind — a trained mind whose job it is to figure out how to deal with whatever you bring to them — that is focused on you.
With the step up medication gave me, I was able to work with my therapist and begin making progress. I got to points I never thought I would. My therapist helped because my medication helped, and my medication helped because my therapist helped. I went in wanting to pick just one (medication), but that’s not how it works. They work off each other. And together, they brought part of me back.
Over the course of time, I had gotten used to the odd feeling of trying to maintain my identity without many of the things that made me me. I almost considered myself “on hold,” like my imagination and focus and everything were all on vacation, and one day they would be back, but right now I shouldn’t worry too much about them. But to see them finally coming home was the best feeling ever.
When it seemed clear I was getting all the benefit I could out of the first medication, I began trying additional ones to continue trying to bring the rest of me back. And, as said before, some worked and some didn’t. But the one that worked brought back the most painful thing depression and anxiety, and all the fog and noise they put in your mind, had taken from me. My imagination.
I am writing again. I am thinking again. Getting lost in my thoughts again. Writing stories, watching stories play out in my mind, building on ideas again because I now have the mental stamina to. I kind of want to go around screaming in everyone’s faces “I’M WRITING STORIES AGAIN!” because this is absolutely huge to me. I haven’t written — like, actually written, not forced myself to put words on a page — in almost four years. The part of me that drove me to exist is back.
It took years, it took innumerable doctor’s appointments, it took work, and it’s still not over, but to be able to be myself again is the greatest gift in the world. The waiting process is slow. Really slow. You’ll switch doctors a lot. You’ll switch medications a lot. But you will come back. You will get to meet yourself again, and that reunion will be the greatest moment of your life. ♡
Photo by Blake Lisk on Unsplash
On days like this — when I try to keep moving, to not fall asleep a few hours after I’ve gotten up, to not waste the day — and fail . . . These are the days I am most prone to breaking. To believing that I will not get better. That I have no one and will have no one. These are also the days I am most prone to blaming myself for breaking.
It is on these days that I need to remind myself of where I am; of where I have been and where I will be. It is on these days, when I want to focus on anything else but myself and my illness, that I must do just that. Because you cannot pour from an empty glass. Because self care is not selfish. Because it is not always fun, but is necessary.
You are ill. You are not useless. You cannot cure this by fighting its existence. But you can treat it by treating yourself with care. You are recovering, and that in and of itself is an accomplishment. You are still here, and what you give the world the few days out of every month that you feel well is better than not giving anything at all.
You have people that care about you. You may know them now, or they might be waiting somewhere in your future. Your illness might make you isolate yourself accidentally, by making you never feel up to going out or talking, or it may make you feel like you want to isolate yourself. Either is okay. They are not good, but they are okay. And they are not permanent. Consider loneliness a symptom of your illness. It will not be forever, and it is not your fault.
Don’t think too much about the future. Asking yourself, “Will I be able to do this?” will get you no closer to doing it. There are small things to be done and appreciated in each day. They are all that require your attention right now.
Remember: this is worth it.
I used to think that positive thinking never worked for me because I just wasn’t fully committed to it. I thought it must just be one of those mind over matter things where if you could absolutely, completely, convince yourself you were happy, you would be. And maybe that’s true, but let me tell you, it’s definitely the hard way into positivity and I’ve only ever felt worse from attempting it.
So, if I gave up on even attempting positive thinking, how did I get happier? Well, I didn’t give up so much as I remodeled it. I stopped thinking of it as positive thinking and started thinking of it as productive thinking.
Before I elaborate, I just want to say that I didn’t come up with this reconstruction all on my own. I’ve started regularly using planners from The Happiness Planner and, while they didn’t call it productive thinking, it was their approach to negative things that led me to that title.
At the very beginning of the planner, there’s a section where you have to write in the things that make you feel bad. I fully expected myself to skip this part. I deal with quite a bit of anxiety and off and on depression, so I have a lot of negative thoughts floating around my mind for little to no reason to begin with. Actively trying to pull negativity with actual reasons behind it to the surface on top of that sends me into the Land of Nope Nopity Nope Nope Not Today Nope.
But, because I’m also a fairly motivated and determined person and I wanted to complete the entire planner, I filled it out anyway. To my surprise, instead of freaking out, I actually felt better. This I credit entirely to the format of the planner (I promise I’m not associated with it I just thought it was really good). It doesn’t just tell you to write down the things that make you feel bad and then focus on positive things instead. The exact process it guides you through is: “What makes you feel upset? Is it beyond your control? If not, how can you change it?”
It sounds so obvious whenever I repeat it to anyone, but after years of having things like “Happy thoughts only!” and “Focus on the good!” drilled into my mind under the guise of positive thinking, it didn’t even occur to me anymore to just acknowledge a bad situation, ask myself if I could do anything about it, and either let it go if I couldn’t or get to work if I could.
I took this line of thinking outside the planner and immediately felt a huge release. It wasn’t a magic cure-all solution, but it was light-years better than my old attempts at positive thinking.
See, this is what my head used to look like when I tried to “think positive”:
“Man, it’s been a really bad day. I feel awful.
Oh, wait — that’s a negative thought! Uhhh, okay, positive thought, positive thought . . .
I feel good. There, yeah, I feel good! The rest of today’s gonna be good. Just smile, be happy.
I’m lying. I feel awful. I’ve had a bad day and I feel awful.
No! I feel GOOD! Everything’s GREAT! Look, I’m SMILING!
Maybe I should just go audition for that muppet on Sesame Street who lives in the trash.”
The end result is that by trying to push out the “bad thoughts,” I end up dwelling on what made me feel bad way longer than I would have if I’d just acknowledged that I was having a bad day and moved on.
It’s like trying to teach yourself math just by saying “Think mathematically.” Where are the steps? Where are the formulas? Where are the practice sheets? It just doesn’t work. You’ll end up staring at the first problem all day trying to will your brainwaves into working like Einstein’s.
Not to mention, even if you succeed in warping a bad situation into a good one, you’ll start getting dependent on being able to happify everything, and there are some things in life that just aren’t happy and aren’t meant to be.
Productive thinking is about steps. It’s about making progress. It’s about keeping yourself moving forward no matter how you feel. It’s about letting go of the things you can’t change instead of trying to force them into the positivity mold.
This is my thought process now that my aim is to think productively:
“Wow, I feel really bad today. Well, sometimes going for a walk makes me feel better, so I’ll try that, but if it doesn’t work out, I’ll accept that I just feel bad today and keep going anyway because bad days are okay, too.”
You’ll probably still hear me use the term “positive thinking” just because it’s what I and most other people are used to, but in my opinion it tends to lead people in the wrong direction. It’s okay to focus on the good. It’s okay to do everything you can to try to make yourself and others feel good. What’s not okay is trying to force everything into the Box of Goodness.
Consider positivity your pet cat. If you try to pick it up and put it where you want it, it’ll keep getting up and walking away. But if you leave it be and get to work, you’ll turn around to find it sprawled across all your belongings.
Photo by Sylwia Bartyzel on Unsplash