Choices

This week was one of the most emotionally draining weeks I can remember ever having. If you’re like me, you know that keeping as many parts of your life as stable as possible helps you feel stable. This means going to bed at the usual time. Eating healthy. Sleeping enough. Avoiding alcohol and excessive caffeine. Working out consistently. Making sure you only have one stressor to deal with at any given time. Avoiding fights and conflicts with those you care about and those you don’t. Staying on top of your self-care rituals (and everybody should cultivate these). Then, life throws you into the abyss and nothing seems manageable.

This past week, the candidate I voted for lost the election for the presidency. While I was upset and afraid myself (and still am), I felt millions of hearts strain under the weight of our country’s decision. I was also sick the day after the election and not just with a cold; I had a high fever and severe body aches all day long. I’m also in the midst of some career turmoil and struggling to make some decisions regarding my next steps. On top of this, I got into a discussion with both my parents on separate occasions about their choice for the presidency (which was not my choice). Having a conversation with your family about why they voted for a candidate you find repulsive and how it’s all going to be okay from their perspective is extremely frustrating and I didn’t have the energy to find common ground. Additionally, I was set to go back to work on Friday after taking a leave of absence to try to better take care of my mental health, which has been declining recently. After all of this swirling around in my brain, making it hard to function, I decided to go back on anti-depressants after being off of them for close to four years.

I will be the first person to tell my friends and loved ones there is no shame in saying you suffer from an illness, which is what anxiety and depression are. They are a chronic condition that can wax and wane and often in an unpredictable trajectory. I also believe that medication can be helpful for many people and is often one piece of the treatment puzzle in addition to lifestyle changes, therapy, and support systems. However, I have a hard time being okay with my decision to go back on medication. I feel ashamed. I think this comes from a lot of the people around me and experiences I had in my early 20’s.

I’m a certified yoga instructor and spending time in that community, I found it to ultimately be an extremely judgmental community and one I did not feel accepted in. If you weren’t eating vegetarian, you weren’t living right. If you did not engage in the practice of putting teachers on a pedestal, you were being disrespectful. If you were eating mushrooms, you were dead inside just like them. If you had depression, you were a fundamentally selfish person (I actually had another teacher tell me this once when I sought her support and advice during another time in my life where my depression was impacting my functionality). I felt like if I were to take medication, I was not worthy, not good enough. Even outside of the yoga community there is a huge stigma towards people who suffer from the invisible illnesses.

I tried to take Buspirone this past spring to alleviate my anxiety that was rapidly building as I worked my first nursing job on a chaotic, inner-city medical/surgical floor. I felt it helped initially, but as six months passed, I found myself sinking deeper. Why do we have such a hard time with vulnerability? With perceived weakness? I was afraid to tell my boyfriend, who I had just started dating last spring, that I was on a medication for anxiety. I thought his reaction would be disgust and that he would want to leave me immediately (he didn’t). Perhaps this is because I know this is likely to be a lifelong condition for me and some days it feels like a burden. It feels hopeless. I know the struggle intimately and it’s hard for me to imagine somebody else accepting this as a fact of life when I would do anything to rid myself of it. It’s a lot to ask of somebody, to remain by your side through inevitable extremely dark moments. I am in one of those dark moments right now and every day I think about my boyfriend and how it affects him. I worry about him and whether he’s doing okay. While I have an obligation to myself to be well, I also have an obligation to him. So, here I am.

I am taking medication again and I’m going to try to avoid being ashamed. When it gets to the point I can’t bring myself to work, I keep isolating myself from people around me, I keep having suicidal thoughts and urges to self-harm, I can’t bring myself to eat, and nothing seems enjoyable anymore, it’s time to accept the help available. When I am worried about my life and whether I will survive this bout of sickness, it’s time. I’ve realized, and it’s hard to remember this when you’re in a shame spiral, but people who are quick to judge you for your choices and treat you with condemnation are insecure in their own lives and probably not worth listening to anyway. You are the person who hears every thought inside your head, endures every panic attack, and feels every physical manifestation of your illness. You decide what will help you, in conjunction with your treatment team. Nobody else.

The perpetual half empty glass

I’m extremely negative. Let me explain.

I’m negative in that I assume the worst of any situation. I assume people do not like me. I assume I’m doing a terrible job. I assume my relationships will end. I assume I’m going to get sick. I assume any happiness I have will come crashing down and soon. Somewhere along the way, as I was occupied with various traumatic experiences, I convinced myself that if this was how life would treat me, I should expect nothing different. So, I set myself up to be pleasantly surprised. “Oh, man! I just assumed this experience would be awful. HOW LOVELY. It turned out to be OK.”

It’s fucked up. I know. There are so many interpretations of this mindset. I set myself up to be disappointed because I’m already thinking negatively. I am dwelling on my traumatic past. I’m making it impossible to enjoy life. I’m spending time making myself anxious for something that may never come to fruition (wasted time).

I know this is a problem and I am trying to work on it. However, it’s hard to know where to start. I know somebody who did a challenge for some arbitrary amount of days to refrain from complaining with the belief that complaining sets you up to be a miserable human being. I think about this sometimes, but I wake up complaining. I wake up seeing fault in the world, others, and most of all, myself. How do you stop this with out cultivating more self-esteem?

I talked about self-loathing in my last post. I spent the past day or so thinking about where that comes from. I think, like most phenomenons it is a combination of factors, namely, my hyper-critical upbringing, the media I was exposed to as a young girl, commentary I’ve heard all my life about my value and appearance, underlying mental illness, lack of strong and secure role models, sexual assault, and unstable romantic relationships. That’s a lot to unpack. Some of it deals with self-awareness while a lot of it deals with letting go of past trauma.

There are various theories on how to let go of past traumas. There’s the opposite and equal reaction: giving of yourself to others. There’s openness, specifically talking about it and advocating for healing despite it. There is EMDR therapy. There’s talk therapy. There’s having experiences that give you evidence to the contrary. There’s small, daily efforts done by the survivor to, over time, rebuild something new (I don’t believe you can regain exactly what you had before the trauma). I’ve dabbled in a lot of these efforts over the years, but I feel like I keep being re-traumatized. A lot of people, quick to judge, would see this as my choice. I don’t choose this. It happens like lightening. I hardly have time to react.

I sit in a bar, sipping a cider. Everything is fine. I’m talking to my boyfriend. We are chatting about loved ones in my life and struggles they face. All of a sudden, I am acutely aware there are men and women on either side of us loudly ordering. Somebody elbows me in the back. I think it’s a woman. Another person brushes against my sweater. The bartender is standing right across from me and she’s not talking to me, but everything I say or do is going to be noticed by her because of positioning. I can’t hear myself think. I can’t focus on my conversation. I can’t tune it out. I can’t help but feel surrounded. I don’t feel safe. Like that, my boyfriend perceives this change in my behavior as I am upset with him and he starts asking me to talk to him and tell him why I’m upset. I am no longer sipping on cider and enjoying the conversation. I am now paralyzed and searching inside my head for ways to escape. I’m angry. I’m angry I am having this reaction to something so mundane. We leave. Of course we leave. I have to make my escape to feel more comfortable. This stimuli is not just an annoyance. It’s painful.

What is this? Is it, like some theorists posit a fight or flight response in absence of any real threat. Is it PTSD? Is it anxiety? Is it agoraphobia? Am I losing it? Am I this weak? What is wrong with me?

I am browsing through Facebook, images of cats, videos of cuddly donkeys flash by. There’s pictures of people doing what they love to do flying past. Then, I see it. It’s an article posted by somebody I know is conservative. It’s from a conservative website. It’s an article explaining some PEW Research Center statistics and interpreting them to say that Hillary Clinton supporters are less tolerant than Donald Trump supporters. My heart starts pounding. I’m offended and upset by this. First of all, it’s a complete bastardization of the statistics (the actual research looked at how supporters of each candidate viewed each other, not other demographics such as race, religion, etc.). It’s frustrating because it’s somebody I’d like to find common ground with, but there’s this immediate judgment I have a hard time getting past and it’s a silent judgment. It’s a judgment with an audience without a face. I am a democrat. I do my best to seek to understand other people. I try to be gentle in my approaches to discourse. The country is inarguably devolving into a divided populous, interested in who can make the most biting, insensitive critique of somebody they do not agree with. It’s hard to not feel negative when this is the atmosphere during an impending election. It is the atmosphere of any comments page of any article.

I don’t know how to block it out. It’s so much easier to notice the negative. It feels like a flood versus the trickle of positivity. I’m committed to changing my mentality. I cannot change the world and I cannot carry the weight of it on my shoulders. I believe in having plans. Something tangible with which you can confront the difficult parts of existence. I am mulling over a plan and will hopefully have more to discuss in the coming days.

This is not a happy post

Does anybody else hate themselves as a habit? Like the self-loathing runs as deep as the scar on your knee from falling off your bike when you were seven years old? Like it’s just become part of your nature to despise everything you do? I don’t know how I got to this place, but some days I don’t even realize I’m doing it. I knew I was relatively critical of myself from an early age. I was definitely a perfectionist. I remember arranging my hair ties by color and size and alphabetizing my CD’s, early indications I would pursue perfection my whole life. I would rearrange furniture every couple of months to try to make my surroundings perfect. There’s something therapeutic to me about everything in the right place. I wonder if I did it then to quiet the thoughts in my head as I do now.

I feel overstimulated constantly. Too much noise. Too much of the wrong kind of touch. Too many negative thoughts. Too many hateful people voicing their opinions freely. Too much clutter in my house. Too many ways to be personally offended. Too many ways in which we are all falling apart as a civilization. Too many thoughts in my mind. If everything is perfect, then maybe my thoughts will slow down. Maybe I won’t have any reason to think negatively. It’s an unbelievably futile pursuit; nothing in the world is perfect and everything is subject to interpretation. One day, one person can view a situation as overwhelmingly positive and a different person on a different day may view it as terrible. There’s also the element of time; the longer time goes on the less perfect that which initially seemed perfect becomes. I can’t decide if that’s the luster wearing off or if my idea of perfection changes so rapidly. Ex: I finally found that arrangement of houseplants on my T.V. table that feels aesthetically perfect, yet four months later it seems wrong. From perfect to far from it in such a short amount of time.

Not unlike my home decor proclivities, I can turn a decision I made a few months ago in good conscience and contentment the worst decision I could have made. I look back at my past. All I see is mistakes and my future is saturated with objects of fear. Everything I look ahead to feels full of risk and consequence. My past serves as an example of how I cannot trust myself to embody forward motion. One step forward, three ways in which it was a terrible choice. Three consequences to suffer. How do we break out of this noise? How do we look at the past traumas and perceived mistakes and trust in our ability to be good despite all of it? How, at 28 years old, do I build confidence in myself? Where do you find strength?

There is no magical recipe that applies to everybody. It’s a personal journey to find that ideal combination of what works. It’s difficult to find that combination because it’s all trial and error, and like many parts of life, sometimes what once worked does no longer. This is the place where I am. Most things I thought worked and I cultivated over years (walks, physical activity, tea, yoga, journaling, meditation, time apart, time with others, gardening, decorating, shopping, eating, watching too much t.v., bubble baths, looking at pictures of faraway places, reading inspirational quotes, etc.) do work still, but they feel less profound in their effect. It’s hard to know what to do.

Especially when you’re in a truly dark place, the answer is even harder to visualize. You stab around in the dark without knowing what you will touch. Because you’re operating without one of your senses, the exhaustion sets in. You become unable to fight for long periods of time. It ends up feeling futile and hopeless. You keep trying to pick yourself up off the floor, but as soon as you are up, you fall again. It seems like time is the only variable that changes this situation at all and in the meantime you are destined to remain in darkness.

I know I’m miserable when it feels like this, but I worry about how it is for loved ones. I want to be better than I was last year, ten years ago. I want to be a person I can be proud of. I want to be impenetrable to fear, to stress. I want my loved ones to know it won’t always be this way. I want to, with confidence be able to guarantee them that. I think what kills me is feeling like there’s no way I can make that promise and that I can’t even make that promise to myself. I don’t even believe it will be better right now.

I feel alone. I feel invisible. It’s times like these I wonder if it wouldn’t be better if I disappeared. I wonder if I will reach a breaking point where this seems like the best solution. I increasingly feel I am too old for this shit. I remember I had a therapist when I was in my early 20’s who would tell me parents she thought I would grow out of it. I was waiting for that to happen for years, but at this point I’m done waiting for something that seems like it was a solution for somebody else. All I am left with is escape.

I find escape in pretending I don’t exist. Staying indoors. Refusing to live. I find escape in sleep, even though my sleep is filled with nightmares. When can I stop running from myself?