Cha cha changes

Change is a loaded term, up for many interpretations. Sometimes scorned, sometimes welcomed, change is seen when looking extremely close or it manifests in a way that is impossible to ignore. Change can be situational or brought on by our own, direct actions. I think about change this week because I am in the throes of feeling stuck.

The past few years I was focused on switching careers and becoming a nurse. I reached that point and I’ve passed my first year of nursing practice. Looking back, this has been the most stressful, overwhelming, and confusing time in my life. I feel like I am in a rut and not only that, the walls are closing in and I have to get out. The problem is, what does out mean for me? Is it a small change I need to provide new perspective? Do I need a complete overhaul of my life circumstances?

It’s difficult to decide. Every decision analyzed in my head has a set of negatives attached to it, ways it could be the ‘wrong’ decision. Ultimately, a decision to change has to be made based on faith. I cannot predict the outcome before it happens and each decision has a potential for improvement or deterioration of circumstances. It’s a risk to change and this is what prevents many of us from acting. However, it’s a risk to remain in the same place, mentally, emotionally, or physically. It carries the same weight of potential outcomes if we do not act, generally with less potential for improvement.

I know I need to change, at least a few things in my life. It’s just a matter of reaching deep inside and finding the will to do so.

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Writing because I don’t know what else to do

I feel like I’m suffocating under the weight of my own emotions.

It’s interesting. I’ve been telling people for a few years now–therapists, friends, boyfriends–that what seems to be more of an issue for me is the anxiety. After being afraid to eat food for a year, still somewhat terrified of medications (even Tylenol), afraid to drive on highways, afraid to talk to people (still), and finding myself in the throes of uncomfortable palpitations, difficulty breathing, and dizziness whenever I get anxious, I felt this was the scarier beast. I was under the assumption that years in therapy, both group and individual, had given me the gift of coping mechanisms for my depression. If I force myself to workout, get enough sleep, and eat properly, all will be well. If I force myself to leave the house, the feeling passes, eventually. Then, out of nowhere the depression hits, like a sudden gust of wind, storm impending. It’s more insidious than the anxiety and that’s what makes it harder to prepare for.

The anxiety is there consistently, through most of my days. There’s typically some big thing making me anxious every single week. Common contenders include: dating situations, my relationship with my mother, work, social interactions, the zombie apocalypse, and whether a food I have been tested for allergies for (negative result) will give me anaphylaxis if I eat it. I never said it made any sense whatsoever. However, it is predictable and therefore I have some tools at my disposal to deal with it.

The depression hit me hard again this time. The last time I felt this down was at the end of my first year of nursing school and it came on after I ended a dating situation, reluctantly. It’s like every time I open myself up to somebody new and they disappoint me, forcing me to end contact, a part of me is stolen away. It’s palpable when the energy slowing drains from my body in the aftermath. In that instance, I spent two weeks not leaving my apartment. I had nowhere to go. There was nobody who cared where I was as I didn’t really connect with my classmates too profoundly. It was as if the world forgot I was there and I was happy to keep hiding.

I’m starting to feel similarly right now. Granted, I did have the flu earlier this week, but I’ve only been to one work shift in the past week and I will have off this weekend, a weekend I was supposed to work, for family illness. Realistically, I could go to work, but my mind is not there. I don’t know where my mind is right now and that’s the most frightening part; I’m spinning. I have so many thoughts going through my head at one time, all divergent, I can’t make sense of anything.

At the end of my relationship I was completely fed up. I was DONE. D-O-N-E. Done. It was to the point where I hated everything my ex did. The way he smiled. The way he talked. Who he was. I was completely resentful after months of feeling like I was carrying the relationship and putting more effort in than him. I immediately started dating again and after a string of subpar dates two months post-breakup, all my mind does now is think of how most people suck and I miss him. What is that? My logical brain knows it needed to end and that he will likely never be a good fit for me. Maybe I’m, in turn, a terrible fit for him. Yet, why does my heart hurt so much right now? I thought I was fine. And I sit here and turn circles inside my head about what everything means.

The only conclusions I can come to right now is that, by God, time needs to pass more quickly so I can finish this grieving process and that I’ve spent my 20’s grieving, mostly the ends of relationships, but also the end of my innocence, the end of my childhood, the deaths of family members, the deaths of various dreams I’ve had and never fulfilled. I have existential exhaustion at this point. Daily, I push forward, trying to find some hope in it all and I certainly have my moments of exuberant joy, but this is quite the slump right now. I want nothing more than to not feel the way I feel right now. That, folks, is depression and anxiety: knowing you are in a trap in your mind. I always want to be anywhere but here.

I’ve Been Away

It’s been years since I last posted on here and much has changed. I had hope, light for nearly a year and a half; I was in a relationship I thought was the last relationship I would ever enter into. In retrospect, it is fascinating how profoundly it changed my world view for a time. I felt safe. I felt like I could be myself, have my emotions, and not fear being abandoned because of them. The minute I sent the text saying I was leaving my partner, I felt another profound shift in my world view. I felt the dark shroud come over me once again, feeling searing lack of hope. It’s hard for me to discern if that’s the Wisconsin winter I barely missed, causing this effect or if it’s something deep in my psyche. Interestingly enough, I was the one who ended the relationship. I chose to walk away and I think it reached a point where there was not another option.

I also graduated from nursing school with honors and secured my first nursing job. I left North Carolina behind and moved back to Wisconsin, a place I did not think I would return to, but lately I’ve felt it was fortuitous I ended up back here; my grandmother’s cancer has been terminal since she was diagnosed four years ago. However, the diagnosis is likely to fulfill it’s prophetic nature sometime in the coming weeks, according to doctors. If I had taken a job elsewhere, I would not be here for this and for that I am grateful.

Outside of the lens of mental illness, life has such a painful ebb and flow to it. For every up there is a down. I happen to be in a stretch of downs at the moment and I’m beginning to feel afraid, like walls are closing in and like I’m losing control. I’m not feeling positive about much anymore. I feel like I’m starting to suffocate and like every facet of my life is going poorly at the moment. I know that it will change at some point because the universe operates on balance, but I’m struggling to find a way through right now.

A Beautiful Poem

I wanted to share This poem © Gabriel Gadfly (http://gabrielgadfly.com):

Survival

The first time
you took off your clothes
in front of me, you slid
the white fabric of your blouse
off your arms and revealed
the pale ladders
of scars.

You never referenced them
directly. You said you were
lost, once. You said you
did things, once, and you
did them because they
helped you survive yourself.

I didn’t say anything,
but you took my hand
and pressed it to the
ridged rows of your flesh
and for every line you left
upon yourself and healed,
I found another reason
to call you beautiful.

My only comment is this poem resonated so much with me and reading it was like peering into my ideal world; this is how I would like to be viewed.

The Lens I See Through

When you’ve been assaulted, the whole world as you know it changes. The lens through which you see the world changes and the innocence you previously cultivated was all for nothing. Before, when I would walk around the streets, go out to the bars, or interact with men I didn’t know in public, I did not think twice about the quality of their character. But after, I could not scrutinize more and this is the habit I maintain today.

I pick up on subtleties and when the #yesallwomen posts came out, I could certainly relate and if you’re a woman who’s had a trauma at the hands of a man (which is statistically likely), you are shockingly all too familiar with your vulnerability at the hand of gender relations. You know the fear you experience when you walk down a street at night. I always position my keys in-between my fingers, a makeshift weapon. The fact that my relatives got me pepper spray amongst the ramen noodles and bath towels for my “Congratulations You’re Going to College” care package is telling. It’s especially telling when you realize that pepper spray is in no way meant to protect against other women; everybody knows it’s to protect against an attack from a man. Yet, what I find most disturbing about bringing these gender issues into the light is that the more I think about it, the more alarming example I can come up with, the more insidious examples I can recall.

Men are not all brutes and yes, not all men are misogynists, but all men can help to change the ingrained gender inequalities of experience. In fact, some of the instances of men behaving disrespectfully towards women come from otherwise kind and educated men. It’s an awareness, ignorance, and respect issue with them. You do not have to know what it is to be a woman to treat women with respect and I believe just as the gender issues cripple women in their relationships, their walks to their cars, and their careers among other issues, they also cripple men in their ability to cope with their emotions and be more intentional and analytical about their interactions. In order for any of this to change, men have to treat themselves and each other better and I don’t believe enough people are talking about this dimension of it.

We have to teach men that their worth is not determined by sexual exploits, othering women, or financial status and that it makes them more of a man to understand their emotions and respect women. While women are othered because of their gender difference from men, I believe men who speak out against these dynamics are othered by their own gender. And the issues persist because it is human nature to want to fit in and is uncomfortable to be othered.

I feel othered by virtue of my awareness. My world flipped upside down and I have no option to go back to the way life was before; my lens changed. I cannot see the world with such innocence ever again and sometimes I think about the blissful ignorance I maintained so well in my youth and if I would want it back, but I don’t because I believe in progress. So when I have a man over to my apartment and he asks to stay, I fight the urge to apologize when I say no, because I have no obligation to have him stay over and therefore nothing to apologize for. When he asks again, despite my earlier refusal and explanation, I have a sinking feeling in my stomach. He is no longer an educated man I enjoy spending time with, but another man living in ignorance of the gender dynamics we all live with.

Even though I believe much needs to change, the painful reality is that I rarely meet a man who does not need to check his gender privilege and that leaves me frustrated, distrustful, and alone much of the time. My disillusionment with gender relations leads to exacerbation of depression and when I interact with men, I have an underlying anxiety about how they will behave and what they will say. I wonder if gender relations improved if my mental health issues would as well, but in the meantime, I cannot ignore the inequalities and objectification. It is not an option for me anymore.

A Collection of Quotes

I’m going to simply post quotes in this entry that I find relevant to mental health issues and that, through reading and reflecting on, are helpful to my state of mind.

“To be ill adjusted to a deranged world is not a breakdown.”-Jeanette Winterson

“About a third of my cases are suffering from no clinically definable neurosis, but from the senselessness and emptiness of their lives. This can be defined as the general neurosis of our times.”-C.G. Yung

“We must be trained to clarify minds, heal broken hearts, and create homes where sunshine will make an environment in which mental and spiritual health may be nurtured. Our schooling must not only teach us how to bridge the Niagara River gorge, or the Golden Gate, but must teach us how to bridge the deep gaps of misunderstanding and hate and discord in the world.-Spencer Kimball

“It is as if my life were magically run by two electric currents: joyous positive and despairing negative–which ever is running at the moment dominates my life, floods it.”-Sylvia Plath

“In older myths, the dark road leads downward into the Underworld, where Persephone is carried off by Hades, much against her will, while Ishtar descends of her own accord to beat at the gates of Hell. This road of darkness lies to the West, according to Native American myth, and each of us must travel it at some point in our lives. The western road is one of trials, ordeals, disasters and abrupt life changes — yet a road to be honored, nevertheless, as the road on which wisdom is gained. James Hillman, whose theory of ‘archetypal psychology’ draws extensively on Greco–Roman myth, echoes this belief when he argues that darkness is vital at certain periods of life, questioning our modern tendency to equate mental health with happiness. It is in the Underworld, he reminds us, that seeds germinate and prepare for spring. Myths of descent and rebirth connect the soul’s cycles to those of nature.”-Terri Windling

“Never love anyone who treats you like you’re ordinary.”-Oscar Wilde

“But I didn’t understand then. That I could hurt somebody so badly she would never recover. That a person can, just by living, damage another human being beyond repair.”-Haruki Murakami

“When you’re surrounded by all these people, it can be lonelier than when you’re by yourself. You can be in a huge crowd, but if you don’t feel like you can trust anyone or talk to anybody, you feel like you’re really alone.”-Fiona Apple

“I didn’t want my picture taken because I was going to cry. I didn’t know why I was going to cry, but I knew that if anybody spoke to me or looked at me too closely the tears would fly out of my eyes and the sobs would fly out of my throat and I’d cry for a week. I could feel the tears brimming and sloshing in me like water in a glass that is unsteady and too full.”-Sylvia Plath

“Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change. If there is anything unhealthy in your reactions, just bear in mind that sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself from what is alien; so one must simply help it to be sick, to have its whole sickness and to break out with it, since that is the way it gets better.”-Rainer Maria Rilke

“Everybody pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.”-Claude Monet

“Mental illness is so much more complicated than any pill that any mortal could invent.”-Elizabeth Wurtzel

“What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.”-Plutarch

“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”-Henry David Thoreau

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”-Khalil Gibran

“We cannot be more sensitive to pleasure without being more sensitive to pain.”-Alan Watts

“I was lost in a void of perpetual darkness. Disconnected from myself. Turned inside out. No sign of life. Eventually, the darkness was my light and the void a haven – a quiet place where I could nurse my secret and lick my wounds.”-B.G. Bowers

“My good fortune is not that I’ve recovered from mental illness. I have not, nor will I ever. My good fortune lies in having found my life.”-Elyn R. Saks

The Answer to the Question

You know how people will sometimes ask you, “If you could change one thing about your body, what would it be?” It’s something I’m sure we’ve all pondered, and at one time I probably would have said I’d like to reduce the size of my thighs. I have big thighs. I’m aware of this. However, now that I’m older, I have a different answer.

I would like to wipe the skin, like the slate, clean, on my forearm.

It’s strange to think back to when I used to cut. I started when I was 19, shortly after I started dating my first boyfriend and a couple months after I was put on an anti-depressant. It was not for attention, it was to help myself cope with the emotional effects of an abusive relationship, in part, and in whole the vast changes I was experiencing.

Throughout high school, I had never touched a drop of alcohol or any drug for that matter. I didn’t have sex. I didn’t party. I was a good, but naive young lady. When I got to college, the exposure was a shock to my system. Also, my best friend went to school in Minnesota and we drifted apart. I felt quite alone and unequipped to cope with all the changes in my life.

When I think back to what it was like to cut on a regular basis, I have flashes of memories, of wearing a sleeve fashioned out of old leggings to work so nothing was exposed, not questions were asked. I remember a customer at a cafe I worked at asking me, “What’s that from? Do you have an angry kitty?” I remember throwing away the knife I used to cut, eventually, to signify an end to the habit. Then, it’s like I didn’t think about it for a few years. I was still on anti-depressants at this time, but once I went off of them, I felt a shift in my psyche.

Once I was out of the fog of medication use, I was shockingly aware of the fact I have an arm absolutely covered in cutting scars. Twenty-two to be precise. The past two years, it’s as if I’ve become hyper-aware of their presence, which is odd because the further away I get from that time in my life, the lighter the scars become.

Maybe it was a defense mechanism to pretend like they were not there or to not notice that people looked at them. Now, I notice every single time somebody’s eyes stop on my arm and I try my best to cover the scars with long sleeves or posturing, but when you live in Charlotte and it’s 95 degrees with 90% humidity, there’s only so much you can do and I find myself frequently exposed.

I hate it. I put lotion on the scars, I try to cover them, and I’ve even recently considered getting a tattoo to change their appearance.

I’m becoming good at honestly answering the question, “What happened to your arm?”, with, “I used to cut.” No lies. End of story. Although, every time I have to address it, I am taken back in time and reminded of an incredibly difficult and dark time in my life. Fortunately, I’m becoming more and more seasoned at this interaction and I’ve been able to just leave it at call and response and not delve into memories and inner dialogue afterwards.

So, when people ask me, “What would you change about your body?” My definitive, unquestionable answer is to make my cutting scars go away.

I’m busy, so here’s a great video.

Hey all,

I started a barista job and I haven’t written since it started, which bums me out. I have some topics I want to touch on as soon as I am able, but I found this great video that explains depression in terms of the biology and the psychology:

http://reset.me/video/depression-101/

This is a video (one of the many) that I would love for everybody who does not have depression to watch in hopes it would help them understand the daily struggle those of us with it face.

 

Enjoy,

Caitlin

 

Into The Darkness

I would be lying if I said part of the purpose of this blog was not catharsis. I’ve always found that getting the emotions out of myself through inertia, words, and conversations was both helpful and necessary. For the sake of honesty, I began officially working on this blog a few weeks after I sunk into a depression. This is one of the worst depressions I’ve experienced since I was cognizant of what depression was. Definitely top five, if not top three. To write about it is to do everything in my power to try and make it better today.

Most days I wake up and hope it will be different from the next and this is when I’m not in a full-blown depression. I wake up, I look around me, and I get as close as I can to praying I won’t have a crisis. On bad days, I don’t walk around with hope it will feel different, but an inability to even leave the house. If I do venture out, I hope nobody says anything to set me off, because my triggers are both numerous and wide-reaching. Somebody once told me, “There is no safe topic with you except for the weather.” While that hurt immensely to hear somebody felt that about me, I can admit that on a bad day for me, there is some truth to his statement.

There are certainly specific subjects that trigger me more than others and the most common are related to women and treatment of women, especially in a sexual context. Most of my adult life has been cyclical. I dated one man who was emotionally abusive followed by a man who was wonderful. I dated another man who cheated on me much of our relationship followed by somebody I was considering moving with across the country. Each time, the initial relationship stuck in my psyche like an especially rich caramel in your teeth and partly lead to the demise of the healthy relationship. At this point, after dating somebody for seven months who lied by omission about the nature of his feelings for me and refused to commit to a relationship with me, I feel hopeless.

I feel like I walk through a fog and when I’m at home, which I barely leave right now, I feel as if I have a bug inside my brain poking at the neurons that code for motivation, preventing them from completing their synapses. I cannot bring myself to play guitar, to work on my to-do list, to put in effort with most of my friendships. When I do spend time with people, I feel it’s only a matter of time until they say something, a match to my emotional flame, which will send me into reactivity mode. I snap. I become angry and argumentative over comments that are simple expressions of somebody else’s feelings and opinions. Yet, somehow I cannot help but take it personally. Prime example: somebody describes to me how they went on a date with a woman, but just could not be attracted to her because her thighs were big. I immediately jump to, “Oh my gosh. They must think I’m hideous because my thighs are bigger.”  From this initial reaction, I jump to outrage over how women are treated as objects and from there I travel back in time to all of the moments where I felt like my worth was achieved through sex and many men were happy to oblige. Then comes the pain of revisiting past traumas.

It’s at moments like these I feel trapped inside my head. Why does it jump to the conclusion it’s somehow about me? I remember a colleague of mine once told me, “Depression is incredibly selfish.” This is another moment during my disease process that I cannot forget because it was when I was actively trying to go off of my medication and succeeding at it, and I remember feeling like I had failed somehow even though I was trying so hard to make the right decision and be healthy. I felt like I failed because I was attempting to go off of my medication knowing that my state of mind may be worse indefinitely, that I may wax and wane in my depression and anxiety the rest of my life. I made the choice to feel, even if it was to feel dejected, hopeless, lacking in self-esteem, and angry and it hurt to think that trying to be strong in light of my illness still made me selfish in somebody’s eyes.

I alternate between the desire to accept who I am because to deny is to eliminate the possibility of change, but striving to change and refusing to accept that this is how it will always be. This is a tough dichotomy for me to wrap my head around. Some days, I feel I will never change and many days of late, I cannot even imagine a different world for myself. I can only imagine myself lonely, afraid, distrustful, and paranoid. I ponder what I thought I always wanted, which was to be surrounded by friends, in a long-lasting, healthy relationship, living in a house I worked on myself, gardening on the weekends, able to lose the weight I would like to lose, and traveling as much as possible, yet I feel I move further from that ideal with every month I live in Charlotte. To be fair, an easy solution would be to go back on medication, but for me, that’s not an option. Today, I just wanted to wake up and feel that my happiness is not fleeting, to have some intuition I can achieve emotional stability. I certainly have moments where I feel the world makes sense, but I’m always in waking fear of falling off that cliff into the darkness once again and now that I’m in the darkness, I’m afraid I won’t be able to climb my way out.

How I Knew I Was A Bit Off

This is the trip down memory lane. While I have so much I want to write about, it seems only natural to start at the beginning, although, natural progressions often don’t apply with matters of the mind. For the sake of order, it’s worth noting the pieces of my childhood that told me I was different.

Lots of children struggle with sleeping on their own. I was certainly one of them, but it transcended normalcy. I would stand inside my closed bedroom door, barely breathing, listening, and mustering up the courage to act. I recall running across the dark hallway in the middle of the night  as if my speed would prevent the ghoulies from catching me, in order to sneak up to my parents’ bed and implore, “Can I sleep in your bed tonight?” I don’t know the exact frequency with which this occurred, but I remember it went on long after it probably should have.

Another memory I have of my childhood is that I was incredibly sensitive to sensations. I used to cut the tags out of all of my articles of clothing because, to me, the jagged edge of a clothing tag was to my skin as nails on a chalkboard are to the ears. In the same vein, I hated underwear. The extra layers of fabric were suffocating. I felt trapped in my outfit and the unsavory sensation became all I could think about.

A more direct link to my adult mental health issues occurred in spring when I was in fourth grade; there was a tornado warning and while we had been coached, year after year, to duck under our desks and cover our heads with a text book (typically math or science, the heaviest), the book and desk seemed insignificant and almost laughable solutions to a towering tunnel of wind and debris. I believe this is the first time I experienced panic-level anxiety. As my classmates stayed under their desks, I was send with a younger class to the interior of the building into a bathroom. I was the only one.

Following the tornado, my parents set me up with a child psychologist. This is the first instance where I doubted the abilities of so-called professionals. I remember this woman nearly berating me for experiencing high levels of anxiety and essentially telling me, “You need to just get over it.” I’ve come to love watching thunderstorms without fear of a tornado barreling into my residence, but I give no credit to her.

It was near the end of elementary school I started writing regularly and mostly in the form of poetry. I look back at some of the poems I wrote and am astonished at how much pain and sadness they convey, especially considering my age at the time I wrote them. It’s like I was born with a higher capacity and propensity for sadness than most people I know. I used poetry to cope with life experiences that did not make sense to me and mostly these experiences pertained to my interactions with people. A lot of my poetry conveys a sense of isolation, of otherness. I’ve always craved connection and felt as if I need it more than I need food and shelter, even, but it’s always been elusive, like shadows dancing across a cave wall.

It was near the end of high school when a girl I knew convinced my best friend, a boy, to stop talking to me for a week. The fact that somebody I had spent years running around in the woods with, sharing winter hats with, could be so easily convinced to cut me out of his life broke my heart. Soon after I entered middle school and moved from Michigan to Wisconsin. It was in middle school I began to isolate at times. I remember my Sunday ritual for much of 6th and 7th grade was to read fantasy novels literally all day until I became tired and usually fell asleep around 8:00 p.m. Fantasy novels were an escape from the confusion of the real world. I did not know how to deal with the changes that occur in middle school during which everybody is hyper-aware of who they are and who they want to be. There’s competition. There’s pressure to look right and act right. It was often too much for me and at a time when people are pressured to streamline their identities with everybody else, my eccentricities fought back inside my mind.

High school was a mixed bag. I had friends in most of the social groups, but because I did not belong to one group, there were often times when I was not invited to hangout. I was forgotten. Or maybe people did not want to invite me, I’m not sure. I remember freshman year of high school when my brother was a senior, my parents asked or made (I’m not sure what the conversation was) him bring me along to hangout with him and his friends. Conversely, I spent many weekends watching independent and foreign films. The themes of loneliness, unrequited love, self-exploration, otherness, and the nature of reality appealed to my mind, which I was now aware had well-oiled gears constantly running through thoughts and interpretations; I wanted to understand a world that confused me.

These are all events and situations that made me feel like an other, but since I was young, I always felt different in so many ways. I’m left-handed, I’ve never been stereotypically feminine (I was a tomboy growing up and had not worn a dress until 5th grade), I self-identify as bisexual, I philosophize extensively, I seek to understand the world at a depth I find the majority of the population resists, and speak candidly about subject matter many avoid.

Awareness, especially when it comes to the self, is a key part of my coping mechanisms. I often view the world in terms of dichotomies. While it’s important to remember the past since it is who you are, the struggle is to refrain from letting the painful parts define your current life and affect your ability to progress. That’s a concept I continue to work on. After this brief foray into my youth, I’ll leave the readers with a quote that exemplifies how depression feels to in recent times:

“Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living.”-Jonathan Safran Foer