Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Turning Inward

I love Fall.  I love how it slows down my life, as we stop scrambling to use all the daylight hours, complete outdoor tasks, travel and take advantage of all the things that are enjoyable in the summer months.  I love returning to the routine of "back to school."  Ask me in a few months, and I'm sure I'll be singing the praises of all things sunny, lazy and refreshing, but for now, I'm happy the seasons are changing.

With the change, though, I notice myself turning inward.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing.  There is much good that can come from slowing down, leaving the outside world outside ourselves, and focusing back in on oneself.  It allows me to revisit burning questions like, am I who I want to be?  Do the things in my life serve me or can I simplify?  Sadly, this self-evaluation always dissolves into an internal dialog of all the things I'm doing not well enough or downright wrong.

What starts out as healthy self-reflection quickly becomes a critical deconstruction of every matter I've ever undertaken.  It is in these moments that I feel the ground begin to fall from beneath me once again.  I am healthier than I have been in a long, long time and I am able to rationalize and to hang on, but I do get tired of the struggle.

And so today, and as long as I feel trapped inside my head, as the seasons change and the quiet of Fall sets in, I will hold on to these thoughts and work to challenge opinions that feel like truths:

"You're problem is you are too busy holding on to your unworthiness."  Ram Das

"Never forget that once upon a time, in an unguarded moment, you recognized yourself as a friend."  Elizabeth Gilbert

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Practice what you Preach

Since I've been teaching yoga, I've had a lot of opportunities to impart "wisdom" on my yogi friends.  Here are some things that I've suggested that I really need to incorporate into my life for more than the hour a day that I'm teaching....

Don't take yourself too seriously.  We all fall down sometimes.  Just get back up.
"Take into account that great love and great achievement involve great risk."  (Dalai Lama)
Don't compete.  Start where YOU are.  Do what YOU can.
"Follow your bliss and the Universe will open doors where there were only walls."  (Joseph Campbell)
"Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured."  (BKS Iyengar)
Be present.  For the next [insert class length here], your sole purpose is to be here, doing this.  Nothing else.
"Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self."  (The Bhagavad Gita)
If it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you.

I need to learn to shut off my every day-brain and listen to my yoga teacher-brain.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Fallen Stars

It is immensely tragic to watch such a bright star fall from the sky, to see his light die as it falls into a space unknown but for its darkness.  For my part, I was already breaking in my own misery yesterday long before the Robin Williams news broke.  Often when my depression is deep and parasitic, I am drawn back to humanity by tragedy.  It hits me so hard that I am able to rise for the suffering of others.  I'm great in a crisis.

The news of the death, of the suicide, of Robin Williams, a man who by all accounts was so generous with his kindness and his gift for joy and laughter, destroyed a part of me that still had hope.  As the world mourns a man that so many loved, I can't help but slip a little deeper into my own world, most recently defined only by pain and suffering, a separate hell I share with strangers who suffer from deep, soul-crushing depression.  I can't say whether anyone else feels heartsick as I do.  But as is often the case with depression, there is a darker, scarier emotion resting just below the surface emotions and often it is fear.

Robin Williams wasn't the poster child for depression or addiction or recovery.  In fact, his battles were mostly fought much more privately than we often see in celebrities.  So why the connection between his fall and my own fears?  To watch someone so extraordinary and beloved, with the resources and the wherewithal to seek help, still fall to depression, leaves me without hope for my own battle.  Will I fight and fight just to lose in the end too?

I've spent the last year learning about depression, from my experiences, from my therapists and doctors, and from other experts.  I was immersed in it in the hospital, that education.  Over time, I've taken in useful bits and pieces of information.  Unfortunately, when the conversation gets bigger, because of a high profile loss, you hear a lot more opinions with a lot less understanding.  A psychiatrist speaking about Williams' suicide actually said that depression is curable.  They say depression has a root cause, insinuating that the root cause isn't the disease itself but some controllable factor.  (Why You're Depressed & Not Getting Better)  They say that depression is just a series of bad habits that can be broken with the right routine.  ("Undoing Depression: What therapy doesn't teach you and medication can't give you")  And those are the opinions of just a handful of "experts."  Imagine all of the things ordinary people offer!

They say, "Well, what makes you feel good?  Do that," which translates to, "if you're unhappy, do something about it," which presumes that YOU have control over your emotions and this "disease."  They say, "What could you have to be depressed about?  You have a roof over your head, food to sustain you and people who love you."  They say "Suicide is a permanent solution to an impermanent problem."

That's just the thing, isn't it?  Did Mr. Williams take permanent action to resolve an impermanent problem?  I don't think so.  I don't think it was "not so bad."  I think that when you've sat there and surveyed your life, the damage your depression has caused, the people it has hurt and will continue to hurt, you can logically see why stopping it, ending it, is a valid solution.   I understand it.  I have lived it.  When I see my daughter struggle because she knows that her mama is sad but doesn't understand why, I am wracked with guilt and confusion.  Am I really doing her more good than harm still on this earth?  My children deserve far better than me.  And those are just the altruistic reasons.   What about those nights when you've lain awake for hours, contemplating how horrible everything feels or how nothing feels at all.  When you look back over the weeks and years of your life and you wonder if it will ever end.  Living with depression is no way to live.  When you've sought help and you still fight year after year, day to day, minute to minute, breath after breath.  Why?  What could possibly be the point in continuing this doomed journey?

I do see the other side, the loved ones that are left grieving, wondering why they weren't enough to keep him here.  We think we know better than you.  We think that your perception is wrong.  We KNOW that we are all the terrible things that our disease tells us we are.  We KNOW that you will be better off without us.  We even know that it will be painful for you, but then all of the suffering our existences have caused you will end.  You fantasize that the people you love will move on and find some happier life than the tumult you brought to them.

Without knowing him, without even knowing much about his history before his passing became news, I think I can understand Robin Williams and his choice.  I ache for his family as I ache for him.  I desperately hope he is at peace because sometimes it feels like the peace of the afterlife, or at least no longer living this life, is all one can cling to in the darkest moments.  What a heartbreaking loss to the world, to the private world of those of us who suffer similar afflictions, to those who knew and loved him, and to those who didn't and still do.

As an aside, let me say that I entertain no thoughts of suicide at this place in time.  This piece, my words, come from a place that I think of as understanding.  It comes from my own experience, my soul, and the beast that resides within me.  I want to also say that I harbor no delusions of grandeur here.  My opinion is no more valid that anyone else's.  It feels kindred, somehow, but I know that I cannot truly reflect on someone else's suffering.  I can only offer my own perspective, cast it into the growing pile of countless other unsolicited opinions and points of view.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Cleaning Up the Mess

Today I am wallowing in sadness and regret.  Recently, I decided it's time to walk back toward the darkest time of my life and survey the damage.  I imagine it like the first time you walk back into your home after a fire.  Your whole life, everything you had worked for up to that point, sitting blackened, charred, almost unrecognizable.  In fact, you wouldn't believe it was your life except that you remember the heat of the fire and the scream of the sirens as you crumbled under the realization that you have ruined almost everything that ever meant anything to you.  And although you're not ungrateful, you know how lucky you are to have your people, your "health," and a future to rebuild, you feel as though you've lost everything.

I'm stuck between feeling completely and absolutely responsible for the wasteland that is my current state of affairs and feeling like it's just not fair that I suffer this.  I was good at what I did until my brain decided to scramble, create things that did not exist, and refuse to let me continue to participate in my own life.  That doesn't seem fair.  On the other hand, I can't shake the responsibility for the hurt I caused, albeit unintentionally.

There are so many small decisions I want to undo today.  There are so many times I want to go back and ask for help when I didn't.  There are so many times I meant to help when I hurt.  But I think what is most devastating is that I don't really get the opportunity to go back and undo.  I hardly get the chance to even provide an explanation.  Those who love me understand and those who I'd like to offer one to have already made up their minds.

It sucks pretty bad to be broken.  I knew that.  Sadly, having it reflected in the mirror, when you were hoping that maybe your version of things was exaggerated, is brutal.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Worry

I don't think I used to be someone who worried a lot.  In fact, I likely took more than my fair share of risks over the years.  I wasn't afraid to try anything once.

I've noticed, particularly over the past few months although I suspect it's been a growing problem, that I have become incredibly cautious, paranoid even.  It started as little things, some of which most people might identify with, but most of which were not "me."  I started to worry about how I looked, what people must be saying about me, entering a room full of people that I knew well, but uncomfortable because I hadn't seen them in a while.  I'd be certain I'd horribly offended someone or done something that someone perceives as awful.  It wasn't anticipatory worry, which I think plagues a lot of people.  Rather, the minute I was about to leave the bathroom, step out of the house, make a phone call or enter that room, I have an immediate and overwhelming sense of discomfort that doesn't ease for hours, days sometimes.

Over time, that somewhat normal, not uncommon anyway, self-consciousness became more pronounced.  My fear over what people must think of me and say about me has spread from total strangers or at least mild acquaintances to people who are dearest to me.  I've stopped having "real" conversations with many people.  I have opinions on why that might be, but I hesitate to reveal them, ironically, out of fear of how they might be perceived.

Most recently, it's become bigger again.  There was a time that I was so paranoid that if a car followed me on the highway for more than a few exits, I could become convinced that it was intentionally following me.  Lately, that's manifested itself in that I don't like to let my children out of my sight.  I don't like them to go to sleep without me being there and if they have to, I need to peak in and see each of their faces before I can comfortably go to sleep myself.  I terrified of the idea of going away for a weekend without them, despite that I know that they would be in excellent care.  I'm terrified to send them back to school.  It's not that I think I take care of them so much better than anyone else, far from it.  And it's not that I think something terrible is bound to happen.  My logical mind remains intact.  It's just a "fear" for no reason at all.

It almost feels like they're the last good thing left of me and if I blink too long, they might disappear too.  Or worse, maybe they'll begin to see this version of me that I'm fighting so hard is just who I am.  I don't want to believe that and I certainly don't want them to believe that.  I don't even want the stranger on the street who has a two second interaction with me to believe that.  Deep down, though, I think that's where this crippling fear is coming from.  I think I believe it and the more time that goes by when I am not well, the easier it is to believe it.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Awareness

I have been familiar with depression since the time I was a teenager.  I learned the term from a therapist I began seeing when I just couldn't stop crying.  Nothing was wrong, but I cried and cried.  That's one of the tip-offs for most people with depression and one of the most misunderstood hallmarks of the illness.  People always want to know what is wrong or what has happened to that person to cause their depression.  Certainly there is "situational" depression, where a situation or set of circumstances sends someone into a prolonged period of sadness, but that's not the depression I experience.  For me, one day I can be fine and the next, without any change in my external life whatsoever, I fall apart.

So with all of this experience, history, and, since I've become an adult, education, how is it that I miss the onslaught until I'm so deep in that I'm convinced I must be losing my mind?  How can it go so far that I've lost weeks before I recognize that I'm buried in uncontrolled anguish?  And why, oh why, can't I simply manage it?

To that end, I've started seeing a psychiatrist again.  As part of my treatment, I will be seeing a therapist regularly again as well.  I will begin a new medication.  I will try again to wrangle the beast that hides in the dark places in my mind.  I have fallen hard back into a place that sucks the breath, the life, out of me.  I have a new diagnosis.

In the hospital, as I have been before, I was diagnosed with depression.  The anxiety that went along with it this time was new.  Depression has become a rather recurrent nightmare in my life, particularly since I have had children.  The pressure of keeping up with their needs, coupled with my desire to be a whole person for them has been a struggle.  I'm not sure if it has truly exacerbated my depression or if it has simply made me more aware, but I vow over and over to get better for them.  So, as I slip deeper into a place of alternating pain and numbness, I went back for help.

My present working diagnosis is bipolar II.  It is not a DMS-defined illness.  My psychiatrist referred to it as "baby bipolar."  Tell that to the two sides of my emotional train wreck of a brain as they shriek at each other.  As suspected, he recognized symptoms of both depression and mania, with depression being the far stronger of the two.  With that said, because I don't report at least a week of mania (ever), I don't qualify as bipolar.  Fine with me, except it still leaves me in this place in my head.  Hence, the "softer" diagnosis.  It's on the "spectrum."  I didn't know bipolar had one.

In fact, I learned all sorts of new words relating to the bipolar spectrum, many of which may or may not define the madness that is my life at the moment:  dysphoria, hypomania, manic depression (something I thought had been re-termed bipolar, but which is actually its own thing).  I thought my head would be spinning with all of the new information, but mostly I'm just tired.  I'm tired of being yanked from one version of crazy to the next.  I'm tired of feeling anything and so mostly I am numb.  Numb and tired.

For those of you not familiar with bipolar, you may assume that it is simply "being moody" or "up and down."  It's more complicated than that, of course.  For me, depression has always been the obvious, more dominant mood.  My depression is fairly classical, low mood, withdrawal from activities that I used to enjoy, lack of appetite, requiring too much sleep, sometimes alternately not being able to sleep, crying without reason or control, thoughts of hopelessness, suicidal ideation.  My mania has been more elusive.

I started to notice patterns, starting with drastic differences in my energy.  I'd be scrubbing the floor on my hands and knees while jam was setting after having reorganized the hall closet, when just four days before I'd dropped the kids off at the babysitter and gone back to sleep for four hours, skipping lunch so I could sleep 15 minutes longer.  Then I started to notice the more subtle shifts.  I'd go from cuddling on the couch with the kids for hours so I didn't have to pretend to get up and do something to being able to sit still with them for 3 minutes before their intermittent movements made me so agitated that I would jump off the couch ready to claw my own skin off.   I'd go from calling landlords to check on studio spaces for my someday yoga studio, creating color palates and picking out decor, and ordering business cards to being nervous to teach my weekend class.

Taken individually, these things did not seem significant.  Even now, they seem insignificant until I line them up in a row and then add the chatter that's constantly in my head, a non-stop list of hyperbolic "to dos" or a barrage of self-deprecating commentary.  Rarely do I just feel okay.  I feel tightly-wound, anxious and irritable or I feel horribly empty and broken.  Some people's mania is euphoric.  They feel awesome, invincible, like the world is at their fingertips!  That comes with it's own dangers because often their judgment is horribly skewed.  For me, mania presents as severe irritation.  I am so agitated that I feel like I'm on fire with it.

I also learned that as you get older, episodes of depression and/or mania tend to get more intense and more frequent.  So it made sense that I had sought help for depression first at 17, then at 25, then at 29 and 32 and 34.  It had all been happening and right under my nose.  So, why have I struggled so much recently?  And why didn't I see it for what it was?  I suspect that it's so many things.  I suspect I wasn't aware enough.  It isn't something we talk about and that has to change.

Although I am afraid of the idea of a "mood stabilizer," I do hope to even out.  I'm terrified of side effects.  I have had some pretty terrible ones in the past.  I'm terrified of being "altered," of being recognizably different to my children.  Then again, I don't particularly want them to remember this version of me someday.  So what's the difference?   I know I need to do something different.  Everything has lost color again and I miss it.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Metaphors

I imagine my life in a series of metaphors.  That habit has grown as I've kept this blog, lived the last year of my life and had to explain a lot more than I used to what happens in my head.  To share with someone who doesn't understand mental illness, even well-meaning people who just can't wrap their heads around it, a metaphor can neutralize buzz words and offer a more relatable explanation.

As I delve into this next level of my . . . I struggle for a word here.  Recovery?  I've accepted that recovery, for me, is not a reality.  Treatment?  I suppose this fits, but it sounds so clinical and the path of my life, of my "treatment," hasn't been sterile the way that those words connote.  Perhaps I will just say care and hope that the remainder of my words are able to better convey my feelings.  As I delve into this next level of my care, I'm stuck feeling like I'm starting from scratch but with a history that belies truly beginning.

You see, I'm about to see a psychiatrist for the first time in more than six months.  I'm also seeking a new diagnosis.  Seeking?  Yes.  Although I have suffered the same, obvious symptoms of depression for years, when I stopped rushing through my life and started living with some awareness, it became clear to me that a diagnosis that I once greatly feared for its stigma may very well provide me the relief that my several stints in therapy, in the hospital and on various anti-depressants have failed to.

I have to take a deep breath before I type these words.  I have said them to many close friends, but those people support me and won't judge.  They won't stereotype me when even I have stereotyped.  I believe I am bipolar.  I think it's been missed for years because I have only sought therapy in the midst of my very worst bouts of depression.  Once I feel better, I stop treatment.  It makes it difficult for a professional to recognize the ebb and flow of the cycles of mania to depression and back.

I won't pretend it hadn't weighed on my mind in the past.  In fact, when I first started the longest stretch of therapy that I've ever received, my first explanation was that I thought I might be bipolar.  It was quickly dismissed because, admittedly, I was living a very stressful, unsupported life with a history that explained a simple diagnosis of depression and anxiety disorders.  It was readdressed as I started my hospitalization and I simply said I didn't know.  I acknowledged to my psychiatrist there that I certainly fit the criteria, but that I wasn't sure.  It's easy to find something you relate to in a list of "symptoms."  Everyone could.  So, we watched and waited.  Unfortunately, I stopped watching and waiting.  I obediently took medication that didn't do enough for me, until I decided it wasn't doing enough and then I quit taking it.  I made massive changes in my professional and personal life, all of which alleviated a lot of daily stresses I was previously experiencing.

When I stopped with the medication and ultimately with any therapy at all, I stopped being present with my mental illness.  I was focused on other things, celebrating unrelated victories, growing my life in other ways.  But for me, that meant ignoring what was happening in my mind.  Then I started crying again.  I spent too much time sleeping.  I started to pay attention again.

So I'm heading back into this variety of self-exploration.  I need some relief from the mess in my head again.  I'm going to give it more time and see it through.  So what's with all the metaphor talk?  What's the big deal?  I imagine it like a broken bone that didn't heal right.  It feels better than it did when you broke it.  You can walk on that leg again, but every time that you do, you notice it's just not quite right.  You have some pain, and you've lost some of your range of motion.  It's not unbearable, but you know it will get there eventually.  You know that to fix it properly, there going to need to rebreak the bone.  And you know that it's going to really hurt to go back in.  You're starting from scratch in that you've got to start at the beginning (with the broken bone or the life stories) and yet you've got scar tissue and baggage and all that plays a role in this starting over.