Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Post Original Title: An Exhibition (addendum to An Epiphany)

Originally posted: 5/23/2010

I equate accomplishments with self-worth. This will be my undoing. I think the reason I struggle with depression so much is because I feel as though I haven’t accomplished anything worth bragging about, and so by way of the transitive property, I feel very little self-worth. I think it’s frustrating to me because I feel like I was put on this earth for some humongous purpose, but I don’t know what it is, and so I can’t accomplish it!

I live my life 60% happy and 40% unbearably unhappy. I’ve pretty much given up talking about it with anyone I know because I feel guilty for unloading my problems on others, and also, they’ve all heard it before because I’ve been struggling with my moods since I was 17. I’m what most psychologists call “highly sensitive” and while it sounds like maybe I am able to communicate with dead people, it just means that things that bounce off normal people hit me to my core. For example, I saw a woman panhandling by the side of the road today, I didn’t get to read her sign, but she had a dog on a leash with her. I started crying because I felt that it wasn’t fair to the dog that it’s owner was unable to get or keep a job. I felt more sorrow for the dog than I did the woman! I take most things very personally, in fact, I take them so personally that regardless of compliment or criticism, my brain automatically calculates a shortcoming in my personality. I’ve been in therapy since I was 17, when I first discovered that I couldn’t just “get over” things the way most people can. I’ve learned innumerous skills to cope with the things that I feel, but my go-to coping mechanism is to sleep. I mean, I have a talent for sleeping that most people can’t comprehend – I can sleep for 12 hours straight on just about any given night. But when I’m “decompensating” (this is a term that Social Security Disability uses to describe a relapse), I can sleep 12 hours a night and then take a 4-hour nap the next day and still fall asleep the next night.

Many people have heard of SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder – and it’s fairly common for people to experience increased sadness and difficulty functioning when the seasons change and there is less light during the day. As the skin absorbs sunlight, it stimulates the endocrine system to secrete certain hormones into our bloodstream that signal the brain to release neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. When there’s less sunlight, lower amounts of neurotransmitters are released, and this affects mood. Basically, the higher the amount of neurotransmitters released in the brain, the better we feel. Anyway, I feel like I have backwards SAD. It happens right about this time every year that I hit a really rough patch, where I sleep a lot and I don’t feel like doing anything. I cry a lot and I cancel most of my plans with people just so I can stay at home, in bed, and do nothing. This year is sucking because I have been doing work for the Census, which I hate, and there’s nothing worse than having to try to force yourself to do something you hate when you can’t even force yourself to do something you like.

So I reposted something I wrote almost two years ago because I feel like it’s important for people, especially people who know me and care about me, to understand how my brain works. I re-read it and I felt that it was very poignant and worth attempting to get others to understand. There’s a whole lot of stigma attached to people who have mental illness, and I think it surprises many people to learn that I not only have a mental illness, but that I struggle with it almost constantly. It’s easy to hide when my life’s circumstances are good, but I can’t summon the energy to hide it at times like this. I try very hard to turn my brain off, and quit thinking about all of the things that I wish I could change so that I could finally be happy, once and for all. I read, I watch movies, I run, I take Phoenix to the dog park, I play soccer, I bake cakes, I sleep, and I try to stick to plans I have with friends. I also drink. This is most definitely a bad idea, especially since alcohol is a known depressant and I’m on some fairly heavy-duty anti-depressants. I don’t drink to excess, but I have one or two drinks just about every day. I feel like I am able to relax and it’s almost like the alcohol numbs my brain just enough that I can function well enough to not be a complete slob.

My therapists have taught me to try to find some triggers for why my moods change, when they change. Mostly, it’s romantic relationship stuff. For some reason, in my mind, I also equate relationships with happiness. This is all sorts of whacked out, because I know a fair amount of people who are in relationships or were in relationships and they were nowhere near happy. Something was ingrained in me - I feel like from birth - that tells me that my purpose in life is to find a mate, get married, and have kids! I don’t know where this came from, but I cannot, FOR THE LIFE OF ME, get rid of it. I feel as though I am missing something by being 25 and not already being married and having kids. I wonder if I’d be happy without having a college degree if I were married and had kids. I feel like I have no direction, and no purpose, at times like this. I think the trigger for this relapse was finding out that the two guys I dated last year (neither I dated seriously) are both engaged. This is where I could rant and rave about how much I hate facebook (and myspace) because of the availability of information about people who used to be in my life, but that won’t stop me from using facebook!

I’ve got a great therapist now, and instead of just going to my sessions and talking my head off for an hour, I ask questions about how I can fix some of the things that I struggle with, and it’s always very helpful. But I wish I could sit and talk for eight straight hours and ask questions and work through some of the real issues I have.

It was about a week ago, during a good cry, that I realized that this illness might be what kills me. Just like diabetes, or high blood pressure, over time I think that it is going to break me down to the point where I just can’t handle one more relapse. I’m already exhausted and I’m on year 8(ish – I’m 8 years out from the original diagnosis), so I can’t imagine what it will be like when I’m in my 70’s!

I’ve accomplished one of the things I wanted to accomplish for a long time: I got a dog, my very own dog. I have this inconceivable passion for dogs. I got Phoenix last summer, and I had his name picked out long before I got him. The Phoenix is a mythical bird, which instead of dying, bursts into flame and then is reborn from the ashes. I liked the possibility that a dog would allow me to shed the shell of a person I had been for so long and allow me to be reborn with a new passion for life. In a lot of ways, Phoenix has allowed me to do that. His puppy eyes make me go out and get some sunshine and exercise, and playing with him makes my life so much more enjoyable. I can be lost in my thoughts and he’ll come up and nudge me or I watch him do something goofy and it’s almost an instant mood-changer.

Something that weighs on my mind almost constantly is the possibility that eventually everyone I’m close to will up and stop communicating with me because they’re all so sick of listening to me whine about how much I hate my life sometimes. I struggle every day and sometimes I feel so out of control of my life, despite the wonderful support and advice I get from the people I’m closest with. I get suggestions for things to try and ideas for changes to make, and sometimes I do try them, but mostly I’m too scared or I feel I’ve already tried every possible avenue.

Perhaps I should address the fear I have that prevents me from doing the wild and crazy things I’d like to do, like up and moving to LA to try acting. I suppose I am terrified to try and fail, although I feel as though I’ve got a pretty good relationship with failure. I’m more afraid to be stuck somewhere, alone, with no money and no resources. I don’t want to have to live outside my means, and I don’t want to be uncomfortable. I like to think that I have too much pride to work at many of the places struggling actors work, and I really don’t like the idea of having to beg or do immoral things to get myself a small part. I know that I fear the shallowness of Hollywood’s culture, and I don’t feel like I’m pretty enough to be able to compete with all the other women my age who are there to do exactly the same thing I’d like to do. I have a friend who is an actor, and it’s been a very educational experience watching him struggle to be successful. I worry that I won’t fit in, that I’m too genuine and honest to peddle myself as though I were a common product. And I don’t know how to overcome this fear short of just pretending it’s not there and doing it anyway.

I’m a very organized person, I rarely lose things and I try to keep my life that way because it’s nice to have a few things that I feel like I can control, when I feel so out of control much of the time. My therapist often asks me to try to imagine what my life would be like if all the circumstances of my life were “perfect.” I have all kinds of different answers, depending on the day. Some days I say I’d have my degree and already be in grad school, some days it’s that I’d be married to a wonderful man and I’d be thinking about starting a family, other days it’s some combination of those things. For some reason I cannot be happy with the life I have right this minute, no matter how hard I try. Of course, I know I’m lucky – I have wonderful, supportive parents, a big network of good friends, a roof over my head and food to eat. I’m safe, and I live in a country where (for the time being, anyway) I am free to do generally anything I want. Somehow this isn’t enough to satisfy me. One therapist suggested that every single day, I write down three things I did for myself that made me happy. I did this for a little while, but I realized that I have a really hard time coming up with three whole things I did just for me, each day. Obviously someone with a different perspective might be able to list off ten things for me each day, but I’m so critical of myself, that I can’t even allow myself to feel as though I’ve done anything just for me!

Where this self-criticism comes from, I have no idea. My parents were never ever pushy or overly concerned with my performances or grades, I always did well for myself, or to prove to others that I was worth something. I’ve never had anyone trying to make me feel badly for not being good enough or not doing something well enough, I’ve only ever been horrible to myself when I didn’t live up to my own expectations. I’ve really had to give myself a lot of a break in the last five years or so as I realize that this illness is most definitely real and impacts my life in ways that I’m still discovering. I try to set smaller goals for myself that are more attainable so that if and inevitably when I do fail, it’s not nearly as painful as completely missing a goal of grandeur.

I wrote about feeling suicidal and about not valuing life enough when others struggle to stay alive, battling crippling illness and disease just to stay alive one more day. I am nowhere near suicidal today, but definitely feeling sad and worthless. It’s been a decent week, overall, and I value being able to see people I don’t normally see and do things I don’t normally do. I don’t really feel like I take life for granted, I just don’t see the opportunities that others can see in each day. I’ve enjoyed being able to spend time outside in the sun, reading or playing with Phoenix. I stopped to smell the lilacs growing in our front yard and I try to never get mad at Phoenix when he jumps into the creek at the end of our run, (even though I have to squeegee him off before I let him in the house). Every time I drive to Boulder, the prestige of the mountains never fails to amaze me, and I truly value many of the things that most people do take for granted. I try to laugh when I can, if something is funny, I try to find the silliness in everyday things, and I go out of my way to try to cheer myself up if I’m feeling down, it just doesn’t always work. Hopefully I’ll never stop seeing new things and appreciating things I’ve perhaps neglected before. I know that I am a special person, important in my own way; I just wish I could make the world see it, too.

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