I’m Fine

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There is an elephant in the room. It’s enormous, with purple spots and flashing neon tusks, and it won’t stop trumpeting as loud as it can. Somehow, everyone manages to ignore it. Talking about it makes people uncomfortable and it won’t go away, so they pretend it isn’t there. If you do talk about it, you’re immediately silenced in a multitude of ways. Some people will tell you that you’re exaggerating and it’s just a tiny little elephant and you’re perfectly capable of pretending it isn’t there. Others will say that it isn’t appropriate to talk about the elephant. Still others will insist that since the elephant isn’t bothering them, it can’t possibly be bothering you, or at least they don’t want to hear about how it’s bothering you. Don’t talk about it. Don’t acknowledge it. Look away. Grin and bear it. Oh, the elephant is standing on your chest and you can’t breathe? You’re just not trying hard enough. You could push it off if you wanted to. Why are you crying? Surely not because of the enormous hole in your chest where the elephant gored you with his tusk. Just stop bleeding. Try harder. Just ignore the pain and you’ll be fine. Keep smiling. Keep pretending.

The elephant’s name is Mental Illness. The unwritten rules of society and the stigma attached keep people from seeking help. This is as true for people in the public eye as it is for those of us fighting our own battles in private. One of the first questions asked when someone loses the battle is, “why didn’t they ask for help?” Society teaches us early on that we can’t ask for help because that would mean talking about the elephant in the room. So we force a smile and learn how to hide the fact that we’ve been crying. “I’m tired.” “I just don’t feel well.” “My allergies are really bad today.” “I’m fine.” Always, always, “I’m fine.”

The last time I was able to see a therapist, he wanted to hospitalize me. That was several years ago. The problem with temp work, which I’ve been doing for quite a while, is that even if you get insurance, it doesn’t cover mental health. I’m finally insured again. Part of me worries I’ll get the same reaction. I just keep thinking, “I don’t have time for a psychotic break. I have a job and school.” That’s the other thing you learn. It’s not just that you shouldn’t talk about it, it’s that self-care is selfish. Everything, everyone else has to come first. I know I need help. I know I’m unwell.

I’m fine.

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Still, I Burn

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IMG_6430Today had been an inexplicably bad day. I texted my best friend that I wanted to hurt myself. It’s how we hold each other accountable. If we admit to wanting it, we’re less likely to do it. The anxiety monster was screaming in my head and I felt like I was teetering on the edge of a self-destructive manic episode.

The day started fine. I got up early. I went swimming. I got dressed. I was okay. Then it started. That prickly feeling that everything is wrong. It got progressively worse. Eventually it reached the point where my hands were shaking and my heart was racing. I hid in the bathroom to try to pull myself together. The “I’m Fine” mask gets too heavy sometimes and I need a little break. This time, the little break turned into a breakdown. Thinking about one of my favorite places in the world, Tintern Abbey, usually helps to center me. This time I burst into tears and promptly threw up. Fuck. At least I had a mint in my purse and it was nearly lunch time, so I could go buy a toothbrush and toothpaste.

I have no trouble admitting that I’m not all right. I know I need help. I can analyze the things I think I know I’m not in a good place. I used to fantasize about crashing through the concrete barricade and into the Tennessee river. The only thing that stopped those thoughts is that now I have a car that probably would just bounce off the barricade. Hell, it probably knows how to swim. (Side note: It’s a Smart car)

I am desperately trying to find some humor in this. If I don’t, then I’m just fucked up and hopeless. If I can laugh about how fucked up I am, at least it shows I know how fucked up I am, and that’s good, right? You’re less crazy if you know you’re crazy. It’s the people who don’t know they’re crazy you have to worry about. Shit, now I sound like I’m monologuing.

But now nothing is funny. Took my phone with me to the bathroom (because who doesn’t) ready to post a snarky tweet about OJ golfing with the “president,” and I see that Chester Bennington of Linkin Park has committed suicide. That insidious beast Depression has taken another one. How do you hang onto hope when the people who help you do that lose hope themselves?

I know what comes next. I like to call it “People Who Don’t Get It: A Play in Three Acts.”

  • Act 1: He was rich and famous, he shouldn’t have been depressed. That’s stupid. If I had his life I wouldn’t be depressed.
  • Act 2: He was probably on drugs. Did you hear about Carrie Fisher? And Prince? Stop acting like he had some disease. He made his choice.
  • Act 3: Why are you so sad? You never even met the guy.

Then the curtain comes down, until we lose another one. But first, let me help you read between the lines. Depression does not choose which helpless minds into which it sinks its teeth. It doesn’t care who you are or what you have. All it wants to do is eat you alive. You can be rich and famous and it won’t matter. Depression doesn’t discriminate.

We don’t need to speculate about drugs, nor should we. People living with mental illness also live with a stigma that makes it hard to seek help, so they find ways to cope. For some, drugs are, well, the drug of choice. It doesn’t change anything. Depression and addiction are very real diseases, and both are deadly.

Why do we grieve for strangers? When it’s someone like Chris Cornell or Chester Bennington, it’s because we recognized that the demons haunting us were after them, too. They channeled their pain into music that helped some of us keep hold of that tiny, flickering candle of hope. If it started to go out, we could turn to them to relight it. When another light goes out, the world turns a little bit darker. Don’t criticize someone who grieves for losing a source of hope and inspiration. If you don’t know our war, you have no say in how we honor our fallen.

I don’t really know what else to say. My light still burns. It flickers, but it burns.

1000 Words

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001meIt started with a simple joke over twenty years ago about my hair. I had that typical mid-to-late 90’s look with the too tall, over-sprayed bangs that looked like they should have a tiny surfer on them. I had a co-worker who teased me about them relentlessly, he’d walk past and bounce my “wave” down, just to see it pop back up as if it had never been touched. He also happens to be artistically gifted, so when I showed up to work with most of the length cut off my hair, but the bangs still standing tall, he drew a quick cartoon sketch on a napkin. I absolutely loved it. I’ve kept it all this time. It’s even been my profile picture on Facebook. It always reminds me of a time when I was probably the happiest I’ve ever been. I had a job I loved, a social life that didn’t leave me exhausted and desperate to be alone for days to recover, and I didn’t completely hate the girl in the mirror.

Over the years, things changed. My mental illnesses worsened, as they often do for twentysomethings, I lost that job (not because I was fired, but because the job itself ceased to exist) and I realized I was in love with someone who would never love me (that is a whole other story and a LOT of therapy sessions away from being written about). I moved to California with my best friend. Looks great on paper, but I had no car and I’m not good at making friends. Nikki has been my best friend since I was 16. She is the BEST best friend anyone could ask for. But I’d never been so far from home. I felt helpless. No car, nothing to keep me busy but work…my old friend bulimia returned. Like other forms of self harm, a binge can take the pain away for a while. I exacerbated things by refusing to purge. I’d stuff myself sick and let myself suffer in the aftermath. I felt like I deserved it.

Eventually, I moved back to Florida. Another job I hated, more time spend with my father making me feel worthless and ugly, more time spent hurting myself. I started avoiding mirrors. I ducked away from cameras. I hated everything about myself. I wanted to die. In December of 2001, I began planning my suicide. I didn’t want to ruin Christmas or New Year’s, so I settled on January 7th of 2002 as the day I would take a handful of pills, climb into bed and never have to wake up to my ugly face again.

The short version of the story is that I didn’t do it, obviously. What stopped me required more detail than I’m ready to write down at the moment. I’m here, still alive, still angry at mirrors. I’ve worked hard to lose weight, nearly 150 pounds, but it hasn’t made me feel more confident. I’m still fat, but now I also have lots of saggy skin. I’m going to be 41 this year, so it’s not like my skin is going to go back to the way it was when I was younger. I’m disgusted by my body.

For a while, I was able to dye my hair wild colors, and that did give me a temporary boost. Hot pink hair and a fake nose stud (don’t ask) made me feel kind of good about myself. Black lipstick and combat boots made me feel empowered. For the new year, I began a selfie project, with the intent to take and post a selfie a day in hopes that I could learn to love my face…or at least hate it less. It didn’t work and I gave up after a while. I had a friend once tell me, “Everyone is beautiful to someone,” but I have a hard time believing it. Yes, I have friends and relatives who will tell me, “No, you’re beautiful,” but when the only people in years who have indicated that they found me sexually desirable are creepy fat fetishists online, compliments from friends and family don’t do much.

My current job is okay with funky hair, but I’m delaying having it dyed again until the Autumn, because the only exercise my body can handle right now is swimming. Chlorine and vibrant hair color don’t mix. Instead, I’ve been playing with color hair sprays and wearing my fake nose rings, forcing myself to wear makeup when I don’t want to, because there is a part of me that still hopes I can find a way to love myself.

I have often wondered what it would be like to see myself through someone else’s eyes. Would I look just as hideous to them as I do to myself? Would I see something in my eyes that I’ve never caught in the mirror? Is there any chance that I’m not the repulsive ogress I see when I look at pictures of myself?

With twenty years between that napkin cartoon and now, my former co-worker, now my long-time friend, posted some of his artwork online. I joked about how it was an honor to be immortalized in one of his creations, even if the purpose was to mock your (absolutely ridiculous) hair style. I shared the drawing, proud to have ever been drawn by him. A short time later, he posted a new drawing. A color pencil sketch of my profile picture. I couldn’t find the words. I spent the next few days staring at it. There is something about the eyes that I find so lovely. I look at it and it’s me, but it can’t be me, because it’s beautiful. I still haven’t said a proper thank you for this gift – and it IS a gift – and I don’t know that I ever will find the words. How do you thank someone for making you feel that you have value? They say a picture is worth 1000 words. These are mine. Thank you.002me

Social Anxiety (Maybe) Saved My Life

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My brain is like 50% useless trivia, 30% endless fangirling, 40% profanity, and 80% snark (yeah, I got screwed over with a defective body, so I got double brains. Suck it.). Anyway, I am constantly thinking things I shouldn’t say out loud. I mentioned one of these things on Twitter (@ManicBrknFilter) recently. Saw a beer-bellied redneck in a “Trophy Husband” tee. My snarky brain says, “Was it a participation trophy?” Brain said it. Mouth did not. I am constantly thinking things that, in this part of the country could get me shot, or at least punched in the face. Fortunately, my crippling social anxiety make talking to strangers terrifying, so when I walked past a man who looked like he probably smelled like warm beer and gunpowder with a Confederate flag inked on his bicep, my brain yelled, “Awesome Nazi tat, bro! Woo! White people rule!” Anxiety to the rescue. I avoided eye contact and stayed downwind.

Keeping me from getting my ass kicked aside, social anxiety can be a cause of misunderstanding. Ever since I reached the age of all that boy/girl cutesy flirty shit, there has been an endless string of “friends” informing me when so-and-so thought I had a crush on him. Slow your roll, dude. 1) You ain’t that cute. 2) The reason I stutter and blush when you talk to me is that social interaction with people I don’t know well freaks me the fuck out. I don’t even know you well enough to like you, let alone to like you like you.

People also tend not to understand how I was a performer when I was younger while dealing with social anxiety. Let me break it down. When you’re on stage and the house lights are off and you’re saying someone else’s words and not having to “just be yourself,” it is heaven. This is not social. Give me a script and a costume and don’t make me interact with audience, and I’m good to go.

I stopped performing a long time ago. I’m fine on stage. I’m great. It’s a wonderful place to be. I’m just terrible at auditions. I already have intense paranoia that everyone is judging me, so walking into a situation where people are there for that specific purpose. Big no. Fuck no. All the no. I don’t think I’ve auditioned for anything in over 20 years. I miss the stage and someday, with enough therapy, maybe I’ll find my way back. Until then, I’ll just keep letting my social anxiety keep me from getting murdered by a random hillbilly at Walmart.

I’m Okay with My Crazy

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I picked up this planner for $5 the other day, not because I think 2018 is the year I’ll finally get my shit together and be organized, but because I loved what it said on the cover. I think there are a lot of people who think words like “crazy” are ableist, but I find it’s just a useful catch-all. Multiple mental health issues is a bit wordy for my taste. Not that I don’t love words. I’m writing a fucking blog, for (insert deity here)’s sake. It’s full of words. I just don’t think I need an excess of words to describe the chaos in my head. I’m crazy. I’m not homicidal (except when I have to go to Walmart) and I’m not a Scientologist. I’m just regular crazy. Store brand crazy.

I hate when people throw around legit diagnoses and symptoms like they’re funny. “OMG, this weather is like so bipolar,”…”I have to make sure my shoes match my purse. I’m so OCD,”…”I hate exams. They give me panic attacks.” No. All the no. Weather cannot be bipolar. It does not have a brain. Making sure your shoes match your purse is good fashion sense (seriously, Linda, get it together) but it doesn’t chart compared to someone who, for example, can’t walk away from the front door of their home without unlocking and locking the deadbolt precisely eight times. If you ever actually had a panic attack, you’d wish your pre-exam jitters were the worst you’d ever felt. Panic attacks are terrifying and painful and, if they happen in front of other people, humiliating. This shit is no joke.

Crazy is different. It has a multitude of uses. Cake batter ice cream is crazy good. I’m crazy about The Muppets (the good Muppets, before Disney ruined them), who had Crazy Harry. Granted, he may actually have been an arsonist, now that I think about it, but he’s made of felt, so he gets a pass. Beyoncé was “Crazy In Love.” John Cusack and Demi Moore had “One Crazy Summer.” Crazy is just a multipurpose word that steps in when others are too big or complicated.

I’m crazy. I’m okay with that.

 

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My Brain Is Screaming at Me

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Today is one of those days where the anxiety is overwhelming. Every hushed conversation, every overheard laugh, every unreadable expression – they all trigger that voice that says, “Everyone here hates you. They’re all laughing at you. Why wouldn’t they? You’re ridiculous. You’re fat and ugly and stupid. They only tolerate you because they don’t want to train someone else to do your job.”

Sometimes anxiety is just the feeling that the world is about to crumble around you. Sometimes it’s a screaming paranoia listing everything that’s wrong with you and telling you that nothing you do will ever be good enough for anyone. You try to tell yourself that the voice lies and that you should force a smile. No one wants to hear about your problems. No one cares that your brain tells you on a regular basis that the world would be a better place without you in it. And that’s a scary feeling. When I have these thoughts that my mere existence is making everyone around me unhappy and I can’t fix it because I’m what’s broken, but I can’t talk about it because I’m afraid I’ll just be accused of feeling sorry for myself or looking for attention, it’s sort of like this monologue I did in high school. I never questioned it at the time. I never thought about suicide being kind of a heavy topic for a fifteen year old. I didn’t audition for it. Maybe my drama teacher just saw something. Maybe she saw my need to hurt. Granted she caused a lot of my anxiety, but that’s another blog altogether. Right now I’m just trying to keep my head on straight.

These are the moments when the urge to self-harm is strong. Pain will silence the screaming voice in my head for a little while. I can’t dig at my scalp. I spiked up my hair and sprayed it red for the holiday. The temporary dye would hide any blood, but my fingers would be stained red. They already are a bit because of one attempt to claw my skin. There was a pushpin sitting on my keyboard. It was tempting, so I put it in a drawer. There were a few bits of loose skin around my nails I could pick at, so I clipped them off. I’m trying to control it.

This is a thing that is impossible to explain to “normal” people. “Why would you want to hurt yourself? You’re already in pain all the time anyway.” True. There is never a question of if I’m in pain, but rather how much. Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis and the damage it’s done to my body is often excruciating, but it’s different. Pain I can’t control doesn’t make my brain stop screaming at me.

I take antidepressants and antianxiety meds. Imagine the state I’d be in without them. I want my bed. It’s safe there. It’s quiet. I can’t make the voice stop, but I can give into the endless fatigue. Sleep is peace, mostly. There have been nightmares lately, but not like I used to have. There was a time, before the medication, that I would have nightmares so overpowering (mostly about my father, but we’ll talk about him later) that I’d wake up in a panic, only to have them resume as soon as I fell asleep again. I’d have to get up and move around until I was really awake before I tried sleeping again. Klonopin helps with that. The Prozac does little to help. I’ve only stayed on it because it keeps me from having chronic migraines.

I don’t live in a legal medical marijuana state and, to be honest, even if it was legal, people here are so conservative that I think I’d have a hard time finding a doctor willing to prescribe it. This is more than a little unfortunate. It’s been found to help many of the conditions I deal with. I’ve smoked pot twice in my life. I can honestly say, I’ve never felt less anxious.

On top of the anxiety, I also have some pretty major sensory issues. There’s an ebb and flow to them that I can’t really track. Some days I’m good. I can go to the store and deal with noise and unpleasant weather, and I’m okay. Other days, every sound feels like it’s scraping across my skin. I can’t stand even making eye contact with other people. The softest, most comfortable t-shirt I have feels like sandpaper. Today is not one of the good days. My earphones aren’t enough to block out the sound of the copier or the incessant ringing of my desk phone because someone keeps trying to send a fax to my line, even though I’ve faxed a note to the number on the caller ID explaining that this isn’t a fax line. I can’t drown out the voices of my co-workers who seem to think that tomorrow being a holiday means there’s no work to do. I could try to go somewhere else, since I’m on my lunch break, but it’s raining and I can barely walk right now.

I know some days will be good. I know there will be days when I smile without effort and don’t want to hurt myself. I’ve survived this long. I’m still here.

Here Be Monsters

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You know that thing on olde timey (yeah, I said “olde.” I’m going for a specific aesthetic here.) maps where the cartographer drew a giant sea serpent or flaming octopus or some shit with the warning, “Here Be Monsters”? This post is your warning, only “here” is my head and the “monsters” are various forms of mental and physical illness. If you don’t want to hear about it – and I know a lot of people don’t – turn your boat around and sail on back to Magical Glitter Pony Land, or wherever it is that icky sickness doesn’t exist.

Still here? Nice. You’re either brave, stupid, morbidly curious, or awesome. You can actually be all four if you want. I won’t judge.

I’ve realized that I don’t have that filter that most people have that keeps them from saying certain things that apparently aren’t supposed to be said. I end up saying them on accident and then stress myself out by overanalyzing what I said and who I might have offended, so I thought, fuck it, if I’m going to say this shit anyway, I might as well say it on purpose. I’ll still stress out over offending people, but I’m sort of cutting out the middle man.

So here’s the list of actual diagnoses I’ve gotten from various doctors:

  • Bipolar II
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Bulimia (Yes, fat people can be bulimic)
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis (Which is way more than just arthritis)
  • Aortic Valve Regurgitation (Not as gross as it sounds)
  • Diabetes (Thanks, Prednisone!)

Plus, I’ve recently learned that a some of my organs are fucked up on the left side of my body and no one knows why. Seriously, the left side of my thyroid is deformed, I have this pathetic little shriveled left ovary, and my aortic valve (which is on the left) is bicuspid instead of tricuspid, meaning it doesn’t close all the way and has to pump twice as hard, so I always have a high heart rate. Fun.

I self-harm. I binge. I’ve recently learned that there are names for some of the things I do. One is called excoriation or dermatillomania. It’s the urge to pick or claw at your skin. I mostly go for the scalp because it’s easier to hide. I haven’t done it in a while. Mostly because I cut my hair really short and my RA meds have thinned out my hair, so it’s really hard to hide if I do any real damage. I also have a spot on my left hand that I favor. I either use the sharpened corner of a fingernail or something like a push pin. The result looks like a cat scratch. There are three cats in the house, so it doesn’t stand out. The other thing is called diabulimia. I had no idea this behavior had a name but I’ve done it – not in a long time – but I’ve definitely done it. Basically, chronic high blood sugar can make your weight drop. It can also kill you, but hey, no one said eating disorders were rational. A person with diabulimia knows that a binge on sugar and carby things may help them lose some weight. Why am I admitting to this? Because part of keeping myself from doing it is being honest about wanting to.

Diabetes was (surprise!) not a product of my weight. I was fat with perfect blood sugar for years. Unfortunately, I’ve been on high dose Prednisone for much longer than I should have been and it has totally fucked my endocrinological system. Living with RA is a bitch. I can’t really describe it, but I’ll try. Have you ever sprained anything? Knee, ankle, wrist? That swelling and excruciating pain when you try to move the joint…imagine it all over your body. Add in being so tired that sometimes you can sleep 18 hours straight and be ready to go back to bed two hours later. Then there’s the meds and all their side effects, like insulin resistance, hair loss, weight gain, feeling like you’re wearing a skin suit full of bees, etc. It fucking sucks.

I’ll go into more detail in later posts (I know you can’t wait) but that’s the basic summary. I’m fucked up. You’ve been warned.