Don’t Mind Me, I’m Just Looking For Attention

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After months of aggravation, I finally finished the last of four math classes in a row. On Tuesday, I started a class I’ve been excited about for months — creative writing. My excitement didn’t last. It started innocently enough, but rapidly went downhill. There was an assignment to watch or read JK Rowling’s 2008 Harvard commencement speech, and comment on what we thought of it. I posted that I admired Rowling for her attitude about failure because I’d fallen on hard times myself. I mentioned that this coincided with writers’ block, and my instructor asked if I kept a journal, because that can help with writers’ block. Harmless. right? I responded, saying that I’d recently started a new blog to help work through physical and mental health issues. Her response completely floored me when she basically said that no one likes reading cathartic blogs about upsetting issues and that the people who write them just want attention.

What?

I probably should have kept it to myself, but I was so upset that I pointed out that the attitude that people talking about depression or other mental health problems are attention-seekers is exactly why so many of us fear speaking up and the result is a frighteningly high body count due to suicide. I don’t think she liked being called out, though I didn’t adress her directly and was very polite. Every exchange we’ve had since then, she’s made it clear she doesn’t think much of me.

As for bloggers being nothing more than attention whores if they write about things that aren’t super happy and the fact that no one likes reading what they write, I present Allie Brosh and Jenny Lawson as evidence to the contrary. Both women are bloggers with an enormous following, successful published authors, and write about mental and physical health problems.

Regardless of my awareness that what she said was absolutely incorrect, it still stings. No one living with any kind of major illness needs to be told that they’re just looking for attention and that no one cares to listen to them. This isn’t the first time someone has done this, there have been people in all areas of my life who have used various versions of this to tell me, “You don’t matter. You’re not good enough. Everything you do is wrong.” Please don’t ever do this to anyone you know. I can assure you, those thoughts are already in their head. A second opinion will not help.

You don’t have to save me from drowning, but don’t tell me to stop trying to get attention when I’m gasping for air.

When I Was Just a Little Girl…

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waveIt’s not as if I don’t know I’m ridiculous. I am no one’s dream girl, manic pixie, or otherwise. I dated my first boyfriend because I was sixteen and had never had a boyfriend. Most of the time I couldn’t stand him. He was not bright or attractive and, at the time, I believed I was enormously fat and repulsive, so I was glad for the attention. He treated me like my father did, and back then, I thought that was normal. I don’t think I can list all the reasons I thought I was fat, but I know now, looking back that I wasn’t. Fucking hell, I had a 27 inch waist. And I wasn’t repulsive. I wasn’t great at doing my makeup, but that’s something I still have problems with. I did have relatively clear skin and long, glossy hair. My legs looked fantastic in my show choir uniform of shorts and fishnets. Anyway, he cheated on me with one of my friends, and the self-esteem monster convinced me I deserved it. Being incredibly awkward kept me from trying again.wave2

My weight started to yo-yo when I was 13 and discovered the power of binging and purging. Life spirals out of control, find something you can control. (Just make it something good. Exerting control over your life by hurting yourself is never the answer.) Years of the cyclic self-destruction took their toll. I met someone, and even though I knew he’d never love me, it drove me to “improve” myself. I stopped binging. I stopped eating regular meals. I took diet pills. I was almost as thin as I’d been in high school. Guys were looking at me like I was attractive. Maybe if I wasn’t so fucked up I’d have realized what I was doing. xmasI got scared of the attention. I ate. And ate. And ate. People don’t look at you at all when you’re morbidly obese. It’s almost as if they’re ashamed on your behalf. Adults, anyway. Kids are assholes and will say whatever comes to mind. My favorites were the child who said I was too “wide” for the moving sidewalks at Universal and the other who stopped his yappy little purse dog from running after me by yelling, “No chasing whales!”

When I was 28 I decided I needed to get healthy. I was doing really well. I worked out five days a week and I ate healthy food. Then the battle with autoimmune disease stopped me in my tracks. It was like the Universe saw me finally starting to get things right and said, “Fuck you,” and suddenly I could barely walk.

Depression and suddenly being sedentary led to a gain of 50 pounds in six months. Even though I eventually reached the point where I could walk without too much pain, I’d given up. I just kept getting bigger. I’d learned there were words for what I was living with. Bipolar Disorder. Social Anxiety. I built a wall of fat around myself. It was safe.

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I was close to 350 when I was laid off from my job. I had a mental break a few months later where a therapist suggested I should be hospitalized. I said I couldn’t afford it and I didn’t go back to that therapist. I started to fill my time with long walks and lost some weight, but when I was working again, making half my former salary and having no insurance, I lived on bologna sandwiches on white bread and ramen noodles while taking the only immunosuppressive drug I could afford – Prednisone.

Remarkably, it wasn’t my weight that led to Diabetes, but the steroids. Before I was diagnosed, I began dropping weight quickly and I thought it was just because I was too broke to overeat. By this time I was in my late thirties. My skin was not as springy as it once was and I was covered in stretch marks from years of rapid weight gain and loss and more gain. I moved from Florida to Tennessee and, though my RA was bad enough that I needed a walker, I started walking for exercise again.

At my lowest, I was 206. I’ve bounced around between there and 220 for over a year. I’ve tried to examine what mental blocks are holding me back. For one, I’m almost 41 now and my skin sags even more. I am repulsed by my own body. Continuing to lose weight will not improve that. For another, reaching a weight below 200 signifies that my safety wall is nearly gone. I’m already past morbidly obese. I’m just plain obese now. If I get down to 173, I’ll just be overweight. I don’t know how to be a “normal” sized person. I can remember a time when I felt sort of good about myself, but I can’t remember what it felt like.red

I tried to start a project at the new year, taking selfies every day and posting them online. But my double chin and gross skin (thanks again, autoimmune disease) get in the way, so I work the angles to hide the chin and slap on filters to lessen the redness of my face. I’m a fraud. I gave up the selfies because they were just making me feel worse.

Now I’m at a crossroads. I’m long past the age when people generally find love. I know, at least right now, I’m incapable of loving myself. Part of me wants to accept it and pick up the mantle of spinster cat lady. Part of me can’t let go of hope that somewhere, there’s someone who can love me, and maybe more importantly, make me feel worthy of love.

 

 

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.

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.

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.