Tag Archives: hearts & minds

and miles to go before i sleep


For the past couple of months I’ve been feeling a little, for lack of a better word, adrift.  Last summer I wrote about my ongoing struggle with depression, and the cocktail of mood-stabilizing drugs that helped me drag myself up out of the bullshit.  At the time I felt almost elated, like through Zoloft and Abilify I had somehow found a magic cure that made me feel normal again.  And for a while I did feel almost normal, “almost,” I guess, being the operative word.

A few months after I lost my job I stopped taking the medication, in part because of the exorbitant cost of drugs when one doesn’t have insurance ($375.00 for a month’s worth of Abilify?  You must be joking me), but also in part because I no longer felt like being “managed.”  Okay, the pills maybe made me more pleasant to be around, they maybe chemically somewhat dissipated the weird invisible gray cloud I feel is always following me around, but I felt like I was living a half-life, like I couldn’t be trusted with my own emotions.  The very idea of “mood stabilizers” started to sound sinister to me.  I don’t want to stabilize my blacker feelings.  I want to be able to understand, wrangle, and get past them.

 So I stopped taking the pills.  Probably not the smartest idea, considering they say you should consult your doctor and be weaned off SSRIs rather than dropping them cold-turkey, but frankly my doctor was kind of an asshole who kept misdiagnosing me and asking me if I was on meth (what?) and didn’t seem to have much of an agenda for me getting better beyond dumping drugs down my neck.  Whenever I showed up at his office crying he just increased my dosage and said he was certain I would get past this.  For some reason it wasn’t reassuring.  So I just stopped.

For the first few weeks I felt strangely OK, a little blurred, a little off, but generally OK.  Then, somewhere around November, the full force of my depression started coming at me again.  I found myself having weird creepy secret crying jags on my couch in the middle of the day.  Sleep wasn’t coming.  My relationship ended (for a few reasons, but my depression and anxiety and the ensuing inability to be available to someone else who, incidentally, also suffered from depression and anxiety were clearly a major factor).  Social engagements started freaking me the fuck out.  My motivation to achieve anything came to a virtual standstill.  I felt like my resting heart rate was about 25% higher than it ought to have been.  Panic was mounting and I didn’t want to mention it to anybody because I thought, well, Sara, you kind of brought this upon yourself.  It was like, here’s your bed, now fucking lie in it.

So over the holiday season I attempted to muddle through, not wanting to mention my shit to anyone.  Although anyone who knows me in person will tell you I’m pretty outgoing, at the same time when it comes to matters of the heart and mind I have a tendency to keep mum.  It’s a condition that psuedotherapists on VH1 reality shows refer to as “having a wall up.”  My friends and family seemed satisfied with my condition and I didn’t want to alarm anyone.  Also there’s this whole thing about admitting you are depressed that causes the people around you to treat you differently.  I don’t like being handled with kid gloves, nor do I particularly like to talk about my feelings.  Keeping my shit bottled up inside prevented both of these things from happening.  Friends and family kept telling me I seemed like I was doing well, that I was happy, and these comments sparked a sort of perverse satisfaction inside me: Fooled you.  But also, You really have no idea.

Internally I was starting to lose it.  My life had become fraught with a neverending series of what-ifs.  What if I agree to go to that party and then I have an anxiety attack?  What if I get too drunk and start getting sloppy about my feelings?  What if while we’re out of town I suddenly really really need to be by myself? What if I can’t get out of this?  And, most distressingly, what if the people I love get sick of me for not being able to kick this fucking bullshit?  I’ve been around enough other depressed people in my life to know that it can take near-saintly levels of patience to put up with someone caught up in the throes of interior weirdness.  You want to shake them and tell them to snap out of it, to get right, to start acting like the person you know they are.  I felt like if I could fake my way through this period than I could get out of it on my own and no one would be the wiser.

Because honestly, it’s embarrassing.  As if I didn’t already have enough bad feelings to deal with, I was now dealing with the depressive’s guilt about being depressed.  Why am I depressed, you know?  Like, I don’t have it as great as some people but my life is in no way even close to being bad.  People tell me all the time how lucky I am, which I know, and which makes me feel like even more of an asshole for not being able to pull myself up by my bootstraps and fucking DEAL WITH IT.  I read Allie from Hyperbole and a Half’s hilarious webcomic about her own “adventures” in depression, and I related with what she said:

“It’s disappointing to feel sad for no reason. Sadness can be almost pleasantly indulgent when you have a way to justify it – you can listen to sad music and imagine yourself as the protagonist in a dramatic movie. You can gaze out the window while you’re crying and think “This is so sad. I can’t even believe how sad this whole situation is. I bet even a reenactment of my sadness could bring an entire theater audience to tears.”

But my sadness didn’t have a purpose.  Listening to sad music and imagining that my life was a movie just made me feel kind of weird because I couldn’t really get behind the idea of a movie where the character is sad for no reason.”

Man, I feel that.  And if there’s something I am good at, it’s compartmentalizing my feelings.  I wrapped up my depression and anxiety and put it in a box marked with a big sad face and tried to shove it into the back of my mind.

When I do this kind of thing, this whole pretending-everything-is-okay thing, I tend to fling myself with wild abandon into some kind of pointless but valiant-seeming distraction.  I become a one-track mind kind of girl.  I’ve had weeks where I did literally nothing but sit around the house with my guitar playing the same few chords over and over again.  All those runway photos I used to painstakingly trim the backgrounds from and arrange in Photoshop for days, even weeks on end, back in the WR2BAM days?  A symptom of my depression, for sure.  The intense spurt of creative inspiration I had at the beginning of my unemployment, when I was pumping out pins and jewelry at an alarming pace?  The same distraction technique.  It’s like my mind is going, give me something to do — anything — just keep me occupied so we don’t have to think about this other thing.

This time around this obsessive mania has manifested itself in an even less productive form.  In my spare time for the past month or so I’ve been doing literally nothing but reading.  I’m tearing through three or four novels a week.  I guess somehow devoting all my available mental space to other people’s fiction seems like a more lofty, intellectual way of dealing with my emotions than, for instance, parking it in front of the TV for hours on end.  “See, I’m not just wasting my life away!  I read Anna Karenina in two days last week!”  But ultimately, escapism is escapism, and no matter how many Russian classics I plow through, it’s not a replacement for my real full life.  And that box I had shoved into the back of my mind keeps dislodging itself and tipping over and spilling everything out all over my brain.  One minute I’m reading Jonathan Lethem and everything seems OK and the next minute I’m curled up in the fetal position, crying.

When you are depressed, bearing this shit alone can feel almost noble.  I just finished Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot (which I thought was pretty crap), but I did relate to the character of Leonard and how he considered himself to be a “superior” type of depressive.  I have found myself thinking similar things about myself over the course of my life when I have struggled with my own mental stability, like being depressed somehow makes me interesting or more valid as a writer.  The fact is, though, that that’s all the depression talking.  Depression validates itself.  But it will never fix itself.

So a couple of weeks ago I broke down and admitted to my family the rough time that I’ve been having.  I’m still working up the nerve to talk about it in more depth with some of my close friends, because I know my mental weirdness is affecting my interactions with the people I love.  But just admitting to someone, finally, that things are not going well almost felt like the first step in getting myself out of this mess this time.  I have made the decision not to go back on medication, and armed with that knowledge and the support of my family I now know that I can’t expect myself to deal with this on my own.  I don’t need the pills, but I do need someone to talk to — a good doctor that I can relate to and who won’t call me a narcissist and assume that I’m on amphetamines —  and I need to be more conscious of the support system I already have in place.

Ultimately I know this is not a burden that can be shouldered alone, no matter how alone it can make a person feel.  I have come to the understanding that this is not something I will ever be entirely free of — and that, in turn, has brought me to the understanding that the sooner I learn to deal with it, to understand it, and to do the things necessary to bring myself out of it, the better.  I feel like I’m ready to start the learning process.

I don’t know.  I’m not doing well.  But I know I’ll be all right.

dreaming of sleep

Sleeping is probably one of my favorite things to do in the entire world, so it’s a pretty cruel deal from the hand of fate that I should be a total miserable insomniac.  I’ve been having trouble sleeping through the night for almost a year now, and my recent unemployment and subsequent feelings of unease aren’t helping.

Anxiety is a bitch, man.  No matter how tired you are it will do its best to keep you up.  I get in bed around 11:00, lay awake until around 12:30, maybe get an hour or so of sleep before I’m up again for an hour, then down for twenty minutes, then up again.  My body has finally adjusted to not getting up at 6:00 AM to get ready for work, but it doesn’t really matter, because when 6:00 AM rolls around I’m usually up tossing and turning anyway.

The problem is I can’t turn my brain off, so lying in bed for hours at a time is basically a free pass for my mind to go batshit crazy and start constructing all these disaster scenarios about how fucked up my life is surely going to turn out.  In the middle of the night when I can’t sleep, molehills become mountains with astonishing ease.  I’ll lie awake stressing about shit that could not matter less in the grand scheme of things, but at 3:00 AM can you tell my brain that?  Of course not.

I’ve tried valerian root and melatonin, sleepytime tea and cutting out caffeine after 3:00 PM, trying not to stare at my computer for an hour before going to bed, even counting sheep, but nothing works so far.  Getting up and going for late-night walks in my neighborhood is not especially safe, and with the cost of gas right now my old method of 3:00 AM joyrides down Pacific Coast Highway has been out for a while.  My psychiatrist said my prescription for Abilify might help me sleep, and it did at first, but losing my job has knocked any lingering effectiveness right out of that pill.

You guys…it’s wearing on me.  I’m not a night person.  I’m not particularly productive in the dark.  I like to spend the hours between midnight and seven completely knocked out.  But currently I’m probably clocking in about three hours of solid sleep a night and frankly I’m starting to lose my mind.  Have you guys ever dealt with long term insomnia like this?  Any tips to help me sleep?  I feel like the walking dead.

dr. strangedrug or: how i learned to (kind of) stop worrying and love being medicated

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that part of the reason I took a hiatus from blogging was because of all the traveling I’ve been doing with Cunt Sparrer.  That’s partially true, but there’s more to it than that.

Part of the reason I closed WR2BAM and started Cartoon Heart was because I wanted a space to write not only about fashion, but about other issues that are close to my heart as well as about my own experiences.  Cartoon Heart is meant to be a reflection of everything that goes on in my mind, and in the interest of that kind of honesty, I want to get more personal with you guys and explain a little more about my absence and why I’m back.

Around the beginning of this year — or was it the end of the last?  It’s hard to say, they run together — I found myself struggling under a heavy mental weight.  I’d dealt with depression in high school, but in my twenties I’d come to consider that period of my life a phase, your typical teen angst.  As an adult I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty happy-go-lucky person, but the overwhelming sadness I was feeling, combined with my inability to combat it, left me powerless and embarrassed.  I guess my depression-free years had smudged my memories; I’d started to think of the affliction as selfish, “not real,” something that you could just get over if you really wanted to, and I was horrified to find myself again under this constant black cloud.  It made no sense.  I believed I was stronger than depression — but then I wasn’t.

Why am I so sadI have a great life, I would tell myself:a fun band with loving fans, a decent job, wonderful friends and myriad creative outlets with which to indulge myself.  The problem was that my depression had crippled me suddenly in regards to all of those things: Cunt Sparrer shows filled me with dread, I lacked focus and went on unexplainable crying jags at the office, spending time with my friends made me anxious to the point of agoraphobia, and — probably worst of all — I’d lost the motivation to create anything.

Updating WR2BAM went from something I’d always gotten pleasure from to a chore.  I was too depressed to post anything worthwhile, but the dropoff in regular content gave me anxiety, which in turn essentially shut down my ability to even think about the blog.  Fashion week came and went and I barely even blinked at the collections.  Browsing online stores for outfit ideas felt pointless.  My outfits all felt boring and one-note.  In short, I wasn’t excited about blogging anymore.  I wasn’t excited about anything anymore.

I felt paralyzed.  When, after a couple of months of struggling to keep my head above water, I had the realization that I was not going to “get better” on my own, I made an appointment to see a psychiatrist.  I hadn’t been in therapy since I was 15.

My new doctor prescribed me Zoloft so cavalierly that it made me a little uneasy.  I’d never been on antidepressants before, and the idea of a pill as a “quick fix,” while appealing, also struck me as sinister and vaguely Huxleyan.  I took my prescription home and terrified myself by reading all the fine print, then finally braced myself and took my first pill.

It didn’t work immediately, of course, and my first couple of weeks on it were worse than ever.  They were followed by a short period of strange numbness, a general feeling of ennui that made me feel as though I was automated, just going through the motions of being myself.

A few weeks in, the SSRI broke through.  The pills started working, and it was different than what I’d been afraid of: I still felt like myself, and the emotions I was feeling were real.  The numbness was gone, and the sadness dissipated too, but not entirely.  I still felt sad a lot, still had bad days punctuated by bouts of unexplainable sobbing and long stretches of staring aimlessly into space, but my depression at least felt manageable.

Still, though, my anxiety rode high, and although Zoloft better equipped me to deal with my depression, after a couple of months on the pill my motivation had dropped back down.  I was having more bad days than good again.  I worked myself into a nervous frenzy over things I should have been looking forward to, and lost focus on my creative endeavors.  Just looking at WR2BAM gave me so much anxiety that I usually quickly closed the browser window upon bringing up the site.  For whatever reason, my willful emotions were beginning to override my medication.

I went back to my doctor, desperate.  “I don’t want to do anything,” I cried.  “I feel worse than before. What can I do?”

So I was put on a supplement called Abilify.  I wanted to be wary of adding another drug to my prescription regimen, but honestly, at that point I was so ready for any help I could get at climbing out of the hole I was in that I practically flung myself at my shrink’s feet, screaming, “GIVE IT TO ME!!!”

Unlike the Zoloft, the Abilify kicked in practically immediately.  A mild stimulant that’s categorized as an antipsychotic (a fact I find funny and only slightly troubling), it’s almost entirely eliminated those crushing feelings of demotivation.  Also unlike the Zoloft, I’m often conscious of the effect it has on me, both for better and for worse.  For better: suddenly, I’m not just ready to create again, I’m brimming with ideas; for worse: such things often come at an overwhelming pace, as if I’m trying to make up for lost time.  There’s a feeling of urgency to my work at the moment — I feel as if I should churn out as much creative output as possible while I’m feeling this productive, just in case I suffer another dropoff in spirits, so there’s a sense of constantly racing to beat some vague clock, which doesn’t do much for my anxiety.  The difference is that now I can manage that anxiety more rationally.  For whatever manic tendencies it amplifies in my personality, the Abilify has both pepped me up and evened me out — I don’t feel so sad anymore.  I can write again.  I’m excited about things.

I don’t want to be on drugs forever, nor do I feel like they’ve magically fixed me.  I still struggle with my depression and anxiety — this period of my life has marked my personality, and I have come to accept that the person I am now is not the same person I was before this.  I’ve also come to realize that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  The pills have helped to clear some of my mental fog, and now I’m conscious of what it takes to achieve happiness.  They aren’t the cure — they’re the kick in the ass I need to continue extracting myself from this sadness.

The greatest gift these pills have given me has been my renewed clarity of mind, and with it, a new and vested interest in my own happiness.  I no longer take it for granted.  I’ve learned from this experience that joy in life is not a guarantee, that sometimes you have to work for it; I know also that there is no shame in sadness just as there is no shame in seeking help.  I like the phrase “the pursuit of happiness,” because it is a pursuit; the feeling can be extraordinarily fleeting until you come to an understanding of what holds it close to you.  I’m still figuring it all out for myself — all I can say is that I’m so glad I’m at a point where I can figure it out.

If you want to talk about personal stuff with me, like dealing with depression or anxiety — especially in the wake of a major breakup, which is what brought a lot of this on for me — I’m always happy to talk with you about my personal experiences and offer my (maybe useless, but heartfelt) advice in more depth.  Just email me at mycartoonheart@gmail.com.