Tag Archives: mental health

and miles to go before i sleep


Well…

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.

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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.

please love yourself for free

Yesterday whimsical lifestyle blogger Gala Darling announced her new “Radical Self-Love Bootcamp,” a 30-day online program she is spearheading to teach her readers how to love themselves the way she does.

It costs $100.

Presale.

For the cost (which she helpfully breaks down for you to a mere $3.00 a day!), Gala promises she’s going to “tell you exactly what to do” (her emphasis, not mine) to help you fall “truly, madly, deeply” in love with yourself.

This is truly, madly, deeply fucking offensive to me for a few reasons.  The first reason is that this whole program banks on the idea that any one person’s happiness and “self-love” is the same or even remotely similar to anyone else’s.  Your happiness and self-love does not come from the same place that Gala Darling’s does (and not just because she’s about to rake in thousands of dollars on this crap), therefore the concept that she or anyone can tell you “exactly what to do” to get there is bogus.  Guidelines and information and advice are one thing.  A step-by-step instruction book to Gala’s Rainbows-And-Cupcakes Version of Happiness is entirely another.  I don’t think this girl’s head is entirely full of fluff and glitter — she’s clearly built quite the empire on her unique personality — but I do think she’s been blinded by years of adulation from her fans into thinking that she is somehow some kind of authority on happiness and self-love.

That is the second reason why this is offensive to me.  If you are giving your hard-earned money to someone who claims they can help you break a cycle of self-loathing or even simply get to know yourself better, you should be giving that money to a professional.  There are people who have gone to school for this kind of thing for many years, and these people know how to deal with every person’s individual issues on a personal level.  They may not have cotton-candy-colored hair or adorable graphics to sway you aesthetically, but their advice and input will be much more valid.

As a person who’s struggled for much of my life with my own happiness — and in spite of my ongoing issues with depression and anxiety — I can confidently say that I know what it has taken for me to learn to love myself, personally.  I can give other people advice on how they can get to the same place in their lives.  But I would never deign to tell you that I know “exactly what to do” to get you from the black cloud to the silver lining, and I would certainly never charge you money for it.  I am not a professional.  I do not have all the answers.  Neither is Gala Darling and neither does she.

So I’m pretty deeply fucking offended that someone who has, essentially, the same credentials as me — marginal writing talent, a domain name, and a vested interest in personal happiness (albeit Gala has a few thousand more readers and a few thousand more dollars in the bank) — would deign to think that she could give me advice on how to better my life.  And that she would ask me to pay her for it.  Gala, you don’t know me.  You don’t know what I have gone through.  You don’t know about the experiences and issues and relationships that have made me the person that I am and that have contributed to my own feelings of self-doubt.  And you do not know those things about the vast majority of the readers that will sign up for your program and pay you $100 for the privilege of being told “exactly what to do” by someone who does not know exactly what to do.

Comments are not allowed on Gala’s blog, which means only positive feedback ever reaches her readers (and which also points to a slew of personal issues with criticism that she might want to work on before she starts touting herself as a self-love guru, as being entirely accepting of oneself is not the same as hiding from your shortcomings, but that’s another catty story).  I am absolutely certain that some people have found their lives greatly improved by using Gala’s methods, and I’m thrilled for Gala herself that she’s found such joy in her own life.  But the idea that she thinks she has some be-all, end-all key to happiness — and that she is going to charge her loyal readers for said key — is ridiculous and offensive and frankly leads me to believe she has very little understanding of serious mental health issues that can crush people with the self-doubt she’s claiming she can spirit away in thirty days.

See, while this kind of “program” might do well for people who’re already generally satisfied with their lives and are just looking for a little extra self-help, it marginalizes and invalidates people dealing with serious mental health issues.  Gala’s 30-day “bootcamp” that promises to teach you to love yourself is the sparkly internet equivalent of people telling you to “just get over it,” to “work on yourself,” to “focus on the positive” and that things will somehow magically get better.  This kind of attitude isn’t only offensive to people who are suffering from depression and other mental issues, it can be crippling.  What if the 30-day program doesn’t work?  Then what?  Then you not only still don’t love yourself, but you’re out a hundred hard-earned bucks and you have the added feeling of having been hoodwinked by an internet persona, which certainly isn’t going to help any lingering feelings of internal doubt.

Which brings me to another reason why I find this so appalling: after spending a little time on Gala’s site, even the most confident girl can find herself devolving into a sneaky spiral of self-loathing.  Who wouldn’t be blissfully happy and truly, madly, deeply in love with herself if she had Gala Darling’s life?  A fabulous New York apartment, a wardrobe full of lovely frothy dresses and designer shoes, a collection of quirky high-profile friends, invitations to runway shows and designer presentations, and, oh yeah, a dream job where she gets to blog about bullshit and charge people for it.  Gala’s readership is made up of young women who dream of having her lifestyle, and she presents it as some kind of idyllic wonderland we could all be living in if we just thought positively and followed her rules.  It’s enough to make normal, average people leading normal, average lives think they must not be loving themselves the “right” way, which leads them to throw money at Gala in the hopes that they can somehow buy some of her luck and sparkle.

But you have to make your own luck and be your own sparkle (was that entirely too Gala-ish of me?).  And maybe Gala’s program will help some people do that.  But ultimately it seems like kind of a scam — not that I think Gala’s willingly scamming anyone.  I think that her “bootcamp” worked for her (although right in her introductory paragraph she says it’s a journey she’s been on since 2006 — how more than five years of growth can be compressed into 30 days, I’m not sure), and I think her rose-colored glasses have rendered her a bit short-sighted, and not a little greedy.

Here are the things Gala promises to do in her Radical Self-Love Bootcamp (screencapped from her site):


Honestly, I wish I had an extra hundred bucks laying around so I could find out exactly what kind of advice she’s doling out.  Instead, I’m going to look at these guidelines from an outsider’s perspective, and over the next few weeks, I’m going to attempt to write about each of them in relation to my own journey of self-discovery, confidence, and personal growth.  I can’t say that my own experiences and thoughts on this stuff will absolutely help anyone else in their own quest, but at least I’m not charging for it.