There are too many people, armed with Google-discovered symptoms of depression, anxiety, ADD, etc., who run to their doctors, rattle off the list of symptoms and ask for a prescription. What they don’t tell their doctor is they just want to study longer or take the edge off or disconnect for a bit or see if they can focus more on the job they hate. They don’t suffer from mental illness. They have not been diagnosed with any disorder. They’re just medicating in much the same way housewives back in the 60s medicated with Valium. It may not be recreational, but it sure as hell isn’t necessary.
And that leaves those of us on medication lumped in with the plethora of people who are popping pills just to deal with the ups and downs of every day lives “normal” humans face in the course of a day. That’s why I hear “just deal with it” or “you don’t need meds, you just need a drink” or “you’re just using it as a crutch.”
"Adderall is the pill of choice today."
Pill of choice.
I’ve got news for you, lady. This is not a choice. Depression and anxiety is not something I have chosen to have. I did not choose to grow up feeling like I was living in a dark shadow. I did not choose to have my first full blown panic attack at 14 in the middle of a Grateful Dead concert. I do not in any way choose to not be able to fully enjoy my life, I do not choose to constantly feel like my world is closing in on me, I do not choose to some days not want to leave my house out of fear of everything that exists outside of it, I do not choose to drive to the store with my hand white knuckling the steering wheel because in a five mile drive I’ve managed to conjure up every bad thing that can happen between here and there. I do not choose to not be able to complete basic tasks like mailing out tax returns and I do not choose to make the people in my life wonder what the hell they have done wrong because I’m crying or sad or worried for no fucking reason. And I certainly do not have a drug of choice. Drug of choice implies a want. I do not want this. I never wanted to take Paxil or Wellbutrin or Abilify or Xanax. I never chose this; it chose me. These drugs are not happy fun time. These drugs are not candy on display in a store where you can figure out which one is going to be like opening a package of instant happiness. I do not choose drugs. I do not have a drug of choice. I have a drug of necessity. There’s a huge difference between some agitated college student gulping down someone else’s Adderall so they can stay up all night cramming for a final and someone who has to wake up every day and take a pill so they can fit in with the world’s broad and skewed definition of normal and so they can get through the day without wondering if this will be they day they’ll end up in committing themselves to a mental institution.
People take medication because they don’t feel like themselves. They’re having an off day and think they need to medicate.
You want to know what myself feels like? It feels like emptiness. It feels like a dark, vast hole. It feels like confusion. It feels like anger and sadness, like maniacal happiness holding hands with bleak depression. It feels like envy and bitterness because you don’t feel like everyone else does. It feels like joy slipping through your fingers. It feels like endless nights bloated with monsters and phantoms that slap you around.
I don’t know what the hell normal is, so I don’t know if I feel it. What’s normal? Who is to say? When I first started on medication I said “Holy crap, is this what it feels like to be normal?” and then I realized I had no basis for measuring normalcy. To me for over 30 years, normal had felt something like a closet crammed with explosives labeled with emotions, never knowing which ones would go off and when, or how long the fireworks would last. Normal was people constantly asking what’s wrong with me and me not having an answer. I don’t know if I feel more like myself with the drugs because I have no fucking idea what myself feels like. Being me has never been a consistent thing. So how would I know?
I don’t feel more like myself with drugs. I feel more like I can function. I feel more like I can contribute to society. I feel more like I can think with clarity, react with proper emotion and not keep the number of South Oaks hospital in my wallet. That’s kind of the opposite of what I’ve known myself to be. So no, I dont feel more like myself. I feel like someone else and even though I’m ok with this person I am with the drugs, I still have no idea if this person is normal because no one can say what normal is and I resent anyone who tries to make me feel like I need to attain some sort of standard of perceived normalcy.
People who speak like that make me think they have no idea what mental illness looks like. Guess what? It’s not always the disheveled woman on the corner yelling at an invisible friend. It’s not alway the guy who walks into a movie theater with a gun. It’s me. It’s people you know. It’s people you work with, people you hang out with. Some of us are on drugs. And we don’t know what the hell you want from us. You tell us our mental illnesses are imagined. You tell us we just need to grin and bear it. You tell us our drugs are dangerous. You tell us our drugs are a choice and that’s akin to saying our mental illnesses are a choice. And a great disservice is done to every single one of us every time an article is published where people dismiss the various forms of depression and anxiety as if they were just common colds that will go away with a few swigs of NyQuil and taking better care of ourselves. It’s worse when lumped in those articles are anecdotes about “millennials” whose “new normal” is to pop pills meant for serious mental issues the way we used to take NoDoz to stay awake and alert. This is not the new normal, people. It’s been the norm for a lot of people for a long time and we’re not making light of it. But for some, we’re just a punchline to a joke, or our issues get a standard response of “Oh, so that’s your drug of choice?”
It’s not a choice. And if you think it is, you are hopelessly clueless. Or perhaps, even better, talk to some people who live with not only the albatross of mental illness, but the stigma that still comes with it.
My anxiety is at an all time high and my head is filled with negative thoughts. I try to chase them away but they keep coming back, attaching themselves to me, clinging on like a static filled sock you thought you lost but is just stuck to the back of your pants. I keep shaking them off, they keep their grip on me. I make it a point to count off the good things in my life, the things I have to look forward to, the things I’m fortunate to have, the people I’m lucky to know and that warm fuzzy feeling lasts for a few minutes before the negativity creeps in again. Just a lot of what-ifs. I live in the land of What If. It’s not a good way to live because most of those what-ifs are ridiculous monsters, made up from irrational fears and vague nightmares, just boogeymen that don’t exist outside the confines of my mind. Yet I let them get to me. They’re what keeps me from enjoying life. They’re what keeps me from being able to write. To function normally, even.
I write about them in the hopes that putting them out in the daylight, maybe muttering an incantation of “you’re not real” will dispense the static they use to cling to me and make them go away. It’s an odd boogeyman that comes out in the daytime, isn’t it? They’re usually reserved for 3am, they normally thrive on darkness and stillness. You’d think the daylight would dispel them, burn them away but no, they’re stronger than that.
So I recite my morning incantations, telling myself everything is good, the day is going to be fine, nothing traumatic is going to happen, life is pretty ok. I try to chase the monsters away with good thoughts, try to slay them with shards of happiness, doses of Xanax. Some days it works. Some days they’re stronger than whatever weapons I have.
I need to sharpen my weapons. I can’t let the boogeymen win.
You ever feel yourself shutting down, just slowly receding from everything like when you shut down your computer and you watch the programs close one by one until the whole thing just becomes a black screen?
I’m trying hard as hell to hit cancel and load it all back up again and start whirring back to life but it’s hard.
I want to cocoon. I want to forget everything outside my house exists and just wrap myself in a blanket and sit on the couch staring into the abyss of the television for hours on end, then sleep until I can’t sleep anymore.
I’m fighting it but it’s hard. And I know that if it wasn’t for the Abilify I wouldn’t be fighting it at all, which frightens me. But that fright is what makes me push to get out of this phase.
I know it will end. I know it’s just a matter of time before I’m manic again, wanting to do all the things at once. But in the meantime, I’m slowly shutting down.
Depression is a bitch.
Clothes shopping is one of the most depressing things to do when you’re overweight.
Try doing it when you’ve lost a bunch a weight then gained a good portion of that weight back.
It’s disheartening, humiliating and fills me with self loathing.
How did I gain back more than half the weight I lost? Well, it’s easy to blame it on everything. There was Sandy and the two lost weeks that got me out of my working out routine. There was the Abilify, which increased my appetite. There’s my age, which makes it harder to take weight off and keep it off. There’s stress eating and oh has there been stress. There’s my cyclical depression which I react to by, you got it, eating. There’s been so much going on in my life I feel like I sort of just dropped out of caring about anything but just existing on a day to day basis and “just existing” does not include working out. Oh, I’ve worked out here and there. I went for a few runs. I did some home workouts on the Wii Fit or the Kinect. But I lost that going to the gym routine somewhere along the line. I got lazy. And I stopped caring because I had other things to care about.
Excuses, excuses. Where just a few months ago I was wearing a size ten (I know, size ten is still FAT to most people but when you once shopped in Avenue for a size 2X dress, size ten is HOLY SHIT I’M THIN), my dress for my wedding is a size 14. I could fit in the 12, but it’s uncomfortable. So I opted for the comfort of a slightly bigger 14. The jeans I bought for vacation? 14. I’m not taking any of the 10s away with me. It’s all 12s and 14s.
I’m mad at myself. So angry. And you know what? My anger is not even the correct kind of anger. Yea, I’m angry at myself for slacking off, for becoming unhealthy again, for looking like this after looking like that. I’m angry that I can’t zipper up my favorite pants. I’m angry at myself for letting it all go to hell, all that hard work I put in day after day in the gym, counting food points, all that stuff. Gone to hell. But you know what I’m most angry at myself for? Because I feel like I’ve given people permission to talk about me.
The thing about losing a lot of weight is people notice it. Of course, that’s a good thing. You get compliments. You get encouragement. You feel great when people say “Wow, you look so good now!” even though in the back of your head you’re thinking “Oh, I looked terrible before?” because you (I) can’t take compliment. But if they’re saying all that stuff when you lose weight, imagine what they’re saying as you put it back on. This is what I think about when I look in the mirror. I worry what people are saying. I wonder if they’re shaking their heads and saying things like “Such a pity, she found all the weight she lost,” or “I knew she couldn’t keep it off.” I spend my entire day feeling like I’m being judged. That people are going to stop thinking well of me as a person because I piled the pounds back on. I feel like a failure. And feeling like a failure is so hard when you have failed at something you were so recently succeeding at.
Why do I care what other people think about me? Why do I care so much what they say about my weight or dress size or thighs? I’m supposed to be the only one whose opinion of me I care about, right? Ok, but I take my opinion of myself and project it on to everyone; my family, my friends, my coworkers, even Todd. I imagine - and maybe this is narcissistic of me but there’s a fine, fine line between narcissism and paranoia - they’re all whispering about me, judging me, wondering out loud to each other why I can’t just put down the pizza or get back on the treadmill. Every time someone talks to me I assume they are thinking to themselves “My god, she let herself go.”
I wonder where I’d be if I kept it up, kept up the healthy eating and working out. But does it matter? Because even if I got down to a size eight I’d probably still be hating on my body and myself because it’s what I conditioned myself to do.
I’m 50 years old. At what point do I say fuck it and just live my life without striving for some seemingly unattainable goal? When do I just give up? And when do I stop caring so damn much about what everyone else thinks of me?
Because I’ve been obsessing about this it’s taken on warped proportions in my head, as has my weight. I see myself not as I am but larger, wider, until I can only see myself as looking like the fat lady in the circus, someone who is nothing but lumps and flab, shaped like an overgrown potato. My self image is not what my image really is but lord, trying on clothes that are two sizes larger than clothes you were wearing just two months ago can really do a number on how you see yourself.
And of course, how I see myself is how I assume others see me. Which makes me assume they’re talking about me. Which makes me feel shameful.
I imagine my wedding day, just six days away, and all I can see is this whale of a person taking up all the room in a small chapel while her physically fit husband-to-be stares at her incredulously. “Do you take this fat, bloated woman with the giant thighs to be your wife?”
This is what my brain has been doing to me.
I know I don’t look that awful. But I don’t look anything like I did two months ago and that is fucking with me a great deal. Obviously.
So what do I do about it? I get back on the horse. Back to the gym. Back to running. Back to eating healthy. I fight the stressors in my life. I try to treat myself better. I ignore the voices. I keep going.
All easier said than done. But I am determined to get back down to a healthier weight. I have to stop stuffing my feelings in my face. I have to stop finding excuses not to go to the gym or even work out at home.
I think my first step to being physically healthy is to be mentally healthy. And that means to stop letting my perceived judging by other people make me feel shamed. Because a shame spiral is a spiral filled with food and laziness.
I accept who I am as a person. But I do not accept this body I’m inhabiting right now or the mental state it’s putting me in.
[I wrote this one year ago; repeated by request]
There’s a place. It’s a closet of sorts, the kind of closet that appears in fantastical children’s books, a closet that opens up to a world that can’t possibly exist in those confines. It seems to reach out forever, to have no end. It is made of darkness, mystery, fear and nothingness. You don’t know what you’re going to see when you open the closet doors. And it’s not always a choice to open them. Sometimes they open on their own volition.
The closet looks neat and organized on first glance. Things are arranged concisely, in some kind of order. It’s when you push past that order, when you move the carefully created stacks of things and look behind the aligned rows when you realize there is more than meets the eye. You think there will be a backing, a wall of sorts. The thought of the wall being there is what makes you feel safe. It’s what keeps everything from spilling out of the closet. The appearance of order and the illusion of finiteness is what keeps you grounded.
I had two panic attacks at work today. I rarely experience panic attacks anymore. Where once they came at the rate of dozens per day, I get them once a month now. If that.
So today was kind of disconcerting.
Even more disconcerting was the way I handled it.
I handled it with shame.
I didn’t want to tell anyone at work what was going on. I didn’t want to say “I’m having a panic attack.” I did not want to have to explain my anxiety disorder, my depression, my bipolar or anything. I did not want get into that discussion with anyone because I did not want to see or hear their reaction.
I didn’t want to hear “It’s all in your head.” I didn’t want to see the disapproving looks. I didn’t want anyone to look down on me because I have mental issues. I didn’t want their view of me to change because they think I’m weak or flawed.
The stigma of mental illness is real. My fears are not imagined. But now I wonder how much of the stigma is self fulfilling. How much of it is mental illness sufferers being caught in a vicious cycle of wanting to open a dialogue about our plight but then worrying about being looked down upon when we finally open up about it?
I made up some excuse and went home at 4:30. I’m mad at myself for letting the panic get the best of me and I’m mad at myself for being angry over something I really couldn’t control. I’m mad at myself for being so weak and mad at myself for thinking I’m weak. I’m everything I perceive the enemies of mental illness to be; I look down on myself, I berate myself, I don’t allow myself breakdowns or panic or low cycles without thinking I should be better than that, I should have learned to rise above all of this by now.
I do these things and feel this way because society has made me believe I am weak and flawed. But I perpetuate it by believing it.
When does the cycle end?
I’d rather be doing something else. I feel restless and out of sorts, more at work than at home. I want to flee. I just want to pick my stuff up off my desk and run out the door without even saying goodbye. And then just run, run down the stairs, through the hallway, into the parking lot where I’d sit for a few minutes with the car idling while I took in my surroundings for the last time, before driving off without looking back at that building, the people in it or that festering, rotting neighborhood that depresses the hell out of me every morning.
But it’s not work is it? It’s not my job. It’s not that. It’s winter. It’s everything. Everything is making me restless. The winter, oh god, the winter. The darkness, the cold, the claustrophobic way the short days have of smothering you so you feel like you won’t be able to breathe properly again until spring. I want to be somewhere else and at the same time I want to be nowhere but on my couch, almost hidden beneath a layer of blankets.
The job situation and the winter are playing games with my mental health issues and sometimes I feel like the medication I’m on isn’t enough if I’m feeling this way but then I think that any normal person would feel this way if they got up every day and went to work for ten hours at a job that made them feel like they were wasting their lives away, if they woke in the dark and drove home in the dark and then I think there are probably thousands of people in the same situation as me, people who just want to flee from the entire idea of what they’re doing with their lives, people who are tired of the dark and the cold.
I worry about me, though. I can’t worry about the rest of them. I worry sometimes about stepping off the curb, about what it will take, what will be my “Falling Down” moment that makes me either go on some sort of rampage or just give in all together and revert back to the way I was when agoraphobia and I were best friends.
And I know I’m stronger than that and I have a better support system now but still, there are mornings, especially mornings after nights filled with dreams about the bullies of my childhood, there are mornings when I just want to cry as if that would be enough to make me feel better.
There are hugs, there is reassurance but in the end there is still that start to the ten hour day and that’s something that has to end if I’m ever going to stop feeling this restlessness. I have to learn acceptance. I have to go into each day accepting that this is what I do and realize, really, fully realize, that it’s just the winter talking. It’s just the dark and the cold and the emotional claustrophobia. It’s just the depression. It’s just my brain. I don’t hate my job, I dislike my situation. I don’t hate the people I work with, I’d just rather be by myself right now, or with just the people I love, the people who comfort me when the weight of the season starts to crush me.
It’s just the winter, is all.
The light will be here soon enough.
As much as I know what my meds do for me, there are some days I don’t want to take them. I don’t want to hear that alarm go off, I don’t want to make the practiced walk over to the cabinet, I don’t want to take out the two bottles, shake a pill out of one, a half pill out of the other. I don’t want to wash them down and wait. Wait to feel normal.
I want to burn the prescriptions and empty the bottles down the drain because I don’t want it to have to be like this. What’s it like to not have to take some kind of medication to keep yourself from crying, sleeping, overreacting, becoming manic, being anxious, acting paranoid, feeling like the world is going to close in on you? What’s it like to not have to swallow pills in order to regulate your moods? What is it like?
I find the whole process exhausting. I hate thinking about it because when I think about it, I get overwhelmed at the concept of having to take these pills every single day for the rest of my life to just feel like a well functioning human being.
I’m grateful for what modern medication offers me. I’m grateful that my brain chemistry can be altered to the extent that I feel like a “normal” human being, that I can function and think clearly and be productive and happy. I am thankful there is this much. Every day I am thankful I have found a way to participate fully in the human race.
But some days it frustrates and saddens me that I can’t do it on my own. I feel flawed. I am flawed. I am reminded of that at 7:00 every morning.
Some days I eagerly swallow those pills, grateful for their company on my journey.
But some days I resent them.
The things that give me relief also give me pause.