Come as You Are

bipolarEveryone gets depressed sometimes, right? What exactly does it mean to be depressed though? Does it simply involve having a minor case of the blues? Is it the result of something undesirable happening, like the sudden loss of a pet? Realizing that you have been lying in bed all day watching a CSI marathon? Those cases would fall under the category of situational depression. The gloom is just visiting. A dark cloud that will pass. Like a relative or a stray cat.

A chemical imbalance in the brain is a complicated and torturous beast. It is a monster. Since we’re comparing animals, let’s liken the former to a Lamb and the latter to a Lion. There we have it. The Lion and The Lamb…except I stopped believing God had anything to do with this a long time ago. I don’t think you can pray the depression away anymore than you can pray the gay away.

Clinical depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain which is more permanent. It’s like having a child. It is a lifelong responsibility. It will always be there. How it behaves and acts all depends on how you treat it. This child belongs to you now. You can’t give it back. Just like your diagnosis. You can’t slide it back across the desk to the doctor and say you don’t want it . Like the way you’re able to send back your steak at the restaurant because you ordered well-done and the waiter shows up with medium-rare.

In 1997 I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. I have had many ups and downs. I have been hospitalized for at least 4 suicide attempts starting at the age of 15. I have seen more therapists than I can count or remember since I was a child. After my first suicide attempt, since I was technically still a child, I unwillingly endured 6 months of mandatory counseling. When the 6 months came to an end, my mother asked the psychologist what was wrong with me. I remember watching her shake her head and shrug. The child psychologist simply did not know. Neither did I. 

I remember telling my first grade teacher, Mrs. Algire that I wanted to die. I wonder how my mother felt when she was told that her 6 year old was suicidal.  In the second grade, our class had an assignment. I was instructed to take two pieces of paper, draw a happy face on one and a sad face on the other, glue them together and attach a Popsicle stick so I could hold it up and flip the mask for happy or sad depending on how I felt. Well, naturally, I drew 2 sad faces. Miss Schnibly was very concerned and when my mom came to pick me up, I remember sitting at my desk while my teacher presented this artwork to my mother. The were whispering and glancing over at me. I didn’t realize the gravity of what I had done. I was only 7. What I did realize was, though, is that I was a sad child. That much I knew. I know this was horrifying to my mother. It’s not like I was punishing her on purpose.

I attended a private school. My mother wanted this for me to make up for my lack of a father. She figured if I had a good Christian education, I would become immune to the inevitable tragedy that normally awaits a young girl born into my circumstances. My dark attire and pensive gloom concerned the other children and parents. The girls dressed like girls. Dresses, penny loafers, corduroy slacks, blouses and horrific sweaters. I refused to dress like that. I wore jeans, an over-sized t-shirt, preferable from the Men’s section of the Good Will, a flannel shirt as a jacket and well worn sneakers. It was the early 80’s. I was oblivious in the fifth grade to what was in fashion. But I knew with conviction that I wasn’t going to dress like the snobby rich girls I went to school with. My mom even took me to Nordstrom and emotionally bludgeoned me in the Brass Plum section buying all these new Catholic school girl clothes. She even bought me penny loafers. I told her I wouldn’t wear them and we should buy Converse All Stars instead. That we should leave this pretentious mall and stop by Value Village. Absolutely not. She bought them. Was she trying to buy me out of my melancholy? I never wore them. I wouldn’t be caught dead in them. They just felt wrong. Everything felt wrong.

2 weeks ago, at a visit with a new psychiatrist, she asked me when my depression started. How in the hell am I supposed to answer that? I don’t have an exact date. I know the year it was finally documented and I started taking antidepressants. But I can’t tell you when it began. Basically, it creeps up on you and then… there it is. Right there in front of you. It’s like Michael Meyers in Halloween. The music slowly swells, Jamie Lee Curtis oblivious as to what’s lurking around the corner. And then he’s there. And before you can run, you are frozen with fear and scream. That’s what this feels like. It’s huge, like running into a brick wall. Except the brick wall comes to you, not the other way around. One day you wake up and feel as though the weight of a freight train is upon you. You can’t make it go away.

Even though I experienced what I described in my childhood, depression wasn’t a word in my vocabulary. I didn’t know how to put a label on it or on myself. I was just different. I am not even sure how to move forward. I guess that’s what the medication and therapy is for. I know that the heaviness of depression follows you everywhere you go. It becomes a part of you. It changes you. Even though I feel like I was born this way, I have somehow evolved with my depression.

Since I was a teenager, I felt this dark, black cloud over me. Individuals with situational depression take Prozac for 6 months and they are back to normal. For me, the blackness never went away. I have never felt normal. I have been prescribed almost every drug for depression. I temporarily felt better, and then I would fall into a sink hole where I couldn’t stop crying and I wanted to die. I explained this to psychiatrist a couple weeks ago. She said “If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, then it is a duck.” Her analogies were rather humorous. What she meant was that all those medications I took never worked because they are intended for depression. I don’t have depression, I am bipolar (manic depressive). The medication I have been on for 8 years keeping me alive is for bipolar disorder. The troubling part is that the doctor who prescribed it, and even doctors since, never considered I may be bipolar. So here I am taking this drug for bipolar and have been misdiagnosed as depressed. Of course depression is a big part of it, but it manifests itself very differently.

In essence, I live in a state of depression all the time, and then occasionally I have dips where I become worse, which is where the suicidal thoughts and unrelenting crying come in. The medication was taking care of the depression part of bipolar, but not the dips. She prescribed Lithium for the dips.

There are 2 types of bipolar. One is where people have extreme highs and extreme lows. That’s not me. I don’t experience highs. Just lows. So I walked out my psychiatrist’s office with a diagnosis some would feel horrible about because there, of course, is a stigma attached, as with all mental illnesses. Bipolar sounds so much worse than simply being depressed. But I felt relieved, finally knowing why I would get so horribly depressed when I thought I was being treated correctly. Hospitalization is not an option for me. I have 2 kids who need me.  

Now Lithium means more to me than Batteries and a Nirvana song. Now it is the knot I have tied at the end of my rope so I can hold on.

I’m so happy. Cause today I found my friends.
They’re in my head. I’m so ugly. But that’s ok.
‘Cause so are you. We’ve broke our mirrors.”

Kurt Cobain

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Old Faithfuls: My Mom, My Addiction

couple of young people chained together over whiteMy mom called me last night from the hospital.  I always recognize this number as I have seen it so many times. Of course, I answered immediately.  This was different from the Thanksgiving phone call I received from my mom which I recently wrote about, (A cry wolf situation, nothing out of the ordinary for her,) so maybe something was really wrong.  So while I was thinking, “Thank God she is in the hospital,”  I am simultaneously thinking, “What the hell could she have possibly done to herself now?”  She usually would rather suffer at home than call 911.

In “She Put You In a Blender? a few posts back, I disclosed my feelings regarding my mother. I don’t know what the typical or ‘normal’ feelings most people have toward their mothers would be. I have never had a ‘normal’ relationship with my mother. I know some kids/adults who roll their eyes in response to a conversation with their mom.  I also know some people who have such a great relationship with their parents, they wouldn’t even consider a roll of the eyes, only the utmost respect….if they are healthy parents and the child is a healthy person as well.  But most are just somewhere in between.  I picture a spectrum I often refer to, it looks like a ruler a child takes to school for math class.  One emotion is at the 1 centimeter line and the other is at the end… the 12 inch mark.  There are a wide range of emotions from one end to the other. My life though, feels more like a yard stick. Same idea, just more mileposts.

My mom strikes chords in me that do not make the prettiest of sounds.  Hearing my mom’s voice on the phone last night, and then again today, created a rise of emotion in me that I didn’t want or need.  Hearing her voice reminds me of her substance abuse issues.  I cannot help but picture her falling (the reason she is in the hospital) as a result of her prescription drug problem.  I wasn’t there.  I could be wrong.  But I know my mom well enough, and have been around her long enough to recognize the cues in her voice.  I am beyond feeling sorry for her.  It is what it is.  My sanity and sobriety are more important to me than hers.

So this just leads me to where I am emotionally right at this moment.  Addiction has been a huge part of my life.  I don’t use drugs anymore.  Street drugs anyway.  I have no access to prescription pain medication anymore, the primary reason I choose to no longer see my mother or go to her house.  Her house is like a huge pharmacy and she is one of the most clever dealers I have ever known.  And I have known my share.  I have always hated the term “pusher.”  It’s one of those terms the DARE (To Keep Kids Off Drugs) volunteers use when they come to your elementary school, or a word Nancy Reagan used in her “Just Say No” campaign.  But my mom, full knowing I can be nowhere near pain meds, will call me from the other room…”Melisa, can you bring me a couple of my oxycodone please,  they are right there on the counter.”  And then seconds later as I am drooling like a dog in front of bacon… “Ooooh, I am so sorry, I forgot.  Never mind. I’ll crawl on all fours and come and get them myself as painful and time consuming as it may be.  Now don’t take any of them.”  For all of you who think I am a selfish bitch for basically abandoning my mother…this is why.  Who does this?  She wants to keep me as sick as her.  So I’ll always be there.  On her Vicodin leash.

Little does she know that my addiction is running full speed right now.  Food and alcohol.  I finally gave into the food part.  Fuck it.  My emotional well being cannot afford to drown over a fucking piece of cake.  So I am trying to live in the present, enjoy each moment, and taste my food.  What a concept.  It feels great.  So now, my addiction is wanting me to drink to stop the rush of feelings from coming up and spewing out of me like “Old Faithful.”  I am not sure the longest amount of time I have ever gone without a drink.  Oh wait. Yes I do.  I had about 80 days clean and sober when my mom called me and asked me ‘since I was already out running errands, could I stop and pick up her prescription?’  And then after an awkward pause, she said “Oh my God, I am so sorry, I should never have asked you.  I am so sorry, never mind.  I’ll figure out how to get to get the pharmacy myself.”  I had always in the past picked up my mother’s meds, so I felt guilty.  So much that I neglected my own sobriety.  I picked up her prescription.  I drove around finishing up what I needed to do.  And then the valium was calling my name.  I couldn’t resist the temptation anymore. It no longer becomes an expression when the paper bag literally screams out your name.  I opened the bag, unscrewed the cap and poured 4,10 mg. valium into my hand.  Maybe she wouldn’t notice.  I intended to take a couple and save a couple.  But why?  I took all 4.  In 20 minutes I was feeling amazing, like I was floating on a cloud. Why in the hell would someone intentionally deprive themselves of this amazing bliss?  So there went my temporary sobriety.  I took the meds to my mom’s house.  She was so remorseful, but there was also a devilish sparkle in her eye because she had me back.  It was okay for her to stay sick as long as I stayed sick too.  Misery loves company.  So fuck it, we shared a bottle of wine or vodka, I can’t remember, and there I was back in my addiction. It doesn’t take long.  It’s as easy as walking into the corner store and buying a snickers, you just don’t even think about it.  It doesn’t matter if it’s cocaine, heroin, alcohol, pills…it feels so good, and once I start I can’t stop. Same as any addict.  There is a point where it no longer becomes an option regardless of what some judgmental people think.

People who do not understand addiction should just not even try.  If you don’t get it, you probably never will.  And you are most likely bound to say “Well, she should just be able to stop, it’s just will power.”  The same ignorant people who think a woman can just walk away from an abusive man. “Why doesn’t she just leave?”  If you are one of these people, maybe you should open a new tab and do some research.  A textbook or a degree is not going to enlighten you with all the intricacies of addiction or help you understand what happens in the addict’s mind..  Medical students spend the equivalent of one day focusing on addiction. Ridiculous if you plan on devoting your life to the medical profession. Unless, of course, that is your planned area of focus. And even then, it really helps if you’ve been there.  And most people who have the time and money to attend that much schooling are probably not recovering addicts. Just as unfortunate, I believe, is having a criminal record or any street wise experience for that matter, and you are automatically disqualified from entering law enforcement. Unless you become so strung out and desperate, you have the wonderful opportunity to become a police informant, AKA snitch or rat. Which just leads you right back into the arms of the drug dealers and unable to resist the temptation which got you here in the first place.  So after your dealer is busted, because of your help, you want to get high again, imagine that, and now there is one less guy to choose from. But wait!  He’ll be out of jail in 3 days, if that.  Welcome to our muddled Criminal Justice system and our oblivious Mental Health and Substance Abuse network.

I am so tired of addiction.  I am so emotionally drained, tired of explaining what a nightmare it is to live inside a deteriorating brain. No one gets it.  Addiction is a lonely place because it becomes so severe that the shame of how badly you want to drink or use can no longer compete with the physical and/or emotional pain.  People commit suicide because of the pain and shame of relapse.  People die alone on their bathroom floor.  ALONE.  I have felt my share of guilt and shame in struggling with my addiction.  I have been on the bathroom floor.  I have been hooked up to a breathing machine on life support in the ICU. I have been through treatment facilities and therapy as a result of suicide attempts.  I didn’t plan any of those occasions. I came out on the other side alive, but ashamed.  And I will keep talking about it and writing about it until the shame is gone.  When I want to use or drink today, when there is an outside trigger I cannot control such as my mother, It feels like I am sitting in a vice.  Every part of me is in that vice’s grip.  My mind is tormented the worst.  I would give anything to make it go away, but I would also give anything to numb that pain.  The most frustrating predicament I have ever experienced.  Sometimes I sit here and squirm in discomfort during one of those moments. This has been happening a lot lately as I have described in certain posts.

Addiction is a slow and painful disease of which there is no cure, more often than not accompanied by relapse.  It has become an epidemic. I believe more people struggle with addiction than do not. It can be kept a secret.  It can be prescribed medication, therefore one thinks it’s not a problem, so an addict would say (like my mother).  One of the worst side effects of trying to get clean and sober is grieving your drug of choice.  It literally feels like someone you love is leaving and not coming back. Ever. In fact, that’s exactly what is happening. Addiction is a comfort.  It is like a friend.  It is always there when you need it. Just like your feelings come rushing up like Old Faithful, faithful is your medication to push them back down.   Learning how to deal with raw emotion is hard work.  It’s a work in progress.  I hope that in getting well, my kids will learn how to deal with emotion.  They will have coping skills, something I never had.  I am still learning how to cope without self medicating.  And it’s fucking hard.  But I don’t have a choice. Because I want to live.

Who Gives a Shit.

eatingdisordersThis is an update on the insight I had a few days ago and posted regarding my eating disorder.

I am entering my fourth week of therapy after a long absence. With my lapse in medical insurance and a chaotic 3 years of divorce, bankruptcy, unemployment, moving, and just a new start in general, I have neglected to maintain either the progress or deterioration of my mental health. However, on the flip side of that same coin, I must remember that all of the above took place with high priority so that I could, in fact, keep my mental health in tact.

So here I am, sitting with the same issues that have accompanied me since adolescence. These issues feel somehow magnified now. I believe this is a result of the chaos in my life quieting down. With this quiet from external intrusions comes the sudden awareness of the noises within. Images from an ugly past, memories, nightmares, my addictions and obsessions have suddenly magnified and manifested themselves. I have, without warning, had to play “whack a mole” against a crafty opponent. My own mind.

It’s like there is a long thread that has been woven into the center of my heart and soul. It’s been there since I was born and it will still be with me when I die. I compare it to an affliction with changing symptoms. Like a woman who changes her clothes. Her name is mental illness. She has many outfits. She has disguised herself as many different calamities, all which have plagued me at different times since childhood.

Currently, my eating disorder is her wardrobe of choice. It is difficult for me to even admit or say the terms “mental illness” or “eating disorder.” It feels uncomfortable and I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the stigma that accompanies such things. It’s one matter to be uncomfortable saying it aloud, but to feel uneasy saying it in the privacy of my own head alarms me.

In the last few days I have decided to take charge of my brain in a new way. I am unsure of the outcome and do not know if it will work, or even change anything. What if I get worse? But, what if I get better? I posted a few days ago how it is not healthy for me right now to be obsessing over diet and exercise. It has consumed me. I came to the conclusion that I will never be happy as long as I chase after this perfection, attainable or not. I am undergoing an experiment. This morning, painful as it was, I ate 2 hash browns, 2 eggs and 1 and a half pieces of swiss cheese. I wouldn’t allow my eggs to be cooked in butter. I’ll save that for a more courageous day. Normally, this meal would have ruined my day and crushed any enthusiasm I had for the day. I don’t know how many calories I ingested, and that’s okay, because my goal is to not give a shit. These foods are not unhealthy just sitting there on a plate to most people. However, I see something completely different. Rather, the feeling provoked in me upon seeing the food is what is different. I don’t even need to see it. Just thinking about it is enough to send me into a spiral of self loathing. It is like my brain is at war with my body. I want to be “normal” and eat what other people eat. But when I do allow myself this, I feel like I have done myself a huge injustice. Because one of my biggest fears is gaining weight.

I have been wrestling with this since I was a teenager. I want more than anything to be over it. Maybe in two weeks when my pants don’t fit, I’ll change my mind. But for right now my daily goal is no not give a shit. It sounds simple, I am sure, to those who walk with confidence. For me, confidence can be a moment to moment struggle. And the only way to become confident is to literally not care what anyone is thinking of you. I will practice this with my family, at the grocery store, and right here with you. When I pass by a mirror or a window and get a glimpse of myself, I am going to feel better knowing that I am not going to waste a whole day trying to change myself.

How I felt sitting in my big red chair again this morning, acutely aware of my fleshy tummy, I had a decision to make. A big one. Breakfast. I was either going into the kitchen to make “the usual,” or I was going to let my other half make what she makes for herself every day, but make it a double. I sat and contemplated. And it hurt. I struggled with my self. The war between my head and my body is an intense one. I ended up surrendering to my instincts, not wanting to revert back to my old behavior too quickly, without allowing this experiment to take it’s course. And that was to eat the fucking hash browns that I always decline. It was freeing. This was hours ago and I am just now getting hungry again. In fact, looking at my plate this morning, I was concerned it wouldn’t fill me up. It was like getting more bang for my buck. It looked like less food, but somehow it was more.

So I will continue with this experiment. I am hoping to make leaps and bounds into new territory. I am scared and excited at the same time. Dealing with the painful feelings that I have bypassed with this obsession will not be easy. It will be hard work as my therapist has warned me. But it’s work I want to do. Having an obsession and/or an addiction makes it easy to avoid what’s really going on in the dark corners of my mind. Having this awakening to focus on what I think instead of what others think just may be the biggest victory for me. Ever.

Who gives a shit? That’s my daily affirmation, my homework, my medication.