A Pleasant, Witty Title

The other night, as usual, my brain decided to start playing the “All the Times I Fucked Up In the Past” Highlights Reel just as I was trying to fall asleep, so I could go through all the emotions I thought 12 years of therapy surely could’ve quenched but somehow didn’t. Always a good time.

I’ve been doing this involuntary-trip-down-memory-lane thing so routinely for so many years (it’s a mental tic) that a part of me doesn’t really have the energy to put up a fight anymore. I’m way past trying to dig into “what it all means” to “figure it all out” and “fix it”, and Thank GAWD, because it was exhausting there for awhile. These days I sometimes decide to commit to being mindful and meditating on something else, or, if I’m too tired for discipline, I just let the thing play out almost like one would with crappy daytime TV while trying to clean the house.

This time, though, something made me look at the very worst part of my life objectively for a second and think about it in a way I hadn’t.

I thought, “If I suddenly woke up to find I was still in the mental state/life I had during that time, (hungover, in massive debt over nothing of importance, covered in perpetual grime and reeking of whatever vice I was clinging to, in a catastrophe of a relationship and no close friends around because I’d pushed everyone away, completely mentally wrecked because of the aforementioned and too many of the wrong psychiatric medications thanks to a life-altering misdiagnosis) and that all of the last 9 years had been a dream, I would immediately panic and start working to find my way back to Greg and The Bear.”

And I realized that as much as I [thought I’d] like to go back and make changes, there’s nothing I could’ve done differently to still get this outcome. It all had a domino effect that got me here.
And I’m the happiest I’ve ever been here… I even have the gall to hope it’ll get better than this… like, I’m actively optimistic it will.

I don’t know where this clarity came from. I don’t know why it took me this [unbearably fucking] long to have this moment.

All I do know is that it’s true.

And that since it happened, I’ve felt a lot of peace.
And I’m not even overthinking it.
So that’s nice.

The Resolution I’m Glad I Procrastinated for a Decade

I’ve been working on a memoir for 12 years now. I’ve had a 500+ page draft I’ve been revising for 7 of those. And only in the last 3 months I’ve realized I am really effing glad I haven’t completed it before now.

I never meant to take this long. I officially started writing it in 2003, literally during the first time I was in a mental hospital with nobody to talk to about the bizarre, disturbing things I was seeing every day. Afterward, I witnessed how visibly uncomfortable my friends and family got when I tried to talk about what I’d just experienced, so I  kept writing about it just to have a place to vent. Originally, I intended to turn that sole adventure into a “Girl, Interrupted”-style anecdote, but, being that I was still in the throes of mental illness, a handful of dysfunctional romantic entanglements, and a drinking problem (in addition to being a full-time student and working a few gigs), the years started to slide by without a finished product.  Meanwhile, my life devolved into even more literal insanity, including another stint in a mental hospital with even more hilarious/terrifying stories. The trend continued that way for the next decade.

I put “Finish This Book, Already” on my New Year’s Resolution List every year for at least 6 consecutive years, and I’ve spent months’ worth of time sorting old blog entries and editing them into essays, filing and cross-referencing themes/tones/anecdotes/subplots, and drafting new chapters to weave together a storyline over the years, but the truth is that I never felt like the story arc was resolved at any point. I never felt like I had a story that ended on a note I could be proud of…which is funny, because 10 years ago, I was proud to have the intended message be: “Hey, listen to this fucked up thing I went through that I have to make jokes about or I’ll be too traumatized to keep going! Maybe laugh with me to help me feel less alone?”, and  5 years ago, I was positive the message was: “Mental illness sucks, is misrepresented and stigmatized in society, and my story is not unique, but is the plight of millions. Pay attention! We have to fix this….but I don’t have any answers or solutions…. Just pay attention, dammit!”

…And now I’m not happy releasing a book with either of those messages because 1) It’ll be lost in a sea of thousands of other writers saying the exact same thing (as per the zeitgeist,) and 2)it isn’t the entirety of this story. I’m pretty sure I’ve always somehow known that.

…And honestly, when I look back over the drafts of things I’d written between 2-12 years ago, I’m really, really glad I didn’t publish anything life-defining while writing from that perspective. I would’ve emphasized a bunch of various personal dramas that didn’t actually matter so much in the grand scheme of the story, but that I was absolutely convinced were integral for a long time. Oh, and because I had so much chemical-induced anger, I definitely would’ve dragged a bunch of people I love through the mud way more harshly than necessary, which I’d be regretting now. With the clarity I have at the present, the story seems so much more balanced; I can see the role I played in the things that were happening to me objectively instead of from that powerless, freaked-out-and-projecting-frustration mode I had going for so long.

Holy shit, I’m really glad I didn’t put that mess out into the world while it was still going on. Even if I only have 50 copies of the book ever published, I don’t ever want it to be something I’m truly embarrassed or regretful of later on
…Not for a first memoir, at least. For the second, all bets are off, man. Especially if I’m a bestseller.

…And it’s interesting that, even in my most psychotic of manic episodes, when I was scribbling out 7 page manifestos to ex-crushes/flings/bullies I hadn’t seen in decades (Ohhh, yeah, really) or sitting around researching the logistics of building a non-profit empire at all hours of the night for months on end, a small voice was still telling me “This memoir isn’t ready to be called ‘completed’, yet. Let’s just leave it alone tonight.”

…And that’s weird because, really, there was no way for me to know I’d ever stop growing more and more unbalanced; I’d been progressing that way for so long under psychiatric intervention I was convinced I was deteriorating into a life of eventual psychosis. That’s not hyperbole, by the way; I spent a month legitimately considering applying for disability when my bipolar symptoms had become unmanageable. (I never did. I realized that if I surrendered to the idea that I was mentally unfit for any contribution to society ever again, I’d completely give up on myself and I wouldn’t stand a chance against my depression spells.) People who have been showing worsening signs of clinically losing their fucking minds for half their lives are not encouraged to stop taking their medications to see how it all plays out. If I’d kept following directions and seeing my doctors as prescribed and socially encouraged, I’m sickened to think about what my lfe would look like right now. It was terrifying there toward the end… and not just because I was bald and fat and suffering delusions.

Aaanyway, I currently have physical reactions while reading the stuff I wrote when I was still sick, which is a strange blessing of sorts because it means that I’ve grown and healed enough to have an outsider’s perspective on all of it. Perhaps writing it all out was part of coping, but publishing it absolutely didn’t have to be and I’m very, very grateful that my sane, rational, inner guide knew the difference and pumped the brakes on my ambition until it was time.

I’m not making any promises or plans for it to be completed this year, though. If I’ve learned anything from all this, it’s that it will happen when it’s actually time.

…Just like me not writing anything for two months and then rolling out of bed an hour ago at 1 a.m. with that unshakable need to get this out of my head and into text form.
Medicated or not, Crazy Writer Inspiration Brain is one thing I know better than to try to quit.

Other Side

This all may read as a next level blend of self-indulgent complaining-cum-bragging, but honestly, if you want to waste your day and read the rest of this blog, you’ll understand that it’s really just relief and gratitude.
Or not.
I don’t know how you process information, man.

The last 5 weeks have been a cascade of nonstop issues.  I flooded The Bear’s bedroom by mowing our lawn too aggressively (yes, really), so she’s had to sleep on the couch a lot and her room has been in complete disarray as the sheet rock was removed and blowers attempted to dry out the walls for days on end. On top of that, she’s had some strange gastrointestinal issue that is causing her a lot of pain and bizarre waves of weeklong symptoms, fevers, and other stuff I’m keeping vague for privacy reasons. She’s been on a bland diet for weeks now to keep the pain at bay while we’re getting tests done, (Which means she’s not had any Halloween candy yet despite trick-or-treating for it with her friends. She’s a far stronger person than I.) and she’s lost a little weight and it’s not getting better, which has me freaking out a bit.

Those are the two major problem spots; there’s a handful of other stuffs we’ve been grappling with, but I won’t bore you with details.

However, what’s amazing about all this is that, somehow, our household has managed to stay positive, pragmatic, and happy despite everything going on.

I know I’ve said it a lot in the last year, but this is a first.

With my hormones being gradually more leveled out, I’m more consistently stable than ever, both mentally and physically, and my productivity has been remarkably improving in the last couple months since I started progesterone therapy. As a result, my husband is able to really let down his guard at home in a way I’ve never seen before, and our house is becoming more of a haven, despite being in a bit of physical chaos.

We’re all joking and laughing together every day. We’re all sitting down to talk and have real conversations about stuff we want to do. We’re making plans about a vacation we’d like to take in a year. We’re spending time together enjoying each other.
And not just in fits and spurts, but as an everyday thing. Like, as a lifestyle.

The Bear has singlehandedly instated “Daily Cuddles” and makes sure one of us snuggles and chats with her for a minimum of 20 minutes every morning or evening.
She has randomly said at least 3 times in the last few weeks “Mommy, I really like talking to you.” and it’s the best thing anyone has ever said to me.

The whole temperament of our family has changed gradually into something soothing and sustainable.
Yesterday was incredible from a “how are we doing this!?” perspective.  Greg and I were beginning a Sunday Morning Snuggles session (that’s, um, a different activity) and I got up to check on the Bear and lock the door when I noticed that there was cat poo and poopy paw prints all over the carpet. It was super gross, but, somehow, without ANY negativity or argument, we all picked individual tasks, jumped right in, and began the hours-long process of sanitizing everything in the house. Obviously, we made jokes about ways of punishing the kitties, but we were laughing about the situation the entire time.

This is unprecedented.

Okay,

People who are unfamiliar with depression or mental illness from a first-person perspective are quick to say “Attitude is everything!!!!” and, while I’ve always understood their point, it’s frustrating that these types can’t comprehend that there are millions of us who are unable to shift attitudes as though we are changing clothes. Much like someone who is recently paralyzed would hate to be constantly encouraged to “just get up and walk and you’ll feel better!!” those of us with a history of depression are sick of being told that all we need is “an attitude of gratitude!!”; we are fully aware that this would make life much easier. I’ve seen both sides of the veil; I spent a couple decades mostly immersed on the side where the perspective of depression crafted my reality (there were moments of clarity and optimism that kept me afloat) and, only in the last 18 months have I gradually been able to move out of that fog.

It isn’t because my attitude changed; I ALWAYS wanted to feel happier. I spent 40% of my life actively trying to find solutions every single day. Even in the years I was struggling with a drinking problem, I was just looking for a way to feel better or, at least, escape feeling awful. For the years following, in active recovery I struggled to make a daily gratitude list and focus on positive things in hopes they would make me feel something. I said,  “There’s no reason for me to feel suicidal” so many times in the last 20 years it could’ve been my catchphrase. Realizing I “didn’t need to be sad” or “had a lot going for me” didn’t stop a shadow of hopeless despair from being a part of my daily life. The guilt/shame of feeling awful despite knowing I “shouldn’t” only exacerbated the problem.

It isn’t because my circumstances changed; I’ve had serious exterior hardships in my life, but things were never completely unbearable. These last 8 years with my new family have been  difficult mentally, but emotionally very, very beneficial. (As evidenced by the example that I miraculously stopped biting my nails after doing so since I was 2 years old. I noticed I had long nails about 6 months after The Bear was born. I haven’t started back since.)

This is because my body’s chemistry is changing. Period.
With regulated hormones helping me have a healthy monthly cycle, my mental state is clearer than ever. I don’t feel particularly driven or loaded with energy, but that’s okay. I like being here in the middle for a change. It’s uncharted territory for me, who has been used to extremes.

I’m completely medication free (aside from bioidentical hormones, which I don’t count.) I’m consistent in my energy, interest, focus, and emotion. My little family is happy and enjoying each other in the middle of what normally would be stressful circumstances. For the first time since we started a family, I’m not struggling with that nonstop underlying urge to run away from my husband and kid to “make everyone’s life easier” anymore.

I can’t help but be really, really grateful.

I’m Growing a Beard

I’ve learned that sometimes in life, you can spend so much time focused on one thing that you miss a lot of other stuff going on. Oh, this isn’t an inspirational post about how focusing on bad things makes you miss out on the good.

Sometimes focusing on crappy stuff makes you miss other crappy stuff, too.
Like how I now have a thick, coarse goatee I shave every day that has slowly spread from just a heavy mustache in the last 7 years.

I’ve spent so much of the last 13 years focused on fixing my Crazy that everything else about my health took a back seat. It’s easy to shrug off extra body hair when you’re afraid you’re going to destroy yourself with insanity 40% of your waking hours. I also shrugged off the painful cystic acne that randomly started around my mouth last spring and the fact that, since I removed my IUD  last summer, my period only comes about every 6-8 weeks.  Problem is, the little things you don’t notice add up to something significant – negative or positive.

Long story short: My hormones are fucked. Medically speaking.

I get to spend the next three months abstaining from soy, dairy, caffeine, alcohol, or chocolate while I undergo hormone therapy. (I’m already off gluten.) I’m not making this up.

I deliberately spent the last year off birth control to let my hormones self-regulate after realizing the Mirena gave me so many wacked-out ladyparts problems. Some good things happened: The PGAD went away when I stopped taking antidepressants and the pelvic floor myofascial disorder I was diagnosed with afterward has lessened in frequency and intensity since my detox.
I assumed I was doing well on this slow-as-hell road to recovery. 

I’d been given an SSRI antidepressant to take just during the 10 days between ovulation and the start of my cycle because my PMDD is literally suicidal and, to me, feeling completely incapacitated/on the brink of ending it all for 60 days out of the year is inexcusable; I got stuff to do. However, because my period took a 6-year sabbatical while I had an IUD, I didn’t realize that it was crazy irregular/absent (medical term: amenorrhea) and it’s only gotten worse since last September. This makes dosing myself impossible and wreaks havoc on my energy and moods. In the last few months, my energy has been spotty and my depression has made a few more appearances than I’d like.

(I’m still trying to forgive myself for all the time I wasted feeling bad while the Bear was at home this summer. I had so many plans of ways we could spend our days and, instead, a lot of it was spent either at the pool or – embarrassingly – sitting in front of the TV while I waited for my fatigue and fogginess to fade. I’ve also cancelled a lot of plans in the last couple months that I really didn’t want to. Not happy about that, either.)

There seemed to be a connection between this and my cycle being wrecked.

I spent days researching hormones and adrenal fatigue (and whether or not that’s “real”) while I waited to see my OB/GYN and immediately realized there were so many symptoms I’d been forgetting to recognize that would’ve clued me in sooner to what was going on. Like my goatee starting to sprout a bridge to my sideburns, for example. And then I freaked out because my symptoms (I haven’t listed them all here) lined up with PCOS and perimenopause. 

This was not the first time I honestly considered starting a crowdfunding campaign for a hysterectomy.
(No, I’m really not kidding.)

It’s technically a good thing that I didn’t test positive to either disorder, but that didn’t stop me from practically screeching “Then what the hell is wrong with me?!” when my doc called with my test results.

The truth is that we still don’t exactly know. So hormone therapy to try to regulate me to a healthy monthly cycle is just step one. I’m not naive enough to believe this will fix everything. And, honestly, I’m really scared to be taking meds regularly again, but I do trust this doctor.

I really, really just want to be on the right path for a change. I believe my entire 20’s were spent working to treat the wrong thing and I wasted so much time wrestling the extra garbage the unnecessary medication caused. I don’t know if I have it in me to keep running down rabbit holes in search of cures much longer, to be honest.

But I have the stamina to try again now. I’m on Day 8 of the No Fun At All Ever Diet and Day 5 of the hormones. I have zero expectations about this.

I’m still sick and tired of being sick and tired. But I’m still trying.

Voice

I haven’t been writing as much since I’ve been better in the last year. I don’t feel driven to anymore.
This bothers me. A lot.

Since my depression started, I was uncontrollably compelled to scribble out my thoughts via any media available. (In 6th grade, it was terrible verse on periwinkle looseleaf I was proud to title the “Blue Paper Poems” – little more than regurgitated Nirvana, Hole, Mazzy Star, and Simon & Garfunkel lyrics put through a suicidal hormone blender. LIFE LESSON: “Sucking at something is the first step to being kinda good at something.”)  I felt like I didn’t have anyone to talk to, and I had this raging need to get it all out of my head to keep myself from suffocating… even if the content was rambly and insane and melodramatic and pretentious and so, so redundant.

But as I kept scrawling and later typing documentation of a storyline I absolutely hated, something unexpected happened; I found a voice that got clearer and more concise. I learned how to build on thoughts and turn introspection into arcs in tone to complete essays that landed an emotional punch. I learned to employ affectation through my style and cadence. I taught myself how to write both with authenticity and intent. Incidentally

Sure, I spent my late teens and twenties posting every single thought I had online, chronicling my nonstop spiral through varied crises and general insanity. What verbal hemorrhaging I’d formerly done behind closed doors, I now did publicly and without abandon. What tiny following I’ve developed in 10+ years of blogging was irrelevant; my ever-worsening sense of despair (especially as the new meds introduced me to manic episodes and psychosis for the first time in ’08) was causing me to need to scream out for help in the only way I felt any sort of relief.

I never wrote for attention on LiveJournal or on this site; honestly, any comments or followers were a biproduct. I wrote because that was the only therapy that was keeping me in check on a daily basis. Even though I hated rephrasing the same “AUGHGODITHURTSFUCKALLTHIS!!” essays over and over, writing it and putting into the world was the only thing I felt like I was able to do that was actually effective in making me feel any better.

It wasn’t unusual for me to get out of bed at 2 a.m, telling my husband, “It’s okay. I just have to write.” This happened a few times every week.

And I always knew how it looked. I knew how I sounded. I knew that constantly whining about being in mental agony and then cycling back through those flickers of hope that “it’s all getting better now!!!” was exhausting. And boring after awhile. I was bored with it. I was swimming in self-loathing for having nothing better to talk about for years.

But I had to keep writing about it. There would be weeks I didn’t bathe or leave my bed, and the best I could do was make sure my child was fed, bathed, clothed, and at school on time, but I still had this drive to write. Whether I was in a manic episode or a depression, the writing was always there.

I’ve mentioned it before, but since April 2014, we have a new life here. My mind is still calm, consistent, and optimistic; I feel like I’m functioning with all new equipment. Terrible, self-destructive habits I’ve had for decades have evaporated along with the physical ailments that being overmedicated caused and, I really do feel and act like a completely different person. I’m just so fucking relieved and grateful when I look at how peaceful my home life has been-  how we’ve been able to repair and start building a life we’re really thriving within (instead of just barely surviving.)

But the writing compulsion has been gone.

At first I blamed it on the tardive dysphoria and thought it was part of the aftermath of 12 years of chemically-enhanced emotions wreaking havoc on my natural “giving a shit” mechanisms. But after my general apathy went away, my creative drive hasn’t returned and it has me terrified that it won’t.

I’m not going to sit here and claim that I was a great writer when I was pounding all my cliched, tortured thoughts into my keyboard, but the power I felt when I was able to transfer abstract emotion into text gave me a sense of control I got nowhere else. Sometimes, I could produce something actually noteworthy; during a time in my life when I felt ashamed of everything about myself, having this one thing I knew could do really well, was always available, that helped me spiritually, AND that gave me a glimmer of self-worth to illuminate the darkness of madness was the single most important part of my personal identity. I clung to my daily writing like I needed it to survive, because frankly – from my vantage point as a sane, rational person enjoying hindsight –  I’m not sure I didn’t.

And it’s just gone.

I’ve attempted to sit and write anything sincere to rev up my creative juices, and nothing comes out. It reads like I’m putting together words that are loosely relevant to a theme in order to appease some judgey professor as I’m learning a new language. I’m not producing anything of substance. Not even for myself..

It feels like I’ve been abandoned by my oldest, most trusted friend.

I don’t know; I guess I always assumed that I spent so much time talking to myself these last couple decades that, after my inner voice and I made it through the storm, we could still sit and talk even if we don’t have an agenda. Maybe even laugh about what a shitshow it all was.

But when I try to speak, it comes out all garbled and unenthused, like when you run into your ex while you’re slumped over a pharmacist’s counter suffering from the flu.

I always thought writing was part of my whole “purpose”, at least professionally. As I’ve been feeling better, I’ve put myself out there and am getting a little work writing basic content for a few sites, but I’m scraping the bottom of my well to revamp old material so I’m not written off as a slacker. It’s actually something I still want to do, but the spark is gone no matter how many self-help list articles I read to encourage my creative drive to come out of hiding.

Now what?

I’m Legit.

About the time I turned 16, I just stopped performing each May. No matter what I was into, I just put on the brakes and derailed myself. I did it the first three entire years of college; I’d get all the way through a semester, take one look at the stress of exam week and just shrug, mumble “Nooope”, and walk away. Completely. This is why I spent 7 solid years (even summers) in undergrad.

As a kid, I was a cah-RAZY overacheiver, literally earning all the Girl Scout badges, playing a different sport every season, competing in piano conventions, performing in dance recitals and plays, making all the A’s, #snatchingtrophies, and generally being all golden and full of promise. It sounds awful to state publicly, but being the best at stuff came really easily to me for some reason, even in genres I didn’t like (I won a multiplication bee once… no, really.) And then, the second I wasn’t the best at something (Math. 7th grade. Got a “C”.), I started crumbling. The feeling of failure was too much, and once I started experiencing it even in small, isolated doses, I just could not fucking handle it.

(NOTE: There were a number of outside factors weighing in on my feelings of self-loathing back when I started falling short of my usual success, but I dumped all those onto my many therapists and they aren’t relevant to the story now. I’m all healed. Promise.)

Things snowballed gradually from there. I went to an artsy magnet high school and, when my math teacher told me I had a 38 average the week before graduation, I sweet-talked my way into enough extra credit to get it yanked up to an 84. In my class of 140-ish students, I finished 64th.

Then college happened. The combination of depression, substance abuse, anxiety, and an unhealthy long-term relationship wreaked havoc on my ability to do much of anything and, after my hospitalization in ’03, I was stuck living with my parents and going to a technical college. I worked my way up to the local university. My self-loathing in those years was my M.O. It was hideous.

Somehow, I slowly made my way out of there with solid grades despite having to take another Medical Withdrawal for the Spring ’06 semester due to the Cray, and graduated with a surprisingly decent GPA. (3.38 thankyouverymuch.) In fact, I even passed a GRE shortly afterward with flying colors, knowing I was going to have a baby soon and wanting to keep grad school an option.

Aaanyway, cut to 8 years later and I’m actually trying to apply myself to something demanding again for the first time since. I’ve been doing a 9-month yoga teacher training course that requires a ton of outside hours and, as the deadline draws nearer, I’m fighting off this rampant apathy that I recognize from all those seasons of disappointment. Also, I’m applying for a really decent work-from-home position so I can be here over the summer when the Bear is, and there’s a lot of homework and testing involved to qualify, which is also due soon. And, suddenly, I don’t want to do any of it; I’m getting all in my head about how maybe this isn’t even my “calling” and I’m no good at it and man, I dunnooooo, what does it even maaatter in the grand scheme of things? I don’t feel a drive to do anything else; I just don’t feel like doing anything at all…except maybe drink wine and binge-watch “IT Crowd” again on Netflix while slowly pedaling our stationary bike all day… I mean, I’m not doing that… but it’s tempting…

This is a very, very familiar demon. The apathy coalesced with an existential crisis creeps in and before I know it, I’m doing nothing, then hating myself for it, then cycling back into self-loathing again, then I’m literally crippled by the knowledge that I’m a victim to my own neuroses again and it’s a never ending cycle and I’m never going to change and Jesus what’s wrong with me and what sort of white-middle-class-American-overprivileged bullshit is this and why can’t I get over myself and seriously, you’re 32, Liz, can we please growthefuckup!?

Alright. That noise stops here. I’m different now, dammit. I’ve successfully raised a happy, healthy, well-mannered, daughter for the last 7+ years despite being completely ignorant about it and mentally freaking out the whole time. I’ve fought through more than a decade of mental recovery to being a stable, non-overmedicated contributor to society. I’ve kept a marriage together longer than any relationship I’ve ever had and it’s healthy/no longer on the brink of collapse. I’ve been published on national platforms. I clean my house regularly. I can cook actual meals from scratch. I hold down jobs and meet deadlines and pay bills. I was a teacher at a college for a year and actually taught people stuff well enough that they still keep in touch and ask for assistance in editing stuffs. I can complete things. I HAVE completed things.

I’m not a whiny 20 year old with inherent learned helplessness anymore. I’m not firing on all cylinders, but I have yet to find anyone who is, so it’s okay to give myself a pass on not being Queen of Everything.

As my good friend said to me recently, “You’re legit. You’re an adult. People love you.”

I got this. I’ve had this. I’m okay.

Have a seat, Spring Demon. I have shit to do and you are pissing me off with your outdated cliches and ridiculous platitudes. Time for us both to get some new material.

The One Year Mark

I’ve been holding off on writing anything a lot recently, but I received this message randomly on Reddit:

littlebirdy
…and it seemed like the Universe providing a Cosmic Stage Cue for me to move forward with [over]sharing my story.
(Also, thanks again to user l_b for such a profound message.)

It’s been a year since I stopped taking the cocktail of medications I’d been prescribed for more than a decade prior and, while I consciously know that a lot has improved, spring is the time of year that my mental state collapses. I was determined this will be the year I come through it without falling apart, and I was very optimistic that, because this last year hasn’t seen any major, long-term depressions, this would finally be the spring I was okay; however, the last couple weeks have seen that typical decline in spirits that I’m fighting tooth and nail. You’ll have to forgive my momentary Eeyore demeanor (or not – your choice) , but this week in particular has traditionally been the one that has seen a complete meltdown on my part, which usually results in me being bedridden for a month and has put me in two separate mental hospitals over the years. (This, by the way, isn’t at all uncommon I recently learned. In fact, spring is the season that sees the most suicides and mental health hospitalizations. Does this make me basic?) I’m trying to get sunshine, continue a daily yoga practice, and get what fruits and vegetables I can, but the surge of random despair is pretty hard to shake.

It would serve me well to focus on The Positives of The Last Year. Let’s do that instead.

1) I’ve lost half of the 60 lbs I quickly gained while on the last medical cocktail, which has been veeerry slow going (apparently my liver is so shot from years of meds that its ability to metabolize fat is pitiful), but because of my yoga practice, I feel stronger than I ever have. I still have a long way to go, but unlike every time I’ve ever lost weight, this has been gradual and lasting; I’m not losing in fits and spurts and I don’t gain everything back during a premenstrual week where I’m craving every carb on the planet. Also, despite what I weigh, I have better endurance during an average day, which feels tremendous. A year ago, I was exhausted after a 25-minute mile and felt abysmal; now I’m walk/running around town when I can and spending a few hours on a recumbent bike every chance I get which has really rebuilt strength in my thighs and knees. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything slowly-and-surely, but regaining my physical health is successful because I haven’t been in a huge rush to “get my body back”.

2) I’ve been able to maintain routines, complete tasks, and accomplish stuff. In the last year, I took on a part-time job, which I was able to maintain while also keeping up my household consistently – a feat that never once happened when I was on the roller coaster of manic-depression-inducing medications. Again, usually my energy levels go through month-long cycles of mania then depression, but in the last year, everything has leveled out so that I’m consistent. It’s amazing and it has profoundly impacted the happiness and peace of my family. My job folded because the small business I was working for is changing ownership, but while there, I was competent and able to show up and get things done regularly. I haven’t been quite as consistent in my energy levels with the 9-month yoga teacher training course that I’ve been doing since September (mostly because my physical health has still been struggling), but I’ve kept plugging away at it as I can. I had a habit in my early years of college of getting all the way to the end of a semester and then having a meltdown and just stopping; I’m fighting the urge to do that now as we’re entering the last weeks of the training.

3) I’ve been able to let go of stuff FINALLY and have “trimmed the fat” from my social circle. I mentioned this before, but the medications I was on kept many outdated conflicts with past relationships at the forefront of my consciousness and emotions. Being the type to try to “solve” these issues, I kept entertaining those relentlessly, unable to stop replaying situations/emotions in my head despite praying to be able to just get the fuck over it already. There were about 8 people whose interactions with me had an impact as though they had happened recently, even though I haven’t seen many in more than a decade – some in almost two. Despite realizing years ago that this was an unhealthy/psychotic fixation on my part, I just could not seem to move past them. I honestly tried prayer, meditation, ancient rituals, spells, and anything else I could find to cut emotional ties with my past to no avail. Turns out, all I needed to do was stop taking medications that kept feeding that loop in my psyche. Within a couple months, I stopped being haunted by all of that anger and sadness. I politely excused myself from the lives of those I’d continued to bother with my insanity finally.  I honestly feel absolutely nothing about my bad past relationships except peaceful indifference. ::exhaaaales::
In fact, in the last few months, I was presented with a new relationship that immediately spelled trouble and, without hesitation, I put my foot down and said, “No. I care about you, but I’m not doing this.” Unlike every single time I’ve tried that, I didn’t hesitate or backslide.
There are a couple of people with whom I will be interacting with for the rest of our lives, but even those relationships are more peaceful now. I’m not on guard constantly, but I’m blunt about boundaries without any lingering anger. That’s also a huge difference.
It’s been staggering to realize that the medicines that were supposed to be helping me heal from trauma were, in fact, the thing that was keeping me stuck in a frenzied victim mentality. Gross.

Anyway, despite these last few weeks of swatting at seasonal depression, my life is significantly better than last May; my whole mindset is clearer and more serene than since I was about 11. The tone in my home in this last year have been so different I feel like we’re living by a new script. I’ve been very guarded in letting in any new drama as this is the most peaceful we have ever been, and my husband and I are taking the time we need to rest from the years of legitimate insanity.

To be honest, I have fought a lot with myself and my crushing disappointment that I haven’t accomplished more with my life at 32 years old. On paper, it doesn’t seem like I’ve been doing much of anything, but if this last year has been allowing me to prepare for the next few decades of my life, I’m okay with that. Before I try to launch myself into the lifestyle I dreamed of the whole time I was sick, it seemed wise to take some time to figure out what all had been physically damaged over the years, work toward healing all that, and find some steady footing. Just taking some time to catch my breath seems necessary, despite my desire to do something productive/that I’m proud of.

I realize there’s no such thing as “perfect health”, and I’m being patient with my healing as 12 years of multiple medications (15 if you count birth control, which I should) is a long time; chances are, I have a while longer before my body is completely free of all the damage it endured. I’m no longer suffering from PGAD (which evaporated when I stopped the antidepressants, a phenomenon I will be discussing in a documentary I’m participating in next fall, actually), but my other aforementioned gynecological issues are still working themselves out. I’m positive I do suffer from PMDD, which has me fighting the urge to step into traffic a couple days every month (not kidding.) I’m still unsure whether or not I should take Zoloft during the week prior as my OB/GYN has prescribed and recommended because, while I’m now terrified of medication, I’m also still terrified of my mind trying to kill me randomly because it’s freaking out on hormones once a month. Meanwhile, I stopped eating gluten last January and, have since had major relief in a lot of the neurological weirdness I was being tested for last autumn, but there’s still a lot of stuff that I’m dealing with that I’m just sort of hoping will go away over time as I continue to eat better and build physical strength.

Mentally, the Tardive Dysphoria (feeling of apathy resulting from years of antidepressant use) I mentioned having or months and months is also lifting, but it has been replaced with a lot of projected frustration and aforementioned misanthropy, which I’m not enjoying and am fighting a lot. There’s not enough research out there to say whether or not a grumpy internal monologue is one of the phases of healing from TD, but I suspect that it may be. I’m trying to do what I can to keep my hormones in check to regulate symptoms of needless frustration and, luckily, I’m not aggressive in my grumpiness. In fact, for the first time ever, I’m able to observe when I’m being unnecessarily cranky, distance myself from others quietly, deal with it privately, and return to social circles without causing needless drama. THIS IS UNPRECEDENTED. Also, I’m no longer having the fuming, ongoing anger about small things that has plagued me since forever, and that’s nice. I’m spending a lot of time alone, doing work outside when it’s sunny and working on art pieces while listening to a nonstop stream of intelligent stand-up comedy, which has proven to be therapeutic, actually. I’m okay with it seeming underwhelming from the outside; anything more than this has been making me miserable and anxious.

Conclusively, this year has been successful in improving my life (and my household tone) significantly, which is what I’m working to focus on instead of the things that are still lacking. Having the expectation that I’d be “all healed” within a year of going off medication only has me focusing on the disappointments of not being completely better. In my fantasies, I disappear from society for half a year and come back all rebranded as the image of physical health and with a fully-completed portfolio of publishable final drafts. Realistically, however, it is my slow, steady recovery and interactions with my support unit that are facilitating me turning this corner and building a sustainable lifestyle for a change.

New Trajectory

I don’t want to make any bold declarations, but things are doing much better. And when I say “better” I mean “so significantly different than they have been for the last 5-10 years, that, while we’re hesitant to get excited about it, this gradual, slow-burn change seems to be sticking and it feels like we’re living completely new lives.”
So that’s good.

For the first time in almost a decade now, my energy levels aren’t coming in fits and spurts; I’ve been able to get up, go to an almost-full-time job every day, and still hold down the fort at home without crashing and burning at least once a week. In fact, I haven’t “crashed and burned” at all in about 2 months; I’m still having a couple rough days close to my cycle every month, but compared to a lifestyle of being lethargic and out of commission 2-5 times per week like I was even a year ago, I’m undeniably more consistent. I’m making it to yoga classes a few times per week, I get out to see friends at least once weekly, I’m paying some bills and tackling my debt, I’m taking the Bear to gymnastics and Girl Scouts… It’s like I’m a regular, healthy adult all the sudden. Meeting expectations! Getting out of pajamas every day! Washing a pile of dishes instead of having a panic attack about them! Victory!

Apparently, all I needed was to quit poisoning myself with all the pharma garbage doctors were telling me I couldn’t live without for 12 years. It is shocking to realize that all the crap I was shoving into my system to “fix” my issues were solely responsible for perpetuating them. First of all, my mental health is so much caaalllmer; I haven’t had a single manic episode in a year, (which is telling. I never had one before I started antidepressants either.) I’m able to process emotions more rationally and able to let go of things with much more ease; I observe interactions with others more objectively and am not trying to pound all the meaning and nuance out of everything, and that alone is a massive lifestyle change. I’ve been finally letting go of relationships that haven’t served me in ages and I’m able to evaluate new ones honestly and discourage those that point to Trouble. (I have so much more free time! Turns out, Trouble is SUPER time-consuming.) And my physical health is better, too; slowly but surely, all the tiny health problems I’ve been treating have evaporated. Just 6 months ago, I was going to a neurologist for extensive testing to figure out what all had been wrecked through the Mirena and the psychiatric pharmaceuticals and I was prepping to do a ton of work on my body to get it out of the funk, but as of now, I’m functioning at a normal energy level without any musculoskeletal pain. I dunno if it’s the yoga or the eating-a-little-better or that I’m actually just getting out and about and making healthier decisions all around or my meditation practice or what, but all the fibromyalgia-y symptoms I’ve been having for years (even after quitting meds) have slowly vanished. Again, I’m still having a couple rough days per month, but “rough days” aren’t a lifestyle anymore.

Naturally, this all has been tremendous in making things better at home. My husband noted that he finally feels like he’s getting to see the “me” he fell in love with 8 years ago, and I have to agree; however, he deserves ALL the awards for living with that other Literally Insane Liz for so long. Having a reprieve from that sort of psychotic lifestyle is a blessing we aren’t taking for granted. There’s been a dynamic shift between us since I’m starting to be able to stand on my own two feet and it’s brought more than a bit of a spark back. I think we kind of crushed the odds by making it out the other end of this shitstorm.

And, because I’m finally able to get out and experience what passes as a “normal life” for a change, I’m finding my interests being piqued again. I don’t have a defined, driving passion for anything specific at the moment, but, contrary to even 4 weeks ago, I feel hopeful that something exciting is around the corner. For example, for the last few weeks, I’ve been gently toying with the idea of buying a business here in town and revamping it. Truthfully, after the years I’ve just had, I’m wary to jump headfirst into anything; HOWEVER, just the fact that I’ve had a slow, steady, non-temporarily-crazed interest in something is novel and encouraging on a fundamental level. Having my own business may not be what I decide to do right now, but frankly, I’m just happy to have a genuine excitement to get into anything again.

I mean, things aren’t perfect by any means; my body’s still pretty “off” from the last couple years of intensive medications, but I’m being patient and giving myself time to heal. I’m taking time every day to work on my strength and take care of it without being frustrated that I’m not losing weight “fast enough” or meeting other self-imposed expectations. That alone is a new mindset altogether and it’s having an incredible trickle-down effect to everything else.

The Awful Truth (I wish everyone knew about.)

Something’s been going on for the last 9 months that I haven’t really discussed because I’ve been trying very, very hard to be optimistic. But I recently started doing some research about what’s going on and it turns out, I have reason to be angry, frustrated, or distraught if I could muster any of those things.

I always used to joke that I “felt things in Technicolor.” My whole life, I would hurl 1,000% of myself into everything I was interested in – which was always too many things – and I had this almost-obnoxious excitement and passion about everything, whether it was “good” or “bad” in my book. I was known to excitedly rave about something I adore and find fascinating (like the impact of the Grunge/riot grrrl movements of the early 90’s, or the cultural significance of the Powerpuff Girls, or Muhktaran Bibi/Mukhtar Mai, or regional history) or get right up on soapboxes to rail against insufferable things. Truthfully, it was exhausting and it made me seem a little nuts, but it pushed me forward, and it gave me big dreams that I was all too eager to act upon. I was always feeling inspired to do something new and I adored learning and exploring cultures/subcultures and arts and practices and belief systems and whatever else struck my fancy. I was constantly “into” something.

As I’ve discussed a LOT before; before I detoxed from antidepressants last spring, I was on antidepressants for 12 years, starting when I was 19. In the months I’ve been off of meds, I’ve learned that my routine severe suicidal tendencies are just a product of really, really severe PMS (also known as PMDD) from which I only needed relief for 3-ish days every month. (I’m currently learning how/weighing options on how to treat that, but that’s irrelevant at the moment.) In the years of being put on a variety of antidepressants, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which stunned me because I’d never had manic episodes before. I had always been just naturally energetic, but never exhibited any actual manic tendencies; all of those started after I started taking the cocktails of medications… which makes sense as it turns out they weren’t necessary for 3 weeks out of every month.

ANYWAY, what has me terrified is that, slowly, as the piles of medications have worked their way out of my system, I have completely lost the ability to care about most things. It isn’t depression; I know exactly what that feels like, and there’s no anger or self-loathing or projecting misery on anyone else. It’s just cold, hard apathy.

At first, I’ll admit, the quiet in my mind was an enormous relief. As the meds had made me increasingly manic over the years, I was exhausted from my brain going nonstop and causing me to religiously hang onto outdated emotions; my brain just constantly made everything so much bigger and noisier than I really wanted. It has been amazing to actually have peace in my mind for a change, and not have to struggle with involuntary obsessions nonstop. It was quiet. Finally. And things around my home have been peaceful for a change. For awhile, I’ve been reveling in it instead of worrying that it didn’t “feel right.”

But the truth is that I have no drive to do anything. And hardly anything elicits real emotion from me. And, worst of all, there is absolutely no creative spark anymore.

I initially assumed that this is just how I am when my emotions and mind aren’t being amplified by medication or mental illness; this must be what it feels like to be “normal.” I thought it was godawful boring, but again, I was really just happy to be free of the destructive rollercoaster of nonstop emotions for the first time in my adult life. Being boring and wading through life was a LOT better than constantly being possessed by some unnecessary emotion that comes out of nowhere and drives me to doing ill-conceived things I don’t really mean or want to do.

But this apathy feels wrong. I haven’t been willing to admit it to myself for a long time because I really, desperately am trying to stay optimistic about getting my life together and recovering from this mental illness saga, but this apathy isn’t healthy and I know it deep down.

After going through the couple months of withdrawal, my brain slowly came to a resting point of perpetual “Meh”. I felt no real drive to do anything, but furthermore, my ability for excitement waned. I figured my joie de vivre was something that would have to naturally “grow back” with time, but as more time has passed, I seemed to be getting worse. Nothing excites me anymore. I don’t actually care about most things and have a set perspective that a LOT of what I’m surrounded with is futile and empty and – more often than not – a little stupid. I’ve contemplated that maybe I’m just living a lifestyle that’s causing me to mentally, spiritually atrophy from boredom, but 1) I have a really great home life with people I genuinely adore being around in a location I actually happen to love and 2)I don’t feel any motivation to seek out a lifestyle that makes me feel happier than this, like embarking on a new career.

I don’t write anymore and have zero desire to do anything with the writing ideas I’ve had in the works for years. I barely read, which is bizarre because I’ve always had at least 3 books going at time since I was in the 2nd grade. I don’t feel like going out. When I’m in big groups of people, I’m sort of just on autopilot. I went to Disney World with my family and was just sort of “meh” about the whole thing (although I DID really treasure being able to treat the Bear to something so awesome during her childhood. That’s where it was rewarding for me. Other than that, I don’t care if I don’t go back.) Nothing is stimulating to me and I feel sort of lifeless and empty, despite my real attempts to generate energy and excitement in my mind/body/spirit… which is almost constantly.

And even though I fundamentally oppose the “fake it ’till you make it” mentality (because I’m really not good at being fake. I stopped feeling comfortable faking anything after high school in any circumstance), that’s essentially what I’ve been doing for a long time now. To keep myself from rotting away into real despair, I got myself a part-time job at a tiny natural health shop close to my house, and I am doing yoga teacher training as a means to advance to something else once I get tired of this retail gig. I figured both things would serve to get me out of the house/my head and actively taking care of my body, but the truth is that I feel like I’m just going through the motions. I have no actual drive or passion to become a yoga teacher after the training is done in May; however, I don’t have any passion to do anything with my life right now, but I figured standing still and waiting for something to happen was no way to treat chronic apathy. So I’m going through the motions and trying whatever I can. I’m eating better and exercising and trying new things and putting plans on the calendar and getting out of the house… I’m putting in the effort daily… Still, though, it all just feels like I’m performing a half-hearted role in a really boring play.

And while I could always reason that this is just a season of life I’m going through, I’m really troubled because my thoughts about a lot of things have gotten really dark; I’ve honestly found myself wondering what keeps people in dire circumstances fighting for life a lot, like why don’t people in famine-ravaged countries just give up? I don’t get anyone’s drive to “make it” with regards to futile things like fame and/or wealth, and I no longer respect people who are known for being business moguls to promote shit we don’t need. I’m constantly repulsed with how much of society’s energy is wasted on absolute bullshit like celebrity “news”, sports/political scandals, oversensationalized news stories about horrible people, trends in material objects, the obsession with improvements in technology, etc. I feel like 90% of what’s going on is godawful noise and I just don’t have the energy to deal with it anymore. And I don’t really want to talk to anyone who cares about any of it, which, as it turns out, is most people.

Hating everyone and everything around me and wishing I was somewhere else isn’t the answer. This mentality is going to serve no one.
I gotta get out of this.

I finally just started doing some research.

And LO AND BEHOLD, what I’m experiencing is a real, actual thing that the scientific community is screaming warnings about, but the medical community is still “Meh. I guess. But we have money to make, so whatever.” There are literally thousands of articles about what is known as “Tardive Dysphoria”, which is basically when antidepressants suck your will to live by robbing your body of the ability to create its own drive and joy (“drive” and “joy” have actual chemical titles when being neurotransmitted, by the way; I just don’t know them at the moment.) I’ve been reading A LOT that antidepressants were only designed to be used for short-term depression spells (like 6-8 months of post-trauma relief) so the fact that so, so many doctors are expecting patients to become dependent on them for far longer than that is baffling and terrifying to me. In fact, being prescribed antidepressants long-term is undoubtedly the norm now, and the fact that most of us who take the doctors at their word that this will be safe is staggering.

Why haven’t we been privy to the mass amounts of information about how psychiatric medicine is developed and for what purposes specifically (which, by the way, is a lot different than what we’re being told) and why have doctors been allowed to prescribe things that aren’t anywhere near market-ready!? How the hell is the medical community getting away with keeping people on this type of treatment for so long?! Why the fuck am I having to still deal with this when I’ve been “on the road to recovery” for almost half my life now?! The worst of my depression happened more than a decade ago and was mostly the product of a culmination of abuse and other bad circumstances (which were perpetuated for a few more years by my being put on a medicine I shouldn’t have been and staying in abusive relationships – romantic and otherwise) so why am I still dealing with the medicines used to treat it now!? And why was I just cycled through a dozen ill-performing medicines instead of learning tools for healing?! WHY ISN’T ANYONE PROMOTING HEALING IN THE PSYCHIATRIC PROFESSION (as opposed to just “treatment”)?!?!

The bottom line, I guess, is that I have hope I can heal from all this neurological damage that was happening to me for so long.
Actually, no.
No, that’s a lie.
Honestly, I don’t have hope that this is going to get better because there’s no evidence out there that this specific psychiatric issue ever improves… because we know so little about it… because not enough people are discussing that antidepressants are maybe not the right way to treat depression… Right now the top scientific research is saying that antidepressants cause more harm than good and raise the potential for Alzheimer’s and dementia, so I might just be fucked if we’re being honest here.

HOWEVER, I have a legitimately amazing daughter and a better-than-anyone-deserves husband I care too much about to stop trying to improve. I don’t think it’s going to be easy and it’s certainly not going to happen quickly. I’m not good at faking things I just don’t feel, and faking a will to be an enthusiastic participant in my own life is a lot harder than it would seem given what a really wonderful life I actually have.

So yeah. That’s the deal. First I was depressed because of a few minor things that probably could’ve been worked out in a couple years if I’d just been listened to and had a counselor interested in helping me gain independence and heal. Then I was put on medications that made me increasingly insane and physically ill. Then I developed Antidepressant Discontinuation Syndrome for about 3 months when I decided that enough was enough and took myself off of them. And now I have no desire to do anything with my life or participate in the world or see life as a gift because all those years of meds sucked my body/brain’s ability to allow me to give a shit.

I’m not saying it’s a hopeless situation. I’m just saying I’d feel pretty hopeless if I could muster any feelings right now.

The Groove

In 2014, I didn’t make a New Years Resolution for a change. Instead, I ended up doing an unscripted overhaul on my whole lifestyle. It was weird and good and healthy and unorthodox and way, way outside of my comfort zone.

Anyway, since I stopped taking an ever-evolving cocktail of antidepressants last spring, my whole body pretty much melted down and my psyche was rebooted. In the months since, my psychological self has never been healthier, but I’ve been fighting the urge to freak out about the ramifications of quitting a lifestyle of medication. More than the 20 lbs weight gain (that I’ve sloooowly eradicated), I’ve been most worried about my complete lack of creative motivation. I went from reading 2-3 books at the same time constantly (that started when I was 8-ish) to reading nooothing for 7 months, and I’ve barely feel like writing anything for the first time since I was in 1st grade. No photography. No singing in the car.
So I decided to do that cliched “trust the process” thing and not obsess about what’s wrong with my inherent drive, but the lack of any creative outlet/input has felt really, really weird.

So I’ve spent a lot of the last year schlubbing it in cheap, loose gym clothes, working on putting together a normal day-to-day lifestyle while getting my body back to a functional point.

And then, today, for no real reason, I suddenly had the urge to see what Alaska Thunderfuck 5000 eyebrows would look like on me.
And I got home from work and attempted to tackle them.
And I’m a little out of practice and the monstrous brows weren’t at all masterfully executed, but I’m giddy because I recognize that I’m ready to put my toes back in the water.

This constitutes as a bit of success in my book.

Hieeeeee